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.  The sixth-tenth installments (of 15) in the first arc of an AU series I'm calling "Life is a Banquet." No writer can promise that you will always find what she or he writes entertaining, but I can promise, on my honor as an editor, that my offerings will be literate, well-punctuated, and (mostly) free of typos.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To medoramacd[at]yahoo.com

Life is a Banquet: Starters
By Medora MacD



Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's black and white and read/red all over?

A newspaper, of course.

And, a sunburned (a) skunk, (b) penguin, (c) zebra, (d) all of the above.

And, as of — Andy checked her watch — 11:45 EDT, Sunday, May 18, it was ALSO the 11th birthday party of Caroline and Cassidy Priestly, being held at the Alice in Wonderland Statue off 5th Avenue and 75th, in Central Park, New York City, N.Y. 10021. The event was going to be fantabulous, unforgettable, cosmic, a party for the ages.

If Nate Cooper didn't succeed in effing it up beyond all recognition, of course.

Not everything was sweetness and light at 25 Clinton St., Apt. 400, following The Talk. Nate wasn't thrilled when she insisted that he find elsewhere to store some of his wardrobe. He had argued that it constituted a major hardship for him not to have all twenty pairs of his shoes and boots and ten or more shirts and ties on hand when dressing for work each morning. In response, she had tersely asserted that it wasn't unreasonable for the person whose name was on the freaking lease to ask for seven hangers' worth of space in the closet. And storage somewhere in the room for her Crocs, her running shoes, her winter boots, those dress boots that still had never had the opportunity to cut a rug, a pair of formal flats, and her bunny slippers. (She loved those, both for their warmth and for their ability to stomp on his last fashionista nerve.)

She was also still waiting for his share of the May rent. She doubted she'd ever get it. He seemed to think he'd more than met his financial obligations to her by booking Verdi to cater the twins' birthday party and informing the restaurant's owner that the fact that Andy worked there had been a major factor in selecting it. Twenty-two children were being invited (eleven for each of the twins) and two dozen adults, including the girls' teachers and the doctor who had delivered them at nearby Lenox Hill Hospital.

The prestigious catering gig might have raised her stock with the management, but it wasn't going to boost her take-home pay. Not $900 worth anyway. Especially if she factored in the cost of all the pain relievers she'd been downing to take care of the headaches it was causing.

Some of these could be linked to the head chef's dithering about what to include in the bento lunches the guests would be served. In keeping with the "Black and White and Red All Over" theme that Miranda had decreed — and in order to show off his culinary chops — Chef Alberto had decided to limit the fare to items that were primarily those three colors. A nice idea in the abstract, but the first combos he proposed clearly were aimed at impressing Miranda Priestly rather than pleasing her children or their playmates. Caviar? White asparagus? A ceviche of red snapper, red onion, and pomegranate? For eleven-year-olds? Really?

Utilizing diplomatic skills she hadn't known that she possessed, Andy convinced her boss to offer two tiers of regular and vegetarian options, one for adult/sophisticated palates and one with kid-friendly variations of his signature dishes. She had spent a month of Mondays with him in the kitchen at Verdi trying, rejecting, or refining various components. The menus were then posted online, where invitees could indicate which ones they wanted and note dietary requirements. Nate had sniffed at the requests that had been made ("bunch of namby pambies, if you ask me"), from making two meals that were gluten-free to three that were kosher, but Andy had delighted in being able to truly cater to the needs of the twins and their guests. The results looked incredible as well as eminently edible.

The majority of her headaches, however, could be attributed to Nate's freaking control issues. Chef Alberto, who had the social skills of a certified public accountant and knew it, had assigned Andy the task of coordinating the event itself, from securing the venue and training and outfitting the staff to food service and cleanup. She'd had to do it with absolutely no direct input from the birthday girls or their mother, since Nate had insisted that all communication be channeled through him. "Nothing personal," he said, but the "mini-monsters" were too young to know what would be appropriate for the event and Miranda simply didn't do underlings. She couldn't even be bothered to learn their names. She even called him "Emily" half the time, for God's sake.

Andy felt as if she'd been consigned to one of the Nine Circles of Hell, the one where you were given none of the access or authority necessary to assure whether something succeeded or failed but all the responsibility for how things turned out. Still, if that's the way it was, that's the way it was. She found ways to do what she needed to do, with or without Nate's assistance, knowledge, or approval. She could only pray that he had attended to everything that he was supposed to handle.

The day had had to be planned with the split-second timing of a shuttle launch in order to accommodate the schedules of two celebrities that Nate insisted be part of the festivities — the professional women's soccer player who would oversee games after lunch and the Tween heartthrob who was going to lead the singing of "Happy Birthday." But May 18 had dawned sunny and bright and dry (praise be to Al Roker!), and Andy thought they had a chance of pulling everything off — if only Nate would stop obsessing about how her wait staff had tied their bow ties and start directing guests to the canopied buffet line near the Alice in Wonderland statue where Andy was waiting to serve lunch.

Time's a wasting, dipwad. Do. Your. Job.

She was on the verge of going over and giving him a highly unprofessional slap upside the head when she saw that she was not the only one who had noticed that he wasn't tending to his assigned duties. Judging from the look of frozen dread that crossed his face before he dashed off, the striking, white-haired woman who had just glided up to him and uttered a few carefully chosen words in his ear had to be none other than the Dragon Lady herself.

Andy had never actually seen Miranda Priestly in the flesh before, she realized. Only photos of her in Runway and on Page Six of the New York Post. And her shadow in the stairwell, of course, on that unforgettable night in November. She was dressed "casually" today, in clothes that someone had undoubtedly tailored expressly for her: crisp white Capri pants and a black-and-white striped boat-neck blouse with three-quarter-length sleeves pushed up on strong forearms. The strand of pearls she wore was doing an admirable job of drawing attention to her swanlike neck, which was positively aristocratic. No, "regal." Dayum! The woman virtually radiated power and authority.

