DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It had happened.
The last living link to her past was gone. She was gone.
Whatever had been left of the border between Priestly and Princhek was no longer and her past was as dead now as the woman who had born her.
She'd had the telephone call that morning. The male voice on the other side of the line had been kind and sympathetic, explaining to Miranda that they were 'Sorry for' her 'loss.' Miranda had stared directly ahead, unblinking as she tried to fully comprehend the simple words.
She had demanded that the coroner's officer send her the death certificate. She had needed genuine, solid proof that she could hold in her hand; proof that she could touch, feel and count on.
Now she sat in her office chair facing the New York City skyline as she stared down at the black ink on the flat fax paper. The letters seemed a blur, the only prominent focus being on the name written next to the words, 'Name of the Deceased'.
Miranda read the name and reread the name over and over, her dark blue eyes committing the slant of the coroner's handwriting to memory. It was finally true. She could begin to lay it all to rest.
Margaret Ophelia Princhek, her mother, was dead.
Sometimes is never quite enough
If you're flawless, then you'll win my love
Don't forget to win first place
Don't forget to keep that smile on your face
It is the Autumn festival at John Vincent's Elementary School in London's east end.
John Vincent's is a school for the middle class but Miriam's mother has made very sure that she can attend it. Miriam walks sixteen city blocks every day, on her own, and has done so since her sixth birthday.
She is ten now and she is very excited today. There is a spring in her step as she rounds the corner and sees the brick school building in the distance. There are kids playing outside in the playground and there are an abundance of mothers and fathers kissing their children goodbye as they head off to their respective workplaces.
Miriam's mother is a seamstress. Her name is Margaret and she makes sure that Miriam always goes to school with presentable clothes. Sometimes Miriam's portion at supper is cut down to allow for Margaret to buy the material, but Miriam understands. Sacrifices must be made. She must look like all the others. They mustn't suspect.
The bag around Miriam's shoulder is heavy, laden with her schoolbooks and the neatly folded dress her mother has made specifically for today. She will get to change into it at half three and she will stand in front of the entire school.
Her stomach is a tangled web of nerves at the thought, but she is also excited. She has always wanted to be an actress, or a singer - just like the strong women she sees at the cinemas when she is able to sneak in. She has only seen three picture shows but she has remembered every single one. The women she sees on the screen are beautiful, enchanting and she knows that someday she will be like them.
The day goes by very quickly and Miriam is dressing for the talent show. Elsie Grantham is changing next to her in the gymnasium bathroom. She is taller than Miriam and has long blond hair and green eyes. Miriam has always wanted long blond hair and green eyes. She has orange hair and blue eyes with skin so white she often looks like a ghost around her classmates. She is just as invisible sometimes, so she thinks it's fitting.
Today she is not invisible though. Today she will stand in front of the school and will sing a song for everyone to hear. She will sing from the 1926 musical Oh Kay! She has never seen the musical but her mother has taught her the song and told her exactly what she is to do. Her mother has told her if she does everything right, she will look just as wonderful as Gertrude Lawrence.
She smiles at Elsie and admires her dress. Elsie's dress is made of a beautiful material and Miriam knows just by looking at it that it is called 'crimplene'. Miriam knows that it is synthesized from petrochemicals and that it can only be bought in high class stores. Miriam also knows that her mother has never touched it.
Miriam reaches out and strokes her fingertips over the fabric, clinging to Elsie's waist. It is mesmerizing. Elsie pulls away from her touch and recoils, looking down her nose.
"Don't touch that." Elsie snaps.
"I'm sorry," Miriam says apologetically, but she is not sorry. It felt incredible to touch something so elegant.
Elsie says nothing more but she gathers her long blond locks in her hand and releases them, letting the strands settle perfectly around her shoulders and leaves Miriam alone in the change room.
Miriam pulls the dress over her head and down over her worn undershirt and underwear. She looks at herself in the mirror and runs her hands through straight red hair. Her hair is dull and lifeless. She washes it with soap so she can't expect it to be silky like the others. One day she will have silky hair, she just knows it. She bets Greta Garbo has silky hair.
