DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Story Prompt: Based on an article announcing Stanley Tucci's new family cookbook (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/dining/stanley-tucci-actor-writer-family-cook.html), it triggered the idea of putting some real life into the Runway universe. The prompt was: Nigel invites the Runway crew over for a Big Night sort of feast, everyone hanging about in the kitchen and Andrea gives Miranda a taste of sauce from a pot she's been stirring and, as she holds the spoon, their eyes meet... Story Title comes from a quote from the film, Big Night. Pascal says to Secundo (Stanley Tucci's character), "Hey, hey! What this is: "too much?" Hey! It is never "too much," it is only "not enough!" Bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you!"
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Bite Your Teeth Into the Ass of Life
By Mary Griggs
Nigel had been in a high hover all week. With the September issue put to bed and no major events planned for that Saturday, he had cajoled, coerced and commanded several of his old Runway coworkers over for a housewarming dinner. The new position that Miranda had gotten him when the James Holt deal had fallen through was paying him almost twice his original salary plus bonuses.
He used the first quarterly bonus, supplemented with some savings, to make a down payment an upscale loft. It was the kitchen, which dominated the open floor plan, which sold him on the unit. He had been waiting his entire life for a cook space like this six burners on the stove, two separate ovens, an in-counter deep fryer and grill, a wine cooler and enough countertops to make his Nonna weep with envy.
His memories of growing up weren't entirely unpleasant, especially those involving her. Those family gatherings when everyone was in the kitchen preparing the food, reminiscing of meals past and making plans for future celebrations were some of his happiest childhood recollections.
He dreamed of entertaining like that everyone working in the kitchen, enjoying cocktails and conversation so that when they finally sat down to the meal, there was a contribution from each guest in every bite.
For this meal, he might have gone a bit overboard. He had taken advantage of a new designer's preview down in Chelsea to go to Jacob Dickson's Farm Stand Meats for some lamb and pork. Another morning, he stopped in the West Village at Ottomanelli for some veal and rabbit on his way to work and kept the packages in a cooler with some dry ice by his desk until he went home. He had hit farmers markets on both Tuesday and Thursday to pick up all the best of the fruits and vegetables needed and three separate wine shops for the marsala for cooking, the Sangiovese and Riesling for dinner and Amaretto for the after dinner coffee. He had even gotten up at 5:30am on Saturday morning to go to the fish market on Hunt's Point to get the freshest of the day's catch.
When issuing the invitation, he had ordered his guests to bring a small course and to plan on helping with the rest Emily was bringing a cheese tray, Serena was bringing Bolinhos de Bacalhau also known as Salt Cod Fritters for them to pop as appetizers while the meal was cooking, and Miranda had agreed to bring cannoli from Veniero's bakery.
Andy had promised to come over early to make fresh pasta with him and to make the meatballs. Her Swedish meatballs would be a departure from his Italian version but he figured that the secret family recipe for Ragu sauce he was making would hide any imperfections.
The portion of the menu that he was responsible for included the cocktails to start things off, the ragu sauce, a fish stew called cioppino for first course, and entrees of Sicilian rabbit dish and veal saltimbocca. He knew that the menu was ambitious, especially considering the appetite of some of his guests but he was too excited for restraint.
Coming back from his morning errands, he deboned the fish and prepped a chicken for the fish and chicken stock. Humming to himself as he chopped onions, carrots, celery and assorted herbs, he realized that he had never been happier. He had a job he loved, a repaired relationship with Miranda that had deepened their friendship and friends he could count on. He might still be single but he was really too busy for love at the moment.
It was with a smile on his face that he buzzed Andy into the building. While the elevator made its slow ascent, he pulled out the pasta flour and eggs and set them next to the pasta machine.
"Six!" Nigel exclaimed. "Welcome to my home sweet home."
Not bothering to set down her grocery bags, Andy grabbed him in a hug. "It's beautiful, Nigel."
Wincing from the bags digging into his kidneys, Nigel stepped out of the hug and relieved her of several of them. "Let's put these down and let me show you around before we get to work."
