Actions

Work Header

How to Rule the World in Ninety Days or Less

Chapter Text

“Fuck!” Andy curses aloud as she chucks her vintage Dior clutch at the ridiculous bed in her suite. Never in her life would she understand the need for this kind of fluffy real estate. Just another in a long line of random thoughts that push her farther into confusion in regards to exactly what the hell she’s doing right now. 

 

Having been assistant to Miranda Priestly for the better part of a year, she knows her dramatic exit is actually probably not that surprising to most people. The fact that a good number of the people present wouldn’t fault Andy in any way, though, sends waves of nausea instead of relief rolling through her. She doesn’t know how long she’s been crying; somewhere along the winding path she had taken back to the hotel, she’d felt a tickle on her cheek and pulled her hand away, surprised to find it covered in tears. 

 

In the time it took Miranda to carefully lobby the word ‘freesias’ at her, Andy’d had the good sense to get very, very nervous. Something in Miranda’s gaze had been predatory in a way Andy hadn’t ever seen before, and it drew her in more intensely than she would likely ever admit. It almost hadn’t even come as a shock when the name Jaqueline Follett fell out of the Editor’s mouth instead of Nigel’s.

 

It had all happened so quickly, she couldn’t really believe that it was only this morning she’d awoken hungover and disoriented, forced to endure Christian Thompson’s tedious arrogance far earlier than she felt she personally deserved. Then a blur of unanswered phone calls and her flight through the historic district, all culminating in that breathless, smiling betrayal. In her mind, she analyses different snapshot moments from the day; the vicious smile curling Miranda’s lips when she greeted Irv, the light fading out of Nigel’s eyes as Jaqueline’s name was called, the horrible look on Christian’s face when he’d called her ‘baby’. Out of control, her thoughts quickly turn back to the previous evening. Her heart breaks when she recalls the catch in Miranda’s breath, the redness around her eyes, the anguish over her daughters’ safety. It had taken everything in Andy’s power not to wrap the grieving woman in a tight embrace and never let go. It hurt to think that the Miranda Priestly, the closest thing to a living deity, still had scumbags like Stephen whispering nasty little lies into her ear, trying to bring her down to their level. 

 

But then, the conversation in the car. Her blatant misunderstanding of Miranda’s words, taking any excuse to justify her fears and misgivings. She had been so unbearably naive to think that Nigel wouldn’t give just as good as he got. She’d been so wrapped up in the drama and lingering implosion of her personal life that she’d forgotten that sometimes it is, in fact, just business.For all her friends’ derision of the ‘new Andy’, she should have known better. She had considerable reference material to pull from her own life to understand that many of the choices we make don’t actually feel like choices. Looking back, it had been her greatest flaw throughout her tenure at Runway, the disbelief that anyone would dare judge her for the choices she didn’t understand she was making. 

 

Suddenly, it begins to sink in just how honest Miranda had been when she’d said that no one else could do her job. Sure, they could perform the tasks of an Editor-in-Chief, but they would never possess the unerring ability to wring the perfection from a loose group of artistic melodramatics with nothing more than a purse of the lips. She’s beginning to understand the sheer enormity of Miranda’s decisiveness, the strength to stand up as the cutting edge for an entire industry...

 

Andy finds herself faced with her own wide eyes as she sinks down onto the bed, not caring in the least about rumpling her gown. The mirror shows an unforgiving scene, between the mascara dripping down her cheeks and the luxury baggage under her eyes, no doubt just another perk of her night out with the weasel. Her thoughts drift back to the acerbic editor, an annoying little habit of hers that shows no sign of abating anytime soon. 

 

She’s starting to feel the gravity of her decisions settling onto her, and it’s uncomfortable enough that she can’t even hold her own gaze. She needs to accept it, this new Miranda-less world she finds herself in, but it feels so much like a further act of disloyalty that she can’t even bring herself to contemplate the idea properly. 

