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.
"I need Lagerfeld," Miranda barked, careful to avoid touching her forehead. She had a migraine, and the impulse to rub her temples was overwhelming. "Before the ice caps melt, please."
"He's on a plane, Miranda. He touches down in Milan in less than two hours," said Chelsea from the outer office.
"Then I need Michael."
"I just spoke to Colin. He'll return within the hour."
"For god's sake, is no one working today?"
"Patrick's awaiting your call, Miranda."
Miranda exhaled in annoyance. "No. I'm not pleased with the work he did on Angelique. Let Nigel deal with it. I can't bear any more whining."
"And I want that gray jacket I saw this morning on 7th Avenue."
Chelsea was on her feet and in Miranda's office in a moment. "South of 54th?"
"Mm," Miranda said. "I don't remember."
"Not a problem. I'll have it for you after lunch."
"Fine," she said absently. She didn't really care when the jacket arrived, as long as it did. Something about it struck her. The elegant line of it, paired with the black pencil skirt would look stunning on
Miranda sat straighter in her chair. "Emily," she yelped. Instantly she decried herself for raising her voice.
"Yes?" Chelsea nearly ran back into the office.
"I don't want the jacket," she said, keeping her tone carefully modulated.
"Bring me the bass from Le Bernardin for lunch. Cancel my steak."
"And tell Nigel if he doesn't return with appropriate changes to the accessories layout by two he's fired."
If she heard one more person say "Yes, Miranda" she was going to stab her own leg with her fountain pen. Everything grated on her nerves. "I want those Blahniks I asked for this morning. Where are they?"
"Right here," Chelsea said, scurrying back into the room.
Within moments eight boxes landed on her desk. Miranda was momentarily impressed and looked up at the girl, so eager to please. So absolutely dedicated to giving Miranda whatever she wanted, as quickly as possible.
Goddamn it. Sometimes Chelsea reminded her of Andrea, and today was one of those days. Dark eyes stared out at Miranda's from beneath painted lashes, lovely eyebrows, a smooth forehead. And the smile, so hesitant and unsettled. Miranda's memory flashed to that same expression on Andrea's face in her hotel room in Cannes. Just before they had kissed for the first time.
Miranda gritted her teeth and felt a stab of pain shoot up the side of her cheek into her temple. She gasped at the sensation, and Chelsea was alarmed. "Miranda, are you all right?"
"My head," she muttered before recalling that she wouldn't allow such a show of vulnerability to an underling if she wasn't already distracted. "It's nothing."
"I have some Advil--"
"I said, it's nothing."
Chelsea chewed her lip and looked down at the floor.
Miranda enjoyed seeing the girl wilt. At least she wasn't alone in her misery.
Two weeks after their return from France, Miranda made plans to meet Alexander for dinner at his home. Miranda was certain that he was growing closer to proposing, an event that at one time would have made her happy.
Well, as happy as Miranda preferred to be, which was not very.
She reserved her most treasured moments of happiness for seeing the final, faultless copy of The Book each month. Utter perfection. It still gave her a rush, even after all these years. Happiness was putting an adversary in his (or her) no brackets place. Feeling invincible. And it was also going home to a place where no one judged her, or called her difficult, or challenging, or unbearable.
Alexander thought he knew her. He did not. He knew only what Miranda wanted him to know; that she was dedicated to her work, and her children. That she had impeccable taste. That she would be an ideal mate for him, for many reasons, not the least of which was that as a united front they could go much further professionally than they could alone. If Atlas and Elias-Clarke joined forces, there would be no stopping either of them.
On the other hand, Alexander did not know that occasionally Miranda felt insecure about her age, and her skin, her body. He didn't know that although she was not a music lover, she was embarrassed that Puccini, a most pedestrian of composers, sometimes made her cry. He didn't know that clutter drove her to distraction, or that she was violently allergic to cats. He didn't know that her father died when she was eleven, and that she still missed him at the most inopportune times.
But Alexander was a good man, kind and considerate. Generous, because he could afford to be. He'd been born wealthy, unlike Miranda, who had had clawed her way to her first Editor in Chief position by stepping over the bodies of those she'd brought down. That drive had not faded, though her manner of achievement had altered dramatically. Now there was no screaming or shouting, no temper tantrums. Just a quiet power that everyone responded to. Those who did not react appropriately were removed and never heard from again.
Only once or twice did Miranda feel a twinge of conscience. Once, with Nigel. The other times she had made herself forget. It was too late now, anyway. She had created herself by choice, and she would not change. And if she showed too much of herself at once, there was always the chance of rejection. The promise of it, really. No one survived more than seven years with Miranda Priestly without being crushed into tiny pieces. She'd destroyed three marriages, and three men along with them. Even Stephen, who had been as loving and generous as Alexander, once. He had truly adored her, perhaps more than any of them.
But that was because he didn't really know her either. And she never let him in.
Which was why she was so furious with herself, and everyone around her was suffering for it. She'd become so adept at keeping distance that it was second nature, but that stupid girl had crept in when Miranda wasn't paying attention. Miranda couldn't even say what it was that appealed about Andrea. It wasn't her innocence, which Miranda had overestimated considerably when they worked together. It wasn't her beauty, since she was surrounded by far superior specimens on a daily basis. Not her sweetness, which was annoying, or her silly giggling, which was more annoying.
It wasn't her intelligence, or talent, or drive either, all of which had once reminded Miranda of herself. She was foolish. Arrogant. Clumsy. Weak.
But when Miranda thought about Andrea, which she had been trying to avoid for weeks now, she softened, not unlike ice cream left out of the freezer. She would feel herself sweating, thinking romantic things that simply made no sense. Considering the elegance of a forearm, and the way it tapered down into a narrow wrist and small hand. Admiring the fall of hair across shoulders that had once appeared as broad as a linebacker's, yet had somehow transformed into something far more lovely.
And the humor that surfaced sparingly during their professional association was far more apparent these days. Miranda was surprised that Andrea was one of the few people who could make her laugh.
Worst of all, Miranda enjoyed being in Andrea's company, perhaps more than anyone else she knew.
Miranda felt like one of the old men who had attempted to chase her around the desk nearly twenty five years ago. An attraction to someone so young was obscene, and the fact that she was a woman made it a hundred times more unseemly.
Miranda could not believe how ridiculous the whole thing was.
Then again, she couldn't truly deny it either. Andrea touched her. It was as simple and complicated as anything that had ever happened to her.
But now it was over. And Miranda would make herself forget. She was very, very good at that.
Unfortunately, Miranda's plans to forget Andrea were thwarted. Like a bad penny, Andrea kept right on popping up in Miranda's immediate vicinity. At parties, at the Huntington house, at restaurants and art galleries.
But on this night, even Miranda did not expect Andrea to attend an event sponsored by Runway, benefiting Sloan-Kettering's Breast Cancer Research.
With Bradley at her side.
That infuriated Miranda more than anything. She had lied to Miranda's face about breaking up with him after their incident in the hotel room. But the two of them were together more than ever now, and each time Miranda saw them, her stomach churned. Before, Miranda had been certain that the relationship wasn't serious. Especially after Andrea started to show an interest in Miranda. That assured her more than anything that Andrea was only using Bradley to remain close to her. Miranda had looked forward to that first moment alone with Andrea for weeks. The tension had been unbearable. Electric. She couldn't recall a more powerful attraction to another human being, perhaps ever. And the kiss they shared It splashed gasoline on embers that had not flared so brightly for years.
Now, she couldn't put out the flame. She hated herself for it. She hated Andrea more.
The girl was stunning tonight. In a dark, strapless gown with drapes of silk that hinted at long legs beneath, she made Miranda's heart race. Miranda looked away, gripping Alexander's bicep tightly. Pain lanced at her temple with each breath.
"Darling?" Alexander asked. "Are you all right?"
"Mm, yes," Miranda murmured, breathing evenly in the hopes that the ache would fade with time, and alcohol. "Would you get me a glass of pinot gris?"
"Of course. Be right back." He patted her hand and vanished in a sea of bodies, leaving Miranda mercifully alone.
