DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: AU What might occur in an alternative universe where Miranda Priestly's assistant is one Nate Cooper and Andrea Sachs is an aspiring chef. This is the second "course" in a series called "Life is a Banquet" which may extend to 12 courses, if all goes well. You could read this story without reading the first one, but really: Why deprive yourself of that pleasure and the insight it will provide into this one? My thanks to Marge Kennedy, whose paraphrased comment about soup is the theme for this installment: "Family is a lot like soup. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To medoramacd[at]yahoo.com
Life is a Banquet: Soup
By Medora MacD
Saturday, June 7, 2008
It took fourteen days to get everything ready for Andy to move into the townhouse. It took only slightly more than four days thereafter for everything to go to hell in a handbasket.
It would be faster to walk, thought Andrea Sachs. "Make that 'roll,'" she amended, looking at the cast on her left leg and the wheelchair that was going to be her main mode of transport for the next three or four weeks.
Miranda Priestly's townhouse was only two blocks from Lenox Hill Hospital. It was silly to be traveling there in a medical transport van. Apparently, however, there were rules about such things. Which was why, instead of simply being pushed over to 155 E. 78th, Andy had found herself being loaded into an "ambulette" by some pimply dude who had probably been on the job ever since graduating high school, i.e., a whole week.
She winced as the van nailed another manhole cover. The guy who was driving had hit every one so far, the recurring jolts reminding her leg how unhappy it was that she'd whacked it while transferring to the fancy chair Miranda had had delivered that morning. She was also developing a killer headache, the result of a night of fitful sleep and the growing suspicion that she was doing something incredibly stupid by agreeing to live with the Priestly family while she recovered from injuries she suffered while giving life-saving first aid to Caroline Priestly.
She needed a nap and some peace and quiet. Judging from the scene that greeted her when the van pulled up to the curb, neither was in her immediate future. Miranda, a vision in red today, was shooing the girls out of the way, up oh gods the ten or twelve limestone steps to the townhouse's formal front entrance. She'd forgotten about those. How the hell were they going to get her up there? Like the beefy guys who paraded that statue of San Gennaro through Little Italy on their shoulders each fall? She didn't think the Upper East Side or Andrea Avigail Sachs was ready for that.
"Not to worry, ma'am," the young man said.
"Ma'am?!" Andy managed barely to keep herself from mashing his toes with her chair.
He pointed to a door tucked under the arc of the front steps. "You go in through there. The servants' entrance."
The servants' entrance. Of course. Peachy. Just peachy.
Raising a hand to shade her eyes, Andy looked up at the lady of the manor. She looked impeccable as always, but did she look a tad off balance too?
Don't be silly, Andy chided herself. She's the Dragon Lady. What has she got to be on edge about? You know, aside from having a complete stranger, and a gimpy one at that, moving into her home?
The notion that Miranda might be experiencing butterflies as big as her own evaporated as the editor descended the front steps. She looked positively regal. She smelled elegant too. Andy took a quick sniff. Mmm. Lightly spicy with notes of citrus. Something with a little bite to it. Nice.
"Welcome to our home, Andréa. We look forward to having you stay with us. Please let us know if you need anything." Miranda's nostrils flared slightly as she ran a critical gaze over what Andy was wearing. She was constitutionally incapable, it seemed, of keeping herself from weighing the fashion choices of everyone she encountered.
What was going through her head? Andy wondered. Was she asking how the hell she'd ended up with this ill-kempt urchin on her doorstep? Praying to a higher power for the strength to endure the hideous sight? The Sainted Coco, perhaps? Or Dior the Divine?
Andy examined her outfit too, but with much less censure. Not everyone could pull off polyester that well, but she thought she was rocking it. Good thing too, since she now had seven pairs of these comfortable, easy-to-remove, tear-away pants, each with the left leg cut off to accommodate the cast running from the middle of her thigh to her toes.
Yep, one for every day of the week. In a wide variety of colors. She was wearing lime green, the most vibrant pair, today.
Might as well meet it head on, she had decided that morning as she dressed. Get it out of the way once and hopefully for all ...
She pitched her voice too low for the girls to hear. "Remember the 'Deal,' Miranda? I wear what I want, eat what I want?"
The mild rebuke earned her a gimlet-eyed stare.
"Just sayin' " Andy held Miranda's gaze determinedly. She might have only one functional, Crocs-clad foot, but she was putting it down. If she didn't do it now, she might never have another chance.
Miranda shifted her attention to the two-man crew, pointing haughtily at the street-level door. "By all means, gentlemen, move at a glacial pace. Be advised that the size of your tip will be inversely proportional to the time it takes to move this young woman into her lodgings."
That appeared to be an apology or at least as much of one as Miranda Priestly was going to offer. Andy gave a nod in response, then rubbed the aching knot between her eyebrows with a raised middle finger. The gesture drew a snort from the van driver.
Damn! The lady has eyes like a hawk.
"The girls have no doubt picked up that gesture in their travels with their father he uses it frequently when he drives, as I recall but I'd prefer you model more genteel ways to express oneself. Remember the 'Deal'? My house, my rules?"
"Your wish is my command," Andy said. She threw in a grin to take any sting out of her comment. Huzzah! The first pissing contests are out of the way and it's Priestly one, Sachs one.
She twisted around to the teen behind her. "Let's get this show on the road. To the Rabbit Hole there. Don't dawdle or the Red Queen will have your head."
