Looking up the full length of the Elias-Clarke building, easily finding the windows to Runway Magazine's offices, Andy Sachs found herself getting dizzy. Perhaps it was because the clouds movements that gave the impression of the building falling toward her. She took a step back to regain her balance and bumped into someone. Turning quickly with an apology at the tip of her tongue, Andy saw a familiar face.
"Nigel! Hi! Did I step on you?" She smiled cautiously.
"Not at all." Nigel Kipling, the creative director of Runway, smiled. "What are you doing in this neighborhood, Six?"
Her old nickname, which alluded to her size of clothes, brought back another flurry of memories. It had been two years since she sat foot in Runway's offices and still her stomach was tied up in knots thinking of the people working there. And who was she kidding? Thinking of her. "I'm mustering courage to go inside." Andy tried another smile of her own, but the stretch of her lips felt unnatural. "It's a little daunting."
"Our offices?" Nigel looked surprised.
"Yes. And no. Perhaps not." Resorting to babbling, Andy could hardly believe how many of her old nervous traits that surfaced just standing outside these offices. "I'm due at human recourses in," she said and checked her phone, "ten minutes."
"Applying for a job? What happened at the Mirror?" Nigel took Andy's elbow and guided her into the lobby of Elias-Clarke. "Please, tell me you didn't get fired."
"No. Not at all. In fact, I got promoted." Andy thought this third attempt at a smile was more successful. "So, I quit."
Nigel blinked. "What? You got a promotion, which I surmise means better pay and a higher position—and you quit?"
"Habit of mine, right?" Andy shook her head, trying to clear it. "I'd love to stay and elaborate, but I have to get upstairs." She gave Nigel and impulsive hug. "It was so good to see you."
Nigel returned the hug and then studied her closely. "What about drinks tonight, Six?" he asked. "Serena just returned from Brazil and Emily's finally coherent again. I'm sure they'd love to see you."
Hesitating, Andy took a step back, tugging at her fingers. This too a thing of the past, normally. "I don't know, Nigel—"
"Please. It's been too long. There have been several assistants after you, but you're the only one we felt were part of the family. Even if I'm not with Runway anymore, I know you've been missed."
"Wait…what? You're not with Runway? What happened?" Forgetting her nerves momentarily, Andy gripped Nigel's arm.
"I'm the editor-in-chief of Runway Men." Nigel grinned. "As of one month."
"Good for you!" Andy remembered only too well how Miranda Priestly, their former boss and editor-in-chief of Runway, had screwed Nigel over after promising him a lot. "And so well deserved. Better late than never, right?"
"Oh, don't blame Miranda for this one. I kept putting it off and that's why another guy got the job when the magazine launched a year ago. The board, and Miranda, kept nagging at me to get my act together and just take the job, but—I had my reasons to take my time." Nigel shifted and didn't look keen to elaborate.
"Then we should celebrate." Andy knew her current smile was authentic. "Seven?"
"Yes. Our usual digs unless I text you otherwise. Same number still?"
"Yes." Andy's heart melted a bit as she realized that she was still in Nigel's contacts. "See you then."
Nigel kissed her cheek and hurried toward the elevators as Andy made her way to the desk to get her visitor's pass. She tried to will the psychotic butterflies in her stomach to calm down as she handed over her ID to the guard, but they wouldn't listen.
Nigel stepped off the elevator and turned right instead of left. It was still a kneejerk reaction to head into his old office area, but still alien. Emily had taken over after he left and according to Miranda, she did a passable job. This, by anyone else's standards, meant Emily was nailing it, of course.
He thought of the look on Andy's face during their brief conversation and the feeling in his stomach said that he was doing the right thing—sticking his head into the lion's den. There was a lot Andy didn't know, but clearly, there was even more about Andy that he needed to find out.
Rounding the corner, he strode into the outer office of his former boss. Two girls, both young, thin, and beautiful, sat at their desks, one typing feverishly and the other snapping orders into the phone. The first assistant was of a caliber that Miranda was pleased with, that much he knew. The one typing was new and had a fine sheen of sweat on her forehead as she hammered at the keyboard as if she was trying to push it through the desk.
