DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beta: Skeeter451 and Dragonwine.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
M. O. B. R.
Andy came out in the June issue of Runway.
Oddly, only two people noticed, one being herself.
"Lily, why are we here?" Andy leaned on the table, narrowly avoiding a puddle by her elbow. She rubbed at her itchy eyes, then squinted at the gigantic train-station type clock suspended over the bar. It read 11.15 PM, which meant she calculated drowsily it was exactly midnight.
Once, two long years ago, when she was young and easily amused, she had thought it hilarious: the bar's name was Off the Clock, and of course, the clock was off.
It was ridiculous, that's what it was. The clock, the cracked glass bar, the battered Formica tables; it all reeked of grand dreams gone terribly wrong.
Nothing's ever as out of fashion as the things that just went out of fashion. Who said that?
"Wait, wait!" Lily chirped. Jesus. She actually chirped. "Drinks first!"
Lily was also funny, a long time ago. At the moment though, she was just annoyingly perky. It drained her just to observe Lily's animated chatter with the waitress. How could she talk that much? Andy was all talked out. Her unexpected double shift ended two hours ago. She had covered the beat with Bill Garson, a seasoned city reporter. Ha! The man was a sour, misogynic bastard who parked himself in the first available bar and made her go after the story. Perfect team, eh, Sachs? I'll wrap my mind around it; you'll wrap your legs about it.
She curled her toes and grimaced. Six months out of high heels and her feet still hurt in flats.
She glared at the clock again. In exactly seven hours, she should be back at The Mirror with a finished article in her hands. At home, a blank page was looming on her laptop. Even here, she could sense the damned cursor blinking the seconds away. Granted, it was an unimportant article. A filler, really. However, in the editor's words, it's a significant step forward from the obituaries, Sachs! Don't fuck it up.
She wasn't convinced. NYC traffic troubles seemed quite a lifeless topic compared to some of her late subjects.
Truth be told, she liked writing those little eulogies. They fit her mood. In a suicidal move, she actually asked to continue with them, but Jake refused, quite adamantly.
He said, her obituaries were depressing.
She looked at Doug, slumped next to her. His face sallow, his hair in disarray, he looked even worse than she felt. A wave of compassion coursed through her, followed by a shameful trickle of resentment. He, at least, was justified in his misery. She could only blame herself.
Lily, on the other hand, was squirming in her seat, barely containing the need to bounce. Good Lord, Andy couldn't remember the last time she felt the urge. And how rude. A considerate person would have avoided their miserable friends while feeling this chirpy. Oh, but not Lily. No. She had dragged them both out here, cruelly ignoring the pleas or the curses.
Andy couldn't bear looking at that level of happiness for too long without feeling all sorts of ugly things you should not feel looking at your best friend. Envy, mostly. So, she turned her attention to Doug, who was playing with toothpicks, piling them up in a tiny tent before collapsing them all over again. She supposed it was an improvement: at least, he wasn't spelling Mike's name anymore.
She grabbed a toothpick for herself.
"Oh, for God's sake, guys!" Lily snatched the toys away. Then she added, mollifying them. "Look, the drinks are here!"
The flutes of bubbly were pushed into their hands. Andy held her glass up obediently, and tried to look expectant. It was not Lily's fault she was happy. Or successful. Or that her two best friends were miserable morons.
The smile on Lily's face was blinding, when she finally announced. "I. Got. The emo-billiard."
At least, that's how the last part sounded to Andy's ears. She had a sudden vision of black clad teens playing a particularly artistic pool game.
She blinked, and then looked beseechingly at Doug. He was the alternative art source in their little triangle, after all. Sometimes, she wondered how the two of them would ever communicate without Doug as the interpreter.
Except, he looked just as baffled.
Startled out of his gloom, Doug began cautiously. "Obviously, it's not a disease "
"Nope. It's only a hot new international exhibition I've been fighting for with six other galleries. Van Bergen & Sons included. " Lily leaned back, stretching like a particularly satisfied cat. "And I won."
"That's great, Lily!" And it truly was. Running an independent gallery in New York made swimming with sharks seem a relatively harmless endeavor. Andy, better than most, knew how ruthless the art circles could be. Fashion was a part of it, after all. "Congratulations!"
"Hear, hear," Doug said, and smiled wobbly. "Wonderful news, pal."
Andy tried hard to think of all of the half-intelligent questions Lily would want her to ask. Contemporary art was definitely not her area of expertise. Unless it involved fashion, or obituaries.
Luckily, Lily raised her glass again.
"And it gets even better "
"You, my friends, are the first contributors."
