Despite being covered in dog fur, slobber and probably other canine related bodily fluids, Andy Sachs inhaled deeply the chilly early spring air and felt the possibilities fill her soul. Straining her biceps trying to hold on to the five scampering pups, she was certain they were enjoying their walk much more than their tired walker was. And yet something about this morning's chill and slight breeze filled her with a rare sense of optimism.
The wind ruffled her shoulder length brunette hair, further messing up its now customary state of disarray. She’d have to hack some of the length off, she mused, it was getting in the way again. In her current state of financial misery, her thick locks of rich mahogany were rather more a curse than a blessing, since they required a lot more maintenance than the pair of scissors Andy took to them in front of the bathroom mirror every so often.
Yet despite the musing of her hair, kicking up the dust and getting under her old and worn leather jacket, thus chilling her to the bone, Andy welcomed the spring breeze. It played with her hair and covered her in flowers from the occasional fruit tree she passed in the park. Everything was in bloom and the white and pink flowers were raining petal showers over the harried passers-by who, in typical New York fashion, had no time to stop and inhale the spring wind of change.
As a true New Yorker, and yes, living in New York for four years and not planning to ever move away from this crazy concrete jungle, made her a New Yorker in her own mind, Andy Sachs had no time for flowers, or trees or the breeze. She was lucky if she didn’t step in the garbage of the back alleys, as she ran from one place of employment to another. No, Andy normally had no time for the beauty of blooming apple trees or the playfulness of the spring wind. Especially these past six months.
It had been a long and miserable winter. In the early fall she broke up with her college boyfriend. Though if she was honest, she had done no breaking up, because she simply came home one night and found her meager belongings packed and ready to be thrown out of the apartment by the man she thought was her one and only person. Nate Osteen was not just her boyfriend, he was also the person who accompanied her from Chicago to New York, where both of them dreamed of starting their careers and one day reaching the promise land. Nate certainly succeeded, with a steady advancement through some of the best kitchens in Manhattan, he was now the sous chef at Marea and garnering all sorts of raves from the industry insiders. His future was assured and his fame was already making itself known.
Andy Sachs was so far from words like fame, rave reviews or promise lands, she didn’t even know what any of those would look like if they came in and introduced themselves to her. Plus, it’s not like she had any place for them to come in anyway. After couch surfing for several months with her friends, Doug and then Lily, she had finally exceeded even their generous welcome and was currently sleeping in the attic of the gallery where Lily worked.
Hiding among the empty crates and wooden frames, on an air mattress and sleeping bag, Andy mostly spent her nights there, since the owner of the gallery, one Gunilla Garson Goldberg, a wealthy New York socialite in her sixties and a four time divorcee from various rich and famous husbands would probably not approve a stowaway at her Manhattan gallery just as it began gaining popularity and respectability. Since her things fit into one suitcase and one cardboard box, Lily didn’t believe her friend was too much of an inconvenience, but just in case, on major opening nights, Andy made herself scarce. Since she worked pretty much three full shifts between all her places of employment, being scarce was just reality for the overworked Sachs.
Professionally, it all started rather well for Andy four years ago when Nate and she arrived in New York as fresh 23 year-olds. Andy had managed to get on the radar of several publications due to her work at Northwestern and winning some nationwide writing competitions. Runway and The New Yorker published several of her pieces on the plight of a young professional in New York and her blog was gaining a steady stream of subscribers. She was on her way. The novel she had been writing since her high school days was almost finished. Life was good.
And then it wasn’t. The jobs started to dry up. Her pitches weren’t accepted anymore and her blog slowly lost its popularity. Sure, nothing in her work was very original or very special even, and new and younger writers were bringing in more edgy and trendy ideas. Influencers on Instagram and Twitterverse celebrities all overtook her Midwestern wholesomeness.
She started taking odd jobs, first dog walking for the otherwise occupied wealthy New Yorkers, then bartending at various pubs several nights a week and then the mid-morning shift at the trendy but exorbitantly expensive hipster coffee shop off 5th Avenue. The time to write and get creative and finish her novel and new articles dried up entirely due to trying to survive in the concrete jungle of Manhattan.
Nate, with his new found success, did not wish to continue being associated with a person who walked the dogs of his affluent patrons. When he asked her to vacate the premises of their Village apartment, for which she had actually been contributing rent every month despite barely scraping by, her shock was so massive and her heart so broken, that she picked up the one suitcase in silence and left to stay first with Doug and then Lily, when Doug’s new boyfriend found her presence on their couch somewhat inconvenient for their budding sex life.
Six months later, Andy still didn’t know what she was more hurt by, Nate’s betrayal or the reason for it. She was trash in his eyes because she wasn’t successful like he was and so he threw her over. The fact that he immediately moved on to a very popular Instagram influencer and sometime model with big breasts, a bigger ego and self importance was less of a shock.
Andy was acutely aware of her own failures, of her inadequacies, as a writer, as a journalist, and apparently as a girlfriend. According to Nate, she was so busy surviving, her blow job skills suffered from her lack of focus and so off she was tossed into the good New York night. Something about this mad bad town made people ruthless and mean. Andy still remembered how Nate would put flowers in her hair and cuddle her to sleep. So when did Instagram followers and retweets become more important to him? When did the boy who held her hand through her father’s funeral, turn so vicious and callous that he equated her bedroom skills to her only usefulness to him, since she couldn’t boost his professional success with a mention to her social media followers because her posts would never go viral?
Perhaps the only thing that saved Andy from a deep depression was that same need to survive. Her father left behind considerable debts and her mother was not in any position to face them alone. So when you’re trying to scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel and make enough money just to have food to eat and to pay off her father’s debts, student loans and credit card debt, you really don’t have much time to wallow. In those first years in Manhattan she desperately tried to fit in, through fashion and purchases that would help her act the part of the trendy local professional and so her credit card had suffered plenty. Now she was paying for the mistakes of those heady times when success felt just barely out of reach.
So Andy didn’t wallow in her misery. Well, she mostly didn’t. Unless she did so at night, looking through the skylights of the attic at the never-quite-dark Manhattan sky. Her romantic nature didn’t let her despair completely, but it was a close call on some nights, when her dreams were all unspooling in front of her and the certainty of that “something” being just a touch away, of surely coming into her life and magically transforming it from a constant rat race into a simple human life, redeeming her entirely and maybe even making her just a bit happy.
Yet, in the midst of some of her darkest nights, this early March morning, the chilly fresh morning breeze filled her lungs and with the dogs tugging at her arms and barking up a storm, that little seed of something wonderful took root in her heart.
So when she saw a text from Nigel Kippling, the Editor-in-Chief of Runway, who still occasionally threw her odd errands and small snippets of work, it was as if the morning breeze foretold the occurrence. Something wonderful was about to happen to her.
She didn’t dare hope for too much though, so despite showing up at the restaurant he indicated, she didn’t order anything aside from asking for a glass of water, knowing that she clearly couldn’t afford much on the menu without starving for the next week or so. She sat there among the rich and famous, sticking out like a sore thumb, despite being clad in her best attire of a second-hand Marc Jacobs blouse and a size too big Jimmy Choos that Lily threw her way because they were too small for her. Trying to calm her raging nerves, Andy attempted to chew quietly on ice, which made her only more self-conscious and gauche, being certain that half the restaurant was pointing at her and laughing. Yes, the impostor syndrome was strong today, despite having lived in Manhattan for over four years and knowing it like the back of her hand, perhaps much better than these spoiled trust fund brats, since she actually walked the back alleys every day.
Just as she was about to drive herself insane with her anxiety about fitting in and standing out, Nigel showed up in clouds of perfume and sparkles. Everything about him just shined. The frame of his glasses, the diamond pin in his tie, his teeth and even his big bald head.
He gripped her hand a bit too tight and pumped it for a bit longer than necessary, all the while his shrewd eyes assessed her from head to toe. Just as Andy was starting to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny he let go and waived for the waiter. After ordering both of them the chef’s special and several appetizers and cocktails, he finally looked her straight in the eye.
“I’m afraid you’re not only no longer a six but not even a four. Six, what the hell happened to you? Your chef boyfriend not feeding you? Or has he gone on some crazy raw vegan bend and you are refusing his food? Because in that case I wouldn’t blame you. Horrible trend that one. And where the hell did you scrounge that godawful blouse from? It’s so four years ago! Burn it!”
Andy just smiled and was saved from spilling her guts to one of the most influential men in publishing by the waiter returning with their drinks. Nigel was content not to pry and to simply prattle on about other horrid new trends and even more horrid weather and why was it so drafty in Manhattan, surely with the way everyone was packed on this godforsaken island there should be no room for any kind of air movement. Andy was content to sip her Cosmo and nibble on a crostini and hope that perhaps this meeting would lead to something more than a full stomach, though that wasn’t too shabby these days either.
“Anyway, Six…and God, you need to put some weight on since I can’t call you Two! Moving on from whatever ghastly diet regime you’ve embarked upon, I need your nose, Andy!”
“My nose?” Andy sat back and felt the frisson of anticipation run up her spine. Nigel Kipling needed her for something.
“Once upon a time you were a brilliant investigative journalist, my starving friend. You had a nose for a story, for following clues and digging up the truth. So I need you to sniff out a story for the magazine. Irv Ravitz has commissioned a feature, and depending on the length it can be broken up in several installments and we can do a whole thing around it, spare no expense, ensure travel and per diem, the works!”
Nigel Kipling thought she was once brilliant! Nigel Kipling, the Editor-in-Chief of Runway wanted her to write a story! A story commissioned by none other than Irv Ravitz! That seemed just a touch too good to be true. The CEO of Elias-Clark, the singularly most powerful man in the publishing industry, no offense to Nigel, but Irv was his boss, wanted the humble unknown journalist, Andy Sachs to do an investigation for one of his biggest magazines. He would publish it in several featured stories and pay her travel and per diem expenses on top of the fee. It was a dream come true indeed. She could drop the dog walking and the bartending and depending on the fee, perhaps keep her shifts at the coffee shop, just to make sure she still had something to fall back on once the investigation was over. Andy was so carried away by her thoughts that she barely heard Nigel go on with the details of the assignment until he actually snapped his fingers in front of her face.
“Andy! Pay attention now, darling! This is important. Here’s the information you may require.” He offered her a very thin file with maybe two or three sheets of paper in it and Andy’s heart suddenly started to have a slightly apprehensive feeling about this.
“Yes, I know, there isn’t much there for you to begin with, but, Andy, Elias-Clark will pay a considerable fee for you to get this story and you will have any and all support. I’ll tell you what I know. Judging by your choice of clothing and shoes, you my lovely, though tasteless friend, know nothing about fashion or art, so the name Priestly surely means nothing to you. And yet, Priestly is singlehandedly one of the most enigmatic, sought after and expensive-as-all-get-out artists currently working in the world.”
Andy may have been a farmer’s daughter from Ohio and a total rube, but even she, ensconced in her feminist research, gender studies and investigations of corrupt politicians, had heard of Priestly. She wasn’t sure in this day and age anyone really could feign ignorance about Priestly. It was always said with a touch of reverence, like uttering God’s name in church. Even now, as Nigel talked about the enigmatic artist, he slightly bowed his head as if in prayer.
As Andy polished off her entree, Nigel snapped out of whatever religious experience he was having over the name and continued gesticulating wildly with his perfectly manicured hands.
“Every year a piece by Priestly brings in millions of dollars at auction. Paintings and sculpture. The pieces are magnificent. They drive the art and fashion world alike for years. They are shown, analyzed, drooled over and resold for even more millions, if ever, since there aren’t that many pieces in existence. Priestly is unique. Yet despite everyone knowing about Priestly, nobody knows who Priestly is. The art has been around for about 15 years, give or take, it’s in the file, all the pieces known to be created by Priestly. Nobody has seen their face, nor knows who this person is. A sort of art and fashion world's answer to Banksy.”
Nigel took a breath and looked down at his now cold fillet mignon, making a face. Andy gave him and his plate a baleful stare despite already having consumed her steak. He sighed, rolled his eyes, pushed the plate her way and continued.
“Now, I can already see the wheels in your pretty little head turning and your mouth would be slightly open, if it wasn’t busy chewing, to ask me what the hell does an artist and a sculptor have to do with the fashion world. To be honest, nobody is entirely certain, but whole collections have been dedicated to Priestly, the fashion houses are mad for their art and not many people can say why and how one relates to the other. And here’s where you come in, darling.” Andy waited, but he just waved his manicured hand in her direction and took a sip of his very dry martini as if it was self explanatory.
Andy patted her mouth with the napkin, remembering some manners and opened the folder, noticing that she was indeed right - there wasn’t much there, other than several photos of pieces of art and a long list of pieces and the places and prices they were sold for, going back 15 years. Even the absolutely ignorant in arts and fashion Andy Sachs recognized some of the titles on the list. Still one question bothered her and she wondered how desperate she really was and if she would even take this job if Nigel didn’t satisfactorily answer her.
“Why me, Nigel? Not only am I a nobody, I haven’t written or published anything in ages. I have very little contacts left and this world of arts and fashion is very far from my usual stomping ground.”
Nigel just smiled at her serenely, as if she was a less then bright child.
“Precisely, darling. You are a nobody in this scene, no offense obviously. Nobody knows you and nobody will pay attention to you, a complete and total nobody, sniffing around for Priestly. And if I’m to judge, and I am to do so, this work will involve a lot of digging and a lot of snooping and a lot of questions to be asked. So putting a famous journalist on this case is not an option. Irv doesn’t want an established name on this. If an established name fails, it will quickly become known that Elias-Clark, nay Irv Ravitz, failed at getting a story. If you fail, nobody will ever know EC even commissioned this story. It’s very simple, darling, if not entirely pleasant.”
Andy looked up sharply from the remnants on her plate and Nigel gave her a sympathetic smile.
“I want to caution you, Andy, because I like you, despite your penchant for second hand hand-me-downs. Maybe it’s your naivete that’s reminding me of myself twenty years ago. Or the fact that you are obviously going hungry if a cold fillet mignon appeals to you. If you accept the assignment, Irv will want you to deliver. The contract will be ironclad. Behind the many thousands of dollars you will receive for this story, you will be bound by a lot of responsibility. And having worked for Irv for years, let me give you a fair warning - if you screw this up, you will never work in New York again.”
Andy gulped around the suddenly forming lump in her throat.
“Take the folder home, darling. Do some research, though I have to tell you, from what I’ve gleaned into this, there isn’t much to go on. And then call me Monday and tell me if you accept. If you do, my office will send you the contract. Then you have as well as signed your soul to the devil.”
It sounded very ominous, but all Andy could hear was “many thousands of dollars”. She could pay off her student loans and credit card debt. She could finally help her mother more than she had been these years to get out of the horrid situation she ended up in with having to pay off her father’s gambling debts. Andy would be free from all the crushing debt and obligations that held her down and able to focus on pursuing her dreams and with this story under her belt, she would be a household name at EC and perhaps in the publishing world, since Priestly was so famous. Surely she could track down a reclusive artist. Nigel said many things today, and in some things he was facetious, but he was dead on the money regarding Andy’s once famed capacity to pursue a story and dig into seemingly innocuous details to drag facts to the light. Besides, how hard could it be when the morning breeze was clearly on her side, whispering of hopes and dreams in her ears as she walked briskly through the crowded Manhattan streets? This island has taken much from her, but she felt like it was finally giving something back. She felt like something wonderful was just within reach. The March wind would not disappoint her.
There's a bit of an Easter egg in this story, let's see how many of you recognize one of the characters I'm borrowing from a different movie and who will play quite an important part here. If you need a hint - in that movie, the character is played by a Dame.
WARNING: further down the line, the story will deal with some trauma and PTSD from said trauma. The trauma itself will be in the past and while instrumental to the story, it will not be described or detailed.
I mention this because as the author, I chose not to use the archive tags, an option that is provided by the Archive for purposes such as mine. I did not make the choice lightly, but tagging would spoil the story and the intricacies of the plot to the extent that there would be no point writing it. I assure you however, that the past events will absolutely not be descriptive, simply mentioned as something that happened.
Additionally, I had inquiries about Andy having male partners. Nate is a canon boyfriend and we are done with him pretty much even before the story begins, so that's that. Andy and Miranda are THE SHIP. There will be no men for either of them, so please do not be concerned. Mirandy is endgame.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Andy was exceedingly distracted during her shift at the bar that night and dove into the research on Priestly the second she got back to the attic at the gallery and booted up her trusty laptop. Considering all the bad and useless purchases she had made during the last four years, investing in a high end computer wasn’t one of them. A writer had to have her tools.
Googling Priestly was quite an experience in itself. Article upon article filled with what could generously be described as mass hysteria and generalized drooling, with people losing their minds over two feet tall statues of ballerinas, dancers and models strutting on the catwalk and a whole bunch of paintings in blue. Well, it was blue to Andy, but as this one whole book dedicated to those paintings explained, it was cerulean and apparently made a devastating impact on the fashion industry. Andy just rolled her eyes. It just all felt so pretentious. Ribbons and weird colors.
Andy Sachs of Cincinnati, Ohio had no delusions of grandeur about her insight into arts, still she could concede that the pieces were pretty, especially the gentle lines of amazingly realistic looking statues of bowing ballerina girls and the vividness of the brush strokes in the oil on canvas paintings. However for the life of her, she couldn’t fathom why it commissioned the exorbitant prices it did. Sure, it was really pretty, but the last Priestly piece, a stunning crimson oil on canvas study of a woman walking in the vibrant yellow wheat fields, brought in 4.5 million dollars. It wasn’t even that big of a painting! Andy felt stupid just thinking that thought, because of course nobody measured art by its size, but her Midwestern sensibilities were still offended that so much money could be spent on something so small and seemingly trivial.
She went to sleep that night, stretching languorously on her makeshift pallet and looking at the Manhattan night sky through the dusty attic skylight, still filled with the sense of possibility that the wind had awoken in her. She was also quite cognizant that in order for her to succeed at this assignment, she would have to really learn quite a lot in a very short amount of time. Still Andy fell asleep smiling. It was good to be doing something, something she studied so long for and something she had always dreamt would be the job of her dreams.
Nigel’s secretary was prompt in sending her the contract and after studying in detail all twenty three pages of it, and gulping some of the apprehension down that certain legal clauses had stirred in her mind, Andy printed the paperwork at Staples, signed, scanned and sent it back in under an hour. Desperation scared her much more than the legal treatise she just put her name on, even though she agreed that Nigel was right, it did feel a little like she was signing her soul over to the devil himself. All the materials she would gather or produce under the scope of the work assigned would belong to Elias-Clark, together with any and all research, recordings, videos, interviews, etc. It seemed that even her thoughts would not be her own once it was all said and done.
Her apprehension was somewhat assuaged by the various sets of numbers that were strewn across the document, a five figure amount if she put together the fee, the plane ticket costs, the per diems and other expenses she would incur while jetting around the world, investigating Priestly. And so her hand was remarkably steady when she signed her name on the dotted line.
Andy quit her various day jobs, only staying on as the bartender at the dark yet charming Irish pub, that allowed her to work nights and left her free during the day. It just felt too big and too scary for her to quit everything at once. What if she failed miserably and was again left with nothing? Plus it didn’t interfere with her research and she occasionally got good tips and a fish chips plate some nights if she was lucky.
Since she was in proud possession of her first advance check, she bought Lily lunch and dug deep into the long stream of platitudes her art curator friend was spewing about the Priestly pieces.
“Andy, it will all be lost on your peasant soul, but believe me there is absolutely nothing in this world that currently compares to a Priestly piece. No working artist comes close. Every year the art world waits with bated breath for their new creation and every year it’s a feeding frenzy at the auctions, the bidders killing themselves to even put a bid in. Even the smallest of their work is immediately noticed and raved over.”
Andy chewed thoughtfully on her dumpling and managed to get a question in while Lily was sipping on her water.
“But, I mean, and yes, I don’t necessarily understand the art, why is it so, well, big? For the lack of better word. It’s rather straightforward?”
Lily actually choked on her water and looked appalled.
“Straightforward? Oh my god, I am friends with a complete philistine, a total country bumpkin!” Lily waived her hands theatrically and mimed fainting. Andy did roll her eyes this time.
“Andy, Priestly is the utter incarnation of complexity in simple lines. Yes, the painting may contain two or three colors maximum, but if you look closely, you see the shades, the depth of color tones, the amazing cleanliness and sharpness of lines. The work is immaculate in its simplicity, nothing detracts from the point, there is no debris, no superfluousness, nothing to hide behind. That’s why it makes an impact. It’s tender and utterly flawless - just look at the ballerina bowing over, tying her pointe shoes - you can trace the lines of the body. It’s natural and precise and not a single thing is out of place - yet you can feel how gentle and fragile she is, the slim shoulder, the jutting wing bones. Fragility itself. It is so hard to make that impression in clay. Almost impossible. The material is not fragile at all!”
Lily went on and on about the depth and creativity and uniqueness of Priestly pieces and after a while Andy’s eyes just glazed over.
“Why are you asking about Priestly anyway, Sachs? I can see your peasant Midwestern soul being totally content with a drawing of a pinup girl. Maybe a Warhol if I try and expand your horizons. Priestly is like Monet, you can look a lifetime and find new shades in the colors and Priestly is like Rembrandt, centuries will pass and their brush strokes will be studied and revered just as much as his light is fawned over.”
Andy debated how much to reveal to Lily about writing an investigative piece on Priestly, but in the end, she felt that if there was one person she could trust with this it was her best friend.
“Elias-Clark ordered me to write a series of pieces on Priestly.”
Andy expected a number of reactions from Lily when her objective was revealed, but laughter to the point where tears were streaming down Lily’s face wasn’t one of them.
“You are going to write about Priestly’s art? You just called their pieces straightforward, you adorable homeless lunatic! Why did you even accept this assignment? No offense, babe, you have immense talent in that big head of yours and your writing is second to none, but art? This is so not your thing.”
After starting to get offended by her friend's dismissal, Andy was mollified by the description of her intellect and her writing and let it go.
“No, Lils, they've commissioned me to actually find Priestly and write about that. About who it is and why they are the art world’s answer to Banksy. Art is intrinsic to the piece, sure, and I will beef up my knowledge about it, but that’s not the point. Elias-Clark wants a piece on a recluse who conquered the world while never showing their face.”
The laughter in Lily’s eyes died immediately. She looked at Andy thoughtfully and took a couple of sips of water before speaking.
“Babe, I know you’re broke, and I know nothing has been the same since Nate threw you out, but that is one hell of an assignment. Believe me, while Priestly and their management have sort of made it into quite a mystery and a game to be played by the willing and the able, many established journalists have looked for Priestly and so far all of them have failed. I wish you luck, but let me also caution you. This person has hid their face and their persona for over 15 years, despite their game, what makes you think they will acquiesce to not only being found but to be interviewed as well?”
As they said goodbye, Andy did not allow thoughts of apprehension and fear capture her heart at Lily’s ominous words. Instead she thought of the fresh March breeze and of the fact that she had struggled long and hard and was due just one break in this damn life. Just one tiny break. It would all work out and she would prove Lily wrong.
Andy got her break at the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library among boxes and boxes of articles about the art scene of twenty years ago. Andy found the first Priestly piece that was ever auctioned exactly 15 years ago at Sotheby's in New York, but her mind just refused to believe that it was the first piece ever produced. With that hunch, she trawled the art section of the Post and the Times for various art shows and gallery openings going back from the 15 year mark. And then a very small byline in the Mirror jumped at her. She wasn’t even going to look in the Mirror since it was so minor in comparison to the other two news staples, but she went with her hunch.
Indeed a very short write-up on a gallery opening in Soho 18 years ago had a mention of a new artist, a M. Princhek. No first name but it had several pictures. One was a picture of a small oil on canvas painting and while it could’ve been anyone else, for some reason, Andy’s famous nose got the right scent. Her gut feeling was telling her to listen up. The second picture was small and rather blurry. It captured several people standing in front of the gallery doors of The Margo Dresden Gallery, back then an apparently a small endeavour just trying to establish itself despite the funding being poured into it by the proprietor.
In the picture, smudged and small as it was, stood four women. Andy googled the names mentioned in the article and accounted for all but one person. Dresden, her lover and theater actress, Virginia Mallan, a wealthy socialite and patron of arts, one Gunilla Garson at the time, not a Goldberg in sight yet, were all expressly mentioned as being in attendance and upon further Google image search were indeed three of the four women in the picture. She didn’t need to Google Gunilla of course, since she knew pretty well what she looked like, being as Andy lived illegally on the premises of her property.
The fourth person, standing in profile, a statuesque young woman with long light hair spilling in straight tresses down her shoulders and back did not have a name attached to her and neither did Googling the rest of the names in the article reveal her identity.
Andy felt a slight frisson of excitement. Could it be? No, she needed more corroboration. She got another hit in an article in a now defunct Daily News, around the same timeframe, 17 years ago at a different gallery opening. The article mentioned Gunilla Garson contributing to the Manhattan arts scene by donating a building for a makeshift gallery downtown. And Mrs. Garson, at the time a wealthy widow of an oil magnate was accompanied by a friend. No name, yet there was again the blonde willowy young woman on the arm of the older, stately Mrs. Garson. Andy had to smirk at the “friend” description, the way Gunilla had her arm possessively around the younger woman was so typical, as was typical of the papers to either clearly bend the truth just a bit to appease the wealthy and obviously powerful socialite or for as always failing to recognize the true relationship between the pictured women.
The second picture though caused Andy more than just a frisson of excitement, for the woman in it was stunning. Standing tall and proud, shoulders drawn back, her thin back exposed by a backless gown, she was looking back at the photographer and Andy found the gaze and the face absolutely arresting. She could not look away. It was as if this woman was looking straight at her. Big, expressive eyes, boring holes in the reader, so captivating was their power even in an over a decade old and faded picture. The face should not have been attractive, the cheekbones were too sharp, the mouth unsmiling and the eyes just too piercing, their expression haughty and a tad arrogant, yet Andy caught herself thinking that it was one of the most beautiful faces she had ever seen. Certainly one of the most enthralling. Was this the elusive Priestly?
In the middle of a crowded library reading room, Andy felt an unmistakable shiver run down her spine. A decade old photo of a fascinating woman was awakening something in her, an interest beyond intellectual and a thrill that went beyond the chase, though Andy could be honest with herself and admit that the chase was riveting. Andy found herself aroused for far different reasons and blushed furiously, sneaking furtive looks around. Nobody paid any attention to her and so she drew several deep breaths and tried to calm her racing heart and her treacherous hormones. She was wildly and inappropriately attracted to the woman in the faded picture. She felt ridiculous. She felt exhilarated and excited nonetheless.
Clamping down on her myriad of inappropriate thoughts, Andy spent the next couple of days digging through the library archives of the newspapers and magazines from that time but no other mention of the reclusive artist nor of her art could be found.
Andy even went down the road of looking up an M. Princhek, but it seemed that after garnering some positive reviews, the painter dropped off the face of the Earth a year before the first Priestly piece was first auctioned. Which gave Andy another shiver down her spine. There was definitely something there. But without a first name, it was difficult to pinpoint where to start her location search on a Princhek. There was quite a large population of Princheks in Toledo, Ohio, but there were equally as many of them in other Jewish communities in both New York and even in Europe. So that was an avenue that Andy couldn’t pursue, yet she documented her discoveries and her thoughts on the fact that the one piece of M. Princhek that she gleaned from the blurry photo in the Mirror, gave her Priestly vibes and that M. Princhek, despite good reviews and potential for a career, disappeared just before Priestly showed up on the New York scene.
In order not to waste more time and to ensure that she had a better understanding of the art Priestly was creating, Andy compiled a catalog of all the pieces that were sold under the Priestly name, from the last one, sold at Christie’s in London to the first one, sold at the Sothesby’s branch here in New York.
Her luck continued to hold. A familiar name looked on at her from the Sotheby's sales report from 15 years ago. Gunilla Garson was the person who purchased the first ever Priestly sold at the auction in New York. Mrs. Garson’s name appeared twice more in relation to a purchase of a Priestly, all in the first five years, while the pieces were being sold for still under $1 million dollars.
It made sense, according to Lily. Gunilla was rich but not filthy rich and while her wealth was listed on Wikipedia in the area of $15-20 million, it made sense that after the Priestlys started being valued at over $1 or $2 million, which happened astonishingly fast for a new artist, Gunnilla could no longer afford them. Still, according to all sources, she was currently in possession of three pieces, and only three other people could rival her that number. Donnatella Versaci, the Wertheimmer brothers, who held the control package of stock for Chanel, and Bernard Arnault, the owner of Dior.
This new revelation spiked a whole new line of inquiry for Andy. Setting aside for a moment Gunilla and her three Priestlys, Andy dove into looking for an answer to a question that kept her up for two nights in a row: why did most of the biggest fashion houses in the world go gaga over Priestly.
The answer wasn’t obvious and did not come to Andy easily. She poured over countless articles and reviews of collections and pieces, drew hundreds of graphs looking for a connection between colors, shapes, designers and fashion houses. Once she emerged out of her attic several days later, squinting at the sunshine after not seeing it for days, to finally get a decent cup of coffee and not the instant swill she had been chugging to sustain herself, she felt like she had made a breakthrough.
For some reason it was considered a foregone conclusion in the arts and fashion world that Priestly was inspired by the latest fashion trends. One Andy had managed to conclusively prove that was absolutely not the case. On the contrary, the fashion world at large was the one getting its inspiration from Priestly. Andy had successfully traced new emerging trends in either haute couture or pret-a-porter to the Priestly piece that was released the year before, since it was known that the houses planned their collections in advance. The most blatant example was the ballerina tying her pointe shoes. The relatively small statue was purchased at China Guardian for over $4 million dollars by Arnault. He outbid everyone, particularly a very interested Chinese billionaire, who was understood to have had such a strong influence that the piece was specifically being auctioned at a Chinese auction house. Still, the owner of Dior attended the auction in person with the Dior Creative Director at the time, Raf Simons. The bidding war was fierce and only the smallish size of the statue precluded the price to go way above the money it went for.
The next year, Dior revolutionized their footwear collection and every single pair of women’s shoes were accompanied by ribbons, a la pointe shoes, creating quite a splash in the footwear scene. The Dior ribbons were also quite intricate in design and attachment to the shoe, a design that was only revealed a year later when Dior lent the sculpture to the Met for the Gala showing.
That also seemed to be the trend. The fashion houses would buy the pieces, then hide them for a year or so while their designers studied them meticulously, drawing inspiration from every detail before the pieces were lent to various museums and showings. Hence the pervasive confusion of what appeared first - the Priestly or the particular design.
Armed with the absolute knowledge that the Priestlys indeed appeared first and that one artist actually managed for the past 15 years with the exception of the times that Gunilla Garson Goldberg purchased the works, to silently influence the whole fashion world without anyone being the wiser, was such a breakthrough that Andy felt her spirit soar. She practically floated over to the Upper East Side where her appointment with Mrs. Garson Goldberg was set for a respectable five o’clock. It seemed like absolutely nothing could bring her down. Nothing except the first words that came out of Gunilla’s mouth, after Andy was shown into her study.
“Oh, here comes my tenant! Finally come to pay me rent for using my attic, dear?”
As always, major major hugs and flowers and kittens go to @dianakanebooks, an awesome lesfic writer, who is slumming it by beta reading my stuff. Seriously, check her books out. They're' good and hot.
I'm @mckayundercover over on Twitter and you can talk to me or yell at me over there.
In the two weeks prior to her appointment with Gunilla, Andy had become a true expert on auction houses. Nigel’s office had even sent her on a quick trip to Christie’s and Sotheby’s London offices, since Priestly pieces were occasionally sold from there.
It was an eye opening experience. Andy had never been outside of the US and the transatlantic flight was something that she had been both anxious and excited about. Yet the eight hours flew by as she further immersed herself in research on the pieces that were purchased from both auction houses, the chronology of the events and the winning bidders. She was so prepared that when she did show up for her meetings, she aced both interviews and felt like she held her own against seasoned auctioneers and experts. The fact that she was extraordinarily nice to them helped as well.
She found out pretty much the same information as she had after her visits to the auction houses in New York. The pieces appeared once or twice a year, more often than not arranged in such a time-frame that their appearance would fall parallel with the fashion calendars. Occasionally though, out of the blue a piece would be surprisingly announced.
Andy was unable to determine when it started exactly, but the first time it really popped on her radar in a major way was three years ago. It happened in the middle of the fashion season when most of the trends had been agreed upon and announced, by either the fashion houses themselves or by Runway, Vogue and Elle. And yet three years ago, after a massive push for leather jackets and a whole motorcycle look that Runway in particular was promoting, with a slew of major motorcycle companies trying to make their way into fashion, Priestly dropped not one but two pieces containing exquisite detail with embroidery and floral adornments dominating. All the major houses changed their collections overnight, the leather biker chick look vanishing, being replaced by delicate flowers and lace with ivory being the color of the season.
Runway mounted a rather desperate attack, claiming that the European houses were anti-androgyny and anti-butch even, except not a year latter, Priestly came forward with a military style, camo dominated set of two statues and suddenly military jackets were in trend. The statues also sported short undercuts and so the era of androgynous models was ushered in.
In her mind, Andy was starting to see a trend developing. Priestly was rather comfortable going along the set time-frames and so were the fashion houses. They circled each other, her setting forth the major ideas, like the color of the season or an accessory of the year, like the broaches making a comeback quite recently due to her painting of a woman observing another painting at a gallery. Both the woman and the painting were wearing rather spectacular broaches, and for Priestly, the amount of detail, which was more characteristic for her statues, was exquisitely present in the oil on canvas. All Alexander McQueen models that year sported a rather spectacular looking broach as part of their ensemble.
And so when things were par for the course, the industry was rather certain of time-frames and expectations, Priestly just had that certain je ne sais quoi, what she put forward always sold. Not a single of her intended trends ever failed or missed its mark, the public lapped it up and it was easy to see why the industry staples never quite strayed from her leadership. Her ideas were a sure thing.
What was spectacular in itself though was how occasionally she quite obviously rallied against some trend or another and proceeded with what Andy cheerfully called the shot across the bow. What Andy found out from her new buddies at Sotheby's was that the auctions for this surprise work, the one released outside of her or the industry’s schedule, were always closed auctions and Priestly’s representatives always insisted that the auction house advertise those in advance, as a mysterious event that managed to heat up the public interest and designers’ frenzy even more than the regularly scheduled auction. After such massive publicity, the work would get shown to the public beforehand, so even though the auction was closed, the impromptu Priestly’s never disappeared for years unlike their regularly scheduled siblings.
Priestly was making a statement with the unscheduled work, making sure that whatever trend was being introduced was impossible to ignore due to the splash it made among both the industry insiders who attended the auction and the general public who previewed the work beforehand. The fashion houses clearly disliked such occurrences because it flipped their carefully laid plans and logistics chains for the upcoming collection, but the buzz and the spectacle around new unscheduled Priestlys were always so over the top, that the losses were more than offset by the gains. Hence the rich and famous patrons of the industry always got their paws on the pieces anyway. They might not love the situation, but Priestly was always a rainmaker and the industry willy-nilly fell in line every single time.
It was quite fascinating how much Andy gleaned from making several connections between seemingly random events and how much she was able to learn just from following the purchases and the global fashion trends. Being nice and polite to people in the industry and auctions, the clackers and lackey who never got a nice word directed to them on the daily basis, was akin to magic, as Andy got a ton of gossip, a myriad of connections and a boatload of information that led her to new lines that she could tug and pursue.
What she still couldn’t quite figure out was how Priestly managed to appear on the radar of the fashion industry, particularly since she was a virtual unknown when she began. If Andy was right and M. Pinchek and Priestly were one and the same, the artist had maybe two showings at rather obscure galleries almost twenty years ago, but it still did not explain how it came to be that such a newcomer became the one true influencer of a billion dollar industry. Sure, the quality and ingeniousness of the work was there. Plus from what art curators and art critics told Andy through the numerous articles and art books she had perused, Priestly wasn’t just a brilliant designer, Priestly was an amazing artist, whose brushstroke was studied at various famous art schools and whose clean delicate lines were becoming standard technique in sculpture. So on one hand, Priestly was beyond good and a sure win on the fashion market, yet on the other something still told Andy that things were not that easily explained.
In came Gunilla and her three pieces. It stood to reason that she stopped buying Priestly once the art exceeded her price range, but Andy still needed to figure out how obscure art that was sold to New York’s rich and famous went from mantle pieces on the Upper East Side to reigning supreme over the world of glitterati and catwalks.
And so here Andy was, at the mansion of Gunilla Garson Goldberg, trying to pick her jaw up from the thick and fluffy carpeted floors. She came fully prepared, as she always did. Nicely dressed too, at least to her mind and taste, which admittedly wasn’t such a good indicator, but she managed to update some pieces of her wardrobe at London’s trendy second hand stores. Still, Gunilla’s opening line threw her for a major loop. To say that Andy lost all the spit in her mouth, was an understatement. There she was in her second best turtleneck and newish blazer, in her one good pair of shoes, standing in front of the formidable Gunilla Garson Goldberg and feeling like a total tramp and a trespasser.
Gunilla gave her a very long once over and Andy felt the haughty gaze in her bones as it moved up and down her body. Yet the narrow face framed by grey locks was inscrutable. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Gunilla waved her thin, perfectly manicured hand in her general direction.
“Sit down, young lady. I’m not going to call the police on you, so stop trembling.” Andy dropped in the chair with complete lack of grace and not a little sense of dread.
“Now. My curator and your erstwhile friend, Ms. McKinnon tells me that you are a brilliant yet down on your luck reporter who has been thrown out in the middle of a cold and stormy night by a good-for-nothing boyfriend.” Andy was so shocked by the description her jaw was hanging open possibly even lower than before. Gunilla smiled and went on. “Yes, yes, Ms. McKinnon does have a way with words, but she is a competent curator who is not prone to a flight of fancy, so if she allowed you to stay in the attic, the situation must be dire indeed. Is it?”
The no-nonsense tone of voice brooked no arguments and faced by a straight question, Andy thought that dissembling wasn’t an option. She was never very good at lying anyway.
“Gunilla. None of this ma’am business, I know I’m old, but I don’t want to be reminded about it.” She reached for the bell and a woman in a maid uniform appeared with a tea tray and scones. Andy’s stomach rumbled noisily. Gunilla grimaced.
“Eat, child. The last thing I need is a dead body in my gallery attic.” Andy bit gently on the scone and Gunilla sipped her tea, watching her.
“I read some of your work, Ms. Sachs. What you wrote for that writing competition, about how nominally women’s rights have advanced but we are still very much stuck in the kitchen.”
Andy almost choked on the scone. The idea that Gunilla Garson Goldberg bothered to dig out a series of articles five years old was preposterous. Also the thought that the manicured, coiffed and made up millionaire even knew where the kitchen was in this gigantic mansion was just as preposterous if not totally laughable. Yet the subject was clearly important to the older woman, because her whole face became animated and interested.
“I’m obviously not the person to speak, but my husbands have made their fortunes by always listening to my advice, yet none of them thought a woman was good enough or smart enough to run a company. They all lapped up my stock advice, made millions off my knowledge and instinct, yet continued to think of me as of a little woman, content to sit in the living room reading women’s magazines and chattering away to my female friends about our next trip to Biaritz.” Gunilla smiled and that smile was cunning and languorous. Andy wisely chose to sip her tea and allow the woman to talk.
“I did indeed enjoy Biaritz and Cancun, and Monte Carlo. And I certainly did enjoy my female friends and if it was for more than intelligent conversation, my husbands were never the wiser.” Andy’s eyes grew wide at the implication.
“I know what you’re researching. I’ve been interviewed several times by other journalists and researchers of Priestly through the years, as the first buyer of their art. But the questions you’ve sent before coming here and the line of inquiry you are pursuing is new and intriguing.”
Gunilla looked somewhere just above Andy’s head and instantly her gaze became soft and melancholy. As much as Andy wanted to find out what put that far away expression on this no nonsense woman’s face, Andy decided that professionalism was more important, and looking your subject in the eye as they spoke won out in the end. Gunilla seemed to notice that and favored Andy with a tight lipped smile.
“Yes, child, since you’re studying the origins of Priestly and the times long past, judging by some of the very carefully worded allusions you’ve made in your email, you no doubt will find that once upon a time, I was an occasional visitor to that scene.” Gunilla’s smile again turned soft and introspective. If Andy was a betting woman, she would bet the scone she was currently devouring that there was wistfulness in the smile and the tone, like Gunilla had memories that went beyond simple fondness about what she called “that scene”. Andy even thought that she gleaned just a touch of regret in that smile.
As for the “scene”, surely Gunilla, a four time either widow or divorcee wasn’t talking about the gay scene? However, the women featured heavily in the pictures and articles on Priestly were definitely gay, from what Andy found out upon digging into their backgrounds. Moreover the poses, the subtle leaning into each other of Gunilla and Princhek, certainly hinted at least to some notion of being more than just “gal pals”.
Gunilla seemed to have no problem reading Andy’s thoughts, even if her gaze was still appalled at observing her bite hungrily into the strawberry jam filled doughy goodness.
“My friends at the time were extraordinary women, who wanted to live free. Yet I was fairly well known in business and social circles of New York and unwilling to make a spectacle out of myself, no matter how much I enjoyed our time together. So I had to leave that exceedingly pleasant company, as to not keep my friends from pursuing those who could give them what they wanted.” And yes, Andy thought there was definitely a lot of regret in the smile and intonation now.
“I don’t necessarily know why I’m telling you any of this. Except your digging so far has been rather unique, and your approach to a 17 year old mystery intriguing. And you do have something about you, the way you listen, the patience, so maybe you will actually do. Plus, Lily thinks you are a decent and honorable person who has been dealt a hard hand. 45 years ago, when I came to New York with $100 dollars to my name and no friends to speak off, somebody helped me out. You will move out of the gallery attic today. My house has several much more comfortable rooms that you can use to make yourself at home.” Andy gaped again and Gunilla waved away her shock.
“Maybe it’s not so much that you are a good listener as you are easily shocked and thus spend a lot of your time with your jaw hanging down? Get a hold of yourself, child.” Gunilla seemed to not suffer fools and airheads lightly or otherwise and Andy did her best to regain her composure.
“I know that right now you probably can’t pay rent, since you’ve quit most of your other jobs in order to get on this Priestly investigation. You’ll stay with me. The basement has a small apartment outfitted for the housekeeper, but I currently employ only Beth, whom you’ve seen just now and who does not live on the premises, and Gary, my driver. Beth can take you to see the room. It has its own entrance and semblance of a kitchenette, if I remember correctly.” Andy couldn’t help a giggle and Gunilla smiled herself.
“Cheeky, aren’t you? Yes, I haven’t been down there in years. I haven’t been to the gallery attic either, dear, yet I still knew exactly what was happening there for the past six months.” Gunilla gave her a knowing steely glance and Andy had the presence of mind to look sheepish, gulping loudly. The older woman smirked, having again proven her astuteness and clear intellectual superiority. As if Andy could argue. Gunilla seemed to be an all seeing, all knowing deity of some kind who was bestowing unheard of blessings on a poor bedraggled beggar such as herself.
“Now, off you go to look at the room and then take Gary to help you move your doubtlessly meager possessions into the basement.”
Andy stood up, not really knowing if prostrating herself at the feet of the older woman and kissing her shoes was appropriate or just a touch too much. Yet something niggled at the edges of her mind and so she decided that truth had served her well so far and there was no point in not sticking to that course of action with Gunilla.
“I really appreciate what you’re doing for me, Gunilla, I do. I have no idea how to repay you. If things go well and my work is fruitful, I will make money and will obviously do my best to compensate you for your generosity, but for now I just want to ask you why are you really doing this?
Gunilla gave her a curious stare and a bland smile.
“From what Lily tells me and from what your request for the interview indicated, you are about to embark on an interesting, challenging, but also very important assignment. As I told you before, I have some semblance of connection to that scene and to those people you are about to dive into and I believe they and their story deserve the utmost care and the utmost professionalism. I want you to do it right and I don’t trust Nigel Kipling and Runway or whomever else is pulling your strings, to handle this delicate thing with the care it deserves.”
And there it was again. Nigel, Lily, the New York Times and every other reviewer who ever wrote a couple of words about Priestly used the same adjective. Delicate. But Gunilla did not describe the artist or the art as such, in fact she didn’t even mention the artist’s name. Gunilla it seemed had a vested interest in Andy fulfilling her assignment with as much delicacy as possible. And she was opening her home, granted, her basement, for Andy to be comfortable enough to do so. It was all so very puzzling indeed.
Major thank you for the encouragement to those who reached out to me this week. This story is for some reason not easy for me.
DK, you are a saint to put up with me! So major thank you and huge hugs and kittens.
I'm @mckayundercover over on Twitter so come and talk to me or yell at me that these two still have not met. I promise you it's coming though. Soon.
Gunilla was a generous host, allowing Andy to run amok in her mansion on the Upper Eastside. She was given a spacious one-bedroom basement unit, that while sparsely furnished still held everything Andy would ever deem necessary for living comfortably and then some. What made her happiest of all was the soft and cozy double bed tucked into a tiny alcove, sectioned off of the small living room and kitchenette. Andy slept like a baby that first night on clean lavender and vanilla scented sheets. She still had her doubts about Gunilla’s motives, but she wasn’t going to look this gift horse in the mouth. She had spent over six months on either friends’ sofas or the frankly uncomfortable air mattress and sleeping bag combination and this old bed with its memory foam was the height of luxury right now.
Gary, Gunilla’s driver, and a man of very few words and some grunts helped Andy cart her meager possessions from the gallery attic to the mansion. Aside from being taciturn, he gave Andy the impression of a loyal and sturdy man who has obviously served Gunilla for many years and was not going to go around blabbing about his mistress’ life or customs.
Beth, the maid cum housekeeper, was a chatty woman around forty who was hired after Gunilla’s longest-serving, and by all accounts long-suffering, housekeep retired a couple of years ago, hence Andy concluded that as loose-tongued and as pleasant Beth was, she also wasn’t a source of any worthy information on her host. Still, Andy was pleased to be spending time with someone who clearly had no agenda and who was finding Andy’s company just as pleasing, if Andy said so herself. They often chatted in the mornings, as both were early birds and Gunilla did not rise before noon.
At times they were joined in their breakfast chats by Alain, the private chef who came by the mansion five times a week in the mornings and supplied Gunilla and her staff with delicious French cuisine. Andy ingratiated herself to the grouchy, arrogant Frenchman by offering to do his shopping for him, to which he just scoffed something along the lines of “What can a spoiled little girl from the middle of nowhere, USA, possibly know about good fresh produce? Pfft.”
However, with her pub and waitressing experience under her belt, as well as the already ingrained 5 AM wake up clock, Andy managed to deliver a basket of absolute perfection in the form of ingredients for shrimp scampi by the time Alain showed up one morning. He tsk’ed, verified every small item in the basket, then decreed that he would start showing up an hour later, as Andy would now be in charge of morning fresh market visits. It suited Andy just fine. She jogged her way to the market and carried the produce back, thus keeping herself in shape and feeling like she contributed to the overall running of a household that housed her and fed her for reasons still passing her understanding.
Living at Gunilla’s mansion provided her with one more privilege. And what a privilege it was. Andy managed to finally lay her eyes on a Priestly. Not a copy, not a photograph, and not a reproduction. An actual, honest to God, Priestly. Unfortunately only one of them, since Gunilla had the other two loaned to some museum in California that was running a months-long Priestly exhibition, but even the one Andy could see every day took her breath away every single time.
It was the first Priestly to ever go on auction and Andy fancied that Gunilla would never loan this particular one, as it was her first but also, perhaps because it held deeper meaning and connection to the older woman?
Andy still couldn’t find the courage or the opportunity to actually ask Gunilla about M. Princhek and her obvious, at least to this journalist’s eye, romantic connection to the once budding artist. While Gunilla did not hide her occasional sapphic adventures and had made a point to disclose that much in her first conversation with Andy, she also made a point that she could never live a life out in the open and that gave Andy much pause and many headaches in how to approach Gunilla on the subject of M. Princhek, because the more Andy studied Priestly, the more her gut was telling her that the two artists were one and the same.
On top of it all, every time Andy stopped by the rather small, one foot, clay statue of a girl hiding under an umbrella, it gave her chills. Her reaction was visceral and uncontrollable. Andy read that art evoked all sorts of emotions in observers and that viewing a piece of global cultural heritage would often cause such a profound reaction, but she never quite believed it. Moreover, Gunilla kept the statue on the mantle of the fireplace in her office, in such a ubiquitous place that seemingly was totally unsuitable for a priceless artifact, and yet, Andy understood why it was kept there and only there. Gunilla had only to raise her head from her work at her desk and see the Priestly and if that was not the one big in your face kind of clue, Andy would eat her beanie.
And Gunilla did look at the statue. Often, in the middle of a conversation with Andy, about seemingly innocuous subjects, she would raise her head and just look, her eyes filling with longing and regret. It was that depth of feeling that stopped Andy from outright asking, because she often felt like in those moments, among the opulent furnishings, the golden accents, the Louis XVI antique desk and the Persian carpet that probably cost more than Andy would ever make in her lifetime, it felt like none of it mattered to the older woman and perhaps she would exchange it all for whatever it was she gave up her lover for during those halcyon years.
So Andy did not bring M. Princhek up, but she continued to periodically stop by the study to observe the Priestly. Aside from the deep reverence and attraction, she held for the piece, it also gave her chills for an entirely different reason. Looking at it, at the huddled small form, crouching down and trying to shield herself from the downpour, Andy felt sorrow and some inexplicable sense of pain and trauma. Was the young girl hurt? Her face didn’t show actual pain, but it had a timeless look in those features, one of someone who has suffered deeply. Again, Andy couldn’t explain it, but she made copious notes about her first and second and third impressions and continued to wonder and guess what caused a young, on the upper trajectory artist to fall off the map and return with a different name and a piece that spoke of years and decades lived in pain.
Andy could speculate, but she wasn’t in the speculation business and stone-cold facts were required here. There were plenty of puff pieces written on Priestly over the years, praising the allure of the artists being incognito and imagining the backstory that at times seemed more science fiction than fiction, not to mention clearly was the child of somebody’s horribly cliched imagination.
