DISCLAIMER: All rights reserved to all the much wealthier people who own Miranda Priestly. They know who they are. I am quite certain that I could make much better use of Miranda and Andrea, but alas, this will have to do. No profit made.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story veers a bit off course with the last scene in Paris. Well, quite off course. People to whom I owe at the very least a first born child or alternatively, a small island in the South Pacific: My lovely cadre of beta readers, all of whom are immensely generous, talented, wonderful women and who have put up with my bouts of insecurity without demur. Well, not much demur. chilly_flame, darandkerry, tremblingmoon, seftiri, and of course, the instigator of all this,flying_peanuts.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
When the Night Falls on You
Miranda Priestly had never been one for contemplating the mysteries of the universe. To be honest, for most of her life, she simply didn't have the time. Also, she had learned long ago that sitting about musing on things that one was incapable of changing accomplished nothing except leaving one feeling morose and helpless, two emotions in which Miranda never indulged. Well, almost never.
She had found herself indulging in both this evening, staring from the window of her hotel room at the myriad lights of Paris. A sheaf of papers lay stark, white, and accusing on the small Louis XV table behind her: divorce papers, courtesy of her soon-to-be ex-husband. Her third ex-husband. If she didn't watch out, she thought sardonically, she was going to give Liz a run for her money. The thought did little to lift her mood.
Nor did the view. The Eiffel Tower stood in the distance, as the steady glow of lights melded into a gauze of yellow and gold that lay across the city. The picture perfect scene was just that, picture perfect. Miranda knew better than most people that pictures were flat, two dimensional representations of a three dimensional world.
They never showed what happened on the other side of the pristine image presented: the ugly, messy side. The side where models didn't show up, where sets were damaged, where budgets ended up as nothing more than vague guidelines. The side where love grew cold and bitter, where angry words were shouted across what was once a shared bed. The side where people left you.
It wasn't as if she hadn't expected this. She had expected it from the moment the ring slipped onto her finger; she had almost heard it in the swell of orchestral music as they walked back down the aisle. She just wished that Stephen had the common courtesy, the courage to tell her face to face, in New York. Not by messenger, not as she attempted to keep a hand firmly on the reins of the sometimes headstrong world of fashion she controlled. Not here. Not Paris.
But then, she shouldn't really be surprised. Stephen was always fond of the dramatic, given to volcanic eruptions and grand gestures; what could be more of a gesture than to serve her with divorce papers amid the swirl of Paris fashion week. Coward.
Turning away from the window, Miranda dropped gracefully onto the Empire settee, pulling the warmth of her robe a little tighter across her chest. She was through with the tears that had fallen unbidden at the sight of the divorce petition. She knew that those tears were more about failing once again than for the end of a marriage that had been gasping laboriously for breath for more than a year now. It was hard to stomach yet another failure in what was hardening quickly into a string of personal failures, with no end in sight.
Three husbands, all of them different in temperament, in personality. And yet, those three marriages had all ended in acrimony and divorce. Doing a simple algebraic equation the twins could have mastered left Miranda with the solution at which she always arrived, regardless of the other variables.
In each equation the only constant was her. Three husbands, each representing a different sum for y and yet, the problem always ended with the same answer.
3(y + x) = bitter recriminations, horrible public accusations and ugly divorce. Since y was a changing variable, it had to be x that was the problem. X = Miranda Priestly, wife extraordinaire, she thought cynically.
Miranda knew that she had intimacy issues, that she had control issues, that she had issue issues. Her last four shrinks had all been kind enough to point this out, as if Miranda were incapable of even the most minor attempts at self-awareness. She also knew that despite an ability to see the subtle shadings between cerulean and indigo, between Persian and cobalt, that she had a pronounced inability to distinguish between love and simple need.
She knew as well that despite often Herculean efforts to adapt, she managed to sabotage almost every single relationship she had: from the never-ending string of housekeepers and assistants to dilettante friends and an increasing number of husbands. The thing that kept her awake at night, the thing that haunted her was that she had no idea how to stop. She had no idea how to be anyone other than Miranda Priestly.
And she didn't know if she cared enough to try anymore.
It was never a good idea to become too attached to one's boss. Andy Sachs was aware of this in theory, even agreed with it in principle. It was in practice that things got dicey. Because it was perfectly clear that the theory had never met Miranda Priestly. Never been skewered by her startling blue eyes. Never heard that damnably sexy voice say its name, the way Andy heard hers every day: Andrea.
None of which made a damn bit of difference, the theory informed her. After all, it changed nothing. Andy was still Andy. And Miranda? Miranda was a force of nature. Elegant, brilliant, gorgeous. Married. Impossibly sexy. Not that Andy thought of her that way. Well, not often. Okay, rather more often of late, but still, it made no difference. Miranda was .well, Miranda.
And Andy was just that, just Andy. Andrea Sachs, second assistant. Not particularly elegant, although she had improved under Nigel's guidance. Relatively smart, but still usually two steps behind Miranda's amazing mind. Presentable, but barely so beside the hundreds of beautiful women that paraded through Runway daily. In short, she fell short.
Except that in the past few months, Andy had managed to be the one thing that Miranda wanted, the one thing that no one else seemed to be able to be: good at her job. So here she was in Paris, City of Lights, at the very heart of the fashion industry's most important season. Despite the fact that she had yet to actually see much of Paris beyond the interiors of fashion houses and reception rooms, Andy had never been anywhere more exciting. The fact that Miranda Priestly was the source of most of the excitement had not escaped Andy's notice.
It was funny, really. She had spent the better part of the last year attempting to reconcile the rapidly shifting range of emotions that Miranda seemed to provoke in her. From her initial disgust at Miranda's arrogance and high-handed methods, to righteous anger at the other woman's callous disregard for nine tenths of the human race, to a shaky, burgeoning respect for Miranda's brilliant mind and abilities, Andy had found her own reactions shifting like sand in a hot desert wind.
And now this. This feeling that had robbed her of breath with its unexpected arrival a few months ago. This desire, not exactly sexual, but decidedly intimate. This desire to know Miranda. Really know her. Not cursory glimpses of emotion, not random bits of conversation, but to know her. Know the thoughts coursing through her mind, know the feelings hidden behind that shield of ice blue.
Talk about outrageous desires.
Andy knocked on the door to Miranda's suite and receiving no reply, let herself in. She stopped short in the doorway of the suite's living room, shocked to find Runway's editor-in-chief sitting on the settee, face free of makeup, hair damp, clad only in a soft gray robe. Her eyes were reddened from crying and her expression was one that Andy had never seen before, had never dreamt that she would ever see: lost, pensive, melancholy. Miranda looked sad.
Yet, sad or not, those eyes still managed to cut a wide swath right through Andy, tightening the muscles in her throat, sending her stomach into a sharp, pitched roll as Miranda glanced up and met Andy's astonished look.
"We need to go over the seating, uh, chart for the luncheon."
Fumbling a bit, Andy attempted to keep up the pretense that this was a perfectly normal situation, when clearly the denizens of hell were breaking out their winter parkas. "Okay. Um, yeah, sure. I have it right here."
The trademark Priestly glare was back in place. "By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me."
"Okay." Andy said pleasantly, ready to make whatever changes Miranda wanted, her senses telling her that whatever was wrong, incensing Miranda further was nothing short of suicidal.
"So... first of all, we need to move Snoop Dogg to my table." Miranda ordered, her voice lacking its usual note of absolute assurance.
"But your table's full." Despite the warnings going off in her head, Andy knew she had to point out the obvious to Miranda, just in case it wasn't as obvious as she thought.
The patented "you cannot possibly be that stupid" look was quickly followed by, "Stephen isn't coming," spoken in such a low tone that Andy wasn't certain she had heard correctly.
"Oh, Stephen is... so I don't need to fetch Stephen from the airport tomorrow?" Andy knew that she sounded like an idiot, but for some reason, she couldn't help herself, captivated as she was by the intense vulnerability that seemed to be radiating off Miranda.
Andy was expecting a sharp retort, but instead, Miranda said quietly, drops of bitterness falling from her voice like rain from a rooftop, "Well, if you speak to him and he decides to rethink the divorce... then, yes, fetch away. You're very fetching, so go fetch. And then when we get back to New York, we need to contact, um... Leslie to see what she can do to minimize the press... on all this. Another divorce... splashed across Page Six.
"I can just imagine what they're going to write about me. The Dragon Lady, career-obsessed. Snow Queen drives away another Mr. Priestly. Rupert Murdoch should cut me a check... for all the papers I sell for him. Anyway, I don't... I don't really care what anybody writes about me. But my... my girls, I just... It's just so unfair to the girls. It's just... another disappointment... another letdown, another father... figure... gone. Anyway, the point is... the point is... the point is we really need to figure out where to place Donatella because she's barely speaking to anyone."
Miranda seemed to shake herself free for a moment.
"I'm so sorry, Miranda. If you want me to cancel your evening, I can." What Andy really wanted was to reach out to Miranda, to touch her hand, her arm, offer her the comfort of another human being, but she feared that like reaching out to a wounded tiger, she was most likely to pull her arm back minus at least a few fingers.
Andy wasn't disappointed.
"Don't be ridiculous. Why would we do that?" Miranda asked caustically, although it was all too clear to both of them what the answer to that question was.
"Um, is... is there anything else I can do?" Andy stood diffidently, trying, as she so often did with Miranda, to not to take it personally. Especially tonight.
"Your job. That's all." Dismissed again.
Except that for reasons she couldn't quite explain, Andy didn't turn and leave.
The laser-like glare she received should have been ample evidence that a hasty retreat was in order, but Andy stood her ground, unwilling to go, despite Miranda's clear instruction to do so. Not without saying one last thing. Not without saying the one thing that she knew she shouldn't say. The one thing that sent her hurtling at top speed toward the concrete barriers that provided the boundaries for her relationship with Miranda, so that all Andy could do was brace herself for impact.
"Stephen's an idiot to leave you." Andy waited, head down, eyes fixed on the carpet, silently counting the seconds before the explosion. But the explosion didn't come.
Finally mustering the courage to look up, Andy was shocked to see Miranda regarding her thoughtfully, no hint of the rage that Andy had expected to see on her flawless face.
"Eventually, Andrea, everyone leaves," Miranda stated wryly, her voice smooth and even.
Only her eyes betrayed her. Eyes that met Andy's unflinchingly, the blue of the irises all the more distinct against the slightly reddened lids. There was a faint stain of defeat against that brilliant blue, barely noticeable unless you knew where to look; but Andy had made the study of Miranda's shifting moods and mercurial expressions her life's work this past year and so she saw it, almost hidden behind the bright banner of challenge.
"Everyone leaves, including you." The unspoken words hung between them like the fog that even now lapped the dark waters of the Seine.
A million moments from the past year rushed through Andy's mind: all the impossible tasks and harsh words, the never-ending days, the sleepless nights; all the demanding phone calls and Starbucks runs; all the withering glances and caustic comments. All the tests, all the traps, each one designed to shake the ground beneath her feet, to leave Andy teetering on the edge of the abyss, daring her to make that final, desperate leap. All leading to here, to this moment.
Nate's words had been rattling around inside her head for days now, like marbles dropped into an empty tin can. "The person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in. I hope you two are very happy together." Until this instant she had been able to dismiss them as nothing more than hurt and anger and jealousy, but as she watched Miranda watching her, she heard the somewhat terrifying click as the final piece of the new and improved Andrea Sachs slid into place.
"I won't leave, Miranda," Andy barely recognized her own voice, her eyes caught and held like a rabbit in a cobra's gaze. "I won't leave."
Somehow it came out stronger the second time, aided, no doubt by the determined tilt to her chin. Miranda's eyes narrowed until they were little more than slits of cobalt in a pale mask. She took a step toward Andy, then another, until there were only inches separating them.
"The only thing I despise more than a coward is a liar, Andrea. Do not make promises you cannot keep," Miranda's voice was cold, her stare unrelenting.
"I won't. I mean, I'm not. I mean, I can keep that promise," Andrea stuttered slightly, finding the sudden proximity of Miranda, skin porcelain and unblemished, clad in nothing more than a bathrobe, to be less than conducive to articulate thoughts, much less speech.
Miranda's gaze continued to hold hers, unwavering and impossibly intense. Andy could hear her blood pounding in her ears, could smell the faint scent of Miranda's perfume, could feel the faint trickle of perspiration that slipped slowly down her spine to the lace edging of her La Perla underwear. Andy had often scoffed at the notion of time standing still, but as far as she was concerned, it had. There was nothing, nothing in the vast expanse of the universe but Miranda's face, Miranda's eyes boring a hole through layers of emptiness to her soul.
"Well, you'd be the first to manage it," Miranda said softly, a faint shadow of something that Andy, despite her months of study, couldn't quite name ghosting across Miranda's countenance. In an instant, whatever it was had vanished, apparently along with Miranda's interest in the conversation.
Without another word, she turned and walked into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her and leaving a deeply conflicted Andy to stare after her, doing what Miranda would no doubt say was an extremely good impression of a slightly lovesick guppy.
The party was everything that a party should be: glamorous, exciting, elegant. Monotonous. Insipid. Boring. Miranda's list of adjectives was growing longer and far less expansive than it should be, but she found that her thoughts were disjointed, her focus easily lost. The classic lines and gorgeous drape of fabric, the veritable artist's palette of colors devolved into little more than a swirl of tints and hues, like the inside of an old Victorian kaleidoscope that she remembered loving as a child.
She needed to leave. Miranda never stayed at parties long and tonight would be no exception. Murmuring her goodbyes, she slipped out into the blessedly cool air of the Paris evening, almost welcoming the slight shiver that crept along her spine, scattering some of the fog that had begun to slip through her mind.
Damn, Stephen. Wasn't it enough to bring their marriage, or what pitiful shreds were left of it, to an abrupt end? Did he have to attempt to sabotage one of the most important times of the year for her? The answer came quickly. Of course he did. What better payment for all the missed dinners and rescheduled evenings, all the real and imagined slights? It was actually a wonder that he hadn't simply sent a copy of the divorce papers to Page Six and let her find out from the tabloids that her latest foray into wedlock had met an early demise.
The lights of the city, the cars and people, the brief glimpses of life, played along the windows of the limousine; random, incoherent scenes, like snippets from some art house cinema of the absurd. Miranda's lips quirked in a half-grimace as her mind registered the appropriateness of the simile. A fitting end to an altogether objectionable day. Well, not quite completely unpleasant.
There was Andrea.
Miranda allowed her mind to linger on the memory of Andrea's words and the look in the younger woman's eyes: a look filled with such naïve sincerity, with a depth of honest emotion that even on reflection nearly caused Miranda's lips to curl into an astonished smile.
Not that she believed the girl. There had been too many people, friends, lovers, husbands, family, who had looked deeply into Miranda's eyes and promised to never leave her for her to honestly accept the validity of such a transparently counterfeit gesture.
And yet, it was nice to still inspire a little breathless adoration now and again. And the girl had turned out to be more than Miranda could have hoped, despite a few early stumbles. In fact, she had begun to anticipate Miranda's every want and need, so that a synergy had sprung up between them, one that Miranda had to admit made her job, and her life, a little less chaotic.
And if Miranda caught herself watching Andrea, convincing herself with only a minor effort that her perusals were merely aesthetic in nature, a perfectly natural appreciation for the younger woman's newly acquired style, her budding beauty, then where was the harm?
After all, Miranda knew that in the end, like everyone else in her life, Andrea would walk away. Especially after tomorrow. She knew that few people, particularly one still as innocent as Andrea, would understand the fierce, almost sexual pleasure that she took in her precisely planned machinations. Andrea would see only the betrayal of a friend, not the capture of her opponent's king, the assurance of Miranda's continued position. The assurance of Miranda's life's work.
And with it, the assurance that eventually, everyone left.
If Miranda's appearance last night had been a shock to Andy, the events that transpired afterwards shook her to the core. First had been the drunken, disastrous decision on her part to sleep with Christian Thompson. Asinine. Idiotic. And yet. She had wanted to be wanted. Had needed to see something other than annoyance and disappointment in someone's eyes when they looked at her. She couldn't be blamed if for just a few precious hours, she had allowed herself to feel smart and sexy and desirable.
All transient emotions that fled with the sight of the papers discussing the replacement of Miranda as editor of Runway. From that moment on, things were a bit of a blur and Andy was left with only two or three images, ones that held fast in her mind, refusing to let go. The clearest of these was the look of stunned resignation on Nigel's face as Miranda announced her coup de grace. The thought that she had raced around Paris trying to warn Miranda left a lingering taste of bile in Andy's mouth.
Now ensconced against the smooth leather of the limo, Andy felt more than heard Miranda's words, each syllable a tiny blow pummeling skin that already felt sore and bruised, as if Andy had just emerged from a prizefight. She had trouble focusing on what Miranda was saying, although the immensely satisfied tone of her voice soon captured Andy's wavering attention.
"I was very, very impressed...by how intently you tried to warn me. I never thought I would say this, Andrea...but I really-I see a great deal of myself in you. You can see beyond what people want and what they need...and you can choose for yourself." For the second time in twenty-four hours, Miranda had surprised her and the older woman's expression was again one for which Andy had no reference. If she didn't believe it to be in the realm of the ridiculous, Andy would be forced to concede that Miranda looked...well, almost fond.
That was a concession that Andy was fairly certain that she couldn't handle right now.
Andy found herself stammering a response, one directed as much at Miranda's statement as that damned look on her face.
"I don't think I'm like that. I- I couldn't do what you did to Nigel, Miranda. I couldn't do something like that."
One of Miranda's eyebrows crept slowly up her forehead as she spoke, "Mm. You already did. To Emily."
The taste of bile she had experienced earlier was nothing compared to the bitterness that flooded her mouth as the inherent truth of Miranda's words registered.
Emily had said it to her that day in the hospital, had she not? "I don't care if she was going to fire you or beat you with a red hot poker, you should've said no. You sold your soul to the devil when you put on your first pair of Jimmy Choos, I saw it."
She heard her own voice, as if from a distance, stunned, stuttering, attempting to do the impossible: deny the validity of the accusation.
"That's not what I- No, that was- that was different. I didn't have a choice."
"Oh, no, you chose. You chose to get ahead. You want this life; those choices are necessary," Miranda stated calmly, the expression in her eyes brooking no argument as she sliced apart the last of Andy's protestations as easily as a hot knife through butter.
"But what if this isn't what I want? I mean, what if I don't wanna live the way you live?" Even Andy could hear how callow and indecisive she sounded. Miranda most definitely could.
"Don't be ridiculous, Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us."
The thread of panic that had been twining itself around Andy's windpipe grew stronger, threatening to cut off her air as the true magnitude of the situation was finally made apparent. She was sitting in a car, having what could only be called a conversation, a personal conversation, with Miranda Priestly; a conversation that had laid bare every one of Andy's dearly held principles. Or rather, shown starkly how battered and scarred those principles were becoming.
As the car drew up at their destination, it became blatantly obvious to even the slowest of thinkers that if there was any hope of Andrea Sachs retaining a modicum, a semblance of who she was, of what she believed, she needed to leave. Almost every atom in Andy's body demanded that she get out of the car and simply walk away.
Almost every atom.
Her words from last night replayed like a broken record in her head, although now she heard them repeated back to her, Miranda's tone disdainful and faintly mocking.
"I won't leave, Miranda. I won't leave."
So much for promises. Andy knew that if she didn't leave now, she would be swallowed up by Miranda and her world, like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Better to end up back in Cincinnati than offer up her soul like some virgin sacrifice on the altar, an altar dedicated to the worship of the Goddess of Fashion who even now was preparing to meet the faithful throng.
Stepping from the car, Andy took a few steps, automatically following the slender, elegant line of Miranda's back. The crowds and the photographers surged around Miranda, as they always did, demanding a quote, a photo and Andy found her steps faltering, slowing until she stopped abruptly, losing sight of all but the faint silver gleam of Miranda's hair.
From the distance to the top of the steps, Andy could see Miranda turn and look for her, sharp gaze darting quickly over the faces in the crowd. Their eyes met finally and Andy gasped as a shiver ran down her spine. For an instant Andy's expression was confused, but it soon cleared as recognition dawned. It wasn't anger or irritation or even disappointment that glimmered fiercely in the brilliant blue of Miranda's eyes. It was triumph; she had been right. Eventually, everyone left.
"One more such victory and we shall be undone." Somehow, Andy wasn't vaguely surprised to learn that Pyrrhus had nothing on Miranda Priestly. As the phone in her hand began to buzz, Andy realized that her ethics were now quite a bit worse for wear. She also realized with sudden clarity that deliberately breaking a promise, especially a promise she had so adamantly defended, just might deal them a crushing, potentially fatal blow. Besides, there was a stubborn, self-righteous part of her that refused to allow Miranda to win.
Not this one. Not today.
Still, she didn't answer the call. She needed just a bit more time to calm her racing mind and heart before she faced Miranda's reaction.
Miranda had been right about one thing: Andy did make her own choices and she was going to own this one, even if it killed her. The fleeting thought that she was more than a little too invested in Miranda Priestly already was hastily brushed aside. There was only so much a girl could handle, even if that girl was Miranda's assistant.
