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The soft whine of the turbojet should have been soothing but served only to make Andy more upset. The flight was full and the only seat she had been able to book at the last minute was in the middle section of the wide body jet. The strangers surrounding her made her sense of isolation even more pronounced and she tried to shrink into her seat as jumbled thoughts cascaded through her mind.

She still couldn’t believe that she’d just walked away from her boss and her job. There was a large part of her that was still jumping for joy that she’d strode off across the square in righteous indignation, but now (several hours after the fact) there was also the more mature, intelligent part of her that was demanding to know just what the hell she thought she was doing. One did not abandon Miranda Priestly and expect to survive; most especially during Paris Fashion Week. It was unlikely that she’d ever get a job in journalism or publishing in New York now; well, if she was being brutally honest, it was unlikely that she’d ever get a job in journalism or publishing anywhere once Miranda was through with her. Such was the clout her former employer wielded. Still somewhat dazed from the day’s events she wondered muzzily if Stanford Law School might be induced to forget she’d turned them down.

Her parents had been supportive when she’d called them in tears begging for a ticket back to New York and by the time she’d packed and made it to Charles De Gaulle Airport, she had barely made the last flight. Now she sat sandwiched between a very pregnant German woman, her portly husband and two Danish engineers. It was not shaping up to be an enjoyable ride, unlike her trip over.

They had taken the Elias-Clarke Gulfstream V; Irv’s new corporate toy. The plush cabin made for a comfortable working trip to Paris and the Runway contingent had arrived rested and ready to hit the ground running. It was a good thing too; there were never enough hours in the day to do everything that needed to be done during Fashion Week. Andy had been at the center of it all; just off Miranda’s elbow through every amazing minute. Everything was wonderful until twenty-four hours ago. Then her life had fallen apart. Miranda in her sedate robe in the suite announcing her impending divorce with a brittle calm that threatened to shatter if Andy even breathed hard. Her fling with Christian Thompson; God, she did not even want to think about that mistake. Her discovery of Irv’s attempt to sabotage Miranda and then watching as Miranda did what she had to do to keep her hold on Runway, trampling a good friend in the process. Had she shown any remorse for her treatment of Nigel or offered even the slightest promise of making it right by him Andy would still be at her side. But Miranda hadn’t. And when Miranda had held up the metaphorical mirror and shown Andy what she was becoming she had bolted. Turned on the heel of her Jimmy Choos and walked away, tossing her company-issued Sidekick into a fountain on the Place de la Concorde when Miranda had tried to contact her.

Now she had to try to salvage a new life from the still-smoldering ruins of her old one. Nate would be out of the apartment by the time she got home. She didn’t have a clue how she could make any of it up to him and to her surprise, she realized that she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Somehow, she would have to smooth things over with Doug and Lily who were most probably commiserating with Nate over her betrayal of him and their friendship at this very moment. And she would have to get another job. With a sad smile she supposed she could always get a job at Starbucks; she had ordered enough of it over the past seven months. Surely she could figure out how the stuff was made by now.

The seven-hour flight was endless but with the time difference, she arrived in New York City an hour after her flight had taken off. She should have minded her pennies and taken the subway home from the airport but her exhaustion was bone deep and she hailed a cab instead. A wry smile reflected her thought that she’d taken her last ride in the back of an Elias-Clarke town car. She schlepped her luggage up the three flights to the apartment and with trembling fingers, worked the key to unlock the door. With a final almost desperate surge, she dragged her luggage inside, locked the door and collapsed on the lumpy sofa. She was home. Now what was she going to do?

* * * * *

“Get that swill away from me,” snapped Miranda to the steward. The steaming cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain based no-foam-extra-shot-skim-extra-hot-latte disappeared very quickly as did the steward. The rest of her Runway team hunkered down as far as they could get from her, prepared to dodge any verbal shrapnel fired in their direction. She had been insufferable since Andréa had left her high and dry on the steps of the Hôtel de Crillon. Someone on the team had had the presence of mind to get an assistant from Runway Paris to fill in when it became apparent that Andréa was well and truly gone. But while the young woman had managed to keep everyone on schedule for the rest of the week, Miranda’s mood had deteriorated until no one who had come to Paris could survive being around her.

Even that suited her black mood. She was beyond furious with Andréa. For the first time she thought she had an assistant who might actually make something of herself; someone she could mentor to follow in her footsteps. The girl was smart and learned fast and she really had been impressed with Andréa’s attempts to warn her of Irv’s pitiful plan. She was fully prepared to reward that kind of loyalty. Hadn’t she told her that she saw a lot of herself in Andréa? And then the wretched girl had just… just walked away from it all! Miranda could not believe the gall. It was a personal affront and Miranda never forgot an affront. Andréa would never work in New York again, Miranda would see to that. She began to formulate a list of everyone that mattered in the publishing world to be notified of Andréa’s perfidy.

