DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to my beta Xander, who kept me on track when this story changed courses a number of times during development. Hope you all enjoy!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Brad is so cute, Andy thought. She had to be the luckiest girl in the world. Really. "Don't you look dapper," she said, running two fingers down the lapel of his evening jacket. "Like a million bucks."
"Then you must look like two million. That dress it's stunning. Did you get it with Jasmine when you went shopping yesterday?"
"Uh-huh. You didn't really think I'd attend a dinner party to meet your father and not get a new dress, do you?"
"I hope you put it on my account," Brad said, frowning.
Andy just nodded, and didn't answer further. She hadn't put it on his account, but he didn't have to know. He didn't pay his own bills anyway, so it wouldn't matter. The dress would have been far out of her price range if Brad hadn't done all the spending when they went out, which was nearly every night nowadays. At first she'd protested, begging to go dutch, but when she'd found out how much money he really had in his trust fund, she'd shut right up. Not that she felt that she deserved to be wined and dined, but it was just embarrassing for it to even come up. After all, she'd scraped by for the last year on a cub reporter's salary, and it was nice to be taken care of for a change. A few months of expensive restaurant dinners had saved her hundreds of bucks, every one of which she'd blown on her very nice new dress.
"Do you think he'll like me?"
"Of course he will," Brad scoffed. "You're perfect. What's not to like?"
Andy just grinned. "You know as well as I do that I'm far from perfect."
"Not to me," he said, nuzzling her cheek. "You're wonderful. And he's going to fall for you as hard as I did. But you can't dump me for him, okay? It would kill me to lose such a gorgeous girl to someone as old as my dad."
Andy laughed. "He's not old. He's barely sixty."
"That's old in my book," Brad replied. "I forget that I'm dating an older woman," he teased.
"By a whopping fourteen months. You know I love robbing the cradle," she teased back. "Let me get my bag."
A few minutes later they were in the limo, piloted by Brad's regular driver. Sometimes he reminded Andy of Roy, but she didn't even know this guy's name. He never said a word to either of them, and Brad never made conversation. It was almost as though the man was invisible. It bothered Andy a little, but she didn't feel it was her place to say something. She was just a visitor in this world, at least for now.
Brad's father, Alexander Huntington, ran Atlas, a massive media conglomerate that seemed to be expanding by the minute. Andy had researched it extensively when she and Brad first met a few months back. She'd nearly swallowed her tongue when she realized that Brad wasn't just a regular joe; he was obscenely wealthy. She questioned her decision to agree to a second date, but then decided not to discriminate over money. Since then, Andy had fallen headlong into a world of privilege and power. To her utter surprise, she liked it. Everyone was nice, and beautiful, and never in a hurry.
It was a far cry from her real life. Her day job did not match her nights out, and for the moment, she was content to keep the two separate.
For many months after her last job, the name of which she didn't usually say to herself even in her own mind, she worked longer hours than ever. Partially because she was lonely, and partially because she was driven. She didn't typically go out except to pick up food, and she often ate alone. Working so much damaged many of her old friendships, though she occasionally saw Lily or Doug when she got an evite for one event or another. Work became Andy's life, and for a while, that was enough.
But then she met Brad, and despite her best judgment, she cut back on her hours. Her mother was thrilled. "Oh honey, you're so young," she'd said. "You shouldn't be at the office so much. Go out with him and have fun for a change. I worry about you, sweetheart. I want you to be happy." And so, Andy spent more and more time with Brad. She realized it was just fun to go places with him, and sometimes his friends. They had accepted her without question, because Brad liked her. And she got along well with Jasmine, his sister. When Brad wasn't available for dinner, Jasmine was her back-up date. Eventually she felt human again.
But it was hard to reconcile the experience with the day to day life at the paper. She wondered if Brad would be willing to spare some capital for The Mirror, since he was always looking for investment opportunities. The paper could use a cash infusion, and pronto. She thought her job might last another six or eight months, but probably not much longer. They were in trouble, and she could see it written on John's face. Often.
But she wasn't going to worry about her job tonight. She glanced at Brad with a sigh. He was so cute.
They pulled up to the curb, and Brad helped her out of the car. "Ready to face the firing squad?"
Andy laughed. "Oh, you've got nothing to worry aboutit's not like you're meeting anyone for the first time. And old guys like me, even rich ones. I've got a great rack, you know," she joked.
He eyed her chest and raised an eyebrow. "You certainly do. Just don't flaunt it too much. I don't want to get jealous. I've got enough trouble keeping my friends away from you."
She smiled and slipped an arm under his before they went inside.
In truth, her heart was pounding a little harder than usual. Huntington was one of the richest, most powerful men in the country. She'd be a fool not to be concerned, and Andy was no fool. But she put on a serene expression and tried to look confident. She'd learned from the best that putting on a good show, even when things were crumbling, could get a person through the toughest situations.
Inside, the décor was pleasantly restrained. It was not a palace, Andy was relieved to find, but it reeked of expensive designers who had placed everything just so. Andy heard voices coming from the other room, and she swallowed convulsively. With a deep breath, she stepped into the dining room, lit by an enormous, glittering chandelier. Three people turned toward her, and Andy recognized Brad's father immediately. His smile was easy and handsome, similar to the one Brad was sporting at that very moment. He came forward and held out a hand.
"Bradley, welcome. You must be Annie?"
"Andy, sir, Andy Sachs."
"Ah, my apologies. Lovely to meet you, Andy." Bradley shook his son's hand firmly. "Beautiful girl, my boy. If she's as smart as she is attractive you're in for it."
"Oh, she is, Dad. You just wait. She'll charm your socks off."
"I look forward to it. Let me introduce you to my sister." Alexander led her across the room, and Andy grasped the tall woman's hand lightly. "Millicent and her husband Phillip are on their way to see a show. Where is it, at the Minskoff?"
Phillip shrugged before reaching out to shake Andy's hand. "I can never keep track. Pleased to meet you, Andy."
Alexander clapped Phillip firmly on the shoulder. "Phillip's on the board of the Danner Corporation. They're doing very well these days."
"How nice," Andy said, trying to mask her frown. She was not a fan of oil companies, and she'd done a story only a few months ago about the discriminatory policies of Danner and other similar corporations.
Brad stepped in. "Jazz is on her way, I assume, right, Dad?"
"She is, or at least she'd better be, because I wanted her to meet someone."
Andy turned to Brad, who looked confused. "Who's that?" Brad asked.
"I've been seeing someone. I thought you might like to meet her."
Brad got a huge grin on his face, and shook his head. "You dirty dog. And here I thought you were just working late every night these days. Where's the lucky lady?"
"On the phone. She'll be--ah, there we are." He nodded toward the doorway, and Andy turned to see who it was.
She blinked once, very deliberately, as time slowed in a way she thought only happened in the movies. Her vision tunneled, and she was unable to draw breath.
She stared, eyes wide, and fortunately her heart chose that moment to begin beating again. In triple time. She wished Brad were a little closer, so she could lean on him.
When Miranda caught her eye, for that single unguarded moment, Andy saw one of the most honest reactions she'd ever observed in her former boss. It was pure surprise, not unhappy, but confused. As though perhaps she thought she'd returned to the wrong room, stumbled through a magical door into an alternate universe. But the look vanished swiftly, and her gaze moved from Andy to Alexander. Shaking her hair back off her cheek, Miranda said, "Crisis averted. Honestly, the incompetence of my staff consistently amazes me. Although they have improved drastically over the last year," she said, eyeing Andy.
Andy couldn't stop her grin. The tone, so derisive, was practically comforting.
At that moment, she realized that as much as she didn't want to believe it, she'd missed Miranda. Missed her complete and utter certainty that she was in the right at all times. Missed her confidence, her arrogance, her disdain for imperfection. Her brilliance. Her luster, like a diamond that sparkled even in the darkest room.
There were days that Andy had hated Miranda Priestly so much it felt as though her blood had literally boiled. She had cursed her boss's name, and the names of her two evil children, more times than she could count. Once, she'd wished that Miranda would drop off the face of the earth, never to return.
But now, here, she felt glad. Seeing Miranda felt good. More than. Her smile grew, and she had to look away before she laughed outright.
"Son, this is Miranda Priestly. She's editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, not that you've read it." Brad held out a hand, and Miranda put on her syrupy smile, the one that Andy remembered her using with Jacqueline Follet.
"Charmed, Ms. Priestly," Brad said, kissing her hand.
Alexander nudged Andy forward. "And this is--"
"Andrea," Miranda purred, saying it in that funny, snobbish way that Andy had enjoyed so much. Some things never change, Andy thought.
"Hi Miranda." She didn't know if she should shake hands, or air kiss, or what, so she simply waited.
Miranda didn't move either. To Andy's surprise, when they locked eyes again, Andy felt caught. Her guts churned. Miranda still had the power to affect her physical being to the point of sickness. She'd always made Andy nervous, all the way up to the end. Andy's system was unused to that tension nowadays, and she trembled, feeling a little green.
Andy had no idea how much time passed before Bradley said, "You two know each other?"
The string that tied her gaze to Miranda's was broken then, and Andy sighed in relief.
"Yes," Miranda began. "Andrea worked for me. At Runway."
"Andy Sachs, crusader for the rights of the poor and oppressed, worked for the number one fashion magazine in the world?" Brad questioned. "How has this never come up in the last three months? You haven't even mentioned it! Hell, I know all about what it was like working for that rag at Northwestern, but I love that you left this little tidbit out." Brad shook his head affectionately and put an arm around her. "You really are something, you know that?"
Andy shrugged. She looked back at Miranda for an instant, but Miranda had turned away.
Dinner was unnerving.
Miranda hardly looked in her direction. In fact, she didn't speak to Andy once.
Alexander did, inquiring as to how Andy liked being a reporter, how the paper was doing with the economy in this state. Andy brushed off his concern, knowing all the while that the entire operation was on the verge of folding. It was so hard to stand up to a lion like The Times and a hyena like The Post. As they discussed it, Miranda met her eyes briefly, and Andy told herself she imagined the look of disbelief, and perhaps sympathy, as Andy spoke.
What made the night worse was that Jasmine, whom Andy had been counting on to run interference, didn't even show up. She called after the first course was served, pleading a last-minute date with a guy she "absolutely had" to go out with. Far as Andy was concerned, that guy had better be George Clooney. Otherwise, Jasmine had no excuse.
Brad didn't notice that Andy was uncomfortable, and Andy didn't bother telling him. He was his typical self, relaxed and jovial, and attentive of course. He made sure her glass of wine was filled, and that she had all she wanted to eat. Not that Andy could eat much. Not in front of Miranda.
