Fandom: The Devil Wears Prada
Rating/Genre: pg-13 (for possibly disturbing theme)/angst (sort of?)
Characters/Pairing: Andy Sachs, Miranda Priestly, Emily Charlton, brief appearances by other characters (implied Andy/Miranda… it’s also possible, I think, to read something else into it, if you wish)
Summary: So Emily lived for Fashion Week, and that’s why Andy didn’t want to take her place, right? But what if Miranda had told her that there was a way she maybe didn’t have to go to Paris! She sends Andy on a mission – but this one is even more difficult than getting an unpublished Harry Potter book…
Word count: 6 842
Warnings: For once, yes: the ladies have to deal with one of them having an eating disorder. Brief mentioning of (original) character death.
Notes: Oneshot. By ‘Genre: angst’ I mean that for once I try to write something angsty; this doesn’t mean that I’m as good at it as some people… but I tried to add a little fluffiness (sort of) towards the end, to make it taste a little sweeter. Also, I suspect that I’m not following the canon timeline very strictly but I hope you don’t mind.
Me, go to Paris with Miranda? I couldn’t believe that she was asking this of me. Was it some new kind of test; had I been taking my position at the magazine for granted lately, and she wanted to make me nervous, or what?
She sure did make me nervous. But I didn’t want to go; I couldn’t, and I had told her so.
My boss locked her eyes firmly onto mine as if I were a disobedient child, and said:
“If you don’t go, I’ll assume you’re not serious about your future. At Runway or any other publication.”
Miranda looked calm, but it would be a mistake to believe that she was. I had to be very careful if I wanted to get out of this alive – or at least without loosing my livelihood. I gulped and stuttered desperately:
“Of… of course I am, Miranda.”
The thought occurred to me for a moment that this time, Miranda really was pushing it too far. How could my reluctance to take Emily’s only joy – or so it seemed – away from her suddenly be so important? What was I missing?
Miranda looked at me as if she was trying to be more patient with me than what I deserved.
“It’s all good and well to try to be kind and generous, Andrea, but do you seriously believe that that’s more important than making the right career choices?”
She wanted me to say ‘no’, of course; she wanted me to prove that I was worthy of her patience before she dismissed me with her usual two-worded phrase.
“Mostly, yes”, I said.
“Even if you risk ruining your future?”
I decided to pretend that she really was interested in my answer, and answered truthfully.
“I realize what it could mean if you fire me, Miranda, but as much as I take my career seriously, I hardly think that it will ruin my life forever.”
“Your life?” Miranda’s calm voice was suddenly burning with an unusual fire and her eyes shot flames right through me. Burning hot flames. The thought flew through my mind that it really was appropriate to call her ‘the Ice Queen’ one moment and ‘the Dragon’ the next. Not that I really thought of her as a dragon, most of the time. Not an ice queen either, no matter what people said. No, Miranda was… well, I wasn’t sure what she was. She was not like anyone else I had ever met, that’s for sure.
“Well, aren’t you sure of yourself”, the white-haired woman said slowly. “Who says that this is about your life? This has very little to do with you, Andrea. It has a lot to do with Emily. It has everything to do with what I need to achieve during Fashion Week. Fashion Week”, she said as if I were slow on the uptake, “is, if you have failed to understand this, extremely important for Runway and the people who work for me. Nigel, Serena, the photographers, designers and the assistants of the photographers and a lot of people you haven’t even heard of. This is about a whole lot of people, Andrea, and I’m responsible for all of them. Do you understand?”
“I… Yes, of course, Miranda.”
I didn’t know what else to say after that speech. I expected her to say something like ‘so prepare to tell Emily, and go pack your bags’, and I would either have to stab my co-worker in the back or say ‘no, I quit’, but Miranda wasn’t done talking.
“You said that Emily ‘hasn’t eaten in weeks’. You too have lost weight, Andrea. Tell me, what do you eat these days?”
