DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Xander, my always willing beta, who reads anything I throw her way, no matter how random. Special thanks to the incredible writers who brought me into the fold with their excellent work.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The wind blew Andy's coat wildly behind her, and she laughed as she steadied the coffee cup in her hand. It was the perfect autumn day; sunny, breezy, and brisk. Winter was gathering steam to storm the city, but for now, Andy intended to enjoy the last days of temperate weather.
She'd grown used to early morning shifts at the paper after more than a year of steady work. But today was special. She'd be leaving early to get ready for an event she'd been thrilled to hear about two weeks ago. Andy, along with four other young up-and-comers, was receiving the Livingston Award for excellence in the field of journalism. Andy's series on the breakdown of Child Protective Services and the foster care system in New Jersey had been the best work she'd ever done, and someone noticed. The prize money from the Livingston Foundation would pay her rent for the next six months, but more importantly, it allowed her the luxury of a daily Starbucks run. The caffeine helped her stay sane when the phone rang before 6am, which happened with some frequency these days. The 24-hour nature of the internet made her job that much harder, but even on the worst days, those calls never caused the palpitations that working for Miranda had.
The Elias-Clarke building loomed overhead as she walked to work, and even now she smiled as she gazed up. At this hour Miranda was certainly there, wreaking havoc. Had Emily survived another year, or had she moved on? Andy wondered. Twice she'd seen her former co-worker scurrying out of the building on late nights, holding the book carefully, like a child in her arms. Andy had pushed down pangs of jealousy, still feeling that strange pull toward Miranda. The woman had an undeniable charisma that everyone sensed, and Andy was not immune.
She shook her head free of those thoughts to sip at her scalding, no foam latte.
Surveying her dress in the mirror, Andy nodded. The deep color flattered her pale skin, and red lips made the look work. She had exactly two new outfits for events such as these, purchased before the Livingston check arrived. She knew from her days at Runway it was essential to have something on hand for last-minute events, so this time, she was prepared. Though she'd felt some guilt in doing so, she'd dropped Miranda's name at the SoHo shop's counter, and the look of sympathy on the sales clerk's face granted her a 20% discount. She almost cried, and when her credit card bill arrived a few weeks later, she sent flowers to the girl. It amazed her, the doors that opened when one took the time to send flowers.
The year-old silk stockings and garters she wore under the dress made her feel sexy, and she slid the five-inch Manolos on, dusting them off carefully. They'd sat, unloved, in her closet for six months, and it was time they got to go out on the town. After a last glance, she grabbed her bag.
The venue was uptown, and after a quick internal debate, she climbed the stairs down into the subway tunnel. Maybe she'd spring for a cab on the way home. She got a few lascivious looks as she waited for the train, and was sure to choose a car that was at least half-full of passengers. A seat was free, and she grabbed it. Nerves fluttered happily in her stomach as she anticipated the evening ahead. Once the ride was over and she was up in the world again, she showed her invitation to the man at the door, who ushered to a table with only a single seat empty. The other honorees were there already, and she introduced herself.
"Andy Sachs, New York Mirror."
"Ah, the CPS piece. Nice job. Dave Simmons, the Dallas Morning News."
Andy nodded. She'd read everyone's work, and immediately recalled his article on the local repercussions of the mortgage lending crisis.
A pretty blonde stuck out her hand. "I'm Mary O'Halloran--I'm at the Times. I loved your series, but I think I may love your shoes even more."
Andy chuckled. "Thanks." She was tempted to mention she'd gotten them from The Closet, but figured she wouldn't bring up Runway unless she was running low on conversation.
The other two men, Ralph Gilbert and Anthony Robinson, introduced themselves, but they didn't make much of an impression. Ralph was from the Chicago Sun-Times, and she questioned his skills. His writing was passable, but she wondered if he knew someone on the panel of judges. Anthony wrote for the NY Daily News, but she'd heard through the grapevine that he was a tipster for Gawker, so she planned to watch every word she said. No reason to attract undue attention to herself.
Applause broke out amongst the crowd, and she looked up at the podium. "Thank you all for being here--we're going to get started." The conversation quieted, and the tinkle of silverware was the only sound as Shannon Bartholemew of the Livingston Foundation began her speech on the current state of the media. It held Andy's attention for a while, but eventually she grew more interested in crowd-watching than listening. The guests were an interesting mix; some wealthy patrons of the arts were scattered amongst a healthy group of news folk. She recognized many faces, anchors of local news, and heads of papers from across the city. But her heart stuttered once before nearly pounding out of her chest when she saw a flash of silver hair at a table across the room.
Andy's sip of water lodged in her throat. She felt her face turning red as her dinner companions turned toward her while she coughed, but she waved off the attention. Moments later, she was able to take a full breath, and luckily, no one else seemed to notice her fit. Almost afraid to do so, she looked back at the distant table, but this time, she saw nothing. She leaned forward, scanning the crowd.
I'm seeing her everywhere now. Great. She watched the table some more, hoping a terrified hope that Miranda was there. But soon, Shannon began to expound on each of the honorees for the evening, and Andy forced herself to refocus. It wouldn't do to be thinking about Miranda. Andy was being given an award. Who cared if her old boss was here? Better yet, who cared if she wasn't.
Andy looked back at the table again, searching.
"I can't believe you worked at Runway. How did that happen? Did you know someone?" Mary's blue eyes were wide, and Andy couldn't tell if she was impressed or disgusted.
"It was sort of an accident, but I learned a lot."
"Geez. An accident. That's a hell of an accident. I've heard horror stories about Miranda Priestly." Andy laughed at the way Mary said the name. "How was she to work for?"
"She was an adventure." Andy gave her rote answer. "I truly think that Runway wouldn't survive without her." And that Miranda might not survive without Runway either.
"But come on, isn't she a total raving bitch?" Mary asked. Andy noticed that Anthony was leaning closer; honestly, if he was serious about eavesdropping, he needed some schooling.
"I won't lie. Miranda is tough to work for. But the benefits outweighed the challenges. She's brilliant, and I like to think we worked well together." That was certainly the truth. Some days it felt as though she could read Miranda's thoughts, and vice versa.
"Why did you leave?"
Andy shrugged. "It was time. I wanted journalism, and I wouldn't find that at Runway."
"Did she make it hard for you to get another gig? I heard that happens sometimes," Anthony inquired.
Andy wanted to smirk. There wasn't enough liquor in the world to get her to say a bad word about Miranda to the press, especially to this snake. "Not at all. She was very generous when I left."
"Oh, spill," Anthony prodded. "Everyone knows she breathes fire. You're telling me she didn't do a thing to you after you left? There were stories that you walked out on her in Paris."
Andy lifted a calculating eyebrow. She leaned back in her seat. "My. Wherever did you hear that?"
He looked around. "Oh, you know, people talk, word gets around. It's a small town when you think about it. So. Did you leave her in the lurch or what?"
"It was very amicable," Andy said smoothly. "Don't you think I'd have had a much harder time finding employment if I hadn't?"
His mouth twisted. "Huh. I guess."
She smiled, and ordered a diet soda from the waiter.
