Actions

Work Header

This Must be the Place

Chapter Text

Andy sat and crossed her legs, more nervous than usual. That blinking red light used to always cause a flutter in her belly, but for a long time, it hadn't bothered her. A colleague once told her, “Try and convince yourself that the nerves are really excitement and you’ll be fine.” It took about six months for the words to sink in, but eventually they had. Only her extended time away from the lens had brought back her initial anxiety. Well, that and the prospect of the topics of conversation Derek was planning on bringing up tonight.

This was different than her usual reporting. It was a sit down interview with a well-respected television personality who had chosen her for a lengthy segment. She'd been away from the camera for a while, but even before, she'd rarely spoken about herself on camera. She shifted in discomfort, all the while refusing to let her smile disappear.

A cheerful makeup artist came at her with powder for a last minute touch-up, and Andy dutifully tilted her head toward the light. When she was done, Andy glanced at Derek. “You ready, Andy?” he asked, his dark skin even and smooth, his beard freshly trimmed.

“Sure, I’m good to go. Just say when.”

He grinned. “When.”

---

Miranda leaned back against the luxurious array of pillows and sipped her tea. So far it had not lived up to expectations; she had not rested any better having drunk a small pot of it before trying to sleep. Then again, she had not slept worse, so that was something. She sighed, and turned on the flat panel monitor that hung on the wall. The house was empty now, though the girls would be home in less than a month for Christmas break. There would be no evening phone calls, since Friday meant they were both probably out socializing. As much as Miranda had anticipated some peace after the long week, tonight felt lonelier than expected. Normally one or the other called, Caroline from Poughkeepsie, Cassidy from Providence. She felt proud that they’d each done well apart, but it was sad to imagine either of them as lonely as she. They’d been a trio for so long that life had changed a great deal this past September.

She sighed, and clicked through her recordings for the week.

Hours later she’d worked her way through two news programs and an old documentary on typography when she scrolled to Derek Halpern’s show, recording live. The show was hit or miss, depending on the guests, but it was worth a shot. The first personality was a novelist Miranda didn’t care for, but that segment was nearly over. When the next guest appeared, Miranda paused the DVR quite suddenly as she recognized the face staring back at her.

Andrea Sachs. Rather, Andy Sachs, who still held onto her boyish moniker. Andy, who had spent nine years transforming from a youthful naïf with a stubborn streak to an award-winning journalist who’d reported from some of the most dangerous, war-torn regions in the world. Miranda had followed her career in a silent, curious way as she became more well-known. No one ever mentioned Andy’s name in Miranda’s presence, which she found somewhat amusing, but then Andrea had abandoned her job at Miranda’s side in the most obvious way possible long ago. Looking at her now, it made sense. The girl, or rather woman, had guts. Miranda admired anyone who had guts, even if they acted like an idiot now and then.

That said, Miranda was shocked to see her tonight. Seven months prior, Andrea had dropped off the radar after a witnessing the attempted murder of a Democratic congressman, gunned down at a public library on a perfectly innocuous Thursday afternoon. Before that, Andrea had been a globetrotting foreign correspondent, and Miranda had seen her in the typical reporter garb of wrinkled button-down shirt and jacket, occasionally topped off with ill-fitting but necessarily protective headgear. She had remained as lovely and wide-eyed as she had been as an upstart, even with little in the way of makeup. But tonight, she was far more beautiful than Miranda recalled. In high definition her skin was flawless, perfectly sculpted features almost too large to fit her petite face. The collection of mouth, nose, cheekbones and eyes made for a compelling package.

But her expression was different now, and it made Miranda feel an intense sadness. There was something in her eyes that spoke of things no human should ever experience. As much as this was the same young woman who'd run for her coffee and carried her dry cleaning, the subtle melancholy in the tilt of her mouth was unfamiliar, and it caused a little squeeze in Miranda's chest.

This would be worth spending a few minutes on tonight, certainly. She’d almost been tired before she’d found the program, but the brief spike of adrenaline put off any hope of sleep now.

---

Andy didn’t mind all the questions about the stories she covered, starting all the way back with her intro into investigative journalism at Northwestern. She easily navigated inquiries of how she made the decision to go on camera (“It was do or die. Print was on its way out, and I just prayed I’d never accidentally curse or fall on my face.”) She spoke calmly of her lack of personal life, how she’d once wanted kids, but not anymore. After only a little prodding, she discussed the event that had changed her life, and had no regrets over her vaguely canned responses. She even addressed her lengthy sabbatical, although she glossed over the PTSD, the sleepless nights, the twice weekly therapy sessions that had kept her from losing her mind since that day so many months ago.

She didn't talk about the drinking that she wasn't doing much of anymore. She didn't mention the arguments with her bosses over coming back to work, or whether she'd be back at all. She in particular didn't address the Prozac she took daily, or the Ativan she carried around in case of panic. Maybe one day she'd talk publicly about her own mental health issues, but not yet.

When Derek asked who her greatest influences were, Andy's brain stuttered to a stop. Derek hadn’t brought that one up in the pre-interview. She stared at him silently for a stretch that felt as though it went on for at least a minute. “Gosh,” she said. “I mean, Murrow, and Cronkite, of course. Rachel Maddow, Amanpour, the obvious choices. My own folks, who encouraged me from the beginning. You know, my mom wrote for her college paper, but she put reporting aside when she had kids. Ended up running a local printing business that’s still open, if you can believe it. But she always imagined I’d—I don’t know—live the dream for her, even though Dad was hoping for law school.” She looked straight at the camera. “Sorry, Dad,” she added with a little grin. “I might’ve inherited a gene of some sort, a desire to understand, and learn, and uncover the truth.” Derek nodded, but he seemed to be waiting for more.

A name bubbled up out of Andy’s mind, one that surfaced when she thought about this question privately. There was no harm in saying it aloud now after so many years and so much water under the bridge. She’d never know. This show probably had fourteen viewers in New Jersey watching, so other than the fact that her dad might never forgive her, nobody would care. “There’s one more, which might sound kind of funny, considering who it is, but life is like that, isn’t it?” She heard her voice going high and nervous, and reminded herself to focus. “It’s Miranda Priestly.”

Derek’s expression was comical. “From Runway magazine?” he asked.

She nodded. “I don’t usually put it on my CV, but I worked as Miranda’s second assistant for a short period of time at the beginning of my career.”

He laughed, and Andy felt miffed. She didn’t know if she was more insulted for herself or Miranda. “What does working at a fashion magazine have to do with becoming a world-class reporter? They don’t quite fit together in my mind.” He stroked his chin, and waited intently for her answer.

With a shrug, she began. “Well, it was less about the job, and more of what it taught me, ultimately. I learned a lot about myself. Namely, if I wanted to achieve something badly enough, I had to will it to happen. I discovered I could be tenacious at solving problems. From the most insignificant ones to the biggest crises you could imagine—well, biggest in fashion terms—I approached them all with equal attention. It served me well. Still does.”

“What was it about Miranda then that influenced you so much?”

