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.
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It all began in Paris. I wasn't expecting heror maybe I just lost track of the time after I received Stephen's call. Regardless, she wasn't supposed to see me like that. No one was supposed to see me like that. My ex-husband and soon-to-be-ex-husband were the only ones who had seen me like that, and if that's any indication
But she did see me, and I cracked. I sat and cried to her about my failures as a wife and mother, about my fears and shortcomings. And instead of walking away or telling me that it was just a pathetic grasp for attention, she listened as if she cared. She sat next to me and held my hand andthis is crazy, I know, butshe made me feel better.
Of course I didn't let her know that, because, well, that would be going too far. I dismissed her and proceeded to get ready for my dinner. The next day, I tried explaining the previous night to her in the car, but explanation has never been my strong suit, and as was to be expected, my words were taken in the wrong way.
She couldn't believe that I followed after her. Or that I apologized. We sat on the ledge of the fountain and I took her handand we were okay. Her phone was certainly not, but if that's the only casualty, I wasn't going to lose any sleep.
So, here I am, four months later. The press was brutal when news of my divorce brokethey had me cheating on Stephen with every male I had recently been photographed with. It didn't matter that most of them were gay, although Nigel and I did share some laughs over the preposterous front page story in the National Enquirer about our "Steamy Late-Night Rendezvous" for which there were apparently nude photographs and a sex tape. It's baffling to me that a publication can have such disregard for basic fact-checking.
But, I digress. With the divorce sensationalized online and in the newspapers, the girls were having a difficult time dealing with their peers at schoolCassidy, in particular. Dalton was a high-profile school, so for the most part, their peers knew not to believe what the media was saying, but there was one concert that I wasn't able to attend and the girls came home distraught. They wouldn't offer details, but I surmised that the other mothers were talking about me. James and I agreed it would be best if they stayed with him for a while, at least until the divorce blew over. With Stephen moved out by the time I returned from Paris, and the girls gone by Christmas, it was a lonely winter in the townhouse. I missed the girls terribly, and longed for the semimonthly sleepovers, which were always too few and far between.
In these four months, I have slowly been getting to know Andrea. It's been four months of working dinners, of casual conversation in the town car, of private moments in my office late at night. Somehow, our encounters always ended with our fingers laced together. I don't recall how they beganjust that we were more comfortable with each other after Paris. Of course, with the townhouse empty, I had no problem staying later at the office, often waiting for the Book myself. She would stay, too, though I never really knew why. She would make tea and join me, taking the liberty to sit in one of the rarely used chairs across from my desk.
Some nights she would stay silent while I finished reviewing photographs or writing comments on a piece. Other nights, she would ask simple questionsabout the girls, the weather, the war in Afghanistan. Nothing was ever too prying, but they were always open-ended enough that I could keep talking if I wanted. She almost had this innate sense of knowing when I needed to get something off my chest, and she would ask one simple question to launch me into an impromptu therapy session.
So, we began talkinga lot. At one point in mid-March, we were talking about the girls and I was lamenting how much they've grown up this year. I showed her a picture on my phone, then as a frame of reference, I pulled up the Dalton website and found some photos from about the same time last year. She swung her chair around to my side of the desk, right next to me so that she could see my laptop screen. And then, it seemed like every time we spent the evening in the office, she would just swing her chair around and sit next to me, holding my hands.
It's funny. Holding hands and having a conversation were always two separate and independent acts. But somehow, over the past few months, I found that I could no longer separate them. I started reaching for my daughters' hands when speaking with them, and even once to Nigel's shock, I took his hand while explaining the revisions to the new layout.
Tonight wasn't just about the hands, though. Tonight, she reached me deep in the pit of my heart and rendered me a sobbing, lonely old woman.
I had been feeling a bit depressed lately, I'll admit. So many invitations had come in the past week for weddings, showers, parties, bar/bat mitzvahsyou name itand most were extended to "Miranda Priestly & Guest." I actually discovered that for the few where I didn't receive a plus-one, Nigel did. I still don't know what I wanted from these peopleI was upset that they offered me a plus-one when it was clear I had no one to bring, but then I was upset when they actually acknowledged that it would be a waste to offer because I had no one to bring.
But my emotions went beyond these lovely people having lovely parties. I was sick of society pressuring me to be part of a couplewere they implying I was not whole unless I had someone on my arm? That I was no good on my own? I've attended functions by myself for years. I consider myself a somewhat strong, independent womanyou have to be in this business, or they'll walk all over you. I don't know when my feelings changed, but lately I've been feeling less strong, less independent, and less secure. I was aging, and my looks weren't what they were when I was in my thirties. I knew Irv was constantly looking for my replacement. No matter how I try to keep myself up, I'm continuing to grow out of my job of my life, it seems.