The rest of the evening was uneventful, and she enjoyed talking with Mary. They exchanged business cards and promised to get together for a coffee next week. It would be fun to know another woman in the business, since the Mirror was 70% male. And of course it wouldn't hurt to have a new friend at the Times either. She managed to avoid awkwardness with Anthony, and he left with his award in hand soon after dessert. She wasn't sorry to see him go.
With a glance at her watch, she noted that it was nearing midnight. Six was going to come early the next morning, so she said her goodnights. There was still quite a crowd milling about the room, but she wanted to thank Shannon Bartholemew personally before she left. She spotted her amongst a small circle, and caught her eye.
"Andy, I'm so pleased you could make it."
"I wouldn't have missed it. Thank you so much, for everything. It was unexpected, and I couldn't be more grateful."
"You deserved it, Andy. Everyone on the panel thought so. I wouldn't normally tell one of our honorees this, but you were the only universal choice amongst us all."
Andy took a deep breath. "Wow. I, I don't know what to say. Thank you."
"You have a great future ahead of you, Ms. Sachs." Shannon motioned across the room. "I know Miranda thinks so."
Andy froze. "Pardon?"
"Miranda Priestly. She was on the panel this year. Didn't you know?"
"No," Andy said, struck breathless.
Shannon waved someone over with her hand. "Miranda, come say hello."
And there she was.
Spots actually formed before Andy's eyes as Miranda's face swam into view. She was, as ever, the image of perfection. Her expression was mysterious; for once, Andy could read nothing into it. She inhaled, and the spots in her vision cleared. It wouldn't do to faint in front of these two women. Finally she held out a hand. "Miranda," she managed to say. "I, um, hi."
Miranda took her hand, and Andy was stunned to realize that Miranda was leaning closer. Their cheeks touched for a brief moment. Andy felt branded. "Andrea," Miranda said, in her unusual way. Andy was bereft when their hands dropped away from each other. "Congratulations."
"Thank you. I, I didn't realize you would be here."
Miranda glanced at Shannon. "I'm surprised. My name is in the program," Miranda said, gesturing to the pages Andy was now clutching in a death grip. "How nice it is to see you again, Andrea. You're leaving?"
"Ye-yes," Andy said.
"I'll drop you at home."
Andy swallowed. "Really?"
"Of course." She turned away. "Shannon, always a pleasure. We'll be in touch."
"Miranda. Thank you so much for coming."
"Certainly. I'll see you next month."
And then Andy was trailing after Miranda toward the door. Elegant shoulders were milk white against wine-colored, shimmering fabric. Andy stared, her eyes traveling down the trim figure as they walked. Andy felt mesmerized by the sway of her hips.
It must be Miranda's powerful energy that was making her feel like this. It had worn off Andy over the past year, and her tolerance had dipped. Now, a few minutes in Miranda's presence made her feel drunk.
Soon Miranda's shoulders disappeared beneath a dark wrap, and Andy was disappointed. They were outside now, and neither spoke as Roy drove up and opened the door for the two of them. "We're dropping Andrea off," Miranda said.
"Of course. Same address, Andy?"
"Yeah. Yes, I mean. Hi, Roy."
He tipped his hat.
Andy slid into the car after Miranda, and they were alone. Andy felt breathless, once again. What the fuck, she thought. What the fuck is wrong with me? She'd spent months working for Miranda, but all of her former anxieties seem to have morphed into a different kind of tension. This was fear, of not being able to stop staring at Miranda. The fear that Miranda would notice. Or that she wouldn't.
Instead, Andy looked straight ahead, ignoring everything. Her stomach churned, and Miranda was silent. Since traffic was light, less than fifteen minutes later Roy opened the door for her in front of her building.
She turned to her companion. "Miranda." Miranda looked back, her expression blank. "Thank you," Andy said softly.
"You're welcome." And Miranda pursed her lips.
Andy was gutted. She hated that look. What had she done wrong? Quickly she stepped out of the car, stumbling when her heel caught on the sidewalk. Roy caught her arm before she completely embarrassed herself. "Thanks." She glanced back, but Miranda vanished behind the door as it closed.
Andy stood on the street, watching the car drive away.
She went inside and set her plaque on the kitchen table. Quickly she stripped off her dress, leaving it on the floor before collapsing on the bed. She cried for a while before slipping into an unsteady sleep, haunted by dreams of Miranda's shoulders, and a dragon's teeth.
The next day, Andy hung her beautiful dress back in the closet. The plaque she had been so proud of now seemed to mock her with memories of Miranda's hair, her blank stare. It angered her that her joy had been sapped from the event, and at this point she wanted to forget about it all.
But Miranda had voted to give her the award in the first place, and she'd offered her a ride home. It didn't matter that they hadn't exchanged two words in the car. She owed her something. She'd find something suitable today, but after she put in a few hours on the job.
At work she pounded on her computer keyboard like a wild thing; her neighbor, Mark, complained about the racket. "Sorry," she said meekly, gentling her touch. "Where are your headphones?"
"You can use mine," she offered as a consolation.
"Thanks. You have a shitty night or something? I thought you were getting that fancy award uptown."
"Yeah, I got it. No big deal though."
"Says you. I never got anything like that."
Andy shrugged. She handed over her headphones and went back to work.
At 11, she walked the two blocks to a flower shop she loved. "Hi Jeanne," she called out in greeting.
"Hey, girl. Lemme know if you need help."
"I do," Andy said. "I need an orchid."
Andy pressed her lips together before being honest. "Something special."
"Okaaay," Jeanne said. "Male or female?"
"Female. Sophisticated. Probably the hardest person on the planet to please."
"Right. Come on." Jeanne led her back into the greenhouse. "Let's start simple. Lady slipper?" She pointed to a beautiful collection of flowers, but Andy shook her head. "Black? It's unusual, striking. Makes a statement." For a moment Andy was tempted; Miranda did love black. But it was just too whatever.
"I don't think so."
"How about a Cattelya? They're kind of frilly--"
Jeanne laughed. "Noted. Let's see. Over here I have a few Cymbidiums that might work. This one is a Sara, this is a Red Angelica, and this is a Pink Lady M--"
"That one." Andy stepped closer. "It's called Lady M?"
"Perfect. How much?"
"For you?" Jeanne narrowed her eyes. "A hundred even."
Andy hesitated, but only for a moment. "I'll take it." When she glanced at the tag on the pot, she thanked Jeanne silently for the deal she was getting. It reminded her that it paid to be nice now and then.
They arranged the delivery for that afternoon, and Andy waved goodbye as she bolted to her favorite kebab cart for a lunch on the run. She scarfed it down as she headed back to work.
Andy stayed at the office till 9. Her cellphone never rang. The orchid went out by 2, and certainly arrived by 3, but silence reigned. She didn't know what she expected, but couldn't help the mild disappointment that set in. Of course Miranda might not even know who sent the damned thing. She couldn't bring herself to include a card.
But the next day at 9am sharp, a messenger arrived at her desk. "Andrea Sachs?" he asked, handing over an envelope.
