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Sharp Relief

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By nine thirty, Andy is exhausted and wired. The twins are in Cassidy’s room, in one bed, probably still awake. But Andy is out of ideas to keep them occupied, and none of them wants to be entertained anyway, so they make no fuss when Andy helps them get ready for bed.
 
Jeremy has another scotch in his hand when Andy comes downstairs. “Dessert,” he says, holding up the glass. “Want one?”
 
Andy says no, and thanks him. “I think I’ll just make up a bed and try to rest.”
 
He nods. “I’m going out for a few minutes to meet some friends I haven’t seen for a while. They’re at a pub a few blocks away. I can be back in a few minutes if anything happens, or if the girls need me. I just… I need to see people. I can’t just sit here all night, you know?” His mouth turns down at the corners. His eyes plead for mercy. Andy tries not to consider that she doesn’t count as people; she is the hired help, and nothing more.
 
“That’s fine. I’ll text you if I need to.”
 
“Thanks, Andy. I can’t tell you what a blessing it’s been to have you here. I don’t know what the girls would have done without you.” He looks relieved, and Andy really doesn’t mind. She is starting to feel weird, being alone with a man who probably once loved Miranda as much as she still does.
 
She takes a few minutes to get a bed ready for herself, in a guest room down the hall from Cassidy. The mattress is plush, the sheets soft. She finds a new toothbrush in the cabinet and uses it. After ten minutes of sitting on the bed in her underwear, she pulls her dress back on and goes downstairs to the study. Miranda’s study. She feels Miranda all around her; it’s certainly the most familiar room in the townhouse for Andy. It’s not as though she’s spent much time here, but now and then she’d sat across from Miranda on a small sofa, making notes as Miranda rattled off instructions.
 
The room is the opposite of the white, clean lines of Miranda’s work office. It’s warm and comfortable, with stacks of books lining the walls on dark shelves. The light here is soft, almost gentle on Andy’s face when she turns on the desk lamp. She’d been in here earlier in the day, to change Miranda’s old-school answering machine message. She has no idea why Miranda, voracious fiend for all things tech, has an answering machine that’s at least ten years old, but there it is. In a fit of sentimentality, Andy removed the original tape with Miranda’s voice on it, and used a new tape for the outgoing message. She couldn’t bear to record over Miranda, even though there are countless other places where Andy will be able to watch interviews and remember her. But this… this just felt too personal. Andy touches the machine, and is startled when the phone rings for probably the fiftieth time that day.
 
Andy doesn’t pick up, and instead lets the machine click on. Her own recorded voice is loud in the office, and it sounds unpleasant to Andy’s ears. She just prays it’s not someone from the press calling to make rude remarks, because she won’t be held responsible for her actions if it is.
 
“H-Hello,” a woman’s voice says. “This is Miranda. Someone please pick up. I’m—my god, will someone pick up the goddamned phone? I need to talk to someone there—anyone!”
 
Andy stares at the machine, her eyes wide. “Jesus,” she whispers. The voice sounds like Miranda. “Jesus.”
 
“Hello!” the woman shouts again. She sounds frantic, almost angry. She still sounds exactly like Miranda. Miranda, who is dead. Isn’t she?
 
Andy reaches over with a shaking hand, and picks up the phone. “Hello?”
 
---
 
EARLIER.
 
Miranda makes excellent time, since she leaves at 6am. It helps that Andrea was present to help her pack the car. Andrea didn’t complain about the early hour, nor does she ever complain about anything Miranda asks of her. Miranda feels slightly guilty about dragging the poor thing out of bed just because she wanted to leave before rush hour, but she simply couldn’t resist. She never can when it comes to Andrea. She is playing a game, allowing herself to believe that the girl has feelings beyond those of hateful assistant toward powerful boss. It’s hard not to believe, considering how cheerfully Andrea does everything. She is a wonderful assistant. A wonderful person. Funny how it took so long for Miranda to realize this fact. She never lets on though; she doesn’t want to scare Andrea away or let anyone in on her softening attitude. She is not one to reveal her affections easily, and in this case, she’s not sure she ever will.
 
Miranda laughs to herself and focuses on the road. After the winding, complicated clutch of arteries getting out of the city, it’s easy driving now toward her proverbial cabin in the woods. The place is a throwback to Miranda’s childhood, built and owned by her father, handed down to her when he died far too young. Rustic and small, it sports a single bathroom, two bedrooms and not much else. But as with everything else in the state of New York, it has three things going for it: location, location, location. It’s by a reservoir with fantastic fishing, and it’s peaceful in its isolation. Miranda likes to go there alone to recharge. Sometimes the girls come with her, but they tend to get bored even though the cabin is wired with internet and cable. She does not have friends over to stay; the place doesn’t fit in with her persona, so she keeps it to herself.
 