The ride was not a bad one. Until her chauffeur misjudged the turning radius of the chair and tapped the doorframe with her casted leg. She managed to swallow most of the expletive that leaped to her lips, but he uttered a gasp that might have been loud enough to carry to Miranda's ears.
As one, they looked to the street to assess her reaction. She was occupied in signing something on the clipboard the driver was holding. They looked at each other in relief.
"I won't tell if you don't," Andy said conspiratorially. Nodding in agreement, he backed her into the townhouse and turned her around for her first view of the place she was going to call home for the next few months.
She couldn't see a damn thing. For one thing, her eyes were adjusting from the brightness of the street. For another, her view was blocked by Christina, the thirty-something woman with the lilting Jamaican accent who was going to be her primary aide.
"I got it from here," Christina told the young man.
"No problem," he said. He backed away and then returned to pat Andy awkwardly on the shoulder. "Sorry about the bump. I hope everything works out for you with the Red Queen." He hesitated, then leaned closer. "'Beware the Jabberwock, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch!'"
Andy beamed and gave him a thumbs up before he turned and headed for the exit. "'Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch'!!" she called after him, getting a grin before he ducked out the door. The lad had unsuspected depths.
Christina got right down to business. "I asked the girls to give us 'til lunch 'fore they visit. We got about thirty minutes to get you sorted." Andy took a deep breath. "First, how you doing? How's da leg?"
"Not so good, but I can wait until after lunch for the heavy-duty meds. I don't want to fade out on Caroline and Cassidy first thing. Do you have anything for a headache, though?"
"Sure. Stay put. I be right back with some Tylenol."
Andy surveyed her surroundings. Light from the window beside the front door illuminated a living room as large as her entire apartment on Clinton Street. A couch and matching chairs sat on a hardwood floor that stretched to the back of the building. Opposite them was a shelving unit that held a flat-screen TV and books.
Christina handed her two pills and a glass of water.
"Thanks," Andy said, swiping at a dribble after swallowing the tablets. "That should help. What's next?"
"The doors there lead to the elevator we tackle that after a part is fixed and the mechanical room." She headed to the back of the building. Pushing after her, Andy found herself in a dining and cooking area. On her left was a dark brown leather banquette with a long table in front of it. On the opposite side was a galley kitchen.
"Next be the bathroom." Christina pointed to a door just past the table.
Andy wheeled into the space, spotting her toothbrush and mug on the counter. Something familiar, at last! Before flying to New Mexico on gallery business, her friend Lily had sorted through her belongings, packing what needed to come here and arranging for the rest to be picked up by a local charity. Aside from toiletries and clothes there wasn't much her chef's tools, several boxes of books, Bubbe's chair, and some wall art.
"Let me show you where your supplies are. Attends are here. Here be the gloves, the cleansing wipes, the aloe wipes, tampons, your cast covers. Your pain meds be in the drawer with the lock on it. The combination is your father's birthday, 11-18-45."
The aide then had her practice transferring to the toilet, spotting for her as she approached it at a right angle, locked the brakes on her chair, raised the foot rests, planted her good leg in front of the toilet, grabbed the bar on the right and lifted herself, swiveling into position and lowering herself. And then reversed the laborious process.
Second time through, Christina waited outside as Andy undid one of the adult diapers she was going to wear until her cast was removed. Finishing up and flushing, she maneuvered to the sink to wash her hands. She was exhausted.
Gods, what a lot of work to take a leak. She stared at the glum-looking face in the mirror. Well, look at the upside, Sachs. You didn't actually "leak" this time. Onward and upward!
"All done. How much more?"
"These stairs They go up through the house to the roof; first stop, the family kitchen and back here your bedroom."
Through the bedroom door Andy spotted Bubbe's overstuffed, floral print chair. Ah, home at last. Two windows and a full-view door admitted dappled green light from the garden behind the house. She looked forward to exploring that.
On her left were a closet and a dresser. On her right was a desk holding her laptop and her cookbook collection and, on the exposed brick wall above it, the Victory Garden posters her parents had given her for Christmas.
A full-size bed filled much of the rest of the room. A nightstand held a table lamp and her poetry and science fiction books. What do the twins read? she wondered. And Miranda? Machiavelli? Sun Tzu? Harlequin romances? It would be fun to find out.
"You got four aides to help you," Christina reminded her. "Morning and evening, weekday and weekend. I be here weekdays from 6:30 to 12:30 to help you get ready for the day, eat breakfast, get to therapy and back, shower afterwards, eat lunch, get set for a nap. Lucille do mornings on the weekends, but from 6:30 to 10.
"Rachel comes in the evening, Monday through Thursday, 9 to 10:30, to help you get ready for bed. Rosalind, she does Friday through Sunday night, same times. In between, you can call the housekeeper, the nanny, or the chauffeur. Their numbers are programmed into your cell phone. You sure you don't want an alert pendant?"
"What? 'I've fallen and I can't get up'? No thanks. I'm fully capable of keeping a cell phone charged and handy at all times."
The pitter-patter of footsteps overhead signaled that the natives were getting restless.
"I tell them you ready for lunch now?" Christina asked.
"Sure," said Andy. "Let the wild rumpus begin!"
Be careful what you ask for, Andrea Sachs. Be very careful.
She'd invited a wild rumpus and she'd gotten one: thundering hooves on the stairs followed by excited young voices and a furry behemoth who'd stuck her moist nose in every corner before settling down for a nap in a patch of sunlight in the bedroom.