Lilly was a great person, Andy reminded herself. Warm, protective as hell, honest to a fault, and generally supportive unless, well, she was being honest. She also had quite pronounced steamrolling tendencies. Meaning, she more often than not knew exactly what the right course of action was in any given situation. It made her brilliant at her job, but somewhat overbearing when her focus turned on her oblivious friends.
All of a sudden, Andy had a bad feeling there was a hidden agenda to their little celebration.
"Lily," she asked warily. "What is that exhibition about?"
"I'm glad you asked." Lily gazed somewhere far away and Andy, recognizing the look, braced for impact. "It's actually a conceptual work, a perpetuum mobile, if you will, that feeds on human emotion-"
"Sounds just like Mike." Doug sighed, reaching for a toothpick.
" dealing with archetypical human issues amalgamating the new proposals with traditional museum collection concept-"
"Lily," Andy broke in. "What. Is it. About?"
"I'm trying to tell you-"
"Nope, you are most definitely not," Andy said firmly. "And what the hell is the Emo-billiard?"
"M.O.B.R. An abbreviation, you Philistine." Lily rolled her eyes then uncharacteristically fell silent.
"Which stands for?" Andy prompted. She really had a very bad feeling about this.
Lily licked her lips. "The Museum of Broken Relationships."
"Look, it's like this." Lily leaned forward. "The authors, two conceptual artists, are asking people to send them the, um, leftovers of their broken relationships. You know, the things you can barely look at right now-"
Doug whimpered. Andy squeezed his arm in support and dipped her elbow in the puddle.
"-so you hide them away under the bed and years later, when you stumble upon them, you wonder what the hoopla was all about."
Covertly, Andy sniffed at her sleeve. Beer. At least the stink took her mind away from her own secret stash. And thank God it was a top secret stash, or Lily would be looking at her the same way she was fixating on Doug. Poor boy was squirming already and Lily had only just begun.
"Well, these two are proposing a new way to deal with the pain. Get rid of the baggage right now. Send it over! Share with the thousands of other heartbroken souls. It's a catharsis!" Lily threw her hands in the air. "Respect what you had with your ex; immortalize it if you wish. But-"
Lily pointedly looked at both of them. "Get. Over it."
Andy stared, mouth open. Of all the harebrained ideas
"Now. It is customary to collect new exhibits for every showing. So, I'm starting with you two. Give up your misery."
"Wait a sec-"
"No." Lily slapped the table. The glasses jingled. "I had enough. You two," She stabbed the accusatory finger at both of them, "have been moping around for months."
"But,-" Doug tried weakly.
"Give over your stuff." Lily narrowed her eyes. "And I may let you walk away unharmed."
Involuntarily, Andy winced at the word stuff, and then winced again for wincing in the first place.
"I don't qualify," she said firmly and crossed her arms. "I am not miserable. Just a bit down."
"Ha!" said Doug, of all people.
"And certainly not because of Nate!" Andy said heatedly.
"I am not talking about Nate," Lily stopped for effect and then drawled. "Andrea."
Shit! "I shouldn't have told you."
"Yeah, well, you didn't have to." Lily said sweetly. "It's been obvious ever since you started worshiping at that particular church. And its Priest ly."
Blood surged to Andy's cheeks. Bitch. Trust Lily to hit you when you're down.
"That. Was. Low," she said through her teeth. Were they ever getting over that? They stared at each other for a minute, tension rising in the air. She could hear Doug making conciliatory noises in the background.
Finally, Lily relented. "Yeah. It was."
She leaned back in the chair, without breaking the eye contact. "But the fact remains. You are pining."
Andy looked down. She actually thought she was doing quite well. It's been a week since she last opened her bedside drawer.
"I promise, guys," Lily said gently, "it will be good for you."
"I don't know, Lily. It sounds like dirty laundry." Doug said timidly.
"Not if you don't get into specifics." Lily said. "The personal details like names or addresses are strictly forbidden. And you can't sign your full name."
"That's " Andy shook her head. "It's not really my thing."
"Think about it." Lily said. "You don't have to agree this minute. I'll just pester you until you do."
Andy was staring at her laptop. Fuck. Writing a single sentence took her such a long time, the screensaver greeted her every time she tried. Not her fault. It really was difficult to feel enthusiastic about the NYC sewage system renovation plans.
Plus, there was that conversation in Off the Clock two days ago. It just wouldn't go away.
It was just like Lily, opening a can of worms, insisting on dealing with the issues, when both she and Doug were doing so well burying them. Why was letting things fester so terribly wrong?
And yet, the idea poked at her, tenacious like a hardheaded bulldog. Even if it was silly. Or intrusive. For Pete's sake, the whole concept of feeding off other people's misery... not to mention the obvious voyeurism involved and God knew what other possible neuroses.
