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More of a Fair Fight

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The Tom Ford cashmere pencil skirt with a side slit was a new addition in her arsenal. Miranda paired it with a Salvatore Ferragamo heritage print silk shirt and a wonderful pair of Jimmy Choo suede pumps. A pity it was being wasted on a fashion-blind ex-husband. Still, the attention she commanded while walking through the dining area didn’t hurt. Stephen stood as the maître de pulled out her chair.

“You look beautiful.” he said and didn’t retake his seat until she draped a linen napkin across her lap.

“Mmm, you’ve lost a bit of weight. That Hugo Boss looks loose on you.”

He smiled, revealing laser-white teeth that looked ghostly against his tanned skin. “You always knew what looks best on me.”

“It is my job.” she replied absently, looking around for the waiter. “I don’t have long, Stephen.”

“I’ve forgotten how you like to get to the point.”

“I’d like the cucumber and lime infused water.” she told the waiter who then looked at Stephen.

“Iced tea, thanks.”

Crossing her legs at the knees, Miranda leaned back in the chair as she clasped her hands in her lap. “What’s this about, Stephen?”

His pinched expression proved, at least where she was concerned, he hadn’t developed thicker skin.

“This isn’t easy, you know. It wouldn’t kill you to look a little happy to see me.”

Miranda’s eyebrows inched upward. “Would you prefer I fake it like I used to?”

“Christ, Miranda, can’t you be civil for once?”

“You do realize it’s no longer my job to make you feel good about yourself?”

The muscle in his jaw flexed several times before he responded.

“I do.” He took a deep breath but whatever he intended to say stayed in his throat when the waiter arrived.

Miranda enjoyed the interruption despite the way the waiter enthused over a memorized description of specials and popular dishes and ‘inspired’ alternatives. With each second the waiter took up, the vein in Stephen’s temple grew. There was a part of her, of course, that didn’t dislike seeing her ex-husband out of sorts.

Once they ordered, Stephen rearranged his napkin then adjusted his tie.

“I’m in a twelve-step program and I want to make amends...to you.”

Miranda sipped her water. Of all the programs available to someone with his resources, she was a bit surprised he went to Alcoholics Anonymous. People in their income bracket usually went to Betty Ford. Perhaps Stephen was serious. Either way, however, Miranda really didn’t care. She didn’t hate him. That would require feelings she no longer possessed.

“Well, then, say you’re sorry and be done with it, I suppose.”

“I was...I acted so badly the last months of our marriage.”

“The last year, you mean, not that I kept track really. I merely want to be accurate.”

Stephen’s mouth dropped open. His eyebrows, immaculate and in all likelihood threaded by a salon employee, lowered in the bullish way he often displayed in the past.

“Do calm down. I’m not in the mood to sit through one of your public tantrums.”

“It’s like you have ice in your veins.”

The old jab lost its potency which surprised her somewhat. All the hateful things he flung at her, often while drunk but sober, too, toward the end, rushed back into her head. He’d been relentlessly demeaning as he attacked every insecurity he found. From her age to her performance in the bedroom, from her over developed work ethic to her familial neglect, Stephen worked hard to tear her down and he almost accomplished it.

“It’s blood, Stephen, ordinary blood like everyone else on the planet. You always wanted something from me that I couldn’t give you although I tried. I really tried.” Miranda gathered the napkin from her lap and stood, tossing it on the table. “We’re not married and I don’t have to try anymore. Earn your self-respect by the choices you make and not by trying to make someone else feel less of a person.”

She left with her head held high as usual although touched by a peculiar sadness. On paper, Stephen had seemed so right. The first marriage, Miranda chose a whirlwind romance, complete with trumpets and doves and rose petals. It ended with twins and infidelity. The second one, she picked with her head, creating a spreadsheet to tally the pros and cons. It ended in bitterness and alcoholism.

Perhaps she wasn’t made for marriage. The thought spurred another and another until Miranda’s mind was filled with Andrea. What would she be like to come home to? When she turned the question over, toying with various outcomes, Miranda suddenly stopped. Marry a woman? After two divorces she was daydreaming about a marriage to Andrea Sachs? What part of ‘not made for marriage’ transitioned into a gay union?

Miranda curtly told Roy over the phone to come and get her immediately. As luck would have it, he was only six minutes away. Despite the chill, she didn’t pace to keep warm. Instead, she stood near the curb of the sidewalk, next to a ‘No Parking’ sign while half of Manhattan walked by. It was one-fifteen in the afternoon which meant Andrea most likely finishing up at the Valentino show.