"I can't wait. I've always wanted to learn how to make pasta."
"You've never met a carb you didn't like, have you, Andy?"
"Oh, stop it! You're going to be appreciating my hunger when you see how little the rest of them eat."
"Too true," Nigel laughed. "I knew they'd only pick at the food so I went out and bought some take away containers so they'll something classy to carry the leftovers home in."
Nigel waved toward the back of the loft. "That wall of books actually retracts to open up the space even further. I left them extended because I figured a house full of lesbians wouldn't want to see my man cave."
"I still can't believe what a cute couple Serena and Emily make but, are you sure that Miranda bats for our team?"
"Like Barry Bonds, girlfriend." Nigel shook his head. "It is much harder for a lesbian or bisexual woman to make it to the top in fashion. She's had to hide who she is to get where she is now."
"Are you matchmaking, Nigel?" Andy anxiously bit her bottom lip.
She had total trust in him since the long discussion they had in Paris after she had left Miranda and threw her phone in the fountain. He had tracked her down and read her the riot act about Miranda's actions not being personal and his sincere belief that she would reward him for his loyalty.
Andy had confessed to him that, while she was upset on his behalf, it was Miranda's assumptions about her ambition that had scared her into taking off. She regretted her unprofessionalism the minute her phone left her hand but she couldn't see a way back.
She didn't know how he done it but Nigel had smoothed things over for Andy to resume her duties in the morning. Miranda had never mentioned the lapse but Andy had noticed that Miranda had begun to treat her differently. After her walk out, there were no more tests a la the Harry Potter manuscript. In fact, Miranda had actually asked her to copy edit some of the recent articles for the magazine.
Since that fateful discussion, the two of them had regularly gotten together. At one of their evenings out, after he had taken his new job as Fashion Consultant for Neiman Marcus International, Andy had a little too much to drink and confided to him about her attraction to Miranda.
"She smells so good, Nigel," she had rambled after her fifth appletini. "I've been riding with her everywhere lately and my head sometimes spins from her scent."
"It is amazing what quality beauty products can do," he snarked.
"It isn't just that, although whatever she uses on her hair is scrumptious. Its her. She smells, um, she smells like birthdays, Christmas, and home," she said dreamily.
Nigel rolled his eyes. "I think you've developed a crush."
"I may be beyond that." Andy looked up at him, her doe eyes filling with tears. "I think I love her. I've seen her, the real Miranda at her lowest in a gray bathrobe when Stephen divorced her by fax and I've seen her victorious and gloating after Irv was arrested for embezzlement. I've seen her softness with the twins and her hardness with her negotiations with those Russian mobsters who were making that photo shoot a nightmare. Her high expectations might be difficult to achieve but she never asks anything from anyone that she doesn't ask of herself."
"Don't give up your day job to write poetry."
"You can laugh all you want but I'm seriously gone on her."
"Since when do you like girls, anyway?" he asked.
"I had a girlfriend in college but we drifted apart after graduation."
"And the cook?"
"Men are just easier." Andy put her hand over her mouth as her eyes widened. "No offense, Nigel! I just mean that they're not all emotional and complex like women. Regular sex and occasional compliments of their manhood is all they need to be happy."
"Straight guys might be so easily satisfied but I've seen plenty of drama in my time."
"Yeah, I bet gay guys are different that way." She sighed. "My parents were supportive of me and Sally but there hasn't been anyone since who I was willing to risk my heart on."
"Maybe you're just lonely for his missing ingredient."
"Nate left for Boston after Paris and I haven't missed anything but his contribution to the rent payment." Andy drained her glass. "I think about her all the time and even dream of her at night."
Nigel patted her shoulder. "Let's get you home, kiddo, before you start sharing any more details. I'm going to have a hard enough time getting images of you two out of my mind as it is."
He helped her outside where he waved down a cab and they hadn't spoken of it again.
They both shook themselves out of their memories and Nigel finished the tour of his place. At the end, he went over the menu again.
"Those are some pretty sexy servings, Nigel. Are you positive you're not trying to play matchmaker?"
