DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Questions and Answers.
A Visitor Comes to Town
Life was good.
Andy had a challenging job, a steady income, an affordable apartment and very recently, a new girlfriend. She supposed it was okay now to think of Miranda as that, although the word had never once been uttered by either of them. They'd worked out their differences, come to a tenuous understanding of each other, and had now been (mostly) happily "together" for several months. Being in a relationship had never been so tiring. It had never been so rewarding.
They still hadn't officially told anyone yet -- Miranda preferred it that way. Miranda's daughters never outwardly questioned why Andy was always at their house for dinner recently, although they had been told not to mention it to anyone -- "Andrea's chef got deported and we can't tell anyone she's eating here for tax reasons," Miranda had randomly decided one day, and the girls had accepted that at face value. It was probably a matter of time before they held the secret over Miranda's head as a bargaining chip -- Andy wouldn't put it past them -- but until that happened, there was nothing to worry about. The girls were not bad once Andy had gotten to know them. They made her think of like mini-Mirandas, although the thought of them growing up to be future-Mirandas was a bit terrifying.
Miranda was as difficult a lover as she was a boss in all aspects of their relationship: she was controlling, uncommunicative, whimsical, and above all, impossible to read. Andy often felt like she was throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping she actually hit on what Miranda wanted. The sex was good, nothing to complain about. It was all very different, yet familiar. Andy had discovered that Miranda was rather demanding in bed -- fortunately, the older woman was much more generous in the bedroom than outside of it. The last time she had stayed over at Miranda's house ... Andy felt a blush creep over her skin as she recalled the memory.
Oh yes, life was good. Very good.
"Andy! Answer your damn phone already!" Someone shouted over the cubicle walls.
"What? Oh." Her cel phone was ringing insistently. Andy shook herself out of her daze. It was the middle of the work day; she had plenty of time to daydream later. She picked up the cel phone on her desk and eyed the caller ID, expecting to see Miranda's name there.
"Shit," Andy said instead. She flipped open her phone.
"Hey, Nate." They'd been in contact on and off since Nate had left for Boston, their relationship stuck in that weird place that was more-than-friends and less-than-lovers. Andy wasn't sure what was going on, really -- she mostly avoided thinking about it as much as she could.
"Andy! How you doing?" He sounded in a good mood.
"Good, good. Fine. How are you?"
"Same as usual. You been busy lately or what? It's been a while."
"It's been a little busy. Work ... people to interview ... stories to write ... you know the drill. How about you?" She hadn't spoken to him in a couple of months.
"Well, I have some vacation time saved up that I need to use by the end of the month, and I was thinking of going back to New York for a week or so. You know, just see some old friends and hang out and all that."
Andy felt a twinge of unease. "That sounds nice."
"Yeah, yeah. I think it'll be neat. Andy -- Can I ask a HUGE favour?"
"Depends on what it is."
"Can I crash at your place? I just need a place to sleep -- you don't need to feel obligated to entertain me or anything. I already asked Doug and a couple of other friends, but they either have their girlfriends over, or their place is too small, or ..."
"... anyway, you haven't moved yet, right? You're the only person I know whose place is big enough who's not seeing anyone." Nate laughed.
"Ha ha. Very funny."
"Anyway ... I know it's kinda weird, you and me ... in the same apartment. But it's either your place or paying out of my nose for a hotel in Queens for a week." Nate sounded contrite. "I totally understand if you don't want me around. Or if your parents happen to be staying over or something."
Andy massaged her forehead. "When were you thinking of coming?"
"Next week most likely, or the one after that? If I don't use my vacation by the end of the month, I lose it."
"Well ... it could be a bit weird. But I can't think of any good reason to say no." Unfortunately. "It was your apartment to begin with, anyway."
"Yes, that's true. I wasn't going to mention it unless I had to," laughed Nate. "It's not going to be an inconvenience or anything, right?"
"No, not really. No one else is staying over this month." That was the truth, at least. Miranda had come to her apartment once and vowed never to step foot in the place again. Andy was still working on convincing Miranda otherwise.
"Well, that's great. Really great." Nate sounded relieved. "I'll give you a call once I figure out my exact dates."
"Sure. Okay. Do you need me to meet you at the airport or anything?"
"Oh no, I'm fine. I know where you live." He laughed again. He was being way too cheerful about this. "Thanks, Andy. I really appreciate it."
"It's no problem, Nate." Not yet, anyway.
"No, really, thank you, Andy. It'll be good to see you again. In person. I've missed you."
SHIT. "Yeah, really?"
"You know, maybe -- maybe we can hang out together some time, just the two of us."
"Oh, I don't know about that," she said hastily. "Work's been kind of hectic and all, recently."
"Oh, no big deal. Only if you're free," said Nate, sounding slightly disappointed. "But I'm sure we'll see each other at some point. I mean, it'll be hard not to, being in the same apartment and all."
"Right, sure, sure. Um. Yeah. I'll give Lily and Doug a call, and we can all have dinner some time. I have to get back to work now, but we'll talk later, yeah?"
"Sounds great. It'll be great. Thanks again, Andy."
"See you later, Andy."