Andy took a breath, and smiled. “You know, nine years ago, I’d have said something very different. Maybe even that she was everything I didn’t want to be. But time changes one’s perspective, and God knows mine has changed. Today, I consider Miranda an extremely dedicated, thoughtful, focused individual. She wants the best, and demands it of those around her. Back then, that was hard for me to take. I was,” Andy chuckled here, “shall we say, insolent, and one day when I was feeling more self-righteous than usual, I quit. Now I look on that moment with shame, and use it to remind myself on how not to react when confronted with something that makes me uncomfortable.”

Derek nodded. “That’s very interesting, and unexpected. Go on.”

“I marvel at what she’s accomplished, taking a dying format and forging it into something new and vibrant. But on a more personal note, she once gave me a compliment that I refused to recognize as such for a long time, and now I do. I wish things had worked out differently.” The words slipped from Andy’s lips like water, and she wanted to stop talking about this, because it was so not important. But the thoughts had been there, simmering, and now that they’d started flowing it was hard to shut the faucet off.

Derek looked at her suspiciously. “You mean you’re not going to tell us what she said to you?”

Andy actually looked around, gazing briefly at the camera crew and production assistants on the set. “I suppose I can—she once told me that she saw a lot of herself in me. At that moment, I didn’t realize how much those words would come to mean to me. I won’t go into details, but like I said, I was a dumb kid. After a while I forgave myself, and I hope Miranda did as well, though she had every right not to.”

Leaning back in his comfortable chair, Derek asked, “What do you think Miranda Priestly would say to you now, if she were here?”

Andy laughed. That question she could answer without a problem. “I think she’d say, ‘What was your name again?’”

---

The next morning, Miranda waited for someone to mention the interview.

No one did.

She had the strangest feeling that no one even knew it had aired, much less that Miranda had been mentioned. She doubted her staff ran home and watched intelligent television programs often; they were all obsessed with Buzzfeed listicles and dog rescue videos. But as much as Miranda embraced the new, she remained interested in traditional media.

She wondered if Nigel had seen it, and what he would say. She might have to call him, just to find out. It seemed silly, but she felt compelled to discuss it. She didn’t know how to feel, or how to stop thinking about it.

By 2:00 she could wait no longer. She picked up the phone herself and dialed his number.

“This is W, Nigel Kipling’s office,” came the chipper voice.

“This is Miranda Priestly.”

There was a short pause. “Hold one moment, Miranda,” came the stunned answer. Rarely did Miranda call anyone herself, but she enjoyed the little thrill it gave her to shock someone now and again.

She heard a click as Nigel picked up. “Miranda, don’t scare my assistant, it doesn’t become you,” he drawled.

“Oh please, I didn’t say a thing.”

He sighed, the sound familiar to her ears. “You don’t have to, dearest, and you know it.” He chuckled and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“I need to know if you watched Derek Halpern last night.”

“Uh, not usually on my roster. Why? Did somebody bitchslap you on cable and not give you advance warning?”

Quickly Miranda pasted a URL into Slack and sent it to Nigel. “Open that link.” She’d found the interview on the show’s website that morning and watched it again, with the door to her office closed. It caused the same odd feeling in her chest that it had the night before. Sort of a tug in Andrea’s direction. If Andrea had not chosen to thrust herself into the public eye on camera as a career, Miranda believed she wouldn’t have spared her much thought since her departure. But she would never know now, would she? Andrea had become an important journalist, along with growing more beautiful as she’d aged. Miranda had always been drawn to beauty in all forms; this was just another example of it.

Besides, Miranda was too old to inexplicably develop some sort of crush on someone she hadn’t seen in nine years, give or take. A woman, at that. She’d had her flirtations over the years with the fairer sex, but nothing had come of it, nor would it, at her age.

It embarrassed her, so she tried to relax while Nigel watched the video on his computer. Miranda could hear a few words over the line. She’d forgotten how long the video was before her name was mentioned, but the moment it happened, she knew. “Oh,” Nigel said. There was more dialogue, followed by an equally muted, “Well. Hmm.”

Neither of them spoke for a few moments, but Nigel broke the silence. “That was nice. Quite a surprise, I’d say. I remember hearing what happened to that congressman; I didn't realize she was there.” There was a pause. “She certainly has grown up.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. She didn’t know what she’d expected from Nigel, but she’d hoped for more insight than that. “Yes, well. That’s all. I just wanted to know if you’d seen it—”

“What did you want me to say, Miranda?” he asked. “Honestly. I’m curious.”

Exhaling heavily, she replied, “I don’t know.” She felt deflated. Maybe she wanted Nigel to tell her there was some sort of message in the words. One only he could interpret. He’d always understood her better than Miranda had.

“I didn’t realize you’d left such an impression. I thought once she took off on her first location assignment, all memory of the fashion industry would be forgotten. It’s a little…” he trailed off.

“What?” Miranda demanded.

“Romantic,” he finished. “Sweet. In two minutes she gave you better press than anything that’s happened in the last two years. And there was nothing in it for her. I guess all that time on the job didn’t make her any less nice. She was a good kid. Still is.”

Miranda had watched some of the harrowing stories Andrea had presented over the years. She was not a kid, and hadn’t been for a long, long time. Regardless, Nigel was right about the rest of it. “Well, yes. All right. That’s all.”

“Oh, don’t even, Miranda. You wanted to talk about it, so talk.”

She stared at the ceiling. “I simply wanted your take on it. I wanted you…” to call her, and see how she is. “Nothing. I’ve got to go.”

“Miranda—”

She hung up.

---

Andy thought it probably wasn’t that smart of her to roam the empty streets of Manhattan this late, no matter how nice the neighborhood was. Little Italy was quiet after midnight, so she hoofed it to the N at Canal Street and went north to Times Square. There were always hundreds of people there, surrounded by the pulsing, ever-changing LED screens that had taken the place of old-fashioned bulbs that once graced the Great White Way. Andy missed the old-fashioned lights; the city looked so different now that she was back full time.

During daylight hours, she rarely came to this particular corner of the city, but sleep was elusive. She’d hoped that being encircled by humanity would do something to help—make her feel less lonely, make her tired, give her an idea of something she could do unrelated to the work that she wasn’t supposed to be doing.

She still had a lot of trouble sleeping, ever since that day. She had trouble being awake, too, but sleep was worse. Her mindfulness training was having a positive impact on her waking moments, but she didn’t usually launch into her thoughtful breathing techniques while asleep, unfortunately. The Prozac had also helped, even though she wished she didn’t need it. Jane said it was normal to think she was strong enough to go without, but then Jane reminded her that she’d seen someone get shot, and had looked down the barrel of a gun herself. Jane told her that lots of people who took Prozac hadn’t had a mentally unbalanced man try to shoot them, only to have the gun jam just before he’d been tackled by an unobtrusive security detail that Andy hadn’t known was there.

Over the years, she’d spent months in Afghanistan and Iraq, always thinking this could be it; this could be the day her convoy would drive over a mine and she’d be toast. For some reason, attending a very friendly meet-and-greet at a small community library on a sunny spring day was the thing that unraveled Andy to the point of considering abandoning her career altogether.

Andy sat on the enormous, glowing steps near the TKTS booth and marveled at the strangeness that was the center of town now. The lights were brighter, the crowds thicker, the traffic louder. She sipped the foul-tasting tea that was supposed to help her relax; valerian might work for some folks, but not Andy.