It was actually kind of sexy ... though Andy suspected that if Miranda ever directed that commanding gaze her way her first impulse would be to jump down the woman's throat rather than jump to attention. She decided she didn't want to test that theory any time soon. She conducted a final check of the catering set-up, making sure her own house was in order:

· Six enormous dispensers of ice-cold liquid refreshment, sweating in the 76-degree heat of the day: three filled with freshly squeezed lemonade sweetened with local honey, two with fair trade tea, and one with chilled tap water that had been run through a reverse osmosis system to remove impurities. Check.

· Six dozen biodegradable cups to hold the liquids. Check.

· Sixty carefully prepared book-shaped bento lunches, two dozen for adults and two dozen for kids, each labeled with the name of the intended recipient. And another dozen for those upperclass twits who didn't think that RSVP meant them or who changed their minds about what they wanted after seeing someone else's box. Check.

· A dark chocolate sheet cake decorated like a giant first edition of Alice in Wonderland. Check.

· All the paraphernalia needed to store the food safely, serve it, eat it, and dispose of it responsibly. Check.

· First-aid gear to minister to anyone who scraped a knee, sprained an ankle, got too much sun, or got stung by a bee. Check.

· Ten wait staff in black pants, white shirts, red ties, and red top hats modeled on the one worn by the Mad Hatter. Check.

· And last, but not least — certainly by weight — the two brawny rent-a-cops Miranda had informed Verdi she would be retaining to make sure that no harm came to her girls or any of their friends. Check.

Gales of giggles drew Andy's attention to the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, where Caroline and Cassidy were perched on adjoining mushrooms, surrounded by friends. They were dressed in coordinated, but not matching, sportswear. Which was which? she wondered. The one on the taller mushroom who looked slightly more athletic, she guessed, was probably Cassidy. The one with the sweet, slightly rounded face was likely Caroline.

They seemed to be having a good time. She was glad. She didn't know if they'd enjoy everything that had been planned, but at least the book drive was working. Every invitee, young and old, had been instructed to bring a favorite children's book, new or used, in lieu of gifts. The books, destined for the pediatrics wing at nearby Lenox Hill Hospital, were sparking some lively conversations between the attendees.

Andy had suggested the drive as a way to make things easier for invitees who were less affluent than others and to keep conspicuous consumption to a bare minimum. "If Miranda balks at the idea," she coached Nate, "just mention how good the book drive will look on the girls' college applications. It's never too early to start building those résumés, I hear."

She'd never heard whether the ploy had been necessary, but if so it had worked like a charm. Bottom line: The twins were laughing and their mother was looking on with an expression that suggested she was pleased with how things were going. Or at least not displeased.

Nate, a few feet away from her, was looking seriously annoyed, however. He'd come to view the party as a referendum on his skills and his fitness to ascend to the position of first assistant. The fact that many of the ideas for the party had been hers clearly had him doubting himself. Or — she saw him glance her way and frown — doubting her. Jerkwad. He should know better than to think she was some kind of glory hound just waiting to steal his thunder ...

"Look, Mom." One of the girls held up a paperback. "The Bobbsey Twins on a Houseboat. One of your favorites!" She ran to show Miranda the book, paying little or no heed to where she was going, and ran pell-mell into Nate, who was sipping a Starbuck's latte, having spurned the beverages Andy was providing for the day. The cardboard container crashed to the ground, splattering espresso and milk all over his beloved Berluti shoes.

"Watch it, you little klutz!" Nate snapped. He whipped out a handkerchief and bent over to sop up the steaming hot liquid before it damaged the hand-rubbed leather.

Good thing, too, Andy thought, or the expression on Miranda's face would have turned him to stone on the spot.

"I'm sorry, Mummy. I didn't do it on purpose ... " The young girl (Caroline?), in agony over her clumsiness and the public rebuke she'd just received, ran to her mother, who knelt to comfort her.

Her heart aching for the child and her hands itching to throttle Nate, Andy slipped through the murmuring crowd, intent on administering major damage control. Reaching his side, she grasped him by the elbow and started drawing him back toward the tent where the lunches were awaiting distribution.

"Oy, over here, mate! I've got something that'll take care of that." She snuck a look at Caroline, whose head had popped up from her mother's shoulder when she'd heard Andy speak. Appalled by this crappy accent, probably, Andy thought. She gave her a quick, reassuring wink. Miranda, one arm wrapped around Caroline, the other holding her cell to her ear, didn't notice the exchange. Too busy ordering Nate's execution, no doubt.

"I say," she continued in a hearty, slightly louder than necessary tone, "that girl's a right bruiser, isn't she? A hard charger. Bet everyone wants to be on her team when it comes time to play soccer later, eh? You're lucky to escape with just a few splashes that are easily fixed."

She saw a shy smile cross Caroline's face before she pulled Nate behind a tree and out of the girl's line of sight. His mouth started to open.

"Shut it, Nate! Just. Shut. It."

"But she ... "

"But she is a little girl who intended you no harm. Not to mention one of the guests of honor and the beloved daughter of your employer. And you are a grown man who has embarrassed her in front of her guests because coffee got splashed on a pair of $2,000 shoes that you didn't pay for in the first place and that you shouldn't have been wearing to a kids' birthday party in the second place."

She sensed motion out of the corner of her eye and held up a hand, commanding the silence of whoever had just arrived.

"There's probably no way to salvage your job, jackass, but if you want to save your worthless hide, you'd better get on your knees, crawl over to that kid, apologize profusely, and find some way to make her smile. Because you damn well owe that to her."