Especially when Alexander was equally as attentive to Miranda as Brad was to her.
That sick feeling in Andy's stomach came back with a vengeance. She'd never been repulsed by anyone so nice before, but Alexander seemed whipped. He pampered Miranda. He catered to her every whim. He even kissed her neck once, and Andy was horrified. She had no idea where all these sensations were coming from, but her forehead and lower back felt damp.
"Tell us what it was like to work for Miranda, Andy," Alexander said when dessert was served. "She has quite the reputation, you know. Very difficult," he teased.
Andy waved away the plate that loomed over her shoulder. She couldn't even consider the chocolate mousse that normally would have remained on her plate for less than two minutes. "Oh," Andy said breathlessly, "it was fun. An exceptional experience." Well, that's true, she thought. Except for the fun part.
Miranda's eyebrow flew north. "Fun?" she drawled. "You can be honest, Andrea. We're amongst friends." Miranda turned toward Alexander. "Andrea found me unethical, not to mention impossible to work for. Did you know she abandoned her post in the middle of Paris Fashion Week?" Her gaze returned to Andy's, the movement of her head robotic. "In the midst of one of the most exciting events of the year, she walked away. I've always wondered, Andrea. Why did you do that?"
Andy swallowed, and Brad put a hand on the back of her chair.
"I asked you a question, Andrea. Why did you walk away? I could have ruined you, you know." Her voice was light and sweet. Soft. So soft that it could smother her to death and she wouldn't even notice.
Across the table, Alexander was speechless, mouth open just enough to reveal his shock.
"And when you left, you wanted to believe I had at least a shred of decency about me, didn't you." Miranda tilted her head. "It's not true, of course. I didn't find your skills irreplaceable enough to want to preserve them exclusively for Runway. If you wanted to run off to a failing newspaper that will undoubtedly suffer layoff after layoff until the whole thing fades away, that's your prerogative, of course." Miranda sipped her champagne delicately, turning to Brad. "I gave Andrea a recommendation for her new position, against my better judgment. Before tonight, I thought I had made a mistake in doing so, that she would have been better off leaving the city long ago, so she wouldn't have to experience such a failure. Such disappointment. She really is so sensitive to disappointment, aren't you Andrea?"
Andy could not believe what she was hearing, but only one thing stood out in her mind. "You mean you actually thought of me once or twice after I quit?" Andy laughed bitterly. She was on the verge of tears, astonished at the pain Miranda's words caused. "You actually spared a single moment of thought for someone other than yourself?" Andy threw her napkin down on the table. She wanted to run. Far away, fast. But she would not give Miranda the satisfaction. "Oh by the way, how's Nigel?" She grabbed Brad's dish of mousse, ignoring the ugly scrape of glass against the china. Silver spoon in hand, she scooped up the largest bite she could manage and shoveled it into her mouth.
Miranda did not reply, but her lips pursed. Bingo. He was still at Runway and under her thumb; Andy was sure of it.
Andy swallowed the chocolate without tasting it. "So he hasn't found a new position, I take it. Still cleaning up your messes for you. Poor guy. You know, Miranda, everybody loves you, though I have no idea why. You of all people shouldn't have to force people to work for you to keep friends. Because when someone's afraid of you, they're not really your friend."
Miranda snarled. "You ungrateful little--"
"Oh can it, 'Dragon Lady'--" Andy shouted over her.
"Ladies!" Alexander called, cutting off the both of them.
The room went silent. Andy could not take her eyes from Miranda's, transfixed by the frozen pools of blue flame. Her heart raced within her chest.
And then Andy remembered where she was, and who she was with. Embarrassment flooded her, and her face went red.
If she didn't have much of a career going on right now, she certainly wouldn't have one after tonight. She turned to Brad, who had a look on his face that she'd never seen before. She had no idea what it meant. Miranda, meanwhile, sat back in her chair and seemed as surprised as any of them. She blinked quickly, as though waking from of a daydream.
"Ladies," Alexander repeated, more softly this time. "I think perhaps you two have more to talk about than you suspected. Bradley, why don't you come with me and we'll have some sherry in the study, all right?"
"Come along, son," Alexander said, and Brad followed him out of the room after a hopeless shrug in Andy's direction.
They were alone. Andy looked at the dish of mousse, half-gone. She hoped she wouldn't throw up. But she couldn't say it. She couldn't apologize. You started it, she thought. You first. But Miranda did not open her mouth. She simply stared at the wall, gaze vacant.
Andy gave in, as she knew she would. "How did you know about The Mirror?" she said softly. "John keeps things close to the vest."
Miranda snorted. "I work in the industry. I've known for some time."
"How long does it have, do you think?"
"If things continue as they are, a year at most."
Andy turned away. She'd get another job; she had plenty of connections, especially now. But there were writers, editors, assistants, who had been working in the same position for fifteen years. Where would they go? How would they manage?
"Don't be so maudlin," Miranda said. "You'll be fine."
Andy chuckled. "I know. But John's 54 with three girls on their way to college. What about him?"
Miranda looked surprised, again. "Oh," she said. "Well, he'll survive. People do."
"Easy for you to say," Andy said bitterly.
"Don't think for a second that I don't know what it is to struggle, Andrea. I do." Miranda seemed to want to say more, but she bit back her words. After pausing, she said, "I'll give you a piece of advice. If you want to rescue the 'poor and oppressed' from whatever it is they need rescuing from, save yourself first. Use the skill and intelligence you've ostensibly been blessed with to help those around you keep their jobs. For god's sake, do something. Then you can worry about everyone else."
Andy stared at Miranda. Everything she said made sense. She couldn't believe she hadn't thought of it herself. She'd been so busy being depressed and uncertain about her career that she'd forgotten that she'd once been an innovative thinker who once solved problems on a daily basis. Sure they might have been small problems in the scheme of things, but it all worked the same way. Didn't it? "Wow," Andy said.
Miranda set her napkin on the table. "I think that's enough then."
Andy had a lot to consider, but there was one thing she wanted to make clear. "I don't really want to apologize."
Miranda's face didn't change. "I don't expect an apology. And I won't deliver one, either."
"Oh. Well, good." Her lips twisted, and the words came spilling out. "And by the way, you know very well why I left Runway."
With a sigh, Miranda placed both hands on the table and inspected her nails. "Perhaps. I thought there was more to it than that, but I suppose I could have been mistaken." Eyes narrowing, Miranda said, out of nowhere, "Do you plan to marry Bradley?"
Andy inhaled. "No! I um It's only been a few months. I don't know him that well." She thought for a moment. "Will you marry Alexander?"
Miranda licked her lips. "I haven't decided. He's surprisingly good-natured for someone so wealthy."
"He sure seems to like you," Andy prodded.
Andy frowned. "This is weird."
"I guess we should try to get along?"
"Indeed." Miranda stood, and Andy echoed the action. As they walked into the hallway, Miranda looked over her shoulder. "Don't you want to take your dessert with you? You certainly seemed involved with it before. Not that I'm surprised," she said, eyes traveling down Andy's figure.
Andy just smirked. "Glad to see some things don't change. You still look great."
Miranda glanced in the mirror as they passed it. "Of course I do."
Choking back a laugh, she followed Miranda into the study. Alexander lounged comfortably, twirling brandy in a glass. Just to complete the cliché, Brad smoked a cigar in a club chair across from him. "Has there been a détente?" Alexander asked.
Miranda chuckled. "For now," she answered, voice low and silky.
The hair on Andy's arms rose. She sat on the arm of Brad's chair, weak. "Everything's fine," Andy managed.
Brad took her hand and squeezed it. "Why don't you have a sherry, sweetie? And how about you, Miranda?"
Miranda nodded, and Andy found herself drifting to the sideboard to pour two night caps. She carried one to Miranda and handed it over; a peace offering.
Apparently Miranda felt the same way, since she tapped her crystal glass against Andy's in a wordless toast.
Monday morning, Andy booked a meeting with John. That meeting led to another meeting with their extremely under-staffed marketing department, which led to yet another meeting with an outside marketing agency willing to work for small potatoes.
The following week, Andy decided it was time that the Mirror's website had its own society page. At their weekly staff meeting, John just looked skyward and nodded. Said page would be populated with one-of-a-kind, exclusive candids shot by someone who attended nightly events around the city as an inside member of the glitterati rather than a wannabe. When the site launched, the photo credit was a pseudonym, but everyone within certain circles knew that Andy Sachs now had two jobs.
One night at Le Cirque with Bradley, she spotted Miranda at a table with Donna Karan and Caroline Herrera. Though she was nervous, she unearthed the Sony Finepix she carried every second of the day in her bag and gathered her courage. "You sure?" Brad asked, recalling the vitriol spat across the dinner table not so long ago.
"Might as well," Andy said, and stood.
As she got closer to their table, a manager approached her and whispered, "No photos, please."
Andy sighed, but smiled cheerily. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
"Pierre," a voice called, and the manager turned toward it. "It's all right," Miranda said, waving a hand as though brushing away a fly.
Pierre raised his eyebrows. "Hmm." He looked at Andy. "I suppose you are the exception."
Andy's heart thudded noisily in her chest as she waved at three of the most influential women in the fashion world. "Take your time," Miranda said to her. "This is undoubtedly the highlight of my evening. If not week."
The dry tone shifted Andy into gear, and she raised the camera. She took a series of quick shots as the women chatted; they were old hats at being photographed naturally in the most unnatural of settings. And Andy, of all people, knew how rare this opportunity was. Miranda did not like having her picture taken.
This was a crime in Andy's book.
Tonight Miranda looked smashing, strings of pearls drawing attention to cleavage only hinted at by a dark green blouse. Andy was exceptionally fortunate to catch a shot of Miranda looking directly at the camera lens. She wasn't smiling exactly, but her expression made Andy's stomach go pleasantly warm.
The next day when going over the images with her designer, she did not include that photo in the gallery, despite vociferous protests. "Come on, Andy. Nobody gets anything but paparazzi shots of Miranda these days. She's practically fallen off the map. Please?"
"Any of the other ones are fine. Not this one."
"But those are more profile shots--"
"I make the editorial decisions, Jimmy. No."
Andy kept the photo in its own special place on her hard drive, buried down two levels in a drafts folder that she rarely opened. She did not ask herself why she did this. Nor did she mention it to Brad, with whom things were going smoothly. Aside from the fact that she spent more time with him out on the town than at home, in private.
Not that they'd had much opportunity to have a great deal of sex at the beginning of their relationship; Andy had always worked crazy hours, and Bradley was very understanding. Now, with Andy as eminent photographer-about-town, she was more exhausted than ever. Most nights when they arrived at his apartment on West 71st, she'd dropped off to sleep by the time he'd finished brushing his teeth. Most mornings, she was out the door before he was even awake.
