The night Miranda told Andy she’d be going to Paris instead of Emily, Andy barely slept.
She kept hearing the sound of Miranda’s voice as she spoke the words. Watched the cirrus fall of her hair, so much softer under the lamp’s dim glow than it was among the bright white walls of her office. Saw the way the rust sweater fell across her shoulder, pale and smooth. Bare.
When Nate asked her to come to bed she did, but she stared at the ceiling till she couldn’t stand it anymore. Padding silently to the couch, she settled on the uncomfortable cushions. At least alone she could breathe more easily. The heat of Nate next to her, his sleepy sounds, even the scent of him had been suffocating. Not because she no longer cared for him, but because she cared… well… less. His complaints, delivered in that strange whine that had crept into his voice nearly anytime they spoke, were making her doubt the depth of the relationship that had been central to her life for nearly five years.
This job was making her question everything in her universe. The people she’d met, the challenges she’d overcome, the knowledge she’d gained--all of it was opening her up in a way that felt like a pain and pleasure tied together. Nate gave himself permission to work late, but he was annoyed when she did. He disappeared and hung out with friends whenever he felt like it, but he gave her a hangdog look if she had a work event. And that birthday pout because she missed his party... the memory of it bothered her. He was an aspiring chef, a job that required as many late nights or more than her own. What was so terrible about wanting to do well in her profession, no matter what it might be? What if Andy had never wanted to be a journalist in the first place? What if the study of fashion had been the reason she’d come to New York? Would he have liked her as much, or loved her at all? Did he only care about her because he liked having her on his arm? “This is my girlfriend, Andy. She’s going to be a prize-winning journalist.” He clearly didn’t like saying, “This is my girlfriend, Andy. She’s working for a vapid magazine about a subject I actively hate.” He didn’t even mention Runway when he introduced her to someone new; she had to do it herself. He still just called her a writer. Maybe he was ashamed, or embarrassed, or angry, depending on the day.
Sometime around 4 she dozed till her alarm went off at 5:45. She rolled off the couch and went to the tiny bedroom closet, where she’d already put together her outfits for the week. She pulled the one for the day out and had a thought: what the hell was she going to bring to Paris? And what was she going to bring it in? Back in college she’d borrowed her folks’ large suitcases and sent them home at Parents’ Weekend, repeating the same experience every year. She had shipped most of her things home after she’d studied abroad for a semester in Ireland. When she’d moved to the city with Nate they’d boxed everything and packed a U-Haul. Even when she went to Cincinnati she packed light and did laundry at home. Hell, before Runway, she’d barely had many clothes to begin with.
She quietly rummaged in the back of the closet to pull out the battered carry-on her mother had given her for her 18th birthday. Staring down at it, she realized she’d have to get something new; this would never do, not for a representative of Runway. Maybe she could expense a couple of bags, but she couldn’t ask Emily about that now. She’d have to check with Nigel, who would probably laugh in her face. But luggage was expensive and she was barely breaking even.
“What are you doing?” Nate asked.
Andy was startled. She hadn’t even noticed he’d turned on the light.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, looking at the empty, worn suitcase. “Just thinking.”
“You going somewhere?”
“Yeah,” Andy said, sighing in exhaustion. She didn’t have time to battle it out after almost no sleep. She wasn’t up for much of anything right now, but better to rip the bandaid off than wait. “I’m going to Paris.”
There was a long pause before Nate laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“I thought Paris was a big deal for Emily.”
“It was, but things changed, so now I’m going.”
“What are you talking about? You can’t just drop everything and go to Paris because Miranda tells you to.”
Andy turned to him. “Yes I can.” She had no intention of apologizing. Nate was an adult. He could take care of himself, and if he couldn’t, then this thing between them was probably going to end sooner than later. “I want to go, so I’m going.”
He sat up in bed and ran a hand through his hair. “Andy, somehow this job, these people, they’re brainwashing you. You’re not this girl.”
She closed her eyes and tried not to scream. “I am who I am, Nate. This is my choice. If you don’t like it, we should probably have a serious conversation, but I can’t do this right now. I have to get ready--”
“Do this? What kind of conversation are you planning to have with me?” He watched her with disbelieving eyes. “I don’t even know who the hell you are. We barely talk, probably because we have literally nothing in common anymore. We’re here together but we’re living separate lives. If we’re gonna end it, let’s just end it.”
