DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To emeraldorchids[at]outlook.com

Always at My Side
By emeraldorchids



I sighed as I sank into the couch in the den. The driver had been kind enough to carry my bags upstairs for me, while our trunks were being delivered straight to Runway. Caroline and Cassidy were still at their father's. During the ride home from the airport, I called James and we decided it was probably best if they stay there for the next week or so. So far, the press had left them alone, so I didn't want to cause any additional chaos if I could avoid it.

I kicked off my shoes and softly massaged the ball of my foot. My Prada pumps were the only truly comfortable heels I owned, but after twelve hours, my feet began to ache in them, too. I heard my blackberry ding with a new message. Andrea, I thought.

I dug through my handbag and sighed when I saw it was a text message from Cassidy: "Dad said you called while we were gone. Miss you. Love C&C" Sighing, I tried to force thoughts of the young brunette out of my mind, but even in traffic, she would have made it to her grandmother's home outside Newark before we were able to collect our luggage, go through customs, and leave the airport.

Knowing I would not be able to rest until I heard from the intriguing young woman, I sent a quick message: "Hi, just wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you." In an attempt to distract myself, I made a cup of tea and headed upstairs to begin sorting through what little laundry didn't get thrown haphazardly into the Runway trunk when I was leaving.

When I came back downstairs, there was a new message: "Thank you, Miranda. <3 You have been incredibly kind."

"I hope you can find time to rest. If I wasn't clear, you have the next few days off—as long as you need," I wrote back.

Seconds later, she replied: "I don't think I will need too many, but thank you."

We didn't text anymore that day. As natural as it felt to converse with Andrea, and as much as I wanted to know how things were, how she was doing, I did not wish to take away from her time with her grandma and her family. I did, however, find myself wondering if they held her hand the way I did, or if she cried to them like she did to me.

Sunday morning, I woke up with an unbearable migraine. Barely able to reach over for my blackberry, I typed out an email to Emily that I would not be in. I told her we needed to unpack the trunks, but if she could find time on Monday, she could have the day off as well as the rest of the team. Pulling my pillow over my head to block out the light, I didn't even look to see if she responded. Five minutes later, the phone started beeping. "Nigel, what do you want?" I hissed.

"Miranda," he said, "Is it true? A day off? What's gotten into you?"

"Migraine," I said, trying to focus my breathing.

"What was with Andy leaving?" he asked.

"I do not have the energy for this discussion," I said. "It's personal, leave her be."

Nigel said something else—I'll admit I wasn't entirely paying attention—and I promptly ended the call. Knowing a headache like this wouldn't retreat on its own, I crawled out of bed and fumbled in the medicine cabinet for some pills. I made my way back to bed without opening my eyes, throwing myself back on the mattress.

I don't know if it was five hours or five minutes later, but I woke at the sound of my phone. "Nigel, will you please—"


"Andrea," I breathed, opening my eyes. I licked my lips and swallowed before continuing. "I'm sorry, I thought you were Nigel calling."

"It's okay," she said. "Did you see my email?"

"No, not yet. I've been…in the middle of something. Is everything okay?" I asked, fearing the words that would come out of Andrea's mouth, and for some reason hiding my own excruciating pain.

"No, it's not okay," she said. I could hear her voice trembling, and somehow, I could picture her sliding down the wall into a sitting position on the floor. "I'm sorry," she said, "I shouldn't bother you with this."

"Nonsense. I'm sitting here at home, staring at the ceiling. Please, go on," I said, reassuring her that she was not interrupting anything.

"Well, everyone…they're fighting. Yelling at each other, arguing about who knew her the best."

"Oh sweetheart," I said, sighing as my heart broke, listening to her story, "I wish I was there for you."

"It helps just knowing you'll answer the phone," she said.

"Of course. I'm sorry I didn't see your email."

"It's okay. Do you have a few minutes now?"

"Yes, yes," I said.

"So, this morning," she began, "Gram started having trouble breathing. My mom called it 'the death rattle,' and said she's heard it before in other patients she has taken care of. So my aunt did what the Hospice people told her to do, and gave her some morphine. This went on for about two hours, with my aunt sitting next to her, spoon-feeding her more and more morphine. After a while, we were all standing around her bed, just kind of watching her struggle to breathe, waiting for the moment when she wouldn't take another breath. I was opposite my aunt, and my hands were on her right elbow. I was barely touching her, but her skin was so puffy, even the slight touch of my fingertips was leaving a deep impression. Mom said that was common when people died. It was silent. We were all counting in our heads how many seconds between her breaths. My grandpa walked in the room, smacking his gums on a piece of cantaloupe. He said, 'Still breathing, huh?' and I thought my uncle was going to punch him right then and there. My uncle's wife quickly ushered my grandpa out of the room. I had my eyes closed, and I was just praying to whoever was listening that they take care of my grandma and make it so she didn't have to suffer any longer. A few minutes later, my uncle was frantically putting a stethoscope to her chest, saying the heartbeat was still there, it was really weak, but still there. My mom listened and threw the stethoscope back at him. 'You're just hearing your pulse in your ear,' she said. My aunt started crying. I hadn't moved. My mom slowly pulled my hands away from her body and led me out of the room. It was so quiet, I didn't even realize the exact moment when she died. I guess I thought it would be more profound or something." She paused, and I wasn't sure if she was crying or thinking.

"Andrea, I'm so sorry for everything you've been through today, and I wish I could be more supportive," I said. I paused, waiting for her to respond, but she didn't. "Did you say your family was arguing about something now?" I asked, trying to bring her out of her thoughts.

"Oh…yeah. My grandma wanted to be cremated. We all knew that, or at least my mom, my dad, and I did. We saw her the most. She practically raised me while my parents worked. But my grandparents made my uncle the executor of their wills, and he also has power of attorney. I guess because my uncle is an accountant, she just figured he would be the best person for that. Well, my uncle has three kids of his own, works crazy hours, coaches football, and sees my grandparents maybe once a month for a few hours. So my mom called the funeral home, and when my grandpa overheard her say "cremation" he flipped. He started screaming 'You can't burn her! It's a sin!' and crying and getting all emotional. Then my uncle takes his side and says that Gram never wanted that, that my mom was making it up. Hence the fighting and screaming and yelling. I had to come sit outside, there were just too many people in that tiny house."

"Do you think they'll come to a resolution on this?" I asked.

"I mean," she chuckled, "they have to at some point."

"True. You must be exhausted," I said. "Can I send some clean clothes or anything? You never sent your address."

"I'm fine. My aunt and I are actually going to back to my apartment later tonight. It's just thirty minutes away, and I think she wants to get away, too," she said.

"Okay. If there's anything at all," I said, letting my voice trail off.

"Thank you, Miranda. I really appreciate you even answering my calls," she said.

"Of course," I said. "I should get back to work," I lied, "but call me if anything else comes up."

"Okay. Thank you again," she said, hanging up the phone.

I turned over onto my side and felt the pressure begin to flow through my head once again. Flopping back down on my back, I closed my eyes, letting tears stream down the sides of my head. Andrea was what, twenty-three years old? I could just tell by the way she spoke of her family that she was very strong at home. Not physically, but emotionally. She was a rock for her family, a decision-maker, a rational thinker, a doer. She was—I sighed—like me.

Before I fell back asleep, I called Smith & Wollensky and ordered a simple dinner for twelve people—roast chicken, roasted potatoes, green beans, and fresh fruit—to be ready for pickup in one hour. I texted Roy and asked him to pick up the food and deliver it to the same address he left Andrea yesterday. It wasn't much, but food was always appreciated when there was unexpected company.

I stayed in bed all day Sunday, half recovering from my migraine, half from the time change. It never used to affect me, this "jet lag" everyone speaks about, but in the past few years, I have realized that my body is not as resilient as it once was, and even minor disruptions to my daily routine leave me exhausted. I took two painkillers before falling asleep Sunday night, and when my alarm went off at 5:05AM Monday morning, I felt significantly better. I had not heard from Andrea since early Sunday afternoon.