A faint breath of Miranda's perfume wafted up, and Andy was caught without warning in a memory. It was of a party, one in which she stood dutifully behind Miranda's left shoulder, leaning close and whispering in her ear whenever necessary. Diamonds had sparkled in Miranda's ears, but her throat remained bare. Andy had never felt so in tune with another human being, not even when she and Nate had been closest.
"Ahem," the messenger said.
"What is it?"
"She's waiting for your reply."
"Oh. Sorry." Andy tore open the card. It was Miranda's embossed stock, tastefully stamped with her initials. A single line in nearly illegible script danced across the ivory page. Is this supposed to be a bribe?
Andy smiled. She tore off a piece of Mirror notepaper and scrawled, Can a bribe happen after the fact? In any case, no. It's just a thank you. For everything. She folded the cheap paper and shoved it in another envelope, wanting to keep the one Miranda had sent. She didn't ask herself why. Handing her missive to the young man, she wondered if she was supposed to tip him, but he didn't even pause before racing out of the newsroom.
"What the hell was that?" Mark asked. "Who doesn't email? Or text message? I mean, a messenger is a little weird."
Andy agreed. It felt old-fashioned. As in 19th century old-fashioned. And romantic, she thought. "It's what rich people do," Andy said instead, to shut him up. It worked. He was sufficiently impressed.
The messenger didn't return that day. Andy ruthlessly suppressed her unhappiness with a two hour visit to the gym that evening. At least she slept better than she had the nights before.
Seven days after the messenger's first visit, he reappeared.
Andy was inhaling bacon and scrambled eggs on an English muffin after a brutal early morning shift when the young man handed over a small box wrapped with a silver ribbon. Her mouth full, she gaped at him before putting down the remains of her sandwich. The young man stepped back to afford her some privacy, and Andy's hands shook as she removed the ribbon and paper. The black container had a small logo in the corner, and Andy recognized it instantly. "Oh fuck," she whispered. Nervous flutters exploded in her stomach, and when she opened the lid, she was overwhelmed. On a bed of velvet lay the most elegant pen she'd ever seen. The body was black, ringed with narrow bands of platinum, one of which read "MONTBLANC" near the fountain's nib. But most beautiful of all was the cap, with a clip inlaid with a blue stone. Andy was afraid to believe it, but she was certain it was a real sapphire.
She looked up at the messenger, who didn't meet her eyes. She felt lost, drowning. Was there no message? Quickly she searched through the wrapping, relieved to find another envelope of Miranda's stationery that she'd missed. Inside were two cards. One was in Miranda's writing, the other printed. She started with Miranda. Don't use a Bic at this event, please. You need something appropriate to be taken seriously as a journalist. Bring a photographer.
She had no clue what reporter would be caught dead taking notes with a thousand dollar Mont Blanc. Oh well.
The second card was an invitation to, of all things, the Junior League's autumn ball, at Cipriani in Grand Central. What the hell was she going to do at the Junior League ball? Other than write a puff piece about NY's wealthiest men and women and their charitable activities. Perhaps Miranda thought she could do some sort of follow up about CPS, especially if Bloomberg was there.
"Ahem," the messenger said.
Andy had forgotten the guy, again. "Right." She dashed off a note, this time with her new pen. It was like heaven in her hand. Is this supposed to be a bribe? she wrote.
The messenger disappeared, envelope tucked away. She gazed down at her gift in awe. Miranda, what are you playing at?
Andy frowned at Billy's tux as the cab raced up Broadway.
"Geez, Sachs, it's a rental. I only had an hour to get ready, what the hell do you expect?"
"Whatever. As long as your camera works, I can't complain."
"Dixon thinks we're crazy for covering this thing. It's not exactly hard news."
"You never know where something might lead. Good stories tend to pop up in unexpected places, dontcha know," Andy said, but she didn't think he bought it. She hardly did.
"Well, you look nice, anyway. How come you don't dress like that every day?"
She shifted the strap of her Chanel mini dress in discomfort. His gaze was a little too admiring. "Because I work at the Mirror, that's why. My clothing budget's limited."
"Too bad," he said, and Andy squirmed. If she pulled her wrap on now it would be obvious, and she didn't want to hurt the poor guy's feelings.
The cab pulled up to Cipriani, and Andy took a deep breath. I belong here, she chanted to herself. I was invited. Billy ungracefully exited the cab after her, and started snapping photos as New York's brightest and most beautiful entered the restaurant. The place was dripping with diamonds, that much was certain. The doorman barely let them in when he saw Billy's camera, but the invitation was too authentic to be denied. Andy had just accepted a glass of champagne and was searching out hors d'oeuvres when Miranda breezed up to them.
"Hi, Miranda, thank you so much--"
"You have fifteen minutes," she said. "Get some quotes, snap a few pictures, and then I want you to walk straight out the front door. Is that clear?"
Andy almost dropped her glass. "What?"
Miranda's voice lowered dangerously. "I said, I want you to leave this establishment in fifteen minutes. Not twelve minutes. Not twenty-two. Fifteen."
Andy blinked. Miranda's eyes were hard, glittering chips of ice.
This was it then, Andy thought. This was her future. To be led around by the nose by Miranda Priestly. To do her bidding, to jump when asked, to be let down every time. How had this happened? She didn't even work for the woman anymore.
"Sure, Miranda. I didn't have anything else going on tonight. Awesome." She turned to Billy. "Hear that, photographer? Get some shots of the glitterati and we're outta here."
Miranda sighed. "I expect you to be more grateful tomorrow, Andrea. I look forward to it."
"Sure," Andy said. She lifted her pen and waved it at Miranda. "Thanks, by the way. It's pretty."
Miranda's lips thinned into an enigmatic line. She turned abruptly and walked away.
Bitch, Andy thought. Miranda's behavior was incomprehensible. She ran lukewarm and frigid. Whatever.
She and Billy made nice for a few minutes as Andy watched the minutes tick by on her cellphone. And as good as her word, she yanked him toward the door when her fifteen ticks were over. "Let's go get drunk," she said to him, and his face lit up.
Outside, Andy's plans changed.
Something was going on. Traffic was at a standstill in front of the restaurant, and at the corner of Park as well. Horns blared, and Andy's eyes widened when she saw the crowd lining the streets. Hundreds of people were walking amongst the cars, carrying signs. Those on the sidewalks had full sized coffins hoisted on their shoulders, draped with American flags. "Holy shit, it's a protest."
Billy's eyes were hungry as he checked his camera battery. "I guess this is your story popping up in an unexpected place, huh."
Andy barely heard him as she whispered a prayer of thanks that she'd only gone with three-inch heels tonight. She tied her wrap around her waist and fished the digital recorder from her purse. The Mont Blanc was tucked away for safe keeping. "Let's go."
They plunged into the throng, never once looking back.
At 7:00 on Saturday morning, Andy exited a cab in front of Miranda's townhouse. The lights were on inside, and she was certain the twins were awake. Any nervousness about seeing Miranda again had fled; after the night she'd had, this was going to be a cakewalk.
