At first, Imogen didn’t recognize the girl twirling around in her chair taking a picture of her own magenta Tory Burch flats and matching fingernails. One hand clutched her white-and-gold iPhone, while the other extended toward her shoes, manicured fingers splayed in front of the screen.
Imogen smoothed her fine blond hair behind her ears and gave a confident click with her right heel so the girl, now pouting into the phone’s camera to take a selfie, would know she wasn’t alone in the corner office.
“Oh.” Eve Morton, Imogen’s former assistant, snapped to attention, startled. The phone clattered to the floor. A note of surprise rose in Eve’s husky voice as she glanced over Imogen’s shoulder to see if anyone else was behind her. “You’re back?” The girl’s coltish legs covered the space between them in a few seconds before she wrapped Imogen in a hug that felt too familiar. Eve looked different now. Her auburn curls were blown out, some sort of keratin treatment most likely. The shiny pin-straight hair framed a flawlessly made-up face with a slightly newer, cuter nose than Imogen remembered.
Why was Eve was sitting at the desk of the editor in chief? Imogen’s desk.
Imogen racked her brain to find any reason Eve would be in this building at all so early in the morning. She no longer worked here. She had been Imogen’s assistant two years ago and hadn’t been back since.
Eve had been an extraordinarily competent assistant and for all intents and purposes, a friend, but this was an irritating distraction on her first day back at work. All Imogen wanted was to get settled before the rest of the staff arrived, call down for a cappuccino and have someone help her wade through the inevitable swamp of her email
“Eve? Darling, why are you here? I thought you were off at Harvard Business School?” Imogen sidestepped her to settle into her chair. Sinking into the leather seat after so much time away felt good.
The girl folded her long legs beneath her instead of crossing them when she sat across from Imogen. “I finished in January actually. I went to a start-up incubator in Palo Alto for a few months. Then I came back here in July.”
What was a start-up incubator? Imogen wondered. She imagined it had something to do with chicken, but didn’t have the inclination or the interest to ask.
“Back to New York? That’s lovely. I’m sure some monstrous investment bank has snatched you up now that you have an MBA,” Imogen replied evenly, pressing the power button on her computer.
Eve threw her head back with a throaty laugh that surprised Imogen in its maturity and depth. Her old laugh was sweet and lilting. This laugh belonged to a stranger. “No. I came back to New York and back to Glossy! I sent my resume to Mr. Worthington in January. We talked just before you went off on sick leave. In July I moved back to New York and I came here. I mean . . . it’s like a dream job. He told me he was going to tell you. I didn’t even think you would be in until your usual time . . . about ten. I figured you would have a meeting with Worthington and he could fill you in on my new role.”
Old assistant. New role. Eve, twenty-six years old, her eyes heavy with aubergine liner and naked ambition, sitting in Imogen’s office.
Imogen had communicated with Carter Worthington, the publisher and her boss, exactly two times during her six-month hiatus from work. For the first time since she walked through the doors of Glossy that morning, she took a hard look around the floor and noticed small differences. Most of the lights were still dim, accentuating the buttery morning sun pouring in through the windows beyond the elevator bank. But the traditionally sparse-by-design floor felt more crowded. When she left, the floor had contained roomy cubicles with low partitions, each desk having enough space for a keyboard and a computer monitor. Now the partitions were gone and a snug collection of tables formed a continuous row across the room with laptops so close they kissed one another like dominos preparing to topple. Her favorite photograph, Mario Testino’s close-up of Kate Moss’s face, was missing from the wall. In its place was a broad whiteboard drawn over with numbered lists and doodles in every color of marker. Elsewhere on the soft gray walls were signs printed in cursive letters and matted in pretty juvenile colors: “Taking risks gives you energy!” “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” “What would Beyonce do?” “Good, Great, Gorgeous, GLOSSY!” Inside Imogen’s office one major thing was missing: her cork inspiration board, usually covered over with scraps of magazines, tear sheets from shoots, pieces of fabric, old photographs and anything else that caught her fancy and inspired her. Who the hell thought they could remove my board?