When he picked me up in the morning, Roy informed me that he delivered the food exactly as I had asked. I wonder why she hasn't called to thank me—not that I require thanks, but it just seems like something she would do, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I knew I needed to keep my head on today as there would be a lot to catch up on at Runway.

At 11:30AM, I shut my office door to enjoy my lunch in quiet. The truth was, I was hoping to speak with Andrea. I sent her a quick message before sitting down in my desk chair: "How is today going? Not the same here in the office without you."

She quickly typed a lengthy reply: "I can surely agree that things would be very different here if you were here. Mom and sibs went to meet with funeral director, but they were fighting so much, he asked them to leave and come back when they've figured it out. I hate when people are afraid to make a decision."

"I completely agree. I'm sorry it's all being dragged out," I wrote.

"BTW, did you send food last night by any chance?" she wrote.

"Yes, was it okay?" I asked.

"Apparently delicious. My sister and I had already left, but they all devoured it, not even bothering to see who sent it. I'm sorry for their poor manners."

"Don't worry about manners right now. Glad it was enjoyed. Is there anything I can do for YOU?" I asked.

She did not reply right away. As I chewed my steak, I worried I had crossed some invisible line, stepping too far with that last question. Then, she responded: "If it's not too big of a deal, do you think I can take off until Wednesday or Thursday? The funeral service will be Wednesday afternoon."

"Sweetheart, do what you need to do. Your job will be here when you return, and I know you've more than put your share of overtime in. Don't worry about work—I look forward to seeing you whenever you return."

"Thank you," she replied.

Over the next two days, I did not communicate with Andrea. By this point, I knew she felt comfortable sending me a note if she wanted to talk, despite how much I missed what had become our daily conversations.

Wednesday evening, I was sitting in the den going through the book when the doorbell rang. It was dark outside, the girls were still staying with James, and I wasn't expecting company. Peering through the peephole, I gasped, quickly unlocking and opening the door. "Oh, sweetheart," I said, tugging her inside and shutting the door behind her.

"Hi," she said. She just stood there, her shoulders slightly slumped. I grabbed her forearms and felt a slight tremor in her body as I looked her in the eye, her deep brown eyes almost translucent and not quite present.

I quickly slipped my arms underneath hers and hugged her tightly, fearing she would collapse at any moment. Her body felt like a weighted skeleton in my arms. Somehow, I hadn't realized just how much weight she had lost. The mother in me wished I could make everything better for her just by holding her close, but I knew such hopes were unrealistic. When I pulled away, I took her hands in mine. "Your eyes," I said, squeezing her hands, "I can see your exhaustion. You poor thing. Come inside."

Andrea said nothing, but let me lead her into the den. I wanted to make her some tea, but I didn't want to leave her alone. Finally, I led her to the sofa. The tea could wait. She sat down in the center of the sofa, not leaning back, just sitting up and looking down at her hands. I took my seat in the corner of the couch and wrapped my arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer. She laid her head on my lap and I began rubbing my hand up and down her left arm while I brushed the hair out of her face with my other.

"My mom is a different person," she said, out of the blue. "She took my grandma's illness really hard, and now it's like she is trying to take Gram's place in the family. She's worrying about her sister and brother, and she even took time off work so she can stay with my grandpa for a while," Andrea said.

"I imagine this is hard since your mom was so close with her mother," I said. I fought the urge to preach to her—trying to show her I was simply willing to listen.

"Yeah, she was. But now, it's like I've lost my grandma and my mom in the same week," she said, crying.

"Sweetie, I am so so sorry. You know, everyone grieves differently, so maybe your mom just needs some time," I said as I continued to run my fingers through her hair.

I don't know how long we sat there in silence like that, but I soon realized Andrea's breathing had calmed and she was probably asleep. I didn't want to wake her, but it was already past midnight, and I needed to sleep myself. "Andrea?" I whispered.

"I'm awake," she said.

"Can I get you something?" I asked, not really knowing what to say, afraid that if I pushed too hard she would leave. "Something to eat? Tea? Something stronger?"

Andrea shook her head. "I should get going," she said, sitting up from my lap.

"Stay here tonight," I blurted out, surprising myself.

Andrea paused for a moment. She was actually considering it, I thought. "No, I should head back," she said.

"You are certainly not taking a taxi at this hour," I said, "I'm calling Roy."

"No, don't bother him, Miranda. I'll be fine, really," she protested.

"Either you stay here or Roy drives you home," I said, crossing my arms across my chest.

"You're horrible," she said. "But I guess since I'm staying here, I'll have that drink if you're still offering."

"Scotch okay?"

"Sure," she said.

I placed three large ice cubes in a glass before pouring two fingers of scotch for the young woman. I poured myself a few drops, because really, no one likes to drink alone. Handing her the drink, I asked, "Have you eaten today?"

She shook her head as she brought the glass to her lips.

"I can make you something now, or you are more than welcome to help yourself to anything. We even have things like Pop-Tarts and Cheetos. I would just feel better if you ate something," I said.

"No, thank you," Andrea said, quickly finishing her drink. "Do you have a blanket I can use?" she asked.

I looked at her, my eyebrow arched in question. "Why would you need a blanket? It does not get that cold at night in here," I said.

"I just like to cover up with something—it's more comfortable," she said.

"Oh! You didn't think you're sleeping on this couch, did you?" I asked. She shrugged and raised her eyebrows. "Sweetheart, you're sleeping upstairs. There are plenty of beds. Come along," I said, gesturing for her to follow me.

Upstairs, before I realized it, I was leading her into my bedroom. I opened the dresser and pulled out two soft cotton nightshirts, handing her the pink one while I took the black. "Help yourself to anything," I said, gesturing towards the bathroom. "We need to leave the house between 7:30 and 7:45AM, so whatever time you need to get up, just set the alarm."

"Oh wait, Miranda, I need to go back to my apartment in the morning. I didn't bring clothes or anything," she said.

"Nonsense. I'm sure I have plenty of items that will fit you, and if not, you can grab something from the closet when you get in, okay?"

She nodded, and stood there in the middle of the room, unmoving. "Miranda, thank you again—"

I held up my hand and interrupted her. "You do not need to thank me. Just get some rest and I will see you in the morning," I said. I stepped out of the room and shut the door nearly all the way, just not latching it. Walking across the hallway, I entered the guest bedroom, taking in the impromptu redecorating for the first time. Emily has really outdone herself, I thought as I inspected the room. The walls were painted a pale sea blue and everything had been replaced by white woodwork, white closet doors, and a white bed and dressers. The room had a beach house feel to it, straight out of a Land's End catalog, and more importantly, it was the exact opposite of the way it was when Stephen was here.

On the nightstand was a small note card: The NYC Women's Shelter thanks you for your donation of mattress . The word "mattress" had been handwritten by someone—not Emily—presumably from the shelter. I smiled. Emily even got rid of the mattress. I quickly washed my face and removed my makeup, slipping into my nightshirt and climbing between the covers of the bed. It wasn't my bed, but it wasn't anyone else's either. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, willing myself to sleep.

On the other side of the hallway, Andrea quickly washed her face and rinsed her mouth with mouthwash before slipping into the nightshirt and crawling between the covers. She sighed, sinking into the luxurious sheets that smelled like a mix of lavender and…Miranda. She sat up in bed and peered around the room in the darkness. Was this Miranda's bedroom? she wondered. Sinking back into the mattress, she pulled one of the down pillows closer to her body, completely surrounding herself in the intoxicating scent as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Some time later, she woke and couldn't fall back asleep. After tossing and turning for a few minutes, she went to flip the pillow over and saw a silk neglige gently folded underneath. She couldn't help but bring it to her face, inhaling the divine scent. "Mmm," she murmured. Just then, she was reminded of another smell, not terribly unlike Miranda's: her grandmother's.