“Um”, I said, unprepared for that question. It felt private, intimate even, and it surprised me to get such a question from my boss, but of course; she thought that it was totally within her rights to ask anything and tell nothing.
She looked at me, clearly expecting an answer. I had no idea which answer would please her the most, but I chose to go with the truth.
“For breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day, I usually have a cup of green tea, yoghurt with wholegrain cereals and, and fruit, and often an egg or an omelette. And then I grab a coffee on my way to work.”
“That’s interesting”, my boss said, her face sphinx-like and calm, “and for lunch?”
“Well, I don’t always have time to eat lunch. But if I do, I take a salad or maybe a hot dog or a sandwich. Sometimes I just take a smoothie with extra fibres and protein. And when I get home, I eat whatever Nate cooks or brings home from the restaurant.”
“Yes, he’s a chef, isn’t he? And that’s real food he’s making, not fastfood?”
“Of course”, I replied, a little surprised that she remembered what my boyfriend does.
“So you eat this much”, she said, “and yet you’ve managed to drop a size?”
‘This much?’ I thought; if she dares to call me fat because I’m not a walking skeleton like Emily…
“Yes”, I said, trying to control my irritation, “if that sounds like ‘much’ to you; it’s not about the quantity of the food, it’s about the quality. Slow carbs, the right kind of fat, no sugar… it’s true that I’ve cut down a little on things like sweet stuff, but I’ve hardly stopped eating and I have no intention of doing so. I couldn’t go on in this speed if I destroyed all my muscles and brain cells by cutting off all nutrition. I’m on my feet a lot; I’m on the move, so I’ve lost weight. It’s as simple as that.”
“I see”, Miranda said. “Then who do you think that you’re helping by sending me to Paris with an assistant who has starved all her muscles and brain cells away?”
“Um…” I said, confused at the turn this conversation had taken. I thought that Miranda liked skinny people; that she approved of Emily’s weight loss.
“One of Emily’s best qualities”, the woman of a thousand surprises said, “is that she is much disciplined. But as so often, a person’s greatest flaws are nothing but the backside of her good qualities. The better Emily gets as disciplining her body, the more she destroys it. And before you open your mouth, Andrea – yes, I am well aware of the fact that this is not unusual in the world of fashion. But everything has two sides, and this, I suppose, is the darker side of our reality.”
Miranda pressed her lips tightly together, as if she wished that she didn’t have to talk about it, but couldn’t help herself.
“So what you’re saying is that she’s not that useful to you anymore…”
I wasn’t so sure that I liked the sound of that.
Miranda sighed, “I hired you because I thought that you were smart. But maybe you’re not as smart as I thought you were. And maybe you’re not as kind and unselfish as you thought you were.”
“You refuse to go to Paris because you say that you care about Emily’s feelings. But how much do you really care about her, if you let her become anorectic right under your smart, healthy nose?”
This was definitely a lot more than I ever had expected.
“I didn’t realize that it was part of my job to tell her how to take care of herself! As if she would listen anyway…”
“Your job”, Miranda snapped, “is to make my job easier. That includes taking care of problems before they even are problems. You should know that by now. I’m disappointed in you, Andrea.”
“I’m beginning to loose my patience here.” I could hear the warning in her voice. “If you want Emily to go to Paris and not you, then make her eat. That’s all.”
‘That’s all’, huh? The next morning I silently cursed Miranda’s way of expecting everything to be so easy and quickly done. Emily walked in, pale, anaemic and stressed, carrying a ridiculous amount of bags with Hermès scarves.
I knew that it wasn’t that easy to just ‘make’ an anorectic person eat. If it were, I’d just have to say: ‘Miranda doesn’t want you to be this skinny’ and that would be it. Or Miranda could say it herself. Why didn’t she?
“I’m sorry I’m late”, Emily said, “but I had to pick up these scarves for Miranda and I should have done it yesterday but I forgot. I don’t know why I’m this tired.”
The moment she opened her mouth, I suddenly saw her clearly. Damn, I realized, Miranda was right; I should have reacted sooner.
