Miranda managed to arrive home by five o’clock on Friday. With Nigel and Andrea performing in synchronized efficiency, she actually had less to do. No, it wouldn’t last, but she would take advantage of it while able. It was rather problematic earlier in the week when Andrea showed up with her daughter Tuesday morning. She had marched into Miranda’s office first thing and tersely explained her new reality. The little girl had grumbled, rubbing her red eyes and refused to say hello. A future coffee drinker in the making, Miranda fancied.
Quietly, Miranda empathized with the girl and the mother but merely dismissed her with the offhand remark that there was a daycare on the tenth floor for Elias-Clarke employees. As soon as they departed, Miranda made a call and with a few well-placed words, she secured a spot for Andrea’s daughter. She had to admire Andrea who hadn’t shed a tear, kept her shoulders pulled back and her chin up. There were a few things about the woman that reminded Miranda of herself. Andrea would most likely never discover how easily it had been to enroll her child. After all, she was unaware of Miranda’s clandestine influence.
Well aware of Nigel’s schedule changes in regard to Andrea’s circumstances, she privately approved. Andrea’s talent and experience kept her from the unemployment line, definitely not any misplaced sympathy from Nigel, not to mention Miranda. The woman was formidable without the austere disposition Miranda favored, a difference that was noteworthy. Of course, only the first week of her employment did not make a success, let alone a career. There was the Paris Haute Couture fashion week at the end of the month, after all, then New York fashion week. Not to mention the various calamities to befall them at any given moment.
Her bobbsies met her at the door, jabbering as one took her Chanel bag and the other clasped her hand. She squeezed Cassidy’s hand before letting go to take off her coat and hanging it up in the closet. Reclaiming her daughter’s hand, Miranda headed for the kitchen.
“I don’t know what Caroline was thinking.” Cassidy huffed, shooting daggers at her sister. “Everyone at school knows our skirts...”
“I don’t like hems to hang past my knees. It’s Victorian.”
Cassidy interrupted with the indignant tone only a nine year old in private school could muster. “It’s a matter of millimeters, Caroline.”
Miranda nearly laughed but subdued her amusement just in time to meet Caroline’s disgruntled expression.
“What did you do, Caroline?” Miranda asked.
“Expressed my rights, of course.”
Miranda bit the inside of her lip then gently corrected, “Do you mean ‘exercised’?”
Caroline shot a dirty look at her laughing sister. “You know what I mean.”
Deciding that a change of topic was needed, Miranda asked, “How did you do on your algebra test, Cassidy?”
“Awesome, I think.” she said, swinging their clasped hands.
“Hello, Miranda. Dinner’s in the oven. I’ve gotta make tracks. Derby just pulled up.” Cara sang out as she squeezed past the kids, patting each head then Miranda’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Cara. Enjoy the show.”
“Thanks for the tickets. Have fun at your thing!”
The door opened then closed.
“Cassidy, would you mind turning the alarm on?”
The smaller twin raced across the polished floor toward the kitchen where the main security panel was mounted on the wall.
Caroline set down her mother’s bag on the small table in the hallway leading into the kitchen. “How was your day?”
“It went rather well.” Miranda replied as she opened the oven to see a foil covered dish on the top rack. She instructed Cassidy to fetch the oven mitts then moved the dish to the stovetop and turned off the oven. “Okay, mommy’s going to change and clean up a bit. Why don’t you two get your homework out and start on that? Do you need a drink before I go up?””
Cassidy rolled her eyes. “I’ve finished mine but Caroline...”
“You are such a butt rash.” Caroline hissed then looked guiltily at her mother and mumbled an apology. “I can get our drinks, mom.”
Eyebrows slowly raising, she looked at her daughter. “Are you quite sure, bobbsies?”
Cassidy started laughing but stopped when she saw the frown her mother shot her.
Caroline scowled, crossing her little arms in a huff. “One time, mother. It was one time but Cara bought juice boxes this time and put them on the low shelf.”
Nodding, she said, “Do moderate your tone, Caroline. We’ve talked about this.” Unable to withstand the storm clouds hovering over her daughter, Miranda squatted down until they were nearly face level. “Just keep working on it. You’ll get it soon.”
Two pairs of arms wrapped themselves around her from back to front which proved too much for Miranda to handle. She flopped down on the kitchen floor, besieged by her daughters’ tickling fingers and high pitched joy.