The truth of the matter is that Miranda had taken a chance on her, more than one. She had extended Andy so much grace over their brief partnership, now that she had the ability to look past all of her own bullshit and see things from a different perspective for once. She hadn’t deserved it, she realises with a shock. She hadn’t deserved it but Miranda had seen something that she appreciated enough to keep around. She can’t ignore the shame that curls in the pit of her stomach, flushes to the surface of her skin. Miranda had seen something in her, had gone so far as to tell her, in her own way, that she had what it takes. And in the face of all that subtle support, she had chosen to perform one final act of betrayal to cap off the entire tragedy. The last thing she would have as she crawled home in disgrace would be the flash of panic in Miranda’s eyes when she realised Andy wasn’t behind her. 

 

Groaning, she’s just managed to pull herself away from the offensively big bed with the intention of packing up the tornado of clothing strewn about the place when a rapid knock on the door snaps up her attention. Andy freezes, full lips parting slightly as she weighs the risks of opening the door over just pretending to be dead. 

 

“Six, it’s Nigel. We need to talk.” 

 

Her heart claws its way up into her throat, and she’s certain he could hear the strange croaking noise that just came out of her. What the hell can she even say to say to Nigel now? ‘Hey, sorry, I totally used your betrayal to justify the world’s most dramatic resignation, and honestly it never really had anything to do with you at all, but whoopsie, what’s done is done’? Still, she finds herself pulling the door open to find his palpable exhaustion and no small amount of frustration written all over his face. He surprises her with a hug, and she sniffs desperately to try to keep her tears at bay. 

 

“None of us knew where you were. We were terrified.” He gives her a tiny flash of a smile before a stern look crosses his face. “Now, you will tell me what the hell you think you’re doing, and you will tell me in detail.” 

 

He doesn’t even give her the courtesy of watching her gape like a fish, instead striding deftly past her and into the suite. She allows the door to swing shut slowly, trying to take a deep breath and remind herself why all this necessary. The crinkling and popping behind her alerts her to the fact the Nigel is currently looting her mini bar, not something she can really bother to care about right now, but it is interesting. 

 

“Andy, baby...” Nigel drawls as he all but collapses onto the small couch, somehow managing to successfully juggle two tumblers, a bottle of brandy, and apparently, several chocolate bars. He looks her up and down with a grin. “Have you lost your fucking mind?” This pulls a rough bark of laughter from her lungs, but it’s a joyless noise. 

 

“You know, Nigel, I’m really starting to think so.” A heavy sigh escapes her as she throws herself down beside him, not even bothering to look up when she takes her glass from his hand. “I just...she makes me so...” A rough hand slides up the sculpted curve of her brow, shoving her bangs out of the way carelessly, and she sits for a beat cradling her spinning head in her hand. The motion leaves her fringe sticking up at odd angles, but her figure looks so tortured that Nigel holds in his comment. “Insane! That’s just it: she drives me crazy, and it’s so hard not to just shake her until she explains herself for once... and at the same damn time I can tell when she’s smiling behind that mask she wears and...I swear I would do it for those moments alone, but with everything else...” She trails off, suddenly very aware of Nigels eyes searching her face, and she has to fight the urge to duck away. Eye contact, however, remains entirely out of the question. A long moment passes, during which Andy can feel the blush inching up her neck and into her cheeks, and she wants nothing more than to melt into the obscenely luscious upholstery. 

 

“You know that nobody at Runway is ever going to judge you for being who you are, right?” Andy finally manages to hold his gaze, but she can’t place the pointed look in his eye. She decides to move away from whatever is on the verge of being said, whatever he’s fishing for. 

 

“She said she sees- well, saw- a lot of herself in me.” Nigel looks disturbed. 

 

“Miranda Priestly gave you a compliment? And in response you abandoned her in front of a hundred flashing cameras?” She’s surprised by the edge to his words. She would’ve thought Miranda would be his least favourite person right now, but it’s sounding a lot like he’s upset with her on Miranda’s behalf.

