DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The referenced and quoted tale is "The Snow Queen" by danish author and poet Hans-Christian Andersen. Full text can be found here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Snow Queen or Their First Christmas
Andy stood by the window, observing the city from her high vantage point. It was late in the afternoon and almost dark already. A multitude of colorful lights lit up the city and made it seem so much more welcoming around this time of the year.
New York could be a great place to be over the holidays, for those who were not alone. She turned and looked around the empty room. Or maybe not just for them. If she stepped outside now, she would be engulfed by the 'spirit of the season'; colorful lights would greet her, strangers would smile at her and the smell of cinnamon and vanilla would lure her into one of the bakeries.
But what all the Christmassy hustle-bustle had really done to Andy was to remind her of her loneliness in this city.
A few days ago it had started to snow and she had thought of home, of Cincinnati, of their house covered in snow and of their family huddled together, drinking hot chocolate and jokingly mourning the summer.
But the house would be empty now, too. Her parents were in Europe and Jill's family was in the mountains for her nephew's first skiing vacation.
She was alone, surrounded by excitement and happiness, and for a moment she wished Nate had never left. She knew that Lily and Doug would probably throw a counter-Christmas party again this year, but after so many refusals and cancellations they had stopped inviting her to their get-togethers.
At first, that realization hadn't hurt as much as she thought it should have; she never had the time to attend, anyway. But now, when she longed for companionship, she realized the true impact of constantly putting work above everything else, of habitually putting Miranda above everyone else.
With Nate she had always argued that it was for her career, that she needed to do this, to be like this if she wanted a chance at a better job with better hours and better pay. But everything had changed with Paris. In Paris she came to understand that the hard work would never be over; that if she wanted a career, it would always be demanding and take a toll on her private life, be it as a journalist for a newspaper or as a magazine's editor-in-chief. Or as that editor's personal assistant.
The second realization in Paris was that she was not just doing it for her career. It was the more shocking revelation: When Miranda told her to do her job, she felt rebuffed. It was perfectly reasonable and appropriate to expect her to do her job. And it was perfectly inappropriate and unreasonable to be disappointed because she wanted to do more. For her boss. Who happened to be Miranda Priestly, the fashion world's iconic Snow Queen.
Andy wasn't sure what it was, why she had wanted to help Miranda, to comfort her and tell her everything would be alright. She just knew that after Paris, there was no more place for Nate in her life. She hadn't yet dared to think about the implications. Occasionally she missed him, and that was good enough an excuse to avoid the issue.
But now she was standing in the corner office, alone, doing her job and longing for some comfort. Nigel had taken it upon himself to try and keep the spirits up, but with the emergency staff for the holidays consisting of cynical Asians, annoyed Jews and freshly broken hearted gays there was only so much he could do.
Besides, nothing Nigel could do or say would be able to cure her particular ache.
Miranda the Snow Queen, the unattainable and callous career woman - unloved and feared by so many - would be at home, with her family, loving and being loved, receiving thoughtful gifts and probably even smiling at the more ridiculous ones. Andy had learned that the twins had an odd sense of humor, but one that actually worked on Miranda.
She heard Nigel walking up behind her through the empty office. For a moment, they watched the city below in silence.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Imagine a vice for every light and you get the real picture," he said dryly.
She looked at him. "Gee, I didn't know you could be such a Grinch, Nigel." He shrugged nonchalantly. "It's Christmas, what do you expect?"
She turned her eyes back to the window, toward the city. "I don't know, maybe some love?" Nigel snorted behind her. "Right time, wrong place, princess."
She sighed and watched the cars passing through the streets. "I guess you're right." New York City may be a city of lights, but it definitely wasn't a city of love.
She thought of Miranda; and the twins. It would be their first Christmas without Stephen.
Just then the first notes of Verdi's Triumphal March cut through the silence, and Nigel hurried to pull the phone from his jacket as the volume increased impatiently. Andy had been amazed at how readily Nigel had adopted Miranda's victory as his own, even if it was a momentary loss for him.
"Yes, Miranda? ... No Miranda, I'm in your office at the moment. ... Yes, there are still people working here." He rolled his eyes at Andy. "... Yes, I know they will arrive tomorrow. Everything is taken care of. You can enjoy your holiday, Miranda, and leave the worrying to us. We're better at it anyway."
Now it was Andy's turn to roll her eyes.
