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Changing Lives in Craphole, Indiana

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"This is the part where we roll up our sleeves and we put on a prom with our own bare hands," decrees Barry. "We are giving Emma the prom she deserves--"

"Okay, wait a-wait a-wait a minute." Dee Dee holds up a hand. "How much are we talking about? What does a prom cost?"

"I mean, it's not a school-sanctioned event," explains Tom, "so we have to pay a rental fee on the gym--"

"D.J.," she supplies.

"Lighting."

"Sound system."

"It's still thousands of dollars," Tom sighs.

"Right. Um," Angie stammers while Barry, gripped by determination and newfound resourcefulness, grabs his bag.

"Okay," he says, "here," and pulls out his wallet, slapping a credit card onto the table. "Charge that until it declines, which will be soon. I had to declare bankruptcy after my self-produced Notes on a Scandal."

Swept up by the spirit of generosity, Angie taps the table and rushes to her own bag. "Yes. Well... I don't have a credit card anymore because I... well, I just... but, anyway, you can, um, you can have what I have in my Venmo and... there's my cash. It's all yours!"

"Thanks, Angie," Tom says, accepting the scant amount of bills.

"Sure!"

While Trent reaches into his jacket pocket and joins in with "Okay, this is my card from the Actors Federal Credit Union, just... cross your fingers and swipe," Dee Dee, beside him, rises from her seat and inconspicupusly moves toward the book shelves in the corner of Tom's office. She picks up a book titled Surrealism and hides her face between the pages.

"Alright," Tom concludes carefully, surveying the different forms of money before him, scarce as it may be, "well, we're making some progress here. This is a, this is a nice start. Um... we still have a long way to go."

To his left, Angie pipes up, pointing at the only person in the room who hasn't yet pitched in and clearing her throat. Right on cue, all heads turn to Dee Dee, who inspects a picture with more interest than she's ever dedicated to her nails.

"Dee Dee," says Barry. "Dee Dee."

"What?" She turns to him with a petulant scowl.

"This is our last resort," he says meaningfully, coming toward her. "Please help us out here."

"You think I have any money?" she sputters incredulously, putting away her prop. "I'm still collecting unemployment checks!"

"You maybe don't," he allows, putting an emphasis on the "you" and giving her a long, knowing look. "But..."

"Please," she pleads, face scrunching up in agony, "please, no. I already gave a house!"

"Exactly, so this is nothing. Come on!"

"Please don't make me do this," she whines.

Barry raises his eyebrows, tilts his head to the side, and rasps, "Eleanor."

And Dee Dee, with all her heart, curses her decision to become a good person. "Franklin," she moans.

 


 

The phone rings. Each protracted beep lasts an eternity before the next one follows. It rings once, twice, three time, and then it stops.

"Hello?" a disembodied voice on the other end of the line inquires and Dee Dee's back comes to rest against a row of lockers with a metalic rattling sound. At 6 P.M., the sun has sunk low in the sky and through the hallway windows, blue and yellow shades of dusk eerily color the otherwise dark space.

The school is sinisterly quiet, a building not meant to be inhabited past 4 o'clock. Every sound is detected in the hollow halls: every echoing step, every creaking piece of furniture. Dee Dee draws a fortifying breath and says, "It's me."

The ensuing silence joins the one around her, two different worlds brought together by a universal state. The only thing Dee Dee hears is the breathing on the phone, and her own. The only thing, it seems, they still have in common.

In her office, framed by a gradient sunset sky, Miranda Priestly holds her cell phone to her ear, the papers in front of her long forgotten. She looks ahead of her, all the way down the floor's corridor where it turns into the elevators' space, but sees nothing. "How did you get this number?"

"I have my ways," Dee Dee slyly replies and Miranda can hear the quirk of her lips in her voice. Even after all these years, she can recognize it.

"What do you want?" she demands.

She distinguishes the intake of breath down the line, but after that, there's nothing. When the quiet becomes stifling, she removes the phone from her ear to check that the call is still connected, and that's when Dee Dee speaks again, "I need your help."

She should have known. Perhaps she did know: the call wouldn't have come after twenty years with the purpose of small talk or inquiring about her day. "That's rich of you," she chuckles bitterly.

"I wouldn't have called if I had a choice," Dee Dee adds solemnly.

"What is it? Money?" Miranda guesses and the lack of answer is her wordless confirmation. "What happened? Did you run out?"

"I did," Dee Dee answers unpredictably honestly. "Can you believe it?"

"And so you came crawling to me," she sneers.

"I'm saying please."

"The answer is no," she enunciates into the phone with finality.

Closing her eyes, Dee Dee takes another deep breath. She feels her pride and dignity being stripped away from her layer by layer, leaving her naked and exposed in the middle of a hick town high school. With a begrudging effort, she leans her head back and mutters, "I'm sorry," and they both know she's not apologizing for the request.

After a brief pause, Miranda's voice comes back on, "Go on."

"I shouldn't have said what I said." She shakes her head, at her own self-inflicted humiliation more than anything else, and peels another layer of pride with a drawl, "I was wrong."

There's another pregnant silence that might be acceptance if not forgiveness. Swiveling her chair toward the window, Miranda watches the changing colors in the vast sky, the fiery sun gleaming off of shiny windows of fellow skyscrapers on its descent into the ocean. Her chin tilts up and her shoulders square. "What do you need the money for, anyway? Drugs?"

"Please," Dee Dee balks in revulsion, "I don't do drugs. Well... except for that one time. And that other time. And that time at Sondheim's party--boy, that was a fun night--"

"Goodbye."

"No, wait," she calls, pushing off of the lockers, and after a moment of hesitation, Miranda returns the phone to her ear. Dee Dee chuckles then, a sound that comes out forced and incredulous. "I need it for a prom."

 


 

Hanging up the phone, Miranda swivels back toward her desk and slowly puts it down. It takes her a moment to realize her entire body is tensed up, as if her muscles are bracing for a fight, and when she does, it's hard to loosen up.

She looks out into the outer area of her office, where typing and shuffling can be heard, the occasional cough or ringing phone disturbing the pattern. She can't see her assistants, but on the right, she hears the printer working, followed by the dull sound of crutches against carpeted hardwood that's become a constant in the office. On the left, there's a series of quick clicking on a computer's mouse before it drags against its wooden surface. On the right, a chair's wheels squeak. On the left, a computer pings. Miranda rests her elbows on her desk, intertwines her fingers, and places her chin on top of them in contemplation, eyes darting between the edges of the desks in her line of vision.

"Andrea," she decides, listening to the subsequent rolling of the chair on the left, the stilettoes that thump across the carpet, and when Andy shows up at the entrance of her office, she's holding up a notebook and a pen.

"Book a flight to Indiana tomorrow morning," she instructs, "and a hotel in Edgewater--whatever that is."

If Andy is confused by the task, she's mastered a flawless expression of apathy. "Yes, Miranda." She nods and begins to walk out.

"Book two plane tickets," Miranda adds. "You're coming with."

And there it is: the split second of perplexity that's quickly masked and replaced with another helpful nod. "Okay."