“Nate, it’s not even six in the morning, let’s--” The shrill sound of her phone’s ring interrupted not just her words but her entire thought process. It was like an electric shock through her body; one word sang in her mind: Miranda. Miranda, Miranda, Miranda. She headed for the other side of the bed. “I have to take this--”
He snorted with derision. “You know, you’re right, go ahead and answer it.” Andy paused to glance at him as she unplugged the phone from its charger. “The person whose calls you always take? That’s the relationship you’re in. I hope you two will be very happy together.” He got out of bed and stepped into the bathroom, swinging the door shut with a bang.
She blinked once, twice, then answered. “Morning, Miranda. What can I do for you?”
Mechanically, she took notes as Miranda rattled off the latest demands: flowers for Donatella, who was apparently arguing with at least half the fashion world; a specific change to the menu for the flight to Charles de Gaulle; a plumber to come to the townhouse to fix the faucet that one of the twins had prised off the wall the night before. Finally, Miranda asked Andy to visit Hermès to pick up the scarves that Emily had forgotten the day before.
“And remember to tell Emily about Paris,” she added, just enough vehemence in her tone for Andy to realize that she would have to be swift with the knife. Miranda would not be patient--perhaps even less so in this case. “Today. We need to focus on the preparations and I don’t want time wasted by either of you on unnecessary dramatics. Is that clear?”
“Mm,” Andy said, thinking about Hermès scarves but watching the closed bathroom door. It was sinking in now; she and Nate had just broken up. After all the anguish her latest arguments had caused over the past few months, it was a relief. She dreaded the conversation with Emily more than any future conversations with Nate over how they would extract one another from their respective lives.
“What’s the matter with you?” Miranda demanded. “Are you listening to me?”
Exhaustion flowed over Andy in a wave. “I always listen to you, Miranda. I always take your calls,” she added in a daze. “No matter how busy I am, I always answer when I know it’s you.”
Only then did it occur to Andy that those words might sound a little odd when delivered directly into the ear of one’s boss. They may have sounded odd to Miranda too, who did not respond right away. For perhaps the first time, Miranda sounded as though she actually heard Andy when she asked, “Are you well, Andrea?”
The softness of her tone was so surprising Andy felt tears spring to her eyes. “I’m fine. I’ll be in shortly. I’ll have the scarves for you and a plumber will be at the townhouse this morning. Anything else?”
A few seconds ticked by. “No. That’s all.”
“Got it. See you in a bit.” When there was nothing else forthcoming, Andy clicked off. Miranda never said goodbye when she hung up so Andy had started to do the same.
At Hermès, Martine was more than happy to open up early, so Andy had the scarves in hand by 7:15. She was about to cross the street when her phone rang; it was Emily. “Andrea, I might be a few minutes late today, I need to run over to Hermès to pick up--”
“Em, you don’t need to--” Andy started, pausing before stepping into the street. A taxi was barrelling toward the intersection, and she’d fortunately looked before crossing against the light. It swooped by her, and when the flashing light turned in her favor she started into the crosswalk. “I’ve got them and I’m heading in.”
“Wait, you’re at Hermès?”
“No, I’ve just left. I’ll be at the office in ten--” Andy turned and saw another cab flying toward her; in the split second before she ended up rolling on the windshield as the scarves flew in the air, she had only two thoughts: I’m going to be late for work, and This asshole had better not keep me from going to Paris.
Turns out, she was not late for work; she did not go to work at all. Her arm was broken. Her back was bruised. She wasn’t concussed, but she peered down at the splint and knew that Paris was no longer an option. “Fuck my life,” she whispered.
She’d had an x-ray, a CT scan, and an IV, and the doctor said the transverse fracture to the mid-humerus (her left, thank goodness) would likely not have further complications. She would need the splint for a week before getting fitted for a brace, which she’d wear for a couple of months if everything went smoothly. The doctor said her youth and general health would speed her process, and with PT her recovery would be about three months. “Believe me, it could have been much worse,” she’d said. “A single break with no concussion after getting hit by a taxi? You’re lucky. I mean, obviously better luck would have been to avoid the accident altogether, but things happen. You’re fit. It will be over in the blink of an eye.”