“I was just thinking about you. It’s like lunchtime there, right? Let me guess...medium rare fillet from Smith and Wollensky’s?”

“Try the wedge salad from Abocca’s with ex-husband.”

“Number one or two?”

“Two.” she replied dryly, leaning forward to watch for Roy in the oncoming traffic. “So, how was Vargineau?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Andrea teased. “Let’s just say I’m going to get whatever I want from you.”

“You’re joking. No one in the last five years has been able to...”

“Until me, Priestly.” Andrea laughed in the throaty way she had. “So, how’d it go with Stephen?”

“He wanted to make amends for his twelve-step program.”

“And did he?”

“I have no idea. I left before my salad arrived and now I’m famished.”

“I know you can take care of yourself but...are you okay?”

Miranda stopped looking for the sedan. “Yes. And thank you for asking because I don’t get asked that question very often.”

“I wish I was standing in front of you right now.”

“Mmm, and why is that?”

Andrea breathed into the phone, the sound brushing along the tiny hairs of Miranda’s skin. “Because I care about you.”

The admission dipped beneath Miranda’s defenses. There was only one reply she could make.

“Then, this is more, isn’t it? You and I?”

“Yes. My answer is yes, Miranda, because I’m not about to risk my career on a...on a fling. So help me god, if you don’t feel the same way, I will kill...”

“Of course I feel the same way, Andrea. I’m not in the habit of allowing people to undress me at work, taking intimate selfies, or confessing feelings over the phone.”

“Okay, I just need to tell you that...what you just said...turned me on and all I can think about right now is how much I want to kiss you. While I’m at it, you should also know that I am going to touch myself, repeatedly, and think about you.”

“Jesus Christ, Andrea, are you trying to kill me?”

Andrea hummed, “Mmm, no. You have so much to do to me before that happens.”

“If it’s the last thing I do in this world, Andrea, I will erase the memory of anyone who has ever touched you before me.”

“I’m on my way to meet Nigel and his new coworkers for drinks.” Andrea whispered. “I want you to make me come by your words alone, Miranda. You have ten minutes. Go.”

Miranda achieved it in nine.

  •  

Back at Runway, she strolled into the bullpen, hips undulating in that fuck-me-if-you-dare type of way women adopted when they felt powerful. Miranda weaved through the throng of bodies, never missing a step, never hesitating. At the top of her game, she flung her coat onto the second assistant’s desk and entered her office. Vanessa swiftly arrived after her, notepad in hand, and began to recite the list of things that needed to be done.

“Reschedule Vera for next week, push back Meisel to next Tuesday, I want ten skirts from Calvin Klein, and get Donatella on the phone. That’s all.”

Naturally Donatella kept her on the phone over thirty minutes for a five minute conversation. Yet, it was entertaining, especially when she relayed a little snippet of gossip about Jacqueline Follet being bitch-slapped by a Russian ambassador’s wife on camera.

“Vanessa, get me a copy of ‘Design Divas’. I want the episode everyone’s talking about.”

“Of course.”

After two-thirty Miranda looked up from her desk to see the Cerulean girl hovering with a coffee in her hand. She scanned the assistant’s attire and, unimpressed, resumed working.

“I’ve got your coffee.”

Miranda heard Vanessa hiss something at the girl that made her take a step into the office.

“Perhaps you’re waiting for it to sprout wings and magically transport to my desk, hm?”

The girl jerked then winced as hot coffee spilled onto her hand.

“Vanessa.”

The first assistant must have been lurking around the door because she was in the office by the time Miranda uttered the last syllable of her name.

“Yes, Miranda.”

The Cerulean girl carefully set the coffee on the edge of her desk.

“Make sure she didn’t hurt something then go get my coffee since, evidently, it’s beyond her capabilities.”

“Well, you haven’t lost your touch.” Adele sniped as she swept into the room. “Vanessa looks pissed.”

“She hired the girl and is responsible for her training. I don’t see why her incompetence should be inflicted upon me.”

“Touché, Priestly. You’re in fine form today. Did you pay a pizza delivery to run over Anna?”

Miranda finished making a notation on a Post-it, peeled it from the pack then affixed it to a page in the magazine. “Of course not. She and that little rag she spits out like junk mail are an endless source of amusement for me.”

Adele laughed as she seated herself on the chair across from the editor. “There’s a rumor going around that Bee’s involved with a Saudi entrepreneur. I suspect Anna is calling out the dogs as we speak.”