 


 

Their plane lands in the godforsaken city of Indianapolis shortly before 11 A.M., and by the time the chauffered car arrives in rural Edgewater, the sun is already high in the sky, beaming down on the town without breaking through the chill, its contribution as moot as this trip feels.

The car glides to a stop in a scarcely occupied, outdoor parking lot and Miranda rolls down her window, peeking outside. About fifteen feet away, there's a wide, three-story building with arched windows and strange, tall stone sculptures that look out of place. Around the area, there's very little else: a run-down convencience store markets two jars of Nescafé for the price of one; an overweight man in shabby clothes stands outside a nearby electronics store, waiting for customers; a road glistening with the night's rain leads to the first visible houses on a suburban street. This street, however, appears devoid of human life.

"If you were to give the world an enema, I think we just found the point of entrance," Miranda grumbles drily and pushes open the car door while behind her a snicker responds to the observation.

"What is this hole?" she mumbles as she enters the hotel, looking up and around her in distaste. There is only one man behind the front desk, his hair greying and his shirt covered by an unflattering, beige vest with golden buttons. Off from reception, there's a common area with one couple conversing on a corner couch, a trolley suitcase at their feet.

Behind her, Andy walks through the door with their driver, who places two suitcases on the floor: a Samsonite and a Gucci. There's no bellboy to take them. "It's the only hotel I could find in the area. The closest one is in Indianapolis."

"Go get the key for my suite." Miranda jerks her head toward the reception desk. She stays put while Andy leaves her with the bags and approaches the desk, receiving a smiling greeting from the clerk. They exchange words that Miranda can't make out from a distance, but Andy's gestures gradually become more and more animated and the man's face gradually becomes more and more perturbed.

"What's taking so long?" Miranda, impatient at last, joins the pair.

"I'm sorry, Miranda," Andy begins tentatively, "there's a slight problem with the rooms."

"What kind of problem?" she demands, but doesn't wait for an answer before turning to the clerk. "I'd like the key to my suite."

"As I explained to your companion," he says slowly, "there's no suite."

As she purses her lips and cracks her neck in annoyance, Miranda spots a magazine stand to the side of the desk. The next moment, Runway's latest issue plops heavily before the stubborn clerk. "Now may I have the key to my suite?"

Squinting, the man sizes her up uncertainly. "You look familiar. Have I seen you before?"

"We'll take the best rooms you have," Andy interjects, pulling his attention back to her. With a nod, he pulls out two keycards and slides them toward Miranda and her.

"Get my suitcase," Miranda orders while Andy gratefully accepts the items, already striding toward the elevator with a mighty eye roll. "Where did you bring me, Deborah?"

As Andy and the suitcases catch up with her and the elevator sounds its arrival, the metal door sliding open, distant voices penetrate Miranda's awareness.

"I can write us a musical number," a jovial man says from somewhere behind her.

"Please don't," another male voice responds flatly. "Dee Dee, what did she say again?"

"That she'll think about it," a familiar voice answers. So familiar, in fact, it makes Miranda turn toward it, as though drawn by a magnetic force. "Trust me, it's a lost cause. We should think of something else--"

In the middle of the common area, coming in from a hallway at the other end of the room, Dee Dee stops in her tracks and the four people accompanying her mirror the action, looking quizzical. The man beside her, wearing a T-shirt and a cardigan with snug capri pants, cranes his neck around to gauge her facial expression in puzzlement. Behind them are a tall, blonde woman in a mini skirt and fishnets, a younger man with too much product in his hair and a Julliard shirt, and an older man with a bald head and a thick, grey mustache that hangs a few feet behind.

Miranda abandons the waiting elevator and stalks toward a sour-faced Dee Dee, Andy hot on her heels.

"Oh, my god, there's two of them." Angie breathes out, eyes wide in shock.

"I'm seeing double," Trent remarks.

"Did you know about this?" Angie questions Barry, who steps away from Dee Dee as Miranda approaches, a smirk playing at his lips.

"Deborah," Miranda is the first to offer a greeting of feigned courtesy. Her eyes lift pointedly to Dee Dee's red head of hairs. "I see you're still refusing to let nature take its course."

"Well." Dee Dee offers a smile that's so sickly sweet it gives Miranda a toothache. "Some of us don't let ourselves deteriorate at thirty, Miriam."

The sound of the name on her lips feels like a punch to the gut, and in an instant, Dee Dee's hair is not the only red she sees. Lips pinched, nostrils flaring, she seethes while Andy blurts, "Your name is Miriam?"

"No," she bites immediately, but someone has a different idea.

"Wait till you hear their last name," Barry chimes in.
Simultaneously, Miranda and Dee Dee turn their attention on him, such identical expressions of pure rage on their faces it's as if they've been cloned. "Don't you dare," they threaten in unison.

Angie leans over to him to whisper curiously, "What is it?"

"It's Princhek," he whispers back and she steps away, surprise written all over her features.

"What are you doing here?" Dee Dee vehemently demands, circling Miranda.

Miranda copies the movement until they're both stalking each other 'round and 'round like animals pursuing and trapping their prey, only in this scenario, they're both the predator. "I wanted to see what all the fuss is about," Miranda replies deceptively lightly.

"You couldn't have just transferred the money? You had to come here?" Dee Dee challenges, then concludes, "You don't trust me."

"Can you blame me?"

"You are and always were a stuck-up, condescending bitch."

"Look at the pot calling the kettle black."

Coming to a stop in her former spot, Dee Dee raises her chin and tightly pinches her lips. Behind her, a light pat lands on her back. "Dee Dee, I didn't know you had a sister," Trent claims good-naturedly.

Dee Dee recoils from the touch and runs a hand dramatically down her arched neck. "Trust me, I tried to forget that little fact as well."

"They're not just any sisters," Barry provides conspiratorially, his eyes sparkling with mirth. "They're--"

"Twins," Miranda finishes bitterly.

"At least according to our parents," Dee Dee adds in despair. Involuntarily, a chuckle escapes Andy's throat before she hastens to school her features, but it's noticeable enough for Dee Dee to step forward with a syrupy smile.

"And you are?"

"Oh, uh, I'm Andy," she stammers, holding out a hand that Dee Dee doesn't shake.

"And you two are..." She wiggles a finger between Miranda and her, her eyes gleaming, her lips puckering with the smile. "Girlfriends?"

Eyes growing to the size of saucers, Andy stumbles over herself to exclaim, "No!" while next to her, Miranda stiffens.

"Andrea is my assistant," she corrects tightly.

"Well." Dee Dee's smile is unfazed. "Clearly, I don't need to introduce myself."

"Um..." Andy frowns uncomfortably.

"Dee Dee," Miranda spits out, mercifully coming to her rescue, "is a has-been Broadway performer."

"I am not has-been," Dee Dee sharply rebukes her, her delight vanishing into thin air. She looks again to Andy, straightening her back in almost a dance-like move. "I'll have you know I've won two Tonys."

"And yet your show just closed on opening night," Miranda contributes in a wicked, little voice.