Through the glass doors, Nigel saw Miranda bent over her laptop. Looking as stunning as ever with her iconic white hair with its characteristic s-shaped bangs, her Prada reading glasses, and, naturally, her on point outfit, there was, to him, clear evidence in her demeanor that a lot had changed.
"Got time?" Nigel asked softly and rapped his fingers against the half open glass door.
Miranda looked up, her eyes going from steely-blue focus to soft-blue affection. "Nigel. Miss me already?" She leaned back into her chair, pulling off her glasses.
"The second I left." It wasn't untrue, even if Nigel couldn't be happier with his new job. "What you up to?"
"Trying to remedy the disaster that was that new photographer's idea of being innovative."
"Oh?" Nigel had to smile. This was Miranda as he had known her for so many years. Complaining, but also enjoying the process of it.
"He clearly considered using barely any lighting as part of his artistic license." Miranda raised her eyebrows and turned her palms up. "He'll learn, eventually, but until he does, I will either have to reshoot, or rehire."
"Something tells me you will give this young photographer another chance." Nigel sat down across the desk from Miranda.
"Now, how can you possibly know that?" Miranda looked surprised.
"Because you've yet to call him incompetent and mean it."
Tilting her head, Miranda smiled at him. "And tell me again why I was foolish enough to let you go?"
Realizing the compliment behind the words, Nigel regarded her tenderly. "Because it was long overdue. And look how Emily hit the ground running. Not to mention Serena who won that Brazilian award just now for her makeup artistry."
"True. That doesn't mean it's easy to run this ship without you." Miranda's smiled died. "And why are you really here, wasting away in my office instead of cracking the whip at your own people?"
"I don't use a whip, first of all, and I should know better than to assume you'd think I merely missed you." Nigel felt a pang of nerves set in for the first time during their banter. There was simply know way to foresee how Miranda would take his news. "I ran into a mutual friend outside the building."
"Oh?" Miranda tensed, which someone who didn't know her as well as he did wouldn't have noticed. It was the little things. Her lips, the thin skin under her eyes, and the tiniest flutter of her eyelashes.
"Andy Sachs is at HR as we speak. I just thought you should know. Potentially running into her—well, I figured a heads up was a good thing."
Lowering her hands onto the glass desk, pressing her palms firmly against it, Miranda narrowed her eyes. "Andrea is at HR? What happened? What did those morons at the Mirror do to her?"
Nigel flinched. That reaction was stronger than anything he'd imagined. "Um. She only told me she quit."
"That was her dream job. She wouldn't just quit." Miranda stood and walked over to the window as if she thought she'd see Andy on the pavement below. "Not this time."
"Not this time? Oh. Right." Nigel thought of the two years ago when Andy quit in the middle of Paris fashion week. He never knew the full scope of what took place between Miranda and Andy after the luncheon where Miranda gave his job to her arch enemy, Jacqueline Follet. Guessing Miranda's actions had a lot to do with it, Nigel had always thought there was more to it. He's disappointment had been the catalyst—not the entire reason.
"What else did she say?" Miranda pivoted and now her eyes were not blue at all. Slate gray, they burrowed into him, demanding an answer.
"She spoke to me as a friend, Miranda," Nigel said softly, bracing for impact as he regarded her with sympathy.
"And did she specifically tell you to keep this from me. No, don't answer that. I can find out with one phone call." She reached for her office landline but stopped when he raised his hand.
"Wait. There's another, less intrusive way, to learn what's going on with Andy." Nigel knew he had to save Miranda from herself, once again. It hadn't been part of his official job description when he worked for her, but it had become a task he felt compelled to do. This, however, wasn't just about Miranda, but also Andy who was obviously going through something. Having Miranda call, or worse, barrel down to HR, which he wouldn't put past her, was a disaster waiting to happen.
"What are you talking about?" Miranda lowered her hand, tightening it to a fist.
"I was going to stop by Emily and Serena and ask them to join me and Andy for a drink after work. You could join us." His suggestion could crash and burn, or she might just be curious, no, eager, enough to step out of her comfort zone.
"Drinks?" Extending her fingers, slowly as if it was painful, Miranda drummed them against the glass top.
"Yes. You game?" He made sure he sounded non-committal, as if this was no big deal.