Tears began flowing down her cheeks as she realized she would never again smell her grandmother, and all those childhood memories tied so strongly to that scent were somehow changed. Andrea started crying a bit louder as sobs took over her body.

I have always been a light sleeper, so the moment Andrea began crying, I woke. I waited several minutes, but as her sobs only grew worse, I crept out of bed and gently pushed the bedroom door open. She didn't seem to notice me standing there as I watched her, my red silk neglige wrapped around her hands, partially covering her face. I stepped closer to the bed and placed my hand softly on her shoulder. She gasped and looked over, but then laid her head back on the pillow when she saw it was me. Taking a deep breath, I lifted the covers and crawled in behind her, draping my arm over her tiny body as I held her close.

"When I have kids," she said between sobs, "they won't know what Gram smelled like. I'll have no way to tell them how comforting their great-grandmother's hugs were, or anything," she cried. I softly pressed kisses to the nape of her neck.

"There, there," I said, "you're safe here." I wasn't trying to get her to stop crying, as I know all too well that tears were a necessary part of life. From my own experience, I knew how comforting something as simple as physical contact could feel.

I woke at 6:20AM when the alarm went off, my arms still wrapped around the young brunette. I quickly disentangled myself and turned off the alarm. Andrea stirred, sitting up, resting on her elbows. "I'm going to take a quick shower. Give me twenty minutes, then you can get ready," I said. She grunted and sank back into the covers. Smiling, I stepped into the bathroom, shut the door, and began my morning routine. As I showered, the sight of Andrea laying in the middle of my bed with my red neglige draped across her shoulder stirred emotions I knew I needed to keep at bay. Once I began drying my hair, I caught myself daydreaming, watching the way my fingers held the round brush, imagining Andrea's long fingers running through my hair. I quickly applied my makeup, chastising myself for even considering the girl in such a way, at a time when she was so vulnerable. I quickly pulled out my Origins GinZing eye cream and left it on the counter in plain sight, anticipating her puffy eyes.

I stepped out of the bathroom exactly seventeen minutes later, wrapping my short silk robe around me before heading into my closet. I slipped on my nude shaper nylons, a simple navy pencil skirt, and a crisp white blouse, grabbing a wide belt and a pair of Tory Burch pumps to accessorize. I pulled out two pairs of black pants, two white blouses, a cardigan, a sweater vest, and a wrap dress. She should have no problem finding something within these items, I thought, at least I hope she can find something—these are the smallest pants I have here in the house, and the girls' would be too short on her. I also dug in the back of my drawer to find some brand new underwear and tights as well.

"Andrea," I called softly, "the shower is all yours. We're leaving in 45 minutes," I said. When she didn't move, I continued. "Darling," I urged, opening the shade and letting the morning sunlight pour into the room, "if you're coming to work this morning, you need to get up now." She groaned and sat up, moving over to the edge of the bed. I rested my hand on her shoulder and asked, "How are you feeling today? You know, you can take a few more days off if you need to."

"I'm fine," she said. "I think I need to go back to work and focus on something else, but thank you."

"Of course," I said, leaning down and pressing a light kiss to the top of her head. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything. We're leaving in 45 minutes."

She nodded and I stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind me. I heard the shower turn on and that somehow relaxed me. I made two cups of coffee, pouring hers into a travel mug but leaving it cool off a bit before placing the lid on. I doubt she likes her coffee as searing hot as I do. I retrieved the morning papers from my entryway and sat at the table, thumbing through The Wall Street Journal.

Promptly at 7:30, Andrea came downstairs. She was wearing the black Louis Vuitton custom tailored straight-leg pants with a white blouse. The pants, which I hardly wore anymore because they were so tight on me, were actually loose on Andrea. I saw that she found a belt in the closet and was using it to hold them up. "I had to find—" she said, gesturing to the belt.

I quickly waved it off. Of course, I didn't care if she wore my Prada belt, but I did care about why she needed the belt. Sighing, I did not want to have this conversation with her right now. I handed her a travel mug of coffee. "Do you need anything else or are we ready?" I asked.

"I'm ready, thanks," she replied, taking the coffee. She wore her hair pulled back in a bun today. I could see she used my makeup—tinted moisturizer, a hint of bronzer, liquid eyeliner, DiorShow mascara, and Lancome Red Haute lipstick. It was a good look on her and I was quite impressed with her skill. Months ago, I don't think she knew what eyeliner was.

I walked over to the coat closet in the hallway and selected a Michael Kors zebra-patterned trench for myself, handing Andrea my tan Burberry hooded trench. "Oh, I don't need a coat," she said.

"Weather forecast says rain," I said. "Just wear it, make me happy," I said.

She nodded and took the coat from me, slipping it on and belting it tightly at the waist. I picked up my bag and grabbed the Book from the table then turned to head out the door, Andrea following me. Out front, Roy greeted us warmly, and I could tell he was happy to see Andrea.

We rode to Runway in silence. Andrea was scrolling through emails, while I was going over the last few pages of the Book I didn't finish last night before she came over. Just before we approached Elias-Clarke, I shut the Book and turned to her, placing my hand softly on her knee. "Andrea," I said, "if you need anything today, don't be afraid to ask. It's your first day back and I know it can be overwhelming with everyone asking questions. If you need to be alone or anything, remember I have the bathroom off my office. If you need time, take it, I just ask that you send me a text or something so I'm not worrying about you."

Andrea nodded. "Yo—you would worry about me?" she asked. "My mom doesn't even worry about me."

"Of course I would" I said, "and I'm sure your mother loves you very much, just give her some time," I reassured. "Ready?" I asked as the towncar came to a stop. She nodded, and I stepped out of the car. I felt Andrea at my heels as we walked into the building. I stepped into the elevator and spun around, surprised when I saw Andrea stop in place, not entering the car. "Get in," I said, stepping to the side to make room for her. About halfway up the elevator, I said quietly, "You should probably pull your notebook and pen out."

"Oh, shit! Right, sorry," she said. I smirked. Somehow, the way she dug through her bag, clearly flustered, gave me a sigh of relief. This was the Andrea I knew and loved. She was bright, energetic, chipper, and sometimes a little clueless. It was endearing, watching her pull out a notebook and try several pens before she found one that writes, buried in the bag that also carried her dirty laundry from the night before.

"Okay, ready!" she said just before the elevator doors open.

Without missing a beat, I stepped out of the elevator and let the words roll off my tongue. "Andrea, call Patrick and see if Victor is still interested in that summer apprenticeship. Tell Nigel I need three new options for the spread on page one hundred two. See if Lucia has been able to secure the interview with Thierry for next month, and if so, make sure we have samples from his showroom before the 2pm run-through. If not, I will personally make a visit to his showroom and try to sway their opinions myself. Speaking of the run-through, let's do that at 1:30 right after lunch. Order two large sprays for Caroline and Cassidy's piano recital tonight—daisies, bluebells, daffodils, tulips, maybe a few sunflowers. No roses, carnations, or freesias. Bring me the cards—I want to personally sign them. Order some french toast, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and orange juice for breakfast, which I'd like sometime before 9. Lunch will be the usual at 12:30, but make it medium this time. I'll have my latte before the run-through."

By the time I finished, I had already deposited my coat and bag on Emily's desk, and I was seated at my own desk. Andrea quickly slipped out, removing her coat and hanging it up in the closet as she began the tasks I had given her.

"Is that…Miranda's coat?" Emily asked in disbelief.

"No," Andrea replied.

"Bu—but where did you—?"


"Oh," she snuffed. "I see they didn't grace you with any new shoes," she said condescendingly, glaring down at Andrea's scuffed Jimmy Choos.

"Em, can you order Miranda's breakfast? Eggs, turkey bacon, french toast, and orange juice," she said. Emily pursed her lips, then quickly called in the order to the cafe across the street.

