Excerpt

#FashionVictim

Amina Akhtar

The following is an exclusive excerpt from #FashionVictim, the debut novel from longtime fashion writer and editor Amina Akhtar. In the following passage, a fed-up editor for a high-class women’s magazine goes to a party and interacts with several terrible publicists, pushing her ever closer to to the brink of violence.

Three blonde PR girls with iPads stood behind a velvet rope, slowly checking people in. I waited for one to glance up.

“Hi, I’m here—”

“Name?”

“Anya—”

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“Oh, hold on! Lauren, we totes need a selfie. We’re twinsies!” She called to a younger, even blonder girl, also wearing a headset. I sighed. The girls converged for a group shot, ignoring the line of impatient partygoers. I cleared my throat.

“One second, babe.” One of them called to me, holding up a finger.

I wanted to bite that finger off. Finally, after ten or so flashes, the girls turned back. I forced a smile.

“Sorry! Had to post to Insta! Okay, what’s your name again?”

I ground out each letter. She popped her gum while typing into her iPad.

I could hear Celia Avery’s voice in my head: A La Vie woman doesn’t wait in line.

I could hear Celia Avery’s voice in my head: A La Vie woman doesn’t wait in line. Shit. If she caught me standing around like a fucking plebeian, she’d fire my ass. We weren’t even covering this event, but Celia needed a favor: she wanted to borrow (and keep) a dress. And any excuse to do her a favor was a good one. The PR firm throwing this bash repped designer Alexander King. The official story was that Celia wanted the dress for a shoot, but reality check: she wanted a freebie.

Blondie was still typing. I rolled my eyes.

“Do you need me to spell it again?”

“No, no. Which outlet are you with?”

La Vie,” I said through gritted teeth. Her eyes widened. I should have stabbed the dumb PR girl through her stupid little eyes right then. Shish-kebabed her for the line to nibble on while they waited.

“I don’t see your name on the list . . . It’s, like, not on here?” Everything was said like a question.

I could have told her my name was Beyoncé and she wouldn’t have known the difference. The grumblings behind me were getting louder.

“Check again.” I started to hear a buzzing sound. It was like a drill going off in the background. I wondered if there was construction inside, an installation piece maybe.

“Do you hear that?” I asked. Check-in girl looked up from her iPad and stared at me blankly.

“Hear what? The music?” She popped her gum.

“Never mind.”

She started typing again. “Oh! There you are. Your name was right in front of me! Ha! I’m, like, blind. I’m Lauren, by the way. We emailed earlier.” She beamed. I wanted to pat her on the head, but she was wearing three wool scarves despite the heat, and beads of sweat were starting to roll down her face.

“Hey! Great to finally meet. Grab me inside and let’s have a drink.” I winced as I heard myself say the words. God, I hated myself sometimes. I knew that later, when she offered to do lunch, I’d take her up on it. Because that was my job and I was soulless.

“For sure!”

Fucking idiot. This was my life.

This was my second event of the evening. The first one had been for a Fitbit accessory—an accessory for the accessory that tells you you’re not walking enough. You wanted to show off that you were actively trying to get in shape but then you had to hide your Fitbit inside chunky gold jewelry. What would they think of next? But I’d wear it. Maybe if I lost ten more pounds, Celia would bump me up from associate editor. Eyes on the prize—and the pounds.

This party was for a new scarf, which explained Lauren’s sweatfest. Not a world-saving scarf or child-hunger-ending scarf or even an animal-friendly, organic alpaca scarf. (They wait for the animals to drop dead before culling the wool. How thoughtful.) Just a plain gray scarf. The PR girls were all draped in them; Lauren really was wearing three. It was July in New York and eighty-nine degrees outside.

It was also time for a drink. I don’t get drunk. Losing control is tacky. You know what happens when you lose control? You get sloppy. But if I didn’t drink, I’d have to use my phone incessantly—or worse, talk to people. Sarah always drank like a fish at these things, but she didn’t care about the impression she made. Why should she? She was untouchable.

“Anya! There you are!” Another Lauren stood in front of me. I had lost track of who was who anymore, but PR girls always seemed to be named Lauren. They all looked alike; they wore David Yurman jewelry, their highlights were chunky, and their manis were French. Laurens hailed from Long Island, obviously.