Some days, I'm just so exhausted, all the coffee in the world won't help me. Tonight, all it took was Andrea asking if I was going to Georgia for Christian's wedding and I cracked. She quickly went to close the door, then returned to her chair next to me, taking both of my hands and squeezing tight as I cried about the pressure, the loneliness, my insecurity. She pulled her chair as close as she could to mineour knees were touching, but our bodies were still a good three feet apart. Her knee parted my legs and she pulled our chairs three our four inches closer. Her thumbs softly brushed mine, reassuring me. In an extremely rare moment of vulnerability, I told her how difficult it was to keep everything together, to maintain the facade for everyone. And then, I couldn't stop the sobbing.
She squeezed my hands tighter, and somehow transferred both of my hands into her left hand, never breaking our connection while she reached over for some tissues from my drawer. She softly brought them up to my eyes and nose. Eventually, I stopped crying. We sat there, staring into each other's eyes and squeezing hands in silence.
I long since stopped asking her why she cared and learned to accept "because I just do" as an answer. But still, it so often looked like she had more to say, like words were on the tip of her tongue. Tonight, I thanked her as I usually do after she listens to me, and I softly brought her hands to my lips, kissing her knuckles.
She saw that as her cue to leave, and quietly did so as I turned around and gathered my thoughts as I peered out into the dark, starless night. As much as I appreciated the way she listened, I knew I was coming to rely on herperhaps a bit too muchand it wasn't fair. I needed to find a way to tell her that, but I couldn't think straight with her warm hands just outside my door. I walked out of my office and she handed me my coat and bag. I explained to her that I couldn't wait for the Book any longer. It was a shitty excuse, and I knew she knew it too, but she didn't question my motives. Maybe she knew just how much I needed a bottle of wine and a hot bath.
But then, the next words out of her mouth sent a shiver through my body. "Miranda, my last day her is Friday." I don't even want to think about the look I gave her. "I mean, the contract cites April 30 as my end date, which is technically Saturday, but since it's not one of our work" Her voice trailed off as she read the look on my face. "I'm applying for positions at some local newspapers. You must know how grateful I am for this incredible experience and" I held up my hand, indicating that she should stop talking.
I don't really remember how I got to the car, or what I said to Roy that made him roll the privacy screen up. I just know that I am sobbing in the back of my town car at 21:00 on a Tuesday night because my second assistant's tenure at Runway is up. Of course, I knew her presence had a shelf life. I could have checked with Human Resources at any time, but I just got so caught up in it all went by so fast
Did I think she would stay? No, not really. Of course, I had hope that she would show a little interest in sticking around, maybe moving to first assistant for a year before leaving for good. But now, only three more days and then, what? What's to keep her from selling my confessions to whichever gossip rag offers the highest price? As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I knew Andrea would not do thatalthough, humans were quite unpredictable when they were desperate. But the more pressing question was what was I going to do when she leaves? Who would listen to me and actually care? Was there anyone else I trusted that much?
The car pulled to a stop outside the townhouse. Roy stayed in his seatI must have said something awful to him. I stepped out and peered into his window, but his eyes were focused straight ahead. I softly tapped on the window, and he still didn't flinch. "Roy, I'm sorry," I said. Again, he didn't move, but I knew he heard me. I turned and climbed the stairs into the townhouse as he drove away.
Once inside, I opened a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino that I had been savingan extraordinary seventeen-year-old Sangiovese. I took the bottle and a glass upstairs where I began to prepare my bath. As I removed my makeup, my fingers brushed my cheekbone in exactly the same way Andrea had not two hours ago. I could feel the tears welling up inside. Not wanting her to hear me crying when she delivered the book, I turned on the whole-home sound system and began playing Rachmaninoff's 3rd Concerto before locking the bathroom door. I could only hope that would drown out the sound of my own tears.
One bottle of wine and several hundred gallons of hot water later, I wrapped myself in my robe and emerged from the bathroom to find some cucumber slices for my eyes. Returning from the kitchen, I grabbed the book and climbed the stairs, turning off the lights and music. I applied some puff-reducing eye cream to my lower lids, and turned the bedside light on so I could look through the Book. As I opened the first page, a notecard slipped out.
Miranda Please call me when you get this. I'm sorry I sprang that on you tonight. Andrea
I didn't need time to make a decision. There was no choice. I reached over and took my phone from its charger and dialed her number.