Andy hung up, took several deep breaths, and screamed silently into her hands. She was frantically trying to decide how to tell Miranda about this.
A woman called Rosario came to Miranda's house regularly to prepare meals for the household ahead of time. It would usually be ready by dinner, or simple enough for Miranda or the twins to pop into the oven or on the stove right before eating. Rosario hadn't blinked when Miranda started asking her to prepare a fourth portion every so often "just in case." Miranda somehow had a knack for surrounding herself with talented, discrete labour.
Now, they were sitting around the dinner table, enjoying the meal that had been readied for them that night. At least, Andy was trying to enjoy it. The twins were more entranced by the conversation above the dinner table than what was on the table in front of them. They loved it whenever Andy was over -- there was always something new and entertaining to watch.
"He's coming to visit." Venom dripped from Miranda's every word. "Next week."
Andy winced. "Or the week after that. This chicken is really good, Miranda."
"Don't even dare trying to change the subject." Miranda was chopping her food into tiny, unrecognizable little pieces. "Why didn't you tell me you're still in touch him?"
"It's nothing serious," Andy said lamely. "We're just friends. And you know I don't feel that way about him anymore."
"Oh, don't be naive, Andrea. You were more than just friends. And his intentions towards you are completely independent of yours towards him."
"You know," Andy cleared her throat, "if you keep doing that you're not going to be able to taste the chicken anymore, and that would be such a waste."
"Who cares about the bloody chicken." Miranda stabbed her fork at Andy, little pieces of food flying over the table. "He is NOT staying in your apartment. There are hundreds of hotels in Manhattan -- surely there is one vacancy among them."
"We already went over this," said Andy. "He can't afford a hotel for an entire week."
"I'll give him the money. No, I'll give you the money and you can book the hotel room for him."
Andy wished the day would come that she fling around money casually like that. "He's going to wonder where it came from. How am I going to explain it to him?"
"Lord, excuses by the truckload." Miranda stabbed her food viciously. "Well, he's not going to stay in your apartment while you're there, at any rate."
"But where would I stay?" The answer was obvious, but Andy wasn't going to say it out loud while the twins were present. "Plus if I'm not there, he's going to be wondering where I am, and then I'll have to make something up. Unless you want me to tell him the truth."
"I think he still likes you," Caroline announced, with the wisdom gained from countless Hollywood movies and TV soaps watched in secret when her mother wasn't home. Cassidy nodded in agreement.
"Eat your carrots," snapped Miranda. To Andy, Miranda hissed, "Make something up. Tell him you have an assignment for your paper that requires you to be on site all week."
"What kind of assignment would keep me in New York but not allow me to return home? He's going to want to read that article, and he'll wonder what happened when it doesn't appear in the paper."
"You can say that it was so poorly-written that your editor scrapped it."
"I'm not going to lie to him, Miranda," Andy sighed. "He's going to sleep on the couch. Or I will. We're grown adults, we can behave ourselves."
"For an entire week?"
"What on earth do you think we'll be doing? Why can't you just trust me?" Miranda hated it when she played the trust card.
Caroline perked up, interested. "Yeah, what do you think they'll be doing anyway?"
"Go to your rooms," Miranda hissed. "Now. The both of you."
"I'm not done with my food yet," protested Cassidy.
The twins fled. Cassidy took her plate with her.
Andy rolled her eyes. "That wasn't necessary."
Miranda rounded on her, eyes blazing. "You will not lay a single finger on that pretty ex-boyfriend of yours, and he will not be placing his hands, or any part of his body, on or inside of you, or I will hunt him down and do something so horrible that he will never want to see another kitchen knife again for as long as he lives."
"Miranda!" Andy was scandalized. But Miranda looked so hot when she was being possessive. Andy smiled what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Nothing is going to happen."
"That had better stay the truth." Miranda appeared to be mollified for the time being. She glanced down at her plate, as if trying to figure how her dinner had become a mangled mess, and gave up. "So does that mean I won't be seeing you for that entire week?"
Was it just Andy, or had Miranda sounded slightly crestfallen? "Oh. I'm sure I can stop by for dinner a couple of nights, but I probably won't be able to stay very late."
Miranda hmm-ed and bit her lower lip. Damn, she was definitely not happy.
"I can probably stop by more than a couple of nights," Andy said hastily. "Every night, even. Okay, not every night. I have a couple of late shifts. And I should probably have dinner with Nate at least once."
Did she just shake her head? Twice?
"I, ah, can make time before and after that week to come over more often."
"How generous of you."
Those lips were definitely pursed. Damn! Miranda was really making her work for this one.
"Do you mind if I stay over tonight?" Andy tried in desperation.
She'd spent the night at Miranda's only a handful of times. There wasn't enough time in the mornings for her to go back home and get changed for work unless she got up super early, and that was especially difficult after what usually happened if Andy stayed over. Furthermore, she'd have to sneak out of the place quietly before the twins woke up, to avoid having to make any clumsy explanations. And Miranda always had to invite her to stay first -- Andy had never suggested it herself.
Miranda was frowning at her. "Tonight?"
"Uh ... is that okay?" mumbled Andy.
