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



After a quick call home and a catnap, Andy was ready again for company. She tracked down her cell — it was in the bathroom this time, of all places — and dialed one of the numbers Caroline had inked in black marker on the upper edge of her cast. It turned out to be Cassidy's. Almost before she said goodbye, the girls were downstairs, one carrying an Xbox and the other toting controllers and several video games.

Playing on a big screen took some getting used to, but Andy held her own. Cassidy, she discovered, was a fierce competitor and a sore loser. Caroline had a softer heart, holding back in order to let Andy win every third contest or so.

Around 5:15, a phone rang. "Hey, Mom. Sure. You want your usual? Delivered down here? Okay." Caroline hung up and informed her sister and Andy that it was time to call Smith and Wollensky with their dinner order.

After looking over the menu Caroline handed her, Andy picked one of the least expensive ones — lemon pepper chicken — and a side of asparagus and a dessert. Confirming that Cassidy wanted her usual too, Caroline called in their order.

While the twins played several more games of Mario Kart to determine the day's grand champion, Andy set the table, putting out silverware and water. By the time Miranda came downstairs, she even had a centerpiece on the table, blossoms plucked from the flower boxes beside her bedroom door.

"How lovely. Thank you, Andréa."

"Hey, how do you know I didn't do it?" Cassidy asked indignantly.

"Because it isn't dandelions?" The remark was offhanded, the slight unintended, but Cassidy bristled. Andy jumped in, anxious to avert conflict.

"Dandelions. Darn, I should have gone for those. You can help me collect them next time, Cass. They're a great source of iron and available almost everywhere. Best cooked when they're young. These are nasturtiums. You can eat nasturtium blossoms, too — they're peppery. They taste great battered and deep fat fried."

She was babbling. Shut it, Sachs. You're sounding like a loony. She pulled the dishes out of the bags Smith and Wollensky had delivered them in.

"The half order of ribs and baked potato? That's yours, Cassidy? And the chicken caesar salad is yours, Caroline? So you must be filet mignon, Miranda. That looks great. And the chicken and asparagus is for me." She nudged to the side the small bag that held the piece of cake she'd ordered, self-conscious about the fact that she seemed to be the only one to order dessert. She'd eat it when everyone left.

When everyone had her meal, they dug in, Andy pausing only to say grace.

"Not bad," she said moments later. "Good solid sustenance."

"What's 'ita-whatever'?" Cassidy asked. "You know, what you said before you started eating?"

"'Itadakimasu'?" Andy said.


"It's what Japanese people say before they eat. It means 'I humbly receive,'" Andy replied. "It's like saying thanks for what has been provided and who provided it. Or offering a blessing?" She kept it simple, not knowing what religious rituals the Priestlys observed or that Miranda might approve.

"How do you say it?" Caroline asked. "'Eee-tah … what?"


She was touched when not only the girls, but also Miranda repeated the word until it sounded the way she said it. "Jozu desu!" she said. "Good work!"

Nobody seemed to know what to talk about after that, so she took the lead. "What did you have for brunch today? Was it as good as this?"

"I had waffles with apples," said Caroline. "Mindy had smoked salmon on … biotch?"

Miranda shot Andy a glance that warned her not to laugh. "Brioche," she corrected gently.

"Brioche. And her dad had scrambled eggs. And Cassidy had … blitzes?"

"Blintzes," Miranda said. "With raspberries and crème fraîche."

"What was that weird stuff you had, Mom?" Cassidy asked.

"The cold soup? That's gazpacho. It's Spanish."

"No … the fish thing."

"Ah, the harissa-marinated flounder with zucchini. It was delicious."

"Hey, I had harissa today, too!" Andy said. "With eggs. Good stuff. What else?"

"We had ice cream for dessert. Mom had coffee flavor, of course, and Mindy, Cassidy, and I had pistachio — it was green! And Mindy's dad had vanilla."

"Wow, sounds awesome," said Andy, though she really had to wonder what kind of nitwit went to a four-star restaurant and ordered scrambled eggs and vanilla ice cream.

"You sure talk about food a lot," Caroline said, pushing a crouton around on her plate with her fork. She'd eaten all the chicken in her salad, Andy saw, and a good portion of the greens.

"That I do," said Andy, spearing another piece of asparagus and popping it in her mouth. She darted a look at Miranda. They had agreed that Andy would keep an eye on Caroline's eating habits, but as a friend to the girl, not a snitch. Andy was only to report to Miranda if she saw signs of a recurrence of her purging activities.

"Is that because cooking's your job?"

"No. Cooking is my job because I find food fascinating. It's not just how it tastes. It's how it's presented, how interesting or original the combinations are, how it fits the season, the setting, and my mood."

"It's not all that different from fashion, then," said Miranda.