He nodded, the enormity of what he had done sinking in and leaving him shaking. She put her hand on his arm, willing him to pull himself together, more for Caroline's sake than his own, then peeked around the tree. Miranda had walked Caroline back to the mushrooms and the support of her twin sister, who was giving her a big hug. Miranda was studiously NOT looking their way, but judging from the murderous look on her face, Nate was very much on her mind.

"We're going to start serving shortly. You can deliver the lunches to the twins — those two, the ones in the special red bento boxes — and make your apologies. You've got five minutes. Man up."

She nudged him toward the table holding the box luncheons and then turned to the woman she had shushed. Hmm. Long red hair, designer bag, a strong wind could blow her over. Must be Emily. The Brit was appraising her, a curious expression on her face.

"It's under control," Andy said, though a crash and a muffled curse near the catering truck suggested otherwise. She decided to let her staff take care of it and focus on the crisis in front of her. "Count on it. Nobody, but NOBODY disrespects one of my guests like that, not on my watch. If Nate doesn't fall on his own sword, I'll get out one of my chef's knives and run him through myself."

Emily studied her for another long moment, then nodded. "He's got a snowball's chance, but you're right. Things will be better for Caro all around if he apologizes without Miranda first holding a Jimmy Choo stiletto to his jugular."

Andy bit the inside of her cheek before the laugh that surprised her could escape. It was all too easy to imagine Miranda doing just that.

"That said," Emily continued briskly, "I'll be taking over from this point on. What do you need me to do?"

Andy unbuttoned her double-breasted chef's jacket and pulled her color-coded copy of the schedule out of its inside pocket. As Emily rapidly scanned its pages, she flapped her jacket open and closed, cooling off a bit before she had to turn herself back into the consummate professional ...

"Put the cleaver away, Andy." Nate returned from his mission, his face drawn. "I crawled. I groveled. I served Tandoori Chicken, Cauliflower Crudites and Spaghetti al Nero di Whatchamacallit and crawled back again. Much good it did. I'm dead meat. All because some dumbass kid ... "

"No!" said Emily, turning on him in rage and poking him repeatedly in the chest with a perfectly manicured nail. "All because you are a bloody stupid wanker! Because you ... "

"Stop!" Andy yelled. She replayed in her head the exchange she'd just heard. Something was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. She looked over at the statue, reassured to see the twins clowning around again and laughing. Caroline opened her mouth and pointed to the masticated food sitting there. It was easy to tell what she was saying — Some jokes just never get old, do they? "Seafood. See? Food?"

Andy might have laughed too if it wasn't clear, even at this distance, that Caroline's usually pearly teeth were stained black. "Shit, Nate, what did you do?"

"What? Nothing! I mean, I tripped, there was a spill. But I dealt with it. No big deal. I replaced the fruit stuff that fell out with something from one of the spare boxes in the truck. That la-di-da black spaghetti you were raving about. They'll never know the difference. End of story."

Andy turned to Emily, struggling to remain calm. "Call 911. Get them here stat. We're at the Alice statue just off 5th Avenue and 75th. Severe food allergy."

She dove beneath the cloth that covered the buffet table, pulled out the first aid box and started pawing through it. "Where are they, damn it? Where are they?"

"Food allergy? What food allergy?" Nate shouted, his eyes going wide.

"Squid. I heard you say once that Caroline is severely allergic to squid. That's why we made sure she got the blackberries. That spaghetti is made with squid ink!"

Finally! There they were! She stashed one tube in the pocket of her jacket, pulled the yellow cap off the other one, slid the auto-injector out, and glanced in Caroline's direction while mentally reviewing how it was supposed to be used. "Shit!" The girl had stopped laughing and was rubbing her neck.

"So one of the brats develops a rash, big effing deal." Nate's tone had turned defensive. "It's not like she's going to be — I dunno — unemployed! And unable to find a new job anywhere in the civilized world because her bitch of a boss has blackballed her!"

"You fucking asshole." Andy pulled the safety cap off the injector of the epi-pen and holding it in her right hand, point down, started running toward Caroline. "Move aside!" she yelled. "Coming through!"

She vaulted a low retaining wall and pounded across the concrete pad that surrounded the statue, her jacket flapping wildly in the breeze, her Crocs slapping the ground. She ignored the arms reaching for her, the startled faces, the angry shouts. She riveted her eyes on the frantic family at Alice's feet: Caroline, who was beginning to fight for air, Cassidy, who was trying to hold her twisting body, and Miranda, who was staring at Andy as if she were bin Laden in disguise.

She skidded to a stop, pinned Caroline's leg to the ground with her left hand and stabbed at her thigh, just below her red shorts, with the epi-pen in her right hand, making firm contact. "Don't be scared, honey. You're gonna be fine." She dropped the first injector on the ground and reached for the one in her jacket pocket. A single dose wasn't always enough, the first-aid instructor had said.

"Gun!" someone screamed hysterically.

And then a house fell on her and everything went black.



Sunday, May 18, 2008, 12:35 p.m.

"...stand back...stretch 'em out here, more room to operate..."

"...hives and occluded airway here, but no need for trach thanks to pen..."

"...no danger, girls and boys. Repeat, no danger. Let's gather over by the pool so we don't get in the way..."

"Andrea Sachs...compound...tibia, left leg...ankle, head wound, probable concussion...

"A world of hurt, eh..."

Unhh...No shit, Sherlock—

"...are they taking her?"

"Mt. Sinai Hospital, Bobbsey."

"No, Mummy, Lenox Hill with Caroline, Lenox Hill!"


"...I'll get her bag..."

"...stop right there, young man. You are not permitted...If I ever see you again, in fact, I'll...Emily, deal with that."

