“Miranda, someone has to deal with the Jamar King mess and he and I already have a rapport. I can fix this and take a later flight Friday night to Florida.”
“We’re going on my ex-husband’s private jet, Andrea. Not commercial.”
“You’re being ridiculous. What’s the matter? Really?”
Miranda exhaled, staring at her aluminum suitcase, splayed open but empty. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. “I’m worried you won’t make it.”
“I will make it.”
“You know, I’ve said that before. To my husbands. Guess how that turned out.”
“There are no husbands in our equation, you know. Look, I’ve got to go, but you better pick me up. I’ve already booked a flight and sent the itinerary to your personal email. Understand this, Priestly...I am going to move heaven and earth to be with you and our children. And I’m going to do a fucking fantastic job with Jamar King in the process. I love you madly, woman, but I’ve got to go.”
Miranda said goodbye but Andrea had already hung up. Was it already starting or was she being overly sensitive? Was it time for the cosmic payback for all those years she chose Runway instead of her husbands and children? In the early days of Miranda’s editorship, everything had been under her purview. It had taken her a decade to begin to buy into the wisdom of delegation. She learned how to balance work and home much better after two failed marriages under her belt. Andrea, she had to admit, was well ahead of the learning curve. Opting not to go looking for trouble, Miranda tossed the phone on the bed then entered the walk-in.
Such a pristine organized room, tailored to her tastes, nay, to her very thoughts. Sometimes she spared a minute to admire the true reflection of her personality and the incredible organization the room exhibited. Everything was in its place which gave her no small amount of satisfaction. As she considered various dresses, Miranda was thankful for some alone time. While Cassidy was at gymnastics, Caroline stayed at school with a tutor led study group hosted by a math teacher.
When she selected and packed enough dresses to next four days, which took her over an hour, Miranda decided to call Nigel.
“How lucky am I!” Nigel sang out in greeting. “I’ve just gotten off the phone and was on the brink of calling you. I have news!”
“Well, fire Reznick.”
Miranda perched on the edge of her bed. “You know it’s not the simple.”
“It was when I worked there.”
“Things have...changed. Directors are no longer under my control.”
Miranda ignored the theatrics and ticked off the silent seconds.
On the count of eleven, he ventured, “Is this a positive or negative?”
“When have you ever known me to make a deal that’s not advantageous to me?”
“Yes, but now you’re in love, my friend, and that dulls the killer instinct.”
Emitting a long-suffering sound, Miranda considered her response. “Andrea is a very formidable partner, Nigel, unlike my spineless husbands. She’s...indomitable. So, you see, darling, despite my vulnerabilities, I am more powerful now than I’ve ever imagined.”
“I am happy for you and I think Andrea’s a very nice person...”
Nigel sighed. “You’re my person, Miranda, and I will always look out for you. I don’t owe such an allegiance to Andrea. ”
Miranda crossed her legs as she leaned back in the reading chair. “Is there something specific on your mind, Nigel?”
A slight pause then he replied, “No. I did recruit her for the job but I had no idea...”
“Neither did we.”
“Do you think people like us can have happy relationships?”
“I don’t think Paris agrees with you, Nigel. You’re getting maudlin.”
“I know that but answer the question.” He almost pleaded.
Instead of the riposte she expected, Nigel’s quiet desperation knocked her off-kilter. She pressed her fingers against her closed mouth for a few seconds then took a fortifying breath. “Yes, we can.”
Nigel sniffled. “Good.”
Not quite knowing what to say, she waited a second longer. Theirs wasn’t a demonstrative friendship but it was no less affectionate in its unique way.
“What’s this about?” she asked softly.
“Jean Paul broke it off.”
“I am not successful.” Nigel replied with a snap stressing his last word.
“From the man who gave the world ‘Aow Tou Dou Zat’. Really, Nigel, I don’t even think it placed on the Billboard charts.”
“Well, the video was rather entertaining.”
“I could have done without the giant dancing scissors.”