"Hmmm. I never thought of it that way." Andy took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. She swallowed.

"Then there's all the practical considerations: the ways it feeds the body, makes it strong and healthy." She hesitated, then took the plunge. "I have to say, there's not much about high fashion that strikes me as being very practical."

She snuck a peek at Miranda. Had she gone too far?

"What?" Miranda replied in mock indignation. "You don't think tottering around on four-inch heels is practical? Perhaps not if you're trying to escape from predators in the jungle. But if you're trying to get recognized as the king of the jungle …"

"You mean the 'queen,' surely?" Andy asked with a smile, raising her glass to take a drink.

"Tell that to Louis the 14th …" Miranda riposted before leveling a deadpan gaze on Andy and adding coolly, "And don't call me Shirley."

Andy grabbed a napkin, trying desperately not to shower Miranda with the water she had just filled her mouth with.

Damn! Her timing on that had been absolutely impeccable! Andy was dumbfounded. Airplane! was NOT a movie she pictured the Queen of Fashion being at all familiar with.

Was it something she'd watched with the kids? Nah. They didn't seem to have a clue why Andy had choked. And something about the set of Miranda's mouth suggested she was pleased with herself. Extremely pleased. As she should be. Advantage Priestly!

"Point. Sorry for the interruption. Continue, please."

"If you are trying to get recognized as the monarch of the jungle such ostentatious displays can be very practical."

"Game, set, and match!"

Andy was impressed not only with Miranda's argument but with the non-defensive way she had presented it. She doubted, somehow, that she would have received a similar one in the presence of a more mature crowd, particularly one containing Miranda's peers in the fashion industry.

Still, better not press my luck. Time to change the subject, methinks …

"Enough about me. Tell me about you guys. What's day camp like?"

Day camp at Dalton served a number of purposes, Andy discovered. In addition to providing the school's parents with a safe and enriching place for their children to be over the summer, it provided recent alumni with summer jobs as teachers' aides. The girls had Spanish and Junior Great Books and then a class on urban architecture that met from 11 to 12 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and from 11 to 3 on Tuesday and Thursday in order to accommodate field trips.

"We went to the Empire State Building last week," Caroline said. "We're going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge next week. Have you ever been to Brooklyn?"

"I have. My friend Doug lives in Brooklyn Heights. What do you do on the other afternoons?"

 "Well, camp's done after lunch on Friday, of course," Cassidy said. "So people can get to Penn Station for their trains to the Hamptons, things like that."

Oooh. The Hamptons. Of course. "So, after lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays?"

"I'm taking the Art Sampler — painting, photography, PhotoShop, and printmaking," Caroline said.

"Cool. I love photography, but I don't know anything about PhotoShop. Maybe you can teach me. How about you, Cass?"

"I'm taking the Sports Sampler — soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball."

"Wow, sounds like fun. I played volleyball in high school and some tennis too. I'd love to come watch if that's allowed. So … What do you guys do after camp?"

"Salma brings us home or takes us over to our friends' houses to hang out," Cassidy said, something in her tone suggesting that she thought she was much too old to need a babysitter. "She stays until Mom gets home." Her voice took on a sharper edge. "Which is always really late in the summer because of the September issue."

Miranda twitched a little at the jab. "It shouldn't be as bad as last summer, Bobbseys. We can thank the poor economy for that, at least. Only 750 pages or so this September instead of 840 like last year."

"My gosh! 840 pages? Really? That's not a magazine! That's … War and Peace!"

"Exactly," said Miranda wearily. "Never again, even when the economy does pick up. It costs entirely too much." The expression on her face as she looked at her daughters made it clear that she was talking about much more than monetary outlay.

Andy tried to remember what things had been like for Nate last summer. As Miranda's second assistant, he must have been up to his ears in work too. She didn't recall having missed him all that much, even though they were living together at the time. Should have been a major clue, eh?

Andy eyed the bag that held the dessert she'd ordered. Time for a little artful distraction. She pushed her dinner plate to one side and opened it.

"Wow, this looks great. Anybody want a taste? It's chocolate mousse cake." Getting no takers, she dug in. "Hmm," she said, savoring the first bite. "There's a touch of raspberry in here as well as bittersweet chocolate. Did they use Chambord, I wonder, or fresh fruit?"

"Does it matter?" Cassidy said. "It's just food."

"Just food!" Andy clutched her chest. She looked at Miranda. "You might as well say 'just shoes' or 'just a dress'!" They exchanged smiles that acknowledged their respective manias.

"It's true, I'm afraid," said Andy. "I can be every bit as obsessive about food as some people are about fashion." She took another bite, stifling a moan of appreciation as its silky sweetness slid down her throat.

