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More of a Fair Fight

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Paparazzi lined the entrance to the Promenade for George Chakra’s show. Ten forty-five in the morning on Valentine’s Day found Andrea walking the gauntlet with flashbulbs popping in her eyes. Hence, the sunglasses. The day was achingly crisp and sunny but due to go downhill in the early evening hours. Serena and Emily accompanied her down the red carpet walkway. To Andrea’s surprise, Emily stopped to pose for the cameras. Serena laughed, pulling Andrea past the line of photographers just to the left of the ballroom entrance.

“Emily’s good enough to be a model.” Serena said, holding onto Andrea’s arm.

“She’s too short.” Andrea responded automatically. “There’s no doubt she has the moves down though.”

“I’m bisexual.”

Andrea pulled her gaze from their coworker who was being questioned by a television personality.

“Uh, thanks for the info?”

Serena rolled her eyes. “Emily is straight.”

Andrea frowned. She glanced at Emily then at Serena. “Why is this relevant right now?”

“I like her.”

Without willing it so, her eyebrows sprung upward. “Okay, good for you?”

Serena scoffed, releasing Andrea’s arm and muttering something in Portuguese.

“So, you have a crush on her?”

“Do you not understand my English?”

Andrea drew back, frowning. “Do you want...advice or something?”

Serena emitted a stream of very rapid Portuguese complete with gestures.

Emily returned to them, smirking  as she almost sashayed. Andrea noted her gaze lingered on Serena but she couldn’t tell what type of look she gave the other woman. Hardly an expert on lesbians or bisexuals, Andrea dismissed the entire thing. She was there on behalf of Runway and Miranda. The last thing she needed was to be sidetracked by an interoffice romance not her own.  

They took their seats in the second row on the left of the runway. Andrea nodded or smiled to several industry acquaintances. Vogue was in attendance, obviously, their clique sharing similar fashion sense. The fact Anna sat in the front row sealed the deal.

When Andrea walked by her, Anna said her name, half turning in her seat to look at her.

“Hello, Anna.”

She motioned for Andrea to come closer which wasn’t that hard given the chairs and rows were so close together. Serena and Emily already took their seats.

“Where is Miranda?”

Andrea made a display of looking around then said, “I don’t know.”

“God, you’re getting to be as insufferable as she is.”

“Good to see you, too, Anna.” Andrea snarked then moved away to take her seat next to Emily.

“What did your illustrious previous boss have to say?” Emily asked, eyes leveled at Andrea like missiles.

“She thought your choice of designer to wear...lacked imagination.”

Emily donned her best snooty British expression then started talking to Serena. Andrea didn’t take it personally. She heard the gossip about Emily worshipping the  stilettoes Miranda walked upon when she was Miranda’s assistant. It didn’t bother Andrea in the least. In fact, she often commiserated with the Brit. Sleek and cool, Miranda glided through the hallways of Runway and fashion industry houses with shark-like precision. She fascinated while striking fear into those who sought to ingratiate themselves.

“All fur coat and no knickers, that one.”

Knowing better than to ask, Andrea rolled her eyes.

“Just remember who signs your pay check.” Emily said then promptly turned her attention to the stage.

Strobe lights flashed as the lighting dimmed and obscenely loud music queued. Andrea’s ears felt like beaten drums. Dutifully she took shorthand notes on an incongruous three-by-five card, a system she developed and refined over the years. She had filing boxes filled with them, arranged by designer, year and season. Singled out by hot-red sparkly stickers, her favorites were easily identifiable from the others by their matte surfaces in various colors. Pink dot stickers were for designers that upset her stomach, black ones for classic, and so the ‘rankings’ went.

“Don’t you have someone else to do that?” Emily hissed, staying Andrea’s hand.

“Pull something out of your ass when Miranda asks why ‘this’ or what ‘that’ but I prefer my answers backed up by facts and details.” Andrea promptly removed Emily’s hand, gaze riveted on the show and shrugged. “You’re the one who will have to explain why you posed and interviewed in front of a show you weren’t scheduled to attend. She’s gonna love whatever pithy crap you let out of your mouth, too.”