"Tomorrow night too, if you want," Andy babbled. "And the night after that." Gosh, what did the woman want? "Only if you're free. Until Nate gets here. Can I stay over with you the nights we're both free until Nate gets here?"
"Well, if you insist."
There was suddenly a predatory gleam in Miranda's eyes. Andy felt as though she had been tricked into agreeing to a week of late nights and rising at dawn, but as she felt Miranda's gaze rake over her body, it suddenly didn't matter at all.
Nate decided to fly in the following Monday afternoon after his weekend shift ended. It turned out he hadn't planned anything for his first night back in New York -- "I was kinda hoping you'd think of something," he'd said over the phone -- so Andy had promptly called up Lily and Doug to arrange for them to have dinner that Monday. She'd waited for Nate to arrive from the airport to quickly drop off his luggage at her place before meeting Doug and Lily at Nate's favorite Italian restaurant.
"Seeing anyone new yet?" said Lily, poking Nate in the ribs, as they waited for their food to arrive.
Andy and Nate exchanged glances and laughed awkwardly.
"Lily," Andy grinned woodenly out of the corner of her mouth, "How's the art gallery coming along?"
"I have some African art exhibition coming up," said Lily enthusiastically. "Kind of like a cradle of life sort of -- hey! Don't distract me."
"I'd kind of like to hear about this African art exhibition," laughed Nate.
"I don't feel like talking about it right now," retorted Lily. "And you, Andy, what about you? You've got to be seeing someone -- you're never free when I call you lately."
Nate glanced at Andy, who stiffened even further. "Oh, you know. I'm just busy with work and all that."
"I liked your series on the family life of corporate women in North America post 9/11," said Doug. "I sent it to my mother and she sent it to all her friends. It was very enlightening. It would almost make me feel sorry for my insane boss -- you know, if the witch hadn't already scared her family away."
"Oh yeah, I read that," said Lily. "Interesting take on things. I don't believe that women can't have both, though."
"A career and a family? Something's got to give," said Doug. "I mean, it's not even really about being a woman. Men sacrifice the same sort of thing to focus on their work."
"Argument as old as time," said Lily to Andy. "What gave you the idea for the series, anyway?"
"Oh, someone else comes up with topics," said Andy, remembering how Miranda had read the first article in the series and asked pointedly if Andy was trying to tell her something. "I just write what I'm assigned."
"I'm surprised you didn't interview Miranda Priestly for insight," grinned Doug. "I mean, come on! Talk about a wasted opportunity to get a few shots at her."
"Well, it would be weird," Andy hedged. "Haven't really run into her since I left Runway."
"So what else is keeping you so busy lately?" said Nate.
Andy shrugged noncommittally and asked Doug for some stock tips, who readily complied.
The evening degenerated into a shouting match between Doug and Nate about whether the Knicks or the Celtics were in worse shape -- apparently Nate had been very quick to adopt a new home team to root for. All in all Andy had a good time -- between her work and squeezing in time for Miranda, it had been too long since she'd spent an evening with her friends.
After dinner was over, Lily and Doug decided to head home; Andy could think of no reason not to take Nate back to her apartment.
"I see everything's pretty much the same as I left it," called Nate, wandering around the apartment. "Can I borrow your spare key for the week?"
"Yeah, it's still on the shelf by the door," Andy shouted back. She was changing in the bedroom with the door closed. Nate had seen her naked a hundred times before, but a little modesty between them felt appropriate now. She emerged from the bedroom to find Nate browsing the shelves.
"I just burned all my photos of you, but I was too lazy to change anything else," Andy quipped. "I kept all your cooking equipment though, in case you ever came back and decided you want to cook breakfast for me."
"I think we can work something out," Nate chuckled, checking her fridge. "Jeez -- there's like nothing in here! What do you live on? Parmesan cheese -- expired milk -- two eggs -- ketchup --" He pulled out the contents and read off the labels one by one. He looked at Andy and smiled. "You haven't used my kitchen at all since I left, have you?"
"It's been a while," admitted Andy, although for different reasons than Nate was probably thinking of. When you could eat Rosario's cooking, why bother to do it yourself? "Well, I was never any good with a frying pan, anyway."
They both laughed, remembering the time that Andy had tried to make breakfast in bed for Nate, and the pancakes had ended up all over the floor. They'd eaten out that morning. Before long, they were both curled up on the couch, joking and reminiscing. It felt just like old times.
"Oh my god, is it already so late?" Andy looked up at the clock. "I should get to bed." She stood up and stretched.
"Early morning tomorrow?" said Nate, his eyes following her.
"Mmm. Kind of."
"Are you really gunna make me sleep on the couch?"
Andy looked at him. He was smiling, but his eyes were serious. "Nate ..."
"Well, this couch is kinda tiny," he teased, lying down. It was true -- he had to bend his knees in order to fit.
"I can take the couch if it's is too small for you," Andy offered.
"We can both fit in the bed easily," Nate said casually.
Andy crossed her arms. "Nate. I don't think it's a really good idea. I mean -- I'm not really comfortable with -- I'm not ready for -- it's just kind of --"
Nate saw her face and sat up. "Andy, look -- don't get the wrong idea -- I didn't mean anything special, or to offend you. It's just that we're not strangers, you know? I just thought --" He shook his head. "You know what, I'm sorry. I'm being stupid. No more weird stuff from me, I promise."