She rang the doorbell. Seconds later, the deadbolt was thrown open. There Miranda stood, dressed in the gray robe Andy had thought of so often over the past year. "Well," she said. "I take it your evening was a success?"
"It was," Andy replied. "This is me being grateful." She held up a box of Dunkin' Donut Munchkins.
"I'm sure we can scrounge up something less deadly. Don't let the girls see those."
"See what?" one redhead said from behind the door. Andy handed the box over when the girl came into view. There was a squeal of delight, and the box and its recipient unceremoniously vanished up the stairs.
"Thank you so much." Miranda's tone was dry, but light. "It's just what they need."
"Don't worry. I gave most of them away at the precinct."
Miranda glanced at her sharply. "Mm." They walked toward the kitchen. "Carina, can we have two Bloody Marys please? And a full breakfast for the jailbird."
Andy snorted. "What, do I smell like prison?"
"No, but I've got eyes." She ushered Andy into an adjacent sitting room and pointed to a plush loveseat. Andy paused briefly before sitting. Miranda might need to have the thing cleaned when she left. But after three hours spent crouched on a cold, hard bench in the city lockup, it felt like a miracle.
Andy sighed as she gazed at Miranda. That knowing smile was there, the rare one Andy coveted. "You could have just told me, you know. You didn't have to make me think you were so unfeeling."
"Unfeeling? I believe I sensed a different word from the look on your face."
Andy laughed. "Don't pretend you didn't love every second of it. Honestly, Miranda, you are the most inscrutable woman I have ever met in my life."
"I simply enjoy a surprise, that's all."
Andy shivered at the familiar words, said in such a foreign tone. This was Miranda at her most human, Andy decided. She was beautiful. A sight for her painfully sore, tired eyes. Carina soon arrived carrying a pitcher of blood red liquid and two glasses. Miranda poured. Andy took the drink and drained half of it, the liquor blazing a warm trail down her throat. "God, that's good."
"I want to hear everything. I'll check on the girls and be back in a moment."
"Sure." Andy took another sip before setting her drink on the side table. The surface was glass, which was a relief since Andy was certain she couldn't find the energy to hunt down a coaster. She relaxed happily, feeling safe and pleased with herself in a way she'd only occasionally experienced in life. An hour before she'd filed an exceptional story with Dixon, replete with a set of pictures that would make for a hundred image gallery for the paper's site. Now, she sat comfortably in the home of the woman who had handed her the story on a silver platter. Pleasure coursed through her system, carried buoyantly along by the generous portion of vodka from her Bloody Mary.
Her eyes drifted shut. Within a minute, she was asleep.
The room was dark when Andy opened her eyes. She still felt exhausted, but waking up in an unknown space shocked adrenaline into her system. Squeezing her eyes shut, she remembered arriving at Miranda's. A blanket covered her, and a pillow as soft as a cloud cushioned her head. When she sat up, her head throbbed, and she realized she hadn't eaten a full meal since lunch yesterday. Not that she had any clue what time it was now. Her phone was in her bag, which still sat at the base of the sofa. The digital readout said 1:13pm.
Quietly, she crept into the kitchen. Carina was there, stirring something that smelled unbelievably good. "Ah, Signorina, you awake. Come sit. Your lunch is almost ready."
"That's all right, Carina. I should go."
"No." Carina was firm. "You stay. Clothes are upstairs in the special room. She had them brought this morning. Go change, and you eat. She will be back soon."
"I really should--"
"No!" Carina almost shouted. Andy recognized that look. Sheer terror. She supposed Miranda had made it clear that Andy was to stay until she returned.
"Fine, I'll stay."
Carina visibly deflated. "Good."
"Where are they?"
"Football practice. Soccer, I mean. For the girls."
Andy raised her eyebrows. That was different. "Okay. I'll just go change. Which room?"
"Second on the right on the top floor. You see everything."
Andy crept upstairs, recalling the first time she'd ever been in the house. What a nightmare. Stephen was long gone now, so at least she wouldn't interrupt anything untoward. The door to the room Carina had indicated was open, and there was a small pile of clothing on the bed. True Religion jeans in Andy's size were waiting for her, along with a beautiful Dolce keyhole neckline tunic. In all, the outfit was worth more than Andy made in a week. Or two. She almost gasped when she found La Perla lingerie hiding beneath the top, and Andy held the sheer garments up against the light.
Who had chosen this for her? An assistant? Emily? A clacker who stocked the Closet?
Or Miranda herself Her skin tingled at the thought.
She turned around, suddenly sure Miranda was standing there, watching her. But she was alone. The open bathroom door beckoned, and sure enough, towels and toiletries were lined up along the vanity. Quickly she shed her clothes (which, now that she thought about it, stank beyond belief) and stepped into the shower.
Twenty minutes later, she felt like a new woman. Her hair was sleek as she brushed it out; there really was a difference between Suave and the good stuff, she was sorry to say. She pulled on her lingerie, admiring the curves of her body as defined by the silk and lace. It was delicious. She licked her lips, and laughed at the wanton expression staring back at her in the mirror.
She'd better get rid of any ideas of Miranda seeing her in lingerie she may or may not have chosen to fit her. That way was the road to madness, surely.
But the thought reminded Andy, who admitted this to herself only once in a great while, that her attraction to Miranda wasn't exactly intellectual. Somehow thinking about it here, half-dressed in Miranda's guest bathroom, didn't feel ridiculous. After all, Miranda was a gorgeous woman. She reeked of power, charm, brilliance. And when she paid attention to Andy, she felt like the most important woman alive.
It was a lie, though. A beautiful one, but a falsehood nonetheless. She was just a girl, a reporter, and this day would come to an end and Andy would go back to her real life. She'd have the Mont Blanc pen as proof of it all, and she'd probably keep these clothes, since Miranda wouldn't ask for them back.
But this was a blip in the course of her life, like Runway. Evanescent. But memorable. Miranda was nothing if not memorable.
She finished dressing, surprised there were no shoes to go with everything else. Her remaining pair of Jimmy Choos weren't too beaten up even after a night in the slammer, so she'd be fine. As she climbed down the stairs, eagerly anticipating whatever marvel Carina had whipped up in the kitchen, Andy heard the key turn in the lock. Her chest swelled in anticipation, but it was not Miranda's face that came through the door. Nor was it Cassidy's or Caroline's.
Emily gaped at her, and screamed.
Andy's hand flew to her mouth. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
"What are you doing? Get out! Miranda will be home in less than half an hour. How did you get in here, did you break in with your old key? Did you make a copy to keep for yourself in case you ever had the chance to sneak in? Christ, you're unbelievable. And why are you wearing those clothes? Miranda had me send them over this morning "
Emily ran out of gas, sputtering to a stop.
"You're a guest here," she said finally, and the bag she carried dropped to the carpet with a thud. It fell over, and a shoe box slid partway out. "It was all for you."
For a brief, shining moment, the question of the lingerie was on the tip of Andy's tongue. But she stayed silent, uncertain of her safety. The look on Emily's face was one of pure rage. Jealous, murderous rage.
"You've been 'socializing' with Miranda?" she asked, the words dripping from her lips.