The phone rang. She grabbed it, eager to do anything but stare at The Mirror logo bouncing off the edges of the screen.
There was a sniffle on the other side.
"I'll do it, if you do it."
"Staring at my desktop doesn't work, anyway." Doug sniffed again. "I'm sick of feeling like this."
"All right, Doug," Andy said. "All right."
Deep in thought, she shuffled into the kitchen, opened a bottle of red wine, and poured a generous amount in a glass.
She sipped the wine and stared at the screensaver.
Then, she opened a new document and started writing.
It was actually funny how effortlessly it was all pouring out.
Miranda enjoyed the smell of the daily papers. She fell in love with the slightly acidic tang as a child, absorbed in the workings of the huge machines in her father's printing office. It was then, while surrounded by the almighty boom of the presses, that she decided she'd be part of the business. Even now, forty years later, the sharp odor brought back the comforting memory of her father's ink-stained hand on her shoulder.
Runway had never elicited a similar response: the smell was all wrong. Perhaps fittingly, there was a saccharine note to its glossy paper.
Her life, her habits, even her husbands may have changed throughout the years but the instruments of her morning ritual persevered: a cup of hot coffee and the untouched, crispy paper on her desk.
For the next twenty-five minutes, just like she'd always done, she would trust an Emily to keep the world at bay while she decimated the papers in her preferred method.
She'd leaf quickly through the politics, because anything worth knowing was certainly not being printed. She'd check, thoroughly, the business section.
She'd suffer through the gossip pages, since more often than not she was mentioned there. (She was a firm believer in the know-thy-enemies approach.)
She'd skip the Sports altogether.
And then, giving herself one last treat before the workday started, she'd devour the Arts with gusto.
Therefore, turning to a supposedly safe Exhibitions page, she found it utterly unfair to be blindsided by her photo. It wasn't a huge picture and she wasn't alone in it. There was an African-American woman in the center, beaming with pride, and a morose looking young man at her left. And Andrea on her other side, her right shoulder ruthlessly cut out, sporting an asinine smile of someone not used to being the center of attention. Andrea, the dense, ungrateful girl who had walked away from her, only to write obituaries for God's sake! in that rag.
She looked beautiful.
Miranda studied the caption. The quirky Museum of Broken Relationships opened its door last night at the Walsen gallery. In the Photo: The custodian Lily Donovan with friends.
She sniffed dismayingly and turned the page. But the coffee suddenly tasted bitter and the sharp smell of the paper was not comforting anymore.
She could already tell it would be a horrible day.
Obviously, she was wrong. It wasn't horrible.
It was a disaster.
At noon, out of options, she called for an emergency meeting of the editorial staff.
"As you have probably heard," Miranda said gravely. "Pier Giacomo has filed for bankruptcy this morning."
Judging by their pale faces, yes, they've all heard. No wonder. News like that tended to spread like fire.
Milan to New York in two minutes time.
"Unfortunately, my obviously inadequate sources," she glared at Nigel. They should have known about it, "inform me that nobody seems to be picking up the label."
"Why weren't we informed about it sooner?" Blindsided seemed to be the word of the day.
Nigel shrugged helplessly. "Pier has always been tightlipped, you know that, Miranda. And these days "
it could happen to anyone, anytime. She grimly finished the sentence for him.
"It is horrible, just horrible," said Jocelyn, with tears in her eyes.
"It is a great loss for the fashion world," Miranda agreed.
"It's so nice we are having his spread in June. Like an homage." Jocelyn was pregnant. Benevolently, Miranda decided to attribute her stupidity to the raging hormones.
"What a lovely thought, Jocelyn." Miranda rolled her eyes. "However, we are not in the business of running obituaries."
She considered it for a moment. "Unless the designer passes away, of course."
There was a gasp somewhere down the table.
"Having a spread dedicated to the label which has just," she waved her hand abstractly, "perished is completely unacceptable."
"But the layout is already done!" Paul blurted, horrified.
"Apparently, it isn't. I will not have this magazine a laughing stock of the fashion world. Not to mention that half of the public is already on the edge. I'm not pushing them over to anti-depressants by forcing another failure in their faces. We are selling dreams, people." Miranda sent them a sharp look. "Not nightmares."
She stood up.
"Jocelyn, find me a replacement. A solvent one. Nigel, find me " She twisted her lips with distaste. " an inexpensive shooting location."
"I want the suggestions on my desk first thing tomorrow morning. That's all."
