DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is an AU event in my AU series, Life Is a Banquet. By which I mean, it doesn't fit into LIAB as currently outlined, but it does make use of its characters, Miranda Priestly, renowned fashion editor, forty-eight, and Andrea Sachs, an aspiring twenty-eight-year-old chef who lives in the basement apartment in Miranda's home, where she served temporarily as a nanny to Caroline and Cassidy. And there is cooking. And with an apple developed here in Minnesota, which they dubbed the SweeTango unfortunately, instead of the really cool name I've chosen for it.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To medoramacd[at]yahoo.com

Tasting the Possibilities
By Medora MacD



Friday, October 3, 2008

Miranda took the bag of snack mix from Andy and tucked it into Caroline's backpack."That's all," she said, patting its bulging blue side. She shifted her gaze to her daughters, sitting side by side at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. "Have a good time at your father's this weekend, Bobbseys. And if Tiffany's little sister is there again, be sure to include her in your activities this time."

"Aw, Mom … Do we have to? She's practically a baby!"

"Don't exaggerate, Caroline. Brittany's six, isn't she?"

"Like we said, Mom, a baby," said Cassidy. "For God's … goodness … sake," she said, correcting herself before her mother could, "she's a first grader, Mom. And we're already going to Big Dalton. We've got outfits that are older than she is. Well, not outfits, because of course they wouldn't fit us anymore, not to mention being so two seasons before last, but … we've got games that are that old. Which is another thing. That's all she wants to do, play video games. And she totally sucks at them."

"Cassidy Devorah Priestly!"

"Well, she does and …"

"Be fair," Caroline interjected, trying to stave off a maternal lecture. "She is only six. We weren't very good at Super Mario Brothers when we were her age either."

"Six," grumbled Cassidy.

"Half our freakin' age, for heaven's sake. It's embarrassing to be seen with her …"

Andy's stomach clenched, seeing where this rant was headed and knowing nothing good could come of it, at least not for her. She looked down at the cookbook she'd been thumbing through. If she nudged it off the counter onto the floor would the ensuing thump avert the train wreck that was looming?

"Almost as embarrassing as it is to be seen with Dad and Tiffany," Cassidy finished, ignoring the warning glance her sister was shooting her way.

Miranda had grown quieter and quieter as the conversation continued. She was close to rigid at the moment, Andy noticed. So did Caroline.

"C'mon, Cass. So he's fifty and she's twenty. Big deal. It's the Hamptons. Almost everyone there is walking around with a trophy someone who's half their age…"

"Two-fifths," said Andy before she could stop herself. Miranda pinned her with a glare. "She's just two-fifths his age," Andy babbled. "Not half. She won't be half his age for ten years, when he's sixty and she's thirty."

She ducked her head. "Butting out now," she muttered, praying everybody would assume she had just been showing off her mad math skills. Instead of realizing that she had long ago calculated those age ratios and had determined, to her delight, that at twenty-eight she was already more than half of Miranda's age of forty-eight and, in fact, in a mere two years would be fully three-fifths her age.

"Whatever," Cassidy grumped. "That's not what is embarrassing anyway. It's that she's such an airhead. I was telling Dad about the project I did for social studies about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and she thought I was talking about, 'like, some ginormous thunderstorm.' I think even Brittany knew better."

"Be that as it may," Miranda said coolly, regaining her poise, "she is important to your father and Brittany is important to her. You will be respectful to Tiffany and kind to her sister. Now, get your things. Roy will be here soon to take you to the station, where Salma will meet you as usual and make sure you get safely onto the 4:18 train." She began herding the twins toward the front door of the townhouse, making sure as she did that they were leaving none of their gear behind.

That could have gone better, thought Andy, watching them leave. Then again, it also could have gone worse. And it probably will the next time, given Miranda's growing sensitivity about her age. Or rather about the difference between her age and mine. Jeeze Louise. As if there's some rule that friends can't be different ages.

Andy snorted. Who was she trying to kid? She and Miranda weren't friends. Well, not just friends. Almost since she'd moved into the townhouse's basement apartment in June they had been having Sunday brunch together, with the twins there and without. Initially, their conversations had been a bit awkward, especially when the girls were off with Gregory. But in the course of doing the New York Times crossword puzzle together and sharing tidbits from other sections of the paper with one another, they'd discovered they shared many interests and could wrangle congenially when their opinions diverged.

Over time, their conversations had grown more complex and their relationship more complicated.

To the point that one Sunday a month ago, during a mimosa-abetted discussion of a review of the movie Affinity, based on Sarah Waters' novel about Victorian-era love and longing, each had indicated to the other that she was not repulsed at the thought of having a same-sex relationship — at least in the abstract.