“You have a lot on your mind right now”, I said sympathetically, “it’s only natural that you forget some things under these circumstances. With Paris coming up and all. You need to relax a little sometimes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous”, the irritable red-head said, “I love my job.”
“I know you do; I million girls would kill to be in your shoes, and in mine, and all that. I was just wondering; would you like to have dinner with me and Nate tonight?”
“Dinner?” Emily sat down at her desk and stared at me. “Andy, um, you know I’m on this diet…”
I could see that the idea made her uncomfortable. But her normal reaction would be to snap at me and to be surprised, because it wasn’t that usual that I asked her to do something with me after work, no explanations or excuses needed. But I suspected that the thoughts running through her head were more like: ‘God no, I don’t want to have to eat with other people!’
I sighed inwardly. Poor Emily.
“Yeah, I know”, I said, “cubes of cheese, right? But if you want cheese, Nate can get you cheese. What do you say?”
Emily looked at me indecisively for a moment, before she said that she already had plans for the night.
“Okay. Tell me if you change your plans. By the way, speaking of cheese – what did you have for breakfast today?”
The look on Emily’s face told me that only Miranda can ask whatever she wants and still get an answer. Emily stared at me, her eyes heavy with makeup. I had always secretly admired her dramatic yet never tasteless facial artwork. But now it looked almost sloppy, as if the makeup had been applied by a twelve-year-old.
Why had I not noticed before that Emily was about to loose it? Miranda was right; she shouldn’t have to spell it out to me.
“Sorry Emily, I didn’t mean to…”
“Really, Andy! The day has barely just begun, but you’re already making my ears fall off with all your chatter.”
I kept my mouth closed, which perhaps was wise, because Miranda chose that moment to walk in.
She gave me a long look as if to determine whether I had fulfilled my task yet or not; clearly she saw failure written all over my face because she turned around and dropped her coat and bag in Emily’s waiting hands.
That woman has her own way of sending a message, I thought.
I thought about the way she looked the night before; dressed in soft brown and her perfect neck and collarbone were shimmering like mother-of-pearl. And I thought about how her voice seemed to cover undercurrents of disgust when she talked about Emily. Health’s reaction to sickness?
Really, Miranda, I wanted to say, you’re not being fair to me; how am I supposed to deal with this?
I asked Emily the same question again the next day. I found myself actually hoping that she would accept. My relationship with Nate wasn’t exactly good at the moment; we had broken up, but we tried to stay friends and he hadn’t moved out yet. I thought that maybe an extra dinner guest would help making our evening a little less awkward and tense? Nate didn’t like that I worked at Runway, I knew that. Maybe it would help if he got to meet one of my co-workers?
On the other hand, I knew that I was only dreaming. Meeting Emily was only going to confirm all his prejudices. Still, I didn’t do this for him, but for Emily.
When I repeated my invitation, she looked at me as if I was acting crazy.
“What are you up to? Do you want something from me, is that it?”
I searched for words, but didn’t find any. Why weren’t we friends, Emily and I; that would have made things at least a little easier.
If only just a little. I had a friend in college who suddenly stopped eating. Or maybe it wasn’t so sudden. It had probably started with baby-steps none of us noticed, and then she became skinnier and skinnier, and when I commented on it, she acted like she didn’t at all understand what I was talking about. Until… until the day she dropped out of college and moved back to her parents. I didn’t know what happened to her, but later a mutual friend told me that it looked bad for a while, but her mother managed to nurse her back to health.
But then, my friend said, about a year later, the disease tightened its grip around her; she faded away, and she was gone.
I hadn’t been thinking about this for a long time, but now as I remembered, I felt nauseous and cold.
But Emily must be even colder. Wasn’t that right; people who stopped eating eventually began to freeze because they had no body fat to keep them naturally warm anymore?
Emily was wearing at least three layers as far as I could see. Still, she was so thin that she didn’t look at all bloated.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked.