Elsie finishes her song before Miriam and the audience claps loudly for her. She wasn't very good, but she is pretty and Miriam knows that pretty counts for something. Miriam is next. Miriam is not so pretty. She knows she will have to do a good job if she wants to win. Her mother has assured her that she must win.
The man at the piano near the corner of the stage begins to play the opening and she steps out onto the wooden stage from the wing and crosses so that she can stand past the proscenium arch. Her mother has told her to do this. If she stands behind the proscenium, her voice will be swallowed into the rafters.
She takes her mark and opens her mouth to sing. As she does so, her eyes meet her mother's. Margaret is sitting in the auditorium in the second row. She isn't smiling but she is looking at her daughter with a piercing gaze, willing her to succeed and unflinchingly able to accept anything less. The stare is penetrating and cold and Miriam forgets the words.
She stumbles over the first line, mixing up the words before she looks away from her mother. The words come easier then and she manages to get back on track, even remembering to do the motions her mother has instructed her to do. When she finishes with her hands pressed to her cheeks in a cute little frame she looks at her mother and smiles. Her mother isn't smiling. Her mother's thin nose is flared and her eyes are hard. A muscle is moving in her cheek and Miriam knows that it isn't a good sign.
She walks off stage and waits with the other students until the end of the talent show when the headteacher stands on the stage with three ribbons in her hand. She awards the first one to Elsie Grantham and the audience applauds at the bubbly blond skips up and stands with her chest out, waiting for the pin.
When Elsie skips back she sticks her tongue out at Miriam and Miriam watches her go, paying little attention to anything but the dress hems bouncing around her knees.
The headteacher surprises Miriam when she calls out her name. She has won second place. She is ecstatic. She rushes forward so quickly that she almost trips and the headteacher grins at her. She pins the second place ribbon to her chest and she is so excited that she rushes off stage before hearing the third place winner.
She is standing in the empty hallway admiring her ribbon when her mother exits the auditorium and walks down the corridor toward her. Miriam is so happy and so proud that she runs towards her mother and holds out the bottom flaps of the ribbon. "Mummy, look what I won!"
Margaret's grasp is so tight that it sends a jolt of pain up Miriam's arm as she drags her into one of the empty classrooms, lining the hall. She closes the door behind them and lets go of Miriam so suddenly, that she falls backwards into one of the small wooden desks. It skids against the floor making a small screeching noise in the silent room.
Margaret rounds on her, her eyes are set and solid as she glares at her daughter. Miriam's eyes widen and she cowers back against the desk. Margaret takes her by the shoulders and her hand comes to rest softly against Miriam's chest. Miriam can feel her heart thudding against her mother's fingertips as she waits for what's to come.
Margaret's voice is cold, disbelieving. "You came in second? What was that up there? Bloody horrible if you ask me "
Miriam wants to say she's sorry but she can't. She can't find her voice. Her mother doesn't want to hear it anyways.
Margaret continues, "You did it all wrong, yet again Miriam. I set you up for total success and you failed."
Her hand whips across Miriam's chest, tearing the ribbon right off of her dress and the fabric beneath it in the process. Miriam can feel cool air penetrating through the rip in the dress and she looks downwards, her own fingertips moving slowly across it to cover it.
The tears start forming in Miriam's eyes and she wills them away, but against her struggles she feels one slip free and trail down her cheek.
Margaret sees the tear and she takes a fierce hold of her daughter's shoulders, crouching down to her level. "Stop that at once."
Miriam tries to but another tear follows the first as her large blue eyes peer up into the matching ones of her mother's. Margaret shakes her roughly. "Stop it Miriam I am warning you." Miriam knows that the tone of her mother's voice is dangerous. She knows that her mother's warnings are never hollow.
There's a noise outside and Miriam and Margaret both look towards the door. The other parents and students are exiting the auditorium. Margaret turns and walks towards the door, pausing with her hand against the handle. She looks over her shoulder at Miriam. Her tone is as rigid as it was before, but there is something else lingering in her words.
"I will be damned if I let the other mothers catch a glimpse of you sniveling over your failure. You will smile Miriam. You will wipe away those tears and you will hold your head high and you will thank them for the pathetic award. You are a Princhek and Princheks never lose."
