WHO'S ZOOMIN' WHO
Beta: Quiethearted (Thank you very, very much for catching all my blunders – fashion wise, culture wise, logic wise and otherwise. I bet some of them had you scratch your head in wonder )
A/N1 This story belongs to lovely and gracious bargara_b who donated to Queensland relief effort in exchange for this story.
Friday, August 7
If Andy were ever asked to provide mitigating circumstances, she'd blame a heat wave, humidity and atmospheric pressure. Or, if she rewound further back, she'd point her finger at that blasted thunderstorm, and the unfortunate lightning bolt that took out half of the Queens, her A/C included. She was pretty sure any jury in the City of New York would set her free.
Indeed - she'd point out - it has been scientifically proven: people could besignificantlyaffected by weather conditions. There were historical precedents. It was a lesser known fact, for example, that in the medieval City Republic of Dubrovnik, the parliament refrained from making any decisions during hot and stifling southern winds. Furthermore, and Andy was acquainted with all these trivial but intriguing factoids because she did a brilliant although never published piece on meteoropathy, there was a valid - US funded! - research study linking violent, unpremeditated crimes with heat waves, low atmospheric pressure and high humidity.
So why not kidnapping, as well?
Andy's minor break down was not preceded by some unexpected, vastly tragic event. Rather, there was a slow build up, a constant trickle of tension, a few hundred bee stings.
Damned power outage killed both her cell's battery and her building's elevator. Stumbling down five murky, moldy stair flights in 3-inch heels, she very nearly killed herself. Finally, upon finding a familiar letter in her mailbox, returned unopened once again, she wished to kill everybody else.
Outside, heavy, granite clouds were pressing down on Queens, condensing the smog to a thick grayish vapor on the streets below. As she shuffled down to metro station, Andy could almost feel tiny, black molecules of dirt clogging her lungs with every moist breath.
The train ride nearly made her cry.
A clammy, jittery mass of humanity was packed so tightly her boobs left sweaty imprints on the train wall.
A screaming baby clutched at her with sticky, ice cream covered fingers.
Some fucking pervert glued himself to her ass.
A teenager's armpit gaped at her nose.
And she had a lingering fear that she was, in fact, the stinky one.
Finally, a coup de grace: her freshly shaved, offensively energetic boss pushed her out of the cool, air-conditioned Mirror building the moment she staggered in.
Banished back to hell in pursuit of human interest.
And nothing brainy this time, Sachs. It's a Sunday edition. I want joyful. I want carefree. I want regaling stories of frolicking children fountain dipping, running through sprinkler showers, vandalizing fire hydrants, yadayadayada.
Mostly though, it was sleep deprivation. She was – intellectually - aware that all those glitches were inconsequential (except of course for the damned letter) and would have gone unnoticed if only she finally got a little shuteye. But between the deadlines and heat, she hadn't managed more than an hour or two of sleep in the last 72 hours.
So, no, she was not particularly lucid as she dragged her feet up the 5th Avenue. She wasn't exactly paying attention to where she was going either. She let her subconsciousness pick the path somewhere in the general direction of the Central Park.
There were bound to be some frolicking humans around.
Id as a guide? A bad, bad idea. The damn thing takes you straight to where you shouldn't ever go, and where you'd never admit you yearned to be.
Like the front of the Elias Clark.
It wasn't that she hadn't been around the building since the unfortunate Paris incident. It would have been impossible to avoid a whole block of Manhattan for almost a year (particularly if you worked two blocks away). In fact, for a little while she was actively seeking it out, in those early days when she still believed Miranda would actually acknowledge her.
However, staking it out or simply passing by, she was always, always aware of the glass monstrosity. The Elias Clark building housed a powerful religion and she could no longer claim herself an atheist, not when she could appreciate its saints by glance. In the first couple of post-Paris weeks, she'd cruise the glass gates like an exile trying to catch a glimpse of the guru. Even later, after receiving a sobering ice-cold shoulder (or five), her heart would beat faster when approaching the glittering facade. For, there was a tiny possibility that Miranda would come out at that precise moment and they'd look at each other and this time she'd smile and -
In any case, the awareness of her surroundings usually gave her time to prepare, take a deep breath and charge by. Today though, she turned the corner in a state of trance, not even acknowledging the place until a familiar figure made her stumble.
A sturdy – and fully uniformed – reef in a boiling sea of humanity, Roy was impossible to miss.
At first opportunity, Andy stepped out of the flow and tried out her newly acquired reporter skill of inconspicuous lingering. If she had a trench coat, she'd pull up the collar and pull down the hat but lacking those, she casually leaned on the nearby lamp post.