"No," Andy said quickly. "I had a rough night, and Miranda lived nearby, so I stopped in. She gave me a tip on a story, and I wanted to say thanks."
"A rough night," Emily said.
"Yeah, I was arrested."
"Arrested," Emily repeated again, her voice rising in hysteria. "You were arrested, so you decided, 'Oh, I know, I'll just visit my old boss, the most powerful bloody woman in the fashion industry, since she's so good with people who've just spent time in jail.' What in god's name is wrong with you? Don't you know Miranda is an extremely busy woman?"
"Yes, I recall something like that," Andy said with a smirk.
"Then you should not be wasting her time. Or my time for that matter. I actually had plans today, and what did I have to do instead? Rummage through the Closet for an hour searching for half a dozen outfits. Do you know how hard it was to find a size six in those jeans? For you! Ridiculous, irresponsible, fat little you!"
"Sorry about that, honestly. But half a dozen? I only saw this one."
"Miranda rejected everything else."
"Oh." Andy searched for some righteous indignation, and found it as she looked over Emily's ensemble. "That's a nice skirt, Em. Valentino?"
"Yes, of course, it's from--" She stopped. It was one of the dozen pieces Andy had given her last year from Paris. Emily nearly bared her teeth. "Well, yes. There is that. How long will I have to be grateful?"
"Till you hand over the very last piece to the Goodwill. Or sell it on ebay."
That seemed to sap Emily of the last of her anger. "Fine. Whatever. Here," she said, kicking the box on the floor toward her. "Size 8 and a half. I don't care if they fit."
"Thanks, Em." She left the box where it was. "How've you been?"
Emily took a huge breath, revving up again. "Crazed. The holiday party is going to be a disaster unless I find the right chef. And the February issue is in a shambles since Nigel left."
"Of course, don't you read?" Emily asked. Andy almost laughed. "He's taken over for Jacqueline at James Holt. She was forced out last month, gone back to handle Runway Italia with her tail between her legs."
Andy grinned. "That's great."
"You would say that. Idiotic. We're short two people since Jocelyn is on maternity leave. For some reason she thought it would be a good idea to have a baby. Please."
"Ah, right." Andy observed Emily's face. She looked great, though harried as ever. "I actually meant, how are you?"
"Me," Emily said, staring. "How am I?"
She appeared confused. "Fine. I'm fine."
"Good. Me too. Despite the whole being arrested thing." Emily's mouth twisted sideways, and Andy realized she'd missed her former partner in misery. She was nuts, she was tormented, but under it all, she was a good person. "You went to Paris."
Emily's shoulders straightened; she looked at least an inch taller. "Obviously." Her accent was haughtier than ever.
"Good for you, Em. I'm glad."
Emily shook her head once. Andy's generosity had always baffled her. "Right," she said. "Right. So, I'm leaving."
Andy called out, "See you," as Emily slammed the door and locked it behind her.
That could have gone worse.
Andy wiped the bottom of the soup bowl with the last of the crusty bread. "Carina, that was incredible."
"My pleasure, Signorina. It's good to cook for someone who likes to eat so much."
Andy laughed before popping the final bite of bread into her mouth. "Mm," she said, humming in pleasure. "Comfort food. How many kinds of beans were in that?"
"Six. My mother's recipe."
"There is more for you to take home. It's in the refrigerator, here," she said, pointing to the container on the door. "It has your name."
"Wow, thanks!" Lunch for Monday. She'd be the envy of the newsroom if the soup smelled this good a second time.
She heard the front door open again, followed by the heavy footsteps of adolescents on the run. Two redheads raced into the kitchen, gawking at Andy as she perched on a stool. "Hi," she said. "Cassidy, Caroline." She hoped she got the names in the right order as she nodded at them.
The girls looked impressed, so she assumed she did. "Hi," Cassidy said. "Mom was hoping you'd still be here."
"I wanted to thank her for putting me up."
"She said you got arrested," Caroline said.
"Cool," Caroline said, scampering up to claim the stool next to her. "Did you see anyone famous?"
With a chuckle, Andy replied, "No. It wasn't very glamorous."
"Oh," Caroline said, disappointed. "Did you get a mug shot?"
"Can I see it?"
"I didn't get a copy."
Good question, Andy thought. "I don't know. Maybe I'll see if I can get one. I'll send it if I can, okay?"
Carina set out a platter of apples and celery with peanut butter, and the girls both pounced. Miranda entered, carrying a pile of soccer equipment. She dumped it on the floor noisily, and the girls turned their heads. "You'll both deal with this when you're finished with your snack." She turned to Andy, her eyes trailing down her figure appraisingly. Andy held out a newly shod foot, admiring the half boot she wore.
Miranda nodded once. She met Andrea's eyes, eyebrow lifted in question.
"I love everything. But you didn't have to."
"Well you couldn't go traipsing about in that mini dress all weekend. It should be burned."
"No!" Andy cried. "I love that dress."
"Fine, we'll have it cleaned. Leave it in the guest room."
This was getting stranger by the second. Did Miranda expect to see her again? She'd probably just have Emily deliver it to her apartment. Probably.
When she glanced back at Miranda, she noticed that her gaze lingered on Andy's bustline. After a long moment, Miranda met her eyes once more, and Andy flushed hotly. She turned away. The blush was undoubtedly reddening her chest along with her cheeks, and she took a deep breath. Uncertainly, she lifted her glass of ice water and held it to her face.
"Andy didn't see anyone famous in jail, Mom," Cassidy said.
Andy was grateful to have something else to think about, and the heat began to recede.
"How very sad for her." Miranda poured a glass of Pellegrino and sat across from the three of them. "So. What exactly went on last night?"
"Funny you should ask. Apparently I arrived only minutes after a massive protest against the war started. How do you suppose that happened?" Andy asked with a smile.
"Timing is everything," Miranda said.
"There were coffins all the way back to 47th and Park, so we ran the street taking as many pictures we could before the cops on horseback tried to disperse the crowd. It was peaceful, but somebody threw a rock, and all hell, er, heck, broke loose." Andy took a gulp of water, her pulse picking up speed as she recalled the melee. "I found one of the organizers and got some amazing figures about the war, and the lack of protests compared to what went on during Vietnam. But we only had a few minutes before the whole thing was surrounded by the police in riot gear. They moved in, and everyone dropped like dead weights into the street, and poor Billy, he practically went nuts. I kept my recorder going the whole time, and I tried to explain I was there as a member of the press, but they carted me off anyway."
"Cool!" Cassidy said. It was apparently the word of the day.
"Not that I was complaining. I wanted to see what would happen, how many they'd arrest, how long they'd keep everyone."
"Were you injured?" Miranda asked carefully.
"No. They were pretty nice, considering. I've never been booked before. It was kind of fun." And it had been. She'd known Dixon would be pissing his pants for the story. "I didn't get to keep my recorder in my cell, but they corralled us in groups, so I hung on to my notepad. That was huge."
"And a mistake. Someone could have stabbed your eye out with your pencil."
"Miranda, I was surrounded by a bunch of bleeding hearts. I wasn't going to get murdered in that crowd."