Miriam wipes the backs of her hands across her eyes and picks up her ribbon off of the floor. It won't pin back on her dress but she holds it in one hand, and holds her other hand over the hole in the fabric.
She stills her quivering lip and takes a deep breath, setting her eyes to match the look she's seen in her mother's. She is a Princhek.
Her mother disappears out the door and into the crowd of people on the other side and Miriam collects one more tear on her finger tip before tilting her chin upwards, swallowing and walking in a direct path out the door.
Be a good girl
Try a little harder
You've got to measure up
And make me prouder
How long before you screw it up?
And how many times do I have to tell you to hurry up?
With everything I do for you
The least you could do is keep quiet
It is a beautiful summer day and Miriam is fifteen years old. She is sitting on the fence of the schoolyard with her best friend Elizabeth. Everyone calls her Eliza, so Miriam does too. Miriam really likes Eliza. She likes the way her hair glistens in the sun. It isn't blond like Elsie's is. Eliza's hair is dark, chestnut brown and she has big beautiful eyes.
Eliza's very nice to Miriam and she even lets Miriam try on her clothes when they go to Eliza's house. Eliza lives in a gorgeous house. It has four bedrooms, one for her parents and one each for Eliza and her two brothers. She doesn't share a bedroom.
Miriam sleeps on the floor of her mother's bedroom. It hasn't bothered Miriam because she's never ever had anyone back to the house. When the girls talk about their bedrooms and their things, Miriam invents things she'd like to have and talks about them instead.
But today Eliza has asked Miriam to go back to Miriam's house. Miriam's heart races in her chest but something about the way Eliza's eyes glitter in the sunlight makes her say yes.
Eliza takes Miriam's hand as they walk down the street together on the long journey home. Miriam doesn't count the blocks today like she normally does. Today she delights in the way Eliza's hand feels against hers and the way their fingers feel entwined together.
Eliza gets tired at block 12 and she walks into the small courtyard entrance between two buildings, leaning her back against the brick. Miriam follows in behind and tells her that there isn't far left to go.
Eliza smiles at her and lifts her finger, placing it between Miriam's eyebrows and drawing it slowly down her nose, over the small bump and down its slender bridge. Miriam flushes beneath the touch. She's never liked her nose.
Eliza's finger pulls back and she smiles. "You have a pretty nose Miriam. You're very pretty."
Miriam's heart begins to thud again. No one has ever said anything like that to her and she isn't sure what she's supposed to say back. She wants to tell Eliza how beautiful she is, but she worries that Eliza will think she's only saying it because Eliza said it first.
Miriam just smiles.
Eliza steps closer to Miriam and her smile fades. Miriam steps back. Eliza steps closer still and Miriam steps further back. Miriam can feel the cool brick behind her as she takes one final step backward and she feels Eliza's hands on her hips. Her eyes lower but return upwards slowly. When their eyes meet, Eliza's lashes close and she leans forward pressing her soft lips to Miriam's.
Miriam is having her first kiss and it feels wonderful. She has never felt anything like it. She knows she wants to do it again and again and she wants to spend a good portion of her life learning more ways to do it.
Miriam finds her own lips kissing back, though she isn't sure what she's suppose to do. She's seen it at the pictures, but she's never tried it anywhere but in front of the bathroom mirror. In the mirror she looked silly. Here she feels differently.
Eliza pulls back finally, her smile bright across her gorgeous face and she takes Miriam's hand.
"I like that." she says and leads Miriam back to the road.
"I like that too." Miriam replies, shyly.
They walk together hand in hand until they finally reach the small apartment building that Miriam lives in. It's run down, dark and old and it stretches far into the sky. When they enter past the iron gated door, the floorboards are worn and the wallpaper in the small lobby is yellowing. There are cracks in the walls and inky black stains near the baseboards.
She knows her mother is out so she doesn't feel as frightened as she leads Eliza up flight after flight of stairs until they've reached the appropriate floor. Miriam's key turns in the lock and she lets them both in.
The apartment is dark. The walls are in worse condition then they are in the lobby, with the paper peeling back in some corners. There is one bedroom on the left and it has one large bed inside with one small gathering of blankets at its base. Eliza points to it and smiles.