"I'm interested in almost everything about food. Where it comes from, how it's grown, who works on it, how it's shipped and processed, what it costs and who can afford it, how it nourishes the body …"

"Your body is going to be very 'nourished' if you always eat like that," said Caroline pointedly as Andy finished off the cake.

"Caroline Chana Priestly…" Miranda began in dark tones, but Andy waved her off.

"Yes, I'm going to have to be careful about that. Weight is a major problem in America today. Still, I lost a few pounds while I was in the hospital. The painkillers suppressed my appetite. And then there was the food."

 She and Caroline wrinkled their noses in remembrance of the fare, which neither had enjoyed all that much.

"Good thing it's summer — there's lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Physical therapy's going to be tough, but it won't burn up the same number of calories as I did when I could run every morning."

"Speaking of physical therapy," Miranda said, "it is time to wrap things up, girls. Andréa needs her rest. Off you go. Take your dishes with you and dispose of them properly." She watched the twins head up the stairs, then turned back to Andy. "Do you need anything before I depart?

"Nope, I'm good. Rosalind will be here to tuck me in at 9. Um, what's the schedule tomorrow, anyway? I haven't had a chance to study the printout yet."

"Honestly, Andréa. Reading a single sheet of paper and keeping track of it … is it too much to ask?"

For the first time that day, Miranda displayed serious irritation. Andy prepared to raise shields and take evasive action.

Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose, and then, inexplicably, chose to answer Andy's question instead of blowing her out of the sky. Her tone was decidedly cool, however, and her reply terse.

"I presume you know your own schedule. As for us … Consuelo arrives at 7 to make breakfast for me and the girls. She's here until 5 when her daughter Esperanza arrives to prepare dinner, which is served at 6. Esperanza leaves at 7 after everything is cleaned up.

"Roy drives me to work at 8 each morning, then returns to drive the girls to school. Their nanny, Salma, meets them there at 3. She supervises after-school gatherings, eats dinner with them and oversees homework and other activities until I return home around 8 or 9. The Book is delivered at 9:30 or 10. I go to bed after I finish, 11:30 if I'm lucky."

"Wow. I mean, WOW! I didn't realize…"

"Few do," Miranda snipped.

Andy quickly did the math. The Dragon Lady was putting in 70+ hours a week. Shit. No wonder she got extra crispy around the edges at times. Like now, for instance.

 "Well, I do. Realize, that is. Thank you for going over that with me. And for dinner too. I really enjoyed it."

"I found it pleasant as well," Miranda said, almost grudgingly. "And informative. I enjoyed learning more about you … and about my girls. It's going to be good for them having you here."

"It will be good for me having them around too, I think. I've been spending so much time in the kitchen that I've forgotten that one of the best accompaniments for a meal is conversation with others."

Say, what the heck was I worried about?  thought Andy after Miranda left. This is going to work out fine. Just fine.

She picked up the remote, tuned the TV to PBS.

I won't be seeing much of HER given that mind-boggling workload. Too bad. Mind you, the woman's a freaking minefield. You can set her off by breathing wrong.

But she's fascinating. I mean, "
Dont call me Shirley"? That was cosmic. Wonder if she knows how to "speak jive" too?

She laughed aloud at the image that conjured up.

Still, it looks like there's going to be plenty of time to hang with the kids. That's going to be fun. It's nice being part of a family again … Didn't realize how much I missed that.

Ooh, look. Oxford! Damn that place is pretty! Got to visit there some day.

She settled back in her chair. Time for Inspector Lewis to solve another classy Masterpiece Mystery.



On Monday morning the Priestlys returned to their regularly scheduled programs. While Christina made breakfast for Andy and helped her prepare for her first trip to physical therapy, her upstairs neighbors ate breakfast (she presumed) and dressed for work and day camp. At 8 she and Christina heard the staccato of stilettos descending the front steps and saw Miranda, the Book under her arm, striding to the curb where Roy was holding open the door to the town car. This was followed half an hour later by a stampede overhead as Caroline and Cassidy went out front to be driven to Dalton.

How could something called "sneakers" make so much racket? Andy wondered, marveling at the girls' energy.

She and Christina rolled out at 8:45, Christina pushing the wheelchair over Andy's objections. "There's rough road 'tween here and the hospital," Christina said, "and you're not used to getting around in this thing yet. Let me do the driving until you get up to speed."

Much as Andy hated looking like some kind of gimboid, by the time they got to Lenox Hill she was glad she had relented. Everything looked different — and terribly confusing — when viewed from wheelchair level instead of her normal height of five foot nine. There'd been more foot traffic on the crosswalks than she had expected. It would have been difficult to make her way through that and power herself up and down the curb cuts.

When Christina offered, ninety minutes later, to let her "drive" on the way back, she had just enough strength to flip her off.

"None of that, missy, or I'll hit every pothole," Christina responded with a smile. "You have a good time in physical therapy?"