"I'm not quite so obvious as all that," Nigel replied. "Don't confuse me with a yenta, Andy, or your pimp. I'm just thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I open the door, you can find a way to walk through it with her."
"If anything is going to happen, it will be because you make it so."
"You're right. I should go for what I want."
"Follow your dreams, Six, and you'll find the love that you need."
"Thank you. I'm grateful for any chance to change things before I move on."
"Yeah, its been a year and a half and she got me an associate editors job with Atlantic Monthly. I start at the beginning of next month."
"Congratulations! That's a coup."
"I know! I'm very excited."
"Does everyone know?"
"Yeah, I warned Emily when I started interviewing for my replacement. I wanted to give her a head's up, in case she needed to supervise the new girl and the not-so new girl."
"Did she freak?"
"Naw, she's so happy in love and in the Art Department that she didn't think it would be a problem." Andy followed him into the kitchen area. "I think she might even miss being first assistant."
"I doubt that. It is probably more like late on-set Stockholm Syndrome." Laughing, he washed his hands and then stepped back from the sink. "God knows what you picked up from the subway. Wash those filthy paws and then we'll start with the pasta."
Andy obeyed and then watched Nigel avidly as he picked up the glass container.
"This is farina di grano tenero, which means tender or soft flour in Italian. It is perfect for the sort of pasta we're going to make today."
He dumped two cups on the counter and made a well in the center. "You want it to look like a volcano," he told her before cracking three eggs into the cleared middle area and whisking them rapidly with a fork. "Now, using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined." He illustrated for a moment before stepping back. "You try."
Andy moved forward and repeated his motions, moving around the circle of flour until she had created a yellow mass.
"Excellent. Knead the pieces together."
"You've never kneaded before?"
"Nope. I buy boxes of elbow macaroni when I'm hungry and my bread pre sliced."
"Barbarian," he muttered. "Kneading is basically bashing the dough to develop the gluten. You squash it into the table, reshape it, pull it, stretch it, and squash it again. Repeat all those moves for about ten minutes or so. It's quite hard work, and you'll soon see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like pro wrestler."
"How will I know when I'm done?"
"You'll know when to stop when the pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury. Then all we need to do is wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour."
"Okay," Andy said, pushing up her sleeves. "Let's do this thing!"
"Don't be too rough," he warned. "What makes all the work come together as tender pasta is love and attention. Only with that will it bind and give you the smooth dough you need."
"How do you know all this? You sound like an Italian grandmother."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment." Nigel poured the fish stock through a sieve and into a bowl to cool. He dumped the bones and rinsed the sieve before repeating his actions with the chicken. He set that aside to pick out the cooked chicken. "You know I wasn't born a Kipling, right?" he asked.
"I was a Tropiano until after college." He looked at her through the steam of the cooling stocks. "My coming out didn't go over too well. Add that to my dream of being a mover and shaker in the high powered world of international fashion and you can see I required a much more mainstream moniker."
"Have they gotten over it?"
"My father died more bitter that I had changed my name than my sexuality. I talk with my brothers around Christmas and Easter and my mother regularly prays a novena for me."
While Andy continued to knead, he coated twelve plum tomatoes with olive oil and slid them in the oven to roast. Grabbing another onion out of the crisper and head of garlic from a terra cotta crock, he began to chop.
"I'm sorry you had it rough coming out."
"Thank you." Nigel began searing some hunks of beef in a large cast iron Dutch oven. "Let's change the subject. I don't want to talk about anything unpleasant today. This is a day of celebration!"
Andy laughed and patted the ball of dough. "I think I'm done with this. How about I put on some tunes and we get our groove on?"
Andy and Nigel continued to prepare for the feast and dance to the music. The afternoon passed in a flash.
Emily and Serena arrived at five o'clock and the party really started. Despite Emily's constant battle with her weight, she was actually a lot of help in the kitchen. She was able to make twice as many meatballs as Andy in half the time.
"Honestly, Andrea, I thought this was your recipe," she groused.