After several minutes she threw up the proverbial white flag, kissed their heads then hurriedly went upstairs. Since it was Friday, technically she didn’t have to work tomorrow and the idea of taking the twins on an impromptu outing greatly appealed to her. Nigel and Andrea, her own dream team, were on top of most everything. Miranda needed to work up some numbers for the budget which wasn’t so contentious since Irv was forced into retirement. His replacement, Adele Florian, understood to make money, one had to spend money. When she had spirited away Adele from Condé Nast, she hadn’t honestly believed the woman would oust Irv Ravitz. With help from the Elias-Clarke board, it happened much to Miranda’s satisfaction and surprise.
She took a quick shower, dressed in a smart, black Donna Karan cocktail dress, did her hair and makeup and was downstairs within thirty minutes. She was going to a political fundraiser for Bloomberg with Johnathan, her current...beau which was, she admitted, an absurd term. Boyfriend was even worse. Paramour was simply outdated. Gentleman friend? Miranda scoffed as she capped the mascara. She preferred ‘social companion’. They’d only been seeing one other for a little over a month. Soon, Miranda knew, she was going to have to put out or get out, as the vulgar saying went. Johnathan, despite being in his early sixties, was evidently eager to consummate the relationship. While she enjoyed sex, it wasn’t on her top five list of ‘favorite things’.
Johnathan R. Webster, the head of his own political marketing agency, suited her. Their social circles, especially art and philanthropy, often overlapped. He was well travelled and active, generous with his introductions to CEO’s, old money families, and slick, entrenched politicians across the country. On the whole, she enjoyed his company and looked forward to her evenings with him.
Miranda took one last look in the mirror, pleased with the touch-up and change as she twisted slightly to check her bare shoulders and back. She clicked off the light, collected the Blahnik’s from the shoe rack and a small clutch then headed downstairs. The girls were at the kitchen table. Caroline, head bent as she read a book with her pen poised, while Cassidy concentrated on a drawing with her tongue poking out.
“Cassidy, the last time I checked you’re a little girl and not a dog. Please close your mouth, preferably after you put your tongue back inside of it.”
Caroline snorted in her dainty way which irritated her sister who made a face. Before it escalated, Miranda told them to clear the table while she plated dinner. Glancing at the wall clock, Miranda hurried up.
“I Googled your boyfriend.” Cassidy casually dropped as she pulled the cutlery drawer open and started rooting around for forks.
Miranda hesitated then resumed her trek to the fridge to see if the leftover salad hadn’t been consumed. It hadn’t.
While she pulled out bowls from the cabinet, she asked, “And what do you think, Cassidy?”
Forks in hand, she grinned maniacally at her mother. “Old fart.”
Caroline laughed behind them as she grabbed some napkins.
Miranda inwardly sighed at the new saying she acquired which hadn’t stopped producing giggles yet. Anything to do with flatulence sent Cassidy off.
“It’s not nice to call people names.”
“He didn’t hear it.”
Migrating en masse to the table, Miranda looked down at her daughter who seemed truly puzzled by Miranda’s admonishment.
“Doesn’t make it right.” Caroline primly stated and sat down. Holding her fork, she pointed it at her sister and said, “And now you’re a gossip.”
Miranda took her seat then sighed. She got up to get the salad bowls and dressing. A mini fight broke out as Miranda set down their bowls, thinly pouring the dressing.
“Girls.” she quietly said, retaking her seat and scooting it in. “Let’s have a nice dinner. You love Cara’s chicken and rice casserole.”
“Mom, is Nigel really gonna leave America?” Cassidy asked and used her fingers to push in a mouthful of food that got away from her.
Miranda gave her a meaningful look before answering, “Yes, he is. It’s a great opportunity for him to be the editor of Paris Runway.”
With precision, Caroline culled the peas to the side of her plate. “He really wanted to go?”
“Of course. The perfect circumstances presented themselves this time.”
Caroline nodded then pushed her plate slightly toward her sister. Cassidy scooped up the peas, spilling most of them on the table and floor.
“Really, Cassidy.” Miranda suspected it was done on purpose especially when she caught the look the twins gave each other. Aside from the mess, they had executed the plan for Caroline to avoid peas rather well. She wondered, however, how Cassidy was going to avoid the mushrooms piling up on her own plate.
Miranda cleaned up the peas and hoped she got them all. After dumping it in the trash, she turned back to the table and noticed immediately the mushroom mountain vanished. Staring at her daughters, she raised her eyebrows which was a hit-or-miss signal now that they were older. Of the two, Cassidy’s composure often faltered first so Mirada concentrated on her.
Face turning red, her daughter lowered her gaze a little and glared at her sister.