“Of course”, said Emily immediately, with irritation and suspicion written all over her face, “why do you ask such a stupid question? My trip to Paris is getting closer and I still have a lot of work to do, and you are going to do your share of this work, that’s what I’m feeling.”
“But it’s lunchtime”, I said and my fingers tapped nervously against the desk, “aren’t you going to take a break?”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Emily’s voice was getting shrill. “I don’t have time to take a break. If I do, who’s gonna do all the work? Make all the phone calls, fix all the last minute arrangements? Are you going to do all that, you who do nothing but talk to me when I really need to focus here? Maybe you think that you can do it better! You want to take my place, is that it? You want to go to Paris?”
“Emily, stop it!”
I was almost ready to get up and put my hand over her mouth; I was sure that her voice could be heard over half the office. Miranda hated shouting.
“I can assure you that there’s nothing I want less than going to Paris instead of you. But the thing is… I’m worried about you, all right? You really have to eat. It doesn’t slow down your work if you take a short break to eat something. If you don’t, I’ll have to assume that you just don’t want to eat…”
“So what if I don’t?”
So what? So what?! I had never felt so frustrated in my entire life. How do you ‘make’ a person eat when she doesn’t want to? I didn’t know much about eating disorders, but I knew that the person who suffers from it doesn’t want to hear a word about it until she’s ready to realize and admit that she has a problem, and that might take a while. Kind of like being an alcoholic, but Emily was not addicted to alcohol, she was addicted to thin air, to starving… I knew I had to be careful, because pushing her could make it worse.
But I didn’t have time to be careful.
“Because you’ll faint from hunger any minute. Because you’re starving yourself to death! Look at you, Emily, you’re… you’re…”
“I’m what?” Emily’s voice was just as cold as Miranda’s could be.
Again, I wondered why Miranda didn’t talk to Emily herself. Judging by the way she had been talking to me the other night, this was not just another test of my competence, loyalty and strength; I had to believe that her concern was genuine.
“I’ll tell you what I am”, Emily said, “I’m exactly the way I should be – I’ve reached my goal weight and I’m perfectly happy, thank you very much.”
“But if you have reached your goal weight, then you don’t have to be on a diet anymore and you can have dinner with Nate and me.”
Yeah, a girl can dream, right?
Emily didn’t bother to answer, she just snorted.
“But”, I said, deciding to try one more thing, “you don’t need to be super skinny – don’t you see that your real beauty…”
“You”, Emily hissed and her eyes shot burning darts at me, “don’t tell me what I need. I am telling you that all of us in this office need you to get to work, now.”
I knew that was right. I looked up and saw Nigel coming out of Miranda’s room. He met my eyes and I could read sympathy in them, but also… resignation. Did he see the truth, but considered Emily a lost case? That was just terrible. I knew that I was right and Emily was oh so wrong, but that fiery stare from her eyes seemed to be one she had learned from Miranda, and I couldn’t help that I blushed and felt stupid when it hit me.
The day went on as usual. Emily hardly spoke to me, but I smiled and wished her a good night when she left. I couldn’t leave, because I had to wait for the Book.
Miranda called me to her when I came to the townhouse; she was sitting on a couch, looking quite exquisite in a red sweater that looked soft and cosy, but it also reminded me of blood and I wondered if I was supposed to think that – of course she wouldn’t decapitate me, I realized that, but I couldn’t escape the idea that my head was at stake here.
Or my heart, I thought suddenly, when Miranda’s eyes met mine and I saw something in them – I don’t know what, exactly, but it made my heart ache for her. She asked me to do this thing for her. It was not just one more thing on my To do-list; it was perhaps the most important thing she had ever asked me to do, and I couldn’t.
“I’m sorry, Miranda. I really am. But you were right; I think Emily is… in a very bad place right now, and I… I just don’t know how to get her out of there. Out and back to our world, so to speak – she seems to have lost her track completely, and believe me, I really do care about her…”
Miranda waved her hand slightly, and I realized that had been babbling like a fool. Again.
“I’m sorry, Miranda”, I repeated, and Miranda only nodded silently.