He looked genuinely apologetic, and Andy forgave him instantly. "Listen, you take the bed. I can sleep on the couch."
"No." He curled into a ball and hugged a pillow. "I'm not moving. I like this couch."
Andy burst out laughing. "Get off, you idiot." She pushed him off the couch and he fell off in the heap. "You're not going to be able to fall asleep hunched over like that. Just get into my bed -- don't make me drag you there."
"Mm, kinky. I like the sound of that," said Nate from the floor. She kicked him several times, and he jumped up, yelping in pain. "Okay, okay, I'm going!"
"How was last night?" Miranda demanded.
Andy was cradling her cel phone in her neck against her shoulder while typing frantically. She had a deadline to meet, but Miranda never cared about things like that. "Uh, it was okay."
"He didn't touch you? You didn't touch him?"
"No. No. It was all perfectly innocent. Nothing happened."
"So he slept on the couch?"
"No, in my bed," Andy replied without thinking.
"I beg your pardon?"
The way Miranda could lower the temperature of her voice by fifty degrees in the space of half a second was simply quite amazing, but now was not the time to be impressed. "I took the couch," Andy explained hastily, "He took my bed. The couch was too small."
Miranda clucked her tongue. "It's ridiculous how people these days think they can get a decent night's rest on a sub-par sleeping surface. I can't believe that lout made you sleep on the couch."
Andy had a crick in her neck and she'd woken up on the ground, but she wasn't about to tell Miranda that. "I slept fine, but thanks for worrying. Anyway, I'll see you tonight?" It had been a few days since they'd last seen each other, since they had both been busy with their own affairs over the weekend.
"Something came up, so I'm going to have to cancel." Unspoken but understood was the apology underneath Miranda's words. "How about tomorrow?"
"I have a late shift," Andy reminded her. "Thursday?"
"Sounds good. I have to torture a photographer about some hideous photos now. We'll talk later."
"Is he the reason I'm not seeing you tonight?"
"In part, yes."
"Then give him hell," Andy grinned. "I'll see you later."
Just as she hung up, the phone rang again. "Nate? What's up?"
"Just finished meeting up with some friends," Nate said. "And also calling to complain that my dinner plans got canceled on me. How are you?"
Andy chuckled. "Same thing just happened to me."
"I thought you said you had to work late today?"
Andy thought fast. "Oh, uh, it was an interview with someone over dinner, but they had to reschedule."
"Ah, I see. Do you wanna eat with me tonight then? I have nothing better to do."
"Sure, why not. Any ideas?"
"Well, someone was saying last night that they wanted me to cook breakfast for them, so I might as well make them dinner, too."
"Oh Nate, you don't have to do that. You're on vacation -- why would you want to go anywhere near a stove?"
"It's no big deal. Besides, I already went to the trouble of restocking your fridge, spice rack and condiments, so I might as well use the stuff. I have a feeling it'll just sit here and expire in a year otherwise."
"If you knew that, then why'd you go to the trouble? You're in New York, don't you have anything better to do than go grocery shopping?"
"It's absolutely killing me to see the way you treat your kitchen! I could hear it crying all night from your bedroom. My conscience wouldn't rest until I --"
"Alright, alright," laughed Andy. "Do whatever you want. I'll be back around eight."
"And what would you like tonight, mademoiselle?" Nate said, doing a poor maitre d' impression.
"Oh, anything's fine. Surprise me."
"I'll see you tonight at eight then."
"Wow, it smells really good," said Andy, walking in the front door.
"I'm nearly done," called Nate. "Just give me a couple of minutes."
After changing out of her clothes, Andy leaned against the door frame and watched Nate work the stove, as she had done countless times in the past.
"What are you staring at?" said Nate, his eyes not leaving the frying pan.
"Nothing in particular."
"You like what you see?"
Andy paused before answering. "Those lamb chops do look good."
Nate grinned. "Set the table for me?"
Andy could at least manage that. She cleared the junk from the dining table and stacked it up in a corner, then pulled out two plates and two sets of forks and knives, arranging them haphazardly on the table top. Nate came out and spooned the food onto the plates.
"Man, this place is a mess," he commented. "You really don't eat here very often anymore, do you?"
"There've been a lot of late nights in the office," Andy replied, sitting down.
"I'll bet. You have to stay late tomorrow night too, don't you?" Nate tossed the frying pan into sink and sat across from Andy. "How come you work such weird hours, anyway? I mean, it's seven to three, or three to eleven ..."
"Wow, this is REALLY good," Andy exclaimed.
Nate inclined his head in a mock bow. "I appreciate the sentiment."
"A lot of what I do goes on the newspaper website," Andy explained as she ate. "We update the site constantly as new news comes in, so there's a fair amount to be done no matter what shift you're working. We mix it up a lot so that people don't always get stuck with the late shift."
"Yeah, it can be. I'm sure it's the same for you, though."
"Pretty much. It's impossible to find time to get out and see people."
"Tell me about it."