As I tried to focus on the papers in front of me, I found that I couldn't help but listen to Andrea's conversations. Perhaps I should have been more careful, I thought, I should have known my staff would recognize the custom jacket that had been a gift from Christopher Bailey himself. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard Nigel at Andrea's desk.

"So, Six, what's with the personal days? Did you run off and elope without telling your dear friend Nigel?" he said. I bit my tongue, waiting for Andrea's response.

"No, definitely not. You know I would tell you the minute—well, if I were going to be married. I can't keep that from my maid of honor," she teased.

"Wait, stand up," he said, leaning back and taking in her appearance. "It looks like you've dropped a size. Swing by the closet before you leave and we'll pull some new items for you."

"Okay, thanks Nige," she said.

"So you never answered—where were you if you weren't getting hitched?" he asked.

"Nigel," I called, hearing enough of his pestering. "This spread on rockstuds, do you have any other ideas?" Nigel stepped into my office and shut the door behind him.

"Okay, what's going on?" he asked. "I already sent you the three options we're putting together and scheduled that meeting for 2:45 today. Why is Andrea wearing your custom Vuitton pants?"

I sighed and leaned back in my chair. I took my glasses off and pinched the bridge of my nose. "She's going through a lot right now," I said.

"Okay, but you don't usually go giving your custom designed items to your staff. Not to mention those are tiny pants and she needed a belt with them," he said.

"Yes, I know," I said, shaking my head. "I haven't worn those to the office since before I was pregnant," I said.

"So you just decided to give her three days off and your $3,000 pair of pants?"

I sighed again. I knew creating a lie would only make the situation worse for Andrea, but I also knew Nigel was relentless. My blackberry buzzed and I quickly glanced down, seeing a message from Andrea pop-up at just the right time: "Please tell Nigel about my grandma. I can't talk about it. Running out to get breakfast now."

"Sit down," I said to Nigel. "Andrea's grandmother died on Sunday. She was very anxious the last day in Paris because she had called home and her mother told her that she had taken a turn for the worst; she was afraid she wouldn't make it home in time to see her," I explained.

"So that's why you had her rushed off the plane in New York," Nigel said. "But it still doesn't explain the pants."

"She showed up at my doorstep last night, Nigel," I said, standing up and walking over to the window. "She was broken," I said.

"Well, well, the dragon lady shows her heart," Nigel teased. I glared at him. "No, seriously, Miranda, I'm glad you were there for her. Kind of shocked that she chose you over someone like me, but still."

"Oh, get over yourself," I teased, quickly remembering that he and I still hadn't discussed what happened in Paris. "Nigel," I said, "Andrea just texted me and asked me to tell you because she said she's not ready to talk about it, so don't pester her, and don't give her that pitiful expression."

"Yes, ma'am," he said.

"And Nigel, I do still want to chat with you—maybe a quick drink this evening?" I said.

"Yeah, I'll let you know," he said, walking out of my office. Seconds after he left, Andrea returned, rushing into the kitchen to plate the breakfast food. She carried in a tray, and I directed her to set it on the small round table near the window.

"Will there be anything else?" she asked.

"Yes, shut the door, you're eating with me," I said quietly, so Emily would not overhear. We quickly exchanged looks, and Andrea knew better than to argue with me. She quietly shut the door and joined me at the small table.

"Miranda, thank you, but I don't think I'm hungry," she said.

"Humor me," I said as I handed her the fork, "this is twice what I typically eat, so please help yourself. And the juice is yours."

I picked up a piece of bacon and began to nibble on it. I wasn't quite sure how she felt about sharing a fork. "So, you never told me how the service went yesterday." I didn't want to keep her from eating, but I also didn't want her to think I was simply staring at her.

"Oh, well, it was nice," she said, eating some eggs off the plate. "My dad's brother didn't recognize me, and came up to me and said 'I'm sorry about Eleanor' when everyone else was saying 'I'm sorry about your grandma,'" she said. I bit my lip, holding in my laughter. "No, it's okay," she said, taking a bite of french toast, "you can laugh, it was ridiculous."

I chuckled as I sipped my water. "Was she cremated?"

"Yes, although my uncle and grandpa were still very much against it in the end, they decided they couldn't afford to pay the funeral home to keep her body preserved for weeks on end while they argued."

"Oh my," I said. "So did someone from your family speak at the service?"

"Ha," she said, laughing and rolling her eyes. "I was making up the Mass programs on Tuesday night, and my mom told me that we were going to have the priest give the eulogy. I asked if I could do it, but she told me no, that it was inappropriate for a grandchild to speak instead of a son or daughter. So, I made the program, but then when we got there, my aunt stood up and went to read her speech, and then after that, my uncle got up to read his speech, both painting very different pictures of my grandma."

"Are you serious?" I asked. "That was incredibly rude. And I'm sorry they wouldn't let you speak," I said.

"Yeah. It's okay. I know that my grandma knew how much I loved her, and I know that most of the people in that room knew how much she adored me, too. I didn't need my name in the program to make it official," she said.

"Andrea, that's very mature of you. And you're right, as long as you know in your heart, the words are just…"

"Unnecessary," she said, finishing my thought. She reached up and gently squeezed my hand. "Thank you for breakfast," she said.

"Of course," I replied, still surprised at the way in which she finished my thought. "Did you have enough?" I asked, looking down at the plate. She had finished the eggs and juice and eaten one piece of french toast.

"Yes, thank you," she said, standing up. "Are you finished or would you like me to leave this?"

"I'm still picking at it," I said. She nodded, then quietly let herself out of my office. As long as you know in your heart, the words are just…unnecessary. The thought played over and over in my mind. Of course, we were speaking of her grandmother, but was I not thinking of myself, too? Of Andrea? The unspoken kindnesses that had been going on between us since the night of the Met Gala? I closed my eyes, trying to quell the emotions raging within me. I could not allow myself to think that Andrea felt anything similar to what I feel for her, not now, not when her world was crumbling. It was only a coincidence, I reminded myself, you were looking into it too much.

I reached down and picked up the fork, cutting a small piece of french toast and bringing it to my mouth. My lips lingered on the tines of the fork, trying to imagine how she tasted—certainly not like cinnamon and syrup. Just then, the phone buzzed, jolting me from my daydream. I walked over to my desk and pressed the intercom, "Yes?"

"Miranda, I have Patrick," Andrea said.

"Put him through," I said, abandoning the fork and slipping back into work-mode.

As the day pressed on, I sent Andrea a quick text message: "When you bring my lunch, don't forget two sets of silverware and a beverage for yourself." Andrea didn't respond, but promptly at 12:30 she entered my office and shut the door behind her, joining me at the table. "How are things going today?" I asked as I cut the steak in two.

"Fine. How about you?" she asked.

"Good. Did you know Patrick's son Victor is a budding fashion photographer? He sent over some of his work and asked if I would be willing to offer him an unpaid apprenticeship this summer," I said as I chewed a piece of steak. "Patrick is worried that he doesn't have a realistic view of the day-to-day work a young photographer does since he's so familiar with his father's schedule and high-profile shoots."

"Oh wow, that's impressive," Andrea said.

"Yes, Patrick has always been down-to-earth about things like that. But I guess when you're on that side of the camera, it's easier to live in the shadows," I said.

"Do you ever wish that—that you lived in the shadows?" Andrea asked me.

I pushed away from the table and set my fork down, certainly not anticipating the direction this casual lunch conversation was taking. "Of course there are times," I said. "When I look back at the string of failed marriages and when I hear the way my daughters speak about me…of course I wish that. Why are you asking me this?""

"Do you ever regret your decisions?" she asked, ignoring my question. I couldn't figure out why she was pressing me so hard, but I, for some reason, felt that I was required to answer her.

"Sometimes…it is difficult to see the impact each decision has on the large scale, and though I try to keep a broad outlook, I can't help but wonder," I said.

