There are over fifty quotes painted on the walls of Miranda’s executive bathroom. They range from sarcastic, to serious and back again; a few of them are even biblical, each one teaching you a little bit more about your boss. The funny thing is that each quote is made up of positive, encouraging words. Even the sarcastic ones. It’s like Miranda is physically surrounding herself with the hope that she claims to live on nearly every day.
‘Keep calm and carry on,’ is probably the most classic and predictable of them all. It’s actually painted on a cabinet door, but the truth is on the other side. Yes, if you open the door, the words, ‘I can’t keep calm because I have anxiety,’ are carefully written in Miranda’s own handwriting, not by paint and stencil, but red ink. The first time you saw it, it took everything in you not to grab a pen and write, ‘Me too,’ underneath. Deep down, you know that if you had actually been brave enough, she would not have fired you for it.
On another cabinet door, ‘I just want to drink coffee, create stuff and sleep,’ is painted in beautiful calligraphy. It’s probably your favorite out of everything simply because Miranda allows the word ‘stuff’ to be displayed in her presence. But again, the truth is on the other side. ‘I can’t sleep because I have insomnia,’ is written in big block letters by Miranda’s own hand. The first time you saw it, it made you want to hold her until sleep was granted.
She might be twice your age and miles ahead of you on the career ladder, but you and Miranda Priestly are a lot alike and it’s killing you not to say anything about it. For once, you want to open your mouth about a couple of things you never have before.
But maybe you are already saying something about it without actually opening your mouth. The fact that Miranda allowed you to see the writing on the walls and cabinet doors in the first place, tells you a lot. Asking you to retrieve some Tylenol from her bathroom was no coincidence; she trusts you, and that had to have happened somehow.
One thing’s for certain: Whenever Miranda feels like giving up her post, the poor soul that takes her place is in for a hell of a surprise when they see their executive bathroom. You have a feeling that no amount of paint will ever be able to cover up the words so carefully written on her walls.
The day the newest stencil comes in the mail, is the day Emily royally pisses you off. Granted, she pisses you off nearly every day but this cuts deep inside. Some offhanded joke about strengths and weaknesses and a couple of other labels you never say out loud; she wasn’t even talking to you. It’s been over eight hours, and you still cannot breathe right. You know, in your heart, what Emily says is not true…but you can’t catch your breath.
One of the last empty spaces on the wall in Miranda’s bathroom is in a corner, close to the ceiling. A countertop is there below, making the situation a bit precarious and she’s going to have to stand on it to get the job done. For weeks, you’ve been hoping that she will ask for your help and on the day that a new stencil arrives and Emily pisses you off, Miranda does, in her own way.
“I assume you know what this is?” Miranda asks you, around seven o’clock, holding up the package you put on her desk this afternoon. Tonight, as you anticipated, she’s stayed late and—thank God—sent Emily packing much earlier than usual.
You shrug and look a little regretful already because this probably isn’t going to come out right. “Yeah…I mean, yes, Miranda. The shipping label says ‘The Simple Stencil’, so yes. I know what it is.”
Miranda nods. “Imagine,” she says as she turns to go back into her office and it’s implied that you are to follow. “I called you the stupid girl, once.”
“No.” You are not afraid of somebody you understand so well and it goes without saying that in private, the two of you are almost…friendly now. “You called me smart and fat,” you finish with a smile even though her back is to you.
“But alluded to stupidity.”
“Mine, or your own for hiring me?”
Miranda whirls around and you stumble backwards a step. “With the exception of a few, you are one of the more brilliant people here and the fact that you eat, makes you far more pleasant to deal with than Emily.” She pauses and it’s the way Miranda swallows hard that tells you—without a doubt—that she overheard Emily’s joke, too. And she’s pissed. “For my part,” Miranda swallows again. “We will not discuss my failure to graduate from college or that I am neither a size two, four, nor six…or anything else.”
You’d like to tell Miranda that a size eight looks damn good on her compared to the sizes she dropped after returning from Paris, facing the repercussions of her choices—but you know she’ll bite your head off if you do.
That whole mess has caused more havoc than Miranda will ever admit. She regrets it, the whole thing. You can tell. She regrets having to take a dream away from Nigel. She regrets that her position with Runway has become so delicate that throwing down a list of names was necessary, and still has Miranda more than a little shaken up.
She even regrets comparing your choices to her own because it’s so clear that they were not one and the same. Grabbing the opportunity to go to Paris was just a drop in the bucket compared to all the things Miranda has desperately held onto by any means possible, and you are both well aware of that fact.