 

“No! Well, yes, but...Ugh!” She can feel the panic rising, and needs to get a grip. She can do this. “I told her I couldn’t do what she did to you, and she informed me in no uncertain terms that I already had. To Emily. And th-the thing...” She pauses, a dark smirk twisting her lips as she turns to face him. “The thing is, Nigel, she was right. About that, about me. But I have lost everything that I thought made me Andy over the last year, and I wasn’t ready to hear the truth. To really see how the world works. And now that I have, I feel so ridiculously stupid to have thrown it all away. The job and the boss and the opportunity.” 

 

Nigel argues with himself for a good moment about whether or not he wants to point out what he’s now sure of, but thinks better of it. He deserves a little mindless entertainment. 

 

“And what, if I may ask, prompted this little period of introspection and self-awareness?” Not quite enough, but a start, he chuckles to himself. Andy is quiet for a long minute before she speaks, and when she starts he knows it will pay off to listen closely. 

“I broke up with Nate over the job, my longest friendship dissolved over a meaningless kiss on the cheek, and sometimes it takes me a second to recognise myself in the mirror, but I have to admit that I chose the path that led me here.” She turns to catch his gaze, all gooey and wide and proud. “I spent every day of the last eight months telling myself that I didn’t have a choice about working late, I wasn’t the person responsible for my schedule or my appearance, or even the changes I’ve gone through. I didn’t have a choice about missing Nate’s birthday, or coming to Paris or using someone to get ahead...except, I did. I just kept making the silent decision without any of the follow through, and expecting everyone to adjust.” Here she sees where Nigel’s mind is headed from a mile away, and she tries to explain. “It doesn’t make it okay, that my friends abandoned me as soon as I changed in a way that didn’t suit them, but I have to acknowledge the part I played as well.”

 

“Andy, darling, you know what you have to do, right?” Nigel’s tone is heavy, serious, but it’s hard to take it that way now that he’s lolling upside down on the sofa, lazily brandishing a Snickers. She refuses to meet his eyes. “You have to apologise. You have to make this right, or she’ll be unbearable and blame me for losing her favourite assistant, and I can’t have that kind of thing hanging over me.” 

 

“Nige, she would probably rather throw acid in my face than hear me out right now. It’s not worth causing any more damage.” She knows this, logically, but her racing pulse is screaming out with the need to find her, to fix everything, to...Oh. To do her job. She grimaces and lets her head fall into her hands. Of course. Everything with Miranda has to be a fucking riddle that she doesn’t understand until it’s too late. 

She’s contemplating all the places in Miranda’s suite one could theoretically hide a body, should Andy decide to grow a pair and do the right thing, when a specific phrase jolts her in an unexpected way. 

 

“Nige...” She gives him her sweetest, most innocent smile. “What do you mean ‘favourite assistant’?” For a moment, he looks truly torn, the picture of anguish, like a baroque painting playing out right in front of her. Then, he shrugs, decision seemingly made. She wonders how much he’s had to drink this evening.

 

“You know...she...likes you?” It’s clear that he’s uncomfortable talking about Miranda having positive feelings toward anyone, but he soldiers on. “She once told me that you would either be her biggest disappointment or her greatest success, but she wouldn’t know how to tell the difference. Whatever the hell that means. My point is that she doesn’t talk about assistants, she barely talks to assistants! But she talks about you, about your future.” 

 

“Nigel, how am I possibly supposed to believe that?” Andy doesn’t have time for this. All it has done is remind her that Miranda absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, find her before she leaves. 

 

“Andy, how can you not? I gather that you don’t have enough experience with La Grande Dame to understand what is decidedly out of character, but I do. Emily does. So even if you take her actions at face value, try to believe me.” Nigel decides he’s sobering up far too quickly for his own liking, and he figures he can attempt to kill two birds with one stone. Even if it backfires, he’ll be far enough away to safely enjoy the heat. 