"Miranda, why did you call?" He listened attentively and scanned the room, before focusing on Miranda's desk. "No, there aren't any envelopes on your desk." His eyes turned to Andy. "No, Miranda, there aren't any blue or pink envelopes anywhere in your office."
Andy's eyes widened. She knew exactly what Miranda wanted. She didn't know why they weren't there, or with Miranda already, for that matter, but she knew what was supposed to be in those envelopes.
Nigel shot her a curious glance. "Miranda, I'm sorry, there was no messenger here today. Or yesterday. But hold on, maybe Andy knows- ... no, no, you don't have to call her she's right here with me." He handed her the phone, and Andy was sure that if it hadn't been his phone he would have bolted from the room. She knew how much he had looked forward to a quiet couple of days of being in charge of the holy halls of haute couture. Miranda always found a way to put a damper on even the smallest of pleasures.
Andy braced herself. "Miranda?"
"Andrea, what are you doing at the office? Where is Emily?"
Miranda definitely had her ways to make someone feel special and appreciated. "Emily is in London, she managed to get a last minute flight. The airline called her yesterday."
"And why aren't you with your family in... what was it... Cincinnati?"
"I'm covering for Emily and my family is-" she looked at Nigel who was subtly shaking his head 'no'. "Miranda, about those envelopes. They're the tickets for the Met, right? I have no idea what went wrong, they were supposed to be sent to the office last week. I'll try to find out what happened. I'll get them and bring them to you as soon as possible."
"Make it this year and preferably tonight, Andrea. Don't disappoint me."
The line went dead. "Of course, Miranda." She said as she closed the phone and handed it back to Nigel.
His eyebrows were raised. "Met Tickets?"
She rubbed her temple. "Yeah, tickets for the Met, the New Year's Eve Gala with international guest cast. One in a blue envelope for Caroline and one in a pink envelope for Cassidy. There was also a green one for Miranda's and Stephen's ticket but-"
"- that just didn't happen," he finished for her. "So she's sending them to go alone? Some god have mercy with the staff."
"No, she's going with them, of course, but now she doesn't need a pretty gift envelope for her ticket anymore." Said aloud it sounded very forlorn and Andy wondered how happy Miranda really was.
She was doomed by the fact that the tickets were meant to be gifts for the twins. Disappointing her children was no option for Miranda, and thus failure was no option for Andy. Sure, she had pulled off larger stunts in less time, but that usually wasn't on a Sunday night, or Christmas Eve, or both together.
She got on the phone right away, but it seemed virtually impossible to get a human being on the line anywhere in the city, let alone someone who could answer her questions.
Three hours after Miranda's call Andy was sitting in the town-car clutching three envelopes in a shaking hand. She had to pry them from the clerk's fingers, assuring him that she was Miranda Priestly's personal assistant and authorized to take the tickets. When the clerk had tried to insist on calling Miranda for confirmation Andy questioned his sanity and sense of self-preservation. Did this man even know who Miranda Priestly was? But when Andy had flashed her building pass and confirmed that the place where she worked was the address where the order was originally to be sent to, the man relented and let her have the envelopes.
When they arrived at the town house, the driver asked her if she should wait and Andy felt sorry for the woman. But this shouldn't take long and so she smiled apologetically and nodded. When she opened the door of the car she saw the lights coming on in the hallway. She was being expected. She climbed the stairs and heard the lock being turned. She hoped to see Cara, but expected a very unhappy Miranda. However, she was not prepared for the sight that greeted her instead.
She stopped on the last step. The woman who opened the door was wearing bright red Santa hat. "Miranda?"
"Why, hello Ahn-dre-ah. I am... so glad that you could make it." There was a cognac glass in her hand and... was she swaying?
Andy was reluctant to step closer and just held out the envelopes. "Miranda, I got the tickets, I hope it's not too late- "
Miranda waved the glass through the air. "Nonsense, Andrea, you're never too late." She paused and glanced at her watch. "Although, maybe I should've asked for another Harry Potter or something. You were quicker with that one."
Andy swallowed. "I'm sorry Miranda, I-"
"Don't be silly, Andrea." Andy looked on in mild horror as Miranda signaled for the Town Car to leave. "It's Christmas, I'll forgive you." The door opened wider. "Come in."
Andy had no choice but to follow her inside. Even if she had to call a cab now to get back she would prefer waiting somewhere dry and warm.