“Lauren!” I hated myself for my fake enthusiasm. “You remember me!”

I didn’t.

“O-M-G, how much did you love that event last week for the light-up mirrors? Don’t you love using those?”

“Yeah, I use mine all the time. Is this your event too?”

“Yes! The scarf is amazing, right? You can wear it, like, five different ways! Who knew you could do all that with just a scarf? It’s, like, changed my life.”

“Yes! The scarf is amazing, right? You can wear it, like, five different ways! Who knew you could do all that with just a scarf? It’s, like, changed my life.”

This Lauren was wearing four. You could see sweat pooling around her armpits, turning her pale-blue blouse a deep indigo. I tried to look away. There was a weird spicy scent in the air.

“You don’t say. But aren’t you a bit hot?”

“No! I feel great. Besides, I’m detoxing, so sweat is so great for me right now. I only eat kale and garlic, so this is really helping.”

So that’s what I was smelling.

“You can never have enough scarves,” she added, scanning the room for someone else to talk to. “Oh! There’s Annie from Mince magazine. Go get a drink! Try on a scarf!”

Twenty minutes later, I was weighed down with knits. Every time a Lauren came by, they managed to drape another one on me. Perhaps this was a rite of passage, a test of some sort? If you could survive the night wearing five heavy woolen scarves, you’re officially a woman or something. Smiling, I downed my third glass of champagne. At least the booze was top shelf for once. The idea of taking in empty calories nearly sent me into a panic, until I rationalized how much I was sweating out. It seemed an even trade.

“O-M-G, we have to Instagram you! You look so great!” Lauren again. The first one. Or the second. No, wait, definitely the first. Her shirt was pink, and the armpits had turned a deep mauve.

“Oh, I’d rather not—”

“Don’t be silly. Smile!” Click! “You look so chic.” She snapped the photo while I was talking. My mouth had been open. That was the opposite of chic.

“I feel like I’m being swaddled.” Too many layers can make you look heavy. Heavy was bad.

“It’s the new look. I heard Alexander King is totally wearing his knits this way. Oh, shoot, be right back. Gotta tinkle.”

“But can I see the photo? I think my eyes were shut.” “No, you look great. I’m posting it. I’ll tag you!”

She walked away before I could grab her. I could have made a scene and pulled her by her pretty hair, but I didn’t want to create a ruckus. Imagine the social media shitfest that would ensue.

Instead I checked my Instagram. There it was: one eye closed, lip semisnarling. How many chins did I have? My neck had disappeared into the wool. Worst of all, she hadn’t used a filter. I looked like something that had washed up on the beaches of Montauk. Tomorrow I’d be ridiculed in our editorial meeting, lectured about putting my best foot forward. Because A La Vie woman must always present herself in her best light. As if Celia and Sarah didn’t have bad angles.

They didn’t. Those perfect bitches.

The buzzing had started up again. It was a saw. I knew it was. Was there another room where an artist was cutting something up? Or maybe they were doing ice sculptures. That would explain all the scarves. Where the fuck was the VIP room, anyway? Why was I stuck here? Determined to make my night better, I walked up to another Lauren and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hi.”

“Hey!” She flashed a toothsome smile. Veneers, all of them. I guess she could handle a lot of pain.

“Where’s the VIP room?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The VIP room, with the artists?” I said slowly, raising my eyebrows. Was her programming in need of a reboot?

“Um, there isn’t one,” she replied, looking around.

“Then what’s with the buzzing?” I asked, annoyed. First that shitty photo, then no access? What kind of party was this?

“What buzzing? I’m not sure—”

“Listen, Lauren. La Vie doesn’t put up with this kind of bullshit. Okay?”

“Anya! There you are!” I turned to see the pink-shirt Lauren beaming at me. “Everything okay?”

“No, it’s not okay. This . . . intern of yours won’t tell me where the VIP room is!”

“Okay, calm down, there’s no VIP room. Not at tonight’s event, sweetie.” They always called you by lovey nicknames, like they cared. Sweetie. Honey. Sugar tits. Darling. Lauren-bots were the absolute worst. “Let’s get you a drink though, okay, hon?”

