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.
The sound of the elevator doors opening, accompanied by a soft "ding," was quite possibly one of the most welcome noises of the day so far. Except that it was already nearing evening and no longer truly qualified as the day, Miranda supposed, as she entered the small confines of the elevator. She sighed, pushing the button for the lobby. She had promised the girls that she would be on time for dinner, tonight of all nights.
"Hold the doors, please!" The familiar voice was followed by the clacking of heels that hastened to reach the elevator in time.
Before she could consider otherwise, Miranda reached out and pressed the open door button. She took a moment to stare at her hand, as though it belonged to someone else. How odd. It must be the holiday spirit infusing her with this sense of charity, she mused, as she waited impatiently (she wasn't perfect, after all) for the girl to arrive. But as she came into sight, Andrea skidded to a halt just shy of the doors.
"Oh, Miranda!" The silly girl had a wide-eyed stare, like a doe caught in the headlights. "I'm so sorry. I didn't realize it was you." She made a motion to indicate that she would wait for the next lift.
With a suffering sigh, Miranda rolled her eyes. "Get in," she said, her tone dripping with impatience. "You've already held me up this long; do you expect me to wait around forever?"
"N-no, of course not," Andrea hurried into the small space. Her eyes were downcast and she seemed to be making at least a small effort not to fidget. For which Miranda was grateful.
The doors closed and they began to make their descent in easy silence. Until the girl chose to spoil the mood by opening her mouth. "So, are you looking forward to spending Christmas with the twins? I'll bet they're really excited about tomorrow." Here she paused, before continuing. "Do they still believe in Santa? I don't remember if I did at that age."
Miranda merely pursed her lips and remained silent.
"Sorry," Andrea whispered, "I know you don't like people riding in elevators with you, and small talk is really not your thing. I just Elevators make me nervous well, small spaces in general, really, and when I get nervous I have this tendency to babble." She paused. "Kinda like right now." At least the girl had the decency to look sheepish. "Sorry, shutting up."
They passed the next few floors in silence. Miranda watched the numbers light up and then dim with the passing of each floor. Twelve. Eleven. As annoying as the chatter had been, Andrea's question did make her consider an important point. Did the girls still believe in Santa Claus? She thought that they must last year they had devised a plan to keep each other awake so that they could hear the reindeer hooves on the roof, but had ultimately fallen asleep and missed Santa's arrival after all but with the way some of the girls at Dalton talked, she wouldn't be surprised if the secret had been let out of the bag this year. Ten. Nine. Regardless, she wouldn't be the one to ruin the magic. If they requested baked cookies and milk for Santa, she would do her duty and eat a few bites. To maintain the illusion the next morning, of course. Perhaps they'd insist that Santa deserved those delectable double chocolate chunk cookies, she pondered.
As though caught with a naughty secret, she glanced quickly over at Andrea. But the girl seemed to be making a determined effort to keep her eyes fixed straight ahead. She was biting her lip, presumably in an attempt to remain silent. Well, Miranda almost smiled, wasn't that rather adorabl
The elevator lurched. Miranda reached out to keep her balance, grabbing Andrea's shoulder by accident. They both stumbled as the lift jerked again, coming to an abrupt stop. They looked at each other as they righted themselves.
Miranda went to the panel and pressed the emergency button. A faint ring sounded, and they waited. Nothing. She pressed the button again repeatedly. The distant ringing accompanied each jab like an insistent but ultimately impotent appeal, since little else seemed to come of it. She spun around and faced Andrea.
"Fix this," Miranda seethed, in her deadliest tone.
Andrea just nodded, and fumbled in her purse for her phone. Thankfully she still seemed to have reception, and she dialled the number for security.
"Yes, hello, this is Miranda Priestly's assistant." She nodded at whatever was said on the other end, and then blurted, "We're trapped in the elevator."
Miranda could only make out the muffled sound of a voice through the phone, but she could tell it wasn't good news when she saw Andrea frown.