This weekend her daughters will head to Connecticut to be with their father; Andrea will deliver them personally to the train station this afternoon. Miranda trusts Andrea implicitly with tasks such as these. She has thoughts of one day asking if Andrea would like to visit the cabin, where they could sit quietly and talk about nothing. She wonders if she’ll ever find the bravery to do such a thing. Probably not. It wouldn’t work, of course, so why bother?
 
Miranda glances at the empty coffee cups in the holders at her side. She went through both quickly, before they cooled too much. Andrea brought them to her, and they were as always, perfect. But two hours into the trip, she is feeling the effects of the caffeine and liquid, and she needs to make a stop. There’s a rest area ahead, not far from where she is now; she’ll be quick about it and still get to the cabin by 9. She already feels lighter having left the city and so many of her responsibilities behind. She has the Book with her, and she will work on it today, but Andrea has orders to only contact her in case of emergency, so she should be fine. For once they are well ahead of schedule, and Miranda plans to take full advantage.
 
She sees the exit off route 17 and takes it, parking in the nearly empty lot. There is a rundown truck at the far end, but otherwise, the place is deserted. A frisson of anxiety strikes Miranda, but she ignores it. She is an adult, and there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a bathroom, for god’s sake. And she needs a bathroom, very badly.
 
Purse in hand, she strides toward the tiny building. She experiences only mild discomfort at the smell, which is of disinfectant rather than anything more offensive. It’s why she always chooses this stop; it’s clean, and there is a machine out front that dispenses passable coffee.
 
Miranda relieves herself and is washing her hands when the woman appears behind her, in the mirror. She is smiling. “Nice car out there,” she says to Miranda.
 
Miranda raises an eyebrow. She makes a non-committal noise. She doesn’t feel like engaging in idle chat with anyone, much less a random woman in a bathroom in the middle of nowhere. She finishes washing her hands and is reaching for a paper towel when the first blow comes; the pain blinds her and sends her to her knees. She grabs the sink when it happens again, and she is driven into near unconsciousness. Hands grab her, dragging her out of the small space and she tastes copper liquid in her mouth. She tries to speak, tries to open her eyes, but the light is so bright that she can’t.
 
“Hmm,” she says, trying to groan.
 
“Yeah, it’s a nice car,” a man’s voice says. “Thanks.”
 
Something else happens, and Miranda is not being dragged anymore. She rolls over. The ground is hard. It smells of pine needles and cut grass and earth. Everything hurts, and her eyes roll in her head. Now seems like a good time to go to sleep, so she does.
 
---
 
There is a point later when Miranda wakes, but she can’t move. When she lifts her head, the pain is so unbearable that her stomach heaves. Seconds pass before she goes out again. It’s easier that way.
 
---
 
Miranda lifts her head, slowly.
 
She has no idea where she is, or what day it is. She has very few thoughts at all, other than the realization that it is freezing, and that she needs to move. The ground on which she is resting is wet, and she touches her face. It’s damp, and when she looks at her hand, it’s smeared with red and brown. She recognizes nothing around her at all.
 
When she’s able to turn her head, she understands she is lying between a red brick building and a row of bushes. This fact tells her nothing. Movement causes Miranda’s stomach to roll, although nothing comes up. There is a pain so sharp behind her eyes that she nearly blacks out, but something inside tells her that this is a bad idea. Instead she grits her teeth and hums, pleased when she actually hears the sound. This means that her hearing isn’t gone. That’s a plus.
 
It takes her a long time to drag herself out from behind the bushes, and she feels a branch dig a long scratch into her side. On all fours, she emerges into a green field, where the sun is gentle and warm on her face. It smells like fall, and the scent comforts her. Dried leaves crunch under her hands.
 
She spies a sidewalk that goes around the building and leads to a large dumpster. That sidewalk is where she wants to go—it must end someplace. Minutes go by as she inches close to it, and at some point she decides to try and stand. Carefully she balances on her knees and gets up gradually, not touching her head and the place that hurts so badly.
 
One foot in front of the other. She feels a thousand years old. After a few yards, she hears voices close by. She tries to make a noise, but it comes out like “hhhnn.” She keeps moving, closer and closer, until she gets around the corner of the building. There, in front of her, are two children chasing each other, throwing grass and howling, “You’re it! No, you’re it!”
 