In the midst of settling in, continuing to do more legwork on other Priestly pieces and spending days on end at the Rose Room of the New York Public Library trying to track more M. Princhek mentions in the decades-old newspapers, Andy got another major break. One of the contacts she made at Sotheby's in New York informed her that a new and unexpected Priestly painting would be auctioned at the Manhattan auction house in a week’s time.
To say that Andy was ecstatic was an understatement. She was so over the moon with the news, that the obvious impediment to her attending the auction didn’t even register until she read the email from the auctioneer a second time. The auction was supposed to be by invitation only. According to her source, Priestly’s management was handling the invitations and per instructions no outside bidders or uninvited guests were to be allowed.
This wasn’t at all unusual, for both Priestly’s art or for the exclusive world of the exceedingly rich people who could afford million-dollar art pieces, however, it presented a rather insurmountable difficulty for Andy, who really wanted to observe a Priestly piece being auctioned and obviously to see the painting or statue that would surely be whisked away by the new buyer and not shown until months or years from the purchase, as also was customary for Priestly pieces.
A call to Nigel’s longsuffering assistant, who was in the middle of hauling some skirts to the Elias-Clark building, and Andy was in possession of contacts for various assistants of various fashion houses with various offices in Manhattan. A quick crosscheck search on all available social media websites and apps and at least two of said assistants either knew Lily or drank coffee at Andy’s high priced, hipster coffee house. It was very easy for Andy to take it from there and by the end of the week, even if she herself was no closer to an invitation to Sotheby’s, she had confirmation that Dior and Chanel execs would be attending the auction, therefore it would be another of those revolutionary concepts, that Priestly put out once in a while to change the course of the current fashion trends.
However, even armed with all that information, Andy was no closer to obtaining entrance to the holy grounds of the Sotheby’s auction house floor. She was just desperate enough to stake the place out and take pictures of anyone who’d be coming and going in the hope to later identify them and somehow get one step closer to someone connected to Priestly since it was clear that her management was setting the whole event up. Surely they would be there. In Andy’s mind, she’d simply approach that person, introduce herself, and lay down the information she had amassed promptly receiving either a resounding slap in the face for being a creep or at least some form or other of denial or confirmation of her theory.
In the past, when journalists were on the hunt for Priestly, the artist’s management was fairly amenable to denial of various fantastic stories that the journalists would come up with. The game, for it was undoubtedly a game both the artist and their management were playing, was for the journalists to find a way to reach out to the management. Priestly’s people weren’t listed anywhere and the auction houses were certainly never going to disclose any such contact information for fear of losing lucrative business.
So Andy was going to play the game that was quite well documented in previous investigations into Priestly. If you managed to find them, they would talk to you. Was staking out Sotheby’s ethical? Andy wasn’t entirely certain, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and so her mind was made up.
However her amateur private investigator initiatives were thwarted in the best of ways when on the eve of the auction an ivory invitation on a familiar Sotheby’s letterhead was casually flaunted in front of her face by the thin, regal hand of her host. Gunilla mischievously smirked while sipping from her martini glass, and tilted her head as if she was wearing a tiara.
“I couldn’t leave you to your devices again, darling.” The way Gunilla said darling made it sound like the word had twenty syllables at least and it had similar tones to those Andy only heard in movies with Katharine Hepburn in them.
“I wasn’t going to do anything illegal…”
“Yes, yes, you were only going to stalk someone or break into some private business or do some other inane reckless thing that would get you arrested. I understand that you are in dire straights and this article is the road to some kind of mythical salvation for you and I also understand that through the years Priestly practically invited all sorts of hopefuls to discover their identity in this decade long game of cat and mouse, but I thought it would be nice for me to go and see this piece since it will probably not make it to the MET until some time later. Don’t you agree, darling?”
Of course Andy agreed. And thus agreeing she found herself in the back row of a smallish room, amidst what she counted were thirty other people. The auction was about to start and everyone was still quietly murmuring and occasionally mutely staring in awe at the massive painting dominating the space in front of the room. It was bigger than most of the Priestly canvasses, and Andy was now somewhat an expert so that she could say that absolutely assuredly. It was also of a startling deep yellow.
The spring collections had already been shown in Paris and London, so clearly this painting and this yellow were not geared towards those trends, since they were pretty well established and spring collections leaned more towards pastels and less bold colors. Considering that a lot of the new trends for the upcoming fall collection were veering towards crimson, Andy thought that this yellow was a particularly bold move in more ways than one.
While she certainly had not seen the still in development fall collections of the major houses, she had trolled enough fashion blogs by now to know that saffron crimson was supposed to be the center of a number of those collections. In fact, even Runway and Vogue were making subtle hints about the specific crimson and the specific flower, that was worth its weight in gold. So now all of that would probably be thrown to hell in a handbasket and the houses present here would be scrambling to feature this yellow in their collections. Obviously, nobody said that you couldn't pair the crimson with the yellow, and Andy’s untrained eye certainly saw the possibilities to do just that, however, the other colors in the painting, the greens, and the blues simply did not allow for such a bold and powerful color like crimson to truly be well incorporated. Bummer for the crimson, Andy thought.
Observing the room and the people, one woman caught Andy’s eye. She was beautiful, sure, and young and quite eye-catching all by herself, what with her being a redhead and wearing a gorgeous McQueen number from the spring collection, if Andy in her newfound fashion savviness said so. But her beauty and fashion sense did not attract Andy as much as the fact that the redhead wasn’t even remotely interested in the painting. Not once in the time that Andy had been observing her had the woman so much as raised her eyes towards what surely was the centerpiece of the room. Everyone was looking at it. Andy and Gunilla were not bidding on the piece and yet they too were periodically looking up and admiring it, it was so very beautiful after all. Yet this woman cared not a jot about the painting. It was as if she had seen it before and knew it too well to be bothered by it or to be interested in it anymore and that could only mean one thing. Andy’s insides coiled and her hands immediately felt wet with perspiration. The redhead couldn’t be Priestly, simply because she was Andy’s age and thus way too young, but she was definitely from Priestly’s management because nobody who hadn’t seen the painting before could remain this unperturbed by it.
The auction started and went off without a hitch. The new Armani collection would surely feature a ton of yellow, Andy was certain of it after Giorgio Armani’s right-hand man placed the winning bid. Since he kept touching his earpiece, it was fairly clear that his boss was the one who instructed him to go above the bid that the Gucci guys had made and thus buy the painting for a cool sum of four million dollars. However the bids and the bidders did not interest Andy. Her eyes were glued to the redhead two rows in front of her, who made notes and observed everyone with avid interest. Once the winning bid was logged, she rose gracefully from her chair and made a discreet exit.
Andy was so surprised by the sudden departure that she was rooted to her spot for a couple of crucial seconds until a well-placed elbow from Gunilla woke her up from her reverie.
“Well, don’t sit there like an idiot! Follow her!” Gunilla was clearly not in the mood to suffer Andy’s stupor or subsequent stupidity as she all but pushed her towards the exit and after the quickly striding away redhead.
Andy almost flew out of Sotheby's and cursed herself for a fool for not getting out as soon as the redhead was on the move because the street in front of her was almost empty with very few passers-by minding their own business and being on their way. Andy looked left and right and decided that there was no way the redhead had a car for she would have noticed one driving away as soon as she exited. It was fairly improbable that the woman who while clearly having the grace and the aptitude to walk on the stiletto four-inch heels would actually walk very far in those shoes. If not for comfort than at least for the preservation of said shoes. They were too gorgeous and too expensive to ruin walking long distances along Manhattan streets. So she was walking but not very far, Andy surmised and since to her left was the Special Surgery and the Presbyterian hospitals spanning whole blocks, she decided that the redhead took the turn to the right towards the residential streets of Upper East Side.
Andy was proven right in about five minutes when she caught the sight of her quarry striding confidently along York Avenue and turning on to 73rd Upper East Side. Andy quicked her unencumbered by heels stride and was just in time to observe the redhead climb a set of beautiful marble stairs of a white stone townhouse. She rang the bell, and from her position on the street Andy could hear the pleasant chime, and then she couldn’t hear anything at all, because the large wooden door opened and a face that was so familiar yet so new appeared in the open doorway. M. Princhek, surely Priestly herself, welcomed the redhead in with a haughty expression and an arrogant smirk on thin lips covered by a light sheer gloss. The vivid blue eyes seemed to sparkle with merriment at something the young woman said just before she closed the door, leaving Andy completely shell shocked and disoriented.
Dum-dum-dum... We get the first glimpse of Priestly.
@dianakanebooks - you are an angel to suffer through my crisis of confidence. Thank you!
As always, I'm your host @mckayundercover, thank you for reading!
There's another Easter egg hidden in this chapter - a throwback to my favorite movie "Carol", let's see if any of you find it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Andy got back to Gunilla’s basement it was late. If asked, she wouldn’t have been able to say what she did for over eight hours from the moment she got a glimpse of Priestly to the moment she laid her head down on the pillow. Inhaling lavender and vanilla, she felt untethered and dazed. Thank goodness it was her night off at the pub, or she would’ve missed her shift.
Was it possible she was hit over the head and didn't remember it? It felt like her whole life narrowed down and focused on this one single event. If seeing Priestly’s art made an impact on her, then seeing Priestly herself took her breath away and hours later she still felt lightheaded.
She laid in her comfortable bed and watched the expanse of the spotless ceiling above her, illuminated by the street light that poured gently through the small windows and felt like something just as gentle as that light was slowly seeping into her life. She felt foolish and fanciful and could not for the life of her explain how a single sighting of a woman affected her in this way.
The pictures Andy had seen, blurry and small as they were, not to mention decades old, had nothing on the real thing. The high cheekbones, the expressive mouth, and the defined jawline that surely could cut glass. Andy remembered her earlier thoughts, at seeing a picture of Princhek for the very first time at the Rose Room at the New York Library: the woman should not be beautiful. Yet just like then and certainly more so now, Andy thought that she had never seen anyone who was more captivating than Priestly. Was it the allure of the mystery? Of the success of finally finding her quarry? Of knowing that Andy was the only person in the world who successfully cracked the fifteen-year-old riddle? Or was it the sensuous mouth, the haughty brow, and the brilliant eyes that made Andy feel like she had some kind of head trauma and perhaps a visit to the emergency room wasn’t out of the question? What was happening to her?
As she turned on her stomach, street light be damned, Andy punched the pillow and closed her eyes. Enough foolishness. She had given herself eight hours of wandering around Manhattan doing god knows what, probably daydreaming and other such nonsense. She had work to do and she needed all the sleep she could get. She needed a plan and she needed one soon. Nigel would not wait forever and his earlier email about lunch sometime this week pretty much told her so. So Andy resolutely buried her face in the lavender and vanilla and fell asleep.
The morning brought clarity. Since the game Priestly and her management played for years was simple - find me and I will confirm my identity, all that was left for Andy to do was march herself to the townhouse on the Upper Eastside and knock on the door. She assumed that simply stating that she followed the redhead from Sotheby’s to the door of 137 East 73rd Street would not suffice, and rightfully so. Plenty of people could’ve done that, or hired a private investigator to suss out exactly the same thing, simply follow someone from the auction house.
But Andy had the M. Princhek as her ace up her sleeve. She was absolutely certain that nobody had made that connection yet. Certainly it wasn’t in any of the handful of books or hundreds of articles or even the Ph.D. and masters thesis on Priestly that Andy had consumed in the past month.
No, M. Princhek, her connection to Gunilla and her work that even in blurry light of faded newspaper print sill held resemblance of the early Priestly pieces - these were all Andy’s discoveries that she hoped would be enough to sway the reclusive artist to not only confirm her identity but also to agree to an interview. Or to at least work with Andy on the feature that she had already sketched out. Well, work on was too grandiose of expression anyway. Maybe at least peek at it and corroborate?
With her thoughts spinning wildly out of control and her expectations diminishing with every minute, Andy took her courage in her hands, put on her best finery after wringing her hands for an hour in front of her wardrobe, and walked the short distance to 73rd street. It had not actually occurred to her that Gunilla’s mansion was only 4 streets away from Priestly’s and if that wasn’t another brick in the wall Andy was building, she would eat her beanie. Except it was warm out and Andy was not wearing said beanie. So she relaxed her shoulders and unclenched her jaw feeling the spring breeze ruffle her hair once more and decided that it was another good omen. After all, the same wind brought her this assignment all that time ago.
She walked briskly towards her quandary and as she made the corner between Lexington and 73rd, the redhead from the auction was stepping out of the townhouse Andy was walking towards. On pure instinct, and if years later she was asked why she did this, Andy would’ve never been able to answer with any degree of certainty, but swiftly, as not be noticed, Andy stopped in her tracks, backtracked and peered around the corner. Her heart skipped a beat when the redhead was followed out of the townhouse by a huge St. Bernard, its leash held by a long-fingered slim and graceful hand, unadorned by rings or bracelets. As Andy lived and breathed, the woman from the pictures transcended 17 years and slowly climbed down the stairs followed by the well behaved dog, who trotted placidly by her side.
As if in a trance, Andy followed the two women as they walked down the block, the dog stopping occasionally to sniff at trees or the cars parked along the road. From her position almost a hundred feet away from them, Andy could not hear their conversation, but the redhead was animated and gesticulated wildly to make some sort of point while Priestly watched the wild antics impassively and gracefully inclined her head every once in a while, keeping a sharp eye on the dog and occasionally petting the big head that would immediately abandon the sniffing and look up at its mistress adoringly, with a goofy-looking doggy grin on its big brown snout.
The women entered a hip-looking coffee shop on the corner of 73rd Street and 3rd Avenue and Andy had to think carefully about her next step. She honestly did not intend to follow or stalk Priestly, and she couldn’t very well approach her on the street. For some reason she also felt decidedly uncomfortable approaching her while she was in the company of the redhead. Come to think of it, Andy for some reason wanted to approach her alone. She snorted at her own audacity and at outright lying to herself. For some reason? Pfft, Andy wanted to approach Priestly alone because the pull she felt towards the young, fresh-faced haughty beauty in decade-old pictures was nothing compared to what Andy had felt in the past ten minutes as she followed the woman down 73rd Street. She was a writer and yet words failed her. Magnetic was totally insufficient and gobsmacked was close but such an unappealing word to describe how this utterly appealing woman made Andy feel.
Andy had only ever dated a woman once and the experience changed her outlook on intimacy forever. Her professor’s TA was new at Northwestern and closeted so their trysts were clandestine, yet it felt at the time so much sweeter for the secrecy of the encounters. Andy and Nate were on a break due to some drama or other they liked to create for each other and the 30-year-old suave and seductive Emma ensured that for the summer before her senior year, Andy did not think of Nate at all. The sex was off the chart, both of them falling on each other like mad the moment the doors of Emma’s small off-campus apartment would close. It didn’t last, because while Andy had no issues with secrecy per se, lying wasn’t in her nature and when she asked if she was allowed to tell people about their relationship because her friends were starting to notice her absence and frequent flights off-campus followed by a heavy afterglow, Emma ended their relationship, stating that she wasn’t ready to come out. Andy and Nate reconciled when he came crawling back to her around Christmas of their senior year and then six months later they moved to New York together, leaving Emma behind once and for all. Last Andy heard, she was still teaching in an adjunct position at Northwestern and she was still in the closet.
As much as Emma’s rejection hurt Andy, she did not regret the three months they spent making love and opening their souls to each other, among braiding flowers in each other’s hair during impromptu picnics and playing hoops with the neighborhood kids on the weekends. Emma’s steadfast pursuit of her and subsequent seduction had opened Andy’s eyes on her own bisexuality and on the sexual appeal of women.
With everything that had happened to her in New York, she rarely got to indulge in her attraction to women, other than smile at them across the bar as she served them their drinks. She was popular with the clientele at the pub, but her state of a hamster on a spinning wheel, always on the run from one place of employment to another, left her feeling that if she stopped to indulge in a fun and easy one night stand with one of the patrons who regularly left her a hefty tip, she’d fall off the wheel and her already difficult life would unravel even farther. And so she did not indulge, despite both men and women writing down their numbers on napkins as they passed her their cash.
But ever since she saw that faded photo in the Rose Room of the New York Public Library, it was as if her mind and body were bewitched, for she had no other explanation for the way she was feeling and acting when it came to Priestly. She fully intended to march straight to 137 East 73rd Street, and introduce herself, instead, she followed the woman like some creep and was now ordering coffee at the exorbitantly expensive coffee shop while taking furtive glances at the two women chatting in the corner and the dog napping under their table.
The coffee shop was somewhat busy and so it took her a good ten minutes to get her coffee and she basked in the opportunity to take a slower look at the woman who had occupied her days for a month now and who unquestionably captivated her more and more with every moment.
Priestly’s long slim fingers, unadorned by rings, held the surprisingly large mug firmly as she gracefully took sip after sip of clearly scorching liquid. Andy suddenly wanted to know her coffee order. Priestly fascinated her so, Andy wanted to know everything about her. She could lie to herself and say that was for the article, for her assignment, but all Andy really wanted was to trade places with the redhead and sit in the corner of the coffee shop and bask in the attention of this enigmatic woman and listen to her talk quietly in a soft, deep and low voice with just a hint of gravel, a surprising contralto. She was occasionally tracing the edge of the mug with her fingertips, focusing Andy’s already hungry gaze even more on those elegant hands, with porcelain skin interspersed with blue veins.
Andy wanted to trace those veins with her fingers, with her lips. The barista calling out her caramel macchiato startled her out of her reverie of mouthing along Priestly’s hands up to her forearm and shoulder to that long, graceful neck and gently biting down on the place where the shoulder and neck came together. She would gasp, perhaps throw her head back, allowing Andy better access and she’d nose under her small ear, before taking the lobe into her mouth and sucking on it. Andy imagined that those slim hands would come up to clutch at her shoulders and that mouth would open slightly allowing Andy all the access she needed to claim it, to taste those unsmiling lips and to slowly and gently lick in and taste coffee and heat and something uniquely this woman.
For a moment Andy forgot where she was and only the barista's second call for Andy and a caramel macchiato finally managed to shake her out of her daydreaming of ravishing Priestly in a very public place. She took a quick sip of her drink, scalded her mouth, cursed under her breath, and left the coffee shop without a backward glance at the woman who just featured in her sex fantasy.
Her underwear was ruined, her mouth was burning and she had no earthly idea what to do about the conundrum she found herself in. She needed to get a resolution to her assignment one way or another, but she also wanted, for the first time in what felt like forever, to bury her face between the undoubtedly smooth thighs of this enigmatic woman and make her scream.
Andy stepped into the street and shook her head ruefully, with thoughts like that she would get fired and blackballed from the whole of New York and Priestly would most likely take a restraining order against her.
So when her phone vibrated in her pocket a second later, Andy welcomed the distraction of Nigel inviting her to a late lunch. It also served a purpose to remind her that she had to put her crazy notions of sex with Priestly in check, because her boss was calling and he would definitely like an update on all things Priestly during said lunch. Well, maybe not all things, since Nigel definitely did not know or need to know how much Andy wanted to taste the woman.
As it turned out Nigel did have questions, but also some small assignments for Andy. He was gracious enough to order a ton of appetizers and a big entre for her voracious appetite that seemed to still be catching up to the plenitude of food that she was indulging in at Gunilla’s.
The assignments were book reviews and small articles on some art-related things that would go into a couple of summer Runway issues since some things fell through for him and he needed last-minute replacements. This development made Andy very happy, probably just as happy as the halibut and the crab cakes did. She was back on the horse again with her name about to appear in a major magazine.
When Nigel finally broached the subject of her focus assignment he was just a bit cagey about it, probing and asking strange questions that made Andy uneasy.
“It’s going well, Nigel, I have a ton of information accumulated and as you know with the latest Priestly dropping yesterday…” She started just as cagey, as something in his tone, and the questioning line did not sit well with her.
Nigel just waved at her impatiently, a huge sapphire sparkling on his pinky as he moved his hands. “Yes, the piece that dropped yesterday. Let me tell you, my emaciated friend, that yellow put a lot of people’s noses out of joint. Irv is beside himself. Elias-Clark was bidding big on the crimson and so were some of the houses. He’s about to leave for Europe and the Middle East now, to try and smooth ruffled feathers of the investors, but this was a big blow to the industry, Andy.”
The reaction to a simple color seemed a tad excessive for Andy, so she made a mental note to look into the Elias-Clark and their investors and interests. Something was off about this whole saffron deal, Nigel’s comment about Irv dropping everything and leaving to handhold investors was giving Andy some weird vibes. She’d need to look into it, as her gut was seldom wrong. And even if it was, it paid to know things about the industry one worked in anyway. She’d just pay a visit to some of the people at Elias-Clark and invite them out for coffee and gossip. After all the running around for Nigel for years on small potato assignments, she had impressive contacts in the building.
“So with Irv away for the next month or so, you have the time to dig deeper into this, Andy, but mark my words, “a ton of information accumulated” will not go down well with him once he’s back. He’s made a considerable investment in you and your work by signing you on, so you have to deliver. Capisci, darling?”
Andy did indeed understand. But Nigel inadvertently ended up giving away more than he perhaps intended. Andy heard a “month” and instantly calculated that she had at least that to figure out how to approach Priestly, instead of rushing headlong into clumsy introductions and even clumsier requests for confirmation of the identity Andy had discovered. So she had time. Time to think and time to indulge in more x-rated fantasies about the woman. Because she had no doubt, when Priestly found out the real purpose behind Andy’s appearance at her porch, she’d not want anything to do with the journalist.
As it turned out, Andy did not have to knock on Priestly’s door. She felt like she was not prepared yet, like all her ducks weren’t in a row to approach the fascinating artist and so she installed herself in the coffee shop on the corner of the 73rd and Maddison and contented with doing her small assignments in the geographical proximity of the woman who occupied her days and sometimes nights.
Andy did not even get too far into the first gallery opening review, which she attended with Lily the night before, when the door opened and a somewhat agitated St. Bernard busted into the place and headed straight for her corner booth. In a matter of seconds Andy found her lap full of dog snout and her notes scattered all over the floor. As she desperately tried to pry the heavy head away from her crotch, keeping her voice stern, yet trying not to laugh at the obviously guilty doggy grin that looked up at her, a smooth deep contralto sounded right in front of her.
“Patricia, down!” The tone wasn’t raised, nor was it mean or demeaning, however it transmitted authority and held an undertone of steel. As much as the voice and the tone did things to Andy’s insides, it only worked partially in the pup who did move her muzzle from Andy’s now slobbered on crotch but refused to budge from Andy herself, acquiescing enough to just slump the big head on the journalist’s shoes.
“Patricia…” The woman finally looked up from the misbehaving dog and for a moment Andy was struck mute by the brilliant blue of the serious, albeit impatient, eyes. Had she ever seen blue of that hue or that vividness? Was it even possible? The eyes, startling and haunting, pierced right through her, and Andy wanted to look into them forever.
“I apologize, this is so out of the ordinary for her.” Andy finally managed to shake her musings off and took in the vision that was the woman standing in front of her.
In a black peacoat and gray leather gloves, four-inch heeled boots that were surely Jimmy Choos or Louboutins, or whatever high fashion brands made boots like that, Priestly looked exquisite. Her clothing seemed simple, with no effusiveness in lines, material, or accessories, which were only the hoop earrings as far as Andy could see, yet it all screamed high class.
The long blonde hair from 17 years ago was gone, taking its place was a short bob of a mixture of silver and a little gold, with a lock curling in the front and falling gracefully over the face that held the same high cheekbones and razor-sharp jaw.
The silence between them stretched for far too long and Andy realized that her appraisal was perhaps a touch too obvious, as one elegant eyebrow was raised questioningly at her.
“Oh… She’s fine!” Andy hurried to try and rectify the situation. “Aren’t you, girl? You’re just adorable!” Andy leaned down and scratched under the dog’s massive muzzle and she dissolved into doggy grins and whines while her tail told a story of complete and utter bliss at being petted in a way she obviously adored.
“Still”, Priestly said and damn if that voice didn’t do ridiculously pleasant things to Andy, “This is highly unusual for her and she’s already ruined your trousers and is now attempting to slobber all over your shoes. Here, Patricia!” The dog finally heeded the command in the voice of her mistress and stood up, trotting obediently to her side.
Andy smiled at the obvious unrepentant woof Patricia sent her way and extended her hand to give the giant teddy bear an ear scratch.
“Don’t encourage her, or I will not keep her from farther ruining those two seasons old Ferragamos.” Priestly’s voice was gravelly, a touch rusty, her lips slightly pursed, as if speaking to Andy, speaking at all, was something she did not do much or often.
“She’s just too adorable and I’m a total sucker for a dame!” Andy absolutely did not consider her words before she uttered them, but once it was out there her face changed entirely, and the chagrined expression of “caught in the act” gave her away more than the words. Priestly looked at her speculatively and then seemed to draw into herself as the door to the coffee shop opened to let in a boisterous crowd of teenagers.
Patricia’s demeanor seemed to change just as much as her mistress’ and she slowly positioned herself between the crowd and the woman who still stood ramrod straight and clenched the leash in her white-knuckled grip.
The lightbulb above Andy’s head went off and she slowly and carefully, trying not to make any sudden movements, stood up and gently touched the other woman’s elbow. Priestly flinched, but did not draw away and Andy gently guided her down to the cushioned seat in the booth, sitting in such a way as to block the crowd with her own body. The dog sat close to her mistress and continued to throw adoring glances at Andy and to distract all of them from the obviously uncomfortable situation, Andy stole a piece of her doughnut and gave it to the animal, who caught it neatly in the air and the adoration in her eyes and that goofy grin deepened once the pastry was consumed a second later.
Not satisfied with just a piece, the dog nosed under Priestly’s hand that rested on her thigh as if telling her to raise it and give her the rest of the doughnut that was still on the plate on the table and Andy laughed inadvertently at the pup’s antics.
The laughter seemed to snap Priestly out of her reverie and she gave the dog a small, tight-lipped smile. Just as the gravel in the voice, this strange smile made Andy think of unpracticed grace that was left to languish for too long and that was woefully out of practice. Yet some things were bred in the bone and Priestly seemed to collect herself, raising her chin and steeling her gaze, assuming a position of elegant hauteur with a veil of untouchability. It was fascinating to see, even if all Andy wanted was to wipe the guarded look away from the beautiful face.
The gaggle of teenagers moved out of the coffee shop and the quiet that was left behind clearly soothed her, as Andy could see the slim shoulders relaxing gradually, as Priestly took off the leather gloves and carefully set them on the table.
“You have some sort of gift with dogs…”
“Andy. Andy Sachs, nice to meet you!” Andy put as much charm as she could muster in her mega wattage smile and offered her hand.
Priestly took a long moment looking at the hand in front of her and as she reached for it, her own shook just a bit, but she controlled it and her handshake was cool but firm. Andy was certain that she wasn't the only one who felt electricity sparks as her warm from holding the coffee mug hand met cool smooth skin.
“Miranda.” The voice dropped a bit at the utterance of the name and Andy’s stomach did a somersault. M. Princhek. M. Miranda. Before she could go off in her head with self high-fiving, Miranda’s next question made her grin again.
“What kind of name is Andy? I’m certain that’s not what your parents named you.” The tone turned snooty and oh so obviously arrogant, yet Andy couldn’t get enough of this woman’s presence. Since when did Andy find rudeness so attractive?
“It’s short for Andrea, so yes, my parents named me that, but nobody calls me Andrea, not even my mother when she tries to scold me for misbehaving.”
While not entirely a champion flirt, Andy knew that she left quite a lot of room with her last remark, yet Miranda did not pick up that line of conversation. She looked at her hands and just now seemed to realize that she was clutching pages of Andy’s notes from the gallery opening. As she carefully placed them on the table between them, she winced at the obvious mussed state of them, having first fallen on the floor at Patricia’s sudden exuberance and then at being clutched like a lifeline by Miranda’s long-fingered hand.
“I apologize… Again.” She seemed to be appalled at the transgressions that kept piling up since she entered the coffee shop.
“Listen...” Andy took the notes from Miranda and carelessly put them in her bag. “Don’t feel bad. The pup is adorable and the notes are fine.”
The older woman did not seem mollified by Andy’s easy dismissal.
“If you really want to do something to make it up to me, how about sharing a cup of coffee with me?” Andy played her hand and held her breath. She did not intend to flirt. That was absolutely not the way she wanted her introduction to Priestly to go. She just wanted some time to figure out what to do and instead was openly hitting on the subject of her assignment.
However before she could retract her flirtatious invitation and maybe try and salvage something from this wreck of an encounter, her interlocutor stood up abruptly and with a hurried “That’s all” quickly exited the coffee house.
Yes, Andy thought, looking at the retreating back of her query. That was indeed all.
All the sunshine and puppies go to @dianakanebooks for once again bearing with me and my whining.
Thank you all for reading, I hope the story is making a semblance of sense for you all. To those who leave comments or contact me at @mckayundercover over on Twitter - you are the absolute best!
Andy brooded for her whole shift at the pub. A woman in her forties smiled at her and gave her a rather hefty tip along with a napkin that Andy was pretty sure held her number, yet all Andy could do was pout and be moody and walk around with a heavy storm cloud over her head. Her hair was growing out again and the flyaways were adding to her overall irritation.
She bungled it all up. Royally. Spectacularly. She had one job to do - come up with a plan to professionally introduce herself to Priestly and in the process win her over enough to ensure her cooperation for the article. Instead, she flirted with the woman and probably embarrassed herself and definitely scared her off, enough to set her running from the coffee shop as if the cup she was drinking was two days old.
Damn, right on cue Andy dropped a beer glass and while trying to pick it up cut her palm, deeply. The blood trickled down her forearm and she barely managed to grab a rag to press it to the wound. Her shift partner and pub owner, Wallace took one look at her, his dark complexion turning green and shoved her out the door in a manner of seconds.
One trip to the ER and five stitches later, Andy walked to Gunilla’s in an even pissier mood than the one she started her shift at the pub in. Her head hurt from thinking about how she lost her one shot to make any kind of good impression on Priestly and her hand throbbed from the lidocaine wearing off.
And on top of everything, she felt as lonely as ever. It really didn’t matter that her friends mostly turned away from her, she didn’t have time for them anyway, her mother was in a constant drugged-up state on antidepressants and her condition was only worsening as her father’s creditors got closer to the family house that would surely be repossessed despite Andy’s valiant efforts of the last two years to keep her mother afloat. It didn’t even matter that every time she logged onto Instagram, Nate and his big breasted million followers girlfriend were all over her feed displaying disgusting face sucking prowess. None of that really mattered to her.
What did matter was that now that she saw Prestly, now that she looked into those deep blue eyes and watched those sensual lips smile almost shyly, as if completely out of practice, at Andy feeding the pup that silly donut, she couldn’t forget her. She couldn’t forget the look of panic and fear when the coffee house was taken over unexpectedly by the rowdy crowd and that pained, anxious expression was so vulnerable, so open that Andy lost her head then and there. Yes, she wanted to write the article, but she also wanted to wipe that vulnerability off that beautiful face.
She stopped in the middle of the street and looked into the dark sky above her. The light drizzle fell gently on her face, cooling her heated thoughts, and calming her down. Her breathing slowed and as she blinked away moisture from her eyes she chose to believe it was the rain droplets and not tears of sheer despair for human connection.
The next day, her palm throbbed just as badly and she had difficulty dealing with her unruly hair, that was getting totally out of hand, but with her left hand being out of commission for a little while, she sighed in resignation upon looking at herself in the mirror. She did her morning run anyway and delivered groceries for Alain. Beth gave her a pitying look and an extra croissant for breakfast before Andy took a fortifying breath and walked the four blocks to the corner coffee shop on 73rd.
During the sleepless night, she decided that she really had no other choice but to go back. Priestly was a regular at the coffee shop, so eventually, Andy would see her again. She’d apologize for her idiotic flirting, introduce herself as a journalist for Elias-Clark, and present her information. What the woman would choose to do next was anyone’s guess. Probably turn around and leave again.
The day passed uneventfully with Andy finishing most of her Runway smallish assignments and sending them along to Nigel. By her fourth macchiato, Andy was getting just a bit peckish and more than a touch discouraged. Because her hand was still out of commission, Wallace took her shift and she hated the idea that for once she had nowhere to go and nothing to do but be with her own thoughts. It was just the kind of night that she didn’t really want to be in her head because she didn’t particularly like it up there all on her own.
She was stepping out of the coffee shop when a figure came out of the early evening shadows and Andy braced herself for a mugging, her survival instincts kicking in, despite her brain telling her how unlikely it was that anyone would mug her in the middle of the Eastside with the coffee shop still open and people milling around the street. Still, it had happened to her before, after a late pub shift, and she had no real desire to be hit in the face again, first of all, because it hurt a lot and second because it left embarrassing bruises, similar to those she had to hide in her youth when her father would lose too much money in cards and come home in his rages that really had the whole household running for cover. So she recoiled on pure instinct and drew her injured hand to her chest, cradling it a bit out of potential harm’s way.
She had no idea what she had been expecting to see when she finally raised her eyes to the figure that was about to accost her, but a look of sheer sadness and warmth in the deep blues that could only belong to one person, was definitely not what she expected. Priestly looked at her like one looks at a shelter kitten they are about to take home, with affection and warmth and a touch of pity. It occurred to Andy that she should be ashamed that someone who barely knew her had seen her reacting the way she did to an unexpected appearance and perhaps revealing too much of her past in the process, but this was Priestly standing in front of her, and none of it really mattered.
She was there, she was alone and looked like she had been waiting for her and Andy’s heart soared. She thought she wasn’t any better at hiding her happiness as she had been at hiding her terror, because Priestly gave her a small but what looked like a sincere smile and took a step closer.
“I came by the coffee shop earlier while walking Patricia. I don’t know what I was thinking, whether I was hoping to see you there again or not at all, but you were there and I… might’ve lost my nerve?” The voice, just as rusty and just as distant as previously did something warm to Andy’s chest and she relaxed enough to lower her injured paw away from her body.
“I went back home and thought about it for hours and then decided that I in fact had hoped you’d come back to the coffee shop and that’d I’d speak to you again,” Priestly continued following the motion of Andy’s bandaged hand being lowered from her chest and then audibly gasped.
“No, no, I…” Andy started to say something to try and defend her condition, that it wasn’t all that bad, but one glance at her hand, and she could see what had Miranda gasping. In her earlier terror, she must’ve squeezed her injury somehow and perhaps even tore a stitch because the bandages sported a rather big red spot on them of blood obviously trickling through. Damn.
Miranda seemed to throw off her stupor first and with another step she was right in Andy’s space, carefully taking her hand and inspecting the bloody bandages.
“I live just a block away, come with me, I need to change your bandage.” The low voice brooked no opposition and Andy found herself being led by her other hand down the crowded street full of evening strollers, shoppers and people minding their business and felt her heart soar. The woman of her dreams was holding her hand, smooth cool skin and long fingers clinging strong and sure, as she maneuvered them both along the sidewalk.
Andy was so caught up in the feeling of skin on skin, and the hand holding hers that she completely missed the walk and suddenly became aware of standing in a cool spacious foyer of a rather large townhouse. Having seen the townhouse several times now from the outside it had never occurred to her to wonder what it looked inside. Good thing too, because no guesses of hers could ever match the reality of a lot of light and a lot of air and a lot of space. Yet somehow, despite almost a complete lack of furniture, the house didn’t feel empty. Neither did it seem welcoming, but Andy thought that the house reflected the owner in some ways and Miranda gave out the air of quiet unapproachability just as the house did. Yet despite the overt haughtiness and poignant silence of her demeanor, Miranda was much more than that, and so was the house. Once she had finally awoken from her skin on skin reverie, Andy started to pay attention to her surroundings and the house surprised her with splashes of colorful art, placed almost haphazardly to the uninitiated, on various walls. But Andy knew better now and could see the care and the angle of light that was taken into consideration when each painting was hung on various walls.
Her months of studying Priestly’s art told her that most of the paintings were not hers, but one of them, almost hidden from sight in the farther corner, closer to the arch supposedly leading into the dining room, since Andy could see the table from her position in the foyer, immediately piqued her interest. She could swear she had seen the painting somewhere before, except she couldn’t quite place it. Even among exquisite art, it shined in a different way, it was unique and spectacular and only a Priestly could be that way.
Just like the woman who was looking at her rather apprehensively at this point. Her eyes were a bit unfocused and her breathing growing shallower by the second and Andy almost fell over backward trying to avert what surely must have been an offset of another anxiety attack.
“Miranda, I don’t have to be here. I… I don’t want to impose and... look, my hand is fine and I’m fine and it’s all right, I swear!” she hurried to try and somehow wipe the panic off the beautiful face.
At the mention of her hand, however, Miranda seemed to straighten and still herself.
“No, it’s all right. It’s been a rather significant while since I had anyone but my staff in my house.” The admission seemed to be costing her quite a lot, for her forehead wrinkled and her lips pursed in what Andy guessed was a characteristic expression of displeasure. But before Andy could hyperventilate that Miranda was displeased with her, she was not too gently tugged down a corridor that held more art on the walls and into a spacious bathroom down the hall.
“Your hand needs tending to, Andrea.” With those words, the hands gentled and she started to undo the bandages on Andy’s hand. They stood very close to each other, by the sink, and Andy refused to focus on the throbbing of her palm or on the general awkwardness of being in a virtual stranger’s home. She stood motionless, afraid to spook Miranda further, inhaling deeply the hypnotic scent of the woman whose gentle fingers were slowly uncovering her bleeding hand. Still, the silence was stretching a bit long, even as Miranda was now cleaning her wound with peroxide, and Andy decided that it was time to be brave again.
“Why did you come back? I mean after seeing me there and not coming in with Patricia earlier?”
Since Miranda was a couple of inches shorter than her and bowed down as she was over her bleeding hand, it was difficult to catch her eye, but the voice was steady enough as she answered.
“I wanted to ask you if you were flirting with me yesterday. And why did you do that.”
Miranda said it so casually, so matter of factly that Andy almost lost her balance and had to grip the sink with her free hand.
“Please stand still, Andrea. Your stitches are intact, but if you keep jerking like that, they might not be for much longer.”
The chiding tone made Andy smile, coming on the heels of an outright call out and she took a deep breath before answering.
“Do you know how I cut my hand?” Miranda looked up at her then and her eyes stayed on Andy’s as she continued. “I tend bar at night in the Village. After you left so abruptly yesterday, I was so angry with myself that I scared you, or overstepped with my clumsy attempt at...I’m not even sure what I was trying to accomplish by being so awkward with you yesterday. But I was serving drinks and a woman handed me a hefty tip and her number on a napkin and all I could think about was how I made you uncomfortable enough to make you leave. The glass I was cleaning slipped, broke, and I cut myself trying to clean up the damage. Does that answer your question?”
Miranda’s eyes grew darker during Andy’s speech and she sucked in air before she spoke again.
“No, it doesn’t really answer my question, Andrea. Did you cut your hand because a woman at the bar handed you her number or because you wished I had? That’s rather extreme, don’t you think?”
Bold. Andy had to add bold to the growing list of things she found attractive about this woman.
“I was afraid that I somehow ruined our short acquaintance by being clumsy in my flirting. Is that better? I should confess that I do not have much experience with flirting, hence my outright clumsiness.”
“And yet women hit on you at the bar.” Miranda wasn’t smiling as she said it, but her eyes danced with merriment all the same.
Andy felt the tips of her ears heat up and lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
“See? I can’t even confess to a woman with whom I flirted that my attempts at doing so were indeed an indication of my interest without putting my foot in it.”
Miranda just patted her tenderly on the now bandaged hand and gave her a tight smile.
“There, all done. Don’t attempt any sudden moves and your stitches should hold.”
The lull in the conversation turned awkward again and Andy tried desperately to say something witty and somehow turn this whole evening around because she thought herself much smoother than this, but it was Miranda who took a step back from her and spoke in a quiet and somehow distant tone, that held no emotion.
“I returned because even after years of keeping to myself, I recognized flirting for what it was and I was curious about why you attempted to flirt with me. I do however recognize that the anxiety attack you witnessed and helped me deal with could’ve spurned some pity in you and I wondered if that was why you did it.”
The tone might not have held any emotion, but did Miranda even realize how much she said in those two sentences? Did she know how much vulnerability she was showing right now? It felt like holding a precious gift.
“I recognized the anxiety because I used to have it while growing up, some things would trigger it and I’d just freeze or retreat into myself, so no I did not flirt with you to distract you from that. I flirted with a beautiful woman at a coffee shop. Is that not reason enough?”
Her brain stuttered a bit at the lie and she was sure that if Miranda would just look up at her, she’d see it. Because while, yes technically Andy flirted with Miranda because she was a beautiful woman who caught her attention, there were plenty of other reasons for Andy’s presence at the damn coffee shop. She was sinking deeper in the world of omissions and lies and she knew it. But at this point, there seemed to not be much of a way back for her. She blew impatiently at the hair that was now falling messily in her eyes and tried not to fidget.
But Miranda wasn’t looking in her eyes. She reached out a slim, elegant hand and tugged at the too long and out of shape flyaway that stubbornly kept getting in Andy’s eye and smoothed it back behind her ear. The touch of the cool hand against her skin sent chills down her spine and Andy inhaled audibly. Miranda seemed to startle at the sound and then her expression turned enigmatic as she ran her fingers through the thick tresses of Andy’s hair. She was no longer smoothing it, in fact, she was messing it even further, yet Andy couldn’t help but close her eyes and lean into the touch, her scalp tingling pleasantly.
“You’re just like a cat.” Miranda stated quietly, continuing to run her fingers through Andy’s hair and Andy made a sound, not unlike a growl.
“If you keep that up, I swear you will have me purring any second now.”
“As charming as that may be, I think we should leave that for another time. You desperately need a haircut, Andrea. Your ends are horrible and the complete lack of shape…” Miranda actually tsked and looked a bit appalled. “You have beautiful hair underneath the mess, you should take better care of it.”
“Way to kill the mood.” Andy pouted a bit but smiled at the unrepentant haughty look Miranda gave her. “I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately. Well, a guess I’ve been preoccupied the last couple of years, so yeah, you may have a semblance of reason when you say that my hair has suffered the effects of my neglect.”
“And you do have a way with words.” Miranda seemed pensive for a second and then her face filled with determination.
“How about I try to untangle the bird nest on your head and since I’ve already played nursemaid, do you one better and play hairdresser as well?”
“Whoa… That’s a bit forward, don’t you think? For a first date, I mean?” Andy reached for a fairly lame joke, but truth be told, she would gladly allow Miranda to shave her head if it meant spending more time with this complete enigma of a woman who just kept changing gears on her when all she had hoped to do was play catch up.
“I didn’t realize that me stalking you at the coffee shop, scaring you into almost splitting your stitches, and then rebandaging your hand was considered a first date. I think you should have higher standards than that, Andrea.”
The way she said her name, unlike anyone else in her life, was so satisfying, so original, an endearment almost. Foreign, exotic, yet distinctly personal, because nobody else called her that.
“I’m not sure what to tell you, Miranda. My standards aside, I haven’t been on a first date in years, so maybe I’m just taking what I can?”
“And yet all the women at the bar…” Miranda trailed off and Andy smiled.
“Maybe I don’t like to mix business with pleasure?” Belatedly she realized what she was saying and how the lies just kept growing. With every word she was dooming herself more, yet she couldn’t stop for the life of her, because Miranda was standing in front of her so open and so beautiful it was making her heart ache.
Miranda favored her with that haughty smile and just tugged again on the strand of hair that was still stubbornly escaping its confines and falling over her face.
“Your ghastly first date standards aside, my offer of a haircut still stands.”
In a matter of minutes, Andy found herself sitting on a stool, her shoulders covered with a fluffy towel and Miranda running a comb over her locks, smoothing them and arranging them before helping her get her crowning glory under the sink faucet and thoroughly washing it with some sweet-smelling shampoo and applying creamy conditioner.
As she combed and deftly snipped at the ends of her hair, Andy again found herself getting just a bit lost in the scent and feel of this woman. Strong, gentle fingers were running through her hair, massaging her scalp, and Andy thought that there were fewer things sexier than being touched by Miranda. She wasn’t worried about the end result, she could care less as long as Miranda didn’t stop touching her.
It was torture, the side of her breast, firm and warm would occasionally brush against Andy’s temple and she would feel goosebumps run down her spine. Andy was fairly certain that Miranda could see the effect she was having on her, because all the hair at the nape of her neck was standing up. And then Andy got the confirmation that Miranda knew exactly what she was doing to her because suddenly those long skillful fingers were there, running up and down the nape of her neck and Andy had to bite her lip to suppress a moan. It was heaven. It was also hell because all she wanted at that point was to turn her head and mouth at the breast that was just within reach, perhaps bite the nipple through the thin material of the blouse and the lace bra she could feel the outline of every time it touched her face.
Her expression must’ve betrayed some of her thoughts because Miranda’s hand faltered just a touch and she whispered “Behave” before continuing with her task of cutting Andy’s hair.
“You’re one to talk about behaving, magic hands.” Andy heard the whine in her voice and did not feel at all ashamed, the woman was driving her crazy with the small touches and lingering caresses.
When Miranda was done and Andy finally turned to the mirror to look at herself she could see the smirk on the other woman’s face as their eyes met in the mirror. She looked good, like herself, but as if someone cleared away the cobwebs and the debris and her hair was fresh and new once again, yet still undeniably hers.
“Magic hands indeed. Thank you, Miranda.”
“You’re welcome.” A resounding woof interrupted her and she gave Andy that now-familiar distant hesitant smile. “Ah, she could only stay crated for so long with another person in the house. I assure you she is much better behaved than that, but she seems to have a bit of a weakness for you, as she showed you at the coffee shop. Brace yourself.”
Andy did indeed need to brace herself because in a matter of seconds the bathroom door banged open and she found her hands full of happily panting dog who tried her best to lick every part of Andy that she could reach.
“Hey, baby girl. Who’s a good girl?”
“She most certainly is not and she knows it, but I do blame that donut you fed her for her devotion and bad behavior. It’s your own fault she’s ruining that hideous thing you’re probably calling a sweater.” Miranda turned away in a huff and started cleaning up the bathroom.
“No, wait, let me do that,” Andy tried to protest from under the affection still being bestowed on her by the enthusiastic pup, but Miranda just waved her away.
“But I have to make it up to you somehow. I bled all over your bathroom and you gave me the best haircut I’ve had in years!”
“By your own admission, it is your first haircut in years, so that’s not very high praise. Still, I’m sure you will think of something, Andrea.” Miranda smirked and exited the bathroom.
“Oh, I can think of so many things… So many things.” Andy murmured quietly and continued to pet the ecstatic pup.
As always, all the puppies and kittens got to @dianakanebooks for being my rock through these hard writing times.
I'm your host @mckayundercover, come talk to me on Twitter or drop me a line here if you're still reading.
Andy walked away from Miranda’s townhouse in a complete daze. In fact, her state of euphoria, compounded by endorphins and arousal was so all-encompassing that it only occurred to her when she got back to Gunilla’s that she had not even asked Miranda for a phone number, despite the heavy flirting and a ton of back and forth innuendo. Andy had not asked and Miranda had not offered, despite walking Andy to the door once she finished the haircut. And oh what a surreal experience that was. Andy’s arousal and endorphins returned tenfold at the memory of soft gentle fingers untangling her locks, playing at the nape of her neck, and massaging the sensitive skin behind her ears. It was sensual torture and Andy wanted to turn back time, get up from her stool in front of the sink and push Miranda back against the wall, pin her hands above her head and bite her long graceful neck while whispering to her that if she wanted to tease, two could play that game. God, there was so much she wanted to do to that woman.
And yet, despite her lower brain being in a state of euphoria, her actual brain was working overtime on the complex issue of Priestly, the article, Runway, and how all that just got a lot more complicated because all Andy wanted was to ask Miranda on a date. Which was kind of what Miranda had possibly been hinting at when she was asking Andy all those questions about women at the bar and low standards of dates.
Maybe. Possibly. Andy punched her pillow and flopped on her face, muffling her growl. The last thing she needed was to scare Gunilla with her emotional dilemma. Gunilla… If Andy was right and all of her assumptions were correct, Gunilla and Miranda were an item 17 years ago. At least for a short time, if she were to judge from the pictures. The way they held onto each other, the position of Gunilla’s hand, so possessive and proprietary on Miranda’s waist and hip. Still, Miranda pretty much said that she was out of practice when it came to human interaction. And Gunilla had married some oil magnate right about the time M. Princhek disappeared from the public eye all those years ago. Of course, Andy had too little data and only her assumptions to go by, but the more she thought about it, the more it made sense to her.
Gunilla buying the early Priestly art, Gunilla’s wistfulness and clear regret over the artist and the woman. Sure, marrying Mr. Goldberg allowed her to be as generous as she could with the arts and perhaps even gave her the necessary funds to purchase Priestly’s statue, but the regret in her eyes and the sorrow etched on her face that was so obvious every time she looked at the statue on the mantel or talked to Andy about Priestly was ever-present.
And that was another thing. For someone who housed and fed Andy in order to advance her search for the reclusive artist and write an amazing article bringing light to one of the biggest mysteries of the art and fashion world, Gunilla was surprisingly mum on the whole thing. She could talk for hours about the times long past, about her halcyon days and about the “scene” but she never mentioned M. Princhek or Priestly and Andy was getting antsy. Still, the long conversations with Gunilla landed Andy a bunch of names she thought were pertinent to interview. All were people who mingled with Gunilla at the time M. Princhek disappeared and Andy thought that perhaps if she interviewed them, she might get somewhere. After all, Gunilla might not be saying much herself, but the cagey old woman sure encouraged Andy to pursue all avenues and wanted Andy to write an article that would do Priestly justice.
So Andy made a list of several people whose names Gunilla kept dropping regularly in her reminiscing sessions and reached out to them to inquire about an interview with her in her capacity as a journalist writing an article for Runway.
In the meantime, Andy took all her courage in her shaking hands and decided that returning to 73rd East Street was a must. Either to fully disclose her true intentions and throw herself at the mercy of Priestly or disclose her other true intentions and ask Miranda out on a date.