Andy stared down at her phone and texted Nate. At Lenox Hill, had a run in with a cab but am mostly fine. Can you pack my toothbrush and some sweats and run them over here sometime today? Thanks. She did not remind him of the fact that they’d broken up. Maybe if he didn’t respond she could ping Lily or Doug, but Lily had the opening tonight and Doug would be at work. She could wait, though. They weren’t going to discharge her till tomorrow in case she had symptoms present after the fact.
It had been a couple of hours since she’d arrived and she hadn’t communicated much with Emily since then. All Emily knew was that she’d been hit by a car and was at the hospital, but more importantly that a plumber was going to be at Miranda’s house at exactly 9:15am. She’d better be there to let him in, otherwise there was going to be hell to pay.
She wished she had her laptop on her, but then realized that was probably a good thing. It would surely have been damaged in the accident, so maybe Emily--who was now going to Paris in her place and would never know she’d been passed over--could bring it by. She’d have to get the scarves again, since the ones she’d picked up for Miranda had ended up all over the street. The ambulance driver did not respond to her request to search them out, rolling his eyes as he’d loaded her into the back of the van. She figured a bunch of passers-by had scored very nicely today, indeed.
At ten, Nate texted that he was on his way, and was she badly injured? She reassured him and settled in to wait. He arrived half an hour later, brow furrowed in concern as he entered the room. “Oh my god, Andy, I can’t believe it. Are you okay?”
Andy shrugged. “Been better.”
He sat down at the side of the bed and took her right hand as he gazed at the left. “This--I--what happened?”
She told him, and he was appropriately sympathetic. “I’m so sorry--especially after, you know, this morning.” He swallowed. “When we argued.”
She stared at him. “You mean when we broke up.”
He shook his head. “We didn’t break up. We had a fight.”
Andy was incredulous. “You said we should end it. I didn’t lose my memory, Nate. I remember every single thing you said this morning.” I hope you’ll be very happy together. “You broke up with me. I’m fine with that. I--” she looked down at her arm. “I can’t move out now, with this. If you can’t find a new place right away, maybe you could leave your stuff for a while and--”
“Wait a second. What the hell? You’re already thinking about how I’m gonna move out?”
“Nate, we’re done and we both know it. A broken arm doesn’t change that. It doesn’t change me.”
He exhaled. “Well you can’t work. Miranda’s gonna fire you if you can’t do your job.”
The thought of Miranda firing her because of her injury was so stunning in the moment that Andy gasped in horror. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she could lose her job after breaking a limb on the clock. Could that happen? Was it even legal? She was familiar with worker’s compensation from her limited experience researching it, but this was different. Her position was as far from union as possible, and she’d heard Miranda once fired an assistant who’d cut herself with a letter opener and nothing had ever come of that. Her mind reeled and she leaned back on the pillow. The devastation at the thought of being tossed out like trash by Miranda was worse than anything; worse than the pain, worse than missing Paris, worse than being dumped by Nate. “I’m not going to get fired. I can’t haul the drycleaning around but I’m not a total invalid. My brain still works, I’m perfectly capable of running things with one hand--”
“Andy, you don’t need this job. Get something else, something better for you, for us. You’ll be able to stop obsessing over your boss. You don’t have to be this person.”
Gazing into Nate’s handsome face, his wide, lovely eyes, Andy found herself unable to find any remnant of familiar pleasure in it. Instead, her mind drifted back to the annoyances of the relationship that had grown too large to ignore. The incessant towels on the floor, the dirty dishes on the counter from the nights with friends that she’d missed. Worse still, the grocery lists he left for her on Sunday mornings while he slept late after getting home from post-work drinks at 3am. Andy had put up with being the one doing the heavy lifting of managing both their lives. That had officially come to an end.
Her hands curled into fists, nails digging into her palms. “I am already this person. I may be different but I’m still me. We grew apart, Nate. Find someone who’s going to work 9 to 5 and won’t complain when you get home late, who can run your errands and pick up after you. That’s not me. It was never me. I did those things for you and didn’t complain because I’m good at being organized and making people happy. And you know what’s funny? I get paid to organize Miranda’s life. I don’t get paid to organize yours.”
He seemed shocked at the turn their conversation had taken. She softened her tone for a moment, recognizing that the pain in her arm and her back were making her lash out at a man she’d loved for years. “I’m sorry, Nate. I am really, really sorry it didn’t work out. But we both know this has been coming for a long time.”
His eyes sharpened. “Since Miranda.”
Andy swallowed. “Miranda is not the reason this happened, Nate.”