Slipping in a side door of the hotel, Andy stopped at the front desk and picked up the photos that had been couriered over from the Vivienne Tam show. The walk to Miranda's suite gave her added time to pull herself together. Taking a deep breath, Andy straightened her spine and knocked on the door to Miranda's room. As it swung open to reveal the elegant figure of Runway's editor-in-chief, Andy gazed in secret satisfaction at the look in Miranda Priestly's eyes.
As expressions went, Andy had to admit that the one gracing Miranda's gorgeous face right now just might be her favorite. Surprise. Miranda was well and truly surprised.
Well, that made two of them.
Nate was gone when Andy got home, leaving little more than an old razor in the shower and a surprisingly deep indentation on his side of the mattress. Andy had held the razor for a moment, a wave of regret washing over her as she ran the tip of a nail along the edge, remembering the feel of Nate's whiskers against her cheek when he came home from work and kissed her, smelling of cooking oil and cigarettes and sweat. Swallowing down the loneliness that came with the realization that her life had irrevocably altered, Andy took a deep breath and dropped the razor into the trash basket.
She had an inking of how Miranda must feel, abandoned because she wasn't what someone else wanted her to be. Beyond exhausted, she had flipped the mattress over, put on clean sheets and collapsed on the bed, but sleep had failed to come and Andy had found herself awake, staring at the cracked paint on the ceiling.
As she did the next night. And the next. And the one after that.
Most of those nights Andy spent trying to figure out how to reconcile her precious principles and the errant path her life had taken. A path that had brought her to Miranda Priestly. A path that showed little sign of allowing her to leave Miranda Priestly.
After nearly a year of working for Miranda, it was odd how being dumped herself had given her a slightly better understanding of her boss. Andy felt a twinge of guilt at how things had ended with Nate. In spite of everything, at least Miranda's husbands had known exactly what they were getting; if they didn't they were bigger idiots than Andy gave them credit for being. Miranda was nothing if not completely and often brutally honest, and the people in her life could never legitimately argue that they weren't aware of Miranda's work and her priorities.
Andy knew that didn't mean that they wouldn't try to change Miranda, as Nate had tried to change her, but at least they couldn't claim they were surprised.
The klaxon blaring of her alarm clock pulled Andy, as it had every morning since her return, from a troubled, ultimately unsatisfying slumber. They had been back from Paris for two weeks and Andy was certain that she hadn't gotten more than four straight hours of sleep since they returned.
She had been dreaming of Paris, again; only in her dream, she had actually left, throwing her phone in a fountain and simply walking away, from that life, from Runway, from Miranda. She had had the same dream every night now, and in the first few moments of waking, had felt, not the thrill of freedom that she had imagined she would, but an emptiness, a dull ache in her stomach, the same kind she had felt as a child when she had gotten separated from her parents at an amusement park: edgy and panicked, as if a huge hole had suddenly emerged in the road in front of her, swallowing up all she held dear.
As consciousness returned to her and she realized that it was only a dream, that she had not, in fact, walked away from Miranda Priestly, the feeling of panic subsided. Unfortunately, with wakefulness came another feeling of dread. Once the initial shock of surprise at seeing Andy standing at her door had worn off, Miranda had immediately reverted to normal. Well, normal for Miranda. Snide, dismissive, impatient. Only slightly cruel. At least for that night.
The next day, however, the real nightmare began.
Andy decided, as she closed her eyes and allowed the hot spray of the shower to soothe the tight muscles in her shoulders, that she would gladly, happily take dismissive, impatient and slightly cruel as opposed to what Miranda had become the instant that they touched down at La Guardia. Within minutes of landing, Miranda had managed to reduce a flight attendant to a sobbing mass of tears and running mascara and an official with Homeland Security to nothing more than a stuttering pile of jello in a blue uniform.
And that was just the opening act.
Andy reluctantly cut short her shower and forced herself to dress, taking extra pains to make sure that she looked impeccable, makeup perfect, every hair in place. Yesterday, a small piece of lint on Paul's otherwise immaculate shirt had resulted in a three minute rant on the image of the magazine and the sheer impossibility of finding employees who didn't look as if they had wandered out of a changing room at Wal-Mart.
The utter randomness of what set Miranda off these days had to rank up there with the lost city of Atlantis and Jimmy Hoffa on the scale of greatest unsolved mysteries of the world. Andy simply found it impossible to believe that this was all because of the divorce. There had to be something else going on. Not that Andy had the time to try and solve it, at least not within range of the artillery.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder and, oddly enough, worry. It was astonishing and not a little bit terrifying, how sharply her feelings for Miranda had changed. The rush of protectiveness and tenderness at finding Miranda in such a vulnerable state in Paris had dispersed the next day at the luncheon like fog in the glare of the sun, only to be replaced by something stronger and much more terrifying: a fierce determination not to allow Miranda to put her in the same category as her asshole husband, as all the people who had made her false promises.
A deep-seated desire to prove to Miranda that she could trust her, not only to do her job, but to be what Miranda needed her to be. To be everything Miranda needed her to be.
Miranda hadn't mentioned what had happened in Paris: neither Andy's promise not to leave, nor the conversation in the car on the way back from the luncheon, not that Andy had ever expected her to bring it up. As it was, Andy had yet to muster the courage to broach the subject herself. After all, what was there to say?
"Miranda, I'm so sorry that your husband is a jackass and doesn't have the sense to see what an amazing woman you are."
"Miranda, I know how hard you work and what you've sacrificed for Runway, and if Stephen can't appreciate that and accept it, then it's his loss."
"Miranda, you're beautiful."
It was only the last of these that Andy imagined she could get away with speaking aloud, and then it was sure to be rewarded with an incredulous stare and an impatient wave of fingers. If she was lucky.
"No. No. Dear God, no. How did anything this offensive even get in the building?" Miranda ticked off the items for the run-through that were hanging on the thin rack in the middle of her office, her expression one of growing disgust. She reached the last item and with a definite purse of her lips, held it up between two fingers with all the distaste of someone holding a recently deceased rodent. "Tell me, Jocelyn, has North Jersey High School's 1984 Homecoming Queen not called you yet demanding that you return her prom gown?"
"Um, no, Miranda, we just, well, Tamara thought that this had a certain retro style that " Jocelyn's voice trailed off, her eyes firmly fixed on a point far to the right of Miranda's head. She had learned long ago not to make eye contact, knowing full well that those icy blue eyes were overflowing with contempt. Once caught in that deadly gaze, it was almost impossible to speak. Not that Miranda ever listened, but still, she expected a response.
"If that's the case then in the future, perhaps both of you should simply avoid thinking as it appears to be an altogether arduous and ultimately futile task for you. I find your explanations nearly as tedious and uninspired as this dress. You have half an hour to take this ugly step-child of the Kathy Lee collection and return with something worthy of this magazine. Or simply don't return. That's all," Miranda pronounced dismissively, her expression bored as she turned away and seated herself at her desk.
Jocelyn and Tamara quickly grabbed the rack and made a speedy exit, barely acknowledging the look of sympathy that Andy aimed their way. Thankfully for the much abused pair, Emily had gone to lunch, or they would have witnessed her exaggerated eye rolling at their idiocy. Andy for her part had inwardly cringed as she had listened to the ever-smooth tones of Miranda's voice as she let fly a wave of arrows at the hapless duo. Granted, it wasn't the meanest she had ever heard Miranda sound, but that wasn't saying all that much.
"Andrea." Speak of the devil. Andy forced her brightest smile on her lips and marched bravely into the dragon's liar.
"Yes, Miranda?" Andy waited patiently for Miranda to look up from the papers she was studying intently, content to gaze at Miranda while the older woman wasn't looking. The thought occurred to Andy, for the thousandth time, that although she indeed might be the Devil's closest living relation, Miranda Priestly was still one of the most gorgeous women Andy had ever seen.
"Fire Tamara. And then call HR and tell them that I need a new assistant for Jocelyn and if they send me another person incapable of distinguishing retro from yard sale, I will be annoyed. That's all," Miranda glanced up at her almost casually from under her lashes, a speculative look in her eyes.
For her part, Andy was trying to process the editor's words, certain that she must have misunderstood.
"You mean, you fired Tamara and you need me to get a replacement?" Andy stammered a little, trying to keep her voice on an even keel.
"Did I use words with which you aren't familiar or were they simply too long?" Miranda intoned sardonically. "Allow me to simplify it for you. You will fire Tamara. You will then arrange to have her replaced. Clear enough, Andrea?"
"But Miranda I mean, I don't fire people. I'm just your assistant. I don't have that kind of power," Andy couldn't stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth, knowing quite well that she risked Miranda's wrath.
"No, Andrea, you do not. However, I do, and as my assistant you will do as I tell you and I am telling you to inform Tamara that her services are no longer desired. Any other questions? Good, that's all," Miranda stated softly, her voice dangerously low.
All Andy could do was squeak an unnecessary, "No, Miranda. Yes, Miranda", and slowly make her way to her desk. She stood there, trying to steady her breathing and figure out not only how the hell she was going to tell Tamara she was fired, but why in hell Miranda had decided to make her do it in the first place. Normally, Miranda seemed to enjoy lowering the boom herself and so it was odd that she had delegated the task, much less to Andy of all people.
"Andrea. Before the spring thaw would be nice." Even from the other room, Andy could sense the irritation and she turned slowly down the hall, suddenly knowing what the hangman felt like on his way to the scaffold.
Miranda swiveled her office chair and stared, gaze unfocused, at the way the afternoon light was bouncing off the windows of the building across the street, creating mirrors that reflected back an image of her office, like some sort of distorted Doppelganger, a skewed likeness in a funhouse mirror. She sighed deeply and ran her thumb and forefinger along the bridge of her nose, squeezing slightly to relieve some of the pain in her head. Today had been tiring, but then, what was new?
Every day since her return from Paris had been an infuriating voyage of discovery into just how completely useless her staff were. Ineptitude and incompetence exhausted her and despite years of attempting to come to terms with the imperfection she encountered on a daily basis, Miranda found that as she got older, it was more and more difficult to accept that inefficiency had to be the norm.
Miranda knew she wasn't the kindest person on the planet. It wasn't that she didn't have a heart, it wasn't even that she didn't possess the requisite instincts to be kind. It was simply that when choosing between treating people with a modicum of human compassion and making certain that her magazine was the very best it could be, she invariably found that she had to choose the magazine. After all, her employees were just that, employees.
She was not their friend or their mother and considering what Miranda knew about human nature, that given the chance, most people will do only the bare minimum needed to get by and no more, she felt no qualms about demanding that the people who worked for her go beyond that instinctive nature and excel. Or at the very least, perform at a level marginally higher than trained chimps.
She took no extreme pleasure in it. Well, most of the time. She did admit that upon occasion there was a certain satisfaction at reminding certain people of their place in the universe.
It wasn't personal, it was just business. If she had to be a complete and utter bitch in the process, then so be it. When she looked at the final copy of her magazine each month, every callous word, every disdainful tone, every scathing glare was worth it.
Or so she told herself. More often than not, she believed it.
Except when she didn't. Like now.
Although not a single one of her shrinks would have shouted her praises as the most self-aware person they had ever treated, even they would be forced to admit that Miranda generally knew exactly why she did what she did and said what she said. They would most certainly doubt her ability to stop herself from doing and saying, as evidenced by her three failed marriages and string of alienated friends, but at least she was usually aware of her motivations.
That those motivations were more often than not self-destructive and inclined to leave her feeling bitter and resentful and completely alone was again, something that Miranda knew. She just didn't know how to avoid giving in to them. Because, when pushed, her immediate reaction was to push back; when challenged, to become defensive.
And Andrea had most definitely challenged her. Even now, Miranda could see the look of sincerity and naiveté in those enormous brown eyes as Andrea promised not leave to her, a task at which far braver, stronger souls had failed. Miranda knew that the girl was wrong. Everyone left her eventually. One day, in the not too distant future, Andrea would wake up and realize that she had made a horrible mistake, realize what a monster Miranda was and leave. It was that simple.
And Miranda was damned if she was going to sit and complacently wait for that to happen.
Andy had just stepped off the elevator the next morning and was making her way to her desk, Starbucks clutched in one hand, when she heard Emily's voice, just verging on the hysterical, coming from the direction of Miranda's office.
"Bloody hell dear God, she's going to freak. She's going to kill someone. Bugger. Damn, damn, damn. I cannot believe this is happening!"
Setting the coffee down, Andy rushed into the inner sanctum, only to find Emily attempting to get down on her hands and knees, the cast on her leg making the contortion nearly impossible. She had a rag in one hand as she stared feverishly at a large, greenish stain on the carpet, the upper half of her body bent over double, the leg still encased in a cast flung out behind her as she tried to balance on one crutch.
"Em, what the hell are you doing?" Andy couldn't quite silence the stray thought that she would give a week's salary to have a camera handy right about now.
Since taking Emily's place in Paris, Andy had tried mightily to get the redhead to forgive her, even going so far as to give her a good many of the clothes she had scored in Paris, but to no avail. Emily only spoke to her when absolutely necessary and even then it seemed to cause her great physical pain to do so, if the expression of intense suffering was anything to go by.
"Thank God, you finally managed to get here. Where the bloody hell have you been? Take this. Hurry up, before she gets here," Emily hissed, straightening awkwardly and throwing the rag at Andy. "Some idiot from the cleaning crew must have done it. Get down there and get it up, now! Can you imagine what she'll say if she sees that?"
Andy obediently got down on her knees and began to scrub at the stain. After a few minutes, it was clear that whatever had been spilled, it was going to take more than water and a rag to get it up. Emily hovered over her like some sort of demented stork, balancing on one leg as she frantically ordered Andy to scrub harder, her voice an almost hysterical whisper.
"It's not coming up, Em. I'm sorry, but we're going to need a steam cleaner to get that out," Andy sighed and started to stand, only to have her upward motion halted by the none too gentle pressure of Emily's hand on her shoulder.
"No. No. You cannot stop. You have to get it out, Andrea. You must," Emily's voice was at least an octave higher than normal, but even that wasn't going to change the fact that the stain was not going to magically disappear.
"Emily. I could stay down there all day scrubbing it and it still won't come out," Andy said firmly, slipping her shoulder from beneath Emily's hand and standing up. "Just stand there when she comes in. Maybe she won't notice it."
"Notice what, Andrea?" It really was inevitable, and Andy didn't even flinch when she heard the smooth tones of Miranda's voice from behind her.
Emily actually answered, hoping no doubt to make herself look better for having found the stain and having made Andrea attempt to clean it, while shifting the brunt of Miranda's wrath onto the cleaning crew. It was a false hope.
"Emily, can you explain to me why, instead of simply calling building maintenance the moment you noticed this unsightly blemish on my office carpet, you thought that it would be better to have Andrea rubbing the stain even further into my Berber? Even a minimum wage maid at the Holiday Inn would have sense enough not to do that, wouldn't she, Emily?" The chill in Miranda's tone was matched by the icy sparkle in her eyes as they swept over Emily. Her lips thinned noticeably.
With one last glance at the carpet, Miranda turned and walked to her desk, issuing orders as she went. "Andrea, get me my coffee and then get Lissette at Donna Karan's and make me a reservation for lunch tomorrow at that place that has the salads that I like. That's all."
Emily blanched, her skin taking on a sickly hue.
"I'm sorry, Miranda. I'll get maintenance up here now," Emily murmured, her eyes a little glassy. If she noticed that Miranda hadn't directed any of her ire at Andrea, she was too upset to mention it.
The day went downhill from there, at least in terms of Miranda's mood, something that, given yesterday's series of fiascos, Andy hadn't believed possible. Miranda had sent her across town to meet with Calvin Klein's assistant and pick up some samples and so Andy was free for an hour or so from the toxic atmosphere that seemed to be hanging like mustard gas in the cream and glass hallways of Runway.
When Miranda was like this, even Andy's short tenure at Runway had taught her to simply duck and cover and hope that Miranda's latest volley was aimed in someone else's direction. Which had been the case, Andy realized with a jolt, hanging onto the strap in a crowded subway car. A frown creased her forehead as comprehension dawned.
Miranda had been gunning for everyone but her.
So far she had taken repeated, particularly nasty shots at Emily, at Jocelyn, at Paul, at the entire art department, at a nationally renowned essayist, even at Nigel. Hell, she had even fired Tamara. Or rather, had her fire Tamara.
But she hadn't taken a single shot at her.
Granted, she had been well within range for almost all of them, but Miranda had simply let fire her guns at whomever happened to be handy and then glancing speculatively at Andy, turned away, usually with Andy in close attendance behind her.
Andy was so taken aback by the realization that she nearly dropped the bags she was carrying from Calvin Klein. It was absurd. She had to be wrong. Maybe it was just that she hadn't messed up. No, there was the missed call from Michael Kors.
The fact that Andy only missed the call because Emily was at lunch and Miranda had ordered Andy to find Jocelyn and return with her in five minutes or suffer the consequences was immaterial. Such an error should have resulted in a blistering glare and threat of bodily harm, but Miranda had simply sighed deeply, rolled her eyes heavenward as if seeking divine assistance and told Andrea to call them back.
At the time, Andy had been too consumed with getting Kors back on the line in record speed to worry about Miranda's reaction, or lack thereof. Then the whole catastrophe with the mislabeling of a candid shot from one of Lagerfeld's Paris shows had distracted everyone and anyone within a two mile radius of Miranda's voice (for a woman who never yelled, Miranda's voice certain did carry when she wanted it to) and the phone incident had slipped Andy's mind.
No, she had to be wrong. Miranda Priestly did not forgive mistakes. Miranda Priestly did not give second chances, much less third or fourth. Emily and Nigel and the rest of Runway, not to mention waiters, writers, photographers and assistants all over Manhattan could attest to that. Andy could attest to it as well, having been made to witness nearly every verbal evisceration, every humiliation since they had returned from Paris.
Except for her own.
Stepping off the subway, Andy couldn't help but wonder what the hell Miranda was playing at and, more importantly, why.
Maintenance had arrived by the time that Andy returned to the office. Setting the bags from Calvin Klein on her desk, Andy could see one of the maintenance crew in his grey uniform, kneeling on the floor of Miranda's office. Next to him was a carry-cart full of cleaning materials and a carpet cleaner. Andy couldn't quite believe that Miranda was actually still in the office while her carpet was being cleaned, but then Andy remembered that Miranda had a meeting with Irv this afternoon. She was undoubtedly examining the very over-budget budget before she had to explain it to Elias-Clarke's CEO.
Glancing in at Miranda's desk, Andy could see the frown of concentration creating little furrows across her forehead beneath the fall of silver hair. Miranda had an amazing ability to tune out the rest of the world. Other than a first, cursory glance, she probably hadn't even noticed the man kneeling on her floor, diligently scrubbing at the unsightly stain on the carpet.
Occasionally it occurred to Andy that people had a tendency to become little more than pieces of furniture to Miranda, useful only when she needed them. There were no doubt whole warehouses full of people from Miranda's life that had been left, in Miranda's mind at least, white cloth tarps thrown over them, to sit in a dark, dusty room until such time as Miranda required them for something. Andy had found that she spent every day making certain that Miranda never had the urge to throw a tarp over her.
"Dear Lord, did you walk back from Calvin Klein? Not that the exercise would hurt you," Emily muttered, her expression disdainful. She quickly gathered up her coat and bag, tossing a glare Andy's way. "You've been gone for days. I'm going to lunch now. Try to manage not to miss any important calls while I'm gone? As you can see they're here cleaning the small stain on the carpet that you seemed incapable of getting out. Miranda has run-through at 4:00 and Irv at 5:00, so for God's sake, don't talk to her if you can help it." This last directive was so low that Andy barely heard it as Emily thumped as gracefully as possible down the hall.
"Have a nice lunch, Em," Andy smiled cheerfully at Emily's retreating back.
Andy sat at her desk and took a deep breath, reminding herself again, as she did every day, that she really did like Emily. Some days it was harder than others to convince herself that it was true. Still, Andy knew, under the hard, lacquered veneer was soft wood, easily damaged and difficult to mend. She knew that most of Emily's animosity arose from her perception, unfortunately validated by Miranda taking her to Paris with her, that Andy was after Emily's job.
She wasn't, of course, but no amount of groveling and explaining was ever going to convince Emily of that and Andy was damned if she was going to be bad at her job and risk disappointing Miranda simply to make Emily feel a little more secure. Because, for Andy at least, disappointing Miranda wasn't an option.
Despite what her assistants thought, Miranda missed very little, her lips twitching ever so slightly in amusement at Emily's words. Part of her couldn't help being entertained by Emily's apparently inexhaustible grudge against Andrea, nor did she care in the least that Emily's resentment was a direct result of her actions. When it came to her magazine, Miranda's decisions had nothing to do with sentiment and everything to do with making certain that Runway was as close to perfect as she could manage, given the incompetence that surrounded her. If Emily had been as good at her job as Andrea, it wouldn't be an issue. Period. Well, perhaps a small issue.
The line of figures on the paper in front of her began to blur as Miranda's mind meandered yet again down a path with which she was becoming all too familiar. Her attempts to force Andrea to want to leave had so far been unsuccessful, a fact that was puzzling to Miranda and Miranda wasn't fond of puzzles. Even forcing the girl to fire Tamara, without question an exceptionally harrowing experience, given Tamara's penchant for melodrama, had failed to elicit so much as a disgusted look or a trembling lip on Andrea's part. Miranda had expected righteous indignation, contempt even, but had received nothing but resigned compliance from Andrea.