Nigel sighed. “Still, everyone knows Gautier but only a handful know Kipling.”
“Oh, but they will. I’ll give you five years and I bet people like Gautier will beg you to be in Paris Runway.”
Laughing, Nigel rejoined, “I’ll only need two.”
When they grew silent, Miranda bit her lower lip. “I’m...sorry it didn’t work out.”
“Again, you mean. Go on say it. It’s not like I haven’t thought it, Miranda. I must have been out of my mind...”
“No, Nigel. You are starting a new chapter in your life in the City of Lights. You’re...hopeful and rightly so, dearest. Perhaps it’s time to find someone that’s hopeful, too?”
“Perhaps. There is a youngish designer I had a thing with...”
“No more recycling. Develop a new standard, one that compliments who you are now.”
Nigel chuckled. “You’re...different but I didn’t notice how much until just this second.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“The old Miranda wouldn’t have been quite as supportive.”
What he said was true and yet Miranda yearned to defend herself. “Yes, well, don’t aggravate me.”
“It’s my aspiration every day.”
Miranda daintily grunted then brought the conversation back around. “So, why must I fire Reznick?”
“I’ve learned through my sources...”
“I’ve learned from the best not to reveal everything as you well know. Now, may I continue?”
“As long as you come to the point sometime this millennia, Nigel.”
“It seems Miss Follet has been biding her time to make a move. She wants Runway and has the support of a few board members.”
“I’m having a hard time believing your intel.”
“Really, ‘intel’?” Nigel lightly mocked. “Ravitz ring a bell?”
“I see your point.”
“Regardless, she needed a way into Runway to stir the pot, as it were because even that French twit knew she had to create ‘just cause’ before taking it to the board.”
Miranda laughed. “So, she picked Reznick? He’s afraid of his own shadow.”
“Tut-tut, dearest, he’s afraid of your shadow. I suppose she figured he would be the easiest to flip.”
“You mean the most stupid to try.” Miranda scratched the back of her neck. “Obviously they were either ready or forced to make a move. Reznick’s hated me ever since the circus shoot for the Donna Karan two years ago. I’ve known for the last year he’s been quite vocal about his displeasure.”
“It was a disaster, Miranda. You were right in taking over the shoot.”
“Now you’re being secretive.” Nigel prodded, then let out a long breath. “Just tell me your thoughts.”
Miranda weighed the pros and cons. “I’m not without alliances.”
“Ahh. So, we’re going to battle once again?”
“All the pieces are being put into place, don’t worry.”
“You have a contract so they just can’t fire you without cause which...oh, dear.” Nigel softly continued, “If Jacqueline finds out about Andrea...”
“Jacqueline is a gnat. A vaguely bothersome insect.” she interrupted softly, her tone cool.
“I suggest you get the Raid, then, as soon as possible. Wouldn’t want a swarm to bloom.”
Later that night Miranda sat in the study with a glass of wine. Andrea called during dinner to double check what to pack for Fen and to reassure her that she’d be on the seven-fifteen flight Friday night. The Jamar King panic had been downgraded after Andrea spent thirty minutes patiently talking him off a professional cliff. They were going to meet for lunch then go to his studio to go over the collection. Once she soothed his anxiety, she would take as many finished pieces as possible into safe-keeping until the shoot next week.
“What does Nate think of Fen’s Florida vacation?”
“Shit.” Andrea mumbled over the phone.
“Surely he’s going to call?”
“I-well, shit, Miranda. I’ll just put him off. Tell him she’s napping or at a playdate.”
Miranda sighed. “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell him she’s with me and that you’re joining us.”
“Low blow, Priestly.”
“I’m not the one...”
“I know, I know, okay, relax.” After a moment, Andrea murmured, “I hope you’re bringing a bikini, preferably one that covers very little.”
“Oh, I see I have to step up my game.” Andrea cleared her throat. “I’m sorry I’m going to miss the first two days. I’d rather be with you and the girls so, so much more, baby.”
