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Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?

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The party was impressive, Andy had to admit that. The venue was gorgeous, with those slick dark marble floors, the postmodern glass and tile mosaic behind the bar. Even the enormous clock ticking down to midnight managed to be more striking than tacky. The cheap champagne—Moët, at least, not Korbel—was flowing, people were flirting, editors were loosening up. It was a good party. Hell, there was even a band. No one terribly famous, but they had a record label and a lead singer with range and alluring eyes. A good party, a great party.

So why was she so deeply bored?

It wasn’t that Andy didn’t have work friends. She did have them—Este from copy, Stella from the art department, Jon from Condé corporate. And even the people who worked far below her were friendly. Her assistant, Imani, had just come over to ask her what she thought of the band. Andy was a good boss. It’s just that she was the boss. There was no longer anyone on her level. Everyone at Condé Nast was above her, everyone at the magazine was below her. Stella, maybe, was nearest to her in seniority, and she was halfway across the room, making eyes at someone else’s boyfriend. Go figure. 

So Andy was bored. So bored that she had a strange desire to find anyone at all, even some total bore like David Remnick if she had to, just so she could have a conversation like a normal person. But then again, the last time she’d gotten stuck in conversation with David, she’d wanted to pull a Van Gogh and have her ears removed. 

She took the last sip of her vodka soda and tried to hold back the clichéd thought straining at the back of her head. It’s lonely at the top. Jesus Christ. She had to stop drinking and get out of here before her mind went full melodrama.

She had just set her glass on the bartop and pointed her body towards the coat check when she felt it. Someone was watching her. Or, well, maybe that was an assumption. But someone was looking at her, she could sense it. Probably someone from the low rungs trying to place her, or a rookie mustering up the courage to pitch a story at 11:35 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Dear god, let it not be someone wanting a raise. Andy looked down at the phone in her hand, the one that promised an Uber Black was on the way. Twenty minutes. That was more than enough time to deal with whomever was staring at her. She turned around.

The lead singer from the band was, in short, hot. She had long fiery curls that seemed both unkempt and professionally styled, and she was still wearing what she’d worn onstage. A slouchy navy blue suit with what looked like a $75 white v-neck underneath, a pair of traffic light yellow heeled boots on her feet. She was leaning against the bar, drinking something dark in a short glass, and she was smirking—smirking!—at Andy. Andy suppressed the urge to look over her shoulder and make sure she wasn’t looking at someone else. Instead, channeling all of the calm in her system, she raised an eyebrow. The singer narrowed her eyes and eliminated most of the distance between them. 

Andy found herself clenching her jaw in order to keep it from simply falling wide open.

“Hello,” the singer said. Andy noticed the lowness of her voice, the verging-on-navy violet lipstick applied carefully to her perfect cupid’s bow. “I couldn’t let either of us leave before I introduced myself to Capital Magazine’s esteemed editor-in-chief.” The singer offered her hand, and Andy smiled.

“Usually people just call me Andy, but ‘esteemed editor-in-chief’ is fine. What should I call you?” Andy said, giving the singer’s hand a brief shake. Her hands were soft. Without thinking about it, Andy catalogued her long fingers and blunt nails. Interesting.

“I’m Cazz,” she said, absentmindedly tracing one of her jacket lapels. 

“Cass. As in Mama?”

Cazz’s face lit up with a grin that was almost feral. “Usually it’s Cazz, with a Z. But Mama is fine, too.”

It was a terrible line. Really not good. But Andy leaned in anyways. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Cazz. I’d love to stay and talk, but I’ve got an Uber on the way.”

Cazz’s lips turned down, but her eyes were still bright. Almost bright enough to convince Andy to cancel the car and stand around flirting with a twenty-something all night.

“Damn,” Cazz said with a pout. “I’m sorry you’ll miss out on our big closing encore at midnight.”

“What does that entail?”

Cazz shrugged. “Who knows. Guitar-smashing, tears, ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ Everything’s on the table.”

“Everything?” Andy wanted to slap herself in the face. What was she doing?

“Everything. I was hoping to find someone to kiss at midnight, but it looks like my first choice is leaving the party early.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Andy heard herself say. “But you know what they say. Better get out while I’m ahead.”

As the words came out of her mouth, Andy knew they didn’t quite make sense, but whatever. Hopefully Cazz was as tipsy as she was. Andy gave her a wink and made her way to the coat check.