"So you've been keeping track--"

"A-actually," Barry cuts off Dee Dee's impending tantrum and pushes past her toward Miranda, "that's why we're here. Or that's why we initially came, but now we're actually trying to help."

"Yes," Angie backs him up enthusiastically, also pushing to the front. "You see, this sweet girl, Emma, wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom, but the PTA--"

"Homophobic jerks," Barry spews in disdain.

"Yes, well, they canceled prom, so we thought--"

"I already know all of this," Miranda interrupts, staring daggers at her twin, who's already relayed the story on the phone and who's glaring right back.

"Well, did you know they threw her a fake prom?" Barry plants his hands on his hips in extravagant outrage.

"That's why we wanna throw her a real one," Angie explains just as Trent shoves his phone in Miranda's face.

"Here," he says while on the screen a teenager sits on her bed, strumming a guitar and singing with tears in her eyes.

Andy smiles ruefully at the young girl's beautiful voice when Angie continues, "But we don't have any money. We need your help."

Putting up a halting hand, Miranda prompts Trent to turn off the video. The singer gets cut off mid-lyric and Miranda's face is hard and unyielding when she declares, "I've heard enough. Is there anywhere to eat lunch in this hellhole?" And with that, she turns on her heel and proceeds on her pointed way to the elevator.

 


 

Miranda's room is a whole new exercise in degradation. The wall paint is ugly, the beds are uncomfortable, the coffee maker is broken (not that she would ever deign to ingest anything it produced). There's no kitchen or real office space, dining table or sitting area. Besides the small, dingy bathroom, the room is merely one open space containing two twin beds, a desk, a closet, a mini fridge, and a wobbly table all together. If this is the best room they have, Miranda dreads to think what their worst room looks like.

As she tries to fit all the couture from her suitcase onto a short rack in what could be best described as a cupboard pretending to be a closet, a knock comes on her door before it opens.

"Hey." Andy lets herself in and dives straight into business. "So, I checked, but the hotel doesn't offer room service."

"Shocking," Miranda mutters.

"But there's a waffle place next door and an Applebee's by the mall."

Spinning in place, Miranda glowers so hard it's a wonder Andy is still standing. But lately, the stubborn defiance she showed during her job interview has somewhat returned--she doesn't seem so wary anymore. Even when, in a low, dangerous voice, Miranda repeats, "Applebee's?"

"Well..." Andy licks her lips and tsks. "There's also the mall's food court."

Her ire intensifying, Miranda determines right then and there that Dee Dee will pay for this. But for the time being, for a grievous lack of alternatives, she concedes, "Make a reservation."

"Well, uh..." Andy stutters, "you don't... you just show up."

"Fine. Let's go," says Miranda and shoves the mirror-covered sliding door of the closet closed so hard it bounces back open.

When Andy dallies behind, she turns at the door and arches a menacing eyebrow. "Do you need a formal invitation?"

"N-no." Andy quickly shakes her head and follows her out.

 


 

At Applebee's, they sit in a booth. Their table is sticky. The seat's fabric is stained. The napkins are made of paper. A few tables down, a kid won't stop screaming.

"Hi there." A young waiter comes to their booth, wearing a black polo shirt with the place's logo and a fake smile. "What can I get you tw--"

"Bring me the eight ounce top sirloin, medium rare, with mashed potatoes--clean, no garlic or any other decoration--and steamed broccoli, no cheese, and a San Pellegrino--flat, not sparkling," Miranda orders brusquely and promptly shoves her menu at the statled boy.

"We have regular bottled water," he responds apprehensively.

"Fine," she bites.

Relieved, he turns to Andy and pastes the smile back on. "And for you?"

"The... the same." Andy smiles back tremulously, gently handing him her menu.

"What?" Miranda snaps when they're left alone and Andy's gaze lingers too long.

"Nothing," Andy hurriedly says, straightening against her seat. "It's just that we've never had a meal together."

"Why would we?" Miranda frowns and Andy's gaze falls to the table between them.

"I guess we wouldn't," she quietly agrees. Her hair has gotten longer, her bangs tucked behind her ears instead of recut. She's wearing a delicate, floral Marc Jacobs blouse and a golden necklace plunges into her cleavage. Miranda looks up and away.

When their water bottles arrive along with empty glasses, Andy twists her straw between her thumb and forefinger and casually says, "I'm from Ohio, you know. Right around the corner."

"That explains a lot," Miranda comments.

With unhidden amusement, she bites her lip. "Nigel once told me that I look like Oklahoma and New Jersey had a baby out of wedlock."

"Well, he's not wrong," Miranda resolves as their matching meals are set before them. The steak looks subpar at best, but Miranda has to eat.

About halfway through their wordless meal, Andy ventures, "So this Dee Dee is your sister? Your twin?"

"Unfortunately," Miranda confirms sourly, taking a sip of water.

"How come no one knows when you're both, apparently, famous and work so close to each other in New York? And you, you look so much alike."

"Please," Miranda balks, her forehead creasing in disgust, "have you seen her? She's old and shriveled. Another aging Broadway star who wouldn't listen when the critics told her to quit. I assure you she doesn't care one way or another about helping that high schooler; she's just here for publicity so people will start talking about her again."

"So I'm guessing you two aren't close," Andy deduces wryly.

"We haven't spoken in twenty years," Miranda confesses and the admission comes out softer, startles even her. She quickly looks into Andy's face for a reaction, and when she sees the surprise there, she knows she's revealed too much.

"Really?" Andy asks in amazement.

"Really." Miranda clears her throat, cutting her steak hard enough that the knife scrapes against the cheap plate underneath.

"What happened?" Andy presses carefully, but a sharp look clues her in to the fact that she's not privy to that information, makes her skin flush. "Sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

They continue to eat in silence, the commotion of the establishment taking most of the awkwardness out of their lack of conversation and the general fact that they're dining together to begin with.

When Miranda's steak has been choked down and her mashed potatoes have been left mostly untouched, she puts down her cutlery and sighs. "She was the problematic kid," she divulges. "The rebel. Our parents didn't know what to do with her. She did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted without ever considering the consequences."

"Yeah?" Andy smiles tentatively, afraid that the slightest expression, the wrong word, a bad gesture would break the spell and ruin the moment.

"Of course, I was always left to pick up the pieces. Not that anyone ever bothered to thank me," Miranda recalls bitterly.

Tenderly, Andy acknowledges, "That must have been hard."

Miranda flicks her hand flippantly through the air. "I got out of there. We both did. We did it together, you know. Saved up and came to New York to start a new life. Back then, we were best friends." She smiles fondly at the memory: a different time, a different life. In Zelienople, Pennsylvania, where no one knew or cared about her, life was easy. There was no money, she had to work from the time she turned twelve, but there was right and wrong, there was black and white, and anything that didn't fit in that narrow world view simply didn't exist.

Miranda's face stiffens again. It's not her life anymore.

"So what happened?" Andy repeats.

"We stopped being friends," Miranda says plainly, tersely.

Andy must have taken the hint again because, playing with the edge of her napkin, she smiles wistfully. "I didn't have any siblings growing up. But I always wanted a sister. A big sister," she clarifies, the overhead light of the restaurant dancing in her eyes. "So she could teach me everything. Like fashion."