"Her bag, Prat?"

"Shoulder bag, over there. The fugly green one."

Lemme at 'im...I'll pulv'rize...

"...library card, New York driver's license...no medical insurance card that I can see."

"...worry about it. I take full financial responsibility..."

"...next of kin?"

Next of what? Not good...nah good t'all.

"Emily, contact Verdi! Find out who her emergency contact is. In the meantime, I'll...

"Neck and leg secured for transport, gentlemen. Lift gently now, on three. One, two, thr—"

Jesus H. Fuuuc...!

"If you need me, Dr. Jordan, Cassidy and I will be next door."

"...want to stay here, Mom...has you and Daddy, but Andy doesn't have anybody."

"...her parents can't be here, Sweetie. They live far away and her father's sick..."

"...she saved Caro's life, Mom!"

Ah. Goo' to know...

"... can hold her hand...tell her she's going to be okay...make sure nobody else hurts her."

Hey...got my very own mini dragon. Sweet. No, two of 'em. Still TWO of 'em. T'rific! T'rific Two.

"Roy will stay with me, won't you, Roy?"

"Certainly, Miss Cassidy...be my privilege to be part of Miss Andy's honor guard. That is...if you'll permit us, Ms. Priestly? Thank you, ma'am, we promise to be worthy of your trust."

Monday, May 19, 2008, 12:23 a.m.

"Sorry, Andy. So, so sorry. Have to make this quick. I'm not supposed to be here. It's after midnight. Had to wait for people to leave so I could sneak in. I just wanted to...

"I mean, I know you're not conscious yet, but they say unconscious people still hear what's going on, so…I'm not sure what I'll do next. Go back to Cleveland, maybe. If the D.A. doesn't decide to file criminal charges. I'm not sure I'd blame her if she did, though I certainly didn't intend...I mean, none of it was planned...I never thought...There. That's the truth. I never thought. And I should have. Thank God you did. If that kid had died...

"Hey, get me. Bawling my eyes out like freakin' John Boehner. Man gives sensitive guys from Ohio a bad name. Miranda's been in touch with 'em, you know. Your parents, I mean. Not Boehner. Even offered to fly them here, Reg says, but your dad's having a bad spell right now, so...I didn't know he had Parkinson's. Isn't that what Michael J. Fox has? You told me that, I guess...I probably wasn't listening. As usual.

"Anyway, I called them too, just said I was a friend from work, asked if there were any messages I could give you. Your mom...God, she sounds so nice. And tough. In a good way, I mean. You know, resilient. She says to tell you she's not worried about you, she knows you'll be just fine. And that you are not to worry about them. Which could sound pretty doofy under the circumstances. I mean, you're the one in traction and unconscious and all. But which makes total sense to me. Because that's how you are. Thinking of others before yourself and...I wish I had appreciated that more when we were together.

"About that, I was thinking. I'm going to move out right now. Get my stuff out of your way. I don't know if you'll be able to go back there right away, but if you do...Anyway. Reg offered me a spot on his floor or wherever, but I don't want to get him in trouble with Miranda and besides, like you said, it's time to 'man up.' Be a mensch. Well, try anyway. I'll check into some cheap hotel, sell the Berlutis if I have to...God, did I really say that? I guess I did. I think I might have meant it too.

"If you want to talk to me, need anything, get in touch with Reg. I'm putting his number on your bedside table here. He'll know where I am. He's a good friend. Better than I deserve. By the way, Lily will come by first thing tomorrow. It took me a while to connect with her since I didn't have your cell. Finally walked over to her studio and told her in person, just before I came here. She was going to come charging over — well, after beating me to death — but I managed to convince her you were getting the best possible care and she should get a good night's sleep so she could terrorize everyone tomorrow and make sure things stayed that way.

"I wish...well, too much to say now except I wish I could see those incredible brown eyes of yours open just one time before I leave. They say you've got some healing to do before that can happen, though. So I'll just...

"Jeeze. Your poor noggin's so bruised and bandaged it's hard to find a place where I can...There. Hope the stubble didn't scratch. Thanks so much, lovely lady. You saved that little girl and you saved me from myself. I'll try not to throw that away."

"Crap. Sounds like the nurses are starting to make rounds. Gotta get out of here before…Oops!

"Yes, ma'am. Thanks. I was just leaving. I thought this was my sister's room. No need to show me to the exit. I know the way. You take care of this lady. She looks like she's pretty special."

"I'm sorry about that, Ms. Priestly. I walked him to the elevator and made sure he got on. He must have slipped onto the floor when I was checking on Caroline. She's sound asleep. He didn't...disturb you, did he?"

"I don't believe he saw me sitting in the corner here. Which is just as well. We have nothing further to say to each other. Ever."

"Ah. Well. Good then. Is there anything I can get you or...?"

"No. That's all, Nurse. And ah... Thank you."



Monday, May 19, 2008

"...assure you, Ms. …"

"The name is Lily."

"I assure you, Lily: We are assuming full financial responsibility for Andréa's care at Lenox Hill and anywhere else she might need to go in future in order to recover completely from this trauma and return to work. Your friend won't need to worry about a thing. We'll make sure that she gets nothing but the best of care. It's the very least we can do."

"That's damn white of you, Miz Priestly. Damn white. 'Course Andy wouldn't be in this fix in the first fucking place..."


"In the first freaking place — excuse me! — if your goons hadn't body slammed her into a solid concrete pad, breaking her ankle and her leg — in two places yet — and concussed her so badly that twenty hours later she still hasn't come to..."

"They were trying to stop some wild-eyed woman from stabbing my daughter."

"She wasn't trying to stab her! She was trying to save her freaking life!"