 

“You can imagine that’s a deceptively tall order, Nige. Why are you even still doing her dirty work? She totally screwed you over. I can’t believe it, I really am over here chugging the kool-aid.”  She is finding herself truly frightened by the depth of her reactions, she can practically see the bridges collapsing all around her. The look in Nigel’s eye reinforces that she’s very close to wearing his designer patience thin, and she’s floundering under the weight of the day. 

 

“You really don’t get it, do you? Fine. Do you remember James’ showing last month?” Andy doesn’t know why this matters, but she wisely chooses not to bring that to Nigel’s attention. 

 

“Yes. Lips were pursed.” She remembers the tension in the room as everyone waited for the verdict, the look of defeat and pain in Holt’s expression when it was delivered. 

 

“You do remember!” Nigel coos with a proud smirk. “Okay, so tell me, my darling Six, can you honestly see Miranda Priestly handing her lifelong right hand man,” he does a goofy little wiggle as he says it, “over to a designer that disappointing this early in his career?”

 

Andy doesn’t say anything, the icy shock of this new perspective freezing her in place as a whole new level of understanding takes hold of her. How stupid can one person be? Nigel continues, fixing her with a wistful stare. 

 

“Did I want the job? Yes, of course, but when the offer comes at the price of a titan’s throne and my own professional security? No, thank you. Miranda saw it early, saw that the Holt line would be a flash in the pan, and she protected us both from the flames. That’s how she is; trust her to make the most heartfelt compliment look like the harshest criticism.” He pulls his handkerchief from the breast pocket of his vest to mop at his brow, a mannerism Andy has learned means that he’s debating himself on something. 

 

“I am such an idiot.” She barely hears the words as they rasp their way off of her tongue. She finds herself playing back moments from the last nine months, and realising just how ignorant she has been. Sure, she’d stepped up her game as some sort of challenge, only to find that she held a deep personal satisfaction in going above and beyond the call of duty. She’d fled at the first sign that she’d been caught out, that Miranda herself had been the one to see how much of herself she was putting into every simple act. She had, inevitably, drawn the wrong conclusion—that Andy was invested in the job— but the fact remained. Her cover was blown, and so she had run away like a belligerent middle-schooler. 

 

It was, however, somewhere in the high streets of Paris, after the fact, that she had experienced the stunning realisation that the job had meant so much more to her than she ever could have predicted. The job was her means with which to communicate to Miranda all the things she would never have the chance to say. The job had been a god damned gift, and she had denied it with every breath. 

 

Nigel’s gentle chuckle brings her back to herself. “Andy, I don’t know if anyone has ever told you, but you have a super power. When people talk to you, you really hear them.” He waves her off when she tries to cut in. “You don’t just hear what they’re saying, but what they mean as well. Then, somehow, you take the distance between the two and make it work in your favour. I’ve never met anyone else who could do that, not even Miranda.” 

 

I can see beyond what people want, and what they need, and I can choose for myself.” Miranda’s words float back to her on her own whisper, and she nearly laughs when the dots in her head finally connect. Miranda wasn’t offering to train her up in La Priestly’s image, wasn’t peering into her eyes looking for hints of the Dragon; she was acknowledging that Andy was in possession of traits that simply can’t be taught and offering the chance to learn all that she could. Miranda wanted Andy to succeed in the ways only someone with her unique skill set could. Miranda had seen her, down to her very essence, and Andy had imploded under the weight of that gaze. 

 

It’s too much. She has to fix this. 

 

Nigel barely has time to lift his head before she’s out the door, shoeless and still shivering from her extended jaunt through the city. 

 

* * *

 

It doesn’t strike her that her behaviour might be seen as highly suspect until it’s already too late. Andy bursts into Miranda’s suite without so much as a knock, having held onto the room key she’d been given for reasons she doesn’t really want to analyse yet. It hits her the second she registers those icy blue eyes, unguarded and wide with shock, that perhaps she should have run a comb through her hair, at the very least. She remembers the ragged waif who’d looked back at her through the mirror, and spares a second for the thought that maybe her general state of disarray will add a certain gravity to what she plans to say. 