She gave herself a moment, just a few seconds, to imagine taking Cazz home. And talking to her about what exactly? You know, I sensed a Patti Smith influence in some of your songwriting and delivery. Could you speak to that? Her default conversational techniques were, unfortunately, mostly bad interview questions. But given the scenario she was indulging herself in, there probably wouldn’t actually be much need for conversation.

She waited until she had crossed to the bank of elevators before putting the coat on. Dries. Too expensive, probably, but of the Net-A-Porter links Imani had suggested, not the most bank-breaking. Sometimes she wished she could be a fly on the wall in Miranda’s offices these days, just so she would know what she was supposed to wear to half of the events she ended up going to. She hadn’t even heard of Dries van Noten when she was at Runway, and now her assistant was telling her he was “a must have for the nouveau riche,” a class which Andy guessed she belonged to now.

She was waiting for the elevator and trying to decide if she should leave the coat unbuttoned when she felt it again. In the mirrored doors of the elevator, she saw Cazz’s blurry figure behind her.

“I’d leave it unbuttoned,” she said. She had her own coat draped over her arm. It was pink—no, blush, like a peony—and wool. Andy let her hands fall from the buttons as she turned around.

“Not staying for that encore you promised?”

“Oh, I am,” Cazz said. “I just thought I would walk you out first.” The elevator dinged.

Andy turned to step inside, sticking her hands in her pockets to keep herself from playing with the buttons. “Be my guest.”

Cazz smiled and followed her, pressing the button for the first floor and quickly following it up with the close door signal. With a heaving sigh, the doors finally whined shut.

“I didn’t realize you were so eager to get me alone,” Andy said. In the reflection of the closed doors, she saw Cazz hold in a laugh.

“Well, we’ve only got ten floors. Fewer if we have to make a stop. I didn’t want anyone else monopolizing your time.”

“And what is it you have to say to me that has to be said in the privacy of an uninspected elevator?”

That grin again. Cazz’s eyes were sparkling.

“I wanted to thank you.”

They finally turned to face each other, Andy shifting to lean against the wall. “You know I didn’t hire you, right? I have no clue who booked you, actually.”

“No, I figured event planning was not in your job description.”

“Then thank me for what? Or,” Andy said, a look of realization passing over her face before she rolled her eyes. “Is this another line?”

“Another line?”

“You know, ‘Mama is fine, too.’”

“Oh, I’m typically much smoother than that. It’s just that you walked right into it.”

“I thought you said Cass . I was clarifying.”

“Yes, but you were also flirting a little, too. I could tell.”

“I was flirting? With you?”

“Oh, come on, esteemed editor. Don’t hurt my feelings.”

Andy snorted. “Okay, fine, fine, whatever. Tell me why I’m being thanked, then.”

“Oh, yes,” Cazz said. Her eyes flicked up to the lighted box that indicated which floor they were passing by. 5.

“Well, this is sort of embarrassing, if only because I’m sorry I didn’t thank you sooner. But thank you for the Harry Potter .” 4.

“The... Harry Potter ? I don’t follow.”

“You have to remember. Or maybe you don’t. The advance copies?” 3.

Andy’s brow furrowed of its own accord.

“It’s been fifteen years, and J.K. Rowling is absolutely canceled now, but the fact that you managed to get ahold of that manuscript still astounds me to this day.” 2.

Andy squinted at Cazz as if she were crazy. Those eyes. She did know those eyes.

“I know you remember me, Andrea.”

And she did know that mischievous smile.

“I—Cassidy?” 1.

 

 

At 11 a.m. on the following Monday, Imani ducked her head into the office.

“Two things,” she began, bracing her shoulder against the doorway. Andy nodded, half-paying attention. “Este is going to pick up takeout from Bon Banh on her way in, maybe in an hour, and she said to text your order if you want something.”

Andy perked up. Bon Banh was in Brooklyn, too far away for a quick work lunch usually . But if Este was offering…

“And Cazz Priestly is on the phone for you. Said you’re expecting her to call?”

Oh. Shit.

“Okay, uh. I’ll take the call. Tell Este I want the grilled mushroom banh mi and whatever pho you want.” Imani’s face brightened significantly. “And then check in with Desi about his weird data feature, I really want analysis in my inbox in the morning, and he needs to talk to graphics about the visualization.”

“On it,” Imani said, all but disappearing from view. Then, suddenly, her head reappeared. “But, uh. Cazz Priestly. Is that like, the singer from the other night?” There was a conspiratorial gleam in her eye.

“Yes, it is.”