She agonized over what to do all the way from Gunilla’s to 73rd, while mentally practicing what she was going to say. The good thing was she actually had a very legitimate excuse to return to the townhouse since Miranda in her hasty exit from the coffee house the other day forgot her grey leather gloves and now Andy was totally pulling a Therese Belivet maneuver and returning them. Only Therese had no idea that Carol would turn her whole life upside down when she mailed the gloves back, whereas Andy was fairly certain that when all the chips fell, her life had already been changed irreversibly.
She tightened her leather jacket around herself against the rather insistent chilly April wind and clutching the gloves knocked on the townhouse door, feeling the beginning of elation stir up in her chest at the mere thought that any second now Miranda would open the door and give her one of those rusty, out of practice smiles, where the left corner of her mouth would rise first and the right corner would slowly catch up to it. Was Andy ever in this deep, when after seeing a woman all of twice she already had a thing for an awkward tense smile? Yeah, she was in deep indeed.
Her dreamy extemporization on all things Miranda was interrupted by the door opening and a severe-looking redhead, whom Andy recognized from the auction, staring down at her from the length of her nose, which was an impressive feat in itself since Andy was a couple of inches taller than her.
“We don’t accept solicitations. And if you think that people will open their door to a solicitor as poorly dressed as yourself, you should bloody think again!” The snooty British accent coupled with an obviously erroneous assumption about her identity made Andy’s dander rise up and she wanted nothing more than to mess with the redhead, just a little. She hated when people judged her, assumed things about her, simply because of the clothes she wore or the sunny cheerful disposition that was so characteristic to her.
“Except it got you to open the door anyway,” Andy said with a large toothy grin, trying her best to look as though she belonged.
The redhead huffed an irritated breath and was about to close the door in Andy’s face if it wasn’t for the Doc Martins clad foot Andy shoved in the doorframe to prevent such a thing from occurring.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing? I’m going to call the police! Bollocks to this, this is the bloody Upper East Side!” The redhead struggled valiantly against the sturdy boot, but Andy was not going to relent so easily, plus she had a right to be here anyway. Sort of. She had no idea who the redhead was, but she was here to see Priestly. Miranda. Damn, she was still unsure of what she was going to do.
Just as she was about to blurt something insulting to the redhead, the door opened wider and the woman who haunted her dreams looked at her with the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen and Andy literally lost her breath and perhaps her mind because she mumbled “I’m here to see Pr… Miranda. I’m here to see Miranda, would you please?” She caught herself in time and neither of her interlocutors seemed to pay attention with the redhead still frothing at the mouth in outrage over some street urchin breaking into the house in a good neighborhood and Miranda giving her a rather scary glare that was offset by the corners of her mouth twitching into what could’ve been amusement. Andy wasn’t entirely certain, since as always in the presence of this woman she lost all ability to breathe, not to mention actually think coherently. Andy had just effectively thrown the dice and made her move. If she had finished her abortive attempt and called for Priestly instead, she’d have chosen the professional path. While she didn’t know how it might’ve been received by either of the women in front of her, at least she’d have fulfilled her assignment. But just the thought that the blue eyes would stop looking at her with warmth and familiarity and mischief, as they were doing right now and the awkward smile would not be hiding in the corners of that sensuous mouth, had Andy changing her mind on the spot and perhaps burning some of the bridges that she might later regret burning because there was no turning back now, she made her choice and Miranda was what Andy chose. She’d just have to figure out what to do about Priestly.
While Andy was lost in her doubt, self-recriminations, and decision-making, Miranda took her by the hand to the redhead’s plain astonishment and pulled her in.
“Emily, do close your mouth before you catch something. And why don’t you make yourself useful by getting Andrea and myself some coffee? I think she takes her with an ungodly amount of sugar.”
“How did you know? I mean yes, three sugars and as much milk as will fit in there, thanks, Emily. I’m Andy by the way!” She gave the redhead her brightest smile only to hear something about either bullocks or testicles muttered her way before Emily disappeared in the general direction of the kitchen, or so Andy assumed.
“Well, she’s nice.” Andy turned her smile to Miranda and this time it was sincere and just a touch too adoring. She probably looked like a lovesick puppy. Patricia certainly would’ve understood.
As if summoned by the power of Andy’s thoughts the huge pup bounded down the stairs with a clear intention of directing all her hundred pounds of love towards the one who was clearly the object of her puppy affection. Andy laughed and braced herself, even as Miranda commanded the dog to heel, and reluctantly Patricia skidded to a halt right before her mistress while still extending her massive paw towards Andy’s boots, as if staking a claim. Andy laughed harder and crouched down to give the exuberant dog ear scratches, sending Patricia towards doggy ecstasy.
“I have no idea how you do it, she barely tolerates Emily and is absolutely uninterested in most of people.” Andy felt like she had accomplished some form of miracle and preened a little.
“Magic.” She winked and Miranda rolled her eyes, but she was clearly amused because the left corner of her mouth was raised slightly again and it looked like she was valiantly forcing herself to not smile at Andy’s antics.
“Well, magic or not, may I ask why you’re here in ghastly boots and a leather jacket that should have been burned years ago?” The words were pure venom, but Miranda gestured for Andy to follow her into some form of a den, right off the hallway where the one Priestly piece from her earlier days was displayed. Andy couldn’t help but follow her while throwing discreet glances at the painting. She still felt like it was familiar to her, but she couldn’t place it. She made a mental note to review Priestly’s catalog once she got back.
The den held more art and a massive leather couch which Andy’s imagination immediately turned into the place where she would want to ravish Miranda. Trying to shake the vision of sliding her fingers into Miranda while playing with her clit by giving it featherlike teasing, Andy turned around and changed the subject.
“I actually have a perfect excuse to be here. I have been secretly holding these lovelies hostage.” She reached into the pocket of the jacket that so offended Miranda and got the grey gloves out. She smirked and gave them a light shake.
“Now, ma’am do as I say and nobody gets hurt and you get your gloves back safe and sound.” She tried to imitate some kind of kidnapper’s voice, going mostly for either Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, but she knew she failed miserably when Miranda finally gave up her struggle against mirth and let out a peal of laughter. It was glorious and unexpected, even to herself as she valiantly tried to contain it by putting a hand to her mouth, but Andy slid even deeper into her Mariana Trench sized well of attraction towards this woman.
They looked at each other then, two feet apart, with the dog lying at Andy’s feet, breathing loudly and Miranda’s eyes sparkling with mirth and warmth and Andy’s surely telegraphing all the desire and longing she felt right there and then. It was as if looks were palpable, for Andy could feel Miranda’s eyes on her skin, like a caress, slow, careful, full of intent.
The moment was broken by Emily bounding into the room with the coffee tray which she placed on the coffee table, handing Miranda her coffee and practically having Andy catch hers, burning her fingers on the center of the sun hot mug.
“I still don’t know why we are letting in all sorts of vagrants, Miranda.”
Miranda did not deign to answer her and Emily slinked away in a huff, but not before throwing a look Andy’s way which practically screamed “I’ve got my eyes on you!”.
“Vagrant or not, Andrea, thank you for the gloves. But you mentioned that you were holding them hostage as an excuse. So what is the real reason for you coming here?”
Sharp as a tack. Be still my heart, Andy thought.
“Ah. Yeah about that…” Suddenly when faced with a direct question about her intentions, her bravado abandoned her.
“I mean, wouldyouconsidergoingonadatewithme?” She mumbled, her words running together in her haste and embarrassment of her own indecision and cowardness.
Mirada just gave her a bland look and raised an eyebrow. Okay, time to be brave. Time to go for what she wanted now more than professional success since she seemed to completely abandon her professionalism, to begin with, for a chance with this woman.
“Okay, so yesterday, we touched on a number of conversation subjects, including my standards for dates. Would you consider going on a date with me, so that I may prove to you that I, in fact, have some worthy standards?”
“You’re asking me on a date?” Miranda’s eyes went big, full of astonishment. “My, how old fashioned. And charming.” She smiled and Andy melted.
“Yes, a date. I could’ve fibbed and told you that I would like to take you out as a thank you for giving me the best haircut I’ve had in years, or for bandaging my bleeding hand, but what I really want is to take you out on a date.” Andy gulped and looked Miranda right in the eye.
“Why, Andrea?” Trust Miranda to go to the heart of the matter and make Andy spill her guts.
“Because I can’t stop thinking about you.” And despite all the lies that seemed to envelop everything that Andy touched these days, these seven words were the one truth that Andy could hold on to.
Major kudos to @dianakanebooks who fixed everything there was to fix and who needs some hugs right now.
Come talk to me, either here or at @mckayundercover over on Twitter. I really appreciate you reading and sticking with this story.
And so Andy Sachs had a date to plan. A date that would be so amazing, it would knock one Miranda Priestly on her excellent ass. A date that would be so great, it would guarantee a chance for another date and then another and maybe, just maybe, Andy held her breath and then exhaled giddily, maybe the dates she’d take Miranda on would be so out of this world, that Andy would get a real chance with this enigmatic, beautiful, ethereal woman.
Amidst her daydreaming about being invited back to the townhouse and exploring some of its horizontal surfaces while devouring Miranda whole, Andy walked right into a light pole, smacking her forehead on the hard surface. Darn. Yes, and maybe pigs would fly.
Getting back to Gunilla’s, she got an indulgent glance from the lady of the manor, who was enjoying her brunch at the kitchen counter, chatting away with Beth. Without a word, she hopped off the stool, as no 65-year-old ever hopped in Andy’s acquaintance, and headed straight for the freezer, handing Andy a pack of frozen peas.
“Other than a shiner and a cut-up paw, you seem to be mostly whole and rather hearty this morning, my dear.” Gunilla took a long sip of her coffee and gave Andy another once-over.
“I have a date!” Andy all but hugged this feeling of warmth and affection to herself while holding the peas to her injured eyebrow. Then she caught herself. Double darn. If her reasoning and suppositions were true, Gunilla and Miranda were once lovers. Should she say something? Should she ask permission? Stupid. Yes, but perhaps…
“How lovely, dear.” Gunilla’s gaze never wavered, and she did not pursue the line of questioning, leaving Andy to second guess herself. “Speaking of dates, or rather appointments. I ran into Margo Dresden at Cafe Boulud yesterday. She’s finally decided to abandon that Florida dwelling of hers and is back in Manhattan for a little while. Obviously, you never know when she’ll bolt for the Hamptons, so chop-chop, tik-tok, dear. Honestly, Margo never did have a settled bone in her body, always jetting around, selling, and buying new homes, changing lovers like gloves. Other than keeping up her Gallery in SoHo, I don’t think she’s ever kept a permanent thing in her life. She certainly discarded poor Virginia quickly enough. And let me tell you, that was one whirl-wind romance....”
Andy listened in fascination. Never before had Gunilla delved this deeply into her friends’ and associates’ lives. Sure, she would name drop occasionally, and sometimes Andy thought deliberately, but she usually mentioned them in relation to the art scene of 15 years ago.
Margo Dresden and Virginia Mallan. Sure enough, Andy knew those names. These were the names of the women in the first picture of M. Princhek that she found in the Mirror when she embarked on her journey of discovering Priestly’s identity. Andy looked them up, just to make sure who was who. They were both part of Gunilla’s entourage back in the day and their volatile relationship was quite famous and commented on by many of their contemporaries. Margo Dresden owned a gallery in Soho, which started small, showing new, undiscovered artists, frequently supporting the LGBT community by promoting their work. With time, the Dresden Gallery became a staple in the art world of Manhattan and Margo even opened several other galleries in LA and London.
Virginia Mallan was an actress who made a name for herself on Broadway, but who did not make it in Hollywood. Rumor was that it was because of her sexual orientation and her being unapologetically out and proud. Still, she held her own off-Broadway, despite being almost 60 years old. She had many Tony nominations and was a favorite during the New York Pride parades. Unlike Dresden, Mallan never moved from Manhattan and according to some gossip rags, Andy perused in her quick check on who was who, she and Dresden were not on speaking terms.
With her direct avenue to Miranda being closed for what seemed now forever, since she elected to date her instead of interview her, Andy came up with a slightly different plan of action for her article. Discarding involving Priestly herself, Andy would write an opus on her life from the perspective of other people. She would delve into her life and her time and her work. She would get to the root of her fascinating story, by being who she really was - an investigative journalist, but she would not allow it to touch Miranda directly. Was it semantics and just playing with perspectives? Unfortunately, it was. But Andy felt a bit better about the whole thing if she wasn’t one of the vultures pursuing Miranda for her story.
Andy wanted to pursue Miranda because Miranda fascinated her. Like nobody else. She was unique, and yes, the artist and the recluse were part of the allure, but those facets were by far not what made Miranda so attractive to Andy. She was stoic and seemed strong and, at times, infallible, yet there was so much vulnerability underneath that facade, so much heartbreaking tenderness. Andy wanted to shield her, to hold her.
And so she told herself that changing the focus of her work would be key to trying to have both, even though she seriously doubted the strength of her own reach or the tenacity of her own grasp.
Decision made, Dresden and Mallan became suddenly even more important to the story than before. The two of them had a unique perspective on the years before Priestly became a famous artist and if they’d be willing to talk to her, it surely would be quite a coup. The difficulty lay in giving out the fact that Andy had made the connection between the artist that Dresden once featured in her gallery and the famous recluse. Just as with Gunilla, Andy was reluctant to let her know that not only did she know that Princhek and Priestly were one and the same, but that Gunilla was once very much involved with her.
Still, whatever game Gunilla was playing, and Andy was sure that there had to be some game, she was willingly giving out these names in relation to Andy’s investigation. So what else was Andy to do but follow through?
Margo Dresden was surprisingly easy to pin down for a globetrotting patron of arts. One email to the Dresden Gallery address and Andy had her reply in a manner of hours. Ms. Dresden would be delighted to talk to an investigative journalist about the art scene from 15 to 20 years ago, especially one that Mrs. Garson Goldberg recommended. Well, it looked like Gunilla had done some of Andy’s legwork for her and had preempted a potential approach by giving Dresden the heads-up and apparently a full endorsement of Andy’s work.
Virginia Mallan was more difficult to pin down, despite not being a globetrotting influencer of the art world. Both her manager and her agent returned a standard answer of Ms. Mallan will reach out to Andy if and when she will be available for an on the record interview. Well, Andy thought, she wasn’t a diva for nothing. When she told Gunilla, the only reply she got was a tsk. Still, one out of two wasn’t bad and Andy was rather pleased that in the span of several hours she had both a date and an interview set up.
Ironically, both events had to fall on the same day. Andy was working pretty much non-stop that week, trying to repay Wallace for his generosity of giving her two days off with full pay. So both the date and the interview had to be scheduled for a Tuesday, Andy’s day off.
She was in possession of Miranda’s phone number and even though she didn’t want to be presumptuous and seem too eager or too much of a try-hard, Andy couldn’t help but text her several times. The first one was strictly necessary, of course, since Andy needed to have some information about the logistics of the upcoming date. The reply of “I’m middle-aged, not decrypt!” to her rather thoughtful, or so she thought, the message of “Will you be okay with some physical activity before dinner?” was not the stuff of romance. Still, Andy felt brave enough to send a couple of “Thinking of you” and “Sleep well” messages. Miranda answered only once and it was a simple “Yes” instead of the much-coveted by Andy “Thinking of you too”. Andy chose to claim the “yes” as a victory anyway. Miranda was responding, wasn’t blocking her number, and was coming on a date with Andy on Tuesday night. All was right with the world. Well, most things.
On Tuesday morning, Andy took the Q train to SoHo and had no problems finding the three-story building with the enormous windows dominating the light stone facade. She was escorted to the second-floor office filled with what Andy could charitably characterize as chachkies and large paintings dominating all the walls that did not have windows. The woman standing up from behind a massive antique desk and coming towards Andy with an outstretched hand could have easily been lost among all the clutter since she was just as colorful as her surroundings and had on perhaps just as many things as her overflowing desk. A flowing blouse, a vest, a blazer, a scarf, a hat, oversized glasses, and a choker on a long thin neck. The hand that grabbed and pumped hers with surprising strength had a gold ring on each of its fingers.
“Any friend of Gunilla’s is a friend of mine. No matter how that chicken shit behaved all those years ago, I still love her to pieces.” Well, there were introductions and then there was Margo Dresden. Andy smiled and nodded, and obviously Margo didn’t need much more to continue her monologue.
“She told me you are writing something and it would reflect the timeframe she ran with us, wild kids. And by wild kids, I mean lesbians. Because I know damn well that’s not how she would put it. She always was more concerned with what people in her high society would say. So she was afraid to even say the word lesbian. But that’s what all of us were back twenty years ago, and that’s what some of us still are.” Margo laughed and the trill of her laughter was too loud in the quiet of the cluttered office yet her face was open and honest and Andy continued to smile and let her do all the talking.
“Look, I opened the gallery 17 years ago, and I did it because lesbian artists didn’t have a proper home in SoHo at the time. Sure, there were places for gay artists, but the community wasn’t very represented and I wanted to do something. I was married to my one and only husband at the time and we were going through a very painful divorce since I was coming to terms with being gay and he with having a wife who wanted nothing to do with his big penis. But despite trying very hard he couldn’t take my daddy’s trust fund money and so I ended up free, single, very rich, and very very gay. I burned through the Manhattan lesbians like I was on a mission. Gunilla and I didn’t mesh in bed as well as we did out of it and so we stayed friends. Plus by the time I opened the Gallery, I’d stumbled over Ginny, and Gunilla was besotted with Miriam.”
Andy’s fingers cramped from the notes she was busy taking, yet her hand stuttered as she heard the name. Miriam. Margo didn’t notice and just barreled on.
“When I first met her, when Gunilla first started bringing her around, I thought Miriam was just some gold digger, I won’t lie. She was a cold fish. Wouldn’t say two words to you unless you were Gunilla or, come to think of it, Ginny. Ginny and she got along well, damn their hides. I asked Gunilla what she was doing with a girl half her age and so damn disagreeable, but Gunilla was besotted. You should’ve seen it. For a woman who had always claimed she is straight, she sure was gay for Miriam. Spoiled her rotten. Nothing was too expensive or too much for her. If Miriam wanted it, Gunilla would get it. She was between husbands at the time, so she was free to do pretty much as she pleased, as long as it was on the down-low, because she already had that old fart Goldberg in her sights and she was not going to let him slip away.”
Andy managed to take all that down as Margo took a large gulp of whatever was in her mug and continued on.
“So obviously when I opened the Gallery, Gunilla was all over me to give Miriam a spot, to organize her show. I was against it, obviously. I didn’t care for her. Too quiet, too haughty and every time she looked at you, it was like she was sizing you up and you always fell short. She and I barely spoke two words to each other despite both being constants in Gunilla’s entourage. So imagine my surprise when Gunilla brought me to this little studio she was renting for Miriam. It was filled to the brim with pieces that could take your breath away. Damn the hauteur, damn the coldness and the arrogance, that woman could paint. It was still very raw, like she had not yet found herself, because every single piece differed from the next. The style was not yet settled, which was not a surprise, since the established artists usually find theirs much later. But the talent was exquisite. I was speechless. Miriam just stood there and I could tell that behind the icy expression I scared her shitless. I wasn’t an enormous deal, but everyone knew I knew art and my criticism made or broke artists, no matter who your protector was.”
Margo stood up and turned away from Andy, walking to stand in front of a massive window overlooking Greene Street. Her face, so animated and alive with indignation at Miriam’s arrogance just minutes ago, was impassive and sad.
“Her showing was amazing, Ms. Sachs. She couldn’t hide her happy tears and I saw the woman behind the disagreeable facade. I saw who Gunilla fell in love with.”
She continued to look down at the quiet street and slowly sipped her drink, while Andy waited with bated breath for what she would say next.
“I think I fell in love with her a little that night myself. It was impossible not to. Ginny wasn’t even jealous and God, Ginny was always jealous. Miriam was beautiful and talented and Gunilla was done for. I knew there and then, she would never let her go and Goldberg would never get a chance. So when Miriam disappeared, I was heartbroken for Gunilla. I couldn’t understand what was happening. One day she was planning a new show, the next day she was gone. Gunilla even got her involved at Elias-Clark with the setting up of that fashion magazine they were thinking about back then--”
“Wait, what did Gunilla have to do with Elias-Clark?” Andy’s curiosity was standing up and waving all the alarm flags.
Margo turned away from the window and gave Andy a “you gotta be kidding me” look.
“What do you mean ‘what did she have to do with Elias-Clark’? Gunilla owned 51% of the Elias-Clark shares back then. She got them in the divorce from her second husband, Albert Robards. His mother was an Elias and the heiress to the shares of the founding Elias guy, whatever his full name might’ve been, or something along those lines. Anyway, Al was an oil man himself and had no use for the frilly magazine company, so he gladly left those shares to Gunilla in the divorce. She should’ve made a minor fortune when she sold them to Ravitz, even though she swore up and down that they were not for sale for years. And let me tell you, he really pursued both Gunilla and those shares. Not sure which he wanted more.”
“Irv Ravitz bought 51% of Elias-Clark shares from Gunilla?” Andy was astonished. None of this could be a coincidence. Yes, New York was a small town when it came to the rich and famous, but not this small. Her antennae were tingling and her gut was telling her to pay extra attention.
“She was never going to sell him those shares. She was too enamored with the company, with the magazines and the whole fashion industry. Miriam being an extremely talented seamstress only made this enterprise even more attractive to Gunilla. And as I said, she would’ve given Miriam the world if she could, so she was giving Miriam this new magazine that Elias-Clark was planning to publish. Except, one day Miriam just disappeared. I don’t know if they had a falling out, I don’t know if they quarreled, but one day Gunilla was selling her shares and the next month she was marrying Goldberg, who wasn’t a bad man, let me tell you, God rest his soul. But he was no Miriam Princhek and Gunilla did not love anyone else except that woman.”
Margo turned back to the window and finished her drink, placing the mug on the windowsill among many others perched there.
“Nothing was the same afterward. I never saw Miriam again and Gunilla never came down to Soho, never came to any of my parties.” She swallowed loudly and Andy had a distinct feeling she was covertly trying not to cry. She took a breath and Andy really had to strain to hear her next words. “At least she kept painting.”
But Margo turned around as if Andy imagined the words altogether and changed the subject.
“Anyway, young lady, I’ve gone too deep down memory lane now, haven’t I? You’re here for the art, not for the gossip. So ask your questions, because I have to get on my broom soon.” She laughed loudly again, except this time it felt forced and not as honest and Andy understood that the time for an honest conversation about the past was no more. Still, she asked some questions she’d prepared in advance and Margo gave her more names of gallery owners and art critics from that time, people Andy figured could have known or observed Miriam Princhek’s talent and who could potentially add to the puzzle she was steadfastly putting together.
As she exited the Dresden Gallery and walked to take the Q train back uptown, she couldn’t help but wonder what had to happen to make Miriam disappear from Gunilla’s life and from a budding career in art and fashion. And wasn’t it an entirely fascinating piece of information that Irv Ravitz obtained the control package of Elias-Clark shares only after Gunilla sold them in what surely was a fit of grief and despair at losing Miriam? Because Andy was pretty sure that was exactly how it all shook down. Observing Gunilla, knowing that she still lost herself in her memories of Miriam every time she glanced at the Priestly on the mantel, seeing all the grief and regret the older woman still held for Miriam, Andy was absolutely sure that Gunilla sold her treasured shares, the ones she refused to sell earlier, only because she associated them with Miriam and the work they were beginning to do together that would later become Runway magazine.
With those thoughts on her mind, Andy quickly showered and changed into her most stylish yet also comfortable clothing, in order to have as much fun on her upcoming date with Miranda as the evening would allow. It was funny how the two women were at times entirely separate in her mind, yet at other times were one and the same. Andy wondered how that all worked.
Still, as she briskly walked the three blocks towards her heart’s desire, it wasn’t Miriam who occupied her mind. Not the young, haughty and insecure beauty from Margo’s memories that was waiting for her at the townhouse on the shadowy quiet of 73rd Street. A beautiful, complex, and self-assured woman opened the heavy wooden door and let her in and as always Andy’s heart stuttered just for a beat at the sight of Miranda Priestly. Miriam Princhek was a beautiful woman, but Miranda Priestly was so much more and Andy would do her damnedest to make the best of the chance that life was giving her. This woman just kept taking her breath away.
“You’re on time.” Miranda’s voice was again a bit gravely and Andy smiled to herself. That voice, low, rusty, as if unpracticed, did funny things to her brain. Like Pavlov’s dog, Andy’s whole being lit up at the sound.
“I’m 15 minutes early, Miranda. Hello, how are you?” Feeling brave and still a little breathless from the sight of her, Andy leaned in and brushed her lips over a silk-smooth cool cheek. Miranda twitched as if frightened and stilled for a second before taking a visible deep breath and presenting Andy with the other cheek. Andy mentally high-fived herself and took just a little more time with this kiss, brushing her mouth very slowly and very gently at the very corner of Miranda’s mouth. This time when Miranda trembled, it had nothing to do with fear.
As Andy straightened, Miranda seemed to shake the tremor and gave her companion a baleful glare. “Hello. As I said, you’re on time. You mentioned physical activity, and you are dressed appropriately for a street urchin, so I assume that what I’m wearing will have to do.”
Andy could not help grinning. Acerbic and sharp-tongued and cutting to the quick, yet nobody ever did more to Andy than this one woman. She wanted to tackle her to the floor and devour her whole, make her scream, make her come so many times she’d forget her name.
Miranda was dressed in loose black trousers that still managed to hug her hips and show off her slim figure while giving her plenty of movement and a black cashmere sweater under a gray hip-length double-breasted light coat she left unbuttoned. It gave her a distinguished and appealing look. People would certainly turn their heads to stare at her, she was so put together. Some of them would ask themselves what she was doing out with Andy, who was wearing sneakers of all things. Miranda was stylishly shod in dark leather ankle boots, which Andy figured must’ve cost half her rent back in the days when she still paid it.
“You look beautiful. I’ll be the envy of half of Manhattan!” Andy boasted happily, and Miranda rolled her eyes at her while closing the door of the townhouse behind them.
Andy flagged a cab and with quite the flourish opened the door for her companion, who proceeded to roll her eyes again. Andy wondered when outright derision became so attractive. Except Miranda didn’t really mean it, she knew it, Andy knew it, but for everybody’s sake appearances were being kept and Andy couldn’t help her smile at the realization. Miranda was not an easy woman to understand or to please. She was used to being the boss, given her career and her success in pretty much doing whatever she pleased and ruling several industries with an iron, albeit invisible fist. Yet she also had her insecurities and her quirks, and once you made the allowances for her brilliance and for her disposition, you were good to go. When dealing with genius, one had to make allowances after all.
Except Andy did not feel like she was making any allowances. She felt privileged to be walking arm in arm with Miranda towards Brooklyn Bridge Park. Miranda gave her curious glances, now and then, but so far their conversation was sporadic and mostly about their surroundings, or the weather, and Miranda didn’t ask and Andy did not volunteer their ultimate destination. Occasionally their hands would brush against each other and for just a moment their fingers would deliberately slow the movement down but not yet dare to intertwine. Andy felt on top of the world because, despite the grumblings and the evil glares Miranda threw towards her sneakers, she really wanted to be here, walking close to Andy and occasionally falling into step so that their fingertips could touch.
As they were getting closer to their destination, Andy started feeling just a little apprehensive. She had chosen her date location and activity purely based on fun and, she hoped, originality. She thought long and hard the whole week about where one would take a woman like Miranda Priestly, who had everything and could afford pretty much anything. A high-class restaurant was out of the question. Not only was it out of Andy’s budget, but it was also unoriginal. Yes, it would provide an excellent avenue for a conversation, but it was so boring. Andy wanted to wow Miranda, wanted to surprise her and keep her on her toes. Miranda could have anyone, yet she chose to spend this late April evening with her, so Andy had better bring her A-game.
Fun won over originality or convenience or conversation and there they were standing in front of the Pier 2 Roller Rink with Miranda giving Andy and the rink itself an incredulous look.
“Rollerskating? You asked me on a date and this is what we are going to do?” Miranda was so shocked by the whole idea, she didn’t even manage to inject any malice in her tone, she just sounded genuinely perplexed.
“Yes indeed, rollerskating. It’s fun. I swear if you don’t like it, we will leave and you can once again declare my dating standards subpar. Unless you don’t think you’re up to skating?” Andy deliberately allowed her tone to drop just a bit at the end with the implication that Miranda wasn’t up to the challenge.
Miranda’s blue eyes flashed with something akin to righteous indignation but also self-satisfaction as she slowly murmured “You better be an excellent skater, Andrea, to keep up with me.” She didn’t even wait for Andy to hold the door for her as she headed straight towards the admission counter and requesting size 7 skates.
“Small feet.” Andy had to smile as she paid for both Miranda’s and her own size 9 skates.
“Dainty.” Miranda growled and put on her smaller ones.
In the end, as with much of everything else in her life, Miranda was great at roller skating. Andy figured she’d see that a lot if she was allowed to stick around. The woman was simply good at many things. In this case, it was roller skating. She was graceful, surprisingly quick, and mischievous once she finally let go. They laughed and played chase, with Andy naturally doing most of the chasing but suspecting that Miranda allowed herself to be caught on more than one occasion even though she was a much better skater and could’ve easily avoided Andy’s arms. Yet she seemed to enjoy being caught and held tight for just a little longer than strictly necessary. Her cheeks were pink from exertion and her eyes were sparkling and as Andy caught her for the last time before their time was up, she couldn’t help but press her lips to the same corner of Miranda’s mouth she was now feeling distinctly proprietary about and murmur “You are so beautiful, Miranda.”
Miranda lost her footing at the touch of Andy’s lips, but Andy held her securely in her arms and she felt Miranda’s body relax in the embrace as she wrapped her arms around Andy’s neck. They looked at each other for what felt like an eternity, calm brown eyes gazing deep into the troubled blue, their mouths a breath away, but despite the absolute urgency of her desire to bridge that distance and claim that mouth, Andy slowly drew away, making sure Miranda was steady on her feet. Too soon. Still, the anticipation was pleasurable in itself, especially when she saw Miranda sway towards her as if forlorn. It warmed her from head to toe, the feeling that whatever was happening between them, Andy was not alone in this. They were in this together.
They left the rink and Andy steered Miranda towards a throng of food trucks lining the streets leading up to the Pier. Perhaps having learned her lesson of judging Andy’s intentions too quickly, she held her counsel until they reached the one truck Andy was looking for. Instead of approaching from the front, Andy knocked on the truck door. A spiky hairdo appeared first, followed by a youthful freckled face and a grin covered by a tooth grill. Arms covered with tattoos handed Andy two wrapped up parcels and a small tote bag where aluminum cans clanked noisily against each other.
Silently offering Miranda the sandwich, Andy greedily unwrapped her own. The scent of spices and grilled meat were so overwhelming and so tempting Andy almost didn’t wait to see Miranda’s reaction to the food. But she didn’t need to worry, perhaps spurred on by the aroma from Andy’s sandwich or she had simply worked up an appetite during their hour of roller skating, Miranda followed Andy’s example and after doing away with the top part of the wrapper, took a careful bite. The sandwich was warm and spicy and pure perfection and Andy was relieved to hear a small sigh of pleasure as Miranda proceeded to take a bigger bite.
Sandwiches finished and their Perrier cans disposed of, Andy finally turned her triumphant face to her companion.
To her surprise, Miranda smiled and tsked at her. “Don’t gloat, Andrea, it’s unladylike. Though, honestly, in that footwear and jacket, I’m not sure you can be classified as a lady, anyway.”
“Not all of us can be effortlessly put together, Miranda. You have to admit that it’s as much talent as it is a skill. I’m just totally devoid of the former and too old to learn the later.”
“Not too old. I learned to sew and developed a semblance of a taste of my own instead of simply copying what the fashion magazines prescribed when I was about your age. 25 are you?”
“27 actually,” Andy murmured and wanted to ask so many questions, yet every single one of them veered dangerously towards interview ground so instead she just allowed Miranda to talk.
“Oh well, not that much younger than you then. I found that making my own clothes was much more satisfying because they would be exactly what I wanted. It would be my vision, my direction, and my design, so to speak. Hence I took up sewing and clothing design. And you? What is it you do? Except for roller skating, knowing all the best food truck cooks, who seem to owe you favors of some kind since you did not pay for those sandwiches, and bewitching strange dogs in coffee shops.”
“Well, that is quite a summation of my diverse talents.” Andy took a breath and decided that some things she had to be truthful about and rolled the dice. “I’m a journalist who fell on some interesting times and who walked dogs, worked in a food truck, and currently serves drinks at an Irish pub downtown. The skating is a natural talent.”
Miranda’s gaze didn’t waver as Andy recounted her many occupations and she did not seem to react in any way to Andy’s stated profession.
“Irish pub, how riveting,” was all Miranda said and Andy saw an opening. “I promise to take you there some time and build you the best Guinness you’ve ever tasted.”
“It would also be the only Guinness I’ve ever tasted since ale is a plebeian drink. I prefer a good whiskey.”
“Whiskey then. We serve quite a variety. Will you come to my pub?”
“You make it sound ominous, but yes, I will come to that pub of yours if only to see for myself all those women throwing their money and their phone numbers at you.”
Andy was absurdly pleased that Miranda seemed to be just a touch miffed by her popularity with the fairer sex. She also noticed that Miranda was mostly upset about the other women being after Andy and that tickled her even more. Jealousy wasn’t something that Andy found even remotely attractive, but she couldn’t help but think that this slightly possessive side of Miranda was ridiculously hot.
“Are you tired?” she asked when their conversation reached a lull.
“Not really, mostly energized by the earlier excursions and the acceptable meal.” Good thing Miranda wasn’t a food critic, because Andy thought that was the best chicken sandwich she had in her life and she knew it too because that food truck was a James Beard Award winner last year. Still, Miranda made her pronouncement while the corners of her mouth were slowly upturned with the left one rising first, rendering Andy stupidly charmed.
“How about a 60-minute walk?”
“That is oddly specific, Andrea.” Miranda gave her a suspicious glance.
“That’s what all the guidebooks tell you about how long it will take to cross the Brooklyn Bridge at a leisurely stroll. It’s a beautiful evening, the company is wonderful, and the scenery is something else here at sunset. What do you say?”
Now the curves of Miranda’s lips lifted fully, and she gave Andy a brilliant smile, enough to stop the younger woman in her tracks. Miranda was a beautiful woman, but her smile transformed her face entirely, giving her a vibrancy that was otherwise not present on the usually serene face. It made her look ten years younger; it made her look carefree; it made her look free.
“Do you know how many years it’s been since I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, Andrea?”
“Neither do I, Andrea, neither do I.” She regaled Andy with another brilliant smile and actually took her hand to pull her towards the passage to the bridge.
As they walked along the boardwalk, surrounded by the picture-taking tourists, posing youngsters and strolling couples, Miranda turned to Andy and whispered “This was how I fell in love with this city twenty years ago when I arrived here. I was very much alone, and lived in a rat-infested hole in the Garment District and was just about ready to throw in the towel, but this bridge and this view of sunset just wouldn’t let me do it.”
Andy shivered and couldn’t tell exactly why. Miranda was opening up to her, giving her pieces of herself and Andy felt somehow unworthy of this honesty.
Miranda didn’t seem to notice Andy’s hesitation and linked their arms, holding tight and bringing their bodies closer together as they walked, sharing their warmth in the dimming light of the April evening.
Shivering slightly at the seductive feeling of Miranda’s body so close to hers, Andy allowed the unease to slowly drain away, leaving her seeking closer contact, so she drew Miranda’s arm tighter through her own and leaned down for a brief and gentle brush of her lips against that corner of Miranda’s mouth which she now called hers. She knew that it would be impossible to hold on to this, that one way or another it was bound to blow up in her face, but for now, she was walking in the twilight across one of the most iconic landmarks of her city, holding the most beautiful woman in the world by her side. Yes, it would end badly, but not just yet.
Major hugs and lollypops to @dianakanebooks who puts up with me and all my moods. None of them are especially pretty.
And thank you to you all who are still reading this, for your time and for your comments. Come talk to me on Twitter at @mckayundercover or just drop me a line here, it makes my day.
Taking a cab to ensure that Miranda got home safe after their more than excellent date, Andy walked back to Gunilla’s in a daze. She envisioned this for a whole week, daydreamed about how she would walk Miranda to the door of the townhouse and Miranda would turn to her, stormy eyes hooded and look up into Andy’s eyes with affection and desire and Andy would be helpless and so hungry for her that she’d bring their mouths together in a flash of pure raw carnality… Man, she really had to stop reading purple prose romances, Andy chuckled to herself.
Yes, she really wanted to kiss Miranda at the end of their wonderful date. The walk across the Brooklyn Bridge was the stuff of dreams. Miranda, once sufficiently relaxed and somewhat more comfortable around Andy, turned out to be an excellent conversationalist, witty, acerbic, and just caustic enough to spice the discussion up with biting commentary. Andy, despite her very good education and a dearth of books she’d devoured in her lifetime, had nothing on the intelligence of this woman. No subject was too obscure or too challenging, Miranda had a very well informed and well-formed opinion on current events, on music, movies, and obviously art and fashion.
Andy felt entirely like a fraud participating in a discussion about art with the biggest artist of their time, so she changed the subject quickly and Miranda hadn’t seemed to mind. Still, Andy felt lower than low. She could play semantics in her head, and tell herself she wasn’t really lying, she was not going to use Miranda in her writing and that she would do her research in a roundabout way, yet deep down she knew that once everything was exposed, it would all end up in tears.
Perhaps that was what held her back from kissing Miranda, even though she really did turn those big, tempestuous eyes up at Andy when they were saying good night on the doorstep of the townhouse. And so Andy leaned in and gently brushed her lips over the left corner of that sensuous mouth, despite seeing Miranda lick her lips in anticipation and tilt her head just a touch upward to make sure the angle of their faces was just right.
When Andy raised her head, Miranda blinked and raised her hand to cradle Andy’s cheek. Her thumb traced Andy’s cheekbone and it looked like she wanted to say something, but she remained silent, just tracing the lines of Andy’s face and looking pensively into her eyes as if making a decision. In the end, it was Andy who turned her head and kissed the palm cradling her cheek, even though it felt like tearing out her own fingernails to take away that hand from her face, so she placed a lingering kiss on the knuckles for good measure, before letting that cool, elegant hand go.
“I had a great time tonight, Miranda. Thank you for spending the evening with me.”
That mischievous left corner of Miranda’s mouth lifted up playfully and she murmured “Anytime” before slipping into the townhouse and slowly closing the door.
And so Andy walked the few blocks to Gunilla’s in a complete daze. Did ‘anytime’ mean that they would have more dates? Miranda sure seemed amenable and she really did have a good time, if her angling for a kiss was anything to judge the evening by. And perhaps that was the most unbelievable thing, that a woman like Miranda found a street urchin like Andy even remotely interesting and appealing enough to want to spend time with her, to want to kiss her even. Andy’s head spun. Miranda wanted to kiss her. She shivered despite the warmth of the evening and tried very hard not to think of all the other things that Miranda maybe, possibly, improbably probably wanted to do with Andy.
The memory of Miranda holding her hands as they roller-skated, and holding on to her shoulders as she allowed Andy to catch her so many times and the feeling of her breath on Andy’s face and just so many little memories that Andy hugged to her chest as she practically danced down Lexington.
Sleep was long in coming and so she pulled the memories out again, like tarot cards, hoping to glimpse a future in them. Her own poetic drivel made her giggle. ‘Glimpse a future’, Andy thought she really could be an idiot sometimes, Miranda would drop her like a hot potato when everything that Andy had been hiding came to light. Sure, what she was doing wasn’t illegal, wasn’t even completely unethical, since she wasn’t accosting Miranda on the streets to steal her story, but it wasn’t conducive to a relationship. She knew who Miranda was, she knew her biggest secret and she chose to selfishly pursue her instead of telling her. Andy shivered now not from the warmth of the lavender-scented sheets, but from the premonition of impending doom.
She punched her pillow, rolled over, and then decided to hide her face in it entirely. Maybe if one steadfastly avoided reality, reality would take a hint? Yeah, and maybe Andy would one day become a Pulitzer Prize winner. She fell asleep with a heavy heart and lips still tingling from kissing Miranda’s cheek. It made for weird dreams.
The morning brought some good news. There were no messages from Miranda, which Andy half knew would happen but still, her heart did an unpleasant little lurch. She was pinning for a woman she’d seen a handful of times and been on exactly one date with. She was pathetic. Still, among her otherwise silent inbox, she had an email from Virginia Mallan’s manager. Ms. Mallan would have exactly 30 minutes of her time to answer questions pertaining to her formative years and the art scene of twenty years ago. Andy had to sigh at the short timeframe she was allotted but felt like it was much better than nothing and so she’d take whatever she could get.
She did her produce run for Alain and was rewarded with a vegetable omelet that was the stuff of dreams. Thus fueled up on great coffee and greater food, she put on what these days she cheerfully called her “interview attire”, which was an ensemble of second-hand designer threads that looked good on her still rather skinny frame. She thought her internal turmoil and anxiety were standing in the way of her finally recovering from months of haphazard eating ramen noodles and pub leftovers.
Dressed all in black, in a Versaci turtleneck and fitting ankle length Armani pants from a suit whose jacket somebody left cigarette burn marks on and which Andy was too embarrassed to even donate to the Salvation Army, she introduced herself to a very important looking doorman, who took her name and asked her to kindly wait while he rang Ms. Mallan to see if she was home and receiving visitors, despite Andy telling him that she had a noon appointment with the theater star. Still, she supposed all these protocols and fripperies were meant to underline the status and the caliber of the celebrity she was about to be given access to and she was quite looking forward to it.
While waiting, Andy did a mental rundown of the little information her quick research of the woman did unearth. She was a musical theater actress and a formidable character. Andy was quite curious to get a glimpse at someone who was once Margo Dresden’s lover and a good friend to both Gunilla and Miriam.
The doorman returned and escorted her up to the elevator where he instructed her to press the penthouse floor. Swanky, Andy thought. A penthouse on the Upper Eastside had to cost a fortune. The elevator opened directly into a spacious foyer, decorated in rather dark colors with startling red and yellow highlights, in the form of lamps or vases, placed strategically here and there. Andy’s eyes needed to adjust to the rather gloomy surroundings.
“Please join me in the kitchen, Ms. Sachs!” A gentile and slightly bored voice called from somewhere within the penthouse and Andy decided to simply follow the instructions.
As she rounded the corner to what she correctly assumed was the kitchen, she was taken aback by the stark difference between the dark, almost somber foyer, and the almost blinding decor of the kitchen. Chrome was the preferred surface, and it was everywhere as far as Andy could see. Different shades of metallic chrome, but no less sparkly. Andy regretted adjusting her eyes to the darkness and wondered if putting on her aviators would be insulting to the hostess.
And what a hostess. Fresh from the shower, her hair still wet and slicked back from her angular face, in a crimson robe, Jimmy Choo slippers and nothing much else, if Andy was to guess, Virginia Mallan gave her one long once-over and smirked.
“Would you like coffee, Ms. Sachs? I’m a bit pressed for time this morning and as you can see, I’ve only recently finished my morning ablutions, but I can certainly spare a bit of time and manners on such a lovely and fresh-faced member of the fourth column.”
So it was to be this kind of an interview. Andy sighed inwardly and offered Virginia her most innocent and naive smile. Naive to the point of an idiot, maybe seeing that Andy had no idea what was happening, Virginia would quit her Mrs. Robinson act and answer some questions instead of playing cougar.
Coffee was on the fancy side with a bunch of bells and whistles that Andy did not prefer, because honestly hazelnut and vanilla in a cup of good joe just ruined the kick. After they were seated on the balcony, which overlooked Carl Schurz Park, Andy opened her notebook.
“No need for that, darling.” Virginia lit a cigarette and Andy thought she practiced the elegant gestures in front of the mirror. The dismissive wave of the red-tipped fingers was also much too practiced to be authentic.
“I hear you live with Gunilla these days, is she back to her cradle robbing ways?” Andy’s jaw dropped and she saw just a touch of malice in Virginia’s eyes. The red tips of her fingers looked like they were dripping blood now.
Andy opened her mouth but instead of some insipid denial or stuttering indignation, what came out was “My relationship with Ms. Garson Goldberg is not the subject of this interview.” She pushed the delicate coffee cup away from her and sat straighter. Your move, Ginny , Andy thought and raised her chin a notch higher.
Virginia looked at her then and the veil of the bored seductress faded away, she was still lurking under the surface and Andy thought that one wrong move on her part would instantly turn the actress back into the cougar on the prowl, but for now, she smiled genuinely and her gesture was less artificial.
“Well, at least you have some backbone. Drink up, darling. And you can open that little notebook of yours.”
At the visible relaxation of Andy’s shoulders Virginia chuckled.
“Poor baby, you thought I’d eat you right up, didn’t you?” Okay, so maybe the cougar wasn’t as far gone as Andy optimistically assumed.
“Ms. Mallan, please. I’m here because--.”
“You’re here”, Virginia said and now her shoulders straightened to the point that Andy thought her collarbones would snap, “because you want to talk about seventeen years ago and all the little adventures and the wonderful times we’ve all had.”
The crimson tips of her fingers tapped against the tabletop, a rather awkward stuttering rhythm, and Andy decided that perhaps she wouldn’t need to open her notebook at all. Her prepared questions would not be necessary here either. As with Margo Dresden, Virginia Mallan had her own agenda for this meeting.
“Well, you could say we had many adventures indeed, and many wonderful times. Margo probably regaled you with her countless affairs and one night stands and how she cut a swath in the Manhattan lesbian population back in the day. Well, she did, rich and funny and charming as she could be. And then she teamed up with Gunilla and the two of them painted the town red every night. Gunilla thought she was fooling people, with her whole patroness of the art shtick. She was fooling nobody. Everybody who had eyes and ears knew she was as gay as a rainbow. I have no idea how any of the men courting her were as stupid as they were. Or perhaps they didn’t care, money did talk after all and Gunilla had plenty.”
Andy had no idea what to expect from this interview, but the bitterness and the rancor that was being poured at Gunilla was quite something. She expected said bitterness to be splashed all over Margo. After all, Virginia and Margo were a couple and it did end rather badly between them, Margo hinting as much during their interview, with Virginia’s jealousy probably being the chief culprit. Or Margo was indeed unfaithful and continued to sow her wild oats despite being with the Broadway star. But all this vitriol poured so generously over Gunilla was a nonsequitur.
“But then Miriam came to New York, and none of those suckers stood a chance. None of the women either. Margo settled down after that too, since her partner in crime was now a docile and besotted top who was completely under the spell of a young and ambitious country bumpkin. God, I hated her guts. Middle of nowhere Ohio, no taste, no education to speak off, Miriam batted her eyelashes at Gunilla and she was done for.”
Virginia took a small sip from her coffee and Andy thought she was trying to swallow some of her vitriol. Listening to this was painful enough, but actually saying it, living it? Andy was suddenly very happy that her life was as simple as it was and she wasn’t prone to choking on her own bile, as Virginia clearly was due to envying her supposed friend, if Margo was to be believed, her beautiful relationship with a rich and besotted Gunilla Garson. Because, to Andy’s mind, that was exactly what it was.
Virginia was jealous and envious of the relationship Miriam had with Gunilla, who by everyone’s account was head over heels in love with her. So in love she rented her a studio, so in love, she begged Margo Dresden to feature Miriam’s art, so in love, she was bringing her on board to edit Runway, so in love, she had eyes only for her and her nights of debauchery and all the other men and women faded away. Perhaps this was not the case for Margo and Virginia. After all, Margo was a player before Virginia and continued to be one for pretty much all her life after Virginia. Some people never changed, or never met the one person that made them want to change.
Suddenly Andy remembered Margo confessing being smitten with Miriam after seeing her art. Yeah, the jealousy must’ve been choking Virginia. Not just Gunilla, but her own partner going ga-ga over someone Virginia considered a lower class imposter.
Virginia seemed oblivious to the distaste Andy was experiencing at the vitriol she was spouting and simply barreled on.
“And so when she came to say farewell before she disappeared into the night, seventeen years ago, I knew they had a falling out, Gunilla and Miriam. However, how was I to know it was as bad as to have Miriam leave like a thief in the middle of the night, without a word to Gunilla, who was completely inconsolable. Nothing was ever the same after that. So sad.”
And at that precise moment, Andy knew why Virginia Mallan had not made it in Hollywood. It wasn’t her unapologetic lesbianism. It wasn’t her out and proud stance. It was her mediocre acting. Because even a person as uninformed about the intricacies of the art of acting as Andy was could tell she was overselling her regret and was not very successful in faking her sympathy.
In the end, Andy decided that she had heard enough. She pulled out her notebook and asked the token questions she came to ask and dutifully took down Virginia’s pontification on the art scene of the time in question.
On her way out, she passed through the kitchen and was very glad to get out of the eye hurting shine of the chrome monstrosity only to almost stumble and kill herself on the ridiculous lemon-colored lamp in the cave-like foyer. As she finally made it out of the imposing building, the doorman politely opened the front door for her and escorted her out.
“You’re so lucky, Miss. Ms. Mallan doesn’t receive journalists at her penthouse. It’s quite a privilege.” He looked up in the direction of the penthouse with a completely besotted expression and Andy almost rolled her eyes. But her mother raised her better than that and her Midwestern roots were very much on display when she smiled kindly at him.
“She is a staple in the theater world, that’s for sure.” Well, that much was true, Virginia was, even though she has been acting for over twenty-five years and despite all her nominations, which Andy now thought were mere tokens of attention being thrown her way, she had never won a Tony.
“Isn’t she just?” The doorman gushed. “I thought so too seventeen years ago when she moved into the penthouse. I still remember that day, as if it were yesterday.”
Andy’s gut clenched. She remembered thinking as she entered the building that the penthouse was quite an achievement for a Broadway actress without much fanfare to her name other than a couple of top billings at the time and the title of patron of the LGBT community. A penthouse on the Upper Eastside, overlooking Carl Schurz Park? It was quite a coop. And now it turned out she moved into it seventeen years ago? Andy didn’t believe in coincidences. All those years ago she wasn’t wealthy or well known. Andy highly doubted that Margo left her the dwelling in their breakup.