“Hey,” a voice said sharply, and Andy jerked, spilling the tea on her jeans. “Are you Andy Sachs? You are, aren’t you. Oh my God, this is awesome. Will you do a selfie with me? I live in Wales—have you been there? If not, you should totally check it out. It’s fabulous.” The accent was American, and the guy seemed friendly enough, and other people were starting to pause and peer inquisitively as he fluttered around her.

“Sure, I can do that,” she said gamely. The guy handed his phone to another passerby and got right up next to her, putting his arm around her. She squirmed for a moment, but smiled brightly into the lens. If there was one thing she’d learned in the past five years, it was how to smile pretty for the camera.

“Me too!” said a blonde girl barely out of her teens. The first man stood to depart with a thumbs up, and the young woman leaned down with an eager expression. “Will you sign this, and be in a picture too? I’m a huge fan,” she gushed. “I want to be a journalist just like you.”

Andy signed what looked like a napkin with a pen someone handed to her. She met the girl’s eyes. “Are you going to school?”

The girl nodded. “Tisch. Double majoring in journalism and social and cultural analysis. I have two more years.”

Andy handed her the napkin and urged her close. “That’s great. Here, where’s your phone?”

A young man held it up and waved at them both. “This is amazing,” he said. “She loves you. Okay, ready?”

Andy smiled again, and waited for the annoying android double flash. A few more fans followed, and she signed and posed with a strange sort of pleasure. It was one of the first times anything like this had happened to her; while she’d been abroad, she either went unrecognized or was ignored. But this was the US, and she was a well-known personality. There were worse things.

The whole affair didn’t take long. When it was over, she felt as though she’d done something nice, and was cheered.

She chose to walk home to Elizabeth Street, taking Broadway all the way down.

---

Miranda glared at the telephone on her desk. “Excuse me?” she said sharply.

There was a short pause before the speakerphone engaged again. “We saw Andy’s appearance on Derek Halpern’s show recently, and thought you were the perfect person to ask,” the voice squawked. “We have other options, but you’re at the top of our list. I know it’s a lot Ms. Priestly, but we are all convinced Andy would be incredibly moved if you could present the award.”

With a roll of her eyes, Miranda reminded them, “We haven’t seen one another in person for many years. Surely you could find someone else.”

There was a short burst of laughter from multiple voices on the other end of the line. “Well, certainly, we could. We have, in fact. But again, it’s because of what Andy said herself. We hadn’t thought of you up until that moment. We didn’t even know she’d worked for Runway, it was so long ago.”

There was a veiled insult somewhere in there, but Miranda chose to ignore it. Weeks had gone by since the interview, and her interest in Andrea had settled into a distant fascination. She remained compelled, one could say, to know more of Andrea’s life, then and now. “How long do I have to decide?” she finally asked.

“We’ll need an answer by Friday. And we can write your speech, so don’t worry about that. Just give me a call—your assistant has the number.”

They’d write the speech? Absurd. Why on earth did they even need Miranda in the first place? “Very well. You’ll hear from me by then.” She stabbed the speakerphone button and stared at the glass wall of her office.

Miranda gave herself five minutes or so to convince herself out of what she had already decided to do, which was say yes. Just because she was curious, of course. At the end of the five minutes, she glanced at her calendar and added the appointment, scheduled in three and a half weeks. It was a Friday, which was unfortunate, but she could manage it. The girls would be home a little over a week later for their winter break, and the Runway holiday party would follow soon after that. Miranda had left herself out of the planning for the most part this season; she was less interested, or worried, than usual.

She and the twins would make an appearance, smile for the cameras, and leave. The girls only showed up nowadays because Miranda liked them to. They had turned out beautifully; all willowy limbs and elegant faces and auburn hair. They could have modeled, if interested, but neither cared to. They’d had enough of the spotlight for a dozen children, and enjoyed the anonymity of the Ivy League, where at least half the other attendees were the offspring of successful, occasionally famous parentage.

But before Miranda saw them, she would have to write a speech about Andrea Sachs.

She opened her Mac and stared at a blank page for a few moments. “Emily! Coffee.”

A moment passed, and she heard the glass door to her office swing open. “Do you mean me, Miranda?”

Miranda raised her eyebrows at a face that did not, in fact, belong to Emily. Adhira’s dark eyes watched her steadily, with patience. She was tall and slender, like Emily was, and had a distinct sense of fashion, like Emily had. Not like Andrea.

“Yes, of course,” Miranda said. “I was thinking of someone else,” she said, though she didn’t owe any sort of explanation. She felt foolish. Coffee would help focus her. It always did.

---

The car inched up the road toward the venue as snow fell on Manhattan. It was a gorgeous night, crisp and cold, but Andy wished the slush from the week before had already melted. She truly hoped she could avoid splashes; this was the first new dress and pair of shoes she’d bought in a while. The Blahniks were a sleek, eggplant wonder, and the last thing she wanted was a stained pair of shoes as she took the stage and accepted an award for the work she’d done over the past few years.

There would be a lot of familiar faces around, people she hadn’t seen for ages. The women who ran the event had promised that her table would be filled with people she knew, not that Andy cared much. She could make conversation with anyone, but it would be nice to be surrounded by friends for a change. Even acquaintances. Anything would be preferable to solitude. Other than her twice weekly visits to her therapist, life was remarkably empty of social occasions. She had made some phone calls, and people were receptive, but lunches were hard to schedule in December with so many people out of town and hurtling toward holiday deadlines.

Her insomnia was no better, but it was no worse either. The dreams were consistent; she’d wake from one after a couple hours of sleep, and that was usually the end of her rest. She hit the streets after that, usually steering toward Chelsea. It just made her feel more human to be around people.

Tonight would be different though, and that made Andy a little uncertain. She was generally comfortable being the center of attention, but there was still a level of anxiety that she hadn’t really considered. She was not afraid of people looking at her, watching her, but for one reason or another, she was unaccountably nervous.

“We’re here, Miss Sachs,” the driver said. “There’s a carpet out. I’ll be right round to get you.”

“Thanks, Alastair,” she said, craning her neck to see the crowd. It wasn’t bad; just bright lights and well-dressed members of the entertainment and media. “Thanks,” she said again as he helped her out of the car. He was right—it was dry under the tent, and she had no trouble navigating the few steps to the press line. An explosion of flashbulbs went off in her face. She spent only a few moments posing; she might have been receiving an award tonight, but she was far from the best-dressed woman around. Instead, she took a deep breath as she approached the first reporter, who waited with wide eyes at the edge of the carpet.

It only took twenty minutes to make her way through the line. Her shoes weren’t the most comfortable, and it was only so enjoyable to answer the same questions over and over. “How are you feeling tonight?” “What are you looking forward to most about the ceremony?” “Who are you most excited to see here?” And so on, and so forth. But it was part of the job, and Andy was just glad she could walk in, sit down and get a drink. A little one, since she did have to make a speech, but a splash of wine was okay now and then.

Inside, the ballroom was elegant and packed to the gills with people dressed in formal gowns. Andy was pleased with her choice of something that fit the bill; a pretty knee length Phillip Lim, accessorized by a Prada handbag she’d pulled out of the back of her closet. It was woefully out of date, but a classic was a classic, right?