Grinning, she supplied, “Well, if you tell I’ll deny it, but I started that one several weeks ago. I’m surprised you’re only now hearing it. More than likely she’s found out it was me and is plotting her revenge. I smile every time I think of the money she probably spent on an investigator.”

“She’s probably waiting until the twins reach the dating age.”

“I’ve forbade them.”

Adele sniggered then blandly continued, “I wonder if the Rockstar ex-husband agrees. Not a conventional fellow, is he?”

“He knows I will neuter him with dull scissors if he exposes them to that lifestyle.”

“Aren’t you full of piss and vinegar.”

Miranda glowered. “Rather vulgar coming from you.”

“Be that as it may, I’ve come to invite you to a little...get together for a select few at my home on February seventh. Drinks start at six.”

Miranda stared at Adele. “It’s too early.”

Waving her off, the CEO stood. “Six is fashionable. Besides, you have children to tuck in.”

“You know that’s not what I meant, Adele. This is a marathon and not a sprint. You agreed to a year.”

Adele looked down at her shoes and smiled. “My feet look fabulous in these, don’t they?”

“I have no idea.”

“Come now, don’t be sullen.”

“Then don’t be an ass.”

Eyebrows arched, Adele replied, “Rather vulgar coming from you.”

Miranda huffed and tried not to smile. “Fine. We’ll lay some groundwork.”

Two minutes after Adele walked out, Vanessa said, “Miranda, there’s a Chantel from the EC daycare on line two. Should I...”

“I’ll take it.”

“Miranda, hello, it’s Chantel. I’m calling to tell you Mrs. Sachs is withdrawing her daughter effective on Monday. There’s a WL for other Elias-Clarke parents so I’d like...”

“Why are you telling me this, Chantel?”

“I just wanted to inform you as a curtesy, Miranda, since you were the one to insist we find a spot for her.”

Leaning back in her chair, Miranda toyed with a pen as she replied, “Since I’m the one who started your little employee daycare and paid for the start-up costs out of my own pocket, whenever I want a spot or two in that daycare, it shall be mine, Chantel.”

“Yes, Miranda.”

“Don’t make me feed you to one of the models.”

“Yes, Miranda. I, uhm, apologize.”

  •  

The meeting dragged on while Miranda doodled on a page of her notebook. She didn’t try to hide it, either, but then, only someone with a death wish would call her on it. Joselyn brayed on and on about some nonsense until Miranda looked up, dropped her pen and surveyed the room.

“Next time I suggest you let me know when any original ideas come to mind so I don’t waste my time. Does anyone want to do their job?”

“It’s accessories, Miranda. Besides re-naming the color wheel, it’s still just purses, belts and jewelry.”

Everyone but the suicidal beatnik-inspired dresser kept their eyes down. Miranda leveled her gaze at her, not knowing her name and not really caring.

“What’s your name?”

The women had the audacity to roll her eyes. Miranda smiled, infusing as much venom in it as possible.

“Fillus Dott.”

“Phyllis Dott?”

“It’s spelled F-i-l-l-u-s but, yes, that’s my name.”

“Lovely. And who hired you. Fillus-with-an-‘F’-Dott?”

Finally the woman looked uncomfortable, eyes darting toward the Accessory Editor. Miranda made a show of closing her notebook.

“Joselyn, please do the honors.”

“N-n-now?”

Unconcerned, Miranda asked, “Does location matter?” No one met her gaze.

“Fillus, you’re, uh...”

“Perhaps you’d like me do to it for you?”

Joselyn’s features relaxed with relief until she considered the source then her eyes grew round. She looked at her underling and said, “Fillus, you’re fired.”

“I just started last week!” she snapped, pushing back her chair in outrage. “If this is how you treat your workers, no wonder everyone wants to work for Vogue.”

Miranda half-smiled then walked out, calling over her shoulder, “Call security.”

Fillus’ cursing death wishes were music to her ears.

Emily joined her in step as they walked down the hallway.

“Who is that miserable bleating cow?”

“Fillus Dott.”

Emily frowned then glared at an oncoming clacker who ducked into an opened door just as they passed. “Is she Swedish?”

“I’ve no idea but she does spell it with an ‘F’. She took the time during the accessories meeting to spell it for me.”

“Went a bit barmy, didn’t she?”

Miranda strolled into her office without answering.

  •  

Five o’clock arrived. Miranda checked her phone and was surprised she missed a text from Andrea. It was eleven o’clock in Paris but Andrea was leaving tomorrow morning on a plane that would arrive around one o’clock in the afternoon. She called Roy and swept out of the office, curling her lip at the Cerulean girl who recoiled like a soft noodle being attacked by chopsticks. She delivered the Book, which really wasn’t, adequately enough. Small victories, she supposed.

