Disclaimer: I don't own it.
New York was a city which had always been on my hit list. It was somewhere I had wanted to go ever since I'd become obsessed with Sex and the City. So as the plane touched down at JFK airport, I was giddy as hell, and so excited to finally be here.
And it would have been nice if I'd had time to do all the touristy things that Edward had sneered at, like taking the Circle Line tour, or falling down on my knees and kissing the ground outside Bergdorf Goodman, or staring happily at the steps of Carrie Bradshaw's home, and all other things that I had promised myself I would do when I finally managed to get myself to Manhattan. But the only remotely touristy thing I'd done was take a yellow taxi from the airport to the hotel, and then from the hotel to the studio.
So far, New York had been three days of fetching, carrying, faxing and phoning. And all of that usually happened before I had even got to whichever studio we were shooting at that day. Then, upon arriving at the studio, I'd steam clothes, attend to the skittish models and put out every single one of Heidi's fires. I had already resigned myself to the fact that my boss's voice would never register below a scream for the duration of the trip. My ears were starting to bleed.
I was currently laying down on the roof of one of the studio complexes in the Meatpacking District, which was the centre of the New York fashion universe and only a hop and a five minute dash to the Mark Jacobs shop in the West Village, not that I'd had time to visit its greatness, but it was nice knowing I was close by, at least. And I was also smoking, because I'd had to hurl myself back into the loving arms of Marlboro Lights as an alternative to having a stress-induced heart attack. It was either that or crying – and I knew that once I started crying, I most certainly wouldn't be able to stop.
The day had started off well, or at least as well as a day working instead of taking in the New York city sights could be. I had loved the cavernous space that was Studio 5 with its vaulted ceiling and the sun beaming in through the huge skylights. It even had a decent sized dressing room and not the usual alcove with just enough room for a clothes rail and a really skinny model. Heidi had a breakfast meeting so I could wolf down several cherry Danishes without being screamed at for having grease smears on my fingers. And Tyler, the photographer's junior assistant, was a rather foxy boy who recognised me as a kindred spirit from the global put-upon assistants' club.
Even the huge number of satin dresses that had all needed to be painstakingly steamed to get the creases out couldn't put a damper on my day. The stereo had blared early Motown, Tyler had totally been checking out my arse in my skinny jeans; all was right in my world.
When I had first started coming to shoots, I'd been amazed at the vast number of people involved. Then I'd been amazed that they didn't actually do any work but instead lounged on the leather sofas that every photo studio had, drinking coffee and leafing through various fashion magazines, no doubt for 'research' purposes. There were two make-up artists and two hair stylists – none of whom had even opened their cases. The photographer had two assistants. There were three guys from the studio fiddling with Coloramas and computers. Two catering assistants. One handyman. And a large bloke in a baseball cap who'd wandered in and started making himself a sandwich but didn't seem to have anything to do with anyone.
The day had started to career downhill soon after Heidi had arrived and proceeded to spend hours arguing with the photographer over the position of a teeny, tiny sidelight. I had made a mental note to keep out of her way as she wrangled the models: three lanky teenagers who had a collective annual earnings of £5 million and about five brain cells apiece. I had spent the next couple of hours on my knees pinning hems, helping them put their shoes on and holding mobile phones and cigarette lighters and generally genuflecting at regular intervals.
It was the same old, same old, but at least I was doing it in New York, rather than in some draughty studio on an industrial estate near Kings Cross, which automatically made it more exciting. Even when one of the models had a high-volume argument with her boyfriend on her iPhone, then locked herself in the toilet, I had managed to keep my cool. Or rather, I'd got Becky to coax the girl out with the promise of some Xanax, after all of my own pleading and threats had fallen flat.
Finally there were no more frocks left to steam, no more models to pander to, and I had just been looking forward to sitting unobtrusively on one of the sofas so I could watch the shoot, when Cassandra had hurried over with a grim look on her face. "Bella, Heidi wants you," she said urgently. "There a problem with one of the Marchesa gowns."
The words 'Heidi' and 'problem' in the same sentence didn't bode well and I instantly felt the butterflies in my stomach start to flutter away nervously. I hurried into the dressing room to find Heidi tapping the floor with one pointy toe. "What colour is this?" she demanded without preamble, carelessly grabbing a handful of dress that I had spent ages steaming.
"Red?" I asked uncertainly, because Heidi liked trick questions almost as much as oxygen facials.
"It's not red – it's scarlet." Heidi thrust the dress at me. "I told you to call in the crimson!"
"It is the crimson," I said without first weighting up the pros and cons of disagreeing with Heidi. I made a mental note to myself to think before opening my mouth in future. "It looks scarlet but it photographs as crimson. I had a whole discussion with the publicist about it."
"It's not the same dress I specifically marked in the LookBook," Heidi growled, which was a nice change from the continual screaming and actually gave my ears a much needed rest. Maybe that was why I was lulled into a sense of false security and kept making words come out of my mouth, despite telling myself to think before speaking only mere seconds ago. "It's practically orange when I wanted a bluey red!"