"It is. I just didn't realize it was a competition!"
"Ah, Andy. So naïve!" Serena laughed musically. "You should know by now that to my Emily, everything is a competition."
Serena winked, "Mmmm, I love our games."
Flicking an uncooked meatball at her lover, Emily hissed, "What did I tell you about discretion?"
Trying to look innocent, Serena placed a hand over her heart. "Is that what that word means? You know, sometimes my English is not so good."
"Don't lie to me, wench. You speak it better than most of the cretins who graduate from the American public educational system."
"Hey," Andy retorted. "I went to public school."
"And you make my point." Emily rolled her eyes. "Americans!"
Serena leaned over the counter and stole a kiss. "Don't be so hard on her, querida. It was your jealousy of my admiration of her that brought us together."
"Oh, really?" Andy asked. "Tell me more!"
As the two of them took turns to describe how they went from being friends to lovers to partners, the meal continued to be built. Nigel made a pitcher of cocktails to keep the laughter and conversation flowing as smoothly as the food preparation.
Serena finished forming the poached cod and mashed potatoes into balls and had dropped the first batch in the hot oil when Miranda arrived.
She gave air kisses all around and, it might have been Andy's wishful thinking, but she thought Miranda had lingered a little bit and drawn in a breath when kissing her. Andy hoped that her splurging on the $120 an ounce Chanel No 19 was finally going to pay off.
"Would you like a drink?"
"I see that you all have started without me," Miranda said as she handed Nigel the box of pastries. "Why don't you pour me a shot of that unspeakably expense tequila we got the last time we were in Mexico and I'll have a hope of catching up."
"One shot of Tres Quatro Cinco coming up."
Andy went back to stirring the pot of ragu sauce. She was startled when Miranda suddenly appeared at her side.
"What is that?"
"Sauce for the meatballs." Andy pulled out a clean spoon and coated it with the sauce made rich with the roasted tomatoes. She held it out for Miranda. When her boss just stared at her, Andy wiggled the spoon. "C'mon. You're going to love it," she cajoled.
Raising a single eyebrow at the audacity, Miranda blamed her next action on the tequila that was already warming her blood. Leaning forward, she blew gently on the spoon. She had to brace Andrea's suddenly trembling hand to steady the spoon. Parting her lips, she opened her mouth to accept a taste.
Their eyes locked as Miranda's lips closed over the bowl of the spoon. Miranda's nearly closed while she savored the flavors but she was glad she kept them open. Had she closed them, she would have missed the dilation of Andrea's eyes, the blush that pinked her cheeks and the way her tongue darted out to lick suddenly dry lips.
Miranda had the occasional fantasy about her personal assistants over the years. However, dreams about the taste of a woman on her tongue paled in comparison to the risk such a dalliance could have on her reputation. Unlike any number of men in her position, she had never acted on her fleeting attractions. She would remind herself that assistants always left and, no matter the temptation, her work life remained scrupulously professional.
That is until several months ago when she indulged in a rather inappropriate thought involving this particular assistant, a mink coat from a Nina Ricci shoot and her glass topped desk. The fantasies had gotten worse as Andrea's fashion tastes had developed and matured. She was excited to come to work each day just to see what Andrea would be wearing.
Even worse, to her mind, she found herself doing things to get one of Andrea's open smiles directed at her. On a whim and on a tight deadline, she had even let the younger woman fix a poorly written features article. That had led to additional editing opportunities. Her success at each successive task had done wonders for Andrea confidence and that had made her even more attractive to Miranda.
She had almost turned down Nigel's invitation to dinner, even after he slyly let slip who his other guests were. When she made an off hand remark about not going, the pout on Andrea's face changed her mind.
While the occasional smile and pout might cause Miranda to act out of character, the look that was currently on Andrea's face was something Miranda knew she would treasure. Licking her own lips, Miranda felt her nipples tighten at the hunger in Andrea's eyes. "Mmm, that's delicious, Andrea."