They both chuckle. Miranda clearly remembers the day Andy walked into her office, and the ensuing months, each outfit she put on her back pulled, it seemed, straight from the deepest pits of hell. If Nigel hadn't interfered, playing big sister, she might have been sitting in front of Miranda in that very moment wearing a GAP T-shirt. If Nigel hadn't interfered, she might not have been sitting in front of Miranda at all. It was more than correct dressing he taught her.

"It's incredibly lonely being an only child," Andy admits. "I think you're luckier than you realize."

"Well. You can have Deborah," Miranda proclaims, then rolls her eyes. "Dee Dee."

Andy chuckles again, and that compels her to do the same.

 


 

"Tell him to send me the digital copy of the Book and I'll review it tonight. I also want to see what they did with the Rihanna shoot, if they fixed that mess with the feathers," Miranda dictates to Andy as they re-enter the hotel, her gaze on her assistant keeping her from noticing the man approaching them from inside.

"Ms. Priestly?" he seeks her attention confidently. "Huge fan."

Frowning, Miranda turns to him and it's a few seconds before she places his face. At that point, he's already offered a limp hand like a classy maiden. "Barry Glickman, Drama Desk winner and latest inhabitor of FDR's powerful spirit. You've probably heard of me."

"Like, his ghost?" Andy's brow furrows.

"No, you uncultured swine," he retorts in a high-pitched tone and makes a gesture of flicking invisible hair over his shoulder. "I played him on Broadway."

"Did Dee Dee send you?" Miranda cuts straight to the chase.

"She didn't," he denies. "In fact, if she knew I was doing this, she'd probably obliterate me."

Looking over her shoulder, Miranda tells Andy, "Go make the calls," and, obediently, Andy leaves the pair and heads to the elevator. When she's gone, Miranda asks, "What do you want?"

"I'd like to take you on a little trip," he states evasively.

"Where?"

With a sigh that deflates his chest and brings down his posture, he drops the act. "Look, I know you and Dee Dee have bad blood between you two," he says seriously. "I don't know exactly what happened and it's none of my business, but I know you came here for a reason. I mean, god, if you dropped everything at a moment's notice and left New York to come to Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana, you must be at least a little intrigued, aren't you?"

"Fine," Miranda bites after a moment of consideration.

"Great!" Barry flings his hands in the air, flamboyant once again. "Shall I call an Uber?"

"At your peril," Miranda replies acerbically. "My driver will take us."

"Ooo, driver." Barry's face at once lights up in barely concealed excitement and he holds out an elbow for her to hook her arm around. "Lead the way."

Miranda's heels puncture the silence of the deserted hotel as she strides toward the car that just brought her there. Barry's elbow remains lonesome.

Ten minutes later, they're walking into James Madison High School. The halls are cringingly packed with teenaged students piling out of classrooms with the bell signaling the changing of periods. There's the smell of sweat mixed with Axe body spray, the chatter of gossipy girls, the hideous uniform of the cheerleading squad. Miranda repeatedly flinches as Barry leads her down a crowded corridor where many gape at her passing form.

"They think you're Dee Dee," he explains, then gestures at her head, "but, well, with white hair." To Miranda, that's not a compliment nor a realistic assessment, but before she can reject his statement, he's already charging forward, excitedly calling, "Emma, Emma!"

Being turned in his grasp is a blonde girl in ill-fitted clothes who smiles brightly at the sight of him. She's the same one from the video shown to her earlier that day: the infamous lesbian.

"Emma, I want you to meet someone." Barry pulls her toward Miranda with an arm around her shoulders. "Miranda, this is my prom date, Emma."

"Wow," Emma exhales in awe, staring into Miranda's face. "You look just like--"

"That's Dee Dee's twin sister," Barry clears up the confusion, "Miranda Priestly. She edits the best fashion magazine in the world and she could fix this"--he points his finger judgmentally down the length of Emma's body--"a lot better than I could."

He's not wrong, Miranda muses, tilting her head aside to appraise what she'd be working with. The girl's got the face, she almost has the body, the hair is debatable, but the clothes wouldn't pass even by butchy standards and the makeup is just all wrong.

"Is that why you're here?" Emma asks her apprehensively. "To give me another makeover?"

"No, boo," Barry refutes the assumption. "We're hoping she'll pay for your fabulous prom."

"Really?" Her eyes light up enough to illuminate the entire corridor they're standing in, her smile showing every white tooth in her mouth. "That would be amazing!"

Caught off guard, Miranda stares blankly. This man's mouth, she thinks, has turned out to be bigger than Dee Dee's ego, and for lack of an appropriate response, she flashes Emma a wide smile, the bland kind that shows off her fangs, the one she would direct at anyone who didn't deserve her real smile, party guests and bosses alike.

"I have to go." Emma gives Barry an apologetic look. "My algebra class is about to start--"

"Go," Barry urges, pushing at her, "go, go."

"I'll see you later," she calls when she's already halfway down the hall.

"You put me on the spot," Miranda accuses hotly when the corridor has cleared, everyone returning to their respective classrooms. "You had no right to do that."

"I'm sorry," Barry apologizes, but doesn't look too contrite. "I just thought when you saw that precious, adorable face, you wouldn't be able to say no."

"Coming here was a mistake," Miranda concludes and pulls the lapels of her coat tighter against her chest, marching toward the doors.

"Miranda!" Barry hurries after her when, from the other end of the corridor, emerging from the direction of the principle's office, a couple comes toward them.

"Hey," Tom calls. Barry turns around while Miranda's heels echo in the empty space.

"What is she doing here?" Dee Dee places a hand on a jutting hip, and at the sound of her voice, Miranda stills, stalls, then clacks back in the direction she came from.

"Was this your idea?"

"I just wanted her to meet Emma," Barry explains defensively at the baffled look on Dee Dee's face.

"Oh, you-you met Emma?" Tom inquires.

"Yes, I had the pleasure." Miranda folds her arms over her chest.

"She's a great kid," he continues, either missing the sarcasm on her tongue or simply paying no mind to it. "You know, when she was sixteen, her parents kicked her out. After she came out."

That gives Miranda pause, the fight in her lessening just enough for her arms to drop to her sides. Out of nowhere and entirely unprompted, her mind conjures up her own father, a man who spent his whole life adhering to god's commandments that, at the end of the day, he had little love left to give to his children. If Miranda had ever so much as implied to being anything other than straight as a ruler, her fate would have been similar to Emma's, if not worse.

Then, as soon as the thought forms, Miranda banishes it. She has no business comparing herself to Emma because Emma and she are not the same. Emma is a lesbian.

"Is that her sob story? How sad," she hears herself say, the words so detached they may as well be coming out of a different mouth. "Dee Dee, a word?"

They find an empty classroom, the board still showing geometric equations, the desks and chairs left in a mess, some bags still dumped on the floor. The second the door closes them out of others' earshot, Miranda attacks. "I know why you brought me here. Nice trick getting me to meet Emma."