And then, after another mimosa (or maybe three), each had admitted to the other that should they ever end up marooned together on a deserted island neither would kick the other out of their grass hut (which Andy would build and which Miranda would decorate).

Almost immediately thereafter, however, Miranda had begun backpedaling, noting that it was a good thing they were never going to have to put that to the test because at her "advanced age," there was no way she could survive sleeping on anything less than a mattress with memory foam and individually pocketed coils.

A few days after that, she had made a crack about having taken her first drink about the time Andy had taken her first step.

And a week later, she'd made another about becoming editor-in-chief of Runway the year Andy had started first grade …

Having had extensive experience with them herself, Andy recognized a freak-out when she saw one. She had made little or no comment on those remarks or any of the ones that had followed, figuring that addressing the subject overtly with Miranda would torpedo any possibility that they might ever explore their attraction to one another.

Was it finally time to stop dancing around the pachyderm in the parlor? Doing so might damage or even end their friendship. But didn't they owe it to themselves to see if there was a chance for something … more?

The thing was, Andy thought, Miranda should already know better, should know that being of the same vintage had very little to do with long-term compatibility. Two failed marriages to men who were close to her in age should have demonstrated that, shouldn't they?

Or, conversely, take the last issue of Runway, where Miranda had paired vintage Balenciaga and Balmain gowns from the 1950s and 1960s with the latest Subversive Jewelry and some of Philip Treacy's new, flamboyant "fascinators."

Or ... Andy's eyes fell upon the cookbook she'd been browsing through ... take the way aged balsamic vinegar could be combined with tender lamb and quince to create something much greater than the sum of its parts.

Wow … now there's an idea!

Andy grabbed her phone and scrolled through her contacts. She found Doug's number and punched the screen to dial it. She didn't know yet exactly what she'd be preparing — she'd be up all night figuring that out, no doubt — but she did know that if she was going to pull this off they'd need to hit the Farmers' Market the minute it opened on Saturday. They'd also need to make a stop at the restaurant to pick up some of the specialty dinnerware she'd need and …

"Hey there, boyfriend. Have I got a proposition for you! You've got all day tomorrow off, right, since we're working that private party on Sunday? How'd you like to help me with a little something I'm calling Operation Taste the Possibilities? Really? Great! I owe you one. There's some things I'll have to clear with Chef Alberto, but here's what I'm thinking …"

When Miranda returned to the kitchen, Andréa was slipping her phone into the pocket of her jeans. Whomever she had been talking to, Miranda concluded, the conversation had not been a simple one. Judging from the wrinkle of her nose at least. The only wrinkle she's likely to have for years, thought Miranda.

With effort, she wrested her thoughts away from that depressing notion and back to the situation at hand."Is there a problem?"

Andréa looked up, the furrow on her brow clearing when she saw Miranda. "I hope not. Chef Alberto has asked me to help with a private lunch on Sunday, which is going to put the kibosh on our weekly brunch. But what I was planning for Sunday will work for Saturday night as well. Is your evening free?"

Miranda pulled out her Blackberry, determined to make it available if it already wasn't. She discovered to her delight that it would not be necessary to risk giving Emily apoplexy. "It is," she reported. "I have to make an appearance at a charity event from 3 to 4 o'clock, but the rest of the day is open."

"Awesomeness! Quick, block off the hours from 7 to 10 before something crops up."

"Three hours?" Miranda lifted an eyebrow.

"At least. I'm going to be producing a tasting menu, portions of some fall dishes I've been thinking about proposing to Chef Alberto for next month's specials at Café Verdi."


"Yes," Andréa replied distractedly, flipping through the cookbook on the granite countertop.

"Yes what?" Her amused query drew Andréa's big brown eyes back to her.

"I mean, yes, let's dress up. Not Saturday-night-at-Le Bernardin fancy. There's no way my wardrobe can hold a candle to yours, for one thing. And because I'm going to be cooking, plating, and serving as well as eating, even if Doug helps me prep some of the dishes during our regular Saturday cook-a-thon. But yeah, let's kick it up a notch."

"It's a date," Miranda said. She allowed herself to enjoy the feel of the word in her mouth — and the way Andrea's eyes widened slightly when she said it — even as she warned herself that she was playing with fire. This was madness. Her work required her on occasion to engage in a certain amount of innocuous flirting. It was becoming increasingly difficult, however, to persuade herself that what she was doing here was harmless. Someone was bound to get hurt. Probably a foolish old woman with the initials MP. There were just too many things stacked against the possibility of their friendship evolving into anything … bigger.