“Seventeen years ago? You have quite a memory, sir.”
The doorman swelled with pride and leaned conspiratorially down to Andy.
“I was working the day she moved in. We were all expecting a gentleman, as Mr. Stonewell, the building owner, warned me that some publishing type purchased the penthouse. But then that day, she got out of the car and walked up to me and she looked like an angel and I was glad for once that Mr. Stonewell was wrong. She asked my name and hasn’t called me anything but “Arnie, darling” since then. Mrs. Mallan is such an angel. I’ve never missed any of her shows. Shame she’s only working off-Broadway nowadays. I guess they’re all too jealous of her talent there.”
Andy’s smile was so tight, she thought she might never unclench her jaw. She hurried to say goodbye to the doorman and took off down east 86th Street. Publishing type? In this whole story, there was only one such type. Irv Ravitz. Gunilla sold him the shares of Elias-Clark, he took full control of the company after that and it seems that he bought Virginia Mallan a penthouse around the same time. Why? She wasn’t bisexual if Andy could judge by all her rather public relationships and flings. They were all women. So Irv wasn’t paying Virginia for sex. Why then? Why buy her such an exorbitantly expensive property? And right around the time that Miriam disappeared. Virginia said Miriam came to her before she left, which was more than Margo could say. And Andy would bet her monthly paycheck from the pub that Gunilla did not receive any such courtesy either. Miriam left suddenly and the mystery and trauma of her departure were still haunting Gunilla. So why did Virginia receive such a courtesy? Virginia, whom everyone thought was Miriam’s friend and who just admitted to Andy that she really hated her guts.
What had happened all those years ago that destroyed two relationships and made four women who seemed to like each other, never speak to one another ever again? What happened that caused one of them to seemingly abandon a nascent lucrative career in fashion and in art and her lover to sell all reminders of their work together?
Andy had no answers yet. But as she scrolled through the notes and files she’s accumulated, she thought she was writing more a mystery novel than a biographical sketch. So many questions to answer, so many lines to tug. A lot of those lines were leading to one person though and Andy had a distinct feeling she would have to finally corner Gunilla and ask her all those uncomfortable questions that had been brewing under the surface for some time. Would Gunilla want to discuss her relationship with Miriam? Or would she throw Andy out on her ass? What would Andy do then?
Those were indeed things to consider, however not for a little while yet. Nigel threw another batch of small assignments her way and she was busy for the next couple of days. Between the articles and the editing she had to do for Runway and her job at the pub, Andy barely had any time to do what she wanted to do most of all: think of Miranda, call Miranda, see Miranda, touch and kiss Miranda. Despite being so low on time and opportunity, Andy did message her the day after their date. It was in no small part to cleanse her mind off the vitriol Virginia spewed all over.
The conversation was predictably short, as Miranda apparently did not favor messaging much, but still, to Andy’s inquisitive message of “When you said ‘anytime’ last night, did you mean that you would consider spending more time together, perhaps go on another date?”, Miranda answered caustically “One needs to be asked things in order to answer them one way or another.” And so next Tuesday, Andy had herself another date with Miranda Priestly and she was floating about two inches off the ground as she approached the townhouse.
However, it wasn’t Miranda who opened the door for her. Instead, Andy walked right into a downright hostile glare from Emily, who while holding the door ajar, did not allow Andy to pass and so they just stared at each other across the threshold.
After what seemed like forever, Miranda’s voice drifted down from somewhere above.
“Emily, is that Andrea?”
Emily jumped about a foot in the air and looked over her shoulder, but Miranda was nowhere to be seen yet and so she lowered her voice and whispered angrily to Andy “I’m watching you!” before shouting “Yes, Miranda, the vagrant trespasser is here.”
“She can’t be a trespasser if I let her into my house, Emily.” Miranda descended the stairs and Andy’s heart did that, now expected, slow roll in her chest.
“You look lovely, Miranda. I can’t help feeling unworthy, really.” Andy had no idea where the words were coming from. She did feel unworthy though, for so many different reasons.
Emily rolled her eyes in disgust, but she let her in, murmuring “It’s because you aren’t,” when Andy passed by her.
As Andy raised her head to watch Miranda descending the stairs, she noticed that Miranda’s gaze was tender and affectionate. Andy’s head spun.
“Sweet talker.” was all Miranda said though and grabbed a light jacket that Andy immediately took from her hands and with demonstrative flourish helped her into. If she allowed her hands to linger on the slim shoulders, it was just one small indulgence and Miranda gave her a small smile, telling her that she knew exactly what Andy was doing and that chivalry had nothing to do with it.
Today the journey to their destination was much shorter. They walked down east 73rd Street, crossing 5th Avenue and entering Central Park before taking East Drive through the park. As during their first evening out, if Miranda had any guesses as to where they were heading, she did not share them, nor did she ask any questions.
She seemed content to simply walk next to Andy, listening to her blabber about her eventful shift the previous night at the pub, where they had to extinguish a small fire set inadvertently by one of the patrons who was so busy hitting on a pretty blonde that he didn’t feel his sleeve catch fire from the burning lemon drop shot Andy sent down the bar. Her eyes were sparkling with merriment and Andy felt she could touch the sky when that left corner of her mouth lifted first and her face was lit up by a brilliant smile. For a second, before reason kicked in, Andy thought that making Miranda smile was her mission in life. She’d happily do it forever.
Where had the thought of forever come from? She shivered, she was falling too hard and too fast and it all just seemed too inevitable. She was falling in love with the woman whom she was investigating, who would hate her when everything came to light and who would break Andy’s heart since it seemed entirely possible that she already possessed all of it.
“Are you cold?” Miranda was looking at her with concern and rubbing her back, as Andy shook her head, trying to clear the revelation away from her mind and get some of her coherency back.
She would think about it all later. Tonight she would enjoy being here with Miranda and whatever time they had together. She’d lament the obliteration of her sanity and of her heart later. Tonight was for smiles, tears would come soon enough.
And so she did smile and cheekily brushed her lips over Miranda’s temple, steering them through Central Park.
When they reached the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park, Miranda chuckled. “I’m not sure if it’s because you are young or because you are, well… you.” She waived around herself and gave Andy an indulgent smile.
“You mean my choice of date venues? I’d like to think that my so-called youth has nothing to do with my sense of unadulterated fun. Tell you what, if you don’t have fun tonight, next time you can pick where we go.” As soon as she said the words, she wanted to take them back, because it sounded like she was assuming things and taking things for granted and why couldn’t she keep her big mouth shut? But Miranda just gave a bland smile and said “We shall see, Andrea.”
When did this mannerism of calling Andy by her whole first name, and with the slight accent, become the only correct way of pronouncing her name? Andy thought that she was pretty much head over heels for this woman, who was standing in the middle of a crowded carnival and looked like nothing could touch her. Yet here was Andy, holding her hand.
She had no idea what she was about to say, it surely was something either totally inane or, God forbid, a confession of feeling, but she was rather spectacularly interrupted by something that she could only call a phenomenon. Dressed in rather gaudy multicolored attire, with multiple bracelets jingling on slim wrists, with a braid over her shoulder, big black-framed glasses on a captivating face and a cheeky smile, a carnival fortune-teller descended on them.
And then a couple of things happened at once. Andy was enveloped in a massive bear hug accompanied by a lot of joyful squealing and Miranda recoiled and turned absolutely ashen.
“Come to Madame Lucille, you lunatic wanderer! I haven’t seen you in ages, Andy!”
“Luce, it’s so wonderful to see you! Are you working at the carnival? “ Andy could barely believe her eyes. Lucy Brexwell was a good friend and they’d occasionally worked together at various cafes and restaurants when Lucy’s regular gig, which would charitably be described as conning tourists out of their hard-earned cash at various carnivals and amusement parks, was not going so well. In times like those, she needed to lay low and thus served food at the various places Andy worked as a bartender or barista.
Joyful, quirky, with a sense of humor that could be summed up as goofy, Lucy, or Luce the Duce, as she was known in certain less than savory circles, was one of the fiercest, most loyal people Andy knew. If not for her own strained circumstances, she’d have gladly housed and fed Andy for as long as it was needed to get her back on her feet. However, they both hit hard times around the same time last year, with Andy being thrown out by Nate and Luce finding legal trouble for messing with the wrong crew over in Jersey.
Andy had thought that something dreadful must’ve happened to Lucy as a result of her many run-ins with the New Jersey crews, but here she was, hale and hearty, squeezing the life out of her and laughing her loud, unabashed and unrestrained laugh right in Andy’s ear. That was Lucy to the core though, she was all in, happiness, sadness, jokes, laughter - she embraced it all and felt it all very deeply, no holds barred. Andy loved her for it, but she also understood that it was never easy to live one’s life as an exposed nerve at all times, and wished that Lucy would learn to temper herself better in order to keep her heart and her emotions safe.
“Oh my god, Andy Sachs, I missed you, my dude! It’s been forever!” She set Andy aside to give her a long visual inspection and then apparently satisfied with what she saw, hugged her again.
“Lucy, I’m so glad to see you! I looked for you in February, but everyone at your old haunts said you were gone because you got in trouble with…”
“None of that, bud, especially not in public! They’ve let bygones be bygones and I have turned a new leaf. Here I am and look at this!” She tugged at her braid and Andy grinned. She knew the braid could only mean one thing.
“You and Linda are back together! I’m so happy for you!” Andy ran her fingers over the thick braid, tugging lightly at its tip. In Lucy’s life, a braid meant that she and her wife were indeed back together, for Lucy did not allow anyone else to touch her hair and Linda had magic hands when it came to braiding. They had their ups and downs, Lucy had itchy feet and a massive imagination which she very often put to nefarious dealings, such as grifting and Linda was an honest and hardworking yoga studio owner down in the Village. Yet, no matter what, Lucy always came back and Linda was always there waiting.
Andy turned around, the happiness of seeing an old friend filling her soul, with the intention of introducing Lucy to Miranda and finally fully saw what her brain registered moments ago when Lucy suddenly appeared. Miranda was standing motionless, face beyond pale, it had gone ash gray and her eyes were like glass.
Lucy, following Andy’s line of sight, sprung to action first.
“Oh ma’am, I’m so terribly sorry, did my Madame Lucille appearance scare you? I’m so, so sorry, I haven’t seen this one over here in some time and couldn’t contain my excitement. Are you here for the carnival, Andy? Cause I can do my whole shtick for you, predict your future, guess your past, give you the whole fortune-teller experience. No charge for old friends, my dude!”
Miranda seemed to jerk out of her stupor at the words and took a step back from Lucy. Her hands were shaking and she was looking like she might pass out at any moment.
“Andy, I think your friend here needs some water. Or maybe the ladies’ room?”
“Yes, the ladies’ room, please.” The words were strained and Miranda barely moved her lips, but she carefully yet determinedly pushed away Andy’s helping hands and walked with her back ramrod straight in the direction of the public bathroom, several feet away from them.
“What the hell just happened, Luce?” Andy watched her safely enter the bathroom and now turned all her attention to Lucy. “I don’t even know what you said.”
“I don’t think it’s anything I said, buddy. Are you two together? I mean are you with her?”
“I wish, Luce, I wish. It’s the second date, and man, I did not expect a blast from my past to come barreling down and scare her breathless. Did you see her face? It’s like she’s seen a ghost.” Andy rubbed her hands over her own arms, her concern getting the best of her.
“I don’t think it’s anything I said, though I thought she might lose her last meal when I mentioned guessing her past, I think it’s more what I am, a fortune-teller. Is she scared of those? Like clowns or something?”
“Luce, you’re no fortune-teller, and you and I both know it. And Miranda is too smart to believe there could be any real telling of one’s fortunes at a Central Park carnival. Maybe I should go after her?”
“Andy, give her some space.” Lucy’s voice was gentle. She took Andy’s hands in hers and turned her around fully until they were face to face. “I haven’t seen you this smitten over anyone before, Andy. I watched you two entering the Gardens and you really have it bad. Is she serious about you? Cause I don’t have to ask about how serious you are about her.”
“Luce, I… I can’t talk about this now. I need to go see if she’s alright.”
“I guess I have my answer then. She better be good to you. She looks rich and important and God knows what else she might be, but you’re my friend. She better appreciate you.”
“Luce, you have it all wrong. She’s so out of my league, I have no idea what she’s doing with the likes of me, giving me any sort of time of day…”
“Oh, dude.” Lucy let go of her hands and gave her another bear hug. “You are one of the best people I know, you’re generous and kind and nice. And you have a heart of gold. You might get in some trouble occasionally, I’d know all about that, but your heart is always in the right place.”
Andy had tears in her eyes when Lucy let her out of the hug and gave her a watery smile.
“Luce, if you only knew…”
“Hey, hey, hey! There’s no crying at the carnival! It’s all about fun and laughter. Quick, let me tell you one of my latest jokes. God knows I get bored out of my mind talking about nonsense drivel all day, predicting love and passion to clueless tourists over here, so I have all the time to compose jokes, are you ready?”
“Luce, if this joke is anything like your usual ones…” Andy’s smile turned wide and the shadow of her tears was gone.
“It’s better, I promise! Dig this: did you hear about the circus tent that got caught in the hurricane? It was red, white, and blew!” Lucy’s loud laughter boomed and Andy found herself laughing along.
“It’s terrible, Luce!”
“Eh, made you laugh though, didn’t I? Have another one, since we’re on a circus theme here anyway: last night the acrobat fell off the tightrope and onto the trampoline. It’s ok though, he’ll bounce back!”
“Oh God, Luce. You are such a dad.”
“Okay one more for the road and then I’ll let you go check up on your high society lady: why do contortionists make good criminals? They can get out of anything!”
Instead of laughing, Andy just clasped Lucy’s shoulder tight.
“Yeah, Luce, just remember that you aren’t a contortionist and some things even you can’t get out of. I worry about you. Did you change your number? I’ve been calling you.”
“Nah, I put my phone in a paper bag and it was raining and it got the bag all wet and obviously it tore in the most inconvenient moment as I was crossing the road and some asshole drove over it. So I don’t have a phone at the moment. Is your number the same?”
“Man, that’s so typically you, Luce. Yes, my number is the same. Call me when you get a new phone!”
“I will. Now scram out of here before I get you a cup of coffee and propose to tell you your future on the tittynope.”
“Be glad I’m a journalist and know what tittynope means, or I’d be slapping you across that handsome face of yours for wanting to stare at my boobs. Laters, Luce!”
“Laters, Andy. And tell that lady of yours that I’m no real fortune-teller and could not see in her past, so she has nothing to worry about. You, on the other hand, should probably ask her what the hell is in her past that other people guessing it scared her so much. I worry about you!”
Andy nodded and with one last hug, they parted. Just as she was approaching the bathroom, Miranda exited and they looked at each other warily.
“Are you alright? I’m so sorry about Lucy. She can be intense and her jumping us like that…”
“It’s fine.” Miranda’s face was still drawn and her eyes glassy but her color was coming back and her voice was firm.
“It’s most certainly not. I don’t know what to do, how to make it up to you. I guess the carnival was a bad idea after all. I wanted us to have some fun. Get on a few rides and maybe I could win you a teddy bear, I’m not a bad shot.”
“A teddy bear, Andrea? I’m positively giddy with excitement.” And finally, Miranda’s dry humor and her faint smile were coming back.
“Do you want to leave? We can always just stroll in the park and maybe grab a bite somewhere quiet, I have this one place in mind. I’m really sorry the mood got ruined.”
“Nonsense, Andrea. I don’t know what mood you’re talking about, but nothing is ruined. And how could we leave when you have a teddy bear to win for me?”
They ended up staying for over an hour and while initially Miranda still looked uncomfortable, she gradually got into Andy’s excitement of being at the carnival. They got on a couple of tamer rides and Andy finally managed to forget her concern as Miranda’s shoulders visibly relaxed and she started to enjoy herself. She even chuckled at the small stuffed teddy bear Andy won her in the archery contest.
“Don’t look so surprised, I told you I’m good!”
“At some things, Andrea, perhaps.” But she allowed Andy to hold her hand and she carried the teddy bear herself for the rest of the evening.
They had a quiet and pleasant dinner at one of the smaller cafes off 5th Avenue with Andy again using her many acquaintances and calling in some favors to get a corner booth and a lovely candlelit dinner.
If Miranda was impressed she certainly didn’t say much and Andy was starting to get quite nervous by the time they reached the townhouse.
She was about to start mumbling something silly when Miranda put a finger over her mouth and simply said “Come in for a nightcap?”
Andy’s knees turned to jello with anticipation and so she had no real power to do anything but nod.
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After holding the door open, Miranda took her by the hand and led her into a cool, sparsely yet attractively furnished study off the first-floor hallway. The same hallway that housed the Priestly that Andy was so intrigued by and still couldn’t for the life of her place. As she passed by it, she slowed her pace to give it another cursory look, but her memory was still failing her. The study they entered was spacious and, despite the lateness of the hour, looked airy and full of outside light from the big windows opening into the small garden and the strategically placed lamps.
Andy felt instantly comfortable in this space, despite, or maybe because of, the lack of fripperies and much furniture. Plus, when she turned, it seemed like just by standing in the middle of the study, Miranda filled the space with her presence. It was wondrous, the study had delicate and intricate art on the walls, just like much of the townhouse that Andy had seen so far. Yet when she was in the room, Miranda was the centerpiece, and Andy had eyes only for her. The narrow shoulders, the prominent collarbones, and the sharp cheekbones, Andy could catalog them for days, watch the shadows play on the long arms and the angular face, hide in the short hair, or in the depths of those brilliant blue eyes.
The beauty of this woman took Andy’s breath away. Her body moved on its own accord as she closed the small distance between them. She was relieved to see that Miranda’s eyes flared not with fear or apprehension. It was sheer raw desire she saw reflected back in those tempestuous eyes and she thought that her whole life led her to this single moment. No matter what road she chose, no matter what decision she made, it felt like she was meant to be here, in this room, on this evening, with the light falling in strips through the half-closed blinds, delineating the space into areas of light and darkness, as if separating her life in two. Before and after Miranda.
And so Andy leaned in and gently placed her lips on Miranda’s. It was like nothing she had ever experienced. Soft and warm, skilled lips captured hers, after the shock of initial hesitation, and they kissed as if they had been kissing for days, months, years. Lifetimes before. Their mouths fit perfectly and they moved in perfect synergy, perfect rhythm. She captured Miranda’s lower lip between her teeth, tugging gently, eliciting a moan and causing Miranda, whose hands were clutching her shoulders, to let go and slide those delicate hands into Andy’s hair, running the fingers through the mahogany locks as she did all those nights back when she gave Andy a haircut. The light scratching of her scalp with short fingernails caused Andy to growl and drop her face to the curve of Miranda’s neck, where it connected with her shoulder and Andy growled some, this time against the delicate skin, making Miranda chuckle deep in her throat before that sexy chuckle turned into a sexual moan at the feel of Andy’s teeth biting at the smooth alabaster shoulder. Miranda tugged her hair and Andy raised her face to have her mouth be captured in a hungry, no holds barred kiss.
Andy’s heart soared, Miranda was holding nothing back, whatever anxiety she felt earlier in the evening, whatever apprehension or reservation, had no bearing on how tightly she held Andy or how hungrily she returned her every kiss. Andy held her by the small waist, caressing up and down the length of her back, feeling Miranda shiver under her touch every time her thumbs would detour closer and closer to her sides and the curve of her breasts.
The kiss went on, Andy finally getting her courage and licking at that delicious lower lip that she couldn’t seem to stop biting and sucking on, making Miranda shiver harder, and finally letting her in. The touch of their tongues, tentative and gentle, made electricity run down Andy’s spine. She visibly trembled, with Miranda’s hands still working their magic in her hair and those sly fingertips occasionally venturing south to play at the nape of her neck, making her want to slam this woman into the nearest wall. She wanted to pin her to it and eat her whole, get on her knees, unhook Miranda’s belt and tug on the black skinny jeans Miranda was wearing tonight and not stop, dive in and slide her tongue into her, lap at her, drive her crazy by tasting and licking at her every crease and fold and finally take her clit in her mouth and suck on it, making Miranda scream.
This vision hit Andy like lightning, it was so vibrant, so full of life and agony at the same time, because deep down, even kissing Miranda, even sucking lightly on her tongue and biting her lower lip, Andy knew she couldn’t go through with this. She couldn’t make love to Miranda no matter how much she wanted to, and her soaked through panties told the story of exactly how much she wanted to. Her guilty conscience was screaming at her that while so many lies were between them, while Andy continued to pursue the investigation into Priestly for her own selfish reasons, she had no business kissing Miranda, touching her, let alone making love to her.
And so, her mind reeling from arousal and regret, Andy took a shaky step back from Miranda whose eyes were glazed and disoriented and her expression clearly showed her lack of comprehension of what was happening. This expression of raw desire was too much for Andy and she leaned in once more to capture Miranda’s lips, only she gentled her kiss this time, instead of arousing and devouring she went for soothing and comforting and when they broke apart some delicious moments later, Miranda’s gaze was clearer if not more comprehending of Andy’s course of action.
“Andrea…” Miranda’s voice had a low seductive timbre to it and Andy almost gave in. How could she hold on when Miranda was standing in front of her, with her hair sexily mussed, her lips red and swollen, her blouse buttons opened showing off an alabaster shoulder that was starting to blossom with the marks Andy’s teeth left on it? The sight of those marks, of what they meant, made Andy shudder with a possessive thrill. She put them there. Andy Sachs marked Miranda Priestly as hers. Her head spun from the impossibility of it all. And yet despite the amount of allure the situation held, despite being wet and throbbing and probably one casual rub over her clit away from coming apart at the seams, Andy knew that Miranda wasn’t hers, and that ultimately she was unworthy of being where she was.
“Shhh, Miranda. It’s late and you’ve had an eventful day.” She put her fingertips on the swollen lips, just about dying to kiss her again. God, this was like cutting off a limb. The need she had for this woman, who was looking at her with such desire and affection, despite being completely disoriented by Andy stopping them from making love. Because Andy knew that they were seconds away from getting down on the floor and tearing each other’s clothes off. Such was their chemistry, such was the perfection of their touch and kiss.
Andy was ready for Miranda to argue, after all, this was the second time that she was denying her something Miranda clearly wanted. Not kissing her last Tuesday when Miranda gave off every indication that she had wanted to be kissed and now, not making love to her despite Miranda inviting her for the proverbial nightcap and very clearly stating her intentions by pretty much ravaging Andy’s mouth and allowing Andy to do anything she wanted.
But Miranda did not argue. She gave Andy one long look and came just a little closer, placing a silk soft kiss on Andy’s furrowed brow and then smoothing the crease there with her fingers.
“Such chivalry, Andrea,” was all she said before turning around and taking a seat on the sofa.
Andy gulped. Chivalry really had nothing to do with her stopping herself from devouring Miranda in several greedy bites. But she wasn’t ready just yet to come out and say exactly why she felt lower than low and absolutely not worthy of being with Miranda that way. So stall now, figure it out later, Andy thought and gave Miranda a sly hopeful smile.
“I’m nothing if not chivalrous, Miranda. It’s pretty much my middle name.”
“What is your middle name, Andrea?”
“Ah, but it’s a state secret, and you don’t have that kind of clearance yet.” Miranda rolled her eyes but her expression was amused and Andy thought that they might just get past the awkward stage of the evening rather unscathed when her companion changed the subject entirely.
“I know you work evenings at that dungeon of yours where men set themselves on fire because of you and women bury you in napkins containing their telephone numbers, but perhaps you would like to have lunch with me this week? How about Thursday at Medea? The restaurant is making quite the splash in the papers lately, they have an exciting up and coming executive chef and a new menu. I’ve been quite intrigued by it all.”
Andy’s heart was soaring. Mirinda wanted to spend time with her, wanted to take her out and continue this dance of theirs, and not just in private where it was pretty clear that any conversation would end with them making out like teenagers. Miranda found her interesting and stimulating enough to want to see her and talk to her and wasn’t that just a lovely turn of events. And then Andy heard the name of the restaurant.
“Medea?” The lump in her throat almost made her choke on the word.
Something in her voice must’ve alerted Miranda to her distress, because she reached out and raised Andy’s chin so that they were eye to eye.
“Yes, Medea, is something the matter, Andrea?”
Well, Andy was already lying about so many things, there was no point adding one more to the pile.
“My ex-boyfriend is the executive chef at Medea. He was promoted around the time he broke up with me last fall.”
“Hmm, he broke up with you? Are you by chance carrying a torch, Andrea? You seem rather discomfited by the prospect of seeing him while being with me.”
Andrea straightened her shoulder and grabbed for Miranda’s hand that dropped away from her face at the mention of the boyfriend.
“No, no, Miranda. I’d be honored to be with you anywhere. I’m just embarrassed. It ended ugly between us with him throwing me out of our apartment and all that. So Emily calling me a vagrant isn’t entirely without merit, you know.” Andy tried to finish the horribly embarrassing account with a joke, but it didn’t help. Miranda wasn’t smiling.
“He threw you out of the apartment? Left you out on the street?”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s not that drastic and things were not working between us for a long time before that. He was getting big and famous and I was walking dogs and bartending so obviously his new girlfriend suited him much better, being an Instagram influencer and all that and I, a total nobody and an embarrassment to him in front of his patrons--.”
This time it was Miranda who put her fingertips to Andy’s lips effectively silencing her stream of consciousness.
“So he cheated on you and then threw you out, effectively rendering you homeless in the middle of one of the coldest autumns in the history of New York? It snowed in early October last year!”
“Miranda!” Andy was beyond embarrassed at this point. “Look, it was no big deal and my friend Lily helped me out by housing me over at the Garson Goldberg Gallery. The gallery is a safe and nice place so I wasn’t really homeless for very long--.” Andy stopped mid-sentence because the look on Miranda’s face was unreadable. And then she realized what she’d said. Garson Goldberg Gallery. Why the heck did she have to mention Gunilla’s gallery? God, she went and ruined it all and now Miranda was looking at her with a strange and closed off expression on her face. Andy opened her mouth to try and somehow salvage the situation, but she had no idea what to say and no words were really coming to her. But then Miranda seemed to snap out of her reverie and simply asked, “I hope you’re not living in a gallery anymore, Andrea? No matter how nice, galleries aren’t really suited for housing purposes.”
“No, ah, not anymore. I live with a friend who has a spare basement apartment, so you can tell Emily that she can call me a former vagrant.” Her attempt at humor seemed to work this time, as that left corner of Miranda’s mouth lifted charmingly and then the right one followed suit and Miranda finally smiled fully.
“I’m sure it will be quite a relief to Emily to know I’m not seeing a homeless person.” Her tone was dry but her gaze was affectionate and that affection warmed Andy to the core.
“I sense that Emily is very protective of you and I think that is commendable, despite her calling me names and clearly thinking I’m not worthy of your company.” Miranda scoffed but Andy stopped her by taking her hand and giving it a quick squeeze.
“Which, look if we’re honest, I totally am not worthy. We can’t even go to a restaurant of your choice without me embarrassing you.”
“Andrea, who said you’ll embarrass me? And why should you? Just because a man working there treated you like dirt? I think it rather speaks more about his character than yours. I still want to have lunch with you at Medea. If you can handle it, that is?”
And now Andy could hear a bit of a challenge in Miranda’s voice, similar to how Andy goaded her into joining at the roller skating rink. If Miranda could overcome her anxiety about interacting with people, which she had mentioned she’d been trying to do for years, and enjoy her time with Andy surrounded by dozens of other skaters, then Andy could forget her inferiority complex and show up for lunch at Nate’s restaurant and look like she belonged there.
“I, um, yeah. I mean, sure. I’d love to have lunch with you. He might not even show his face, after all, chefs don’t really step on the floor unless there’s trouble and so he might not even see me.”
“We shall see. Emily might joke about your vagrancy status, but please do dress up for the occasion, it’s a two Michelin Star establishment, Andrea.” She smiled sharply and Andy couldn’t resist giving her one quick kiss because the more time she spent with this woman, the more facets to her she discovered and now she looked every inch the arrogant, haughty beauty that owned every room she ever walked into and damn if it didn’t bring all that lust Andy was suppressing for the past half an hour back to the surface.
So they kissed and Andy trembled when Miranda reached to caress her throat with the very tips of her fingers, slowly tracing up and down and smiling into the kiss when she registered the reaction she elicited in Andy.
“I, ah, I gotta go, um…” Miranda gave her a smile, knowing full well what she was doing to her, and got up from the sofa to escort her to the front door. She didn’t argue or try to push the issue, she seemed content to let Andy set the pace of their intimacy. She seemed almost sanguine now, standing in the foyer of the townhouse, watching Andy get her bag and her things together. This sanguinity didn’t sit right with Andy though and so she decided wiping that smug little smile off Miranda’s face was worth further ruining her own panties and with a quick turn she had her flat against the door, Miranda’s chest heaving between the hard surface and Andy’s own body. Not with fear though, and Andy claimed her lips roughly, fully certain of what she saw in Miranda’s eyes, fire and desire. The kiss was all rough edges and sharp bites, leaving bruises and desperation in its wake. So when Andy finally stepped back and let Miranda step away from the door, she was very happy and now herself smug about the fact that Miranda did not look sanguine anymore.
That look of Miranda’s, all hot under the collar and pretty much begging to be taken right there and then against the door, was what sustained Andy the next day and a half and did not allow her to go into full-blown panic mode at the thought of going to Medea for lunch and possibly running into Nate.
She hated how she had allowed that man to get into her head and shatter her self confidence. Because the more she thought about it, the more she understood how through months of manipulation and humiliation he steadily eroded her self esteem and self-confidence. The man she once loved was so hellbent on getting her out of his life that he did everything in his power to demean her in the hope that she perhaps would do him a favor and leave on her own. He denigrated her mind, saying she no longer had the smarts to bring out content that would be popular with the new crop of users. He ruined her confidence in her skills in the bedroom, humiliating her many times for her tiredness after working three different jobs during the day and unwillingness to be ready and able to perform for hours every night for him. He critiqued her writing, her friends, her jobs. Nothing she did at the end of their relationship was good enough for him.
If she only would’ve stopped and given it some thought she’d have seen the parallels between the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, and the things Nate subjected her to. Except she was too busy, trying to make ends meet, help her mother, pay off the debts, keep up with her jobs, and with Nate’s ever-growing social demands. She was simply too exhausted to realize what he was doing to her and by the time he threw her out, simultaneously opening her eyes to his treachery, it was too late for her. He had managed to get under her skin and leave bruises that still smarted and scars that hadn’t yet healed.
She dressed with great care that morning, so much so that even the freshly woken up Gunilla gave her full approval. Her elderly host took one look and made her put her hair up. “You should show off that long neck of yours and that pretty face. Stop hiding it behind all that hair, as beautiful as it is these days after the haircut you had.” And then Gunilla took her to the study and opened the safe and got out a pair of small but amazingly intricate diamond earrings. Andy tried to protest, but all Gunilla said was, “Your outfit is nice, darling, but it needs just a touch of shine. These will do nicely. Don’t lose them. They are quite dear to me.”
And so Andy was nicely dressed and the diamonds sparkled unobtrusively in her ears, no longer hidden behind her locks. She entered Medea with a renewed determination not to embarrass herself or Miranda. Plus, she spoke nothing but the truth on Tuesday, it really wasn’t very often that the executive chef worked the floor of the restaurant, their domain was the kitchen and the expediting of the food and so she hoped nothing would go wrong to summon Nate to the front of the house.
Except a lot of the things went wrong and Andy found herself on quite the adventure as lunch went on. And she had Miranda to thank for it.
Things started to go wrong from the moment she arrived at the restaurant to find Miranda already seated at the most visible table in the whole place. Center of the floor, highly prestigious, but also highly observed. Andy remembered Nate telling her how famous people always booked that table when they wanted to be seen, heard and noticed. So Andy shrunk a little bit in her leather jacket before handing it to the patiently waiting maitre d’.
Per usual these days, the sight of Miranda leisurely perusing the menu did funny and pleasant things to Andy’s chest, but as she leaned forward to place a kiss at that left corner of her mouth, Miranda recoiled slightly and her eyes got huge as she looked at Andy’s face unblinking. Uncomprehending what was happening, Andy turned around and tried to figure out who caused Miranda’s distress, but there didn’t seem to be anyone out of place. When she returned to face Miranda again, she was somewhat more composed, but she still wasn’t quite herself. Andy was about to ask her something inane as to whether or not she was all right, but Miranda forestalled her with a dismissive and brusk gesture and they sat down in silence, Andy worrying her lower lip and Miranda drinking water in small sips from a glass that magically appeared at her elbow.
Just as Andy was about to try and open her mouth again, a waiter materialized out of thin air and she cursed herself for being a total rube and not even opening the darn menu to see if she could afford a soup at this place.
And then things just went totally haywire. Miranda seemed to have recovered some of her moxie as she laid a quelling hand on Andy’s and effectively stopped her endeavors to open the menu.
“We will have the chef’s choice of antipasti, and I will have a steak while my friend will have the fusilli with white truffle. That’s all.”
The waiter didn’t even blink at the casual mention of the expensive ingredient. Andy remembered Nate saying that a half a pound of white truffles cost over $5,000. Andy gulped her water and wished for more air, despite sitting in a spacious and well-conditioned room.
Meanwhile, Miranda seemed to have completely recovered from her earlier distress and was looking around herself with avid interest. She motioned with her chin in several directions and Andy dutifully turned to see various famous people and New York celebrities occupying the nearby tables. Andy recognized a couple of local politicians, a deputy mayor, a B list actress, and a newscaster of some repute all partaking in lunch at various tables around them. The restaurant wasn’t packed but the lunch crowd was sizable and clearly important due to their status and celebrity.
They didn’t even have time to exchange any pleasantries when the waiter returned with sea urchin crostini and some beluga caviar on small shapely blinis. Andy looked at the food with some trepidation. He might not have cooked it, but Nate was certainly involved in the food making its way to Andy’s table. He was usually working the kitchen’s expediting station at all times, being a total control freak and wanting to control as much of the process as he could of food being cooked, seasoned, and distributed to the restaurant floor. It made him a great chef actually, Andy thought begrudgingly.
However before she could even touch her fork, Miranda was exclaiming loudly about the underseasoned sea urchin on her plate, demanding for it to be cooked again, since someone clearly forgot to put any salt on it.
The waiter disappeared with the sea urchin plates and Andy was ready to dig into her beluga caviar, except Miranda shook her head subtly. Andy looked at her inquisitively, but all she got was a bland stare and a subtle smile. Since this was Miranda’s smile, her mouth’s left corner flirted with Andy cheekily and that was all she needed to not pay attention to her surroundings anymore.
She was so distracted by visions of tracing those subtly curved lips with her tongue, especially now that she knew how intoxicating the taste of Miranda’s mouth was, she nearly missed the waiter returning with their crostini. Except he barely approached the table when Miranda demanded the beluga to be replaced because there was just too much salt in the dish.
The waiter stuttered his apology and disappeared again, carrying the caviar plates with him. Miranda dug in with gusto into the sea urchin, apparently completely oblivious of the stares being thrown their way now from some of the other diners. Andy noticed one of them signal the waiter and request a change in their antipasti as well. What in the world was happening?
However, things really got interesting when Miranda’s steak arrived, accompanied by Andy’s ridiculously expensive white truffle fusilli, only to be turned back and declared that the doneness on the meat was wrong. Miranda returned Andy’s dish as well, demanding it to be served warm along with her meal when it was ready. So basically Miranda was ruining two dishes now because the steak would have to be thrown away and a new one prepared, while Andy’s dish could not be kept warm or re-heated while waiting for the new steak to be made, which meant that a new truffle would have to be cut and the whole plate of it would be wasted.
Andy had to laugh at the show Miranda was putting on. A distinguished, high-class woman in beautiful stylish clothes and red-soled Louboutins, impeccably polite yet sufficiently loud as to be heard by most of the people on the restaurant floor, she was making her objections known with precision and the ruthlessness of an assassin. Andy could see that at least three other customers had also returned their food or asked the waiter to change something on their plate. It was funny how someone impeccably dressed and impressively well-spoken could easily sway public opinion, even to the effect of them starting to dislike their food simply because someone who looked and spoke like Miranda declared that there was something wrong with it. The pompous bastards couldn’t be outdone, after all a high society lady had deemed the caviar oversalted, so it must be true and off that caviar went back to the kitchen. People really were that easily swayed by peer pressure and a red Louboutins sole accompanied by impeccable accent and manners.
This must be murder on the back of the house staff, with cooks scrambling to re-do the returned dishes and the executive chef struggling to keep ahold of the quickly going south lunch service. Nate was having a day from hell and that was before he had to re-do Andy’s truffle macaroni a second time because Miranda thought she saw something extraneous on the plate. God, the sheer amount of truffle being wasted…he was probably crying over every ounce that had to go into the garbage can. It was fun indeed.
Andy was not laughing though. She was watching Miranda with big impressed eyes. This woman who owed her nothing, who really wasn’t anyone to her, was here, doing something so outrageously out of her comfort zone as putting herself on public display, all to get some form of revenge on Andy’s asshole ex-boyfriend.
And through it all the woman in question was sitting impassively in the center of the dining room and watching Andy with eyes filled with something she could not decipher. The eyes held warmth though and for the moment it was enough for Andy. To quietly enjoy Nate having the most horrible day, and to be looked at with warmth by the woman who ruined that day for him, simply because he hurt Andy. She never felt as protected, as cherished as in those moments, despite not knowing what caused Miranda’s earlier episode, despite the lies still hanging over their heads. She just savored the moment just as she savored the most wonderful truffle pasta she ever tasted in her life.
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Thank you for sticking with this story and thank you for your comments and tweets over at @mckayundercover, I appreciate them all so much!
Darlings, we are here, the place where things fall apart and secrets are revealed. A minor trigger warning for mentions of past events, but rest assured that no details of said events are revealed, discussed, or explained.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As much as fun as Andy had during her lunch with Miranda, she had, even more, the next day when the Post had a long and angry review of Madea, its menu and service written by the B-list actress whom Andy remembered seeing a few tables down from where she and Miranda were seated. The review, among all the complaining and ranting at the substandard food and total lack of quality from the kitchen, had a cursory mention of Miranda and Andy: “As I sat there waiting interminably for my cavatelli, a beautiful woman in a Vivienne Westwood dress was being entirely too patient and too polite after having to exchange her steak for what seemed like the fifth time. That her pretty companion was silent throughout her own second return of truffle pasta was equally too sanguine and way more than this establishment deserved. Nate Osteen has let me down beyond belief. Do not recommend.”
She was practically flying throughout the day and even considering that she had a double shift at the pub, nothing could ruin her mood. Of course, the moment that thought materialized in her mind, it was all too much for the universe and it had to come back at her with a vengeance. Her phone beeped and Nigel’s name appeared on the screen. The message was as clear as it was heartstopping: “When can I expect the first draft of the Priestly story?”
Yeah about that, Andy gulped down the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat and tried thinking fast. Except nothing really came to her mind. Everything was Miranda and Miranda was in everything, her article, her investigation, her mind, and the more Andy thought about her predicament, the more she realized that Miranda was in her heart. This wasn’t an infatuation or a crush or hero-worship. Sure, there was plenty to worship and Miranda certainly inspired enough adulation simply for being Priestly, but for Andy, it went beyond that.
She was falling in love with the woman behind the idol. The real, at times vulnerable, at time irascible, at times insecure woman, who was jealous of Andy’s customers, and who was vengeful with Andy’s worthless ex and who embraced her in the middle of a skating rink, her eyes alight with the pleasure of simply being there with Andy. The woman who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge as if they were walking along some unimaginable exotic beach and smiled at Andy unreservedly with pure delight. Andy forgot when anyone looked at her like that, as if she hung the moon by simply offering to take a walk or to get chicken wraps from a food truck. Miranda did something that nobody in Andy’s life ever did before. Miranda never took her for granted. She treated Andy like Andy mattered, like she was worthy. And that was the most intoxicating thought of them all.
Except, Andy really wasn’t at all worthy of Miranda, because no matter the chemistry between them, and boy, was there ever chemistry, Andy couldn’t move forward, past the deception she was enacting. She couldn’t make love with Miranda while she was concealing an ulterior motive.
They went on another date that ended with Miranda pushing Andy against the wall and absolutely devouring her mouth, with greedy hands seeking purchase and finding it at Andy’s hips, before sliding further to grip her ass, at which point Andy was so wet she was one second away from getting down on her knees and either begging Miranda to take her then and there or using her position to dive under Miranda’s Prada skirt, tearing her panties off, and eating her alive.
Yet she gently pushed Miranda away, offering some lame excuse of it being late and having some bullshit assignment in the morning. She was pretty sure Miranda didn’t buy it, yet neither did she protest or argue, she simply licked her lips with so much sensuality, that Andy almost changed her mind. She allowed herself one last indulgence of gently biting on that delicious lower lip and tugging slightly, making Miranda moan. God, how she loved that sound. What she’d give to hear more of it, in a setting that involved a lot fewer clothes and a lot more skin on skin. But as much as her belly twisted with desire, her heart twinged with regret of deception and she walked out of the townhouse, leaving a puzzled Miranda behind.
She waited for two days to answer Nigel and knew that it was about two days too late to do so because he was not a patient man. Her answer was that she needed a little bit more time to interview some people and his reply was a rather tersely worded message giving her one week.
And so that was that. She had one week to finish drafting what was sure to be the final nail in the coffin of her relationship with Miranda.
She texted Miranda and set up a dinner date for next Tuesday. When Miranda proposed a quick coffee to tide them over until Tuesday, Andy knew she should have said no, she should not indulge herself in what surely was the penultimate time she would see Miranda, but she couldn’t. And so she sat in the now-familiar coffee shop on the corner of E 73rd Street and drank her caramel macchiato and enjoyed watching Miranda’s mouth move with that left corner slightly raised, in a half-smile. It occurred to Andy that in her presence, that tantalizing corner of Miranda’s mouth was always slightly upturned these days and it was like another dagger in her heart to realize that she was making Miranda happy, and she was going to take all that happiness away through her deception. But in the meantime, she allowed herself the bitter-sweet indulgence of watching Miranda drink her scorching hot coffee and talk, gesticulating animatedly, her elegant hands flying, long fingers seducing Andy, almost hypnotizing her. She sat there, in that coffee shop, watching Miranda do mundane things and felt herself sliding deeper and deeper in love with this woman.
She ended up walking Miranda home that afternoon, knowing full well that she was safe from the temptation of Miranda’s mouth because she had an early shift at the pub and could only fit so much making out in during the time she had before she was late and got grief from Wallace. Still, she managed pretty well, all things considered, and the dazed, ravished look on Miranda’s face accompanied by her swollen red lips kept Andy tingly inside for the whole night, despite it being filled with a lot of people trying to pull her in different directions and even one couple offering her to join them for a threesome.
On Sunday she put together all her notes. The article came out really well if she said so herself. Her writing skills were on point and the words flowed freely, interspersed with pictures of art and fashion. Yet as she proofread it for the third time, Andy had tears in her eyes. What she was doing was immoral on so many levels. It was worse than an outing. She didn’t quite have an analogy for what she was perpetuating, solving the art world mystery, claiming all the glory for what tens of other journalists and enthusiasts could not achieve, yet throwing the woman she was falling for to the wolves, clearly against her wishes.
Yes, Andy thought as she read the article again, it was very good. It would make her career. She could even foresee a series of articles being spun from this one piece, perhaps even a book deal based on this one article. It would put her on the map for sure. And it would ruin her life, along with Miranda’s.
She made a decision not to send Nigel anything until she spoke with Miranda. It was the least she could do. Maybe, just maybe, Miranda would take it in some way that she would like to see the draft, would like to maybe make an official comment… yeah, and maybe little piglets would fly.
Still, despite Nigel’s assistant calling her at least once a day, Andy sat on her hands till Tuesday and brought a copy of the printed article to Le Bernardin with her. It was Miranda’s favorite restaurant, and while Andy could ill afford a dinner here, she reasoned that this was likely to be their last meal together, so she would just have to suck it up and do something to soften the upcoming blow, provide an ambiance that was both familiar and enjoyable to Miranda.
She sat quietly sipping her ice water, her left hand protectively covering the printed pages on the table. The white table cloth almost made them invisible, white pages on white linen, her pale hand on top. It seemed that all the blood had left her skin and it looked almost translucent with blue veins standing out in sharp relief. She felt that this was quite a metaphor for her life, everything before and after was pale and unimportant, and this one act, the one piece of betrayal she was about to commit would forever stand in sharp relief to all the rest, as long as she lived.
Miranda was on time and moved to give Andy their now customary kiss, but Andy couldn’t stand it, bile rose in her throat and it was all she could do to shake her head and just pull out Miranda’s chair for her. The older woman gave her a puzzled look, but kept her cool, as always, preferring to let Andy say what she needed to say at her own time and pace.
But Andy just couldn’t seem to get the words out, she just sat there and looked at Miranda, who was ten times more beautiful today than before. And at that moment, right before she had to say the words that would forever turn Miranda away from her, Andy realized that she was well and truly in love with this woman. Not falling for, not lusting after, she was in love. She loved Miranda and she was about to ruin her life.
As if sensing her turmoil, Miranda took her hand, lifting it slightly from the pages it was still shielding and held it tenderly, her thumb caressing the prominent knuckles.
“Whatever it is, Andrea--.”
“No, don’t say anything. Please.” Andy gulped down the nausea and the horror and tried to gather what courage she possessed. “I need to tell you something. Something that will make you hate me, but please, I don’t ask anything of you, other than that you give me the time to explain myself. Although, there really is no excuse, and it’s horrible and I’m horrible…”
“Andrea, what is it?” And still, Miranda held her hand steadily, her thumb continuing its pattern of slow caresses, as if trying to tell Andy that it would all be all right. Except, it would never be all right. Nothing would ever be all right.
“Miranda, there is no other way really to say it, but…damn it!” Her phone rang and Andy looked at the display to see Nigel’s number. How fitting. She raised her phone and wordlessly showed Miranda the display, watching as blood slowly drained from her face. Yeah, Miranda probably knew what was coming, because she looked at the phone and then at Andy with a look of shock and then fear. Andy felt like the scum of the earth.
“Andrea, why is the Editor-in-Chief of Runway Magazine calling you?” Miranda’s voice betrayed nothing, but it lost the warmth and the reassurance it held just seconds ago.
“The Editor-in-Chief of Runway Magazine is calling me because I…”
She barely started to get out the hardest of the words when a heavy, broad hand landed on her shoulder and a booming voice interrupted her in the most horrid of fashions.
“Well, how cute is this, my star investigative reporter holding hands with my one-time lover! It is an absolute delight to see you, Miriam. God, it must’ve been years since I saw you last, and let’s just say you were much less beautifully attired during that meeting, thought that ivory negligee was a piece of art in itself, wouldn’t you say?” Irv Ravitz leered and Andy had to quell an impulse to smash her fist into his face. She tried to shake his hand off her shoulder and looked up at his face, the expression alone making her reach for the knife that was brought with the rest of the cutlery.
He looked smug and so full of himself, like he just said the funniest joke possible and everyone should be standing there applauding his wit. Except nobody was, because while Andy felt grossed out by his innuendo, Miranda sat there frozen, sheer terror etched on her face that went even paler. Even her lips looked colorless. Nothing but her eyes stood out on her translucent face and they went ashen.
Irv seemed completely unperturbed by the lack of reaction he was getting from his audience.
“Andy, I’m told that you keep dodging Nigel’s calls. Tut-tut, my girl. I’m paying you a considerable amount to find Priestly and you better deliver, or you know well enough what I’m capable of, don’t you?”
He ignored her attempts to shrug off his hand and squeezed her shoulder hard enough, Andy knew there would be marks there the next day. Well, this kind of pain was indeed a small price to pay for the pain clearly visible on Miranda’s face. Whatever was happening, whatever undercurrent was taking over, Andy could physically feel the fear emanating from Miranda, even if she had no idea what exactly was going on.
“Mr. Ravitz…” She thought that talking to him, distracting him away from Miranda would perhaps…damn, she had no idea what to say or what to do short of tackling Ravitz to the ground or dragging Miranda out of the restaurant.
“Now, Andy, we have a deal, don’t we? Nigel tells me you have made great progress in finding Priestly and I have full faith that you will have the article on his desk by tomorrow morning.”
Andy flinched as he gripped her shoulder even harder to make his point. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Miranda’s hand clench into a fist as she observed him clearly hurting Andy. And then she shocked them all. The fear was gone, the horror was gone, she was still pale and her lips trembled just a little, but she stood up resolutely and offered her hand to Irv, effectively forcing him to take his right hand off Andy’s shoulder to shake hers.
Andy could not believe that one could infuse a single word with as much contempt, as much disgust, but Miranda managed with aplomb. Her voice was positively drenched with revulsion. “I can’t say that it’s nice to see you. In fact, I could have gone another 17 years without seeing your face, but such is Manhattan. They really let in any and all scum in fine establishments."
Irv smiled at her words and tried to hold to her hand, but she managed to deftly slip it out of his grip. His jaw worked and his color was rising. Miranda wasn’t speaking quietly and the heads of the diners closest to them were starting to turn.
“Once a nobody, always a nobody, Miriam. I see your manners have not improved at all since we last saw each other. Though I gotta say, you still have that fire. I actually cherished the scratches you left, such a fun memory of an equally fun night, wouldn’t you say?”
Miranda said nothing, but Andy saw the tremor that shook her. A waiter approached them discreetly and Irv must’ve sensed that they were about to be asked to either quiet down or take it outside and so he gave one more threatening look to Andy and departed.
Andy did not watch him leave, her whole attention was turned to Miranda who was still standing by the table, the knuckles of her right hand white where she was clutching the linen tablecloth.
“Waiter, check please.” Andy knew she really had only seconds before Miranda would bolt out of the restaurant.
“Your meal was compliments of Mr. Ravitz, ma’am.”
The words seemed to startle Miranda out of her reverie and she looked down at the table where their entrees sat cooling.
“Miranda, please, let me take you home.”
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the blue eyes finally looked at her and Andy flinched harder than when Irv gripped her shoulder.