Switching the object of her concentration, Miranda looked harder at Caroline until she sighed and pulled one hand from her lap area and showed Miranda the balled up napkin.
Miranda held out her own hand and waited for Caroline to hand it over. “Tomorrow both of you will clean up the playroom.”
“Why me? I didn’t do anything.” Cassidy objected.
“Except spill the peas on purpose. Now, if you’re done, take your plates to the counter by the sink. Selah should be here shortly.”
Ignoring their low grumbled argument, Miranda took a sip of water and second-guessed their punishment for attempting to pull one over on their mother. On the other hand, she did admire the thought and bravery her two nine-year-old girls displayed. Perhaps next time the repercussions needed to be more significant. Running a magazine was easier than raising humans and on that thought, she cleared the rest of the table.
“You may entertain yourselves in the playroom.”
They didn’t waste any time clamoring up the stairs. She rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, rewrapped the casserole dish and put it in the fridge. Miranda employed a cleaning service that came twice during the week but on the weekends, she and the twins managed on their own. Or didn’t and for those occasions she paid extra for someone to come in.
She got her Chanel bag, rooted through it for the things she’d need for the night, then went to her office. Three texts from Vanessa and a missed call from Nigel alerted her when she checked her phone. She texted back instructions for her assistant then called Nigel.
“There’s no emergency.” he said.
“Then why did you call?”
He cleared his throat a little then said, “Do you know of a reliable nanny service?”
“I’ll make the call but I...” Miranda tried to think of a polite way of voicing her next question.
“She doesn’t have a choice. We’re going to Paris at the end of the month and her husband’s probably moving to Boston with her best friend.”
“Christ.” she muttered. Andrea had left out a few details. “I’ll work something out and spare her pride. And you...well, you will keep quiet, yes?”
“Like the dead.” Nigel made a small noise. “You have a soft spot for her and before you rip off my head, so do I. She’s like a kinder, gentler version of you.”
They shared quiet laughter. “I think Caroline was worried I made you go to Paris Runway, by the way.”
“They were only six when that James Holt disaster happened. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you...”
“Be that as it may, I could have given you a warning.”
“You saved me since it only took Jacqueline a year to tank the enterprise.”
Miranda sniffed. “As if that deplorable woman could make a success out of anything. From what I hear, she’s taken a sabbatical from fashion magazines. Evidently, television loves her.”
“Everyone enjoys a parade, especially if it catches on fire and clowns are involved.”
“Mmm. Possibly. A little birdie told me...”
Miranda leaned against the desk. “Her name’s Vanessa and she’s my assistant. That birdie?”
“Well, isn’t this the fourth date with Mr. Webster?”
Admiring how her Blahniks made her ankle and calf look sinful, she said, “It is.”
“I wonder if he needs pills when the time comes.”
Miranda sighed, “What makes you think it hasn’t already?”
“You lack that fresh fu...”
“Must you be so crude? He’s very suitable and one must make certain...concessions, ne vous en faites pas?”
“One shouldn’t have to.” he countered softly. “You’re beautiful, smart, and generous to those you love. You deserve so much more than you allow yourself, Miranda.”
“Don’t.” she said, making her voice unyielding. “There are very good reasons I’ve been divorced twice.”
“Besides your deplorable taste in men?”
“It is a pity gay marriage isn’t legal. Think of all the divorces you missed out on.”
Nigel laughed but the sound didn’t come across as completely happy.
Miranda tipped her head back and closed her eyes. “You touched a nerve and I reacted badly.”
“No more than I. Well, now that that’s sorted, enjoy your evening and I will inform Andrea that I’ve gotten a referral from ‘a friend’ once you give me the information. Why Anna let her go defies logic.”
“Her loss and our gain. I intend on grooming her for bigger things, Nigel, if she keeps it together. Her portfolio...”
“Amazing and diverse. Did you read...”
“The article she wrote on Holi, India’s festival of colors? Oh, yes, that was good work.”
There was a pause then, Nigel said, “You and I, we’ll make sure she succeeds.”
“We’re in accord. Have a nice evening as well. Anything to report in that realm?”
“Sadly, no. I’m in a bit of a dry spell. There’s nothing to tell. Oh what the hell...”
“Stop or I’ll yell.”
They laughed a few seconds then said good night.
Miranda walked to the bottom of the stairs and called up. “Girls, come say goodbye.”
There was a pause of silence before the stampede started. Cassidy, in her jeans and t-shirt arrived first, nearly flying into Miranda’s outstretched arms. Much more dignified, Caroline descended the steps still in her school uniform.