Nate paused. "You been trying to meet anyone new recently?"
"No, not really." Andy filled her mouth with lamb and chewed slowly. "You know, this really is very good."
"Good, I'm glad," laughed Nate. "I do this for a living, you know."
"How about you?" said Andy.
"What about me?"
"Meet anyone new?"
"Not much luck. Those Boston girls, all they do is study."
"It's a college town. How's your sister doing, anyway? Isn't she about to graduate?"
Nate started talking about his family, and Andy let him talk, her mind drifting occasionally as she watched him, nodding and joking at all the right parts. Nate had lost some weight, but his hair and eyes and smile were still exactly as Andy remembered.
"You still don't shave very often, do you?" she said suddenly.
Nate rubbed his jaw rakishly. "I like my five o'clock shadow look. Makes me appear ruggedly handsome."
Andy rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Who says?"
"You did, at least. Once upon a time."
"Oh right, yeah. What was I on at the time? I can't remember."
"You were such a crackhead, it's a wonder you remember anything."
Andy realized she missed having someone laugh at her jokes, not having to carefully calculate every word before it exited her mouth, or worry about the double meaning behind every word she heard. She shook her head, cutting off that train of thought. Down that path lay madness.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" she asked.
"Just hanging around Manhattan most of the day. Then I'm going up to White Plains to visit some old college friends for dinner."
"Wow, that's a bit out of the way."
"Yeah, I'll take the metro up in the afternoon. Hopefully I'll get back at a decent hour."
Andy looked at their nearly empty plates. "You want me to clean up?"
"Don't mind if you do."
Andy cleared the table and moved the dishes to the sink, turning on the tap. "Thanks for making dinner again."
"I told you already, it's no problem," grinned Nate.
"No, really. You made them just the way I like them."
"I haven't lost my touch yet." Nate flexed his arm. When Andy didn't respond, he raised his hands in the air, smiling. "Hey, don't read anything into it. It's just something I knew you'd enjoy."
"What, it's only one of my top five favorite dishes of all time."
"Can't go wrong with that, can I?" he grinned. He plopped onto the couch and turned on the TV.
"Andy!" he howled.
Andy came running out, soap suds up to her elbows. "What's wrong?"
"You cancelled HBO!" he shouted accusingly.
"Jeez, don't scare me like that." Andy returned to the sink, exasperated. "Yes, I did."
"Didn't you say you're making more now with this reporter job?"
"But I'm never around to watch TV, so why bother?"
"But you have the money -- wait, ESPN high-def is gone too -- my god, you've canceled everything!" He continued shouting in shock as he discovered more and more missing channels.
It was like he'd never left.
The following night, Andy got home at eleven-thirty. Exhausted, she climbed into the shower and washed off the day's grime; when she came out she found three voice messages for her on her cel phone. One was from Nate, saying that he was going to spend the night at a friend's up in White Plains instead of making the trip back down to the city. The second was from Miranda, saying that Andy must have been very busy that day to not have time to call Miranda even once, and not to bother to return Miranda's call since Andy must be so tired from working all day. The third was also from Miranda, telling her to make Nate take the couch, and to have a good night.
Andy thought about calling Miranda back just for the heck of it, but decided she was too tired to bother. It had been a really rough day. Turning the lights off, she sank into her own bed enthusiastically, breathing into her pillow and groaning at how good the mattress felt under her. She could smell Nate on the sheets.
She lay there for a few moments, unable to fall asleep in spite of her fatigue. After tossing and turning for about half an hour, she climbed out of bed and retrieved the pillow and comforter that she'd used for the past few nights from the couch. She kicked those that Nate had been using onto the floor and tried to get comfortable.
It took her another two hours to fall asleep, and when she finally did, she dreamed brokenly of a terminator-like Miranda stalking Nate with a butcher knife.
"You look terrible," said Andy's coworker helpfully as he walked by her desk.
"Thanks," she replied tartly, not looking up from her computer. Having slept poorly the night before, she was in no mood for small talk. To make things worse, two people had called in sick, and their usual responsibilities had fallen partially to Andy. The tray icon on her monitor informed her that it was nearly four o'clock. Typing with one hand and taking her cel phone in the other, she called Miranda with some dread.
"This had better be important," came Miranda's greeting. That usually meant 'there's someone in the room.'
"I think I'm going to have to cancel tonight," said Andy. "Sorry."
There was a pause.
"Can't be helped," Miranda replied shortly. "We'll talk later." Just before the line went dead, Andy heard Miranda begin to ream into an unsuspecting employee, and she said a silent apology to him before she dove into her work again.
By the time she got home, it was well past ten. Nate looked up when she staggered into the apartment. "Another late night?"
"Unfortunately," said Andy, sagging onto the couch next to him.
"Had dinner yet?"
"I'll make you something."
"Don't wanna," mumbled Andy, eyes rolling back in her head. "Tired."
The next thing she knew, Nate was poking her shoulder. "Wake up, sleepyhead." He held a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches to her face.
She sat up and grabbed a sandwich, stuffing it into her mouth. "God, I'm starving. Thank you."
Nate sat next to her and watched her eat.
"You have a good day yesterday?" she said with her mouth full.