The gentle sincerity of Andrea’s apology far outweighed the flirty compliment and Miranda felt her irritation defrost a little.
“I’m looking forward to it.” Miranda replied with less reserve. “Is there anything I need to know about Fen? Routines? Food?”
“She doesn’t know how to swim and she’s never been to the beach. Well, not as a toddler.”
“I’ll arrange swim lessons once we get back?”
“I’m for it but I just don’t know if there’s space in her schedule or mine right now. We can look at it later?”
When Andrea told her to get a pen, she did, from the drawer of the end table as well as the small note pad. Fen’s care was rather straightforward. Andrea promised to share a link of the lyrics to a favorite lullaby then proceeded to recite Fen’s food preferences that were by no means set in stone. Miranda hummed her way through, charmed by the toddler’s love of Lou the Sloth and aversion to asparagus. She was reminded of the twins early years and some of the things she missed out on while chasing her dreams. Her writing faltered then resumed.
“Hey, you stopped humming.”
Miranda exhaled in a long, soft stream. “It’s stupid, I know, but it just occurred to me how much trust you put into my keeping.”
“All of it.”
“Yes.” Swallowing, she couldn’t get any more words out.
The scratchy ‘hm?’ out of her mouth, for all its faintness had the power to microscopically nick her larynx.
“You put just as much in me.”
“I do.” she responded, perhaps a little too intensely. Miranda released the pen from her tight grasp. “I was thinking about when the girls were Fen’s age and it made me sad.” Miranda bit her upper lip then continued, “I don’t want you to miss anything, Andrea, and...regret it later down the line.”
“I know. I will make every second count, baby.” Andrea promised quietly.
Miranda hoisted Fen onto her hip once the small jet door opened. Cara and the twins shuffled behind her, knapsacks and a carryon in tow. The heat from the tarmac was a bit stifling after leaving the cold Northeast. Jet engines rumbled to life after being pushed back or whined down as they coasted into awaiting gates. Luggage carts, linked together like railroad containers, snaked along, avoiding jet blast and wingspans. Although the terminal for small jets was far enough away from the main tarmac traffic and noise, Miranda nevertheless hustled everyone across the short distance to the terminal doors.
Fen squirmed in her arms as they walked through the maze of hallways, following a terminal employee. The girls flanked Miranda and Fen maintaining a flow of chatter, while Cara brought up the rear. After a quick elevator ride two floors up, they poured out of the car and into the bustling terminal. Miranda led the way to the car rental counter.
“Here, let me take her.” Cara cooed, fingers flexing eagerly as she reached out for the toddler. “I’ll see to the children. You see to the transportation.”
Miranda hesitated then rolled her eyes when Cara glared.
As they waited for the Chevrolet Suburban to be brought around, Cara took the girls to the bathroom and Miranda called Andrea. It went to voicemail. Miranda gritted her teeth but managed to sound unperturbed leaving a message. The the car arrived, idling in the loading zone, as they gathered their things. A porter and rental employee helped them get everyone situated and the luggage stowed. Tucked in a car seat between the twins, Fen dozed. Miranda checked the rearview and smiled at the way Caroline patted Fen’s leg as she read a book.
“I called the management company and gave them a grocery list. Oh, and last week I told them to ready the place.” Cara said, beaming.
Miranda checked the side mirror and glanced back before pulling away from the curb. “Why are you smiling?”
“I love the beach.”
“Yes, well, be useful and get my phone out of my purse then dial Judge Joslin.”
Cara grumbled, “I’m the damn cook.”
Miranda’s eyebrows shot up but she didn’t make a comment.
“Here. It’s ringing.” Cara said, holding out the phone.
She took it then said, “This is Miranda Priestly. Is the judge available?”
While on hold, Miranda happened to glance at Cara then frowned, not quite sure why she looked the way she did. It wasn’t quite disapproval.
“Hello, Judge-Linda, of course, that’s very kind of you.”