Miranda skimmed unenthusiastically through her advance copy of Runway. The truth was she abhorred this first look at the finished product; she found it the worst kind of torture. Too late to catch any oversights, she could only glare helplessly at all the previously unnoticed typos or color leaks.
Looking through this issue was particularly harrowing. She actually liked the Pier Giacomo label, and wonder of wonders, she had found the original spread quite lovely. Giving it up was difficult, so difficult she let Nigel take the helm of the new shoot. She had her plate full enough dealing with Irv, trying to justify the hundred thousand dollars worth faux pas.
They had featured Stella McCartney, instead. Nigel, thankfully, came up with a passable idea: NYC independent galleries. It was cheap, which mollified Irv. It was, by definition, edgy which made it easier to swallow. Sponsoring the alternative culture made Runway look good, the galleries were thrilled with the publicity. A win-win situation, in the end.
Miranda looked at the feature again. Yes, Nigel did well. Stella's ephemeral fabrics looked good in the off beat context. She was particularly pleased with the Suits spread, burgundy coming out perfectly on the dull, flat black and white background. She studied the page more carefully, forcing herself to look beyond the model. A boring white panel printed with overblown Times New Roman lettering and the awkward line drawings of a rocket? Also a fat snake? And a rectangle with a number on it.
The words on the panel were blurred but still readable. For the first time, she focused on the substance and hoped to God Nigel thought of checking it for inappropriate content.
There was a nice symmetry to the spread. If you tried, you could probably put the most of the story on the panel together.
She checked the caption again. The Walsen gallery. Museum of Broken Relationships. A photo of a silly smile flashed through her mind. Ah.
She squinted and read the author's signature next to the model's booted ankle.
Suddenly, reading the complete story was of paramount importance.
"Janice." Miranda called, forcing her voice steady. "Arrange a private viewing at Walsen gallery tonight."
For six years, it was all about Him.
And then, suddenly it wasn't.
Getting rid of his tattered T-shirt was no trouble at all. Nor were the two mismatched and frankly, stinky socks I found under the bed. The photos were easy as well.
I clicked them away, to a New folder named "Old".
In a bout of benevolence, I sent him the rest of the things he forgot to pack. His treasured Alessi corkscrew, an unused baseball glove, two fancy cookbooks. Well, all except the umbrella, because it was raining and I needed it to walk to the post office.
I don't have anything of His that's worth putting on display. There's nothing left. We did not end up enemies, nor did we promise to stay friends. There's nothing to purge, no pain to cleanse.
For six months, it was all about Her.
And it still is.
The funny part? We were not even involved, so there was no relationship to break.
Why is it then, that the only things I could justifiably place here are Hers?
A fancy pen she favored until it failed her.
A scarf that still holds the traces of her smell.
A card key to her hotel room, because there was no opportunity to give it back.
The mementos of my Broken relationship? I could give them away without a blink. Thus, there is no point in giving them to you.
The things I should put here, I find I still can not.
You get the traces, just like I did.
June. A day later.
Across town, Andy sprayed her morning coffee all over the Stella McCartney's Silk Linen Suits Runway spread.
The magazine landed on Lily's desk with a satisfying thump. She gave a startled squeak, looked up angrily then back down to the paper. Her eyes widened.
"I thought you were my friend!"
"Andy,-" Lily gulped.
"How could you?"
Lily raised her hands. "It wasn't supposed to be that way!"
"Oh, really? I can't believe-"
"Just listen, please." She spoke urgently, not letting Andy interrupt her. "A bald guy shows up, and makes me an offer I can't refuse. Andy, my gallery a setting for a Runway shoot! Do you have any idea how valuable that is?"
"Yes, Lily, I actually do," Andy said through her teeth. "I bet a million of gallery owners would backstab their friends for that opportunity. Like you just did!"
"I did not!" Lily actually had the gall to look offended. "How can you say that? It was not intentional!"
"And that makes it right?" Andy felt tears forming in her eyes.
"No! Of course not!" Lily jumped out of her chair and rounded the desk. She looked at Andy pleadingly. "I didn't realize it would be so so readable! They were shooting all over the place. Your panel is boring. They seemed so focused on Doug's piggy bank display. And they loved the decapitated teddy bear. I was sure it would be a blur. What could I do? Throw myself over it?"
"Shit, Lily." Andy dropped down on a sofa and buried her head in her hands.
The seat dipped as Lily sat down next to her. She put a tentative hand on Andy's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Andy shook her head.
"When was that shoot?"
"Two weeks ago." At Andy's outraged look she blurted. "I just didn't want to upset you. It seemed so harmless. Miranda never stepped a foot inside the gallery. It was all about that bald guy. And he had eyes only for the angles and the lighting and his precious models."