Things quieted when Miranda appeared, bearing a pitcher of lemonade. She was followed by a handsome older woman carrying sandwiches. As they sat down at the table, Miranda introduced her as Consuelo Cortez, her housekeeper. Conversation, which had dwindled as everyone helped herself to food, picked up again after Andy took her first bite.
"Amazing! You made these, Consuelo? What's in them?"
"I spread mayonnaise, a sweet sauce, and butter on the bolillo, slice cabbage very thin, add roast pork, swiss cheese, and pickles, then grill them in a press."
"Oh, like a Cuban sandwich."
"Like mi madre made in Puerto Rico."
"¿Me enseñarás, por favor?," said Andy, drawing a bright smile from Consuelo.
"Hey! That's not polite, talking in a language we don't understand!"
"Sorry, Cassidy," Andy said around another bite. "I'll work on that."
"You can still speak it sometimes," Caroline offered. "Cass and I are taking Spanish this summer."
"Great! What I said was 'Will you teach me, please?' You guys can practice with Consuelo and me. There's nothing cooler than talking with someone in their own language."
"An excellent suggestion, Bobbseys," said Miranda. "And one your mother has made many times, I believe. Speaking of suggestions, Andréa, I suggest you post this where you can consult it easily."
The paper in Miranda's hand had a calendar grid on one side and on the other a complex color-coded schedule that could have rivaled the plans for invading Normandy. Things in the Priestly household, it was clear, were expected to run like a Swiss watch. A Rolex, no doubt.
"This details our summer schedule, from weekday and weekend timetables to when the girls will be with their father, when we'll be on vacation on the Cape, etc. I had Emily overlay in green the schedule Christina drew up for you. Please inform Emily if you have questions, concerns, or changes."
Andy ran her eyes over the document, the times and activities blurring together as she marveled at the situation she found herself in.
Gods, if Nate could see this, she thought. Me, sitting in his ex-boss's home. Miranda Priestly making polite conversation. Miranda pouring lemonade for me. Miranda eating a sandwich made with mayonnaise and butter! She shook her head.
He wouldn't believe his eyes. I'm not sure I do for that matter. She gave her left arm a surreptitious pinch. Ouch! Nope, not dreaming.
Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, she tracked it to where Miranda was sitting. Did she see me do that? Crap!
The editor's face was turned toward Cassidy now, but something about the set of her lips said, "Yes." In fact Fuck! it looked as if she might be biting the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning.
Andy felt her face heat. So much for impressing her with how mature and capable I am. Shit, I must look like some damn kid.
Anxious to shift attention elsewhere, she turned to the twins. "So, what are your favorite subjects, girls? And why?"
As they finished their sandwiches, Andy learned that Caroline liked art, especially painting, and Cassidy liked math, even though her friend Mindy said it was stupid.
"Really?" Andy resisted the urge to look at Miranda, though she hoped if she did she'd see outrage there. She studied Cassidy. The girl looked simultaneously as if she wished she hadn't said a thing and as if she wanted to be assured that liking math didn't make her a complete dork. "What do you like best about it?"
"It's just so clean," Cassidy explained. "I mean, there's always a right answer."
"That's what I like about it too!" Andy responded. "Wait until you learn geometry that was my favorite. I use math all the time."
"In cooking?" asked Caroline. "How? Like for measuring things?"
"Sure." She looked at their mother finally, pleased to find an approving look on her face. "You use a lot of math in your work too, don't you, Miranda?"
"There's no math in fashion," Caroline said confidently. "It's about art and design. You know, colors and shapes."
"And being able to figure out how much cloth to buy in order to make fifty gowns of seven different sizes," Miranda said quietly. "Or how much paper to buy each year to print a million and a half copies of Runway."
The twins were surprised, Andy saw. Not at what she had said, but that she had said anything at all. Miranda was too, judging from her startled expression. Didn't she discuss what she did at Runway? Or did they only know her work as the thing with which they competed for her attention and time?
That was so foreign to Andy's experience. Her parents' comments on the rewards and challenges of their daily lives had been part of table conversation at their house as long as she could remember, something that their only child had been encouraged to make her contribution to almost as soon as she could talk.
Then again, perhaps Miranda preferred to devote the time she had with the twins to discussing their activities. That might end up feeling a little one-sided, though. More like an interrogation. Kind of "Captain von Trapp-ish," in fact.
Andy bit back a giggle. Gods, it was all too easy to picture Miranda summoning people to her side with a peremptory whistle. And presiding over stilted dinner conversations. What was it the captain had said at that first meal with Maria? She'd seen Sound of Music a dozen times at least it was a family favorite so she had it nearly memorized.
Oh yeah. "Fraulein, is it to be at every meal, or merely dinnertime, that you lead us through this rare and wonderful new world of ... indigestion?"
Indeed, Miranda did look kind of dyspeptic at the moment, but clearly something about the exchange that was occurring also had caught her fancy. She leaned toward the twins.
"Let's take another example. Runway has 12 issues a year. The fall issue, let's call it X, is the biggest, followed by the spring issue. Let's call that Y. All ten of the rest are the same size. Let's call them Z. It's hard to predict how many issues we'll sell of each magazine that's a different kind of math problem but we can determine how many ads we will put in each one and how much money we need to make from that."
She looked around for something to write on. Christina pushed her notebook and a pen across the table to her.