"Ohhh! Do you have a puppy?" she asks.
Miriam blushes furiously and shakes her head. She does not tell Eliza that, that is where she sleeps.
Miriam also makes sure that she doesn't show Eliza the bathroom with the cracked porcelain tub and the horribly old toilet with its black bowl a sign of years of water wear and damage. She is too embarrassed.
Miriam does take Eliza to the fire escape just outside of the living room window. They sit there together and look at the people moving on the street below. Eliza points out the cars she likes and Miriam points out the dresses.
At one point, Eliza turns to Miriam and says "It's okay." Miriam knows that Eliza is talking about where she lives, trying to reassure her that she doesn't see anything wrong with it. Miriam is glad to have someone like Eliza in her life.
Eliza leans in and places another kiss on Miriam's cheek and Miriam blushes furiously. She is about to kiss Eliza's cheek when she hears the front door slamming shut. Miriam's heart almost leaps out of her chest and she contemplates asking Eliza to go down the fire escape stairs.
She doesn't get time to make any decisions because her mother pokes her head out of the window and sees Miriam standing next to Eliza with panic in her eyes. Eliza smiles at Margaret and waves.
"It's nice to meet you Mrs. Princhek." she says.
Margaret's scowl had switched to a beautiful, 'sincere' smile as soon as she realizes Miriam isn't alone. "It's nice to meet you too " Margaret stalls. She doesn't know Eliza's name because Miriam has never mentioned her.
"Eliza." the dark haired girl helps, standing up.
"Eliza." Margaret repeats. She ushers the girls in from the fire escape and tells Eliza that she is really very sorry but Miriam needs to come with her to the beauty salon. Eliza says that is sounds like fun and gives Miriam a gentle hug before being shown the door.
Miriam knows that her mother isn't going to a beauty salon. Miriam's mother has never gone to a beauty salon.
As soon as Margaret hears Eliza's steps descending the stairs in the hallway outside, she closes the door and turns the lock. When she turns to face Miriam, the smile is completely gone.
Her eyes are narrowed and she walks slowly down the hallway with her fists at her hips, balled tightly in rage.
"How dare you bring someone back here?! Do you want them to see how little we have? Hmm? Do you want them to pity you?!" she demands angrily, her voice a low rumble in the quiet apartment.
Miriam steps backwards and finds her hips meeting the kitchen table. She has nowhere else to go. Margaret's hand comes across Miriam's face with amazing force and she can taste blood in her mouth. She stumbles to the side and collapses forward, hunching towards the ground.
Her mother pulls her hair by the roots and drags her backwards. She knows what her mother is doing even before she drags her to the counter. Margaret opens a drawer and the ultra fine hairs on Miriam's skin stand on edge.
It isn't long before she feels the crack of leather against her back.
Be a good girl
Try a little harder
You've got to measure up
And make me prouder
Miriam is nineteen years old and she is finished school. She is very excited because she has an interview at the fashion house her mother works for.
She is wearing her very best outfit. It's a fitted skirt that comes to a nice angle over hips, tapering close to the knee and ending just below it. It is paired with a beautiful blouse with a rounded collar.
She used the iron on her hair and it frames her features nicely. She doesn't even mind that it's red.
She lights a match and uses the burnt match stick to line her eyes and she traces her lips with the berry colored lipstick she nicked from the beauty department of the store three blocks away.
She looks at herself in the cracked bathroom mirror and she smiles. She remembers when Eliza told her she was pretty. She hasn't seen Eliza since her family moved to Scotland last June. They both promised to write but neither seemed to have any time. She misses her.
Happy with the way she looks, Miriam walks past her mother towards the front door. Her mother stops her and makes her turn. Miriam can feel her mother's cold gaze as it moved from the heels of her leather shoes all the way up to the top of her head. She is being accessed.
Her mother nods then, almost imperceptivity and Miriam leaves, heading out the door towards the fashion house.
It only takes her twenty minutes to walk and she feels confident as she strides into the offices. Her mother has taught her to be confident. She has taught her never to show weakness. Miriam seldom does. Her eyes are set and focused on her goal. She wants this job. Things will be different when she has this job.
