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Sharp Relief

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The office is quiet all around Andy, but she is in a frenzy at her desk. Emily has abandoned her post now that Miranda’s out of the building, and without help Andy is failing miserably at her many tasks. She needs to hunt down a lamp that Miranda wants from “that place where I dined with Giorgio—it would be perfect for the new study,” plus there are still four meetings to reschedule since Miranda took off for upstate New York today. It’s not like Miranda to abandon ship like this, but Andy doesn’t question her, nor does she even think to question. She doesn’t have time.
Only a few hours ago she packed the last of Miranda’s things in the trunk of the sleek Porsche, just as the sun was rising. The light was strangely gray that morning, heavy with fog and humidity. It felt kind of nice to see Miranda so early, and so unofficially. They hadn’t spoken of Runway, or of anything in particular. But Miranda had been softer than usual, and she’d smiled in a strange, tender way when Andy told her to be careful.
“I mean it, there are crazy drivers on the road, Miranda,” Andy had said.
Miranda just waved her off. “I’ll be fine. I’ll contact you tomorrow if I need anything.”
Andy grinned. “I’ll be waiting.”
Quickly she dials Derek Lim’s office to reschedule, and as she’s finishing, her cell starts to buzz. Emily isn’t here to back her up. She wraps up the call and grabs her phone, sighing in relief that it hasn’t gone to voicemail.
“Hello, ma’am. I’m looking for someone who knows Miranda Priestly.”
“Well, you’ve called the right number. How can I help you?”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line, as a man clears his throat. “Ah, we have some news about Ms. Priestly, ma’am. Can you tell me who I’m speaking with?”
“Who’s calling please?” Andy says, her voice sharp, sharper than it should be, but the tone of this caller has her immediately on edge.
“This is Sergeant Jeffries of Broome County Highway Patrol. There was an accident this morning, I’m afraid. We found this number as the one most recently called in her phone. In fact it’s the only number she’s called for a few days, so I’m really hoping you can help.”
Andy feels the odd, muddled sensation of marshmallow around her head, and the dark tunnel opens up in front of her. She is about to faint, which is something she used to do now and then in high school. Her mother would say she was a great big faker, but it really happened, especially in gym class. She’s learned how to not do it, and she hasn’t fainted for six years now, but she is really close, and she absolutely can not faint. Not right now. She takes a huge breath and the tunnel fades slightly. Blood rushes to her head and she dizzily manages to fall into her chair.
“Can you tell me what happened?” she manages to say. She sounds like a normal person, instead of someone who just had all the air sucked out of the room.
“I’m sorry to say Ms. Priestly was killed this morning in an accident on Route 11 in Broome County, near Castle Creek.”
If Andy was stunned before, nothing compares to this very moment, when her whole world cracks open. She can barely speak. This isn’t happening. This is not happening. “I’m sorry, I just saw Miranda this morning--”
“Was Ms. Priestly traveling alone, Miss? And can I get your name? Sorry about this—we’re just trying to straighten out the facts.”
“Wait a second, wait. Ms. Priestly, Miranda, isn’t dead. She was just at her townhouse this morning. I just saw her. When was this accident?”
The man’s voice is soft, understanding. “We believe not more than half an hour ago, Miss. What’s your name?”
Andy tries to get up and go to Miranda’s office, but her knees don’t support her. She falls out of the chair, catching herself on one arm as she stares at the marble floor. “I’m sorry, this is just ridiculous.” Her voice is shaking, but she swallows down the sob that is screaming to get out.
There’s a long pause. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss. Are you all right?” the man says. Sergeant Jeffries, his name is Sergeant Jeffries.
“Are you sure it’s her?” Andy squeaks. “Are you sure?”
“We’re trying to reach her next of kin, Miss. Can you help me?”
The repeated request for help nudges something in Andy’s brain to action. “Next of kin,” she repeats, and crawls to Miranda’s office. She doesn’t care about the scene she’s making; no one is around, and Miranda’s not there to scold her, so it doesn’t matter that she’s on her hands and knees? “Um, I might have to call you back. Talk to HR for the details. I’ll check the files here, we usually have back up copies of everything on hand.”
“I’ll wait, Miss. I’ll stay on the line with you. Tell me your name, so we’re all okay here.”
“It’s Andy,” Andy cries, “But she always calls me Andrea.” The tears come then. She falls apart for a full two minutes, holding the phone against her ear, unable to move in any direction. The man on the phone, Sergeant Jeffries, waits patiently. She can hear him breathing on the other end of the line. “Sorry,” she whines, “sorry, I just… Um.” She breathes deeply, wiping the tears and mascara from under her eyes. “Hold on.”