"Wonder what?"

"If I should have ever gotten married—to any of my ex-husbands. Or if I should have decided not to have children," I said, my voice trailing off as I stood and walked to the window, lost in my thoughts.

"Tell me more about your daughters," Andrea said, the voice coming from inches away. I was so lost, I didn't even feel her stand behind me. She put her hands on my shoulders, softly massaging my tense muscles. I clasped my right hand over hers on my left shoulder and pressed my cheek to the back of my hand, closing my eyes for a moment.

Sighing, I turned around, keeping our hands linked. "Andrea, I do not want to burden you with my emotional issues. You have enough to think about with your own family," I said. I squeezed her hands and returned to the table.

"But Miranda," she said, "Don't you see, I don't want to think about my family any more. They exhaust me. I need to find something else to worry about."

"Well," I said, taking another bite of steak, "now is certainly not the time to delve into my psyche."

"Okay," she said, slinking back into her seat, "I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?" I asked.

"For, I don't know, thinking that we could be friends and just talk," she said with a shrug as she set down her fork and stood from the table. "I actually have a few errands to take care of, so Emily will be handling the run-through," she said, walking out of my office and leaving the door open. I wanted to run after her, but I was frozen in place. She was beginning to see me as a friend, and that was what scared me most: not only do I not have friends, but also, I had been hoping that we could be more than friends. Much more.

I finally stood from the table and carried the tray out to the kitchen—past both of my assistants—and threw it into the sink, shattering the plate and glasses. Andrea sat at her desk, staring at her hands in her lap. Emily was gawking, but right now, I couldn't care. Andrea had walked out on me for the second time in six days. I saw her quickly slip on my Burberry trench and dart out of the office, without even so much as a glance in my direction.

"Emily," I called. "Cancel the run-through. Clear my schedule for the rest of the afternoon. Have the book sent electronically tonight. Oh," I added, "did she ever get those cards from the florist?"

Emily quickly jumped up and reached for the cards on Andrea's desk. "Yes, here you are. Just leave them on your desk and I will see they are with the bouquets this evening," she said.

I took the cards from her and hastily wrote "I'm so proud of you! Love you, Mom" on each card and handed them to Emily on my way down to the closet. Quickly, I grabbed a few size zero dresses, pants, and blouses. Serena piled them into a single garment bag and offered to walk them downstairs for me. I shook my head and walked out, stopping only at my outer office to collect my own coat and bag before exiting the building and stepping into the towncar.

"Where to, Miranda?" Roy asked cheerfully from the front seat.

"Home," I said.

He started the engine and we quickly pulled out into traffic. "Mind if I ask a question?" he asked. Not waiting for my response, he continued, "Is everything alright today?"

"Roy, do you think two people can communicate effectively without words?" I asked.

"Well, Miranda, that would depend. For example, my wife and I sometimes just have to share a look and we know exactly what the other one is thinking, but I don't think I could do that with a stranger," he said.

"Was there ever a time," I asked, "where you thought your wife meant one thing, only later to find out you were deluded in your thinking?"

"Of course," he chuckled, "no offense, but isn't that what women are best at? Implying one thing, but meaning something entirely different?"

"No, I'm talking about something deeper. When you were first dating your wife, say, did you ever have that feeling where you knew something deep down, and felt like you didn't need to say it aloud because the feeling was so strong?"

"Ahh," Roy said. "I do believe I know what you're talking about, but in my experience, if you think you don't need to say it, the other person probably needs to hear it that much more from you." I was silent for a few minutes, just staring out the window and thinking of Andrea. "But of course, we're speaking entirely hypothetically, right Miranda?" Roy added.

"Of course," I said. I knew there was a reason I've kept him for so many years. He knows me better than any of my husbands ever did. He's probably spent more time with me than all three husbands combined. Thinking back, he was just starting out as my driver when I was pregnant.

He used to keep a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos in the car to manage some of my cravings. And, there was more than one time I made him pull over and find a bathroom when I couldn't hold it. The day I brought the girls home from the hospital, I remember how overprotective Roy was, how carefully he drove. He had infant car seats professionally installed in the town car, along with a bottle warmer, breast pump, and sound machine to block out traffic. James went straight to the office from the hospital that day, but I didn't feel alone. Roy carried the girls into the house and brought them upstairs to their nursery where Cara was waiting, and then he even carried me up the stairs to my room. The next week, when I was back to work, Roy would take me for drives all over the city several times a day so I could relax as I pumped, even taking short naps.

"Miranda?" he called. "Was there something else?" I snapped my eyes open and looked out the window, seeing that we had arrived at my home.

"Roy," I said, "I don't know that I've ever really expressed my gratitude to you. The past ten—or is it eleven?"

"Eleven next month," he said.

"Okay, the past eleven years you have been my fiercely loyal driver. You've seen and heard enough to make you a millionaire, yet you keep quiet and show up for work every day, anytime I call. Thank you, Roy, for everything," I said.

"Miranda, you're making me cry," he said, laughing. "You are an incredibly kind, generous woman, and I wish more people could see you the way I do," he said. "She does, you know," he added.


"Andy. She sees you like I do. She's different, Miranda," he said.

"I know," I said, slipping my sunglasses on despite the gloomy weather. "I won't be needing you anymore today. Enjoy your evening," I added before stepping out of the car and heading up the steps to my house. Once inside, I sat at my kitchen table and quickly dialed Nigel.

"Hi Miranda," he answered.

"Nigel, I'm sorry, but something has come up and I can't make it for a drink tonight. Can we do brunch on Sunday at Bergdorfs?"

"Yeah, that works if you can do later, say 1:30?"

"That's fine," I said, scribbling 1:30 - Bergdorfs w/ Nigel in my calendar.

"Miranda, is everything okay? You left in such a rush," he said. "Is everything okay with Six?"

"Yes, everything's fine. I mean, I think she's fine, but you'll have to ask her," I added, not realizing how childish it sounded until I spoke it aloud.

"Aww, did you two have a fight?" Nigel teased. I was not in the mood, so I promptly hung up the phone.

My behavior had been childish, hadn't it, I thought. Andrea had asked me about the girls because she recognized that I had been friendlier towards her, sharing some personal stories. Then, when I wouldn't answer, she politely excused herself and left. She must have been exhausted, and she didn't want to carry the conversation, I thought. Deciding to write her an email, I began drafting a message:

From: Priestly, Miranda To: Sachs, AndreaSubject: please forgive me

Dear Andrea, Please forgive me for my childish behavior this afternoon, which was quite inexcusable. I'm still learning how to be in a friendship where we ask each other questions and offer unsolicited advice. I was so focused on trying to be a good listener, I was blind to the fact that you needed a break and needed someone else to carry the conversation. In fact, I have actually been very conscious of what I have been saying, so much so that I have been trying to avoid talking about myself or the girls or my own mother, out of fears that you would think me insensitive if I weren't focused on you. So, please, forgive me, Andrea, and give me another chance. Dinner tonight at 6:30 at the townhouse?

Hope to see you later,Miranda

Satisfied, I clicked send and set my phone down. I had roughly five hours to drive to Whole Foods, gather groceries, then prepare a meal. I went upstairs, thinking I might change into jeans and my red Cole Haan drivers. Seeing the disheveled covers on the bed, I was suddenly reminded of the previous night, curling behind Andrea and holding her until she fell asleep clutching my red silk neglige. I slowly began making the bed and fluffing the pillows, inhaling Andrea's scent as I did so. I was a little surprised that I didn't find the red silk garment somewhere in the bed linens. In the bathroom, everything was in place, two towels hanging neatly on the towel bar. The bamboo hamper was empty, as was the hamper in my closet. Now, I was just suspicious. I checked my drawer to see if Cara possibly did laundry and placed it back in my drawer, but it was not there. I even went upstairs into the laundry room to double-check: she had done laundry this morning, as some items were hanging on the drying rack, but the red silk was nowhere to be found.