A fact that caused that slight, white-clad figure of hope inside Miranda's chest, the one that, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, she guarded fiercely; the one she swore she lived for, to edge ever closer to the surface, attempting to gain a foothold in her mind from which she couldn't quite shake it. Could it be possible that the girl was serious, that she really wouldn't leave, no matter how horrible and uncaring Miranda showed herself to be?
Clearly Miranda wasn't trying hard enough. Deliberately pushing that stubborn, flimsy figure in white aside, Miranda took a deep breath. She was just going to have to show Andrea exactly why they called her the Dragon Lady. The run-through today should be helpful in proving just how vicious and cruel she could be. She'd move it up an hour, just to throw everyone off their pace, and she steeled herself for an Oscar winning performance. As an added bonus, she'd be prepared to meet Irv in full battle mode. Two birds, indeed.
Little did she know, fate had some other plans for Miranda's afternoon.
"Andrea." If she hadn't been distracted with her own machinations, Miranda might have noticed the sudden stilling of movement from the maintenance worker as she called her young assistant into the office.
Andrea appeared, pad in hand, cheerful smile firmly in place, the requisite, "Yes, Miranda", on her tongue.
"Move the run-through up to three. Call Lagerfeld and confirm our lunch for tomorrow. Order two of those Kindle things for the girls, along with a complete catalog of books. You know what they like. Tell Paul that the layout had better be on my desk by eight a.m. or don't bother coming to work, ever again," Miranda dictated, trying to keep her eyes focused on the pages on her desk and not the long-legged woman in front of her. It was so much easier when she didn't have to look at those huge, doe eyes.
"Of course, Miranda," Andrea began, her mouth opening to assure her boss that she had already thought to confirm her luncheon with Lagerfeld, when the sudden movement of the man in gray caused her to pause, her eyes automatically swiveling to follow his motions as he moved quickly to the double doors, swinging them shut and locking them efficiently, before either woman could speak.
The outraged, incredulous words that sprang to Miranda's lips died there instantly at the dull gleam of metal in the man's right hand. The gun was black and square and looked for all the world like a toy pistol, but one glance at the man's face belied that fact. It was as dull and emotionless as the weapon he held and Miranda felt a thin tendril of fear slither snakelike through her chest.
Andrea had spotted the gun as well and began to back away from it, towards Miranda's desk, her eyes wider than Miranda had ever seen them. Without conscious thought, Miranda reached out suddenly, her hand latching on to Andrea's arm with a grip of steel as she pulled the girl around the corner of her desk, placing Andrea behind her, out of the line of fire. She could feel the warmth of the girl's body against her back, as Andrea automatically moved closer, her breathing fast and shallow.
The man said nothing as he watched the tableau unfold before him, although there was a decided quirk to his lips as Miranda hauled the younger woman behind her. Knowing what he did about the woman, he might have expected her to put the girl in front of her as a shield. But this? Perhaps there was a bit more here than met the eye.
He had waited for Miranda to call one of the girls into the office because he wanted a witness, someone to tell his story for him when it was all over, but now, now he might have something even more valuable than that. Dear Lord, was it possible that this tyrannical bitch actually had a soft spot for her assistant?
The Ice Queen was glaring at him, her face blank of expression, eyes so clear and blue they almost hurt to look at, as her gaze moved slowly from his face to the gun to the door and back again, assessing the situation, trying in a few seconds to gain the measure of her position. He simply stood and waited. He expected nothing less.
Nor did he expect anything other than the words that finally left her lips.
"Were you going to actually make some ridiculous demands or simply stand there waving that gun around and expecting me to play twenty questions, a game, I might add, that I deplored even as a child?" Miranda demanded, her voice full of the same disdainful irritation that she expressed when her coffee was late.
His expression became almost puzzled, a concentrated frown creasing his forehead.
"I can't actually imagine you as a child, but I'll take your word for it. Still, in the grander scheme of things, playing twenty questions will no doubt be the least of the things you won't enjoy today," he said softly, the flatness of his voice and the lack of any emotion in his eyes making his pronouncement all the more menacing.
Standing so closely behind Miranda, the scent of the older woman's perfume, combined with the low, calm, ever contemptuous tones of Miranda's voice, provided a surprisingly comforting dose of reality amid the utter surrealism of the situation. Andy found that she was having trouble following the conversation, her mind firmly fixed on the dull metallic gleam of the pistol pointed so casually in their direction. Still, a few words here and there snagged along the jagged surface of her mind, like wet leaves on rough pavement.
Andy couldn't quite imagine a young Miranda either. An image of Miranda, emerging from the head of Coco Chanel, fully grown and clad in the perfect black dress and heels, floated across the periphery of Andy's mind, only to be chased away as the weight of what was happening settled on her. Miranda hadn't spoken again, her posture seemingly relaxed as she stood, apparently intent on waiting for the gunman to speak again.
Great, nothing like Miranda's natural stubbornness getting them both killed. Except standing so close to her, Andy could see, even feel the tension in Miranda's body, the tightness across her back and shoulders, the awkward tilt of her head.
The gunman smirked again suddenly, nodding his head as he began to walk slowly around the office, glancing at the photographs that lined the walls, taking in the vase of flowers on the table beneath the mirror, the books on the window sills behind them, the firmness of his grip on the gun unaltered.
"You know, if I didn't know better, I would think that someone almost human worked here," he said finally, his tone even and conversational. "But I do know better, which makes this facade all the more pathetic."
"Please tell me you didn't bother to bring a gun and hold us hostage just to comment on my taste in interior decorating," Miranda stated dryly. Only someone as familiar as Andy was with the nuances of Miranda's voice would notice the slender thread of tension interwoven with the apparent boredom.
He answered just as dryly, an odd light appearing in his eyes, one that sent a jolt of fear through Andy's body.
"Oh, no. I brought the gun to shoot someone. Originally, of course, it was going to be you, Ms. Priestly. But you have, quite unwittingly I'm sure, provided me with something far better. I'm going to shoot her," he gestured at Andy with the gun, although his eyes never left Miranda's.
Andy heard the gasp that left her own lips as the air rushed from her lungs. She felt Miranda reach back, her hand seeking and finding Andy's, linking their fingers together as she pulled the girl a little closer to her.
"Pardon me? You came here with the intent of shooting me, a woman more than capable of killing you right where you stand, had I the opportunity, but instead have now decided to shoot my assistant, a girl incapable of harming so much as a fly?" Miranda's voice was dangerously low and equally incredulous. Trust Miranda to be insulted at not being the one chosen to die today.
His eyes had narrowed speculatively as he watched the interaction between the two women, Miranda's subtle movement only serving to confirm his theory. She had not merely tried to keep the girl out of harm's way, she was actually holding her hand. This was going to be even more satisfying than he had dared dream.
"Exactly. Although I realized from the outset that killing you would be doing the world a huge favor, I found that I could live with that. Aside from your daughters, there honestly isn't another living soul who would truly mourn you, is there, Miranda? Well, perhaps one more person. She'd mourn you, wouldn't you, Andy?" He didn't wait for Andy's response.
"But, more importantly, I now have a strong suspicion that you'll mourn her. You see, when I came here, I was planning on killing you, Miranda. But now, I think it would be far better to make certain that you suffer. Really suffer. And the one way I know to do that is take away from you something you value. Someone you value. But you value so little in this world. I'm not a monster and I would never harm a child, but you've quite obligingly provided me with the lovely Ms. Sachs. Sorry, Andy, nothing personal," he explained, his voice so eerily calm that he might have been explaining the infield fly rule in baseball.
Andy felt Miranda's fingers tighten around her own, the ring on her hand cutting into Andy's flesh. The pain as the ring dug into her fingers and the feel of Miranda's smooth skin against her own were an anchor to cling to as the waters of panic slowly closed over Andy's head. This couldn't be happening. This was a fucking fashion magazine. People don't walk into fashion magazines with guns. Andy felt an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh well up within her, at the sheer absurdity of it. However, as her mind registered the complete lack of emotion in the gunman's eyes, the laugh came out as something much more resembling a choked sob.
Miranda's fingers squeezed tighter around her own.
"While it may be a trifle reckless to argue with a man pointing a loaded weapon in my direction...I am assuming, of course, that it is loaded, yes? Yes....Well, despite that, I must inform you that you seem to be laboring under a tremendous misconception. Andrea is my assistant, and while being adequate at her job, has no importance to me beyond that whatsoever. So, I'm afraid that if your plan is to hurt me through her, it is hopelessly flawed. Let her go and you and I will settle this," Miranda's voice was almost mockingly amused, and Andy could close her eyes and see the expression on Miranda's face, one she had seen so many times, the "I can't believe I have to explain everything because you're an idiot" look.
To Andy's shock, the man laughed. A full-barreled laugh that never reached the dead brown pools of his eyes.
"After reading what the gossip rags and most of Manhattan say about you, I would normally be inclined to believe that. We all know that the Devil isn't the sentimental sort. Yet, if that was really true, why did you, Miranda Priestly, the most self-centered, uncaring bitch on the planet, grab her lowly assistant and drag her behind you to protect her from the evil gunman? And why is it that even now, while you're making this blatantly contrived speech, are you holding that merely adequate assistant's hand?
"Please, don't mistake me for one of the ass-kissing idiots you surround yourself with, Miranda. I've spent the better part of two months watching and listening and learning, and I know what an horrible excuse for a human being you are. And yet, here you are, shielding this girl from harm. What's funny is that no one would believe any of this if I told them, but given that actions speak loudly, I think that she means a hell of a lot more to you than just someone to fetch your coffee."
God, how surreal and ridiculous was it that, as the truth of the man's words registered in her brain, Andy felt a surge of warmth spread up her arm and across her chest from where Miranda's hand entwined with her own? Miranda had placed herself between Andy and the gun; she had reached back to hold Andy's hand, to offer comfort and reassurance. An absurd little voice in Andy's head whispered, albeit a trifle hysterically, that if she was going to die today, at least she'd die knowing that Miranda Priestly cared.
Emily hated her life. Well, to be specific, she hated her job right now. She hated the damned crutches she was forced to use. She hated that she could only wear one bloody Jimmy Choo at a time, that her skirt always seemed to get twisted around as she maneuvered through life with two sticks attached to her hands, and that she could feel every tight and aching muscle in her arms and shoulders.
Most of all though, she hated Andrea Sachs.
Hating Andy made the rest of it almost bearable. When Miranda had first hired the girl, Emily hadn't imagined she would last the week. And yet, not only had she survived far longer than the laws of the universe should have reasonably allowed, the damn girl had somehow managed to morph into something resembling efficient.
Efficient enough for Miranda to take her to Paris instead of Emily, a fact for which Emily would never, ever forgive Andy. That the girl did so while remaining sweet and kind and gracious was something that Emily thought just might push her over the edge.
She had only taken twenty minutes for lunch, mainly because she didn't eat much in the way of anything, and also, because using those bloody crutches limited her travel time to the meager offerings of the cafeteria downstairs. Click, thump. Click, thump. Emily had sworn to Serena that she heard the horrific rhythm of her shoe and cast hitting the floor in her sleep. She was almost to her desk when she saw Nigel standing in front of Andrea's station, Andrea's empty station, head tilted at an odd angle, staring at the frosted, beveled glass of Miranda's door.
Miranda's closed door.
Miranda's door was never closed. One couldn't control serfs and a kingdom from behind a closed door. Vague shapes, more of light and shadow than substance, flit and then disappeared against the opaque panes.
"Why is the door closed?" Emily asked, unconsciously whispering.
"I don't know," Nigel looked as puzzled as she did. "When I walked up five minutes ago it was closed, with no Andy in sight. The phone was ringing, but no one to answer it."
"That idiot girl. I told her not to miss any important calls. You would think after all this time that she would have learned something," Emily began to rant, only to be silenced by Nigel's waving fingers.
"Oh, please, Emily, we both know Andy's not an idiot and she's turned into a damn good assistant, so let's dispense with the diatribe, shall we? I can't remember the last time Miranda closed her door," Nigel said, not entirely unkindly, moving a few steps closer to the door frame, his head tilted as though he was trying to hear what was being said behind the door.
"If she opens it and finds you listening, she'll kill you," Emily warned, turning away to her desk as the phone began to ring.
"Miranda Priestly's office. What? Who is this? Have you lost your mind? Is this supposed to be funny? You can't be serious," Emily's voice had ratcheted up at least an octave by the time she finished speaking.
Nigel turned to see the color, or what there was of it, drain out of Emily's face as she stared uncomprehendingly at him, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line.
"What? You look like you just saw Miranda in a pair of Levis and Timberlands. Emily?" Nigel urged, somewhat unnerved by the stunned look on the woman's face.
"The people in the office across the street. They say that they can see into Miranda's office and that there seems to be a man with a gun in there. There's a woman with short silver hair, another dark-haired woman and this man, waving a pistol around," Emily answered, her tone surprisingly calm, considering the look of utter disbelief in her eyes.
"What?!?" Nigel felt the color drain from his own face, as he stared at the door, willing it to open and reveal a perfectly normal scene.
"There was a maintenance man here when I went to lunch. He was getting a stain up out of Miranda's carpet." Slow comprehension dawned on Emily's face as the receiver in her hand dropped with a clatter to her desk. "Oh, my God. Nigel, call 999 or 911 or whatever the bloody hell you call over here!"
The next twenty minutes seemed more like twenty hours as the wail of sirens outside and the heavy fall of boots and voices issuing commands echoed incongruously in the genteel halls of Runway. Emily and Nigel explained as best they could about the phone call, the maintenance man, the near impossibility of Miranda's door being closed by its owner.
Officers and snipers sent to the office across the street confirmed the scene in the inner office. Emily showed the detective in charge how to call into Miranda's desk but the phone only rang four times before the line went dead. Whoever was in there didn't seem to be interested in conversation.
One of the tenets of Miranda's life was that, if there was a problem, one did not wait for someone else to fix it. It had stood her in good stead over the years, but at the moment, she was stymied as to how to fix this problem. She had tried to convince their captor that he was wrong, tried to get him to let Andrea go, but to no avail. How odd to find that someone she had never met, had not even known existed, had in the span of a few minutes, managed to ferret out a secret that she had not completely admitted to herself: how much Andrea had come to mean to her.
She could feel the dampness of the girl's hand in her own, hear the shallow, labored sound of her breathing close behind her, even feel the waves of heat coming off Andrea's body as she stood so close to her. She had to find some way to get the girl out of here, most preferably unharmed and definitely alive. Miranda was fairly certain that the correct expression was "time to fall back and punt."
"You were correct earlier. Twenty question does seem quite tolerable in comparison to this. I do hope that you'll allow me to qualify my previous response and ask a few of those questions?"
Miranda began quite pleasantly, her tone as conversational and interested as Andy had ever heard it. She didn't wait for a reply but continued on, the only sign of her uncertainty the tightening of her fingers around Andy's. Andy wondered idly if they did get out of this, how long it would take to get the feeling back in her hand.
"I must assume, and forgive me if I am incorrect, but surely there is some specific reason why you've decided to throw your life away and take us hostage. Generally speaking, most people are not inclined to threaten to kill total strangers merely on a whim. Might I inquire as to that motive?"
"Ah, this is supposed to be the part where I tell you my sad story and we bond and I let you go, right?" His tone matched Miranda's, calm, conversational. Only the flat, dull eyes belied his voice. "I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but that isn't going to happen. The letting go part at least. As a matter of fact, I had every intention of telling you exactly why I am here, because I want to be sure that you understand that everything that is happening, everything that will happen is entirely your fault, Miranda."
Outside the thick glass of the windows, the faint wail of sirens grew louder, until the occupants of the room could hear them clearly in the street below. With the sound, Miranda made a decision. It wasn't the most spectacular idea she had ever had, but given the circumstances, it was the best she could do.
Their captor had obviously heard the arriving police as well, as he moved out of the range of the right window and placed her and Andrea between him and the other window. Definite planning, indeed.
"Of course, it is," Miranda commented wryly, "You'll forgive me if I can't help but noting that you sound exactly like all three of my ex or soon to be ex-husbands. Actually, like nearly every man with whom I have had to deal. So much easier to blame someone else, isn't it? After all, I'm not the one threatening to shoot an innocent woman, am I?"
Andy leaned forward, her lips nearly touching Miranda's ear.
"Miranda, for God's sake! Could you please not antagonize him?" Andrea hissed, her eyes closing for a moment as the scent of Miranda's perfume surrounded her. If she had been looking, she would have seen the slight quirk of the man's lips at the further corroboration of his hypothesis.
Miranda saw it. She also felt the warmth of Andrea's breath on her ear and cheek, and the subtle curve of the younger woman's breasts against her back. In moving forward, Andy had brought their hands to Miranda's side, and Miranda couldn't stop the wayward thought that it would be lovely to pull the girl's arm around her waist and cradle that hand against her stomach. When this was all over, there were definitely some things to be worked out, if only in her own mind.
"I'm not antagonizing, Andrea, I am merely stating a truth. Only someone completely lacking in personal responsibility would have the gall to point a gun at someone while simultaneously blaming that person for their own predicament. That requires a talent I have found almost exclusively in the male of the species. Women, on the other hand, are much more inclined to blame themselves for things, even those things which are totally outside of their control, which is obliging, isn't it ?" Miranda mused casually, as if discussing the dichotomy between the sexes over a late dinner.
While she was speaking, Miranda had, she hoped surreptitiously, reached back with her other hand, grasping Andy's left hand and effectively trapping her in a position almost flush against her back. Andrea wasn't certain what Miranda had in mind, but she had no doubt that Miranda had some plan. What many people failed to fully realize was that Miranda Priestly was an exceptionally brilliant woman.
They thought that she was merely a shallow fashionista, and failed to take into account that Miranda Priestly ran a multi-million dollar magazine and controlled the reins of an industry that pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the global economy with a innate business sense that Carnegie would have envied. In one glance she could see the entire picture, every small detail magnified. Miranda thought in chess moves, seeing the board four or five plays ahead, which explained a great deal of her impatience with a slow, plodding world.
As Miranda opened her mouth to continue, the sound of the phone ringing interrupted her, echoing unnaturally in the quiet of the office. Without speaking, the gunman walked over to the wall, grasped the phone cord and yanked it out. The fact that he wasn't even vaguely interested in negotiating with the police sent a wave of dread through Andy. Miranda merely quirked an eyebrow and continued on her course of action.
"So, I believe you were about to explain how I am responsible for your cowardly threats of violence," Miranda prompted, her tone smug and condescending.
"You really are every bit the bitch that they say you are," he growled, a spark of anger lighting his eyes for the first time.
Watching a muscle jump in their captor's cheek as his jaw clenched, Andy suddenly realized what Miranda was doing. She was going to taunt him into shooting her instead of Andy. Now that the police were here, Miranda was counting on the cavalry storming in at the first sound of a shot, and she was intending to make certain that shot was aimed at her. It was the only reasonable explanation for intentionally baiting a clearly disturbed individual with a gun.
Miranda hoped that holding on to both of Andrea's hands gave her a semblance of control as to where the girl went. With any luck, she could anger the gunman enough that he'd take a shot at her. She doubted seriously that he would kill her. In fact, given what he had told them about wanting to make her suffer, she was counting on him wanting her alive. While the thought of enduring a gunshot wound wasn't appealing, she fully intended to make certain that Andrea was on the floor, out of the line of fire when it happened.
"You have no idea," Miranda answered silkily, the muscles in her arms clenching a little as she prepared to move quickly. "You have absolutely no idea."
"Oh, but I do. I wish to God, I didn't, but I do. My name is Michael Dobson, Susan Dobson's husband. You remember Susan, don't you, Andy?" The look of anger was gone, replaced by such an expression of loss than Andy felt her breath catch in her throat.
Andy opened her mouth to speak and had to take a few deep breaths before the words would come out.
"Of course, I do. Susan worked in design. She was always very sweet and helpful to me," she stated slowly, dreading what she knew came next.
"And what happened to her Andy? Hmmm?" His voice was harsh now with pain.
Miranda answered him, her grip on Andrea's hands firmly conveying that the girl was to be quiet.
"I fired her four months ago. Despite numerous chances to improve, she was simply incapable of completing even the most minor of tasks. Her attempts to explain away her pervasive incompetence were not dissimilar to your own. Perhaps that's what drew the two of you together," Miranda voice was low and taunting and despite not being able to see her face, Andy knew that her expression would match her tone, knew that there was a malicious gleam in those crystal eyes.
Andy leaned forward again, although this time her eyes did not leave the gun, her brain noting the reflexive tightening of Michael Dobson's finger on the trigger.
"Miranda, please, please stop. Don't do this. Don't," Andy begged, her voice barely loud enough for Miranda to hear, in spite of their proximity.
Miranda didn't acknowledge her, her entire being focused on this man who had the audacity to walk into her office and threaten her.
"Susan never wanted to do anything other than work here, at Runway, for you. She made excuses for you, said that you were such an utter bitch because of how hard it is for a woman in power. Even when she'd come home practically in tears over something you'd said, she wouldn't say anything bad about you. Said you were going to make her a better designer." The words left his mouth in spurts, like a man trying to spit out sour milk.
"It was actually amazing that she managed to last as long as she did. Clearly a result of a rare moment of pity on my part," Miranda egged him on, watching as his breathing increased, as he began to move like a restless animal along the far wall, still out of sight of the windows to the right and any possible sniper. Not that she wanted him dead; not yet, anyway.