“How very helpful of you, Andrea Sachs of Runway Magazine.” The voice that used to say her name with so much affection held nothing but cold disdain.
“Miranda…” Andy tried to explain, to say something, but what could she say? Irv did a great job of cutting to the chase. There was nothing much left to add for her, aside from the fact that she was in love with Miranda, but Andy would rather pull her fingernails out right now than disgrace herself and Miranda at this moment by uttering those words.
“I will allow this final instance of helpfulness, Andrea. I assume that is the infamous article you owe Irv and Nigel, that you’re clutching? Bring it along. It seems we have some things to discuss after all.”
A ten-minute cab ride later and Andy found herself in the foyer of the townhouse.
Emily exited the ground floor study where Andy and Miranda kissed just last week. Andy thought that it might as well have been in another lifetime, it seemed so long ago. The look of surprise on Emily’s face was quickly replaced with one of pure anger when she caught the sight of Miranda’s drawn and pale expression.
“Miranda, are you alright? Bloody hell, what the hell did you do to her?” She reached for Miranda, but the older woman just shook her head and laughed bitterly.
“Emily, allow me to introduce you to one Andrea Sachs, of Runway Magazine. It seems that our assumptions that she is indeed investigating me were right. Only she wasn’t doing it for Gunilla, but for Irv Ravitz.”
Andy recoiled as if slapped.
“You knew I was investigating you?” She stood utterly paralyzed in the middle of the hallway, looking at Miranda with uncomprehending eyes. Miranda knew all along?
“Irv Ravitz? You’re working for that sack of manure? Bloody bollocks to this, Miranda! I told you to give her the boot the first time she came to the house!”
Andy turned as if in a fog and continued to look as if she could not for the life of her understand what was happening around her.
“Yes, you sodding idiot, we figured out you pretty much knew who Miranda was when you couldn’t take your eyes away from that Priestly piece on the wall. All the art around you and you couldn’t bloody tear yourself away from that one? A bum like you? How did you figure it out anyway? It’s a piece that has never left the studio before.”
And then, in the middle of the revelations and chaos, Andy’s memory popped up with the piece of the puzzle that was missing and that was torturing her for quite some time now.
“It has left the studio, Emily. Seventeen years ago it was shown at the newly opened Margo Dresden Gallery in SoHo. Am I right, Miranda?” Her own voice sounded hollow to her.
“Ah, so that is how you found me, Andrea. My, that is quite an endeavor you undertook, I must say. I had no idea there was that kind of information still publicly accessible. I don’t remember anyone really covering that opening, maybe some small newspapers back in the day.”
Andy approached the Priestly piece and could clearly see it now. She’s looked at it countless times, in the photograph attached to the Mirror article. It was blurry in the photo, the colors smudged, but the lines were unforgettable.
“The Mirror covered the showing. It folded some years later but the New York Public Library still carries some of their back catalogs. The Rose Room happened to have the issue that had the article. It has a picture attached to it, of you with Dresden, Mallan, and Gunilla. In the background, this piece is somewhat visible. It bugged me for weeks, it looked so familiar and I couldn’t place it.”
Andy reached out her hand and touched the simple wooden frame only to have her hand snatched away from the painting by Emily.
“All right, so you’ve had your fun. You’re a journalist? Wrote your little exposing article, didn’t you? I’ll give you my email address, as Priestly’s manager, I will answer your inquiry on the record. Now get out!”
“I have the article right here.” Andy’s hand trembled as she extended her hand and offered Emily the now crumbled pages.
Emily snatched them out of her hand and started reading immediately.
The silence stretched and Andy realized she had some questions of her own.
“Giving myself away by looking at the painting would not have told you that Gunilla sent me. Why did you think it was her, Miranda? And why didn’t you throw me out the moment you knew?”
Miranda smiled then, a sad, nostalgic smile.
“I knew you were not who you pretended to be from the first time we spoke at the coffee shop, Andrea. How did I know? You followed Emily from the auction. I saw your face when I opened the door. It’s a rather attractive face, so I noticed it. And all that hair in the wind? Then you were there the day before we officially met, following Emily and me to the coffee shop. The barista had to shout your name twice and so I looked up when he did. When I saw you there the next day, I knew you were up to something.”
Miranda smoothed her skirt and moved to stand by the window.
“As for why I thought you worked for Gunilla? You mentioned you stayed at her gallery when you had nowhere else to go, but the earrings sealed my suspicion for me. The diamond earrings you wore to Madea. Did she tell you, I gave her the earrings all those years before? I wondered if you knew.”
“No, ah…no, Gunilla did not say. She only asked that I be careful with them because she treasures them.”
Miranda’s little smile was genuine when she turned to face Andy.
“I thought that after all these years she finally had the gumption to finally properly look for me. Guess I was wrong.”
“I don’t know why she gave me the earrings. She doesn’t know we are dating…were dating.” Andy hastily tried to correct her tenses. They were over. In fact, they’d never really begun, it was all a lie anyway. Miranda was playing her just as much as everyone else was. All that affection, all that passion, all that attraction, all a lie. Her father, Nate, Miranda, turned out Andy wasn’t good for any of them, since none of them gave a damn about her. They all used her, and all discarded her in their own ways. So why did this last one hurt the most?
Miranda must’ve seen something on her face because she raised her eyebrow and was about to say something when Emily turned around and handed Miranda the papers.
“Well, for a worthless cow, you really know how to write, I’ll tell you that…” She clearly had a lot more to say, and she shoved her business card in Andy's hand with a perfunctory nod, but Andy’s facial expression had still not recovered from her earlier revelation and Miranda was watching her closely with some concern now.
“Emily, would you give us the room? I’m sure there are things you can do in the study, regarding said good piece of writing.”
Andy thought that Emily would protest, she sure looked like she wanted to, but Miranda just tilted her chin slightly in the direction of the study, and Emily was gone.
“Are you trying to play the victim here, Andrea?” Miranda’s voice was like gravel and her tone - pure barbed wire. “Because it certainly does not suit you. You’re a liar and a fraud, and the fact that I knew who you are does not excuse any of your behavior.”
“But apparently it excuses yours. How far would you’ve gone, Miranda? Would you have slept with me? And to what end? You thought I was Gunilla’s plant, so why not come out and say that? Why jerk my chain? I guess you had your fun, while I was falling…” Andy stopped herself short. The ragged tatters of her pride would not allow her to confess now. Not to Miranda, not after what she did. Stupid, stupid, totally moronic to fall in love with someone who was just playing with you, who was using you to see who was the puppeteer yanking your strings.
“Well, to think I agonized for weeks over telling you, over how it might affect you, now that you were starting to open up to people! Was that social awkwardness all an act to rope gullible Andy in? I guess I fell for that one hook, line, and sinker.”
“How dare you!”
“How dare I?” Andy felt like years of betrayals from literally everyone who ever truly mattered to her were all converging in this one moment, like tunnel vision taking over her sight. “I tried walking the line, as much as I could. I tried not to overstep and write the article in a manner that would result in a lot less exposure. If any other journalist was writing it, it would’ve been done by now and your face would be in every paper, starting with the outing in Runway! I held back because I was trying to be considerate, trying to be gentle--.”
“Considerate? Gentle? You’re selling me out to Irv Ravitz for thirty pieces of silver and this is what you call considerate? I hope you’re very happy with whatever he’s promised you, Andrea.”
“Whatever he’s promised me has nothing to do with anything. I signed a contract!”
“Must’ve been like selling your soul to the devil. Or did you enjoy all the perks, Andrea? Money, fame, seducing Priestly? I bet he really painted a picture for you!”
Andy felt her face aflame and her hands trembled at the accusation.
“Why would that concern you? From what I heard at Le Bernardin, you’re certainly free with your affections, since even Irv Ravitz sampled them…” The moment those words left her mouth, Andy wanted to take them back. Slut-shaming was absolutely not who she was, no matter how angry, distraught, or heartbroken she was. Miranda did not deserve to have her sexual history judged or thrown in her face like that, even if Irv was rather gross. But as Andy was opening her mouth to apologize, the same look of complete and utter terror returned to Miranda’s face and Andy hurried to her side without a thought, gripping her hands tight. Miranda’s pale lips moved, but Andy, even from inches away, could not hear a sound.
“Miranda, what is it? I’m sorry, I’m an idiot. About before? That was none of my business and you can obviously sleep with anyone you want…”
Miranda’s hands jerked in her grip and finally, Andy could distinguish clearly what she was saying.
“He raped me. Irv Ravitz raped me 17 years ago…”
Andy’s lungs emptied of air and her heart stopped.
She dropped to her knees in front of Miranda unwittingly tugging Miranda to the floor with her. Tears were flowing down her cheeks and she wouldn’t wipe them away because it meant letting go of Miranda’s hands.
“Oh God, Miranda… I’m so sorry…”
Miranda’s eyes were dry and unseeing and Andy knew she might as well had said nothing because Miranda had not heard her.
So they sat for a little while on the floor of the townhouse foyer, in the quiet, the twilight streaming eerily through the gaps in the blinds.
“He wanted Gunilla to sell Elias-Clark to him. But she wanted me to have Runway, she wanted us to have Runway and edit it together as we had started to lay the ground plans. He knew that if he made me go away, she would no longer have a reason to keep the company. And he was right. She sold it the week after I left. How simple and easy for him.” Miranda’s voice was barely above a whisper, but her cheeks had recovered some of their color.
“Miranda, he was practically boasting back at Le Bernardin. Why didn’t you report him? He should go to prison!” Andy was breathing so hard, it was as if she was running a marathon. Surely this man should be prosecuted for what he did.
“He would have outed Gunilla if I spoke up. Gunilla was so far in the closet, it might as well have been a fortress. Virginia told me as much and confirmed my understanding of the situation. But she was also right that I couldn’t stick around, he’d lord my rape over me and over Gunilla forever, if I had stayed. So of course, I left. What other choice did I have?”
Andy chose not to launch into the whole ‘Virginia Mallan is a treacherous bitch’ monologue and instead asked the more pressing question.
“But what about now, Miranda? I heard him boast, surely we can use me as a witness?”
“Do you know what the statute of limitations on rape is in New York, Andrea? Five years. That’s all. He can take a page in the New York Times and state that he raped me, there is nothing that can be done. And I guess he is doing just that since he is so freely tossing it around in the middle of Le Bernardin.”
“Just five years? But that’s asinine!”
“There’s that famous crusading heart of yours, Andrea.” Miranda looked at her and Andy felt like she was looking her fill, despite her earlier assurances that she didn’t care about Andy. Her gaze was warm and it lit something inside of Andy. “You should go, after all, Nigel Kipling is waiting for your article tomorrow.”
“I won’t publish it!” The confidence and the heartfelt despair on Andy’s face must’ve touched something in Miranda, because she tugged her right hand out of Andy’s and cupped her cheek, her thumb caressing Andy’s cheekbone. It was such a characteristic gesture, she always did this when they were saying goodbye. New tears fell down Andy’s face and Miranda wiped those away too.
“He already ruined so many lives, Andrea. I won’t have him ruin yours out of some misplaced remorse you’re having over this whole ordeal right now.”
“No! Go, publish. Don’t let him sully your life as he did mine. I have good lawyers and better PR, I will weather this. You, on the other hand, Irv will simply crush you. Go now, Andrea.”
She gave Andy a sad smile and tugged at her left hand that Andy still clasped. As the fingers slowly left Andy’s grip, Andy felt like hope itself was leaving her. But Miranda got up from the floor and moved to the door holding it open for her. She was still looking at Andy through the blinds of the ground floor window when Andy turned around to give the townhouse one last glimpse from the slowly darkening E 73rd Street sidewalk.
To @dianakanebooks, you are amazing and awesome and all the other good things.
To all my readers, all the ones who read and leave me comments and tweet at me at @mckayundercover - you keep me going. Please let me know how you find this chapter, it was quite an emotional rollercoaster to write it.
Andy had never ventured into Gunilla’s private study when the household slumbered, but it was just the kind of night for firsts. So she sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the fireplace with a bottle of cheap whiskey by her side and just looked at the Priestly on the mantel.
It was all over. She’d gone through an array of emotions this evening so impressive that she’d been quite proud of her heart and mind that they could keep up at all, if only she wasn’t feeling as wretched as she did. The evening started with her heavy cup of guilt overflowing and Andy finally confessing or attempting to confess who she was and what she was attempting to do to Miranda, only to find out that Miranda knew that all along. The sense of guilt and shame quickly turned on their heads into betrayal and humiliation, with a heavy dose of heartbreak over the woman, whom Andy loved, using her. Except in a manner of minutes, Miranda confessed to Irv’s true role in this whole wretched saga and Andy’s emotions careened dangerously into a murderous rage and full-on impotence.
There was nothing she could do. Not only was there nothing she could do to right the wrong and get justice for Miranda, but Andy was also personally hand-delivering her to her abuser. She took another swing straight from the bottle and shuddered as the fiery liquid burned her throat all the way to her stomach. It didn’t settle lightly and sat there continuously burning her and making her nauseous. God, she couldn’t even get drunk like a normal person.
She was too lost in her self-pitying thoughts, wallowing, and feeling sorry for herself and for Miranda, and for the whole wretched life she was leading where she had to choose between saving herself and saving the woman she loved. So when a hand landed on her shoulder, Andy jumped about a foot in the air, screaming and almost dropping the whiskey bottle.
“God, child, if you spill that swill on my Persian rug, I will have to do something drastic.” Gunilla clearly had no time for Andy to recover her breath and simply took the whiskey out of her hands, examining the label.
“For a bartender with some experience, you sure drink horrible stuff.” She put the bottle on her antique desk where it sat in what Andy thought was a perfect metaphor for her own current existence, a cheap imposter among the luxury.
Gunilla poured them both two glasses of Lagavulin from the bar that was hidden behind the panel in the corner of the study and sat down in the deep plush chair next to Andy by the fireplace.
“I didn’t want to put you out. I was on my way to getting hammered and it would’ve been quite a waste to do so with your liquor.” Andy threw back her glass and felt marginally better. Her host was right, her own whiskey was indeed horrible by comparison. The Lagavulin didn’t make her troubles go away, but it sure went down smoother.
Gunilla said nothing, just chuckled, mirthlessly observing Andy’s attempts of ensuring inebriation and got up, pouring her two more fingers of the amber liquid.
“I’m cutting you off after this one, child. Whatever it is, whatever is troubling you, would probably be better served by you keeping your wits about you.” She sat back in her chair and sipped regally from her own glass, watching Andy with a look of expectation on her face. Well, what did she have to lose anyway? Might as well tell Gunilla about the shit storm that was about to hit her.
“My article is due tomorrow. Irv Ravitz is back in town.” She tried hiding her face by turning away from Gunilla, but the matriarch just leaned in and held her chin up, watching her face closely.
“And that makes you sit in my study at midnight, drowning in cheap whiskey and crying? I can see you’ve been crying, no need to hide it from me.”
Andy used her sleeve to wipe her face and got a disgusted grimace for her efforts from Gunilla.
“I found Priestly.” If she expected Gunilla to gasp in shock or stand up and applaud, she was rather discomfited to find that she did neither. Gunilla continued to sit in the chair and quietly sip her drink, watching Andy through half-lidded eyes.
“And how is Miriam doing? Other than obviously prospering as a brilliant artist and industry influencer?”
If Andy did not succeed in flooring Gunilla with her news of finding Priestly, then Gunilla sure shocked Andy with her very casual inquiry. Thousands of questions and comments and recriminations were swirling in Andy’s head. Had she been made a fool of again? Had Gunilla also used her to get to her former lover?
“Now, child, before you strain that beautiful mind of yours, it is high time you and I have a conversation, don’t you think? You’ve been tiptoeing around me, sneaking around, talking to everybody and anybody except me, when in reality all you had to do is ask.”
When Andy gave her an incredulous look, Gunilla smiled and rolled her eyes.
“All right, so maybe I would not have told you many things months ago, because I did not know yet if I could trust you. But here you are, crying because you are afraid to out Miriam to the world and that tells me a great deal about that heart of yours.”
For a second, Gunilla looked up and her gaze invariably fixed on the mantle, as if the Priestly there had a magnet of some kind, attracting everything towards it.
“You fell for her, didn’t you? No, don’t lie to me. I had a suspicion that you were falling for someone, the way you’ve been gallivanting around and flying an inch above the ground, smiling like a smitten kitten that you are. But seeing as you have found Miriam and are now sitting here crying, it’s a safe bet that it is indeed her you have fallen for.”
Andy’s mind reeled. She cursed herself for being stupid enough to drink as much as she did and for feeling sluggish and somewhat disjointed right now because, for the life of her, she could not find the words to ask Gunilla all the questions she wanted to ask. She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs, but all she managed was to make herself even dizzier.
“C’mon, let’s get some coffee in you. Alain made an exquisite cobbler. Knowing you, you’ve probably skipped lunch, missed dinner, and had half a bottle of that cheap swill before I saved you from yourself. Plus, you might just need to be a bit soberer for this conversation anyway.”
Andy allowed herself to be led, Gunilla’s cool, surprisingly strong hand gripping her own tightly on their way to the kitchen. She found herself being steered towards one of the barstools, while Gunilla, a miracle of miracles, dove into the immense refrigerator and doled out a large piece of apple cobbler. A fork appeared in front of her and the plate was slid across the glossy marble counter, while her host puttered around for a couple of minutes until Andy caught the distinctive wonderful aroma of Brazilian roast filling the kitchen. Gunilla made two mugs, perched herself on a nearby stool, and gently elbowed her, indicating that Andy better get a move on on the food.
The cobbler slid down her throat like a balm over a wound and she didn’t even realize how hungry she was until she started eating. Gunilla watched her with trepidation as she wolfed down the pie and laughed when Andy gave the fridge a longing glance.
“Go ahead, you crazy lunatic who works herself into the ground and starves herself as punishment for some imaginary sins. There’s plenty left, but I’m done serving you. I just got comfortable, so get your own.”
Andy actually ran to the refrigerator but instead of cobbler she filled her plate with sandwich makings and ate her pastrami on rye at a much slower pace, trying to savor every bite.
When Gunilla was satisfied that Andy’s eyes looked sharp and focused she cleared her throat and took a large sip of her coffee, before picking up where they stopped in the study.
“I was forty-five when I met her. Her aunt was a seamstress, a good one, and I used to patronize her at her place of business in the Garment District. One day, I was having a dress tailored, standing on that little podium traditional seamstresses have, half-naked, having my measurements taken, as I’d lost some weight and the older ones were no longer accurate, and suddenly this blonde angel stepped into the room and my heart just stopped.”
“She seems to have that effect on people.” The hot mug was seeping warmth into her bones and the feeling of a full stomach was doing wonders for clearing Andy’s head. She smiled, almost to herself, remembering the first time she saw Miranda, first that picture in the Mirror, and then opening the door to Emily. She did have a heartstopping effect on people indeed.
“I’m glad to hear that she has not lost her touch.” Gunilla’s voice sounded wistful now. “I was standing there, gaping at her like a total idiot, thinking to myself what I must look like to this young innocent ingenue until I realized that she was discretely appraising me from underneath those long lashes of hers. Of course, neither she nor I could say anything or do anything in front of her aunt, but let me tell you that I made a point of ordering a dress a week for the next couple of months. Up until Miriam intercepted me a block away from the shop before my scheduled fitting and shyly suggested that we perhaps go to a movie and give her aunt a break. Apparently Madam Eva was loath to say no to me and lose one of her best customers, but the tempo with which I was ordering all the dresses was backbreaking for her and the poor dear was working nights just to try and satisfy all her regular customers while still managing to complete my idiotic orders.”
Gunilla turned her mug round and round on the counter and Andy unwillingly followed the movement, smiling at her gauche attempts at getting young Miriam’s attention.
“I thought she hung the moon, Andy. And you know the truly astounding part - she really had, because no matter what she touched, painting, sculpture, design, the goddamned magazine, everything would turn into gold. She had a unique talent and I was fascinated by her. I lived and I breathed her for a year that we were together.”
Andy watched Gunilla’s profile, sharp and angular, austere in stark contrast with the street light pouring through the kitchen window. She was like a statue, her features made of stone, and her eyes immobile in their introspection.
“I wanted to give her the world. God knows I gave her everything she could possibly want. Except, she wanted the one thing I could never give her. The one thing I couldn’t give anyone. She wanted to be with me. Out and proud. She wanted to run wild through Manhattan and tell the whole world they could go hang for all she cared because she loved me and she was happy with me and wanted everyone to know.”
Gunilla’s laughter was so sudden and bitter, Andy flinched.
“Except I was courting Goldberg by that time. Not actively, but I had him hanging on the line. He and I were a good match, in theory. His money, my financial interests. His societal standings and my aspirations. On paper, we were perfect and he was old enough not to have too many expectations for a sexually active married life. And so I told her the day before she disappeared that I could not be with her openly, that our relationship would not change. That I loved her and we could continue to be together, but I needed to make a move because Goldberg would not be waiting for me forever. I thought she understood. Despite what Margo or Virginia might’ve told you, despite what everyone thought, we did not have a fight.”
Andy had to physically restrain herself from reaching out and grabbing Gunilla’s hand, she seemed to be choking on air, her breaths coming fast and shallow.
“I’m sure Miriam was upset, but it wasn’t a conversation that was out of the ordinary for us. We’d had talks like that a number of times. She’d blow some steam and a couple of days later I’d come groveling and many flowers and jewels later, we’d be back to normal. We parted well enough on that day, only for her to not answer her phone the next day and when I stopped by her studio that evening, some of her things were gone and the apartment was empty. No note, no word. I’ve cursed myself every day for the last 17 years. I went to see some musical that night with Goldberg, instead of attending Virginia’s party with her.”
Gunilla closed her eyes and when she opened them, Andy saw the sheen of unshed tears that she was struggling to hold back.
“I looked for her like I was possessed. Initially, I was so mad, I sold the EC shares right away. That was stupid. Not only did I love that company, but it was also a profitable and interesting venture. I regretted that decision almost immediately. I think I regretted whom I sold them to more than I regretted selling them. Irving Ravitz is a scumbag. Then, still mad as hell, I married Goldberg. Another decision I’d come to regret. But he was much easier to dispose of than getting the EC control package back. Our divorce was much quieter than our very large, very public, and very publicized marriage. And through it all, I looked for her. Private investigators, psychics, you name it, I tried it. But she vanished off the face of the Earth. A private investigator I hired finally brought me the news that someone who fit the description of Miriam died in an accident six months after she disappeared. A mundane car accident. I was inconsolable. I think I drank for two weeks straight. Goldberg didn’t know what to do with me. I mourned her thinking her dead until Margo dragged me to some godforsaken auction two years later and I saw the first Priestly. I knew two things that night: Miriam was alive and I had to have that sculpture.”
By the time she finished her monologue, Gunilla was trembling and the tears she tried holding back finally spilled.
“So I bought the first one and the second one. I couldn’t help it. I happened to have Valentino at my party one day and he spent the whole night sketching the sculpture of the Girl In The Rain, he couldn’t get enough of the lines of her clothes. When I showed him the cerulean painting, he fell in love and outbid me for the next Priestly offered at auction. And so her legend started. The fashion houses were mad for her. I knew I should not buy another one, I knew I should let her have the spotlight where she needed it to be - in the fashion world, not on my mantel, but I couldn’t help myself. It was as if buying her art was bringing me closer to her.”
“You lent the other two pieces to museums though. The cerulean painting and the third piece.” Andy said quietly and it was Gunilla’s time to flinch and she looked at Andy as if she had forgotten she wasn’t alone in the kitchen.
She took a deep calming breath and a sip of coffee, making a face at it being lukewarm.
“Yes, after the first year, I felt it was wrong to keep them to myself. Like I was ruining her purpose, taking away from her fame and her shine. The world deserved to see them.”
“Yet you keep the Girl In The Rain.”
“Ah, but I am still me and thus selfish enough to want a part of her just for myself. She was my drug, Andy. I never forgave myself for my choice, for it was the absolute wrong one. Nothing, absolutely nothing is worth sacrificing love for. I ruined my life because of my empty ambitions. She left me because I did not choose her and she got tired of waiting. And since she never came back or got in touch with me, she clearly wanted nothing to do with me.”
She touched Andy’s cheek and Andy had a deja-vu to the gesture so natural to Miranda. Gunilla’s eyes were tortured, her face ashen. So much pain, so much suffering. Everything was coming full circle.
“She didn’t leave you.” Her heart pounding, her palms wet, Andy forged full speed ahead. She could not fix the past, she could not even solve her current predicament, but if there was one thing she could do, it was to give Gunilla the truth, even if the truth was perhaps not hers to give. Still, the pain in this woman’s eyes was so all-consuming, it tugged at Andy’s heartstrings and her empathy and humanity did not allow her to stand idly by.
“She was raped that night after you had your disagreement. Irv Ravitz raped her and blackmailed her into leaving. I have Virginia Mallan on the record stating that Miriam came to her after the party “to say goodbye” as she put it, but I also know that that is a lie. Priestly told me so herself. She was frightened and lost. She went to Virginia, her supposed friend for advice, and said friend told her to disappear, to get gone because Irv would ruin you if she stayed. He’d out you and your status, your business interests, all that Miriam thought you held dear, would be up in smoke. Irv bought Virginia her penthouse and Virginia finished what he started by making sure that a traumatized and humiliated young woman heard what he needed her to hear - that if she did not disappear, he would ruin the person she held most dear. Of course, she left, to save you as much as herself.”
For a second Andy thought Gunilla would faint, but she caught herself, gripping the counter with both hands until her knuckles went white. Her lower lip trembled and her tears were coming freely now.
“My God, my God, my God…” She trembled so hard, Andy was afraid she’d simply come apart. And then right before her eyes, Gunilla’s eyes dried and her face turned to stone.
Uninvited a quote by Maya Angelou popped to the forefront of Andy’s conscience: ‘Disbelief becomes my companion, and anger follows in its wake.’
Gunilla, who just moments ago was in shock and in agony, crying tears of pain and grief, was transformed into vengeance itself. Andy gulped and tried to contain the shivers running down her spine.
“I will destroy them both. Irv…” She spat the word as if it was rotten, perhaps it even tasted that way. Andy certainly hated the very sound of his name. “I will end him even if it costs me my last dollar. I will take everything from him, I will leave him with nothing and then I will drown fucking Ginny in her fucking penthouse jacuzzi.” Her fist pounded the countertop with enough force to bruise her, yet she did not seem to feel any pain.
Gunilla suddenly looked her dead in the eye and Andy felt like she was about to be slapped, the gaze was so intense, and there was so much malice in it.
“Four months ago I had lunch with one of the Board members of Elias-Clark and she told me about Irv’s obsession with Priestly and how he was looking for a suitable journalist whom he could throw to the wolves in case of failure or embarrassment, and who would dig deep and leave no stone unturned but find him the artist. A journalist who was hungry enough and desperate enough to be completely devoid of scruples. I knew I had to do something. Lily’s stream of consciousness and her confession about housing a homeless down-on-her-luck writer was one shot in a million. And when she tried to justify allowing you to stay by saying you just needed some time because you were going to make it big, write a once in a lifetime article on finding Priestly, I knew I could not miss my chance to have my hand in your investigation.” She smiled bitterly and patted Andy on the shoulder.
“I want to tell you that you are a great journalist and an excellent investigator. The conclusions you drew based on so few clues, the connections you’ve made, the evidence you found… I’m in awe, Andy.”
She dropped her hand heavily on Andy’s shoulder and Andy could not hide a painful wince. Gunilla jumped off the stool immediately, with agility belying her age. “What is it? Did I hurt you?” She swatted Andy’s hands away and tugged at the collar of the white cotton button-down to reveal a set of angry grip marks on the alabaster shoulder. Andy twisted her neck to see what had Gunilla gasping in shock and grimaced with embarrassment.
“Damn, Irv and his grabby hands.” She raised her eyes to Gunilla’s and had to physically restrain the older woman. “Gunilla, please this is not important! He ambushed us today at Le Bernardin. I was about to confess to Priestly who I was and then he appeared, and he said things about how he slept with her and how he enjoyed it and she was so hurt and afraid and I honestly didn’t even feel his goddamned hand on my shoulder. But I guess now I know why she suddenly felt like it was important that she make him shake her hand. It forced him to take his hand away from me. Dammit, why didn’t I realize she was freaking shaking the hand of the man who abused her in order to make him stop hurting me?”
And now the tears came again, in earnest, harsh loud sobs, from somewhere so deep in her soul where she held an immense love for Miranda, who continued to sacrifice herself for other people. She felt arms wrap tightly around her and was comforted by the embrace.
“What are you going to do, child?” Slicing through the fog of tears and the warmth of the embrace, Gunilla did what she did best - got to the heart of the matter.
“I don’t know. Leave town? Disappear? Nigel warned me that my contract is ironclad. I have to surrender the documents of my investigation and deliver the article. And the article has to reveal who Priestly is. But, I can’t and I won’t do this to her! She already lost so much, was betrayed by so many. I lied to her and got her to trust me and open up to me under false pretenses, but I cannot ever allow Irv to find out that Miranda is Priestly.”
“Miranda?” Gunilla’s voice took that tender inflection again.
“Yeah, she.. Ah, she changed her name after... I mean…”
After an awkward moment, where they both just looked at each other, two people who loved the same woman, Gunilla was the first one to turn away, swallowed with some difficulty, and finally looked again like her calm, haughty self.
“That doesn’t sound like a good plan, Andy. Running and hiding? I think another woman did that 17 years ago. I’m not comparing the two situations and I have so much hatred in my heart right now for Irv and Ginny and what they made Miriam do. And me continuously telling her how important staying in the closet was for me. Obviously none of those things gave her enough confidence to turn to me in her hour of need. But if I’m perfectly honest and absolutely selfish, she damn well should have! She should have come to me and I would have found ways to fix it. And the scum would’ve been rotting in prison, both of them.”
Gunilla did not raise her voice and her expression of arrogance did not waver, her eyes flared with cold determination and her pale cheeks finally got some of their color back. Andy knew she meant every word, however selfish some of those words were. Andy’s heart was breaking for the young, scared and hurt Miriam and her heart was breaking for the much older Gunilla, who not only had to find out that her lover was abused, but that she didn’t trust her enough to handle the situation, and left without ever giving her an opportunity to do so.
“I don’t have a plan. I mean, the article is written and it has everything I discovered, including naming Miriam Princhek as Priestly, based on the evidence that I’ve collected and various circumstantial statements from contemporaries and current auctioneers. She runs the fashion world, she contributes greatly to the art scene, she is the most expensive and revered artist and sculptor alive. I wrote a damn good article, Gunilla, but I can’t give it to Irv.”
Andy poured herself more coffee and felt her blood sing from the caffeine.
“I have a suspicion that Irv is obsessed with Priestly because she has single-handedly thwarted several of his financial schemes along the years, the latest being just a couple of months ago - the saffron business that she successfully tanked by virtually proclaiming yellow as the color of the fall season. He had to go to the Middle East, where some of his backers were rather disappointed with him for failing them in pushing saffron. If the fashion industry would’ve embraced the color and hence the plant, the prices would’ve skyrocketed and they’d have made millions. Miranda nixed that for him, as she did a couple of years ago with the bike and leather look. I remember some major companies who were building motorbikes were rather inconvenienced. I found Nigel’s Editor’s letter, condemning Priestly for discriminating against the butch look. I remember thinking that Nigel Kipling had never written a single non-humorous Editor’s letter in his ten years in charge of Runway, yet this one had a different, almost heavy-handed touch to it.”
“You think Irv wrote it?” Gunilla was all business now.
“I don’t know, but I read through years of Nigel’s Editor’s letters, just to be safe in my assumptions, and that is one piece of writing that he did not pen. I also happened to have coffee with his assistant and Jocelyn jokingly told me that Nigel is very proud of his writing style and does not outsource his Editor’s letters, unlike other editors out there. And on top of that, I don’t think Nigel likes Irv very much.”
“Why do you say that?” Her voice was very bland, but Gunilla’s eyes went suddenly cagey.
“I just got that feeling from the few meetings we’ve had since I got this assignment. He very gently tried to get me to almost reconsider taking it in the first place. He couldn’t stress enough that I would be selling my soul to the devil if I accepted.”
Fueled by the second mug of excellent coffee, Andy restlessly roamed the length of the kitchen. It felt good to voice her ideas, to be brainstorming instead of wallowing.
“And you know what? Miranda said something tonight, something that I was too upset to pay attention to, but I should have. I told her I won’t publish, and she said that she won’t let Irv ruin more lives. It didn’t feel like she was talking about herself, or you. It felt like more. What if there were more? What if I discover more…” Andy stopped in the middle of the kitchen, the idea, so impossible, so utterly unbelievable struck her like lightning. She couldn’t be seriously thinking about going after Irv Ravitz, the most powerful man in New York publishing. Except when she turned to face Gunilla, the matriarch had a decidedly evil look on her face.
“Do you know why I truly regretted selling the controlling package of shares to Irv? When Miriam and I started Runway, it was supposed to be about women, about a space to be and create and revel in clothes and fashion and travel and all the other things that make us who we are as women. But we also wanted it safe. We wanted to have mostly female staff, and we wanted them safe. When Irv took over the whole of EC, things changed drastically. Nigel is the third male Runway Editor. In fact, Runway in its 17 years of existence has never had a female Editor-In-Chief. Did you also know that the majority of the female staff hold junior editorial or junior technical positions or are in practice a little more than glorified secretaries in the whole of EC? Nigel has managed to change that a bit at Runway in his tenure, but I heard he faced some fairly strong opposition from the top when he appointed two female deputies.”
Andy suddenly wished she had her notebook. Waving at Gunilla to continue, she snatched the grocery list pages from the refrigerator and started hurriedly taking down notes. The idea in her head was taking shape with remarkable speed and potential.
“The EC Board is mostly for show since Irv has the controlling shares, but those old geezers have information, because every time EC gets sued, they get a memo on the issue. My friend, the one who told me about Irv hiring you to find Priestly, along the years mentioned such memos at least three times during our meetings. All of them were claims of sexual harassment by the CEO and all of them were settled quietly out of court. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying, child.”
Andy lifted her head from her manically scribbling hand and looked Gunilla straight in the eye.
“I do. He raped Miriam to get what he wanted. He grabbed me today to force me into submission. Those behaviors are predatory and well ingrained. He had done it before and he has continued to do so. Don’t you think it’s time to do a little investigation? After all, he thinks I have a nose for these things.”
“Where do you start?”
“By not giving Nigel the article tomorrow. Or giving him a different one. A very different one. I will not out Miranda. I will write about Priestly, and her history and influence and how she single-handedly controls the fashion world and wields her power for good. That saffron thing? It can be an exploitative industry. In some countries, people are treated horribly and work in inhumane conditions in a lot of cases. I did some digging.”
Gunilla’s laughter was open and sincere. “Of course you did, you brilliant, brilliant child!”
“C’mon, please, stop embarrassing me!” Andy turned bright pink at the praise.
“It’s my prerogative, as your future wife's first wife to embarrass the hell out of you.” She smiled and the smile was only a little tense before it turned into a full-blown genuine expression of mirth.
“Yeah, about that…uhm…you’re not...ugh…I dunno…”
“Brilliant yet horribly prim, proper and old-fashioned, I see. Andy, I will not hide that I loved Miriam and that she, for all intents and purposes, was the love of my life and the wife I never had. I regret every day that I did not cherish her enough and ultimately did not choose her. But Miriam is gone. She’s been gone for 17 years and I do not know your Miranda. And let’s just say that this is all I’m willing to tell you on this matter. So don’t get your little puritanical panties in a twist. I’m old enough to make jokes and embarrass the hell out of you, child.” She threw her head back regally and stared Andy down with determination.
“Now, tell me how you’ll go after Irv. And don’t worry about him blacklisting you or suing you. While I can’t help with the blacklisting much, and he does control most of the publishing world, it’s not like you were accepted there the past couple of years anyway. As for him suing you and financially ruining you...if I can’t help open doors for you in publishing, I can certainly get you an army of the very best lawyers, who will either successfully protect you from whatever misery Irv will try to incur on you, or will give you enough time to do that thing you do best - dig and get the story.”
“Gunilla, I don’t know what to say…” Andy felt like crying again. The feeling of doom was receding and in its wake came the lightness of resolution.
“Nonsense. Moreover, I will bet you a lot of money, that if we ask the right people, some of them would be willing to talk about the things they know about Irv Ravitz. Men like him? They think they are invincible, they think they are untouchable and that they will always go through life like they own the world. This attitude of theirs creates them many enemies.”
“And those enemies usually hold grudges and lay in wait, because men like Irv are too powerful to confront or fight in the open.” Andy’s eyes were shining with purpose now.
“Precisely. And these enemies usually only need a little push. They need to see that there is a possibility for men like Irv to finally taste some retribution, and then they start coming out of the woodwork. So where do we start?”
“I’ll meet with Nigel tomorrow. Since my gut tells me he is only a reluctant accomplice in this whole mess, I will try and get him to accept my re-written article. From my very short time working there, I know that he approves and nixes things out last minute on pretty much any issue. So if he will do it, the article will go into the issue that’s going to print tomorrow. And Irv won’t be able to change anything. But also, I will appeal to Nigel’s better angels.”
“Better angels? You have too much faith, Andy.”
“Perhaps, but when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, there is only one side you really want to be on when the chips fall and Nigel is a very savvy man.”
Andy carefully slid her notes into her pocket and looked out the window. Midnight was reigning outside with rain coming down in rivulets over the window.
“I have to go write, or well, re-write. Are you going to bed?”
“No.” Gunilla waved her away with an effusive gesture and got up from her stool. “I have to make some plans of my own. You should know by now that I don’t make idle threats. And while your work will help finally get Irv some comeuppance, I have to take care of an old friend.”
She exited the room, her face resolute, and Andy thought that Ginny Mallan was about to have a really bad day, month, and perhaps year. Good, about time that witch paid for her treachery.
@dianakanebooks is a rockstar! Thank you for being there for me through thick and thin.
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Andy wrote as a woman possessed. She started by scraping her article entirely, just selected the whole thing and hit the delete button. With the blank page staring her in the face and the ideas swirling in her mind, she penned an account of her investigation, her wide-eyed naivete about who Priestly was and what the artist meant to the world. She walked the fine line without outing Miranda, yet disclosing just enough to attract interest and captivate her audience.
She interspersed her account anecdotes of famous fashion designers getting their inspiration from her work and how she quietly, yet single-handedly, ruled the world of fashion, like the true empress that she was. Andy had some qualms in putting in all the information that she had on this issue, particularly how it all started in Gunilla’s study with Valentino fawning over the Girl In The Rain and the cerulean piece, but between outing Priestly as the true ruler of the fashion world and outing Miranda as Priestly, it wasn’t even a choice. She knew she had to give Nigel something juicy enough to satisfy some clauses of her contract, yet keep her love safe.
She tried not to think that she probably would never see said love ever again and smiled mirthlessly at herself and at Miranda repeating stories of so long ago, coming full circle in loving and leaving.
By 6 AM Andy’s mind was remarkably clear and focused for someone who had not had any sleep and not much food in the last 24 hours. She did her morning run, picking up groceries on her way back and dug into Alain’s fluffy scrambled eggs with gusto. The food sustained her and the coffee heightened her sense of purpose. With renewed energy, she called Nigel’s office and made his assistant decimate his schedule to find two hours to join her at the Garson Goldberg Gallery. She knew Nigel would be pissed, she knew he’d grumble and rant for the inconvenience of driving across town during rush hour, but she needed to meet him on her turf and she wanted to be sure that nobody would overhear their conversation.
At 10:00 AM Andy made herself comfortable in Gunilla’s office at the gallery and knowing that Nigel would be ten minutes late, as was his trademark, she pulled another ace out of her pocket. Emily’s business card felt heavy, the embossed script saying nothing but Emily Charlton and listing an email address, still managed to make Andy’s heart stutter in her chest. Would it ever pass, she wondered, this feeling of being so completely enamored with Miranda, that even emailing her manager evoked such stark and profound longing in her? She thought that the condition she was afflicted with was rather permanent. Would the anger and the humiliation of being used always follow the longing though?
Just as she emailed Emily the article and the request, nay, the actual demand for a meeting in the afternoon, Lily escorted a genuinely disgruntled Nigel into the office and shut the door firmly behind her after offering them both coffee. Andy shook her head and Nigel just groaned unintelligibly and waved her away.
“Andy, I love you, I care about you, I even like you which is damn rare for me, but what the actual fu--.”
“Spare me, Nigel. We have to talk. So don’t cuss, don’t rage, just sit there and listen. If I thought that what I’m about to tell you would shock you, this conversation would’ve happened under different circumstances, but I know for a fact that you know very well what I will be talking about here. So I’m going to play it straight with you - because I love you, I care about you and I too happen to like you, but that is not that rare for me.”
She could see the bafflement on Nigel’s face and then his eyes turned just a bit cagey. Andy wanted to smirk. Nigel Kipling did not survive for over fifteen years in the New York fashion world and ten years as Editor-in-Chief of Runway by being a rube. So she sat up just a bit straighter and threw the dice.
“Irv Ravitz has been raping and sexually abusing women for decades. In my research of Priestly and the art scene of 17 years ago as well as the operations of Elias-Clark over the last decade and a half, I’ve uncovered that he has used sexual violence to achieve his goals and to intimidate his victims. The Board has been covering for him and paying his victims off. I’m about to embark on a full-fledged investigation of Ravitz with the purpose of bringing his crimes to light and him to justice. You can either help me, Nigel, or you can go down with him.”
Andy didn’t exactly know what to expect from her little speech, but Nigel dissolving a fit of rather mirthless laughter was absolutely last on her list.
“God, Andy, you are indeed a cute little idiot.” She was about to launch into an angry rant about his callousness and his unfeeling and downright insulting demeanor, when his face sobered up and he waved her sputtering away, the diamond ring on his pinkie catching the light. He stood up and walked the length of the office as if trying to put some distance between them. Then he turned and gave her a penetrating look which she held without flinching.
“You’re serious about this?” His voice sounded hollow, yet oddly energized.
“I am.” Andy felt like she was never as serious about anything else in her life as she was about shedding light on the crimes Irv Ravitz committed. She purposefully shied away from the reasons pushing her harder to achieve her goal. Miranda used her, wanted nothing to do with her and despite Andy’s humiliation, her guilt and her heartbreak, she still missed her like crazy. She’d probably always miss her because nobody was like Miranda and Andy was foolish enough to fall in love with her.
“What do you need me to do?” Nigel’s voice broke through her daydream and stunned her by its decisiveness.
“You’ll help me?”
“Don’t sound so incredulous, Andy.” He actually smiled at her, and it was paternal and indulgent. “I had this thought when Irv decided to hire you, that he was perhaps getting more than he bargained for because you are too smart for your own good. He did and you are, but more importantly, you are also right. And I want to help. No, in fact, I need to help. Selfish reasons aside, I’ve worked for the man for ten years. It was and still is my dream job, but he managed to ruin the pleasure of it for me.”
Nigel returned to his chair in front of the desk and sat down heavily.
“Do you know that every time I hire a woman I have to vet her with him. I never do so when I hire a man. And that’s not even the worst of this whole situation. I learned to live with it, to adapt and yes, to close my eyes, because he gave me, a relatively unknown man from New Jersey a job that was coveted by every single fashion reporter, correspondent, or even some fairly prominent designers. He could have given it to anyone and he gave it to me.”
“So you’d be beholden to him. Salvatore Coelho and Ivan Stein were also fairly unknown when they were appointed Runway Editors-in-Chief, did you know that?”
Nigel’s smile had a hint of pride in it.
“Yes, I did know that. And I also know that they stayed just as quiet as I did about whatever they saw happening under their noses and they went on to make astonishing careers, with Salvatore opening his own fashion house and Ivan being CEO of Prada. Neither of them is under the false impression that they could’ve achieved those positions without consistent and substantial backing from EC. They owe him their careers. So they kept their mouths shut about anything and everything they saw, heard, or perhaps even facilitated on the road to their current cushy corner offices.”
Andy’s hands clenched tighter on the desk and Nigel leaned back in his chair, looking both resigned and resolute.
“It has been tried before, you should know that too. About eleven years ago, an up-and-coming designer went after him, claiming he was soliciting sexual favors for publishing her work in Runway and Herself. Ivan was Editor back then. As soon as she threatened to go public, her atelier burned down and she ended up in a hospital. And suddenly Ivan announced that he wanted to move on, that it was time to start accomplishing his dream of joining one of the major fashion houses. And I was hired not six months later.”
As much as the sheer horror at what Nigel was intimating was gripping her throat, Andy’s hand was remarkably steady as she took down her notes.
“It looks like Salvatore, Ivan, and I will have a nice chat in the upcoming future then.”
“Salvatore won’t talk to you. From what I could piece together after I arrived at Runway, while he wasn’t personally involved in any of the instances of abuse and harassment, he still actively covered most of it, including firing the women who’d refuse Irv. So he has to protect himself. But Ivan might. He couldn’t stomach what happened with Irene Benning. Irv asked him to stay on for another six months because otherwise the rumors would’ve been out of control and Irv hates rumors. People talking and whispering about him? Abhors it. But he also knew that Ivan was not going to stay and might potentially break if he witnessed any more instances such as what happened with Ms. Benning. So Ivan got the Prada job and Irv got enough time to clean up several of his messes and handpick a new Editor. I was not a difficult choice, all in all.”
“A young, inexperienced, desperate fashion designer who started to make a legitimate name for himself, yet had debt coming out of his ears. And I owed money to the wrong people, Andy. People nobody really wants to be associated with. Irv knew that and he also knew that I’d give my right arm to edit Runway. So he made his offer and I signed my soul away to the Devil. With time, I rebuilt myself, severed my ties with my Sicilian friends and family, and became what I am right now.”
Andy’s hand started to cramp around the pencil. She looked up while stretching the aching tendons and saw Nigel looking steadily back at her and now his look was more resignation than resolution.
“But even though he chose a rather malleable Editor, Irv also cleaned up his act enough to stop poaching in the Runway hallways. Yes, I had to bend over backward, so to speak, to hire my deputies and he still goes out of this way to sabotage pretty much any new female executive hire, but things have changed. Maybe Irene getting the courage to speak up scared him, or Ivan’s threat of resignation and the rumors that would come with that singular event influenced him, but he stopped harassing my employees. And you know how it is, if you don’t see it, you pretend it isn’t happening.”
Andy swallowed the unexpected lump in her throat and Nigel gave her a reassuring smile.
“You really are a very sweet person, Andy. I’m sitting here telling you that I knew of numerous incidents of this man abusing and harassing women, yet you sit there and look at me with pity and concern.”
“Andy, I will help you. I need to help you. A lot of it will be self-preservation, but a lot of it will also be doing the right thing. He’d have ruined me ten years ago when I found out about Irene Benning, but he can only try now. I’m not a weak, scared man anymore. I sure as hell didn’t do anything right ten years ago, but I want to now. I’ll talk to Ivan and Salvatore. I know that Ivan will speak to you, and if he doesn’t, I will make him speak to you. He didn’t abuse women, nor did he want to cover for Irv at the time, but he sure was creative with his accounting, so I have ways to make him talk.” Nigel chuckled and Andy finally smiled too. Nigel was going to blackmail Ivan Stein to ensure that the former Runway Editor-in-Chief spoke candidly and on the record with Andy.
“I need something else from you, Nigel.” It was time to get back to the Priestly business. He raised his eyebrow and nodded for her to proceed.
“The Priestly investigation is finished. I have found the person behind the pseudonym, but I have no moral right to disclose their name or location. I’m also not at liberty to tell you why.” Nigel watched her very closely and Andy had a sudden suspicion that the man had figured out exactly how the whole “Irv’s coming to Jesus” operation had come to be. But he listened to her silently and so she went on.
“I did write an article, however. It details how for years Priestly has indeed been the driving force behind many innovations in the fashion industry and has single-handedly managed to invent and introduce trends and ruled the industry with an iron fist when it deviated from the course she had set.”
“You mean the saffron business.” Nigel smirked rather widely.
“Among others. EC commissioned an article from me with the potential to turn it into a series on uncovering who Priestly is and what she does in this world. While I’d want to, I can’t break that contract without getting sued for a sum of money that I’d have to work my whole life to pay off. EC would probably win that lawsuit too since I signed the contract after all. So I’d like you to publish the article as it is. It delivers on some of the clauses that I’m signatory to, but also it sets the stage for the series to follow.”
Nigel’s mouth fell open and Andy got the confirmation that he figured out that there was some connection between Priestly and Irv, but she forestalled him.
“No, not that series. If Runway published the sexual assault and harassment series of articles on the CEO of EC, it wouldn’t have much credibility because it will simply be lost in the scandalous nature of the publication rebelling against its CEO. But saffron is not the first venture in the fashion world that Irv and his cronies had their fingers in that Priestly derailed. Believe me, Nige, both the saffron business and the others are rather dirty affairs. Runway uncovering corruption in the fashion world? That is right up your alley as everyone knows that Nigel Kipling is a bit of a do-gooder. The magazine would also be restoring its own credibility by claiming mia culpa for past mistakes of pushing these corrupt trends to begin with. Are you with me so far?”
“Yes, I see how it would work. I also see that you have the article right there, all printed and even mocked up for an immediate insertion on the final version of the magazine. It’s going out to the printers today, but I have a suspicion you knew that already. Irv held back the printing of this month’s issue because he was expecting your Priestly article. In my ten years with Runway, we have never held back a whole issue that was supposed to go out that very week, yet Irv held us back hoping to expose Priestly. Funny that in doing so he signed his own demise since he won’t be able to pull the magazine from the printers or from the shelves where it will go straight from the printing house.”
Now it was Andy’s turn to smirk, some things just worked out in their own funny way. She held the printed article to Nigel.
“You also have it in your inbox.”
“You just think of everything, Andy. I’m proud of you. I don’t know how this will all end and chances are that it will be you and I sued for slander and damages for besmirching his name, but I sure am proud of you. I don’t know if it means anything to you, after what I told you before.”