"So, let's say I need to sell $1 million worth of ads every year. And each of the regular issues, the Zs, can hold $55,000 worth. How much does that add up to?"
"That's easy," Cassidy said. "Ten times $55,000 equals $550,000."
"Excellent! So so far, so good. But we only have two other issues to earn the other $450,000 from." Miranda widened her eyes, drawing a giggle from Caroline. "But one of them, X, is two times as big as the other, Y. This is how we write that: X = 2Y."
Cassidy bent forward, her eyes intent on the flow of her mother's pen.
"What is another way to say that?" Miranda asked her.
"Hmmm. It takes two Ys to make an X, so Y is half as big as X?"
"Exactly! So if you wanted to call everything a Y ?"
"One Y plus two Ys = three Ys."
"Good! And if you wanted to call everything an X ?"
"You could say one X plus half of an X. That's 11/2 Xs!"
"And in decimals?"
"1.5X," said Caroline, stealing some of her sister's thunder and earning a frown from her.
"So if 1.5X needs to equal $450,000 "
Cassidy whipped out her phone and launched the calculator function. "$450,000 divided by 1.5 equals $300,000!"
"So how much money do we need to make on ads in the September issue?"
"X equals $300,000!" Cassidy beamed at the smile she received from her mother.
"And in the March issue, Caroline?"
"What's left, Cass? Like $150,000? Is that right, Mom?"
"Exactly!" Miranda gave a short, approving clap.
"I don't do the math myself much anymore," she added, "but I need to be able to understand what the advertising and accounting people are telling me." She gave Cassidy a meaningful glance. "If I didn't, now that would be 'stupid.'"
The girls were impressed with their mother and with themselves.
Andy was too. "So Runway sells $1 million in ads each year? That's amazing!"
"Good heavens, no." Miranda looked insulted. She regarded Andy as if she'd just stepped off the train from Mayberry. "That wouldn't even pay for one of our issues. Last year our advertising revenues totaled over $419 million."
Andy could think of no response that didn't make her look even more clueless about the world of high fashion, so she just nodded. She comforted herself with the thought that she'd run rings around the editor if the conversation ever turned to What? The best way to skin an eel? Maybe. She wouldn't put it past Miranda to know that for some reason, like making eelskin belts in the wild. So How about the only professional baseball team to have ever posted a perfect season? She had that one in the bag. Probably. In the meantime
The conversation had been interesting revealing, even but Andy felt herself beginning to fade. Christina came to her rescue. "You need to get some rest now, Andy. Your body still has lots of healing to do."
"Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful welcome," Andy said, smiling gratefully. "I'm looking forward to our time together." She waved at her wheelchair. "But my coach here is about to turn back into a pumpkin. See you later, okay?"
The girls rounded up the St. Bernard, and Consuelo gathered up the dishes. As they trooped upstairs, Miranda offered a final word.
"The doctor has suggested we give you the remainder of the day to rest and get acclimated, Andréa, so we will leave you to your own devices until tomorrow morning. Call us at any time, however, if you need anything."
She paused, an elegant hand on the banister leading upstairs. "In the meantime," she said dryly, "let me assure you. I have checked as well, and this is real. There is no point in continuing to pinch ourselves. It leaves unsightly marks, I have found. Neither of us need those, do we?"
With that she sailed up the steps, leaving behind as she intended, Andy thought one thoroughly gobsmacked chef. The Dragon Lady had a sense of humor? Who knew? When she turned wide-eyed to Christina, the aide just shrugged.
Andy was too tired to ponder it further. She swallow the Oxycontin Christina gave her for the pain in her leg, then let her help her into bed, elevate her leg, and pull the covers over her.
"Your evening aide for the weekends, Rosalind Sugiyama, she comes early today. She'll be here when you wake up, get dinner, tuck you in for the evening. You rest now."
Andy was asleep, she was sure, before Christina left the room.
When Andy awoke, an Asian woman in her early forties was seated in Bubbe's chair, reading. "So, Sleeping Beauty awakes."
"Hi ... Rosalind?"
"That's right. Glad to meet you, Ms. Sachs."
"Okay, Andy. What can I get for you?"
"Something to eat?"
Rosalind helped Andy get tidied up and wheeled her into the garden. "Thought you might enjoy being outdoors." She disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a glass of green tea and a plate heaped with udon noodles, slivers of chicken, and julienned carrots tossed in a light ginger-soy dressing.
"I'm guessing Consuelo didn't make these," said Andy, after her first bite. "What she made for lunch was just as good, but Japanese cuisine wouldn't seem to be her style."
"No," said Rosalind, smiling. "I didn't know what was in the pantry, so I brought this from home. I thought you might enjoy a change."
"You thought right. Tastes great. Thanks. Did you make the noodles? And if not, what brand are they? What's in the dressing?"
Before Andy knew it, two hours had passed. Rosalind worked weekdays as a paralegal, had three kids, and loved books. The one she had been reading when Andy awoke was one of Andy's, an anthology of nature poetry.
"Which poem did you like the best?"
"The one by May Sarton." Rosalind leaned forward to allow more light to fall on the page.
Help us to be the always hopeful
gardeners of the spirit
who know that without darkness
nothing comes to birth
as without light
The women sat in silence, savoring the words.
"It's just that simple, isn't it? 'Without darkness nothing comes to birth.' Someone should make that into a poster," Andy said finally. "Thank you for reminding me of that."