"Pity? Pity?! Why you fucking bitch! My wife is dead. Dead, because of you. She was so despondent, so depressed that she wouldn't leave the house. When she wasn't sleeping , she just sat and stared at the T.V. screen. Weeks on end. She went days without speaking. I had to go to work, I had to earn a living. I couldn't tell anyone what was going on. She would have been so humiliated. Then one day I came home from work and found my beautiful, beautiful wife dead. Pills she had swallowed a bottle of pills." He couldn't go on, his pain overwhelming him.
Andy felt tears slipping down over her cheeks: tears for Susan, who had treated her kindly when few others had, tears for this broken man standing in front of them, even a few for herself and some of the innocent belief in people she had lost today. She leaned her head against Miranda's shoulder and let the tears fall.
Miranda could hear Andrea crying, could feel the delicate shaking of the girl's body against her back. As the moisture from Andrea's tears seeped through the jacket of her Chanel suit, Miranda felt an immense anger flare up inside her. Anger that the only way this pathetic life form knew to honor his wife's memory was to threaten a girl who had never willingly harmed another human being in her life. Anger at Susan Dobson for not being strong enough to pick herself up and move on.
Even anger at herself, for what she was going to say. What she knew she had to say, if she intended to save the fragile creature leaning against her, shedding tears for a woman she barely knew and for this shattered hull of a man.
Trying her best to convey to Andrea what she was about to do with only the pressure of her fingers and the rake of her thumb nail across the girl's palm, Miranda willed the younger woman to understand. Taking a deep breath, Miranda spoke again, conveying as much contempt and derision as she could manage.
"Dear God, even a half-blind, half-drunk imbecile could have seen the signs. You were so preoccupied with what-work, football, other women?- that you failed to notice that she was suicidal?"
"Miranda Priestly is lecturing me on being a loving spouse? You shut the fuck up right now. You don't mention my wife again!" By the time he finished speaking his face was flushed and his knuckles were white where he gripped the handle of the gun.
In her typical Miranda way, she ignored his warning.
"Did you call anyone, did you take her to a doctor, get her any help? I hesitate to be the one to point this out, but it would appear that aside from a weak, mentally disturbed woman who couldn't manage to get over losing a job, the only one really to blame here is you, isn't it, Mr. Dobson?"
He raised the gun towards his face, rubbing the back of his sleeve against his cheek, his eyes wild with fury and pain, like a wounded dog.
The sound of the shot was louder than Andy had imagined it would be. She heard it whiz by them, plaster flying as it struck the wall a few feet above their heads, before she found herself pulled roughly to the floor. The next few minutes were a blur of noise and lights, as the door to the office fell under the weight of the SWAT team that swarmed into the room like a cloud of enraged bees.
She could hear them yelling for Michael Dobson to freeze, hear the cry of "Gun! Clear. Clear!" She felt gentle hands pulling her upright, the same hands that had been entwined with her own for what had seemed an eternity. Andy had never heard Miranda's voice sound the way it did when she spoke to her: tender, gentle, terrified.
"Andrea? Andrea, are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?" Miranda's hand came up to cup her cheek and Andy looked into the eyes that were rather frantically scanning her face, searching for signs of injury.
"No, I'm fine. I mean, I'm not hurt," Andy breathed, her voice weak and thready. Despite the shock she was experiencing, Andy couldn't help but be entranced by the look on Miranda's face, a look she had never dreamed to see directed at her. "Are you okay? He didn't shoot you? My God, Miranda, I can't believe you baited him like that. He could have killed you."
If she didn't stop her right now, Miranda could see that the girl was edging ever closer to an all out anxiety attack. Police and paramedics surrounded them, helping them both to their feet, attempting to lead them none too gently out of the office. Miranda refused, her voice terse and uncompromising. She steered Andrea to the chairs in front of her desk.
Andrea was crying, her breath coming in great gasping sobs, and Miranda stood, gently pushing Andrea's head down between her knees, sending a force three glare at the EMT who attempted to intervene. Wisely, the man stepped back quickly.
Andy felt a soothing hand making wide circles on her back and a cool palm resting comfortingly on her neck, right along the edge of her hairline. As if at a tremendous distance, she could hear the harsh commands of the men still crowding the room, a low bass rhythm under the higher notes of Nigel's and Emily's voices. She tried to focus, tried to listen to Emily telling Miranda that she had called the twin's father and had him get them from school, that she had contacted Elias-Clarke's PR department to handle the press, that she'd canceled the run-through, canceled Irv.
But mostly, she focused on the gentle swirl of motion against the thin layer of her tunic and the smooth warmth of the hand against her skin. Slowly, the world came into focus again and she was able to raise her head. Miranda's face was calmer now, her expression less clear, although there was still a softness in her eyes Andy had only ever witnessed when Miranda was looking at her children.
Andy could see Emily and Nigel hovering beyond the curve of Miranda's shoulder.
"Emily, Scotch." Miranda didn't turn her head as she issued the command, her eyes holding Andrea's, willing the girl to regain her composure. She reached out an imperious hand, taking the glass of amber liquid without comment and pressing it firmly into Andrea's hand.
"Drink this. It will help," she ordered gently.
Andy raised the glass, her nose crinkling as the strong fumes wafted up. She took a tentative sip, the fiery liquid burning a path down her throat, leaving her gasping for breath. She began to cough spasmodically, fresh tears shimmering in her eyes.
"I said drink, Andrea, not inhale," Miranda murmured, her hand again making soothing movements on the younger woman's back.
Andy felt the alcohol hit her nearly empty stomach and felt a roiling wave of nausea sweep over her. She swallowed hard against it, but her expression must have given her away. Without warning, Miranda pulled her to her feet and steered her into the private bathroom that adjoined her office.
"Sit," she demanded, steering her to plop down somewhat ungracefully onto the toilet stool. Andy watched, her breathing slightly shallow, battling her rebellious stomach, as Miranda efficiently picked up a thick washcloth and held it under the tap. Twisting out the excess water, she laid the cold cloth on Andrea's neck, in the same spot her hand had lain minutes before.
Andy closed her eyes, feeling the nausea subside. Her breathing evened out, and some of the tenseness left her shoulders. Finally, opening her eyes, she tilted her head up to meet Miranda's concerned gaze.
"Yeah. Much. Thanks," Andy managed to get out, her voice sounding feeble and pathetic, at least to her own ears. "Miranda, what you did in there, I mean, what you said, how you tried to make him shoot you..."
Miranda's fingers came up to press firmly against the younger woman's lips, effectively silencing her. Andrea watched in amazement as Miranda sank gracefully to her knees in front her. Her normally clear eyes were clouded, her expression again one for which Andy had no reference. Her eyes were probing Andy's face, searching for something, but Andy had no idea what. After a minute or two, Miranda seemed satisfied with what she found and rose just as gracefully, her hand falling to lay gently on Andy's shoulder.
"Not today. Not now. We will discuss this. All of this. But not right now. Right now, Roy is going to pick us up and take us to the townhouse. I need to see my girls and then we're going to have dinner and you are going to stay in the guestroom. I've told Emily to inform the police that we will both be happy to give statements tomorrow, but for the moment, I have no intention of doing anything but going home." Andrea couldn't recall when Miranda had looked more beautiful, despite the furrows that still lined her forehead.
Miranda wanted her to come home with her. That same little voice in her head that had murmured that knowing Miranda Priestly cared about her just might be worth dying for was of the definite opinion that getting to go home with Miranda Priestly, if only for one night, was well worth the possibility, indeed.
Andy couldn't help but agree.
The room was dark. A slender ribbon of light curved across the carpet, and climbed the side of the bed to lie, pale and evanescent as stardust, against the bare skin of Andrea's leg. Even at twenty-five, the young woman still slept as the twins did, as unrestrained in slumber as in wakefulness. Andrea's body lay sprawled with the trusting recklessness of youth in the middle of the mattress, the covers thrown back to reveal the pale blue of the silk nightshirt Miranda had given her to sleep in. The long line of legs and the subtle curve of hip and breast belied the childish abandon of the pose.
Miranda stood unmoving at the end of the bed, blue eyes narrowed against the gloom, head canted to one side in silent contemplation of the sleeping figure. She knew she shouldn't be here; whether it was her house or not, she had no business invading the girl's privacy. Still, after what seemed long, futile hours waiting for sleep to overtake her, she had risen from her own bed and padded softly through the silence of the house to the guestroom, pulled by some invisible thread to watch the slow, steady rise and fall of Andrea's chest, irrationally needing to make sure the girl was alright.
Just as she had irrationally needed to bring Andrea home with her. She knew that she would probably regret the action tomorrow, or next week, but for now, the need to have the girl near overruled her normally cautious instincts.
Pondering her reasons too deeply tonight seemed unwise and unproductive. Miranda was cognizant of the mudslide of thoughts that needed little more than a single drop of emotion to send the whole morass rushing towards her, leaving her mired down, Louboutins coated with a thick layer of sludge, as she struggled to lift her feet, one after the other.
She needed time, time to sort all of this, all of these emotions rising like molten lava to the surface, all the disconcerting desires that appeared like a mirage of water in the desert, into something manageable. She needed time to work out exactly what she planned on doing about all of this, if anything.
Miranda moved quietly, hands gathering the generous weight of sheets and duvet, lifting them to lay them gently over Andrea's sleeping form. The girl stirred slightly, long limbs stretching luxuriously beneath the cool, silken feel of the fabric. She turned her face into the pillow, rubbing her cheek against the rich cotton, her low murmur sending shivers along Miranda's skin. Pale lids fluttered suddenly, the dark, murky gray of the room leaving the irises pools of black against a white mask.
"Miranda?" Andrea's voice was husky with sleep, a frown pulling eyebrows down as she peered into the darkness of the room.
Miranda reached out and ran a cool hand over Andrea's forehead, smoothing out the creases of the frown, her voice soothing and gentle as she brushed the hair out of Andy's eyes.
"Shhh. Everything's fine. Go back to sleep."
After a moment, those dark eyes slipped closed again, and with a soft sigh, the girl sank back into slumber, her lashes inky smudges against her pale cheek. With one last look, Miranda slipped out of the room, making her way slowly back to her own bedroom
Slipping back under her covers, Miranda felt the lassitude she had been seeking earlier at last begin to slide over her mind. The evening had gone surprisingly well, given the day that preceded it. She had bundled Andrea into the back of the car, propelling her unresisting form past the flank of reporters and cameras outside Elias-Clarke. The next week or so would be unpleasant, as the press ran, somersaulted and leaped for joy with the story of the suicide of a former employee, one she had callously fired, and the despondent husband who had tried to exact his revenge on the once again soon-to-be-divorced Dragon Lady.
Miranda knew that, eventually, the press would move on, as they always did, ready to latch on like mosquitoes at a back-yard barbeque to the next hapless celebrity; the one who drank too much, or showed up minus underwear; the one who got caught cheating on her boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse or all three. The trailer park mentality of modern America that permitted reality shows to flourish and made demi-gods out of inarticulate, buxom girls in too short dresses and young, brutal thugs mere days from the jails in which they so clearly belonged had turned large parts of the once noble fourth estate into a meretricious carnival act. Miranda had no doubt that they would soon tire of her sad little drama.
She smiled to herself as she replayed parts of the evening. The girls had been surprisingly kind to Andrea. So often, Miranda feared that, like her, they had a tendency to pounce when they smelled weakness. Tonight they had been remarkably well-behaved, cautiously circling Andrea like young lionesses, before apparently accepting her presence at their dinner table and in their home with the careless disregard of youth. Of course they had been concerned for their mother, but Miranda suspected that the thought had never occurred to either of them that there was any situation that Miranda Priestly could not handle. She was their mother and as such, indestructible.
To be honest, she preferred to leave them that fantasy. At least until they were old enough to understand that even Miranda had her limitations.
Not that Caroline and Cassidy were not aware of the fact, albeit on a completely different level. They knew that she wasn't like other mothers, that she worked too much, that she could be demanding and uncompromising. That she could be unkind and distant. That she had managed to drive away their father and now Stephen, not that they felt his loss too greatly. Still, to them, and to Miranda, as well, in a skewed way, personal failures had nothing to do with facing down deranged fashion designers or deranged gunman. In that, at least, they trusted their mother to always emerge unscathed.
She hadn't informed the girls that Andrea was staying the night, so she had been startled when Caroline had told her young assistant that she should stay.
"Mom, I think that Andy should stay here tonight. What if she gets home and has a bad dream or something?" Caroline had informed her, blue eyes meeting her own for a moment before she looked down. Miranda caught a glimpse of compassion in her daughter's eyes, and chastised herself for the flash of surprise that lit her mind, lightening on a summer's night.
"Of course, she should stay," Miranda had replied, her expression gentle and approving as she gazed at her child's face. The look had not altered as she raised her gaze to Andrea's, and she had seen the astonishment, and the brief flicker of something more: longing. "Unless of course you have an overwhelming urge to go home to an empty apartment. Surely our company is preferable to that, isn't it, Andrea?
The young woman had nodded her assent to stay and blushed at her words, a faint stain of pink against the smooth alabaster of her cheeks and neck, and Miranda had felt a surge of triumph at the sight, like a bright flag at sunrise signaling the coming day. Perhaps in her quest to control the situation, to make Andrea the enemy, an enemy who would leave on Miranda's terms, she had misinterpreted Andrea's ultimate target. Because maybe, just maybe, Andrea wasn't the enemy after all.
Now, as sleep claimed her, Miranda, excellent strategist that she was, decided that perhaps it was time for this Queen's Gambit to be played. This time, she wasn't after the King. This time, she was after the girl.
Andy woke to the sound of whispered voices. Two identical whispered voices to be exact. She kept her eyes closed for a moment, listening to the murmured conversation.
"Maybe we should wake her up," the first voice said. "She's never going to get that wrinkle off her face if she stays there much longer."
"No. Mom said to let her sleep as long as she wanted," the second voice replied. "She said that yesterday was really traumatic for Andy and that she needed to rest."
"How come yesterday wasn't traumatic for Mom?" the first voice queried, continuing on before the second voice could respond. "I mean, the guy was there to shoot Mom and she's the one that all the papers are saying nasty things about and taking pictures of and everything. She got up and went to work, so why is Andy still sleeping?"
The mention of Miranda and work was nearly enough to send Andy scurrying from the warmth of the bed, but she couldn't quite bring herself to forego the chance to overhear a conversation in which she was a central player.
" 'Cause she's Mom. I mean, Mom's used to things happening and the papers being mean. And you know nothing ever stops her from going to work," the second voice was clearly trying to be patient, an act with which it wasn't all that familiar. "Besides, Mom said Andy was really brave and didn't cry or beg or anything."
"Why is Andy here anyway? I mean, she's Mom assistant. Mom doesn't let her assistants come upstairs, much less sleep in her house." Voice number one was obviously puzzled and just as obviously modeled on the voice that Andy heard even in her dreams. Miranda's voice.
"I don't know," the second voice was beginning to waver in its firmness, "maybe Mom likes her."
"Mom? Mom doesn't like anybody." Voice number one was quite adamant on this point.
"Yes, she does. She likes Nigel. Well, most of the time. And she likes us," the second voice was having to reach a bit on this one, but Andy admired the resolve.
"She has to like us, we're her kids," the first voice said, her tone clearly stating that the other voice was a little slow.
"Well, I think Mom likes Andy. She was really sweet to her and you know she's been saying nice things about her. And she wanted Andy to stay, I could tell." Andy had decided that she was very fond of voice number two. The words wrapped around her, warm and fragrant and enticing.
"Whatever. We should wake her up, before Mom calls," voice number one stated firmly, the concession grudging.
The thought of Miranda calling and finding her slovenly assistant still sleeping was enough to pull Andy away from the lure of the whispered conversation. She opened her eyes to meet two sets of identical blue eyes, in identical faces, peering at her from the bottom of the bed. Well, not quite identical. The one on the left had more freckles and a slightly kinder expression.
"Hi guys," Andy said, immediately identifying the kinder, gentler twin as Caroline. "What time is it?"
"Almost ten." Caroline answered, "We thought you might be hungry. Mom said she'd call at twelve."
"What time did your Mom leave?" Andy asked, sitting up somewhat nervously in bed. The whole situation was a little on the surreal side, and although they were being nice now, Andy knew from experience that the twins could be little terrors if they chose to be. She was hoping that they wouldn't choose to be today. She didn't know if her nerves could take a full scale Priestly attack after yesterday.
"About eight. She said for us to let you sleep and then to make sure you ate something. And you aren't supposed to go to work today," Cassidy answered this time, the confusion she was feeling at this turn of events clearly written on her face, although she managed to turn it into something closely resembling bored disdain. She was definitely Miranda's kid.
"Don't you two have school today?" Andy asked, forcing a smile onto her face. Show no fear, right? Especially with wild animals and Priestly children.
"Mom said that we could stay home today. Because of the photographers," Caroline explained. "Cara's here."
Cara was the girls' nanny, a job, Andy had to admit, she didn't envy. Kind of like being left to watch a raptor's eggs while it went and hunted. You just felt that one day it wouldn't end well.
Watching the twins watch her, it occurred to Andy that the reason they were home was that Miranda was concerned for their safety. Although she had refused to have any security come to the house, confident that Dobson had acted alone, Miranda probably felt a better knowing exactly where the twins were. And with whom.
Which made her being here all the more bizarre. Andy understood that, despite what she had shown the twins, Miranda had to actually be at least a little freaked out by what had happened yesterday. Which explained what Andy was doing sleeping in the guestroom. What it didn't explain was the memory that lit up the darkened screen in Andy's mind, a memory of waking in the middle of the night to find Miranda standing next to the bed, gently pulling up her discarded covers, brushing her hair off her forehead. That was going to require a hell of a lot more explanation.
"Andy?" Caroline's voice cut through her bemused state. "Are you getting up now?"
"Um, yeah, I should get dressed and head home," Andy slid from beneath the covers, the night shirt Miranda had lent her falling just above her knees as she made her way toward the bathroom.
"Mom had some clothes sent over for you. They're over there on the chair. And she said not to leave until she called," Cassidy informed her, blue eyes narrowing in much the same way her mother's did. Andy found the look oddly disconcerting, especially on a ten year old's face.
"Right. Okay then, I'll just take a shower and get dressed and wait for your Mom to call," Andy responded evenly, making a detour to pick up the bag that the twins had obviously brought up from downstairs. Andy couldn't help but feel a slight sense of trepidation at the sight of the two pairs of blue eyes staring at her as she closed the door to the bathroom behind her.
Emily's crutches made a snicking sound as she hopped and hobbled across the lobby of the Elias-Clarke building. Behind her, a pimply faced barista, green and white Starbucks uniform hanging limply on his ninety-pond frame, followed, a tray with two scalding hot lattes in his hand. It was costing her ten bucks, but there was simply no way that she could manage Miranda's coffee on crutches. Some days she could barely manage to keep her Marc Jacobs bag from falling off her shoulder.
And of course, Andrea would not be in today. Just the thought of the stupid girl was enough to send geysers of steam soaring up Emily's body to her brain, threatening to short circuit the wiring at any moment. Wasn't it just like the irritating little fat girl to be at the center of the drama? Emily tried not to dwell too much on the fact that it was Miranda who had taken Andy home with her and it was Miranda who had dictated that Andrea not come in to work today. As far as Emily was concerned, the mere fact of Andrea's existence was reason enough to blame her for any and all calamities.
The reality that Emily had been here until nearly midnight, making certain that Miranda's office was cleaned, the glass from the door removed, a new door hung, and the Book delivered, while Andrea had dinner with Miranda and the twins and then spent the night in Miranda's guestroom was more than sufficient to push Emily to fantasize about a little violence herself. Directed at Andrea, of course.
Thumping down the hall to her desk, lackey in tow, Emily said a silent prayer that Miranda hadn't arrived yet. She had said she would be in at 8:30, but the woman was known to show up hours before she was expected, throwing all of Runway into a state of apoplexy, something that Emily was quite certain Miranda enjoyed. Fortunately, the inner office was empty, although Nigel was again standing in front of Andrea's desk, her bloody empty desk, with an amused smirk on his face. Emily sagged exhaustedly into her chair, slipping off her coat and trying desperately not to rub at the sore skin and muscles under her arms.
"What?" She couldn't keep the note of frustrated annoyance out of her voice. She vaguely remembered a time in her life when her voice had been pleasant and almost sexy, but a few years of constant rubbing up against the hard rock that was Miranda Priestly had left it rough and perpetually irritated, like a blister that'd never been given a chance to heal. "I got here as soon as humanly possible. She isn't due till 8:30."
"You seem to have stepped in something and dragged it up here with you," Nigel replied, glancing pointedly at her underdeveloped, mouth-breathing sherpa.
"Put the coffee down. Leave," Emily growled, pointing to the corner of her desk. The boy obeyed, clearly cowed by his surroundings and the look of distaste on Emily's face. He turned tail and fairly ran down the hall toward the elevators. Emily had a faint inkling in that moment of what it must feel like to be Miranda.
It felt really marvelous.
Glancing back at Nigel, Emily again asked haughtily, "What? I cannot be expected to carry coffee while maneuvering on these things, now can I? And since Andrea is not to be gracing us with her presence today, who the hell else was going to get Miranda's coffee?"