"Oh, will you stop being so dramatic?" Dee Dee rolls her eyes patronizingly. "The only reason I called you for is money, and I didn't bring you here, you came on your own. Maybe something pulled you?"

The suggestiveness in her tone enrages Miranda so much that she wants to grab a chair and smash it over Dee Dee's head. Instead, she points a finger that's shaking with fury and snarls. "I knew your apology was empty."

"Of course it was. You're asking me to apologize for something that happened twenty years ago!"

"You never tried to fix it!" she snaps. "Us."

"Because I wasn't in the wrong!" yells Dee Dee. "You stopped talking to me!"

"Because you were wrong!"

"No, because you knew I was right and the truth hurt too much to face," she asserts and her words leave a resounding echo in the ensuing quiet, whispering through the walls, whistling with the sway of the trees outside. Expelling a heavy breath, Dee Dee questions, "Why did you come here? Really. After twenty years, why did you decide to come?"

Because the day she insisted with such assuredness that Miranda was a lesbian was the day Miranda cut all ties with her only sister and vowed to never speak to her again.

She was so angry, so hurt that her twin, the closest person to her in the world, would assume such a thing, would argue so vehemently in favor of something Miranda knew with all of her heart was false. Dee Dee practically drove her away, shoved her out of her life, and she had only herself to blame. Not Miranda.

Coming closer, Dee Dee narrows her eyes. "Maybe you came here because you know I was never wrong. Did the word 'lesbian' spark something inside you?"

"Don't," Miranda warns sharply.

Dee Dee moves closer still. "Does that assistant of yours know you want to get her in your bed?" Miranda's eyes widen. "It took me three seconds to call it; how clueless do you think she actually is?"

"You don't know what you're talking about," Miranda counters, but her voice comes out weak, breathless, trembling with barely restrained animosity, and when Dee Dee grips her biceps, she has no strength to push her away.

"I was never against you, Miranda," she maintains fervently. "The only person who keeps sabotaging you is you."

There's the strength again, the one that lies in her wrath and hate. Shrugging off Dee Dee's hands, it's Miranda's turn to advance on her while Dee Dee takes steps backward. "You don't know anything. You're just an old, failing actress with an empty bank account and a string of bad reviews."

"I know about Stacey," Dee Dee shoots back and stops moving when Miranda does.

"Stacey was a friend," she hisses, grinding her teeth so hard her temples start to ache.

"Yes," drawls Dee Dee. "Such a good friend that after I caught the two of you, we never saw her again at the house."

"We were kids," Miranda protests defensively.

"I wouldn't have told anyone."

"Nothing happened!" she shouts. Outside the open windows, a bird flees a tree branch, its wings flapping noisily. Miranda's chest rises and sinks in rapid motions, her tingling throat unused to that degree of volume. Before her, in a mirror image of herself, she sees the child who lived fearlessly, lived by her own rules and no one else's: not society, not their parents, and not the bible. A twin that bears such a striking resemblance to her in appearance, but is a polar opposite in everything that matters, everything that makes a person an individual.

"And now look at you," she says quietly, regaining her composure. "Look what's become of you, Dee Dee. I could have given you so much."

"I had a great life," Dee Dee growls. "I have a great life. And you? You're the sad, old woman who can't even live with her truth."

"I'm done," declares Miranda. "I'm done cleaning up after you. You want a prom? You get one yourself." She blows past Dee Dee and slams the classroom door on her way out.

 


 

Operating remotely, Miranda must not realize, only works if someone makes it work, and that duty generally falls on the beleaguered assistants who don't get paid enough to put up with Miranda Priestly's whims.

Leaning against her bed's headboard, Andy cracks her neck and knuckles before returning her fingers to the keyboard of the laptop she borrowed from Runway, like the majority of her wardrobe, so she could keep the office running in Miranda's absence. It's Friday, so the work day is shorter and the workload is lighter, but she still has about a hundred e-mails to respond to and a thousand calls to make. The fact that she's conducting her business from a bed instead of the Manhattan streets, weighed down by multiple shopping bags, does, however, make her job slightly easier.

Until her phone rings.

"Miranda?" she answers on the first ring.

"Come here," Miranda commands curtly and promptly ends the call, leaving Andy guessing where she means by "here." There aren't a lot of options in this small town, and relying on her judgement and overall knowledge of Miranda, she leaves her room and makes the short trip to the one next door, where she knocks once before entering.

Both of the beds are still made, unused yet with zero nights spent in the room, and on one of them lies an open suitcase while Miranda carefully removes hangers from the closet.

"Is everything okay?" Andy questions in confusion.

"I want you to book the earliest flight back to New York," Miranda demands, smoothing a dress inside the suitcase.

Eyebrows rising, Andy asks, "You don't wanna stay for the prom?"

"There will be," Miranda grinds so acidly it almost gives Andy a stomach ache, "no prom. Unless Dee Dee can come up with the money on her own," she adds offhandedly.

Nonplussed, Andy walks further into the room. "I don't understand. You're not gonna pay?"

"I don't believe this is any of your concern." Miranda's voice is low, warning. She cocks her head to the side in a way that still terrifies Andy.

But not enough for her to bite her tongue before arguing, "But they need your help." Like millions of others, she's watched the video on Youtube, where a discriminated against girl poured her heart out about her right to love, and read up on the story on Twitter, where passionate people from all over the country, from teenagers to middle-aged sympathizers like the ones who came here, have joined the virtual conversation to express their indignation. The notion that Miranda could be so uncaring, so cold and heartless perplexes her.

"This girl has suffered so much hate when all she wanted was to go to prom like everyone else. We don't know what it feels like, we never had to experience her struggle. Are you really gonna turn your back on her when you have the ability to help?"

"This," Miranda hisses on the way from the closet to the suitcase, "is not up for discussion. I want to be back in New York by the end of the day. Now go."

"What about your sister? If I had a sister that asked me for something, I would--"

"Yes, yes," Miranda interrupts derisively, "I've heard your tear-jerking story about the heartbreaking yearning for a sister. Trust me, it's not nearly what it's cut out to be."

Thrusting a blouse into the suitcase, she straightens just in time to see the tears brimming in Andy's large, dark eyes. They don't fall, though, and instead, her face is set in uncharacteristic contempt when she turns toward the door. "I'll book the flight," she announces impassively.

"Good."

Right before she slips through the door, she mutters under her breath, "I should have left when I had the chance." And from behind the bed, left in an empty room, Miranda freezes, the words, however quiet, ringing loudly in her ears.

 


 

Dee Dee opens the door and her face instantly falls. "Oh, it's you," she murmurs bitterly. "What do you want?"

"Is there booze in here?" Miranda asks. Dee Dee ponders the question for a long moment: not so much the inquiry, but the unspoken request in the subtext. Finally, she steps aside.

An hour later, the hotel room is bursting with uncontained laughter, the pair on the bed squirming and writhing with plastic cups in their hands. Alcohol, as always, has a wonderful way of repairing damages. Miranda is sat up against the headboard, shoes discarded but blouse and skirt remaining unwrinkled, while Dee Dee has let her intoxicated body drop further down toward the pillows.