"'Therapy,' my ass," Andy said. "The T in P.T. stands for 'torture.' I'm sure of it now."

Actually, it had been better than she expected. Loren, her physical therapist, was really a decent guy. He hadn't cut her any slack, but he'd put her through her paces with humor and thoughtfulness, explaining what they were doing and why. And before she left, he'd pasted a gold star on her cast, something that had made her absurdly proud. She was looking forward to showing it to the twins.

Back at the townhouse, she stayed awake through a much-needed shower and the lunch Consuelo fixed for her. She was out like a light, though, as soon as Christina helped her into bed afterwards.

The next thing she knew Consuelo was waking her up. "Sorry, Miss Andy. But it's 4:30. Do you need anything besides dinner before I leave?"



"Just Andy." She cleared her throat. "Just like Miranda is Miranda. Unless you think I'm more important than she is."

She started to sit up.

"Bloody hell!" She looked at Consuelo apologetically. "Sorry. I'm trying to cut back on the cursing. But … I got even more of a workout than I realized in P.T. today. My abs are in agony. Fudge!"

"Can I get something for your pain?"

"Please," Andy replied, "but not the prescription stuff, okay? Tylenol — on the counter in the bathroom — should take care of the aches and won't make me babble in front of the girls."

"The girls won't be home tonight," Consuelo said, heading to the bathroom. "Mindy invited them to a sleepover. Mr. TerHorst will take them to school tomorrow."

Andy was upset at the news, she discovered. Unreasonably so, she decided upon reflection. It was ridiculous to feel slighted. She was a grown woman, fully capable of entertaining herself for an evening.

Consuelo returned with a glass of water and two pills.

"Miranda has given Salma and Esperanza tonight off since the twins are at their friend's house and she has a business dinner and a meeting. Will you be okay on your own?"

Andy shook her head, still not quite awake. "Supper would be nice, yes, but it doesn't have to be fancy. I can cope until the aide comes at 9. If something comes up, I'll call. Your number is in here, right?"

She patted the cell phone on the nightstand beside her bed. Or would have, if it had been there. "Shit! I mean … Sugar! Where's that thing gone to now?"

Consuelo bent over, picked it off the floor, and handed it to her.

"Gosh, thanks. I must have knocked it off. … Anyway, you make sure I get out of bed okay, get me a sandwich or something, and I'll be set."

Everything was quiet after Consuelo left. Too quiet. Finding herself in too much discomfort for reading, Andy indulged in some rabid channel surfing, settling at last on the Food Network and Dinner: Impossible. Host Robert Irvine was preparing a four-course meal for 300 spellers and 800 adults at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The contortions he was going through to make sure every letter of the alphabet was represented in the ingredients were almost enough to distract her from her aches and pains and loneliness …

The Food Network had cut to a commercial and she'd put the TV on mute when Andy heard a noise overhead that she couldn't identify. She checked the time. It was 8:05. Too early for the Book to be delivered or for Miranda to be home. She was getting ready to roll into the utility room and bar its door against the onslaught of blood-thirsty burglars when she heard the jingle of a dog leash, the plodding steps of Patricia, and a chipper but unfamiliar voice. "Ready for walkies, girl? It's a beautiful night. Let's go check it out." Seconds later, the door upstairs clicked shut.

Shazbat! Andy patted her chest, trying to still her racing heart. Get a grip, Sachs. You're twenty-eight, not twelve, and you have a phone and you know how to use it …

She felt for the cell in her pants' pocket and then looked around frantically until she spotted it sitting beside the remote control. Frell it! She slipped the phone in the pouch of the sweatshirt she was wearing against the coolness of the building's air conditioning, picked up the remote, and un-muted the TV. After a moment's thought, she goosed the volume.

No harm in letting potential intruders know that there's someone down here. A big bad mofo who's watching … She checked out the action on the screen and laughed. Yeah. A mofo who's watching someone make ratatouille! Sheesh! That'll scare the crap out of them!

"Augh, eggplant and zucchini! She's got … vegetables! Run!"

The dog walker brought Patricia back after twenty minutes or so, and the upstairs lapsed back into silence. Finally, at 9 on the dot, Andy heard a rattle at her front door and the turn of a key. The door opened to reveal a young woman toting a heavy backpack.

"Andrea Sachs?"

"Hi, you must be … damn, I've totally forgotten your name."

"Rachel Wasserstein."

"Glad to meet you, Rachel. Call me Andy, please. I'm looking forward to talking with you at greater length sometime. But right now, I need you to tuck me in. It's been a long day."

"First day of P.T., huh?"

"Yeah, I feel like I've run the obstacle course on Parris Island. I'm not sure I have the strength to wheel myself down the hall."

