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Red Threads

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After Aubrey’s brief moment of kindness that Stacie called ‘The Black Card Incident,’ things reverted to normal. Aubrey still demanded that Chloe and Stacie handle everything and anything for her, from babysitting her nieces and nephews when she was unavailable to helping her secure a driver in Milan at 3 AM Eastern Standard Time. If Stacie were honest, it sometimes felt as though that moment was a fever dream. The only evidence she had to prove it happened was the receipt she had kept after purchasing the two coffees from Starbucks. If it weren’t for that receipt, she would have thought it was a hallucination. 

 

Although there was a bone of decency in Aubrey, Stacie didn’t find it for the remainder of that month. It was October, and Stacie had been working for Bella for the past three months, although the intensity of her indenture to Aubrey made the past three months the longest of her life. Sometimes she would wake up at 2 AM in her bed to the sound of an irate Aubrey panicking about noise outside of her penthouse. 

 

The first time this happened, Stacie had sprung into action and had security and the police on the phone, only to realize that Aubrey lived on the top floor of her building and had around-the-clock building security. Aubrey also had her own private elevator. Stacie hadn’t taken any of Aubrey’s midnight reports seriously afterward. If it weren’t for the fact that Aubrey mandated availability at all times, she would have turned the phone off until it was time to get up for work. 

 

“You really should be delivering The Book to Aubrey’s apartment by now,” Chloe commented one day. The redhead seemed more drained than usual; she had bags under her eyes that distracted from the other assistant's perfectly curled hair and immaculate outfit. “If she doesn’t trust you enough to deliver The Book yet, we have a problem. There has to be something you’re doing wrong; if you fix it, you can take over the responsibility.” 

 

“So I can stay here until eleven at night? No thanks.” Stacie snorted; she was in the middle of updating the Bulletin. Amy had called with a new blind date option, and Stacie was currently entering the mystery man’s contact information into the document. 

 

“This is important, Stacie;" Chloe argued. The Book was a large three-ring binder as large as an unabridged dictionary. It contained the entire mock-up of this month’s Bella issue. Every section was expertly written, printed, edited, and designed as though it were ready to print for the masses. Supposedly, Stacie was supposed to use the special elevator key to Aubrey’s penthouse and drop off the blonde’s dry cleaning at the closet to the left of the elevator. Then The Book was supposed to be placed, centered, on the coffee table to the left of the right couch. 

 

Despite Chloe’s specific instructions and three months of work, Stacie still hadn’t been called upon to deliver The Book. Something that filled Stacie with equal parts relief and dread. If Aubrey didn’t trust her with something so important, did that mean she was likely for termination? Or was the fact that she wasn’t being called upon for such an arduous task a blessing in disguise? 

 

Whether it was a bad sign or not was irrelevant because mid-October brought the arrival of Hurricane Joshua. The bringer of 150 mph winds and an overwhelming amount of panic buying. Stacie was tasked with acquiring two weeks' worth of hurricane supplies for Aubrey’s Park Place home, it was meant for when Aubrey returned to the city. Meanwhile, Chloe was tasked with ensuring Aubrey’s South Carolina home was ready, and a plane was ready to take her along with the driving service that was paid a bonus for inclement weather. Chloe told Stacie to forge Aubrey’s signature for the ‘in case of death’ waiver that the driver’s agency sent over. 

 

The storm was shaping up to be a big one, and it was the day before the storm hit when Stacie realized she hadn’t stocked anything for herself. She had been so focused on ensuring every one of Aubrey’s demands were taken care of that she had forgotten to get supplies for herself. Stacie groaned and made a note to order some more items to the list on Bella. It was only fair considering they needed her alive if she continued her indentured servitude to them. 

 

....

 

It was the day of the storm, and Aubrey was supposed to be in her South Carolina home, shuttered in and stocked up to her eyeballs in food and water. If anything, she was going to skate along perfectly in the midst of Joshua’s screaming winds. Stacie would have been relieved for the break if it weren’t for the fact that a category 4 Hurricane was batting down her tiny apartment walls. The basement of the building was already flooding, and Stacie knew she would be going elsewhere for laundry for the next week. There was no way the landlord was going to fix everything on time. 

 

The power was out, and Stacie was sitting around a battery-powered lantern with a book when she heard it. Her phone was ringing, and it wasn’t her personal phone. The clear, high, staccato sound of the iPhone tone bore into her eardrums like the soundtrack of her personal hell. Stacie wondered if she could pretend the phone was dead, but then she remembered that Chloe was currently in New Jersey with her family and fiancee, so the ginger couldn’t help if she wanted to. 

 

Stacie let out a disgruntled mumble before grasping around in the dim lighting for the phone. It was on the last ring when Stacie answered. 

 

“Anastacia!” Aubrey’s voice greeted Stacie through a clamor of wind and feedback. Service was debatable, so this call had a time stamp. 

 

“Yes, Aubrey?” Stacie sighed. 

 

“I don’t need your attitude right now; I need you to get a driver for me. It’s cold and raining, and I need to get to 2 Park Place.” For what it was worth, Aubrey did sound utterly miserable at that moment. 