"It'll take how long? At least no, no wait, we can't wait here for two hours, you'll have to get them here sooner." Her voice was taking on an edge of hysteria as she said, "I don't care if an ice storm is shutting down the city, you get that maintenance crew here NOW."
She looked over at Miranda, who was fuming. "Okay, okay look," Andrea pleaded, "Can you please at least call Emily and have her stay with Miranda's children until she gets home?" She paused, then breathed out, "Thank you."
Through her anger, Miranda spared a moment to be impressed at the girl's ability to think on her feet. She watched as Andrea's brow creased in concentration.
"I'm I'm sorry, what? Y-you're cutting out can you just-" Andrea looked at her phone in disbelief, and then glanced up at Miranda. "I lost the signal," she said, earning the prize for most redundant statement of the year.
"This is unacceptable." Miranda began pacing across the tiny space. "The last thing I need is to deal with this sort of incompetence tonight. Is it so difficult to keep these lumbering boxes of mechanical impertinence in working condition, to ensure the safety of the employees who embark on these travesties of altitudinal transport on a daily basis? Is that too much to ask?" Her voice became even softer and more menacing as she continued. "When I get out of here, the maintenance crew had better be prepared to deal with the consequences of this ridiculous situation. A little ice on the roads is hardly an excuse for this massive display of ineptitude. Of all the nights for something like this to"
Suddenly, the lights flickered and went off, which managed to stop Miranda mid-rant. The faint emergency lights kicked on almost immediately, but it took some time for their eyes to adjust in the dimness. Miranda was in shock, poised in stillness while her eyes dilated, before she blurted, "Honestly, this is completely absurd!" And off she went again, ranting about the deplorable state of not only the elevator service industry but also the entire electrical sector.
When she finally ran out of steam, she shut her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. She just needed to stay calm and focused, try to find a way out.
In the ensuing silence, she became aware of a sort of muffled gasping coming from beside her. Slowly, Miranda opened her eyes and fixed her gaze on Andrea, who was bracing herself against the wall, clutching at her chest, and seemed to be trying to suck the entire oxygen supply from the small enclosure into her struggling lungs.
"What on earth are you doing?"
On closer inspection, Miranda noticed the wild look of terror in the poor girl's eyes. She had mentioned a mild claustrophobia, Miranda recalled, eyeing Andrea up and down as the girl's gasps came in quick, short bursts.
How long had she been acting like this? She seemed to be in the final stages of a full-on panic attack, and through all her ranting Miranda hadn't even noticed.
She watched the scene unfold with a vague interest.
Good lord, if the girl kept this up she really would pass out. And Miranda was not prepared to catch her. It was clearly time she intervened before Andrea hurt herself.
Miranda reached out and patted Andrea's back, her arm extended awkwardly. When the brief contact didn't seem to have an effect, she took a step closer. Andrea's eyes, wide and full of fright, locked onto her own.
"There, now," Miranda soothed. She rubbed her hand in gentle circles across Andrea's back, just the way she always did for Cassidy or Caroline if they were feeling ill. Miranda didn't feel particularly maternal towards Andrea, but it seemed she was not completely useless at offering comfort.
"I" Andrea heaved, "n-need a " she gulped back some air, as though she were drowning. " p-paper bag."
Miranda performed a mental inventory of her purse, and of course came up empty. (The last time she had brought a paper bag lunch had been in the fifth grade, at which point she had decided that bagged lunches of any sort were far too pedestrian for her aims).
"Nonsense," she said, ready to make the best of it. "Take deep breaths, in and out." When Andrea seemed to breathe out more than in, Miranda shook her head. "In, Andrea. With me," she coached, and they took a deep breath in together. "Good, now pay attention to the feel of my hand. Ground yourself in the sensation."