“It does, Nigel. And yeah, you should’ve done things differently ten years ago and then, later on, but you’re doing them right now. I can’t promise to go easy on you though, Nige. What I find out, will go into print and if I find out that you’ve been involved in other things, be it with Irv or whomever…”
“You will print it,” he finished for her. “As I said, Andy, I’m proud of you, but don’t worry about me. I was bankrolled by the Sicilian mob to get my leg up in this industry years ago. I didn’t disclose everything I found out about Irv’s dealings within EC when I took over Runway, but you won’t have to uncover any of my other dirty secrets, for one - everybody knows about my extensive collection of Valentino gowns, my five cats and about my unapologetic swearing during the monthly poker game I run at my brownstone. I won’t embarrass you and you won’t have to pull your punches.”
She smiled at him, finally relaxing and comfortable in his presence once again. He got up but did not come close to hug or give her his customary air kisses, which she considered a very professional decision on his part. They weren’t friends here, he was her source and a person of interest in her investigation. When this was all over, they might pick up their friendship, if either of them was still left standing.
She barely had time to get a cup of coffee and ask Lily how her day was going when Emily glided into the gallery with the air of a disgruntled cat. She sniffed loudly at Lily asking if she could be of assistance and zeroed in on Andy with deadly laser focus.
“You summoned me?” Her voice dripped with derision.
Andy just nodded in the direction of the office and gave Lily an apologetic smile before leading the way. When they got there, she did not hesitate to get behind the desk or in pointing Emily to the visitors’ chair. Not even thoughts of Miranda could derail her now when fresh shame and humiliation was making her see red at the memories of how Priestly and her manager had played her.
“You’ve read the revised article?”
Emily, who was ready to launch into what undoubtedly would’ve been a tirade, closed her mouth and gave Andy a long level stare and then finally nodded.
“Then I suggest you cut the attitude and listen to what I have to say.”
“I don’t know where you get off ordering me here and now speaking like you own the place. You don’t and Gunilla can shove her money and her influence. Miranda might have whatever respect and feelings for her due to their past, but I have none, so cut the crap and get on with it.”
Her British accent was amazingly nowhere to be found. That figured. Nothing was real, it was all an act. Andy’s heart gave a painful twinge in her chest and she tried very hard to get her mind back to the task at hand instead of thinking about how Miranda used her. But her curiosity was also piqued by the obvious acrimony directed at Gunilla and her innate sense of loyalty was raising its head too.
“What the hell do you, of all people, have against Gunilla? I bet you’ve never even actually met her or exchanged two words with her.”
“Well, bollocks to meeting her and to speaking to her! Why would I need to do any of that? I know all too well what kind of person she is! Yes, I do, and don’t you squint at me with that righteous expression. Do you think you know it all? You know absolutely nothing! I was fourteen years old when mom brought Miriam into our home. She was getting something or other checked at the ER one evening and Miriam just walked into the same ER from the street and mom knew right away what had been done to her. But Miriam refused the rape kit and forbid anyone to call the police. She just wanted to get checked out, given first aid and necessary medication. She had nowhere to go and so when mom offered her a place, she accepted.”
Andy sat petrified. Part of her wanted nothing more than to run away and escape the retelling of the most horrible night in the life of the woman she loved, but the other part, the one that still felt all the guilt of her own deception made her sit still and listen. Emily did not seem to notice her distress, or perhaps that was her purpose. Andy certainly wouldn’t put it past her.
“She had some money but just her purse, so mom brought her home to stay with us. I don’t think I heard her speak at all during the first week. She just stayed in the little attic over our garage and stared at the ceiling. And fucking jumped two feet into the air every time I’d bring her food because she was so scared of someone coming after her! Did you know that, Miss Know-It-All? You saddle some high horse and play the injured party here? Well, bollocks to that! You have no right to be offended. Did we know you were a fucking spy? Sure thing! Did we use you to find out who sent you? We sure tried! Do I regret any of that? Absolutely not! You got your feelings hurt? Boohoo! That woman has lived in fear for 17 years, so you don’t come riding your high horse and think you can tell her how to survive!”
She stared at Andy with eyes full of disgust and superiority, challenging her to contradict any of the things she just threw out at her, but Andy’s mind and heart were both too overwhelmed by everything that was happening and she couldn’t seem to get her bearings. The only thing left to her was to stall for time and a better understanding of the situation.
“Yeah, but why do you hate Gunilla?”
“Cause that useless cow left her alone! Miriam wouldn’t have had to go through all the shit she did if only Gunilla actually gave one true damn about her! And on top of all that she kept looking for her, turning over every single stone, leaving her nowhere to go!”
“You make zero sense! On one hand, Gunilla didn’t give a damn about her, but on the other, she should’ve stopped searching for her? What kind of twisted logic is this?”
“I’ll tell you what kind of logic this is! Miriam couldn’t even go to her aunt, not even to say goodbye, because she couldn’t risk Gunilla finding her, because Gunilla would’ve been all about questions and accusations and blame! She didn’t want her at that party! In fact, she told her not to go! She was supposed to stay home like an obedient little mistress, while Gunilla was attending some theater do with the future Mr. Gunilla Garson. And to make things worse, Miranda fucking loved her! Didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. And all that cow wanted was to stay in the closet! Do you think that she would’ve been able to keep her secret safe if she’d had gone all nuts on Ravitz, as she would’ve obviously done? No, she wouldn’t have! And so this traumatized woman was lying on my mother’s sofa for weeks not eating or sleeping as far as I’m concerned and afraid to show her face outside.”
“What happened?” Andy’s voice was barely above a whisper, but Emily was clearly on a roll and needed no questioning to continue. Her eyes filled with tears and her lips trembled, but she firmed her jaw and went on, if her voice broke a bit, both of them pretended it hadn’t happened.
“About six months after we sheltered Miriam, just as she was starting to think about how to continue her life yet still hide from Gunilla and Irv, my mother died. Drunk driver. She was walking home from the grocery store. Hit and run. They say it happened fast, I don’t know. My father was never around and I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup anyway, and the thought that I’d be dumped into foster care? I was scared shitless. I didn’t even have it in me to cry. And then Miriam, who could barely fend for herself, who never even ventured outside during several months of her recovery, simply took over. She took care of the funeral, she took care of me, she took care of everything. She saved me.”
She took a deep breath and Andy got up to get a bottle of water from the little fridge in the corner. It also gave both of them time to not be in each other’s face, because Andy wasn’t sure Emily wouldn’t break down any second and then what would she do?
“And I say somehow, but let me tell you exactly how - her purse? Full of jewelry. She took me out of state every other Saturday until we sold everything to various pawn shops all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut. She’d put a wig on and pretend to be my mother and we were pretty sure Gunilla never looked for Tiffany and Cartier’s stuff being pawned off by a young mother with a kid. Thank God she never gave her any bespoke pieces, those would’ve been really hard to sell undetected.”
Andy marveled at the ingenuity needed to pull off something of the scale that Miranda and little Emily were attempting, but also at the fact that again Miranda was thrown into the deep end of taking care of someone when she barely could care for herself.
“My mom and Miriam looked a bit alike. In fact, mom said it was something that drew her towards Miriam when she first walked into the ER, that she looked like a younger wounded version of herself. So when we claimed my mother’s body from the morgue, we claimed Miriam Princhek. Miranda Charlton never died, you see? She’s just ten years older than Miriam was, but with the kind of trauma, Miriam had? In the first couple of years, she really looked 34 instead of 24.”
Emily sniffed loudly and Andy started to come closer to her, not sure what to do. Give her a hug? Hold her hand? But the other woman just waved her away and dug in her purse for a tissue.
“No father, no grandparents, and my mother was a writer, so no real permanent place of employment. Nobody batted an eye at the switcheroo and I got to have a home and a woman who raised me and took care of me. Miranda Charlton sold the house we lived in pretty much right after the funeral and we moved around for a bit, trying to find our place. She still had a rather large amount of money left from the jewelry and fairly soon we moved into a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn and I went to a new school and Miranda Charlton started painting.”
She dragged a now wet tissue over her eyes again, not caring that she was smearing her blue eyeshadow.
“Do you remember when you saw your first Priestly? Do you remember that feeling?”
“Yeah, I do.” Andy breathed in reverence. Nobody really forgot their first-ever Priestly piece. “I felt, I don’t know, like I was in the presence of God? Does it sound too pompous?”
“No, it doesn’t, because to a fourteen-year-old just-orphaned kid who had nothing and no one in the world, seeing this woman create art was like watching a deity. So yes, you understand what I mean when I tell you that while she saved my life, her art saved my heart. I didn’t have much talent, but I knew I had a purpose. I was going to help Miranda achieve the greatness she deserved. I was sixteen and pretty much self-taught by that time in terms of the art dealership, but with whatever was left of the money from Gunilla’s jewelry, we got a good attorney and a better accountant and set up an LLC in the Caymans. I had a fake ID to make me old enough to be able to deal with the auction houses that first couple of years and we really played it by ear, just trying to fly under the radar. I’d have been fine either way, but Miranda wanted me to have an education, so she pushed for me to go to Oxford and really get a degree in management and art history since I couldn’t draw to save my life.”
“So the accent is only half fake?” Andy smiled and was glad to see Emily’s lips quirking.
“Screw you, Sachs.” But her voice lacked any malice.
“Well, be that as it may, but I really think you and Miranda should appreciate Gunilla a little more.”
“You mean the jewelry?”
“No, I mean, not only did she buy the first three out of four pieces, but she also showed the first two to Valentino. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Ah. We always wondered about that. But once the Valentino cerulean collection hit the runways and then The Girl In The Rain inspired one right after that, Miranda had an idea. Private auctions, fashion houses only. She has such an eye, such a gift for cut and tailoring and color. Sometimes I wonder if she were a designer, if she’d have revolutionized the whole industry.”
“Well, the way I see it, and the way I wrote it in my article, she actually did revolutionize the industry. One sculpture and painting at a time.”
“Yeah, about your article. I really wanted to tell you to go do one and block your email, but I read the article. And bugger it all, you can write, I’ll give you that. I wanted to be so angry with you. For how you lied to Miranda, for how you broke her heart.”
“Oh give me a break, Emily, she played me! She knew all along who I was and she still led me on!”
“She hadn’t gone out with anyone for years! Bugger that, she never dated anyone! Then your size two starving ass waltzes along and she’s just…she, she just… No, that’s none of my business, but you hurt her and she’s been hurt plenty already and so I hate your well-spoken, well writing guts. And while I do appreciate you not outing her and not putting her in danger of being discovered, I still hate you. Just so we are clear on this.”
Andy tried to swallow around the baseball-sized lump in her throat. She had no idea what to say, or what to even do with the information Emily just dumped on her. It was all too much, too soon for her bruised and battered heart.
“So why did you even call me out here? You could’ve just emailed the article, as you did anyway?”
Andy sniffed and tried to regain a modicum of composure to pursue her real purpose of having Emily at the gallery.
“I’m going after Ravitz. I have enough information to start looking for other women he hurt. But Miranda happened to mention last night that she knows about other women whose lives he ruined. I assume you know about these women too. I’d appreciate it if you could share that information with me so I could follow up with them.”
“My, my. You aren’t a total idiot then, Sachs.” Her smile was pure evil. “Once we had enough cash to be able to hire whomever we needed and wanted for our purposes, we had people discreetly dig information up on Ravitz and the numerous payoffs and lawsuits and settlements he’s had to offer to various women through the years. Most of them had signed NDAs so they couldn’t speak out, but eleven years ago…”
“Irene Benning.” Andy breathed out more than whispered.
“You know about her? I’m actually impressed, Sachs. But yes, we found Irene and she was ready to talk to anyone and everyone who would listen. I talked to her. She even had some physical evidence from their encounter, but then the fire happened. She lost everything in one night. Miranda took care of her financially, but Irene refused to go public with her story after that. She lives quietly these days, somewhere in Connecticut last I heard, and teaches at a community college there.”
“I’ll need her information. And any other names you’d be willing to get me, NDA or not. I don’t think I’ll have a shortage of funding to pursue this and to offer them any financial and legal assurance that if they chose to join my attempts to bring Irv Ravitz to justice. They will be well cared for.”
“Gunilla is bankrolling this?”
“I told you, your hatred of Gunilla is mostly misplaced.”
“Sachs, you’re an idiot, but you’re not an idiot, you know what I’m saying? Whatever keeps Gunilla warm at night and assuages her guilty conscience, so be it. I have plenty of other things to judge her for, but this? Pfft. Let her have this.”
Emily stood up abruptly and Andy felt compelled to do the same.
“I’ve got to get a move on, you will need that data and I have to talk to Miranda before we give you anything. I don’t think she will try to stop you or be against this, but we’re a team, have been for 17 years now and I tell her everything. Honesty is always the best policy, Sachs.”
With that last dig, Emily was gone in a cloud of Chanel Nº5, leaving Andy to process the sheer volume of information she learned today. Some of it would help her bring down Irv Ravitz, some of it would help her understand better who Miranda really was. Andy knew that to her personal wellbeing, one was just as important as the other.
@dianakanebooks deserves all the best of things in this life, cause she's the best beta in town.
Come join me on Twitter at @mckayundercover, for my weekly research threads. Those are fun ;)
So this is the chapter where the rating M is finally deserved, dear reader.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘It’s Priestly’s World, We Are Just Living In It’ by Andy Sachs hit the stands the next morning with the sound of the Tunguska Meteor hitting Siberia. Andy had to look that one up when Gunilla mentioned it while cackling in her study, perusing the freshly delivered copy of Runway. Turns out that the meteor falling from the sky and hitting unsuspecting tsarist Russia in 1908 was the loudest sound ever registered. The Krakatoa volcano eruption in 1883 rivaled the meteor for the sound volume, as did the TNT bomb exploding, but the celestial body smashing into Earth still had them all beat.
Studying the loudest sounds to ever occur on planet Earth and arguing with Gunilla about their correct order and classification seemed like a much better way to spend her time than actually contemplating the storm that was about to wreak havoc on her own life. Perhaps understanding the importance of temporary avoidance, her host indulged her gamely and they had made it through six of the top ten loudest sounds in the world before Andy’s phone started ringing insistently. Gunilla gave her a meaningful look as if saying that she’d love to discuss the decibels that space shuttles produce when they take off, but it was time for Andy to grow a backbone and stop hiding.
“Andy!” Nigel’s assistant’s voice was muffled for a second and there was quite a high level of traffic noise in the background. Then the ambulance siren interrupted her and Andy’s mouth went dry.
“Jocelyn, what’s going on? Where are you?”
“Andy, he collapsed in his office! I think they’re taking him to Presbyterian. Turn on DMZ or whatever that paparazzi channel is called!” She hung up abruptly, but apparently she was loud enough that Gunilla was already reaching for the remote. The reporter, who didn’t look old enough to order a drink, even in the shadiest of bars, was standing in front of the EC building.
“...reporting live from Elias-Clark building where we just witnessed Editor-in-Chief Nigel Kipling being taken to a hospital in an ambulance after what our sources described as a ‘shouting match’ with CEO Irving Ravitz. While we cannot disclose particulars, it’s our understanding that Mr. Kipling suffered a possible heart attack as a result of the conflict that ensued when he was confronted in his office by Mr. Ravitz. The Elias-Clark Public Relations Department has informed us to stand by for an official statement. This is Eliza Dalton, over to you, Robert.”
The picture changed to a glamorous man in a fuchsia-colored suit wearing an expression that Andy could only describe as avaricious.
“Thank you, Eliza. For those of you just tuning in now, New York and the fashion world are being rocked by revelations of Elias-Clark and other important fashion and lifestyle publishing houses engaging in less than savory business dealings and using their platforms to sway industry figureheads and influencers to do their bidding. The revelations have come in the form of a groundbreaking piece on the genius of Priestly, who was previously known for their paintings and sculpture, but who, as investigative journalist Andy Sachs comprehensively proves, is also the mastermind behind the majority of the last ten years of fashion trends and innovations. Ms. Sachs disproves the purity of the publishing and fashion houses as well as their investors and details the efforts of Priestly to derail one of the latest of such unsavory dealings, involving saffron contraband and potential child labor practices. We are all waiting with bated breath for the second article by Ms. Sachs in the series on Priestly’s efforts to keep the industry on the ethical path, which according to advertising should appear in the next issue of Runway.”
Andy and Gunilla exchanged charged looks. Nigel printed everything. Held nothing back. What started as an ode to Priestly, would turn into a series on exposing corruption and human rights violations at all levels of the fashion and publishing industry. Andy’s elation was tempered by her anxiety for Nigel and she hit redial trying to get a hold of Jocelyn to no avail.
Gunilla’s phone rang next and as she spoke quietly in her cultured high-society tones while Andy paced the length of the study.
“It was my friend on the EC Board. She’ll inquire quietly about Nigel’s situation and if he is up for visitors and get back to me. It’s mayhem over there. Irv has called for an emergency board meeting, but…,” Gunilla began before her laughter trilled melodiously in the anxiety-filled air.
“Four of the nine Board members are nowhere to be found. Would you believe it, child?” Andy wanted to laugh. No of course she didn’t believe it, nothing about this sham is even remotely believable. So the board suddenly developed a conscience and grew a pair? After covering up for this monster for years? Ridiculous.
“I need to see Nigel, Gunilla. If he’s had a heart attack because I wrote that article and practically blackmailed him into publishing it? I will never forgive myself!”
“Stop being so dramatic, child! Did that hysterical girl on the phone say Presbyterian? I had trouble hearing her with all the screeching.”
“You weren’t supposed to hear her, Gunilla,” Andy laughed. “It was a personal phone call.”
Gunilla smiled back conspiratorily and picked up the phone again. “Well, I have no problem with you listening in on my calls, child. No problem, at all. Hello, Gunilla Garson Goldberg for Gregory Adams. No, miss, I will not hold or call back, please tell the Administrator of the Presbyterian Hospital that one of his most generous benefactors, the one who has a whole cardiology floor named after her late husband, wants two minutes of his time.” Now Andy grinned wider and instantly understood what Gunilla was scheming about.
She barely listened to anything that followed with Gunilla berating some poor soul at the hospital and ensuring that for the millions she and her husband had poured into the cardiac floor, Andy would have access to one Nigel Kipling as soon as she got there. Was it legal? Surely not. Was it something rich people did all the time? Andy thought that just might be absolutely true.
She got ready in a haze and practically jogged the several blocks that separated E 73rd Street from the massive complex of buildings, tunnels, and helipads that was the Presbyterian. Her name alone, given in a breathless whisper to the first receptionist she encountered, was enough to have an orderly summoned and to see her escorted to the fifth floor of a different building, a floor that did indeed have a tasteful plaque mounted on the wall right next to the Cardiology inscription. Andy didn’t have time to stop and read the small ornate script on the plaque but she was pretty sure she’d find Gunilla’s name on it.
She was gently guided down the hallways and into a spacious room filled with light. Nigel sat in the middle of the large hospital bed in a light blue gown with a long-suffering expression on his face. A machine was making some kind of noise and Andy assumed it was taking his heart readings because the screen was showing the characteristic highs and lows of a beating heart. When he saw her entering the room his pout only became more prominent and Andy released the breath she had not realized she was holding. Couldn’t be that bad if he was pouting.
Jocelyn scowled at him and turned to greet Andy.
“Good, you stay with him. Make him sit tight and allow the doctors to do their job and figure out why he passed out while Irv was screaming at him. He’s acting like a total brat now that his eyes are no longer rolling back in his head and wants to check out of the hospital! Of all the irresponsible things to do!”
“Don’t you ‘Jocelyn, dear’ me! You scared me! You scared me ten ways from Sunday and you don’t even want to sit still for your cardiogram to be taken correctly!” Jocelyn burst into tears and Andy looked on helplessly as she ran out of the room. Nigel gave her a guilty look and pouted some more.
“Nigel, how are you…”
“Oh, for fucks sake, I can’t even fake a damn heart attack without that kid going all mother hen all over me!”
“What? Fake?” Andy just stared at him dumbly.
“What else would you’ve done? Irv in the middle of my office, yelling and screaming and firing me and threatening my life! I panicked and then I remembered that panic attacks and heart attacks have scarily similar symptoms. I’m not saying my chest doesn’t hurt. I’m not saying I can take a full deep breath. I’m just saying that I needed to get the hell out of that office and away from Irv and short of slugging him, which I’d have been surely fired for, there was no other way to do it other than on a stretcher!”
“So you faked a heart attack?” Andy looked at him as if he was spouting horns.
“Seemed like the thing to do at the time.” Nigel’s grimace turned into a pout once again. “I didn’t count on Jocelyn going all maternal on me and calling the ambulance. They took my symptoms seriously too and here we are.” Nigel gestured forlornly across the room. Andy really saw the predicament he was in. They’d probably keep him here for a little bit. He was a very important and well-known person, after all, they’d do everything to make sure he didn’t croak after having been admitted to Presbyterian. So he was probably stuck in this bed for a bit, which, in the scheme of things, wasn’t bad at all.
“He can’t fire you though.” Andy’s smile grew wider. “Irv can do nothing while you are convalescing. You can sue him in twenty different ways if he fires you while you’re in a hospital. I’m sure there are laws against these kinds of things.”
Nigel’s face slowly transformed, taking on a decidedly mischievous look. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. Honestly, I just wanted to get out of there, and passing out while clutching my chest seemed to be my ticket.”
“You phony! I was worried about you! And so is Jocelyn, clearly, since she’s probably in the bathroom now crying herself into a stupid state.” Nigel looked guilty again. “I’ll go talk to her after you tell me what the hell Irv had to say for himself.”
“Andy, he went totally insane! Hell and damnation and threats, I didn’t really even understand half of it, but he was scared. Only fear makes a man that desperate, let me tell you that. I think you really hit him where it hurt.”
“It will hurt much more before I’m done with him, Nigel. So much more.” She had a grim look of determination on her face and Nigel squirmed in his bed.
“You’re kind of scary when you say things like that and especially when I know about the ace you’re holding up your sleeve. I talked to Irene. She was very apprehensive, understandably, but I think after this issue of Runway hit the stands and the insanity that ensued, she might just want to talk to you. I gave her your number.” Irene Benning talking to her about her own sexual assault and the consequences she had to pay for speaking out was something that only elated Andy more.
“Where are you going to publish it? A competing publication? Vogue?” Nigel gave her a curious look and shifted slightly, stretching and getting more comfortable now that he perhaps felt a bit more secure about his future.
“No, Nigel, this is too big for Vogue, plus they have their own problems, and the next Priestly article installment is going to give them some of their long-overdue bad publicity. I have a vague idea of what I want to do with this, but I have to gather all the evidence first. It’s more important than the industry corruption, it’s more important than nepotism and cronyism and any of the other things that I’ll be putting into the Priestly series. It’s women’s lives and how he ruined them. I will bury him for it.“
Andy spoke to Jocelyn on her way out and convinced her to come out of the bathroom and to stop crying. They agreed to continue pretending that Nigel was in a bad way, for the sake of the public interest and to try and keep him either at the hospital or at his home, convalescing. If Irv fired him under these circumstances, the public outcry would indeed be massive and Elias-Clark would never hear the end of the horrible publicity they’d receive on top of their already bad PR day.
Jocelyn tearfully agreed to hold the fort and Andy had a suspicion she was starting to enjoy all the theatrics of being in the center of the media hurricane. Who knew the cool, collected redhead was a secret drama queen?
In the meantime, Andy’s day went on, the world kept on turning and she was due at the pub for her shift. She wondered what would happen at the end of it all and if working at the pub was perhaps what she would end up doing when all was said and done. She knew that despite her newfound celebrity and raving reviews, she would likely never work in fashion again while Irv Ravitz was still standing, and even then, she’d single-handedly embarrassed too many very important people today in her article, investors, media moguls and publishing deities. Vogue, Elle, or Herself would never touch her with a ten-foot pole, despite singing her praises right now. They couldn’t not praise her, it would be bad for them not to call out the corruption, but they could totally ignore her existence when it was all said and done, to show her that truth is dangerous and that the status quo was never meant to be disturbed. So as she trudged to the pub, she felt an impending sense of doom.
The feeling of unease seemed to intensify when she walked in and saw the pub empty and Wallace putting his jacket on, instead of rolling up his sleeves and taking the chairs down from their overturned position on the tables.
“Something happened with the water supply pipes up the block so all the buildings on this side of the street are disconnected for the day. I gave everyone the night off and was about to leave myself. Sorry, I didn’t message you earlier, I just got word from the super that this situation is kinda for the whole evening instead of just for a little while.”
“No worries, Wallace. You’re giving me a free evening, nothing to be sorry for.” For a moment she felt untethered. Free, but not unencumbered, the heavy feeling pressing down on her chest. Maybe she was having one of the panic attacks Nigel had earlier. With so many things happening, so much loss in her life lately, she was perhaps due one.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll stay behind. I have some writing to do and since it’s empty, it’ll be quiet. I promise not to drink more than a couple of glasses of whiskey.” She tried for a smile but he just shook his head at her.
“I’m worried about you, Andy. I know you don’t have much of a life, but when you can have an evening off and you chose to spend it at a closed pub and write? I’m worried about you.” She gave him a quick hug, squeezing his massive brawny shoulders briefly.
“You’re a good man, Wallace, for a bitchy primadonna squealing at the sight of blood, you’re still a good man.” They shared a giggle and he left her standing alone in the middle of the empty pub.
Her phone pinged and she unlocked it quickly. It was a text from Gunilla telling her that the EC Board had finally met and that they decided to issue a statement that there would be a full-blown investigation into the actions of the CEO regarding the several schemes she had presented in the first article. Gunilla typed COWARDS in capital letters. Andy certainly shared her sentiment. She felt like a failure, like the weight of the world would come crashing down on her shoulders anytime.
She had no messages from Emily. Perhaps Miranda did not agree to share with Andy the names of the women they had found out about over the years. Perhaps Miranda did not want to cooperate with Andy on this story. It would certainly be understandable, she lived a nightmare, she might not want to rehash it at all, especially with Andy who lied to her, used her to advance her career, and almost brought her on a silver platter to the man who raped her. Miranda made it rather clear that Andy was the lowest of the low when they parted the last time, that she really didn’t ever want to see her again.
Raising her eyes from her phone, Andy blinked, once, twice, and then slowly shook her head from side to side as if trying to clear it of the vision that stood in front of her.
The woman of her dreams, the one she was so deeply in love with she was completely stupid over her, the woman who pretty much let her know she never wanted to see Andy again stood on the threshold of the pub, looking for all intents and purposes as if she was lost and then suddenly seeing Andy, was once again found.
They just stood there, taking each other in. Had it really only been a day? It seemed like forever since Andy left the townhouse on E 73rd Street. Miranda looked beautiful, pale, and hauntingly vulnerable clutching her trench coat around her shoulders, looking like Andy hung the moon. Andy could not look away if her life depended upon it. She’d burn alive happily just looking at those deep blue eyes that shone with unshed tears and something so pure and so open and so true, it was tearing at her heart.
Wallace suddenly appeared behind Miranda and both of them jumped at the intrusion.
“Hey Andy, this lady was just standing outside, she says she knows you, came to see you? I let her in, but wanted to check with you, is this okay?”
He gave them a curious look, slowly turning his big bald head from one woman to the other as they stood motionless, breathing somewhat heavily from his sudden appearance and the fright he gave them by interrupting their reverie.
“Andy?” Wallace’s voice was concerned now.
“I… ah, yes, Wallace, this is Miranda, my… ah, my friend,” Andy decided on her feet, but she felt sluggish, Miranda’s presence and her scent and all the feelings her sudden appearance was bringing to the surface were completely fogging her brain.
“Well then, nice to meet you, Miranda.” He still looked suspiciously at her, but Miranda shook his hand, her slim one completely disappearing as his massive mitt totally enveloped it. He smiled now easily, perhaps convinced in her harmlessness, and waved at Andy as he made for the exit again.
“Ha, maybe I shouldn’t be worried about you after all. I’ll lock up again, Andy.”
“Yeah, dude, ah, thank you.” Andy mumbled as he disappeared behind the closed door again and they heard the twist of the key in the lock. Not wanting to be disturbed, Andy walked towards the door and put the latch down. Now they were completely alone and safe from the world outside and the interruptions it could cause.
Andy felt like she should say something, something deep and meaningful and life-changing but the words escaped her for once. She always fell back on words in the times of trial, when she had nothing else she used her words, she was a writer after all. Yet, in what she felt was the most important moment of her life, she had none. She just looked at Miranda who stood stone still by the door and whose eyes seemed to be glued to Andy’s face.
“I’m glad to see you.” Andy felt like those were perhaps the stupidest five words she had ever uttered because she wasn’t glad, glad did not even begin to describe what she felt seeing Miranda. “I mean, real glad… Uhm…” She struggled to say anything else because the size of the lump in her throat was just getting bigger with every second.
Yet it seemed that her stupor and discomfort finally managed to nudge Miranda out of her own and that mischievous left corner of her mouth twitched and then lifted slightly, flirting with a smile.
“Andrea, you have so many words, so many brilliant beautiful words, yet you use ‘glad’ in a moment like this?” She took a step closer and Andy felt like the dimly lit room suddenly became smaller.
“Ah…” She swallowed, her throat working convulsively.
“Tell me, Andrea. Give me your words.” Miranda drew near, one more step and she’d be standing right in front of her.
Andy tried shaking her head again, like a dog, hoping to dislodge the cobwebs of the fog that being lovesick for this woman was creating.
“I don’t think I remember any words right now, Miranda. Not when you’re near me. I feel as if there is no air, there is only you and none of the words are worthy of you.”
Miranda stopped abruptly and her gaze turned dreamy, yearning.
“Oh yes, you have all the words, Andrea. So many brilliant, delicate words.” She stepped closer, her body heat caressing Andy’s skin like a lover’s hand. “I read the article, by the way. All seven thousand beautiful words of it. Honest yet safe words. You protected me. You did not expose me.”
“I couldn’t. I would like to think that I would’ve had the strength of character to do so even if you never told me about what happened seventeen years ago.”
Andy’s hands were itching and she felt physical pain from restraining herself from reaching out and touching Miranda. Miranda, who was looking at her with the same expression she so often had around Andy, genuine affection, smoldering heat under the surface, a touch of hunger in her eyes and slightly opened mouth. Her tongue peeked out and wet her lips and Andy shuddered from the desire coursing in her veins. Nobody ever did this to her, turned her inside out, stole her breath, took away her voice, and set her on fire in a moment’s time. And then Miranda uttered the words that would forever mean everything to Andy. She knew there and then that nobody would ever give her more than the three words that sounded like a benediction, like an absolution. Spoken in that husky voice, the words healed her, washed over her like a balm, taking away her burdens, making her stronger, braver.
Miranda said: “I believe you,” and Andy felt like she could take on the world, felt like she was invincible. And wasn’t it a wonder that the woman who almost ruined her, broke her heart into a million little pieces was the one to put Andy back together.
She did not know who reached first, but a second later Miranda was in her arms, watching her closely, her eyes blue and avid, ravenous while Andy traced the sharp lines of her beautiful face, her fingers running over her brow, to her cheekbones, to her lips and then the eyes fluttered, as Andy traced the sweet Cupid’s bow and closed with a soft sigh as Andy lost her battle with patience and lowered her mouth, laying it oh so gently on Miranda’s.
Somebody moaned, and it was dreamlike, sweet and slow, a long exhalation of air and sound and then Andy’s teeth gently bit on that full sculpted lower lip and tugged at it, sucking it gently in her mouth and those graceful artist’s hands dove into her hair tugging her closer, slanting her mouth at a slightly different angle and gently flew out the window because earnest, hot and hungry took its place.
She felt Miranda become a livewire in her arms, sexy and alive and oh so beautiful, moving in the rhythm of their kiss, pressing her body into Andy’s, igniting something dangerous and primitive under her skin, something that was now clawing at Andy, trying to burst out. Andy breathed heavily, trying to get back to slow, to safe, because Miranda needed safe and slow and God help her, she wouldn’t be able to hold back much longer if Miranda kissed her like this, if her tongue delved into Andy’s mouth like that and if she sucked on her tongue quite like that. As if sensing Andy trying to hold back, Miranda nipped at her bottom lip, kissed her jaw, bit hard on her throat, and looked her straight in the eyes. “Don’t you dare hold back, Andrea. I want everything, your words, your hands, your mouth. You woke me up after years of being content to be asleep, so you have to give me everything.”
And the beast broke free. Andy took her mouth again, licking into it, seeking her tongue, finding it, sucking on it, taking Miranda’s breath away, making her claw at Andy’s back in something akin to desperation. In no time at all they were across the room, Andy pushing Miranda into the wood-carved antique bar, their bodies fused together, their hands greedy and rough, leaving marks.
Miranda’s mouth was a revelation. They’d kissed before, they’d spent glorious moments in the study reveling in each other, but this was different, this went beyond desire, beyond hunger. This was sensuality itself, desperate and rough, and a touch savage, turning Andy’s mind inside out, burning her from within. Andy wasn’t even aware of half the things happening, her mind sort of short-circuited on the feeling of Miranda’s tongue against hers, stroking and stoking her desire to almost painful heights. And just like that she realized that her hands were under Miranda’s spring dress, her trenchcoat discarded somewhere along the way. Miranda was wearing thigh highs and the feel of the bare skin of her inner thighs made Andy moan into Miranda’s mouth and then as her fingertips progressed higher the lack of panties made Andy gasp, stutter and lose her train of thought, her reason and her breath entirely. Miranda was standing in the middle of Andy’s pub in thigh highs and just the flimsy soft stretchy dress covering her skin. Andy’s brain might’ve exploded then and there but Miranda took her wavering hand and looking her straight in the eye, placed it exactly where they both wanted it so badly.
They both groaned, the sound jagged and harsh, as Andy’s fingers encountered silky wetness and so much heat she thought she’d be scorched. She stroked, gently at first, then bolder when Miranda writhed against her hand, saying ‘please’ over and over again, like she was dying for it, dying for Andy and her brain finally let go, of doubt, of fears of everything that seemed to be anchoring her to the present, stalling her from taking what she wanted most.
She raised her other hand that was holding on to the bar, so strongly that her knuckles were white and her fingers hurt from the pressure and grasped Miranda’s chin making her open her eyes and look at her. Miranda’s blue eyes were unfocused, a touch desperate as she continued to grind herself slowly, against Andy’s fingers, and then as they looked at each other, Andy slowly pushed in with two fingers and Miranda’s eyes almost rolled back in her head. She let out a sound that was half scream, half moan, and gripped the back of Andy’s head bringing their mouths together again.
“Please, faster, please, faster…” She seemed mad with desire, oblivious of everything around her, but Andy wanted control, wanted to make this first time last, wanted to see and feel everything, so she pushed her fingers deeper, hooked them slightly but did not hasten her thrusts.
“Andrea…” Miranda was breathless, moaning, and whimpering with each slow, determined thrust.
“No, this way, Miranda, my way.” Miranda opened her eyes again at the steel in Andy’s voice and seemed to smile at the power behind them, but another thrust of Andy’s fingers deep inside her, hit that rough spot that made her gasp and she brought their foreheads together.
“Watch, Miranda, watch me take you.” Andy was mad with want, with hunger, with the power of holding Miranda in her arms, pushed hard against the bar, their foreheads together, watching Andy’s fingers fuck her slow and hard, disappearing inside her to find the spot that made her breath catch, the palm of her hand grinding into her clit on every thrust.
Andy could feel Miranda’s breath growing shallow and her eyes turning blank, unfocused and so she gave in, just a little and sped up her thrusts, feeling Miranda tremble, her movements losing rhythm, losing that innate grace that accompanied everything she did. Then Andy brought her thumb up and pressed it in slow, deliberate circles over the swollen clit and it was over, Miranda giving out a startled husky cry and trembling as if she was coming apart and only Andy’s arms were holding her together.
But it wasn’t enough, Miranda’s orgasm just drove Andy madder for her, hungrier, needing more and before Miranda even came down from her blissed-out high, Andy was boosting her on the bar, spreading her perfect smooth pale thighs and licking her still trembling flesh, so wet, so sensitive, making Miranda scream all over again. She was getting addicted to making Miranda scream.
She couldn’t get enough, so beautiful, so wet, so perfect, she licked and sucked and thrust her tongue inside, and Miranda moaned and gripped her hair and balanced herself on the bar, riding out Andy’s madness. And madness it was because nothing could ever compare and nothing would ever be enough, now that she tasted this woman, now that she had her under her hands and mouth and had her screaming Andy’s name in delirium, begging for more, begging to be taken, to be fucked, Andy knew there was no going back for her. There was nobody else for her now.
She felt more than she realized that Miranda came the second time, but the beast inside her seemed to still demand more, and only Miranda’s weak, trembling hands pushing at her head finally got through the fog of lust and made her raise her head. Miranda looked like she had been devoured and debauched and like she enjoyed every single second of it if that small satisfied smile playing in that delectable left corner of her mouth was any indication. Her hands played in Andy’s hair, caressing the line of the neck at the nape, and Andy felt like that demon inside her might purr. She helped Miranda off the bar and Miranda wasted no time at all to taste herself on her lips, kissing her deeply, drinking her in. Her hands got very determined and then suddenly, just as Andy was starting to lose her mind from the feeling of her fingertips under her shirt, they stopped. Her mouth stopped too and Andy raised her head with what probably looked like a very stupid and impatient look on her face.
“What--.” The shrill sound of her phone ringing in her pocket finally penetrated her blissful state of arousal. She tugged it out of her jeans and looked at the display, not recognizing the number. She sent the call to voicemail and turned back to Miranda who had a very smug look on her face.
“Oh, so that is how it’s gonna be, Andrea?”
“I want just you, just you, right now.”
But before Miranda could put her hands on Andy’s heated skin, the phone beeped again, loudly with an incoming text, and from its position in the bar next to her hand, Andy could read the message. She froze and grabbed the phone to read it again. The world stopped and then seemed to spin faster than ever.
“I have to go, Miranda, I have to run. I’m sorry.”
“Go? What? Andrea…” Miranda’s incredulous tone almost made Andy forget where she needed to be, but only almost.
“I’m sorry, this is important. You know I’d never leave you if it wasn’t, but…,” and she almost blurted out the truth, felt stupid hiding, and then felt stupider for feeling stupid. Hadn’t they been burned once before by lies and secrets?
“Irene Benning has agreed to speak to me about her rape and the subsequent retribution she suffered at the hands of Irv. She’s in New York tonight and is leaving for California tomorrow where she accepted a new teaching position. I have one evening to meet her.”
Miranda’s face lost its incredulity and her eyes turned that horrible ashen color again that Andy had seen only once before. She pushed Andy away slowly and picked up her dress from where it hung limply from the barstool, tugging it on with slow precise movements. It was as if she were steadying herself, trying to get her bearings before she faced Andy again. And when she did there was so much pain in her eyes that Andy almost abandoned her mission, almost told her that she would stay and to hell with Irene Benning, but Andy knew and she suspected that Miranda knew as well that Andy could not let it go. And so Miranda lowered her gaze and straightened her dress.
“Of course, Andrea.”
I always say that @dianakanebooks deserves all the otters and kittens in the world but on this chapter, she does so much more cause I was a total basket case and a nervous wreck about it and she was totally awesome.
Come talk to me in the comments or on twitter at @mckayundercover about what unfolds in this chapter, you know I welcome your opinions and cherish every comment.
Dear readers, thank you again for all your kind words and comments, and encouragement. This chapter is again NSFW, so be warned.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Andy knew that going back to Gunilla’s for a shower and a change of clothes was cutting it very close, especially after she refused to allow Miranda to go home alone and insisted on taking her to the townhouse herself, but she didn’t feel right doing this one interview while she could still smell Miranda on her hands and taste Miranda on her tongue.
She knew it would haunt her regardless of whom she’d see and what she’d do in the next couple of hours, but that wasn’t the point. She felt untethered and lost, despite her own desire still smoldering like liquid fire under her skin. She also knew that somehow she was again burning the small shaky bridge she was building with Miranda. They made love and while it was spectacular, Andy’s relentless need for truth and justice prevailed, and so she left Miranda on the steps of the townhouse with a promise to come back as soon as she finished the interview. Miranda again said those useless and impersonal words “Of course, Andrea,” and disappeared behind the closed door. Andy felt like she was closing the door on them, on this tenuous truce that they had called.
She didn’t have time to wash her hair, but Andy still showered and washed her face, removing the traces of Miranda’s taste and scent from herself. Feeling them disappear hurt like hell. Those words were ravaging her mind as she ran into the small boutique hotel in the Village just as the clock in the lobby was striking 10 PM. She had done her research on Irene Benning and had seen numerous photographs, so the woman rising from a deep armchair tucked in the corner of the lobby wasn’t a surprising figure. The other four women rising with her, however, were a total surprise. At least one of them was somewhat familiar. She was the junior features editor at Runway during Andy’s short term stint with the magazine and was the person Andy communicated with via email on her occasional guest feature all those years ago when she still had her articles published in magazines. Rebecca something, the last name was escaping Andy, but the significance of having her here, standing shoulder to shoulder with Irene did not escape Andy at all.
In the end, all five of them were escorted to a small conference room on the second floor and the polite concierge brought them coffee. The subsequent three hours saw Andy's hand cramping from all the notes she was taking and her phone battery drained from recording all the details of the sexual abuse the five women suffered at the hands of Irv Ravitz.
“We all have either signed something to make us shut up, or were literally burned to do so, Andy. But your article in Runway…” Irene allowed a small sob to escape as she rolled up her sleeve to show Andy the burn scars on her forearm and immediately Rebecca reached out and held her tight. They were remarkably composed and so dignified through the recounting of the horrors they lived through, but even their tremendous strength had limits. Andy’s heart broke at the sound of Irene’s sob.
“It feels like for the first time in years he’s on the brink of finally getting caught for what he’s done. Maybe not harassment or rape or assault, but it feels like he’s not all-powerful anymore. It feels like our truth can be spoken now. Like people will finally listen. They sure didn’t before. Nobody did. But you’re here, you wrote that piece and I trust you to write this one too.”
“I will, but I have to ask something else too. In the case of Irene it may be too late, the statute of limitations in New York for rape having passed, but for you Rebecca and for you Stacy, it hasn’t, it hasn’t been five years yet. I’ll tell your story, in whichever form you want me to tell it and we will bring him down, but he needs to pay. He needs to be imprisoned for what he has done. I know someone who will pay for a great army of attorneys who will help nail him.”
“Priestly? Turns out they’ve been standing up to him for years!” Rebecca’s eyes sparkled with adulation.
Andy’s heart squeezed painfully in her chest.
“No, not Priestly.” she shook her head and her hair, still disheveled from Miranda’s fingers, fell over her eyes. She scooped it out of her face impatiently.
“Gunilla Garson Goldberg. I broke my contract with Elias-Clark when I wrote the article on Priestly and I’m gonna be served with papers very soon for breach of said contract, damages, perhaps defamation. Having her in my corner has been priceless and she knows herself what it means to be hurt by Irv.” At their astonished looks Andy shook her head again. “Not like that, not herself, but someone she loved was raped years ago and it ruined both their lives.”
Rebecca spoke up first. “Money is, of course, an issue, but it’s not the issue if you know what I mean. But,” she took a deep breath, “I will do it. It’s time. He’s done enough. I was so young and so naive and he destroyed me.”
Now it was Irene’s turn to hug her close. “He didn’t, he didn’t! You’re here and you’re so brave. I’m so proud of you.”
“Irene, you’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Just for the interview right now. It’s a big opportunity for me. After the fire and everything…” She stumbled over her words, her breath coming out in harsh puffs. “I lost everything, so I was teaching design at a community college, trying to get the hell out of the public eye, but Nigel called about speaking to you and it turns out he’s called other people too, as you can see here. He’s also made some inquiries with some people in the industry in LA and with Irv’s position being as rocky now as it seems to be and the other shoe of more Priestly revelations hanging over him… Anyway, I’d never work for someone who relented simply because Irv is facing some difficulties, but this is a brand new house. They’re all young people who’ve never been a part of what happened ten years ago and they like my work from that time. It would be a fresh start for me without the fear that Irv would come after the people who’ve been decent enough to give me that new start.”
“If we go to the police with this, it will be big. It will be so big, you’ll all be swept up in it. I just want you all to know about the risks, the consequences. It won’t be easy.”
The five of them exchanged looks and the air felt charged with some unknown yet to Andy energy. Finally, Irene spoke up.
“One day at a time. If Ms. Garson Goldberg will generously provide the legal support and you will write about this, I think this can be our shot, our chance to finally get justice, to bring this bastard down.”
“What are you going to do, Andy?” Rebecca looked at her with curiosity, maybe because Andy sat quietly for a moment, resolutely staring into the dark window overlooking the alley.
“I’ll write a book.” She had no idea where the words came from. But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She told Nigel earlier that publishing the story on allegations of sexual abuse in Vogue was inappropriate, and she was right, but where then? The New Yorker? It all felt too small, just wrong to publish the full story there. Column inches were scarce and with five women sitting in front of her after detailing the five separate stories of the hell they’d lived through at the hands of Irv Ravitz, an article just seemed small, unworthy.
“Yes, definitely a book, and if you need me, I will go with you to the police or the DA, I’ll stand by you throughout the whole process, and in coordination with the lawyers and the DA’s office, the book will give the story a proper mouthpiece. We can start with a series of articles, interviews, podcasts, I don’t know yet, but it all has to come down to a book, because no matter the number of articles or interviews, nobody will be able to tell your story in full, unabridged or unedited, unless we put it in a full-fledged book. And then we can donate all the proceeds to women’s shelters, or women’s legal services. The choice is yours, I’m just here to help you tell your story. So we can do whatever you feel you’re comfortable with, whatever you think will help you more.”
“Oh Andy, none of this is comfortable, none of this is remotely close to comfortable, but, I can’t stand him winning again. Yes, corruption is bad, and the Priestly articles will likely hurt him some, but he’s not the most powerful man in publishing and fashion for nothing. He should pay for everything he did. For everything!”
It was after midnight when Andy found herself on the steps of the townhouse. She wasn’t sure what she was doing there, other than this time she felt it imperative to stick to the truth and to her promises. And she did promise Miranda that she would come back. Technically it was already tomorrow, but it was the intent that counted, she thought. The house was quiet, but for some reason, Andy felt absolutely sure that Miranda wasn’t asleep. The house felt alive to her somehow, like it was waiting.
Miranda opened the door in a long white button-down shirt that hit her midthigh. Her sleeves were rolled up and her hair was pulled back from her face. She had a charcoal smudge across her cheekbone. It should’ve looked careless, but it looked stylishly disheveled and extremely sexy. Her bare legs and feet completed the absolutely alluring package. Andy’s heart did that slow roll in her chest it always did when she saw Miranda.
“Andrea…” Her voice, that slightly rough, gravely sound that it could take at times, as if from long periods of unuse, made Andy’s heart clench all the harder. Miranda sounded like she was surprised by Andy darkening her doorstep at the witching hour, but she just opened the door further and took her by the hand again, such a familiar gesture for the two of them, Miranda leading her.
Miranda indeed led her, but this time it was up the stairs to a brightly lit room, that seemed to be all empty space, massive skylights, and windows. Andy felt like she was allowed access into a hollowed shrine. She was standing in the middle of Priestly’s workshop. The walls were exposed brick interspersed with shelves holding supplies here and there. Along the walls stood canvasses, some half-finished, some empty and others holding the most beautiful art in the world in an explosion of shapes and colors. This was where the enormous talent of Priestly lived and this was the sanctuary it created its masterpieces in. Andy felt like she was somehow blessed just to be able to breathe the air of this room.
Yet then she simply couldn’t breathe at all because of what she saw standing under the farthest skylight in the corner. A rough sketch, black charcoal on a white canvas, of a woman, her naked back to the viewer, and her wavy hair piled up on her head, the long line of her neck exposed. She couldn’t see the face because of the angle of the pose, but Andy knew the figure right away. As she made several steps towards it, she noticed several other similar canvases lying next to the wooden easel. All of them were charcoal on white, and all of them were of her. Her form was drawn many times, in various similar poses, the artist seemingly trying to capture it and discarding attempt after attempt after attempt.
“Miranda?” Andy turned to find the woman still standing by the door, looking at her with those piercing blue eyes.
“Ever since I saw you, I wanted to draw you. At the coffee shop the first time, before we officially met, the barista called your name several times and you were so distracted, playing with the few strands of your hair that were escaping the updo and just staring into space. All I could see was the line of your neck and my hands were literally itching to capture it. So graceful, Andrea. And then I gave you the haircut and I saw it up close and touched it and I could no longer escape it. You see, I had to draw it, I had to…” She seemed to be considering her words carefully because there were long pauses between sentences.
“I tried, as you can see, but I can’t get it right. You seem to escape me, Andrea. Your form, your mind, everything about you. I can’t understand you, can’t figure you out. I’m afraid of things I don’t understand, Andrea.”
In life, there are seldom moments of complete clarity. Despite so many uncertainties, at that moment Andy knew unequivocally what she had to do next. Her jacket hit the floor first, followed by her shirt. She tried to shimmy out of her jeans, even though there was absolutely no way of accomplishing such a feat gracefully, and then under Miranda’s avid watchful eyes she reached behind herself and undid the clasp, letting the bra simply fall on top of the pile of clothes at her feet, standing under the bright white lights of the studio in her black lacy boy shorts, before boldly taking them off as well. Almost blindly she felt for the hair tie on her wrist and very slowly, very carefully pulled her hair up, exposing her neck, before turning her back to Miranda.
She heard Miranda’s breath catch, a noise between a sob and a moan, and suddenly her lover was transformed, no longer passive and melancholy, she was a force of nature in motion, almost flying to the easel and setting a new canvas on it. Andy sank to the wooden floorboards, knowing that she would be unable to stand for long after the day she’d had, but Miranda said nothing, just hummed her assent and continued to draw, her hands flying over the canvas, charcoal scratching its surface in rhythmic, even motions.
Andy couldn’t see her directly since she had her back to the easel, but several mirrors placed haphazardly across the room allowed her to observe patches of her reflection, her back, the side of her face, holding that concentrated, focused look that Andy had not seen before - the artist at work. It was transfixing, transforming.