"Still, you should have told me."
"Yeah." Lily shrugged helplessly. "But your panel is so dull; I really didn't think they'd use it."
"Gee, thanks." Andy slumped back.
"You know what I mean."
Andy just nodded dejectedly. They sat in silence for a while.
"Come on, it's not the end of the world, is it?" Lily leaned back next to her and nudged her shoulder.
"No, but "Andy shook her head. "Oh, hell. Maybe you're right. It was ages ago in Runway time. Obviously, no one even noticed. But, God, what an irony!"
"Yes," Lily licked her lips. "Very ironic."
"And it's not like anyone actually reads the photos. If no one realized so far-"
Lily cringed. "Miranda was here last night, for a private viewing."
"Oh, fuck. Fuck. Fuckity fuck!" Andy felt, actually felt, the blood draining from her face. "Why did she come? How did she look? What did she say?"
"She looked too scary to ask anything after the May-I-help- you. The look she gave me " Lily shivered. "Good Lord, Andy, couldn't you fall for someone cuddly?"
"I had cuddly. Didn't work," Andy said distractedly. "Then what happened?"
"She walked straight to your panel."
Andy's shoulders sagged. There goes a brief but uplifting notion Miranda's visit was a pure coincidence.
"And stared. And stared some more. By the time she was done, I think the letters were melting."
"What did she look like?" Andy gulped. "Did she purse her lips?"
"Huh?" Lily shook her head. "I don't know. I was sitting here, hiding behind my screen, pretending as best as I could that she wasn't there and that I wasn't here."
"Then she turned on her heel, marched towards me, and looked at me down her nose, like this." Lily attempted the look. In Andy's opinion, she pulled it off terrifyingly well. "She said the whole exhibition was very contemporary, as it was a monumental display of self-absorbed wallowing."
"She would," Andy snorted.
"You know," Lily said, her voice full of wonder, "she has an amazing insight. Only a few people..."
Lily shook her head, pushed up from the sofa and walked to the desk.
"And then she gave me this." Lily passed Andy a white envelope. "For the sad, little collection."
Andy stared at the white rectangle, her stomach churning. She glanced at Lily, who shrugged. "Just read it, will you?"
While opening the envelope with trembling fingers, Andy tried to guess at the most probable content. For the collection? Yeah, right. She had no doubt it was aimed at her, whatever it was. At least, she could be certain it wasn't a horse head.
Perhaps, an eviction notice for the gallery? No, Lily appeared too calm for that.
A restraint order for the psycho ex-employee?
Or the long expected You'll-never-work-in-this-city-again?
Finally, Andy unfolded a sheet of standard office paper. It looked like a photocopy of an abused, crumpled letter. She read the first line.
This is my formal notification that I am resigning from Elias Clarke....
Andy's own signature was scrawled at the bottom. A photocopy of Andy's letter of resignation.
She stared for a minute, incomprehensively. Then she gave a bitter laugh. "My god, she really knows how to twist that knife."
"Yeah." Lily said. "That was my first thought as well, but "
"No buts about this, Lily. Trust me." Andy took a shuddering breath. "This is a very pointed reminder that I deserve all my wallowing."
"Hmm." Lily perched on her desk and scrunched her nose. "I wouldn't be so sure."
"No, you're right." Andy gulped. "It could be a threat as well. Something like, quit before I have you fired-"
Lily rolled her eyes. "That's so not what I was implying."
"You don't understand!" Andy wailed. "That's the way she operates. Open insults and thinly veiled threats."
"Be that as it may, this is a copy, Andy."
Lily studied her with a patronizing smirk. "Even you should know by now that in arts, the technique is as important as the subject."
Andy stared, mouth half opened. Good God, was the snootiness contagious? And what the Hell? Was Lily trying to elucidate her in intricacies of Miranda's mind?
She narrowed her eyes. "Lily,-"
"She kept the original. She's using your own method, Andy." Lily said slowly, as if speaking to a child. "Perhaps, the message is similar, as well."
That Andy was considering it even for a second, showed the level of her desperation. Crazy. She shook her head.
"Right. And, sometimes, a urinal is just a urinal."
"Whatever." Lily shrugged, her last shreds of guilt used up far too quickly for Andy's liking. "In any case, I invited her to the closing party next Friday."
"You WHAT? Why? Are you insane?"
"It was only right. All of the contributors are invited." Lily nodded towards the letter in Andy's hand.
The problem with the art historians, Andy mused while donning her thigh-highs, was that they were so used to seeing hidden layers of meaning they went looking for them even if there were none. There could have been several plausible explanations as to why Lily was handed that copy, one perfectly reasonable being that the original was filed with HR department. But no, Lily was already flying high with her damned theories and references and fucking examples, citing Lichtenstein and Warhol and God only knew who else.