"That is obvious now! It wasn't at the time. She looked completely ... unhinged!"

"Mom! Why are you yelling? I heard you all the way next door. You never yell. Is something wrong with Andy?"

"Caroline! You're supposed to be resting, love. I'm sorry if we disturbed you. Andréa is fine. Her friend here ... Lily was worried about her. I was just telling her how important she is to us and how we're going to make sure everybody takes good care of her."

"She saved my life, Lily. I couldn't breathe and I got so scared. Then she gave me the shot and told me everything would be okay. And it was. I'm still a little wobbly, so I have to use this wheelchair until I go home and I'm going to carry an epi-pen with me now everywhere I go, but I'm okay. All because of Andy. Mom says she's a realio trulio hero. I wish she would wake up so I could tell her thank you."

"So do I, kiddo. So do I. It's making me really worried that she hasn't woken up yet. I'm scared those guys might have ... broken her brain as well as her leg."

"Will they put a cast on it, like they did on her leg? Isn't that a pretty color? Cassidy picked it out for her because she knows it is my favorite. Chelsea calls it 'droolian,' but it's really called 'cerulean.' Isn't that a cool word?"

"Yeah. Um. Listen, Ms. Priestly. I'm sorry I was so loud before. I was really pis... put out. You know ... mad. I took care of my grandmother when she broke her hip and I know how hard things are going to be for Andy. It's just not fair. Even assuming there are not any, er, you know, 'neurological deficits,' she'll have to be in a wheelchair or on crutches for months. She's got bills she has to pay, but she won't be able to work. She probably won't be able to live in her apartment, either, since it's up four flights of stairs in a building with no elevator."

"I ... I didn't realize. These kinds of things are outside my ken. This is going to be very complicated, isn't it? I'll have Emily start researching care facilities in the area..."

"You don't have to, Mom. Andy can come stay with us! You know, in the basement. We'll just move Patricia upstairs with Cass and me. You can tell Consuelo to help Andy during the day and Cass and I will take care of her when we get home from summer day camp..."


"Mummy! Andy's waking up!"

"Hey there, Xena Warrior First Responder. It's me, Lily. You're in the hospital, but you're going to be fine. How you feelin', buddy? Hey, nice croak! Let's see if this water helps. Just a sip until the docs clear you for more. You gave us an awful scare, champ — though now that I've met this young lady I can see why you went charging to the rescue."

"Indeed, Ms. Sachs, we were just talking about the best way to thank you. Caroline has had a brilliant idea. We're going to install you downstairs and move the dog upstairs. Emily will arrange for a bed to be delivered and whatever else the doctors say might be needed. You'll want to vacate the lease on that apartment of yours. You won't be able to live there for some time yet. Is there anything you want to salvage from it? Probably not, but if you'll let Emily know, she'll tend to it. Marvelous. It's settled then. We'll move you in as soon as ... I'm sorry, I missed that. Did you say something?"

"Yeah. Over. My. Dead. Body."

Andy realized in hindsight that she could have chosen a response that was a little more sensitive, considering she was in the presence of a child who had just undergone a near-death experience.

In her defense, at the time everything was still a little blurry, her leg was aching like a mofo, her mouth tasted like it had a case of terminal morning breath, and she not only had the Miranda of all headaches but Miranda Priestly herself standing in front of her dictating that she abandon her unworthy possessions and take up residence in the dog's room in her basement.

She could be forgiven, she decided, for being a little testy. In fact, she thought she deserved major credit for only saying "Over my dead body," rather than "What the fuck?," the phrase that had been coming to her lips most readily of late.

Before things could get out of hand, before Priestly recovered from her shock and began to flay her alive, Andy made a time-out sign with her hands. Or tried to. They were still working, thank God, but there seemed to be a few miles of tubing and wiring attached to the left one. Guess I'll just have to use my words.

"Sorry. Having a bad day." She heard a door open. "Can somebody get me some serious drugs? And a toothbrush?"

"Just as soon as we have a chance to check you. Can you ladies give Ms. Sachs and me a little privacy?" Andy looked gratefully at the lanky white-coated woman who had just entered.

"Certainly, Dr. Jordan. We'll be next door if you need us."

"Andy, do you want me to...?"

"No, thanks, Lily. I'll be able to handle this, I think, if Dr. Jordan sticks to very simple words."

As the door closed behind her friend, Andy turned to the physician. "So..." She scrubbed her face with her free hand, fighting back a surge of panic and trying to focus, then cleared her throat. "What are the damages, Doc? Will I be able to play the violin?"

The doctor looked befuddled. "I thought you were a chef..." Then she scowled. "One of those, eh? I might have known." She looked down at the papers in her hand. "Odd. There's nothing here about you sustaining damage to your sense of humor. It has been lame since birth, I take it?"

"Pretty much." Andy managed a small, albeit pained, grin. "I don't suppose you could fix it while I'm here?"

"Nope, but we can handle the rest." She looked reassuringly at Andy. "It's going to be a long haul, but it could have been worse."

Andy surveyed the array of blinking instruments around her and her left leg, which was now encased in sky blue plaster and suspended by pulleys from a frame above the bed. She must have looked incredulous.

"Hey, you got taken down by a couple of heavyweights who managed not only to break your tibia in two places and crack your ankle, but also bounce your head off one of Alice's mushrooms. We don't know if you'll suffer any residual problems due to the resulting concussion — those guys really rang your bell — but the MRI doesn't show anything worrisome from a physiological standpoint.