Taking her own advice, Miranda focused on the feel of her hand rubbing Andrea's back as it rose and fell in time with their breathing. Even through the soft wool of her coat, Miranda could sense the heat emanating from Andrea. Against her better judgment, she could admit to herself that she was rather enjoying the proximity.
"We can't have you incapacitated, now can we?" Miranda said as she moved her hand up past the collar of Andrea's coat to rub soothingly at the base of her neck. "It would make demanding the impossible and expecting you to find us a way out of here infinitely less fun."
Andrea hiccupped. Was that an attempt at a laugh? Progress, then.
Andrea's breathing began to slow as it matched the rhythmic circles of Miranda's hand on her skin. Her eyes had lost their feverish glint and were now observing Miranda with a hint of fascination.
They both seemed equally surprised by how quickly Andrea was recovering under her touch. Miranda suspected it was likely due to the shock of their physical contact. It was an almost unspoken rule that at work no one ever touched Miranda. Perhaps her employees thought they would turn to stone or some such. The avoidance was never overt, but Miranda, being constantly tuned in to minute details, had observed that the files were always conveniently offered in a way such that there would never be a brush of fingers, the coffee cups always set on her desk rather than passed directly to her.
In fact, Miranda wouldn't be surprised if Andrea thought she was some mirage, a larger than life Wizard of Oz crafted from pyrotechnics and clever lighting, who would turn to smoke at the slightest contact. And now, with one touch, Miranda had exposed the woman behind the curtain.
Miranda stepped away almost abruptly and let her hand fall to her side, rationalizing that Andrea seemed to have regained some semblance of control. She turned away from the probing look in Andrea's eyes and busied herself by removing her jacket and draping it over her arm. At least the building's heating still seemed to be functioning.
"Thank you," Andrea said, almost timidly.
"Of course," Miranda cleared her throat, avoiding eye contact altogether. "What on earth brought that on?" she inquired, stealing a glance at the recovering woman.
"I-I'm afraid of small spaces," Andrea lowered her eyes. Miranda could tell right away that the girl wasn't telling the whole truth.
"Don't be coy," Miranda chided, "You were just fine moments before."
Andrea blushed. "I think it was a combination of everything. It was like it finally hit home, realizing that we were really trapped, and then you were so angry " she trailed off and glanced away before blurting, "I love my job, and I got scared when I thought you were going to fire me."
"Why would I do that?" Miranda asked, exasperated. And then realization dawned. "I see." Her voice hardened. "Because you truly believe me to be a cold-hearted bitch."
Andrea's eyes shot up, startled. "What? No! That's not it at all!"
"Then, pray tell, why would you assume that I would fire you on Christmas Eve for something over which you had no control?"
"Because I couldn't get us out of here. You asked me to do something, and I failed. And you sounded very, VERY angry."
Miranda sighed. "Yes, I was angry. I still am. But not with you. You're no more to blame for this than I am. And my reaction may have seemed extreme, but I believe as humans, we tend to overreact in situations that frighten us. Don't you?" she asked, her voice deepening, low and cadenced, even as Andrea's eyes widened. "That's right, now you see: I am human after all."
Andrea stared at her for a long moment. Miranda watched something change in her expression; it was recognition, an understanding that sparked in her eyes and spread across her face, settling into a tentative smile.
It had been over an hour and Miranda's feet were killing her. Andrea had long since shrugged off her coat and, after a moment's hesitation, laid it on the floor and sat down. Briefly appalled by the disrespectful treatment of the designer coat that had no doubt been solicited from the Closet (she knew for a fact that Andrea could not afford that quality of merino wool on her salary), Miranda had remained standing. Although now she was paying for her stubbornness, as evidenced by the ache in her lower back and the throbbing pain in the soles of her feet.
She glanced down at Andrea, who appeared almost restful, leaning against the wall with her eyes closed. Miranda finally offered a great huff, realizing that her resistance was harming no one but herself. She removed her shoes and made herself comfortable, blithely ignoring the triumphant grin that graced Andrea's features.