Eyes closed, Miranda inhaled, exhaled. Again. The nausea receded, so she opened her eyes. And looked directly into the concerned gaze belonging to the one person she could not abide seeing her unhappiness. She looked away and prayed for rescue. It came swiftly with the approach of Jonathan Adler and his partner, both of whom would have driven her to the brink of madness on a typical evening. Not tonight. Tonight, they were her saviors, and Miranda smiled at them both as they engaged her in inane conversation. No matter. They kept Andrea at bay, and that was the most important thing.
Later, her headache was still there, but Miranda didn't notice it as much. The wine was helping to numb the pain, and everything else. It clouded her range of vision, so she couldn't focus on Andrea's pale skin that glowed with an ethereal brilliance in the darkness of the room. She was not drunk, but she was close. At least the night was almost over. "Excuse me, darling," she said to Alexander, who was deep in conversation with one of the Viacom board members. "Be right back."
He smiled graciously and she made her escape to a private ladies' room, upstairs and away from the crowd. The quiet soothed her, and she sat in front of the mirror in the lounge and rested her head in her hands.
The silence lasted for less than a minute, when the swinging door squeaked and alerted her to the presence of another person. Miranda was not pleased when she looked into the mirror's reflection.
"Are you okay?" Andrea asked, voice gentle and kind.
"Get out," Miranda croaked.
That startled her. "What?"
"This bathroom is private. Get. Out."
"Miranda, you look terrible," Andrea began again, and started forward.
That got Miranda to her feet, and she stumbled back against the counter. "Don't come near me. Don't speak to me."
"Please, Miranda, let me help you--"
"I don't want to see you. Help me by leaving me alone. For good." Miranda felt her lips part in a nasty grin. "And by not throwing Bradley in my face every goddamned day of my life."
"What?" The kindness vanished. "What did you say?"
"'I'm breaking up with him, Miranda,'" she mimicked. "'I don't love him.' Well you certainly look as though you're still together. Hanging all over each other. It's disgusting."
"You don't understandweI'm not " Andrea put a hand to her forehead, flustered. "Wait a second. You've got no right at all to say this to me. I don't see you and Alexander breaking up any time soon. What the fuck did you expect me to do? Dump my boyfriend even though you and Alex are still together? Is that what you wanted?"
Miranda sneered. "I don't care what you do."
Andrea's eyes widened. "Liar," she growled through her teeth.
Miranda stepped forward, eyes ablaze. "I have never lied to you. You lied. You said you were leaving him."
"You have no idea what's between me and Brad."
"And I don't want to know. Get out."
"No!" Andrea shouted. "You said that it wasn't going to happen between us, and I took you at your word. You wanted one afternoon, a few hours together. I wanted more. You turned me down, because you'd rather be with Alex, who has money, and position, and power. That was your choice. Yours." Andrea bit her lip before taking a breath. "I would have chosen you, Miranda. I would always, always choose you." She shook her head with a rueful smile. "You know, you'd be so easy to love if you weren't such a goddamned bitch."
Enraged, Miranda lurched forward. Before she could even consider the idiocy of her actions, she swung her hand to slap Andrea's gorgeous face, but Andrea was far quicker. She grabbed Miranda's wrist, and with her other hand, shoved her against the wall. And then Andrea was on her, and everything else faded away.
It was irresistible, the angry pull of Andrea's lips devouring hers, tongue forcing its way into her mouth. Miranda groaned in a fury and moved closer, fingers yanking at hair that was even softer than it looked. This was not what she wanted, Miranda reminded herself. This girl, whose hips fitted themselves so ideally against her own, was the problem. One thigh slid between Miranda's, and she cried out. Andrea's hands grabbed her ass and pushed against her in a rhythm that sent a flash of something so primal into Miranda's core that she shuddered. She pulled Andrea's hair harder, sucking at the mouth that clung to hers. It was hard to breathe, but suddenly breathing was less important than getting her hands on those curves, and she reached down. The hips moving against her quickened, slamming her into the wall, and Miranda heard desperate sounds coming from Andrea's throat. But when Andrea threw her head back in ecstasy, the image was enough. Miranda bucked in unexpected climax, pleasure shaking her entire frame like an earthquake. Andrea glanced up in surprise. "Oh," she cried, and thrust twice more before her expression froze and melted into utter rapture. She moaned her way through it, and Miranda inhaled the scent of her skin as though she was starving.
In a daze, she stayed where she was, not moving her hands from their place on Andrea's narrow waist. She trembled, rage and everything else drained out of her body. Left behind was nothing but confusion. Brown eyes opened, and their sadness stole Miranda's breath. They stared at each other for a while, until Miranda had to turn away.
"I meant what I said," Andrea said thickly. "You'd be so easy to love." She kissed Miranda again, sending a little aftershock through her. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I'm sorry." Andrea backed away from her as though realizing just where they were, and what they'd done. "I'm sorry."
Miranda didn't say anything. She couldn't. A moment later, Andrea was gone, leaving behind only the whisper of her perfume, and her taste in Miranda's mouth.
Miranda didn't know how much time passed before she pushed away from the wall. Her legs were weak. Though her body was slow to respond to her brain's commands, she felt good. Finally she sat on the stool where she'd been when Andrea walked into the room. In the mirror, she looked at herself. Her eyes were bright, cheeks flushed and rosy. Her lipstick was smeared off, but otherwise she appeared fine. Not as though she'd just had an exceptional orgasm against the wall of a public bathroom. Still stunned, she stayed motionless for a little while, not thinking about anything at all.
Eventually, she realized she'd better clean herself up and get back to the party. She spared only a moment to wonder how Andrea had fared in her return to Bradley's side.
As she strode out of the bathroom, looking perfectly well, Miranda didn't notice that her headache was gone.
Miranda did what she could over the next few days to put the second incident out of her mind. This was far easier said than done, however. Alexander noticed nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps because Miranda worked herself into the ground every day. She hardly saw him, or the girls, or anyone but Chelsea for four days. By the morning of the fifth, she was in such a foul mood that no one at Runway would even come down the hall if they knew she was in the office. And though Miranda realized this, she really didn't care. Her head was killing her, the pain worse than ever. Tylenol helped when she remembered to take it, but she thought it might be time to visit Dr. Sarayen for a prescription. Nigel would probably recommend an anti-psychotic. Miranda would have considered it at this point.
That afternoon, Dr. Sarayen asked her a hundred questions about the pain. In the end, she just shook her head. "It's tension, Miranda. You're grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. When was the last time you saw a dentist?"
Miranda launched an eyebrow at her. "Last year. My teeth are fine."
"I'd see someone soon. You might need a mouthguard."
"No," Miranda said flatly. She would not be humiliated into wearing such a thing.
The doctor rolled her eyes. "It could help, especially if you want to keep your teeth. In the meantime, I'm willing, this time only, to prescribe some Valium. A low dosage. Don't drink alcohol with it. Take 5 milligrams before bed. Call me in a week if it doesn't make a difference and I'll up you to 10. But no more." The woman patted Miranda on the shoulder, and Miranda tried not to frown. "You still doing yoga?"
"Any other exercise?"
Miranda pursed her lips. "Not lately. I don't have time."
Dr. Sarayen looked down at her with that expression all doctors got when their patients were doing something that was bad for them. "Get back into it. Especially yoga. It will help with your headaches, and your sleep." She quickly wrote out an illegible note on a piece of paper and handed it to her. "Here's your scrip. Call me, like I said. And for god's sake, do something that makes you happy once in a while."
Miranda chuckled bitterly. "Happy?"
The doctor tilted her head. "Yeah, happy. You know, glad. Joyful. Cheery. Even you must remember how it feels to be happy now and then, don't you?"
Even you, Miranda thought to herself. She blinked. "Of course. But life isn't just about being happy. Nothing's that simple."
The doctor shrugged. "Maybe. But sometimes it is. Watch a sunset. Read a book. Take a nice walk. Spend time with someone you love. Just try and enjoy yourself for five minutes a day." When Miranda opened her mouth to protest, the doctor waved her hand to cut her off. "Five minutes. That's all I ask. Okay?"
"Fine." Just because she agreed to do it didn't mean she had to.
"Good. Now scoot. I pushed back a case of poison oak for you and the guy's probably scratching his skin off."