Miranda holds out a hand in supplication. The girl sees her, stops with wide eyes, and screams so loudly that it hurts.
 
“Shh,” Miranda says, “Shh, please.” The word comes out garbled; Miranda isn’t speaking clearly.
 
“Honey!” A woman shouts, racing toward the two children who are gaping at her as if she is a monster. The woman sees Miranda then and pulls her children into a protective hug, covering them both with her arms. “Oh my god!”
 
“Help,” Miranda says, and decides she has traveled far enough. She bends down and ignores the pain as she gets back onto her knees, shivering with cold. “Help,” she says again.
 
“Call an ambulance!!” the woman shrieks, and Miranda covers one ear. “Oh my god, oh my god, are you all right?”
 
“Nnnn,” Miranda says.
 
“It’s okay, kids, go with your dad,” the woman says, pushing the children toward a man who is running toward them. To Miranda, she says, “We’re going to get you some help, okay?”
 
“Quick,” Miranda says. The word is clear and sharp, which she regrets; she should be grateful. “Sorry,” she says. It sounds like “Srry.”
 
“They’re coming,” a man says, coming to stand beside the woman. They both stare at Miranda as though she is a caged, dangerous animal.
 
“Good,” Miranda says. And although she doesn’t want to sleep, she can’t help it. She closes her eyes and pitches forward toward the pavement, but to her surprise, two hands catch her and keep her from smashing into the ground. Her last thought is that Andrea must be there, holding her up, keeping her safe.
 
---
 
When Miranda opens her eyes again, she is in an ambulance. There are two men talking over her, describing her injuries, and she can make out a few things that don’t sound good: shock, blunt force trauma, blood loss. But the pain is less now, and she waves a hand until one of the men notices that she is awake.
 
“Ma’am, can you tell me your name?”
 
Miranda tries to speak, but her mouth is numb. She opens her lips and all that emerges is her own breath.
 
“Ma’am? Can you hear me?”
 
She closes her eyes and focuses all her energy on saying it. Miranda. Miranda. Then a wave of intense relief sweeps over her; the remaining pain is a retreating wave. Drugs. They’ve given her really, really good drugs. It seems less important to speak now, and she forgets what she was going to do. Instead she floats for a while as the men move above her, doing things that should probably hurt, but don’t. She feels warm again, and goes back to sleep.
 
---
 
Later, Miranda awakens in a bed. It’s deathly quiet in the room, and she is alone. She realizes there is a button under her hand. She remembers what it does from when she was in the hospital with Caroline and Cassidy, her two perfect daughters, whom she needs to see right away. The longing to see their faces is so intense it’s a physical pain. Without hesitation, she presses the button beneath her fingers.
 
She hears racing footsteps outside her door, and a nurse comes running in. She is smiling broadly. “Oh my goodness, it’s wonderful to see you awake, young lady.” The nurse is young, far younger than Miranda, with dark red hair and freckles that dust her pale skin. She has striking blue eyes as she gazes into Miranda’s face. “You gave us a right good scare.” The woman has an accent, faded now, as though she moved from the UK as a child. “How’re you feeling?”
 
“Not good,” Miranda says. “I need to call my children. Where am I?” Her speech is a little slower than usual, but she manages to get the words out well enough.
 
“You’re in the hospital, in Liberty, New York. Do you know where that is?”
 
Miranda tries to nod, until she feels the pain rear up again. “What happened?”
 
“We were hoping you could tell us. You were found at a rest stop just off route 17. You’d been assaulted.”
 
Miranda freezes. “Assaulted--” The word has dark connotations. She moves her legs, wondering—
 
“Hit in the head, I mean. A few times. Nothing else that we could find. Does that sound right?”
 
Miranda has no memory of it. The last thing she recalls is saying goodnight to Andrea the day before, when they left the office. But even that is hazy. She can picture very clearly Andrea’s lovely smile though, and Miranda gets lost in the thought of it for a moment.
 
“What’s your name, honey? We want to contact your family. I’m sure they’re worried about you.”
 
“What day is this?” Miranda asks, still trying to sort out the series of events that led her to this strange place.
 
“It’s Friday night, about 10.”
 
“Friday,” Miranda says. Friday at 6am, Miranda recalls saying to Andrea the day before, and it comes to her in a flash, all at once. It’s too much, and Miranda gasps as the memory nearly drowns her. She’s going to be sick—Andrea waving goodbye, the coffee, the rest stop, the woman’s face in the mirror smiling at her—and the nurse sets a basin under Miranda’s mouth. She has very little in her stomach, but what’s there comes up. When she’s done, she lies back onto the bed. Her head is splitting. “I was attacked by someone at the rest stop. I think they wanted my car. Oh my god.” Miranda touches her forehead and encounters bandages. “My head is killing me. Am I going to live?”
 