As if she needed one more shot of false hope. Andy angrily plunged her feet in her old, faithful pair of Jimmy Choos. As if she weren't already disseminating every possible meaning behind Miranda's deeds. The last thing she required was the theory to support her pitiful fantasies.
She didn't really expect Miranda to attend the closing party, but she dredged out her best dress just in case.
Andy kept as far away from her damned panel as she physically could. She had snatched a nice little corner for herself in the back of the room, half hidden behind a gigantic plant. A perfect place to observe without being seen.
A respectful crowd was milling around the gallery, spilling out to the street in front. To Lily's obvious delight, there were quite a few faces from the art circles. Even Andy recognized a critic or two. Of course, mostly it was the socialites herded in by the Runway shoot. If she ever needed a reminder of Miranda's long hand of influence, this was it. She noticed some fellow contributors as well. It wasn't that difficult to pick them out; they were hovering close to their own exhibits, enjoying their fifteen minutes in the dubious spotlight. Well, as long as nobody was pointing fingers at her, she didn't give a shit what other people were doing. And thank God, Lily did not put Miranda's contribution on display. Something about it being against the rules. At least, the whole catharsis thingy seemed to work for Doug. The last time she'd seen him, a handsome blonde was fixing his tie in the other corner of the room.
Andy tried to take another sip of the champagne and found the glass empty. Shit. She put the flute on the shelf, next to the epoxied pile of shredded letters. No alcohol and no Miranda. She might as well leave.
Was she really expecting her to show up? And what would she have done even if Miranda did show?
"Andrea." The familiar voice froze her in place. Her heart stopped, then started beating again. In her throat, at double speed.
She whipped around with an undignified squeak. "Miranda!"
Miranda raised her eyebrow in response.
"You came. Obviously. I mean, I'm glad. Um." Well, that answered that question. She would act like a blabbering idiot, just as she always had.
Miranda regarded her coolly, apparently satisfied to let Andy cringe herself to death. "I did sponsor this, in a way."
"Yes. Of course." Andy bit her lip, harshly, to shut herself up. She wished, fervently, she still had that glass in her hands. At least she wouldn't be wringing them. Shit.
"Not to mention, I simply had to meet the author," Miranda tipped her glass in a general direction of Andy's unfortunate display, "of the piece I so prominently featured."
Andy winced. She knew that tone, the overly sweet pitch that induced a mortal strain of diabetes, reserved for the worst transgressors only, like Jacqueline Follet or Mirada's second husband.
And Andrea Sachs.
They scrutinized each other. Well. No. Miranda did the scrutinizing, her upper lip curled, making Andy feel like a particularly disgraceful bug.
Andy did her best not to twitch. She opened her mouth and promptly shut it. All those things she was planning to say how could the words just disappear? A look from those half hooded eyes, a purse of those too thin lips and she was gone. Replaced by a gaping simpleton.
While still at Runway, Andy used to rationalize it and at that time she refused to even speculate what "it" exactly was as some sort of Stockholm syndrome. A natural survival technique she'd adopted until out of Miranda's clutches.
Then, immediately after she'd left, she consoled herself. It was some kind of post-traumatic disorder; a craving for the stress and the adrenaline Miranda had provided on a daily basis.
Even later, when she knew better, while she was writing her heart out on that panel, she thought It would pass. Lily, after all, had promised the catharsis.
Now, her stomach clenching, her palms sweating, she gave up the hope of ever being cured.
And that was really, really shitty.
She had this silly notion and seeing Miranda's stone cold expression she realized just how silly it was that her words would be enough to bury the hatchet, at least. To wipe the slate clean. To forget about the unfortunate misjudgment called Paris.
Miranda's awareness of Andy's attachment was downright embarrassing, but at least some good should come out of it. Andy's obvious suffering should appeal to Miranda's sense of revenge.
Except, Miranda didn't look pleased. She, in fact, looked thoroughly pissed off.
"Um, about that display-"
"You should stick to writing," Miranda interrupted, giving her a syrupy smile, "obituaries."
"Uh, yeah, haha." Andy attempted a laugh and failed utterly. Did nothing escape that woman? Why the fuck did she have to know about Andy's macabre little niche? "You see-"
"Ironic, isn't it?" Miranda said blithely. "I swore to myself I'd rather cut my hand off than give you a chance to ever publish a single line in Runway."
She licked her lips. "Miranda,-"
She could have guessed pretty accurately how Miranda felt about her leaving in Paris. For months, she had been waiting for the axe to drop. Why do her words hurt so much, then?