"Look, it's got the same beading on the bodice," I enthused eagerly. "Same gathers, even has the pleating detail at the back. It's Number Seven in the LookBook – I'll show you."
"Are you arguing with me?" Each word was an ice cube tumbling down my back and I couldn't help the fact that I shivered. "I just wanted to be clear, because after two decades in fashion, I think I know the difference between crimson and scarlet."
"I'm not saying you're wrong," I clarified quickly, when actually I should have just shut the fuck up. "Just that the dress photographs a different colour, and if you let me get the LookBook..."
I had been one nanosecond away from rummaging on the counter for the right brochure, only to be stopped in my tracks by a box of costume jewellery flying through the air. I just had time to think that Heidi normally had too much respect for Kenneth J Lane to use any of his pieces as projectile missiles, and then I'd ducked.
It was too late. Damn my brain. A chunky ring had glanced off the bridge of my nose and a bracelet narrowly missed my right eye, but a turquoise, tendrilly necklace hit me square on the cheek. The sharp edges of the strands whipped and scratched enough to surprise a squeaked, "fuck!" out of me as the necklace clattered to the floor in several pieces.
Heidi had the decency to look ever so slightly shocked as I clutched my cheek and felt something wet coat my fingers. Heidi might have looked even more shocked if she hadn't had her biannual Botox a week before. "Oh, don't look at me like that. It barely touched you," she said in a voice that wasn't quite so filled with loathing. "I really can't deal with you right now, Bella." She stalked out and left me staring in dismay at my bleeding face in the mirror. It wasn't a gushing wound that required stitches but it still counted as actual maiming.
"Shit! Are you alright?"
I turned to see Cassandra standing in the doorway with a gratifyingly horrified expression on her face.
"It doesn't matter what kind of bloody red that dress is. She'll get one of the art team to Photoshop it anyway."
"I know, I know." Cassandra was alright when the rest of the fashion team weren't around. She gave me a quick, surreptitious hug. "You know Heidi really gets her bitch on when she's shooting."
"God, I always have to open my big mouth and make a bad situation even worse," I lamented. "And now I'll have to call the press office and tell them that we've damaged some of the jewellery."
"Actually, Bella, I think you'd better stay out of Heidi's way for at least an hour," Cassandra advised. She rummaged through the debris on the counter top. "Look, take my ciggies and make yourself invisible for a while. I'll get Becky to talk Heidi around. I think she's got some more Xanax."
And so there I was, lying on the roof with gravel digging into my back as I tried to remember how to blow smoke rings. I wasn't going to be allowed to watch the shoot now, which sucked. Sometimes I thought it was the only part of the job I liked, apart from the clothes, which never argued back.
I loved standing on the sidelines, watching the nuts and bolts of the production – the ornate sets they built which were usually held together with staples and sticky tape, the models seamlessly switching poses in clothes that I'd painstakingly steamed and pressed, the photographer seeing something extraordinary through the camera lense that wasn't apparent to anyone else. It all seemed like a lot of effort for not very much, but then I would sneak a look at the Polaroids and there would be this fantasy, fairytale world of beautiful girls in beautiful outfits. And I'd remember why I was sticking this out; so far down on the fashion food chain that I wasn't even an amoeba – maybe just the waste product of an amoeba. But one day, if I was really good and managed to get out from under Heidi's Prada jackboot, I'd be the one who made the fairytales happen. The one who got to sprinkle magic dust over the whole mind-numbing process. Who'd create these inviolate, unworldly images so that girls like I'd used to be would rip out the magazine pages and stick them on their suburban bedroom walls and to hell with the Blu-Tack stains.
I drifted back from my very favourite daydream, the one where I shot couture at a Roller Derby, to find my phone ringing. If it was Heidi or someone else from downstairs bitching about anything, I was going to order a bottle of Valium and some razor blades on room service when I got back to the hotel, and expenses be damned.
I grabbed for it one-handed, not bothering to check the display because I was that pissed off at being interrupted. "What?"
There was a startled cough which didn't sound very feminine. "Bella? It's Edward."
I sat up as my mood went from dejected to excited to nervous and back to excited in nanoseconds. My head was spinning uncontrollably. "Oh! Hey! Hi! How are you?"
"All the better for you sounding so pleased to hear from me."
I lay back down on the gravel and turned on my side, so I could roll my eyes more effectively without sun glare. Yet again the thought that I really had to start engaging my brain cells before I opened my mouth fluttered into my mind. "Been to any good gallery openings?"
"One or two good and several very bad ones. Talking of which, are you free tomorrow night?"
"Hang on," I mumbled so I could light another cigarette and not check my schedule. "What's happening tomorrow night?"
"You owe me a drink and then I'm going to take you to dinner," Edward said smoothly. "Maybe Paris – I'm not too sure what I'm in the mood for right now."
I didn't want to be so impressed, but I so was. It was infuriating.