But she was happier than she'd been in a long time. The mood in the newsroom had brightened since Andy's new scheme was put into practice. Even John was perkier, and she found out why about two months after her first dinner at the Huntington home.
In his office, John steepled his hands together, and Pete's typically cheerful face was blank. "Andy, I got a phone call from sales this morning."
Now she was nervous. "Oh?"
"You know the traffic has been climbing. But last week your gallery broke some records. Pete heard from Bluefly, and they want to sponsor the society section of the site."
Andy's mouth dropped open. "You're kidding."
He shook his head.
"A hundred and fifty K for a 60 day campaign."
The numbers meant nothing to her, but it sounded okay. "Is that good?"
Pete watched her steadily. "It's more than the site brought in during all of last year."
She bobbed her head. "Cool."
John chuckled and smacked his palm against his forehead. "Listen, I'm not going to tell you that you've suddenly saved the paper, but this Andy, this is big. I fought it for a long time, and you know why. Celeb news is bullshit and it distracts from the real stories we're trying to tell. But if pictures of Lindsay Lohan and her girlfriend having brunch at Balthazar can keep this paper in business for a little longer, I don't fucking care."
Holy shit, Andy thought. It's working. "That's fantastic, John. I don't know what to say."
"Tell me you're going out tonight with your camera."
She giggled. "And my boyfriend."
"Good. Go make us some cash, and when I can start paying you for doing two jobs, I will. Promise. And oh yeah, I need your copy on the rezoning by 2."
"You got it, boss." Andy left his office and wanted to strut back to her desk, but she kept her head down. She felt incredible. Like the most powerful woman in the world. She picked up her phone, but found herself wanting to call the only person who probably wouldn't want to hear from her.
So instead, she called her mother, who hooted and hollered over the phone and promised to have her dad call later to congratulate her. That night, Brad smiled proudly and kissed her. She pressed her lips to his, and if there was a little less zing than there usually was between them, she didn't mind so much.
A few weeks later, Brad invited her to his father's house again for dinner on a Saturday night. Andy was thrilled, and made sure to buy another new dress. When Brad told her it was a party, Andy didn't ask if Miranda would be there. She just hoped so.
She wasn't disappointed.
When Andy entered the large conversation space (she called it "The Ballroom" in her head), Miranda was already holding court. The group was a mix of ages, and it was nice not to be the youngest person in the room for a change. Andy glanced around for Miranda's evil twins, but they were nowhere to be found. She sighed in relief.
"Hey," Brad said from behind her. His hand slid around her back possessively, and he kissed her ear.
"Hey, handsome. How was the board meeting?"
Andy laughed. "Only someone on the board side of a board meeting would say that. I hope you were nice." Brad had invested a fair amount of capital in a web start up, and he attended the monthly meetings like clockwork.
"I'd be nicer if they were closer to breaking even, but it's going all right."
"I'm glad." She glanced across the room. "I see your dad's still hanging around with the White Queen."
"Yeah. He really digs her. She strikes me as a little cold though."
"You're not the only one." But Andy didn't feel cold when she watched Miranda. She couldn't wait to tell her all the good things that had been happening.
As guests filtered in for the evening, Andy tried to get close to Miranda, but Brad always trailed after her. Once, Andy spotted Miranda looking in her direction, but she turned away and laughed at something someone said. Andy felt both bereft and thrilled. Bereft, because she wanted to be standing in the circle of her light, and thrilled because Well, Miranda thrilled everyone. Didn't she?
At that point, Andy decided not to even bother to make another attempt. It didn't matter; she was sure that Miranda didn't recall much of their earlier conversation aside from the fact that Andy had humiliated herself by losing her temper. She was resigned to sending out silent gratitude, and spending the evening chatting with Brad and Jasmine.
"Did you bring your camera, Andy?" Jasmine asked. "I want to be in your gallery tomorrow."
"Yeah, but I didn't want to push my luck," she replied.
"Oh, come on. Everybody here's waiting. I know for a fact that Janie Boudreaux picked up delete those shoes specifically so you'd shoot her. I think she expects Jimmy Choo himself to dump samples on her if she's seen around town in them."
Andy rolled her eyes. "I was hoping to, you know, eat dinner tonight. I can't tell you how many meals I've missed because I've been working a room."
"Oh, life is tough for our little photographer, isn't it," Jasmine said, and Andy tried to ignore the tremor of irritation she felt at Jasmine's blasé manner.
Jasmine had been born into wealth; she'd never experienced the soul-sucking fear of not making rent, or the shame of having to beg her dad to supplement a month or two of student loan payments. Brad had recently taken some of the burden from Andy's shoulders, but those memories lingered just under the surface. Occasionally she was angered by her own inability to forget how hard it was to be broke, but amidst such opulence, it was difficult.
It's not Jasmine's fault, Andy reminded herself. "Maybe I'll just grab a few before we sit down. Less work later, right?" And it would be nice to have a moment to collect herself, away from Brad and his sister. She retrieved one of the two new cameras she'd purchased for work. The tiny Canon was for small gatherings like this one, and the fancier SLR was for nights when holding a camera wasn't so obtrusive. Since she'd bought it she'd had to eschew the only Balenciaga to her name, going with a larger Marc Jacobs knock-off she picked up on Canal Street.
As she made her way around the room, she realized she should have brought the nicer camera. Everyone seemed to gravitate toward her to pose, even waving at her to take varied group shots. Somehow Andy had crossed over into this echelon, and the daughters and sons and wives and husbands of the city's power players (and the occasional players themselves) found it natural to be the center of her attention.
Alexander even offered to pose with Brad, and Andy took full advantage. As she clicked away, Alexander said, "You're like a local Leibowitz, Andy. I had no idea of your talent."
She laughed. "Talent? I just point and shoot." She tilted her head, and moved a little to the left.
Alexander frowned. "That's not true. I've seen your work, and it's garnering a lot of buzz. Why do you think everyone's flocking to you? If you were just taking pictures, you'd have a lot more trouble. But all the ladies say you get their best angles, so I assume you'll do the same for me." He stood a little straighter. "How's this?"
While she was trying to process what he'd told her, she said, "A little stiff. Just chat with Brad for a minute and we'll be done."
"I bow to the master," Alexander teased, and did as she asked.
A few minutes later, dinner was served, and Andy pocketed her camera. Taking Brad's arm, she entered the dining room and sat near the end of a long, gorgeous dinner table. To her dismay, Miranda was at the opposite end with Alexander. But Brad and Jasmine kept her company, and the wine flowed freely. After working her way through five courses, she felt a little tipsy, and consequently a little happier than usual.
When dinner was over, everyone retired to the parlour for after-dinner drinks and coffee. "Decaf, please," she asked the server, who filled her cup generously. But as soon as she put the cup down, she decided to visit the powder room. "Be right back," she told Brad, and wound her way through the maze of halls to the enormous bathroom. She did her business, and looked at her reflection in the mirror as she washed her hands. "Not bad," she said to herself, though there were some dark circles under her eyes that could use some concealer. Late nights and early mornings were not doing her any favors.
When she stepped out of the bathroom, Miranda was walking toward her. Andy's heart leapt forward. "Miranda," she breathed, "I'm so glad to see you."
"Really," Miranda said flatly. "I'd say you've been avoiding me like the plague."
Miranda took a breath. "You spent half an hour taking pictures of every single person at this party except me. Shouldn't I read something into that?"
"II didn't want to make you uncomfortable. It's just that--I know you hate having your picture taken. You already posed for me a few weeks ago, and Oh, Miranda, I would have loved to shoot you. Er, take your picture."
That brought something resembling a smile to Miranda's face. "Shoot me. I'm sure that's not the first time someone's wanted to do such a thing."
Andy giggled, and covered her mouth. She cleared her throat. God, she shouldn't have had that last glass of wine. "Um, anyway, I didn't want to bother you. But I'd love it. I mean, it's because of you that I'm even doing this."
"YeahI talked to John about bringing in more society news to the website, because that's hugely popular according to this research study I read, and I started taking pictures, and would you believe we got a sponsor after only two months? John said we've made more money already than we did all last year. On the site, I mean. And, well, I followed your advice. I don't know how much good it will do, but I did something. Because of you." She was babbling now; she had to dial it down. "So, just, thank you. You didn't have to, but you really helped me." And because the wine had removed some of Andy's good sense, she lurched forward and wrapped her arms around Miranda in a hug.
It took only a millisecond for Andy to realize she'd made a considerable error in judgment, but it was too late now; Miranda was in her arms, and she smelled good; really good. So good that Andy leaned even closer to inhale the unique combination of perfume, shampoo and skin that still lingered in her brain after all this time.
Miranda's hands, oddly, came around Andy's back and held her, and Andy sighed before she moved away. Unable to stop herself, she brushed her lips against Miranda's cheek, and there was a sharp little gasp. Heat flooded Andy's body when she heard the sound, and she stepped back a few inches. Miranda's face was frozen, but there were two spots of color on her cheeks. Andy's breath quickened when she felt the energy arcing between them; she shivered under the warmth of Miranda's touch.
"Oh," she whispered.
Miranda shook her head once. Her mouth opened but no sound came out.
"Ah, there you are," Andy heard someone say behind Miranda. Alexander sauntered toward them in the dark hallway. "I was wondering where two of my two favorite ladies had gotten to."
Andy stepped away and swallowed, afraid to even look at Miranda for fear of blushing hard enough to make her head explode. "Hi, Alexander."
Miranda smoothed her hair behind her ear and turned. "Hello darling," she said to him, and Andy's stomach clenched. "Andrea was just telling me of the success of her latest venture."
"Yes, I know all about it. You should let her take your picture. She's quite impressive."
"So I've heard," Miranda said, finally meeting Andy's gaze. "We'll see."
"Ha," Andy said. "Um, I'm just, uh, going to get back to Brad. Thanks again, Miranda." She rushed away, pausing in an empty hallway to catch her breath.
"Oh, shit," she said to herself. "Oh, no."
The next day, Andy's fingers trembled as she clicked through the images from the party.
"You hungover?" Jimmy asked from over her shoulder.
"You're a little twitchy today."
"Oh, no. Just tired."
Jimmy leaned a little closer. "These are great, Andy. You're sort of awesome at this. Have you taken any classes?"
"No," she replied off-handedly, still looking at the computer screen. She'd found the shots of Brad and Alexander, and staring at the jpegs, she thought perhaps Jimmy was right. He needed to clean them up and work his Photoshop magic on a few, but even so, they were good. "Just lucky, I guess."