Most of all, Miranda regrets what this has done to her daughters. It’s not that they loved Stephen any more or less than she, or felt the loss of another ‘father-figure’ in the way Miranda thought they would. What’s really happened is that Caroline and Cassidy are tired of Miranda constantly searching for what she thinks they need, when they just need her. They need Miranda. Not another ‘father-figure’.
But at least that particular thing isn’t weighing her down anymore. The details are none of your business but when you deliver the Book, on the rare chance you manage to see them, the girls seem happy. They’re nice to you, too. It’s a little weird but after a while you got used to it.
You’re not required to do their homework for them anymore, either, but they do ask you to stay and check it sometimes. It’s difficult to remember why calculus was even worth studying so long ago, but you’re glad you remember anyway. At least this is lower level, junior high stuff.
You’re also glad you remember how to breathe during those times; Miranda never kicks you out of her kitchen when she catches you there at the table with schoolbooks scattered all around.
Assistants are not supposed to sit at her kitchen table, yet somehow you’re “Always more than welcome.” The way Miranda says the words, tells you she means them. She’s not being nice for her children’s sake and in some way things seem a lot easier on those nights. Mostly, because you don’t want them to end. Or is it the words written on the wall opposite the kitchen table?
And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.
That’s nothing if not grounding and makes a lot of the things going on in your head disappear. If God has your back, then you might make it after all.
“Are you done staring, or shall we stand here all night?”
“What?” You ask, caught off guard. And you have been staring. Actually, you stare at Miranda a lot…you’re pretty sure she’s noticed.
Miranda rolls her eyes and shakes her head in disgust. “Just think…I called you brilliant not two seconds ago. What a waste.”
Silently, you agree and follow. So long as you’re busy with work things or trying to wade through math problems, you can function correctly. Otherwise, you’re obviously so busy staring, that you miss—and instantly forget—about half of what comes out of Miranda’s mouth. Especially when you are sitting at her kitchen table with nothing but a cup of coffee, no homework in sight. That’s rare, but there’s no telling how many conversations she’s tried to have with you that you have not participated in because of it.
Well, this stencil is not exactly a stencil. There will be no painting involved. It seems at least for this one, Miranda’s had the sense to order something that just gets pressed onto the wall and looks like a lot of time and effort went into it.
You retrieve scissors, tape, and something with a flat edge to rub the vinyl transfer onto the wall, from Miranda’s desk, while she sits in a chair next to the sink and reads the instructions like her life depends on every word. Of course, this must come out perfectly. It’s one of the only spaces left for words of any kind.
Working without speaking is somewhat natural to you both. After all this time and many stumbling blocks along the way, you’re equal partners in reading one another. You do not need to tell her that you’ll do the climbing and she does not need to ask. You don’t need to tell her that she’ll have to read the instructions to you again, just to be safe. Miranda already knows that you’ll be paranoid about the whole thing going wrong. You’ve never helped her with something like this before and she knows you’re apprehensive—this is much more important to you than calculus homework.
She also knows that you’re having trouble concentrating on cutting the edges of the rather large paper, so the quote fits the area exactly. She knows, because of Emily’s joke today, that the words mean everything.
She stood in the storm,
and when the wind did not blow her away,
she adjusted her sails.
You’ve got one foot on the step ladder when Miranda steps beside you, placing her hand on your lower back. It never occurred to you until now, but it should have—the first time she touches you, you’ll nearly fall down. That almost happens but you put a hand on the counter just in time. When you take the step that will have you standing on it, Miranda’s hand moves from your lower back, to your hip.
To quell the nervousness that is starting to overtake you, you make a joke. “Don’t worry, Miranda,” you say, focusing on where you need to place the tape on the transfer instead of Miranda face. “I won’t sue you if I fall.”
“How comforting,” Miranda sighs and you can hear her messing around with the tape dispenser below you. “So long as you don’t break your head, all will be fine. The girls’ calculus homework…”
“Yes, the homework.” You take a deep breath here because this is just another indication that Miranda likes having you around. “Is this okay?”
Miranda looks up at where you are holding the transfer into position. “A little more to the left.”
You move it to the left and with a final nod, Miranda puts three pieces of tape on the tips of her fingers and holds it up for you. One by one you take them; her hand is shaking. That isn’t as much of an oddity as it should be. Miranda’s hands shake a lot when the two of you are alone. Well, not a lot. But you notice it and it’s always a battle not to reach out and steady them.
It would figure that once you’ve got the three pieces of tape in place, and are about to have to flip the transfer up to peel off the bottom layer, Miranda brings Emily into the conversation. You almost ruin the whole thing right then and there.