“Settle down, now, darlin’, you’re going to be fine. You’ve got a helluva concussion and a few staples in your head. And we um, had to give you a little haircut, but it will be all right once you get it cleaned up.”
 
Miranda blanches. “My hair?”
 
“It’s the prettiest color. How’d you get it that way?”
 
Miranda reaches behind her head and finds more bandage. Her hair is still long in front, but the back… “Good genes,” Miranda says, distracted. “Staples?”
 
“It’s quicker than stitches. They’ll stay in for about two weeks. But you’ll have to stay here for some of that time—we need to keep an eye on that concussion. But darlin’, can you tell me your name? Now that you’re awake, we need to talk to the police and see if we can figure out what happened.”
 
Miranda swallows. “It’s Miranda. Miranda Priestly.”
 
The nurse squints at her. “Miranda. That sounds familiar. Are you an author?”
 
Miranda doesn’t want to talk about Runway at the moment. She says, “No,” and does not elaborate.
 
“Huh. Right. Well, let’s get you a phone so you can call home. How’s that sound?”
 
“Fine. And water, I’d like some water.”
 
The woman pours her a paper cup full and hands it over. “I’ll be back then. I’m going to give my friend Harris over at the police station a call, and he’ll come right over to talk to you, okay?”
 
Miranda gives a small nod. She figures no one realizes that anything has happened to her; she disconnects from communication for the most part when she goes to the cabin. The only person who might be concerned is Andrea, who wouldn’t expect a call until at least tomorrow. That is a comfort, at least. She’ll call Jeremy first, since the girls must be in Connecticut by now. She can’t remember what time the train was scheduled to leave. Everything is fuzzy, but she is sure that they should be with him.
 
Miranda closes her eyes and thinks about the day, trying to remember exactly what happened. She can recall the woman in the mirror very clearly, but nothing at all after seeing her. She also remembers her drive, how pleasant it was in the early hours of the morning. She remembers Andrea.
 
Andrea. Miranda wishes she was here. If Andrea was here, everything would be fine. She would be safe. She is safe now, but when she thinks of the woman from the bathroom, Miranda’s heart thunders. The woman took her car, Miranda is sure, and everything in it, including the Book, and her Mac, with hundreds of contacts and other private information on it. At least that is password protected. Andrea will help her sort it all out.

At that thought, Miranda relaxes, and waits for the nurse to return.
 
She comes back a few minutes later, with a strange look on her face. “Darlin’, did you say your name was Miranda Priestly?”
 
Miranda raises an eyebrow. “I did.”
 
The woman takes a deep breath and let it out. “Well, goodness. Looks like a few things went on while you were asleep today. I’ve been here working all day, but my chum Harris recognized your name from the police chatter, and he’s been on the internet too. And Miranda, everybody thinks you’re dead.”
 
Miranda blinks. “Pardon?”
 
“That’s what I said. Looks like the folks who stole your car crashed this morning. Right into a tree. Burned everything to a crisp—the bodies were practically ash. So… you’re dead, according to the news.”
 
“My Porsche!” Miranda cries, because she loves her car with a passion reserved for very few material things in her life.
 
The nurse looks surprised that Miranda is concerned about her car, but Miranda brushes her off. “Bring me a phone.” Her typical tone of command returns; the woman snags a push-pad telephone from the nightstand at Miranda’s side. Quickly she dials Jeremy’s home number, since the girls should be with him in Connecticut by now. It rings, and rings again, so many times that Miranda gives up. She wonders why it doesn’t go to voicemail. She can’t recall his cell number, and moves on to Cassidy’s cell, which she knows by heart. She knows Caroline’s too, and she dials both numbers, one after another, and gets no answer on either of them. The phones are off, because Miranda is sent straight to voicemail. She is starting to sweat.
 
Andrea. She will call Andrea. She knows the number as well as she knows her own. She dials as quick as she can as the nurse sits with her, wringing her hands. There is no answer. “Goddammit,” Miranda mutters. “Pick up.” She is going to leave a reply until she hears Andrea’s cellphone message: “This is Andy Sachs. I’m not available. Please call back later.” This is a new message, and Andrea’s voice is hollow. Grief-stricken. Miranda is more agitated now. “Jesus Christ, someone pick up the phone,” she growls, and hangs up.
 