"Remember that restaurant in Tribeca, where we made the waiter cry?" Miranda recalls from a long chain of memories they've unearthed in the last minutes.

"The one with the squid," Dee Dee confirms nostalgically, but her smile has turned sad. A moment later, Miranda finds out why. "Eddie proposed to me there."

Tilting her head back, Dee Dee searches for a reaction. Miranda, in turn, raises her eyebrows and brings her cup up to her lips. "I told you to sign a prenup. You didn't listen. You were 'in love.'"

"Love..." Dee Dee muses aloud, sighing. "The stupid shit it makes us do."

"Speak for yourself."

"Oh, come on, you've never done anything you regretted later just because you were in love?" she wonders skeptically.

"You'd have to be in love first to do that."

Frowning, Dee Dee bites her lip and slides back up to be level with her sister. "Marriage?" she inquires.

"Two."

"Children?"

"Twins." Miranda's lips quirk in amusement. "Two girls." She grabs her phone from the nightstand and with one hand, while the other holds her drink steadily, swipes through the gallery before handing the device to Dee Dee, whose eyes soften and smile warms up.

"Aww, look at them," she says affectionately. "Two beautiful, little redheads. What are their names?"

"Caroline and Cassidy."

"No Esther like Mom wanted?" A mischievous twinkle appears in her eye.

"Please." Miranda rolls her eyes in disdain.

"At least in New York they'll never have to go through what Emma is," Dee Dee points out somberly, taking a sip of her drink.

"God," Miranda breathes, "I hope not." She puts the phone away and turns her cup in her hand, the clear liquid sloshing inside. She thinks of her beloved girls and how easy they have it, how they've never experienced nor will they ever know real struggle. They don't have to worry about being judged for who they are or live in fear that their parents' love will ever run out. Like Emma. Like Miranda.

"This whole story with Emma," she begins slowly, carefully weighing every word, but the alcohol has also loosened her tongue. "It's made me think of Father."

When she finally dares to sneak a glance in Dee Dee's direction, her twin is nodding solemnly. "I thought of him, too," she admits softly. Neither of them has to mention what thought has crossed their minds--they both know.

Picking up the bottle of gin from her own nightstand, Dee Dee doesn't bother with the tonic and fills her emptying cup. Next, she holds it up. "To shitty parents," she toasts.

"To shitty parents," Miranda acquiesces and touches their cups together. She takes a long sip, rolls the cocktail on her tongue, and swallows with a satisfied wince. Then she says, "I'll pay for the prom."

"You will?" Dee Dee delicately ascertains, not yet daring to celebrate.

But Miranda nods resolutely. "I will." And the next second, Dee Dee pounces.

"Oh, Miriam!" she exclaims, her voice muffled by the cheek she's pressing a buising kiss to while her drink splashes everywhere and stains Miranda's skirt.

"Get off me." Miranda recoils, shrugging her off.

"Oh, this is gonna be so great." Dee Dee puts her hands in front of her, making her gin splash some more. She sits back on her heels, bouncing a little and making the mattress under Miranda do the same, and then pauses. Even after twenty years, Miranda can easily recognize the inspired look in her eyes, the wheels turning in her head. "I need to find something to wear."

Watching her scramble off the bed, Miranda quirks an eyebrow, running her eyes up and down Dee Dee's current outfit. It's a bright pink, satin tracksuit with white stripes along the sides, the jacket unzipped to reveal a white tank top and a wrinkled chest. It might not have been cheap to purchase, but cheap is written all over it, and tacky. They may be identical twins, at least on paper, but Dee Dee has evidently not been blessed with all the same genes bestowed upon Miranda and never learned that "expensive" doesn't necessarily equal "stylish."

She's seen her pictures, glimpsed her in interviews. They may have been estranged for the last two decades and New York is a big city, but as Andy implied, it's not that big, and atrocious, color-coordinated ensembles dripping with glitter and sequins have not escaped Miranda. Which is why she insists, "Oh, no. You leave that job to me."

Placing her drink on the nightstand, she climbs off the bed and rounds it toward Dee Dee. "I can dress myself," Dee Dee argues.

"No, you can't; you look like a drag queen," she notes and proceeds toward the closet, as tiny yet as full as her own. Rifling through the hung articles, she wrinkles her nose. "No. No. No. No."

"What's wrong with my clothes?" Dee Dee demands, standing indignantly with her hands on her hips.

"It looks like Liza Minnelli threw up in your closet. Oh." She stops and pulls other garments away from a long, navy-colored gown. It's glittery indeed, but on the dark fabric, the sparkles show up sparingly and only with certain movements that catch the light, a little, hidden mystery in a dress. "This could work."

Extracting the hanger from the rack, she walks over to Dee Dee and holds it in front of her body, squinting in concentration. She tries to see the full picture: every theatrical, over-the-top gesture Dee Dee will make encased in the fabric, coupled with a pair of Louboutins Miranda will lend her and accessorized with equally shining diamonds, the bright lights of the venue putting her in the center of attention. "Yes," she decrees, "this is the one."

Impressed, Dee Dee takes the dress from her, assessing her own purchase adoringly. When she's draped it over a chair, she raises her fists in the air and shakes them, a high-pitched, excited squeal escaping her throat. "Now let's do you," she drawls in a deep voice, practically leaping at Miranda, who presses two hands to her chest to stall her.

"You are not going anywhere near my wardrobe."

"But I want to return the favor," urges Dee Dee petulantly. "It's my thing now. I looove helping people," she declares while spinning around, and when she stills, she raises her hands heavenward with a huge grin. "I'm no longer a narcissist."

"Right," Miranda snorts dubiously. "Let's see how long that lasts."

"I'm serious," Dee Dee insists and grabs her arms. "I want to do something for you." Letting go, she brings her index finger up to her face, rubbing it back and forth across lips pursed in thought. Her gaze is now laser-sharp, focused--or as focused as can be in her drunken state--solely on Miranda. "And I think I know just what."

Miranda rolls her eyes. "And what's that?"

"That assistant you brought with you," she misses not one beat. "Andrea? She's pretty cute, right?"

At once, Miranda's face hardens with understanding. "No," she states definitively, turning toward the door.

"No, no, no, no, no. Not so fast." Dee Dee chases after her, and perhaps it's Miranda's own intoxication that keeps her from putting up a fight when she's dragged back into the room and placed like a mannequin in the center.

"I am not letting you cut me off for another twenty years," Dee Dee asserts before her expression morphs into something that looks almost like anguish, as if she's experiencing physical pain. "And I will not stand by and watch you keep torturing yourself instead of just... letting yourself be happy."

"What are you talking about?" Miranda questions with a sinking feeling that she knows precisely what her sister is getting at.

There's a split second where Dee Dee's eyes light up with a bright, secretive sparkle, and when she answers, she's not exactly speaking.

"The hair has to be pulled back,
The nails have to be short."

Disdainfully, Miranda pulls her short-nailed hand from the grasp, frowning as Dee Dee continues to sing.

"You'll need a pair of knee pads
If you intend to walk."

"This isn't Broadway," she reproaches, but Dee Dee is unruffled.