Looking vulnerable for a fraction of a second, Miranda raised her gaze to his. "All right. Why not? That could be…enlightening."
Nigel stood, or rather shot up from the chair, ready to return to the chaos that was his own office. "Good. Just one more thing. Do I tell her you're joining us?" It was an awkward question to ask, but he could tell she caught on immediately.
"No." She closed her eyes briefly, but when she opened them, the snow queen was firmly slammed back in place. "After all, given this mess," Miranda said and motioned toward the laptop, "I might have to cancel."
"Got it. I'll call you when we're ready to leave." Nigel merely nodded and waving to the assistants as he left Runway's office, he wondered what his initiative would lead to.
"Bag. Coat." Miranda strode through the outer office, not slowing down. The new girl ran up behind her and shoved the clutch under Miranda's arm and tossed her coat over her shoulders.
Rounding the corner, Miranda barely noticed her employees scurrying into rooms and doing one-eighties as she walked toward the elevators. Nigel and the others were waiting for her in the lobby and when he'd mentioned calling a cab, she'd insisted they used her town car. The idea of taking a cab was entirely foreign and he should know better. Realizing she was being unfair as Nigel probably didn't want to assume she'd give them all lift, Miranda dialed her nerves back.
She had spent part of the afternoon setting the new photographer straight, which had turned out to be an enlightening experience as he didn't have the type of ego that was rather typical in his line of work. Instead the young man had seemed eager to learn. After hanging up with him, the day had been unproductive on her part and she knew it had everything to do with seeing Andrea again. Every time she had tried to go through her emails or place a call, her mind had gone to the mystery about Andrea's business in HR's office. What could have gone wrong at the Mirror? Miranda had Googled the newspaper, trying to find any clues what it might be about. The last time Andrea's byline had been visible was two weeks ago. After finding that out, Miranda hit a wall. No explanation where one of the Mirror's most well-liked journalists had disappeared to—or why.
Riding down in the elevator, Miranda checked her makeup in the mirror. There didn't used to be a mirror many years ago, but Miranda had realized the models saved valuable time by being able to sort themselves out in the elevator when visiting for a go-see. Examining her reflection, she didn't like the tension around her eyes or the way she pressed her lips together. Using one of the methods she'd accumulated over the years, when it came to putting on her game-face, she relaxed her facial muscles and made sure she looked like nothing could possibly be amiss when she exited the elevator.
Nigel, Emily, and Serena stood just inside the door, waiting. The two women virtually glowed and were holding hands. If Miranda had been the type, she would have congratulated them on finally being back together, but she had stuck to muttering "finally, we'll get some work done around here," when Serena returned from Brazil a couple of days ago. This had, oddly enough, made both women smile broadly and thank her.
"Roy just pulled up," Nigel said as they exited the doors, indicating the driver in the silver Mercedes at the curb. "It's just a couple of blocks."
Merely nodding, Miranda slipped into the car, assuming Nigel would give Roy the address. She hoped it wasn't going to turn out to the type of loud bar that young people frequented where you had to scream to make yourself heard. Feeling old at the thought, she pressed herself into her corner of the backseat as Emily and Serena stepped in through the opposite door.
Roy took them out into traffic with practiced ease and as it was rush hour, Miranda knew the drive would feel longer than "just a few blocks." The thought of Andrea waiting for them there was doing strange things to her stomach. Pressing her hand against her midsection, Miranda tried to still the emotions that had clearly taken a detour there. Where was her usual superiority, her way of regarding the world along her nose and making sure everyone knew she just couldn't care less what they thought of her, what they called her behind her back, or what they wrote on Page Six?
She felt a gentle touch, very brief, on the back of her hand and snapped her head around, ready to bite the head off whoever dared to touch her. Instead she saw Serena's gentle expression, void of pity, thank god.
"It'll be fine," Serena mouthed and then returned her focus on Emily who was talking about the reshoot Miranda and she had scheduled.
So, Serena was sure things would be fine. Huh. Miranda wasn't. In fact, she was set on it all going down in flames—or worse, being met with complete indifference. Taking a deep breath, Miranda raised her chin. Either way, she would survive. She always did.
