There's an old saying that good things come in threes.
You think that's ridiculous. Good things happen in their own time, and often they don't happen at all. And when they do, you feel lucky, and you're not waiting for a second or third good thing.
Now bad things coming in threes, that you agree with. It's been proven time after time. Three sisters, now estranged. Three decades without so much as a word from the family you left behind. Three previous editorial positions in three different magazines that were, collectively, a waste of five years. Three failed marriages and, in one instance, a three month custody battle, bitter and awful. Three broken nails from hitting a wall in anger and frustration three days after your assistant walked away without looking back. Three weeks before anyone dared to look you in the eye after the wall incident because it was so unlike you to lose your unnerving calm. Three more weeks before you saw the former assistant on the street. Three years without another word from her.
You almost think that the number three is cursed, but you don't quite believe in curses or luck or anything like that. You don't believe in happy endings. You believe in facts, and the fact is that your happiness comes in a series of moments, spread out over time, and isn't a constant or guaranteed thing. Life has taught you this, and you remember your lessons well.
And then one night, the doorbell rings. Three times. You'll think later that the three rings should have been a warning that something life-changing was about to happen, but in the moment you just think it's annoying and rude, and you're already imagining destroying whoever has dared to ring your doorbell at midnight, risking waking your daughters (the fact that they're not even here is irrelevant) and interrupting the work you're trying to finish. Someone had better be dead or dying, and that someone had better have been important, because that's the only reason you can see for someone to be at your door right now.
And so you throw the door open, knowing that you look intimidating and furious even if you also look tired and your clothes are wrinkled from sitting curled up on the sofa and you're not wearing any shoes. Then you freeze, and for a moment you stand there, mouth open in preparation for the tirade you'd been composing on your walk from the study to the front door and that you now can't bring yourself to begin, and you stare.
Andrea smiles weakly at you, looking all at once nervous and apologetic and determined, and she doesn't seem to notice that you're tired, or your lack of shoes, or your wrinkled skirt. Maybe that's because she only holds your gaze for a second before looking away, her arms folding protectively across her chest, or maybe it's because she's always seemed to see deeper, right past your demeanor and appearance and into your soul. You're not sure how to tell, not sure it matters.
"Hi," she says after a moment, and she looks up at you again for just a second, warm brown eyes peeking out from under a curtain of bangs that hide her face when she looks down at the floor like she's doing now. She shifts and stands up straighter, and you can tell she's trying to gain control over herself, to hide the fact that she's so nervous, but it's too late for that.
You don't understand why she's here, and it occurs to you that you might give anything right at this moment to figure it out. You settle for raising one eyebrow at her and releasing your hold on the door, trying to convey the fact that you're waiting for her to speak, that you won't disappear back into the house and close the door in her face. She seems to understand, and you try not to remember how she was always so good at reading the words behind your silence.
"Right. Um," she starts, then shakes her head and tries again. "I know it's late, and that you have no reason to care what I have to say. But I had to see you, just for a minute. I needed to tell you...." Her voice drifts off, and you shift your weight from one foot to the other and shiver, and insist inside your own mind that the shiver is from the cold wind blowing through the open doorway and not due to anything else.
"Come inside," you say, almost without meaning to, and her eyes widen in what could only be terror. But you've said it now, and you have never been able to tolerate appearing indecisive or unsure, so you step back and push the door open a few more inches. "I refuse to stand here listening to this in the cold. Whatever you have to say, you can say it inside the house or not at all."
She nods, more to herself than to you, and steps inside, closing the door behind her. Her gaze darts to the stairs, and you know that she's wondering who might be here to overhear your conversation, but you say nothing to reassure her that you have privacy. You feel she's earned whatever discomfort she's feeling.
"Well?" you prompt after a moment, and she jumps a little and looks away again, her stare focused on your bare feet.
You wish you'd had the presence of mind to put on shoes before answering the door.
You wish you hadn't skipped your pedicure this week because now the nail polish stops two thirds of the way down your toenails and for some reason it makes you feel weak, like she's found the hole in your defenses, a sign that your metaphorical armor isn't as protective as it should be.
You wish she'd say something.
And then she does. "Miranda," she begins softly, and you hate that you shiver as she says your name, hate that you can't blame it on the cold this time. "I'm sorry. I had to say I'm sorry. For leaving. For not even telling you why." Now she's rushing through her words as if she can't say them fast enough, as if they all want to be said at once. "I'm sorry for never thanking you for the reference you gave to The Mirror. I'm sorry I left you in Paris without an assistant, and ... I'm just sorry."