"Allow me." Rachel slung her pack onto the nearest chair. It landed with a thunk.

"Whatcha got in there, rocks?"

"I wish. It's textbooks. I'm trying to get a head start on fall classes."

Andy studied the young woman's T-shirt. It was emblazoned with familiar Hebrew characters.

"So, do you actually keep kosher?" She enjoyed the look of surprise on the brunette's face. She gestured at the shirt. "ëùø — That's kashér, right? It's required reading for New York City chefs. Is that why the Monday to Thursday schedule? I thought it was maybe so you could party hearty all weekend."

"That's me. Or not. I'm a rabbinical student."

"Cool. Where?"

"Hebrew Union College."

"Reform, right?"

"How do you know that? Are you…?"

"My dad's parents were. And HUC is based in Cincinnati, right? That's where I'm from. One of Dad's partners has a daughter who graduated from there a few years ago."

During the time it took Andy to brush her teeth, take a pain pill, and slip into her jammies, she learned that Rachel had spent the previous year in Israel, her family was Sephardic, and her grandmother had taught her how to make the world's best falafel.

"You'll have to show me," said Andy, settling back in bed. "You're going to stick around until 10:30, right? I'm probably going to conk out in three nano-seconds or less, but the house is empty at the moment except for an old, slow St. Bernard, and I'm not used to all its creaks and pops yet. The house, I mean, not the dog. It's got me a little spooked."

"No problem," Rachel said. She turned off the light beside Andy's bed. "I'm going to sit out there and review Hebrew grammar. Holler if you need anything."

Andy stayed awake just long enough to hear Rachel slide onto the seat of the banquette and open her book.



Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday was pretty much a case of "rinse and repeat," except for Andy's aching muscles and a black mood that neither a blue sky nor her morning incantation could dispel. Admitting to herself that she was acting like a child only made matters worse.

Christina let Andy's crankiness roll off her, having experienced this with other clients, no doubt. Loren did too, leading her through P.T. at a slower pace and assuring her that things would get better sooner rather than later. He gave her a second gold star, but it didn't help. She was still feeling sullen when they got back to the townhouse — sullen and shaken by how helpless she felt.

For frack's sake, I used to start the day with a four-mile run. Now I can't make it across the street on my own. What if the leg doesn't heal right? What do I do then? There's not a lot of gimpy three-star chefs out there…

After a shower and lunch, she let Christina persuade her to take half a pain pill, even though they made her groggy. "You want your body to heal, give it a break from the hurting, girl. Best thing you can do for yourself."

"And for everyone else," she imagined the aide saying as she tucked her in for a nap.

The next thing Andy knew she was being savaged by wild animals. Voices were clamoring all around her, and something had a grip on her left arm and was shaking it back and forth. She came up fighting for her life, screeching like a banshee.

"Get off!" She knocked the hand off her arm with a blow that drew a startled gasp and then swung for the body it was attached to, missing it by mere inches when it danced back in fear. She was preparing to swing again when the identity of her assailants registered.

"What the fuck?"

Instead of feral dogs, she was surrounded by girls, two of them with red hair and familiar faces (one of them scared-looking and the other red with embarrassment and rapidly turning defiant). There were three others. The one who had had hold of her arm was smirking. "Told you it would work. Just like it does when Mom has been 'overserved.'" At the desk across the room, Andy saw, two preppy types had opened her laptop and were scrolling through her email.

"Jesus Fucking Christ! Cassidy …" — something about the girl's demeanor suggested she was at least partially responsible for what was happening — "what the hell is going on here?"

Andy sat up and ran shaking hands through her hair. "Do I look like the fucking Elephant Man? Some freak you keep in the basement to show off to your little friends? This isn't Show and Tell. This is my fucking apartment!"

She turned on the girls messing with her computer, pinning them with a stare. "Hands off! How would you like it if I did this to you? Invaded your room and poked around in your fucking stuff?"

She should have left it there, but the pain wouldn't let her. The pain and the sting of having been ignored by Miranda and the girls since Sunday and the knowledge that at the moment she undoubtedly looked like crap. She felt like it. And she felt like making someone else feel that way too. She pivoted back to the twins.

"And you … maybe you ought to have Miranda sign you and your douchebag friend here up for extra vocabulary work this summer. She thought you were smart enough to know what the word 'privacy' meant. Won't she be delighted to learn how wrong she was?"

She heard footsteps hurrying down the stairs, then a young woman she'd never seen before poked a worried face into the room.

"Everybody out!" Andy yelled. "Out! Right now! And don't come back until you can act like civilized human beings instead of a bunch of fucking baboons."

Without a word, the woman — Salma? Someone else's nanny? — motioned for the girls to leave. As they headed upstairs, Andy could hear mingled voices trying to explain what had happened.