“Hi, Andy, wonderful to see you,” came a voice from the entryway. Eleanor Jones led her into the ballroom, talking all the while. “You look gorgeous, of course. Great hair, did you just cut it? I think it’s fabulous. And that dress, who are you wearing? Oh, don’t worry about it, I’m sure someone will tell me later. Not that it matters, really. I mean, fashion is no big deal, but I must say, you’ve really got it together. You could be a model. Did you ever think about trying that line of work? I suppose not—” Andy tuned out, checking in briefly as Eleanor droned on. It was comforting to be asked questions that she never had to answer.

When they reached her table, there were seven seats. “You know Jess Donovan, of course, from your days at The New Yorker—” Andy leaned in and shook hands with Jess, who had not changed a bit in five years. “And Therese from The Times—” Andy made it around the table in short order, reintroducing herself to people she hadn’t seen in a long time. She would once have considered all of these women friends; now, they were just faces. Memories. Other things had swelled up and overtaken everything. It made her a little sad and lonely for the crew she’d traveled with in the Middle East, but it had been a while since she’d connected with any of them.

To her surprise, there was an empty space at the table next to her, but there was no place setting or chair. Maybe someone had clued Eleanor in that Andy was claustrophobic these days.

A waiter appeared at the table and offered her a drink—she kept it simple with a glass of white. The women made polite conversation around the table, congratulating Andy on her work. “I’m really amazed at the work you did in Iraq, Andy. How incredible that your near miss was in the Hudson Valley rather than the red zone, right?” Jess asked, laughing lightly. The other women followed suit.

Andy flinched, stunned at the oblivious nature of her attitude. Somehow she kept her smile pasted on. “Just lucky I guess,” she said.

Therese leaned her elbows on the table. “I haven’t seen much of you lately. Are you handling local politics?” she asked.

“Sort of,” Andy said, hoping to stay on the more superficial side of the conversation. “Mostly I needed a break. I’m writing a lot. It’s been nice to be off camera for a while.”

“Your reports really impressed me, here and abroad,” Therese said, leaning forward and touching Andy’s forearm. “Especially being on the ground in the middle of the political crisis a few years ago in Thailand? I know there are problems with the coverage in volatile locations.”

“I left the technology to the professionals,” Andy replied. “I can do standard tech work in a pinch but my producer was a rock star.”

Nadia Jackson, who Andy thought was still at CNN.com, nodded. “I hear you. A friend of mine who was in Egypt too said there were more than a few blacked out hours till the internet came back up. All she had was her satellite phone.”

Andy nodded. “Yeah. How’s it going at CNN?” she asked, and the conversation turned away from her, and moved on to the lives of the reporters in New York. She envied them the simplicity of their day to day, though she knew that was only on the surface. Anything could happen, anywhere. Tomorrow, one or all of them could land in the middle of a news story, whether they were covering it professionally or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was still the lingering fear, even after all these months, and the taste was bitter at the back of her throat. Once the assumption of safety fled, normal life wasn’t normal anymore. Nothing was, and there was little to ground her in familiarity or comfort. The city had lost some of its charm at the holidays, which would have been hard to imagine were she not experiencing it herself.

Sitting there amongst kind women who wanted only to honor her, Andy felt tears prick at her eyes. She belonged nowhere. A glass of wine appeared at her right, and although she wanted badly to down the whole thing in one long gulp, she forced herself to sip, and smile.

The ceremony began not long afterward. Andy checked the program; her award was near the beginning. “Andy Sachs; Individual Achievement Award; Outstanding News Series— American Independent Digital/BBC World Service.” While the award was specific to her coverage of Congressman Saticoy’s shooting, she hoped she would not be expected to address it directly in her speech. Oddly, the program didn’t list who was giving out her award. She wondered who it might be.

She had worked her way through half the glass of wine when her award was announced. “And now to present the next award, we have a legend in our midst, someone we all know, Andy more than most. Let’s give a round of applause to one of the most successful, and certainly best known Editors in Chief of both the 20th and 21st centuries: Miranda Priestly.”

Andy seemed to physically lose her breath, and for a moment, little lights flashed before her eyes as she trembled in her seat. Breathe, she reminded herself. Fainting would do her no favors. She blinked, and blinked again. It was still true—Miranda was there, walking steadily across the stage, regal and stunning as ever.

If Andy didn’t know for a fact that nine years had truly gone by since they’d last spoken, she would believe that no time at all had passed in the world of Miranda Priestly. Her hair was the identical beautiful color, tinged with a little less pepper at the base of her neck. Porcelain skin, a good deal of it on display, looked timeless and smooth. Her dress seemed to catch every color from the lights at once before settling into a gunmetal gray when she stood before the podium. Most of all, her faint smile, the one that exuded a rare combination of approval and humor, was there for everyone to see.

Andy’s mouth hung open. “Guess you didn’t expect that,” said Therese softly at her side.

“I sure didn't,” Andy whispered.

---

Miranda slid her glasses on and glanced down into the audience. It was lit enough that she could immediately spot Andrea at a table down near the front and center of the room. She was lovely, even with a stunned, vacant expression on her face. So, they managed to keep it quiet after all. Miranda found that gratifying. She did enjoy a good surprise.

Miranda peered down at her notes. It had been a painstaking process to write even this brief speech. Now, staring at a few hundred people in such a public space, she felt it would expose her in a most unnerving fashion, but it was too late. She took a breath, and began. “It’s wonderful to see so many women honored for their outstanding work in the media, and I have great respect for all of you.” That was not entirely true, but one had to make concessions when speaking to the masses. “Tonight I have the pleasure of presenting an award to an exceptional woman, someone whose career I’ve followed for many years. Long before her name became a household one, I’ve kept a close eye on Andrea, or rather Andy, Sachs. I’ve watched her evolve from a confident, somewhat naive city reporter into a brilliant journalist covering world events. Her skill allows her to cover any story from anywhere under the most egregious circumstances.

“Surprisingly, despite her time living abroad, it was an incident of devastating violence on American soil that thrust her more than ever into the spotlight. Fortunately, Andy and the other involved parties survived this act, and further light was shed on untreated mental illness in the United States. Her subsequent reporting will be remembered, arguably more than any other work she’s done, for years to come.

“Andy’s single-minded determination to pursue the truth in the aftermath produced remarkable results. She would say her contributions are small in the scheme of this constant, daily, American tragedy; I would say that the illumination she cast on the situation involving our country’s mental health, and lack of attention to it, is immeasurable. Her continued attention to gun control, with her very personal experience, offers perspective in the news media that few others have to offer.

“Tonight, I look at Andy, and marvel at what one woman with a purpose can accomplish. She is driven, she is trustworthy, she is a true believer in the power of communication to make positive change. I am lucky to have known her, even in passing. I had very high hopes for Andy Sachs, and I can say honestly that I have never been more proud of her than I am at this moment.”

The room was silent, and she glanced around at the faces that stared back at her. “Congratulations, Andrea.” She nodded once at Andrea, who rose from her seat as applause swelled around them. Miranda watched her, their eyes never disengaging as she climbed the stairs on the arm of an escort who appeared and vanished without a word.

“Thank you,” Andrea whispered as she leaned in to kiss Miranda’s cheek. Her hand touched Miranda’s arm for a moment, caressing it very briefly. “Don’t leave?” she asked as she pulled back.