"Yeah, we stayed up all night playing Wii. Turns out I'm a pretty good boxer." He mimed a few jabs with his hands.
Nate cocked his head. "Is there something wrong with your neck? You're holding it weird."
"I must have slept funny last night," said Andy, arching her neck left and right.
"When you're done eating, I'll give you a neck rub."
Andy stopped chewing and stared at him.
"Innocent, completely innocent," said Nate. "Stop reading into everything I do."
"I'm not," said Andy sullenly. She finished the rest of her sandwich and turned away from him. "Fine. Do your worst."
She stiffened once she felt the firm touch of his hands on her skin, relaxing slightly as he kneaded and massaged at the muscle around her shoulders and neck. His fingers were thick and rough and calloused from years of wear and burn in the kitchen; they moved gently, confidently, pushing and prodding just the right spots.
"Mmm," said Andy, unable to suppress a groan. "You haven't forgotten."
"Still have the touch," agreed Nate. His hand traveled down her back.
Andy's phone rang.
She hastily jumped away from Nate and answered it. "Hello?"
"Are you free tomorrow night?" It was Miranda.
"Oh, hey... uh, actually, I have plans for dinner already -- it's Nate's last night in the city, so a bunch of us are just getting together before he leaves."
"Who is it?" said Nate over her shoulder.
"Is that him? I can hear him over the phone. How close is he to you right now?"
"Just a friend," Andy hissed to Nate. To Miranda, she said calmly, "You're imagining things."
"Someone I know?" said Nate loudly. "Male or female?"
Andy whacked him with a cushion. "Female, and you don't know her, so shut up."
"What is going on over there?" interjected Miranda.
"Invite her along too," Nate grinned suggestively. "Can you introduce us?"
"No way in hell," Miranda snarled as Andy babbled, "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Aww." Nate looked disappointed. "Why not?"
Miranda hung up.
Andy stared at the phone in horror. "Oh my god. Oh my god. I am so dead."
Nate started laughing.
"It's not funny!"
"I'm sorry, it's just that I haven't seen that look on your face in so long -- not since you worked at Runway." He made a valiant attempt to suppress his giggles. "You should stop hanging out with someone with such a bad sense of humor."
"She's just -- she's a very sensitive person!" Andy shouted, running for the bedroom and diving head first onto her bed. "I was in the middle of a phone conversation! Why would you do that?"
Nate had followed her inside, the smile on his face quickly fading. "I'm sorry -- it sounded like you were talking to someone who knew me, so I just assumed --"
"Couldn't it have been a friend from work or someone, and I just happened to mention to her that my ex-boyfriend was visiting? God." Andy sat up. "She's not going to talk to me for days now."
"I'm sorry," Nate repeated. "Tell her I was just teasing. Was what I said that bad?"
"No," moaned Andy, burying her face into her pillow. "I just let her do this to me."
"Why do you put up with her then?"
Andy mumbled something intelligible.
"What was that?"
"I said, because she needs me," repeated Andy, lifting her head. And I need her, she added to herself. "God, I'm exhausted. I'm going to bed."
Nate grinned rakishly. "You going to join me in here tonight?"
"You -- couch." Andy pointed to the door. "I want my own bed back."
"Seriously?" Nate looked pained when Andy nodded. "Where are my sheets?"
Andy jabbed in the direction of the floor with her foot.
Nate grumbled and made a face. "You're mean when you're in a bad mood."
"GO. And turn my lights off."
Nate did as he was told.
Andy left Miranda a voice message with an apology and slept well for the first time in days.
"Thank you again for having me this week," said Nate. "I enjoyed myself."
"It was my pleasure," said Andy.
They were at dinner, seated off in one corner of the table. Around them, two of their college buddies that had ended up in New York were engaged in a drink-off; Lily, Doug, and other old friends and coworkers of Nate's were watching and cheering.
"It's been just like old times, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, kinda," Andy agreed. "Did you do everything you wanted to do while you were here?"
Nate touched the rim of his drink. "Not quite yet."
"Well, you still have tomorrow morning to take care of it. What time's your flight again?"
"There you go."
Nate picked up his beer and drained it. "Actually, I'd rather get it over with tonight -- right now, in fact."
Andy raised an eyebrow. "It's something you can do right now?"
"What do you think I still need to do?"
Andy shrugged. "I dunno. See a Broadway show? Go to the Empire State Building?"
She saw the intention in Nate's eyes that had been there the entire week and realized she could no longer ignore it.
Smiling awkwardly, she said, "Even a ten-year-old could guess why you came."
Nate laughed. "That obvious, huh?"
"The invitation to share a bed on your first night here got me a bit suspicious."
Andy let Nate take her hand. "Any chance we can make this work again?" he said, almost pleading. "You and me?"
Andy thought of the past week; she thought of Nate's smile, the sound of his laugh; the way he cooked lamb chops and flipped a skillet; his toothbrush in her bathroom, his scent on her sheets, his fingers on her neck; the way he made her feel, the way he still knew her so well.
"Nate, I still love you," she said carefully.
Nate looked at her searchingly. "There's a 'but' in there somewhere, isn't there?" he said with some regret.