She envisions herself having her very own fashion house someday. Much bigger then the one she is standing in today. She can see herself being the Greta Garbo of the fashion industry, with an exclusive fashion house on Carnaby Street and another on Bond Street.
Her ambitions are high making her spirits higher as she is shown into the office of William Peterberg. He is a handsome man with dark hair that is graying at the temples. He is well built and well dressed and when he smiles his teeth are pearly white.
Miriam approaches his desk, sits down and waits for him to begin.
The interview begins out very differently then how she thought it would. He walks around the desk and rests his backside against it, looking down at her in the chair. She smiles up at him and crosses her legs. Greta Garbo would cross her legs.
His smile widens, so she knows she's done something right.
He asks how she got to be so beautiful.
Miriam blushes and tries to formulate a response that will make her seem clever. She tells him that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that she hopes that she can make dresses that will make even the most ordinary woman look like she's stepped off a silver screen.
Mr. Peterberg doesn't seem to listen to her response. He lifts his hand to her cheek and strokes her skin. A shiver runs up her spine and her eyes tilt in question. She hadn't planned for this and doesn't know what to say.
Mr. Peterberg tells her he likes to see spirit in young girls. He likes to know they are dedicated in their decision making.
Miriam tells Mr. Peterberg that she is both of those things and that she will be a very good employee. Miriam feels his hand slide down the length of her neck to the lace lining her collar.
Mr. Peterberg asks her how much she wants the job. Miriam says she wants the job very much and pretends not to notice his hand traveling lower still until his fingertips are pressing into her breast.
Mr. Peterberg leans forward towards her. Miriam jumps backwards, the chair skidding out below her and toppling over. He looks only slightly bothered and he asks her to come nearer.
Miriam shakes her head. It doesn't feel right.
Mr. Peterberg grows more frustrated and he tells her that if she comes to him she will have the job. Miriam can't come any closer. She knows what will happen if she does. She knows what she'll be expected to do.
Mr. Peterberg looks incensed when she doesn't move and he makes a move towards her. Miriam scrambles for the door handle and pulls it open, tearing off down the hallway and through the lobby, heads turning in her direction as she flees.
She doesn't look back. It only takes her ten minutes to get home. She is breathless as she reaches the apartment door and when she comes in her mother is waiting.
Margaret asks her how the interview went and why she was only gone for such a short time. Miriam wants to cry but she knows she's not allowed to. She takes a deep breath and tells her mother everything that Mr. Peterberg did.
Miriam expects her mother to understand how horrible everything was and to be proud of her decision. Margaret is furious.
"You ruin everything I do for you! Every single, bloody thing! You've failed again Miriam!" she growls, never screaming. Margaret Princhek never raises her voice. It is much more frightening if you have to listen carefully to hear her. She discovered that years ago and has used it ever since. The tone of Margaret's voice makes her head spin. Her eyes are dark blue but they glitter with ferocity.
"I'm not supporting someone as rubbish as yourself any longer. You've done nothing right. You were a mistake, an accident. Even your father couldn't stand to be around you. You are no Princhek, Miriam. Get out." She finishes, turning away from Miriam. Her words are severe but absolutely genuine. It isn't a request, it's a demand.
Miriam looks at her mother's silhouette in the window for a few moments before walking to the bedroom. Inside she moves the small mattress that has been her bed for the past two years and lifts a loose floorboard. A small brown box is hidden in the hole and she gathers it into her hands. She opens the box, looking down at the paper bills inside.
She shoves the contents roughly into her small bag and dumps the various shillings and pence in afterwards. She rushes out of the apartment door without a second glance back.
She never sees her mother again.
She takes several busses to get to the airport and she waits at the terminal for hours until she can find an appropriate flight. Before she knows it, she has paid for her ticket and is crossing through security.
Miriam Princhek doesn't leave England.
When the 7:55 plane leaves for New York City, Miranda Priestly is on it.
I'll live through you
I'll make you what I never was
If you're the best, then maybe so am I
Compared to him, compared to her
I'm doing this for your own damn good
You'll make up for what I blew
What's the problem...why are you crying?
