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More of a Fair Fight

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Whoever vetted DeMarco was going to be fired. Emily’s late night call, despite the frantic nature, roused Miranda’s instinct to conquer. There was no higher high than testing herself against the odds. The rush of adrenaline and anticipation tingled through her, almost sexual in nature. Most people believed she was a tyrant, the Devil, and more and she subtly encouraged the falsehoods. Having such a façade helped her to weed through who had fortitude, conviction, and strength. Miranda held little use for terrified employees whimpering at the sight of her pursed lips, narrowed eyes, or quietly spoken criticism. God save her from the hand-wringing hoards in the midst of chaos.

The first phone call on Sunday went to Cara at seven in the morning. Thankfully awake and unfortunately a bit grumpy, she nevertheless agreed to watch the twins. Next on the list was Vanessa who smoothly said “I’ll take care of it.” after Miranda’s barrage of instructions. Cassidy thudded down the stairs just outside the door her mother’s study.

“Cassidy.” she called out without opening the door or looking away from the computer screen.

“Morning to you, too.” she snarked, head poking through the opening of the door as she held onto the doorknob.

Miranda smirked. “Is your sister awake?”

Cassidy scratched the back of her head but stayed in the threshold. “I dunno.”

“Well, go find her and meet me in the kitchen. I’m thinking of making waffles.”

The elation on her daughter’s face warmed Miranda but then Cassidy’s expression changed something bordering on resignation.

“You’re leavin’?”

Miranda gently closed the laptop. Sighing, she got up from behind the desk and approached her nine year old, by far the most forgiving.

“Yes but I should be home by one o’clock if not earlier.” she answered, hands clasped in front of her, standing next to Cassidy.

“Can I come?”

Cupping her daughter’s cheek, Miranda replied, “It’s work, bobbsies.” She held out her hand for Cassidy to take then they went up the stairs. “While I’m gone, you and your sister will need to decide our plans for this afternoon.”

Grinning, Cassidy scampered up the remaining steps, down the hall toward her sister’s bed room door and yelled, “Wake up, Caroline.”

***

It was miserable outside, drizzly and cold. Miranda sidestepped the puddles in her ankle boots. The wheat colored Cuyana trench was exactly right for the weather and looked divine, however, Miranda fretted over the black Burberry boots. They went so well with her ensemble but she feared ruining them in the light rain. Perhaps her decision to wear them had been more vain in nature than practical. Needs must.

Vanessa met her at the Runway door falling in step with Miranda as she handed over a coffee and Miranda handed over her coat.

“Everything is set up in the main conference room per your request. We can hold off the printers until ten tonight but eight would be much better. Andrea and Nigel have already assembled in  conference room B with a small team. Andrea came in at eight, just when I arrived. She’s...very helpful.”

Although surprised, Miranda merely nodded then handed over her purse to Vanessa and went into her office. Unsolicited comments notwithstanding, her first assistant knew better than to waste Miranda’s time with idle chatter. It was rather odd behavior for Vanessa but not enough for Miranda to particular care.

Sighing, she picked up a legal sized notepad and her favorite Mont Blanc then left her office. Vanessa jumped up from her seat but Miranda narrowed her eyes as she walked by and Vanessa slowly sat back down. At fifteen minutes before ten, she walked into the main conference room.

“Oh, hey, Miranda. We’re almost ready.” Andrea announced as she placed the last placard on its easel.

“Is it impossible to start on time?” Miranda slowly asked, flicking her hands as she sat down. “You’ve had all morning to be ready.”

Nigel swanned in and took the seat on Miranda’s right. Serena, the Beauty Director, and Emily, the Fashion Development Director followed next, leaving Andrea standing alone by the line of placards.

“We have four alternatives for the DeMarco shoot with Testino and Meisel standing by. Karlie Kloss...” Andrea checked her watch. “...should be in route  with a few of her friends from JFK.”

Miranda stood and  slowly stepped in front of each placard. “The designers?” she asked, underlining her words with a touch of boredom.

“Um, yes, I’ve been following the progress of two up-and-comers.” Emily answered, her voice a quivering projection of insecurity.