I returned to my room and slipped into my jeans and loafers, then headed back downstairs to collect my bag, phone, and the car keys. Quickly glancing through my emails, I saw that Andrea replied.

From: Sachs, AndreaTo: Priestly, MirandaSubject: RE: please forgive me

Miranda, I accept your apology, and your invitation. I'll bring dinner if you take care of dessert?

xx, Andrea

I smiled as I read through her email. Now, to make the perfect dessert. Three and a half hours later, I was placing the lid on a triple-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Quite impressed with myself, I decided to take advantage of my impromptu afternoon off and take a nap, curling up on the couch where Andrea thought I was going to make her sleep last night. I smiled as I closed my eyes, secretly hoping Andrea would be spending the night tonight as well.

About an hour later, Andrea let herself into the townhouse. "Miranda?" she called into the darkness. I woke, practically jumping up to turn the light on. "Hey, sorry I woke you up," she said. "So, is that the story why you left work today? To take a nap?" she teased.

"It's not and you know it," I said, standing and attempting to smooth the wrinkles out of my blouse.

"Well, rumors are flying at work, so I was just trying to get the inside story," she said, walking into the kitchen and setting a brown bag on the table. "Oh wow, that cake looks delicious. Did you make it?"

"Yes, and it was exhausting. So I guess the official story is that I left work to make a cake," I replied with a smirk.

"Well I can't wait to taste it," she said. "I brought Chinese. My favorite place is just around the corner from you. Kung Pao Tofu, Beef & Broccoli, and a side of duck fried rice and lo mein noodles. Does that work?"

I grinned. "Andrea, it's been years since I've had Chinese," I said, "and this looks delicious."

"Good!" she said, clearly relieved that I approved of the meal. "So would you like me to get plates and we can split it up? Or do you just want to eat out of the container?"

"Why dirty a plate?" I said. "I'll take the broccoli beef and noodles, if that's okay?" I asked.

"Perfect! I like both so it's no matter to me," she said, handing me two cartons and a pair of chopsticks.

I proceeded to pour the broccoli beef onto the noodles and stuck the chopsticks in the container. "Something to drink?" I asked, reaching for two glasses and two napkins. "Water, sparkling limeade, tea, wine?" I listed.

"I'll have whatever you're pouring," she said as she proceeded to mix her food.

"Well, then it's sparkling limeade," I said. "I've never liked wine with asian food, not even Sake. But I do have an excellent Syrah for the chocolate cake." I poured two glasses and handed one to Andrea, who followed me into the den.

"Andrea, I'm sorry for nagging you about eating," I said as I watched Andrea devour the fatty duck fried rice. "It's just—you're a beautiful young woman, and there is such a thing as begin too thin."

Andrea blushed. "Thank you. I know, I wasn't dieting or anything. It's just been so stressful this past month. When I sit down to eat, I just haven't been hungry. Or even if I do eat, sometimes my stomach is too nervous." She paused for a few minutes, taking a bite of the tofu. "I really appreciate that you even noticed and were concerned," she added.

"How could I not notice?" I said, "When I hugged you yesterday, I think I felt each of your ribs."

"Well, it's not like you had anything to compare it to," she said under her breath.


"The hug," she said. "Yesterday was the first time you hugged me. It's not like you would have known if I had particularly sharp ribs."

"Oh. Right," I said, looking down as I ate a few more bites of food. "But I'm glad to hear that you haven't been trying to drop all this weight. You were quite perfect at a six, or maybe even four."

"Can we stop talking about my weight please?" she said, setting her carton on the coffee table.

"Of course. I'm sorry," I said. "Would you like to talk about mine? I weigh anywhere between 130 and 140, and typically wear a size two, though lately, I've been finding that more and more size four pants have found their way into my closet." I took a few more bites of food before setting my carton on the table with Andrea's. "I'm sorry. You should really try and not take everything I say so personally," I said, "but I know that's easier said than done. Now, you asked me about the girls today, Andrea, and I want to try and answer your question."

"Even if it means delving into your psyche?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "but just remember, you asked for it," I said. "I'm just going to pop our leftovers into the fridge, okay?"

Andrea nodded and I quickly stepped out of the room. When I returned, I sat in my corner of the couch and tucked my legs underneath myself. "About ten years ago," I began, "my mother was furious that I wasn't doing anything about the way the press wrote about me. Honestly, I didn't care what they said or didn't say, but my mother insisted I needed to be photographed petting a giraffe or rolling around in the park with a puppy, or better yet, she said I needed to have a baby of my own."

"Miranda—" Andrea interrupted, "Please don't feel obligated to tell me any of this. I shouldn't have pressed you this afternoon after you mentioned regretting having children. I won't be upset if you don't continue," she said, reaching out to squeeze my hand.

"Thank you, but if you're still a willing listener, I really need to just get this out," I said" Andrea nodded and moved closer to me on the couch, still holding my hand. "So, my mother insisted that if I was to live in the public eye, I needed to work that angle. She wanted me to have a baby. I casually brought it up to James—of course, not telling him it was my mother's idea—and he was very much against it. I think one of the reasons we were so compatible early on was that we were both workaholics and our first marriage really was to our careers.

"We had agreed years prior that we wouldn't think about children until we had secured stable positions at the top. Well, I became Editor in Chief the year after we got married, and I think he always resented me for being more successful than him. Naturally, when I brought up the idea of children, he told me to wait a few years. He also tried telling me that my promotion was only temporary and that they would replace me in a year's time."

"Clearly he was wrong about that," Andrea said.

"Yes," I said. "Well, I decided that my mother was right, and that it was the right moment in my career to have a child, so I began seeing a fertility specialist—on my own. I was almost forty-one, and they thought I should have no problem conceiving, but I insisted I needed help. So," I said, sighing, "I was giving myself hormone shots for months, then trying to seduce my husband during my peak ovulation times. It was really pathetic, looking back—how sneaky I was about everything. I showed up at his office several times in the middle of the day. Once," I said, laughing at the memory, "I was waiting at home for him in nothing but some scandalous lingerie, but of course he brought some colleagues home with him that night, sending me running upstairs and hiding. It was so embarrassing.

"Another night, he came home and I was doing something in the kitchen. He actually picked me up and carried me all the way upstairs to the bedroom. I don't know if it was the outfit I was wearing or the way I was stirring the soup, but for the first time in over a year, he actually wanted to have sex with me and I didn't have to beg him—except, he insisted on using a rubber 'just to be safe.' But after that night, we were closer for a while, cuddling, fooling around, just the little things. It was nice, and I was being patient. Later that week, after taking my temperature at lunch, I called him and told him I was on my way to his office. He knew what I wanted, and the minute I walked into his office, he pulled me into a small coat closet that was built-in to the wall. It was quick—too quick for him to pull out a condom. I'll never forget the 'I just fucked my wife in the closet' grin plastered on his face as he walked me out that day. But, lo and behold, two weeks later when I took a pregnancy test, it came back positive."

"Oh wow," Andrea said.

"As you can imagine, my mother was ecstatic. I waited as long as I possibly could before breaking the news because I did not want a public pregnancy. The first four months were horrendous, as I was alone and still being relatively new in my job, I didn't have flexibility. I did eventually take two weeks off at my doctor's advice in my second month, but I never told James. I would wake up and get ready every morning as he was going to work, and the minute he was out the door, my mother was over, holding my hand while I vomited. I had pretty bad morning sickness—to the point where I was actually losing weight because I couldn't keep anything other than water or juice down. Finally, after the fifteenth week, things began to lighten up and my nausea practically disappeared. But because of the morning sickness, any weight I gained because of the baby was offset by the weight I had lost."

"So James didn't notice? Were you guys still…you know, intimate?"