Emily scoffed but returned her attention to the runway, looking a bit more judicious.

The ‘wrath of Le Priestly’ was always a great motivation to do one’s job.

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Between shows, Andrea stole a chance to eat, organize her notes, check in with Demetria and say hello to Fen. Her mother called twice, didn’t leave a message, and she happily decided not to return the favor. She made a note to call back Doug then she texted Nate to remind him of calling his daughter. After checking the time, she opened her personal email and smiled when she read the delivery confirmation. With any luck, she was going to have the absolute BEST Valentine’s Day in the history of such things. Sitting on a long bench, wrapped in a Tom Ford double-breasted wool and cashmere coat trimmed with leather, Andrea wasn’t too uncomfortable against the icy breeze. It was an eye-popping one of a kind scarlet color brushed with black undertones which perfectly matched the Chloé Diane lace-up boats that she preferred tied half-way up. She rocked the ‘feminine military allure’ with the day’s outfit, and, hopefully her late night ensemble would rock a certain person’s world.

After the Verrier show at six, she needed to hustle to The Plaza Hotel and get ready for the host city gala where people from the fashion industry gathered, mingling with rich, adoring fans, political heavyweights, movie stars and rock bands. By invitation only, Andrea’s attendance had been secured with a very quiet, discreet word from the Editor in Chief of Runway. Lucky her. From the outrageous to the classics, New York’s Fashion Week drew all types of fashion-savvy revelers for a night of drunken fun or for a prominent member to slip away without notice.

Nothing, however, was going to happen unless she stopped daydreaming and went to the next show. At the venue, she slipped past the photographers with a smile and short wave but when she walked in she nearly stumbled. Miranda Priestly sat in the front row. Andrea kept herself from smiling, unbuttoned her coat and draped it over her arm. The show was due to start any minute. Vanessa met her at the second row.

“We’re switching.” she whispered, took Andrea’s coat, then moved past her.

Andrea flipped her long curls over one shoulder and made her way to the center of the row where Miranda sat with an aloof bearing.

“You’re not on the schedule for this show.” Andrea murmured, offering a quick smile to Nyja from Vogue who had been in the running for Andrea’s last position with the magazine. Judging by her second row seat, she got it.

Miranda tut-tutted. “I decide what shows to attend.”

“You look amazing. Dior suits you.”

Smiling for the cameras, Miranda played the diva although Andrea thought she was a natural. “How did you get Tom to match his coat with your shoes?”

Andrea opened the small program and acted like she was skimming its contents as she answered, “You’re not the only one with connections.”

“And you look...a bit dangerous, darling.”

She crossed her legs, slanting her body toward Miranda but looking past her. She withdrew an envelope from the inside of pocket of fitted blazer. “I have something for you. A...present.”

Miranda held out her hand for the legal-sized, plain white envelope while exchanging fake pleasantries with an opera singer.

The lights flickered and Andrea took out a blank three-by-five along with her favorite pen from her purse.

“What are you doing?” Miranda asked in a low, irritated tone.

“Taking notes for you and myself.” she replied. “Normally I’m not on the front row...”

“Vanessa is doing that. Put it away and soak up the experience, Andrea.”

About to object, she looked into Miranda’s softening gaze. Pressing her advantage, Miranda tilted her head then lifted one eyebrow.

“For me.”

Andrea couldn’t put the things away fast enough. For the first time in her career, she simply watched for the artistic beauty on display with Miranda at her side.

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The grand ballroom was packed but Andrea arrived ‘fashionably late’. Having received several clipped texts, she knew Miranda was already in attendance and where she held court. The Ralph Lauren sequined embellished evening gown’s hem brushed the paraquet floor despite her four inch stilettoes. Hardly outlandish, it was, however...risqué given the plunging neckline and front thigh slit. The long sleeves hugged her arms. Going for a more traditional hairstyle, it took Andrea two tries to get the tight updo, crossed bun to look sleek, devoid of errant hairs. She chose to leave her neck bare of jewelry but adorned her ears with diamond linear drop earrings and wore a diamond encrusted thumb ring on her right hand.