“Mm,” Miranda replied softly, nodding once. With the smile that had won the hearts of thousands, Andrea turned to the crowd, and Miranda stepped back into the shadows.

---

Andy’s entire body shook as she stepped down the stairs to return to her seat. She thought Miranda was following her, but she was on sensory overload. Her speech had been short—a few thank yous, peppered with mentions of some colleagues, a plea for continued focus on health care. She could barely remember what she’d said, and likely wouldn’t until she saw it online. It happened often; once the spotlight was on, she delivered, but had no recollection of it. Something about adrenaline made her short-term memory go haywire, and tonight was no exception.

As she sat, someone quickly arranged a place setting and chair next to her. Miranda took it, her cool beauty striking everyone at the table mute. Andy was relieved the ceremony was ongoing, because she simply couldn’t imagine explaining anything that had taken place within the last five minutes. Instead, when her food was served shortly thereafter, she ate and drank almost robotically. Her halibut was cooked to perfection, but she preferred to watch Miranda devour an enormous steak. It was good to see that some things didn’t change.

Miranda eyed her as she sat back in her seat. “You look pleased with yourself,” she muttered.

“You look pleased with that steak,” Andy replied.

Miranda emitted a huge sigh. “Yes. I’m only supposed to have it sparingly, but this was a special occasion. How was the fish?”

“Tasty,” Andy said. The lights dimmed for a video presentation, and they were quiet again. Taking her life in her own hands, she said very softly, “Thanks for being here.”

Miranda didn’t take her eyes off the stage. “You’re welcome.”

“It’s nice to see someone I know,” Andy added.

Miranda’s eyes narrowed in question. “You seemed to know these women,” she replied.

With a shrug, Andy said, “I guess. Not really. It’s been years.”

An elegant snort was Miranda’s reaction. “Can’t be longer than nine, can it?”

Andy rolled her eyes and put her chin in her hand. “Doesn’t seem that long. I’ve read as many letters from the editor as I could get my hands on. It was like having a continuous one-sided conversation.”

“And I’ve watched your reports, which I suppose is the other side,” Miranda said.

“You really did?”

Miranda nodded, and finally glanced her way. “As many as I could get my hands on.”

Andy felt brighter then. She’d never expected to find out if Miranda had kept track of her, and now that she did, she remembered just how much she’d valued her opinion. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything,” Miranda said so quietly Andy could barely hear her.

Leaning back in her seat again, Andy got a little nervous. “You’re not going to run out in the middle of this thing, are you?” she asked.

Miranda blinked, and turned to face Andy fully. “No, Andrea. I told you I’d stay, and I will.”

Blushing, Andy smiled. “Okay.” It was strange to hear her name fall from Miranda’s lips again, as if she’d never stopped saying it that curious way. She felt calmer, and focused on the ceremony.

When it was over, all of Andy’s tablemates couldn’t take their eyes off Miranda, who appeared not to notice the attention. She did though, Andy was sure, but she was an expert at pretending not to care. And as much as Andy thought it would be more polite to introduce everyone to her, she just didn’t feel like it. Two hours of ceremony was enough, and she was ready to take off. Maybe she could even convince Miranda to come with her. But where would they go?

“Um,” Andy said, searching for something in her memory, anyplace that Miranda might think was acceptable to be seen with her in public. But before she could continue, Miranda cut her off.

“Meet me at Lantern’s Keep. It’s in the Iroquois, on 44th. Are you free?”

Andy stopped short for a moment, and nodded. “Yes.”

“I’m supposed to have a drink with Paolo and Alicia from one of the VCs but I want to make it quick. Take your time here; I’m sure you have people to see.”

With a smile, Andy exhaled. “Thanks.”

Miranda nodded once, and vanished into the crowd, like a wisp of smoke from a candle just extinguished. It was as if the room had dimmed, and Andy looked around, untethered once more.

---

Miranda sipped her glass of seltzer with a splash of lime, gazing at her companions with disinterest. Both Paolo and Alicia were swimming in corporate investments made during market surge of the last few years. Elias-Clarke was one of the many larger businesses investing in their firm, and while Miranda was not officially on the books as a rep of E-C’s investment arm, she remained involved to stay ahead of the curve. She’d had just about enough of their company after forty minutes when Andrea appeared across the room, her pale skin glowing like a beacon in the darkness of the bar.

Alicia, with coppery hair that curled in ringlets down her shoulders, laughed at a silly joke Paolo told, and at the soonest moment she could, Miranda broke into the conversation. “I’m terribly sorry, but I have another appointment. I believe Adhira mentioned it?”

“Of course, Miranda,” Paolo said, finishing his martini swiftly. “Thanks for taking the time to visit. As you may have guessed, we’re very happy with the way things are going.”

They ought to be, Miranda thought. “As am I.”

She stood from the low table to see them off, air-kissing Paolo on the cheek. He gave Alicia a meaningful look and slipped away. “Miranda,” Alicia said when they were alone, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way…”

Miranda lifted an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Listen, I’d love to take you out,” the woman said, her voice softening like honey. She seemed utterly confident, which was curious considering her fidgety nature at the boardroom table. “I know you’ve been married and might not be interested, but I just wanted you to know. And before you object on the grounds of a conflict of interest,” she said, with an utterly charming blush, “the conflict’s been present for quite some time.”

To say Miranda was astounded was an epic understatement, but she simply replied, “Oh.”

“Think it over, all right?” Alicia added, slipping a card into Miranda’s hand. “That’s my personal cell.” She kissed Miranda’s cheek, and her breath was sweet as the candy martini she’d just been drinking. “Call me anytime.”

“Well,” Miranda said, pleased that she didn’t stumble over the word. “Thank you,” she added, at once feeling out of her element, and strangely warm.

Alicia stepped away, her eyes still glued to Miranda until she could watch no longer. Miranda exhaled, and found Andrea standing in front of her a few moments later. “Hi,” Andrea said. “Who was that?”

Miranda frowned, and seated herself, waving for Andrea to sit as well. “I’m not certain.”

“Pardon?” Andrea said. “I thought you said they were—”

“I believe someone’s just made a pass at me,” Miranda said, unable to keep the wonder from her tone.

Andrea nodded, her mouth curving into a sly grin. “Nice.” She looked Miranda up and down. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

“She’s half my age. And a she.” Somehow, the filter between Miranda’s brain to her mouth had shut down.

“Like a woman’s never made a move on you, Miranda, come on. You work in fashion. And face it, you’re probably more beautiful now than you were when I first knew you. You hiding the proverbial picture of Dorian Gray in your attic?”

“Cheeky,” Miranda said, the joke pulling her back down to earth. “Time has made you brave.”

Andrea grinned. “I’m sure you’re right.” She was elegant as she sat in one of the stylish chairs in the back of the bar. The ambiance was warm and cozy, with a fireplace and flowers and beautiful art hanging on the walls. A few other patrons lingered and would probably remain, since Miranda had asked them to stay open later than usual. This was one of her locals during fashion week, and they were always eager to accommodate her presence.

“Drink?” Miranda asked.

“Sure. Just one, though. My shrink would be pissed over more than that,” she said offhandedly and completely without guile.

For the moment, Miranda let the comment pass without digging. She glanced around, and an eager waiter moved rapidly toward their table. “What can I get you?” he asked, leaning down.