As the list grew in her head it began to occur to her that she was more upset with Andréa deserting her than she was with Stephen deserting her. That thought brought her up short. Andréa, more important than Stephen? Of course Andréa was more important; she was her personal assistant during Paris Fashion Week for God’s sake! She had been counting on her to…to….And then it dawned on her for the first time. She had counted on Andréa. She had never counted on Stephen. Or any of the other myriad assistants through the years. She had demanded that they do their jobs and do them well, but she had never relied on them.

Until Andréa. The one who was different; the one who stood out. What was it she had called her? ‘The smart, fat girl’, that was it. Of course, Andréa wasn’t fat anymore; she’d dropped down to a size four in fairly short order. But the smart was still very much in evidence. And was why she simply could not fathom why the girl was so upset at how she had handled Irv and Jacqueline. Granted, Nigel had been shunted aside, but in the end, that would only benefit Runway just as her continued stewardship would. Down the road, she would take care of Nigel. He had earned that much. There would be another James Holt to take global and she would see to it that Nigel was at the helm. Couldn’t Andréa see that? Had she been that wrong about the girl? Was she really that shortsighted?

No, she hadn’t been wrong about her. Miranda had shown her how to claim the keys to the kingdom and Andréa had chosen to walk away.

“…I see a great deal of myself in you…You can see beyond what people want and what they need and you can choose for yourself…you chose to get ahead. You want this life? Those choices are necessary.”

“But what if this isn’t what I want? I mean, what if I don’t want to live the way you live?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Andréa. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”

But apparently someone didn’t. Andréa didn’t. She was unwilling to make the personal sacrifices necessary. She was unwilling to do what Miranda had done to achieve success; she wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t tough enough to…

But, in truth, she was. She was tough enough. She was strong enough. She had taken the worst Miranda could throw at her and come back for more. She had made mistakes, certainly, but she had never made the same one twice. She had put her personal life on a back shelf and done everything Miranda had asked, whenever Miranda had asked. Andréa was strong enough to reach the top. She had been strong enough to walk away with her head held high. Granted, it was the hubris of youth and she would pay the consequences for throwing away her livelihood, but she had stayed true to herself. And that required strength of character. The insecure and dowdy youth who stood in front of her desk eight months ago had become a beautiful, formidable woman capable of giving up everything for her beliefs.

It was at that moment that Miranda realized that she was not going to punish the young woman for leaving. Because she really could see a great deal of herself in Andréa. Herself, twenty-five years ago. Full of passion and conviction and drive and unwilling to give an inch. The realization caused her to sigh as the worst of the tension left her. She leaned back in the seat, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. And then…

“Call the office and have Emily confirm Demarchelier for the South Beach shoot. We’re going to move that up to the February issue. That spring florals piece is worthless; we’re dumping it. Call Human Resources and have a list of candidates for Andréa’s job waiting on my desk when we get back. And am I asking too much to get a decent cup of coffee?” Pens scratched furiously across various pads throughout the cabin, phones flipped open and the steward leapt for the cappuccino machine.

* * * * *

She pushed through the door and down the few steps to the sidewalk. The grin she’d held back blossomed across her face. She was a staff writer for the New York Mirror! Okay, so it wasn’t the Times or the Post, but it had a reputation for good, solid journalism and circulation was growing every month. It was a comer. She couldn’t believe it. The grin widened.

Heading off toward midtown, she realized that she really couldn’t believe it. Miranda Priestly, the queen of paybacks, had actually given her a decent reference. Never in a million years would she have believed that possible. What was it Greg had said?

“I, uh, called over there for a reference. Left word with some snooty girl. Next thing you know I got a fax from Miranda Priestly herself. Saying that of all the assistants she’s ever had you were by far her biggest disappointment. And if I don’t hire you I’m an idiot. Must have done something right.”

Damned if she could think of what it was. The last thing she had expected after leaving Paris was a good reference from Miranda. She looked up and realized she was across the street from Elias-Clarke. On impulse, she pulled out her new cell phone, called Emily and gave her the couture she’d picked up in Paris. Maybe she’d taken the trip, but at least Emily could wear the clothing. That would go a long way toward making it up to her.

Disconnecting the call her eyes swept the plaza in front of the building and watched a solitary figure striding across it. Miranda’s walk left no doubt of her determination to allow nothing to impede her progress toward whatever goal sat before her. The silver Mercedes pulled to the curb and a security guard moved to open the door for her. As she stepped up to the open car door she stopped and locked gazes with Andréa. Andy smiled a bit and nervously sketched a small wave to the older woman. Miranda’s stony expression never changed and after a long moment she entered the car, reaching to remove her signature sunglasses as she did so. Andy shook her head in bemusement and turned away toward the nearest subway stop.

Unknown to her, Miranda watched her walk away from behind the tinted windows. Staring avidly, almost drinking in the image of the smartly dressed young woman as she strode confidently away. She smiled as she thought of the first day they’d laid eyes on Andréa; Nigel asking “Are we doing a before and after piece I don’t know about?” Indeed, they had done one. And the ‘after’ was across the street drawing admiring glances from passersby. Realizing that the car was not in motion her expression slid back to its normal glacial warmth and she addressed the driver rolling her eyes for emphasis.