"You're welcome. And now it's time to remind you that you need your rest."
"Yes, 'Mom.'" Going back inside, she exchanged her polo shirt and bra for the pajama top Rosalind was holding out to her, then let the aide help her remove her pants and pull a pair of loose boxers over her cast and her Attends.
"We're here every night until 10:30 in case you need meds, help getting to the bathroom, anything like that. As for mornings ..." Rosalind cleared her throat. "Tomorrow Lucille that's my partner, Lucille Keita will arrive at 6:30, make breakfast, get you showered and dressed. A word of warning: She's perky in the morning. Really perky. She has to be in order to handle the fifth graders she teaches. If she gets on your nerves, tell her I'll fix her decaf Monday morning. No way she'll get through a full day at P.S. 110 on unleaded."
"Queer " Andy grabbed her toothbrush and began to brush. Looking in the mirror, she saw Rosalind regarding her with a wary expression. She leaned forward and spit, then shook her head.
"That's not the word I was after. Damn concussion. I meant, you know, eerie. Freaky? Weird! That's it! Thing is My mom's a teacher too. High school English. And my dad's a lawyer. Weird coincidence, huh? Just one of me, though, not three. You and Lucille are a lot braver than my folks were."
"Then again," Rosalind said with a grin, "they had you to deal with. Our kids are angels. Not a broken bone or concussion among the lot of 'em, knock on wood."
"Point," Andy said, laughing. "Close the door and let me practice my heavy lifting here. Then you can tuck me in. Gotta be fresh and sassy for Lucille tomorrow."
"That's MY job, young woman. Yours is to build bone and muscle. Mind on the mission."
Andy woke on Sunday to the whirr of coffee beans being ground and the sound of someone singing "Morning Has Broken." Soon thereafter, the owner of the beautiful alto voice pulled open the door to the bedroom and stuck her smiling brown face inside. Lucille Keita looked every bit as perky as her partner had warned. Her dark chocolate eyes twinkled as she greeted her new client. "Good morning, Sleepy Head. It's 7:30. Can I interest you in freshening up while the coffee brews?"
"Lucille? Sure. Give me a sec, will you?" Andy skootched to a sitting position and shook the cobwebs out of her head. "Hello, sun in my face," she said quietly. "Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness."
"That's beautiful," Lucille said.
"Something new, actually. Starting the day that way, I mean. Not the words, which are from a poem Mary Oliver wrote." Andy ran her fingers through her hair. She started to swing her legs off the bed.
"One minute, missy. That's my job. For the next few weeks at least. How are you feeling this morning?"
"The leg's sore. Took some knocks yesterday. But not too bad."
"We'll get you pain medication after you get some food in your stomach."
Lucille helped her into her wheelchair, then rolled her to the bathroom. "Need help? Or can I go work on breakfast?"
"I'll help you take a shower after breakfast," Lucille said when she exited. "Wash your hair, the whole nine yards."
She pushed the plunger down on a European coffee maker, plucked four slices of sourdough from the toaster, and buttered them lightly before sliding them onto plates. The microwave dinged, and she pulled out a dish with crispy bacon on it. "I'll make eggs in a bit, but in the meantime, tuck into this."
Andy rolled to the table in front of the banquette where Lucille had set two places.
"It's nothing fancy," the aide said, pouring dark roast into the mugs sitting there. "Nothing like you could do, I'm sure. Rosalind told me you're some kind of master chef "
"In another ten years maybe. In the meantime, this looks awesome." Andy grabbed two strips of bacon, dropped them onto the toast, and folded it in half, turning it into a crunchy sandwich.
"Itadakimasu," she said quickly and then chowed down. "Gods, that tastes great. Just like Mom makes."
She looked up to see Lucille regarding her quizzically. "Wha ?" she said through a mouthful of toast, and then the light dawned.
"Oh, that? The blessing? It's a family thing. Long story." She swallowed. "It's habit mostly, but then again, since I got injured I've been trying to be a little more present. You know, paying attention and making the most of things, like being grateful for daily sustenance that is safe and satisfying. And viewing the next few months as an opportunity to do something constructive? Something like that."
"Let me know what I can do to help," Lucille said before fixing her own snack and uttering a quick "Itadakimasu" of her own. "Family thing," she said, winking at Andy and then taking a bite.
"How do you feel about spicy food?" Lucille asked when the bacon was gone.
"You sure? Ever had harissa? From Algeria? Got serrano peppers in it."
"No guts, no glory!"
"Too much harissa," Lucille replied, "and you end up with no guts! I'll put some on the side. See what you think."
While Andy savored her coffee, Lucille fried eggs and melted some white cheese over them. "Rosalind and I take turns cooking," she explained, sliding an egg on a plate and smearing a red flare of pepper sauce beside it. "Though now that they're teenagers we're asking the kids to pitch in once a week, especially on weekends when we're working second jobs. They have to pay for it out of their allowances too, so they get an idea of what things cost." She laughed. "The Kraft mac and cheese diet is getting old." She set the plate in front of Andy.
"Tell them to add ham or chicken chunks or some diced tomatoes or salsas. Pico de gallo would be good, something with crunch."
Andy forked up a bite of egg yolk and cheese, dabbed it in the sauce, and brought it to her mouth. "Wow!" She fed herself another bite, this time with an even bigger pop of harissa. "So what's in this? Serrano chiles, garlic, and cumin? It's awesome."