"We were just standing there, I swear…"

"Wait 'til your mother hears, Caro…"

"If anybody talked like that to me, Cass, my dad …"

"Arghhh!" Andy buried her head in her hands and waited for the other Prada pump to hit the floor.

Three hours later she was still waiting. Esperanza came down to check on her, but when she offered to talk to the twins and try to smooth things over the assistant housekeeper advised against it.

"They were in the wrong, and they know it," she said before she went upstairs. "They need to start taking responsibility for their behavior. They should apologize, not you."

The big question, of course, was how Miranda was going to react when she got home. According to Nate, she wasn't one for explanations or excuses. She'd probably toss Andy out on her ear.

Just as well, thought Andy gloomily. This arrangement had felt good on Sunday — better than good — but obviously it had been a gigantic mistake. There was a reason she had kept pretty much to herself most of her adult life. Two, actually: a) relationships were so damn complicated, and b) she sucked at them.

At 9, Andy called it a day. Her body was aching and she was beyond exhausted. If Miranda wanted to kick her ass or kick her to the curb, she would have to do it tomorrow.

Where the hell was the woman, anyway? Her daughters were running wild, raising hell, and generally making an innocent woman's life miserable!

Or, looked at from a different angle, her daughters had been verbally assaulted by an irrational shrew who deserved to be slapped silly for the incredibly foul language she had used.

Or a little bit of both.

In any case, shouldn't Miranda be here doing something about all that? Instead of sitting at Runway or wherever she was and determining what the "in" accessory or color was going to be this fall?

Andy snorted. No wonder the kids were such a handful.

By 9:10, with Rachel's quiet help, she was in bed. Around 10 she fell into a fitful sleep.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Andy leaned against the garden door and took inventory.

"Mud — check." She scrubbed a smear of damp compost off her neck.

"Blood — check." Most of it was dried now, though the scratches on her arm were still weeping a little plasma.

She swiped her nose with a grimy hand and wiped it on the sleeve of her T-shirt.

"And snot. Lots of it. Check." She closed her eyes. "I've hit the fucking trifecta. Am I lucky or what?"

Wednesday began no more auspiciously than Tuesday had, though at least she was spared her nightmare scenario — Miranda appearing at her bedside at the crack of dawn and coolly instructing Roy to "throw the baggage out."

In fact, she once again had no contact with any of the Priestlys before they left for the day. She awoke from a restless sleep, aching from P.T., depressed by the previous day's conflict with the twins, and nervous as hell about how Miranda was going to react. She grumped her way through breakfast and whined her way to and through therapy.

When they got back, the house was empty save for the dog. Consuelo had left lunch in the downstairs fridge, along with a note that she was helping a friend with her daughter's quinceaera celebrations. Esperanza would bring her dinner at 5. Christina, as weary of her bitchiness perhaps as Andy was becoming, left as soon as she'd washed up the lunch dishes.

This is so fucking stupid, Andy thought, contemplating the hours of isolation stretching before her. She had half a mind to wheel down to Starbucks for the afternoon. She might have, too, if her arms hadn't felt like wet noodles. She rolled to the garden instead and tried to do some reading. She just ended up fretting.

Was it a good thing that she had yet to hear from Miranda? Or a bad one?

According to Nate, the editor was the type who had hit men on speed dial. They should have been there hours ago to fit her for cement Crocs and take her for a dip in the East River.

Was it possible the girls hadn't told their mother about her hissy fit? Cassidy didn't look the type to miss an opportunity to get in the first punch.

And wouldn't the nanny have to say something even if the girls didn't?

Then again, the incident didn't reflect well on them either: The twins had been specifically told not to invade Andy's privacy and Salma could be perceived to have been negligent in letting the girls disturb her.

On the fourth or fifth hand, somebody was bound to say something sometime — that noxious friend of Cassidy's or one of the other girls' nannies or parents. The shit would hit the fan eventually and then what?

Exactly. Then what? What the hell would she do if Miranda actually threw her out?  This could be brutal. Not to mention embarrassing in the extreme.

The thing was — judging from the tales Nate had told her of Miranda summarily dismissing Runway staffers it was entirely possible. None of them, of course, had been people to whom Miranda owed what she did to Andy. Not that Andy thought of their connection that way, but she thought Miranda might. And yet, hadn't Nate said something about Miranda screwing Nigel over in Paris the year before and wasn't he supposedly one of her best friends? Possibly her only one?

So — she should face the real possibility that she could be evicted from the townhouse. Would Miranda keep the rest of her bargain? Shift her to a nursing facility? Still pay her student loans? Probably. They had a contract, though that had been at Miranda's insistence. Her dad would see that it was adhered to. And she was drawing workers compensation, since her injuries had occurred on the job.