Andy had checked inside the bar where they were supposed to meet, but she was of course early. She wasn't about to sit alone at a large table as if she had spent the entire afternoon drinking her sorrows away. Surely it would seem a lot less pathetic if she waited outside. Or perhaps that was worse? God, she was driving herself insane. When had she fallen back into the habit of second-guessing herself like this? The answer to that was easy. When she agreed to meet with the Runway gang, for drinks. Grateful it wasn't dinner, at least, Andy knew she could just leave if things got to unbearable. As if her life hadn't been overturned as it was. She didn't need the heartache of being reminded by her old friends of how happy, and how heartbroken, she had been while working at Runway.
To jittery to stand still, Andy walked over to the closest storefront, gazing blindly at the items displayed there. Thinking back to the meeting with Elias-Clarke's HR department, where she had been very well received, she made herself breathe evenly. It had been a relief that the woman she'd spoken to today hadn't worked there when Andy landed the job "a million girls would kill for" two years ago. Of course, her CV showed her short stint at Runway, but her references from the Mirror spoke for itself. Now she had a new job and a way to pay the rent while she figured out where to go from here.
Andy had a feeling Nigel and the others would not give her the third agree, well, possibly Emily as the British woman had no tact whatsoever, especially if she'd had a few drinks. Still debating whether to answer in detail, skip the gist of the matter, or simply remember a made-up prior engagement if this happened, Andy was driving herself crazy while waiting.
She saw the reflection of a car pulling up in the storefront window. Turning, she froze in place where she stood. It was a silver Mercedes town car and Nigel just stepped out of the front passenger seat and opened the backseat door. Andy blinked repeatedly, which made what happen next look choppy like an old movie. White hair, Prada sunglasses, black coat, bloodred clutch, stunning legs, black four-inch heels. Elegance. Heartbreak. Miranda.
Things were much worse than she'd ever expected. Miranda watched Andrea walk next to Nigel, who had whisked her into the bar before she bolted. Thankfully, it was a quite classy establishment that played music at a level where one could indulge in conversation across the table without a megaphone.
Andrea wore black slacks, a white button-down shirt, a long, weathered leather coat, and the same color ankle boots. Miranda approved, but she also noticed how deeply Andrea had shoved her hands into the deep pockets. The blinding smile that Miranda had grown so fond of had still to appear. Instead, Andrea was pale and looked serious.
As they reached their table, which Nigel had assured her was in a corner and as much out of the way as possible, Miranda saw clear signs of Andrea's nerves. Hugging Serena and Emily, she gave a tense smile, but it died as she turned to Miranda.
"Hello, Miranda. What a surprise," Andrea said and remained rooted in place where she stood, which would not do, of course.
"Andrea," Miranda said and stepped closer, kissing the air next to Andrea's cheek. "It's been too long." She felt, rather than saw, Andrea flinch.
"Two years." Andrea pulled back some, but her breathing was less staccato. "Yes, a long time."
"Why don't we sit down?" Nigel said and the width of his smile told Miranda that he too was affected by the nervous energy between her and Andrea.
Miranda made sure she sat across from Andrea. She needed the physical distance, but also craved the opportunity to study her. She used to know this face so well. If Andrea had known how she studied her in secret, imprinted every facial feature until the pain under her sternum grew too much to bear. Then she would take a break and recuperate until she couldn't stop herself the next time. It was strange how she never developed a protection toward the effect Andrea had on her.
A waitress showed up and took their drink orders. Miranda hadn't planned on having anything stronger than a glass of wine, but the bottomless depth in Andrea's eyes made her change her mind. She never used alcohol as a crutch, not after having lived with an alcoholic for years, but she realized she wanted a whisky. Andrea order a glass of red wine, and so did Serena. Emily and Nigel loved their margueritas, and of course Emily had to pick something pink and sweet. No doubt this would make her stick to cheese cubes for several days even if she wasn't as insane about being a size zero anymore.
"So, did you get the job?" Emily asked and bumped her shoulder to Andrea's.
Serena and Nigel exchanged wide-eyed glances. Miranda kept her gaze on Andrea who had raised her glass to her lips but now lowered it again.
"Yes. Yes, I did, Em." Andrea seemed to relax some. "I start on Monday."