“I’m going to have to step up my work outs if you want me to keep picking you up, bobbsies. You’re both growing wild.”
Cassidy wiggled out of her embrace. “Look, mommy, before you leave. I learned a new dance.” She held elbows out, bounced on the pads of her feet and moving her head from side to side.
“Oh, my, that’s lovely. You’ll have to teach that to me tomorrow.” She cooed then looked at Caroline and opened her arms.
Dutifully she kissed Miranda’s cheek but didn’t try to climb her. Miranda crouched low and placed her hands on Caroline’s waist. “I’m afraid I’m going to miss you more than one kiss. May I have more?”
Cassidy hung on the newel post and bellowed, “Sweet Caroline...good times never seemed so good...”
“I’ve been inclined to believe they never would.” Miranda sang the next verse and was happy to note her daughter started smiling.
Together they sang, “But now I look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely. We fill it up with only THREE...”
Cassidy was the first to dissolve into laughter as she stood on the top step and watched at sister and mother hug.
“Sing my song, mommy! Sing my song!” Cassidy pleaded, clapping her hands.
The doorbell rang and Miranda reluctantly stood. “Cassidy, I promise we’ll sing it tomorrow. We have fun plans for the entire day so get some rest.”
Miranda opened the door and let in a tall, skinny teenager in.
“Selah, I love your new look.”
The twins converged on the poor girl, shooting several questions and remarks her way.
“Thanks, Mrs. Priestly. I wanted to try somethin’ different.” She replied, then addressed her daughters as she took off her coat.
“Well, I enjoyed the cornrows, too. Oh, before I forget to ask, which school did you pick?”
“Congratulations. I think your father was quietly hoping for Stanford.”
Selah nodded. “I think so, too. Mom wished I picked one closer but...” Shrugging, she clarified, “...something about Spelman just spoke to me.”
“Where is Spelman?” Cassidy asked, leaning against the young woman.
“That’s in another state!”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “It’s like you never learned geography.”
The doorbell rang again and Miranda looked at Selah pleadingly.
“Tell your mom goodnight so she can get out of here and we can party!”
The girls quickly kissed Miranda then followed Selah up the stairs.
“Call if you need anything.” Miranda said then went to open the door.
Johnathan looked distinguished but predictable in the classic Georgio Armani tuxedo. The sharp ice blue silk tie matched perfectly with the pocket square. She accepted his kiss to her cheek.
“Let me get my clutch and we can leave.”
“Where are your daughters?”
Miranda lightly tugged on her earring as she turned away. “Upstairs with the sitter.”
Before he could respond, she returned and went to the closet to retrieve the faux mink blue coat. Johnathan took the coat from her and held it up. She slipped into it, content that the shade matched her eyes despite not quite matching Johnathan’s silk tie and pocket square. Originally she thought of the black-tipped red fur but, for obvious reasons, decided on the blue.
Once ensconced within the town car, Johnathan prattled on about the upcoming event. Miranda made appropriate responses when there was a lull but Johnathan wasn’t a witty conversationalist, so her participation wasn’t actually required. For the most part, Miranda didn’t mind. Perhaps because her expectations didn’t rise above five on a scale of one to twenty. As she looked out the window, not seeing her reflection, her mind wandered. Andrea said much without actually saying anything at all which intrigued Miranda. It was refreshing, to work with someone so like-minded that an expression was enough to communicate. Andrea didn’t cow down, didn’t become bullish when Miranda gave into her own frustration. No, the woman simply kept on course like an ice breaker ship in the artic, inching through the unmovable.
Miranda bit her the inside of her lower lip. If she wasn’t careful, her admiration for Andrea Sachs could spiral which wouldn’t do. No, it wouldn’t do at all. Miranda looked away from the window and paid attention to her date.
The venue was crowded, of course. Miranda hated the lack of space but she gamely followed Johnathan through the throng, stopping occasionally to speak to people she hardly knew. She didn’t say much. Her role wasn’t to reign but provide a very pretty distraction while Johnathan talked business. So, Miranda smiled and cooed and air-kissed until her delightful mask threatened to crack. Some of the attendees were people she knew socially through charities or galas. It wasn’t hard to act like arm-candy but she tired of the charade more quickly than not.
It didn’t matter. Men like Johnathan wanted young women and while she wasn’t, she looked exceptional and that, really, was all that mattered to a man of Johnathan’s station. She had power and position of her own in an industry that didn’t threaten him. Her wealth, while not close to his was still exceptional. The fact that she earned it herself, that it wasn’t granted in a divorce or given to her via trust fund weighed in her favor. No, she wasn’t young anymore but she brought much to the table now.