“You’re wrong. If you hadn’t gotten that fucking job, we’d still be fine.”
Maybe Auto Universe would have been the easier gig. But it wouldn’t have been the right one. “Too late now,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand. Her anger receded. Whatever her future might turn out to be with Runway, with Miranda, she would accept the consequences.
“Who’s gonna take care of you? Your arm--”
“I’ll take care of myself.” She grinned as well as she could, feeling sadness descend as she came to grips with the end of the life she’d hoped to have with Nate. More than that, she grieved the end of a future she had once wanted more than anything. “I always do.”
“Nate, go home. We don’t have to decide logistics now. They’re keeping me here overnight. Tomorrow, we’ll talk. Okay?”
He nodded, shell-shocked enough to respond well to direction. Later, there would be more arguments, more vitriol and bitterness. Today she would benefit from his silence. “Okay.”
He left without hugging her.
Not even two minutes later, there was a knock on the half-opened door. She figured it would be Emily. It wasn’t.
Andy knew that Miranda was not a fan of germs. (Honestly, who was?) Her boss was not phobic from what she could tell, but she had avoided hospital visits to friends whenever possible in the months that Andy had known her. But somehow, Miranda Priestly had deigned to show up at Lenox Hill to Andy’s semi-private, other-half-as-yet-unoccupied room. Andy frowned, not understanding exactly what was happening. Miranda looked specifically like she did not belong within these very drab four walls, surrounded by terrible antiseptic smells. The white board with the name of Andy’s nurse scrawled on it in red marker hung behind her head, making Miranda look even more out of place.
“Uh, hi.” Andy cringed, wishing she’d known Miranda was coming so she could have at least checked her makeup. Or lack thereof. “Sorry.”
Miranda removed her coat and tossed it on the foot of the bed. “If you truly didn’t want to take Emily’s place there were better ways to avoid it than getting hit by a car, thank you very much.”
It sounded like Miranda had just made a joke, but was she really joking? Andy could never tell. Miranda was actually pretty funny once you got to know her, but this didn’t seem like quite the time to laugh, especially with Nate’s suggestion still on her mind. She did not want to be fired for getting in an accident. “I’m uh, I think you know that’s not what happened. I was on my way in when--”
“I know, I know, Emily has relayed the story to me repeatedly, and gossip has traveled around the office that you’re approaching your deathbed.” One perfectly groomed eyebrow lifted as she assessed Andy’s condition. “That does not appear to be the case.”
“No. Just bruises and a broken humerus. My doctor says I was lucky. I beg to differ.”
“As do I,” Miranda said, taking a seat next to the bed and gazing over at the window. “This is very inconvenient, Andrea. I am extremely disappointed.”
“You can’t possibly be as disappointed as I am. I’ve never been to Paris!” Shifting in her bed, she looked down as the pain radiated out well beyond the break. “Not to mention the fact that I’m in like, mildly excruciating pain.” And I just re-broke up with my boyfriend for a second time today.
“Hmm,” Miranda sighed. “I needed you to be there, Andrea. There will be many things I was no longer worried about that now I need to expend much more of my own energy on.” She turned to Andy and glared. “Energy I do not have to spare. You must realize I will blame you every second I am forced to put up with Emily in your absence.”
Andy felt a curious bloom of affection for Miranda at that moment. This is a first, Andy thought. Feeling flattered by the insulting tone… Maybe it was the drugs. “Is there anything I can help you with in advance? I mean, there are still a few days before we--uh, you leave. There’s got to be something. Emily is bringing my laptop to me this afternoon, I can start as soon as it gets here.”
There was a protracted silence between them. Andy held her tongue as thoughts flew across Miranda’s face; it was clear she was wrestling with something important, although how serious was anyone’s guess. Finally, Miranda met her eyes. “You and Nigel are very close,” she said, out of the blue. It was a flat statement, but Andy heard the question in it nonetheless.
She bobbed her head once. “We are.” As Miranda nodded, Andy surprised herself by adding, “But you come first.”
Miranda appeared as surprised by the words as Andy was in saying them. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out of it. Eventually she suggested, “Because I pay your salary.”
“That’s not why,” Andy said right away, with utter conviction.
Andy searched her thoughts, but could not articulate them. “You just do.”
Miranda frowned. With a great sigh, she began, “Nigel believes something is going to happen in Paris that will make him very happy. He hasn’t received confirmation, but when he does, I need to undo it. I will have to tell him the truth and it will--” Miranda took a breath. “It will hurt him very badly.”