Roy tipped his hat as he held open the door, waiting for her to gracefully enter the town car. Without much thought, she told him to put the privacy window up then called Andrea, hoping she was still awake.

“This is a spectacular trip but I’m glad I’m coming home.” Andrea breathed into the phone.

“How is my darling Fen?”

Andrea replied, “She’s been fussy all day but I’m glad Demetria had to deal with it instead of me and I don’t care if that makes me a bad mother.”

“Demetria?”

“Don’t play coy, Priestly. The jig is up. Nigel ratted you out which wasn’t that hard for me to figure out on my own but it’s nice to have confirmation.”

“Mmm.”

“Hold on, someone who is supposed to be asleep just climb into my lap and wants to say hello.”

“M, I was good.”

“I’m going to ask your mother about that.”

C’est bien.”

Miranda cooed, “Oh, you are such a smart girl, aren’t you? Comment allez-vous?

Bien et toi?

“Excellent. Would you like to learn more French words?”

Oui, s’il vous plait”

“I love you, mon chou.”

“I lubbie you, too, M. What’s...man chew?”

Biting her lip, Miranda stayed the laughter bubbling up. “Mon chou, it means  my sweetie.”

“Mummer’s says sleepy time. Night, M!” she sighed then made lackadaisical kissing sounds.

“I like that you’ve connected with Fen, Miranda.”

Miranda looked out the window but only saw her reflection. “I do, too.”

“She’s drooling on my chest.”

“Oh, I know the feeling.”

“Do you now?” Andrea teased then quieted. After a few seconds, she said, “I’ll be back soon. In the same city with you and I can’t help but worry you’ll pull back or decide you don’t want to...”

“None of that. We take the steps, no skipping over, no faltering, Andrea. We take the steps.”

“Okay. We take the steps.”

“We didn’t get to talk about...nine minutes. My accomplishment.”

Andrea laughed. “Oh, look who’s full of themselves but it’s well deserved and I have no complaints. The cabbie, though, well, I did try to be quiet but...you are very good at...talking, Miranda Priestly.”

“Andrea, it’s been a while...since I’ve been with a woman.”

“Outside of a few fumbling experiences in college, I haven’t either. So, we both...” Andrea sighed. “...should be very vocal with our likes and dislikes.”

Miranda chuckled low in her throat. “Is that your way of telling me you’re a moaner?”

“I don’t limit myself.” she shot back. “But I think you’re going to test even that and I really look forward to it.”

“Yes, let’s do that.” she hummed wickedly.

“I can’t wait. And on that note...” Andrea vented a breath. “I should put Fen to bed and go myself.”

“Sleep well, Andrea. I’ll see you soon.”

Just as she hung up, Nuclear called.

“My CEO asked if I paid a pizza delivery to run you over.”

Anna scoffed. “I don’t eat...”

“Oh, you do, and it’s cheese burst. And I know you don’t play tennis every morning, either.”

“Good god, won’t you just shut up. You’re like a little tattling girl. Try to be serious for one minute. I have news.”

“Does it relate to me?”

“Yes.” Anna laughed. “Why, everything’s about you, darling.” Her tone dripped with sarcasm.

Miranda groaned. “Very well.”

“Stephen is pedaling a tell-all column about his ridiculously brief marriage to you.”

“You’re going to pick it up?”

“What? Are you high? You know we don’t publish that rubbish.” Anna made a noise. “I thought about it for a second, darling. Can you imagine the circulation numbers? But you know I love you like my favorite pet pig.”

“You don’t have any pets, Anna.”

“If I did.”

“Fine. Who’s thinking of taking it?”

“Page Six even though it’s more about pictures and innuendos. God knows, they’ll print anything, but...People is considering it.”

“Who do we know...”

“I’ve made the call, darling. Vincent Larame is the editor. I expect a call back soon. I expect he will agree without too much persuasion. Call your contacts and I’ll do the same. Hopefully, between the both us, we’ll squash this.”

Miranda huffed, entirely put out. “Oh, now you expect me to be grateful, don’t you?”

“That would be out of character for you.”

“Thank you, Anna.”

“God damnit. We don’t do ‘nice’, Miranda Priestly. I’m merely returning the favor. I know you called in a marker or two when Bee went a bit...crazy in her first year of college.”

“She’s an exceptional young woman with a cross-to-bear of a mother. I couldn’t allow those pictures to be published.”

“I know.” Anna said softly then hung up.

Miranda leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes even though the town car was coming to a stop.