Lowering her eyeglasses, Miranda simply stared at her former assistant.

“Jason Montrose and Sierra Shalom. Both vetted.” Emily finished then cleared her throat.

“Who drew these?”

Nigel, shark-smile in place, answered, “Andrea.”

“Emily, let me see the stills of your designers.”

***

She was done by eleven. Serena and Emily jumped on their phones and scurried out of the room while Andrea started to pack up the presentation.

“I have a friend who owns a loft with exposed brick, wooden support beams and incredible wood floors.” Nigel murmured, cleaning his glasses. “As we speak, he’s probably clearing out the living area right now. I’ll drop in when everyone gets there but...”

Miranda looked at him.

“I’m quite sure Andrea will arrive before me.”

“Serena’s doing the make-up. Make sure she stays away from glitter.” Miranda said, gaze drifting to Andrea who wasn’t dressed as casually as she had been on Saturday but adequately for a photo shoot. “Andrea is...competent.”

“And headstrong. No doubt when the honeymoon’s over, you two will clash spectacularly.” He watched Andrea linger in the farthest corner from them. Nigel shot Miranda a meaningful look before taking his leave. “I’ll see you at Henri’s later on.”

Andrea waved at Nigel, then made her way over toward Miranda. “I was surprised you picked Sierra.”

“I was surprised you can draw rather well.” Miranda sighed, flipping her forelock back.

“In general, people tend to underestimate me.” Andrea’s gaze didn’t waver. “I read an article the Atlantic did on you a few years ago. ‘My vision is the only one that matters.’” Tilting her head as she took the few remaining steps keeping them from being face to face, her dark eyes seemed to grow even darker to Miranda. “You were talking about running Runway. The quote resonated.”

“Is this your tiresome way of throwing down the gauntlet?”

“Not at all.” Andrea quickly replied, obviously taken aback. “I took your quote to mean that while the creative process often thrives on group input, such as collaboration, the finished product and consistent excellence is due to one person’s ideal. So, consider me an...apprentice of sorts.”

“You’re joking.” Miranda mocked, irritated by the woman’s chutzpah.

“No, I’m not.”

“What makes you feel even remotely worthy?”

 Andrea sighed. “Okay, so it’s the hard way. Fine. Miranda, who else has put together two alternative designers, four possible shoots, photographers on stand by and models for a last minute print? All you needed to do was give your approval.”

“And if I didn’t like your selections? What then, Andrea?”

“We had other ideas and I’m positive you have something up your sleeve in case we didn’t impress you. Nigel organized the venue, Emily got the designers, and Serena got the models.”

“And what did you contribute, Andrea? Sketches?” Miranda whispered, nearly nose to nose with the girl.

The vision.”

She’d just been put in her place, Miranda realized, as she watched the angry woman stalk out, chin held high. Taking a deep breath, she slowed her heartbeat and allowed the tension to leach through her muscles. Not many got the better of her. Miranda smiled, enjoying the predatory excitement rippling in her veins. She couldn’t remember the last time she had such a righteous adversary. The young pup wanted to play. Far be it for Miranda to ignore the call of the wild.

“Get me the address for the shoot and call the driver.” she told Vanessa as she walked by, dialing her landline.

“Priestly residence.”

“Cara, do you know what the twins are planning?”

“You can ask them, you know.”

Snidely, she said, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Cara expelled a long-suffering sigh. “Lincoln Square. Either at four-forty-five or six, depending on which show. In the IMAX theater.”

“Oh, dear god.” Miranda groaned then rubbed her temple. “Please tell me it’s not some boy band thing.”

“Cassidy wants to see ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and Caroline wants to watch something about the coral reef. I think it’s a documentary.”

“Okay. I told them I’d probably be back by one but evidently I have a little more time if I need it.”

“I think that’s what Caroline’s banking on. She doesn’t miss a trick, that one.”

“The documentary at six, I presume.”

“You should have named her junior.”

Miranda muffled a snort. “I’ll text you on your personal if things change. Expect me for Cassidy’s pick.”