"Hello, Miranda?" she answered on the first ring.
"Miranda, I'm so sorry. I know it was unprofessional of me to wait so long to bring this up. I kept trying to find a way to tell you, but that just never came. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I said. "I could have looked it up, too. I should have known. I just"
"You were surprised I don't want to stay and write for Runway," she said.
"No. I know that writing about fashion is not your dream," I paused for a brief second. "But I thought you would be interested in staying with me." I gasped aloud and quickly covered my mouth. Is that what was really bothering me? After several minutes of silence, I checked to see that we were still connected. "Andrea?"
"I'm here," she said quietly. "Will you have dinner with me Sunday night?"
"Umyes, of course."
"Okay, it's a date," she said.
"I'll make reservations for us at Eduardo's or somethingwhat time will the girls be back?"
"James is picking them up between 16:00 and 17:00 on Sunday," I said.
"Okay," she said. There was a long pause. "Can I ask you something, Miranda?"
"Why don't you ever ask me stufferr, questions. About me and my life?"
I didn't know what to say. It was true, wasn't it? I never inquired about her. Maybe if I had been asking, I would have known she was looking for a new job, or I would know more about those young men she and Emily are always talking aboutDoug and, what was it, Nick?
"It's okay," she said. I shook my head. She needed to know that I wasn't avoiding the questions because of lack of concern or interestit was just sheer stupidity.
"Is it? Really? Is it okay?" I asked.
"I dunno," she said. "I guess that depends on whether it's going to change."
I took a deep breath. It wasn't that I hadn't tried asking her questionsI did, and it was awful. I always came across as if I were scolding her or just being incredibly bitchy. I didn't possess that honest-to-goodness quality like her. "It will change," I said. At that moment I wanted so badly to reach out and squeeze her hands.
"Sweetheart, where are you applying?" I asked. I could practically hear her smile on the other end.
"The Mirror, The Examiner, The Daily Chronicle, and maybe as a longshot, New York Times."
"Can I make some calls for you? You know, I could very easily make NYT a reality, Andrea. Or even WSJ, you know."
"I know, and I appreciate it. But I actually want to get a job on my own merits this time. I mean, I would very much appreciate a favorable reference if they ask you, but nothing above and beyond," she said.
I nodded in understanding, though she couldn't see me. "Have you applied anywhere yet? I haven't seen any messages, and I want to be sure I don't overlook any reference requests."
"No," she said. "I am going to take a few weeks off first. I need to go back to Ohio next week for my dad's surgery, and then later in the month Doug and I are moving into a new place."
"Okay, let me know when you apply," I said as the reality slowly hit me. This girlthis young woman to whom I had been pouring my heart out for weekshas her own life, and I know next to nothing about her. "And," I continued, "I want to know more about your father's surgery, and this Doug fellow tomorrow, perhaps?"
"Of course. I know it's late, so I don't want to keep you from the Book tonight."
"Andreathank you for listening to me and for the note tonight and making me call you. These things might seem insignificant, but I want you to know ho much I appreciate it."
"You're welcome. Goodnight, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Goodnight, sweetheart," I said, ending the call and turning out my bedside lamp.
Somehow, just after talking to her I felt better about her departure. It doesn't feel so "final" anymore, especially now that we have plans to keep in touch, beginning with dinner on Sunday. But wait, she said it was a "date"
My mind went wild. Did she mean to imply a romantic date? In all this time, I hadn't even considered the possibilitybut no, this couldn't be. She couldn't be interested in me. She had that man "Doug" she lived with, and I was, well, old. Of course, she had to have meant "date" informally. Right? But even if she hadn't, she was certainly attractive enough...
The next day was an absolute disaster. The Donna Karan line for the summer shoot was not at all what we were expecting, though I liked it very much. This meant reworking the layouts, the sets, and even the location all on less than twenty-four hour noticeall that on top of our regular day-to-day office routine.
I didn't notice the time until I looked up and saw Andrea at my office door with the Book in her hand. She was gorgeous, and I can't believe it took a potentially-platonic dinner invitation for me to notice her effect on me. I still had two stacks of photos to review so Nigel could finalize the layout, and Serena had just emailed the final .psd file for review.
"The Book is finished, obviously with a few blank pages for the layout you're working on," she said, setting it on the corner of my desk.
I took my glasses off and leaned back in my chair. It was 22:00. "Can we chat tomorrow? I'm so sorry."