"Yep, cumin. Or coriander. You can make your own or buy it ready-made. My mother uses it in this awesome dish she makes steamed carrots, tossed in harissa, with a sprinkle of mint. Great with cous cous and lamb."
"Mmmm. Bet a touch of lemon would taste good too. Verbena leaves, maybe?" Andy grabbed the last piece of sourdough and swabbed the plate with it, capturing the remaining juices, and popped it into her mouth. She dusted off her hands. "Yum! That was delish. Thanks!"
"Love a woman with a healthy appetite." Lucille carried Andy's plate to the sink. "You get ready for your shower while I do the dishes. Strip down to your birthday suit. I'll put the waterproof cover on your cast, get you shifted onto the shower seat, and et voila!"
An hour later Andy was back in her chair, dressed in fresh clothes, and combing the last tangle out of hair that was again squeaky clean.
"Gods, I feel like a new woman," she said. "Thanks so much."
"That's why they pay me the big bucks," Lucille laughed. "Can I interest you in another cup of coffee?"
"I'd love one. You mind bringing it out to the garden? I'd like to try to catch some rays before the hubbub begins."
No sooner had she wheeled herself into a patch of morning sun out back, however, than she was hailed from above by an excited redhead.
"Hey, Andy!" One of the twins was peering at her through the slats that formed the floor of the narrow metal balcony that stretched across the back of the townhouse and provided afternoon shade for her bedroom. Was it Cassidy or no, judging from the "Got Art?" T-shirt, it was probably Caroline.
"Hey yourself, Caro. Come down and meet Lucille."
Caroline clattered down the steps of the spiral staircase that linked the balcony and the garden, followed by her sister. "Wazzup, girls?" Before they could answer, their mother's voice sounded from inside, growing louder as she came closer.
"Bobbseys? Where are you? It's time to get ready. We're going to be late."
"In the garden, Mom."
"There you are." Miranda came down to join them. Garbed today in a wrap dress in a summery print, she looked, as usual, as if she had stepped off the cover of an issue of Runway. It really was demoralizing. Didn't she ever dress down? Andy wondered. Just lounge around in jeans? Or, Prada forbid, sweats? She wouldn't be surprised if even her bedroom slippers had four-inch heels.
"Excuse me for a moment, Andréa. Girls, we are due in half an hour at brunch with Mindy and her father. Get cleaned up and changed into something suitable. The Stella McCartney sets, I think. Spit-spot!" She watched them with a tolerant smile as they stampeded up the staircase, squabbling amicably about who got to wear the shorts and who got the skirt.
"Brunch, eh? Where are you going?"
"Café Boulud," Miranda said with slightly pursed lips.
"Ooh. I hear the food is great there."
"Unfortunately, it comes with a hearty helping of paparazzi. I would prefer somewhere less conspicuous, but Trey insisted."
"Trevor TerHorst. The Third. Not that that is anybody's business but mine." She shot a warning glance at Lucille.
"Nothing to worry about here, Ms. Priestly," said the aide. She extended her hand. "I'm Lucille Keita, by the way."
"Shit, I totally forgot "
Andy clapped a hand over her mouth, though she knew it was too late. The scat was out of the bag.
Before she could apologize, two voices, speaking as one, barked, "Language!"
"Sorry! Really. I'm working on it, I swear. I mean, I promise." She waved a hand between the two of them. "Miranda, this is Lucille Keita. Lucille, Miranda Priestly."
Miranda exchanged a firm handshake with Lucille, looking almost congenial.
Guess nothing helps two people bond, thought Andy, like bitching out someone else in tandem.
"What are your plans for the rest of the day, Andréa? Other than washing your mouth out with soap?" Miranda's tone was not as acerbic as Andy had expected. More humor?
She realized she didn't have any, other than doing some reading. "Um "
"She's going to spend a while getting settled in and resting up for P.T. tomorrow," Lucille said. "I leave at 10, but I'll fix a light lunch she can eat later. She'll be on her own, though, until Rosalind comes at 9. That's a pretty big gap. Do you want me to ?"
"We should be back by 1," Miranda replied. "I'm sure the girls would be happy to keep Andy company until dinner, when she's welcome to join us."
"Yo. Sitting right here." Andy raised her hand and waved it. "Lost the use of my leg, not my ears or my voice. Fully capable of speaking for myself."
She got a steely stare in return. "Just sayin' "
"You will be joining us for dinner."
It was a statement, not a question, Andy noticed. And it did not include the "Magic Word." She considered mentioning that aloud and decided this wasn't the ditch she wanted to die in; she'd save her snarks for something more important.
"Thank you, Miranda. I'd be delighted. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No need. The girls will show you the menu from Smith and Wollensky when we return. Speaking of whom " She pitched her voice toward the open windows on the third floor. "Are you ready, girls?"
A red head protruded from the window. "Almost. Cassidy can't find her sneakers."
"The green Guccis? They're in the foyer closet. I'll get the car. Be on the front steps in five minutes. And don't forget your handbags, please. The zippered clutches from Marc Jacobs. Bring lip balm. And your epi-pen, of course, Caroline." She looked at Andy. "Call me on my cell if you need anything. Ladies." And with that she was gone.
"Whew! That woman is something else, eh?"
"Tell me about it. My ex was one of her assistants. The stories he used to tell!" Andy stopped short, remembering her promise to respect Miranda's privacy. "Stories I'll not repeat," she said firmly. "Wouldn't be prudent. Or courteous."