That night, Miranda didn't visit Alexander. She deliberately left work in time to have dinner withthe girls for the first time in recent memory. But once she entered the house, it was oddly quiet. "Girls?" she called out.
There was no answer.
She heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. Michele was drying her hands on a dishtowel. "Hello, Ms. Priestly. You're home early."
"I wanted to have supper with my daughters."
Michele's face froze. "They're not here tonight, ma'am. They're at a friend's house to sleep over. I didn't expect you home until midnight, but let me whip something up for you to eat--"
"When did I say it was all right for the girls to sleep at someone's house tonight?"
"Tuesday afternoon. We called to run it by you, and you said it was fine."
Miranda eyed her suspiciously. She had no memory of that conversation at all.
"I wouldn't have let them go otherwise, Ms. Priestly, I swear. You've been, well, they know you work so hard, and they just wanted to make it easier on you. You can have your Saturday morning to yourself. They'll be back at noon, and then we have tickets to the Hopper exhibit at the Whitney. Would you like to come along? I assumed you'd be working, or with Mr. Huntington, but I know the girls would be thrilled."
Miranda lost her breath a little. Only a few weeks ago, she had mentioned the Edward Hopper exhibit to Cassidy and said that they should all go together. Cassidy's artistic talent had started to blossom the previous year, and Miranda was sure she would take to Hopper's stark elegance. Her nostrils flared. "Do you, now," she asked, very softly.
"Of course. Cassidy said that you mentioned it, but you've been so busy and she didn't want to bother you." Miranda saw the girl begin to panic. "You can have my ticket. I don't mind." She clasped her hands together briefly before thrusting them back to her sides. "They'd rather spend time with you than anyone. They love you."
"Mm," Miranda said, heart sinking to her feet. "No thank you. You three go. I have plans with Alexander."
Michele nodded shortly. Miranda felt pleased to have frightened her; the young woman deserved it. "All right. If you change your mind, just let me know. I'm headed out unless you need anything further?"
"No," Miranda said, and the girl scampered away, probably glad to have escaped with her head still attached to her body.
So. From the study, she heard the door close a few minutes later, and the house was blessedly silent.
She worked continuously until midnight, when the pain in her jaw reasserted itself. Perhaps an early night would not be a bad idea. She closed the Book and went upstairs, ignoring a pang of loneliness when she glanced into Caroline's empty room on the way to her own. Quickly she prepared for bed and settled down under the thick duvet with a sigh. The orange prescription bottle held ten little pills, and she fished one out and swallowed it with water. "Five milligrams," she huffed. It was worth a try.
Dr. Sarayen's words came floating back to her as she stared at the ceiling. Five minutes a day. Miranda supposed she could spare that much as she fell asleep. She thought of her girls, but their absence stung. She thought of Alexander. She thought of work.
It took three wasted minutes for her to relent, and she finally allowed her restless mind to focus on Andrea. Miranda imagined bee-stung lips traveling along the nape of her neck, whispering sweetly to her, words that Miranda couldn't discern even in her fantasy. Gentle hands kneaded her sore neck, and soothed her aching jaw with a tenderness that squeezed her heart.
It wasn't real, but she was happy, if even for a moment.
Eight days later, Miranda took Alexander's hand as he helped her from the car. They'd spent the early evening touring new space for his executive team, and now they would meet the rest of the family at the house for a late supper. As she looked over her shoulder, she saw Bradley and Andrea sauntering toward her, laughing, arm in arm. Alexander whispered in hear ear. "They make a nice couple, don't they?"
"Mm," Miranda said, unable to muster up anything more descriptive.
"You do like Andy, don't you, darling?"
Miranda opened her mouth to speak, prepared to reply with something vague, when Andrea turned her head and met Miranda's eyes. The bolt that shot through her body was not a surprise, but it was exceptionally ill-timed. Instead of answering, she exhaled carefully and tossed her hair. She patted Alexander's forearm, the silence between them broken by Bradley's jovial greeting.
As they hung up coats and said their hellos inside, Miranda found it difficult to speak. Distantly she wondered how she was going to spend the rest of her life, or at least some portion of it, seeing Andrea, and wanting her, and resisting the temptation.
Or not resisting it.
Miranda tilted her head. She had cheated on Alexander, in both thought and deed. How had she become what she had always despised? Two of her three marriages ended because of infidelity, not committed by her. Betrayal in all its forms revolted her, so it made little sense that she'd fallen into it so easily and without guilt.
But Miranda considered a deeper question: why was she cheating in the first place?
She tapped a finger against her chin. Why was she, trend-setting goddess of the fashion industry, denying herself? She had achieved every goal she'd ever set, reached the pinnacle of a career so overrun with peaks it was nearly impossible to chart. But here, just across the room, was someone she wanted desperately, and could have if she simply reached out a hand. Andrea had been very clear in that respect. I would always, always choose you, Andrea had said, and Miranda believed her. The words echoed in her mind as the ache in her head swam up and darkened her vision for just a moment.
Would it be so very terrible to love Andrea? Would it make her weak, and soft? Miranda couldn't tell. The young woman was an unknown quantity. Ambitious, surely, and driven, but with a purity and sense of purpose that on anyone else would have appeared childish. And she was the quintessential opposite of every individual Miranda had ever been attracted to.
She glanced at her subdued, elegant surroundings. Alexander had a refined style in line with Miranda's own. His personality was powerful, and he had achieved as much if not more than Miranda in his lifetime. His children were thankfully grown, and he liked the twins, as well as he knew them. He was her match in every way.
Before she could take her thoughts further, Miranda heard furious whispers nearby. One of the voices was Andrea's, and her eyes were wide when Miranda spotted her and Bradley in what looked to be an argument. Andrea caught Miranda watching them, but instead of hiding her distress, her anguish deepened. Something terrible had happened. Bradley had hurt her in some way, and that was unacceptable. Miranda was about to charge toward them when Jasmine swooped in from her left and handed her a champagne glass. "Here you go, Miranda," the young woman said.
"Thank you," Miranda said with a frown, taking the glass but keeping one eye on Andrea.
"Didn't you just love the new space?"
"What?" Miranda replied, tearing her gaze away.
"On 5th Avenue. Didn't Dad just take you there?"
"Oh, yes." Miranda sipped her champagne impatiently. "Very nice."
"I just adore it. Dad, when are you moving in?"
"Another eight weeks or so," Alexander replied, sidling up next to Miranda and slipping his hand around her waist. "They're painting Tuesday, and the carpets go down sometime next week."
"I want an office there myself," Jasmine crowed, and Miranda's attention was diverted briefly as she wondered exactly what Jasmine would do in an office other than sit in a chair, text her friends and talk on the phone. At least Bradley expressed some sort of interest in business. Miranda glanced back at him, eyebrow raised. Her timing was terrible, because he lifted Andrea's hand in his own at that moment and kissed it. Andrea shrugged, and gave him a half-hearted grin.
Miranda would have given quite a lot to know exactly what had just gone on.
"Let's sit in the parlor," Alexander suggested, nudging her in that direction.
Miranda replied smoothly. "Of course."
Miranda allowed Alexander and Jasmine to chit-chat about the office space, until a few minutes later she heard Andrea exclaim, "Oh!"
The room's occupants turned in Andrea's direction. She had her Blackberry in hand, and looked up at Bradley. "I've got to go, I'm so sorry."
"A co-worker who's on a story tonight, she's been called away. I have to go in."
"Oh no," Jasmine whined. "We were all going to Blue after supper. Are you sure?"
"Yeah. It's a big story, and I can't let the paper down." The voice was honest, but the eyes told Miranda another story. Andrea was, without a doubt, lying through her teeth. "Have a lovely evening everyone." She went to Alexander first, followed by Jasmine and Bradley, kissing them all on the cheek. When she moved in Miranda's direction, Miranda trained a pointed gaze upon her, but she did not flinch. "You too, Miranda. Have a wonderful night." That despairing expression returned for a split second, until Andrea smiled sadly. Were those tears in her eyes? "Bye." She leaned in and pressed her lips to Miranda's cheek, and it was as though a flame had been lit under Miranda's skin. And then Andrea vanished, practically out the door by the time Miranda turned to watch her go.