So she wouldn't be facing financial ruin. She probably would JUST be barred from ever seeing any of them again. The pang the thought gave her was … indescribable! It cut almost as deep as her mortification about the lack of control she had exhibited. Forget Miranda's rules. She hadn't been able to meet her own standards of behavior.

Deciding, finally, that there was no way to guess which direction Miranda would bounce or how high, Andy took half a pain pill around 2, parked her chair in a shady spot out back, and drifted off.

She didn't remember much of the sleep that followed — a disjointed dream in which the Red Queen kept yelling "Off with her head," the muted ringing of a phone, and an anxious conversation in Spanish about somebody's mother and a hospital. At one point, she thought she heard someone come downstairs, but if so, they didn't seem to be looking for her. Just before she drifted back to sleep she heard a light, metallic click and the sound of footsteps going up the stairs again.

She woke up hot and thirsty and decided to go inside to cool off in the air conditioning. Whereupon she'd discovered that the door to her bedroom was stuck.

Or locked, rather, judging from the bar of metal she saw glinting in the latch. Staring at it incredulously, she added one and one and got the Terrible Two.

"That's the way you're going to play it, eh? Fine. Just fine. Bring it on. Yesterday's tempest is going to pale, though, in comparison to the Cat Five shit fit I'm about to throw!"

Lights were on in the kitchen one floor up and in the girls' bedroom above that. The windows were closed tight against the heat of the day, however. It was going to be impossible to catch Esperanza's attention by yelling.

Just as well, Andy decided after counting to ten. In English. And in Spanish. And in Japanese. Nothing to be gained by screaming like a lunatic. The way I did yesterday when they woke me up.

She could have handled that better, she admitted. She was an adult, after all, or supposed to be. And it never paid to let the mini-monsters know they were getting to you.

"So … No shrieking today, dipshit. Cool, calm, collected…"

She reached into the pocket of her shorts for her phone, mentally rehearsing what she'd say when Esperanza answered.

Whereupon she remembered that the cell was in its charging station.

Which was in the living room.

Which was on the other side of a door locked with a deadbolt.

Which meant that she was seriously screwed and that the words she was about to shriek at the top of her lungs were totally justified.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuckity FUCK!"

After she finished beating herself up for her stupidity, Andy started looking for alternate ways to get Esperanza's attention. She studied the metal stairs that spiraled up to the balcony across the back. Could she drag herself up them backwards? Maybe, though her mind screamed at the thought of what that would do to her triceps — and the pitiful picture she would present when she ended up scratching on the kitchen door like some kind of stray dog.

There had to be another way. Something like … like that! The ivy-covered wall on the right side of the garden had a wooden door recessed into it! One that she could reach from the patio! It probably opened into that alley beside the house. The gate at the street end of that was locked, but if she could get that far she could flag down a passerby, borrow a phone, and find someone to extricate her. It might even unlock from the inside. She wheeled closer.

"Shit!" The door was secured with a padlock. A huge one. Too big to bash open with a rock, even if she had happened to have one handy.

C'mon, Sachs. What would MacGyver do? Probably open the thing with dental floss and a candy bar. Which I don't have either.

She looked deeper into the garden. There was a pile of rock, dirt, and lumber at the far end but nothing that looked like it would be useful. Even if she could get to it. The patio area was well maintained, but the garden itself was not. Getting around in it would be a chore for someone on two feet, much less someone in a wheelchair. In any case, the path was two steps down from the patio. If she attempted to use it, she'd pitch head over wheels.

"Staircase it is."

She was preparing to return to it when a flash of something silver caught her eye.

Is that … Yes!

To the left of the door, hanging on a twist of the ramshackle, rusting wire the English ivy was clinging to, there was a key! It was pure dumb luck that she'd seen it. Whoever had put it there had placed it so it would be handy but hidden.

It was a good five feet above the ground, unfortunately, and therefore out of reach from the wheelchair. But if she got to her feet, she should be able to reach it. She maneuvered nearer, set the brakes of the chair, and pushed up slowly on her good leg. Yes! Hopping sideways, her back to the wall, she worked her way closer to the edge of the patio.

Close enough! She grabbed the doorknob with her left hand and stretched out her right arm. Almost! She needed another couple of inches. She released the knob and latched onto the edge of the recess into which the door was set. That should do it. She stretched out again. Just a millimeter more …

"Crap!" She was going down! She grabbed at the chicken wire with her right hand as her left lost its grip but succeeded only in raking her arm over the spiky surface. Pain flared as flesh caught, tore. "Shit!"

She tried relaxing as the ground rushed up at her, knowing that tensing up would only make things worse. It didn't work.



She tried to relax as the ground rushed up at her, knowing that tensing up would only make things worse. It didn't work.

"What is the point?" Andy shouted at the sky when she finally got her breath back. "Really! What … is … the … fucking … point?"