“Mm hmm. Was it just me, or was she looking at you like—“

“That’ll be all, Imani.”

“Yep, for sure, got it.”

Andy took a beat, staring at her office landline with no small amount of trepidation. So, she definitely could not fuck Cassidy. That was out of the question. And Cassidy surely knew it was out of the question. And she was calling to what? Say I’m sorry? Say thank you? Say hello from Miranda? A chill went down Andy’s spine. Andy had, very luckily, been able to avoid Miranda in her eighteen months of being a bigwig. She planned to keep it that way.

A Slack notification dinged on her laptop screen. Imani. FYI Cazz Priestly on line two, order placed, thanks for lunch. Andy lifted the handset off its cradle and pressed the button.

“So I’m realizing my dramatic identity reveal may have backfired,” Cazz said, her voice floating off the receiver sooner than Andy could bring it to her ear. “Which is too bad, because I think I was doing a pretty good job before the whole, ‘What, how are you, where have you been, what’s Caroline up to’ business.”

Andy had to give it to her. She was funny. And her voice, which had already been alluring at the bar, was now dry and maybe, just maybe, very sexy.

“Doing a good job of what, exactly?”

“Of getting you to ask me to dinner. Obviously.”

“Uh huh. And should I expect that information to get back to your mother?”

“I don’t see why it would,” Cazz said with a laugh. “It’s not as if she’s synced up with my Google Calendar.”

Andy eyed her door. Imani had left it open. She lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. “Cassidy—“

“Cazz.”

Cazz . Can you see how our dynamic might feel a little inappropriate for me?”

“Hmm, let me see. We met a couple times when I was a teenager—“

“You were twelve.”

“And you worked for my mother. We ran into each other at a work event fifteen years later. Help me out with this, what’s twelve and fifteen?”

Andy suppressed a sigh. “Twenty-seven.”

“Twenty-seven. As I recall, we were both interested in each other—can you confirm?”

“Yes.”

Yes. How enthusiastic. Anyways, we flirted, and you absolutely would have taken me home if I hadn’t needed to finish the show—no need to confirm that one—“

“Christ, you are just like your mother.”

“Andy, if you wanted to get me off the phone, there are less cruel things you could’ve said.”

Though she could hear the smile in her voice, Andy grimaced. “Cazz, come on. This is weird.”

There was a brief silence from the other end of the line. It sounded like Cazz was shifting, maybe about to hang up on her. If only.

“Okay,” Cazz finally said, her voice in full soothing mode. “Here’s the thing. I like you. I always have. And I know that you like me, or, at a minimum, you are physically attracted to me and think I’m funny. I’m not asking you to come home for Christmas. I’m asking you to meet me on Thursday at 9 p.m. at Voltaire’s for one drink. That’s all.”

Andy knew what she was going to say as soon as her palms started to tingle with nervous excitement. “I can’t do Thursday. It’ll have to be Friday.”

“Perfect. Friday at nine. Transfer me back to Imani and I’ll get it on the calendar.”

Andy rolled her eyes and hung up.

 

 

When her cab stalled in front of Voltaire’s on Friday, Andy saw Cazz smoking a cigarette outside, bundled up in a coat much thicker and less chic than her slick Acne digs from the party. That was something Andy was curious about. How much of Cassidy’s style had been influenced or paid for by Miranda. She was stylish, obviously, but in a way that could conceivably be sourced from ASOS and Rent the Runway—two of Andy’s mainstays—rather than Madison or Fifth Avenue.

Andy got out of the cab and pointedly avoided a patch of ice on the sidewalk. When she looked up, Cazz’s eyes met hers. Andy felt a burst of warmth in her chest. “You smoke?” Andy blurted as soon as she got near enough to Cazz, whose lean frame was propped against the wall casually. Cazz’s scarlet-painted lips spread into a smile. She dropped her cigarette to the ground and crushed it with flare. “For you, I’ll quit.”

Andy had another vodka soda. Cazz ordered a Boulevardier.

They got a small table in the corner. It was quiet in the bar, the biting cold apparently enough to send most evening drinkers home after work. Andy hadn’t been here before, but she immediately clocked its appeal for someone like Cassidy. For one, there was no way in hell anyone even remotely in Miranda’s sphere of influence would ever get a drink here. Not that the place wasn’t nice or clean. But the ceilings were low, and the tile underfoot was old and cracked in places. The corners of the windows were grimy. And, of course, there was a small, low, wooden platform in the back, barely large enough to meet the qualifications of a stage. 