I allowed her to lead me to the bar. I hated this party. I hated this PR girl. She was treating me like a child.

I allowed her to lead me to the bar. I hated this party. I hated this PR girl. She was treating me like a child. Sarah would never be treated like this. And why was that buzzing noise still going?

“Why don’t you have a drink while I go tinkle. And then I’ll get you a gift bag, okay, sweetie?” I heard her say.

I nodded stiffly and closed my eyes, trying to block out the barrage of sounds.

I opened my eyes and watched Lauren—at this point, I wasn’t sure if it was the first or second one, but really, it didn’t matter. The bot models were interchangeable. She left the main party room and slipped out a door. She was going to the VIP area where the big story was. Liar.

How could they not think I was VIP enough to go? Hello, I worked at La Vie, for Christ’s sake. They’d never pull this shit with Sarah. I downed my champagne and followed the bot.

Lauren walked down an empty hallway and through a door. Where was security? Where were the ropes? I pushed on the door, but it was locked. I waited—someone would have to come out soon enough. It seemed like hours went by when the door finally opened.

“Anya! Hey!” the bot said. “Did you need to go too?”

“Obviously, you know I did!” I pushed her back through the door and shut it behind us, locking it.

“Uh, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, we need to talk, is all.” I surveyed the room. It wasn’t much of a VIP area at all. Toilet, sink, mirror—they made the major peeps hang in the bathroom? I mean, if they wanted their Kate Moss coke moment, fine, but who even did that anymore?

“Oh, about what? The scarves? Don’t you love them?” She smiled nervously.

“Totes, Lauren. They’re so chic.” I was on fashion auto-pilot. I could spout any gibberish now and it’d make sense to a bot. “I’m so into them. Maybe I can do a pull?”

She nodded enthusiastically, like a bobblehead. I don’t know when I decided to smash her head into the mirror, but all of a sudden I did, and glass went everywhere. She stopped bobbing and looked at me, horrified.

“O-M-G, Anya, W-T-F?”

She didn’t even say the words. She said the acronyms. Even in this moment, she couldn’t say Oh my God. I really fucking hated bots. When she opened her mouth to shriek, I had to power her down. Somehow, I knew there was an off switch behind the left eye. Hit it just right and bam, the bot turns off. Lauren fell over, and I checked to see if she had fully powered down. Yep, no breathing.

I wiped down the sink, resisting the urge to kick her before I left. Her blood was seeping out of her eye. I’ve always enjoyed the color of blood, but oddly, I can’t watch bloody shows on TV. Weird, right?

* * *

“Anya? Anya? Hello?”

I opened my eyes and looked at Lauren. “Oh, hey.”

“Were you sleeping?”

“Ha, no, just zoning out.” It wasn’t real. I didn’t just stab her through the eyeball. Just a daydream. Cool, totally normal.

It wasn’t real. I didn’t just stab her through the eyeball. Just a daydream. Cool, totally normal.

“Did you want another drink?”

“Oh, sure.” I smiled, watching her run off to the bar.

“Oh, hey, listen,” she said, handing me a glass of Veuve a moment later. “Before I forget, I have a dress for Celia. Mulberry emailed a request in. I’ll send it over tomorrow.” Mulberry was Celia’s latest assistant.

“That’d be great!” I said. A six-inch shard jutted out of her left eye. Did anyone else see that? “Celia will be thrilled.”

“Well, we’re just happy La Vie loves Alexander King as much as we do.” She beamed, and her eyes crinkled, making the shard move. Was this real? I needed to ask Dr. M to up my meds.

“Okay, well, I think it’s time to call it a night. Thanks for everything!”

“You’ll write about the scarves?” Lauren looked concerned.

“Uh, sure . . . gotta go. Email me.”

She leaned in for a cheek kiss, but I ran. I didn’t want to touch the shard. This wasn’t real.

None of this was real.

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From #FASHIONVICTIM, by Amina Akhtar. Used with the permission of the publisher, Crooked Lane. Copyright © 2018 by Amina Akhtar.




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