“Not at all. I’m sorry I haven’t called but my docket is rather full and I didn’t want to disturb you during non-business hours.”
“Between my assistant and your clerk, it’s been a game of phone-tag, hasn’t it? Well, allow me to get to the point. Can we have a meeting next week?”
“Let’s make it drinks on Monday? Six at Saint Bart’s?”
“I was thinking somewhere less public, Linda.”
Cara’s eyes bugged out but Miranda ignored her.
“Ah, of course. This is business after all, isn’t it? I know of a private establishment. I’ll put you on the guest list. I’ll have my clerk send your assistant the when and where.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you then.”
Miranda handed the phone to Cara who’s jaw jutted out, mimicking a bull dog. Returning her attention to the road, she dropped the phone on the seat between them and waited.
“I like Andrea.”
Checking the rearview, she was glad to see Cassidy still had her headphones on and Caroline had fallen asleep.
“What are you trying to say?” she hissed and kept her gaze forward.
“Linda? Less public place?” Cara scoffed.
Miranda chanced a quick look at her cook who’s arms were crossed over her chest.
“Oh, dear god, pick up a book instead of Page Six. It’s like you don’t know me at all.”
Cara reached over and pinched her arm.
“Ow.” Miranda gasped then glared at her before turning her gaze back to the road. “Have you lost your mind?”
“If you’re cheating on her, I swear...”
“Of all the truly idiotic things that’s spewed from your mouth, really, Cara, this is the most ridiculous yet.”
Cara hissed, “Miranda.”
“You don’t think very highly of me.”
“I know you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Cara shot a look toward the back seat then leaned in and growled, “Don’t fuck it up.”
The heat spread across her face as she clenched her jaw and simmered in rage. With the children in the vehicle, Cara wasn’t going to receive the blistering dressing down she deserved for such imprudence. Miranda shifted in the seat then turned on the blinker when their exit came into view. Not much time passed as they approached the next few turns, the roads narrowing, lined with bunches of scrub palmetto and longleaf pine trees. The sun was unmerciful in the pale blue cloudless sky. Heat vapors rose from the bleached asphalt.
One more turn onto the short causeway and the beach house was less than five miles away. Sparkling water splashed against the limestone rocks lining the causeway as several seagulls hovered over the waves in search of prey. Miranda’s shoulders relaxed by degrees the closer they got to the beach house. The pace of life in Miramar Beach of course was distinctly different than Manhattan’s freneticism in spite of the snowbird population. The tropical lull pulled in the most diehard city folk given enough time. Miranda was no exception.
It was a relief to shed her Manhattan persona and merely ‘be’. To be able to give that to her children, watching them chase after seagulls or gliding on boogieboards without adopting an ‘image’ to fend off people that assumed too much filled Miranda with gratitude. At the beach house, they weren’t the Priestly twins. They picked out their own clothing, often wearing their swimsuits under faded shorts and t-shirts, their feet in flip-flops, made friends unburdened by their mother’s public image, and thrived in their mother’s undivided attention. Miranda could only hope it helped balance the scales.
“Mom, are we there yet?” Caroline yawned, craning her neck to look out the window.
Miranda braked at the gatehouse as Cara answered her child then rolled down the window.
“Good morning.” the older gentleman said. “Are you a visitor?”
“Oh, no, I own a home here but I seem to have misplaced my keycard.”
Cara tapped her on the shoulder, smirking as she handed one over.
Miranda rolled her eyes but swiped it, smiling apologetically at the security guard. “Found it.”
“Well, you have a nice day, miss.”
When Miranda rolled up the window and pulled away, Cara playfully goaded, “I suppose you are a ‘miss’ to him.”
“Mom, can we go in the ocean?” Cassidy piped up.
Fen called out, “Me, too, maman.”
Miranda’s chest flooded with the most heart-rending joy upon hearing Fen call her the French equivalent of ‘mommy’. She kept her eyes averted as she parked the vehicle in the driveway.
“Soon, my loves.”