Nigel simply chuckled, shaking his head at Emily's continued animosity towards Andy. Emily had proven herself an able assistant, but she lacked the instincts that Andrea possessed, the ones that allowed the girl to know, even before Miranda spoke, exactly what her boss wanted and needed. Those were skills that Miranda prized highly and the sooner Emily figured that out, the better.
"If you have a bone to pick about Andy not being here, I suggest you take it up with Miranda. She's the one who told her to take the day off," Nigel remarked mildly, his eyes scanning the layout he held, finding at least three errors that would need to be corrected. He had no doubt that Miranda would find at least three more.
The faint huffing sound from the direction of Emily's desk was the only response to his comment. He knew Emily was angry and jealous and unable to comprehend Miranda's incomprehensible act of kindness in taking Andy home with her after what Miranda insisted on calling the "incident" yesterday. To be honest, although he harbored a few nascent suspicions, he found himself a little puzzled by it as well. Still, God forbid he try to interpret the workings of Miranda's mind. That way lay madness, he was sure.
Just then he heard the familiar stride coming down the hall. Emily heard it as well, her eyes going wide as she stared at the coffee still resting in its carrier on the edge of her desk. Not sitting waiting and ready on the corner of Miranda's desk where it belonged. Her wide-eyed gaze met Nigel's and in a moment of sympathy, he grabbed up the two cups, and marched them into Miranda's office, setting them on the desk just as she came abreast of Emily's desk and dropped her coat and bag.
"Get everyone in here in fifteen minutes for the run-through that idiot made me miss yesterday. Call Patrick and reschedule for four. Call Irv and find out if he can meet at two instead of eleven. I hate to meet with him before my lunch with Karl and ruin my appetite. Nigel, if there is anything in the run-through that will remind me of the Reagan years, make sure it and whoever included it are gone before we begin," Miranda breezed into her office, taking the folder from Nigel's hands as she made her way around the corner of the desk.
"Yes, Miranda," Emily intoned, wondering not for the first or last time whether those would be the words inscribed on her tombstone.
"And Emily? Correct me if I am wrong, but there appears to be a hole in my wall. Can you explain to me why it is still there when I distinctly recall asking you to take care of my office when I left yesterday afternoon?" Miranda asked quietly, her face expressionless, eyes cold.
"I well, you see, the door took longer than expected and so the men didn't have time to ," Emily's voice trailed off, knowing from the look of boredom on Miranda's face that she wasn't interested in the explanation, merely the resolution. "It will be fixed by the time you get back from lunch, Miranda."
"Good. After all, I'm the one who had a gun pointed at me yesterday. I fail to understand why my employees cannot manage to handle simple tasks," Miranda murmured, her lips pursing as she gazed at the plethora of mistakes on the layout Nigel had given her. "Patrick? Irv? Were my instructions unclear, Emily?"
"No, Miranda. I'll get them now, Miranda," Emily answered, meeting Nigel's eyes for just an instant before thumping out the room as efficiently as someone on crutches could.
"This is unacceptable, Nigel," Miranda stated, dropping the layout on the desk in front of Nigel. "I do pay you to fix these things, don't I?"
"I've already got them reworking it. I just wanted you to have a head's up," Nigel replied, leaning casually against the corner of the desk. Time for a little digging. "So, how's Andy today?"
Miranda didn't respond immediately, her attention fixed on her laptop, although Nigel suspected she was actually shuffling through various replies before she settled on one.
"I don't want a head's up. I want it done properly the first time, so I do not have to spend precious time fixing other people's mistakes," she said acerbically, her gaze irritated as she met his. He suspected the irritation had less to do with the incompetence of her staff and more to do with the unspoken implications of his question. "And I believe that she's fine. I told the girls to let her sleep. Why, did you think I left her tied in the basement?"
"No. I was just wondering. It was pretty obvious that she was extremely upset yesterday and I was simply concerned. I happen to like Andy, so forgive me for being interested in her welfare," Nigel deliberately kept his tone light, waiting for some tell-tale sign of what Miranda was really thinking.
"Well, it's nice to know that someone else recognizes her value. And yes, she was upset. However, she handled herself exceptionally well. I was quite impressed, actually. And believe it or not, I, also, was concerned about her wellbeing. I realize that most people think that I am Medusa, but you of all people should know better, Nigel," Miranda answered primly, her lips thinning by the end of her speech.
Given the horrific stunt that Miranda had pulled on him in Paris, it hardly seemed appropriate for her to be touting her warm and fuzzy side to him, but it was typical Miranda. She believed that others should have a selective memory when it came to her deeds and misdeeds, while of course carving in stone every mistake or fault in the rest of the world. Nigel had often wondered if Miranda actually believed all of the things that she said or if she simply adhered to the adage that saying something enough times, with sufficient firmness, made it true. Eventually anyway.
Still, Nigel couldn't remember hearing Miranda praise anyone like that. Ever.
"I'm glad Andy's doing okay and that she had someone to take care of her. I'll go check on the progress of this and be back in time for the run-through," Nigel replied neutrally, seeing the speculative narrowing of Miranda's eyes as she watched him turn to leave the room.
Hmm. Interesting. Very interesting indeed, he thought, making his way down the hall.
The water sluiced its way down the length of her body, leaving trails of heat reddened flesh in its wake. The steam hung like fog in the confines of the bathroom, the moist vapor filling her lungs, catching in her throat as she dragged in deep breaths, one after another. Yesterday morning, standing in her own shower and feeling a rush of dread at the day to come, seemed like a lifetime away from this.
Or someone else's life, anyway. Because her life included a small apartment on the Lower East side and a boss who brooked no hints of imperfection. It did not include this. Not the luxurious bed with indecently expensive sheets. Not the thick Berber carpet that felt as cushiony beneath her feet as a lawn of lush grass on a summer's evening. Not this marble tiled shower in a gorgeous Upper East Side townhouse, a townhouse owned by aforementioned boss. The boss who had offered her gentleness and comfort instead of harsh words and recriminations, who had stood over her bed and brushed the hair from her face, not threatened to rip her head off.
This had to be someone else's life. And yet, here she was. In Miranda's house. Conversing quite naturally with Miranda's children. It was almost enough to make Andy forget why she was here. Forget the dull gleam of the gun and the echoing sound of the shot as it buried itself in the wall over their heads. Almost.
Despite the relative, albeit surreal, normalcy of the evening, of sitting down to dinner with Miranda and the girls; despite the secret thrill of slipping into the blue nightshirt that smelled faintly, as the entire house did, of Miranda's perfume; despite the luxury of sliding in between sheets of expensive Egyptian cotton, Andy hadn't been able to completely shake the feelings trembling through her mind, like minor aftershocks from a major quake. She had lain awake for hours, replaying in her mind the events of the afternoon.
Any rational person would have been terrified. Would have been paralyzed by the fear of being shot, of dying. And in that first instant of seeing the gun, Andy had been scared out of her wits. But then, something happened, something that had loosened the fingers of fear tightening their grip around her heart. The feel of fingers, real fingers, in her own; the feel of smooth flesh against hers; the divine warmth of Miranda's skin and the strength in her hand.
Standing there, facing down the proverbial barrel of a gun, had no longer been terrifying, because Miranda was there. Miranda was protecting her. Miranda was holding her hand. Miranda had pulled her close against her and Andy felt a sudden surging faith that nothing bad could happen to her, because Miranda Priestly didn't wish it to and everyone knew that Miranda always got what she wanted.
Irrational. Idiotic. Asinine. It was all of those things. And of course, she fell apart the moment it was over, but that feeling of being cared for didn't leave her. It stayed with her as Miranda comforted her. It occupied the chair next to hers at the Priestly dinner table. It padded behind her and slipped into the soothing warmth of the bed. It woke, drowsy and confused to find Miranda standing by the bed, and sank back into slumber at the gentle touch of Miranda's hand.
Something had shifted inside her, imperceptibly, immeasurably shifted, and while tomorrow morning it might very well shift back to same old Andy, for now she allowed the thrill of it, the very idea of it to infuse her mind. Miranda cared about her. There was no other reasonable explanation for how the older woman had behaved. Miranda Priestly cared. For her.
Talk about feeling terrified.
Not surprisingly, the conversation with her parents last night before she went to bed hadn't helped with her peace of mind. They had, of course, been nearly hysterical, having seen only the sensationalized media coverage. Andy had spent ten minutes reassuring them that she was fine and another fifteen minutes attempting to convince them that the whole thing wasn't really Miranda's fault.
The latter she knew was entirely her fault, as she had had little good to say of the woman in the year she had worked for her. Still, she had felt driven to make her parents understand that Miranda had protected her, a fact that did little to allay their concerns or, quite frankly, their dislike of the woman.
They had finally hung up with her promise to call them tomorrow and her half-hearted agreement to try and come home to visit in the near future. She knew that she would never make them believe that Miranda Priestly had done something selfless, but at least she knew it.
Doug had left a message on her cell, but she was too exhausted to call him back. Tomorrow. Besides, since Nate had left, Doug and Lily had been less and less present in her life. She knew that they disapproved, that they thought that she had sacrificed her principles at Miranda Priestly's feet, but there didn't seem to be much that she could do to change their opinions, and to be honest, at least part of her didn't think she should have to.
Shaking her head, Andy forced herself to finish her shower, washing her hair efficiently before turning off the water and wrapping an inordinately thick towel around her. She dried her hair with the dryer she found in the bathroom closet, and then cautiously opened the door, uncertain whether the room would still be occupied by two small but dangerous Priestly females.
There was no sign of the twins and Andrea made quick work of dressing, surprised to find a pair of True Religion jeans and a Marc Jacobs 'Divore' Swiss Dot Blouse. The Jimmy Choos she had been wearing yesterday went perfectly. She applied a light layer of makeup and taking a deep breath, eased open the guestroom door.
No sound filtered up from downstairs. Her shoes sounded unnaturally loud on the wood of the stairs. She had made it down to the first floor when she heard the phone ring. It rang three times before someone, somewhere in the house answered it. Probably one of the twins. Her suspicions were confirmed when she heard her name being bellowed from the floor above.
Peering up the staircase, Andy spied first one red head, then the other.
"Hi again," Andy smiled, trying to tap down the nervousness at being alone in Miranda's house with her children.
"Mom's on the phone. She wants to talk to you," Cassidy informed her. She was pretty certain it was Cassidy, although from this angle, staring up at them with the light behind them, Andy couldn't be sure. Still, there was something in the girl's voice, a hint of impatience and something else, that made Andy think that this was definitely voice number one from earlier.
"Oh, sure. Um, is there a phone down here?" Andy replied, a quick visual survey of the hall not locating a phone.
"In the study at the end of the hall. You'd better hurry. Mom doesn't like waiting." Definitely Cassidy.
Like that was something Andy didn't know first-hand. She hurried down the hall, stepping into the study and spying the phone on the large table under the window. She tried to ignore the fact that her hand was shaking a bit as she picked up the extension.
"Um, hi, Miranda," Andy stammered, her brain registering yet again how bizarre it was to be in Miranda's house like this.
"Andrea. Good, the girls thought that you might still be showering," Miranda's voice sounded almost hesitant. "I told them to let you sleep in this morning. They didn't wake you, did they?"
Andy smiled to herself as she answered, "No, Miranda. They did bring me the clothes you sent over. Thank you, that was sweet of you."
Not something one could say to Miranda Priestly very often and mean it, Andy thought.
"Yes, well. You needed clothes. You could hardly wear the same ones you had on yesterday." Miranda sounded a little embarrassed at Andy's words. "Um, well. How are you today? After the incident yesterday?"
Only Miranda would call being taken hostage by a despondent gunman and threatened with death an "incident". Andy couldn't help but grin at the euphemism.
"I'm fine. I was just going to run home and put on some work clothes and come in to the office. I know it's late, but there are a few things I can take care of this afternoon," Andy could hear the sound of a telephone ringing in the background and the faint echo of Emily's voice.
"Andrea, if I had intended for you to come into work, you would not have been left to lounge in bed all morning. As I said, I want you to take today off. It isn't often that I make such gestures, Andrea. Do not waste it," Miranda stated calmly. Andy could just picture her sitting at her desk, glasses perched on the bridge of that lovely Roman nose, long fingers flipping over bright, glossy pages.
"I just feel I should be at work. I mean, you're there. I should be, too," Andy found she couldn't stop herself from arguing, despite the warm feeling that had suffused her at Miranda's words. "After all, Emily is still on crutches and there may be errands to run, and "
"Andrea, did you hit your head yesterday and not inform me of it? That is the only reason I can surmise why you would still be belaboring this point." There was just the suggestion of an edge to Miranda's voice but it was enough to send Andy the warning to back off.
"No, I didn't hit my head. And I get it. I'll be there bright and early tomorrow, okay?" Andy breathed, oddly happy to concede this argument.
"Yes. Are you planning on going home now?" There was a hint of something Andy didn't recognize in Miranda's tone now. If she didn't know better, she might have thought it was wistfulness.
"I, um, yeah, I was going to. Unless you need me to stay with the twins or something?"
"No, Cara is there with them. You should be aware that there are no doubt paparazzi loitering outside the house," Miranda stated evenly. "You do not have to answer any of their questions. In fact, I would prefer that you not."
"Oh. Well, I can slip out the back or something," Andy began, only to be interrupted by Miranda.
"They know you came home with me last night, Andrea. As it is, it may be that single, concerned gesture will garner better PR than Leslie could manage in a month of press releases and cozy pictures with the girls. Not that that was my motivation. At all." Miranda informed her, her voice quiet and firm.
A not entirely awkward silence followed her pronouncement, as both of them digested what Miranda had said, and even more, what she had implied. Andy didn't know how to respond, or even if she should. Mercifully, Miranda spared her the decision.
"Besides, if those vultures don't see you leave, they'll begin to suspect that I lured you home in order to silence you and hide the body."
It took a few seconds for Andy to realize that Miranda was teasing her.
"Miranda, did you just make a joke?" Andy asked, in spite of months of conditioning not to ask Miranda anything.
"Apparently not a very amusing one, Andrea, if you had to ask," came the dry response.
"No, it was funny. Just unexpected, that's all." Andy's smile carried through the line.
"Yes, well. Believe it or not, many people find me quite witty," Miranda murmured, clearly at a loss as to where this conversation had wandered away from her. "As I said, please do not speak to the media. You should go home and relax. I expect you early tomorrow morning."
"Yes, Miranda. And Miranda?"
She was met with a beleaguered sigh.
"What is it, Andrea?"
"Thank you. For well, for everything." Andy tried to squeeze every ounce of sincerity and gratitude into her voice, wishing that she could see Miranda's face right now.
"You're welcome, Andrea," the voice on the line sounded like the one Andy remembered from the middle of the night. Gentle, tender. "Now, go home. Given that I am short one assistant, someone around here has to get some work done."
So much for tender.
Having questions hurled at her by the paparazzi, while camera strobes flashed in her eyes wasn't Andy's idea of a fun time. However, the press were much more interested in Miranda than in her, the accidental victim in the whole fiasco, and so she was able to make it to her waiting taxi without much incident. In spite of making it home in relative peace, she wasn't looking forward to weathering the storm outside Elias-Clarke again tomorrow. As chance would have it, however, Andy didn't have to worry about the continued annoyances of the press. That afternoon, a clearly intoxicated Lindsay Lohan had a screaming match with a friend on the street in front of Magnolia Bakery.
Miranda Priestly and her would-be assassin were briskly pushed aside for a myriad of camera phone pictures of the young starlet hurling yellow and pink icing-ed cupcakes down Bleecker Street. That, combined with the ongoing uproar surrounding Mark Foley and his inappropriate emails to Congressional pages, pushed the gunman and the Dragon Lady right off the map. Sitting at her desk and waiting for Miranda's arrival, Andy shook her head in wonder as she gazed at the photos. Even when Miranda wasn't directly manipulating situations, Fate appeared to kindly step in and take up the slack.
Andy had arrived extra early today, in what she recognized was a futile attempt to appease Emily's wrath. She knew that the red-head was probably seething after having to deal with Miranda alone yesterday. She'd considered getting Emily some coffee or even one of those amazing apple fritters that Starbucks made, but she knew that the gesture would be misconstrued, so for once, she didn't bother.
Four months ago she might have tried, but Andy had finally realized that Emily had an unnatural ability to deter any and all attempts to be nice to her. Being kind to Emily was sort of like standing in a steel lined room and shooting off a BB gun. You just knew that at least some of them would ricochet back at you and you'd be the one left bleeding. Even odder was the fact that while kind words and considerate actions had a way of bouncing off Emily, harshness and even cruelty seemed to be absorbed like water by a sponge.
Andy wondered sometimes if Emily's unwillingness to accept kindness was a misguided attempt on her part to protect herself; as if allowing any sign of affection or empathy in her life would leave her too vulnerable. Like a child who only breaks down and cries when offered comfort, Emily held the world at arm's length, only allowing in the insults and the criticism, bracing herself against any sudden onslaught of compassion.
Watching Miranda interact with her first assistant on a daily basis, Andy knew that Miranda had long ago sussed out Emily's peculiar weakness. Not that it was in any way surprising. Miranda had an unerring ability to make an instant assessment of character, find the soft, susceptible spots, and more often than not, take advantage of them. It was one of the things that made her the best at what she did. Still, Andy couldn't help but imagine Miranda as a scientist, intently experimenting, seeing just what and how much Emily could take, like verbal Chinese Water torture, just waiting for the Englishwoman to crumble suddenly with the fall of the final drop.
Not Miranda's most endearing side. The fact the Andy thought that Miranda had endearing sides should probably be of great concern to her and her mental health, but after what they had experienced the day before yesterday, Andy was more than willing to give Miranda the benefit of the doubt.
The police had contacted her when she got home yesterday, sending a very considerate detective over to take her statement. Miranda had given her own very brief statement, of sorts, at the office. Andy could well imagine Miranda's irritation at having to waste more time recounting what had happened. Andy had expected to find rehashing the events of yesterday to be traumatic, but the police officer was so professional that she found herself telling him the story, slowly and precisely, as if leaving out any detail would be akin to failure. The whole thing was simply a formality, given that Dobson had been captured, gun in hand, in Miranda's office. Still, it made Andy feel better to tell someone, anyone, how remarkable her boss had been.
The detective shared enough to tell her that Dobson had made a full confession. According to what he told the police, he had lost his job a few months after his wife's suicide. He had begun to show up late, if he went at all, drinking throughout the day. The final straw had come when he lost a client several million dollars, forgetting to place an order to sell. His firm had to let him go. He had become obsessed with the idea that Miranda Priestly was responsible for his wife's depression and suicide, although it became apparent, in speaking with her sister, that Susan had a history of depression, something that Andy could believe.
There had always been a shadow of something in Susan's eyes, something Andy had been unable to place at the time: sadness. Michael Dobson had managed to get himself hired by Elias-Clarke maintenance and simply bided his time, his rage and desire for revenge blocking out everything else. It was a tribute to the man he used to be that he hadn't just snapped and shot Miranda in the lobby. Still, given his motive and taking into account the fact that he had not harmed them, the D.A. was considering amending the charges to take into account the mitigating circumstances.
Andy had a feeling that might not happen if Miranda found out. Andy couldn't quite imagine Miranda being generous or understanding of someone who held her at gunpoint, but who knows; the woman had surprised her more than anyone she had ever known. Perhaps she would again.
Andy heard the singular rhythm of Emily's gait as the woman made her way down the hall from the elevator. Jumping up, she held the door open for the red-head, earning nothing more than a glare of disgust as Emily thumped by her. Andy offered up her brightest smile, part of her knowing that it would simply irritate the Englishwoman further, but unable to help herself. There were brief moments when Andy understood a little of the satisfaction that Miranda seemed to gain from making Emily miserable.
"I see you've deigned to join us today. How sweet of you," Emily sniffed archly, trying to keep the look of relief off her face as she dropped into her chair. "Yesterday was hellish. Nothing and no one was right, not even Nigel. While you were lounging about, watching soap operas and eating donuts, the rest of us were here, doing our jobs. You do realize that it won't last, don't you, being Miranda's new favorite? It never does. There is a long line of former assistants and a few ex-husbands who can attest to that."
Remembering the feel of Miranda's hand in her own, the sensation of Miranda's fingers tracing gently across her forehead, Andy had an immediate urge to lash out at Emily. She wanted to vehemently deny the statement, to tell her that she was wrong, that she wasn't like the others, but as soon as the impulse seized her, the words died in her throat. Of course she was. Miranda discarded people as readily, as easily as she discarded last year's Gabbana; when they no longer pleased her; when they no longer served their purpose. When they were no longer fashionable.
As her mouth opened and then slowly snapped shut, Andy saw the gleam of jealous triumph in Emily's eyes. The day only went downhill from there. Miranda sauntered in and immediately began spewing orders like Vesuvius, her tone low and pleasant and deadly. By mid-morning, two of the girls that helped keep the Closet were packing their meager belongings into boxes and being escorted to the exit. By the time eleven-thirty rolled around, Andy was incredibly relieved to be able to slip out and collect Miranda's lunch.
Not once during that day or the ones that followed that week did Miranda mention to Andrea what had happened in her office. Nor did she bring up Andy's stay at her home, or the promise she had made Andrea that they would discuss it, all of it. There were moments when Andy fantasized about marching into Miranda's office and demanding that Miranda tell her what the hell it had all meant, but she knew she never would. She delivered the Book each night, just as she had for months, but neither Miranda, nor the twins appeared, and she left the townhouse more depressed than when she arrived.