"You have an eye for this stuff. I thought so that first week. Some of these are good enough to show up in a fashion magazine. Didn't you work for one of them? Glamour or something?"
"Runway," she replied. She peered into Brad's face on the screen; he was so handsome, so like his father. She really liked him. She thought she might be able to love him. He was everything she wanted in a guy, with the added bonuses of wealth and privilege. Not to mention the fact that she could bring home to her parents, who would adore him.
And then she thought of that moment in the dim hallway, the scent of Miranda so tantalizing. The sound of her breath "Oh, shit," she mumbled.
"Hey, you okay? You look pale."
Gotta stay focused. Keep your mind on the work. Everything's fine. "I'm good. Let's get started."
That night, she cancelled her dinner with Brad. She deliberately held some of the best shots from the party for the rest of the week's updates in case she didn't have much to offer. She thought she might be in need of a break from the nightlife.
And everything else.
It was dark, but Andy sensed who was there, rubbing up against her.
"Andrea, I need you to do this for me," Miranda whispered.
"Oh, god, Miranda, not this," Andy pleaded.
"Yes, Andrea. Don't you want to keep your job? Bradley will be so disappointed if you can't follow through."
"I don't want to."
"Yes, you do," Miranda said, capturing her mouth in a searing kiss.
Andy moaned. Her head felt like it was on fire, and the flame inched down her chest and lower, till she burned between her legs. "Miranda, please," Andy whimpered.
"That's right, I like that." Miranda's hand hovered above where Andy needed it most. "Beg me to touch you."
"Uh-uh. I don't want this."
"You do. And don't forget to deliver my steak tomorrow afternoon."
"No! I hate steak. I've always hated steak."
"I don't care. You'll get it for me and you'll like it."
"Come along, Andrea. You owe me this much, wouldn't you agree?"
Andy thought she might die if Miranda didn't touch her. Would it really be so bad? "Oh fine, just do it."
"And remember, Andrea, I want it rare. Pink and dripping with juices."
Andy opened her thighs and Miranda's mouth descended.
She came with a howl, the sound of which woke her immediately from the dream.
When she realized where she was, Andy was relieved to be alone. Her hand was in her underwear, and her t-shirt was stuck to her very sweaty back. "Oh, shit."
In the morning, Andy decided to ignore the attraction. It was that simple.
She'd done it before; there were plenty of unfulfilled crushes in her past. She would survive.
The fact that it was Miranda was unfortunate. Even more unfortunate was Miranda's status as Alexander'sgirlfriend? Companion? Lover? Andy cringed. Brad could never know, and neither could anyone else. It would be easy enough to keep the secret, considering she didn't have any friends close enough to share the news with. It occurred to her that she was somewhat isolated these days. Friends and family had fallen by the wayside since she joined the Mirror's staff, and even more so since she started seeing Brad. Her mother wasn't complaining though; she loved the weekly stories Andy delivered over the phone, and poured over every update of her photo gallery.
"Honey, why aren't you in any of the pictures?" her mother had asked the other day.
"Because I'm behind the camera, Mom. I can't be in both places at once."
"Get someone else to take one of you some day. I'd like to see you on the website if I can't see you in person."
Andy had laughed, but silently swore she wouldn't appear on her own site. It was weird enough that she was covering the society beat, and if felt as though soon she wouldn't have time to cover local news anymore. John wasn't exactly pushing her away from it, but he wasn't handing her the same kinds of assignments either.
That night, she was supposed to meet Brad at the Met for a performance of "Tosca," and she was looking forward to it. She only had to work before the show, since they didn't allow cameras into the theatre. Her dress was hanging on the back of the door so she wouldn't forget it, and the rest of her accoutrements were packed and ready. Ah, the glamorous life of the not-so-rich and even-less famoushauling clothes and shoes around the city so she wouldn't have to haul ass back to her apartment to change.
Halfway through the day, John approached her desk. He had a look on his face that was becoming familiar to her; he wanted something, and she was probably not going to like it. She raised an eyebrow. "Just say it fast and get it over with," she joked.
"So, I was on the phone with Ralph, and he thought it might be a great addition to the site if you kept a blog--"
"No," she said with absolute certainty.
"It's not much different from the gallery--"
"Andy, people want more--"
"But you've already got an in at all the parties--"
"And my access would disappear as soon as I said a word, good or bad, about anyone at all. I don't want to be Cindy Adams, John. Why isn't the gallery enough?"
"It's great, but we still need to grow the business, and we're certain we'll get another sponsor to pony up more cash if we've got more in-depth stuff coming in."
Andy frowned. "You mean gossip."
"Of course I mean gossip!" John hissed, clearly flustered. "We're in trouble, Andy. You started thisit's on you to--"
Andy stood up, eyes flashing. "Don't do this, John. Seriously."
"Listen, you're a huge asset to the paper whether you're covering news or entertainment. We want to keep you. There's a sizable raise in it for you if you'll write a column, even weekly. We think it's in your best interest to--"
"You mean your best interest. Christ, John, three months ago you never would have asked this of me."
John dipped his chin. "Three months ago I wasn't facing seven layoffs." His voice was low, and he glanced around after he said the words.
Andy stared. She wanted to do as he asked, but she just couldn't. "No, John. I swear, the gallery is going to keep chugging along. Don't you have anyone else on the hook for covering the costs after Bluefly's done?"
He sat on the edge of her desk. "A few bites. But we want to make it as attractive an offering as possible. And you're a terrific writer--it wouldn't be much effort at all for you to, you know, give us a few tidbits "
She shook her head. "I'm telling you now, John, that my chances at anything exclusive would dry up immediately. You must realize I don't actually belong at any of the events I attend, right? These people know I'm not one of them."
He tilted his head. "Of course you are."
With a laugh, she sat back down and slumped in her non-ergonomic chair. "No, I'm not. I'm society-adjacent. But I don't fit."
"You do better than any of us."
She took in his worn corduroys and shirt with a coffee stain on the cuff. "That's entirely possible. But they only accept me because of Brad." She thought of Miranda, and resolved even more firmly not to let that cat out of the bag. "If our relationship doesn't make it, I can't guarantee anything, even pictures. And I won't stay with him for my job. I love the paper, but I'm not that desperate."
He snorted. "You don't have to be. It's the rest of us who need to worry."
Andy closed her eyes. "I've already sold my soul. I won't promise more than what I'm already giving. Otherwise, you'll have to fire me."
She felt the movement of the desk as John stood. "You're not going anywhere, kid. I get it. I had to try, though. You understand, right?"
"Change your mind, I'm right over there," he said, pointing to his tiny office.
"Don't hold your breath."
Andy grimaced, and turned back to her computer. She wanted to call someone for moral support, but... Fuck it, she thought, and picked up the phone. She dialed before she could change her mind.
"Miranda Priestly's office," a frantic voice said. It wasn't Emily, and Andy exhaled.
"I have Andy Sachs for Miranda," she said, pitching her voice high.
"Sachs? I don't know the name. What's it regarding?"
"She'll know," Andy said, hoping.
Andy waited, and squirmed. Seconds ticked by, and she stepped into the hallway. If she hadn't been hung up on already, Miranda would surely take the call.
Finally, she heard the telltale sign of the line being picked up. "What?" said Miranda.
"Hi, Miranda, nice to talk to you. I'm just fine, how are you?"
There was no reply for a long moment. "Let's dispense with the niceties here. What do you want?"
Inexplicably, Andy found the backs of her eyes stinging with unshed tears. Miranda sounded well, she sounded as sharp and cool as she always did. What did she expect, that they were friends now? Pals? Acquaintances who perhaps shared a mutual attraction? Andy felt a fool, and decided to end whatever connection she'd thought to reignite. "Nothing. Whatever. I'm an idiot. I just needed to talk. Bye." She hung up.
Instead of going back to her desk, she rode the elevator down to the ground floor and set out in search of an ice cream truck. Sure, she could check out the bodega down the block, but what she really wanted could only be found in a grocery store or a Good Humor truck. On a summer day, a truck was far more accessible.
Not five minutes later as she strode down the sidewalk, her phone rang from inside her pocket. The screen showed a name she hadn't seen on her display for over a year: Miranda. She hit the talk button. "What?"
"Did you hang up on me?"
"I know I'm not the only person to have done so in the last decade, Miranda. I think Donatella does it to you on a weekly basis."
"Oh, so you've reached the Versace echelon. Alert the press."
"The press already knows. That's why I was calling. But I'm sure you're busy--"
"If you'd stop babbling and just say whatever it was you meant to say in the first place, I'd be far less busy. Proceed," Miranda said, and was silent.
Andy stopped short at a red light, and saw a Good Humor truck pull up at the corner of 41st just across the street. It must be her lucky day. "My boss is trying to make me write a column."
There was a short pause, and Andy pictured Miranda leaning back in her chair. "Ah."
"I told him no."
"And what was his reply?"
When she raced across the pavement, she went right up to the window and handed two bucks to the guy inside the truck. "Chocolate éclair, please."
"Pardon?" Miranda said.
"Hang on, I'm having ice cream."
"No wonder you're stretching the boundaries of a size four."
"I'll never hit a two as long as I live. You can count on it." Andy mouthed her thanks to the man and tore the paper off the ice cream bar. One bite later, and she instantly felt cheerier. "Mm. Okay, sorry. Where was I?"
"Oh, right. Anyway, I said no, and he gave me this guilt trip, like I owed him. He even inferred that seven people would get laid off if I didn't do it."
Miranda snorted into the phone, and Andy stared at it in surprise. "How transparent. You didn't agree?"
"Good. Your editor is surely doing this for the good of the paper, but a taste of success has only whetted his appetite. He'll do everything he can to suck every last drop of blood from you, Andrea."
"Hey, John thinks I'm a gifted journalist."
"That is not a topic for debate. But as much as you've helped, you've set yourself up as well. He sees you as a savior, for the paper, and himself."
Staring up into the blue sky in confusion, Andy responded, "I'm no one's savior."
"Of course you're not. But you present a rather lucrative opportunity. Set your limits now. And be prepared to walk out the door if it ends badly."
Andy licked a drop of vanilla that was about to drip down her hand. "Do you think it will come to that?"
"Not if the man has two brain cells left to rub together. You're an enormous asset. They won't let you go without a fight. Remember you have the upper hand. Lose you and they're back to where they were months ago--nowhere."
Andy exhaled, relief flowing through her veins. "That's what I was telling myself, but I guess I just needed to hear it. From someone I trust."
There was a silence over the phone, and Andy felt her ears turn red. "Hmm," Miranda said.
"Uh, I don't want to hold you up. Thanks, Miranda."