***

The Tribeca loft was trendy with an open floor plan that young New Yorkers favored, if a bit small. The lights, backscreens, models and make-up chairs and number of people were enough to render the thousand foot space nearly claustrophobic. Well away from the activity, Miranda perched on a stool at the small bar near the front door with a glass of middling chardonnay. Nigel’s friend, the owner of the loft, gushed his admiration and astonishment that Runway deemed his little home a worthy location for a photo shoot. At first, she nodded and hummed, too focused on the way Andrea directed, appeased, manipulated, cajoled everyone.

Honestly, Miranda had been skeptical of Andrea’s vision but willing to allow the girl to nail it down. A small niggling in the back of her mind insisted the girl would bluster her way through it, that the shoot would crash and burn. Then, Miranda remembered those dark eyes, the intensity and conviction leveled at her.

Nigel sidled up to her, placing himself between Miranda and his friend.

“Henri, could you help Serena with the make-up?” he asked, taking a sip from the frothy drink pushed his way by the host of the afternoon. “No glitter!”

“Oh, yes, it would be an honor.”

Miranda watched him scurry away, saying, “I can’t imagine you sleeping with him.”

“That’s because it was just a whim.”

Smiling, although not looking at Nigel, Miranda responded, “I’d rather chew through my own limb.”

Nigel snorted into his drink, forced to abandon it until he mopped up the small spill.

“Who vetted DeMarco?”

“Peter. Emily fired him this morning.”

Frowning, Miranda said, “I do wish I had the pleasure but I can hardly complain when she’s taken my lessons to heart.”

Shaking his head, Nigel sucked in his cheeks then said, “I keep hearing bollocks in her strident British accent. I’m going to miss it.” They shared a faint smile. “On the subject of protegees, Andrea’s amazing, don’t you think? Better than I was when I got the job but, of course, not better than me now. I’m impressed so brought it all together so quickly.”

Miranda set her empty glass on the bar. “You were right. She’s going to be trouble.”

“Mmm, but worth it. I almost wish...” he said, looking at the shoot. “I could stay and watch the fireworks.”

“Then I’m afraid you’d be very disappointed.” Miranda glanced at Andrea as she spoke to Serena and Emily. “Where are you off to, dare I ask?”

“I’m meeting with Sebastian.” Nigel groaned. “He wants to include some last minute necklaces for the Dulce and Gabbana feature in...”

“We don’t have the space.”

“You always say that.”

Miranda finished her drink. “And yet it’s still true. Get used to it because you’re the one who’s going to make those decisions in Paris. Besides, it’s not wise to shuffle things around for a mere necklace.”

“Be that as it may,” Nigel stood and delicately tugged on the cuff of his dress shirt. “I’ll indulge him but make it known the only possibility for inclusion is if we decide to swap out some of their other pieces providing we like the new ones more.”

Sneering playfully, she murmured, “Would you care to make a wager?”

“I still remember the last time and my ass still stings from the defeat. No, thank you.”

“It is a fond memory, I must admit.” she teased, mindful in not allowing her smile to blossom.

***

Finally ready, Serena released the models to Emily who started to dress them. Miranda remained on the outskirts, as much as one could in such a small space overrun with bodies. She kept to the floor-to-ceiling windows on the farthest side of the loft and observed Andrea. Relaxed but focused, Andrea moved around the shoot, touching a shoulder or earnestly looking into someone’s eyes as she imparted what she wanted. If she knew Miranda was watching, she didn’t show it.

Smiling to herself, Miranda moved her attention toward Testino, the photographer, relieved the models were female. There were whispers about him and every other male photographer, coercing male models. Since the late nineties it was Runway’s policy for a high-ranking employee to be on-site for one of their shoots regardless of who was behind the camera. Not only did it insure Runway got the shots it required, but it afforded the models a safe space to do their job which was, of course, to show off the clothes. Testino seemed to be on his best behavior although Miranda personally had never seen him behave in an unseemly manner.

“Miranda.” Andrea gently summoned as she held Testino’s camera.

 A tiny frisson sparked across her skin and Miranda hid the smirk such a thrill caused. How Andrea ended up with a prominent photographer’s camera was a story she wished to hear. As she walked toward the woman, Miranda concentrated on an aloof approach. Inexplicably, her pulse tightened, neither fast nor hard, but in such a way that each beat elongated, resonating within her chest.