"Speaking of courteous, I owe you an apology," Lucille said. "It was very rude of me to talk about you with Ms. Priestly as if you weren't even there. I'm usually pretty good about that, but " She looked bewildered.
Andy laughed. "No problem. Miranda has a tendency to take up all the oxygen in the room, doesn't she? Or in this case, the garden. All is forgiven." She pointed to a nearby chair. "Take a load off and tell me more about yourself. Where did you and Rosalind meet?"
"At Hunter College, a few blocks from here. She was assigned to be my roommate freshman year. A serious kid from Ogden, Utah, of all places, paired up with a punk from the Bronx. The rest, as they say, is history."
"Somehow I don't think it was all that easy."
"Ya think? Life rarely is. Throw in the L word, conservative Japanese-American parents, the family feud that erupted when my brothers tried to convince Rosalind that any one of them would be a better choice for her than I was It was a royal mess for a while."
"Still, three kids. You seem to have worked it all out."
Lucille gave her a broad grin. "We got the hang of it eventually, yeah. We have the best kids on earth, two sets of doting grandparents, and Rosalind still rocks my world. Best thing that ever happened to me."
"Shut up, you! Wait until it happens to you. In the meantime, how about we work on a grocery list? Your cupboard is pretty bare. I did an inventory, and after I make the sandwiches for lunch about the only things that are gonna be left in your pantry are half a loaf of sourdough bread, two eggs, a carton of half and half, crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly, harissa, and a box of Frosted Flakes. That's not going to hold anybody for long, I'm thinking, not even a talented chef."
"I dunno," Andy said. She brainstormed for a moment. "I'm thinking peanut butter-stuffed French toast crusted with finely crushed Frosted Flakes and drizzled with heated jelly zipped up with the teeniest bit of harissa."
"The head injury's still giving you fits, eh? Darn. That's worrisome. I'll be sure to note that in the daily log."
Andy laughed. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You never know until you try, do you? Could be the best thing since Pop Tarts."
The house was quiet with everyone gone. Andy could hear the faint hum of the refrigerator in the galley kitchen and one floor up something that was probably the clicking of Patricia's toenails on hardwood flooring. But not much more. No pounding sneakers which had thudded out the front door in response to a honk out front. No stilettos clacking on marble tile they were now probably ensconced beneath a table at Café Boulud, where their owner was brunching with her date and their children.
"Date" Thinking of the Dragon Lady as someone's date is ... odd. Though not as odd as seeing her at the wheel of a silver Honda Odyssey mini-van. Strange ... would have expected a Range Rover or something like that. Not that that would make a big difference because ... Damn. The woman doesn't just take "Soccer Mom Chic" up a notch; she takes it to the stratosphere.
Where did she park that thing anyway? Not on the street, surely. And what about the town car Roy drove her around in? Or was that a company car?
Roy now there was a nice guy. He seemed unflappable. He'd have to be, wouldn't he? What with contending with the insanity that was driving in Manhattan? And putting up with the caprices of the "Queen of Mean"?
Andy shook her head. The "Queen of Mean " It was getting harder to think of Miranda that way, though she had no doubt that the woman could cut her off at the knees if she felt like it. And without raising her voice above its usual soft, sophisticated tones.
"Soft." She snorted. Miranda's voice was soft the way a jaguar was soft. It was the fur that concealed the rippling power of a consummate predator. She had seen a wild jaguar in one of the national reserves in Peru the year she'd lived there as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. The sight had thrilled her and chilled her to the bone. The ranger had told her the animal often killed by biting through the skulls of its prey. Miranda gave off the same sense of controlled menace.
She laughed. She'd have to email that one to her mom. Would she give her an "A" for effort? Or the "PP" she used to designate 'purple prose'?
Probably the latter, she decided. Because really? Miranda as a menacing brain muncher? Too much!
Not that her folks hadn't initially worried that the editor was a stone-cold bitch who was only taking care of Andy to prevent Dad from suing the Prada pants off her Size Minuscule ass. She didn't blame them. She'd have felt the same way if she hadn't seen her with her children, if she only knew the stories she had told them when she had been ranting about how Miranda's demands on Nate's time were destroying their relationship.
Oops! Turns out Nate was responsible for that. Okay, and me. A teensy bit.
Him working at Runway hadn't helped. Working for someone with vision and standards as formidable as Miranda's was never easy, she suspected. But in retrospect the demands she had made on Nate didn't appear to have been meanly motivated. People like Consuelo and Roy wouldn't keep working for Miranda if she were truly cruel, would they?
Well, she'd find out soon enough. She was going to have lots of opportunities for first-hand observation. Weeks, in fact, though she was determined not to impose on Miranda any longer than absolutely necessary in spite of the fact that she didn't know where she'd go next. She'd cross that bridge when she was declared fit to walk over it.
Andy studied her reflection in the mirror on the closet door. The deep bruises on her left temple had faded, allowing her brown eyes to regain their prominence. And her hair was starting to grow back where it had been clipped to treat the laceration on her scalp.
In fact, aside from the cast, she looked much as she had before the incident. Which was not exactly like Xena, Destroyer of Nations. Or Lara Croft, a semi-automatic pistol in each hand. She cocked her head to one side. Helena Kyle in Birds of Prey? That was closer, but
Nope, now as then, she decided, she looked like the girl next door. The kind who got voted by classmates as Least Likely to Become One of America's Ten Most Wanted Anythings.