"Not a word," Miranda warned, which caused Andrea's grin to grow two-fold. She sighed. The girl was incorrigible.
Miranda couldn't recall when it had begun, but at some point Andrea had had enough of the silence. She was probably just bored out of her mind. They had been trapped for almost three hours by now, well past the time that the elevator technicians had been expected to arrive. The storm must have been worse than they'd anticipated. And so for what felt like an eternity, Miranda had been subjected to the incessant rantings on the materialistic commercialization of the holidays.
" did you notice that all the storefront displays put up Christmas decorations the day after Halloween? I mean, it's insane! Don't you think that's ridiculously too early?" Here she paused, apparently waiting for some form of acknowledgment. Miranda "hm'd" appropriately, briefly wondering whether that made her an enabler.
"I thought you would," Andrea nodded. "It just seems so ludicrous that people have completely divorced the spirituality from the event altogether. All people seem to care about is acquiring things. Buying the latest toys or the flashiest jewellery. And what does it all add up to in the end? Just things. Stuff, even." Was she ever going to take a breath, Miranda wondered? At least the girl was passionate. And cheeky, but Miranda just rolled her eyes at the stuff comment and decided to let it go. "It's indicative of the sad state of our modern society that material wealth is celebrated above all else. Did you know three people got killed on Black Friday this year, in the rush for sales? Three! That's completely deplorable "
And on it went.
Miranda sighed, and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. Give me strength, she prayed to the elevator gods, or whoever might be listening.
Finally, she'd had enough. "Andrea, I think we've heard quite enough of your chattering for one night, don't you?" It came out in her quietest, most scathing tone. Instantly, Andrea was blissfully quiet. Miranda shut her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.
But the relief was short-lived. The silence weighed in a way that Miranda hadn't expected. It was too quiet. She peeked through one barely opened eye. Andrea sat stock-still, staring straight ahead. She looked bored, all of her vibrancy dimmed at just those few harsh words from Miranda. She was loathe to admit it, but Miranda realized that she almost preferred the comfortable banter that was able to flow so easily from Andrea's lips. That ease of communication, the feeling of contentment in another's company, seemed so foreign to her these days. She pursed her lips and eyed Andrea contemplatively.
"Oh, if you must," Miranda relented. It was almost painful to see the radiant smile break out across Andrea's face. "Tell me about your plans for Christmas."
At that, Andrea's features fell slightly. "Well, I had wanted to go home to visit my parents, but well," she trailed off.
"Yes, that evil boss of yours required that you work." She narrowed her eyes. "I'm well aware, Andrea. But I won't apologize for demanding the best from my employees."
"No, of course!" Andrea back-pedalled. Her cheeks had turned a lovely shade of pink. "I don't blame you for making us work. I wasn't implying that at all."
"So you don't think of me as some sort of Scrooge, then?" Miranda asked.
"Miranda, I know better than most the amount of work you put into this magazine, and I respect you for it immensely." Andrea looked her square in the face. "Trust me, you're no Scrooge."
Before a blush could rise in Miranda's own cheeks, she asked, "So in lieu of family festivities, did you have other plans for tomorrow?"
"Big plans," Andrea nodded, and added conspiratorially, "They involved staying in my pj's all day, the sight of which would probably give you a heart attack, and vegging in front of the tv with a microwave dinner."
Miranda was scandalized. "You're not celebrating with friends, at the very least?"
Andrea shrugged, "Well, Doug's gone skiing with his boyfriend and Lily went home for the holidays. And Nate " she broke off and looked sheepish. Curious, Miranda tried to search her memory, vaguely recalling that she had a boyfriend of that name. She felt a well of anger rise from her gut.
"Even your boyfriend wouldn't stay in the city to be with you during the holidays?" she demanded.
Andrea looked surprised by her inquiry, which admittedly came out more fiercely protective than she'd intended. "Well, no," Andrea said. "We sort of broke up. Awhile ago, actually. I'm not even sure why I brought him up." She shrugged. "I guess I still consider him a friend, even though we barely talk anymore."