"Such a dedicated girl," Alexander said, patting his son on the shoulder. "Where on earth did you find someone so committed?"
Bradley smiled. "I was in the right place at the right time," he replied.
Alexander and Jasmine went back to their conversation, and Miranda took her chance. The boy wouldn't know what hit him by the time she was finished. Approaching slowly, she took his arm and drew him away from his family. "So, Bradley, how are you and Andrea these days?"
His smile faltered for just long enough to give Miranda the assurance she needed to pry into his business. "Oh, great! I'm crazy about her. What's not to love?"
"Bradley," Miranda leered, dropping her voice to a dangerously seductive level. "You must realize that Andrea and I have been acquainted for quite some time."
"And that I know Andrea very, very well. Perhaps even better than you might think." Miranda felt her cheeks heat for a moment at that.
Bradley laughed nervously.
"She was lying tonight," Miranda said softly. "Why would she do such a thing?"
The anxiety left Brad's face. "Andy wasn't lying," he said, waving his hand. "She had to work."
"No, no," Miranda replied, recognizing her opportunity. He was relaxed, calm. If she had read the tension between them properly, there was something strange afoot. "She didn't. What happened? Did you two argue?"
"No, we didn't. Honestly, I'm not sure what happened. I, uh, gave her a heads up about somethingDad's got a little surprise planned for the um, whole family." He grinned knowingly. "But you won't get that out of me. My lips are sealed." He turned an invisible key near his mouth and threw it over his shoulder.
"I see," Miranda said. There had to be something more going on. "I also know she's been lying about your relationship. Can you tell me why that is, Bradley?"
Brad froze. "Don't be ridiculous, Miranda. Why would we lie?"
Miranda's eyes narrowed. Not Andrea alone. We. "I can think of any number of reasons." Perhaps they were on the verge of breaking off their relationship; if Andrea was anyone else, she would have wondered if she had said something about their liaisons. But, Miranda trusted the younger woman entirely, and would continue to do so until proven otherwise.
"What did Andy tell you?" He looked spooked.
"Only what she thought I should know." The truth was there, barely out of reach. Just say it, Bradley.
"I can't believe this. I trusted her. Why did she even say anything?"
Miranda's heart pounded furiously. "It just came out."
"Shit. You haven't said anything to Dad, have you?"
"No," Miranda said, glancing over at Alexander. "Not yet."
"Miranda, I will do anything you want. Anything. Please, please don't tell him yet. Andy promised she'd be with me when I do it. I mean, it's going to kill him, but she made me swear to come clean by the end of the year."
"I mean, it's not like there's a big rush. I haven't been seeing anyone, if that's what you're wondering."
"Heh, no. We can't exactly you know, hang out in Chelsea or anything," he said with a sheepish grin.
Miranda's breath stopped very suddenly, and her mouth hung open. Finally, she exhaled a great gust of air, and swayed dizzily. "Of course," Miranda said. "Of course you couldn't."
Bradley was too wrapped up in his own neuroses to realize Miranda's dilemma. "I love my dad. I don't know what he's going to do. I'm the only, you know, gay person in the family," he whispered.
Miranda's eyes fell closed. At once, everything became clear.
The next hour passed in a fog, for Miranda found it difficult to focus on anything at all other than the little gem of information she'd uncovered. Andrea's relationship was a sham. Had it started out that way? Miranda thought not, but she couldn't be sure, nor could she extract more information from Bradley at the dinner table. She was kind to him after his confession, realizing that she herself hid a similar secret, though it had not occurred to her before that she was truly hiding. Not about being some sort of lesbian, but more of having fallen, purely by accident, mind you, for a young woman exactly half her age.
Seeing Andrea's face dissolve into grief that night, and subsequently discovering that she was unattached to Bradley had helped Miranda understand many things. One was that she was very much in love, however humiliating that might be. Another was that she had to bring things to an appropriate conclusion with Alexander before anything irreparable took place.
Miranda had made a decision, and once made, she would not take it back.
But just before dessert, a wrench was thrown into Miranda's plans.
Alexander cleared his throat, commanding attention as the dinner plates were cleared. "Well," he began, "I'm so pleased those I care for the most are here with me tonight, though there is an empty chair at the table that I hoped would be filled." He nodded toward Andrea's seat. "But that won't stop me from doing something I've considered for quite some time."
Miranda experienced a tremendous sense of self-loathing when she saw Alexander reach into his pocket and draw out a black, velvet box. Without thought or consideration for anything except his pride, and her own sanity, Miranda's hand shot out and held his wrist still. He jerked in her grip, staring at her.
"Don't," she said, her voice desperate.
His smile faltered, yet he chuckled. "Hmm?"
Miranda knew now why Andrea had fled tonight. Bradley had told her a proposal was imminent, and she could not force herself to stay and watch. Miranda had been so concerned about Andrea that it had not even occurred to her that this was coming. "Don't. Please."
As Alexander watched her, his face melted into an expression she had not witnessed before. It was one of perfect comprehension, tinged with hurt and disbelief. "No?" he asked, as though to reassure himself he did not misunderstand.
Miranda simply shook her head.
"Ah." With that, he pulled his arm from Miranda's iron grip, and returned the box to his pocket. "Well. That's it, then."
Miranda looked over at the two children; Jasmine appeared horrified, while Bradley looked on in confusion. The young man put his brains to good use, and stood from his seat. "Jazz, come on."
"What?" Jasmine gasped. "What?"
Bradley didn't wait for her to say any more, going around to the other side of the table and grabbing her by the elbow. "Okay, thanks for dinner. See you later." They were gone in the blink of an eye.
Now with the two of them alone in the enormous dining room, it was silent. Miranda swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry," she managed, and felt a great sadness descend upon her. Never would she have guessed that her façade would have caused so much unpleasantness.
"So am I," Alexander said, undoing his black tie. "I thought I understood. I suppose I was mistaken. We hadn't discussed it in any detail, but I assumed too much."
"I don't know what to say," Miranda started. "I've made a fool of myself."
A hardness came to Alexander's face. "And me."
"No," Miranda breathed. "Not at all. I-- I had every intention "
Against her better judgment, Miranda attempted some semblance of an explanation. "You are right for me in so many ways. We would be stronger together than apart, professionally speaking. And I deceived myself that the professional connection could take precedence over anything more personal."
He threw the tie on the table. "So you used me."
Glancing down at her empty glass, Miranda replied, "Perhaps. But only out of habit. Never malice. I promise you."
"Habit," Alexander repeated. He huffed in amusement. "That is something I can understand." Finally, he met her gaze. "You are very like my wife, you see. I think we would have been well suited. If you loved me."
She wanted to deny his words and say that she did love him. To say it was all a ruse, and that she would marry him. Because this was far more painful than she ever could have imagined. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Alex," she said, tears gathering at the back of her throat.
He nodded, deflating before her eyes. "It could have been worse," he said with a half-smile. "My original thought was to throw a huge party and propose in front of everyone we knew."
Oh god, Miranda thought. Disaster. "Can you forgive me?"
His eyes were soft, far more thoughtful than Miranda felt she deserved. "I care for you, Miranda. As I said, we're a good match. But I would never ask more than you could give. And I expect you felt the same from me. How much love would have grown between us, neither of us can say now. But I do regret the not finding out."
She breathed an inward sigh of relief; he wouldn't do anything to harm her, career or otherwise. Perhaps they could even be friends one day. Reaching forward, she touched his hand gently. "I may do the same," she replied. It was only a white lie, and she felt no guilt for it.
His fingers grasped hers for a moment before releasing them. "So," he said, leaning back in his chair. "We've come to the end of a fruitful affair then."
"Yes," she said. "We have."
"I enjoyed every minute of your companionship. You're a formidable woman, Miranda Priestly. I envy the man who will earn the full force of your affection."
Miranda snorted through her nose. If you only knew, she thought. She hoped he wouldn't be flattened by the truth when it eventually came out. Miranda believed that she would not be able to keep the secret for long. And perhaps she didn't care to either.
If the world didn't like that she was in love with Andrea Sachs, then it could go straight to hell.