“I’ll get the children.” Cara announced, already out of her seatbelt and scrambling out of the vehicle. Before shutting the door, she peered at Miranda then drolly informed, “Do get the bags.”
While the twins unpacked and Cara started on lunch, Miranda hung up her clothes. Fen sat on the bed, telling Lou the Sloth all the new things they were going to do and how much fun they were going to have.
“Is mummers coming soon, M?”
Nodding, Miranda considered the dress as she held it away from her. “Tomorrow night, mon chou, but she’s going to call tonight.”
Miranda draped the dress over a nearby chair then bit her lip. She searched Fen’s face. Her question had been uttered rather carelessly as she played with the stuffed toy. Slowly Miranda sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch the little girl’s knee.
Fen looked up, frowning a little.
“Would you like to see her on the phone?”
Bobbing her head, Fen sucked in her lips then released them with a pop. “Can Lou go to the, to the...” She cocked her head in such an adorable fashion, Miranda leaned over and kissed her on the nose.
“To the ‘beach’?”
“Well, my little darling, I don’t think Lou would like it very much.”
“Mommy says he’s my sleepin’ buddy.”
“We’ll just have to get you a beach buddy. Would you like that?”
Fen clambered onto her knees from her seated position then awkwardly flung herself up on her toes. Miranda caught her, laughing and blowing kisses on Fen’s neck.
“Mom, you’re not even ready!” Cassidy whined as she burst through the half-opened door.
Miranda set Fen on the bed. “Oh, bobbsies, as soon as I change and get Fen ready, we’ll go down and have lunch first.”
“Cassidy.” she warned as she grabbed Fen’s suitcase and started looking through it. “What did I say?”
Ignoring her offspring’s grumpy stomps out of the room, Miranda settled on a cute light green one-piece swim suit with dark green polka dots, the cutest pair of mini-surfer shorts and a thin, white t-shirt.
“Let’s put your hair in a ponytail, shall we?”
Fen pouted. “Thank you, no.”
Shaking her head a little, she smiled then plopped down on the mattress and kicked off her slip-on shoes.
Miranda observed the very entertaining way Andrea’s daughter disrobed. It was more like a fight between her and the clothes, really, as Fen’s little body twisted and contorted, feet kicking in the air.
“Would you like some help, mon chou?”
In the most precious way, Fen froze in the struggle to remove the last shoe, and lifted her head to reply, “Oui.”
Miranda, holding the phone to her ear, stepped out onto the second story balcony that overlooked the beach and ocean. The wind billowed the long, white gossamer curtains as she left the sliding door open.
“Thank you for sending the video. I must have played it a hundred times.”
“She is fearless.”
“I know! I can’t believe she just jumped right in. I think it helped that the twins were with her.”
“Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it, my love?”
Andrea whined, “Oh, don’t go all deep, sexy voice on me when we’re so far apart.”
Leaning on the railing, Miranda gazed at the sparkling strip of moonlight dancing on the waves.
“I wish you were here.”
“I will be, baby. I’m going to try for the early flight if I can get Jamar settled. I’m already packed.”
“It’s...peaceful here. The moon is out and there’s a nice breeze.”
“Where are you?”
“On the balcony of my bedroom.”
Andrea made a strangled noise. “It’s romantic, isn’t it?”
Miranda laughed, low in her chest. “Actually, it makes me want to straddle you while you fuck me with a strap-on, Andrea.”
“God damnit, please...please don’t drive me insane.”
“The morning is the best, just before sunrise. It’s still relatively cool, the ocean breeze sweeping into the room. I think of you and I on the bed, naked and entwined.” Miranda exhaled in a long hum as she imagined it. “Do you know I love it when you lose yourself in me? When you are so determined to take what’s yours?”
“Miranda.” Andrea growled.
“What’s the matter, cub? Not strong enough to take it, hm?”
“Be very careful, Priestly.”
Miranda laughed softly. “Oh, I do so enjoy getting you riled up, my love.”
“Hopefully you'll be able to keep up."