It's been ages since she had any real contact with Miranda. Everything – all of the people, all of the places – seemed to vanish when she deserted Oz. Roy there was the first flesh and blood reminder of Runway she'd seen for almost a year. It was eerie how familiar he looked standing practically at attention in front of Miranda's personal car, a shiny red BMW, his eyes glued to the entrance of the Elias Clark.
Andy felt her own shoulders straightening up in a reflex. She knew what Roy's focused look implied; Miranda's arrival was imminent. She connected the dots – Friday, Miranda's fancy car, early August, school holidays. Ofcourse. The coupé was Miranda's runaway car: whenever the twins were absent, she'd have Roy bring it over and she'd speed away for a long weekend. The destination unknown. It was, she remembered with a pang, a favorite Friday office bet: a weekend orgy, a soul stealing voodoo ritual, virginal blood spa treatment, all of the above?
Andy held tighter to the lamp post, rusty iron ridges coarse under her fingertips. Miranda was leaving the city, and suddenly the heat felt even more oppressive. Fittingly, a drop of sweat tickled her jaw.
The surge of misery crashed over her like a tidal wave. Here she was on the fringes, exhausted and drenched in sweat, glued to a crumbling lamp post. There was Roy, all cool and collected, guarding a shiny M6. And there would be Miranda any minute now, barreling down the sidewalk, purse in one hand, cell in the other. Nothing changed in their world; Andy didn't leave a single dent. They went on unaffected.
Unlike Andy who still startled at every single well-dressed white-haired woman, avoided Starbucks like plague, and got a nervous tick at a whiff of freesias.
It really had to stop.
She was sick of placing the same old letter in a new envelope every week. She had enough of dismissals and banishment. Vandalized hydrants could wait; one way or the other, this chewed out story needed to be filed away.
Right fucking now.
Her heart pumping faster than the techno beat blaring from the music shop across the street, Andy pushed away from the lamp post. She fell in step with two businessmen, her eyes never leaving Roy. Don'tturn.Don'tturn. Luckily, his concentration never wavered from the Elias Clark entrance. Andy walked close to the curb, keeping the men between herself and Roy. Finally, coming level with the coupé, she stepped down to the street. She moved quickly to the other side of the car, and ducked. She pretended tying her shoelaces, an intriguing exercise on her Jimmy Choos. Fortunately, there was a lull in traffic and no one tried to run her over. Andy peeked at Roy over the roof of the car.
No change in posture.
OK. Here it goes.
It was amazing what could pass for normal in New York City if you appeared as if you knew what you're doing (of course, wearing a Chanel summer dress didn't hurt either). No one even blinked when Andy soundlessly opened the door and, still crouching, slid in. After some maneuvering, she squeezed sideways in a slot behind the front seats that masqueraded as a back seat, and thanked God for the size six body and tinted windows.
Andy held her breath for a long second, waiting for alarm. Nothing. She relaxed a bit and, feeling the coolness of leather under her stretched out body, sighed luxuriously. Oh,thebliss. Fresh and fragrant, BMW approved air caressed her sweaty back. The familiar smell of luxury – genuine leather and not so genuine pine forests - teased her nostrils.
She didn't dare move around too much. So she picked at the stitches on the pale leather seat under her cheek, and nibbled her lip. And waited. She ran horror scenarios in her mind. What if Miranda had company? What if right at this moment police officers were sneaking towards the car? What if-
The door opened.
Andy pressed her forehead to the back of the front seat and closed her eyes, tightly, trying to make herself invisible. She caught the end of Roy's customary Have agreatweekend,ma'am,and an answering and, good Lord, so familiar snort. The car dipped a bit with added weight, the door clicked shut. The street noise disappeared once again and there was nothing to focus on but the fragrance that suddenly invaded the interior. That spicy perfume did not leave any doubt as to who just climbed in. Then, Miranda sighed and Andy almost jerked her knee in surprise. That customary Friday sigh of workers everywhere was so shockingly out of character, Andy was tempted to check the driver's identity regardless of familiar snorts or scents.
Finally, the engine purred, and with a sudden screech, they were off.
They drove for a couple of minutes, and in that short time Andy realized two things.
Firstly, and with a surge of pleasure, that Miranda was a horrible driver. The car was jerking with every change of the shift. Also, tellingly, the horns around them were blaring louder than during the last year's Topless Cyclists' protest ride.
The second, far less pleasurable realization was - she was very much fucked. Sneaking into Miranda's car must have been the most idiotic thing she's ever done.