The rent-a-cops at the twins' Central Park birthday party might have seen that if they had been standing where they were supposed to instead of sneaking a cigarette break beside the Boathouse. In which case, they could have simply blocked her access to Caroline. Or tackled her on the lawn rather than on an unforgiving slab of concrete.
Of course, if they'd done either of those things, if she'd had to stop to explain that she needed to inject epinephrine into Caroline to counter the severe reaction she was having to something she'd eaten, Caro might be dead. She couldn't begin to imagine what something like that would do to Miranda. And Caroline's sister and father, of course. Weighed against that, a concussion and broken bones didn't seem like too high a price to pay.
She looked again at the image in the mirror. Hard to believe all that happened three weeks ago today. So much change in so little time. She rapped her knuckles on her cast. She hoped the next three weeks would go as quickly as the first three had.
Meanwhile, it was time to get acquainted with her new habitat. First stop, the kitchen where it looked like she was not going to be doing a lot of cooking, at least for a while. She could open the refrigerator, oven, and bottom cupboards, but couldn't reach the top cupboards, the top of the stove, the sink, or even the microwave on the granite countertop. The wine rack and wine fridge were accessible, but locked, a wise precaution, no doubt, in a household with children.
She pushed into the living room with its 40" TV. "Ooh, this could be deadly." She picked up the remote control and pushed the power button. The flat-screen roared to life, dropping her in the middle of a NASCAR race. "Crap!" She fumbled with the control, finally locating the mute button. After some fiddling, she figured out how to make her way through the channels.
"Yay! The Food Network! And HGTV. A classic movie channel. And the Sci-Fi Channel! Woot!" She made a promise to herself to limit her viewing to food-related programs and any shows that had food in them. Or Caf-Pow. That would take care of her weekly NCIS fix.
"Okay, Nancy Drew, what next? Books, I think."
The shelves beside the TV held references on sewing, dress manufacturing, and costume design and a collection of children's classics. Miranda's childhood books? She flipped one open. There was no inscription or bookplate. Just the name of a used bookshop in Union Square. Whoever bought them had great taste. A number of her favorites were there, including Caddie Woodlawn and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
Everything in the adjacent utility room looked fairly new except for a beat-up toolbox sitting on a small workbench. The letters M. P. were stenciled tidily upon it in black, but it looked too old to be Miranda's.
Hesitantly, aware that she was prying, Andy lifted the hasp and peered inside. The hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, and miscellaneous hardware in the top tray might belong to the editor, but she pulled it out not the tools beneath it. They were heavy-duty wrenches and pressure gauges, handy if you had to overhaul an old boiler, but of no practical use in an updated townhouse on the Upper East Side.
Which meant the vintage tools were important to her for another reason. Andy smiled. It wasn't an earth-shattering discovery, but for some reason she was finding herself eager to learn anything that made Miranda more than simply the Dragon Lady. She hefted the wood-handled hammer. It was a standard 16 oz. claw hammer, and it had been well used, judging from the scratches on the head and the wear on the grip. She tried to picture Miranda wielding it and failed. The lady would seem more likely to be in need of French nails than finishing nails. Still intriguing. She closed the toolbox respectfully and resumed her tour.
She rolled to the front door, which opened into a shady space beneath the townhouse's front steps. She wheeled to the curb and checked out the neighborhood. To her right, the east, were more residences. To the immediate west was an alley with a locked gate. Beyond this passageway was a deep, multi-use commercial property that fronted on Lexington Avenue, where traffic was heavy, even on a summer Sunday.
She sniffed the air and squinted at the corner. Was that a Starbucks? She contemplated going down to check, then realized a) she had no money and b) it would be a major hassle to wheel through the latte-sipping, scone-eating, Sunday New York Times crossword-puzzle-solving crowd.
She returned to the townhouse. The front door was still open. Good thing, too, since c) she had neither a key for it nor her cell phone. And d) she really had to pee.
As she emerged from the bathroom, thundering footsteps overhead alerted her that the Priestlys had returned. Within seconds, the girls arrived in the basement, leaping from the last step in tandem and landing with grins and upraised arms.
"Ta da! And the Dynamic Duo receives a perfect 10 from the American judge!" exclaimed Cassidy.
"But only a 6 from the Russian one." Miranda arrived shortly after her voice did, the sound of her stilettos echoing in the stairwell. Her eyes were narrowed and she was frowning.
"Girls," she said, "remember what we discussed at brunch about you asking Andréa's permission to enter her apartment? This is her home now and she's entitled to her privacy. Trespassing in this manner is simply inexcusable."
She waited for each of the girls to acknowledge her remarks. Cassidy's nod took two beats longer to be offered up, Andy noticed. So did Miranda, whose jaw clenched briefly before she asked, "Is this a convenient time to visit, Andréa?"
"I was about to call my folks for our weekly chat and then I need to take a nap. What time is it? 1:30? How about I call you at 3, girls, and you can come down?"
"How fortuitous," Miranda said. "Just enough time to do your Spanish homework!" She cut off the groans that followed with a light clap of her hands. "It will take only 30 minutes. After which you'll be free to engage in whatever pastimes you please until bedtime. Vamonos, muchachas! I'll be in my study with the Book if you need help."
Return to The Devil Wears Prada Fiction
Return to Main Page