Still, Miranda faked her smiles and compliments and doubted the wisdom of attending. Her attention so feigned to be imaginary, she excused herself when Johnathan engaged in a debate with another man about Bloomberg’s chances for re-election. She headed toward the bar, intent on a wine that was crisp and fruity or a light champagne that went down easily.
“I’m not surprised.”
Miranda looked over her shoulder, drawn by the familiar voice. “I’m in a mood, Anna.”
“How is that different from any other time I’ve had the misfortune of bumping into you?”
Miranda tried not to smile but she knew she hadn’t been successful when Anna bit her upper lip and her eyebrows rose above the Chanel glasses she wore.
“Take off those glasses for god’s sake. It’s like you’re the female version of Howard Hughes.”
Anna grinned then slowly stepped to the other side of Miranda. “You could use a spa week, darling. Scrub off all those accumulated dead skin cells that make you look rather like a rhino.”
Miranda pushed past her to the bar and said over her shoulder, “Said the elephant.”
Anna laughed then said, “I’ll have my usual.”
A few minutes later, Miranda grabbed two champagne glasses. She handed one to Anna. They silently touched glasses, nodded, then downed the drink in one go.
“Your turn, dear.”
Anna nodded then wiggled through the bodies at the bar. Miranda looked around for Bee, Anna’s daughter who usually accompanied her mother.
“How many cheese burst pizzas have you had this week, Anna? Your ass is positively plump compared to the flat pancake it usually is.”
Laughing, she handed Miranda another flute of champagne. “And your thighs are clapping together like cymbals, darling.” She tilted her head toward Miranda’s back. “Oh, look, your bass drum ass as an accompaniment.”
Miranda snorted, covering her nose with the back of her free hand. “That was a good one.”
“Stop looking as if you’re having a good time, Miranda. People are watching.”
Miranda adopted a blasé expression and looked around as if she were bored. “Why did you let Andrea Sachs go?”
“Believe it or not, darling, I didn’t want to. I blame a bout of insanity but the poor girl wanted Runway and you.”
Miranda forced down the smirk. It wouldn’t do to let Anna know how pleased she was acquiring one of Anna’s underlings.
“You say that as if it’s mystifying. Runway does have most of the market share, dear.”
Anna tipped her empty glass. “For now.”
Staring at her own empty glass, Miranda murmured, “I’d rather get drunk with you than be with my date.”
Anna took her flute. “Well, then, who am I to deny you, darling?”
“I imagine somewhere chatting up a gentleman, well, one hopes. ” Anna held up the flutes. “Shall I?”
Miranda nodded. It was disconcerting. She should be by Jonathan’s side. Instead, Anna Wintour of all people was preferrable.
“Drink up, darling. Jonathan Webster makes a documentary about peeling paint absolutely riveting.”
“Why didn’t your mother drown you at birth?”
Anna sipped from the flute then licked her lips. “Because I knew how to swim, of course.”
At a loss, Miranda clicked glasses and drained the rest of the champagne.
“Well, until the next time, dear.”
“Webster isn’t the man for you.” Anna’s mouth was a straight line. “You already know that.”
Miranda tensed up as she stared into Chanel glasses. “Needs must, you know.”
“Pity.” Anna drained her glass. “I wanted to keep her. She didn’t want to wait. Understandable, yes, and I didn’t want to stand in her way. Miranda, you must know what you have in her. Don’t fuck it up, darling.”
Miranda lifted one brow then smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t intent to.”
With the soft mocking laughter of Anna Wintour at her back, Miranda made her way through the crowd in search of Johnathan. With a mindless ease she sidled up to him and smiled, made remarks intended to showcase Johnathan’s accomplishments, but, honestly, she wished were at home with her children watching a Disney movie of all things.
At nine o’clock, Miranda whispered in his ear that she needed to leave. Johnathan frowned but she told him she’d take a taxi, that she wanted to be home to tuck her twins into bed and perhaps read them a bedtime story. He softened, predictably, and insisted upon escorting her through the crowd to the street where his town car idled at the curb.
She wanted to want him. It would have fixed it all. Miranda endured his kiss, patting his chest when they parted. Without further affectations, she slid into the back seat, blessedly alone and watched the lights of the city through the window while she wondered why when everything ultimately aligned to her advantage, all she wanted to do was walk away.