That was a long string of words that told Andy almost nothing at all except that Nigel and Miranda seemed as though they were both in for a world of pain. “That sounds like it’s going to be really hard, Miranda.” Andy felt her heart squeeze in sympathy for the two of them. “I know how much--” Andy almost said you care for him, and instead said, “he means to the magazine.”
Miranda’s gaze was sharp when she met Andy’s eyes again. “Yes,” she said. “That’s true.”
“Can you tell him in advance, instead of waiting?” Andy asked.
With a harsh shake of her head, Miranda replied, “No. It would tip my hand.”
“But don’t you trust him?”
“Of course I… I trust him.” Miranda blinked quickly; Andy hadn’t seen that expression very often. It was uncertainty. It made Andy feel uncertain herself.
“Maybe he can help you. Be on your side. I can’t be there for you, but he could be. Has he given you reason to doubt his loyalty?”
“Not… not recently.”
“So, think about it. It’s hard for me to really, uh, give you advice, not that you’d ever ask for advice from me, of all people, so maybe… maybe I should just keep quiet. Sorry. It’s probably the meds. I’m on some nice painkillers at the moment.” But Miranda was still frowning in thought. “He might surprise you.”
“He might go after my job if I’m not careful.”
“Not a chance,” Andy laughed. “No one can do what you do.”
Miranda turned to her once more, the blue of her eyes very beautiful in the light of the sun streaming through the windows. “Well, that’s a compliment I never thought I’d hear from you.”
With a wry grin, Andy slouched back gingerly against the pillows. “Today is full of surprises. That’s just the latest in a very long line. And it’s not even 11 o’clock.” Adjusting her position, she hissed as her back throbbed. She couldn’t imagine how bad it would look tomorrow once the bruises started to show up. “Fuck,” she breathed, “I mean, sorry.”
Miranda was gazing at her in concern. “Your arm? Do I need to call someone?”
“No, it’s my back. I sort of rolled up the windshield. That’s how my arm got broken too.”
“Oh my god,” Miranda said with a sharp exhalation. “Are you joking?”
Andy realized she probably shouldn’t have said anything; Miranda looked a bit green around the gills. “It wasn’t so bad,” she lied. She’d have PTSD about cabs, and cars, and crossing the street for a while. “I’ll be okay. The doctor said in a few months I’d be back to my old self.” Miranda’s eyes widened further. “Oh, I’ll still be able to work, you know, just maybe not, um, coffee runs for a while. I--I hope that’s okay. I mean, I can be your assistant, even if I can’t type quite as fast. Right?” Andy asked, hoping it didn’t sound like she was begging to keep her job.
Miranda had figured out what she was really asking. She briefly pursed her lips. “Yes, Andrea, you will remain at the desk in New York, if only to remind Emily of all the things she forgets on a daily basis. Everyone of consequence will be in Paris for the week but there will still be plenty to manage. Unexpected tasks always come up.” Miranda stood and retrieved her sunglasses from her bag, sliding them on. “When will you be home from the hospital?”
Andy was so busy sighing in relief over still having gainful employment that she could barely focus on the question. “Tomorrow.”
“Then I don’t expect to see you in the office before we leave. When you’re released, have Roy come and collect you.”
Andy tried hard not to gape. Forcing a total lack of expression, she simply said, “Okay. Thank you.”
Leaning over to grab her coat, Miranda swung it over one shoulder and swept from the room without another word. After a few seconds, Andy broke out in laughter, already missing the scent of the perfume to which she’d grown weirdly attached. But once she settled back into the pillows, she couldn’t help but frown. The incredible compliment underlying Miranda’s visit left behind a strange void; the room seemed dimmer and her energy deflated. She had nothing to worry about when it came to job security. She wouldn’t even have to panic about the thousand details involved in seeing Miranda off to Paris. But the longer she sat alone in the hospital room, the more morose she felt. Was it the thought of the crisis Miranda and Nigel seemed to have in front of them? She couldn’t tell. She wanted to be there to help them, to do all the things that made Miranda’s life easier. And as much as Miranda may have complained about her impending absence, Andy wasn’t really necessary. She was just a lowly assistant, a nothing in Miranda’s life. Someone replaceable.
She closed her eyes miserably and hoped the drugs would wear off soon.