 

“No driver is going to come out in the middle of the worst of the storm Aubrey, especially to drive you from South Carolina to Manhattan. Just wait for flights to New York to come back.” Stacie reminded her boss as patiently as she could muster. 

 

“Anastacia, weren’t you listening? I’m not in South Carolina; I’m stuck at JFK; the flight got canceled because of the inclement weather at the last minute,” Aubrey growled through the phone. Stacie stiffened at the new information; Chloe had booked Aubrey a red-eye flight before the worst of the storm was supposed to hit; how did it get canceled? The storm didn’t hit until 10 AM; there should have been plenty of time.

 

“Aubrey, where are you right now?” Stacie hurried to inquire; her mind scrambled to picture JFK in its entirety. She winced at the wide expanse of windows that she called to mind in the process. She heard an irate huff from the other end as Aubrey proceeded to snarkily inform her that she already said she was at JFK. Stacie sighed and resisted the urge to facepalm. Instead, she gritted her teeth and forced the next question out of her mouth. 

 

“Where in JFK?” Aubrey fell silent and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like near the car loop outside. Stacie wanted to kill the airline staff. 

 

“Alright, let me call Pieter and see what they can do. I’ll call you when I know more, okay?” Stacie said. Luckily, she had the driving company’s number memorized by now. Stacie was about to hang up when Aubrey’s panicked voice sounded over the speaker. 

 

“Wait, Stacie!” 

 

Stacie wasn’t sure if she jumped from the volume or the fact that her anal-retentive boss just called her by her preferred name. “Yes?” Stacie replied tentatively. She thought she heard light sniffling on the other side of the phone. “Please don’t go,” Aubrey murmured. Stacie sucked in a deep breath at the level of vulnerability in Aubrey’s voice. It was strange to hear the usually put-together woman reduced to just another scared human being. It was unnerving; part of Stacie wanted to hear Aubrey yell at her again to get the sad sound of the blonde’s voice out of her head. 

 

“Alright, can I call you back on my personal phone? Then I can use this phone to call the drivers, is that okay?” There was silence on the other end for a moment, and Stacie wondered if the older woman had hung up. Finally, after a couple more seconds of waiting, Stacie heard a quiet ‘yes’ and began to dial. 

 

It turned out that Stacie was right, and no one was willing to make the drive to JFK for a slightly vicious yet vulnerable blonde. Which left Stacie on the phone with her presumed, drenched boss as the fashion mogul was reduced to something akin to hysterics. Not that Stacie could blame her, she wouldn’t want to be stuck in a glass-walled airport during a category 4 hurricane either. She briefly wondered whether she should call 911, but when she suggested the idea to Aubrey, the blonde became incredibly belligerent, so Stacie discarded the idea. All she could do was be grateful that Roger had been sent along to Aubrey’s Grandparents before the storm. 

 

It was twenty more minutes into the phone call when it happened; Stacie heard the sound of something crashing followed by the buzz of a dead line, and Stacie was sitting, eyes wide, staring at her phone. Now, what she did next was something that surprised even her. If anyone asked her about it, she would forever say she had no clue what brought her to that moment. Still, her following actions had Stacie leaving her apartment, crossing the street in a torrential downpour, andclimbing into the ratty old car that she had brought to the city to visit her grandparents in Philly. It took a moment, but she got the car in working condition with a portable car battery and was off into the storm. 

...

The winds shook the car, and Stacie could swear that she was floating more than rolling, but she managed to drive the fifteen miles towards JFK using the GPS on her phone. She pulled into the JFK lot and continued to call the blonde back, but she went straight to voicemail just like the last ten times she had called. Stacie pocketed her phone and put the car in park. The emergency battery was in her trunk, and she had managed to park under the underhang because the loop was practically abandoned. 

 

Stacie ran through the sliding doors, which were operating on emergency power. Like a complete lunatic, she ran through the airport yelling Aubrey’s name while slightly damp and borderline panicking. When Stacie was about to give up, she felt a sudden presence behind her; turning, Stacie came face to face with a perfectly fine, albeit puffy-eyed, Aubrey Posen. 

 

She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to punch or kiss the girl at that moment for being okay, so Stacie settled for a frantic hug where she took her first even breath in hours. Aubrey stood stiffly in her arms, eyes wide with surprise. “You scared the shit out of me; why didn’t you answer your phone. I called ten times.”

 

“My phone died,” Aubrey answered haltingly. 

 

Stacie allowed her boss to extricate herself from the embrace, smirking for a moment at the brilliant red shade of the other woman’s cheeks. “I thought no drivers were willing to brave the storm?” Aubrey snapped testily. Stacie withheld the biting remark and tried to hold onto the utter relief she felt at finding Aubrey in perfect condition. “No drivers were, but this mad scientist managed to make it.” 

 

Aubrey’s eyes widened in surprise for a moment before settling back into its usual poker face. “You have a car?” 