When Cazz shrugged off her coat, laying it over the back of the chair, Andy figured it was a good time to ask. “Montcler?” she said. Cazz shook her head. “No, but I love this trip down memory lane for you. Want to keep guessing?” Andy gave her a look over the rim of her glass.

“Okay, fine,” Cazz relented. “Canada Goose. A Christmas gift. From Stephen, believe it or not.”

Andy couldn’t hide the shock on her face. Yes, they’d gotten divorced, Cazz explained, but Stephen sent her and Caroline a Christmas gift each year, usually a jacket or scarf or hat. Two years ago, it had been the coat. It annoyed Miranda to no end.

“But I think it’s sweet,” Cazz admitted. “He’s gotten remarried now and everything. I mean, obviously he was a shitty husband, but he did care about Caroline and me. And I think he felt bad that divorcing mom meant he just disappeared from our lives forever.”

It was easy, now that Cazz had willingly gone back in time, to ask her about her life in the fifteen years that they hadn’t seen each other. She told Andy sparing details about her high school years (“To use the Sweet Valley High dichotomy, I was Elizabeth, Caroline was Jessica”), her college education (“In Nashville, which obviously upset basically everyone I’m related to”), and, in greater detail, how she started the band.

The band, Andy learned, was called The Belt Buckle Band, and they played what Pitchfork was apparently calling “glam-influenced alt-americana,” though Cazz said she didn’t totally agree with that description. “Isn’t that original? The musician doesn’t like the way she’s being labeled. So sad, click below to donate now,” Cazz said, her voice flat and self-deprecating.

“Tell me this,” Andy said finally. “On the phone, you said you’d liked me for a long time.”

Cazz took a long sip of her drink. “Is there a question in there somewhere?”

Andy didn’t respond, only shrugged. Cazz sighed, a low hum of breath that coincided with a slight slump of her shoulders.

“If you are asking if I had a mild childhood crush on you, the answer is yes. But really, I hadn’t thought about you in years. I didn’t even think about you being at the party,” Cazz placed her glass on the table, ran the tip of her finger around its edge. “But obviously, when I saw you, it was very difficult to stay away.” She paused. “It’s clear Nigel rubbed off on you in a major way.”

Andy, who’d been firm in her mind about the one-drink-only terms of the date, suddenly found herself wishing she had another. “What do you mean by that?”

Cazz leaned all the way back in her chair, her eyes appraising. It wasn’t until now, really, that Andy realized how closely they’d been sitting. “I assume this is what you wore to work?” She asked. Andy nodded.

“Well,” Cazz began. “I can’t speak to the slacks, but they are clearly well-above the Banana Republic-grade clothes you got started in. I’m going to guess the silk-blend sweater is a $500 purchase, minimum, and this is the second time I’ve seen you in a designer coat. I’ll say this one is Bottega Veneta, though I have to admit that I find Daniel Lee’s work somewhat unimaginative, and I could very well have the label wrong. But either way, it’s more expensive than the Dries van Noten, which I thought you looked adorable in. I do see the value of the trench though,” Cazz went on, her eyes glazed over and looking into the middle distance. “It’s certainly more of a commanding, editor-in-charge look.” Her gaze narrowed back in on Andy, who was flushed and slightly dazed.

Cazz lifted her glass again. “I only mean to say, you dress well. It’s sexy, and it’s not a bad thing.”

When Andy continued to have absolutely nothing to say, Cazz tipped her drink back and finished it.

“Okay,” she said. “You agreed to one drink, so you are now free to go.” Another pause. “However, I think it’s worth noting that I had a nice time, and I wouldn’t be opposed to drawing out the evening.”

 

 

Andy liked it when Cazz talked to her about clothes. About music. About everything. But especially about clothes.

She understood that about herself now, more than a decade removed from the crush that made her realize she was interested in women. Confident women, women who could explain something to her in a tone of voice that verged on condescending, women who dressed well, and usually women who were older than her. But Cassidy— Cazz —really, really worked for her, turned her on in a way that no one had in a long time.

So if, when they entered Cazz’s apartment that night and made their way into the bedroom, Andy let Cazz undress her slowly, complimenting the smoothness of her skin and the fabric of her clothes as she did so, it wasn’t all that surprising. And if, as Cazz pressed Andy back into the organic cotton of her pristine white duvet, Andy said softly, in a voice she almost didn’t recognize, Tell me what you’re going to do to me, it made a lot of sense.