Andy sets the phone down and ignores the fact that her hands are shaking. She unlocks Miranda’s bottom file drawer with a small key Miranda keeps in the “junk” portion of the top drawer. At the very back there is a folder labeled “INSURANCE,” and Andy snags it. Inside is the list of her emergency contacts, and paperwork about her beneficiaries for the standard Runway life insurance policy. The rest of Miranda’s paperwork is at home in a fireproof safe, with details of her extensive will and trust, as well as another life insurance policy that benefits the twins.
For now, she looks at a list of four names on the emergency contact list. Two are the names of her children, with their cell phones included. One is for Leslie, her lawyer. But the name listed at the top is Andrea Sachs, with Andy’s current work phone, personal cell phone and new address. There is no listing for a sister, brother, mother, father, or husband.
Miranda must have filled this form out herself, because Andy’s never seen it.
“I’m listed as her emergency contact, Sergeant,” Andy croaks. “But she has two kids, and there’s someone else listed here too.”
“Two kids,” the sergeant says with a sigh. “We’ll need that other name for notification, but with kids--”
Andy zones out and puts her head into her hands. Suddenly she has the realization that this whole thing could be a sham, that the guy on the phone could be some asshole from the Post, or an even seedier publication, and Andy’s just told him details that he shouldn’t know. “Listen, I need your name and the department you work for. I need to call you—Ms. Priestly values her privacy deeply and it’s important that I can confirm your identity. Is that all right?”


“Of course, Andy. It’s Sergeant Wilton Jeffries, of Broome County Sheriff’s Department, Highway Patrol. Here’s my number, but you do what you need to and call me right back, all right?”
The sergeant gives his number, which Andy dutifully writes down. She has to walk back to her own desk to use a computer, since Miranda’s laptop is gone. It was with her in the car that Andy helped pack that morning. She moves as if through molasses toward her desk and collapses into her seat. After sitting motionless for a minute or two, she hunts down everything she can find on Broome County, and finds the phone number for the local PD. The area code is correct, and so are the first three numbers. She dials, asks for Sergeant Wilton Jeffries, and only has to hold a moment before he picks up.
Andy’s heart sinks. It falls all 18 stories to the ground, through the pavement and into the earth. Tears stream down her face now, but her voice is normal when she says, “Hi Sergeant. Sorry, this is Andy Sachs.”
“Okay then, Andy. It’s all right. You don’t worry about that now, let’s just go from here.”
Some time later, Andy rushes to the bathroom and washes her face. She wants no one to see that anything is wrong. She doesn’t want to tell anyone or alert the press or explain. That is Leslie’s job. Andy isn’t even going to tell Nigel or Emily; her first thought is of Cassidy and Caroline. She wants to be with them when Jeremy tells them. He’s in Connecticut, and Andy isn’t sure how they’re going to work it out, but she’ll be with them, whatever happens.
She tries not think about what the sergeant told her, which is that Miranda’s car was going over 100 miles an hour that morning, and that it smashed into a tree and burst into flames. And that someone else was driving, which is the detail that makes this whole thing completely unreal.
Apparently Miranda’s little trip upstate was to meet someone. A man who Andy had absolutely no knowledge of. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, but it was an unwelcome surprise.
Fury cuts through the misery for a few moments as Andy thinks of the man who drove so recklessly as to kill Miranda. To kill the most important person in Andy’s life, and in the lives of her two children. It’s a rage unlike anything she’s ever known. And somehow, a piece of that rage is directed toward Miranda, who let some guy drive her Porsche, a car that she adored, into a tree just for shits and giggles.
The police will need someone to travel up toward Binghamton over the weekend, to fill out paperwork and release the body to a mortuary. Andy will probably be this person. She does not have to identify the body, which has been exposed to intense heat and fire; Andy does not think about that either. They will have to use dental records for a final confirmation, but all her things were in the car with her. Her purse and phone were ejected from the wreckage, along with some of her vintage Vuitton luggage. That’s how they first identified her, although the man with her is still a John Doe.
Miranda is dead, Andy repeats to herself. Miranda is dead.  
She has to get out before anyone else discovers what’s happened; she expects that Leslie is on the phone with Irv by now. Jeremy was Leslie’s first call; she conferenced Andy in after she gave him the news. They both sounded truly upset, which was a small comfort. At least Leslie will be doing the things Andy wouldn’t have the first idea of how to tackle, like the press and the public dispersal of the news. They have to move fast, because the press will catch wind of it in no time. The police have agreed not to spread the word, but Andy knows that won’t last. Someone will talk, even though Andy wonders if any of the people in the Broome County Sheriff’s department read Runway, or have heard of Miranda Priestly.