Andy could only nod. "I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. I understand." Nate let go of her hand and picked up his drink, but it was empty. He gestured to a waiter and asked for another. "Can I know why?"
Andy decided after a moment that she owed him the truth. "I'm in love with someone else."
They sat in silence. Next to them, their friends were clapping and cheering at something someone had said, but Andy could only look at a spot directly behind Nate's shoulder as Nate stared at his empty glass. The waiter came back with his drink and Nate took a huge gulp.
"I suspected that might be it," Nate said after a while.
"You just seem... fulfilled, somehow. I don't know. This whole week, it's like you were always somewhere else. Huh. You know, maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about."
"Don't tell the others," said Andy quietly.
Nate gazed at her, opened his mouth to say something, then shrugged and nodded instead. "I don't really want to think about it anymore, so I'm not even going to ask why."
"Tell you what," said Nate, finishing his drink in one swing, "I'll stay at Doug's tonight. Or Lily's. It doesn't matter, I'll find someone to stay with."
"Nate, you don't have to --"
"No, no. I'm fine, Andy, really. It's just --" Nate waved a hand in the air. "I guess it wouldn't really be appropriate."
"Oh, Nate." Andy laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll stop by and return your key when I pick up my luggage, and lock the door behind me when I leave. Some time later tonight. Or next morning. Whenever."
Andy nodded slowly. "If that's what you want."
"Yeah. I think that would be better for both of us."
Andy winced. "I guess I should go, huh."
"I'm fine. Really." Nate grinned. "But it might be for the best. It was really good seeing you, Andy."
"It was good seeing you too, Nate." She stood up and pressed a kiss to his jaw. His skin was rough, unshaven against her lips. He turned to the table and shouted something at his friends, reaching for another drink. No one noticed her leave.
Once she was outside, she stretched and exhaled. She felt tired and relieved and alone, like she had reached the end of a long journey. Around her, pedestrians walked by and jostled against her, each of them rushing to their own destinations.
As Andy headed for the nearest subway station, she pulled out her phone and dialed.
"Where are you?" she asked the moment Miranda picked up.
"... At home, and if you're going to make an attempt at humor by asking me why I am stuck at home on a Friday night with nothing to do --"
"Good. Perfect. Stay there. I'm coming."
Andy began to run.
The door flew open the moment Andy knocked, as if Miranda had been lying in wait for her. She was grabbed by the arm and jerked roughly inside, and before she even had a chance to protest, Miranda had pressed her against a wall and kissed her.
"Nice to see you too," gasped Andy once Miranda stopped for air.
Miranda tugged her away from the entrance and shoved her down the hallway, onto the ground, straddling her. Her eyes were wild and her lipstick smudged. She was barefoot, her shirt was half-open and her skirt was riding up her thighs. She looked radiant.
"Where are the girls?" Andy panted, trying to sit up as Miranda forcefully yanked her shirt open.
"With their father this weekend." Miranda leaned in and anxiously buried her face in the junction between Andy's neck and shoulder. With a swift, well-practiced motion, she reached behind Andy's back and undid her bra. Andy could smell Miranda's perfume and arousal.
"I love you," Andy said. It was the first time either of them had uttered those words to each other.
"Shut up and help me get these pants off," Miranda snarled, fumbling with the top button on Andy's jeans and struggling to pull them off Andy's legs. "Christ Almighty -- way too tight -- how do you expect me to --"
"I said I LOVE you --"
Miranda stopped irritably. "I heard you the first time." She grabbed Andy's and kissed her slowly and languorously, running her hands through Andy's mass of hair, leaving Andy breathless and thirsty for more and with a familiar ache between her legs.
"Haven't seen you --" Miranda moved lower, pushing Andy's bra up her chest; "haven't touched you --" she cupped a breast and stroked a circle around Andy's right nipple, instantly causing it to stand up perkily; "had to lie awake and touch myself while thinking about you -- all week -- " Andy shuddered as Miranda squeezed her breasts roughly while sucking on a nipple like a starved woman.
"Did you miss me?" demanded Miranda, pinching the other nipple viciously.
Andy squealed. "God, yes. Yes."
Miranda pushed Andy to the ground and resumed her earlier goal of removing Andy's pants. She succeeded in getting them halfway down Andy's legs before giving up impatiently. Raising Andy's knees to her chest, she slid two fingers inside Andy defenseless, wet crotch without hesitation. Andy whimpered and tried to thrust against Miranda's hand.
"God, harder --" she begged as Miranda hit a sweet spot. She hadn't quite expected to end up in Miranda's foyer, on her back, legs raised indecently and ass exposed to the world, but she had been waiting for something like this all week, and she wasn't going to start protesting now.
She heard Miranda's incoherent mumblings over her own harsh breathing, the slurp of Miranda's fingers pumping in and out of her, the jangle of keys outside the door, a key inserted into the lock and about to turn --
The women froze and stared at each other in horror.
"Holy fuck, you gotta be kidding me," croaked Andy. "Tell me that's not Emily with the Book."