“Emily is a fool, Andrea.”
You shrug and say nothing, peeling the film back, from right to left just like Miranda has read that you should do.
“There is nothing weak about who you are. Or who I am.”
Again, you say nothing. The stinging sensation in your eyes is seriously hindering your work, though. Doesn’t Miranda want this thing to look good?
And, of course, Miranda just keeps on. “I believe everyone has something to face. The name of it is irrelevant. Cruelty generally comes from those who are in denial. There is the weakness. Strength occurs in survival…and she doesn’t know a thing about that.”
“Could have fooled me,” you say under your breath, beginning to rub the transfer onto the wall. Somehow you managed to get the back film off without screwing up, even though you can’t really see anything.
“I’ll admit she is rather good at it. Most of that is probably my fault. I dish out my fair share of cruelty.”
You can’t help but snort and shake your head. “Because you don’t like it when models are unattractive and boring, Miranda.” You know you’re being very blunt and even bitter. “Not because of someone’s depression or anxiety or insomnia or…the inability to just…be.”
“I’m hard enough on myself as it is,” she says and looking down for just an instant, you can see Miranda put her hand on the wall, over positive and hopeful words. “Why add fuel to a fire that I did not ask for?”
“I didn’t ask for all the things I am, either. I know that much.” Again, you sound pretty shitty about the whole thing because no, you didn’t ask for half the crap you have to deal with in your head every day—but ‘deal with it’ you must. The number of people that don’t know—and never will—how hard you try to be normal, typical…normal, feels like it’s in the thousands. For fucks sake, you have adjusted your sails so many times… It’s difficult not to believe that one day, the storm will be too great; you’ll be unable to adjust. The sails will be shredded and that will be that. No more, no less—just done.
But you pretend that it’s not happening most of the time.
So what does that mean? Are you the one in denial? Should you be announcing all your weaknesses to the world? ‘Cause you’ve got quite a few, if Emily felt like counting them all. And she probably would. She’d probably jump at the chance.
You’re done rubbing the transfer onto the wall but keep at it anyway. It’ll be stuck there forever by the time you’re through. “I guess I’m in denial, too, then, because I pretty much fake my way through life, Miranda.”
“I know that’s not true,” Miranda says and you can tell she’s stepped closer behind you. “Not speaking about it—isn’t denial,” she sighs. “It’s hard to explain. You’re silent, but dealing with it... And support is much like the wind, arriving and leaving, making the task of explaining yourself, feel pointless.”
This makes you kind of angry, thinking about somebody supporting Miranda though life in general and all its fucked-up-ness, then hitting the road when things aren’t exactly perfect. Things are never perfect. Neither of you will ever be perfect…
Before you can get that anger under control, you start peeling back the top layer of film on the transfer and tell her just that very thing. “Well, my support wouldn’t be arriving and leaving like the wind, Miranda.” The words comes out a little rough and you’ve just about yanked the film off the wall instead of going slow. It’s a wonder the whole thing doesn’t come off. “It isn’t now,” You wad up the mess that’s left and throw it down onto the floor instead of placing it Miranda’s outstretched hands. “And it never would be.” You repeat that just to make sure Miranda gets it, still sounding angry.
“That would qualify you as an extraordinarily strong person, Andrea. I am not easy to—“
“I can be strong.” You interrupt Miranda because you’re not interested in hearing about what she isn’t. “When I need to be. When it’s worth it.” And Miranda is definitely worth it.
Miranda reaches out again…for your hand this time as you carefully make your way down the step ladder. When you take it, the first thing you notice is that she’s not shaking at all. Her hand is steady, solid. Instantly, you feel grounded, like you’re at Miranda’s kitchen table.
Once you’re securely on the floor, Miranda takes on your unspoken idea of her kitchen table, inviting you over.
“Come to the house?” She asks, looking up at the new words that are written on the wall.
You’d rather be there than at your own home so the answer comes out quickly. Yes, you’ll go…and you’re calmer than you’ve been all day. The prospect of calculus homework is something you welcome with open arms tonight. You don’t want to be by yourself. If that makes you weak, then Emily can kiss your ass.
Calculus, or any other kind of homework, is the last thing going on in the Priestly household, though.
The house is wrapped in absolute silence and right away, you can feel Miranda stiffen even though you’re not touching her. Which has been hard. You sat on your hands for almost the entire car ride. She held your hand once. For only a few seconds. And now you want to get all touchy-feely? Get a grip.