"No. He was always busy and I was too focused on trying not to vomit in front of him. I soon found out I was having twin girls, and while my mother was again ecstatic, I was going through some sort of pre-partum depression where I felt so incredibly guilty for keeping so much from James, it was getting worse the more I talked to him. I was near suicidal and I was afraid to be around him for fear that he would go crazy if he found out. My mother made me speak with a therapist, and that did help a little, but even he agreed that I needed to tell my husband. Of course, I was waiting for the perfect time that never came.

"Two months later, when I was twenty-six weeks along, my belly finally began to swell. It seemed like it was getting bigger every hour. I started consciously dressing to hide the bump—empire waists, wrap blouses, layered jackets, anything. I finally needed a larger size pants. I had just climbed into bed one night when I heard James get home from a benefit. He told me he missed me and asked if my headache was better. After changing out of his tux and taking a quick shower, he climbed into bed and curled up behind me. He said that he was thinking having a baby might be a good idea.

"My hormones were going crazy and with the way he was kissing me, all I could think about was sex, so I didn't even reply, just turned over and straddled him. As his hands traveled over my body, he stopped and pushed me away, turning on the bedside lamp and gawking at the changes in my body. He was speechless, and I just started sobbing, my tears answering the unspoken question. I had to reassure him that it was his—he thought I had been cheating. When I told him I was twenty-six weeks along, he went ballistic, as I expected.

"I had been lying to him for over seven months, and I knew deep down that nothing would ever heal that; our relationship would be over. He filed for divorce the next day, but remained a good friend to me for the next two months, when I was putting on something like five pounds every day. I couldn't ask anything more of him, and I was very glad that he was around to do little things like put lotion on my feet or rub my back."

"I can't picture you pregnant," Andrea said, smiling. "How long did he stick around?"

"Basically, until they were born" I said. "My water broke during at showing at Calvin Klein, and I was never so embarrassed in my life. To this day I will not return to that showroom. My mother was in the delivery room with me, and I later found out that no one had even bothered to call James. He came shortly after they were born, and stopped by every morning for the entire week we were in the hospital, always to see them, not me. I was actually just reminiscing with Roy—the day I brought the girls home, James wasn't even there to help. I wasn't supposed to climb stairs or carry anything weighing more than ten pounds, so if it wasn't for Roy carrying the girls up to the nursery, and then carrying me up after them, I don't know what I would have done."

"Oh wow, I had no idea, Miranda," Andrea said. "But James has always been in their lives?"

"For the first few months, James didn't come by much. He got a new place across town and slowly moved his things out. I was back at work, and honestly, Cara and my mother were the only two people who really saw the girls. Because they were premature, I was paranoid about germs and didn't want to take them anywhere. It wasn't until my doctor told me I could be doing more harm than good by keeping them so isolated that I started relaxing.

"Once they were about three months old, James started taking one of them to his place for the weekend, alternating turns. It worked out nice, actually. I got to spend time with my daughter without being stressed about having two to deal with. My mother and Cara were able to take the weekends off, and it was really quite perfect. But once they were about a year old, they became very attached to my mother, and cried when I tried to hold them. James tried taking them both to his place for the weekend, but they wouldn't stop crying, even when I went to pick them up. We had to call my mother. But James was persistent. He started spending his weekends at the townhouse with my mother, bonding with the girls, and soon, they were comfortable going to his place."

"I bet you missed them when he took them," Andrea said.

I slowly pulled my hand away from Andrea's and pulled my knees to my chest. "Well, that's the other part. No, I didn't. I was out of my mind, Andrea. I actually looked forward to the weekends so I wouldn't have to hear the screaming children, or be embarrassed when one of my suitors heard them. Even when James was staying with them here at the townhouse, I was always going out to parties and clubs, a different date every night. After a year or so, my mother gave me a reality check when she told me James was planning to sue for full custody, and that she would be forced to side with him. I got scared and tried to spend every possible minute with them, even setting up a bassinet in my office at Runway. James later told me he wasn't really going to petition the court, but he just wanted me to get my head on straight. It worked, and I'm grateful for that," I said. "But I think it was a situation of 'too little, too late.'"

"Do the girls still see him every weekend?" Andrea asked.

"Yeah, for the most part, unless he has plans or I want to do something with them. He has been a really good father to them. If it weren't for him and Cara…" I said, my voice trailing off. "I know the girls like Cara better than they like me. They always have. She's the one who's there for them when they get home, who puts band-aids on their cuts, who packs their lunch, and who lets them cry on her shoulder when they didn't get the grade they wanted. I'm nothing more than—than a roommate. Sure, I buy them gifts and toys and send them flowers for their recitals, but even I know that there's nothing I can give them to make up for my absence. They have been staying with James since a few days before Paris, and we decided that it was best that he keep them for a few more weeks in case there is any other news about my impending divorce. I have a feeling he wants this to be a permanent move," I said.

"Don't say that, Miranda. If you want them back, we can fight for them. I'm sure they would love the opportunity to get to know you if you just give them a chance," Andrea said.

"Thank you for being so optimistic, but I don't think you understand. I don't even know what to say to them. I have no idea what mothers talk to their children about," I said.

"Well, think about what you talk to your mother about," she said. "Do they still see your mother? You said they were close with her when they were little."

I sighed, "My mother died nearly five years ago of pancreatic cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, she was dead six weeks later."

"Oh god, I'm so sorry, Miranda," Andrea said.

"I'm used to it now," I said. "The first few weeks were the worst, because I kept picking up the phone to call her and tell her something, only to remember she was dead and I would never be able to do that again."

"Well, now is the perfect time to build that relationship with your daughters," Andrea said.

"Don't you realize they hate me?" I spat. "I think they liked Stephen better than me."

"Miranda, everyone yearns to know his or her parents. How many times have you heard of someone spending years hunting down his or her biological mother? Or someone meeting his father the day he was released from prison? It's human nature to want to know your parents. Every relationship isn't hugs and kisses and 'I love you' but that doesn't make it less of a relationship. In a few years, they aren't going to want anything to do with James or you or even Cara, so now is the perfect time to talk to them," she urged.

"Now do you see why I didn't want this conversation in the office today? Andrea, I can't just decide this right now."

"Why not? Pretend it's like work, and, I don't know, Gisele hates Heidi, but Patrick needs to photograph them together in a shoot."

"That is a horrible, horrible analogy," I said. "First, Heidi hasn't been doing anything other than charity appearances for years. Second, Patrick would never—"

"Okay, I get it," she said, "but come on. If this were anything related to work, you would have made the decision and had a plan in motion already and you know it."

"Can we change the subject?" I said. "How about some wine and cake?"

"Okay," she said, reluctantly standing to follow me into the kitchen. I noticed that she checked her phone—and actually, she had been checking her phone the entire evening.

"Is everything okay?" I asked, casually gesturing at her phone.

"Yeah, it's just—I was expecting a call."

"Oh, do you need to go?" I asked.

"No. It's after 10, she's already in bed," she said. After I shot an inquiring look, she clarified, "My mom. I was expecting my mom to call me."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes, just cut the cake please," she said. I wasn't exactly sure when she suddenly grew so tense. I handed her a large wedge of cake, and attempted to cut a smaller piece for myself, but I think it turned out even bigger.

"I feel like we need candles or something for a cake this size," I said. I picked up my glass and toasted with Andrea, "to us," I said.

"To us," she repeated, sipping the dry Syrah.

"Well?" I asked after she had taken a bite.

"Oh my god, Miranda, this cake is delicious. This is the best birthday cake ever," she said, taking another bite. "And if you're wondering," she continued, answering my confused expression, "yes, today is my twenty-fourth birthday, and my mother forgot. Happy birthday to me."

I gasped and set my wine glass down. I wanted to wrap my arms around her but then I hesitated—what was it she said about hugs earlier? Oh well, I thought as I did just that, wrapping my arms tightly around her shoulders and kissing her softly on her cheekbone. "Happy birthday, darling," I said.