In fact, for the rest of that week Miranda was in rare form, causing her terrified employees to conclude that her brush with her own mortality had served only to ratchet up her demands for the impossible. If she was perhaps slightly more patient with Andrea than with everyone else, no one would have dared to mention it. Just as no one, not even Nigel, would have been so bold or so foolish as to note the often lingering glances that Miranda directed at her young assistant, glances made only when Miranda was convinced no one was looking.
As the days progressed, Andy had almost convinced herself that she had imagined Miranda's behavior, had conjured up in her mind the sight of Miranda standing over her as she slept, tenderly brushing the hair from her brow. Almost convinced herself that the twins had known she was awake and had played one of their typically unkind tricks on her.
That is, until Miranda starting talking to her.
Not issuing orders. Not making demands. Talking. Asking questions. Questions about Andy's life, about her views on things. Questions that evinced a genuine interest in Andy's replies.
The first time it happened, on the way to James Holt's for a preview, all Andy could do was stare at the back of Roy's head and attempt to control the look of confused terror on her face as she muttered monosyllabic responses to Miranda's questions about her views on modern art. After the fifth, "Yes, Miranda", the woman gave what could only be described as a snort of disgust and turned away from Andy to gaze out the window of the car.
The second and third times, once more in the car and then once in the elevator of all places, an elevator that Miranda had told her to get in with her, Andy managed to do a little better. She wasn't going to win any awards for public speaking, but she did answer in complete sentences. Four or five word sentences to be sure, but it was an improvement. At least there was no look or sound of displeasure from Miranda.
The fourth time was in the office, long after everyone else had gone home. Miranda had stayed late and demanded that Andy stay as well, although for the life of her, Andy couldn't figure out why Miranda wanted her there. The Book was finished and on Miranda's desk, so clearly she didn't need Andy to bring it to her. Andy finished up all the correspondence she could, cleaned out some files on her computer, straightened her desk. Even straightened out the kitchen. She was completely out of work, and Miranda hadn't spoken to her in an hour.
She was just contemplating how insane it might be to ask Miranda if there was anything she could do for her, when she heard Miranda call her name.
"Andrea. Come in here."
Miranda didn't answer immediately, her gaze fixed on the glossy pages of the Book that gleamed in the light of the desk lamp. Finally, after an uncomfortably long silence, she looked up.
"Sit." She gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk.
Andy gingerly lowered herself to perch on the edge of the seat, a nervous smile gracing her lips. Miranda's eyes narrowed as they regarded her, slits of dark blue that revealed nothing as they traveled from Andrea's face down the length of her body and back again.
"Do you vote, Andrea?" Okay, even for Miranda this one was out of left field.
"Um, yeah. I mean, yes. I do. I have. Since I turned eighteen," Andy replied, trying this time to sound even marginally articulate. She could see by the look on Miranda's face that she was failing. Try again. "I think that voting is a responsibility of citizenship. I went and registered on my eighteenth birthday and I've voted in every election since then."
One eyebrow rose against the smooth skin of Miranda's forehead. Well, that had to be better than the snort, right?
"Good. So many people your age," Miranda began, refusing to use the words, 'your generation' for obvious reasons, "are not merely apathetic, but proud of their apathy. I find it incredibly troubling."
"I can't imagine not being concerned," Andy could feel a sliver of her normal self-confidence creep into her voice as she responded. "Especially given the utter stupidity and corruption of the current administration and their complete abdication of any sense of responsibility for the state of this nation. And I'm not even going to start on the war for oil we're currently fighting."
As soon as the words left her mouth, Andy felt an inordinate sense of dread wash over her. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. What were the odds that a woman who owned several fur coats, rode around in a chauffer driven Mercedes, and had a house in the Hamptons was a Republican? Pretty damn good, Andy thought, a slight grimace crossing her face as she waited for that silver voice to cut her to shreds for impugning the honor of George W. Bush.
To her shock, Miranda smiled. Well, it was as close to a smile as Andy had seen. Not snarky, not even a little scary. Well, maybe a little scary. It was Miranda, after all.
"Andrea, you do not approve of the way the President and his administration are governing this country?"
"Um. Well, not really. I mean, no. But I'm sure that all Republicans aren't that horrible. I mean, I'm sure that there are lots of nice, well meaning Republicans," Andy stammered a little, making a half-gesture with her hand in Miranda's direction, fearing once again to meet those blue eyes.
Then Miranda laughed. Andy had never heard Miranda laugh. Well, not an amused, "you actually said something funny" laugh. The sound of it slithered deliciously along her skin and down her spine.
"You know, Andrea, I've been called a great number of things in my life, most of them unkind and some not even worth mentioning, but I'm fairly certain that I've never been insulted quite as badly as that," Miranda's eyes had a distinct twinkle in them and her voice was amused. "A Republican?"
"I just assumed, I mean, well, you are rich and you wear a mink to work, Miranda," Andy knew she sounded ludicrous, but it was the best she could do when Miranda had that look on her face. Like several of its brethren before it, it was an expression for which Andy had no reference. She struggled to put a name to it, sensing that this one was important.
"Andrea, I am one of only a handful of women in positions of power in publishing. I work in a field dominated by gay men and believe me when I tell you, I have more than a passing knowledge of economics. Despite my own personal wealth and my penchant for the occasional fur, what in any of that would lead you to hypothesize that I am at all conservative in my political beliefs?" The words, stated flatly in that no nonsense tone, might have stung a bit had they not been coupled with the continued look of affectionate amusement on Miranda's face. That was it: affection. For her.
When Andy was in sixth grade, her father had won her a goldfish at the county fair, a large orange and gold specimen that apparently possessed a suicidal streak. Every week the fish would launch itself from its bowl, landing with a "plop" on the pale green carpet of Andy's room, its gills fluttering futilely, the circle of its mouth opening and closing as it flip-flopped around the floor. Andy suspected that she was doing a damn good impression of that fish right about now.
"I'm sorry?" It wasn't her most impressive effort to date, but it seemed to do the trick. Miranda laughed again, and again Andy felt the sound brush like fingertips along her skin.
"As well you should be, Andrea, as well you should be. Come on, let's go home," Miranda said, picking up the Book and rising gracefully from her seat, her lips still curved in amusement.
Following Miranda onto the elevator, Andy concluded that for an evening that had all the earmarks of ending badly, this one had turned out to be pretty fucking wonderful.
"Do you think that Tolstoy was correct?"
The question came, apropos of nothing, as the car moved at a tortoise-like pace through clogged city streets. They were on their way back from a ten o'clock preview at Donna Karan. Normally, the sluggish speed would have sent Miranda's blood pressure soaring, but for reasons yet to be revealed to Andy, that hadn't happened. If anything, Miranda appeared reflective, her head tilted back against the smooth leather of the seat.
Glancing sideways at Andy, one of Miranda's eyebrows rose slightly, although Andy was fairly certain it was in interrogation and not impatience.
Swiftly juggling through the various things about which Tolstoy might have been wrong, Andy remembered the wistful look that had ghosted across Miranda's face earlier this morning when she spoke to Cassidy. The girl was home sick today, but given her schedule, Miranda had not been able to stay with her, leaving her instead to the patient ministrations of Cara. Andy knew that given a choice, Miranda would have stayed home with her daughter, but final print deadlines were looming, along with all the other appointments, meetings, and previews that made up a normal day for Runway's editor. Something had to be sacrificed. Today it had been a slice of Miranda's faith in her ability to be a good parent.
Hence the question.
"About happy families, you mean?" Andy asked, trying to gauge what she thought Miranda wanted to hear. Given the mood brought on by having to be at work while her child was sick, and the two or three heads that had already rolled this morning because of it, Andy figured it wouldn't hurt to play it safe.
"No, Andrea, about the vagaries of war and the sum of human history," Miranda snapped, her eyes slipping shut at the harsh tone of her voice. She took a deep breath and spoke again, her voice far less waspish. "Yes, about families."
"I don't know if I can judge. I mean, my family is just one example but we were, well are, pretty happy, I guess. Don't get me wrong. We have disagreements and there were a lot of times when I was younger that I hated being treated like a kid, but I guess, compared to some people, I had a happy childhood," Andy replied, aware that she hadn't answered Miranda's question, but uncertain of how to proceed.
Her first instinct was to reassure Miranda that the girls loved her, but she couldn't quite shake the fear that doing so would be crossing a line, one that might bring to a screeching halt these conversations she had quickly come to treasure. And that was not something that she was willing to risk if she could help it.
"So your perfect little suburban family- you and Mom and Dad and station wagon- are what happy families are comprised of then?" Miranda sniffed, lips pursing in displeasure.
"No. No, that's not what I meant. I meant that I know there are plenty of happy families that look completely different from mine, families with two parents, with one parent, with two parents who don't live together. It doesn't have anything to do with stereotypes and picket fences. They're all different and yet, they're all happy," Andy backpedaled a bit, sensing that she managed to say the wrong thing, but not sure what the right one was.
"And how do you know that they're happy, Andrea? Did you have them all fill out a questionnaire?" Miranda asked, turning finally to face her across the seat, eyes blank and cool as they waited for her response.
"Of course not. And you're right. I don't know if my friends' families are happy. I guess I don't know for sure if my family is happy. But what I'm trying to say is that no, I don't think that Tolstoy was right. I think that happiness comes in as many shapes and forms as unhappiness. And to try and categorize people according to some unverifiable, societal standard of what is or is not a happy family is ludicrous. I also know this, Miranda. The girls adore you. They understand that work gets in the way sometimes. They're happy kids. Well, as happy as kids can be. They're smart, well-adjusted, articulate. You're doing a really great job with them," Andy said, her own eyes warm and sincere.
She had realized suddenly that this was what Miranda needed from her, had needed when she began the conversation; just as she knew when Miranda needed coffee, or when to distract her because she was on the verge of biting someone's head off.
Those blue eyes met hers challengingly, the gaze unflinching as the city slipped slowly by outside the car windows. Andy simply stared back, willing Miranda to believe in the truth of her words. After a few uncomfortable minutes, the older woman looked away, leaning her head back against the seat.
"Perhaps," Miranda said finally, her tone dismissive, although Andy could see the tightness in her face slowly relax.
They rode in silence for the next ten minutes, until the car slid to a stop in front of Elias-Clarke. As she turned to open her door and get out, Andy was startled to feel Miranda's hand on her arm.
"I hope that your parents have the good sense to be proud of you," Miranda said softly, before swiveling and stepping out of the car, her stride purposeful as she crossed the pavement to the building's glass doors, confident that Andy was following her.
Grinning and shaking her head, Andy did exactly that.
And so, the conversations continued, unabated. Always in private, sandwiched into the rare moments of downtime in Miranda's hectic days. In the car, in the elevator, in the office late at night. Once or twice in the entranceway of Miranda's townhouse. Brief, transient moments, when Miranda ceased to be Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway, and Andrea her stalwart assistant. Ephemeral, fleeting minutes when they were merely two tired, overworked, lonely people who just might have found in each other an anchor in an increasingly chaotic world.
It seemed to Miranda that the chance to have a quiet, pleasant conversation had created a small hole in her own personal dam, allowing the water to flow slowly but determinedly, each stolen moment washing away a bit more of her reserve. After the first initial failures, she had found Andrea to be as bright and inquisitive as she had imagined she would be, a fact that pleased her far more than she was comfortable admitting to herself.
From the profound to the profane, their conversations ran the gambit: history, art, music, politics, religion. Miranda found herself reading the Times at night before bed, staying up long after she had finished the Book, her mind cataloging the various articles and ideas that she wanted to discuss with Andrea. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that she had begun to look forward to those moments when she and Andrea were alone with a sense of anticipation somewhat unbecoming in a woman her age. But there it was.
She enjoyed the girl's company. She enjoyed the easy give and take, the exchange of opinions and even emotions that had quickly developed between them. It was clear that once Andrea realized that there was no hidden agenda to Miranda's sudden bout of talkativeness, no trap waiting to be sprung, she threw herself into the situation wholeheartedly. The fact that Andrea recognized that these times were special, and not to be discussed, pleased Miranda all the more.
This was not to say that Miranda had suddenly stopped being Miranda. She still evoked terror in her staff, leaving tears and ugly epithets trailing in her wake. She could still be arrogant, thoughtless, and cruel. She still expected perfection and was unwilling to accept anything less than what she demanded. She was capricious, mercurial, and absolutely infuriating most of the time. Just as it should be. That she tried to be less so with Andrea was a sign to her that she was far more invested in the young woman than she had thought possible. Or prudent.
As for Andrea, she found the glimpses into the real Miranda far more intoxicating than the finest bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape. There still had been no discussion of the "incident", but Andy found she didn't mind. Regardless of whether or not she and Miranda ever talked about what had happened that day, it was obvious to both of them that a shift had occurred. For Andy, at least, it wasn't felt as a major earthquake but instead like the barely noticeable movement of tectonic plates, sending minor tremors, subtle vibrations through the soles of her feet. And into other places that Andy didn't think she was ready to contemplate yet.
Because, along with the conversation, Miranda had begun to touch her. Nothing more than brushing her fingers across Andrea's back as they walked, or laying her hand lightly on Andrea's arm as she made a particular point. Casual, meaningless gestures. And yet, Miranda Priestly did not touch people. Andy couldn't remember seeing her willingly touch anyone, other than a limp handshake or an indecently brief faux hug, complete with air-kiss, at parties or with people Miranda knew she needed for some reason.
But she touched Andy. And she talked to Andy, her voice no longer bored and derisive, but warm and engaged, a sparkle in her eyes that sent little tendrils of heat through Andy's body.
Again, things Andrea did not want to contemplate right now, at least during waking hours. Not if she wanted to continue to be able to look Miranda in the eye. Once she drifted off to sleep however, her subconscious had other plans. Nearly every night she woke, aroused and unsatisfied, soaked in sweat, from a dream of silver hair slipping along the silken skin of her stomach. The odious, smug voice of that theory which had spoken to her so sternly in Paris attempted to remind her again that forming unhealthy attachments to one's boss were nearly always disastrous.
This time, Andy simply told the theory to shut the fuck up.
The house was so quiet with the twins gone. For two beings who, between them, weighed a hundred pounds, they made enough noise to rival a Sumo wrestler as they thumped, stomped and clattered around the townhouse. Clearly a quirk of fate and genes, given her own refined, elegant movements. Unfortunate that they had obviously taken after their father's side of the family when it came to grace. Still, despite evenings filled with exasperated sighs and pleading admonitions to a modicum of decorum, Miranda found that she missed them, missed the loud, mysterious thuds from upstairs, missed their good-natured bickering.
A tumbler of Macallan sat at her elbow but she'd barely touched it. A single lamp by the door threw a golden swath of light across the floor, leaving the rest of the room in shadow, as Miranda tried to ignore the slinking feeling of anticipation that even now curled around her like the sleek silhouette of a cat around her ankles: Andrea was due anytime now with the Book. Feeling a bit like the spider waiting none too patiently for the fly's arrival, Miranda took a heady sip of the Scotch, enjoying the fiery burn of it as it slipped down her throat. She could taste in the amber liquid the peaty soil of the Highlands and the long, lonely years it had spent trapped in its oaken prison.
She could sympathize.
The click of a key in the lock and the sound of high heels on the floor of the foyer signaled Andrea's entrance. Miranda listened for the quiet snick of the closet door as the girl hung her dry cleaning, and the soft staccato of her heels as she turned to leave.
If she closed her eyes, Miranda could imagine the expression on her assistant's lovely face: part anticipation, part trepidation. One of these days, perhaps the anticipation would be far more than the trepidation.
"Yes, Miranda?" Andrea asked softly, taking the few steps into the study necessary to hand Miranda the Book.
Miranda reached out for the Book, a twinge of regret slipping across her mind as Andrea's fingers failed to brush her own. The young woman stood diffidently before her, a slight smile of expectation on her lips, a barely noticeable glimmer of anxiety in her eyes, clearly waiting for Miranda to begin spouting instructions. Miranda didn't speak, her eyes narrowed as she regarded the girl. She watched the tip of Andrea's tongue slip out to moisten apparently dry lips, those large eyes widening slightly under Miranda's perusal.
"Andrea, are you frightened of me?" Miranda asked finally, leaning back against the plush fabric of the chair, her head tilted speculatively, the very tip of her glasses resting gently against her bottom lip.
"Um. Not really. Well, sometimes, a little. I mean, not really scared," the words rushed out of Andrea's mouth, breathless and slightly incoherent. At the sight of Miranda's raised eyebrow, the girl took a deep breath and began again. "I used to be scared of you. Terrified, actually. But now, I'm not. Now, you just make me nervous, sometimes."
Given her abominable tract record in inspiring devotion in others, Miranda had to admit that this was definitely going to be an uphill battle. Still, all things being equal, nervous was a far sight better than terrified, at least to Miranda. Amazing how she had gone from trying rather pointedly to force Andrea to want to leave, to just as pointedly attempting to make her want to stay. Not stay at Runway, but stay with her.
"Um, was there anything else you need, Miranda?" Andrea managed to ask the question without appearing too awkward, or anxious, a feat Miranda found quite impressive, given that the young woman was still standing in front of her like a delinquent school-girl.
"Did you have somewhere you need to be, Andrea?" Miranda inquired, slipping her reading glasses back on, turning the switch on the lamp at her elbow, and opening the Book without glancing back up at Andy.
"No. I just thought that you might want something." Andy assured her quickly, her voice betraying far less unease than customary, bringing a momentary quirk to Miranda's lips.
"What I want is for you to stop shuffling back and forth on those four inch heels before you either scuff my carpet or topple over. Sit," Miranda stated quietly, although without the usual sardonic tone. She absentmindedly motioned Andrea toward the wide leather sofa, her eyes already focused on several glaring errors in the Book. "There's an article or two in that Atlantic that you may find interesting, given our conversation the other day about hard work and success. Something about searching for the American Dream."
Andy smiled shyly, aware that Miranda was no longer looking at her, and moved to sit gingerly on the impossibly soft cushions of the couch. Miranda was already completely absorbed in her corrections and didn't even glance her way to see if Andrea had followed her directive. Not that she needed to. Andrea always did as Miranda told her. Still, despite Miranda apparent indifference, Andy felt a rush of warmth seep across her chest. Clearly Miranda wanted her company. Not to take notes. Not to make phone calls, or fetch her coffee. But simply to be with her. Andy couldn't quite stop what she instinctively knew was a wide, very foolish grin from plastering itself on her face.
Picking up the magazine from the coffee table, Andy quickly scanned the table of contents, easily finding the articles to which Miranda had referred. After a few minutes of engrossing reading, Andy slid off her shoes, slipping back on the smooth leather to tuck her feet under her, one elbow leaning against the wide armrest. She became so immersed in the article and the one that followed it, that she failed to notice that Miranda had finished with her corrections and was regarding her, eyes again narrowed speculatively. The soft sound of Miranda's voice brought Andy back to the moment with a startled jump.
"So, what do you think?" If Andy had a slightly difficult time processing the question, if was because her eyes were focused on Miranda's face and the tumbler in Miranda's hand, as Miranda slowly snaked out her tongue and captured a stray drop of amber liquid along the rim of the glass.
"Um, think about what?" Andy squeaked, her brain momentarily short-circuiting. The slow, terrifying sexy smile that ghosted across Miranda's face did little to un-befuddle Andy's very befuddled mind.
"The price of tea in China. The articles, Andrea. Success, the American Dream? Ringing any bells?" Miranda had noticed, with a rush of triumph, the hazy look of desire in Andrea's normally clear eyes as the girl watched her.
Not that she had been unaware of the element of attraction in their interactions. She had. There was little that Miranda failed to notice. Still, she hadn't put much thought to it. Sex was just sex, after all. The fact that she was even contemplating having it with a woman twenty-five years her junior was a trifle unexpected. Not unheard of, but surprising. However, right now, she was far more interested in capturing the girl's mind than her body. Bodies much more gorgeous than Andy's were offered to Miranda on a daily basis. She wanted more than a quick tumble, more than the feel of silken, sweaty skin against her own.
She wanted well, more. What exactly that comprised Miranda hadn't allowed herself to analyzed all that deeply yet, but she knew the key to it lay in the astonishing synchronicity that had grown between them. Andrea understood her, and she, Andrea. In that lay enticing possibilities on which Miranda tried not to allow herself to dwell. Well, not excessively. The whole issue of actively chasing after her assistant really was something she was going to need to address, and soon. Just not tonight.
Still, such a blatant show of desire sent a stream of heat through her, one that bore a striking resemblance to the fiery burn of the Scotch as it slid down her throat. Schooling her features, she regarded Andrea evenly, one brow quirking upward as she waited for her words to make their way through what appeared to be a fog of lust in Andrea's mind.
"The articles. Um, right. I think they have a point." Andy realized as soon as the words left her mouth that they sounded inane and markedly ambiguous, but for the moment, she was simply pleased to have gotten a complete, relatively coherent sentence out. Miranda always had a slightly debilitating affect on Andy's nervous system. Tonight though, Miranda's evident enjoyment of her drink and the accompanying expression on her face had sent a shower of sparks through her synapses, one that was not dissipating with nearly enough speed to suit Andy.