The long drawn out syllables of her name from those ruby lips made Andy shiver. How she longed to hear her name screamed as Miranda succumbed to the pleasure of her touch.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Miranda?" Her brain had stopped working at the sight of Miranda's pursed lips blowing on the spoon.
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
Andy was about to sputter an answer when she saw the slight quirk of Miranda's lips and the laughter in her eyes. "A little bit of both," she said with an answering smile. "I'm all right, now that you're here."
"I missed you."
"You just saw me last night at the Greenbelt's party."
That was another change to Andy's job. She now accompanied Miranda to events where she normally wasn't needed as an assistant. The gathering the previous evening had less than a hundred people and Miranda knew them all. She didn't begrudge the long nights, though, as long as she got to spend them with Miranda.
"But I woke up alone."
Miranda's head snapped up from her perusal of Andy's attire.
Instantly, Andy turned red and she felt her stomach roll. Cursing the alcohol that had loosened her tongue, she could have smacked herself for saying her deepest frustration out loud. "I'm sorry, Miranda."
Cocking her head slightly, Miranda asked, "Are you, Andrea? Did you not mean what you said or do you regret saying such a crazy thing?
Afraid that the door Nigel opened was about to close, Andy replied, "Not crazy at all. I would love to wake up to your splendid smile and the melody of your voice."
Miranda backed up a step and glanced around, locating the others a discrete distance away. "Do you really mean that? I'm twice your age."
"You're not and I do." Andy tossed the used spoon in the sink and moved closer to Miranda. "I don't want to leave my job, never having told you how I feel."
"Really? You really have feelings for me?"
"Yes, Miranda. Really, really." Andy was close enough to smell the faint scent of bergamot from Miranda's perfume. "This isn't a schoolgirl crush. The more I know about you, the more I want to know. The closer we get, the closer I want to be."
Miranda blinked back sudden tears as she felt a glimmer of hope take root in her heart.
Leaning her mouth close to Miranda's right ear, Andy whispered, "I want to go out to face the world each day with the scent of you on my fingers and face."
Her own face flaming, Miranda stepped away and scanned the loft. Emily and Serena were by the large picture window facing the view in an intimate embrace. Nigel was standing by the table and he nodded at her, whether in permission or reassurance, she didn't quite know.
"I don't just want you for your beautiful body."
Miranda stiffened slightly at the inadvertent reminder of their difference in ages.
"I want to stand beside and watch your daughters grow and succeed. I want to be there to cheer you as you win and comfort you should you ever fall short." Andy felt the urge to take Miranda's hands in hers and she shoved her own in her pants pockets to keep them out of trouble. "I've learned from working with you to always bring my best effort. Now I want to give you my best."
At the reminder of work, Miranda shook her head.
"Please, Miranda. Let me love you."
"I I don't know what to say."
"Surely, this doesn't come as a surprise. I mean, you must have noticed my distraction."
"Frankly, Andrea, I was too distracted by my own attraction." Miranda felt her soul lighten at the dazzling smile bestowed on her. "You've broken so many of my rules."
"There shouldn't be any rules here between us."
"But there are. Your age, our respective positions..."
"Those are just excuses, not rules." Andy stepped back into Miranda's personal space. "I know the world will throw up obstacles, that it will be challenging and difficult but isn't anything worthwhile, worth sacrificing for?"
"You don't know what you're asking."
"I'm asking for your heart. I'm offering you mine." Andy bent her head to give Miranda a kiss.
Miranda placed two fingers on her lips. "Wait." At the mutinous look in Andrea's eyes, she added, "I'm not saying no but this is neither the time nor the place." She glanced over at the bubbling pot. "We wouldn't want to burn the sauce and spoil the meal."
Refusing to be budged, Andy demanded, "But we will, right?"
"We have more to talk about but I promise we will talk."
"And maybe more?" Andy asked, waggling her eyebrows comically.
Throwing back her head, Miranda gave a full-throated laugh. If nothing else, being with Andrea would be a breath of fresh air. Aware that Nigel and the others were moving back in their direction, she tugged Andrea toward her and whispered, "And maybe everything."
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