Leslie’s next call was to Stephen, which Andy let her deal with alone. The whole thing probably took less than a minute, since Stephen won’t care. He’s remarried now, to a woman he knew in high school. If Andy was more generous, she’d find the story of how they reconnected online romantic and sweet. But she is not generous, and Stephen can go fuck himself. He had Miranda for three years, and then he threw her away.
Andy bites her tongue and squeezes her eyes shut, willing away bitter tears. Andy never had Miranda, not even for a single second. And now she never will. Even in her grief, less than an hour old, she can see her next weeks spread out before her—dealing with press, helping Nigel, taking care of the hundreds of business calls that will need to be made, sending out thank you notes for condolences. Ushering out the next issue of the magazine, and helping with whatever tribute Irv and his cronies come up with now that his arch-enemy is gone forever.
Then she’ll have no job, because she has no one to work for. The center of her life is gone. Andy is alone.
This is the worst day of her life.
Later, Andy is in Miranda’s home, with two girls who have been taken out of school and told their mother is dead. Jeremy gives them the news over the phone, while Andy sits with them in the tv room. It’s surreal, and Andy can barely figure out what to say, so mostly she doesn’t say anything. She holds the girls, who cry and look to Andy for some kind of explanation. Andy can offer none. “I don’t know,” she keeps saying. “I don’t know.”
Andy doesn’t let herself cry; she stays focused on helping Caroline and Cassidy survive the day. It’s her only way to do anything for Miranda, even though it won’t mean much in the long run. But it gives Andy a focus, so when the girls ask if they’ll get to see their mother’s body, Andy does her best to put them off. Jeremy is on his way down from Connecticut, and Andy will stay on to help. She’s not sure what she’ll be doing, but she’ll be here, and she won’t be going to Runway.
An hour or so in, Andy’s phone rings. It’s Nigel, and though she doesn’t want to pick up, she does.
“Hi,” she says, and her voice shakes in that single syllable.
“Andy,” Nigel says, and the mourning in the word makes Andy’s eyes sting. “Where are you?”
“With the kids. They know. Jeremy’s coming right now.”
There is a shuddering breath on the other end of the line. “Hell, Six, I’m—I don’t even know…”
“Yeah,” Andy replies. She can’t have this conversation. Not now, when she has to hold it together.
Nigel is crying. “What are we going to do?”
“I gotta go,” Andy says, spying Caroline coming back into the study, where Andy sits. “Caroline’s here.”
“Who’s that?” Caroline asks.
“It’s Nigel.” There is no need to lie.
“Tell him ‘hey,’” Caroline says as she flops down on to the couch, pressing her face into Andy’s stomach. Her thin arms wrap around Andy, who drops a hand onto her head.
“Caroline says ‘hey,’” Andy whispers. There’s a protracted silence, so Andy just says, “Call me later,” and hangs up.
“When’s Dad coming?” Caroline asks.
Andy sets her phone on the table and snuggles in, nudging Caroline up so they can hold each other. “Soon, I think. He was in the car when I spoke to him last, and it doesn’t take that long to get here. A couple of hours.”
They lie together for a while, as Andy strokes Caroline’s head and tries not to think about how it would have been so much better if Miranda had just decided not to leave today. She could have said to Andy, let’s play hooky and go to the movies. Or maybe get an early dinner and see a show. If Miranda had only left tomorrow, the way she’d intended to, Andy could have had a perfectly normal morning. Normal day, normal night, breezing through life like nothing at all was wrong, or could ever go wrong.
“We don’t go to church, or temple,” Caroline says. “Mom doesn’t like it.”
Andy stares up at the ceiling, tangling Caroline’s hair in her fingers. “Oh.”
“What do you think happens when you die?”
She’s been waiting for that question. She’s been asking it of herself, wondering what she’d say when one of the girls asked. “I’m not sure. I don’t think about it a lot. Do you have any ideas?”
“I think your soul leaves your body and floats above the earth for a while. Then it goes up to heaven or something. I guess it’s heaven. Or God. I don’t know. Mom wasn’t really into God.” She grabs at Andy then. “This sucks so bad.” Her tears are hot as they soak Andy’s blouse.
“Heaven sounds nice. Where you’re with your family. I like that.”
“I don’t want my mom to be gone,” Caroline whispers.
“Me neither, honey.”
Cassidy’s face is angry when it appears in the doorway. She is frowning, gritting her teeth. “What are you doing in here?” she barks.