Andrea nodded, then asked if I needed anything else before she left. When I arrived at the office early the next morning, there was a notecard on my desk atop a teacup with an Earl Grey tea bag and spoon. A post-it on the back of the notecard indicated that the kettle was in the kitchenette. I filled my cup with hot water, and while the tea was steeping, I read the note, which could only be from Andrea.
Miranda I need to take a few hours off this morning to make some personal calls regarding my dad's upcoming surgery. I will be in no later than 10. Since I didn't get to explain yesterday, my dad is scheduled for a rotator cuff replacement next week. He was complaining of really sharp pains in his shoulder, so my mom took him to the ER yesterday. They did an MRI and CT scan there, and the radiologist said it looked like cancer but he couldn't be sure. My family is freaking out, and I need to call and talk with the doctors myself. If it's not clear, I'm the one who does everything in my family. I'm sorry for the inconvenience of not being available this morningI'll have my work phone on me if there is anything urgent you need. Maybe we can chat more tonight. Andrea
I sighed. She was so young, but was clearly the one carrying her family. I sent her a quick email in reply:
Andrea, Please do not worry about work. Do whatever you need to do, and let me know if there's anything I can do to help. I'll look forward to seeing you whenever you can get here. P.S. This cup of tea is perfectthank you. Miranda
I was remarkably productive this morning, and even managed to have a brief meeting with Irv. Promptly at 9:45, I noticed Andrea returned to the office. Emily was badgering her about where she had been, and I heard Andrea say something about "sorting stuff out with HR." Emily challenged her, asking who she spoke with, and at that point, I decided to intervene.
"Andrea, Susan tells me she gave you the papers?" I said. She turned and looked at me with a smile. She was relieved. "Well, don't just stand there like a statue, bring them in and shut the door," I said with a flick of my wrist.
She quickly grabbed a folder from her bag and scurried into my office, closing the door behind her.
I reached for her hand and led her to the couch. "How is your father?" I asked.
She took a deep breath and stared down at our hands. "There is a mass attached to the cartilage in his shoulder. They would typically biopsy it, then decide if it could be removed, but with his surgery scheduled in a few days, they'll remove it when they replace the rotator cuff, and then let us know whether it's benign or malignant," she said.
"But, if they can remove it, that's a good sign, right?" I asked. I picked up her other hand and held both tightly in my lap.
"Well, yes and no. There's a chance it's a malignant chondrosarcoma, and if that's the case, removing it doesn't ensure there aren't other malignant cells in nearby areas. But, we can't do anything until the surgery, so it's just a waiting game."
I squeezed her hands tightly. "I'm sorry that you have to deal with all of this right now. On top of moving to a new place and finding a new jobplease, let me help with something," I said.
She smiled. "You are helping. Right now. Holding my hand, supporting me."
"Is there anything else? I can hire some movers for you, or arrange for a flight home if you still need that," I offered. I don't know why I was feeling so generous.
"I already have a bus ticket, and Doug is going to work on packing up my place while I'm away but thank you."
I nodded and we sat in silence for a bit longer. I felt the urge to pull the young woman into a hug, but then I remembered I still hadn't deciphered the meaning of our "date" yet. I kissed her knuckles, then stood from the couch and walked back to my desk as I tried to quell the thoughts racing through my mind, thoughts of kissing more than just her knuckles. She picked up her folder and left my office.
Later that evening, Andrea joined me in my office once everyone had left. "Last time for this," she said, setting a cup of tea on my coaster.
"I know," I said. I was meeting the girls after school tomorrow, so I would be leaving early.
"I have most of my things packed. I left a sheet of all of my passwords in my desk drawer, and all of my files and backups are on a flash drive that I gave to Emily."
I held up my handI didn't want to hear anymore. "I have complete confidence, Andrea. Let's not talk about that," I said.
"So, I didn't realize you were moving," I said. "And tell me more about Doug."
She smiled and proceeded to tell me how she broke up with her ex-boyfriend Nate over burnt grilled cheese and how she needed to find a new place because she couldn't afford the rent on her own.
"So, this Doug is your boyfriend that you're moving in with?" I asked carefully.
"Nooooo!" she said, laughing. "Dougie is my best friendwe went to grade school together in Cincinnati. He's gay, and actually just broke up with his boyfriend, too."
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I had no way of knowing she was not romantically involved with Doug.
"Did you think I'd tell you I'm moving in with my boyfriend and ask you to dinner in the same breath?" she asked, chuckling.
So it was a date-date, wasn't it? "Oh, I suppose that was silly of me," I said.