"See you soon?"
There was click. Miranda was gone, but Andy felt her nearness nonetheless. She took another bite of her ice cream and returned to work.
Andy did as Miranda recommended and held her ground, and no one was laid off. Another two sponsors came on board for the site, and John hired someone away from Jezebel to blog about the New York entertainment scene. Andy was very friendly toward the woman, Kathleen, who promised never to mention Andy in any of her columns. Andy, in return, vowed to drop her a tip now and then. It wouldn't matter whether she followed through or not; even the promise of something interesting would be enough to satisfy her. Kathleen was smart, kind, and her knowledge of the industry and pop culture was vast. Something told Andy they might be great pals, but Andy would wait to decide if she could be trusted.
Meanwhile, things with Brad were fine. She still liked him, and he was still besotted with her. Andy hated that the initial flare of heat from Miranda seemed to eclipse her feelings for her boyfriend, but she did what she could to convince herself that it didn't matter. It's not like she knew Miranda well enough to care deeply for her. Right?
As time passed, she saw Miranda at dinners and events around town. They tended to keep their conversations short, but Andy looked forward to them every time.
"How's Runway?" Andy once asked.
"What's the level of disaster going on this week?"
Miranda's eyes narrowed. "What are my choices?"
Andy felt the challenge in her gaze. "Let's see The Hindenberg versus The Indianapolis."
Miranda was scandalized. "Don't be disgusting." She sipped her martini. "The Indianapolis."
"Sharks in the water then," Andy reasoned.
The following week, without preamble, Andy offered up, "The Titanic versus Jack the Ripper."
Miranda tapped her lower lip with one finger. "Let me see The Ripper, I think."
"Less loss of life?" Andy asked.
"More of an unsolved mystery."
"Hmm," Andy said.
A few weeks later, Andy found herself at Alexander's house for another mid-sized dinner party. As everyone sipped decaf coffee and brandy in "The Ballroom," Andy sidled up to Miranda and asked, "World War I or World War II?"
Miranda smiled, and the sultry curve of her mouth made Andy tingle. "Neither. This is a good week."
"I fired Mariza today."
Andy searched her memory and came up with the image of a tiny redheaded woman behind a desk wearing a headset on one ear and a Blackberry against the other. "From PR?"
"Yes. She was in contact with someone from a competing publication. Talking out of turn."
"Selling secrets?" Andy tried.
"Something to that effect," Miranda answered. "A shame, really. She held such promise."
"Was she the source of the, um, disasters from a few weeks ago?"
"Oh, well then. Good riddance to bad rubbish," Andy said, trying not to feel badly for the young woman. Cross Miranda Priestly at your peril, she thought.
"Correct." Miranda looked at Andy then, eyes traveling down her dark red dress slowly. Andy tried not to let her eyelids droop, but her stomach rolled with desire. "Chanel," Miranda said.
"Mm-hmm," Andy managed.
"It's very " Miranda began. When she met Andy's eyes, Andy cursed the pale skin that she knew was showing a blush. It wasn't her fault that Miranda's eyes caressing her body turned her on. "Pretty," Miranda finished, somewhat breathless.
Andy smiled then, wanting to simultaneously bolt from the room and throw herself into Miranda's arms. "Huh," she said.
And then neither of them said a word, watching each other like wild animals in a standoff. Andy's heart pounded harder as she saw the faint series of expressions flickering across Miranda's face, none of which she could interpret. How long it went on, Andy wasn't sure, but eventually the moment was broken by Brad, who stepped up beside Miranda with a curious smile on his face. "Hey there, babe," he said to Andy. "Everything good here?"
"Oh yeah," Andy said, shocked at how completely normal she sounded. "There's some drama going on with somebody I used to know at Runway. Nothing you'd be too interested in."
Brad actually put his arm around Miranda's shoulder, and Andy closed her mouth so as not to gape. Miranda went still. "It's great to see you two getting along," he said. "Not for any good reason. I'm just really glad. Really."
Brad, if you only knew, Andy thought. "Sure," she said lamely.
"I should find your father, Bradley," Miranda said, never removing her gaze from Andy.
"He's by the bar, I think, with some of the guys from Vestor Capital."
"Mm. You'll excuse me, then." Miranda slipped away.
Andy carefully kept her eyes on Brad, only sparing a moment to wish she could watch the sway of Miranda's hips in the sapphire dress. "Having fun?" she asked.
"Sure am," he replied, moving in to kiss her cheek. "She's grown on me, by the way."
"Yeah. She's so intelligent; when she's not being, uh, kind of mean, she's really interesting to talk to."
He nudged Andy in the side. "Just think If things keep going the way they are, I might be calling her 'Mom' in the not too distant future."
Andy let out a little hysterical laugh. "Wow," she choked, ignoring the looks of surprise around her. "Hah. That's so funny." She swallowed. "Mom. I never thought about that."
Brad nuzzled her temple. "Dad's nuts over her. I wouldn't be surprised."
"Gee," Andy said. A strange concoction of irritation and jealousy swam up her throat; she found that she did not want to see Miranda marry Alexander. Or anyone else. Ever.
Apparently what she felt ran far deeper more than simple attraction. With Brad squeezing her hip, Andy realized, once and for all, that she wanted Miranda Priestly for herself.
Andy spent the next seven days trying to analyze her feelings for Miranda, but did a very poor job of it. First she wrote a list of why she shouldn't want Miranda.
Makes people cry
Terrorizes employees, etc
Is dating someone else
Has two children
Works too much
Impossible to please
She then attempted a second list of Miranda's good qualities, hoping to wrap her head around the whys and wherefores of her allure.
Has great hair
Has great eyes
Has incredible smile
Gives good advice
Takes my calls
Makes me want to do more with my life
Makes me want to be better at everything
Makes me feel special
After staring at the list for a while, she gave up. She couldn't explain what was so appealing about Miranda in words, and she might never be able to. It was somewhat telling that a handful of negatives on Andy's list also fell into the positives.
In her little apartment late on a Thursday night, Andy fed both lists into the shredder.
On her way back from lunch with Kathleen, who had turned out to be a great work buddy, Andy's cell rang. "It's Brad," she told her companion, who nodded in understanding.
"I'll see you back at the office," she said.
Andy grinned and waved goodbye as she picked up. "Hey stranger."
"Hey babe. Have a second?"
"Sure, I'm on my way back to work after lunch."
"Great. I've got a proposal for you."
The word "proposal" caused Andy to trip and she only barely caught herself from sprawling across the sidewalk. "Oh?" she squeaked.
"Will you come to Cannes with me?"
"Cannes?" She breathed out in relief.
"The film festival. It's in a couple of weeks, and we'd love for you to be there."
"Um, Cannes," she repeated. "We?"
"Dad told me he'd love it if you could make it. Jazz is coming too, and she's bringing two of her best friends, and of course Miranda will be there. There's tons of parties, and you can bring your camera. Plus there's the beach, and we have an incredible suite at the hotel, and we can drive the coast if you want to--"
She cut him off, not needing further sales pitch. "I'm not sure, Brad. I don't know if I can get the time off."
There was no response on the other end of the line for a long moment. "You're serious? Don't you want to come?"
The truth was, Andy did want to. Desperately. But only one word made her hesitate. Could she bear being in such close quarters with the inappropriate object of her desire? She smelled certain disaster. "I do, Brad, I just don't want to mess things up here."
"Come for a week. You'll still be able to workyou'll be a a photographer at large. I know your editor will go for it. It can't hurt to ask, can it?"
Andy watched the traffic in the street as people brushed by her in their race to get wherever they were going. Everything was moving so fast "I don't know. Let me think on it a little, okay?"
She heard him sigh. "Okay. But I know we'll have the time of our lives. Call me tonight, okay?"
"Sure. And thanks for the invitation, sweetie. It's wonderful."
"Just say yes. Talk you later."
Andy pressed her fingers to her eyes when she felt the throb of a headache coming on. "Shit."
A few hours later as Andy was dressing for dinner in the crummy Mirror ladies' room, Andy got another phone call. Miranda's name flashed on the screen, and Andy's blood began to race.
There were a few seconds of dead air before Miranda spoke. "Are you going?"
Andy covered her mouth, and the sound of her own breath was loud in her ears. "I haven't decided." Though there were a thousand things to say, she didn't elaborate.
"Well," Miranda said.
More time passed. "Should I?" Andy finally asked, terrified.
Andy leaned forward, placing her hand on the cool porcelain sink. She felt hot all over, waiting. Wondering. "Yes," Miranda said flatly, and hung up.
Andy's knees nearly gave out.
She was in enormous trouble.
Eleven days later, she was on a plane. Brad sat next to her, dozing. Five feet away, Miranda had two seats to herself, layouts spread across the tray tables and the second seat. Andy tried not to look in her direction too often.
When she'd brought up the idea of the trip to John, he went bonkers and promised Andy a bonus if the site traffic went up. By god, she was going to hold him to it. Kathleen was horribly jealous but friendly about it, so Andy promised to bring her something back from the festival.
As for Andy, guilt set in when she was packing her clothes. She'd bought a new bikini and wanted to show it off to someone who was not, in fact, her boyfriend. She had also bought new underwear, new stockings, and four new dresses. Also not for the boyfriend.
This was a problem, and not just because her next credit card payment was going to be triple her regular budget.
Guilt began to multiply as the date of her flight came closer. Her anxiety level skyrocketed as well. She slept poorly and ate little, working late hours and seeing Brad only a few times. He understood, of course, which made it even worse.
Sometimes Andy told herself that nothing was going to happen between her and Miranda. That their brief conversation about the trip was meaningless; they'd hardly exchanged ten words. And then she recalled the warm timbre of Miranda's voice when she said that single word, "yes." And the way she melted when she imagined kissing Miranda for the first time.
She was deliberately going to embark on an affair with a woman twice her age, who if the men in their lives had their way, would be her mother-in-law by next year. Because Brad, Andy was certain, had every intention of proposing, and clearly Alexander did as well. They probably thought this whole thing was a stroke of luck--dating two women who not only knew each other, but enjoyed each other's company.
Mother-in-law. Christ. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic. Why she hadn't just decided to break it off with Brad was beyond her. She asked herself some hard questions. Was she using him for professional ambition? Partly, yes. But they were also still together because she wasn't ready to hurt him. And if she was brutally honest, he was a convenient way to be near Miranda without it looking odd to their social circle. Miranda's social circle.
Andy stared out the window and shivered a little in her seat. "Cold?" Brad asked, eyes bleary.
"No, I'm okay," she said. He took her hand and settled back, and Andy turned back to watch the clouds. They were so peaceful and soft from above, out of reach, but they could wreak havoc when in the mood.