“Just talking,” Andy answers. “Come on in.”
“No fair.” She stalks over and throws herself onto the sofa, jamming a knee into Andy’s thigh painfully as she parks herself between the couch and Andy and Caroline.
“Sorry,” Andy says, throwing an arm around Cassidy.
“When is Dad getting here?” Cassidy snaps.
“Soon,” Andy soothes, “I promise.”
“Mom should have taken us with her,” Cassidy says firmly. “This wouldn’t have happened.”
Andy can’t think of a single thing to say.
The day goes on forever. She and Cassidy and Caroline huddle together until Jeremy arrives later than expected. Before that Cassidy asks obsessively to talk to him until Andy hands over the phone, and they stay on the line until he walks through the door. Later, Jeremy asks if Andy can stay the night, because the girls want to have her around, and he likes the extra company. He has a shellshocked look on his face that probably mirrors Andy’s.
He left his wife and two other children up in Connecticut, but they’ll come this weekend. Andy’s never met them, but they’re nice, according to Caroline. Andy will stay long enough to meet them tomorrow morning, and then she’ll go to the office for a few hours to be with Nigel, even though it’s a Saturday. She hasn’t spoken to anyone else from work besides Nigel, nor does she want to. She supposes she should call her mom and let her know what’s happening, but she just… can’t. She doesn’t want to speak to anyone at all except the kids. And Miranda.
After Cassidy and Caroline settle in with Jeremy, Andy creeps upstairs to Miranda’s room, where she knows the safe is located. She has found the combination in Miranda’s office, as Miranda instructed her months ago (in case of emergency, she’d said), and now she has to go into the bedroom to retrieve the paperwork. Jeremy will need it when he calls Leslie.
She stands at the bedroom door for a long time before she goes inside.
The bed is made, of course, and Chanel No. 5 hangs in the air. Classic, timeless. Like Miranda. The closet is enormous, neat and organized, filled with pieces that Miranda wears regularly, as well as gowns she might have worn at some point. Her jewelry is kept at a little vanity with a mirror, a piece of furniture far more precious than what Andy expected. Her earrings are in perfect order, and the necklaces aren’t tangled and knotted as they are in Andy’s small collection. Andy runs her fingers along the earrings, wanting desperately to take a pair and keep them. Instead, she dabs Miranda’s perfume behind her ears and swipes at tears that slip from the corners of her eyes.
There’s a black and white photo of the girls on the vanity, from the same shoot that resulted in the more formal portrait that hangs downstairs. But this photo shows two laughing kids hugging each other while seated on a sofa. They are nearly falling over, and for a moment Andy can imagine the sound of their giggles while Miranda watches over them.
This room is breaking her heart.
She leaves and heads for the other closet, where the safe is kept. She presses the nearly invisible panel along the wall until it clicks ajar, types in the code and the door pops open. She goes through the stacks of paper and finds what she needs before slamming the door shut. She does not snoop, mainly because she doesn’t care what is in Miranda’s will or trust. She will get nothing, and she wants nothing. What she wants is gone.
The girls eat scrambled eggs and toast for dinner. Andy cooks. Strong coffee is her only supper, while Jeremy has three glasses of scotch. What’s remarkable is that even after glass number three Jeremy seems completely sober. The scotch doesn’t appear to make him feel better, nor does the coffee help Andy. She hasn’t eaten since breakfast, but food does not appeal at the moment.
Jeremy and Miranda have been divorced for seven years, but they managed to be civil for most of that time. Andy actually likes him. She figures he’s already worried about taking the girls out of Dalton, about uprooting their lives so completely after the trauma of losing a parent. They can’t live in the townhouse alone, but at least they’ve only been back at school for a few weeks this year. They’ll stay for now, with Andy or whoever comes into town for the funeral or memorial services they’ll have, and then their things will be packed and shipped to Connecticut. Miranda left the house in trust for the girls, with taxes and upkeep to be paid out of a fund set up specifically for that purpose. As usual, Miranda was nothing if not prepared, even if Andy never believed that anything could kill a life force as powerful as hers. Everything is in perfect order.
Lots of Miranda’s friends and acquaintances, plus a few cousins, are in her will, which Jeremy talks about a little. A portion of Miranda’s trust will go to the Met Foundation, as well as to Parsons for annual scholarships. She also left a percentage of her cash holdings to charities like AmFar, and Susan G. Komen. A million dollars will go to Citymeals on Wheels. When Andy hears that, she digs her fingernails into her palms to keep from weeping. She successfully upholds her vow not to cry. She tells him that she doesn’t need to know more details, and he gets a strange look on his face, but stops talking anyway.