"Still, it was irresponsible."
"Well, thank god for it, because I got some amazing stories. A mother who lost her two sons to friendly fire. A wife whose husband has been missing in action for six months. A female career officer who wants to see the whole thing come to an end. There were dozens of vets, one of whom lost an arm and an eye two years ago during a bombing in the green zone. It was unreal."
"I hope you remained unbiased in your storytelling."
"I just reported what happened. That's my job."
Miranda seemed satisfied. "And how long was your incarceration?"
"A few hours. They just held us till it everything dispersed."
"I went back to the newsroom and cranked out a thousand words. Don't know what Dixon will do with it, but I know the photos are going to be on the site. They're probably there by now."
Miranda reached across the kitchen island for her Balenciaga satchel. She rifled through it and tossed a copy of the Mirror on the counter. There, on the front page, was the image of six pallbearers, mouths open as they shouted angry slogans, while a cop on horseback reared up behind them. Andy got chills. "Whoa."
Her story accompanied the photo, along with a full spread of images that continued on page five. Dixon had hardly cut anything. She looked up at Miranda, openly searching for approval.
"It's good. Very." She blinked slowly. "You're a solid reporter, Andrea. I am not disappointed."
Andy blushed again, dizzy with pleasure. She closed the paper and grinned at the byline. It was her first front page. "It's because of you, Miranda."
Cassidy piped in. "What do you mean?"
Andy looked to Miranda for permission. Her expression didn't change, so Andy said, "Your mom gave me a tip. I wouldn't have known about the protest if she hadn't sent me."
"Nice one, Mom," Caroline said. "How'd you know?"
"Oh, one hears things," Miranda replied.
"Yeah, Miranda, how did you know?" Andy asked, genuinely curious.
"I have many friends, Andrea. On occasion they reveal items of interest."
Andy nodded. That was probably all she'd get out of her, but it was enough. "I owe you."
Miranda watched her steadily. "Careful. I'll hold you to that."
Andy's hands trembled, and she slid them under her legs to hide it. "I should probably go." She couldn't come up with a reason to stay, and Miranda was making her nervous.
Caroline was indignant. "You're not staying? We were going to watch Half Blood Prince. Don't you want to see it?"
"I thought that wasn't out in theatres yet." Andy said.
"No. But Mom got an advance copy."
Andy grinned. "Naturally."
"Can she stay, Mom?" Caroline asked. "She got us Deathly Hallows before it was out."
"If Andrea has nothing else going on today, she's very welcome. But it's Saturday, and I expect she has plans for the evening, so we shouldn't keep her."
"Nope," Andy cut in. "No plans. I'd love to stay." Her heart was pounding again. Why was she doing this to herself? She should cut and run now, before things got out of hand.
But things were already out of hand. Andy was thinking about the shape of Miranda's mouth, and the slope of her collarbone where it disappeared under her shirt. She was thinking about how it might be nice to kiss the soft skin there, to press her lips to the pulse as it fluttered wildly beneath her touch.
Andy emerged from her momentary daydream. Fortunately Miranda wasn't looking at her. "All right then," she said, tapping a perfectly manicured nail against her lower lip.
The girls, as monstrous as they'd always been to Andy, turned out to be cuddlers. They crawled on Miranda, draping themselves over her lap, clinging to her arms at opportune moments. And when they grew bored with Miranda, they turned to Andy. At one point she had a girl squirming under each arm. They giggled comfortably, and Andy wondered if their father was a touchy-feely kind of guy. He would have made an odd pair with Miranda.
Eventually, after the movie drew to its sad end, the beauty salon opened. Andy's hair was braided repeatedly, and in multiple ways. Miranda read The New Yorker, watching them over her glasses, as Andy listened to tales of school, and theatre, and soccer. They'd never been nice to her before. Andy didn't want to know what had changed. On this strange afternoon, they seemed normal.
Bizarre, she thought.
When they were done, they abandoned Miranda and Andy to each other's company. Andy's hair had waved up; she couldn't imagine what a mess it was. But Miranda didn't say a word about it, or about anything else. Andy selected a copy of The New Republic and started reading. Halfway through an article on the Bejing Olympics, Miranda left the room. Andy watched her go, but continued reading, angling a little more toward the light from her position at the foot of the sofa.
A few minutes later Miranda returned and handed down a glass of wine. Andy accepted it, and Miranda reclaimed her place on the corner of the sofa.
There was a pause. "The girls would like to have you over again this week. If you're amenable."
Andy gulped her wine. "Okay."
"I have the Met on Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday are completely out of the question. Perhaps Friday?"
Andy nodded. "I'm on the early shift. I can make it."
"It's our pizza night."
"Pizza?" That was unexpected. "I guess it really is universal. I had that growing up too."
"I was reading somewhere," Miranda began, before trailing off with a sigh. Andy could see her considering her words. "A level of consistency helps children and teenagers feel safe and supported, even in a time when nothing seems stable." She sipped her wine. "So, pizza night."
"Sounds fun. I'll look forward to it."
"Mm," Miranda said.
That was the end of their conversation. But Andy felt relaxed as she read her magazine. Gone was the sense that Miranda didn't want to have her around, or didn't approve. Or didn't care at all.
Andy didn't know what it was between them, but at the very least, it was nice. Remarkably stress-free. And apparently, it would continue, at least through Friday. She couldn't wait.
She finished her wine, and stood. Miranda took off her glasses.
"I'm uh, I think I'll go."
Miranda nodded. She looked so pretty with her hair mussed, and her legs folded under her. "All right," she said absently.
Andy felt so grateful for everything, but she was sure that going overboard would destroy the feeling that permeated the air around them. Instead, she simply said, "Thank you. This was a good day."
Looking up, Miranda blinked as though seeing her for the first time in a long while. "I agree."
"Okay. Well, okay. Friday, then." She wanted to hug Miranda, touch her hand, do something. She did none of those things, though, because Miranda didn't move. "Bye."
A moment later, she'd was ready to go. As discussed, she left her Chanel hanging in the guest bathroom. Meanwhile, her wrap fit snugly about her shoulders, and it looked perfect with the tunic. The rest of her things were tucked neatly in her handbag, along with the copy of the Mirror from today and Carina's leftovers. The girls nearly tackled her in their haste to see her off, and as Andy turned around to wave one last time, she spotted Miranda watching from the staircase above.
"Bye," she said, and was happy to see Miranda smile.
Doug was in disbelief when she told him.
"You're hanging out with Miranda Priestly now."
Andy chuckled. "It's not hanging out." She flipped through a rack of blouses, unsatisfied at what she found. This was never going to work.
"I think it is. You like, sat around at her place, ate lunch, watched a movie, drank some wine. That's hanging out."
"Whatever. I did then."
"And you're going back on Friday."
"I guess the girls like me more now than they did when I worked for their mom."
"And Miranda?" he said, his voice dropping. "Does she like you more now than she did before?"
"I have no idea. She's not a big talker."
Doug's pursed his lips. "She does. I can tell."
"How would you know?"
