A Fly on the Wall
Emily cleared her throat, raised her chin and recited professionally, "One, two. One, two."
She squinted towards the bar at the back of the room, fighting the spotlight aimed at the stage.
"Nigel, can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can. So can half of Manhattan." Nigel delicately picked his ear with his little finger. "Turn it down, for God sake!"
"She speaks so softly. It has to be loud." Emily carefully unclipped the tiny microphone from her blouse. "You know how crowded it gets in here."
She looked at the mic doubtfully. It looked professional, and worked flawlessly. The only downside was pinning the bloody thing on Miranda. Her hands shook at the mere idea of touching the woman.
Nigel strolled closer and leaned conspiratorially towards the stage.
"And if you want to keep it crowded, keep her on mute. This crowd has a tendency of quickly dispersing after her warm seasonal greetings."
"Nigel!" Emily gasped half scandalized. She couldn't stop the snicker, though, or the laugh that followed.
It was a familiar laugh of the two veteran Runway survivors: hysterical and guilt ridden. Like two naughty kids, Emily thought. She could vividly remember the first time she laughed like that. She was five and on a dare, she'd uttered a reverent first "fuck" in that little playground behind her apartment building.
The laughter died into an uneasy silence. In an almost choreographed manner, Emily and Nigel quasi nonchalantly looked over their shoulders, just to make sure the devil hadn't decided to make a sudden appearance.
Even if the coast seemed clear, Emily felt compelled to add, "Of course, her speeches always impart so much wisdom."
Emily ignored the sarcasm in Nigel's voice, because while he could perhaps afford being sarcastic, she most certainly couldn't. A million of girls would kill for my job, right? Sometimes, in her dreams, she could feel them all breathing down her neck.
It felt good, though, sharing this unexpected bout of camaraderie with Nigel; the sentimental reminder of the good old days when the sun shone brighter, the diary products were an acceptable food group and the assistants were all named Emily.
Oh, bloody hell. The season was making her maudlin.
With some relief, she zeroed in on one of the designers skulking around.
"You in the ugly shoes! Yes, you! Turn the spot down!"
"Come on." said Nigel, still smiling, a smile a bit pinched. He seemed … subdued after Paris. Not that anyone told her what was going on anymore. "Let me get you a glass of my perfect punch."
"I'll be right there." Emily said.
From her slightly elevated spot, a wobbly little platform Andrea had dragged in from God knew where, Emily surveyed the temporarily redecorated Art Department offices. Just like last year, they had hijacked it - the largest open-spaced office on the floor - from the sulky, uncooperative designer lot. Only, this time, Emily was not in charge of decorations. The chubby upstart was having that particular honor.
Emily sniffed. It certainly showed: the place looked… uninspired. It didn't come close to last year's glorious Christmas Runway Extravaganza. And to think that some fools were actually fawning over this. God. What was it with people? The Telletubby goes to Paris and returns as a fashion prophet?
She fumbled with the tiny transmitter until she switched the mic completely off and then fumbled some more to start the music. At least, the sound would work perfectly. Emily could guarantee that, because she was in charge of music. If everything else fell apart, it would be to the sound of a refined melody.
She made her way to Nigel, who was overseeing the set up of the bar at the back of the room.
"This is a mess," Emily said, because, well, that's how one started a conversation at Runway. It was a perfect icebreaker: something, somewhere, was bound to be a mess. "We are never going to be finished in time."
"Well, aren't we lucky her plane was late, then?" Nigel said calmly and passed her the glass of punch.
"Oh, God! Don't remind me," Emily moaned. "She must be so pissed off. Roy texted me, they are on their way. It will be fifteen minutes, tops."
Nigel raised his glass. "Then it'll be fifteen more minutes of me drinking this."
"Yes, well, I'm surprised she didn't call already twice to blame it all on me." Emily rolled her eyes.
Nigel studied her for a moment. He seemed to be hesitating over his next words.
"Perhaps she called Andy," he said gently.
"Oh. Yes. Of course." She tried to smile. It didn't really work so she took a gulp of the drink.
"Come on, Emily. It is not the end of the world. So she prefers to deal with Andy. So what? Your year is up; you'll be leaving for the greener pastures anyway."
"But why?" She almost wailed. "Why would she prefer that fat little-"
"Emily." Nigel rubbed his forehead. "Look, if she told you to get across a raging river, you'd jump in, no questions asked. Right?"
"I should think so. How can you even ask-" Of all things, to question her loyalty!
"Andy would look for a bridge, first."
Emily narrowed her eyes at him. She mulled it over.
No, she decided. Nigel was wrong. She felt it in her bones. Someday he'll see. Andrea will make a wrong step, and someday, everyone will see.
And why should she even listen to the advice of that … that Pygmalion?
"I do not want to talk about it." Emily emptied the glass and wordlessly asked for more.
"All right. Fine." Nigel raised his hands as if giving up. He nodded towards her glass. "Just be careful with that. There's more vodka in it than in Keith Richard's bloodstream."