As the car traveled south on Broadway, Miranda stared at her phone and willed it to ring.
"No luck yet?" Roy asked.
"No," Miranda replied. "It's down here somewhere. She's can't be below Canal street. Stay in this neighborhood."
The phone rang, and Miranda held it to her ear. "Yes?"
"46 East 1st street apartment 6C between 1st and 2nd Avenue," Chelsea exhaled in one breath. "One way going west."
Miranda repeated the address to Roy, who sped off toward Houston.
"Thank you, Chelsea."
"No problem. She sent a Christmas card this year so I had her new address."
"All right. Go back to doing whatever it was you were doing."
"Thanks. Have a great night."
Miranda hung up the call, and hoped the night would indeed turn out to be a good one. She'd tried calling Andrea repeatedly, but was sent to voicemail each time. That would not stop her. If Andrea wasn't in her apartment, she would hunt her down until they could speak to each other, and tell the truth for a change. Now that Miranda had made a decision, she would not hesitate to act. Patience never was her strong suit.
Roy made a sharp turn, and then another. Moments later, he'd pulled to a stop in front of a building that wasn't as bad as Miranda had prepared herself for. It was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night. "Wait here until I get into the building. Then you're free to go for the rest of the weekend."
"You won't need--"
"I'll take a cab." She stepped out of the car and slammed the door. Roy already knew there was something odd going on, but she didn't need to make her intentions entirely obvious. There were a series of buttons on a worn-out callbox on the outside of the building, and she pressed 6C. No response. She waited 30 seconds before trying again. Again, nothing. Finally, she laid her thumb on the button and didn't remove it, listening to the unpleasant sound until a voice interrupted.
"Andrea, let me in."
There was a pause. "Who is that?"
"The Queen of Sheba. Open up."
Leaning close to the intercom, Miranda used her most commanding tone. "Open. The. Door. Now."
There was a loud buzz, and she exhaled. Inside she found a small but functional elevator to deliver her to the sixth floor. At the end of the hall, she knocked on a red door and waited. It opened only a few inches. The room was dark inside, and Miranda could hardly see Andrea's face. "You shouldn't be here, Miranda. Go home."
"Is that your way of telling me you don't want to see me?"
"No. It's my way of telling you that you shouldn't be here. Please," she begged, and Miranda was shocked at the agony in her voice. "Don't make this any harder."
"Let me in."
At least she knew when she was beaten. Andrea stepped back and swung the door wide, and Miranda stepped inside. Only a small table lamp lit the room, and thrown over it was a dark red scarf that gave the room an unearthly tint. There was a couch and coffee table, a wingback chair, and two bookshelves overflowing with books and newspapers. Simple, but it fit Andrea very nicely. Prints adorned the walls, one of which Miranda thought might be an original from a new artist she'd seen in SoHo last year. "I like your home."
Andrea rubbed the center of her forehead with two fingers. "Great. Is that all?"
"No. I'd like a glass of wine. I've had a rather unusual night."
With a sigh, Andrea turned and went around the corner to what Miranda presumed was the kitchen. Miranda followed her. Uncorking an already-opened bottle of red, Andrea poured two glasses. It was brighter here, and when Andrea turned to hand her the glass, Miranda realized that she looked absolutely terrible. Her skin was pale and splotchy, eyes rimmed with pink. Even her nose was red. Miranda gaped, and felt ashamed. She reached out a hand to cup one cheek, and Andrea flinched.
"Stop it, Miranda. This is over."
"Oh, no, it's not. Not in the least."
"What, you plan on starting up with me now that you're engaged?"
Ah, she'd been right. "No, I thought it would be nice to pay you a visit now that I'm free."
Andrea's face remained blank. "Free," she repeated.
"Free from what?"
Lifting her left hand, Miranda displayed her very bare ring finger. "Free from other obligations."
Confusion made Andrea adorable. "Didn't Alex propose tonight?"
"He did not. Nor will he ever."
"But Brad told me-"
"Bradley," Miranda said. "A sweet boy. I should have seen the signs earlier, but he passes well."
Andrea swallowed. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, darling, always protecting others even when it's not in your best interests. You are an anomaly, and I am so lucky to have found you."
"Um, let's back up," Andrea said before taking a slug of wine. "Could you speak, you know, clearly for once and tell me what's happening?"
Miranda had done enough damage tonight; the miserable eyes were evidence enough. "All right. One, I know that Bradley is gay, and that your relationship is purely for his father's benefit. Two, Alexander did not propose, because I stopped him before he got the chance. So, I'm, as they say, available." Miranda sipped her wine as the information washed over Andrea. Briefly she thought she had misjudged the situation. Andrea's eyes were wide, but she did not appear happy. "If you're interested," she added for good measure.
When Andrea finally spoke, it was in a hushed whisper. "You and Alex--"
"Are no longer an item."
"Broke it off."
In a remarkably short period of time, Andrea's eyes filled with tears that spilled down her cheeks. "Oh my god. Oh my god. I can't believe it."
Still, she didn't move, and Miranda had no idea what to do. This was getting worrisome. So much for believing that Andrea would simply throw herself into Miranda's arms at hearing the news. "Well, if you're going to stare at me all night, I can just--"
Miranda's voice seemed to spur Andrea into action, because by the time the words left her mouth, Andrea had tossed her wine glass into the sink and leapt forward into Miranda's arms. Just as she'd hoped. "Oh my god," she sobbed into Miranda's ear, and her whole body shook with emotion. "Oh my god. Oh god. Miranda," she breathed, hugging her tightly.
This is more like it. She set her wine glass on the counter and brought her arms around a narrow waist. Chills raced down her back and up through her head. The feeling was unusual, as though a tight band of tension that held her body together released. She relaxed, melting into the embrace she'd longed for. It felt so, so good. The smell of her, the softness was a wonderful surprise. They'd been close twice, kissed and rubbed against one another and more, but this seemed different. Miranda wanted to stop time and hold on. Make it last for more than the five minutes a day she'd allotted for happiness.
Andrea pressed her face into the crook of Miranda's neck, and tears slipped down her skin. The cool trickle gave her a little shiver, and she cradled Andrea's head, stroking that soft hair she adored. After a few minutes, Andrea rubbed her damp cheek against Miranda's. "Can we stay this way forever?" she said softly.
Miranda smiled. "Oh, yes," she said, wanting to believe in a fantasy for once in her life. "I would like that very much."
"I can't believe you're here. I can't believe " she trailed off.
"That I would choose you?" Miranda finished for her.
Andrea pulled back, eyes still watery and red. She nodded.
Miranda took a deep breath. "Well. Some choices are more difficult than others."
"But once made, they stay."
Andrea nodded again, and smiled so brightly Miranda felt light-headed at the transformation. Such joy moved her. She'd walked into a gloomy apartment where Andrea had spent the evening crying, and made her happy with a few words and a hug. Of course it was more than that, but it was simple too. Being together. She stroked the backs of her fingers along Andrea's jaw. There were so many things she wanted to know, but more than anything, she wanted to kiss those lips. Entranced, she swayed forward, and kissed Andrea's cheek first. "Oh," Andrea said, breath catching, and the sound of it did something strange to Miranda's chest. "Oh, yes," the younger woman murmured, and then they were kissing. Within seconds Miranda was panting. She opened her mouth for air, only to feel the invasion of Andrea's questing tongue steal her breath altogether.
Soon they were in motion, Miranda blind to everything but the sensation of lips and hands and body against her. She didn't care where they went, as long as it didn't stop. Andrea hummed continuously, like she tasted something delicious that got better with every mouthful. The longer it went on, the more Miranda's heart raced. God, she wanted this girl. But not enough to pull away and ask where they were going.
Shortly thereafter, Andrea yanked her head back. She pushed the coat from Miranda's shoulders to the floor. "We're doing this," she said, her lips blood red. Miranda trembled and nodded. Andrea made to untie the wrap blouse Miranda wore, but she couldn't figure out how to undo it. "Get this off." With unsteady hands, Miranda found the knot and mercifully pulled it apart. "Oh Jesus," Andrea said, eyes wide when she took in Miranda's lingerie.