"Andy, you never shut up about the woman for the entire time you were at Runway. Every conversation was 'Miranda this, Miranda that.' You never once talked about her like this though."
He was right, but Andy wasn't about to let on that she was painfully crushed out on her former boss. No one would find that out, ever. "I'm not worried about it."
Doug grabbed her arm and turned her toward him. His eyes widened. "You little minx," he said slyly.
"You're into her." He was smiling.
"What?" Andy repeated.
"That is so hot."
"You're crazy. She could be my mother."
"Who gives a shit? She's hot. Even I think she's hot and I'm gayer than the day is long. What about you, princess? You changing your spots for the Snow Queen?"
Andy shuffled through the clothes rack at a breakneck pace. "No. Don't be crass."
Doug's hand landed on her shoulder, and Andy stopped. "Hey," he said. "It's okay, you know."
She wavered. She wanted to spill her guts, but she was afraid. Of admitting it aloud, and being disappointed when nothing came of it. "I don't want to talk about it."
"No weirder than Julia and Lyle."
"And look how well that turned out."
"At least they're still friends." Doug selected a pale blue number that was a little sexy for Pizza Night. "How about this?"
"I'm setting it aside. You might need it on your third date."
"We're not dating."
"Andy," Doug said slowly. "I think you are." There was a pause, and Andy thought she was off the hook. But her hopes were dashed when Doug asked, "Get any presents this week? Any special messages?"
Damn, she thought. "I never should have told you about the pen."
"So that means yes. What was it?"
Andy bit the inside of her cheek viciously, but caved. "Stationery." Monogrammed, ivory stationery that matched Miranda's. No more cheap paper from the Mirror. Use this or I'll call Dixon and tell him you're wasting company property. That one was still in Andy's purse, and it smelled strongly of Miranda's perfume.
Doug sighed. "She's a romantic. That's adorable."
Andy frowned. She'd never once considered Miranda adorable.
"She likes you," Doug said. "And you like her. Just see what happens."
If only it were that easy.
Andy held up the cerulean print blouse Doug had found on Mott Street in SoHo. She'd left him not long after their conversation, abandoning all hope of finding something appropriate. Fifteen minutes later, she'd gotten a call. "Get back here. I've got it," he'd said. And he had. He'd even convinced her to indulge in a Diane Von Furstenberg trench to go along with it. "This is for a special occasion," he'd insisted. "You spent half your salary on clothes when you worked at Runway. Where's that money going now?"
"My retirement fund," Andy said gloomily.
"Well, shake it off, girl. Treat yourself for a change. You just won ten grand from that foundation!"
"I just got my credit card paid off!"
"Fine, fine. I'll put it back."
Andy had snatched it from his hand and nearly thrown it at the sales clerk.
Now it was Friday, and Andy stalked around her apartment for an hour after getting home from work, irritated at herself for being so excited. She'd seen Miranda every day for months and never felt like this.
But she had felt like this, of course. With some frequency, but the fear of screwing up had overshadowed it. The nervous anticipation was there then, especially near the end. And when that door closed, Andy moved on.
Now the feeling was back, worse than ever. But Andy couldn't use the work as an excuse anymore to think about Miranda.
She dressed quickly and applied her makeup as though her life depended on it. She kept it light, but the lipstick she chose was a deep red. Miranda had complimented her once on the color. That shade isn't horrible. Andy remembered the words, and had replenished her supply when it ran out.
At 6:30, Andy walked out of her building ready for a brisk walk. Her eyes widened. Roy was waiting at the curb, leaning against the car. "Ready?" he asked.
Andy simply bobbed her head.
So ten minutes later, and twenty minutes early, she knocked on Miranda's door. One twin opened the door, was it Cassidy? "Sorry I'm early--"
"Forget it, Mom knew you would be," the girl said as she took Andy's arm and pulled her inside. "She said you were always early to work, and tonight wouldn't be any different. Let's go. Caroline, Andy's here."
"Nice. We're choosing toppings," Caroline called from the kitchen. Andy stared at the spread with a glazed expression. Every topping imaginable had been chopped and set in a small glass bowl, from peppers to mushrooms to anchovies to pineapple.
"How many people are coming over?" Andy asked, flummoxed.
"Just you. Mom didn't know what you'd like, so we got everything."
"Huh." It was hard not to read something into thirty pizza toppings, but Andy did her best.
"So, pick," Caroline said. "I'm having veggies only. No cheese. I'm on a diet."
"Too bad for you," Andy said, seating herself near the counter. "I'm not."
"Yeah, I can tell," Caroline said.
"Caroline," Cassidy said sharply. "Mom said Andy's the right size for normal people and we'd be lucky if we turned out like her. Don't even go there."
"Sorry," Caroline said. "That's sort of new in our house."
Cassidy took a green olive from the dish nearest her. "Mom started reading parenting books after Stephen left," she began, and Andy wondered how much of this she wasn't supposed to hear. "She doesn't want us to get eating disorders or take drugs or whatever. So she stopped harassing us over everything we eat. That's why we get pizza now."
"It's pretty cool," Caroline admitted. "We get to play soccer too even though she thinks it's 'inappropriate' for girls. As long as we don't get hurt."
"Or hurt the other team," Cassidy added. "I got yellow carded for tripping this girl a couple of weeks ago and thought Mom was going to storm the field."
Caroline started laughing. "It was awesome. We won, anyway."
"Your mom watches the games?"
"Most of the time," Caroline answered. "She's only missed one so far. Lots of the other kids' parents aren't there." The pride in her voice was unmistakable.
Had Miranda had always paid this much attention to her children before the second divorce? Andy wished she knew. "Do you see Stephen anymore?"
Cassidy shrugged. "He's an asshole. So, no."
Andy grimaced at the curse. "Sorry. I won't bring it up again."
"S'okay. We see our real dad once a month. He and Mom are doing better. For a while they wouldn't even talk to each other."
"As in, for years," Caroline chimed in. "We're going to see him next week, and Mom's taking us all the way to Connecticut. She used to just put us on the train, but now she drops us off and they like, shake hands and everything."
"That's great," Andy said. Jeremy used to phone the office regularly, and Miranda rarely took his calls the first time around. It was a power game, and Andy hated being in the middle. She couldn't imagine what it must have been like for the girls.
"Maybe you could, you know, come to one of our games," Cassidy said, glancing at Caroline. "With Mom."
Andy blinked. "Maybe," she said noncommittally. She didn't want to assume it was okay with Miranda.
"We play Sunday afternoon. Think about it," Caroline said.
Andy usually went into the office on Sundays. A bad habit, and hard one to break when you had no life. "Okay." She had to get back to a safer topic of conversation. "So, what are you having tonight, Cassidy?"
The decoration of the pizzas began in earnest, with Andy designing flavor combinations for each of her slices. Feta and olives for one, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and arugla for another, and basic pepperoni for the last. Caroline was scandalized that she was having three pieces, but Andy didn't give it a second thought. If Miranda wasn't trying to give the girls a complex, neither would she.
As Andy created a special concoction for Cassidy, Miranda swept in. "Andrea. I see you've made yourself at home." There was a sparkle to her eye as she looked Andy up and down.