She reached over and set her wine and fork on the counter next to mine, wrapping her arms tightly around my waist as she buried her face in my neck. After a few minutes, she was still clutching, holding tightly to the fabric of my shirt. "Are you okay, sweetie?" I asked her, leaning back and lifting her chin softly with my finger.

"I'm sorry, Miranda," she said, pulling her hands up to cover her face. Her mascara was smeared all over her cheeks. "Thank you for the cake," she said, turning to walk out of the kitchen.

"Wait!" I said, running after her and taking her by the elbow. "Please, just, at least wait until you can wash the mascara from your eyes," I said. "I mean, if you really can't stand to be around me."

She stopped in her tracks. "It's not you, Miranda. Stop being so insecure—it's not always about you," she said, walking back over to the couch and sitting down.

I was shocked by her words, bringing my hand up to cover my mouth. Was I really being insecure? selfish? I slowly walked over to the couch and sat next to her. "I'm sorry," I said quietly. She didn't respond, so I repeated myself, louder this time. "I'm so sorry that your mother forgot your birthday and that I was no better. I'm sorry for being selfish and insecure when you turned to leave. And…I'm sorry for burdening you with my issues."

"Miranda, I don't need you to apologize, it's not your fault. I shouldn't have overreacted. But, it's just, how could a mother forget her own daughter's birthday?! I mean, I'm sure you even remember that," she said.

I bit my tongue and tried to tell myself she did not mean that the way it came out. "I'm so sorry you have to deal with this," I said, gently placing my hand on her shoulder. "And I wish there was something I could say or do to magically make it better, but I think we both know it will take time."

"I don't want to wait," she cried, "I want my mother now, the way she used to be."

"Andrea," I said, "if there's anything you need you know you can talk to me, right?"

"Uhh, thanks," she said, "But I don't exactly think of you like a mother."

Again, I bit my tongue. Did she mean to imply that I wasn't mother-material? Or that she has trouble imagining me as her mother, perhaps implying she sees me as something else…a special friend or something? I sighed. "Well, I hate to waste a perfectly good piece of cake," I said. "Shall I bring it in here?"

"Sure," Andrea said. In the kitchen, I also ran a paper towel under the faucet and wrang it out before returning with two plates and two glasses of wine.

I set the items on the coffee table and sat down, reaching over and turning Andrea's face gently towards me. Her eyes were closed. "You know," I said quietly as I dabbed at the black streaks, "eye makeup will leave shadows on your skin that take days to wear off," I said. "Will—will you wait for one moment while I run up and get makeup remover?" She nodded, her eyes still shut.

I ran back downstairs with several cotton pads and a bottle of argan oil cleanser, my miracle makeup remover. "Okay, I'm back," I said, sitting next to her again.

"I must look so ugly right now," she said.

"Now look who's being insecure," I said with a smile as I continued wiping the black streaks from her face. When I was finished, I placed one hand on each side of her face. "Sweetheart, open your eyes," I said. "You. Are. Beautiful. Do you hear me?"

She nodded as more tears pooled in her eyes. "I'm sorry I have this habit of running from you. I think I just get frustrated and need some space," she said. "And short of you killing one of my family members I do like, I will never run away from you without coming back."

I bit my lower lip to keep from crying myself. For the first time in I don't know how many years, I had someone—another human being—who cared about me, who was on my side…and I liked it. "Sooo," I said, "If I happen to kill one of the family members you don't like?"

"Well, then I will probably just give you a big hug and say thanks," she said with a smirk.

"You're incredible, do you know that?" I said.

She smiled. "Okay, now back to this triple chocolate birthday cake you baked especially for me…" she said, taking her plate and stuffing a huge bite into her mouth. "Sooo good," she mumbled, "you should really try this."

I picked up my plate and began nibbling at the cake, washing it down with the peppery Syrah. "Can I get you more wine?" I offered, seeing Andrea's glass was nearly empty. She nodded, and I returned, filling both of our glasses. We sat in silence for a few minutes after giving up on the gigantic pieces of cake. I leaned back into the couch and turned my head towards Andrea. "So, you really don't think it's too late to start a relationship with my girls?" I asked.

"Of course not!" she said, eagerly turning to face me. "You need to do this. I'll be right here with you, that is, if you want."

I closed my eyes and nodded my head. "We'll start thinking about it tomorrow." I paused for a minute before continuing, "Thank you for listening tonight, and not judging, and not leaving, and…and for giving me hope," I said. My hands were trembling as I realized that tonight was the first time I had ever shared some of that with someone else other than my mother. Even James never heard the whole story.

"And thank you for trusting me," she said, "and for taking my mind off of all the shit going on in my family, even if just for a few hours."

"Of course," I said, wrapping my arms around her and giving her another hug. This time, she kissed me on the cheek before burying her face in my neck. "Would you like to stay over again tonight?" I asked.

"If you promise to stay with me until I fall asleep," she said.

"Well, I think I can manage that," I said, letting go of her and reaching down for the plates and glasses. "Oh, and you can keep the red silk lingerie," I whispered into her ear before getting up.

She gasped. That was all I needed to know. "Why don't you head upstairs and I'll join you in a few minutes," I called from the kitchen.

"Okay, do you mind if I take a shower tonight?" she asked.

"Go ahead, you know where everything is," I called. As I cleaned up the kitchen, I kept coming back to the chocolate cake. Andrea's mother must be taking her mother's death very hard if she couldn't even send a note or make a two-minute call to say hello. On this, I was a little torn. Of course, I felt Andrea's heartache that one's own mother forgets her, but having lost my mother, too, I can relate to Andrea's mother as well.

I heard the shower turn on upstairs and quickly turned out the lights in the kitchen and den, set the alarm system, grabbed the argan oil cleanser and cotton balls, then headed upstairs. I had left the pink cotton nightshirt on the dresser, so Andrea must have taken it with her to change into after her shower. I dug through my drawer and pulled out a black silk babydoll top with matching silk hipsters. Changing into those, I tossed my clothes in the hamper and used the cleanser to remove my makeup. The shower was still running, so I left the dresser lamp on before climbing between the covers.

Nearly ten minutes later, Andrea came out of the bathroom, quietly turning out the light before climbing in on the other side of the bed. "Was your shower okay?" I asked, smelling her freshly-shampooed hair. She nodded. I have never wanted the young woman more than I did in that moment while she lounged next to me. But, we had been growing so close, I was too scared to lose what we had to do anything about it. "Goodnight, Andrea," I said, turning to face away from her.

"Are you going to work in the morning?" she asked.

"To be perfectly honest, I hadn't thought about it," I said. "I might just take a vacation day," I said as I ran through my schedule in my mind. Nothing urgent until next week.

"Oh, okay, well, I still have to go in, so I will just slip out early and get ready at my place," she said.

"Oh, wait. If you prefer, I can just tell Nigel I will work from home, and you can go pickup my computer or whatever, and work from here for the rest of the day," I said. "Will that work?"

"So I still have to be there by eight?" Andrea groaned, flopping down on the bed.

"Yes," I said, "I'm sorry. But you can take a nice long nap once you get back!"

"But I still don't have anything to wear tomorrow," she said, frowning.

"I grabbed some items from the closet today. For you, actually. They're in a garment bag downstairs," I said.

"Miranda?" she questioned. "Why are you so good to me?"

I sighed. "Because I'm a kind, caring, considerate, generous, and overall nice person," I said with a smirk.

"You know, sometimes you drive me crazy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Goodnight, Miranda," she said.

"Goodnight," I repeated. After several minutes of trying to get comfortable, I felt Andrea move closer to me, sliding her arm around my waist. I sighed—no, it was actually much closer to a moan—as she pulled me close.

"Mmm, much better," she hummed, "Love you," she murmured, softly kissing my neck before we drifted off to sleep.

Part 3

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