 

“A barely functioning car, but it got me from point A to point B,” Stacie corrected. Aubrey considered her for a moment, mind churning. Stacie could see the cogs working in the CEO’s head and decided to ignore it for the moment. Instead, she pulled out her keys from her pocket and held them out for Aubrey to see. “It’s my Dad’s old car; I took it with me so I could visit my grandparents in Philly without needing to buy a plane ticket.”

 

Aubrey looked at the Honda logo upon the key fob with a curl of her lip but managed to shrug it off in the blink of an eye. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” the other woman finally said. Stacie watched as the blonde walked in the direction of the main exit, leaving the pile of luggage in her wake for Stacie to carry. What a bitch. 

 

Once Stacie managed to cram all Aubrey’s things into her 2008 Honda Civic, she started the car with little to no issue. Luckily for her, the engine started the second go-around without needing the jump. Stacie took a little pleasure in the look of horror that graced Aubrey’s face between the moment she turned the key and when the car started. Overall, the ride was uneventful. After driving through it once, Stacie was prepared for the winds. It didn’t hurt that the storm had dropped to a Category 2 within the time it took to find Aubrey in the airport. 

 

Despite Stacie’s wishes to go home, it was obvious that Aubrey wanted to get to her apartment as quickly as possible, so Stacie drove the way to Aubrey’s building. Thankfully, a garage was waiting with a side entry into the building. Aubrey immediately got out of the car and waited for Stacie to help her with her bags, and by help, Aubrey meant: carry the bags for her.  

 

The building’s elevators were on a backup generator, and everything was working, so they were able to take the elevator up instead of climbing two hundred flights of stairs. When the elevator doors opened, Stacie dropped the bags in the living room. She had only ever been in the penthouse briefly, but she was still astounded by its luxuriousness. The couches were a classy grey, facing each other across from a glass coffee table. A grand piano stood to the right, facing the curved eggshell walls that overlooked the city skyline. The ceilings towered high above them. Stacie took it in for a moment before turning around to get back to her car; if she wanted to get back in time to weather out the rest of the storm, she needed to go now. She had heard that it might get worse before it gets better. Supposedly another tropical storm by the name of Melinda was set to run them over in a couple of hours. 

 

Stacie pressed the button and stepped into the elevator. “Anastacia!” Aubrey called. Stacie turned around reluctantly. “Melinda’s supposed to hit in an hour, and I don’t want to know what another storm on top of a hurricane feels like,” Stacie remarked wearily. 

 

Aubrey had her arms crossed and scuffed the toe of her Miu Miu slippers against the richly finished wood of her floors. “ It’s dangerous out there,” the blonde said lamely. 

 

“I know, that’s why I have to go; I need to make it back to shelter before-” 

 

Aubrey let out an irritated sigh and furrowed her perfectly formed eyebrows. “What I’m trying to say is, you should stay. It’s not safe for you to drive back in this weather. Melinda’s been upgraded to a Category 1; it was just in the news.” 

“I can get back fine if I leave now, it’s not a problem,” Stacie argued; the idea of staying in the same home as Aubrey sounded like a bit of a nightmare. If the woman had her running around like a bat out of hell in the office, she didn’t want to know what horrors she kept in her home. Stacie was about to say so when she heard a deafening crack of thunder. Aubrey shook for a moment, eyes wide and bottom lip between her teeth. If Stacie didn’t know any better, she would say that the all-powerful editor in chief of Bella was scared of thunder. 

 

“Anastacia, I think it’s prudent that you stay here to weather the storm. I have plenty of food to last us both, or at least I should if you did your job right. Besides, I can’t have you getting injured; we have a gala next week with the CEO of Alexander McQueen and Tommy Hilfiger that I need you to organize.” 

 

Stacie rolled her eyes and took another step towards the elevator buttons, but a hand caught her arm and pulled her hard enough that she was stumbling out of the gilded vestibule. “Stacie, please,” Aubrey pleaded. Her eyes shone with something that Stacie couldn’t decipher. She felt her body thrum under the other woman’s touch; she let out a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding, and her eyes flit to Aubrey’s lips before returning to light green eyes. Kiss her or punch her? 

 

Aubrey let go of Stacie’s wrist and the electricity in her body lessened. She quickly composed herself and met her boss’s gaze once more. She really tried her best to look nonplussed, but she wasn’t sure if she was pulling off after that brief and incredibly charged moment. “Fine, I’ll stay,” She acquiesced suddenly. She ignored the flash of relief in the blonde’s eyes, paired with something else again. 

 

“Good, it would be utterly stupid to go back out there, Anastacia, really,” Aubrey chided, but Stacie cut her off with a finger to the other woman’s lips. 

 

“I’ll stay, but you don’t get to call me Anastacia anymore. I go by Stacie; if I hear you call me Anastacia one more time, I don’t care how violent that storm gets. I will go out there and crash into the Empire State building for all I care, got it?” 

 

Aubrey nodded once; Stacie dropped her finger. “Good, also, you don’t get to boss me around. I came and got you from that airport because it was a decent thing to do, I am not on the clock, and you will not treat me like I am, agreed?” 

 

“Agreed,” Aubrey said tersely, but it was a deal nonetheless. Maybe weathering out the storm with Aubrey wouldn’t be as bad as Stacie thought.