"Don't forget to use the mouth wash,
Be a vegetarian,
'Cause these rules apply
When you're a lesbian."

"I've been married twice."

"Exactly."

"Your shirts have to be flannel,
Sleeves rolled up and plaid,
Maybe shave your coiffed coiffure,
But only just a tad.

"You think that you are hiding
Like a cameleon,
But, sis, it's clear
That you're a lesbian."

Coming up behind a wide-eyed Miranda, Dee Dee wraps an arm around her, resting her chin on a rigid shoulder.

"And you think that in this world
You'd never feel free just to live,
But trust me that in New York
No one's got a shit to give.

"And if you skip your chance,
You'll never know true happiness,
So Miriam, dear,
Please embrace your sapphic... ness..."

"I am not a lesbian," Miranda claims steadfastly.

"Please, Miranda," Dee Dee implores and chuckles disbelievingly. "What are you so afraid of?"

"Nothing," she spits.

"There's nothing wrong with being gay. This is the twenty-first century--everyone is gay. I promise you,"--Dee Dee moves back to her line of sight and tries to take her hand, which Miranda yanks back as if scalded by fire--"most of the world is not like the bigots in this town. Or like Father. I should know." She glides backward. "I'm a huge gay icon."

"Keep a Porsche and not a truck and
Wear lipstick, heels, and fur,
And every other stereotype
Will be nothing but a blur.

"Just please, sweetheart, listen
To a Broadway thespian
When she tells you, dear,
That you're a lesbian.

"Go get that hot assistant," she continues, but her voice grows gentle and soft.
"That young, sweet, tender cutsie,
'Cause I know, Mir, that you're dying
To finally eat some-- sandwiches.

"You may deny, conceal, pretend
Till you're an octogen'rian,
But dear, I know the truth--"

Startled by the sudden fierceness in her voice and countenance, Miranda watches speechlessly as, with ease that a woman her age should not possess, she bounds onto the bed.

"--The bitter truth,
The ugly truth,
The simple truth,
That you're a... say it!" She points at Miranda.

"I won't say it."

"You're a... come on."

"I'm out of here."

As the door slams behind Miranda, Dee Dee's belt floats down the hotel's corridor, undisturbed, "Youuuuu're aaaaa lesbiaaaaan!"

 


 

On Saturday afternoon, shortly before the prom is scheduled to start and almost twenty-four hours after the flight Miranda has had Andy cancel left the airport, Emma walks into the hotel, holding the hand of a grinning, rosy-cheeked girl.

"Oh, Miranda," she calls when the elevator opens and Miranda steps out into the reception area.

"Oh," she utters, coming toward the couple. "How are the prom preparations going?" For the amount of money she poured--and the amount Dee Dee proceeded to squeeze out of her to the protests that landed on deaf ears--her sister better be working her ass off to ensure it's the most talked-about event in Indiana's history.

"Amazingly," Emma exclaims. "We only just left the gym to start getting ready." The thought that a party sponsored by her would take place, instead of in a banquet hall, in a high school gym is less than appealing to Miranda. "We just wanted to come by and say thank you... for making this happen. This is Alyssa. My girlfriend," Emma introduces the stranger to Miranda and her own cheeks redden with the title she assigns to Alyssa, the mere word bringing clear joy to her heart and voice.

"Thank you so much, Ms. Priestly," Alyssa joins in. "This means more to us than you could possibly know."

"Well, I'm glad I could help," Miranda replies sedately and starts heading toward the doors. "Enjoy your prom."

"Wait, you're not staying?" The girls turn around. Emma looks genuinely disheartened by the idea.

"I'm a little too old to attend a high school prom."

"Oh, no, you have to come," Alyssa urges. "This is your prom. We wouldn't be having it if not for you."

"Please, Miranda," Emma beseeches. "Everyone else is coming: Dee Dee, Barry... It would mean a lot to us if you did, too."

 


 

As evening begins to fall and the first stars pop into a clear sky undisturbed by tall buildings and city pollution, Miranda emerges from the elevator once again. Now, hours later, the hotel is darker, dimly lit by lamps instead of natural light. A couple of new arrivals stand at the reception desk and talk to the clerk, a few others occupy the common area, and waiting by the doors is Andy in a stunning handkerchief dress, the pleated viscose fabric a deep shade of wine red. The halter chain neckline doesn't adhere to the winter weather outside, but Andy has paired it brilliantly with a sheer, black shawl and a pair of high-heeled sandals.

"Michael Kors," Miranda observes. "Wise choice."

"I didn't really have anything prom-appropriate," Andy admits sheepishly, running her hands self-consciously down the dress.

Miranda is unable to find the words to tell her that she looks beautiful. That the high bun she's pulled her hair into, leaving her grown-out bangs split in the middle to frame her face, brings out her slender neck and sharp jawline. That her dark red lipstick that matches the color of her dress is a perfect contrast to her alabaster skin. That every model dreams of long and toned legs like the ones she has. Instead, she nods brusquely, and says, "This is fine."

"You look nice, too," Andy dares shyly, admiring Miranda's black, floor-length gown and how its strapless beauty leaves a vast expanse of clear, smooth skin at her chest. Her shoulders and arms are covered by a black mink wrap whose fur strokes her bare skin with its luxurious decadence. "I mean, great."

"Let's go," Miranda says and strides toward the exit.

 


 

There's balloons. Flower arrangements. Chandeliers. Fake trees whose leaves glow with tiny, golden twinkly lights. At the entrance to the gym, gigantic arches lead the way inside with their own gleaming lights, each arch a different color from the pride flag.

There are kids from all over the state, teenagers deprived of their own proms due to their sexuality, gender, or relationship status, and they're all glowing from the inside out as they dance and talk and drink. By a long table with a white map stand Emma's grandmother and Barry's mother, handing out different corsages to the guests.

Miranda and Andy are fashionably late.

Dancing closely with Tom, Dee Dee notices the newest arrivals over his shoulder, politely excuses herself, and runs toward Miranda. She indeed looks magnificent in the dress Miranda selected for her, a few inches taller in Miranda's shoes.

"Look at you!" she exclaims and takes Miranda's hands in a tight grip.

"This is not so bad," Miranda allows, referring to the transformation Dee Dee and her friends have produced in what it's now hard to believe is a gym. Secretly, she marvels at the results. "Andrea, go get us some champagne."

"Um..." Andy frowns.

Dee Dee frowns, too, but for a different reason. "Oh, I wish I'd thought of champagne. It's not like none of these teens have ever had alcohol," she mutters with a wry smile. "We do have punch, though."

"I'd love some punch," Andy pipes up.

"Come with me." Dee Dee places a hand on her back and takes her away. Left on her own, standing in the middle of a room overflowing with people celebrating and joyous, Miranda looks around and pulls her wrap tighter against her.

 


 

"So." Dee Dee sidles up to Miranda as the evening progresses, a knowing smile plastered to her features. She's flushed after spending the evening in her new boyfriend's arms, her unadulterated happiness making her skin glow.

"So." Miranda replies monotonously.

"This almost makes up for the prom we didn't get to have, doesn't it?"