“But why”, I began, shaking a little, “why don’t you… I mean, you know her better than I do, after all. And she respects you. And I honestly don’t know how to deal with this. So why don’t you just talk to her, Miranda?”
“No”, Miranda said, “that won’t help. But I know that you won’t give up, Andrea. Tomorrow night when you bring me the Book… I’m sure you will have better news then.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you, Miranda – and neither does Emily. That’s why I think that it would be better for you to try…”
“No”, the fashion queen repeated as if she uttered a death sentence, and that was all.
So this is my last chance, I told myself the next morning. I had to think of something during the day, I had to think of something smart. Miranda had hired me because she thought I was smart. But I didn’t feel smart, and judging by the look on my co-worker’s face, she felt the same way about me.
And then Miranda came in, and dropped her coat and bag on my desk, which was normal, but the look in her eyes was almost pleading.
But I could be mistaken, because she only looked me in the eyes for a second.
I did not understand it. For a moment I almost forgot about Emily, as if it was Miranda I was trying to help. I wanted to help her; I wanted to do anything she asked me for. But how was that different from what I already did, working as her assistant? Why did I suddenly feel such a weight upon my heart?
The phone rang, but I only heard it as if it came from a distance, as if through a sound wall of an unfamiliar beating of my heart.
“But I actually do love my job”, I said out loud.
“Good for you”, Emily snapped, “and for your information, your job includes taking that call.”
I took the call, and the day went on. Most of the time I felt like crying. Except when I caught myself smiling because I thought about that Miranda trusted me. And then I felt tears of desperation coming to my eyes.
“Andrea”, Miranda called some time early in the afternoon, and I went in to her office, ready for her judgement, the removal of her trust in me.
But Miranda hadn’t even opened her mouth before we heard a loud rattle, and then a shrill scream.
Miranda got to her feet immediately and she was right behind me when I turned around and ran out of the room, and outside was Serena.
“Oh my God, Emily, are you all right?”
Serena clutched her hands to her chest and looked wide-eyed at a pair of legs sticking out from behind the desk.
I rushed to Emily’s side and saw that her eyes were closed and she was motionless on the floor; the chair was upside down beside her and thus explained the rattle. I checked her pulse, called her name and shook her shoulder gently. I saw a drop of blood on her forehead.
“Don’t just stand there”, Miranda said to Serena, “call an ambulance.”
Emily was breathing but resisted my efforts to make her look at me, and when Serena had made that call, I asked her what happened.
“I don’t know”, she said nervously, “I came in here just a minute ago, and Emily was standing there, and she said, ‘Hey, Serena, guess what, I just heard…’ and then she just sort of rolled her eyes and the next second she was on the floor.”
“This is unacceptable”, Miranda said, “completely unacceptable.”
Serena looked at her as if she was crazy, but I wasn’t so sure. I wanted to tell Serena that Miranda wasn’t referring to Emily’s fainting at work, but the situation in general, but I didn’t dare to open my mouth in front of our boss. And after all I wasn’t so sure myself – a woman who demanded that pilots should defy the force of nature for her sake might very well want to make it against the law to faint during work hours.
I didn’t know what to make of her; she looked angry and impatient, but also pale, as if she was about to faint herself.
“How are you, Miranda? Do you want me to get you a glass of water?”
Miranda snorted and headed back to her room. Well, that was against the law at least – Miranda’s law that clearly said ‘no stupid questions’; if Miranda wanted water, she would say so.
I had followed Emily to the hospital, because Miranda hadn’t been there to stop me. I held Emily’s hand in the ambulance, but she didn’t notice.
And then I just waited for a while.
“Is she okay?” I asked a nurse who came out of Emily’s room.
“She is conscious, yes”, the nurse said, “and stable, but we’d like to keep her here for observation. She hit her head on something when she fell…”
“Yes, it was her chair… Will she get a scar?”