"As for your extremities ... We had to insert a couple of pins in your left leg during surgery, which could make going through airport security more interesting, but all your reflexes are normal. Luckily, one of the parents at the party is an orthopod on the staff here at Lenox. She made sure your back and leg were stabilized until the EMTs arrived, so well-meaning bystanders didn't cause further damage. You'll be in traction for a couple of weeks and in a wheelchair for three or four more, until the leg knits enough to allow us to remove the full cast and replace it with a walking cast. You're looking at months of recovery and rehab, but you might have been paralyzed, so..."

"I get it," Andy said. "It definitely could have been worse. What about Caroline, though? Is she okay? I mean, she looked okay just now, but..."

"She's going to be fine, thanks to you. It would have been a different story without your quick thinking. She was only minutes away from cardiac arrest."

"Shit." Andy shuddered, in the process jarring her injured leg. "Motherfucker!"

"I'll just bet. Let me look you over quickly and then we can get some relief for you."



Monday, May 19, 2008, 5:45 p.m.

It was getting on toward evening the next time Andy came to. A slow, steady drip of pain medication and her body's need to hunker down and work on repairs had had her drifting in and out of consciousness for most of the day.

"Do you think Andy would like to have my Jello, Mom? I'd be happy to share it."

"Your generosity knows no bounds, Bobbsey. I'm not sure Andréa is going to be up for eating dinner tonight, but I'll be sure to tell her of your kind offer. Now, scoot, girls. It's time for that awful TV show you like and Andréa needs her rest."

The sisters departed, the squeak of a wheelchair accompanied by a set of footsteps and chatter about something Caroline had been lucky enough to miss at school due to her hospitalization.

"You can open your eyes now — though, just to be safe, you might want to avert them from the dinner tray the aide brought in. I don't know what that fodder tastes like, but the color palette is enough to trigger an epileptic fit."

Angling her head to the side, toward the area from which Miranda Priestly's sardonic voice was coming, Andy cautiously opened one eye, then the other. The woman standing beside her bed was impeccably dressed as usual, though in a power suit today instead of the casual wear of Sunday. Her signature hairstyle looked — not exactly disheveled, Andy thought, but — a little ruffled. As did the Dragon Lady.

"My apologies..." They stared at each other in amazement, unable to believe their ears. Only the differing timbre of their voices revealed that there had been two speakers, not one.


"Indeed. What in the world do you think you have to apologize for?"

"Oh, I dunno. My abysmal rudeness this morning. Allowing your daughter to be served something that might have killed her. Stuff like that."


Andy couldn't help it. She started to laugh, groaning to a halt when her ribs reminded her that some Hulk Hogan-wannabe had powerslammed her into the pavement to prevent her from drawing a non-existent weapon.

The Ice Queen did not seem to share her amusement. In fact, she looked downright pissed.

"I'm sorry. It's just...I've never heard anybody actually say 'piffle' before."

"It's a perfectly respectable word."

"It is," said Andy, something in the woman's expression leading her to want to make amends. "Perfectly respectable. I'm not sure that it's accurate, however, to equate sending someone into anaphylactic shock with merely spouting nonsense."

"You didn't send Caroline into shock, that dreadful young man did..."

Her visitor stopped, remembering perhaps that Andy had been living with said dreadful young man for some unfathomable reason.

"The authorities have convinced me it was accidental," Miranda continued. "He needn't fear any repercussions from that. For his unconscionable behavior toward Caro before that, however, suffice it to say that his intuition was correct: The cover of Runway will feature a Plus Size model wearing Zubaz before he gets another job in the fashion industry."

Finding no outrage in Andy's expression and perhaps even a smidgeon of approval, she added, "Except perhaps at the Fashion Barn. That I would permit. In fact, I might insist on it."

"Oh, my God," Andy gasped in helpless laughter despite the pain. "Five to life at the Fashion Barn. You really know how to punish a guy."

Miranda permitted herself a very small smile, pleased, it seemed, that Andy had appreciated her sally. Then she sobered.

"Don't sidetrack me. I must apologize. It's not my habit to consult others when...I mean, it's my job to see what has to be done and make it happen. It has been pointed out to me that you might have your own preferences about where you live and how" — Andy sensed Lily's fine hand and/or sharp tongue there — "and that it was 'presumptuous' of me to try to 'dictate' the conditions of your recovery. Especially when I owe you so much."

Something about the twist of the woman's lips and the rigidity with which she was gazing at the paint on the wall over her head told Andy that she was in the throes of an emotion that would have overpowered a lesser being. What would it take to make her lose her iron grip on her feelings? Andy wasn't sure she wanted to be around when it happened. It would be like seeing the Twin Towers collapse again.

"In any case," Miranda Priestly moved closer, "I want you to know that you will have my eternal gratitude and whatever financial or other support you need in order to restore your health and resume your work." With a feather-light touch, she traced the veins on the back of Andy's right hand with her index finger.

Andy felt her heart race, saw her skin flush in response. It's barely there, she thought. But it feels somehow like...a sanctification.

Realizing suddenly what she was doing, Miranda twitched and pulled her hand back, stuffing it in a pocket. Her voice got even more serious. "That includes continuing to make payments on your student loans. And continuing the stipend you've been sending to your parents." She cut off Andy's objections before she could utter them. "You won't get better if you're worrying about how they're doing. I would not consider my debt to you fulfilled if I didn't honor all your commitments."

She crossed the room and picked up an oblong object sitting on the credenza there. "Speaking of your parents..." She cleared a space on Andy's tray table, pushing aside a prismatic collection of unnaturally colored jiggling cubes of gelatin. She deposited a laptop.

"I've spoken with them, of course. They're very sorry they can't be here, but I think they have been reassured that you are doing well and are in good hands." She cleared her throat. "Still, as a mother, I know I'd be anxious to ascertain that for myself. I didn't want to be 'presumptuous,' but Cassidy suggested... Do you know about this Skype thing? Ah, good. So I had Emily FedEx a laptop to them along with instructions and..."