"Yeah, I was a little early. I'd planned to walk, but I ended up hitching a ride with this nice man in a hot car."
"Hmm," Miranda said, observing her creation of pesto, roma tomatoes, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. "Interesting. I'll have that as well. One slice."
Andy made her two.
After a glass of wine, Andy was able to relax into the conversation, which the twins steered for the most part. Andy was happy about that, until Cassidy decided to bring up inviting Andy to watch a soccer game.
"Andy said she'd come, Mom. Don't you want company?"
"Honestly, girls, what Andrea would find interesting in watching you run back and forth along a patch of grass I can't imagine."
"She loves soccer, don't you, Andy," Cassidy said.
There was a strange look in the girl's eye, an eagerness that she was trying to mask. What was that about? "Yeah," Andy said slowly, "but I usually work Sundays."
Miranda narrowed her eyes. "And are you paid appropriately for putting in overtime?"
As though Miranda had ever paid Andy for overtime. "Nooo."
"Then you shouldn't go in six days a week. It's not as though there are any perks to the job."
"Only the opportunity to do good work that I actually enjoy. No big deal," Andy said with a smirk.
"Compensation is essential to your future, Andrea. You should ask for a raise."
"You don't even know what I make. I do okay."
"You could be doing far better than 'okay.' You're an award-winning journalist. When is your next review?"
"Miranda, Dixon pays what he can. The Mirror's not exactly a huge profit-maker. If I wanted to be netting seven figures I'd be doing something else."
"There's a way to do good work and be successful."
"I am successful," Andy said firmly. "I pay the rent, I can afford to eat, and I enjoy my job. That's success in my book."
"Who wants another piece of pizza?" Caroline interjected, her voice shrill.
Miranda's mouth was already open to respond. But she closed it, as if she recalled whose company she was in. Glancing around uncertainly, she sat back in her chair. "I'm sorry girls. Andrea. It's not my business. You're right, of course. You are successful."
Andy gaped at her briefly before turning to Cassidy. "Whoa. Your mom just apologized to me." The words slipped out before Andy had the good sense to shut her mouth.
Two redheads squealed in laughter, and Miranda pursed her lips. But it wasn't as unpleasant as it usually was to see that look. "I won't be teased," Miranda said softly.
Andy laughed a little and leaned forward with a grin. "I'm not teasing. I was just surprised. But thank you."
For a moment, she felt as though she were on solid ground with Miranda. They watched each other steadily, until Miranda broke away. Andy's toes curled inside her shoes. The twins continued to giggle, and Miranda started on her second slice of pizza.
Shortly thereafter, the girls departed to watch television. "We're going to watch 'South of Nowhere,'" Cassidy said with a meaning Andy couldn't decipher.
She shrugged, having never heard of it. Cable tv was a distant memory these days. "Have fun."
Left alone with only soft music accompanying them, Andy observed Miranda as she stared deeply into her glass of cabernet. "So," Andy said.
Andy decided to start with the easy question. "How are you these days?"
"We're going to make small talk now," Miranda retorted.
Andy sighed. "Why is asking you how you are small talk? Is it impossible for you to believe that I would actually be interested in your well-being? Emily told me Nigel left and Jocelyn's out. You must be stressed beyond all reason, but you seem perfectly fine. So. Are you?"
Miranda let out a breath she'd apparently been holding. Her head dropped forward, and Andy felt guilty for her harsh tone. "I'm not going to run out and tell the world anything you tell me, Miranda. You can trust me."
Looking up, Miranda replied, "Can I?"
Shocked, Andy said, "Of course."
"Can I trust that you're not going to walk out the door again, never to return? To stop taking my calls, to abandon me at the very moment I need you the most? Can I really do that, Andrea? Because I'm uncertain."
Andy's stomach dropped through the floor, and she set her wine glass on the table. "You're still angry."
There was a pause. "Anger implies some level of emotional engagement. I am simply inquiring as to your intentions."
Andy shook her head. She was unsure how much to reveal, but hurt was coming off Miranda in waves. "I don't know what to say that you'll understand. I left because I had to. I couldn't be the person you wanted me to be. But that doesn't mean I haven't regretted my decision now and then." Feeling more vulnerable than ever, Andy bit the bullet. "It was very painful, to leave." To leave you. "I missed it."
"The job?" Miranda asked, her voice rough.
With a chuckle, Andy replied, "No, I didn't miss the job. I missed working with you." Being with you. Just you.
"But you didn't come back."
"No. I needed something else."
"And have you found it?"
Andy thought for a moment. "Journalism isn't quite what I envisioned. I love it, but I know this is just the beginning of a long haul. That's frustrating. It's not like the ladder is that fun to climb when you know the guy at the top works longer hours than you, and barely makes more. I didn't set out to get rich, but for a while I thought I could live a happy life if I did well in the business. I'm not sure that's an option for me now."
Miranda lifted an eyebrow. "Money isn't everything."
Andy wanted to laugh at hearing Miranda spout that platitude. "Obviously." She searched her memory for something to drive her point home. "You know that story I did on CPS, and foster care? It taught me a good lesson. There's nothing romantic or noble about starving. Poverty sucks people dry, makes them cruel and violent, and they take it out on everyone around them. Children, parents, grandparents. I heard stories," Andy said, her eyes tearing against her will, "that no one should have to hear, much less live through. And I only covered the story for two weeks. I couldn't imagine living that life. Growing up hungry, and broke, and abused." The first tear slid down Andy's cheek, followed by another. "So no, 'money can't buy happiness.' But it sure helps."
Frozen in her seat, Miranda waited a moment before speaking. "I don't think you could ever become cruel," she said.
"Maybe," Andy said, wiping her eyes. "But you never know."
"I do." Miranda cleared her throat. "I know."
Andy sniffled, embarrassed at the sound. "Anyway, I'm doing good work. I like to think I'm helping somebody. That a story I write will galvanize others to help. I know you think it's naïve, but I'm trying. I haven't become jaded. Yet."
"The day you become jaded, Andrea Sachs, is the day you should walk out of this city and never look back."
Andy couldn't have been more surprised. "You really think so?"
"I was on my way to jaded when we were in Paris."
That stopped Miranda short. Finally, she gave a small nod. "I see that now." She met Andy's eyes. "I'd like to move on from there. Start fresh."
Thumping wildly in her chest, Andy's heart cried out for the same thing. "I want that too."
Miranda heaved a great sigh. "So."
"So." Andy blew her nose into her napkin. "Sorry." Miranda smiled a little. "What now?" And why me, she wanted to ask. But she didn't, afraid that she would kill this thing between them, whatever it was.
"I don't know," Miranda said, looking somewhere over Andy's shoulder. Andy would have given her entire Livingston check back if she could have known what Miranda was thinking at that moment.
"Um, how are you?" she finally asked a second time.
And Miranda laughed. A great, beautiful, sparkling laugh that made the hairs on Andy's arms stand on end. "Andrea," she said, smiling a Cheshire grin unlike any Andy had seen before. "Whatever shall I do with you?"
Andy could think of a few things.
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