Andy exhaled, and chewed the inside of her lip.
On the seventh floor of the most luxurious hotel in Cannes, Andy felt almost faint. She was overpowered by it all; the opulence of the suite, the stunning panoramic vista, the lovely scent of fresh flowers in every room. Occasionally she forgot that Brad was the son of one of the wealthiest men in the country. Not today. Today she felt not only unworthy, but like a world-class bitch.
She couldn't believe she'd intended to start something with Miranda when Brad was so generous, so giving, so thoughtful. He only wanted to please her. And she wanted desperately to love him.
Andy cared for him, that was certain. How could she not?
But when he kissed her, she'd started to close her eyes and think of Miranda. Miranda, whose skin would not feel the same way. It would be smooth, like silk. And Brad smelled good, but familiar. He wore cologne that was not distinctive. Andy believed that blindfolded, she would be able to identify Miranda in a room of a thousand. Whatever the fragrance was, and Andy never asked or was told, it was intoxicating.
That night, Andy dressed quickly for their first night out. The festival hadn't started yet, but the stars had arrived and the energy was electric. When she stepped into the banquet hall, she recognized faces of actors, directors, musicians and other celebrities in quantities that rivaled every event she'd ever attended put together. It was old-fashioned glamour, and Andy was relieved she'd dressed the part in a strapless violet Marchesa gown. Brad heartily approved, and Jasmine squealed when she saw her.
"Oh, I knew it would be perfect," she exclaimed, and her two friends hovered behind her. "Seriously, Andy. You could be a model."
Andy squirmed. That was a joke she was glad Miranda had not heard. But best not to draw attention to the silliness by denying it. "You're sweet, Jazz. Thanks for helping me choose it. You all look amazing. Who are you wearing?"
At that the three women went on about Valentino, and Michael Kors, and Tom Ford, all of whom Andy had met or spoken with during Fashion Week so long ago. But Andy lost her ability to listen when she saw Miranda gliding toward them in a black off-the-shoulder gown; she was a goddess made flesh. A gold ring held the two halves of a single strap together, and the bodice seemed to flutter before Andy's eyes, teasing and tantalizing at the mysteries beneath.
Miranda did not look in Andy's direction, to her intense disappointment. They did not speak for most of the evening. But after her meal, Andy snuck off to the bathroom and tried not to gape at a stunning Cate Blanchett as she fixed an earring in front of the mirror. Cate smiled when they made eye contact, and Andy quivered in excitement. She rushed into a stall before she could make an even bigger fool of herself. When she left, she was calmer, until she saw Miranda standing in front of that same mirror. Miranda was looking into the glass, but watching only one thing.
"H-hi," Andy said.
"Mm," Miranda hummed. She turned around, and looked Andy up and down so thoroughly Andy felt stripped naked. In that single moment, she was breathless. How could a look translate into a touch?
"You look--" Andy said, but Miranda stopped her with a jerk of her head, and she recalled where she was. In a public bathroom, probably surrounded by press and famous people and who the hell knew who else. "Sorry," Andy said. "But you do," she whispered.
Miranda's eyes softened. "So do you." With that, Miranda moved forward and passed Andy, brushing their arms together for a split second. Then she was gone, and every hair on Andy's body stood at attention.
"Shit," she breathed, and hurried from the washroom.
Miranda and Alexander left early, much to Andy's misery. She was left with Brad and the other three women, all of whom were on the prowl. Halfway through her third glass of wine, Andy was surprised when Brad claimed exhaustion and stood to depart. "Stay, Andy. You four can paint the town red."
"Are you sure?"
"Keep these three in line," Brad said. He leaned down and kissed her cheek before departing. "You have a key?"
"Yeah. You feeling okay?"
"Just jetlagged. Have fun. But not too much?"
Andy nodded, and watched as he left.
"Oh my god," Rebekah exclaimed as he left. "You are so lucky. He is a dream."
"I know," Andy said, hoping her smile did not wobble.
Jasmine poked her friend on the arm. "You never told me you had a crush on my brother."
"Well I've had way too much wine, so that's probably why," Rebekah said, her eyes a little droopy.
"Well he's taken," Jasmine added. "He's entirely smitten with you, Andy. And I'm sure you feel the same way."
Andy found that the alcohol made it quite easy to lie. "Of course." The words slid off her tongue without hesitation. She had been smitten with him, once. Before.
"What do you think of Miranda though?" Jasmine asked, catching Andy off guard.
Eliza's eyes were wide. "She's so scary. Even when she's being nice. I've heard unbelievable stories about her."
"Like what?" Andy said, eyebrow raised.
"That she makes grown men cry," Eliza said.
Rebekah scoffed. "Oh, that's boring. Anyone can do that. What else?"
"I read online that she actually punched a photographer square in the face when he suggested she update her hair."
Andy threw back her head and laughed as the other two girls looked horrified. "No!" Jasmine said.
"No," Andy assured them. "That's not her style."
Eliza was not deterred. "I also heard she fired an entire department in one day and had them thrown out of the building immediately."
Well, that one was true, sort of. "It wasn't an entire department, just one section of the art department," Andy said. "But it's not like she did it on a whim. Sometimes people actually need to be fired."
"What happened?" Eliza asked.
Andy wouldn't go into detail, but they'd botched two layouts so badly even Andy wanted them gone. Miranda had been generous not dumping them after the first misguided effort. "Miranda wants the best. If you don't deliver, she finds someone who will."
"But that's so harsh," Rebekah breathed.
"You wouldn't say that if she were a man." Andy said the words with certainty. "You'd say she was demanding and tough, and isn't it great that she knows what she wants and accepts only excellence."
Eliza's mouth twisted. "Maybe. But it's still pretty bitchy."
There was that word again, the one Miranda had suffered with her entire career. One that she would likely never shake. It infuriated Andy. "She's not a bitch," she said, slow and even.
Jasmine rolled her eyes. "I hear her talking to her assistant all the time. She's always complaining about this screw up or that mistake or the incompetence of the idiots on her staff. Does she never say a kind word about anyone?"
"Sometimes," Andy said. "When she does, it's the absolute truth." She could count on one hand all the times Miranda had complimented her efforts, and she remembered each one in detail. What she'd been wearing, what Miranda had been wearing, where they'd been. Even that first time Miranda had told her to deliver The Book Andy relived the thrill as though it were yesterday.
"You seem to like her, but didn't you quit?" Jasmine said, confused.
"Yeah," Andy said.
"Why? You've never told us."
Andy shrugged. "I didn't say she was perfect," she said. "I needed to go, and she needed someone who wanted to be there. I wasn't that person. But it's been nice spending time with her on a different level," she said carefully. "Don't you like her?"
Jasmine frowned. "I guess. She's better than Helena Crawford. She drove me up a wall. When she and Dad got together she wanted to be my 'absolute best friend in the world.' At least Miranda leaves me alone for the most part."
"Have you met Miranda's kids?"
Jasmine nodded. "A couple of times. They seemed all right."
Andy almost snorted. They must have been threatened with doom if they misbehaved.
"She looks way too good for her age. I think she's had work done," Rebekah said.
"Probably," Jasmine agreed, and Eliza nodded. Andy didn't add her own thoughts, which was that aside from facials and skin treatments, Miranda's face had never gone under the knife. When she imagined Miranda allowing a needle to mar her gorgeous skin She shivered in disgust.
Andy finished the last of her wine as the girls continued to gossip, a little about Miranda, and a lot about the rest of the older women in her circle whom they all assumed had had surgery. She grew bored as the conversation drifted into uninteresting subjects, and decided to call it a night. "Okay, ladies, I've had it. You all have a great time, okay?"
"You're not coming to the club with us? We're going dancing at 12! That's when it really gets hopping," Eliza said.
"Nah, need to get my beauty sleep. See you for breakfast, okay?"
"Sleep, sure," Jasmine said slyly. "That's what they all say. Don't wake the neighbors, considering one of them is my father."
"Ha," Andy said, quite certain that even if she'd had the urge to have sex with Brad, the thought of Miranda next door, listening, would have killed it.
She was sleepy now, and a little drunk. As it did on occasion, the wine made her maudlin. After the elevator delivered her to the seventh floor, she walked to the end of the long corridor and looked out the window into the darkness. The waves were illuminated by light from the hotel, and they seemed to be caressing the beach rather than crashing over it. She leaned her forehead against the glass, and wondered what would happen next.
Andy had not known what to expect when attending the Cannes film festival. Therefore, she was not surprised when she fell into the circus that it had evolved into over the past twenty years. No longer was it just about great film, or even not-so-great film that came stamped with a pedigree, it was as large a marketing opportunity for studios as any event all year long. Now and then she'd spot strange things floating on the sea, only to realize they were enormous balloons of superheroes erected to promote a comic book movie coming out in late summer. The whole thing was a strange combination of high and low art, with a smattering of everything else in between.
She had to admit it, her eyes bugged out when she saw Pamela Anderson in the flesh. A lot of flesh. She'd never been so grateful to have her camera in hand, and got a few good shots. As she clicked away, she never worried about the final product, instead getting lost in the process. At the end of each night she had hundreds of images, and she'd post about forty on the Mirror's FTP for Jimmy to use in the morning.
She included photos of everyone with her except Miranda. The handful of shots she'd grabbed was carefully filed away in a private folder. Just in case. But it was nice to linger over the pictures, since she couldn't stare too long at Miranda in real life. It would draw attention, and Miranda certainly wouldn't like it.
Five full days passed in a haze of sunshine and alcohol, during which Andy fit in a few movies. None really moved her, except one packed with so much sexual violence that she walked out in disgust halfway through. As for her work, John couldn't have been more pleased, and Andy decided that since she'd taken far more photos than she needed to, she'd dole them out over the next three days. It was time for some vacation before she had to return to the real world.
The only thing that marred the trip thus far was the fact that she spent almost no time with Miranda. She got to sit a few seats away from her at meals; she got to say hi at parties, she got to walk with her in the morning with Brad and Alex as they went to breakfast. They hardly spoke, but when Miranda was near, her heart pounded.
She was starting to think she'd imagined the whole thing. Maybe she'd created a relationship with Miranda solely in her head, because Miranda never seemed to react to anything Andy said or did. She remained unflustered, uninterested in Andy, focusing instead on everyone else around her. Even Jasmine got more attention. Even Brad.
So much for a scorching affair.
On a Tuesday, Jasmine insisted that Andy come with them to the private beach. Andy relented and wore her new red bikini under a filmy coverall, slathering herself with sunscreen before she left the room. The huge straw hat she wore looked a little silly, but she knew better than to leave it off. Bag slung over her shoulder, she left her hotel room and found the three girls waiting for her.