An irrational anxiety swelled in Imogen’s stomach. Something was different and whatever was different felt wrong. All she could think was, Get out of my office, but instead, after a tiny pause, she asked politely, “What exactly is your new job here, Eve?” At that moment she noticed that a large ballerina-pink beanbag chair occupied the corner of the room.
“I’m in charge of digital content for Glossy-dot-com.” Eve smiled briefly, but unconvincingly, as she picked at her nail polish.
Imogen maintained her poker face and breathed an internal sigh of relief. Okay. Eve was only in charge of Internet content. For a second she’d panicked and thought Eve was there in some kind of senior role that she hadn’t been told about. Of course it was 2015 and of course the magazine had a website and sure all of that meant something. But the website was just a necessary appendage of the actual pages of the magazine, used mainly as a dumping ground for favors for advertisers and leftover stories. Right? The girl was in charge of something relatively inconsequential. Still, why hadn’t anyone consulted Imogen before they hired her old assistant for a new position? It was poor form.
Eve rushed on. “I can’t wait to talk about all the new changes. The site has never been stronger. I just think you’re going to love the relaunch.”
A headache threatened to spring from the base of Imogen’s skull. “I think it is great that they finally gave the website a redesign. And I really am happy that you’re back. I would love to have lunch with you once I’m all caught up.” She nodded, hoping the girl would just blog off already so that Imogen could start her day.
Perhaps cracking a joke would speed the process along. “As long as the redesign has nothing to do with my magazine and”--she hoped to make a point--“as long as they haven’t given away my office.”
Eve blinked in confusion, eyelash extensions flickering like hummingbird wings.
“I think you need to talk to Carter, Imogen.” It was strange to hear a vaguely authoritative tone in Eve’s twenty-six-year-old voice, and odder still for her to address their boss, Carter Worthington, by his first name. All at once, Imogen could feel her heart begin to beat faster again. She had been right the first time. Eve was not just working on the website. Imogen worried for a moment that Eve, who had once been so good at anticipating her every need, could read her mind right now. She stood.
“I actually have a meeting with him anyway,” Imogen lied. “First thing this morning. I should head up there now.”
Shifting her weight from one heel onto the other, she turned to walk away from Eve, past several young women she didn’t recognize who were starting to trickle in. Her hand shook. Her face revealed nothing but a static smile as she pressed the elevator button for the lobby. In a building this large you had to go back down to go farther up.
Gus, at the lobby coffee stand, practically leaped over the counter, doing a two-step in her direction as she hurried between the building’s two elevator banks.
“I thought you never be coming back!” he exclaimed, smelling sweetly of cinnamon and steamed milk. His sandy mustache bounced with each syllable. “How has that magazine survived for six months without an editor in chief? They must have missed you so, so much!” He squeezed her hand with care. Of course he knew why she had been gone. They had tried to keep it out of the press, but these days there wasn’t much you could hide from the gossip columns.
In February, half a year earlier, Imogen was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in her left breast, the same disease that had taken her grandmother and two aunts. In March she’d opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction to both eradicate the cancer and prevent it from spreading. She’d spent the next six months in chemo and recovery.
“Here I am.” Imogen forced herself to deliver a warm smile. This was all too much before nine a.m. But at least Gus carried with him kindness and the promise of caffeine. He led her over to the coffee counter and, without having to say anything, busied himself making her drink, topping the foam off with an affectionate heart. He waved her away as she pulled four crisp dollar bills out of her wallet and pushed the cup into her hand.
“My treat. A very special day! If I known this was going to be your first day back I would have had the missus make you something special . . . some of her baklava . . . with the honey that you like. You be here tomorrow? She make it tonight. I bring it to you tomorrow. With the honey.” She nodded and thanked him, savoring the jolt of caffeine as she made her way to the elevator. Workers streamed into the lobby now. A handsome middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a pocket square in his immaculate suit gave Imogen’s legs an approving glance as he joined her in the lift.