Self-conscious, Miranda's first instinct was to shrink back, but there was no time. Andrea attacked, her lips fastening to her throat, hands cupping her breasts, kneading and flicking at her nipples. Miranda cried out, which only made Andrea move faster, nipping her collarbone, sliding down her chest before easing one bra strap down and going in for the kill. Miranda felt the touch on her breasts echo between her legs. She grabbed Andrea's head and arched into the kiss. The room was silent except for the wet sounds of Andrea's mouth, and her constant hums of pleasure. Andrea pulled her head away, eyes heavy lidded with passion. "I want to do everything all at once," she said. "I want to do everything to you."
A shudder racked Miranda's frame. She wiped her mouth, feeling like she was turning inside out. "Hurry," she finally said, starting on her skirt. She stared at Andrea incredulously. Tossing her head in Andrea's direction, "You too. I can't do this alone."
It took a moment for the words to compute, but Andrea was nothing if not thorough, stripping her tee shirt and jeans off her slim frame in seconds. Then they were in their underwear, Miranda not ready to completely reveal everything. She was in excellent shape, but Andrea had the natural form of a dancer, limbs long and sleek. Miranda was stunned into silence. Clothes flattered the girl, but she was far more beautiful without them. "My god," she muttered.
"Uh-huh," Andrea echoed, eyes fastened to Miranda's figure. The room was dim, and Miranda looked around. It was the bedroom, she realized, and Andrea threw herself onto the bed and turned on a second lamp. With a broad grin, she turned around. "I want to be able to see what I'm doing."
Miranda felt exposed and ridiculous with her bra half off. Finally she unfastened it herself, dropping it onto the floor. Andrea didn't move, but she bit her lip. She ran a hand through her hair. "You're wow."
Miranda crawled onto the bed on hands and knees, putting aside her self-consciousness. Andrea looked pleased, and that was good enough. "Wow?" she prodded. "Is that a new adjective?"
"For you. You're gorgeous."
And then Miranda was above her, sinking down into open arms, skin to skin for the first time. She moaned, and searched for the clasp of Andrea's bra. She unfastened it expertly and tossed it off the bed, devouring the view with undeniable appreciation. "Oh, yes," she growled, leaning down for her own taste. This was her fantasy come to life, the one she'd imagined back before they traveled to France. But it was so much better. Andrea arched, digging her fingers into the base of Miranda's skull. Miranda licked softly, circling fast and slow in search of the right pace. "Tell me what you like," she said, glancing up.
"That's good," Andrea panted.
"Everything," Andrea said frantically. "Just keep doing it."
Miranda returned to the other breast and was rewarded with a lusty groan. The sensation of damp silk distracted her; it led her hand south, and she pressed her fingers between those long legs without warning. Andrea opened wide and offered herself up without shame. Miranda rubbed the silk before pulling the underwear down and out of the way; Andrea kicked it off and grabbed Miranda's hand to pull it back in place. She arced off the bed, and Miranda was stunned by her sensuality. She hadn't known what to expect; uncertainty, clumsiness perhaps. Not this display of raw desire. Her next words proved how badly she wanted Miranda: "Come inside, please."
Miranda complied, searching through the slick warmth and sliding two fingers in. Andrea's mouth dropped open as her eyes fell shut. Miranda moved closer, straddling one leg and rubbing her breasts against Andrea's. She kissed her, tongue lapping inside her mouth, following Andrea's movements. One hand still covered her own where it worked, and the heat made Miranda's head want to explode. She groaned.
"So good," Andrea mumbled against Miranda's mouth, "good, good, good... Oh yes, just," and then she was bucking hard until she stilled, her body half off the bed, and Miranda felt the throb and pulse of muscles deep within. Miranda could only stare as Andrea let out a long wail that ended in a sob when her body collapsed back onto the mattress.
Miranda's mouth was dry. It was a spectacular sight.
Andrea's eyes remained shut, and Miranda thought she could see the wild beat of her heart above her heaving ribcage. "So beautiful," she whispered, laying her head there against Andrea's chest to feel the energy moving through her body.
"Miranda," Andrea said weakly. "Miranda."
Miranda raised her head to look down. "Yes, darling."
She did. Slowly Andrea sat up, continuing the languid kiss, though Miranda's desire was not yet sated. Miranda carefully removed her hand from between Andrea's legs, and she heard the answering gasp. Andrea trailed her mouth once more to Miranda's breasts. "Ah," Miranda sighed, sitting back on her heels with one strong thigh between her own. Curiously, she lifted her hand and sniffed, jolted by the musky scent. She tasted once, and then again before losing her train of thought. All her focus now was at her center, where Andrea had begun to explore, caressing and spreading her open.
"Your turn," Andrea smiled. "What do you like?" She dipped inside just a little, just enough to make Miranda's head heat up again. "You can show me."
But Miranda didn't have to show her, because just those two fingers moving around, delving in and out, was exactly what she wanted. "Like that," Miranda breathed.
Miranda nodded and put her hands on Andrea's shoulders, hips undulating, already on the edge. "Yes, yes," she said, and when Andrea licked at her breast, she let go and howled, not caring who heard her ecstatic cries. When it was over, she slumped forward into Andrea's embrace, and they both fell back onto the bed. She almost felt sorry when she heard Andrea's grunt of surprise. Almost.
But Andrea only giggled, and squirmed out from underneath her undoubtedly dead weight. When Miranda opened one eye, the girl looked smug and cheerful with her head resting on one hand. "Wow."
Miranda heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction. "Wow, indeed."
Andrea blinked, and for a moment, she looked stricken. "I have to tell you something. Don't get upset."
God, she couldn't wait until Miranda enjoyed a little more of the afterglow to start on something unpleasant. "I'll try."
Andrea inhaled, held her breath, and said, "I love you."
Miranda stared, and waited for more. "Is that what I'm not supposed to get upset about?"
She nodded. "I just wanted to say it. This isn't a casual thing for me."
Miranda snorted. "It had better not be."
"Okay. Good. I'm glad I got that out of the way."
Finally, Miranda felt able to move again, and endorphins were coursing rather nicely through her body. Between the sex and the oddly unromantic admission of love, she felt just fine. She reached out and pulled Andrea on top of her, enjoying the way their damp, sweaty bodies fit together. "If we're 'getting things out of the way' then, I love you too."
Andrea blushed, to Miranda's surprise. "You don't have to say that, you know. To make me feel better."
"You're not serious."
She nodded. "This is enough. You're here, we're together. I don't--I don't want--"
"I love you," Miranda repeated. "Though the way you're acting right now I'm not sure how I managed it."
"Do you honestly believe I would lie about something like this?"
"Well, I mean, no, not exactly, but I don't expect anything, um, other than "
"Andrea Sachs, if you think I'm going to engage in some sort of clandestine affair with you, you've got another thing coming."
"Tonight I ended a relationship with a man who nearly proposed to me, and if it struck him, he could do serious damage to my reputation. I took that chance, however foolish it might have been."
"Oh. I didn't think about that part."
"I did. But Alexander is a good man, despite his power and standing in the community. Of course I didn't tell him I was about to run off and make love to his son's faux-girlfriend. He might have had more to complain about in that case."
Andrea's expression was comical, torn between mirth and compassion.
"But I am serious about this. About you. This is exclusive. I don't share."
"No?" Andrea asked, looking pleased with herself.
"Certainly not." Miranda ran a sticky hand up Andrea's shapely hip, moving to stroke one nipple that hardened under her touch. "Not now."
"I'm okay with that." And then she realized what Miranda was talking about. "You mean with Brad?"
"I do. But I understand if you're not ready to end your charade."
"We haven't uh, done anything for a while. Not since France. Well, before that, really. There wasn't a whole lot going on between us anyway; I was always busy, and he was sort of, um, boring. For reasons that later became very clear."
"When did you find out?"
Andrea smiled shyly. "Right after we almost in the hotel room. In Cannes."
Miranda felt an uncertain sensation wash over her. "I suppose I should have asked this before, but you used protection?"
"Oh yeah. Every time."
That eased Miranda's mind.
"What about you and Alex?" Andrea inquired, poorly hiding a smirk.