"They have a point? Who exactly are they, Andrea? And on what point do you feel that these mysterious they are correct?" Miranda knew that she probably shouldn't be getting this much pleasure at Andrea's expense, but honestly, the girl was simply too adorable and far too easy to unnerve for Miranda to ignore.
Andy could see the gleam of amusement in Miranda's eyes at her discomfort. Just four months ago it would have upset and angered her, but now she could see the affection in the expression, the fondness in those blue eyes. She wasn't certain what was going on between them, but she knew that they quite clearly moved beyond the strictures of boss and assistant to something else, something more. What that something else was, and where it might lead, was murky at best, but Andy was more than willing to take it, and Miranda, on faith.
"The authors of the two companion pieces," Andy clarified, full lips turning up in an answering grin. "I think that the point that both are making, that the American dream as part of our national mythology has remained, while the actual experience, of each generation eclipsing the one before it in standard of living and success, has died."
"And you agree with this perspective?" Miranda asked quietly, leaning forward in her chair so that Andy could see the lace-clad suggestion of a breast as her white Dolce and Gabbana blouse puckered open to reveal an expanse of creamy skin.
Andy took a minute to tear her gaze away from Miranda's cleavage and concentrate on the question at hand. Letting her eyes roam over the classic lines of the room, the muted colors, the soft fabrics, gave her some much needed focus.
"For the most part. I mean, things have changed so much since the end of the nineteenth century, when an immigrant coming to this country could expect a tremendous increase in salary and corresponding standard of living for his children and his grandchildren. Now, that usually isn't the case. Kids born into poverty have only a fifty percent chance of making it out of poverty. I think that, to all intents and purposes, the American dream is dead," Andy expounded, trying to sound confident when a faint whisper in the back of her mind kept reminding her again how extraordinary it was that she was having this conversation with Miranda Priestly. In Miranda's house. Late at night, for no reason other than Miranda seemed to enjoy her company.
"While some of the points made in the articles are valid, as are a few of your conjectures, I fear I must disagree," Miranda stated matter-of-factly, rising from her chair to cross the room and seat herself at the other end of the sofa. "Every person in this country, immigrant or native, has the opportunity to succeed, if he or she works hard enough. I simply cannot accept the idea that merely because the global economy has altered and the percentage of change between generational incomes has shrunk, that the reality of achieving a better life for oneself and one's family has disappeared completely."
"Okay. But that isn't what's being shown in study after study. Even in other countries, the concept that someone can rise from extreme poverty to extreme wealth, or even to the middle class, has been disproved. Given the empirical facts, why do you still believe that there is any hope of making that dream real anymore?" Andy still felt a hint of residual anxiety at asking Miranda a question, much less arguing with her, but after the conversations of the past weeks and the change in Miranda when they were alone, she knew those particular rules did not apply anymore. At least not here, not to her and Miranda and whatever this thing between them was.
"Simply because this is the American dream." Miranda intoned firmly, eyes dark and intense, her hand making a graceful arc as she gestured to the room, the house and all in contained. "I am the American dream, Andrea. Me."
"I don't understand," Andrea replied, her face echoing the confusion in her voice.
"I am the American dream. My parents fled here from Poland in the thirties with less than nothing. They trudged through life, scrimping, saving, eking out an existence. I had my first job when I was twelve, helping my mother, who took in sewing to earn some extra money. I put myself through college working as a seamstress down on Canal Street. And now, I run the most prestigious, most successful fashion magazine in the world. My opinion shapes thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in commerce. I worked hard for every single thing I have, to ensure that I would never look in the mirror one day and see my mother's tired, broken face. To make certain that my daughters never want for anything, never know what it is like to go to bed hungry for anything." Miranda's expression had grown fierce and determined while she spoke, her voice steely and low.
Meeting her eyes, Andrea could see the demons that drove Miranda Priestly staring out at her from behind those clear blue irises.
"I've never told anyone that. You will not repeat it," Miranda told her stiffly, turning her face away to stare at their reflected images in the dark panes of the window behind them.
"No, of course not," Andy murmured, overwhelmed at the revelation and the aura of vulnerability that she sensed from Miranda. "I would never tell anyone anything we talk about, Miranda. Never."
A silence fell in the room, and in the distance, Andy could hear the faint ticking of the tall grandfather clock on the second floor landing. Finally, she hazarded a glance at Miranda and found crystal blue eyes staring intently into her own, the expression in them guarded.
"So, is that one of the reasons that you expect so much from the people who work for you?" Andy asked tentatively, still a trifle unsure of Miranda's mood.
"No, Andrea. I expect so much from my employees because that is what they are paid to do. Their jobs. Period. I do not run a charity organization nor am I a kindergarten teacher. I run a business and I find it mind-boggling that people would ever begin to assume that they should be patted on the head, or given a gold star for doing what they are paid to do," Miranda said sharply. Despite having chosen the topic for tonight's conversation, she had not intended to reveal so much of herself and her past to Andrea, a past that she had not even shared with her husbands or her children. The fact that she had done so left her feeling off-balance. Off balance was not a feeling Miranda Priestly tolerated, much less enjoyed.
"I know. I guess what I meant was, do you think if you were, well, nicer to them, they wouldn't do their jobs as well?" The second the words left her lips, Andy squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the coming eruption as she had in Paris, the scene of her previous foot meets mouth production. Just as in Paris, it did not come.
"I am not paid to be nice, Andrea. I am paid, quite handsomely, to produce the best magazine possible. If I have to be the Dragon Lady to do so, then so be it," Miranda informed her sternly, a brief look of askance flitting across her face.
"It's just that most of the people at Runway worship you, Miranda. They'd happily walk off a cliff for you, if you asked them," Andy whispered, her smile more grimace than glee.
Andrea looked down, staring at the weave in the carpet, a faint blush stealing across her cheeks at Miranda's stare. This evening had turned out to be a rollercoaster ride of emotion and even Miranda had to admit, she was beginning to feel a little sea-sick. Perhaps it was time to slow the ride down.
"Really? Well, Andrea, perhaps you would be so good as to get me a list of names of those willing to make such a sacrifice. I'll be sure to personally send out embossed invitations." Miranda's tone had lightened a tad, and as Andy glanced at her under her eyelashes, she could see that the some of the equilibrium had been restored in Miranda's lovely features. "It's late. You should get home. You will not take the subway at this hour. Call a cab."
"Miranda, the subway is perfectly safe. I take it all the time," Andy protested, rising to her feet, dreading slipping back on the tortuous heels.
"Andrea. That was not an invitation to discussion. It's one in the morning. Call a cab." Miranda still had her shoes on and was pleased to see that with Andrea barefoot, their height disparity had vanished. Why she cared about such a thing, she wasn't ready to contemplate.
"Yes, Miranda," Andy said, intentionally keeping her tone resigned, forcing the pleased look off her face, as she pulled out her phone and called one of the several cab companies she had on speed dial, just in case she had to get somewhere for Miranda quickly and the car wasn't available.
Walking to the door, Andy felt as if she needed to tread carefully, as the earth had again shifted, the plates moving once more, leaving the ground uneven and most unfamiliar. She had the sensation of being an explorer, venturing out onto earth newly grown from volcanic lava; new land to traverse and to map. Slipping into the back of the cab, Andy remembered the adage that ancient mapmakers had appended along the edges of the known world: "beyond here, there be dragons".
Leaning her head back against the cracked vinyl seat, Andy couldn't help but chuckle. In her case, just one dragon.
That night Andy found it difficult to sleep. It wasn't merely the content of Miranda's revelation that sent the thoughts swirling through her mind like a runaway tornado, but the sheer fact of it. Miranda Priestly had told her something she had never shared with anyone else, something personal, something that allowed Andy a fleeting glimpse of who Miranda really was. Each moment of conversation, each stray bit of information, each opinion, each idea, had afforded Andy a hint into the woman inside the icon. Like wiping clear a spot in a fogged up window, Andy was allowed to see what few others had seen and she found it intoxicating.
She found Miranda intoxicating.
The growing feelings of attraction that slowly had been overtaking her for the past few months had finally morphed into a steamroller, laying waste to her fears and inhibitions, to the safety of her half-hearted claims of heterosexuality. She wanted Miranda Priestly, wanted her more than she had ever wanted anything or anyone. She wanted to explore every elegant, sensuous inch of her and then begin all over again. It was a sobering realization, and yet, with it came such immense clarity.
When she was seven years old, Andy's parents had given her a talking doll. Its mouth moved, and words came out when you squeezed its stomach. Andy had an overwhelming desire to take the doll apart and find out what made it work; find the intricate mechanisms that allowed that piece of plastic and rubber to form sounds, to mouth words. She realized that she wanted to do the same with Miranda: take her apart and see inside. See all the mysteries hidden from the world; all the quirks and secrets, all the fears and insecurities; all the moments of triumph and shame that had shaped Miranda. As if in knowing those things she could calm the spreading fear that possessing and being possessed by Miranda Priestly might just destroy her.
Or save them both. Not that Andy was convinced at all that Miranda shared her feelings. Nor did she have the first clue whether or not Miranda was interested in salvation.
Still, Miranda's actions for the past few weeks had made it obvious that she no longer regarded Andy as a mere assistant. It was what, exactly, she was to Miranda now that troubled Andy's sleep. That, and the annoying voice in the back of her head that suggested that perhaps it was time to take the bull by the horns and find out.
The next day, aside from acerbically issuing orders, Miranda barely spoke to her, her expression inscrutable, although Andy did notice at odd moments that Miranda's gaze focused rather pointedly on her.
In the car on the way to James Holt's, Miranda sat staring out the window, body tense, her face turned away from Andrea, lips faintly pursed. There had been no sign from her all day, in tone of voice or expression, that Andy was anything but an employee, and a slightly incompetent one at that. No half smiles, no conversations, and worst of all, no brief, tantalizing touches. Andy didn't know whether to scream or cry.
She tried to convince herself that Miranda was simply embarrassed about sharing part of her past with Andy. Andy had realized long ago that Miranda had a habit of retreating into herself when things became emotionally unruly for her, and the fractured biography she had recounted to Andy last night surely had to fall within the realm of emotionally unmanageable. Eventually, once she realized that Andrea wasn't going to hold her hostage with the information, she would get over it. At least that was Andy's hope. But the day after was exactly the same. And the day after that.
No talking that didn't relate to Runway. No looks of fond amusement directed Andy's way. Nothing to indicate that the past three weeks had been anything more than a figment of Andy's imagination. Andy felt shame and anger wash over her as, once again, she sat next to Miranda in the car. A meeting with Carlo at Gucci this time. Miranda hadn't even acknowledged her existence, aside from a peremptory "Andrea. Coat. We're leaving." With the screen up behind Roy's head, it felt as if she and Miranda were encased in a bubble of metal and glass; silent and empty, while the chaos of the world swirled just outside the steel of the car door.
Andy silently berated herself. She should have known better than to think it would last. She should have realized that Miranda had simply been amusing herself, and now she no longer found the diversion or Andy amusing. After all, everyone knew that Miranda enjoyed playing with people, enjoyed the thrill of the game. Except that it hadn't felt like a game, hadn't felt like a game at all. It had felt real. The quirky conversations, the transitory glimpses inside the layer of ice with which Miranda shielded herself, the brief touches that had left Andy breathless and quivering with awareness; all those things had left marks, like electrical burns along Andy's skin. Surely, even Miranda was incapable of such callous deception. At least the Miranda that Andy had just begun to discover.
Closing her lids against the tears that threatened to flood her eyes, Andy forced herself to take a deep breath, then another, the air burning like acrid smoke as she expanded her lungs. She had meant it when she told Miranda that she was no longer afraid of her. However, that did little to calm the stampeding rhythm of her heart. Miranda had treated her as an equal, someone worthy of her time and maybe, just maybe, her affection. It was time Andy started to act like one.
"Yes, Andrea?" The tone was deceptively mild, given the stormy look those blue eyes currently held.
"Um, are you upset with me, about, you know, the other night?" Andy knew she was stuttering a bit, knew that she sounded less than confident, but it was the best she could do right now.
"Why would you think that, Andrea?" Miranda swiveled to face her, her expression blank, only the bright glow of her eyes giving any indication she was the least bit interested in the conversation.
"Well, the fact that you haven't spoken to me in three days. Aside from issuing orders and demanding things, that is." Andy felt her skin flush at the ill-advised choice of words, but there was no taking them back. Apparently she was more upset about Miranda's behavior than she had thought.
"That is what I do. Issue orders, demand things, and foolishly cling to the hope that they will be done correctly." Miranda replied quietly, her eyes never leaving Andy's. "Tell me, Andrea. Have you suddenly been rendered mute in the past three days?"
"Me? Um, no. I don't know what you...," Andy began, only to pull up short at the look in Miranda's eyes. Hurt. Miranda looked hurt. In a stunning flash, comprehension dawned on Andy, and her mouth dropped open in what she was certain was an unfortunate look for her. An onslaught of possible reasons inundated Andy's brain, all swept aside by the most obvious answer: Miranda had been waiting for her to say something.
As she watched the light bulb go off over Andy's head, Miranda's lips twitched at the corners and with a rather exaggerated eye roll she turned her face back towards her window. The set of her shoulders, even the tilt of her gloriously silver head gave Andy all the information she could have wanted. In fact, looking back over the past three days, Andy realized that Miranda had been this edgy and irritated for days now. She had just been too preoccupied with feeling sorry for herself and cursing Miranda for being so unfeeling to notice that, in fact, Miranda was feeling quite a lot.
Mentally berating herself for being so slow and also for giving in, if only in her mind, to the suggestions that Emily had made, that nearly everyone had made, that Miranda Priestly was incapable of honest emotion, Andy closed her eyes and tried to focus on how to fix this.
"Miranda, I'm sorry. I guess that it didn't even occur to me that I could start a conversation," Andy said softly, turning her body fully on the wide seat so that she could see Miranda's profile against the tinted windowpane.
Miranda's only response was to tilt that patrician nose a little higher in the air, the full lips beneath it narrowed to a thin line.
Drawing in a shallow breath, Andy plunged in deeper. "Please, Miranda. This is all so new, this being able to talk to you. I guess I was so used to you talking to me about things, that I didn't stop to think that maybe you might want me to talk to you. That you might need me to say something first."
Again, her words were met with silence from the other side of the car. Andy dropped her head to her chest, as if she could no longer bear the weight of it, a ragged sigh escaping her lips.
"It's exhausting to always be the one to ask questions, Andrea. To always have to be the one in charge of everything. When I asked you if you were still frightened of me the other night, you assured me you were not. I, foolishly, I see now, took that to mean that you were willing, or at least able, to meet me halfway. And given what I shared with you, I again assumed, perhaps unwisely, that our interactions would become a bit less proscribed." Miranda's voice was so quiet that Andy leaned forward to hear it, her hand coming inadvertently to rest on top of Miranda's.
Andy's first instinct was to pull her hand back, as a rush of heat spread across all the skin touching Miranda, like she had accidentally placed her hand on a lit burner. The hitch in Miranda's breathing however, stopped her movement, and Andy allowed her hand to remain resting on Miranda's, reveling in the feel of her skin under her own.
"You weren't wrong. I'm sorry for being a little slow. I wish I could explain how honored I am that you told me that about your family. I promise to ask the next time you seem upset, and I swear, you won't have to be the one to start every conversation, okay?" Andy assured, as, in an act of extreme bravery, or stupidity, she traced a pattern with one finger along the back of Miranda's hand.
"Slow? More like glacial. And you know how that thrills me, Andrea," Miranda snorted, the corners of her lips quirking into a ghost of a smile as she leaned back against the car seat. With the rise of an elegant eyebrow, she asked, "So?"
Andy couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled up as the land beneath her feet leveled out and stopped shaking. Dragons indeed.
"Emily, what in God's name has happened to your leg?" Miranda paused as she walked by Emily's desk the next Friday morning, eyebrows drawn down sharply as she gazed at Emily's fishnet stocking clad legs.
"Oh. I got my cast off yesterday afternoon. Thank God. Talk about bloody horrendous. I don't think I could have taken one more day of it," Emily answered quickly, the words spilling out before she could sensor them.
"Mmhhm. Well, considering that now one leg is significantly thinner than the other, perhaps next time you could arrange to get a full body cast and do away with the endless dieting," Miranda murmured, a slightly malicious gleam in her eye as she turned and walked into her office.
As the wave of hurt from Miranda's remark washed over her, Emily found that ironically, and no doubt pathetically, there was certain merit in the suggestion. She had been amazed how a month inside that damned cast had reduced the size of her calf. She had also been appalled at how incredibly long the hair on her leg had grown and that the skin now was the color of the underbelly of a flounder. Hence the stockings. Still, it was wonderfully stick-like. Perhaps there was a way to get the other one in the same spindly condition without using those fucking crutches for a month.
"Emily. Get me Patrick. And get Nigel in here so that he can explain to me this monstrosity of a mock-up for the Boston shoot," Miranda ordered, settling into her chair and opening her email, more form than substance as she stared at the screen, not registering the curves and lines that melded into words.
Andrea was at Chanel, picking up samples for Runway's holiday edition. Miranda found that a lack of physical proximity to the younger woman did little to aid in her concentration. The fact was, the girl had completely ruined Miranda's ability to think about any of the things that she needed to think about: budgets and deadlines and a myriad of details that went into running a successful magazine. Instead, Miranda found her thoughts straying to the sound of Andrea's laugh and the long line of her throat as she tilted her head back, eyes crinkled in amusement at something Miranda had said. To the silken feel of the skin at Andrea's wrist, where the pad of Miranda's thumb rubbed gently as their hands brushed in the car. To the thick, fragrant fall of dark hair that left Miranda clenching her hands to stop herself from touching, wanting to feel the cool weight of it between her fingers.
All thoughts that had no place in Miranda Priestly's ordered life. Pathetic really. Since when did she allow her emotions such free rein and when had she ever sacrificed a moment's sleep on something so juvenile as desire? How in the name of all that was holy had this happened? Her divorce wasn't final, Irv was still snapping at her heels, her daughters were entering that most terrifying of stages, pre-pubescence, she was surrounded by incompetence and now, now she had become rather deeply infatuated with a woman half her age, one who worked for her. Somewhere Miranda's life had taken a marked left turn and she was damned if she knew what to do about it.
Or even if she should.
She had spent the past twenty years of her life defining beauty, and for what? To her unending dismay, she found herself in a nation overrun with strip malls, NASCAR, and golden arches on every street corner. Somewhere along the way, she had become Van Gogh, painting stars for a sightless world; Maria Callas bringing Puccini to an audience rendered deaf by the blare of car horns and the shouted conversations of total strangers. The perfect lines of a gown, the vibrancy of color, the utility of form, had soothed and consoled her, made all the rest, the lost friendships, the three failed marriages, even her own perceived imperfection at motherhood, bearable because she had been given the gift of prophecy, the task of telling an often ugly, ignorant world what was truly beautiful.
And for the most part, people listened. At least, she told herself, the people who mattered listened. She couldn't quite put her finger on when that had ceased to be enough; when she had become interested in pursuing beauty for herself and not merely for the huddled masses wearing last years Chanel. She suspected it had come the moment she opened her hotel room door in Paris to discover that Andrea had not left her, after all.
Perhaps it was finally time for Miranda Priestly to discover something beautiful that belonged only to her.
For the past few weeks, Andrea had stayed in the evening after she brought the Book. She had told Roy that she liked the fresh air and the walk to the subway, and so he simply dropped her at the door of Miranda's townhouse and went home. For Miranda's part, it was still strange to have the girl walk purposefully down the hall to the study, hand Miranda the book with a gentle, luminous smile, and then, as if she had been doing it for years, wordlessly cross to the sofa, tuck her feet up under her and read while Miranda made her corrections. When the corrections were complete and every little sticky note was in place, Miranda would move from her chair to the other end of the sofa, her voice silvery in the half-light of the study as Andy laughingly told her little anecdotes about her day or read her excerpts from the article or book she was reading, their voices blending in the quiet of the room as they talked. Then, reluctantly, Andrea would call a cab and head home.
It was all marvelously, terrifyingly domestic and mundane. Still, Miranda couldn't help but dwell on all the things that could go wrong. All the things that might just stop this whatever it was from becoming anything more than a pipedream. Like the twins and their behavior last evening.
The girls were usually in bed by the time Andrea arrived, but last night the Book had been early and the twins were still awake when she slipped into the house. Two identical red heads had followed her progress as she put the dry cleaning away and then made her way confidently down the hall. They had waited for Andy to leave and when her departure wasn't forthcoming, sneaked down the sleek wood of the hallway to peer around the corner of the study door. The scene that greeted them was not what they expected: their mother, ensconced in her favorite chair, glasses perched on the end of that elegant nose, book on her lap as she studied every inch of every page, while Andy sat, curled up like a cat in the corner of the sofa, head resting on one hand as she scanned the pages of a novel, her eyes darting quite often in their mother's direction.
The twins met each other's eyes in surprise, and Cassidy gestured with her head for Caroline to follow her back upstairs. They had just turned to go when their mother's voice stopped them in their tracks.
"Um, hi, Mom," Cassidy began, reaching back to drag Caroline into the room with her. It had been their experience that two targets were always better than one.
"I may be mistaken, but I distinctly remember telling you both goodnight half an hour ago," Miranda said sternly, eyes narrowed as she gazed at the girls' faces. "What, pray tell, are you doing down here and why are you peering around corners?"