Andy suspected that the shine in her eyes was telling Miranda everything she needed to know.

"Anyway..." — she waved her elegant white hand at the machine — "when you're ready, everything is set up and..."

Andy watched Miranda Priestly's gaze slide over her, saw her lips purse slightly. She hadn't had a chance yet to look at herself in the mirror, but she could just imagine what she looked like.

"You might want to freshen up a bit beforehand, Andréa. I'll have Emily arrange for...I mean, we wouldn't want to scare them. A sponge bath maybe. A little makeup definitely."

Andy had to laugh at that. "Me in makeup. That would scare them silly. Let's just stick with the sponge bath, okay?" Then, "Thanks, Ms. Priestly, I..."


"Okay. Wow. Anyway, thanks."

"Finally, I want you to know that the offer to lodge in our home was a sincere one. And to correct any misapprehensions you may have about the accommodations. What Caroline and Cassidy refer to as the basement is really the garden level. Which has made it a very convenient place to kennel Patricia, our St. Bernard. It's not some kind of crypt, however. There's a full apartment there, very sunny, with a kitchenette and a bathroom that is wheelchair accessible, I think. The previous owner intended it as a mother-in-law apartment, I believe, a place an aging parent could live if necessary. He also installed an elevator. You'd have easy access to the rest of the house. If you wanted it, I mean."

"I'll need to think about it, Miranda. Really think about it. I need to be sure it's the right place for me and I won't know that until I know more about my situation. Dr. Jordan says that's going to take at least a week." Miranda nodded.

Andy felt her eyes droop. She was beginning to fade out again.

"Also wanta think about what this might mean for the girls," she said.

She snuggled deeper into her pillow.

"And for you. Inviting some stranger with a lot of special needs into your home, have daily contact with your kids. That's a big deal." She cleared her throat, tried to keep from slurring her words. "...mean, you don't know a lot about me. 'cept I have a fondness for sharp objects, not so sharp boyfriends, 'n' a crappy sense of style..."

She stayed awake just long enough to watch Miranda record a few notes to herself on her BlackBerry.

Woman never stops working, does she? Probably planning some kind of spread in Runway on designer scrubs or...

She let go then, dropping again into pain-free sleep.



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Andy started the next day the best way she could think of, by calling her parents, timing it for the window of time between when her mom finished helping her dad get ready for the day and when she headed off to her teaching job at the high school, where final exams were just getting underway. It was very brief, but it accomplished what it needed to: She demonstrated to them that she was fine, set a time to Skype with them on Wednesday evening, and assured them that Miranda Priestly was not the devil incarnate, no matter what she had said about her over the past year or so. Probably.

The room received a steady stream of visitors as the day went on. Most were nurses and technicians intent on poking and probing her and sucking her dry of a variety of fluids.

There were also a few people from Verdi. One, Doug, was someone she knew well enough to call her friend, though they had only been working with each other a few months. The two women who arrived after him seemed to be there to tell her that everything was running absolutely smoothly without her and to ask what Miranda Priestly was really like. She was about to pretend to fall asleep when Chef Alberto appeared, scattering them like leaves before a thunderstorm and prompting Andy to try to come to almost military-style attention. Or as close as one could get to that while reclining in a hospital bed with one leg in a cast and elevated.

"Chef! I'm honored. I'm so sorry to have put you to so much inconvenience."

"Nonsense. It is I who am honored. And grateful for all that you have done for Verdi."

Was he being sarcastic? Andy wondered. "You mean ruining the restaurant's reputation forever?"

"Non. For establishing it." He handed a newspaper clipping to her. It was from the New York Times, dated Sunday, May 18. "You probably didn't have a chance to read this before the birthday party. I think you should." She read the part that was circled in red.

The moistness and tenderness of most of the meat and seafood that came

out of the kitchen reflected enormous care. That was true of orata cooked

in parchment and bejeweled with slices of candied orange, of rock shrimp

with roasted apples on a bed of creamy polenta.

"But those, those are my dishes, the ones you let me introduce on the lunch menu."

"Indeed, and miraculously the reviewer for the New York Times has not only eaten them but has had the palate to appreciate them. Our patronage increased by nearly thirty percent today."

"But what about the birthday party? About being involved in nearly killing a child?"

"No, in being prepared to save a child's life and being severely injured while doing so. The incident got much coverage as you might expect, but thanks to Ms. Priestly and her publicist after a first burst of sensationalism it has been almost entirely positive."

He handed her another clipping, this one from Page Six of the New York Post. There was a two-column photo of Miranda Priestly under a headline that read "Cool, Calm Cook Saves Priestly Princess." The caption beneath it quoted her:

Fashion's famed Ice Queen thawed a bit Sunday night as she left Lenox Hill
after visiting her daughter and the caterer who saved her when she went
into anaphylactic shock. "We are grateful the staff at Verdi is proficient not
only at serving excellent fare but also at looking after the health of their
customers. Chef Andrea Sachs has done us a service that is immeasurable."

"They called me a 'cook'!" Andy said, outraged.

"Ah. But Ms. Priestly did not. And it is her opinion which counts, no?"

Andy was mollified. She tucked the articles away to read them more closely later.

"In any case, I came here today to tell you that a job will be waiting for you whenever you are able to return. It may not be your current one..."

"Thank you, Chef. I understand you can't..."

He held up a hand, silencing her. "As I was saying ... I've been thinking that we are going to have to promote you to sous chef when it is time for Tomás to start taking over some of my duties." He smiled at her befuddlement. "So, get well soon, ma cher. Your immense talent and your cheerful presence have already been greatly missed. We need you back among us again soon and in good health."