Miranda's eyebrows rose. "Oh, I see."
"What about you?" Andrea asked conversationally, "What are your plans for Christmas?" She seemed to realize something as her eyes grew wide and she asked, "Oh! Or are you Jewish? How silly of me to just assume "
"No," Miranda replied tersely. "I'm not."
"Oh," Andrea seemed taken aback by her suddenly abrupt tone. "Okay."
Wanting to erase the despondent look on the silly woman's face, Miranda decided to throw her a bone. "The girls and I are going to open presents in the morning and then we'll spend the day preparing our Christmas dinner, a turkey, stuffing, the works." She sighed, "If we ever get out of here, of course."
"That sounds nice," Andrea smiled. "I have a hard time imagining you and the girls cooking, though."
"Oh, it's always quite the production," Miranda chuckled, remembering Caroline's insistence that she be in charge of basting the turkey. Cassidy had promised to make the mashed potatoes, and Miranda could only hope that they weren't quite as liquefied as the last time they'd prepared Christmas dinner together.
"Stephen never liked turkey, can you imagine?" she shook her head, a small frown playing at her lips. "He'd always insist that we go non-conformist, in his words, and sample some pretentiously ethnic cuisine in lieu of the traditional dinner. Last year it was an American bastardization of Ethiopian." She rolled her eyes.
"No turkey?" Andrea looked aghast at the very idea.
"I'm glad on this we agree," Miranda said smugly.
Andrea bit her lip, as though there was something she wanted to say but was unsure of how Miranda would take it.
"Out with it," Miranda demanded.
"Well, I was just wondering how the twins are doing, since Stephen "
"Left?" Miranda finished for her. "They're ecstatic, actually. Once we were officially divorced, they apparently had no qualms about telling me in great detail how little they liked him."
Andrea snorted in laughter. She covered her face with her hand, her eyes widening at her outburst. She searched Miranda's expression for any signs of an impending reprimand, but Miranda was more than happy to let it slide. Truth be told, Miranda had felt rather relieved at Stephen's departure herself, so she could hardly begrudge anyone else's mirth at his expense.
They sat for a few moments in companionable silence.
Eventually, Miranda glanced over at Andrea and said, "I used to be Jewish." She paused, not sure if she would continue. She had never told this to anyone before. Ever. Andrea looked over at her, as if aware that this was a big deal. Apparently Miranda's voice made up its own mind as she heard herself say, "I haven't practiced in decades, but I could probably still recite the Shema if I made an effort."
It was a prayer that she had recited twice every day for the better part of her childhood, immediately after waking and then at night before sleep. She recalled a sense of security that came with the prayer, a feeling of calm certainty that would descend upon her.
"Shema?" Andrea prompted.
Miranda was quiet for a moment. Then she closed her eyes and began to speak. Her voice was no more than a whisper as the cadenced Hebrew flowed from her lips. "Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem ehad. Baruch shem kevod, malhuto le'olam va-ed."
"What does it mean?" Andrea asked, her voice lowered in reverence to the moment.
Miranda took a slow breath, and then said, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is king, the Lord is one. Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity." She looked over at Andrea. "It's a way of reaffirming the oneness of God, a declaration of faith."
Andrea nodded and remained silent, lost in thought. After a time, she spoke up almost timidly, "So, why did you stop believing?"
A shadow darkened Miranda's features. That was one question she would not answer tonight, or any other night. The events leading up to her rejection of God were best left to the deepest recesses of her memory. Instead, she murmured, "All I will say is that any spiritual connection I had was lost long ago."
Andrea blinked, perhaps sensing that she had stumbled upon something of significance, but thankfully she didn't push.
"I chose to raise my children differently," Miranda continued. "We celebrate the Christian holidays because I thought it would be good for them to have some sense of tradition, although there is nothing religious about a man in a red suit who travels by way of flying fauna. I believe you called it a divorce of spirituality." Here she offered a sardonic smile.