Andrea narrowed her gaze as she looked over the menu. “Might take me a minute.”

“Not a problem. For you, Miranda?” he asked. Andrea’s eyes widened very briefly, probably that they knew her by name.

“The Clean Shave,” Miranda replied.

Andrea laughed as she searched out the ingredients of that one. “Cayenne?” she said, smiling.

“I like a little heat.” She had enjoyed most of the cocktails on the menu, and had a part in selecting the ingredients in this particular concoction. They’d asked to call it the Miranda P, but she had given an unequivocal no.

Quickly scanning the rest of the extensive menu, Andrea settled on something Miranda approved of. “The Astoria.”

When the waiter was gone, Andrea sat back against the chair, the fireplace flickering gently behind her.

“Your shrink?” Miranda prodded, finally giving in to her curiousity.

Andrea did not hesitate. “I had wine earlier, and I’m on medication. I’m supposed to be careful.”

“Are you sure you can have one?”

“I am. I don’t drink much since I went on meds, but I make an exception now and then.”

Miranda decided that it was not worth it to pretend that she was not interested in what was happening in Andrea’s life, so she asked, “What are you taking?”

Andrea gazed at her thoughtfully, as though she had expected nothing less. “Prozac, every day, for a while. Ativan when I need it, which isn’t often.”

“Mm,” Miranda said, tilting her head. She was familiar. “For post traumatic stress, I take it.”

Chuckling, Andrea leaned forward and closed her eyes. “You are very perceptive.”

“Not so perceptive. Your history is quite public.” And she had two daughters, one of whom had gone through her own bout of anxiety not long after entering high school.

As they sat together in silence, it was not particularly uncomfortable. Miranda considered why that was; it had been so, so long since they’d known one another, but to her mind, it may have well been minutes rather than nearly a decade. Surely, they’d never been friends, or even friendly. They’d certainly never been equals, but it felt closer to that now. Close enough for Miranda to open her mouth and ask to see her, and have Andrea answer yes. It had been comforting to hear her say the word, and know that there was no sense of obligation behind it. Andrea owed Miranda nothing, and would gain nothing from a simple conversation at a quiet speakeasy.

The drinks arrived. Miranda sipped, rolling the gin around, tasting the heat before swallowing. That first sip from a fresh glass always gave her head a little chill of pleasure. She observed Andrea as she did the same and nodded in satisfaction. “I like this place,” she said. “It’s quiet, and very cool. Not pretentious.”

Miranda smirked. “Pretentious?”

“I didn’t think a hotel bar would be nearly empty this time of night. But it’s relaxing.”

“That’s why I chose it. Time has changed the city very much, Andrea. And it seems to have changed you as well.”

“That’s true.” She gazed at Miranda with inquisitive eyes. “It’s strange to be here, with you.” As she placed her glass down on the table, she looked away. “It’s really good to see you, which is the big surprise. I used to be so terrified of you. Not even of what you’d do to me if I screwed up when I was an assistant.” She smiled as though remembering something. “Back then, the consequences seemed moot. It was just you. Your presence overwhelmed me. Now it’s… kind of a relief. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, by the way. I’ve been having kind of a weird time lately but this is good. Tonight’s been really… good.”

So whatever had drawn them to one another after so many years was mutual. Miranda nodded. “For me too.”

Andrea’s eyebrow lifted; surprise and pleasure broke over her face in a wave. “Honestly?”

“Yes.”

Andrea bobbed her head. “I’m glad. ”

For a long time, they sat quietly together. It was calming, Miranda found, to have a companion who didn’t say a single thing to her. She didn’t have to make polite conversation, or answer questions, or seem interested. Andrea appeared to feel the same. After what seemed ages, Miranda experienced something unusual: she was drowsy. Pleasantly so. If only she could drop her head to the back to the chair and doze. It was past midnight, and only then did she realize the place was empty. Their server sat behind the bar, as though perfectly happy to read on his phone as they sighed and blinked silently. Only then did it occur to her that Andrea might be sleepy as well. The dark circles she had expertly covered for the event were starting to show through her makeup.

“You look tired,” Miranda said, and the sound of her voice startled Andrea out of a trance.

“I do, don’t I.” She brushed her hair behind her ear. “I don’t sleep much anymore.” The way her mouth dropped open told Miranda she had not expected to say the words.

Ah, Miranda thought. No wonder they felt so at home together. Birds of a feather. “Interesting. Is it garden variety insomnia?”

Andrea’s mouth was still open, but she seemed more taken aback by Miranda’s lackadaisical attitude than anything. “Um, I tend to fall asleep for a few hours. Then I get up and walk.”

“Walk,” Miranda repeated. “Where?”

“In the city.”

Now that was something to inquire about. “New York? You walk the streets here?”

“Of course,” Andrea said, laughing. “You think I schlep to Trenton or something? I’m nuts but not that nuts.”

“I suppose you have security. A bodyguard of some sort.”

“No. Just me.”

Miranda was unnerved, and wondered exactly how serious her post traumatic stress was. She would not press, but she knew then that this would not be the last time they would meet. “Is that risky?”

“Oh no,” she replied. “It’s safe. I just walk, and then I go home and try to… stay busy.”

Miranda looked carefully at Andrea’s face, and noticed for the first time, the faintest of lines at the sides of her mouth. But her eyes were large and dark, her lips so generous as to be almost too much to consider. Andrea Sachs remained a puzzle, Miranda decided. One she was interested in investigating further. “Perhaps I could go along with you one night. If you’d like the company.”

There were a few seconds of silence, until Andrea lifted her shoulder in a peculiarly attractive gesture. “That might be nice.” It was settled then, far as Miranda was concerned. “Not now, though. You look tired yourself.”

“I am, in fact. So we’ll call it a night?” A nod was her answer. “I’ll have the driver drop you home?”

Though there was a brief pause in which Miranda was sure an internal debate took place, and Andrea agreed. “Thanks.”

Soon they were seated next to each other in the silver Mercedes, passing the nightlife that spilled out into the street down Broadway. As they drove into Little Italy, Miranda said, “I enjoyed myself.”

Andrea’s hair moved gently when she turned her head, and Miranda thought it looked very soft. “I did too. We’ll take a walk soon, okay?”

“Yes.” Their cheeks brushed as Andrea leaned forward, and there was a whisper of breath against Miranda’s ear.

“See you,” Andrea said, and stepped out of the car.

---

The evening she spent with Miranda, Andy didn’t walk. She wasn’t in the mood the next night either, so when she woke at 3am, she watched old Harold Lloyd silents on tv. When morning came, she felt strangely happy. She sat at Starbucks for a couple of hours drinking too much coffee and writing very little. With no real direction for her work, she was having a hard time deciding what to do. Her therapist advised journaling, but that seemed so…self-indulgent. Narcissistic. She’d spent years focusing on the world, and she wasn’t really in the mood to change that up. But she wasn’t supposed to be working. She was on a break. Relaxing. Except relaxing was stressful. It hadn’t always been so, but it was now.