Miranda pursed her lips. "Well, no. But we did discuss it."
"Should I be worried?"
"No," Miranda replied haughtily.
"That's good, then." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, I went to the room after our um, thing, and Brad came back, and I broke it off. He assumed I'd figured it out, which I hadn't, but we just decided to keep things going for show. He got to keep his father happy, and I had an invite to places I needed to be at for the paper."
"Darling, you don't need an invitation any longer."
"Everyone knows who you are. And they all want to be photographed by you."
Andrea considered that. "Cool. I'm interested in doing more than society stuff at some point. Photojournalism, I think."
Miranda reached out and brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm not surprised. You'll be very good at it."
"I like that you have faith in me," Andrea said softly.
"I always have."
Without warning, Andrea was on top of her, hovering with a look of wonder on her face. She leaned down and kissed her. The initial frenzy had eased between them, and now it was gentle, and careful, and warm. Miranda twined their legs together, amazed at the smoothness of Andrea's skin. "Wonderful," Andrea said when their lips parted.
Miranda let the word settle over her like a blanket, and kissed her again.
When Miranda awoke, she noticed two things: one, she was not wearing any clothes, and two, she was alone in the bed. The room was startlingly bright compared to the night before, dark curtains thrown aside leaving only gauzy white ones moving against an open window. The ceilings were high, making the room feel larger, and white walls soothed Miranda's mind. Her skin felt cool, but the goose down comforter, wrapped in an outrageously soft duvet, cradled her body like a cloud. Andrea might not be wealthy, but she knew how to spend her money on the essentials.
No answer. She glanced to the side of the bed and found a note, apparently scrawled in a rush, on the nightstand.
don't leave! went for breakfast and coffee. see you in a few. i repeat: don't leave.
There was a little heart to the side of her name, and Miranda found herself smiling. She stretched and felt pleasantly sore in muscles not often used of late. Her sex life with Alexander had been a reasonably successful one, but it was almost an afterthought, something they did when they both found the time. Now that their association was over, she refused to consider him a poor lover. But the difference of going through the motions, and loving and being loved in return, was vast.
She shivered a little, thinking about the way Andrea's tongue had traveled a delectable line from the base of her spine to the back of her neck. How she had drawn the pleasure from Miranda's body with ease and delight. The first round had led to a second, and yet a third a few hours later once they'd slept a while. Even now, Miranda felt the buzz of arousal that had her on edge for so many months. She believed it might take quite a while to work it out of her system. And Andrea's. Fortunately, she had a very eager partner.
Smelling herself under the sheet, Miranda thought it was time for a shower. In the bathroom, she found everything she needed already laid out on the counter. Using Andrea's soap was an exercise in sensuality, since the scent reminded Miranda of their night together. Once out, she wrapped herself in a bath sheet and glanced around unsuccessfully in search of a robe. She was not about to put her clothing from the night before back on, and instead headed for the closet in Andrea's bedroom.
When she opened the door, Miranda had every intention of finding something she could wear around the apartment. But she did not get a chance to do so, because a number of pictures taped to the inside of the door distracted her in a most dramatic fashion. There, taking up about a third of an otherwise blank space, was a montage of photos of Miranda. All were clearly taken by Andrea. Some were in color, others in black and white, profiles and medium shots, peppered with a handful of close-ups.
Miranda had at one time felt disappointed that she rarely appeared in Andrea's online photo gallery. In fact, her image had graced the site exactly twice over four months. However, that was apparently not because Andrea hadn't taken her photograph. Far from it. There were perhaps a dozen shots artfully arranged, and to Miranda's appreciation, they were all excellent quality. One in particular stood out; a close up focused on Miranda's back, her shoulders and neck bared by the low-cut gown she wore. From the design of the dress, she was certain it was from the benefit for Sloan-Kettering. A memorable night, for both of them.
She reached out and touched one of the photographs, feeling a deep sense of comfort just in seeing them. Somehow, the pictures made Andrea's affection concrete. These had been taken for Andrea's private pleasure; hard evidence of her affection hidden away from prying eyes.
At that moment, she heard the front door open and close quietly. There was a shuffle of feet, probably heading toward the kitchen, and Miranda followed the sound. She saw Andrea set a carrier of Starbucks on the counter; not just cups, but a portable cardboard carafe. A backpack filled with groceries landed next to it and Andrea was unloading eggs and fruit when she realized she wasn't alone.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, hand flying to her chest. "You scared me. I wasn't sure if you were awake."
Miranda leaned against the door frame. "I am."
"Morning," Andrea said, coming near, hesitantly leaning in for a kiss. She seemed awkward, which was a surprise considering how free she'd been the night before. But Miranda took it in stride, sliding a hand into Andrea's silky hair to hold her close. Soon she relaxed, lips molding to Miranda's sweetly.
Very deliberately, Miranda began moving forward, inching Andrea toward the kitchen table. It looked sturdy enough to try at least. Andrea's mouth traveled to her damp throat, licking at the streams of moisture that dripped from the ends of her hair. Fortunately the table was below hip level, so Miranda was able to ease Andrea onto it without any trouble. The jacket came off, followed by the shirt, before Andrea seemed to realize what she was doing.
"I got you coffee. Latte, I mean." Two kisses followed. "It's really hot," she breathed. "It'll get cold."
Miranda unhooked a wide belt and pulled it from tight loops. "It can wait."
"And eggs, I can make you eggs." Another kiss, along with a gasp that made Miranda's heart stutter. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Yes," Miranda said, and dropped her towel on the floor. It would do well to cushion her knees. She could not have planned it better if she had planned it at all. "Lift up." And then Andrea's jeans were across the room, and her underwear landed somewhere out of sight. She was already wet. "Are you always ready so fast?"
Andrea laughed a little hysterically. "I waited in Starbucks for a while, and I got bored." Miranda licked her hip, and she jumped. "I have kind of potent fantasies."
"Care to share?"
Miranda rubbed her hand between Andrea's legs. "Oh, my. Ah. This--this is pretty close to one of them. Ahh," she cried, and slumped back to lie down. When Miranda used her tongue, which she had very little experience doing, Andrea keened and grabbed her wet hair. She kept going, listening for the sounds and sighs that told her what felt good, and what felt better. Soon Andrea's hips were rocking, and Miranda was unable to stop herself from slipping one hand between her own legs. Her groan was muffled, but Andrea lifted her head instantly. She seemed to lose her breath. "Are you--" she couldn't continue. "Oh god." Miranda pulled her mouth away, staring intently at the body she'd grown to adore, biting her lips, tasting the slickness that coated them.
Now Andrea's eyes were desperate as her hips rose, searching for contact. But Miranda held back, wanting to catch up. The expression of lust on Andrea's face drove her to the precipice quickly, and she returned to her task, nosing aside coarse hairs in search of her goal. Andrea yelped, legs spreading wider, her moans of "yes, yes, yes" disintegrating into incoherence. Once more she grabbed at Miranda's hair and held her head still, though Miranda's tongue caressed with gentle pressure.
She felt it when it happened; the furious contraction, the pulses that followed, the cries of pleasure and relief from above. Miranda's hand pressed down then, and she came immediately, cheek against the inside of Andrea's smooth, ivory thigh.
Seconds passed, and she inhaled the scent of clean skin and sex. One hand unconsciously stroked Andrea's ribcage. It felt decadent, to be here, to have so much happiness all at once. She closed her eyes and sighed.
Andrea shimmied forward, off the table and onto Miranda's lap. They kissed, as Andrea's fingers danced lightly down Miranda's spine. "That was "
"Wow," Miranda finished for her.
Brown eyes filled with laughter. "Exactly."
That morning, Miranda made breakfast, despite Andrea's misgivings. Miranda could cook, and well; she simply did not have the time or inclination most days. Today, she did, and she created a delicious vegetable omelet that made Andrea's eyes roll back in approval.
The rest of the day was entirely wasted, by Miranda's typical standards. She did nothing productive; made no phone calls, never looked at the Book, turned off her Blackberry. Andrea did the same, though Miranda could tell she was nervous to be out of touch with the newspaper for a lengthy period of time.
"You're working too much," Miranda chided when she noticed Andrea fidgeting across the couch. She turned another page of the Times and folded it into place.