Andy's mouth dropped open a bit when she saw that Miranda stood behind them all, looking impatient. "Uh, ready," Andy said.
"Miranda's coming too. It's a girls' day out!" Eliza exclaimed in her chirpy voice, and Andy fought off a cringe when she saw Miranda's nostrils flare.
"Great!" Andy said. With that, Miranda turned, and the rest of them followed in her wake.
Andy was, in fact, stunned that Miranda Priestly was going to a beach, where there would be sun (which she did not generally expose herself to) and sand (which would obviously be problematic) and people who would probably want to make small talk (which did not include Andy). However, she didn't say a word, instead listening to the chattering of voices as they walked to their destination.
Andy strolled just behind Miranda. Since she was wearing rather large sunglasses, she felt free to admire the bare skin of Miranda's calves, the only skin visible below her wrap. Strange how seductive an ankle could be when she yearned to see so much more.
When they arrived, the girls fell over each other as they hurried to the reserved lounge chairs. It was crowded, but not noisy, Andy was relieved to find. The three girls claimed their spots and immediately flopped down to begin their sun worship. That left two empty loungers for Andy and Miranda. She took the one next to Jasmine, who had already stripped off her robe and was in the process of removing her top. Eliza and Rebekah were doing the same, and Andy stiffened. She dropped her bag and busied herself positioning the umbrella to provide shade. In the seat next to her, she heard Miranda settling, but she wasn't ready to look. Instead she removed her coverall and fixed her top before lying down and closing her eyes.
"Andy, are you seriously going to sit in the shade? And you look silly with your top on. Take it off," Jasmine chided.
"I'm very pale. I don't like to tan," Andy said. "And I'm not taking off my top."
Eliza giggled. "Andy, I never thought you were a prude."
Andy's cheeks flamed, and she was ashamed to feel a blush creeping down her neck. "I'm not." And when she thought it was possible that Miranda, at whom she had not even glanced yet, could be sitting next to her without her top on, it got worse. The giggles grew in volume at Andy's expense until one word sliced the air open.
"Girls," Miranda barked. "I was under the impression you had all graduated from junior high. I'm sorry to find I was mistaken."
Andy felt them wither next to her, and Jasmine offered a quiet "Sorry" after a moment.
Andy finally peeked next to her and gave a grateful smile to Miranda, who was casually flipping through a design magazine. However, the corners of Miranda's mouth quirked just peek enough to let Andy know she was watching. Andy allowed herself a few seconds to devour the sight of so much creamy skin in a black one-piece, and she felt the heat come back into her face. Quickly she looked away, hoping the goose bumps weren't visible to her companions.
Next to her, the threesome gabbed incessantly, but Andy blocked it out. She listened instead for the flipping of pages, the shift of limbs, the little sighs Miranda released next to her. Eventually the trio left their chairs to take a dip in the ocean, probably because of the cluster of gorgeous, tanned Frenchmen she'd just seen race each other into the waves. It was pleasant to be away from them and their incessant chattering.
"It's amazing any of them haven't developed laryngitis," Miranda quipped, reading her mind.
"I think their vocal chords are immune," Andy replied, able to relax for the first time that day. Considering how attracted she was to Miranda, it was remarkable how calm she felt in her presence. It soothed her, being so near.
They were silent for a while, and Miranda dropped the magazine on the sand. Andy felt eyes on her, and she glanced over. Miranda was watching, and she shivered. Those lips Andy had dreamed about opened a little in surprise, and Andy wanted to tell her, "Yes, just your gaze makes me tremble," but she didn't. She just pushed her sunglasses up and leaned her head back, admiring the lithe form Miranda presented.
Miranda looked away, out onto the ocean. "I'm leaving," she said, and Andy deflated. "Alexander and Bradley are not scheduled to return from their golf game until 3:30."
"Yeah," Andy said sadly.
"Officially I have a meeting. But I'll be in my room."
Andy blinked. Oh god. This was their chance. "Oh?"
"You may see something of interest in Paper this month. I suggest you read it," Miranda said sternly. She stood and pulled her robe on, and Andy felt like her entire body was vibrating in anticipation. "Give my best to your friends."
"Uh," Andy said, unable to reply properly.
Typically Miranda would have smirked, or criticized her lack of coherence. She didn't. She just picked up her bag and walked serenely away.
With a shaking hand, Andy leaned down and picked up the magazine Miranda had left behind. When she started to page through it, it flipped open to reveal a flat keycard jammed into the seam. Andy started to shake in earnest then, and quickly she snatched the card and slipped it into a zippered pocket of her bag.
As the minutes ticked by, she waited for the girls to come back. Fortunately, it wasn't too long until Eliza returned, laughing and trailed by a rather tall young man who flicked at a towel at her. Andy jumped at the chance. "Hey, I'm taking off, okay?"
"Where are you going?"
"Back to the room. I have to call my parents," she lied easily.
"Okay. Where's Cruella?"
Andy bit back a snarl. "Some meeting with a designer I never heard of."
"Figures. She never stops, does she."
"Yeah," Andy said, thrilled to leave. "See ya." She disappeared before more questions could be asked.
Andy tried to keep her mind blank as she raced through the hotel. To keep herself from freaking out, she headed straight for her room to shower off the suntan lotion; if she was lucky enough to have Miranda's lips on her skin, she wanted to taste clean. When she washed between her legs, she was embarrassed to realize she was so wet it was like she'd been at it all afternoon. Whoops. Quickly she changed in into a gauzy dress, and gripping the key in her hand, she left the room.
She knocked once on Miranda's door, said a prayer, and let herself in.
Andy shut the door instantly and leaned back against it, her blood racing in her ears. The sun poured in through the curtains, which waved gently in the breeze. Miranda had the door to the terrace open, and she leaned against the frame in thought. She had not yet acknowledged Andy's presence.
So Andy waited. Miranda would have to lead both of them into whatever this was.
Finally Miranda left her position and descended the few steps into a conversation pit, some distance from the enormous four poster across the room. She sat on the sofa and waved Andy over. On wobbly legs, Andy crossed the room, and as she came near, her eyes widened.
Miranda looked different. Her pale skin, typically porcelain and pristine, had freckled from the sun. Andy was charmed.
"What?" Miranda said.
"Nothing," Andy shot back. "You just look nice."
Miranda's mouth twisted, and she looked over Andy's dress. "You changed."
"Yeah." She didn't explain why.
"That was a lovely bathing suit," Miranda said, and Andy thought her voice was a little unsteady.
"Thanks," Andy replied, suddenly shy. I bought it for you.
"So," Miranda said, and Andy held her breath. "What do you suppose this--" Miranda motioned toward the space between them with one hand-- "is?"
Stomach rolling with tension and desire, Andy said, "I'm not sure." Should she even ask? "What do you think?"
Miranda shook her head. "I can't say."
"What do you want it to be?"
There was a drawn out silence, during which Miranda didn't look at her. "I want it to be nothing. I want it to happen and then disappear. I want to get on with my life."
The desire twisting in Andy's belly curdled, and she felt ill. "So one time, and then it's over. Is that it?"
"Yes," Miranda said roughly.
"I couldn't bear that," Andy said, because it was true. She wouldn't want this only once. Because she was certain that after making love to Miranda Priestly, she would want, and want, and want. For a good long time.
"You'd rather cheat on your boyfriend? A man who loves you?"
"It's not love. And I'm leaving him." The moment she said it, Andy realized this was also true. What she had with Brad was coming to an end, whether either of them liked it or not.
"Because of this?"
Because of you, Andy thought. "No. I don't love him. I've been using him, and that's not fair to him. Or me."
"Marriage and relationships aren't solely about love, Andrea. Even you are old enough to realize that."
"And I'm not cynical enough to believe it shouldn't be at least part of the equation," Andy fired back. "Will you marry Alex because it's convenient? Or do you love him at least a little?"
"I care for him. Not that I owe you any explanation," Miranda was quick to remind her. "He's important to me for many reasons. And we're not married yet. This isn't quite adultery."
"It's close enough," Andy said miserably. "I wish I knew what the hell was wrong with me. I was perfectly fine until I saw you again."
Miranda blinked slowly, and against her will, Andy felt heat spread through her body. "So you didn't feel this before, then."
Andy shook her head. "Did you?"
"No. Not until recently."
"It's just infatuation, isn't it?" Andy pleaded. "It's going to fade away, and I'll feel right again." Andy wanted to believe it so badly.
"Infatuation, yes," Miranda breathed, and Andy swayed toward her. "I am infatuated. Come here, now."
Andy lost whatever will she had left to resist and slid across the sofa. Without a moment to consider how to hold her, or which direction she should tilt her head, she pressed her mouth against Miranda's and groaned. A tongue reached out to touch her lower lip and Andy dissolved into the warmth and wet. She pulled Miranda flush against her and leaned her against the arm of the couch. Climbing up, she straddled lush hips, never breaking the kiss even when she banged a knee against the sofa's arm. With one hand she held Miranda's neck, and the other Miranda's head, turning it this way and that. She explored everything she could, sucking at the nimble tongue and drawing out whimpers of pleasure. Rocking against Miranda's body, she felt fire mounting between her thighs, and yearned for firmer contact.
Jesus, one kiss This was all she'd dreamed of, times a thousand.
For a moment, she allowed herself to forget that Miranda did not love her. That she wanted to experience this once and then pretend it hadn't happened. Andy held on more tightly, and started when she felt arms squeezing her rib cage, clinging in what felt like desperation. Finally she broke away and mouthed down the slope of Miranda's neck, digging into the space between shoulder and throat, as though she would burrow inside. The sleek collarbone begged to be nipped and soothed, so Andy followed the impulse as Miranda squirmed beneath her.
Heaven, she thought. And I'll never have it again. She returned to Miranda's mouth, which opened instantly for her, and it was Miranda's turn to hold her in place now. Andy allowed it, gasping for breath when she could. Soon one hand traveled down Andy's neck, then lower, until Miranda cupped her breast. Andy clamped her own hand onto Miranda's, overwhelmed by everything swirling around her, inside her. "I need this," she found herself muttering, "I need this. I need you. Please."
Miranda's hand tightened its grip, two fingers pinching at Andy's nipple. "Don't," she moaned. "Don't need me."
Andy cried out. "It's too late," she replied between frantic kisses. "I do. This isn't enough."
"It has to be."