"Indeed." In their small hometown, growing up destitute, surrounded by families just like their own, praying to have enough food to last them through the week, prom was hardly the top priority. Those who got to graduate high school either went on to immerse themselves in local businesses or, like two ambitious twins with bigger dreams, scraped enough money to leave and make better lives for themselves. The unlucky ones joined the army or turned to drugs or died in the same house they'd been born into, and in that reality, there was no time, cause, or money for a celebration.

"I see you found yourself a last-minute prom date." Dee Dee smirks.

"She's not my--" Miranda begins heatedly, but gives up. The pointed look from her sister tells her that she won't be buying anything she sells. "I see you're settling down with a Midwestern teacher," she mocks instead.

"He's a principle," Dee Dee corrects indignantly, then her shoulders sag, but not in discouragement. "And isn't he great? Look at him." She points to Tom in the corner of the room, talking to a student. Her hand bunches up in a fist that squeezes something invisible and she feigns taking a bite out of it. "He's so handsome!"

"He's alright, I guess," Miranda concedes. "You could do worse. You have done worse."

"Yeah," agrees Dee Dee and looks back at her twin. "You could do worse, too." Meeting her eyes, Miranda's lips open, but no words come out. She closes them, opens them again, and Dee Dee speaks for her instead, "Go. Go."

She's the one who leaves, though, with a gentle pat on Miranda's hand, dancing over to Tom, who welcomes her so adoringly and lovingly it paints an involuntary smile on Miranda's lips. She looks around the gym again, but this time her gaze is not aimless: she lifts her chin to see beyond the crowd's heads, but the object of her search is nowhere to be found.

The corridor leading to the gym's dressing rooms is dark and empty, a regular school structure unbothered by the conversion of one room. Only the muffled music that seeps in through the walls and vibrates in them allows it a morsel of participation. Leaning against the doors of a trophy case is Andy, her shawl rolled up over the crooks of her elbows, her shoulders bare against the glass. Her eyes are fixated on her phone's screen, where two thumbs type rapidly.

"The party is inside," a voice points out in the relative quiet, startling her out of her concentration.

"Oh. Yeah. There was just something I needed to take care of," she explains, waving her phone for emphasis. "There was a problem with your schedule next week, with-- but don't worry, I fixed it. It's all good now."

Nodding, Miranda joins her against the trophy case, leaning her head back until it bumps the glass and closing her eyes.

"This turned out to be a really great prom," Andy remarks, making her eyes reopen. She chuckles. "Way better than mine."

"They did a nice job."

"Yeah." Miranda's not looking at her, but she can feel the hesitation emenating from her, hears the breath being drawn into her lungs. "Miranda, I... I wanted to apologize for my outburst yesterday. It was unprofessional and rude and it wasn't my place to judge. But I'm glad you changed your mind. It's a really good thing you did here."

Without notice or warning, Miranda pushes off of the glass and presses against Andy instead, their bodies making the statues inside jolt, and when their lips are touching, nothing else in the world matters: not the prom on the other side of the door, not Miranda's misgivings, not the opinion of anyone outside of that corridor. The only thing that matters is the moist, supple weight of Andy's lips against hers, the feeling of the world righting itself on its axis, and the fact that, getting past the intial shock, Andy kisses back.

Someone moans, someone gasps, and when she's confident that she won't be rejected, Miranda slows her kiss and gentles her touch, letting herself savor the sensations instead. It's Andy, then, who drapes a feeble arm over her shoulder and parts her lips, and it's all the invitation Miranda needs to explore inside her mouth, touch her tongue to Andy's own, grant herself her first taste. And it's nothing like she's ever felt with a man.

 


 

Dee Dee notices them the moment they re-enter the gym, the white hair catching and glowing with all the colorful lights around. Over the masses, she raises her head, squints her eyes, and catches the hands that hold onto each other for one second longer before parting, the pinkies still grazing one another, unwilling to lose the contact just yet.

"All good?" Tom questions, walking up to her with two cups of punch.

"Yeah," she confirms with a serene, satisfied smile. "All is great."

 


 

Early on Sunday, Andy hands their suitcases to the driver who will take them back to the airport in Indianapolis, and in a few hours, they'll be back home, as if nothing has ever changed. Except everything has.

For now, she descends the three steps toward the common area, where Barry and Sheldon are lounging on respective couches, Trent's hand is in the cheetos bowl, Miranda speaks into her phone in the corner, and Dee Dee has a hand on the cheek of each of the teen girls standing before her, Tom smiling fondly from her side.

"You guys have to go already?" Emma asks disappointedly.

Barry rises from his slouched position with a grunt and comes over, squeezing both of her cheeks between his palms until her lips form a fish impression. "Our job here is done, kiddo."

"Well, will you guys tell Angie thanks for everything?" Emma continues morosely. "We didn't get a chance to talk again before she left."

"These guys will." Trent leaves the snacks, making a vague hand gesture before his chest expands proudly. "I'm a teacher now."

"A temp," Dee Dee corrects him scornfully.

"What about you, Dee Dee?" Barry inquires and she raises her eyes to Tom, at which point her expression becomes so dreamy they may as well be alone.

"I think I'm gonna stay here a little longer," she concludes sweetly, much to Tom's delight.

"Looks like it's just you and me, then," Sheldon tells Barry and slaps his thighs, getting up with a heavy sigh.

"Great." Barry rolls his eyes.

"You should stay, too," Emma then urges.

"In this craphole? How about no?"

"Oh, come on!"

"Barry, Barry," Dee Dee interjects seriously. "She's right. What are you gonna do in New York? Another failed play? You got your win."

With several pairs of eyes directed at him in a plea, it's very easy for Barry to loosen his posture and relent. "Oh, fine!" he agrees to sounds of approval.

Finishing her call, Miranda hangs up the phone and joins the group. "Is the car here?" she asks Andy.

"Yeah, it's waiting outside."

"Alright." She nods and starts on her pointed way out when someone grabs her elbow.

"Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa," Dee Dee says, pulling her back. "What about a goodbye?"

"Goodbye," Miranda responds cooly.

"No, not like that," Dee Dee disagrees and pulls her into a tight hug. With a snicker, Barry turns away while Tom smiles and Miranda awkwardly pats Dee Dee's back. "You hold onto that girl, you hear me?" Dee Dee whispers in her ear. "Don't go all Princhek and destroy her."

Miranda hums noncommittally and extracts herself from the embrace. "Well," she says stiffly, sensing her audience acutely. Her lips purse when she emotionlessly suggests, "Don't be a stranger."

"Oh, let's do Christmas together!" Dee Dee proposes enthusiastically and touches her hand to Tom's chest. "All of us."

"Let's not push it," advises Miranda, but sure enough, come Christmas Eve, the townhouse will receive its first holiday guests in years. Dee Dee will get to meet her nieces, Miranda will have to suffer through stories about the Midwest. Maybe even Andy will be there. For the time being, however, she lets Andy close the car door on her side and waits for her to join her in the back seat, where they exchange a quick smile before the car takes off, taking them out of Edgewater, Indiana.