"I'm not." With a sniff, she added, "Hello, kettle."
Miranda ignored the remark. "You've been doing two jobs for months. Have you received a raise?"
Andrea winced. "No."
"You're being taken advantage of."
"I know," she whispered. "I don't know what to do."
"What do you want to do? Or rather, what would you do if you could choose?"
Andrea lowered her copy of The Mirror and set it on the coffee table. "I'm not so sure anymore. Writing was what I always intended to do, since I was a kid. And I enjoy it; I'm good at it. I want to tell important stories that people need to hear, even if they don't want to. But " She looked up at Miranda. "I mentioned photojournalism last night, and I meant it. I think I'm getting better with a camera. I want to keep taking pictures."
Miranda nodded. "Good. Perhaps it's time to update your resume. You've been there longer than a year, and they'll survive without you, now. They'd have to hire two staff members to replace you, but I expect the traffic is still growing to your site."
"Consider other options," Miranda suggested, and returned her gaze to the paper. She would have to be nonchalant as she made her next suggestion. "I have many connections, darling. As many as the Huntington clan, and more. And while you may think you'd be using me to climb the ladder, you'd be mistaken."
"I would regret it if you didn't live up to your potential because of some misguided sense of independence. It's wise to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, no matter what the source." Carefully she kept her eyes on the newsprint.
Miranda went quiet then, and let Andrea mull the idea over. She would push no further, but hoped.
A few minutes later, a foot clad in a ridiculously fluffy sock rubbed against her calf affectionately, and Miranda relaxed. "Okay," Andrea said. "I'm going to make a list."
"All right," Miranda replied. She had no idea what that meant, but it sounded promising.
One month later, everything and nothing had changed. But the winds were about to shift.
Lists were made, shredded, and made again by Andy, who ultimately decided she would give the Mirror her two weeks. After much internal debate, she also chose to "take advantage" of one of Miranda's contacts at New York magazine. The photo editor needed a coordinator with experience in both online and print, so between her resume and Miranda's recommendation, she was on her way.
Miranda was very pleased with the arrangement. She was not, however, thrilled with the amount of time she was able to spend with her lover. Andy began to work more hours rather than fewer at the Mirror since she was leaving; her guilt at abandoning what Miranda had once deemed "a sinking ship" was intense. But she did not give up the new idea of what she could be. She was evolving. As was Miranda.
Miranda, who had over the past eight years or so, forgotten what it meant to be happy. She had not always lived a joyless existence, and the last time she recalled it as more than a fleeting sensation was during the first few years of her daughters' lives. They had made each day beautiful and exciting. Miranda had set up an office at home, then, and managed to spend a good deal of time working from there. But when the girls began preschool, Miranda spent more hours at the office. And then more, and more. Soon, work was life. Happiness became elusive, then unnecessary.
Somehow, being with Andrea reminded Miranda of what it was like to feel good about work. Designing a layout with her team was no longer an exhaustive process of conquering idiocy, but a creative exercise in which she combined her own skill with that of others. She did not smile more, but felt lighter. In the evenings, she found herself anticipating the Book's arrival rather than dreading it. Sometimes, she and Andrea went through it together. Those nights were her favorite.
As for Miranda's children, they liked Andy, mostly. At first, they had no idea what their mother saw in her. To them she was overweight and snobby, with a cackling laugh was always a little loud. But as they got to know her, they realized independently of one another that she was very pretty, and kind, and she had great hair, and a quick smile. She was nice to them, even when they were rude to her. Best of all, she never rolled her eyes or ignored them.
When their mother sat them down one Tuesday night with an uncertain look on her face, Cassidy got nervous. Caroline felt the same. They thought it was all over, and that their mother, and they along with her, would go back to the way things had been before. That would have been a huge drag.
Instead, Miranda said, "Andrea and I are going to go public."
The girls blinked, and exhaled simultaneously. "You're not breaking up?" Caroline asked.
"No," Miranda said, frowning. "Is is that what you'd prefer?"
Cassidy shook her head. "No way."
"We like her," Caroline said. "She pays attention."
"Well," Miranda said, trying to hide her relief. "There will be a lot of talk. Your friends will find out, and their parents, and the whole school will know. What can I we do to help you through that?"
Caroline looked at Cassidy. What the hell? they each thought.
"We'll be fine," Cassidy said.
Caroline helpfully added, "River Jackson's dad got convicted of wire fraud last week, and his mother drove their Mercedes to New Jersey and set it on fire in the middle of a public park."
Miranda raised her eyebrows. That was new information. "Oh?"
Cassidy nodded. "This is nothing. Lesbians are very in right now anyway."
So, that was that.
The harder truth to tell was to Alexander. When Miranda decided to explain it to him, Andy didn't come over that night. Instead, she went to a bar with Brad, whom she had begun to see less and less.
Alexander was appropriately scandalized. Less about the age difference, naturally, and more about the fact that she had stolen the woman who he'd envisioned as Brad's eventual fiancée. Though it would have been far easier, Miranda did not reveal Bradley's secret. Alexander shouted, vilifying her for breaking his son's heart. Miranda accepted every word calmly, listening, waiting for it to be over. It was, eventually, when Alexander stormed out of the townhouse and slammed the door. Miranda was very glad that she'd sent the twins to their father's for the night.
Across town, Bradley was also furious. Less about Andy being a lesbian, naturally, and more about the fact that she'd stolen the woman who he'd envisioned as his eventual step-mother. "She broke my dad's heart!" he'd declared.
Andy replied softly, "No she didn't. They liked each other. That's as far as it went."
"How would you know?" Brad countered.
"Because Alex told Miranda she reminded him of your mother. It wasn't about Miranda at all. Not really."
Brad's eyes were shocked. A few seconds went by. "Oh my god. I never realized." He covered his mouth. "They look a lot alike."
Andy patted his shoulder. "I know your mom died a long time ago. He must have loved her a lot." Andy was a little embarrassed at how thick her voice was, but she imagined that if Miranda died, she would be impossible to forget. Ever.
And in the end, they toasted one another. Andy assured Brad that she'd go with him to dinner in a few weeks to help him come out to his dad. It was the least Andy could do, especially since she was so blissfully in love with Miranda.
Her parents, and Miranda's mother, did not take the news well, unfortunately. Andy's father hung up the phone after she said it, and her mother cried. Andy did what she could to stay cheerful, and hoped that things would improve as time passed. They had to, she believed. People could get used to almost anything, given time.
Miranda's mother, on the other hand, sniffed unpleasantly, as though something disgusting had assaulted her nostrils. "How unfortunate," she'd said as she sat across from Miranda at lunch one afternoon.
"I'm very happy, Mother," Miranda said, her heart plummeting.
"Happy," her mother scoffed. "Life is not about happiness."
At that, a deep sadness settled over Miranda. She felt waves of compassion for her mother, who had not smiled an honest-to-goodness smile for decades.
Yes, it can be, she thought. It is for me.
Later, Miranda developed the first migraine she'd had for quite some time, only then recalling how miserable she had been a few months before. That night as she headed home, she was despondent, though she told herself her mother's reaction had nothing to do with it. Andy anticipated her melancholy, and urged the girls to stay downstairs and wait with her in the study. So it was there that Miranda found the three of them, working on their respective laptops, looking up with matching grins when she entered in the doorway.
"Well, this is different," Miranda said.
"Hi, Mom," Cassidy said cheerfully. "We're doing homework."
"I see that." She kissed Cassidy and Caroline in quick succession before nudging Andrea's crossed ankles off the desk and taking a seat on the edge. "You've made yourself at home."
"Uh-huh," Andy replied with a smirk. "So, how was it? San Francisco earthquake or the Great Fire of London?"
Miranda considered the options, putting a surprising amount of thought into it. "Neither. Just a difficult day. No disasters."
Andy was pleased to hear that. She leaned forward and rested her arm across Miranda's thighs, feeling a warm glow flare up inside her. "I'm glad you're home."
Miranda bent down and brushed the hair off Andrea's forehead before giving her a soft kiss. As her gloom began to lift, she touched Andrea's cheek tenderly. "Me too."
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