"See you at 7 tomorrow," she said. She contemplated the tasks ahead of her as she headed up the two flights of stairs to her study. The first draft of the December issue was waiting for her there and hours of demanding work. Work so exacting, she hoped, that it would prevent her from counting the minutes until her dinner with the entrancing young woman downstairs. Who deserved to spend her evening with someone other than a middle-aged editor who had been around the block more times than she cared to remember.

First, though, she'd better give some thought to tomorrow's ensemble. Something with flair and flow. The silk chiffon Ralph Lauren wide-leg pant, perhaps? Or something sportier?

Damnation! What she wore was going to need to be commensurate with the sophisticated cuisine Andréa would be serving, yet sensitive to the limitations of the chef's own wardrobe. Choosing something that could do all that was going to require a fashion sensibility of the highest magnitude. Luckily, she just happened to have that — and in spades. She hoped.

Meanwhile, in the apartment three floors below, planning of a different sort was frantically getting underway.

"Smooth move, Sachs! You couldn't have waited a week or two to launch this brilliant plan? Taken a little time for some research? Of course not, Ms. Seize-the-Day! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Andy held her head in her hands and groaned, treating herself to a 30-second pity party. Then she sat up and studied the cookbooks stacked on her kitchen table."Okay, time to get to work. Julia, Giada, Ina, Cat … you ready? Let's rumble!" She pulled a yellow legal pad closer to her, grabbed her trusty blue Uniball Gel Impact pen, and began scribbling.

"So, the main theme is established. Step one: Keeping it simple, sophisticated, seasonal. Mind you, you can get almost any ingredient at any time somewhere in Manhattan, if you've got the moola. But I don't. Gotta look for things that can be prepared in advance, manage the pacing between courses so I'm not running around like a chicken with its head cut off but have the chance to eat with Miranda and chat ...

"Right, so seven courses … Which means, 1. appetizer (hot or cold, have to think about that); 2. soup (easy peasy); 3. fish; 4. main course (NOT steak, but what?); 5. salad; 6. what a friend we have in cheeses; and 7. dessert (the three Cs — cocoa, coffee, and crunch — but which version?).

"As for beverage pairings, best keep them easy, too, and low alcohol. You're going to need all your wits about you, Sachs, and you're a definite lightweight compared to Miranda.

"Finally, feed the eyes, too. Vary the plating, add some sparkle, some fun. Presentation isn't everything, but … Crap!"

How the hell was she going to present herself? She was not going to wear stilettos, for damn sure. No way she could walk in those things, much less cook and carry course after course from the kitchen to the table. The Urban Outfitters and H&M outfits the girls had helped her add to her wardrobe over the summer were functional, but this called for something more … grown up.

"Frack!" She levitated slightly as her phone blared the chorus to "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and started vibrating across the table. She grabbed for it, desperately trying to remember who the twins had assigned that song to after she'd introduced them to Footloose last month. Roy? Doug? She didn't have a clue. She fumbled the phone on at last. "Hello?"

"I have been informed by a certain ... cheesehead? ... that you're in the market for some fancy new duds."

"Nigel? Hold it! Doug called you? How did he even have your number?"

"I may have asked for his at that Back to School gathering the two of you threw for the girls in August. In case I had need of a caterer, you know. And given him mine in case … well, just in case. But we digress. You're a size six, right? I'll drop some options off around three tomorrow. And don't worry, he told me you need to be able to cook in the outfit. And that you'll never make clam cakes for me again if it's not machine washable."

"And affordable!" Andy interjected hastily. "It can't cost an arm and a leg."

"Speaking of which, I'm thinking sleeveless — to keep things cool as you cook and to show off those amazing guns of yours — and a harem-style pant for some shimmy. Calvin's silky black cargo pocket jumpsuit might do the trick. Or maybe his bandeau-top, wide-leg one. And before you ask — I can get you either for under a hundred dollars. Add a collarless, short sleeve, cropped cardigan in ivory or, better yet, cerulean that you can shrug into for a little more formality, a few sparkly baubles, and et voila!"

"I don't know what to say, Nige," Andy stammered.

"Say 'thank you,'" Nigel replied. "And promise to be persistent with Miranda. Insistent, even. And promise that if this works the two of you will endeavor to repeatedly impress upon Douglas the benefits of being partnered with someone suave, sophisticated, and as 'well seasoned' as Miranda."

"Really?" Andy asked, grinning in delight.

"Really," Nigel replied drily. "Now stop dithering. You've got a mind-altering menu to plan. Hop to it!"

Part 2

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