Andy wasn't sure anything could surprise her after that. Then a tall, dark, handsome forty-something in a designer suit and shoes entered the room, a Whole Foods canvas shopping bag in one hand.

"Andy. I don't know if you remember meeting me? Reg Hawthorne from Runway?"

"Reg. Sure. Um...?"

"Nate asked me to drop some things off for you." He dug into a pocket. "First, this." He put the key to the apartment on Andy's tray table. "He's moved his stuff out. He'll mail you the back rent when he can."

Andy looked at the bag.

"Ah, yes, some things he thought you might appreciate having." He handed it over.

Inside Andy found the paperweight her parents had given her as she set out to seek her fortune in New York City: "What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?" Her iPod and headphones. Her copies of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé and Why I Wake Early, a book of poems by Mary Oliver. And, at the very bottom, her bunny slippers.

The collection left her speechless. For all his faults, Nate did know her and in a way nobody else in New York City did at the moment.

"So," she said when she got her voice back under control, "Nate?"

"He decided to go back to Cleveland for a while. Just as well, I guess."

"His job, you mean?"

Reg looked at her as if trying to decide how much to say. "No. It's just ... I've gotten the impression lately that he's begun to realize that his interests lie ... elsewhere?"

Elsewhere? What the hell is he talking about? Work? No, he's too uncomfortable for that. Is he talking about …? Someone else? Another woman? Or …?

"Elsewhere like ... you?" she asked, a little surprised at how unsurprised she was.

"Me? No. Unfortunately." He swallowed, then continued. "But Leonardo. That Italian photographer who shot the Versace cover in late December. They had a 'thing' over the holidays."


That explained a lot. Including that frantic coupling the night of her birthday in January. Guilt? More likely, one last fuck to help him make sure he really was playing for the wrong team. Hah! And here she'd thought he had simply been too busy or too damn cheap to buy a gift.

"The thing is ..." Reg stopped, then plowed on determinedly. "As I understand it, Leonardo is a bit of a player. And not always ... careful."


"I don't usually ... but I think you should know. Even though there's probably nothing to worry about. It's just — I've lost too many friends to this to ever be cavalier about it."

They stared at each other for a couple of beats. "Anyway, get in touch with me at Runway if you need to talk to Nate. Or anything. He promised he'd keep me posted on his whereabouts."

Andy spent the next hour being alternately mad as hell and scared out of her freaking mind. It should have been one of the best days of her life — a rave review in the New York Times! Instead it might be one she'd always remember as the day everything turned to ashes.

"What's that quote of Robert Frost's that Dad uses? 'No way out but through'?" She raised a shaking hand and rang for the nurse. "Could you ask Dr. Jordan to stop in when she has a chance?"

The doctor arrived about forty-five minutes later. "You rang?" She sobered at what she saw on Andy's face. "Something wrong?"

"It's come to my attention that my medical history may not be as complete as I thought it was," Andy said. Her voice was remarkably calm, she thought, though perhaps a bit stiff.


"I need you to test me for … HIV." She congratulated herself for managing to get the initials out without screaming.


"Because it appears that my boyfriend, make that ex-boyfriend — may he rot in hell — has been doing some ... experimenting. With other men. We had unprotected sex in mid-January. Nothing too 'exotic,' but ... I wasn't worried about getting pregnant, since I was on the pill then. And I assumed we were monogamous. I certainly was. Anyway, I need to know."

Dr. Jordan reached for her hand, held it gently. "I understand."

"Thing is," said Andy, trying not to cry, "is there a way we can do this so …?" She looked in the direction of Caroline's room.

"Nobody will know except those you choose to tell."

"It's probably nothing. I'm not trying to hide anything. I just don't want to worry anyone unnecessarily."

"That's perfectly understandable."

"By the same token, I don't want to pose a risk to anyone else's health, you know? Your staff, I mean, and work, of course. I know there have been no reported cases of transmission of AIDS through food and beverage, but we handle a lot of sharp objects in my business and ..."

Dr. Jordan pulled a PDA out of her white coat and started tapping on it. "I'm going to order something called an Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay or ELISA. It's been five months since you were potentially exposed, right? It can take up to six months for HIV antibodies to develop in the blood, so you'll need to be retested in a few weeks just to be sure. But if this comes back negative, as I fully expect it will, you don't have much to worry about."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, okay?" She punched SEND. "A lab tech will be up in half an hour or so to draw some blood for the test. I've set it up to be billed to you separately from the expenses Ms. Priestly will be covering, since it's not directly related to your injuries."

"You're sure it won't show up ...? Thank you, Dr. Jordan."

"Thank you for confronting this head-on. That takes guts. We won't keep you in suspense any longer than necessary. We should have an answer for you tonight. I'll bring it to you myself."

Andy wasn't sure how she got through the next few hours. She remembered eating a little of her dinner and having to work hard to keep her stomach from rejecting it. She remembered greeting Miranda and Cassidy when they came to visit Caroline at seven and then feigning sleep to avoid talking to them when they left.

And she remembered searching through her iPod for tunes that would keep her from climbing the walls. Pachelbel's "Canon in D" worked for a bit. Until she decided it sounded too much like a dirge. She switched to Whitney Houston's more upbeat "Step by Step," putting it on repeat. The woman had effed up her life beyond all conceiving, but by God she could sing.

She closed her eyes, synched her breathing to the rhythm, kept it slow and steady. "Step by step, bit by bit, stone by stone (yeah), brick by brick ..."

Sooner than she expected, she felt a warm hand grasp her own. She opened her eyes. It was Dr. Jordan and she was smiling broadly. Either she was the biggest sadist on the surface of the planet or the news was good. She nodded at Andy and gave her a big thumbs up. Andy pulled off her headphones and burst into tears.

Part 11

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