The words stopped Andy cold. The meaning was perfectly clear. But Miranda's tone said something else entirely. She was wounded. Miranda wanted, but would deny herself, and Andy too. Because that's the way it had to be. Somebody else set the rules, and Miranda was going to play by them. She would marry an age-appropriate guy who was of the proper class and financial status. Could she have an affair on the side? Perhaps. But it was, as she said, adultery, and something told Andy Miranda would not conduct herself in such a manner. That she had been burned by it before by her three husbands was certain. She wouldn't hurt Alex in the same fashion.
That was what they were doing now, though. Hurting him, and Brad, and each other. Wanting to be together and knowing it was wrong. It was impossible.
All these things went through Andy's mind as she stared down at Miranda, who watched her in return. Andy had not mastered the meaning of all Miranda's expressions, and could not tell what she was thinking. So Andy put her own thoughts into words. "We won't then, okay?" she said softly, despite the fact that her heart was tearing in half as she spoke. She hadn't felt anything like this before; not with Nate, or her boyfriend from high school, or anyone. This was pain, bitter and sweet to the taste, but she would end it now, before it killed the two of them.
"No?" Miranda said, and Andy saw real fear in her eyes. "No?"
Andy shook her head.
"Just one more," Miranda said, drawing her head down. They kissed again, with as much passion as before, tinged with a hopelessness Andy would not forget. It went on until Andy's lips were swollen, and she wanted to cry because it had to end at some point. When she finally pulled away, Miranda's eyes were glazed and dark, her cheeks flushed. She was more beautiful than ever. And the freckles Andy noticed earlier seemed to make her real. Human. Someone Andy could love, if given the chance.
She kissed the freckles on Miranda's cheek. Before she could change her mind, she fished the key from her pocket and dropped it on the side table. "See you," she said, and stood to cross the room.
As she opened the door she heard Miranda call out, "Andrea," but she shut it behind her without turning around.
Andy returned to her room, collapsed on the bed, and cried. She wept for an hour until she fell asleep, sprawled fully clothed across the coverlet. Sometime later, Brad woke her, his face creased with worry.
"Hey, honey, are you all right?" he asked in the soft voice that had wooed Andy so many months ago. His kindness pierced her.
This is it, she thought. Do it now. You owe yourself that. "No," she croaked, and burst into tears again. He immediately swept her into a loving embrace that made her hate herself even more. "No, don't," she begged. "You won't feel so generous when you hear what I have to say." She sniffled indelicately and grabbed a tissue from the nightstand.
He stilled, and sat back a little on the bed. "That doesn't sound good."
"It's not. I'm an awful person."
"Andy, come on, what is this--"
"It's over," she said quickly, wanting to get the whole thing finished even if she had to fly back on coach tonight. Her American Express card still had room. Probably.
His face fell, and he let out a small groan of unhappiness. "You don't mean us, do you?" he said quietly.
More tears streamed, and her face crumpled. "Yeah. I'm sorry."
Slowly he rubbed his forehead with one hand. "Damn. I was so sure this time." With a sigh, he flopped back on the mattress. "I tried. I really did."
Andy wanted to die. "I know, Brad, I'm so sorry I hurt youI care for you so much, but I just can't love you the way you deserve to be loved. The way everyone deserves to be loved. I'll understand if you never wanted to see me again. I can leave tonight."
He looked over at her. "Leave?"
"Yeah. Don't you--" Andy started to wonder why he didn't look a little more upset. "Aren't you, um, angry?"
"Is it because we didn't have enough sex?" Brad asked, staring up at her.
"The sex. Was that it?"
He sounded completely serious. "No?"
"You never seemed to mind that we didn't do it that often."
Andy scratched the back of her head absently. "Um."
"What was it then? How did you figure it out?"
Somewhere in the last thirty seconds, Andy had lost track of the conversation. "What?"
"Or you didn't. God, Andy, this is one giant clusterfuck."
"What are you talking about?"
"I thought you could tell or something."
"Tell," Andy repeated. She looked deeply into Brad's eyes, and the lightbulb went on. Her mouth dropped open. "Stop it. You are not."
He frowned. "Like I said. I tried."
Andy could have kicked herself from Cannes all the way back to New York, as idiotic as she felt. "Say it to me. Right now, aloud." He winced, and she raised an eyebrow in threat. "You owe me that."
"I'm pretty much gay," he said.
Andy's world stopped, and started again a few seconds later. "Well, that's convenient," she mumbled, glancing over his shoulder, remembering the delicious taste of Miranda's throat under her lips.
"I'm sorry I just, really thought I could make it work. You're so wonderful, and so easy to be around, and everyone in the family just loves you, and we could maybe have had kids or something--"
"Whoa, whoa here. Kids? Did you want to get married? To me?"
"Well, yeah," he said.
"Don't you want to, you know, fall in love?" she asked, incredulous.
"I can love a woman as much as the next guy," he said, and Andy pursed her lips. "Basically. Hey, you said just now that you couldn't tell. It wasn't bad, was it?"
Andy shook her head in reassurance, and neglected to mention that for the last few months when they had sex, she was very distinctly fantasizing about Miranda. "Not bad at all. It was nice. I wouldn't have thought it."
"You seem less upset now," he said, moving a little closer. "I hope I haven't hurt your feelings."
"My feelings," Andy said, laughing a little. "I'm fine. I was more worried about you."
He leaned his forehead against hers. "You're a good person, Andy. The best kind."
"I don't know about that," she whispered back.
"You would have made a great Huntington."
She thought for a few moments. "Would you have told me?" she asked curiously.
"I wanted to." He lay back against the pillows, and Andy slumped next to him, head perched on her hand. "Probably not."
"So you were using me."
"No!" he said firmly. "I wasn't. I mean, I was, but not for, you know, evil reasons."
He looked at her like she was nuts. "Isn't it obvious?"
"What about him?"
"He'd disown me."
"So it's about money?"
"No! He'd hate me. Reject me. Christ, I have enough trouble. I couldn't take it. He'd be so disappointed. Not to mention furious. I'm his only son."
That was quite a burden to lay on one young man's shoulders, especially for someone as sensitive as Brad. "You mean as far as legacy."
"My dad's blood runs blue, Andy. There are no homos in the Huntington clan, not as far as the eye can see. He borrowed a hundred grand from my grandfather forty years ago and built one of the most powerful media corporations in the world. And he worked hard for his success. Unlike me," Brad said, covering his eyes again. "I've never had a real job, you know? I've had everything handed to me."
Andy found it hard to sympathize. "Must be nice."
He gave her a menacing expression. "Yeah, to a point. Until you realize if you don't measure up you're out. It's a lot of goddamned pressure! I always hid it too. I knew I was this way for a long time, but it was easier to just pretend. I just couldn't stand it. Not with mom gone."
"You'd be alone," Andy said, understanding dawning.
"Yeah," he replied. "He'd never forgive me."
Andy saw tears forming in Brad's eyes. She felt a swell of compassion, especially since she hadn't gone through the same emotional journey considering her own situation. She just sort of accepted her feelings for Miranda the way one reacted to a natural disaster. This is the way it is from now on, so get used to it. Her parents would love her if she came out as a lesbian, though they'd probably be less accepting of Miranda. Not that that would be a concern now. "What about Jazz?"
He snorted. "She has lots of gay boyfriends, but having gay friends isn't the same as having a gay brother. I floated the idea to her years ago, and she was none too pleased."
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, you know. Just sort of suggested. 'What if I turned out to be a fag,' and she was mortified. Embarrassed. And that was that."
Andy closed her eyes. "I'm sorry."
He laughed bitterly. "Not your fault. Though I did think you were my ticket to ride."
"It sucks to be used," she said, stirring up some misplaced self-righteous anger.
"Yeah," he shrugged. "But you gotta admit, we make a great team."
She dropped onto her back next to him. With a sigh, she agreed. "I used you a little, too."
"For your job?" he suggested.
Oh yeah, that, she remembered. "Um, kind of. And something else. To forget someone." It was close enough to the truth.
Brad rolled to his side and looked at her sadly. "Someone you love?"
That brought fresh tears, though this time, Andy fought them. "Maybe." She couldn't call what she felt for Miranda love. It would break her heart.
"Then I'm sorry too, Andy." He drew her into his arms, and she let the tears come.
Andy did not leave Cannes that night. She and Brad ordered room service and begged off the movie premiere they were supposed to attend. And fuck Miranda. If she thought Andy was shagging Brad within an inch of his life out of revenge or just plain unsatisfied horniness, that was fine with her.
Jasmine certainly alluded to it the next day. "So you and my brother just couldn't tear yourselves away from each other, could you," she grinned.
Andy chuckled. "Nope," she said simply. Especially not after they put away almost two bottles of wine, on top of a four course meal and an enormous pot of crème brulee. That morning had been unpleasant, but they'd both recovered admirably.
"Wish I got lucky," Jasmine said. "The men here are either married or gay. Or directors, and god knows I don't want one of them."
"I hear that," Andy said, and they clinked their glasses. Camera discreetly stashed in a new Balenciaga, Andy gazed around at the beautiful people attending yet another party. Brad was off chatting up some film types, and Andy hadn't seen Miranda at all. This was a good thing.
Ten minutes later, Andy realized just how good a thing it was. Because when Miranda walked in on Alex's arm, Andy felt tears fill her eyes. Always so lovely in charcoal, Miranda's bare shoulders beckoned to her, and Andy recalled their softness under her lips. She cursed her traitorous body that responded immediately, feeling her nipples harden beneath her dress. Andy shut her eyes and looked away, pulling out her camera and setting off in search of something interesting to shoot.
Twenty shots later, Andy's lens was drawn back to white shoulders and silver hair. Quickly she snapped two images without a flash before moving along. It was easy to be distracted in this environment, considering the beauty of the men and women who floated about and posed for her so freely. Some asked who she was, others simply waved and looked effortlessly beautiful. She handed her card to at least fifty people that night and hoped everyone would be pleased with the way their photos turned out.
It was a relief when the evening finally came to an end; it was their last night in France. A week was long enough to be gone, considering the whole trip hadn't exactly turned out the way she intended it to. And she'd had enough proximity to Miranda.
Before she left, she spotted Miranda gliding in her direction, and to her utter shame, she panicked. She turned in the opposite direction and did her best to run in four inch heels. "God, please don't let me fall down," she murmured as she scanned the crowd for Brad. She didn't spot him but saw the next best thing: Jasmine, Eliza and Rebekah in a little circle with four or five good-looking young men. Andy thrust herself into the group, not even slightly embarrassed at being short of breath. "Hi!" she exclaimed. "How's everyone?"
Two of the men looked eagerly in her direction, and she didn't consider looking over her shoulder to see if Miranda had followed. I don't care, she told herself. I don't.
Even if she did. More than there were stars in the sky.
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