“Yes, but it won’t be noticeable under her hair.” The nurse looked sternly at me. “That’s the least of Ms. Charlton’s problems. She’s severely undernourished. Has she been ill lately?”
“Not that I’m aware of…”
“That’s what I thought. If that girl’s not anorectic, I haven’t seen anything yet. Are you a friend?”
Was I a friend?
“Um, yes… I mean, I’m a co-worker. We work together, so…”
The nurse looked at me as I should be ashamed of myself, or was that only my own guilt talking? Anyway, she said I could go in and talk to Emily, so I did.
She looked so different in the hospital bed – I suppose that’s normal, though; anyone would look different lying down, when you’ve only seen them standing up and fully clothed. Emily’s hair was spread out over the pillows behind her neck; they looked like a smaller mountain and even the white cover looked enormous and almost grotesque, as if she was lying in a huge splash of whipped cream.
That was probably an inappropriate thought, I told myself, and I quickly asked her:
“How are you doing? Feeling any better?”
“Yes”, she mumbled, “but they say I’ll have to lie down for a while longer… as if I don’t have work to do! I tried to tell them, but no one here seem to care. Maybe you can try to talk some sense into them? I bet these people don’t even know who Miranda Priestly is; that nurse didn’t as much as blink when I told her who I work for…”
Emily’s voice fell, and she looked at me as if she expected me to agree, so I nodded.
I have to say something, I thought, but my mind was blank and I couldn’t think of anything. Emily looked so pale and miserable in that bed; she shouldn’t have to be there, but she was, and I couldn’t fix what had already happened.
In fact, I couldn’t fix anything. I had to make it worse.
“Emily… You do realise that you have to take some time off work, don’t you?”
I couldn’t bring myself to say the words I had to, but Emily caught the message anyway and I saw a spark of life finally light up her eyes… but the light wasn’t exactly bright; far from it.
“It’s so unfair”, she howled, “I can’t believe it; I faint once, and Miranda won’t let me go to Paris, and you, who said yourself that you don’t really care about this stuff, you get all the clothes, it’s not fair…”
“It’s not only about that”, I interrupted, “it’s not because you fainted, and you know it, it’s because of what caused you to faint. Believe me, I don’t want to take your place…”
“But you eat carbs, for Christ’s sake!”
I didn’t know how to answer that, and silence fell again. So now my mission was accomplished, sort of, in terms of making Emily realize that she wasn’t going to Paris. But how about that other part, the most important part – make her eat?
“Look”, I began, “I don’t want to sound harsh or anything, but what you’ve got to understand is – “
“Just go”, Emily interrupted, and I almost flinched at the coldness of her voice.
“I said, go!”
I wasn’t sure if I should insist or do what she told me to do – after all, even a hostile attitude can be a cry for help, right? – but before I could make up my mind, someone else did it for me.
“Andrea, you can go now.”
I turned around quickly and saw Miranda at the door; she was standing there with her coat on her arm and an impenetrable facial expression, and seeing her there felt even more surreal that seeing Emily in bed.
“Miranda, what are you doing here?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Miranda stared at me like as if I was unbelievably incompetent. “I’m here to talk to Emily, Andrea; do I need your permission?”
Poor Emily, I thought, if Miranda is going to talk to her in that tone of voice.
“No, of course not, Miranda.”
She stepped aside silently and I hurried past her, and I didn’t look back at Emily before I got out of there, as if looking back would have turned me into stone.
I sat outside in the corridor, not sure if Miranda wouldn’t rather have me back at the office, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. I wondered if a cup of coffee from the machine further down the corridor would help me relax, but I doubted it. I bit my nails, until I realized what I was doing and stopped. Until I was biting them again. Nurses, doctors, worried family members walked past me, and patients who were well enough to take a stroll down the corridor and look through the window at the end of it before heading back to their rooms.
And then she came out, looking very tense and almost as pale as Emily. I had almost lost track of time, but if Miranda was surprised to see me, she didn’t show it. In fact, she barely looked at me when she said:
“So you’re still here. I’m going to talk to the doctor and then I’m going down to the car. You have ten minutes.”