With a speed and strength born of desperation, Miranda half-dragged, half-pushed Andy to the nearest door, forced it open and hurled Andy inside. Andy found herself drowned in darkness, surrounded and smothered by soft articles of clothing; groping around to find her bearings, she accidentally brought several coats and coat hangers down on top of herself.
Andy came to the slow realization that she was in Miranda's coat closet, with her pants around her legs and her crotch dripping wet. She was struck with the unbearable urge to laugh.
She heard the front door open. "-- Miranda?" Emily's voice. She sounded stunned. "What are you doing on the floor?"
"I just, ah, was looking for a contact," Miranda said airily. She was climbing uneasily to her feet. "But it's nowhere to be found."
Had the woman completely lost her senses? A five-year-old could see through that.
"Are you okay?" Emily sounded extremely confused. "You look awfully ..."
She trailed off; Miranda must be giving her the stare of death. Imagining the looks on their faces, Andy knew she wouldn't be able to control herself much longer. She stuffed a jacket sleeve into her mouth and tried hard not to breathe.
"Are you suggesting that something is wrong, Emily?" The threat in Miranda's tone was quite evident.
"... knackered," Emily babbled. "You look absolutely knackered, Miranda, so I should probably get going and let you rest --"
"Splendid idea, Emily. Best one you've had all week."
"Of course, Miranda, here's the Book. Right here -- thank you -- you got it?" Andy heard Emily's voice growing louder; was she coming closer? "I'll just hang your dry cleaning in your closet and be on my way --"
Andy's eyes widened, as she was sure Emily's must have been outside -- Miranda had screamed. Miranda NEVER screamed.
"What's wrong?" Emily's voice was quavering.
"Give me the dry cleaning," Miranda said with some effort. "I'll take care of it myself."
"YOU want to take the dry cleaning?" Emily squawked like the world was ending. Andy wondered if Emily's eyeballs had fallen out of their sockets by now.
"Don't make me repeat myself." Miranda sounded impatient.
"But I'm right there -- I mean, I can just open the door and --"
"Don't! There's a -- there's a dead rat in there."
That was the last straw. Andy was going to die. She was going to die choking on her own laughter with a jacket sleeve balled in her mouth.
"That's positively nasty!" Emily sounded disgusted, and quieter; she must have moved away from the closet.
"Quite horrible, isn't it?" agreed Miranda, relieved. "I want you to call exterminators and have them in my house immediately. Or tomorrow morning at the latest. Now just give me my dry cleaning and go."
"Of course, Miranda -- here --" She handed off the dry cleaning to Miranda; Andy heard Miranda grunting with effort. "Thank you -- what a horrible scare that rat must have given you -- I'll make sure exterminators stop by tomorrow --"
Emily's voice grew quieter, the front door opened and closed, leaving Miranda alone outside.
Miranda dropped the load in her arms immediately and flung open the closet door. She was greeted by the sight of Andy doubled over, ass in the air, pants around her legs, sobbing with laughter, tears running from her eyes.
"I think I just wet myself," she cried.
Miranda grabbed Andy and pulled her outside into a sitting position.
"I'm glad at least one of us found this amusing," Miranda said testily, sagging heavily onto the ground and leaning into Andy.
Andy howled, unable to help herself. "You have no idea how much pain I am in."
"If you don't stop laughing soon, I am going to kill you."
Andy awkwardly pulled Miranda into an embrace and giggled against her cheek. "You have to admit, that was pretty funny. I mean, really -- 'I'm looking for my contacts'?"
"I'd like to see you come up with something better."
"Oh, don't be mad." She placed an insistent trail of kisses down Miranda's neck and reached eagerly into Miranda's shirt.
"Unbelievable -- you're still in the mood after all this?" Miranda said dryly, shifting to allow Andy access to unhook her bra and stroke her breasts.
"Of course," muttered Andy, nibbling on Miranda's earlobe and eliciting a gasp. "It takes more than Emily and a dead rat to stop me."
"Let's do this in my bedroom," Miranda suggested.
Andy tried to get onto her feet and fell over immediately. "Stupid jeans," she growled, tugging them off and leaving them in a pile on the floor.
Much later, as Miranda lay sprawled over Andy, naked, sweating and breathing heavily, she asked, "So how was dinner with Nate and his friends?"
"I left early," Andy mumbled. "Wasn't really in the mood to stay longer."
"Shouldn't you be leaving soon?"
Andy glanced down at Miranda, who had draped herself over Andy's breasts. "You don't want me to stay?"
"That's not what I meant. I thought you were concerned with Nate wondering where you are."
Andy looked at the ceiling. "We don't have to worry about that anymore."
"Oh?" Miranda propped herself up on her elbow, looking at Andy's face. "Care to explain?"
"Nate and I ... he realized it's not going to work between us anymore."
"What did you do?"
"Told him I was in love with someone else, without saying who, and told him not to tell."
"Lord, you should have just done that from the beginning." Miranda slapped her forehead. "Then I could have just kept you here all week instead of worrying about that vagrant getting his dirty paws on you."
Andy laughed and rolled over, wrapping Miranda in her arms. "It was all part of my plan to make you realize how irreplaceable I am to you."
Miranda murmured something into her chest.
"What did you say?" Andy asked.
"I said, you already are."
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