"Which publication?" Serena looked relieved.
"Storyline. As a junior editor and potentially a contributor." Sipping from her wine, Andrea cleared her throat. "And I hear you've been promoted, Em."
"I have." Emily preened. "Serena too. Why did you leave the Mirror?"
"Emily." Miranda raised her hand. "Why don't we let Andrea decide what to share, or not."
Andrea snapped her head back to look at Miranda. The cognac hue in her brown eyes had returned and brightened them. At any other time, it could have been entertaining to see Andrea this confused, but not now. Was she trying to figure out if Miranda was entirely uninterested in her answer, or if Miranda was trying to protect her? But surely Andrea would realize that Miranda wouldn't be here if she didn't care?
"It's all right. Thank you. I loved many aspects of working for the Mirror, but when the downsides start to drown out all the good, it is time to move on." She was answering Emily but kept looking at Miranda.
"Did someone treat you bad?" Serena asked gently.
"No. Well, not really." Andrea squirmed and lowered her gaze to her glass that twirled slowly between her fingers. "I was getting so many interesting assignments that I didn't notice that I did at least thirty percent more work than my peers. My male peers. It started happening after we had a new editor-in-chief and it took me a while to realize it. When I brought it up, not to complain since I loved the job, but I was starting to burn out, the opposite happened. I got fewer assignments and no matter how I worked at it, it didn't get better."
"This sounds insane," Nigel said, his eyes dark. "You're an amazing journalist."
"I know I'm good." Andrea squared her shoulders. "That's not it. It was all about—"
"Office politics," Miranda said. She had listened to Andrea and the others and as fury stirred in her chest, she kept her calm, but was also taking mental notes. "This new individual clearly doesn't know how to develop talent and create room for them to grow. If they'd been good at their job, they'd nurtured their best people and definitely made sure the work environment wasn't toxic." She looked at the stunned faces around the table. "Oh, please. I'm not comparing this to keeping second assistants waiting for the book, or doing coffee runs. They work for me for a year or two before they move onto bigger, better things. My feature authors and editors—that's different."
"True." Nigel said. "Though, any print media is cutthroat business these days. It's not an excuse for running a young reporter into the ground, but it can be part of the explanation. Still, that doesn't explain about the retaliatory action they took when you voice a concern, Six."
Miranda agreed. No matter what, if someone in her office was in danger when it came to their health, physical or mental, Elias-Clarke had an excellent program which she fully supported. She hadn't always, she was ashamed to admit, but you had to be completely oblivious if you didn't realize that the stigma that used to come with these matters was changing. Andrea's former boss would learn of this very soon.
"Storyline is a new magazine, but their articles and novels are of high quality." Miranda nodded. "They're lucky to have you."
Andrea slumped back toward the backrest. "Th-thank you." And there it was. The blinding smile that had been missing from Miranda's life for two years. "This morning, I envisioned going back to Cincinnati and now—now I have a new job and you're all here."
"We sure are," Nigel said and emptied his glass and waved the waitress over. "I don't know about you, but I need another one."
Miranda was tempted, but the whisky she had downed was enough. She sat in silence, content in regarding the others as they talked about old times. Some of the stories were poking fun of her, but she didn't mind. They even seemed to have forgotten about her presence, which suited her fine. She just wanted to sit there and absorb as much of her secret Andrea-watching as she could. Ironically it still hurt just as badly after a while, but it didn't stop her from drinking in the image of the woman she harbored such conflicting feelings for.
An hour later, Miranda couldn't take it anymore. If she sat there watching Andrea any longer, she would crumble. When there was a natural lull in the conversation, she patted Nigel's shoulder. "This has been lovely, but I need to get home." Standing up, she nodded at Emily and Serena. "Enjoy your weekend now that you're both in the same country." It was rather funny how this simple remark made both of them gape before thanking her and returning the sentiment.
"I'm going to go as well," Andrea said and rose as well. "It's been great to catch up, but it's been a tough day." She smiled self-deprecatingly. "I better spend the weekend getting my act together."
Miranda rounded the table and fully meant to merely say goodbye, wish Andrea well, and then call Roy who was parked in the vicinity. Instead she found herself saying, "Why don't I drive you home?"