Jeremy spends a couple of hours on the phone with Leslie, in private. That gives Andy more time to spend with the girls, who don’t talk much. They play a few rounds of cards, which none of them enjoy. But it’s something to do. Andy expects they’ll play a lot more over the next few days.
The press hovers outside the townhouse door at a vaguely respectful distance. Andy knows that they are all over the story; the unexpected, violent nature of Miranda’s death makes for an explosive lede. She has stayed away from television and the internet today, mainly because she wants to hear nothing about the gruesome details of the wreckage. She is still feeling hateful toward Miranda’s male companion, but that has faded a bit, since his family will be missing him by now. From what Jeremy said, no one has identified him, and whatever papers he had on him burned or melted in the fire.
After their silent dinner, Andy puts on the first Harry Potter movie, at Cassidy’s request. Of course, the first Harry Potter movie starts out all about Harry as lonely orphan. Caroline punches Cassidy in the arm five minutes in, and Andy takes out the disc and puts in the Wizard of Oz. She is clearly not engaging her brain, since Dorothy Gale has no parents either, raised instead by Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Neither of the twins mentions this, though, and they make it through the first hour without interruption. When Andy eventually feels her phone buzz in her pocket, she does not answer.
For the entire day, in fact, Andy has not picked up her cell phone. When she glances at the screen, she learns she has 37 messages, and 45 missed calls. She scrolls through the list of numbers, and spots her parents’ listing. She tells the kids she has to go to the bathroom, which she does. After she pees, she flushes, washes her hands, then sits on the sink and calls her mother.
“Honey, I’ve been so worried!” are the first words out of her mother’s mouth.
Andy starts to sob, and turns on the bathroom fan to drown out the sound. It is horrible; her mother coos on the other end of the line, comforting words like it will be okay and you’ll get through this. Andy’s dad joins on the phone extension, and they both wait for her to calm. She pulls herself back together after a couple of minutes, otherwise Cassidy will probably barge through the door to make sure she hasn’t fallen in the toilet.
“I’m all right,” Andy tells them. She wants to confess her broken heart, but she doesn’t. She tries to imagine their response to the words I think I was in love with Miranda. Instead, she says, “I’m just kind of… lost.”
“Sure, honey, we understand,” her dad says. “Are you at work? Have you been with everyone there?”
“No, I’m at the townhouse, with Miranda’s kids. Her ex-husband is here too. I’ll go to Runway tomorrow, I guess, but the girls seem to want me to stick around. I don’t really have anywhere else to be, so, yeah.”
“We saw what happened on the news,” her mother says. “It’s so terrible--”
“Mom, don’t tell me, okay? I can’t really think about it right now. I can’t.” Tears spring from her eyes again, and she uses what’s left of the toilet paper to wipe her nose.
“Okay, okay, honey. When you’re ready to talk, you can. And if you… need to come home for a while, you know, after things get sorted out, we’re here for you.”
“What do you mean?” Andy asks, and then she realizes it. Her parents have assumed that with the loss of a boss, Andy has lost her job. They’re probably right. Somehow that inflames Andy’s ire. It’s not their fault that they think this; they are only looking out for her best interests. And as far as they know Miranda drove Andy completely nuts. Which she does. Or did. In every way known to man, both good and bad.
“We’re just saying we’re here for you, Andy. Whatever you need,” her father says, very gently.
“Okay, Dad,” she replies, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “Thanks. Listen, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, maybe. I have a lot of errands to run.”
“Errands?” he asks.
Andy does not tell them that after she visits Nigel at work she’ll be driving to Broome County to meet with police. She’s going with Leslie, and honestly, she wishes she could get out of it. But she owes Miranda, so she’ll deliver Miranda’s medical and dental records to the police as requested, and will do whatever else they need to get this whole thing over with.
She can barely fathom what she’s going to talk to Leslie about in the car on their two hour drive.
“There are just some things I have to take care of here,” she hedges. “And I’ll go to the office too.”
“Okay, honey,” her mom says. “You take care, and make sure you eat something. I know how you get.”
Andy rolls her eyes. “Thanks, Mom. I love you. Love you too, Dad.” She chokes up.
They both say I love you, and Andy ends the call. She looks in the mirror at her swollen eyes, and spends two minutes holding a cold washcloth over them. It doesn’t do much, but at least they’re a little less red. She rejoins the twins, who are still zoned out zombies on the sofa. They don’t ask what took Andy so long; maybe they don’t even realize she was gone.