"Well, we heard Andy come in and since we were still awake, we thought we'd ask her if she's okay. Since the incident, I mean. We haven't seen her since then. But then she didn't come back out, so we thought we'd better see if everything was okay," Caroline explained, the soft planes of her face and wide, round blue eyes giving her an air of innocence that her mother was fully aware was patently false.
"I see. Then why didn't you simply come in and ask her?" Miranda asked, one eyebrow nearly reaching her hairline as she gazed at her children.
"Well. We, um. Why is Andy here, anyway?" Cassidy had clearly decided that the best defense was a good offense.
Miranda didn't answer immediately and she felt the weight of three sets of eyes on her, two the same clear blue as her own, one of deep espresso. Her first instinct was to tell her daughter that it was really none of her business and that the fact that Miranda wanted Andy there was enough, but she quickly pushed the thought down. These were her children and given the upheaval of the divorce and the constant press coverage of their lives, they deserved a better answer.
"Andrea is here because I like having her around. I enjoy her company," Miranda said finally, her eyes focused on the twins, although she was aware of the glow that came to Andy's face at her words.
"But she works for you," Cassidy reminded, her voice dismissive, her expression puzzled. "You see her all day. Why do you want her here at night?"
Miranda sighed deeply, her eyes slipping shut for an instant. She had hoped that this conversation would be a long way off, after she had decided what exactly it was that she and Andrea were doing, after she had finally categorized and properly labeled all the wayward emotions currently cavorting around her brain. So much for hoping.
"Yes, Andrea does work for me and yes, I do see her all day. However, that isn't the same. During the day I'm extremely busy, as is Andrea, and so we do not have a chance to talk or simply sit quietly, as we were doing when you and your sister decided to conduct your late night surveillance. It is possible to work with someone and be friends with them, as well," Miranda tried to keep her tone patient and calm, sensing that this was a watershed moment in the future acceptance of Andrea by the girls. In whatever capacity she might appear. "Do you understand, Cassidy?"
The frown that creased Cassidy's forehead looked so much like the one she saw when she looked in the mirror, that Miranda was tempted to chuckle, seeing her own expression reflected back to her on that small, freckled face.
"So, Andy's your friend?" Caroline had decided that it was time to speak up before Cass said something she might regret, something along the lines of what came tumbling out of her mouth as Caroline shut one eye in a sympathetic wince.
"But you don't have friends, Mom." Cassidy's eyes went wide, wishing she could take the words back, as she watched her mother's lips purse into a thin line.
"Yes, she does," Andy said firmly, speaking for the first time since the twins had entered the room. "It's just that usually your mom is too busy to see people. That's why it's nice for her, and for me, to be able to spend a couple hours here in the evening. Kinda like when you come home from school, and even though you just left your friends, you call them or text them, because you were at school and in class and you couldn't really spend time with them and talk, right?"
Miranda felt the corners of her mouth turning up in a little smile, despite her irritation with Cassidy. Andrea was good. Miranda could see the light of comprehension dawn in both her daughter's eyes. Caroline even nodded her head almost amicably in agreement.
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Cassidy said begrudgingly. She didn't sound completely convinced and Miranda was certain that this would not be the last conversation that she and the girls would have about Andrea and her presence in the house and in Miranda's life, but it would suffice for now.
"So, I believe you two are supposed to be in bed," Miranda intoned firmly, brooking no argument.
The girls hugged her and said their goodnights, again. Caroline told Andy good night as well. Cassidy simply glared at Andrea and following Caroline, disappeared into the hall, the slap of her bare feet against the wood floor loud in the quiet house.
Sinking back against the cushion of the chair, Miranda smiled wryly at Andrea, who appeared a trifle unsettled, no doubt by the look that Cassidy had directed her way.
"I suppose that could have been worse," Miranda murmured, running a hand across her forehead, sweeping back the lock of hair that fell gracefully across it. "I'd love to declare it a victory, but I am afraid I am going to have to settle for a draw."
Andrea didn't answer, and Miranda could not see the expression on her face as Andy stared intently at the pattern on the thick Persian rug. Miranda was tempted to pick up the Book again and resume her corrections when Andrea finally raised her head, a frown pulling her eyebrows into a deep "v".
"Miranda. I know that you told the girls that we're friends, and we are, don't get me wrong, it's just that, well, I was hoping that we, I mean ," Andy began, her voice taking on a sing-song rhythm as she grew more nervous. Miranda interrupted her before she started babbling.
"Andrea, it's late and I haven't even begun to go over the Book yet. And to be honest, one conversation about the nature of our relationship is all that I can handle in one night. The girls are going to a sleep-over tomorrow night. We can discuss this, us, then, if that's alright with you?" Miranda thought that she did an admirable job in keeping the sudden rush of uncertainty that rolled over her out of her voice.
"Us?" Andrea squeaked, the word seeming to echo in the silence of the room.
"That is the proper plural pronoun when discussing yourself and another person, is it not?" For some reason, Miranda found herself unable to resist teasing Andrea, even when it was clear the girl was a bit frazzled. Andy should probably get used to it, Miranda thought dryly. "Tomorrow, Andrea. Now, I really must get this work done."
Andrea had reluctantly nodded her assent, although Miranda could almost see the words threatening at any minute to fall from those full lips.
"Tomorrow." Miranda had intoned, not glancing up from the five or six glaring errors on the page.
Now, staring at her computer screen and trying to force her brain to comprehend the various words and symbols, Miranda had to tamp down the feeling of dread that stole over her. Tomorrow had come and she had about five hours to figure out what the hell she was going to say.
Walking along 5th Avenue, Andy had a few near collisions: twice with other pedestrians, once with the already tangled leashes of a pack of dogs walking their dog walker, and once with a tree. Granted it was a small tree, but she had no doubt that, slamming into it, she would not emerge the winner. She managed to swerve at the last minute, sending her careening off the edge of the curb in four inch Christian Lous. Fearing for her own safety, she spotted a convenient Starbucks and made a beeline for it. She threw open the heavy door, sending an emerging tourist, clad head to toe in LL Bean, hurtling forward, hands and drinks, outstretched. Andy stepped out of the way just in time to avoid having a Venti Macchiato dumped all over the front of the lovely Versace suit she had borrowed from The Closet.
Murmuring her apologies, Andy slid inside, sinking gratefully onto a hard wooden chair, her gaze unfocused as she stared out the window at the steady stream of humanity washing down 5th Avenue. She needed to get herself together, to regain some focus, before she returned to Runway. To Miranda. Unfortunately, Miranda was the source of all of her lack of focus and trying to establish a stable foothold on the composure front was proving to be a nearly impossible task. She had barely slept last night, the conversation with Miranda and the twins running on constant playback in her mind.
She had known, intellectually, that things had changed, that the situation between Miranda and her was markedly different. But knowing things in one's head and knowing them in one's heart were two entirely disparate creatures, and Andy wasn't quite sure how to shut her heart up long enough for her head to get a word in edgewise. Because last night, Miranda Priestly had told her daughters that she liked having Andy around. She had actually told the girls that they were friends. She had used the words "our relationship" in reference to she and Andy and all of those words combined were making rational thought as difficult as walking in four inch heels.
Andy had been shocked by her own boldness with regard to Miranda, marching into the study and settling down each night without invitation, but it was as if she had not only been given permission to be daring, but that Miranda had all but demanded it. If, on occasion, the thought slid across her consciousness that she had come a long way to this blue lawn, and that her dream seemed all but within her grasp, like her literary counterpart, she, too, brushed aside the doubts and the questions and the improbabilities. However, unlike Gatsby, she wasn't going to simply stare longingly at the green light on Daisy's dock; she wanted this too much, wanted Miranda too much to wait for time or fate or even Miranda to make it happen.
Sighing, Andy slipped off one of her shoes, absentmindedly rubbing her foot along the back of her calf, the muscles sore from her less than graceful encounter with the tree and the curb. Thinking about Miranda was proving to be a danger to her health, not to mention her sanity. She knew she should get back, knew that Emily was no doubt sitting, legs scissored together, lips pinched, mood black and darkening with every second that passed as she waited desperately for Andy to return so that she could make a dash for the bathroom. Andy just couldn't find it in her heart to care at the moment.
Her heart had many other, much more important things to think about. Like the subtle, expensive scent of Miranda's perfume that wrapped around her with the same silken grip as a Hermes scarf. Like the way Miranda's blue eyes grew as soft and warm and clear as the ocean off St. John as she listened to Andy laugh. Like the silvered tones of her voice as she spoke to Andy in the muted light of the study, the rest of the world somewhere distant and unimportant.
A smile curled Andy's full lips as she remembered the passage from To The Lighthouse. She had pulled the costly first edition off Miranda's bookshelf a few nights ago and started reading, losing herself in the waves and the rocks and the cry of the gulls. And in Lily Briscoe's longing for Mrs. Ramsey. "Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsey one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge " Andy had longed to read it aloud to Miranda, as she did sometimes when a particular passage or article caught her fancy, but there was something too revealing, far too intimate in the words to speak them aloud, even if they belonged to Virginia Woolf and not to her.
She knew, had known, that her eyes would give her away. Not that they hadn't already, but the thought of speaking aloud that stunning desire, even the desire of someone no more or less real than the ink on the page, was simply too treacherous to imagine. Still, she knew that she needed to say them out loud, knew that if this fragile spark of affection, this nascent, delicate glimmer of something that just might resemble love was to survive, she was going to have to find the courage or the madness to tell Miranda Priestly how she felt. Because Andy was quite certain that loving Miranda was not for the faint of heart.
The rest of the day whizzed by like cars on the Jersey Turnpike, one long blur of color and motion. By the time Andy returned to the office, Miranda had left for a meeting and then dinner with Donatella. Emily didn't speak to her for the remainder of the day, her glare nearly matching Miranda's in intensity, with absolute loathing thrown in for good measure. Andy tried to muster a little sympathy and failed. Sometimes, Emily was more than even Andy could stomach, and today was definitely one of those times.
By six everyone had left for the day and Andy waited impatiently for the Book to arrive. The knot in her stomach that had first appeared three months ago had now grown to the size of a cantaloupe. She was by turns either burning up and sweating or nearly shivering from chills. When Simon from the Art department finally arrived carrying the Book nonchalantly down the hall, Andy had to fight the urge to knock him down and snatch it from his hands. The drive to Miranda's house was excruciatingly slow, the city streets long rivers of black and yellow, the glaring red of taillights casting a garish glow. With every block closer to the townhouse, Andy could feel the tension in her muscles grow tighter, until her whole body felt like a loaded spring, ready to launch into space at the slightest touch.
When the car finally arrived, Andy thanked Roy and wished him a nice weekend, her voice sounding oddly, surreally normal as she stepped into the crisp night air. The faint click of the lock in the door and the sound of her heels against the brilliantly polished parquet echoed like claps of thunder in her brain. She deliberately set the Book on the hall table, hung up the dry cleaning and, empty handed, made her way to the study, an eerie feeling of calm settling into her bones with each step. Miranda was standing in the middle of the room when she walked in, as if she had risen from her chair at the sound of the footsteps in the hall, the muscles around her eyes pulled tight, jaw clenched, blue eyes wary and cautious.
Andy stood silently for a moment, captivated as ever by the sculpted curves of Miranda's face, the perfect sweep of cheekbone. The long, slightly crooked angle of that patrician nose. The soft, delicate bow of lips. The fall of silver hair across her forehead. Every day the most gorgeous women in the world flitted in and out of Runway, but none of them could ever hope to be more beautiful than Miranda Priestly. At least in Andy's mind. Because, though it had taken her months to realize it, Miranda's beauty did not lie in the combined perfection of her features, but in the brilliance of the mind behind those glacial blue eyes. In the indomitable spirit that radiated off her like the heat of a pavement in August. In her strength, in her will, in her unwillingness to accept anything other than the best. In the flawed, infinitely complex woman who, like the mighty Oz, lived behind the curtain that was Miranda Priestly, Editor-in-chief of Runway.
"Andrea?" Clearly some of what Andy was feeling had registered on her face, as Miranda softly spoke her name, the question in it so heavy that Andy would not have been surprised to see it fall in the space between them, too weighted down with possibilities and impossibilities to fly.
"Do you remember telling me how exhausting it is to always have to be the one in charge, to always have to be the one to start a conversation?" Andy's voice was far steadier than she could have hoped, her eyes firmly holding Miranda's gaze.
Miranda simply nodded, one eyebrow quirking slightly at Andrea's words, apparently content for the moment to let the younger woman lead.
Andy forced her legs to move, each step eating away at the few feet that separated them, until she stood quite close to Miranda, close enough to inhale the rich, redolent scent of her perfume. She watched Miranda's eyes widen, but the older woman did not move, did not back away, her chin tilting up defiantly as Andy encroached upon her personal space.
"Well," Andy continued, her voice low and melodic, "I decided to take you fully at your word. I decided today that it was about time for me to stop allowing my nerves and my fears to control me. There are a few things that I want to tell you, a few things that I need for you to know, Miranda, regardless of the consequences."
All the emotions of the past year welled up inside Andy like a river overrunning its banks: all the anger, all the fascination, all the dread, all the excitement, all the longing and the unhappiness and the fear and the faint glimmers of joy. She had rehearsed in her head what she wanted to say, what she needed to tell Miranda, but the words washed away with the flood waters, and she was left with only sensation.
A slight frown of impatience appeared on Miranda's face when nothing more was forthcoming from Andrea.
"Were you planning on sharing this information sometime this century or were you waiting for the planets to align, Andrea?" Miranda couldn't keep the faint waspish tone from creeping into her voice.
As if snapped out of a spell, Andy laughed, her head tilting back on that swan-like neck, a wide, happy grin splitting her face, her smile growing wider at the roll of Miranda's eyes.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure they already have," Andy chuckled, her hands coming up to gently grasp Miranda's elbows as she took that last step forward, tilting her head down, her eyes focused on the soft curve of Miranda's lips as she brushed them with her own.
Slowly applying more pressure, Andy moved her lips against Miranda's, feeling the warm, wet softness of them, tracing the line of her fuller bottom lip, dipping gently into each corner, inhaling Miranda's breath into her lungs, tasting the mellow, oaken flavor of Scotch and a deeper, richer, infinitely sweeter taste that was Miranda. Andy could hear the sound of their breathing in the stillness of the room, hear the surprised, slightly helpless sound at the back of Miranda's throat as she kissed her, feel the gathering warmth of Miranda's body pressed so lightly against her own.
Andy's previous belief that knowing that Miranda cared for her was well worth such a minor thing like dying, suddenly flew out the window. She would have missed this and that simply would have been unacceptable.
After what might have been minutes or hours, Andy raised her head, watching in bemused adoration as Miranda's eyes slowly blinked open, the blue a shade darker and more clouded than Andy had ever seen it.
"That was all I had to say," Andy murmured, captivated by the shifting colors in Miranda's eyes and the expressions that flitted across them like birds across a summer sky. Uncertainty, desire, doubt, determination. All came and went before Miranda finally spoke.
"That was all, Andrea? Remarkably concise for a woman known for her loquaciousness," Miranda's voice had dropped to a range that made Andy's toes curl in her five hundred dollar heels.
"I know you hate it when I babble," Andy managed to say, her mind still reeling from the captivating softness of Miranda's lips under hers.
"True." Miranda gently disengaged her arms from Andrea's grip and stepped back, one hand unsteadily brushing her hair back off her forehead. The evening was not going exactly according to plan, although to be honest, Miranda was finding it remarkably difficult to be upset. She had been anticipating a long, tortuous conversation about emotions, a topic that had never been, and never would be, Miranda's strong suit. She had not expected Andrea to be so assertive, or so clear in her intentions. Perhaps some of her apprehension about the entire situation was misplaced. Or at the very least, inflated.
"However, as much as I enjoyed your concision, we do need to talk. On Monday, you will need to contact HR and have them send up a few suitable applications. You need to begin the search for a new assistant to replace you. For heaven's sake, do try to find someone with more than two brain cells to rub together. I find it impossible to believe that there is not one person who has applied at Elias-Clarke who is capable of following simple directions," Miranda said distractedly, turning away to walk toward the window, hands coming up to finger the edge of the curtains.
Miranda's head swung around at Andrea's quick, ragged gasp of breath. The girl's eyes had gone wider than Miranda had imagined possible. The color had drained from her face.
"Miranda, are you firing me?" Andy managed to make her mouth move, the words spilling out breathlessly.
"Of course I am. Andrea, you cannot possibly imagine that I could allow this to continue between us while you were still in my employ? And to be precise, you're not being fired. Simply encouraged to move on to better things, the things that you truly wish to do. Writing. Saving the world." Though the words themselves were not particularly kind, Miranda's tone was.
"But. I like my job," Andy protested, her voice sounding for all the world to Miranda like that of a sleepy, recalcitrant child refusing to admit that she wanted to go to bed.
"No, Andrea, you don't. You may like aspects of the job. You may, in fact, even like me on occasion, but you still care little for fashion and I know that, if you were completely honest with me and with yourself, you would admit that you still regard the entire enterprise with little more than a soupcon of contempt," Miranda explained patiently, crossing back to take Andrea by the hand and lead her to the couch.
"I don't regard it with contempt, Miranda. I know what you do, I know how much money and how many jobs are involved. I know that an entire industry relies on your opinions and what you choose to publish in Runway," Andy responded rather fervently, her hand gripping Miranda's tightly. "And I promise you, I like you far more than occasionally."
Miranda snorted softly at the look on Andrea's face, the earnestness of those brown eyes boring straight through her.
"Yes, well, despite your protests to the contrary, we both know that this, that Runway, is not what you wish to do for the rest of your career. Nor should it be."
"I don't want not to see you everyday. I don't want to give up our time alone in the car, or even in the elevator," Andy said quietly, even as the realistic part of her mind registered that Miranda was right. Miranda was almost always right.
"Andrea. Be reasonable. Aside from issues of sexual harassment, how long do you think that any relationship, particularly one in its infancy, could be sustained under the strain of employer/employee interactions, ten to twelve hours a day? I am still your boss, in a position of authority, able to reward or punish you for your job performance, or quite frankly, anything else that might strike my fancy. That is not the proper climate to investigate feelings nor to determine if what we do feel for each other is sustainable beyond the rare environment in which it first took root." Miranda reached out and took Andrea's other hand in hers, squeezing them both gently for emphasis.
"So, the choice is yours. Either start sending out resumes and find me someone competent to replace you, or stay. But if you stay, Andrea, this ends here. You will be my assistant and nothing more. No late night conversations and most definitely no more concise explanations from you." Miranda paused, her eyes dropping to the slender hands resting in her own. Her expression grew pensive and cautious. "You may as well know, if you have not determined this already: I am not a particularly nice person, Andrea. Clearly, having worked for me for a year, you know what I am capable of and you know that I am not inclined to overt acts of kindness or affection. I've been told that personal relationships with me bear a striking resemblance to navigating a minefield. Proceed at your own risk. I am leaving this decision to you."
Andy was becoming quite inured to the sensation of the ground shifting under her feet, although, in this instance, it was a substantial, life-altering shift. She knew she should probably take a few days to think it over, to contemplate all the possibilities, all the ramifications of this decision. But seeing the expression hidden in the depths of those eyes she had come to adore, she knew she didn't need a few days. Or even a few hours.
She could have this, all of this. This Miranda, the one sitting holding her hands, her expression regretful and tender. She could have the quiet talks, the soft kisses, and the promise of more, all with the real possibility that it would not last, that Miranda, being Miranda, would find some way to destroy it, as she seemed wont to do with every other relationship in her life. She could have the missed dinners, the forgotten phone calls, the silence, the guilt, the anger, the betrayal. Or she could have nothing, because Runway without this Miranda, without her Miranda, would be unbearable for them both.
Taking a deep breath, Andrea met Miranda's eyes, seeing the uncertainty and the questions behind the unconcerned screen of self-preservation.
"Just for the record, I think you are a good person. Behind the persona of the Dragon Lady, you are, Miranda. I mean, do you think so little of me that you truly think that I could possibly fall in love with someone as terrible as you describe? I know I couldn't," Andy stated firmly, her gaze never leaving Miranda's face, willing her to accept the truth and sincerity of her words. "I'll call HR on Monday and get things started. I'll start revamping my resume tomorrow and see what's out there. I'm assuming I'll be getting a decent recommendation, right?"
As Andrea's words filtered in through the protective shielding Miranda had thrown up, she could feel all the tension start to seep out of her body, the muscles in her face relaxing as a slow, slightly incredulous smile curved her lips.
"Yes, Andrea. I think that I can probably manage a decent recommendation. Mind you, I may have to exaggerate a bit, but I will do my best," Miranda teased, that light that Andy adored twinkling brightly in her eyes.
"You know, I just remembered a few other things that I wanted to tell you. I must have forgotten them earlier. If I promise to be concise again, would you like to hear them?" Andy grinned, one of those moments of transient joy sweeping over her, as fierce as a winter gale.
"Well, I suppose. If you can assure me that you'll get right to the point and not dawdle," Miranda smirked, already leaning forward to meet Andy's lips. She hadn't said half of what she had planned to say tonight, but there was time now. Now that she knew how Andrea felt, there would be time to talk about the rest, to deal with the mind-numbing myriad of decisions and repercussions. For right now though, this was enough. This cold Autumn night, this warm room, and this amazing woman kissing her with what might just be love.
Tomorrow Miranda could worry about the rest.
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