Nigel. She dials his cell, and thank goodness he hasn’t changed his number in the last ten years, otherwise she’d be screwed. Of course, he does not pick up either. “Hello, this is Nigel Kipling. All inquiries regarding Miranda Priestly should be directed toward Leslie Davidson, care of Davidson, Kent and Hall. You may reach Leslie at 212…” Miranda listens to the message and stares at the phone.
 
“My god,” she says, and hangs up. She meets the eyes of the nurse whose name she has yet to learn. “They really think I’m dead.”
 
“You can’t reach anyone?”
 
Miranda shakes her head gently. “Home, I’ll call home. Someone’s got to be there. Won’t they?” She dials her home phone number, and tears spring to her eyes when no one answers. Andrea’s voice is the one on the message, instead of Miranda’s own. “Hello, you’ve reached the home of Miranda Priestly. No one is here to take your call. If this is a personal call for Miranda’s family, please leave a message. All other inquiries should be directed toward Leslie…” Miranda listens to the same message as the one Nigel had on his voicemail.
 
The machine clicks on; it’s old-fashioned, but Miranda has never felt the need to replace it. No one calls her at home anyway. Now, she hopes like hell someone is in the study to hear her voice. “H-Hello,” she says, surprised by the catch in her voice, “Hello. This is Miranda. Someone please pick up. I’m—my god, will someone pick up the goddamned phone? I need to talk to someone there—anyone!” She sounds hysterical. She is hysterical. “Hello!”
 
And then, a miracle happens. Someone says, “Hello?”
 
“Hello!” Miranda repeats. “Hello?”
 
There is a long, agonizing pause. “Who is this?” comes a small voice. Miranda barely recognizes it.
 
“Andrea?” she says.
 
“Who the fuck is this?” Andrea shouts angrily. “Who the fuck is this? What kind of cruel bastard would do--”
 
“Andrea, listen to me very carefully,” Miranda says. “Are you listening?”
 
Andrea doesn’t reply, but Miranda has her attention.
 
“I am in a hospital in—where am I again?” she asks the nurse.
 
“Liberty Medical Center, in Delaware County,” the nurse provides.
 
“Liberty Medical Center, in Delaware County,” Miranda repeats. “That’s a town on the way to my cabin, where I was going this morning when I was assaulted. Someone stole my car, Andrea. Someone stole my car and crashed it, but I am right here. I am alive. Is that clear?”
 
Andrea doesn’t respond for longer than Miranda is comfortable with. “Andrea, are you there?”
 
“Where’s the cabin you’re talking about?” Andrea demands. She still sounds angry.
 
“Near the Pepacton Resevoir, east of Binghamton. My father left it to me when he died. Which you know, Andrea.” Miranda has to convince her. “When I left this morning I told you I’d call you tomorrow. I was unconscious for most of the day, Andrea, but I saw you this morning. You came to my home at 5:30 in the morning to help me pack. And you brought me coffee, like you always do.”
 
 “I brought you coffee,” Andrea says. There are tears in her voice. “I did.”
 
“You brought me two Venti lattes. Center of the sun hot,” Miranda repeats, as Andrea had said that morning.
 
“Yes!” Andrea gasps, and Miranda knows that she’s broken through.
 
“Can you come here, right now? With my girls, Andrea? I need to see them. I need you to come and bring the girls with you.”
 
“Yes,” Andrea breathes again. “I will, Miranda. I’m coming. Coming right now.”
 
“Turn on your cell phone. I’ll call you again if I need to reach you.”
 
“What’s the number there?” Andrea asks, her voice shaking.
 
Miranda sees the number, hand-written under the dial pad, and reads it to her. She is trembling now; her blood sugar is low, and her head is throbbing. Her vision begins to blur.
 
“I’m coming now, Miranda, I promise. I’ll be there soon as I can.”
 
“Be careful, now,” Miranda says. “Please. Don’t get yourself killed.”
 
Andrea laughs, and the sound is high-pitched and a bit frightening. “I won’t. God, I won’t. See you. See you soon, Miranda. My god, I can’t wait to see you,” she says, her voice rich and sweet like honey.
 
Miranda says, “All right,” and listens for Andrea to hang up. She does, and Miranda drops the handset into the cradle. When she glances up at the nurse again, there are tears running down the woman’s cheeks. Miranda’s surprised by this. She licks her lips and leans back on the bed, exhausted. Her head throbs, and she is ready to sleep.
 
“Harris will be here shortly,” the nurse says, wiping her cheeks. “Anyone else you need to talk to?”
 
Miranda doesn’t answer. She closes her eyes and wills the nurse to go away. In moments, she is asleep, already dreaming of being in Andrea’s arms.