Maybe the stress was coming from the not doing. Her therapist was interested in exploring how preoccupied Andy had gotten with her work, prior to that day. But Andy found very little else that interested her beyond work. Her hobbies were all tied up in it: reading magazines, watching the news, devouring the stories online, tracking the happenings that were covered (or more importantly, not covered) on social media. Her therapist advised her to branch out. She hadn’t done it yet.

Days after seeing Miranda, she sat in a bookstore coffee shop, unproductive and bored. Staring at her blank screen, she decided to listen to her therapist for once, and write about herself. She also wrote, without surprise, about Miranda. She described the clothes she’d worn to the event, the way her hair had fallen against the nape of her neck, the color of her smoky eyes as her lids had drifted shut over and over. More than that, she wrote about the feelings that were swirling in her belly now that they’d reconnected. Being in Miranda’s presence, even for those few hours, made her feel something she hadn’t realized she’d missed: a sense of safety. Andy had felt safe, and comforted, far more than anything she’d tried for the better part of a year.

Sitting back in her seat, Andy read what she’d written a second time, eyebrows raised. She smiled. That was something to bring to the Doc tomorrow.

She wrote then about the city, and how it felt to be back for so long. Months of being on the road had turned into years, and for all that time, she’d lived out of suitcases and backpacks. Right now, New York was the closest thing to home she had; Cincinnati was where her parents lived, but she hadn’t spent more than a week there every year since college. And Lily, who would have made the West Village seem like home, had flown off for the greener pastures of the LA art scene. She loved it there—it was cheaper and sunnier, not to mention easier to live in. Andy refused to believe anyone could be happy in Los Angeles, but Lily declared herself living proof.

Andy considered if maybe a visit out to the west coast might do her some good. That could come after spending a couple of days with her folks over Christmas. She looked forward to that quick trip, if only to relieve herself of the guilt of not seeing her mother and father for the holiday since… God, she couldn’t remember. Last year she’d been in D.C., working, and the year before, she’d been in Islamabad. Maybe it had been the year before?

Once Andy finished writing, she looked out the window, startled to find that it was well past dusk. Her phone read 7:18, which meant she’d been writing for almost five hours. Her stomach growled on cue, and she laughed. Finally, she packed up and headed south. A little street food served as her dinner, and when she finished devouring her falafel, she dialed a number as she passed 14th street.

Lily picked up on the first ring. “As I live and breathe! Honey, how are you? I got so worried when you didn’t call me back.”

“Sorry,” Andy said, contrite. “I just… time got away from me.”

“Oh well, it happens. So glad you’re on the line now, and I’m totally free. The place is empty but we have an opening right after the New Year and it’s going to be fantastic.”

Hmm. “Tell me what you’re showing,” Andy said. She listened intently as Lily told her everything, with work, romantic exploits, and the tribulations of Los Angeles traffic. It was as if time had not passed at all between them, just like usual. Though they’d had a few blips of fighting, their friendship had evolved with time. Andy felt blessed that Lily put up with her irregular communication habits and occasional forays into vanity. She remained the only person that Andy kept from her childhood other than her family. That was all right—one person was enough.

Eventually, Lily said, “Listen, Andy, I’m going home for like, five days at Christmas. Please tell me you’re staying at your folks’.”

“Thank God. I’m there for a four-day weekend. Mom wanted me to stay longer but I told her I was working.”

There was a short pause. “And you’re not working?”

Already, Andy had forgotten that while her break felt obvious to herself, it was very possible that most everyone else (except her bosses) hadn’t noticed. She was still out speaking at conferences here and there, and usually her appearances were covered in the news. Surviving a near-death experience always brought the cameras. She just wasn’t writing, and she wasn’t broadcasting or podcasting from anywhere at all. “Um, not really.”

Lily let the quiet stretch out for a long time before she spoke. “You doing okay, Andy?”

Andy sighed. “Yeah. I’m going to therapy a lot. I’m supposed to relax for a while. Get some rest.”

“Rest?” Lily laughed. “This for the girl who hasn’t ‘rested’ since 2002. You must be going crazy.”

“Yeah,” Andy said, nodding. “I might be. You’ll never guess who I saw recently, though. It’s been a fun distraction.”

“Doug?” Lily said, her voice hopeful.

Doug. He’d left for Chicago almost five years ago, and they’d lost touch for the most part. But she had such tenderness in her heart for him, and hoped that if he ever came to New York, he’d call. “No. I wish, but no. This one’s a little more random.”

“Not Nate?” Lily said. “Please tell me it’s not Nate.”

Andy frowned. “No. Why?”

“Because last I heard he was married with two kids in Boston. I was hoping it would work out.”

“Oh,” Andy said, the wind leaving her sails a little. It was funny to think of him with a family, and a whole other life. She’d imagined it for him, but knowing it was true was another story. “Well, not at all. Not even close.” Deciding to skip through the rest of the guessing game, she said, “Miranda Priestly.”

There was a short pause. “Shut the fuck up.”

That made Andy laugh like a fiend, startling some of the pedestrians walking by. “True story.”

“Did she make you fetch her coffee for old time’s sake?”

“Nah, but that might be fun. I’m bored lately.”

“You must be if you’re yearning to do a Starbucks run. How’d it happen?”

So Andy told her, everything from mentioning her on Derek Halpern to their quiet time at that bar. By the end of it, Lily sounded intrigued. “I never thought I’d say this, but she sounds like she might be… kind of nice. Maybe you need to spend time with somebody who doesn’t want anything from you. Other than a little coffee.”

Andy giggled. “Har har. Anyway, that’s what I thought. It just felt really calm. It made me feel better than I have in a while. This is helping too. It’s always the best to catch up with you, Lils.”

“I know, hon. And now that I’ve got you on the line, I want to hear from you more than every three months, you got it? Once a week. As often as you talk to your therapist,” she laughed, and Andy chuckled. “Email me your itinerary for Christmas and we’ll sneak off to Spike’s for a pitcher and some smokes.”

“Ah, college. I haven’t smoked in twelve years, Lil.”

“Me neither. But one or two won’t kill us. Send me that email tonight before you hit the sack, okay?”

“Sure. See you soon. Love you.”

“I love you too, Andy. Bye.”

Andy hung up, feeling warm even as the snow fell.

---

Miranda wasn’t tired, though it was after midnight. She glanced at her phone for the fifteenth time in an hour, wondering if it would ring.

She’d attended the investors’ holiday party the night before, rubbing elbows and smiling and nursing that single glass of champagne for the required hour. She looked stunning, if she did say so herself, and received many compliments, once again from Alicia. She hadn’t made any further overtures, but the look in her eyes said it all. Miranda pretended like she didn’t notice, but it made her glow to feel so admired. Especially by someone thirty years younger, give or take.

Today she’d spent working on the new issue, and following up on a few business calls that had surfaced during the party last night. Adhira took notes on her phone as they’d walked the floor, and delivered them to Miranda promptly at midnight. She thought she’d have to promote the girl in the next six months to keep her on staff. A rare combination of intelligence and an un-annoying personality made her a great asset. Good people seemed harder than ever to find, though Miranda may have grown more persnickety in her old age.

Andrea probably wouldn’t think so. She’d say Miranda was the same as she ever was.

She glanced at the phone again, and gave in. The info was right there in her Google contacts, and she pulled it up and dialed before she could question herself. Even though it was 1am, she took the risk.

The phone rang twice before Andrea picked up. “Hi.”