It was also rather startling that in a room full of color, Andy’s form was the only one being drawn in stark black and white. Andy thought back to the months of her research on Priestly. She had never seen a single painting that was black and white. Maybe she had always started them in charcoal, what did Andy know after all? Months ago she also thought that Priestly’s art was simple and straightforward and Lily had scolded her over her stupidity. Nothing was simple in the bright light of the overhead lamps. She was surrounded by colorful art, complex metaphors, and deep imagery. Perhaps Andy’s charcoal form on white canvas was also a metaphor, but the deeper meaning of it was escaping her at the moment.
She was so engrossed in her musings and observation she almost missed the soft touch of lips on the nape of her neck, right before gentle teeth nipped at it, centering her in that one single space on her body, bringing to life all her nerve endings, drawing her whole being to that one focal point and then a tender tongue darted out and soothed where the teeth bit, before they did it again, sharper now, adding an edge of pain to the stream of pleasure.
Andy wanted to turn her head and capture the teasing mouth that was turning her whole being into one of sheer pulsing desire, but Miranda seemed to sense her intent and evaded her, kneeling down on the floor and holding Andy’s head turned away, kissing and licking up from her neck to her jaw, taking the earlobe in her mouth, making Andy sigh and let go, allowing Miranda to take what she needed from this, from her.
She ended up on her front, hands digging into the wooden floorboards as Miranda explored her back, kissing and caressing, always returning to the nape of her neck, where Andy was sure she'd be marked for days by the ravenous mouth that just couldn’t seem to get enough. Soft hands caressed her thighs, her backside, nails scraping the cheeks, lightly leaving goosebumps in their wake, only to be soothed by lips following close behind. Andy’s breath hitched, a moan escaped just at the thought of Miranda’s mouth so close to her center, but Miranda wasn’t in any hurry, leisurely kissing her behind, occasionally bringing her teeth and tongue into action, letting Andy feel her smile against her flesh at every jerk of Andy’s hips.
She was enjoying herself, enjoying Andy. It felt completely surreal. In two days Andy went from the horrible premonition of the truth coming out, her life falling apart, feeling guilty then feeling humiliated and betrayed, then elated at making love to Miranda only to leave her, coincidentally leaving herself unsatisfied. But Miranda was making up for the pent up lust Andy had been suppressing for the past several hours. Her mouth against her cheek, her fingers now caressing slowly through Andy’s drenched folds, the result of all the waiting and the process of being extremely turned on by the honor and privilege and the utter erotic experience of being drawn in the nude by the one and only Priestly.
“You’re so wet, Andrea, so wet. For me?” That voice, that voice was rivaling the skillful fingers that were slowly taking her apart, by gently stroking her swollen flesh.
She couldn’t speak, all her brain cells seemingly migrating south where those wicked fingers were touching everything except her clit, where she needed them most of all. Miranda was simply spreading the wetness everywhere, penetrating her gently for just a second and then disappearing again, winding her slowly tighter and tighter. When the maddening fingers finally circled her with a semblance of purpose, Andy tried to move her hips, a difficult task, given the circumstances of her laying on her front with Miranda half sprawled across her, but a sharp bite on her buttock prevented further movement.
“I want you very still for me, Andrea, can you do that?” Andy would’ve cheerfully flung herself out the window if Miranda asked her to do so in that seductive, gravelly voice, but holding still when all she wanted was to thrust her hips over and over against those long slim fingers that were torturing her, never giving her enough pressure, teasing her and driving her insane? She didn’t know if she could do that. All her being was focused on the next movement of those skillful fingertips. She could barely breathe.
“I wanted you from the very first moment I saw you, did you know that?” Oh God, Andy thought she was going to come from just the voice alone. Miranda seemed totally oblivious of the effect her words were eliciting in Andy, who was afraid to make a sound, delirious from wanting to hear more. The maddening fingertips were stroking her clit with direct pressure now, stoking the fire under her skin higher with every caress.
“Your face, your eyes, God, your neck, I wanted to bite it, to never let it go. You were beautiful and lost and for the first time in seventeen years, I wanted another human being, fully, totally, completely unafraid. It was glorious to want you.”
“Miranda, Miranda…” Andy did not recognize her own voice, the needy sound in it, the desperation. The fingertips slowly moved towards her opening and a slender finger slipped inside her, so slowly, so maddeningly gentle, Andy thought she’d die on the spot when the second one joined the first, the knuckle of the forefinger touching the one spot on her front wall, making Andy see stars with each slow, purposeful thrust.
“I felt alive for the first time in years, Andrea. You brought me that. I knew who you were, or as close as knew who you were and what you wanted, but it didn’t matter, you were perfect, so perfect and I wanted you.”
Colors and the room were starting to fade away. Andy’s thigh muscles trembled with the characteristic spasms that preceded her orgasm, she was so close and the cadence of that voice, the meaning of the words were only edging her closer.
And then the fingers disappeared and Andy thought she was going to die on the spot, the room actually tilted. Belatedly she realized that Miranda was turning her on her back and before she could even utter a word in question or supplication that wicked mouth was on her. There was no more teasing. What Miranda’s fingers promised, her mouth delivered in spades. Andy screamed at the first direct lick of that tongue and then she couldn’t scream anymore as Miranda sucked her clit in her mouth. The world went grey at the edges of her vision and her throat felt raw though she wasn’t sure she made any noise. The pleasure blinded her. She couldn’t tell if it was one orgasm or a whole series simply flowing one into another, into another. It was beautiful.
She had trouble recovering, but Miranda’s fingers stroked her hair and her face, tracing the lines of her cheekbones, the bridge of her nose. So intimate, so gentle, so delicate, Andy thought she could weep, because that feeling she felt forming in the back of her mind when she left Miranda earlier to go see Irene returned tenfold.
And then the memory of Miranda’s words, as she was bringing her to orgasm, intruded like a blast of frigid air through a window opened too suddenly. Miranda had spoken in the past tense.
“You don’t want to be part of what I am trying to do.” The truth of it, the enormity of the fact that appeared at the forefront of her conscience now almost rendered her speechless as soon as she uttered the words.
“Emily has gathered information for years, everything she could get her hands on, every rumor, every scrap of innuendo that Irv had hurt and discarded someone else. But of course, it never went anywhere. Emily might think it’s because the women signed NDAs, were not willing to speak and that is, of course, true, but every time she’d come back with a new refusal, a new failure to garner some support to finally go public with accusations against Irv, I’d only feel a sense of relief because it felt like I was getting off the hook.”
“Off the hook?” Andy sat up then, looking down at Miranda who was still lying on the wooden floor, looking absently into the night sky above them, the windows letting in some shadows from the street below.
“Gunilla didn’t want me to go, you know? She told me she didn’t want me to go, but I was so mad at her, at what I felt was her fear and her indifference and her total lack of understanding of what I wanted, what I needed from her.”
She finally looked at Andy who sat cross-legged, totally engrossed in the conversation, forgetting that she was naked, while Miranda still wore the white button-down with the rolled-up sleeves showing off her lean forearms with blue veins prominent at the wrists. Andy wanted to touch them, to trace them, to feel the blood pumping, the evidence of life running through those blue rivulets at Miranda’s wrists.
“I needed to be recognized, Andrea. I needed her to acknowledge me and our love, what we had, but all she did was fret that I’d go to some party alone and something might happen to me. And when it did? How could I go back? Face the ‘I told you so’? Ginny said as much.”
“Your Ginny is a worthless bitch who sold you and Gunilla to Irv and probably set it all up!” Andy’s voice exploded in the quiet of the room making Miranda flinch.
“Did she?” But her thoughtful expression didn’t change at the revelation.
“You thought as much, didn’t you?” Andy suddenly felt very weary.
“I had my suspicions. He wasn’t a welcome guest at any of those types of parties and somehow he kept getting me in these dark and quiet and very secluded places that had doors with keys in their locks. Ginny was so adamant Gunilla would hate me. It was what I was thinking at the moment, but I admit I wasn’t thinking straight. Plus I firmly believed that Irv would’ve outed Gunilla and Ginny unequivocally confirmed my belief that he most certainly would.” She talked so placidly about it that Andy’s blood began to boil.
“And what? That’s it? Good on Ginny for getting a penthouse out of this horrid deal? You’re just going to leave it at that? And what do you mean ‘off the hook’, just now when you spoke of Emily looking for witnesses and failing to get anyone to cooperate?”
But Andy knew the answer before Miranda raised her eyes, before she even opened her mouth. And so she repeated what she said earlier, but with a little more conviction now.
“You don’t want to be part of what I’m trying to do.”
“Andrea, my life is my own. For seventeen years I’ve tried to escape him, to start over, to try and save myself from that nightmare. You have no right to ask anything of me. Nobody has that right. If that makes me a coward, then so be it.” There was such resentment and resolve in her eyes, Andy marveled at the contradictory sentiment.
“You have been standing up to him for seventeen years. It took so much courage to do all that, saffron and the rest. You aren’t a coward, Miranda. And I’m not asking anything of you.” She slowly started gathering her clothes, tugging her jeans back on. What seemed earlier to be a natural feeling of sitting on the floor naked, changed into Andy needing as many layers as she could to stave the cold that was permeating her skin now.
“You’re pursuing this? You’re going after him?” Andy couldn’t help but notice how staunchly Miranda seemed to avoid saying Irv’s name.
“Yes. I am.”
“You are such a crusader, Andrea. Please don’t do this for me, he will ruin you just like he ruined me and it took me years to feel somewhat free of him.”
“I can’t say that I’m not doing this for you, I just can’t. I…” The words ‘I love you’ were right there on the tip of her tongue, but she held them back. It didn’t feel right to say them. Miranda had a look on her face as if she knew what Andy was struggling with, her eyes suddenly both soft and full of longing.
“I’m not doing this for you. I met five women some hours ago and saw five lives almost destroyed by him and I can’t stand that. I know you don’t want him to ruin mine, but if I don’t do this, he will just keep on ruining others. I won’t be able to live with myself, so I’m doing it for you and for them and for me.” By the time she finished her speech, she was fully clothed, the pleasant residual throb of her clit the only sensation reminding her of what just happened between them.
“My crusader.” And there was that softness again, the wistfulness as if Miranda cared for her as if she… Andy couldn’t even phantom putting that thought into words, even in her head.
“I won’t contact you for this, Miranda. Not for an official statement, for interviews or follow-ups. I respect your wishes and your privacy. It means a lot to me that you feel safe and continue living on your own terms.”
They descended the stairs together and by the time Andy touched the front door handle, she felt like she wouldn’t be able to take another step if she held this one last parting thought to herself. And so she said it, looking into Miranda’s deep blue eyes, feeling like she was setting off a grenade or ripping off a bandage that had become one with skin, both necessary but equally deadly.
“I lied before. I will do this for you, Miranda, because you aren’t free of him. He might not have completely ruined your life, but he still controls enough of it.”
Miranda’s sob was the last thing she heard as she closed the door quietly behind herself.
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At 3 a.m. Andy found herself in Lucy’s cozy kitchen sipping tea, while Lucy made her something in a pot while humming quietly under her breath. A big dog that looked like a cousin of a golden retriever that had seen some things had her snout on Andy’s knees and was looking deeply and unblinkingly into her eyes as if she could see straight through her soul.
After leaving Miranda’s house, Andy walked a little, almost reaching Gunilla’s, but then she did the one thing that felt natural - she hailed a cab and had a cat nap on her way to Brooklyn. Luce opened the door wearing a tattered t-shirt that was about three sizes too big for her with some sort of weird tiger drawing on it with the orange stripes standing in sharp relief against the black fabric of the shirt. Her brown hair was coming out of her braid and her cheek had a deep sleep crease. But she hugged Andy, ushered her into the small kitchen and put the kettle on. “No coffee, but we have some herbal tea, might pick you up.”
Andy stroked the dog’s head and the gentle brown eyes closed in ecstasy. If this was a cat, she was pretty sure the baby girl would be purring by now.
“Well, this isn’t exactly a miracle, since you are a dog whisperer, after all, but it’s a small one nevertheless,” Luce said, passing by them and giving the blissed-out pup a head pat.
“Some neighbors were setting off fireworks and this baby is very scared of them, so she had a little breakdown and hid under the bed until you called earlier. Then as if sensing another troubled soul, she just sat there waiting for you by the door.”
“I’m sorry for waking you, Luce.” Andy slid down from the chair to the floor and hugged the dog close, sharing and giving much-needed comfort. After a while, the pup just curled up on Andy’s knees and started snoring loudly. Still, the weight of the dog’s body, the warmth, and the rhythmic breathing were calming Andy’s racing thoughts.
“There’s no need for that, bud. Tell me what is wrong so I can fix it or don’t tell me anything and let’s just sit here and eat our oatmeal. How about it?”
“Oatmeal? “ Andy scrunched her nose.
“Don’t knock it, dude. It’s good for you and I’m putting some stuff in yours that will make it even better, like bananas and raisins and cinnamon and maybe some hazelnuts…”
“Luce, maybe I could just eat, you know, the bananas, the raisins, and the hazelnuts? Without the oatmeal?” Andy gave her the best puppy-dog eyes she could muster.
“Don’t con a con, Andy. Oatmeal is good for you and you’re too stressed out to even taste it anyway. “
“What’s to taste? It’s like glue!” The pup whined on her knees at Andy disturbing her sleep.
“It’s not like glue and I don’t even want to know how you know what glue tastes like, you lunatic! Is there a reason you want to argue porridge with me instead of you know, telling me why you look like you haven’t slept in days and your face is tear-streaked?”
“I slept just fine and to your earlier point, you can’t fix this, you can’t fix me and you can’t fix anyone and it’s all broken. So there.” Andy took a spoonful of a concoction that did not even look like oatmeal anymore after Luce doctored it up with so many other ingredients. It was actually quite good, the bananas adding a creaminess and the nuts adding texture. Certainly not glue.
“Well, that is indeed a lot to unpack there, and I think I see now why you’re giving me and my really good oatmeal all this grief. Let’s start with this though - why do you think you need to be fixed?” Luce moved to the refrigerator and pulled two bottles of something purple and handed one to Andy, before opening her own and taking a deep swig from it. Andy guessed it was some kind of smoothie, but after seeing Luce’s point about the oatmeal she was less cautious about following suit and took a sip of what turned out to be a blueberry concoction. It wasn’t bad and so she ate and she drank and gave herself some time to figure out how to answer Luce’s question.
“Luce, I walked out on Miranda after we made love and I almost told her how much I love her because five other women have been raped by this one rich important powerful asshole and she’s not really supportive of me going after him. She doesn’t want to rehash her past, is too scared of him and I guess just wants to be left alone in this whole ordeal. Am I broken?”
Luce wiped her mouth on her forearm and after a long stare gave the sleeping pup another pat on the head.
“Well, I guess now we know why she was so scared I’d look into her past and find the things I might’ve found there if I was a real psychic.”
She drank some more of her smoothie, gesturing to Andy to continue eating and hummed her song, seemingly lost in thought.
“You know, it’s entirely in her right to pursue or not pursue any criminal action against this man, Andy.” Her tone was so serious, so unlike herself that Andy was forced to really look at her for the first time since she came in. Her cheekbones stood in sharp relief to her dark eyes and the wide, suddenly unsmiling, mouth.
“How she copes, how she lives, how she survives… It’s none of your business. If she opened up to you, if she shared any of this with you, that alone is a tremendous privilege she bestowed on you. You are not entitled to her trauma, Andy. Nobody in the world is.”
“Luce…” Andy felt ten years old. She also felt like crying.
“Andy, you have that big brain of yours and that big heart of yours that is all so gung-ho for justice. Sometimes, when we worked together I used to look at you and think that you were obviously too good for the sorry ass establishments we were employed at, but you were also too good for this world, period. You fought every battle and took the side of the poor, weak, and helpless all the time. You fed every stray dog and cat, you gave your salary away and brought coffee and gave food scraps to all the homeless you could find, you were ridiculous. I admire you beyond belief. But you also have this unflinching sense of justice and idea that everyone should stand up.”
Luce wiped her mouth again and put the smoothie bottle down, turning it in a circle on the breakfast nook table.
“Not everybody has to stand up. Justice isn’t something people should fight for, justice should be inherent to society, and yet we are asking the victims to do all the work to bring justice onto some asshole schmuck’s head. And yes, you are asking her to fight, to stand up, to do work, on top of what probably were years of work to just freaking survive.”
Andy sat very quietly yet she could feel the tears streaming down her cheeks. She didn’t have it in her to wipe them away. Luce continued to turn the now empty bottle in circles on the table.
“I know you mean well, of course you do. And she knows it too, I bet. She had little hearts in her eyes when she looked at you at the park before I scared the living daylights out of her. But in your crusader mode, you tend to be hurricane Andrea, hitting landfall and wreaking havoc and destruction. This rich, powerful, important asshole is just that, rich and powerful. Perhaps you can stand up to him, cause what do you have to lose, you’ve got nothing, to begin with…”
“Gee, thanks, Luce!” Lucy’s appraisal stuck in her craw, but damn if she wasn’t telling the truth.
“You’re welcome, bud. Anytime you want someone to tell you how you should stop trying to measure people by your holier than thou-ness, come see me. You are one hell of a person, but you can afford to be, Andy. Some people can’t and you shouldn’t expect someone to sacrifice everything just to reach your lofty standards.”
“You think I’m expecting too much of her? I’m not pushing!”
“Of course you’re pushing, bud. Knowing you, you loved her and left her in a huff with some sanctimonious parting shot about how she should do better. Am I right?” Luce’s smirk was starting to bother Andy, maybe because she was so close to the truth.
“You are not right, I’ll have you know! I did not love her and leave with a parting shot. Uhm, she loved me and then I left her with a parting shot. So technically, you’re still not right.” But Andy was starting to see how she was indeed expecting so much of someone who had been through hell and managed to claw her way back to the light.
“Ah, a very important distinction then.” Lucy got up and joined Andy on her side of the nook, nudging the pup awake by laying her head on Andy’s shoulder.
“You are a good person, Andy, and I love you.”
Andy felt like crying again.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Well, it’s morning, and the sun is coming up and a walk back to Manhattan is something that could be very picturesque, right baby girl?” Andy nuzzled her face into the pup’s neck and held the squirming body close to her, as she attempted to lick every part of Andy she could reach.
“As for the rest? I can’t let go of this, Luce. It’s too important and too many women out there have either been victimized or will be victimized if someone doesn’t step up. But you were right, I’m a sanctimonious, righteous asshole and I have no right to judge Miranda for her choices. All I can do is find justice and maybe afterward go to her and apologize for being a righteous, sanctimonious asshole.”
“That’s the spirit, bud. You’re a good egg, you know that?” They hugged as Andy made her way to the front door.
“How did you get so smart, Luce?” She meant it as a rhetorical question, but Luce’s eyes lit up and she pointed her finger to the second floor of her cozy little home.
“My smart is sleeping right now, but she’ll be up in an hour and then life will be sweeter and brighter.”
“You’re such a sap, Luce, such a total sap. Isn’t she, girl?” Andy bent to kiss the sleepy-looking snout.
“Hey, how about a joke before you go?”
“Can I stop you?”
“Well, yeah, but I have to get one in, cause Linda will be up and she will roll her eyes at me, and with you, I have a captive audience. So here goes: what do you call a dog magician? A Labracadabrador!” She giggled and Andy couldn’t help but follow suit. The pup looked at them and groaned.
“And you thought nobody would roll their eyes at you? I think your wife has this one well trained.” With that parting shot, Andy closed the door quietly after herself and stepped into the twilight of the Brooklyn dawn.
As she walked through the empty Brooklyn streets, making her way slowly to the Brooklyn Bridge, she couldn’t help but remember the last time she walked along the iconic crossing. Miranda was by her side and she was so animated and so happy and so alive and Andy was so in love and so choked up on guilt and fear. Well, she was still all those things, except there were no more secrets between them.
They’d said their pieces, they'd thrown the dice and despite her noble intentions, Andy had fallen just a bit short again. But she knew she loved Miranda, and despite not saying anything of the sort, Andy felt that Miranda had feelings for her as well. Nobody forgave Andy as much as Miranda did, nobody put so much of herself on display for someone, and surely nobody made love like that to someone for whom one had no genuine feelings.
And so Andy had to fix this. Simple as that. She had to interview all the victims and witnesses on the record, while continuing to distract Irv with Priestly articles and the trickle of veiled accusations of harassment before lowering the boom on him with a major expose, shedding light onto his years of sexual abuse and harassment and afterward do a series of podcasts perhaps, in preparation for publishing the book. Andy knew that a major publisher might be wary of standing behind such a bombshell, but Gunilla was right, Irv, despite his power and influence, also had a ton of enemies and they’d surely come out of the woodwork to lend a shovel to bury the bastard.
And if all else failed, Andy was a pariah anyway. She’d probably have to sell her soul to pay for the damages and the defamation suit that Irv would surely mount against her, but she felt oddly calm that she’d weather that storm. With Gunilla’s help and Nigel’s support, she’d fight another day if this one went the wrong way.
She raised the collar of her jacket and smelled the faint scent that was indescribable, yet unique. With Miranda on her mind and Miranda’s scent close to her face, Andy stepped onto the Brooklyn Bridge and into a war, one she was about to declare on the most powerful man in fashion and publishing.
The war got bloody indeed. A month after the first Priestly article appeared in Runway, Nigel published the second one with a more detailed account of the saffron affair and Priestly’s efforts to undermine it. Andy even got some of the investors on the record to shift the blame squarely into Irv’s corner as the chief instigator behind the industry’s rush into saffron farming in poor conditions with violation of workers’ rights in order to cut costs and legal corners. Irv powerlessly stewed because Nigel was as much as untouchable while recovering at home from “a heart attack”.
The Board seemingly for the first time in years stood up to the craven CEO and put their foot down when he wanted to fire the Runway Editor-in-Chief and stop publishing the Priestly pieces. Runway circulation went through the roof due to those articles. The Board could not replace Irv, but the threat of a criminal investigation, as well as one of a major audit, was hanging over his head and so he backed out, released a profuse apology and mea culpa for “being mislead” into believing cultivating saffron in certain countries would be all above board and in exceptionally good conditions and actually good for those countries and their economy.
And through all this, Andy worked tirelessly, going through names and interviews and collecting as much information as possible on all the instances of abuse and harassment that Irv committed over the years.
She had left a long rambling voice mail for Miranda during her walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, apologizing for her words and for her pushing, explaining that she had no right to do either and that she was a total idiot for being as stubborn as she was and that she was certainly risking their love but that despite everything, she could not let go of this, her sense of right and wrong would not allow her to let down all the women who relied on her. She said that she understood why Miranda did not want to be a part of it, but that she herself had to see this through, that she would not be able to live with herself if she let down all the people who counted on her, and that somebody needed to stop Irv. What she did not say was that while she was certainly pursuing justice for all the victims, she was mostly doing it for Miranda, so that she could be truly free of this monster.
Miranda did not reply. Andy didn’t really expect her to. They both knew where the other stood, their battle lines were drawn. Andy’s hope was that when it was all over, she’d find the courage to ask for forgiveness in person and to be granted it. She also wanted to find some courage to finally tell Miranda how she really felt about her, how she spent her days putting together a case against a rapist and her nights either reliving the memories they made together or dreaming of making new ones. Would Miranda forgive her? Would Andy forgive herself for putting the so-called greater good and pursuit of justice above her love for Miranda and even Miranda’s express wishes?
Andy had no real answers to any of these questions, but she continued to chip away at the growing pile of testimonies and evidence. Two months later, she had written an introductory expose and the editor of The New Yorker drooled all over it, his hatred for Irv apparent. With all their ducks in a row, Andy, Irene, Rebecca, and several other women with three of the best Manhattan lawyers Gunilla’s money could buy paid a visit to the Manhattan DA, deciding to forgo the police entirely, in order to perhaps speed up the process. Andy had to laugh at how bloodthirsty the DA looked when he grasped the enormity and the potential of the case. It could be his career ticket. When the story broke, if he managed to get a conviction, he’d be a very famous jurist indeed, so Andy had no doubt that he would do his absolute best to get the victims justice as it went hand in hand with making a name for himself.
They strategized and after he approved The New Yorker article, it dropped with the power of a nuclear bomb. The accusations of corruption turned out to be small potatoes indeed. Once the story of almost one hundred victims hit the newsstands and the DA announced they had opened a criminal investigation into Irv, Andy thought it was all over for him. The sponsors were dropping Elias-Clark publications faster than hot potatoes, it was like rats abandoning a sinking ship. A company that was once the flagman of the publishing industry was worth peanuts by the end of the trading day.
Andy knew very little about the whole business of stocks and markets, but it was a positively glowing Gunilla who told her as much one rare evening that Andy spent at the house. She still kept her pub shift, despite her name becoming more and more prominent and her work getting widely recognized, both the corruption in fashion and the introductory piece in The New Yorker.
“Elias-Clark is worth nothing these days, child. Did you know that?” She was actually trembling with excitement.
“I thought you didn’t want the company to go under?” Andy was missing something.
“Of course not. For such a brilliant mind, child, you can occasionally be rather obtuse.”
Andy scoffed but then the lightbulb went off.
“You’re gonna take Elias-Clark off his hands, aren’t you?”
“I’m just going to do him this one favor. After all, he’s an old friend in need. In deep deep need… But I won’t do it right now. I will wait, just as all the other vultures are doing. I will wait to buy him out. I won’t make my move until the trial starts. In the meantime, I will buy out all the rest of the Board members…”
“To send a message to any and all potential buyers that you have the foot through the door and they shouldn’t bother?” Andy was starting to catch up to Gunilla’s devious mind.
“Yes. Precisely, child. And when more of your revelations come out, nobody will want to touch it anyway.”
“Well, the first podcast from the series will drop at the end of the week. It’s with Irene, so as far as packing a punch - it’s pretty big and pretty, well, punchy. Her story, the abuse, the rape itself, the arson, and her injuries? And the fact that he can’t be prosecuted? It is even more poignant because it shows not just her personal tragedy, but the tragedy of this whole stinking issue! The statute of limitations is killing off so many parts of this case!”
“Child, you can say ‘fucking’, I’m not a wilting flower, you know?”
Andy of course knew that. Through thick and thin, Gunilla had been by her side through this whole ordeal. She held her hand when Irv mounted a defamation suit against her and when Elias-Clark sued her for breach of contract. She hired her the best lawyers and made Alain bake as many pies as Andy’s heart desired. And blessedly she had not mentioned Miranda once, despite Andy knowing that she wanted to.
Months ago, when Andy came clean to her about finding Priestly, Gunilla asked for Emily’s contact information and after checking with the snooty manager if it was okay, Andy gave Gunilla the email address. Since then Gunilla had not said one word about anything. Neither did Emily.
Andy wasn’t even sure how it happened, but she found herself having coffee once every two weeks with Miranda’s manager and ward. She was sure she had not initiated the contact, they just fell into exchanging text messages, about all manner of mundane things, from the investigation to some piece of art Emily deemed important enough to educate Andy on.
They seemed to consciously avoid meeting at the coffee shop on E 73rd Street, but Andy’s knowledge of Upper East Side coffee shops and bakeries seemed to be growing exponentially. Every time Emily would set their rendezvous, it would be in one of those new and trendy vegan places where nothing had actual carbs or fat, and Andy was forced to suck on some kind of skim milk chai that tasted like grass. But at least it gave her the great satisfaction of bringing Emily to some of the small, amazing artisanal bakeries that served butter croissants and red velvet cupcakes and she’d watch Emily drool all over her caramel macchiato while pretending to enjoy her measly green tea.
Andy wasn’t even sure why they were meeting, Emily didn’t remotely like her, or at least she acted like she didn’t, with all the veiled and not so veiled insults to Andy’s intelligence and particularly to Andy’s wardrobe. Yet they kept up their twice a month coffee and bakery dates and talked about nothing while managing to still convey very much in between the lines.
That was how Andy knew that Miranda had been holed up in her studio pretty much non-stop during the past few months, with Emily being banished from entering it, which was unusual and made the latter very anxious, even though she tried not to show it. It was also how Emily was getting her first-hand information about the investigation and how recently, despite the number of women coming out of the woodwork to tell their own stories about being harassed by Irv, the DA was not accumulating much in terms of evidence beyond a small number of relatively recent cases, the centerpiece being Rebecca Macmillan’s rape and subsequent firing from Runway. Still, a lot of the cases were either he said, she said type of litigation or the key witnesses were suddenly changing their statements.
“Is he buying them off? Blackmailing? Threatening?” Emily grimaced as she took a gentile sip of her hot green tea.
“Buying witnesses and threatening victims would be my guess.” Andy gulped down her delicious brew full of whipped cream and caramel and licked her lower lip, mocking Emily, who scoffed and shook her head at her companion’s antics.
“What are you? Five? Such a juvenile.”
“Maybe six, but these scones are delicious and you’re seriously missing out.” As if to prove how great they were, Andy took a huge bite out of one, moaning for show, the filling satisfyingly spilling in her mouth while Emily made a gagging noise.
“Gross, and you are too, despite not gaining a damn ounce. You know this starving writer gig you’ve got going isn’t fooling anyone. Everyone knows you live with Gunilla. I bet she’s feeding you.”
That took Andy by surprise.
“I do live in Gunilla’s basement apartment, but I don’t mooch off her. And how is it everyone knows my business? Did she…” Andy couldn’t even bring herself to speak Miranda’s name, it felt sacred and she was unworthy to even utter it because she had hurt Miranda so much and asked so much of her in her righteous indignation and crusading zeal.
“No, no, she hasn’t.” Emily seemed subdued for the first time since Andy met her. “She… Uhm, she’s busy and we rarely talk about anything, so... Ah, no.”
“So what? You’re just keeping tabs on me, Emily?” Which also seemed a bit preposterous.
“What do you want of me? What if she emerges from her studio in a week and asks me to find you? It’s not like it’s out of the realm of possibility! I have to stay prepared! God, you are so annoying, Sachs. Why, out of all the people in the world, did she have to go and fall for you?”
The words, while harsh, were spoken not unkindly, maybe even a bit begrudgingly and she could swear Emily’s lips twitched at the end of the question. But her eyes were sad and so were Andy’s when she finally raised them from the scone. Trying to prevent whatever came out of Andy’s mouth next or perhaps wanting to move on from the sappy, puppy dog eyed expression Andy was surely sporting, Emily changed the subject.
“You think the investigation will fail? You think the DA won’t charge him?”
“I think the DA will charge him, there are still enough witnesses willing to testify and victims whose cases are still within the temporal timeframes that the statute of limitations does not apply to, but it’s just a bit shaky at the moment.”
“I can’t believe the statute of limitations on rape is only five years in New York. She doesn’t normally drink, you know. I’ve seen her drunk only once. Like really drunk out of her mind. On the 5 year anniversary of her rape. I came home and she was just plastered. I didn’t know it was that day in particular and she was quiet and distant in the morning when we had breakfast. I wasn’t a little kid and so I helped her up, tried to clean her up, sober her up, but she just wouldn’t let me. She cried and cried and little by little she told me more of the story and I don’t know what hurt her more, that she never reported him to begin with or she no longer could report him. It’s such a cruel thing, to take that choice away from the victim, you know?”
And suddenly Andy knew that she was aiming way too low. That the reason she felt uncomfortable and on shaky ground in this investigation, in this particular fight she was trying to carry, was that she was fighting one man. And that was not enough. The system was rigged to protect men like Irv, the system was rigged to take the victim’s right to justice away from her way too early.
“You have a peculiar expression on your face. Not stupid exactly, which is a novelty in and of itself.”
“Thank you, Em. I mean it. You’re exactly right. It is cruel. And it shouldn’t be. These women have gone through enough and should have all the time in the world to find their footing, their equilibrium, and their voice to speak. I think I’ve not been aiming high enough. Taking down Irv is one thing. But Miranda should have never gone through that shit.” She didn’t care that she was swearing and that she was probably raising her voice as the patrons around them were giving them furtive glances.
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that taking down Irv isn’t enough. We should aim higher and I should do better. Other states have longer statutes of limitations on rape. So do other countries. I’ve only cursorily touched upon this in the book, because my focus was all wrong. The book is written about taking down this one man, but I think it should be a springboard to lobbying the state and the Governor to increase the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault.”
“Well, you’re an enterprising little grasshopper, Andrea. You’ve gotten this far, as much as it pains me to say, and you’re fighting the good fight.”
“Gee, Em, it means a lot coming from you.” Andy smiled and tore off a piece of her scone and offered it to Emily, who begrudgingly took it, and putting it in her mouth had the expression of a person being given ambrosia for the first time.
“And your taste in pastry is not too bad either. But you hurt her, Andrea. In many different ways and now she’s all holed up in the studio and I barely see her. I think she’s working through some things. She always had this very utilitarian approach to her art, as a means to an end - changing a trend, setting a trend, but this time it feels like it’s different. Like she’s putting her heart into it.”
Andy had trouble swallowing her scone around the lump in her throat. She understood working until you dropped, she understood putting your emotions into things and trying to exorcise them, she just hoped that by the time it was all over, Miranda still had some feelings left for her and hadn’t placed them all on the canvas and thus exorcised Andy from her life once and for all.
Final stretch now, dear reader. Thank you for your words of support, kudos, comments, and messages over on @mckayundercover on twitter. They mean the world to me.
@dianakanebooks deserves all the puppies, kittens, and good things. Oh and rollerblades :)
Dear reader, beware of some strong language in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Things were falling apart. In a meeting at the DA’s Office, Andy, Irene, and the dozen or so women who were all party to the criminal case against Irv and a subsequent civil suit that they were mounting separately against him were told that a number of witnesses had stopped cooperating with the prosecution. They were still likely to go to trial, but the chances that Irv would be convicted were getting slimmer by the day. The son of a bitch was working very hard behind the scenes to bribe, threaten and browbeat the witnesses and some of the victims into either retracting their earlier statements or disappearing altogether from New York.
Andy’s campaign with the Governor of New York and state legislature to extend the statute of limitations was doing a bit better than the criminal case against Irv, but not by much. She felt that a lot of the support she was drumming up with her interviews, podcasts, and articles on the plight of the victims whose stories and lives were crushed into dirt by the short amount of time allotted by law to tell their stories was hinging entirely on the outcome of the case against Irv. As powerless as she felt, as weak and alone as she felt in her Sisyphean task, she felt sick to her stomach not because she was failing, but because she felt that she was failing Miranda. No, she had not heard from her in months, but between her desire for justice and her desire to free Miranda from whatever hold Irv still had on her, she felt that she had absolutely compromised her sense of justice because lately, all she could feel was that the more she strived for Irv’s conviction, the more she really tried to do it for Miranda.
The feeling of failure was compounded by her finally grasping some of the wisdom that Lucy tried to impart on her during their early morning breakfast in Brooklyn. Miranda did not owe her anything, her pain was her own, and Andy’s immature and half-baked attempts to somehow swoop in and save her, were ill-advised at best or just plain selfish at worst.
Still, with nothing left to do but give her all in an attempt to salvage whatever was left of the shipwreck that the case was turning into, Andy did even more podcasts with victims whose cases could not go on trial due to the statute of limitations, wrote, rewrote and edited the book that was scheduled to go to print just before the trial was set to begin in a couple of months and spent her nights serving drinks at the pub, trying not to think how her own righteousness caused her to push away the love of her life.
Gunilla kept her distance and was acting all sorts of busy and odd, but Andy could not fault her. After all, this was her battle too, and both of them were losing now. Still, not being able to share some of her anxiety about the case and the lobbying of the state legislature with the older woman was depressing in its own right.
However, about a month before the trial, on a particularly busy Friday night, Andy was surprised when an elegant hand adorned with a heavy ruby ring and several ropes of golden bracelets, signaled for her to approach the end of the bar. Gunilla was resplendent in a black evening gown, clearly coming from some event. By sheer force of habit, Andy poured her the good Lagavulin from the top shelf behind her and Gunilla smirked as the drink was set before her. She downed it in one gulp, before pushing the glass back towards Andy, nodding for another.
“Child, please tell me you can get away from your exceedingly demanding and important job tomorrow night?”
“Well, it really is important since you’re clearly thirsty and here I am ready and able to offer you sustenance to quench your mighty thirst.”
“Always the smart ass, Andy. I’ve missed you these past weeks, but I had something very pressing to attend to and now that it’s done, I need you to come with me to the celebration of said achievement.”
Andy just raised her eyebrow and Gunilla set a snazzy invitation on embossed stationery on the bar.
Andy looked a bit lost as she read the words: ‘New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. Presenter of Award for Special Contribution to Drama, Ms. Gunialla Garson Goldberg, and guest.’
“You want me to attend this shindig with you? Sounds stuffy. And I do have work, Wallace has been giving me too many evenings off for the trial prep lately. For all the good that is doing us.”
“Oh, ye of little faith. Which one’s the famous Wallace? The tall, dark, and incredibly gay one?” Andy just laughed. Gunilla seemed to be in uncharacteristically high spirits. Sure, two glasses of whiskey were probably helping, but she was cooking up something and it was elevating her mood and her playfulness considerably. Jarred out of her observations on Gunilla, she left the older woman to proceed to thoroughly seduce Wallace and allowed a young couple at the other end of the bar to get her attention and started preparing their Cosmos.
“Andy, my god, the old broad is a damn pistol. Too funny for her own good and talk about charming? She almost made me reconsider my preferences there for a second!” Wallace gave a quick squeeze and moved past her to reach for the good whiskey again.
“Ease on the Lagavulin, bud, she’s a troublemaker that one.”
“Oh, don’t I know it. But you can absolutely have Saturday off, Andy. If you can work it off next week or in a couple of weeks, that would be fine, just change your shift with someone, or I’ll cover for you.”
“Has she been working you while you’re serving her way too much Lagavulin, Wallace?”
“She has my heart, darling, she can have my whiskey too!” He gave Gunilla a wink and she smiled at him saucily before saluting Andy, who just rolled her eyes at her friends’ antics.
She didn’t want to go to some stupid award show. Not her scene and her head was full of trial prep and logistics for her next podcast, as well as edits for the second half of the book. Still, Gunilla so rarely asked anything of her and if she wanted Andy to appear on her arm at some theater awards… Her brain screeched to a halt and she almost dropped the earring she was affixing.
“Theater awards! New York Drama Circle… Awards, my ass! Gunilla! What have you done?”
She took the stairs two at a time to get to the main level of the mansion from her basement apartment only to find her host giving last minute instructions to the driver. Gary nodded and gave Andy a small smile before excusing himself.
“We’ll be right there, Gary. Let me just ask Andy here why she was bellowing like the house was on fire?”
“Gunilla! Awards… Ginny!” Andy could not seem to both catch her breath from the ridiculously short flight of stairs or from the anticipation and curiosity and anxiety choking her up.
“Yes, the awards. You will look beautiful in this second hand Dior and dazzle everyone with the shabby chic, I’m sure.” Andy sputtered but Gunilla went on as if she didn’t just make Andy choke on air. “You will also say nothing, do nothing and just sit at my table and clap, understood? I care about you deeply, child, but tonight is not about anything I would want you to concern yourself with. Now, are you ready?” She took the earring from Andy’s trembling hands and affixed it herself, giving the earlobe a playful tug and pushing her open jaw up by the chin.
“Smile, keep your mouth shut, and follow my lead. I’ve been waiting for this evening for quite a while.”
And so Andy did just that. Her anxiety was spiking through the roof, her mind was working a mile a minute but her smile shined on. She walked the short red carpet with Gunilla, stopping only a couple of seconds for the prerequisite pictures and then sat quietly by Gunilla’s side, avoiding to even look around, as award after award was being announced and anticipation was getting the better of her. She was not a big theater connoisseur so the names and the faces around her meant nothing to her. Towards the end of the award program, Gunilla stood up regally and as she passed Andy on her way backstage whispered, “Enjoy, child.”
As Andy’s heart hammered in her chest and her eyes followed Gunilla, she noticed a dash of red hair in the far corner of the massive ballroom. She almost sprung from her chair but Emily’s disgusted glare did its job and she settled back down. Her phone pinged in her clutch and she checked the text message with some trepidation.
Aren’t you supposed to enjoy this instead of jumping into action like the headless chicken that you are, Sachs? Sit your ass down and watch the show!
Now it was Andy’s turn to roll her eyes. In the last few months, Emily had really tried to find some inventive insults to needle her with, so this wasn’t even one of her better efforts. Still, she nodded discreetly and turned around to watch the stage.
The presenter, some theater actor or another, whom Andy would not be able to pick out of a lineup 30 minutes from now, announced Gunilla and Andy’s breath caught as she stepped on the stage from behind the dark curtains. Say what you wanted about her, but Gunilla possessed a fantastic presence, poise, and regal bearing. As an ever-present, old, and most importantly, rich patron of the Manhattan theater scene, she was beloved and venerated and it showed in the loud applause that her appearance garnered. The ovation went for so long, she had to raise her graceful hand and try to calm the adoring crowd, which only spurred them on for another minute.
“Thank you, thank you. I love you all too, very much so and am deeply grateful to be allowed to be on this stage tonight to talk about and honor my old friend.”
Andy thought that Gunilla’s turn of phrase was just a touch odd. Allowed? She was an accomplished public speaker so it must’ve been on purpose then?
“I know it’s not usually customary to have the honored guest on the stage during the speech about said awardee, but would you mind terribly indulging me?”
The crowd energetically supported her with cheers and Andy saw out of the corner of her eye Virginia Mallan brace herself to rise to her feet. Andy tasted bile in her throat but kept her seat, exchanging a glance with Emily who had an inscrutable look on her face.
“I’m here today to talk to you about my friend, Virginia Mallan. Ginny, darling, would you come up here, please?”
The audience clapped again but Andy could not help but notice that Gunilla’s introduction was much more celebrated. Andy long suspected that Virginia was a fraud on all fronts, but this was just confirming that despite being the guest of honor, she wasn’t exactly well-liked among her theater peers, who’d never before presented her with any significant award.
“Among other many worthy awardees, we are here tonight to honor Virginia Mallan’s contribution to the New York Theater. I’m particularly happy to be the one to present this award because, as you all know, I’m a very big proponent of theater arts and have been throughout my life.” Gunilla paused with enough significance to encourage the audience to clap again, after all, half of this banquet tonight was probably funded through some charity Gunilla supported.
Virginia smiled that fake and vague smile of hers, though Andy thought that she was not entirely pleased to be sharing the spotlight. It was clear that she considered this to be her moment and Gunilla completely stealing the limelight and basking in the glory and adulation of the ballroom wasn’t in Virginia’s plans. Still, she tried to be as magnanimous as possible, she was the guest of honor after all.
After getting her fill of the raucous applause again, Gunilla inclined her head that she was ready to speak again and the room quieted. Andy looked Emily’s way and to her astonishment, the redhead had her phone up, discreetly enough, but it was clear that she was filming the stage, and Andy was suddenly overcome with a distinct feeling of unease. Something was about to go down. Sure, she never considered Gunilla’s motives to be pure, since Andy was the one to open the older woman’s eyes to Virginia’s treachery, but still. A confrontation of some sort was going to unfold and Andy felt like she was about to observe a train wreck, where you were horrified yet continued watching, unable to look away.
Meanwhile, on stage, Gunilla’s modulated and genteel tone of voice went on.
“As all of you are aware, I landed on this rock some ungodly number of years ago and while a lady never tells, I will tell you that the years have been entirely too good to me when it comes to the Manhattan theater scene. Some of my dearest friends have come into my life via this scene and I treasure them deeply.” Next to her, Virginia preened.
“And those dear friends of mine have always been honest and truthful with me when I endeavored to attempt something when it comes to the theater. I never listened though and that is entirely on me. Like that time, years ago, when I thought about investing in the production of Carrie: The Musical and I did not listen and you all know how big a flop that production ended up being. Or that time when I did not listen when I was told that Moose Murders was going to fail big. Okay, I have no idea what I was thinking about putting money into a show with the word moose in the title, I was practically asking to be taken for a ride there,” Gunilla laughed and the audience followed and Andy could not help but bask a little in the glory of her charm. She was so effortlessly charismatic, so beautifully brilliant, the room was eating out of her hand, and it was obvious that Virginia was uncomfortable as all get out, standing near her on the stage. The whole audience probably forgot she was standing there at all.
“And so when my friends came to me this time and told me that I should not present the award to Virginia Mallan, because she’s a cunt, I did not listen as I did not listen all those other times before.” The offensive word rolled so smoothly off her lips, Andy thought she hallucinated it. Clearly the audience thought the same because the uncomprehending expressions that donned the faces of all the people in the ballroom were downright hilarious in their synchronicity. Virginia was stunned.
“But since I have been burnt before by jumping to conclusions and listening to biased advice, I did my research and it turns out that for years, Ginny here embezzled funds from all the productions she served as producer on, including some that I myself invested in. With the shows being sponsored by me, I had access to accounting books and I have plenty of proof. Not only that, but I have documented statements from 36 staffers working on her shows, both on and off-Broadway, declaring that she was single-handedly responsible for creating toxic environments of fear, abuse, and harassment on the sets that she worked. Twelve journalists have declared that she had blackmailed or used her influence otherwise to force them to write favorable reviews for her performances over the years. At least three past Tony nominators have stated that she was nominated due to exchanging sexual and other kinds of favors with them over the years.”
The room was eerily silent. A pin dropping would’ve been heard and Andy sat there witnessing it all with bated breath.
“So, yes, dear members of the New York Theater Critics Board, awardees, guests, and members of the media, Virginia Mallan is a cunt. Congrats on your award, Ginny darling!”
With that, she picked up the award, thrust it into Virginia’s shocked and unmoving arms, and, with astonishing flourish, kissed her on the right cheek. Andy wasn’t fooled by the gesture however, noticing that Gunilla used the proximity to whisper something directly in Virginia’s ear. If Andy was a betting woman, she’d absolutely put all her money on Gunilla telling her something along the lines of ‘This is for Miriam!’.
The room erupted in chaos the moment Gunilla left the stage and Virginia ran off backstage sobbing and screaming about harassment, humiliation, and suing everything and everyone.
Andy jumped to her feet in an attempt to catch up to Gunilla’s retreating form, who did not return to her seat, but simply continued her regal departure through the astonished crowd. She caught up to her outside, on the ballroom steps and Gary smoothly opened the car door for her.
“Oh my God, Gunilla…”
“I told myself that I would not curse. That I would be a lady. That I would be genteel and keep it together, but fuck it, you can take a girl out of Jersey, but you sure as shit can't take Jersey out of the girl!” Gunilla laughed and it was so infectious, Andy just laughed with her.
“Spectacular. And freeing, child, let me tell you. I feel years younger and many pounds lighter.”
“I’ll give you the years, but you can’t stand to lose any more weight, old woman!”
“You are mighty mouthy, Andrea! Wisecracks about my age now?” Gunilla just raised her eyebrow but her eyes were still laughing.
“You just called a Tony-nominated actress a cunt in front of 200 members of the New York theater society. You’re gonna teach me manners?”
“Fair point, love, fair point. God, it felt great. I wanted to say more, I wanted to bring up Miriam and Irv and Ginny being a massive treacherous cunt to all of us all those years ago, but I didn’t want her to run off the stage before I had the chance to finish my speech and I have no right to out Miriam publicly.”
“Yes, but you did skewer her with that knowledge when you kissed her though, right?”
“You can be too smart for your own good, child. Do you know that? I did not kiss her, all her cuntishness aside I could not bear to touch her after what she did to Miriam. I had a feeling the moment my skin touched hers I’d do something drastic, I was barely holding off on slapping her face as it was. But, yes, you are quite right. I did tell her that she was going to hell for what she did to Miriam. I regret it though, Andy. She might tell Irv that I know and hence you know too.”
“No, don’t regret it. For all intents and purposes, Miriam Princhek is dead, to both Virginia and Irv. Miranda has seen to it and she’s not going to come forward to accuse either of them. Even if they discover that she lives, I’m not sure they’ll be able to do anything about it now. Her case isn’t one that will be going on trial and so it doesn’t matter anymore. There’s no line that connects Miriam to Priestly, which means that her identity is safe from any harm either of them could do. And that’s the most important thing.”
Gunilla sighed and turned to watch the city lights rush by them as the car sped up to the Upper East Side. Yes, Andy did not regret Gunilla’s parting shot at Ginny. Fraud, embezzlement, and other types of shithousery aside, Ginny deserved to know why she was just very publicly taken down in front of the whole theater world. Maybe, under different circumstances, Gunilla would’ve bothered gathering all the dirt that she did, maybe she would not have, but Andy was happy Ginny knew exactly what had caused her to lose any potential job, her reputation, her future.
The society and culture pages of both the Post and the Times were a sight to see the next morning. Not at all surprisingly, both papers had gotten access to all the materials Gunilla unearthed and ran very detailed exposures on the corruption, harassment and toxicity on and off-Broadway enacted by one Virginia Mallan.
The paparazzi were on the scent and pictures of Ginny leaving the penthouse in the morning were plastered everywhere. She looked haggard and weepy. ‘Karma can be a bitch, Ginny,’ Andy thought, without a trace of sympathy.
Andy’s newfound satisfaction with karma was short-lived, however, as her phone buzzed with a text from Irene asking her for an urgent meeting. Half asleep and still half dazed by yesterday’s events, Andy could barely comprehend what the nearly hysterical designer was trying to tell her as they met not half an hour later at a Starbucks downtown.
“Andy, focus, I beg you! He got to Rebecca! Somehow, somebody found her parents, her dad was beaten last night. He’s in the hospital in Hartford. Rebecca is retracting her testimony about Irv and is refusing to go forward with her case. She won’t cooperate with the DA anymore!”
Well, if she was asleep before, that certainly served to awaken Andy fairly quickly.
“Damn, how bad is it? Her father? Is she okay?”
“Oh Andy, you are a good human. You’re asking about her when all I can think is what this will do to the case! Yeah, he’ll be fine, bruises, lacerations, they kept him overnight for a mild concussion. She’s with him now. She called me a couple of hours ago when she found out and I know she’s already called the DA.” Irene continued talking but Andy could hardly hear her. Rebecca’s testimony was indeed crucial. Her case was one of the most recent ones and there was physical evidence, but her testimony was particularly powerful. Andy taped a podcast with her earlier in the month and it was supposed to air before the trial. The chapter in the book dedicated to Rebecca was one of the bigger ones. Andy’s heart was breaking, for Rebecca, for the case, for Miranda.