She expected to be sat down in the sitting room to receive a list of last minute instructions for the impending visit of The Russian Delegation. But Miranda walked toward the stairs and motioned for her to follow. On the second floor, quiet classical music drifted across the hallway.
Andy spotted a pile of what looked like twigs of mistletoe in various sizes and with colored ribbons.
"The girls' idea," Miranda explained. "Stephen was here to drop off gifts for them. I can't believe they thought a heathenish custom would magically make him stay." Miranda shook her head slowly, making the bobble on her silly hat roll across her neck. All of a sudden it seemed like a previously unknown dimension had become visible. Andy had seen Miranda in Paris, and the whole office had suffered through her moods in the following weeks, but Andy never had a real idea of how it affected Miranda's children.
She looked up to the third floor, and right into two sets of blue eyes framed by flaming red hair. She was sure her gulp was audible. She couldn't read the expression on their faces and it made her feel even more uncomfortable. Miranda probably didn't usually invite strangers that far into their home and the girls may have been just as surprised as Andy was. She hoped this was as close as they would get tonight.
On the second floor was also the living room, and it was decorated wall to wall and floor to ceiling with Christmas ornaments and trinkets. Everything had been arranged as tastefully as possible but it still amounted to pretentious kitsch in Andy's eyes. The assortment was dominated by the obligatory tree in the far corner and the large stockings on the wall where a fireplace used to be. There was also a nativity scene with porcelain figurines and several illuminated paper stars.
Andy concluded that Miranda either loved her kids very much or just cut them some major slack this year if she allowed her living room to be turned into an exhibit of Christmas decorations. Miranda was expressive in her own way, but she wasn't exactly extrovert like this.
"It was Cara," Miranda said, as if guessing Andy's thoughts. "Cassidy loves it."
Andy looked at her and waited, but nothing else was coming forward. So Caroline didn't like it and Miranda didn't want to talk about it. Neither did Andy, so it was fine.
Miranda poured herself another drink. "I'm glad you're here now. I need you to wrap the rest of the gifts." She raised her glass. "It seems I have lost my magic touch."
Andy was stunned. Wrapping Priestly presents? She? Now? Here? "Ah, Miranda, I - I have to-"
"Nigel won't be needing you tonight, will he? So come over here and help me with this box." She gestured toward a purple cardboard box: Digi Makeover.
"But Miranda, I don't-"
Miranda cut her off again. "You don't have friends, Andrea. If you still do, I'm doing something wrong. So don't tell me you have to get home tonight because someone is waiting for you. Your apartment will be empty tonight, just like..." She looked away. "Well. You better get started. There are also these books and the games, and those fountain pens need a different ribbon."
They sat down on the couch together, Miranda drinking her cognac and keeping a vigilant eye on Andy as she tried to finish what Miranda had started. She had to redo it a few times before Miranda was satisfied, but eventually she got the hang of it and the result looked pretty decent.
Numerous gifts were already placed around the tree and Andy imagined that these unwrapped ones might actually be the ones Stephen had 'dropped off' earlier. It wasn't entirely impossible that Miranda didn't want to wrap them.
Just when she was about to change the ribbons for the pens, she heard steps on the stairs. She looked up at Miranda and they both turned their head toward the hallway. The twins were standing there, covering their eyes with their hands. "Mom?"
"You may look. We're almost finished." She sat down her glass. "What is it babies?"
They opened their eyes. "We want to hear a Christmas story," one of them said, and the other one added, "like every year."
Miranda sighed and slowly raised herself from the couch. "Go upstairs; I'll be with you in a minute."
But they shook their heads. "Ew, no thanks, mom. Your reading sucks, especially when you had a drink."
Andy winced. They were not just mean but downright cruel to Miranda, and once again she wanted to give her a hug and tell her that they'd come around, that things would be alright.
Andy held her breath, but Miranda only raised an eyebrow.
"Can't your assistant read us a story?" The way they stressed the word made Andy want to forget all sympathy she had harbored for them earlier.
Mother and daughters stared at her.
It seemed surreal that she was even here, experiencing this.
"My name is Andy."
"Whatever," one twin said. "You're still her assistant--"
"--You have to do what she says," finished the other one.
"Only if I want to keep my job."
Miranda looked at her intently, daring her to go on.
"But you're lucky," Andy hurried to add, "I love-- I mean, I like my job. A lot. Really."
Miranda's features seemed to relax a little, but there was no real change in her expression. "You don't have to, if you don't want to. It's not part of your job."