More idiotic than smoking that chamomile-parsley pot in Lily's kitchen, age 13.
More idiotic than stealing her dad's fishing boat and steering it across the lake and up the beach, age 9.
More idiotic than flinging the damn phone in the damn fountain, age 26 going on 5.
Oh,well. Time to face the music and all that. She'd say what she's got to say and scram at the first traffic light.
Slowly, she straightened up. Miranda didn't notice. She was leaning close to the wheel, squinting ahead.
Miranda's eyes flicked to the mirror. She yelped a tiny terrified sound, swerved the wheel-
"Ohmygod! Miranda, watch out!"
There was a tense moment of Miranda swerving back to her lane amid another shriek of horns.
"You! What- How-"
"I can explain," Andy blurted, unconvincingly.
Miranda's eyes were huge and terrified. She still managed to look skeptical.
"Well, I can!" Andy said quickly. "OK. I admit this was a spur of the moment thing, but as they say, carpediem and all that. And you are not exactly easy to corner. Not to mention-"
"How did you- Did Roy let you in?" Miranda interrupted, her voice catching.
"No!" Andy said, indignant on Roy's behalf. "Of course not!"
"You are even more deranged than I thought." Miranda was obviously very quick at getting her equilibrium back. Her eyes had much more familiar frosty shine to them. "Get out of my car."
"Not until you hear me out!"
"I'm calling the police." Miranda grabbed for her purse on the passenger seat.
Miranda reached for the phone anyway, so Andy groped inside her bag.
"I'll use this!"
Miranda froze, and glanced at the mirror.
"It's a brand new pepper spray! I'll use it!" Andy waved the small, hand sized can in her hand. "I will!" And she felt like she really, really might. Miranda must have read something similar in her eyes because she put her hand back on the wheel, slowly.
"What do you want?"
"I just want to talk to you."
"Gimme your phone first."
Andrea narrowed her eyes. "They say pepper spray is worse than tear gas."
"I am not giving you my—"
"They say it's impossible to control the mucous—"
"Fine," Visibly shuddering at the word, Miranda tossed the phone at the back seat. "But, if you dare ruin another phone…"
With a practiced touch of someone who used to sleeping with a similar phone under her pillow, Andy quickly dismantled the device. She fought for a second with unfamiliar window controls but soon enough, a battery flew out. Then she realized she had carelessly let go of the spray can, scrambled after it and showed it off threateningly. There.
Quite disrespectfully, Miranda rolled her eyes. "Now what?"
"Now you drive, and I talk."
For someone who was usually so cavalier about giving directions to others, Miranda sure asked a lot of questions.
"Anywhere! North. I don't care!" Andy winced at her own raised voice. When did anyone ever raise their voice at Miranda and lived to tell the tale? It felt good, though, this rush of adrenaline and anger. It quite effectively blanketed the usual feeling of inadequacy Andy experienced in Miranda's company.
Miranda changed the shift and jerked the car forward. "There's no need to yell."
"Will you be quiet and let me apologize?"
"Fine." At Andy's continued silence, she sneered, "Well?"
"I'm trying to think!" Andy rubbed her tired eyes. "I have no idea where to start! It's not like I planned this, exactly. It's just that I've been trying to talk to you for so long and when I saw-"
"Oh, for God's sake. Spare me the pity-fest. If you wanted to talk to me so desperately, you could have simply called."
Andy was outraged. "I tried, the whole of the first month!"
"Yes, so very persistent of you," Miranda sniffed.
"You hung up on me! Repeatedly!"
"I was busy. And assistant-less, thanks to you.""
"You sicced the security on me when I tried to approach you!"
"And at the first hurdle, typically you quit."
"I've sent letters! Well, a letter, technically. You keep returning it! You wouldn't even read it!"
The car jerked violently again as Miranda turned the corner cutting off the whole other lane. "Please excuse me if I find your halfhearted attempts at apology lacking."
"Lacking? Anything more would have been stalking!"
"Which is a criminal offence as opposed to kidnapping?"
"The kidn- This is not kidnapping! I'm just trying to apologize!"
"And you are doing such a good job."
"Oh, shut up already." Andy snapped. Then, she took a deep breath and started in more subdued tone. "Sorry. Ok, listen. First, about today…"
She tried to explain it all, she really did. Only, she wasn't sure where to start and where to stop, and that Parisian fountain was somehow blending with the frolicking children and Miranda's driving did improve once they left the city and the car was so comfortable and in the end, she was so very, very tired.