Andrea looked suitably contrite. "I'm sorry, that was tactless of me."
"No need," Miranda waved away the apology. "It was entirely true."
Needing to move around, Andrea stood up and stretched her legs. She hopped around a bit, and then leaned back against the wall, propping one leg up behind her.
"My god, look at us! Trapped in an elevator on Christmas Eve." Andrea shook her head. "I mean, could we get any more cliché?"
Miranda thought for a moment. "On the merit of newspapers, although I believe it is quite apt in this situation, Robertson Davies once said that on any morning you could read the paper and find that the plot of Othello had been recreated and re-enacted overnight. So, yes, this may seem cliché, but such is life. Be thankful we're not about to strangle one another." She eyed up her assistant, who was beginning to fidget from the confinement. "Yet."
Andrea snorted in surprise. "Priestly, did you just make a joke?"
Miranda shot her a mock glare and said, "I don't joke, Sachs."
Andrea laughed at getting away with the familiarity and sat back down beside her. They settled into a comfortable silence, and Miranda found her mind drifting as they waited.
Miranda was drawn out of her lethargic state when she felt movement beside her. Andrea pulled off her sweater and blew her bangs out of her eyes.
"Is it just me or is it getting even warmer in here? You'd think with the electricity off, we'd need to find creative ways to keep each other warm, but no such luck." Andrea tugged on her camisole, hoping to fan herself.
Miranda just stared at her in disbelief. Had she really just said that, in such a blasé manner? Before Andrea could catch her staring, Miranda averted her eyes. The girl was only joking, of course, and Miranda couldn't quite be sure why it had struck her as so risqué.
She hazarded another glance in Andrea's direction and her breath caught at what she saw. The girl's eyes were shut, her head leaning back against the wall and exposing her long, slender neck. Miranda felt the temperature rise in her own body when she caught sight of the slightest bead of sweat glimmer down Andrea's throat. It fell down a wandering path along her skin and disappeared just inside the valley of her cleavage.
Miranda gulped, her cheeks flaming red. She wondered, in a reckless moment of abandon, what it would be like to press Andrea up against the doors of the elevator and lick away that bead of sweat. What it would taste like to ravage those lips and how it would feel to rake her hands down her sides, under her breasts. To press a thigh up between her legs and feel her rock forward against her burning skin. She wondered if Andrea would melt at her touch.
Miranda smirked. More than likely, Andrea would file for sexual harassment. As she should. Miranda had some nerve, having such (deliciously) obscene thoughts about an employee. It was completely unacceptable.
It must have been the dwindling oxygen that was affecting her brain. That was it.
"Are you feeling alright, Miranda?"
She was startled from her thoughts. "What?"
"It's just you look a little flushed."
"No," Miranda cleared her throat. "No, I'm quite well. Thank you."
And there it was again. That was the second time that she'd said "Thank you" to the girl, the first being back at that banquet when Andrea had distracted Irv from Stephen's embarrassing rantings, the drunken git.
Miranda shut her eyes, willing her nerves to calm. That was when she felt the lightest brush against a knuckle. She ignored it, assuming that Andrea was just shifting beside her. She felt it again, this time trailing up the back of her hand. Without moving her head, she peeked through one eye, and yes, there were Andrea's fingers, intently roaming across her own. She shut her eyes tightly when she felt one of Andrea's fingers trace along the back of her index finger and then down, into the crevice where her thumb and forefinger met. She repeated this motion, exploring the V between each of her fingers and then circling back to rub soothingly across the back of her hand. Miranda's pinky twitched. That little traitor, she thought. This apparently gave Andrea courage to turn her hand over and repeat the whole process on the inside of her palm, tickling along her life lines. Miranda breathed out deeply.