"Oh, bollocks. I can hold my liquor," Emily said bitterly. "And anyway, it's not my party, is it? So let me drink and enjoy the music."
Nigel tilted his head and scrunched his nose.
"What is that music anyway?"
Perhaps he was trying to change the subject. Well, about fucking time.
"Oh, it's nothing." Emily shrugged nonchalantly. "Just a thing that I picked from my private collection. A rare instrumental version of Christmas carols, by this little renaissance troupe. A connoisseur thing. It sounds so tasteful, don't you think?"
It took her two days of combing through the obscure Village stores to find a perfect something to overshadow the bloody decorations.
"Right." Nigel agreed a bit too smoothly and glanced behind Emily. "Oh, look, there is Andy."
"Hi, guys!" Andrea beamed at them. "We're done! What do you think, Nigel?"
"It's not as bad as I thought it would be. I like what you did with that curtain fabric." He gave Andrea a quick once over. "Stop pouting; I am not talking about your dress."
Emily snickered, fondly remembering the horrid grandma skirts of almost a year ago. Regrettably, today Andrea looked… acceptable if dull in that little black Chanel number.
"Thanks, I was worried about it." Andrea gave him a grateful smile, Nigel winked back.
Emily rolled her eyes. Oh, bloody hell, enough of the love-fest already.
"Her plane is late. Do you really think she'll notice the decorations?" She said, cutting the self-complimentary session at the knees. As if the curtain thingy was that spectacular. Any idiot could think of that.
Andrea winced. "Yeah, she called. She didn't sound happy."
Emily felt the blood surging in her face. The cow just had to say it, did she?
"How surprising." Emily gave her a saccharine smile. "Once again, she is forced into throwing a Christmas party for the lowly minions, she's arriving straight from the airport and her plane is late. Why wouldn't she be happy?"
"We are screwed, aren't we?" Andrea said morosely.
"Exactly. So keep your head low," Nigel said cheerfully. "Have some punch. It helps. If you sway, you're more difficult to hit."
Still smiling, Nigel looked over Emily's shoulder. The smile froze on his face. Emily cautiously turned around. Oh, bloody hell. "Good evening, Mr. Ravitz."
"Emily. Andrea. Nigel. Lovely decorations."
"Thank you, Mr. Ravitz," Andrea chirped. Emily felt like gagging. Hello! He is a bloody accountant, for God sake! What does he know? He'd be happiest if we all showed up in red Santa caps from Wal-Mart. And got the quantity discount.
"And interesting choice of music."
"Thank you. I am in charge of the sound," Emily said primly.
"The Worldly Troubadours, right?" Irv guessed and Emily almost spit her punch. "And where is our lovely hostess?"
"Her plane was late, but she should be here any minute now." Nigel volunteered.
"Good, good." Irv smiled benevolently and clapped Nigel on the shoulder. "Miranda and I both believe celebrations are vital for a good working atmosphere. Nothing extravagant, of course, but still, this is a wonderful opportunity to show our appreciation of everyone's daily efforts."
They all stared at him.
"Oh, I'm sure hearing Miranda tonight will be very uplifting for all," Nigel said, managing to keep a straight face. "Would you like some punch, Mr. Ravitz?"
Emily forced the tremor down. The idea of being appreciated by Miranda and Irv brought images of Hannibal Lecter's victims to mind. She gulped the punch and turned to Andrea.
"Right. Are we sure we have everything ready?"
"Emily, we are fine. I have everything under control." Andrea said soothingly. I have everything under control, Emily silently mimicked thoroughly irritated.
She plucked out the pen and the pad from her purse and went through the list aloud.
"The sound. Check. The wobbly stage. Check. The uninspired snacks. Check."
"I don't know why we don't use the same tray of finger food every year. No one touches it and we always throw it away, anyway," Irv complained.
"Previously perhaps, but Andrea is with us now," Emily piped in sweetly.
"Oh, whatever." Emily waved her hand mirandishly. "The bar. Check. The ghastly ornaments. Check. Oh, Andrea, you did not forget those scarves, I hope?"
There was a telling silence.
It was delightfully obvious Andrea had actually forgotten, even before she uttered the tiny "shit."Those bovine eyes turned even larger. The pale complexion turned even paler.
"Tell me you didn't." Emily widened her eyes dramatically, and pressed her hand at her chest, for good measure. Tell me you did.
"I'm afraid so." Andrea looked almost ready to cry.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Emily's mood improved exponentially. The dragon was about to descend on their little village. At least, now they had a fat little cow to sacrifice.
"Yes, well, save it for Miranda. And pray she doesn't ask for them tonight," she said haughtily.
Her purse chirped. Emily honestly, deeply hated the happy little sound. She plucked the phone out. Her stomach dropped.
"Oh my God. She's here. And according to Roy she's in a terrible mood!"
"All right, everyone! Put your happy face on!" Nigel clapped his hands. "Merry Christmas! Satan's here!"