Andy shook her head. "Nah, it's alright, I don't mind. It's been a while since I read to someone. This should be fun." She winked at the twins, but their expression was just as rigid as Miranda's. "Um, ok, then... just let me finish here. How about you get the book and I'll - "
"You get to choose." They locked eyes with Miranda. "Make it one with a happy ending."
And then they disappeared and Andy just sat there, bewildered. She looked at Miranda, who sighed and reached for her glass, but stopped mid-movement and let her hand drop into her lap. "It's not easy for them," she said. She took off the Santa hat. "It's our first Christmas alone."
Miranda led her into the study, where she found various books with fairy tales and children's stories. She scanned the shelves, looking for a particular name and was almost surprised when she indeed found it. The book looked quite new, as if it had never been read at all. When she pulled it out, Miranda looked curious but nodded. Sure, this wasn't one with happy Disney princesses. There was a different kind of happiness in these tales and she figured the twins were old enough to understand.
"May I listen, too?" Miranda suddenly asked. "It used to be their time with Stephen, but--"
Miranda looked so lost in that moment that Andy's heart ached. She felt like screaming. Of course, silly! Of course you can sit in and listen! It's Christmas, it's your house, they're your children! "Oh--, um-- sure, Miranda."
As they went upstairs to the third floor, Andy hoped that things would work out. She wasn't sure in what way or for whom, but the whole situation was unreal and it seemed like the cart could tip over at any moment.
They found the girls in one of the rooms, sitting on the bed with a blanket wrapped around them. Instead of the silk or satin sleepwear Andy might have expected, they were wearing fluffy terry cloth pajamas, one in pink and one in light blue, and finally Andy could tell them apart.
There was only one comfortable chair in the room, so Miranda joined her children on the bed. Andy took in the scene and continued to be amazed and dazzled by the unrealness of the picture of Miranda Priestly that she got to see tonight. Maybe there was something magical about this night, after all.
She made herself comfortable, cleared her throat and opened the book.
"The Snow Queen," she read and looked up. Two sets of blue eyes went wide. She smiled. Miranda merely raised an eyebrow as if to prompt her to go on already.
"A Tale in Seven Stories. First Story: Which Has to Do with a Mirror and its Fragments..."
She had forgotten how long the story actually was. Cassidy and Caroline had rolled their eyes at first, but they were quickly drawn into the tale of Kay and Gerda and the Snow Queen. When Miranda suggested that they stop and continue another time they protested. But they had to take a bathroom break and Miranda fetched some water for Andy before she continued to read.
When she reached the last chapter, everybody in the room struggled to stifle their yawns and Andy had trouble concentrating on her reading. She knew her voice would be hoarse the next day, but she had decided to do this, and the picture before her was definitely worth a little hoarseness. Besides, a sore throat might also prove to be the perfect excuse not to have to talk to the Russians for too long.
"And Kay and Gerda looked in each other's eyes, and all at once they understood the old hymn:
'The rose in the valley is blooming so sweet,
And angels descend there the children to greet.'"
Andy closed the book. Taking their cue, the twins blinked and yawned. They mumbled something Andy couldn't decipher before all but keeling over and falling asleep the moment their heads touched the pillow. There was no point in separating them and making each sleep in her own bed. Miranda just tucked them in properly and kissed them good night.
Andy got up and quietly opened the door, waiting outside for Miranda to follow her. Miranda turned off the light and closed the door behind them, but then stopped, still standing in the door frame.
"You promised a happy end," she said quietly to Andy's back.
Andy turned around, confused. "You don't think that was a happy end?" She asked in a hushed voice.
Miranda pursed her lips. "No."
Andy just blinked. "But--"
"What happened to the Snow Queen?" Miranda asked in a flat tone.
Andy searched Miranda's eyes, her face, for a hint as to what the question meant. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes looked tired. Her vulnerability at this moment reminded Andy of their moment in Paris, but unlike then Miranda didn't look sad or unhappy now.
Then she spotted the small mistletoe above the doorframe. Miranda must have missed it during her attempt to clear the house of them. She smiled and pointed above Miranda's head. "You missed one."
Miranda tried to turn and see for herself, but in a bold move Andy placed a hand on her jaw and stopped her.
"I will tell you. The Snow Queen--" she lightly kissed the corner of Miranda's mouth, "found someone else to keep her company."
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