It felt like a step forward and two steps back. Sure, they dealt with Ginny and that was a massively satisfying achievement, but now the case was falling apart faster than Andy and the DA’s office could patch any of the holes. And there were many more holes opening up on the legal and factual landscape of the case with victims and witnesses deserting either for promises of money, threats of blackmail or outright violence and intimidation. Andy knew that the next time her phone rang, it would be the DA telling her that he would not be going to trial anymore.
Except when her phone did ring it was Emily, telling her in a rather abrupt tone to turn on whatever channel was showing Oprah at the moment. Which was beyond weird, since Andy was fairly certain that no channel was showing Oprah during the evening prime time. She asked Wallace to sub in for her and made her way to the back room where they had a small TV and was flipping through channels when her heart just simply stopped in her chest before it did that familiar slow roll and started beating double time.
There, looking like an angel in an ivory dress with a modest cut, yet so stylish and fashionable that Andy knew this particular dress would be coveted by absolutely all the socialites and A-listers by tomorrow, sat Miranda. On the bottom of the small screen ran a line on a loop and Andy pinched herself to try and understand if she was awake or dreaming, because the words did not seem to make sense. “Priestly: Irv Ravitz Raped Me 17 Years Ago!”
Miranda was outing herself on national TV, bringing Oprah out of retirement to set up an interview in an endeavor to what? Andy’s brain was still trying to play catch up and failing spectacularly. Until she stopped trying and just listened to what Miranda was saying in that slightly husky, cultured tone of voice that still made Andy’s breathing go just a bit shallow.
“... I was a young up and coming artist all those years ago and he took away my career, my life, my future. And he is doing it again to other young women. He blackmailed me after he raped me, he scared me and I gave in, agreeing to simply disappear and not cause more damage to the people in my life whom he vowed to destroy if I spoke up. And because I am familiar with the Manhattan’s DA case against him, I know that at least three other victims are being blackmailed just as I was. And several witnesses have either been paid or threatened into silence. And so I am here, after seventeen years, showing my face and telling Irv Ravitz that I am done being afraid. That I will do everything in my considerable power to bring him to justice!”
Oprah seemed to be just as enthralled by the avenging vision in ivory as Andy was. It was clear that the interview was a last-minute affair, with the patron saint of day time talk shows looking just a bit out of sorts and perhaps a little underprepared, but she was a professional and she soldiered on with questions about Miranda’s life during her self-imposed exile. Andy barely listened, her mind working overtime with the enormity of what was happening.
And then Miranda did what she had been doing throughout all the time that they knew each other, she shocked Andy yet again.
“So why now? Yes, the case against Mr. Ravitz is unquestionably a motivating factor in disclosing your identity, but may I ask what else provided the push for such a drastic measure?”
Andy felt that Miranda’s eyes were boring right into hers when she answered.
“Someone, who managed to become very important to me, risked everything to stand up to this man, to do the right thing despite it causing her great personal distress and put her in tremendous danger, but she stood up anyway. I did not support her decision, in fact, I tried to talk her out of it because I was so afraid. For the last seventeen years, I allowed fear to rule my life and I closed myself off from the world, choosing not to see that this man continued to rape and abuse women. But this young woman persisted. She told me that I can never be free until I stand up for my truth and until this man is brought to justice. It took me months to understand that she was right, that due to my allowing him to rule my life, I also allowed him to take away from me everything I held most dear, my family, my friends, even my name.”
Miranda took a drink from the glass in front of her, trying to compose herself and her cheeks got that lovely tinge of pink that Andy adored. When she spoke her voice wavered just a bit, betraying emotion.
“I spent seventeen years alone, thinking that I would never feel safe and loved ever again because he made me feel unsafe and unloveable and I believed him. And because of the deep-seated fear he instilled in me, I let go the one person who, for the first time in seventeen years, made me feel safe and loved and worthy again. It’s time to be free and it’s time to find out if, in my fear, I pushed her too far.”
Oprah smiled her indulgent gentle smile and Miranda’s cheeks got even brighter. She looked beyond lovely.
“I heard that for the first time ever you will be doing an exhibition?”
Miranda seemed to collect her thoughts before answering and her voice was firm and decisive without a hint of nerves this time.
“As you know, throughout my career, I have never done a showing. I preferred to sell my art through closed auctions, pretty much determining who the owner of it would be. I cannot say that the need to control at least something in my life, which was so out of control due to the trauma that I experienced, did not play a role in my decision. But, as I said previously, it’s time to move past fear and past what has been holding me back. My art can make a difference not just on the fashion podiums and magazines, my life can make a difference for real women, victims of abuse and rape. My show will open at the Gunilla Garson Goldberg Gallery in SoHo for several weeks starting the beginning of the month, and all proceeds from the sales of the pieces being shown will go to the major women’s shelters in New York. I want to help as much as I can.”
“And what is the show called?”
Miranda’s face lit up again and Andy’s heart skipped a beat, as the left corner of the mouth she knew so well, so intimately, lifted first before being followed by the right corner and then her whole face was illuminated with a shy and hopeful smile, a smile that Andy had seen so many times directed at herself.
To all who are still reading - I appreciate you beyond belief. Thank you for the kind words, both here and over on twitter at @mckayundercover
@dianakanebooks is a saint of a beta, thank you!
Dear reader, we are close to the end of this adventure. This was supposed to the epilogie, but the moment I started writing Miranda's dialogue, she just had a mind of her own (doesn't she always?) and so there will be two more chapters after this one. I hope you won't mind very much :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Seeing herself on TV had become rather routine in the last several months, with all the appearances she made to promote the podcasts, articles, upcoming book and to do the lobbying she was deeply involved in with the state legislature on increasing the timeframes of the sexual assault statute of limitations in New York. However, seeing herself on the news, or in the papers was quite different from seeing a life-sized canvas of her naked back in full, though rather gentle and favorable light of Gunilla’s gallery.
It felt glorious and wonderful and so many other things, but above all, it felt like a benediction and an absolution, tenderly bestowed upon her by the beloved hands of Miranda. Andy could not stop looking, she was staring and she did not care who saw it. In fact, she was fairly certain that some of the reporters had already put two and two together, since she wasn’t a complete unknown, and were now discreetly taking her picture while she was stunned dumb, unblinking while drinking in the canvas.
“You’re the star of the show, Andrea.”
And then there was the voice. The husky, low tone that was like a lover's caress, wrapping itself around Andy’s body and making it hard to breathe.
“I beg to differ, Miranda.” She had no idea how her voice was still functioning, with her heart beating a mile a minute and her mind working overtime. She was afraid to turn around, to finally lay eyes upon the one form that had been on her mind, always, throughout these past months.
“Oh, no need to beg, you know I’m beyond generous and giving…in certain circumstances… or positions, darling.” Leave it to Miranda to make her laugh and blush and turn around at the same time while she herself remained utterly inscrutable. And utterly breathtaking.
The laughter died on her lips and almost dreamlike she reached out and touched the pale cheek, and that left corner of Miranda’s mouth lifted instantly under the touch. Oh, how beautiful she was. Enchanting. She must’ve said it out loud because Miranda blushed suddenly, her high sharp cheekbones catching a touch of color, and her tentative smile widened.
“Thank you. Always such a charmer.”
It was Andy’s turn to blush.
“You don’t blush while observing a six-foot canvas of yourself naked, yet you blush at a compliment, you really are sweet, Andrea. And very much an absolute provincial.”
“Ah, there’s the Miranda of old. Praise and insult in one sentence. I missed this. I missed you.” It seemed that Andy’s mouth had quite the mind of its own this evening and was completely disconnected from her mind, simply delivering line after line of what she should’ve perhaps kept to herself.
But Miranda looked pleased, charmed, and at ease in the middle of photographers, art critics, fans, and buyers at the grand opening of Priestly’s first-ever show. Twenty black and white paintings of various sizes graced the airy and luminous space of the gallery and each and every one of them held Andy’s body in some form of undress. Several were studies of her face alone, two were her hands. Andy immediately recognized her long fingers and bony knuckles as well as the small scar left by one of the four-pawed charges during her days as a dog walker.
The one that was the centerpiece of the show was the full-body painting of Andy sitting naked on the floor, her back to the viewer and her curls pulled up high on her head. It wasn’t revealing by any stretch of the imagination, but Andy remembered feeling absolutely exposed and completely vulnerable to Miranda’s gaze while she was posing and after when Miranda’s hands, fingers and mouth took her apart before putting her back together. Yet standing in front of it now, with Miranda smiling that crooked half-smile of hers with a dozen or so photographers taking discreet and not so discreet pictures of the two of them, Andy felt safe and warm and comforted for the first time in months. What was it about this woman that made her feel like she found home, after years of wandering and being lost, made her feel like she was finally found?
Miranda said nothing as Andy made her mental soliloquies and looked completely content to just stand next to her, their shoulders close enough to feel each other’s warmth.
“I don’t know what to say, Miranda.”
“That is indeed what one wants to hear from one of the most prominent journalists working in New York these days, Andrea.”
“I don’t know who you’ve been getting your information from, but they sure are way too generous or like me too much.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever accused Emily of being generous. If she finds out that you think she likes you even a little, she might call you out for a duel or something equally drastic.”
Laughing with Miranda felt so good. Andy’s head was swimming from the sheer lightness of her contentedness. It had been too long since anything felt remotely this good.
“No, I don’t think Emily is my biggest fan, but surely she was warming up to me a little bit, right?”
“Just a little bit. Your work with the victims on the podcasts and your efforts in Albany with the state legislature might have had something to do with her goodwill, mind you.”
“Ah, and here I thought her opinion of my wardrobe had improved.”
“Unless you’ve been hiding a change of clothes somewhere and intend to use it sometime soon before she observes your current attire, I’m not going to lie to you by saying she will in any way appreciate your choice of attire for tonight, dearest.”
Dearest. That word, spoken in a hushed tone to avoid curious ears and with a gentle almost shy look that hid the mischief in Miranda’s eyes, did nothing to calm Andy’s racing heart of thoughts.
“No change of clothes. Does it mean this outfit isn’t appreciated at all?”
“Oh, I know exactly where it would look much better than on you, Andrea.”
“And where would that be, Miranda?”
“On my bedroom floor.” They were looking at each other now, standing just a touch too close to be considered proper and to allow plausible deniability, though when the world’s most famous artists draws you twenty-three times, calls her first-ever exhibition by your name and makes its centerpiece a six-foot nude of you, plausible deniability surely was not something that one should be reaching for. However, perhaps Miranda saw something in Andy’s eyes because she took a very careful and very unobtrusive step back.
“You are so easy to fluster, Andrea. You really need to work on that.”
It became easier to breathe, all things considered, with Miranda’s light fresh perfume no longer clouding Andy’s senses, but she also felt like her source of oxygen thinned a bit with Miranda no longer standing quite so near her.
“And what else should I be working on, Miranda?”
“Well, Emily tells me your book is finished and you’re in the editing stages and I’m standing here thinking how is it that a book exposing the evil of Irv Ravitz does not include a hefty chapter on how he raped Priestly, and if it does why is it that the author of said book did not seek an official comment from Priestly herself.”
Andy’s heart plummeted down to her soles.
“Miranda, I didn’t know you wanted me to… I thought… I didn’t know. I didn’t mention you in the book.” she finished on a subdued note. God, how did she always get herself into these situations where she had to constantly apologize or walk the fine line between her personal and professional lives? She was so careful not to mention Priestly, or Miriam Princhek for that matter, anywhere in either her book, her podcasts, or her articles. She thought Miranda wanted nothing to do with the investigation and subsequent prosecution and public shaming that came with it, but two weeks ago she changed the game.
Two weeks ago, Miranda went on national TV and blew the doors off of Irv’s defense of being a great respectable businessman being hunted down by a mob of women he just happened to turn down, fire, or disenfranchise in his position as CEO of Elias-Clark. Because here was the most successful artist of the century setting the record straight that he was an abuser and a rapist and willing to show her face and disclose her persona just to take him down. The ramifications were huge. Half the victims emboldened by Miranda’s interview and subsequent appearances on radio and TV shows had chosen to stand by their earlier statements and returned to cooperate with the DA and even more witnesses submitted complaints against Irv for witness intimidation. Miranda’s open and unflinching account of her own nightmare had propelled the case to a sure win in court and Andy could not be happier, but she had still been reticent and had not approached either Miranda or Emily for official collaboration on the book or with an invitation to be a guest on Andy’s podcast.
Simply put, Andy felt unworthy and shy and so in love it physically hurt her just to stand here and look into the inscrutable blue eyes that still sparkled with mischief and just enough warmth to give Andy a glimmer of hope.
“Oh Andrea, you absolute idiot. I was sitting at home these past weeks waiting for you to darken my doorstep, sweep me off my feet…”
“I guess you decided to do the sweeping then, when I didn’t show up, huh?” Andy could not help but gesture around herself, where twenty-three of her own likenesses stared right back at her. “As gestures go, this is unbelievably romantic, I’m just not sure I deserve it.”
“Leaving aside what you do and do not deserve, Andrea, for the past six months you have been single-handedly fighting my enemy on all fronts, despite him trying to ruin you financially, discredit your reputation as a journalist, sue you for defamation and God knows what else. You’ve helped victims, you’ve told their stories, you’ve put the issue of sexual assault front and center for the state of New York and for the first time in years, it looks like you may actually achieve what countless others could not. The New York state legislature is actually considering putting this legislation up for a vote and Emily tells me that Governor Cuomo will gladly sign it, because as Emily tells me “bloody Sachs is not one to piss off”. So the governor of New York is afraid of you, Andrea. Talk about sweeping this girl off her feet.”
“Ha, only you would be this excited about somebody being afraid of me, Miranda.” But it felt good to laugh, to smile, and to just bask in the glory of Miranda’s presence.
“Be that as it may, I thought my kinky side was to your liking, Andrea.” The sly, seductive smirk did something hot to Andy’s insides. “However, my proclivities aside, I’ve never had anyone fight my battles for me, I never thought anyone would try to shield me despite my own fear and reluctance to do what’s right. Yet you did and you did not condemn or judge me. Much. You just went on doing what needed to be done all the while fighting my war and almost losing everything in the process.”
Miranda slowly traced the line of Andy’s jaw and reached to gently tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.
“It goes without saying that you inspire me to create, Andrea. This show and these pieces speak for themselves and they tell a story of how beautiful you are to me. But you inspire me to also stand up, to be strong and you make me feel safe while I do so. So, no, I don’t think this showing is enough of a romantic gesture, I think you deserve more, so much more.”
“Then how about coffee?” Andy had no idea where the courage came from, maybe from Miranda’s earlier quip about Andy’s clothing on her floor, or from the way she kept looking at Andy like she was good and honorable and not a failure. But the courage was there and the words were now hanging between them, like a much-awaited armistice after a bloody war.
“Well, don’t just stand there, darling, say you’ll go have coffee with her before this child expires from longing for you! Didn’t I tell you she’s a lost cause without you? All dreamy-eyed and sad?”
“What you told me, Gunilla, and I am quoting, was that Andrea was like Heathcliff, standing there with her mane of unruly hair, brooding for the love she thought lost.” Miranda took a step back to make room for Gunilla who joined them at the most inopportune moment. Or so Andy thought. She missed Mirnada’s warmth already. Then the teasing words penetrated her conscience that was still reeling from Miranda’s scent and presence.
She opened her mouth to answer but promptly realized she did not understand a word that was being said other than perhaps she was being compared to a Bronte character? And a male one at that?
“Excuse me? Heathcliff? The least you two could do is maybe compare me to someone like Mr. Darcy,” Andy almost sputtered.
“Fancy yourself a dashing landowner, all brooding, standoffish and misunderstood, child?” Gunilla laughed and her hand reached out to touch Miranda’s arm in an unconscious gesture. Andy’s eyes followed the motion of the slim limb. Miranda did not appear in any way affected by the touch and Andy could almost surmise that the gesture was an old and practiced one. Suddenly the weight of everything that was happening around her was becoming just a bit too much for her. She turned away from the women to look back at the grandiose painting, but the enormity of both the gesture and of seeing her nude form so marvelously displayed, even if most of her dignity and mystery were still preserved, was even more daunting.
“I think I have intruded enough, Miri… Miranda.” Gunilla stumbled over the name and Andy turned back sharply to see her eyes go sad and her hand reach back to touch the other woman’s arm briefly. This time Miranda caught her fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze before letting the older woman depart.
“She reached out to Emily pretty much the same week you posed for this painting. I guess you didn’t know that?” Miranda’s voice was calm, measured tones sounding sure, and reasoned. Andy started feeling dizzy and she did not know why.
“No… I, ah… No, I didn’t know. I figured she might’ve since Emily was at the shindig for Ginny, but I didn’t know she and you were in touch.” Andy wrapped her arms around her torso as she turned back to watch Miranda’s face.
“We had a lot to discuss, Andrea. The way we were when we were together, the way we parted. We had a lot to discuss.” She repeated the seemingly innocuous sentence and the weight of the words settled heavily around Andy. But Miranda did not seem to notice as she continued in her husky measured tone. “We talked for hours. So many years have passed. So much has happened, both between us and around us.”
Andy’s heart hammered a mile a minute and she dared not speak.
“And then when we had finally laid all our sad stories to rest, Gunilla told me that you were pinning and brooding. You do have the countenance for the broody Bronte hero, you know. Much more so than Austen’s rather straight-laced Mr. Darcy, don’t you think?”
Andy just shook her head. She felt utterly lost in this conversation and entirely uncomfortable thinking the thoughts she was thinking. Surely she wasn’t jealous? Surely!
“Jealousy does not become you, Andrea. Even though it is rather endearing to watch you wrestle with the antonymous concepts of jealousy, gratitude, and respect. Would you’ve walked away and left me to Gunilla? Setting aside the mere idea that I’m some kind of inanimate object to be left or passed like a baton in a relay race, from one lover to the next, I think it’s rather honorable that you’re ever so slightly ashamed of feeling what you’re feeling right now.”
So Miranda could read her like an open book. What else was new?
“I’m ashamed. And no, you’re not a relay race baton, obviously, and it’s not about who loved you first…” Miranda’s quick and audible inhalation of air was the only sign she caught Andy’s words. They were standing side by side, both seemingly observing the painting in front of them, and if Andy was a betting woman she would bet anything and everything, neither of them were paying attention to anything other than the presence next to them.
“Gunilla literally picked me up from the street and saved me from myself during these past six months. I owe her a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. She is a friend whom I respect and whom I cherish. She is also the woman who loved you for almost twenty years. And whom you loved very much for a long time. I’m respectful of those feelings.”
Miranda gave her a cautious half-smile and turned back to the canvas in front of her.
“Gunilla and I will always orbit each other in some way, Andrea. No matter what happened between us, or maybe because of what had happened between us. Priestly’s first-ever showing being held at her gallery is a testament of the link that will always be there. It’s professional, but also deeply personal.” Miranda gestured around herself, but Andy’s eyes did not follow her hand, staying trained on the narrow, face, shining with beauty and serenity.
“We have history between us, Andrea. A rich and layered history. And we also have tragedy between us. A tragedy that took me away from her. When I left her, all those years ago, the wounds I had born were so deep, I thought they’d never heal. I thought there would never be another woman, whom I’d trust to have the power to wound me as deeply as she did. And then in a crowded coffee shop, I saw a pair of wide, confused amber-colored eyes and that famous line of the nape of your neck that I drew a hundred times since. And then you shook your hair out of the tangled mess on top of your head and it cascaded down to your shoulders and something in me stirred. Something trembled and quivered and it was like my lungs opened up and I could finally draw a deep breath. Something that I thought was withered and dead, something I thought I left with her, never to retrieve again. That something came back to life under the light of your eyes, Andrea.”
Andy wasn’t breathing for fear of missing a single word. Miranda was utterly still, her delicate shoulders relaxed, her face still utterly and wondrously serene.
“I loved her very much. I wanted to spend my life with her. But she did not choose me, Andrea. Once, twice, many many times, Gunilla kept not choosing me. And then it was too late. She left a wound in me, and I was slowly healing it on my own, perhaps I would have succeeded to do so one day. But then you came around, with your disheveled hair, kind eyes, and gentle hands, and without even really trying, you helped me heal, helped me trust, and give myself away again, not knowing if you would ever choose me. And not being afraid, no matter if you chose me or not.”
She drew a long breath and exhaled, her chest rising and falling gracefully under her white blouse. Andy followed the gentle curves mesmerized and enchanted all over again.
“But you did choose me. It took me a little while to realize it, maybe slightly longer than it should’ve because let’s face it, crusader of mine, you do not mince words when you want to rally troops into battle. And your parting shot was rather harsh, dearest. I just wasn’t ready to fight some battles at that time. But you…instead of running away, abandoning something that was stressful and painful and downright frightening, you fought those battles for me and stood in front of me until I gathered my strength and my courage again. And throughout all this time you kept choosing me and my cause and my fight.”
And now Miranda looked at her and her eyes, the same eyes that could be cold as ice on so many occasions, were just a touch amused.
“So where Gunilla is concerned, I admire you for being a loyal friend. I admire you for having respect for her feelings, whatever they may or may not be. I find it touching and amusing that you’re embarrassed about being jealous, Andrea. But you don’t need to be. There’s no passing of the baton, no hurt feelings you are advertently or inadvertently trampling over here. Gunilla was my past. And you…” She stopped and inclined her head ever so slightly to one side as if considering her words and Andy held her breath again. But Miranda just looked around them, her eyes tracing every painting that filled the spacious gallery. When she turned back to Andy, the eyes were warm and mischievous. “You seem to be on my every canvas, Andrea. Moreover, you are naked on most of them, dearest. I wonder if that’s a sign.”
A happy bubble of laughter rose in Andy’s chest and she did not hold it back. After months of loneliness and fear and uncertainty, it felt good to laugh, to stand here, shoulder to shoulder with Miranda, and to throw her head back and let out a howl of merriment that surely was drawing considerable attention from the crowd. Andy did not care. Miranda seemed not to care either. She did not laugh out loud, but her lips were curved upwards and her eyes were twinkling with the same mischief that made Andy want to drag her to the nearest janitor’s closet and ravish her mercilessly. After all, Andy spent almost a whole winter living in this gallery, she knew every nook and cranny where she would have just enough privacy to push her hands under Miranda’s skirt and slide her panties to the side before slipping two fingers into the hot, wet, tight…
“I know that look, dearest.” Miranda’s smirk grew wider. “And as appealing as whatever it is you’re thinking about doing to me might be, we are in the middle of an opening and the auction has not yet started. As much as I’d love to explore that lovely, creative mind of yours, we are here for a worthy cause, remember?”
With that parting shot, Miranda moved to leave Andy standing alone and just a touch breathless in front of the massive canvas. However, much emboldened by the earlier merriment and by the blatantly sexual invitation in Miranda’s eyes in response to her own fantasy, Andy was not to be thwarted.
“So about that coffee?”
A delicate shoulder raised slightly and Miranda’s answer was almost lost in the crowd’s noise.
“You know exactly where I take my morning coffee, Andrea.”
My long-suffering beta, @dianakanebooks gets all the cookies and kittens on this one for bearing with me and for a very speedy turn-around on this chapter that stubbornly did not want to go along the planned plot outline.
Thank you, as always, for your comments here and on @mckayundercover over on Twitter, I appreciate you very much!
With "The Other Woman" I was quite severely berated for not wrapping up the story with satisfying amounts of fluff and smut. Well, dear reader, I hope I can rise to the occasion this time around, though those who read my stories, know that I'm stronger in the angst department ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Life had a funny way of coming around full circle. As the hot caramel macchiato seared her mouth, Andy cursed herself for philosophizing and not paying attention again, and thus being imprecise in her instructions to the barista at the coffee shop on the corner of E 73rd Street. Not only was her mouth on fire, but she was also in possession of two hotter than the center of the sun cups of coffee. Miranda’s being scorching was a given, hers not so much.
Yet as she sat outside on the measly wrought iron chair, Andy could not help but let go of her annoyance. Even her burnt mouth did not bother her as much. The fall breeze was ruffling her hair, the scents of the coffee shop were masking New York’s normally less than pleasant aroma and with her hands on the hot mug, Andy thought about what she had felt all those months ago in early March when she was desperately trying to claw her way out of the pit of despair. She felt all the possibilities.
That early March wind of change did not disappoint her. It had indeed brought her all the possibilities. She’d been through so much, achieved so much, had still so much to do and to prove, but it was happy work. It was productive and fulfilling and it made her feel part of something big, part of something important. As she sat clutching the hot cup, her cool hands absorbing its warmth as she basked in the gentle morning sun, she could not help but feel grateful. She stretched her arms and her neck, her pale skin warming quickly in the tender caress of the fall rays. It was all worth it.
Her phone pinged in the pocket of her leather jacket and she smiled without even looking at the screen. It was so cheesy that she had a special ringtone for this one person. Miranda had not texted her in months. Hell, Miranda never even called her, but Andy, ever the optimist, had a special ringtone for one person and one person alone. As she tugged the phone out of her pocket, she savored the moment, the unknown, the feeling of holding a promise of a missive from the one who held her heart. With the sun in her face, her eyes stayed closed as she enjoyed the anticipation.
“Ever since I gave you that haircut and you purred under my hands, I always associate you with a cat. You certainly look like a street cat now, sitting here, stretching in the sun, in that godawful faux leather monstrosity.” The words and delivery were stern, but oh, the voice… Bourbon over gravel… Deep, husky, hers…
“Aren’t you going to read the message, Andrea? Or will I have to tell you that you look enchanting, sitting here like a kitten in a sunspot.” God, that voice did amazing things to her insides. And the way Miranda always said ‘Andrea’, somehow making it sound like pure sex.
Anticipation be damned, Andy opened her eyes and there she was. Who needed the sun? Who needed anything really, when Miranda was quite simply everything. In a light trench, grey suede ankle boots, her hair longer than Andy had ever seen it, Miranda stood not two feet away, her eyes sparkling with amusement. At her side, Patricia managed to make prancing look dignified, as only a ninety-pound St. Bernard could. She clearly wanted to cross the distance in one giant leap and show Andy all the devotion that she did not manage to bestow on her in the past months, but being a well-behaved pup, she just whined and looked up at Miranda who could no longer hide her amused expression.
“Yes, you may, Patricia. Go visit your favorite human.”
Andy and the dog enjoyed several completely blissed-out moments of ears being scratched and hands being licked before Andy finally managed to convince Patricia to dial the adoration down. With the pup sprawled over her feet with a satisfied doggy grin, Andy once again raised her eyes to her favorite human.
Amusement was gone from the beloved angular face. Unrestrained affection replaced it and took Andy’s breath away. Her hands itched to touch that smiling mouth, to caress that left corner, to kiss those lips…
“There are many things to appreciate about you, Andrea. One, in particular, is how your thoughts are so often written all over your face.” Miranda suspiciously eyed the iron chair next to Andy’s, clearly trying to determine if the city filth that was certainly deposited on it from days outside would ruin her immaculate attire and whether sitting down was even worth it.
Andy gently pushed the second mug towards her, silently hoping that it was still hot and fractionally relaxing when Miranda took several sips.
“Well, since you clearly already know all my thoughts, Miranda…”
“Yes, dearest, but it’s just 8 am…”
“Next thing you’ll say is that people don’t do it in broad daylight!”
Miranda gasped and Andy smirked. This round was clearly hers. With Miranda’s cheeks taking a touch of color at her provocative comment, Andy could not help rubbing it.
“Your thoughts are showing, Miranda.”
They looked at each other and the lazy undercurrent of dormant electricity flared up to palpable between them, all those months of longing and pining and missing each other clearly rearing their heads.
“I say we need to change the subject, Andrea, before we get arrested for public lewdness.”
“Do they even arrest people for something like that? Besides, you’re the new queen of New York. There is absolutely no way they will arrest Priestly, indecent exposure or not. In fact, some indecency might even broaden your exposure.” Andy winked and Miranda just rolled her eyes, huffing in playful disgust. The fingers she kept trailing up Andy’s thigh were telling a different story from her feigned indifference.
“Ah, I take it you saw the Times Art Supplement.”
It was hard not to see it when it was on every corner this beautiful Saturday morning. The day after the first-ever Priestly showing, all the media was heralding Miranda as art royalty, which was her rightful place to begin with. Andy in her knight in shining armor role was contemplating writing a strongly worded rebuttal, stating that they couldn’t crown somebody who had been wearing that crown for seventeen years now, but Andy was sitting in the sun, with Miranda’s perfume gently surrounding her and Miranda’s hand inching higher up her thigh and life was too beautiful to pick up squabbles with newspaper hacks.
In any case, the showing was a universally acclaimed success. The pieces shown at the opening all sold at the gallery auction with the proceeds going to several shelters for victims of domestic violence and organizations that provided services for victims of sexual assault. Andy’s head was still spinning from the sums that the paintings had commandeered. It was surreal to watch herself on canvas but to know that now her face, or her back, whichever might have been the painting in question, would be hanging in rich people’s private collections was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Yet, when it came to one painting, Andy felt a small pang of regret in her chest.
“I still can’t believe the painting sold for so much money.”
And that was another thing. The bidding for the six-foot centerpiece of the Andrea collection was beyond fierce. Even Gunilla made a couple of bids, tsking disappointedly when the painting went for seven million dollars to an anonymous bidder. The mousy looking woman, clearly an intermediary, was ruthless in her gestures as she outbid every single potential buyer. Nigel, who stood next to Andy when the auction was heating up, whistled as the woman went from five million to seven in one leap, discouraging any and all other pretenders. As far as decisive moves to ensure that whoever was her employer was serious about the buy, increasing the price by two million in one jump was indeed effective. Even Emily was impressed. No other bids followed and the painting was to be delivered to the new owner after the month of showing at Gunilla’s gallery. Andy did not know what annoyed her more, that she had no idea who owned the Priestly piece she loved most or that she would obviously never see it again after its tenure at the gallery ended. She pouted.
“I see you're still sulking, dearest. Did you really want Gunilla to buy it?” The amused smirk was back on Miranda’s face.
“Oh, please, I did not want Gunilla to buy it. I already feel slightly uncomfortable living in her basement and being with you, but to have her win a six-foot nude of me? No, thank you.” Andy pouted some more.
Miranda lifted her hand from Andy’s thigh and her thumb gently caressed her lower lip, effectively wiping the pout away, leaving a scorching trace of desire behind. “You’re adorable when you’re ridiculous, dearest.”
It was such an affectionate sentence, full of warmth and intimacy that Andy’s heart wanted to simply leap out of her chest and fall splat at the feet of this woman who simply went back to sipping her now cooled coffee, grimacing and glaring at the mug as if she did not just make Andy fall even deeper in love with her. Andy occasionally wondered at what point would she hit the ground? Or the bottom of the love pit? Or wherever it was that people were falling when they were falling in love. Because every day, even in the day that they were apart, Andy found reasons to fall deeper in love with Miranda.
Miranda’s lips pursed slightly at Andy’s facial expression, clearly interpreting it incorrectly this time.
“Well, if you feel uncomfortable living with Gunilla even after what we discussed last night, there’s always Emily’s basement. Her townhouse is just a block away from mine.” And now Miranda had little devils dancing in her eyes, with merriment and mischief.
“Oh God! I guess I deserved that one.” Andy got up and extended her hand to Miranda. “Enough talk of Gunilla or that redhead gargoyle you call your assistant. It’s a beautiful day, Patty-baby is with us, what else is there to do? Care for a stroll? The park is just a couple of blocks away and if we don’t get moving, my mind will go to all the places it has been trying to steer clear of all morning.”
“Oh, and what places would those be?” Miranda’s innocent question belied the needy grip of her fingers on Andy’s.
“Well, your mouth for one and all the things it did to me on the floor of your studio. Or your breasts and your nipples and how they furled tight under my teeth, so needy, begging to be licked and bit and kissed. Or your inner thighs where I left beautiful marks as I ate you out on the bar…”
“Screw the park, Andrea!” Miranda’s other hand slipped under Andy’s leather jacket and beneath the turtleneck to the naked skin and suddenly she felt like she couldn’t wait either. Yeah, they were never going to make it to the park. Andy hoped Patricia had gotten her relief on the way to the coffee shop.
Not only did they not make it to the park, the first time they did not even make it to the bedroom. In fact, they did not make it past the front door. The moment they crossed the threshold, Andy slammed the door shut and pushed Miranda hard against it. In the back of her mind, she knew she was being rough, but from the noises already coming from Miranda, whose head was thrown back against the door, hands clutching greedily at any part of Andy she could grasp, perhaps she did not mind the roughness so much.
In truth, Andy could not seem to stop, could not seem to help herself, could not gentle her hands, or her mouth. It had been months. Months of loneliness, of guilt, of tears, pain, and fear, and this reunion, this reconciliation, this coming together was touched by all the emotions both of them had lived through in recent months.
And so it wasn’t gentle, or dreamy, or slow and easy. It was rough with Andy’s fingers tearing Miranda’s lacy panties off of her and penetrating her in seconds after slamming the door. It was hard, as she found the rough little spot inside of Miranda and worked her ruthlessly until she screamed, her head banging once, twice, three times against the door. It was fast, as Andy did not relent for even a moment after Miranda’s first orgasm, thrusting into her over and over, circling her clit with her thumb and making her scream herself raw, coming undone around Andy’s still thrusting fingers.
They did not make it to the bedroom the second time either, with Miranda practically tackling Andy to the steps of the staircase and divesting her of the tightfitting jeans, surely tearing off the belt loops in the process and cursing a blue streak about the tightness of the garment. Andy felt hot all over just thinking of that dirty mouth. And then that mouth descended and did unspeakable things to her, sucking and biting and licking and edging her just this side of consciousness, until Miranda relented and the mouth that did dirty things to her just moments ago, brought her pleasure and relief in waves that just did not want to stop, each new lick causing Andy to spasm again, until her vision wavered and greyed just a bit in the corners of her eyes.
They almost did not make it to the bedroom the third time, except Miranda drew a line at being fucked on her knees on the floor and what was Andy to do but oblige and practically drag her into the general direction of the nebulous bedroom Miranda vaguely gestured towards, while she kissed Andy like she was dying, like kissing Andy was the only thing giving her life. Perhaps it was, because despite already having been on the receiving end of at least two orgasms, herself bestowing several on Andy, Miranda was alive and kicking and demanding more and harder and now, now, now as Andy took her from behind on the largest bed she had ever seen in her life. Andy wasn’t sure what such a bed would even be called, but she was willing to do her damnedest and debauch Miranda on every single inch of it.
Hours later, Andy raised her head from a mangled pillow, trying not to disturb Miranda who was dozing on her chest and took a glance at the sprawling disaster around them. The dignified oaken bed was in shambles, bedsheets torn and twisted, pillows everywhere, no trace of the luxurious ivory comforter. Somewhere around her ankles, Andy could feel a distinctive wet spot. Damn if she wasn’t proud of herself for that one. The vision of Miranda coming so hard she surprised herself and Andy with the small flood and her subsequent blushing and endeavors to hide her face in Andy’s neck, were both the stuff of dreams. As Andy held her afterward, caressing her shoulders that still shivered from the force of her orgasm, she felt overwhelmed by love and tenderness. So overwhelmed she could no longer keep it inside. It simply overtook her, slipping out of her mouth and into the hot, charged air surrounding them.
“I love you, Miranda.”
The slim, fragile shoulder blades under her hands stilled and the disheveled head lifted from her chest, blue eyes dark and serious in their unwavering appraisal.
The voice sounded raw and tremulous, but the stubborn set of Miranda’s chin and the rigid posture of her shoulders spoke of suppressed anxiety.
“Yes. Truly.” Andy looked back into the beloved tempestuous blue eyes with unwavering devotion, willing Miranda to believe her, to not be afraid of her. A moment passed and then Miranda let out a shuddering breath, nodding once and placing her head back on Andy’s chest.
“Good,” she murmured, barely audible before her ragged breathing evened out and her shoulders relaxed under Andy’s caressing fingertips.
And so now Andy was laying in the mess they made of the bed, slowly caressing the slumbering form sprawled on her chest. Wasn’t it a wonder that the delicate Miranda Priestly sprawled and clung and cuddled in her sleep? It was perhaps the cutest thing. Well, maybe its cuteness was rivaled only by the fact that the unapproachable Miranda Priestly mumbled in her sleep and nuzzled in like a kitten? Andy exhaled and felt herself falling deeper into love and bliss. She was a total goner for this woman.
And so she lay cuddling Miranda to her chest, listening to the quiet of the house, silence settling all around them after hours of the sounds of passion rang within these walls. Periodically she could hear Patricia shuffling from one room to another downstairs or a rare car passing on the street below. The peace and tranquility of her surroundings almost lulled Andy to sleep, but she held on valiantly, for the moment was too precious to sleep away or to waste otherwise. It was to be savored. She was holding the love of her life in her arms after a marathon of amazing sex. And if that wasn’t enough to overflow her cup, her professional life was settling into a rhythm of success interspersed with well earned and well-appreciated nerves about the book, the draft law, the interviews. But these were good nerves, good things to worry about because it meant she was making a difference.
Miranda trembled slightly in her arms, before burrowing deeper into the embrace. Andy’s heart stopped, quivered, and restarted again. Yeah, she was definitely a goner if Miranda could make her heart stutter by simply cuddling closer to her in her sleep.
Andy relaxed her arm and let the hand caressing Miranda’s back and shoulders fall on the bed, only to have an unintelligible grumble sound from somewhere in the region of her breasts. She smiled, Miranda was awake and she was about to experience something she had yet to experience before: a freshly awoken Miranda, grumpy, disheveled, and clearly upset about Andy stopping her earlier caresses.
“I said, do continue with your ministrations. It was pleasant.”
“Ah, but what do we say when we want something? We say please, Miranda. Surely you know about being polite. In fact, I know for certain that you know all too well about being polite, because not two hours ago all you could say was ‘please, please, oh Andrea, please, more, harder’. Am I right?”
Miranda launched a pillow at Andy’s face but allowed herself to be pulled back into the warm and tight embrace.
“What you are is totally insufferable! You screamed it plenty too, but am I reminding you of that? No, I’m choosing to be discreet and observe decorum… Oh, stop, Andrea!” Andy chose not to adhere to the giggling request and did not stop applying teasing sharp little bites to Miranda’s side on her way down. Pink and purple marks marred flawless alabaster skin and Andy felt a surge of possessiveness, a surge of power and pride, and an overwhelming sense of peace. No, they had not spoken of commitment, of any claim on each other, but this was her woman, her marks on her skin saying as much.
Miranda perhaps sensing the change in the tone of the encounter and being able to often read Andy like an open book, raised a hand to Andy’s face and tugged gently until their lips were a breath away. Blue eyes stared intensely into brown ones and the hand on Andy’s cheek trembled just a little before Miranda firmed it.
“I’m yours. Could you be mine?”
Andy could have made a joke, could have laughed and said something flippant, something inconsequential, something frivolous, even if it was true, like ‘I’ve been yours since I laid eyes on you’. However, this was Miranda doing something she thought she would never do again after Gunilla did not give herself entirely to their relationship. This was Miranda choosing and asking to be chosen. The strength of this woman took Andy’s breath away.
The space between their lips evaporated.
Just the Epilogue left after this one. I still can't believe that 4 months after embarking on this adventure, I'm about to finish it. It's been a true pleasure, thank you to all of you who have left kudos, comments, followed on twitter, DM'ed, and encouraged me along the way. I appreciate you all so much!
My beta, the incomparable @dianakanebooks, deserves all the best things - without her, this story wouldn't have ever been written (DK, I'm sure I messed up the verb tense here). She'll tell you I'm being dramatic - and I often am - but this is not one of those moments. DK, you're awesome and I'm grateful beyond belief.
As always, I appreciate any feedback, advice, yelling you want to send my way, either here or over on Twitter at @mckayundercover
I'll see y'all in a week for the clear-up and wrap-up party. Stay safe out there!
When the guilty verdict in Irv Ravitz’s case was finally unanimously delivered by the jury, Andy and Miranda were sitting side by side in the audience. They had weathered the months building to the delivery of the verdict, the trial, the countless depositions, cross-examinations, evidence, and character statements side by side, with Miranda never missing a day in court and Andy being by her side every step of the way.
And so sitting in the second from the last row, in a crowded courtroom, Andy felt more than heard the jury foreman enunciate clearly ‘guilty’ after each count of accusation read by the judge. Her hand in Miranda’s was clenched so strongly, it bordered on pain, but it mattered little. With all the charges levied against him, Irv was likely to be put away for several decades. Miranda’s shoulders shook once, twice and Andy turned to her expecting to see her crying, but the face that met hers was sparkling with mirth. Miranda was fighting back laughter. Andy’s eyes almost popped out at this scene and then she could not suppress a grin of her own. Miranda, one of the most reserved people she knew, one for whom public displays of emotion or feeling were simply unacceptable, was trying desperately to contain her laughter while surrounded by no less than a hundred people. And then, perhaps emboldened by Andy’s smile, Miranda threw her head back and laughed in earnest, a loud, happy bubble of joy penetrating the hushed courtroom like a gunshot, breaking through shock and awe of the just delivered verdict, of stares and judgment.
With the judge hammering the gavel and crying for order and Irv looking on in absolute hatred and impotence, Miranda continued to laugh, boldly, unabashedly, openly. In seconds she was joined by Irene, then Rebecca, and then the other victims were jumping up from their chairs and hugging and laughing. Andy wished she was allowed a camera to immortalize the scene. If she wasn’t head over heels for Miranda since day one, this would be the clincher for her. This would be the exact moment Andy would lose her heart to this courageous woman. The laughter ebbed and flowed and Miranda turned to her and wrapped her arms around her neck still laughing when her mouth closed over Andy’s. The feel of that happy, bright, open smile over her lips would be one that would stay with Andy for the rest of her life.
Of course, Gunilla jumping up from the seat next to hers and hugging them both, screaming in their ears that this motherfucker was going to rot in jail was also par for the course for their relationship these days. And then Margo Dresden hurried into the group hug, though Andy had a suspicion, Margo’s motivation these days was mostly focused on holding Gunilla as close as possible after a series of quite successful dates the two older women had gone on. Despite Gunilla’s protestations that they knew each other too well, and who the hell dates at their age, Andy was very happy that Gunilla was opening herself to a potential relationship with Margo, and it was obvious that Margo worshiped Gunilla.
They even went out to several double dates and it wasn’t awkward. Okay, it was mostly not awkward. All right, if Andy was perfectly honest it was awkward, but only for her and only for a little while because Margo and Gunilla were absolutely sweet on each other, despite Gunilla’s ridiculous pretenses and playing hard to get. It was also plainly obvious that Miranda was absolutely in love with Andy. She had not yet said the words, but Andy had every faith. She pretty much lived on hope the past year. It seemed to work for her.
A bit later, standing on the massive steps of the courthouse, with Miranda holding her hand more gently now but still wearing a completely and utterly satisfied smirk, Andy allowed her mind to drift over the past year. Who would have thought she would end up here? How much had changed, how much was still to change? Andy’s book on the lives of victims of sexual assault at the hands of Irv Ravitz became an instant New York Times bestseller, published two weeks before the beginning of the trial. To say that she was thrilled by the popularity of the book was an understatement. With all the proceeds going to the victim’s shelters and services, the book attracted considerable attention to the issue, it swayed public opinion on necessary legislative reform and in a week, Andy and Miranda would attend the ceremony in Albany of the signing into law of the increased statutory limits for sexual assault crimes.
Her next book was very much plotted and publishers were already clamoring for the rights, despite Emily scoffing and whining about how utterly unqualified Andy was to even endeavor to do justice to such a subject. Miranda just smiled every time the subject of Andy’s upcoming endeavor would come up, a quiet enigmatic smile that would grow into a full-blow grin when they were alone and she would jump in Andy’s arm and kiss her silly. She could write about anything really, after her successful debut, her ever-popular podcasts and series of articles in Runway, Vanity Fair, and New Yorker, Andy could pretty much write her own ticket regarding her repertoire, but all she wanted was Miranda and so the first-ever official Priestly biography was in the works and the fact that it was quietly driving Emily insane was just a nice bonus to Andy’s ever-growing happiness.
In the midst of all the chaos, Priestly continued to create. After the Andrea collection, things had returned to normal in some ways, with Miranda producing several stand-alone works, one, in particular, sending the fashion world into a frenzy over florals. It was truly groundbreaking.
In addition to her very productive period art-wise, Gunilla enlisted Miranda to help out with the newly acquired Elias-Clark holdings and Runway in particular. Andy could already see that unshackled from Irv’s heavy supervision and tight fist, and with Miranda’s creative genius, Nigel soared higher than ever and the next issues of the magazine were going to be astonishing. Initially, he submitted his resignation to Gunilla the moment she took over the majority package of shares and appointed her own CEO, but she rejected his falling on his sword. Yes, he wasn’t entirely blameless, but Nigel’s role in Irv’s downfall was immense and he was also very brave in going on Andy’s podcast and discussing everything in the open. He even blackmailed the previous two Runways Editors-In-Chief to join him, and Andy was quite pleased that none of them tried to whitewash their own actions and all acknowledged and apologized for their advertent and inadvertent actions fully, and pledged to donate considerable amounts to women’s shelters.
On the steps of the courthouse, as reporters descended on Rebecca, Irene, and the other protagonists of the trial, Miranda steered Andy away from the crowds into a town car discreetly idling on the curb. With the many strategic appearances Priestly had done to promote the cause, Andy had noticed that Miranda had been dialing down her exposure since the trial began and was generally trying to return to some semblance of normalcy in her life. Or as much normalcy as the most expensive and in-demand artist of their time could afford.
In the car she snuggled close to Andy, nuzzling her cheek with her nose, before resting her head on Andy’s shoulder.
“I’m so glad it’s over, Andrea.”
‘Were you worried?”
“Absolutely not. I had total certainty that it would end this way.” Miranda shifted on Andy’s shoulder, burrowing closer and getting comfortable.
It still surprised Andy how tactile and how much of a cuddler Miranda was. Perhaps years of being alone and sleeping alone had left their mark and she craved human interaction now. However, Andy suspected that wasn’t it, since she continued to be as standoffish as before with pretty much everyone else. Miranda and Gunilla would air kiss when they met and she’d occasionally give Emily a sideways hug, which immediately made Emily uncomfortable, but that was the extent her physicality would extend.
With Andy, however, there were no barriers, no restrictions. They cuddled, they slept intertwined and they made love so often and in so many ways, Andy’s heart raced just thinking of all the creative ways they used pretty much every horizontal and most of the vertical surfaces in the townhouse. Before she ruined her panties again, Andy decided it was time to change the subject.
“Total certainty? You nearly broke my fingers in the courtroom before the verdict, Miranda. You were nervous. It’s okay to admit it, you know. I could see it.”
“I admit nothing. You must’ve been looking at Gunilla. Now she was really nervous.” Miranda scoffed and then smiled slyly trying to divert Andy’s attention as she pushed a hand under her outer gear.
“Ha, admit nothing, accuse others, divert attention. You could be a spy, Miranda.”
“What was that movie called? A spy that shagged you?” Miranda’s laughter was irresistible and Andy could not believe she was using a ridiculous movie title to tease her. That she even knew of Mike Myers, was just too much. So she had to kiss her then and there, because the number of times this woman surprised her, astonished her, and even bamboozled her? Too many to count.
They were still kissing when they made their way through the front door of the townhouse and let their clothes fall piece by piece on the stairs as they climbed to the second-floor bedroom. And then Andy’s heart simply stopped. There, on the wall opposite their bed, between the two floor-to-ceiling windows, in a delicate and simple wooden frame hung the six-foot painting that Andrea thought she would never see again. Her eyes filled and she was at a loss for words when she turned to Miranda who was standing still next to her, her blouse hanging off her elbows and her garters and stockings on full display since Andy had torn her skirt off somewhere along the way.
Then she simply exhaled: “You bought it.”
The oh so familiar and oh so beloved crooked smile slowly overtook Miranda’s features, with the left corner flirting with Andy before being caught up by the right corner of that delicious and seductive mouth.
“I fell in love with you at that exact moment, Andrea. I was not going to allow anyone to own this painting. Not anyone. Just you.”
Andy’s breath caught, tears that she was trying to hold back, overflowing. Miranda reached out and gently wiped them away.
“I remember painting you and having this absolutely terrifying epiphany of falling for you and how delicate things were between us, how horribly fragile. But you sitting there on my floor, gracefully posing, so brave, so utterly fearless… You gave me so much hope, so much courage, to take the delicate thing in my heart and allow it to grow.”
“God, I thought I lost you that evening. And then at the opening at the gallery, I thought I’d never see this painting again.” She sighed and looked up at the painting in front of her and felt Miranda hold her from behind, supporting her, gently swaying from one foot to the other, to some tune Andy could not hear. She turned in the embrace and kissed the one woman who held her heart.
Outside, the March wind was playing with the still bare trees in their backyard, bringing in rain and the warmth of early spring after a long winter. Standing by the open window, embracing Miranda, Andy welcomed the breeze that was tangling her hair. Last year, walking outside, it chilled her but it also gave her hope for new possibilities. Among them, there were possibilities that she was especially grateful for, as Miranda smoothed out the hair that the mischievous wind of change ruffled and tugged her to bed. Yes, Andy was very very grateful for all those possibilities. The March wind of change had not let her down.
This is it, dear reader. The final chapter in this 4-month adventure. It was a real pleasure to share it with you and thank you so much for sticking around to see it through.
I'd like to thank some people without whom this story would not have been possible:
@dianakanebooks - DK, words really cannot describe how grateful I am. You know how much your support means to me and you know that without you, this story would not have taken off the ground.
@onewritergirl - Em, your art and your gentle handholding mean the world to me. Thank you for being there for me.
@bexley_lucy - Luce, it was a pleasure and an honor to be allowed to transpose Luce The Deuce onto these pages. Thank you for allowing me to do so.
My faithful weekly readers - you know who you are - there are so so many of you - you have been with me through the thick and thin of this story and you always had my back - thank you! Your every kudo and every comment means the world to me.