“Thank you”, I said, but Miranda was already on the move and didn’t answer.
When I opened the door to Emily’s room for the second time, I was shocked to see the previously so cold redhead in tears.
She was sitting up in bed, hiding her face in her hands. I could only draw the conclusion that something had happened between her and Miranda, and I hurried to the side of her bed.
“What did she say to you?”
“Nothing”, Emily sobbed.
“Oh, come on! You’re obviously not crying over nothing; Miranda made you upset…”
Emily looked at me, her face wet and flushed with makeup smeared out all over it.
“No, she didn’t make me upset.”
“Of course she did”, I said, thinking it unbelievable that Emily actually defended Miranda, “how dare she; when you’re in this condition!”
“Andrea, shut up!” Emily smashed her hand down on the mattress, making nothing more than a small sound, but her tone of voice silenced me.
“You don’t understand anything”, she informed me, “and when you don’t understand, you should shut the fuck up, do you hear me? Miranda didn’t make me upset, and what she said to me is none of your business.”
“Okay.” I realized my mistake. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, you should be.”
“You talked for a long time… I take it that it was a good talk, then, huh?”
“Andrea Sachs, I’m not telling you what Miranda said to me. It was a private conversation.”
“Yeah, that’s what puzzles me – who would have guessed that Miranda…”
“You’re so stupid sometimes”, Emily interrupted my comment, “you know that, right?”
“Yes”, I said, and for the first time since I don’t know when, Emily smiled a little.
I left her then, because I didn’t want to keep Miranda waiting – not that she would wait if I was late, she would just let me get back to the office by myself… Or would she?
I already knew that Miranda was intelligent, efficient, professional, and everything else you associate with a powerful businesswoman, but lately the last days I had had a nagging feeling that maybe there was something more to her than that.
But I knew the rule. Curiosity was eating me as Roy drove us back to the office, but I didn’t ask her any questions.
But the silence was maddening.
“Um, she understands about Paris now at least – I mean, the fact that she can’t go.”
“But of course I would have preferred if she had stayed out of the hospital, I mean, that’s too harsh, don’t you think – of course you were right, we should have done something sooner, but…”
I had taken her one syllable as a permission to talk, but I was mistaken.
Miranda didn’t even speak, she just turned her head away and looked out of the window, and I stopped talking.
The atmosphere was tense the rest of the week. It felt strange without Emily there, and I figured that most people in the office felt the same way. And in a way, that made me feel a little better. When I first came to Runway, I had believed everyone to be self-centred and heartless, but I had learned since then that most of it was just an act, or not even that – it was just that they were all so extremely hard-working and focused that they didn’t have all the time in the world to make a new girl feel welcome. That didn’t mean that they didn’t care about what happened to a colleague.
So, what was Paris like? It wasn’t easy to tell – I think that I liked what I saw from the car, but Miranda didn’t exactly allow for any guided tours around the city. We did get excellent food, of course, so I would have something to tell Nate I got back, but I was in Paris for Fashion Week, so fashion was what I got, from early morning to late in the afternoons, and it was kind of just like the same work as before, but much more intense.
Then at the end of a long day, I was dropping some stuff off over at Miranda’s room, and I saw her sitting on the couch dressed in a gray robe and without any makeup, but the eyes red from crying.
The shock of seeing Miranda like that made me suddenly feel like I could relate to all those old legends when people look back on something and turn to stone. Except that I wasn’t looking back, I was looking right at Miranda, and she on the other hand; there was nothing stone-like about her at all, quite the opposite; she looked very soft, and like she had been knocked into a wall, and who had dared to do that to her? Who in the world could make Miranda cry?
Her husband? The one who didn’t want to be another ‘Mr. Priestly’; Miranda informed me that he wasn’t coming, because he was leaving her, and so we would have to rearrange the seating chart for the luncheon the next day.
“I’m so sorry”, I said, and I hoped that she knew that I really meant it, even if it surprised both of us that I did. When had I begun to care about her? I only knew, all of a sudden, that I did.