I think she could sense I was uncomfortable, so she changed the subject and asked of my plans with the girls this weekend. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights when I told her we were having brunch with Alexa and her mother on Sunday. "Why is that so difficult to comprehend, Andrea?" I asked with a smile.
"I thought Mrs. Linneman was the one leading the crusade against you at Dalton?" she said.
"She was, I think. That's why I had to accept this invitation," I said. "Cassidy told James she wanted to change her name from Priestly to Mueller because she was so embarrassed. Heidi Linneman needs to see that I am not what those rags write about me!" I said.
She squeezed my hands and brought me back down to reality. "I hope that goes well. If you'd like, we can reschedule dinner," she said.
"No, that's fine. I'm just nervous," I admitted. "Heidi is chair-of-this and organizer-of-that at Dalton, and I know that one slip is all it will take for the entire school to turn on the girls."
"You'll be fine. You love them dearly, and anyone who sees you with them can see that."
I nodded and we sat in silence for quite some time. I couldn't help but think of Sundayfirst brunch, then dinner. Maybe it would make sense to postpone dinner with Andrea, especially since I would hate for anyone to accuse her of sleeping with me to earn a reference. On that note, I needed to schedule a wax for Saturday morning
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, breaking the silence.
"What part of Sunday?"
"Andrea, maybe we should hold off, just for a little while," I said. I let go of her hands and stood, leaning against the window.
"Okay," she said. "I understand you have a lot going on now. I do too, to be honest."
"We need to wait until you have a new job."
"I cannot have people thinking that you're using me to get ahead, because you know, if anyone finds out, that's what it will look like."
"Miranda, it's just dinner."
"Dinner, and holding hands, and sitting close, and then coming up for a drink and taking a taxi home in the morning. Tell me that doesn't look like trying to get ahead," I said.
"Wait, Miranda. Did you think I mean? Miranda, I called it a date, but that didn't mean I was planning to eat you as dessert," she said, leaning against the wall.
My eyes shot to hers and I saw the smirk playing with the corner of her lip. "Why? Am I so unattractive?"
"Well, that's a good Katharine Hepburn impression there," she said, "so you do get points for that, but my god, Miranda. Do you think I have so little respect for you?"
"I don't really know what to think about you, Andrea. I thought I knew you, but then realized there was so much I didn't know. And now I'll do whatever I have to in order to keep you from leaving me," I whispered.
She wrapped her arm around my shoulders and pulled me into a hug, pressing our bodies tightly together. "I'm old-fashioned, Miranda. I don't put out on the first date. I want to get to know you, and I want you to get to know me."
"I want that too," I said. My face was pressed into her sweater, and I inhaled deeply, breathing in her scent. "I'm selfish and I'm old, can't you see?"
"In relation to your job, maybe. But you are such a fascinating creature, Miranda. I want nothing more than to get to know you better. I have no intention of ever leaving you unless there's some huge life-changing fight and you never want to see me again. Even then, I don't think I could settle with that. Even if you had a restraining order against me, I couldn't resist calling, messaging, visiting you. I know it sounds like I'm a creepy stalker, but please. Don't cancel on me Sunday. We can do something other than dinner if you'd like. We can call it a non-date if it makes you feel better. I just need to know you'll still talk to me after I leave."
"I've never had a stalker before," I said as my hands roamed across her back. I softly pressed a kiss to her neck. "No one has ever wanted me that muchto see, touch, talk to me."
"Does this mean" she moaned and arched her back as I nipped at her neck again. "Does this mean you're not canceling?"
"Not canceling," I said. "And as I see it, we've been getting to know each other since Paris. That's twenty weeks and two days " I bent my head and gently sucked on her neck, "Or one hundred two working dates " I reached up further, grazing my tongue along the skin behind her ear. "Or over one thousand six hundred hours of getting to know each other," I whispered.
Andrea was panting. I could see I was driving her crazy. I took her chin and let my lips hover over hers. "Let's skip dinner," she said. I could feel her hands tighten around my waist.
"Come to the townhouse Sunday at 18:00. If you still want dinner or something, we can do that. If you don't well, we can do that, too," I said.
Her lips parted and before I could steal a kiss, there was a knock at my door, signaling that the Book was ready. "I should go," she said.
I nodded. She started to walk away, then turned back and picked up my hand, kissing my knuckles softly. "Since we probably won't have time to talk tomorrow, enjoy your time with the girls, and I hope everything goes well with Heidi," she said. "I'll see you on Sunday."
"I'll be waiting," I said.
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