"But first, there's an exhibition opening. It will probably be dull as mud, but that can't be helped."
There was another pause because for the life of me, I didn't know how to respond. This kind of situation had never come up before and I didn't have a clue as to how I was supposed to act, or what I should say.
"So, Bella, how's your diary looking?"
I made some rapid calculations. A friend of a friend's boyfriend was DJ-ing at a bar in Williamsburg, which meant no free food and one watered down drink if I was lucky. And Edward was offering me dinner if I bought him a drink, which seemed a hell of a lot better than my other option. "Well, maybe I could shift a couple of things around," I hedged, because I didn't want to sound too eager.
"Good, I'll pick you up at eight," Edward said. "It would be helpful to know where you're staying."
Something was seriously wrong when I couldn't muster a snappy comeback. "Soho Grand," I answered dully. "You know, I could just say thank you for the bag and then we wouldn't have to-"
"I'll see you tomorrow then."
Half an hour later when I was enjoying my enforced exile to the dressing room and silently contemplating the chipped polish on my big toe, I realised he hadn't even waited for me to say yes.
Yesterday, the cut on my cheek had simply been an angry red mark, but during the night it had scabbed over nicely. The thing that made it the best wound in the history of work-related accidents was the look of horror on Heidi's face the next morning as she stared at it in all its crusty glory.
"I just wanted to thank you for all your hard work this week," she said carefully, both eyes fixed firmly on me as if she expected me to bolt at any loud noises. My ears were rejoicing. "You've really been a star."
Heidi was never going to apologise – she just didn't roll that way – but this was the closest she'd ever come and I was going to savour every moment of it.
"Just doing my job." I absent-mindedly reached up to prod at the cut with the tip of one finger and allowed myself one tiny, ouch-laden shudder. Anything else would have been overkill. "So, what dresses do you want for the first shoot?"
"Why don't we get Cassandra to do all the prep work and you can help me with the styling?" Heidi suggested, as she patted my shoulder without visibly wincing. "And I want you out of here no later than five tonight. You deserve some time off."
I had many hours to whip myself into a state of near-hysteria about spending the evening with Edward. The sheer giddy thrill of wining and fine dining had slowly ebbed away to be replaced with white-knuckled terror at the thought of Edward staring at me and making sarcastic remark after sarcastic remark while I babbled and burbled. Further on throughout the day, I had come to the happy conclusion that Heidi would have me slaving over a warm iron for the rest of the day and most of the night too, and I'd have no choice but to leave Edward an apologetic message and bail on him. Because assignations with arrogant older men were one thing when they led to Mulberry bags, but a dinner date was something else entirely – and who knew where that would lead. Nowhere good, of that I was absolutely positive.
However, Heidi was as good as her word and as the studio clock edged towards five, I was frogmarched out of the door by an indignant Cassandra.
"Heidi says you have to go now," she informed me sourly. "And I have to pack up all the returns. God, I wish she'd inflict GBH on me occasionally!"
I tried to keep the fear at bay as I swiped at my legs with a razor, while I lay up to my neck in some jasmine scented bubbles. At least I was getting a night out in New York instead of returning clothes to designers' ateliers until the only place that was open and that I could afford was a corner shop on Broadway where I'd buy a bag of Doritos and a jar of salsa dip for dinner. So why not get dressed up and have my first square meal in six days and get to see the bright lights of the big city in the company of an enigmatic and not-so-bad-looking man who probably didn't even look at the prices on the menu? Why the hell not? And just like that, I was excited all over again.
Half an hour later, I stepped back to stare down at my reflection in the mirror. My dress for the evening was a raspberry chiffon number from Mochino Cheap & Chick, which I'd 'borrowed' from the rail of shoot clothes in my room. It was a demure, polite frock in theory. But there was something special about designer dresses. It rippled down my body, skimmed politely over my tummy and clung gently to the curve of my hips in a way that was suggestive and promising. But not, repeat not, slutty.
Even the colour did wonders for my skin, transforming it from bed sheet white to the creamiest shade of porcelain. Or maybe it was just the lighting in the room. My hair was already pinned up with a handful of sparkly clips so I concentrated on applying a sweep of liquid eyeliner and some lip gloss that was exactly two shades darker than the dress. If I wore anything brighter, then Edward was bound to get the wrong idea.
But ultimately this me was just a reflection in a mirror. In reality, there was tit-tape sticking the bodice to my chest so I didn't flash my rather cheap but reliable bra at the wrong moment, while my feet were being crunched into a shape they weren't meant to go by my peep toe heels. It wasn't very feminist, but I fervently believed that a girl had to suffer to look this good.
The phone suddenly rang and my stomach slam-dunked at the prospect of what might happen in the next few hours, but as long as I kept it light and frothy and managed not to say anything stupid, what could possibly go wrong? I scooped phone, lip gloss and purse into my vintage clutch bag and at precisely one minute past eight, the lift doors chimed open and I stepped out into the lobby to find Edward waiting for me.