She was scandalized by how wonderful this felt. A tender, almost loving devotion was being focused entirely on her hand. She chalked up her reaction to the fact that it had been a long time since she had had any real human contact, beyond the hugs and kisses that she received every night from her children.
But the truth of the matter was that this went far beyond missing the simple contact between friends. Her breathing had accelerated imperceptibly and her pulse was racing. When Andrea laced all five fingers between her own and squeezed, Miranda had to bite back a moan.
She finally gained the courage to open her eyes, and found Andrea staring intently at her face. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, before Miranda looked away, ashamed by the vulnerability that was surely blazoned across her features.
They sat like that, hand in hand, simply enjoying each other's company, until they both fell into a restful sleep.
Miranda blinked awake, wincing at the crick in her neck. She glanced down and felt a warm glow at the sight of Andrea, who must have fallen at some point in her sleep to lean against Miranda's shoulder. She was grasping at Miranda's hand, holding it against her chest almost like a teddy bear, and she had just the slightest trace of drool escaping from the corner of her lips.
Miranda flushed at the warmth of Andrea's chest against her hand. She could just barely make out the feel of Andrea's heart beating in a slow, steady rhythm.
With her other hand, Miranda reached out and brushed away the hair that had fallen across Andrea's face. Her fingers lingered against soft cheeks and grazed down to Andrea's jaw. Her thumb caressed, ever so lightly, Andrea's bottom lip, and then dropped reluctantly back into her own lap.
She was startled when Andrea licked her lips and sighed happily in her sleep.
Miranda sat, watching Andrea sleep and trying valiantly not to move, so as not to wake her. She didn't want this moment to end, in which she could be unguarded in her expression as she trailed her gaze over the intricate features of her sleeping beauty. She knew this moment would never be offered to her again, and she cherished it for what it was worth. Eventually, Miranda felt her eyes getting heavy and she allowed herself to drift off once more.
She awoke an hour later when the elevator lurched back to life.
The technicians were of course apologetic, and Miranda considered letting them off the hook in an act of holiday charity, despite her earlier plans to systematically destroy them.
On wobbly legs, she and Andrea walked out into the crisp night, luxuriating in the taste of fresh air. The storm had apparently abated, leaving a white blanket of icy snow that crunched under their feet. Miranda watched mesmerized as Andrea's breath escaped like wisps of smoke as she exhaled into the cold. She smiled at the girl's obvious pleasure, because she could relate; the New York streets had never felt so much like freedom.
They walked side by side, shoulders bumping, neither truly wanting to part ways. After having spent over six hours trapped in close confines with one another, Miranda thought how odd it was that she felt compelled to keep Andrea close. As if, having weathered the crisis together, she couldn't bring herself to leave Andrea's side now that they had finally escaped.
"Well, goodnight," Andrea offered a rather dorky wave and began to walk away. (Reluctantly? No, that was just Miranda's imagination running wild).
Miranda looked at her watch. It was just past midnight. The twins would be angry with her for missing dinner and they were almost definitely asleep by now, but she would still go in and kiss them goodnight. She expected that they'd more than forgive her when they awoke to the pile of presents that awaited them in the morning. She could still salvage Christmas.
She glanced over at Andrea's retreating form, and considered inviting her for Christmas dinner. Like a knight in shining Armani, come to save her from the horrible fate of a lonely microwave dinner. What would it be like, Miranda wondered, sitting around the table like a happy family? Would the twins put aside their sometimes-snarky temperaments and accept Andrea's presence in their home? Miranda had an inkling that Andrea could charm them into behaving. And when Andrea asked her to pass the cranberry sauce, Miranda would allow their fingers to brush, gently and almost imperceptibly. Andrea would bring laughter and light to a meal filled with great food and better company.
Afterwards, perhaps they would adjourn to the living room, to share eggnog by the fire. The girls would suggest playing a board game before bed, and at Andrea's adorable attempt to suppress her eagerness, Miranda would relent. As the girls would squeal in glee at a particularly daft move by their mother (completely unintentional, of course Miranda didn't believe in letting her children win, just to see their bright smiles), Andrea would gaze into her eyes. They would share a smile. It would be warm, like Miranda meant it.