You wait for a moment, unsure how to respond, and maybe that's for the best because if you'd said anything, you'd have missed the rest. "I'm sorry," she adds, her voice dropping to almost a whisper, "if I hurt you." She looks into your eyes, and even if her apologies are long overdue and not very well spoken and just entirely insufficient in comparison to the trouble and pain she caused you, her words are sincere. In this moment, nothing else seems to matter.
You open your mouth to speak again, preparing to deny that you've been hurt in any way, but you can't bring yourself to do it, and the words that come out instead are, "And after three years, you couldn't possibly have come to make your apologies at a more reasonable hour?" Her face falls, crumbles, shatters, and you hate yourself a little. "You didn't need to tell me why you left," you say quickly, before she can get any ideas about leaving again. You've been waiting three years for this conversation, and it will end only when you're ready for it to end. "You left because you didn't want to turn into me."
She doesn't deny it. You didn't expect her to, really, but it still stings.
"You cost Runway quite a bit of money with your little stunt," you continue, and she flinches. "They gave me one of Jacqueline's assistants for three days. She was completely incompetent. You had all of my schedules, all of my appointments, and left me nothing. It was total, utter chaos, and it made the magazine look ridiculous. It made me look ridiculous." All of this is said with an even tone. You're simply stating facts. When she left you'd been so angry you could have killed her with your bare hands, but you stopped being angry long ago. She's asking for forgiveness that she's already been granted, and you can't muster the rage that you think you should probably feel, even if you do manage to come up with the words.
Andrea looks at your feet again. "I'm sorry."
You're getting tired of that phrase. It's never interested you, coming from one of your (ex-)husbands, your children, your employees, or anyone else, because it inevitably means that someone has already failed you in some way. 'I'm sorry' is just a reminder of disappointment. So you respond with the only question you actually have at the moment.
"So did they give you the job?"
She frowns and looks confused simultaneously. "At The Mirror? Yeah, three years ago. I mean, of course, yeah. With your recommendation, anyway. You didn't know?"
"I don't generally make a habit of keeping tabs on ex-employees," you say in a withering tone that should tell her exactly how stupid you think her question was. The truth is, you've spent the better part of the last three years pretending that Andrea Sachs never existed, which would be normal, really, if it weren't for the fact that any other assistant who has quit or been fired did cease to exist for you once they were out of your sight. You never had to pretend until she wandered into your life and then back out of it.
"No, I guess you wouldn't," she says, trying to sound as if it's the most reasonable thing in the world, but you can hear the disappointment in her voice. There's a tense moment of silence, and you think you can almost hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest, but when she next speaks, her voice is calm and steady. "I should go. I'm sorry to bother you—"
The thought of her leaving panics you for reasons you don't quite understand, and maybe it's that panic that allows your words to make it from your mind to your lips and then out into the world unheeded. "You were missed," you interrupt, and she stops and stares at you surprised. "You're not anymore, obviously," you add, and you see her lips twitch with a barely suppressed smirk. "But for a few days, Runway was not quite the same."
"No, I bet Emily was a lot happier."
You can't help it—you chuckle, and she grins. The moment is still awkward—as awkward as you always imagined it would be, when you allowed yourself to imagine it at all—but some of the tension seems to seep out of the room.
"I really should go," she says again, taking a step toward the door and reaching for the handle, and you move closer to her, half-wondering if you'll actually go as far as to physically stop her from leaving. "I'm sorry for coming by so late."
Apparently you will—you grab her hand, and she looks at you questioningly, but there isn't any fear in her expression this time, so that's something, at least.
"Stop apologizing," you say, and inwardly wince at your own tone.
"Sorr—" she begins to say, and you do the first thing you can think of to stop her—you place one finger against her mouth, and the word dies on her lips. Her breath is warm on your hand, and when she doesn't pull away, you lean forward and replace your finger with your own lips, and realize that you've wanted to do precisely this ever since you saw her standing on your doorstep.
The kiss doesn't last long, isn't exactly passionate, but when it's over your hands are still clutched together, and her free hand is gently resting on your hip, and as she takes a small step back, she doesn't look horrified or disgusted. In fact, if you had to guess, you'd say the look in her eyes was more lust than anything else, and it makes your heart race.
"I would prefer if you not leave," you say, an 'ever again, if possible' implied in your words, and she wets her lips nervously before nodding, her eyes never leaving yours.
You wonder if she still has that boyfriend. If she even likes women. If you like women, for that matter. If any of that is important right now. You can't see that it is, so you don't mention it.
She leans in to kiss you again, gently, softly, then maneuvers you backward until you're leaning on the wall before she kisses you again. For the third time. This time it is long and passionate. It leaves you gasping and nearly trembling, and as you lead her up the stairs to your bedroom, you think to yourself that maybe there is something to that 'good things come in threes' theory after all.