She took her time crossing the room, stopping to trade a few words with important people while gliding by the ones who would bog down her progress. The cool silk inner lining of the gown caressed her legs as she walked and Andrea felt womanly. Several men turned their heads, leering and smiling, noticeable to her but hardly something to remember. At long last, she came upon Miranda who was dwarfed by a mixed crowd which made getting to her rather problematic.

“You look exquisite, Six.”

With genuine warmth, she turned toward Nigel and pressed her cheek against his then pulled out of his light embrace to look at his attire. Nigel held open his master-tailored camel coat with a black leather revers.

“I can’t believe you went all Gaultier on me. Where’s the bowler hat?”

Nigel smoothed his palm across the side of his head. “This is a gala to try something...different.”

Andrea, catching the slight insecure note in his voice, quickly smiled. “Well, you look smashing. This is from Gaultier’s 2008 Fall menswear collection, isn’t it? When he paid tribute to Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko. I remember reading about it.”

“Jean Paul was devastated when Fred died so suddenly from cancer two years ago. He wanted to honor his friend.” Nigel cleared his throat. “And I wanted to honor Jean Paul.”

Andrea paused, trying to work it out Nigel’s confession, wondering whether he meant it the way he said it. “You and Jean Paul...?”

“Yes. We had a thing years ago but now that I’m in the same city, things...progressed.”

“I’m happy for you, Nigel.”

“Yes, well.” He took off his glasses, produced a monogramed handkerchief  from the interior pocket of his coat and began cleaning his glasses. “Am I to understand congratulations are in order for you as well?”

“I love her, so much, Nigel.”

He put his glasses back on then smiled at her. “Well, allow me to introduce you to your date.”

“What?”

Nigel snapped his fingers, looking somewhere behind Andrea.

“Andrea Sachs, this is Warren Monroe, the first baseman for the Yankees.”

“Hello, Andrea. You look very elegant. It’s nice to meet you.”

She liked him immediately but not for the compliment or his good looks or fame. No, he was nice and gay which, really, relieved her to no end. She placed her hand in his and immediately Warren pulled her in, kissing her cheek.

“Can’t have people think we just met.” he whispered kindly before retreating. “We’re on a date after all, right?”

“Come on, Warren, help me cleave through this throng.”

He kept Andrea close as he led them through the crowd. A few men impeded Warren’s headway, saying things like ‘we’ll get ‘em next time’ or ‘can’t wait to see the new stadium’ or ‘is it really true you do ballet for flexibility?’. He juggled his responses so professionally, Andrea wanted to take notes or lessons. Maybe both.

Within a few more seconds, Warren burst through the last ring of people surrounding Miranda and Andrea stopped in her tracks. A very distinguished looking gentleman held court with her woman. It was silly, childish and silly but Andrea wanted to yank his arm from Miranda’s waist. The proprietary way he looked grated on her nerves.

Warren murmured in her ear, “Remember, it’s just for show.”

Miranda noticed her in the way a painter looks at a subject, a composer crafts every note and a carpenter measures square, level, and plumb. The effect of such a perusal left Andrea dazed. Voices, tinkling glasses, even the crowd existed in the blurry outskirts of her perception.

“Andrea.” she said in the low timbre that skipped along Andrea’s nerve endings.

“Hello, Miranda.” she said then looked away for fear of showing all that she felt.

“You look lovely.”

Conscious of the many eyes trained on them, Andrea wrapped her arm around Warren’s then looked up at him, smiled then returned her gaze to Miranda who appeared none too pleased.

“Warren, allow me to introduce you to Miranda Priestly, Editor in Chief of Runway magazine. Miranda, this is Warren Monroe.” She looked up at him adoringly then teased, “He plays a game for a living.”