And afterwards, once the girls had been tucked in, Miranda would ask Andrea to stay for another drink. The proverbial night cap. With another smile that held more than the hint of a promise, Andrea would accept
Miranda shook herself out of her fantasy. Against her better judgment, she called out, "Andrea."
The girl turned, her eyebrows raised. "Yes, Miranda?" She had a look of easy confidence, as though she would perform any task that Miranda might ask of her.
Miranda clenched her jaws. She would not take advantage of this girl.
And so all she said was, "Merry Christmas, Andrea."
Andrea gave her a wistful smile. She walked back to Miranda and took her hand. Miranda revelled in the soft feel of her fingers brushing over her wrist. She could smell Andrea's perfume as she leaned forward, but rather than kissing the back of her hand, Andrea turned her wrist at the last moment and placed a gentle kiss on the inside of Miranda's palm. Miranda's breath caught. Andrea's mouth was warm and wet on her palm, and when she felt just the hint of her tongue, Miranda felt both warm and rather wet in other regions altogether. She closed her eyes and barely suppressed a moan.
To a passerby, the scene might have looked slightly odd, but it would have been nothing to cause alarm, nothing earth-shattering. Just another strange quirk of the Dragon Lady, forcing her assistants to worship her by kissing her hand in farewell. No, nothing earth-shattering at all.
Except that it was.
Miranda's knees felt weak. Andrea looked up at her, her eyes burning with want. "You too, Miranda."
And then she turned and walked away. Trembling on the sidewalk, though not from the cold, Miranda was left to watch the retreating form of a bright, joyful young woman, with so much life yet to live. Miranda stood for long moments, even after watching the woman of her thoughts disappear down the subway entrance. She glanced up into the night sky, crystal clear and sparkling with faint stars only somewhat dimmed by the bright city lights, and took deep breaths of the chilly air.
After a time, she heard a soft cough from the side of the road. Roy had pulled up, almost silently in the town car, and was waiting for her. She pulled her coat more tightly around herself and entered through the door that Roy held open for her. She adjusted herself in the seat while Roy walked around to the driver's side, and allowed one brief moment's glance backwards, towards the empty subway entrance.
It was going to be a long winter.
The streetlights glinted off the freshly fallen snow and reflected through the window, causing light to stream and ebb across Miranda's face in a rhythmic pattern as the car glided along the deserted streets. It was almost eerie to have such little traffic driving through the neighbourhoods of the Upper East Side, but a combination of the storm and the late hour ensured their relative solitude. Miranda found it soothing after the emotional turmoil of the night's events.
She was startled out of her thoughts by the chirping of her cell phone. She looked at the caller ID and her eyebrows rose in surprise. It was Andrea.
"Yes?" Miranda answered.
"I got tired of waiting."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Since you seem to have talked yourself out of inviting me to Christmas dinner, I figured I'd have to just invite myself. So you can expect me tomorrow or, I guess today, at about six o'clock. Is that a good time?"
"No later than five," Miranda ordered. "And how you managed to be raised with such manners, inviting yourself to a private family affair, is beyond conceivable. Your mother would be appalled at your behaviour."
"Very likely," Andrea happily concurred. "I'll bring wine."
"Something cheap and completely undrinkable, no doubt."
"Well, you know me, I have a boss that pays peanuts. She's a total Scrooge. But I make do." The girl was insufferable. Just that thought made Miranda infinitely happy.
"How dreadful for you," Miranda murmured in sympathy.
"Isn't it?" Andrea agreed. Her voice softened, "Goodnight, Miranda."
"And to you." As a smile threatened to grace her features, Miranda turned off her phone and gazed out at the passing houses, their steps shrouded in glistening snow.
Perhaps winter wouldn't be so long, after all.
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