On the ride up, her head still swimming, Imogen remembered clearly the moment Eve Morton walked into her life five years earlier. She had only just been promoted to be the editor in chief of Glossy and was exhausted from weeks of interviewing candidates to be her assistant. Human Resources sent her practically the entire senior class of Le Rosey (that Swiss finishing school where rich Americans sent their spoiled children to meet other rich Americans), all of them bored and privileged. None of them had the kind of ineffable drive Imogen knew would make them hungry enough to excel at Glossy. Imogen understood better than anyone how important it was for someone to be hungry for a job like this one. She had once been an assistant herself, to her very first boss and mentor, Molly Watson, editor in chief of Moda magazine, the most inspiring person Imogen had known in her entire life.
The day Eve Morton walked into the Glossy offices for the first time she was a single class shy of graduating from New York University. Wearing a rumpled trench coat, she’d been sopping wet, hair strung around her face, giving her the appearance of a bedraggled kitten. Outside it was the kind of rainy April day that transforms even hardened New Yorkers into timid tourists in their own city, reluctant to venture out without the promise of a car ready to whisk them off to their next destination.
While tall and broad, Eve was mousy and shy. Yet there was a gleam in her eye that sparkled all the more as she pulled out her laptop to reveal a PowerPoint presentation with slides featuring magazine pages from the early nineties to the present.
“I’ve read every magazine you have worked on,” she let spill from her slightly lopsided, but not altogether unpretty, mouth. “This is the most exciting moment of my entire life, just sitting here in this office. You’re seriously one of the best magazine editors in the world. I think I have read every single story about you, too. I just love all the parties you throw with the designers during Fashion Week and the way you expressly asked not to be seated near Kim Kardashian at the London shows. I love all the changes you’ve made to Glossy. You’re the reason I want to work in magazines.”
Imogen wasn’t immune to flattery, but she did have a finely tuned bullshit detector. Still, she didn’t think she had ever met anyone who had read every single issue of Glossy for the past three years, Harper’s Bazaar for the two years before that and Elle for two prior. She wasn’t even sure if she could say with a straight face that she herself had read all of those issues cover to cover. Imogen peered at the girl with a measure of incredulity, the edge of her J.Crew skirt still dripping onto the white hardwood floors of her office.
“Well, thank you, but you seem much too young to have been reading my magazines for that long.”
“Oh, I’ve been reading fashion books since I could read. When you shot the couture collections on window-washing scaffolding seventy floors above Times Square, I mean, I literally died.”
Eve was referring to a shoot later described in the press as “Do or Die,” where Imogen envisioned the models in place of window washers, with photographers as spectators on different floors. Iconic supermodels dangled like insects from ledges, their hemlines catching expertly on the breeze. The magazine’s insurance premiums skyrocketed. That didn’t stop Imogen from taking over an entire subway station for the following month’s shoot, and a supermarket in Queens for the one after. They’d brought in Chanel-branded ham for that one.
“When I saw that--it completely altered the course of my whole life,” Eve said, bringing Imogen back to the present with words she didn’t entirely believe could be true.
“I did? It did? My God, how?”
“I couldn’t get those images out of my mind. They stuck with me. It was an out-of-this-world experience. The clothes came alive for me then. From that moment I knew there was one thing that I was meant to do in the entire world. From that moment I knew I was destined to come to New York, where these magazines were made. I applied to New York University and FIT. I was accepted to both and I chose NYU so I could design my own major focusing on marketing, management and the history of fashion. From then on all I ever wanted was to come here and work with you. The innovations you have made in fashion magazines have been the most exciting thing to happen to editorial content in decades.”
Eve’s shoulders finally shrugged a bit as if a weight had been lifted now that she had delivered a monologue practiced many times in front of a dorm-room mirror covered in fingerprints and Windex smudges.