"And there I go spreading that sob story of yours all over my spread."
Andy felt the heat rising in her cheeks. She closed her eyes. Not the axe; the execution by mortification. If she ever wondered how Miranda really felt, here was her clue.
"Tell me, Andrea," Miranda said icily, dropping any pretense at a polite conversation. "What was the point of that little exercise?"
"Huh?" Andy blinked. Wasn't that obvious?
"You see, there are only two possible explanations for this art piece." Miranda spat the last two words. Andy flinched at her disdain. A tiny flare of anger ignited in her belly. Miranda couldn't care less about Andy's feelings, fine. But did she have to be so cruel about it?
The next words almost toppled her over.
"One, and most likely, this was purposely published in Runway." Miranda tilted her head in fake wonder. "I do not believe in coincidences. Are you threatening me, silly girl? Do remind your accomplice of the non-disclosure agreement you had both signed."
"Accompl-" Andy's eyes almost bulged out. She could feel the blood pounding in her temples.
"Or two, I was never meant to see it. Yet another theatrical flinging of the phone in the fountain, Andrea? These dramatic exits get old quickly."
What the fuck? Miranda was slapping her with absurdities so fast, her brain was swaying like a battered boxer. Miranda was pissed off because of suspected foul play? Or was she mad because she was not meant to see it? Why would it bother her? Andy needed a gong. A minute to regroup. Why would it bother her? She needed Lily to wipe the blood off. Anything to stop this barrage.
Miranda, like a true champ, went for the kill. "In any case, both possibilities are equally contemptible. I simply wonder, which is it?"
Andy lashed out desperately. "Or three, maybe it isn't about you at all!"
"Isn't it, Andrea?" Suddenly, Miranda seemed much closer than she was a second ago. Her eyes were glinting only inches from Andy's. "My twenty-four carat gold pen "
"Twenty-four carat?" Andy croaked, the shock diluting her bewilderment for a second.
Miranda continued, leaning even closer. "My Hermès scarf or did you think I would not notice that potato on four sticks you have drawn in place of a logo?"
Andy's nostrils twitched. Miranda's perfume, and straight from the source. It was not helping to clear her mind. Why would it bother her?
"And my room number in Plaza Athenee Hotel on that card key."
Andy asked, hating the anxiety in her own voice, "What do you want from me?"
"The truth, for once. Was Nigel in on it?" Miranda waved her hand dismissively. "No, no. In fact, you don't need to answer that. Of course he was. How else-"
Her anger flared back to life. She clung to it, desperately. At least, this horrifyingly unfair accusation was something she could fight against.
"Just wait a-" she said loudly then instinctively dropped her voice to a fierce whisper. "-fucking minute now!"
"You have humiliated me once, Andrea." Miranda's eyes flashed. "Foolishly, I let it slide. No more."
"Nigel had nothing to do with it!" Andy sputtered. She could feel the tears rising. "This was my story to tell! Mine! And god damn it, I will not allow you to belittle it!"
"Why not? You belittled it yourself, when you put it on that display. What's next? A bestseller tell-it-all, by Andy S.?"
"Did you even read the words? Or were you just looking for the fingerprints on that panel?"
"That eulogy? Oh yes, I've read it." Miranda snorted.
"It is so easy to write about dead things, isn't it?" she continued, her voice full of scorn. "To scribble those polite, fuzzy little exposes, secure in the knowledge there wouldn't be a follow up story."
Miranda gave her a slow, measuring once over, and Andy had a distinctive feeling she was found lacking.
She was misunderstanding something crucial. And some huge, life changing opportunity was passing her by.
"You'll never amount to much, Andrea." Miranda stated with finality. "You might possess the intelligence, the wit, the education. But you don't have the guts."
It was like a punch to the stomach. Miranda's scorn had always hurt worse than her fury.
"Miranda,-" Andy whispered, almost begging.
Miranda raised her hand, silencing her.
"Grow up, Andrea. Or grow a spine. Whichever comes first."
And then, she turned on her heel and walked away.
"Miranda!" Andy cried desperately.
To her shock, Miranda halted.
"The copy of my notice." Andy blurted to Miranda's back the first thing that came to mind. "Why?"
Miranda spoke over her shoulder. "It seemed fitting."
Andy got drunk as a skunk that night. Consequently, she spent Saturday with her head in the bowl.
Sunday, she was downing aspirins and staring at the wall. Thinking. It took her a while. So long, in fact, that she became intimately familiar with the crack along the door jamb and an antique spaghetti stain.
But, finally, a year too late, everything made sense.