“Look.” she urged, plugging the camera into a monitor.

Miranda bid as Andrea requested.

“I checked the digital mock-up and if we switched page...”

“No.”

Testino joined them, holding another camera as he greeted, “Ah, Miranda, a pleasure. Your Andrea is a wonder.”

Miranda air-kissed his cheek. “You seem well recovered from the accident.”

Shrugging, he said in his thick Peruvian accent, “It was nothing. I am as good as new.” Lightly he touched Miranda’s shoulder and winked at Andrea. “I think you will be pleased with the shoot. I must get back.”

Andrea asked, “Can I ask why you didn’t allow me to finish?”

“Other than the fact that I’m the editor and you’re not?” Miranda retorted coolly.

Flushing, she straightened her shoulders and looked directly into Miranda’s eyes. “Fair enough.”

“Andrea.” Serena called out as she adjusted Karlie‘s hair. “We’re ready.”

“Excuse me, Miranda.”

Instead of watching her walk away, Miranda trained her gaze on Emily who happened to look up from aiding a heavyset man in a canary yellow suit make modifications to the dropped-waist skirt to fit the model.

When Miranda approached, Emily swallowed then jerked the man away from what he was doing.

“Miranda, this is Sierra Shalom, the designer.”

“Oh, my goodness, aren’t you a scrumptious version of Cruella Deville.” he gushed, limply holding out his hand.

“Have you ever been featured in a fashion magazine?” she asked quietly then narrowed her eyes. “Because I assure you if you don’t show me the respect I’ve earned, you’ll be selling your clothes from the truck of your car.”

Emily grabbed the man’s upper arm and tugged him back. “You right little waz. Are you mad? Apologize if you know what’s good for you.”

“I-I-I am so sorry.”

“That’s all.”

***

Miranda called the car service from the sidewalk as she slowly paced, evading dog walkers and pedestrians. After the stuffiness and claustrophobic conditions in the loft, the crisp air, despite tainted by nearby garbage cans and exhaust fumes, was an improvement. Thankfully the sun was out. She came to a stop at the corner of Murray and Greenwich, the aroma of Indian food strong in the air.

“Hello, bobbsies.” she answered when her phone rang.

“When you coming home?”

“Is that how I taught you to answer the phone?”

Cassidy groaned, “I didn’t answer, you did, mom. I called.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “You are correct, oh sensible one.”

“So, hello, mom. Will you be home soon?”

“And cheeky, too. Mmm. I’m waiting for the car as we speak.”

“Mm’kay. Caroline’s about to conip-a-fit.”

Frowning, she thought for a second then asked, “Do you mean have a ‘conniption fit’? And where exactly did you hear that particular term?”

“Uhm, a classmate, I think. Or maybe I heard it when Cara took us shopping last time? I dunno.”

“Lovely. Please tell your sister not to worry. I should be home by three. Have you both decided on what you want to do yet?”

“Yup but Caroline wants to surprise you. Okay, mom, I’m done with you. Bye!”

God help me, she thought. At least she said good-bye.

Chuckling at Cassidy’s irreverence, Miranda pocketed the phone and shook her head.

“Miranda.”

She turned in the direction of the voice and saw Andrea jogging up to her.

“We can pull the designer. Emily has...”

“Do you think my feelings are so delicate?” Miranda murmured, tilting her head a little. “Why aren’t you overseeing the shoot?”

Andrea pulled her coat tighter around herself. “They’re setting up by the windows. Testino said the light’s right. Miranda...”

“Andrea...”

“Go ahead.”

But Miranda suddenly didn’t know what to say which irritated her to no end. It simply didn’t happen to her. Andrea stood in misshaped trapeze of sunlight, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail, with a hint of red on the tip of her nose. It was enough to stoke irritation into anger.

“Do your job.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Andrea demanded roughly as she stepped within an arm’s length of Miranda. “I do my job and you know it. Are you just being mean because it’s a slow day?”

“Tread lightly, Andrea.” Miranda softly warned as her driver opened the car door. “A million girls would kill for your job.