Miranda smiled. “Hello, Andrea.”

“How’d you know I’d be up?”

“I can’t say I hoped you would be, but I thought to take a chance.”

Andrea laughed, and the sound gave Miranda a little frisson of pleasure across her skin. “You’re in luck. Just woke up from my nap, and I thought I’d explore Yorkville tonight. You interested?”

“Yes. I’ll send a car.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No arguments,” Miranda said firmly. “If I’m walking with you, you’ll arrive in the neighborhood safely. Someone will drive you here, and we’ll leave from the townhouse.”

A few seconds passed, and Andrea said, “All right.”

Forty-five minutes later, Miranda received a text from the driver. He was paid well to be available during the night shift, and he never complained about the strange hours she kept. Not that he would. He knew better.

Miranda wrapped a scarf around her throat and pulled the long cape tightly about her shoulders. It would be cold tonight; almost freezing, but when she first stepped outside it felt rather nice. Jarring, but crisp. Andrea was already out of the car, an ancient-looking baby blue wooly hat pulled down over her head. She grinned brightly at Miranda. “You need a hat.”

“No, thank you.” Miranda didn’t like them. She almost never wore them.

“Miranda it’s the middle of the night. Nobody’s going to see. You know, 90% of a person’s body heat escapes from the head when it’s uncovered.”

“That’s a myth. And I’m not wearing a hat.”

Andrea gazed at her. “I guess I wouldn’t either if I had your hair.”

Eyebrow raised, Miranda gazed back. “Is that a compliment?”

Dark eyes softened, and Andrea just started off up the street, heading north. Miranda glanced meaningfully into the driver’s front seat, and the man nodded. He’d trail them unobtrusively until they returned home. Miranda felt perfectly comfortable roaming the Upper East Side in the middle of the night, but she had the luxury of backup, and she would use it.

They walked, exchanging few words as they went. After about ten minutes, Andrea said, “I expected it to be quiet, but we’ve barely seen anyone. Is it always like this at night?”

With a smirk, Miranda replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t been out walking at 2am recently.”

“It’s nothing like downtown. Tribeca is busy, and so are Chelsea and the Village. SoHo’s pretty dead though on most streets, except Broadway. And midtown—well, you can imagine what that’s like.”

“Mm,” Miranda said, shuddering at the thought of Times Square. “Is it crowded even at this time of night?”

“It's unreal. At midnight you'd think it was noon, teeming with tourists. I don't remember it being like that before, but maybe it was.”

After another block, Andrea paused. “I like this house,” she said, staring at a pretty brownstone with Christmas lights strung around iron railings that lined the stoop. There was an elegant arrangement of plants outside the front door, which lent an air of welcoming to the place. “It looks cheerful. I wonder who lives there?”

Miranda looked up at the dark green door. It seemed similar to all the others on the street, but she had to admit, the lights and the greenery added character that was absent elsewhere. It left her with a vague sense of melancholy, to know that her home would be empty tonight when she returned, and so would Andrea’s. There were no lights on Miranda’s front stoop. At least in a few days a team would arrive while she was at work and erect a perfectly impersonal Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah in the den before the girls arrived home.

“I didn’t put up any decorations this year,” Andrea continued. “I don’t even have any left in storage. When I was younger I put up lights no matter what. My dad’s Jewish but my mom’s Episcopalian, so we celebrated both. I loved having a menorah and a little fake tree, even in this crazy studio I had back…I guess when I worked for you.” Andrea gazed at the lights some more, her face glowing. Miranda thought she looked very young. “I haven’t had a holiday at home in a long time.”

Miranda wanted to wipe that lonely expression away as soon as possible. She wrapped a hand around Andrea’s elbow, stepping close. “Come over Thursday. I’m doing a tree before the girls arrive from school for their break.” Miranda’s eyes widened as she said the words, because this was an out and out lie. She hadn’t decorated a tree herself since the girls were adolescents, and she’d had no intention to start up again.

“Really?” Andrea asked, and her eyes were so bright with longing that whatever regret that bubbled at the back of Miranda’s throat vanished instantly. She nodded. “That would be really nice,” Andrea replied. “Thanks, Miranda. Will anyone else be there? Is it like a party?”

Now Miranda really was stunned. Should she pretend that it was a larger gathering, and she’d only just thought to invite Andrea? That seemed ridiculous. “Well, I hadn’t intended—”

“Good,” Andrea said, cutting her off with finality. “I hoped not. I’m not really up for small talk.” She glanced over at Miranda quickly. “If that’s okay.”

Miranda exhaled. She watched the plume of warm breath dissipate into the air with a sense of relief. “Just us, then. I’ll bring in some dinner.”

“Mm. It’ll be nice to get some holiday spirit in before I show up at my parents’ house. I haven’t been home for Christmas for three years.”

Surprised, Miranda asked, “That long?”

With a nod, Andrea replied, “I called when I could. I worked a lot. The 24 hour news cycle never stops.” A few moments ticked by, and Miranda thought about what it would be like not to see her girls over the holidays. Especially if they were living abroad in potentially dangerous conditions, or had nearly been shot and killed. Miranda suddenly had great sympathy for the Sachs family. “I never thought I’d be the person who couldn’t spare the time to visit family, I mean,” Andrea said. “We were always so close. But something happened, maybe when I was away for so long, and time… it just passed.” She turned to Miranda. “Do you know what I mean?”

Miranda did. Especially when she considered how time had lapsed between the last time she and Andrea had spent any significant hours together. Nine years felt like they’d flashed by in a moment. “I do. The days seem so long sometimes, but the years… they’re like lightning. Last September I woke up one morning and my girls were gone, replaced by young women I barely recognized.” She shook her head. “Not quite that, really, but it felt as if just months before they’d been children, playing games and running around the house, wreaking havoc. Then they packed their clothes and left for college.” Leaving me behind, Miranda thought. I’ve become an empty nester.

Andy smiled. “I remember doing that. My mom cried for a week.”

Miranda raised an eyebrow. “I did no such thing, I’ll have you know. But I do… miss them.”

“I understand that. I bet they miss you too.”

“Oh, every now and then, I imagine they do,” Miranda replied, thinking of their bright red hair, their sparkling eyes that were like mirror images of her own.

They walked on. Miranda had no idea how far north they’d gone, so when Andrea turned right, Miranda followed without question. “When will you visit your family?”

“I leave Saturday morning and come back Tuesday night.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows. “That’s a short trip considering you haven’t been home for so long.”

They’d walked half a block before Andrea seemed able to gather up enough words to answer. “It’s all I can do right now. I told my parents I’m working. They understood.”

It was none of her business, really, Miranda thought. She had no clue what state of mind Andrea was in, only that she seemed to have lost the bright sheen of optimism that had lit her eyes all those years ago. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself. And your parents need to see you. Even if it’s difficult, it’s a good thing to go.”

At Miranda’s reply, some of the tension went out of Andrea’s face. Lines that Miranda hadn’t even realized were there disappeared in the strange, snowy light. Only then did Miranda comprehend just how Andrea had aged since their brief time together so long ago. It may have been nine years in real time, but it was longer in spirit. “I think so too,” she said.

A lone car passed by them slowly, and Andrea leaned closer, shivering in the night air.

---