She should make sure she hadn't broken anything. She knew that. She didn't care. She rocked from side to side, cradling her injured arm, making no attempt to rein in feelings that had been roiling around inside her for weeks. They poured out in a torrent of tears, a wave of pain, anger, fear, and loneliness that left her spent and shaking.

It wasn't bad enough her leg had been fucked up and with it possibly her career.

No, then she had to learn that her philandering ex might have exposed her to HIV. Her doctor, the only other person who knew, was optimistic about her chances, given the results of her first ELISA test, but until she took a second one in July that cloud was still hanging over her head.

And then she had ended up stuck in the Dragon Lady's basement with no contact with anybody but the hired help. And barely that.

And now she was flat on her back in the dirt, flailing around like a turtle flipped onto its shell by some freaking cruel kid.

"Easy does it," she hiccuped eventually. "C'mon now, Sachs. Get it together. Big breath in. Now let it out. In – two – three – four. Out – two – three – four." In a few minutes, she had her breathing and most of her nerves under control again.

"Damn …" She surveyed her situation. The three scratches on the outside of her arm an inch below her right elbow were deep, verging on cuts in places, but beginning to clot. They needed to be thoroughly cleaned, but they would be fine.

On the other hand, her abdomen felt like it was on fire. Slowly, carefully, she skimmed her hand over her belly, just below her breasts. The scratch there wasn't deep, but it was wet. She raised her fingers to her eyes. Yep. More blood. But not a life-threatening amount. A branch of some sort must have snaked under her shirt as she fell and gashed her. She pressed her shirt into the groove it had made, stanching the bleeding, then pulled it away so it wouldn't stick.

"What next?" What about her broken leg? Had she aggravated that? She tensed her leg muscles inside the cast, flexed her toes. No twinges. Good.

What the hell time was it, anyway? She checked her watch: 7:05. "Crap!" That meant Esperanza had left for the day. Salma would still be there, but she had no reason to look for Andy. Ditto the dog walker. She'd have to wait until 9, when Rachel reported for duty, to be rescued. Two more fucking hours.

The thing was, even if Rachel looked for her in the garden, she was close to invisible lying on the ground as she was. She needed to move where she could be seen. "Fuck!"

"Okay, Sachs, time to determine whether you shall be the 'hero of your own life or whether that station will be held by somebody else.'" She gritted her teeth and got to work.

It took the better part of half an hour to sit up, inch across dirt and crushed shrubs and plants to the patio, leverage herself up onto the concrete, and drag herself to the doorway in the wall. Andy leaned back against the garden door and took stock.

She was covered with mud, blood, and snot.

She stank to high heaven.

She was exhausted. There was no way she could get back into her chair without assistance.

But she could see both the spiral staircase and the door to her bedroom now — and be seen from them as well. All she had to do was stay awake long enough for someone to come looking for her …

Despite her best intentions and reciting poetry to try to stay awake, Andy let her eyes drift closed somewhere after "I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings." They popped open when she heard the back door open and two anxiety-filled young voices.

"… thought the dog walker was never going to leave. Great time for her to get chatty! So, go find your precious Andy already … Where the hell is she, anyway?"

"Language, Cass!"

"As if Mom's going to care, Caro …"

"She might when she finds out what's happened…"

"What happened? Exactly nothing. We just gave Andy that 'privacy' she was yelling about yesterday." A slight form in jeans emerged from the townhouse, followed by a matching one. Andy watched, listening intently, as they scanned the garden, missing her sitting in the shadow of the wall on their first pass.

"Where is she? Did she get inside somehow and leave?"

"Good riddance if she did. She's gonna bail, Caro. Everyone does unless Mom pays them to stay. Isn't it better she do it sooner rather than later? Before things get more … involved? I mean, Jesus, she saved your life and all, but the way Mom has been talking about her ever since, you'd think she practically was Jesus."

"All the more reason to make nice, Cass. Mom likes her. What if she blabs to her about being locked out?"

"About me locking her out, you mean, while you chewed your fingernails? Let her. It's our word against hers. You think Mom's going to believe some fry cook rather than us?" She shrugged. "Actually, she might." There was a touch of sadness in her voice as she admitted that, thought Andy, but her tone soon got tough again. "She'd never admit to some outsider, though, that I was capable of doing something so … What's that word she uses? Oh yeah … 'inexcusable.'"

Cassidy gave another shrug. "Besides, it's not like we pushed Andy off a cliff or something. So she had to spend an extra hour or two sunning in the back yard. Big deal. And she didn't get dinner. Boo hoo. Mindy said she could stand to lose some weight anyway. She probably looks better now than she has in days."

Andy cleared her throat. "I wouldn't be too sure about that if I were you."

Part 11

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