“A silent house is what I get for leaving them a lone tonight.” Miranda says as she wrestles out of her coat and dumps it on the table. “It’s a trial. Or it was supposed to be. To see if they can forgo burning the house down. Makes them feel ‘grown up’…or so they claim.” Miranda speaks over her shoulder as she heads up the stairs. It’s implied that you are to follow along so you quickly dump your coat on the table too, and go after her.
Well, they haven’t burnt the house down. In fact, they’re not even close, having built a gigantic tent in the living room out of blankets and sheets. It’s written all over Miranda’s face that she thinks her living room will never be the same—along with her high-dollar linens. But as she kicks off her shoes and kneels down to scare the shit out of twins, it’s also clear that she doesn’t care.
Caroline and Cassidy scream endlessly and you don’t help matters by bending down, making your presence known. They soon recover and in endless laughter, you and Miranda find yourselves inside the tent, right along with them.
The girls seem completely unsurprised by your appearance, accepting you instantly.
That acceptance comes with, “It’s about time you came over for something besides our dumbass homework.” Caroline, of course, gets thumped on the head by Miranda for her choice in words—but not for the open invitation.
All Cassidy has to say is that she will kill whoever dares to crush her laptop. They’ve been watching some horror movie on it and Miranda doesn’t want to hear about it; the possibly crushed laptop or the movie because she’s scared to death of clowns.
Clowns give you nightmares so it’s just as well. You don’t need any help in the nightmare department.
In all their chatter, time speeds by and you can tell that even Miranda is surprised when they announce that they’ve got to go to bed. Last you checked, thirteen year old kids never volunteer for bedtime, but times change, you guess.
As Caroline and Cassidy crawl out, you can’t tell which one of them says the words, but a voice rings out loud and clear once they’re free of all the sheets and blankets.
“No making out in our tent! You’ll knock it down and it took forever to build.”
There is a giggle and the sound of feet running up another flight of stairs.
Neither of you move or say a word and for a while, Miranda cannot even look at you…and you damn sure can’t look at her.
Since you can’t look at Miranda just yet, you lie on your back and stare at the sheet above your head. In pink and purple, the words faith, hope and love appear over and over in the fabric, staring right back at you. The colors tell you this sheet has never been on Miranda’s bed, but the words are hers. They’re written on her bathroom walls and probably somewhere else in this house, too.
When you turn your head, you see those same words written on Miranda. The ink is invisible, but the letters are bold and courageous, carefully written with a steady hand.
Before you can stop yourself, you’re lightly touching the edges of the person Miranda thinks she is not, with the tip of your finger. Her eyes never leave your face, tired but full of something that is just dying to be released.
“Have you been sleeping at night?” You ask, realizing too late that now she’ll know you’ve opened the rest of the cabinet doors in her bathroom. Insomnia. Oh, well…
This time, Miranda is the one to shrug. “Some,” she says, still staring at you.
“That’s good,” you mumble, still tracing her features. The sadness; the vulnerability; the doubt; the things that cannot be explained, because sometimes there isn’t a why to the way either of you feels at your darkest.
“Is it selfish of me to want you as an anchor?” Miranda asks, looking scared of your answer. “Is it selfish to need you in that way? Writing on my walls is not enough anymore, Andrea. Now that you are here, I need so much more than that.”
For the first time all day—and maybe in your life—you breathe fresh air.
“Can I want you,” you ask, guiding Miranda closer with a hand on the back of her neck. “Can I need you that way, too?”
She shakes her head tentatively. “We might drown each other from time to time.”
You shrug like it’s your new trademark. It hurts to admit, but Miranda is right. Sometimes you won’t be good for each other…but a lot of times, you will be. “We could be other things, though.” You say this as tentatively as the shake of Miranda’s head. There’s a chance that she might not agree. At least neither of you is going along blindly. “To each other,” you continue. “ We could be good things…a lot of other words.”
“We could write them,” Miranda smiles like she is finally free of something and you thank God for always having your back when you need Him the most. “On the walls,” Miranda smiles again. “Here in the house. I’m all out of space at work…”
“Anywhere you wanted.”
Because of the words written above your head, the tent made of sheets and blankets manages to stay as it is. You will not tear it down just yet. By itself, it is an anchor that both of you need: A place where the words you will write together in the future, can begin to form.
The first word written will be love.
It is formed in the way you touch each other tonight.
In the small moments of peace that come from being pressed so tightly together.
In the hope and faith you pour into each other with every kiss.
With bold, bright colors and with steady hands, that word will be written everywhere you look.
--The ones who say “You Can’t” and “You Won’t” are probably the ones scared that “You Will” --