“I don’t care what the tabloids write about me”, she explained, “but it’s so unfair to my girls…”
The thought hit me that I had never really seen Miranda as a mother before. I knew that she was a mother, of course – how could I not! – but all this time, that had seemed almost abstract to me. The thought that Miranda had a life away from the office and the world’s prying eyes – I had never thought much about it before. Miranda the Boss seemed more important to focus on than Miranda the Woman.
But maybe I had been focusing on Miranda the Woman for some time now, without really realizing it? The way she seemed to care, in some sort of way, about Emily’s well-being, and the eagerness I had been feeling to help her, to be there for her…
“Anyway, the point is…”, Miranda interrupted my musings, “the point is, we really need to figure out where to place Donatella, because she’s barely speaking to anyone.”
I looked at Miranda, searching for words.
“If you want me to cancel…”
“Don’t be ridiculous”, she said, but without her usual snappishness, “why would we do that?”
Okay, I thought, so the show must go on…
“Is there anything else I can do?”
Miranda nodded quickly, several times, locking her eyes onto mine.
“Yes. Three things. First, your job, as usual. Then, at the luncheon… if you happen to notice that I… seem unwilling to eat… then make me look at you.”
“Look at me?”
“Yes. I’m sure you can think of some way to draw the attention to yourself if I happen to look the other way. And smile.”
“Okay”, I nodded, not sure that I followed.
“The third thing”, she said, and reached to the table to take up a piece of paper and handed it to me, “call this number. It is a very good clinic, private and discrete, that specializes in…” Miranda looked away. “Eating disorders. Make sure they have a place there for Emily.”
I stared at the woman who a minute ago had seemed so fragile. The steel was back in her eyes.
“And when that’s done”, she said, “make sure that Emily hasn’t forgotten our little chat at the hospital. She’s going to that clinic. That’s all.”
‘That’s all’, I grunted inwardly, that’s all she ever says; what if I for once don’t find that satisfying; what if I want something more than that? Here she is, the Ice Queen, sending one of her subordinates to a nursing home…
“Miranda, that’s very…”
“Very unexpected of me? Yes, perhaps. But that’s how it will be.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Why? I know what they say about me, but is it so incomprehensible that I don’t want a person who works for me to die of starvation while I watch?”
“No”, I said, “of course not, but…”
I didn’t know what to say. It was very unexpected of her, and I knew that there must be a reason why she did it – Miranda was not known to care about people, at all…
“Do you”, I began, not quite believing myself, “do you have any personal experiences of this place?”
Her eyes nailed me to the chair, as if trying to determine if I was worthy of an answer – I had hardly any reason to believe that I was, but much to my amazement, Miranda replied.
“Yes”, she said, “but not in the way you think. If you must know, I had a twin sister who was there. I could have ended up there myself, but… I didn’t. She died.”
“Oh”, I gasped, “Miranda, I’m so sorry…”
I reinterpreted, then, Miranda’s red eyes – and, in fact, this whole situation.
“It wasn’t their fault”, she said, sounding like it had taken her some time to accept this. “We were fifteen years old, and she was… far gone, committed to care when she was already – but Emily will be there of her own free will. That makes all the difference.”
What could I say? Nothing. I didn’t have any words, but I got up to my feet and walked over to Miranda.
She looked surprised, almost startled – I guess she wasn’t that used to people wanting to touch her; no doubt all of her employees and others too had wanted to strangle her more than once, but I didn’t want that; I wanted to give her a hug, and I did. A little awkwardly, yes, but Miranda didn’t push me away.
At least not immediately.
“That’s all”, she said. “Enough. Don’t just stand there; I have a dinner to attend to and I need to look presentable.”
Sure, Miranda had to do that. I left her alone, but my thoughts didn’t leave her. I thought about how special and beautiful she was.
For a very long time did I think about that.
Then I began writing a first draft of an email to that place that was going to take care of Emily for us.