On Monday, she turned up at The Mirror wearing her 3-inch heels, told Bill Garson to go fuck himself and asked for an assignment in the same breath.
Her article on New York pet owners was good enough that Jake dropped another filler to run it whole.
Her next article, on the recent troubles with graffiti artists, actually drew five hate mails.
Jake was impressed.
When Lily asked her about her recent makeover, Andy told her it was the catharsis.
There was only one more thing left to do.
Andy had timed it perfectly. She simply had to wait for the inevitable Starbucks run. The moment a distraught second assistant ran out of the Elias Clarke, she slipped into the building. She waved enthusiastically to Carl, the security guard she used to chat with, and he cheered back, unsuspecting.
The next moment, she was in the elevator, hugging her package close.
At the glass entrance to the front office, she stopped to observe the remaining assistant. She waited for a phone to ring. One, two ah. The moment the girl answered, Andy drew a huge breath, and then, ignoring a terrified squeak behind her back, sprinted all the way into Miranda's office.
"Hi!" she said cheerfully.
"What-" Miranda stared at Andy in disbelief.
"Miranda!" The assistant rushed in. "I'm so sorry, I didn't-"
"Go away." Miranda said, her eyes never leaving Andy's.
Was it really too late?
Then, Miranda turned her glare on the assistant. "Are you deaf?"
A mumbled apology later, the door closed leaving them alone.
They stared at each other, tense and unmoving.
Finally, Miranda swiped her glasses away and gave her a measured look. "Do take your time, Andrea."
"I've decided to move on," Andrea handed her a package. Her hand shook only slightly. "So I'm returning your things."
For a very brief, almost invisible moment, Miranda looked stricken. A twitch of the lips, a slant of her eyes. If Andy weren't looking for the signs, she'd never even noticed them. In a blink, a familiarly cold, collected expression reappeared.
"How lovely for you," Miranda said coolly. "Whatever makes you think I care?"
"It wasn't healthy, wallowing like that," Andy continued as if Miranda hadn't spoken. Miranda's unconscious clasp on the once pristine newspaper was far more telling than her words, anyway.
Miranda leaned back in her chair. "From obituaries to instant self-help. How quaint."
"Perhaps," Andy laughed. It was invigorating, doing the reckless thing. Taking the chance. Her world might never tilt back, but she wouldn't want the axis realigned anyway. She liked seeing Miranda from this new perspective. More important, she liked herself.
Miranda eyes widened. When was the last time someone let out a real laugh in this office?
Miranda's lips thinned.
"Have lunch with me?" Andy said quickly, over Miranda's imminent insult.
Miranda froze, mouth half opened. She narrowed her eyes. Andy resisted the ingrained instinct to cringe.
It was only fitting, Andy thought. A familiar tableau at the end of the road. They were facing each other just like that first day in the office.
Then, she was a blundering lamb, blissfully unaware of the danger, or of the proper ways of treating the lions in their dens.
Now, she taunted fully aware of consequences.
"Dinner, then?" Andy asked, undaunted. She never dropped her gaze from Miranda's, bravely staring her down. One way or the other, this would be resolved today.
"Why should I?" Miranda raised her eyebrow.
"A follow up story, of course." Andy tilted her head, smirking. Who's afraid now? "Aren't you curious at all how it would turn out?"
Miranda shook her head in apparent amazement at Andy's idiocy? then looked down at the newspaper on her desk, seemingly losing interest in the conversation.
Just like the first day.
Ignored in lieu of the Sports page.
Well. It was a gamble from the beginning. But at least she tried. Never let it be said again that Andy Sachs lacked a spine.
She turned to leave.
"Meet me at seven at that new place," Miranda said. "And send Janice in on your way out."
It was a full month and six dates later, after Andy had finally managed to land a first real kiss, tongue and teeth and all, that she dared to ask the question again.
Miranda, her face flushed, her hair mussed up, still managed to look haughty when she answered.
"Even you should know by now, that in arts, the technique is as important as the subject."
With a sudden clarity, Andy realized Lily and Miranda would most probably become quite good friends.
If they didn't claw each other's eyes out first.
But then she forgot about Lily, because Miranda was touching her again, tracing her eyebrow with her fingertips.
She bit her lip and finally said, "Would you believe, there was nothing else of yours that I owned?"
A/N I've stumbled upon The Museum of Broken Relationships by accident, but it is real, and currently on tour (the exhibition in San Francisco opened in February, 2009). Google it it's an interesting, and, occasionally, strangely uplifting concept.
I've changed some of the facts for this story (for example, a total anonymity of participants) and even, somewhat, its general idea.
I apologize to the artists for that.
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