Miranda's head pressed into the cool leather of her sleek office chair. She could feel tears wetting her cheekbones and she glided her fingers across them. She cleared her throat softly and leaned to the side, sliding open a small drawer on the left hand side of her desk.
Pulling out a silver hand mirror, Miranda clicked it open and peered down at her reflection to be certain that her makeup hadn't moved. Her image was flawless and she closed the mirror with a satisfied 'Click'.
She slid the Gucci reading glasses off of the bridge of her nose and tucked them neatly in the holder next to her desk.
The death certificate that had been in her hand had fluttered to the floor and she leaned forward, picking it back up. Her well manicured nails moved across the paper's surface before catching at its middle and tearing down its center.
The small noise seemed to fill the room and Miranda felt something flutter in her chest. She pressed her lips together and pushed away the lines of pain that had formed between the elegant slope of her brow.
Her eyes roamed towards the doors of her office. Emily was on the phone and she could hear the Englishwoman's voice chattering away. Sometimes the sound got to her. She had had hesitations hiring Emily based on her accent alone. Miranda had learned to hide her accent, to swallow it until it was no longer there but she sometimes found herself on the edge of slipping back to the familiar way of speaking when Emily was around.
She looked towards the other desk, the one that was once occupied by Andrea Sachs.
Andrea Sachs her greatest disappointment.
She'd been so close to letting the girl in, to finally letting down her guard. She'd felt something for Andrea that she hadn't ever felt for any other human being. There was a closeness, an underlying feeling of warmth and of tenderness. Something she couldn't describe. She was certain that Andrea felt it as well. She could see it bared so openly in the wide, doe-like brown eyes. She had been so ready to give in, on the verge of allowing herself to be given fully to Andrea.
But Andrea had left.
Her eyes settled on the surface of her desk, the torn halves of the death certificate facing her. She tucked the pieces in with the pile of papers at the corner of her desk to be sent to the shredder, hidden beneath a stack of old budget reports.
Miranda had learned many things from the woman who had raised her. She'd learned how to be cruel, unfeeling, hard, cold, distant, and rigid. She'd learned how to hurt people, how to succeed above all else and how to win.
She'd learned how to instill fear in her inferiors, how to demand respect and how to make it to the top and stay there.
She was more a Princhek now than her mother would ever know.
Margaret would've been proud.
Be a good girl
Push a little farther now
That wasn't fast enough
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are...if you're perfect
Miranda pushed her chair back from the desk and rose on the heels of her dark violet colored Manolos. She ran her finger along the side of her silver hair and crossed towards her office door, hearing Emily scramble to get her coat and bag ready.
She walked down the hallways of Runway, barely sparing glances to the crowds of people who parted for her like the red sea. They were terrified of her. Frightened for what she capable of and scared they would somehow let her down. Not surprisingly, she rode the elevator alone.
Her heels clicked noisily against the street as she moved towards her waiting town car, her eyes focused on nothing in particular except the rhythmic noise of her own steps.
Then she saw her in the distance.
It was Andrea. As beautiful as ever, smiling back at her from across the crowded New York City street.
She paused at the door. She wondered what would happen if she walked over to her. What would happen if she changed the pattern of coldness that her mother had instilled in her? She could make her own decisions. She'd come so far, but at what cost? Surely, she could make a change for the better now.
She could follow her heart for once. She could have everything she'd ever wanted.
Andrea's hand lifted in a wave and Miranda saw that Andrea was happy. As pure and as simple as the word sounded, Andrea radiated it.
Her hand froze in hesitation.
Andrea was happy, her mind repeated.
Her fingers were cold as they lifted her sunglasses over her eyes, concealing their dark blue recesses behind.
She opened the door and slid inside the car. As the car pulled away, Miranda saw Andrea smile again and head off down the street.
Miranda's decision was made. She wouldn't poison Andrea's life like she had her own.
Andrea was a smart girl. She'd gotten away when she could.
A slow smile spread across her features and vanished almost instantly. She placed her glasses back on the bridge of her nose and turned a cool glance towards her driver.
What Miranda didn't know was that although Andrea had come from an entirely different childhood, she was just as committed and equally as determined where matters of the heart were concerned.
Andrea's heart was decided. Miranda wouldn't get away that easily.
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