 “Ouch. If you weren’t so smart, I might be offended.” he rejoined smoothly, looking every inch the smitten companion.

Warren extended his hand. For a brief second Andrea worried Miranda wouldn’t take it but she did and served her most frigid smile.

“Malcolm, this is my Fashion Director, Andrea Sachs.”

What it lacked in enthusiasm, her reception made up for in possessiveness. A ribbon of heat rippled down her spine. She looked at Malcolm’s bowtie as she limply shook his hand. None of this meant anything for anyone. Andrea swallowed the bitter influx. It was weird and difficult and exceedingly annoying to have to pretend for the divorce lawyers and their careers. It was very possible Nate couldn’t even afford a lawyer, let alone fight her on anything but she couldn’t take the chance, not with her daughter nor Miranda. So, Andrea inflated her lungs as far as their capacity and let the air out by degrees so no one could tell she was pretending to be someone she wasn’t.

“Nice to meet you, Malcolm.”

The men shook hands, obviously known to each other. Andrea wondered if they were a closeted couple then dismissed the thought because she really didn’t get that vibe from them. Then again, they could be the consummate actors for all she knew.

People shuffled around to accommodate the new couple and Andrea was delighted to discover Warren had navigated her next to Miranda.

“You’re wearing red.”

The accusation in Miranda’s voice revealed more than it cloaked. Andrea leaned in a little, careful to maintain a blasé demeanor.

“Like a bitch in heat?”

Miranda cut short a soft grunt. “You’re going to pay for that, cub.”

Andrea smiled at an acquaintance. “Oh, how you do go on, Miranda.”

She knew she was playing with fire. Miranda’s tolerance was far from predictable but she couldn’t stop prodding her. There was something about the ornate ballroom with its history and elegance and the fact their faux beaux were seasoned companions that tore into Andrea. She tried to stem the resentment, the unfairness of the entire situation but her entire being cried out to publicly state her claim to Miranda Priestly.

“You’re trying to provoke me for some unknown reason. Just don’t.”

“Andrea, would you mind if I stole you away for a moment?” Warren cut in, smiling brightly.

At first annoyed by the interruption, Andrea glanced around then laid her hand on Warren’s arm.

“Not at all.” she answered, injecting a bit of eagerness into her voice.

“If you’ll excuse us.” Warren guided Andrea with a palm at the small of her back.

“I’m sorry but things were getting tense between you, too. Let’s get a drink.”

Andrea nodded, reapplying her social mask. Along the way, she smiled and paused for small talk. When it was time to move on, Warren lightly applied pressure to her lower back. He maneuvered them to the bar without effort but Andrea acknowledged it was a great skill of any date.

“What’s your poison, Andrea?” he asked, removing his hand.

Thinking of the bottle chilling in her room above, Andrea replied, “Anything but champagne.”

He smiled then leaned in, lightly touching her shoulder. “Remember, I am so, so gay. You’re doing great by the way.”

Andrea remained several feet away and was immediately greeted by Bee, Anna’s daughter.

“Everyone’s talking about you.” she accused playfully.

“Has your mother seen what you’re wearing?”

Bee laughed. “This is the event to show off one’s...creativity, no?”

“One false move and your ‘creativity’ is going to fall out of your dress.”

“You’re one to talk. That neckline practically meets the slit of your dress, Andrea Sachs, but it does look lovely on you.”

“Excuse me, ladies.” Warren returned, holding two martini glasses.

“Bee, this is Warren...”

“Oh, my god, you’re a Yankee!”

It was hard to tell whether the information delighted or horrified Bee but then she grinned and turned on the charm. Andrea watched in amusement as she accepted the drink. Warren was polite and gallant, offering his drink to Bee. They bantered for a few flirtatious minutes and Andrea was grateful for the respite. She sipped the extra dirty martini, wrinkling her nose in distaste, olives her least favorite flavor.

“And who is this, Bee?” Anna drawled, joining their circle, then finished off her usual drink.

Introductions were made but Andrea remained silent, scanning the room in search of her editor.

“Hello, Andrea, you look positively sinful. I approve, darling.” Anna said, eyebrows arching over the rims of her glasses.

“Thank you, Anna. Are you enjoying yourself?”

“It is a party.” she drawled then turned to Warren. “Do be a good man and refresh my champagne.”

It wasn’t a request but Warren smiled and asked after everyone else. Bee giggled, telling him to surprise her. Andrea declined and offered her half-full glass to him. He winked then finished it off.

“I daresay he has a marvelous physique.” Anna murmured, eyeing his departure. She turned toward her daughter and asked, “Are you behaving yourself?”

Before she responded, Nigel arrived and answered, “What’s the fun in that? We were on our way to the bar and decided to drop in as it were.”

The back of Andrea’s neck tingled, spreading across her shoulders.

“Oh, the gang’s all here.” Anna remarked drolly.

Everyone jostled around, making room. Introductions were made yet again and Andrea found herself directly opposite Miranda and her faux-beau. Wonderful. Having a hard time not staring at how Miranda’s black dress clung, she wished they were upstairs already.

Something was going on between Miranda and Anna, a type of silent communication so subtle Andrea doubted the others saw it. She was the only one fixated on Miranda, attuned to her every movement, the rise and fall of her dulcet voice. Miranda’s gaze darted to Bee then to Anna. She tilted her head ever so slightly.

Anna leaned close to Bee and whispered something that caused her daughter to fidget. No longer gregarious, the girl pasted on a smile then after a few minutes excused herself. Andrea glanced at Miranda and caught the faintest frown directed in Anna’s direction. She thought back to what was happening with Bee before her mother intervened.

“I’ll be right back.” she abruptly interrupted. “Excuse me.”

Andrea followed after Bee, glimpsed the brunette’s intricate coiffure but lost her in a cluster of people. She pardoned her way through until she was free. Bee was headed to the ladies room apparently. Andrea sighed, feeling flushed, and decided she might as well brave the gaggle of women sure to occupy the facility. She bypassed the short line for the stalls straight to the anteroom where two women checked their appearance in the mirrored wall. Their conversation was typically superficial, easily tuned out as Andrea waited for Bee to reappear from the stalls. The flowery patterned silk blend material covering the small couches and dainty chairs in the sitting area, with their gilded armrests and legs seemed antiquated to her. She could envision women balancing on the edge of their seats, spread out in order not to wrinkle or crush protruding bustles so popular in the late eighteen hundreds. How many women stole a few moments in these places? She saw the evolution of women’s fashion parade around in her mind and smiled.

“Did my mother send you?”

“No.” she replied, looking at the back of her dress in the mirror. “Someone bumped me from behind and I wanted to make sure they didn’t spill anything on my dress.”

“Oh, well, good. I’m an adult. She has a problem with that, I think.”

“All mothers do. Fen just turned four and I’m appalled how quickly that happened.”

Bee smiled wryly. “Isn’t that the nature of things?”

“I was a little girl once, you know. And my mother dressed me up like a drag queen which wouldn’t have been so bad except she applied makeup like one, too. I couldn’t feel my face it was caked on so thick.”

“Oh, my, I thought having Nuclear Wintour for a mother was harsh.”

Andrea stepped away from the mirror and looked at Bee. “She loves you and your brother. If anything were to happen to either of you, Anna would be devastated, Bee. You must know that.”

“I do but...sometimes the expectations of Anna Wintour’s daughter are pretty crazy, Andrea, and you know what I’m talking about. I saw a little of what she put you through and you were an employee.”

Andrea took Bee’s hand, pressing her fingertips into her palm. “I’ve watched you grow up and become a wonderfully funny, intelligent, and kind person. Your mom did something right. Give us mothers a break, huh? You guys don’t come with instructions, you know.”

“I know.” Bee grinned, eyebrows rising. “Wonder what she’d do if I had a wardrobe malfunction?”

“Don’t even joke about it.”