 

Or it might, if she were capable of planning anything more detailed than a few choice words about her own incompetence. Any more time she might have devoted to working something out, right there in front of Miranda, is cut short by the brief, extremely uncomfortable clearing of a delicate throat. Andy snaps her gaze back to the cold fury emanating from those incandescent eyes. 

 

“Miranda...” It floats out on a shaky breath, in spite of the anvil currently sitting on Andy’s larynx. “I...hurt you.” And that’s just it, isn’t it? She can’t imagine a single reality where she would voluntarily hurt Miranda, even in the course of protecting herself. She knows for a fact that she’d happily step in front of a bus if it meant that Miranda would never look at her like this again, the way someone might regard a loaded gun. Like she is dangerous. Miranda opens her mouth, as if to refute Andy’s statement, but they both know it’s true. “No, not a question.” Andy feels the sad smile shift her features, and she knows that now is not the time to second guess herself. 

 

“I think...” She begins again when it becomes clear that Miranda isn’t going to speak. “I think I understand now, what you were telling me, the why of it all...and I know you can’t afford to listen to the ramblings of stupid ex-assistants, but I’m choosing to live in the hope that you’ll hear me out.” Andy takes a deep, steadying breath before she continues. Her heart is doing an impressive impersonation of a kick drum, and there’s a strange tingle radiating from the spot on her shoulder, which Miranda seems intent on burning a hole through with the strength of her glare. Andy knows that she’s listening, though, from the way her hands gently knead the back of the chaise and her head tips just a few degrees to the side. Andy can’t ever remember feeling like she was in such command of someone’s attention before, and it gives her just that extra bit of confidence. 

 

“I’ve been so dedicated to the ideals I was raised with, so devoted to the idea of being a ‘good person’, that I never once looked hard enough to see how blurry the lines are, up close. I never managed to consider that sometimes a person can only choose the less damaging of two terrible options, until I met you. You threw the curtain back before I was ready to see what was behind it. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, the world doesn’t usually lead with kindness, and life is a full contact sport with very few hard and fast rules. Please forgive me the delay in absorbing the lesson. I’m honoured that you chose to give it to me.” It’s more than she’s ever said to Miranda at one time, but Andy thinks this may be one of those situations where her natural affinity for words might prove invaluable. 

 

Miranda has neglected to move, to react in any way to the depth of raw uncertainty Andy is showing, but she isn’t particularly surprised. It’s somewhere among the possibilities lingering in the ‘best case scenario’ portion of her mind. So she forges on. 

 

“You’ve given me a singularly most effective crash course in resilience and perspective, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful. It’s been the most exhilarating, difficult, amazing experience of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the newspapers in the world. Thank you.” She’s saying goodbye, she realises, only as she turns to leave, but the soft murmur stops her in her tracks. 

 

“Andréa, what do you want?” It’s not the question Andy had expected, and the thought that maybe Miranda expects her to ask for a favour on the way out crosses her mind. Rather than flooding her with indignant outrage, thought, it spreads a sharp sadness between her ribs to wrap around her heart. 

 

“You don’t know?” Andy surprises herself with the genuinely amused colour in her tone. Her only answer is the careful arching of one perfect brow. “I want you to teach me everything.” 

 

As she stumbles blindly back through the door, she realises that’s the closest she can conceivably get to speaking the whole truth.  

 

* * *

 

Miranda is still standing rigid, gripping the back of the chair with enough force to permanently crush the velvet when the door to her suite is flung unceremoniously open yet again, only to reveal Nigel, face flushed and eyes slightly glazed. He doesn’t even give her the courtesy of a simple greeting before he, too, starts in on her. 

 

“So, what did she have to say for herself?” He chuckles a little at the icy glare she shoots him, but doesn’t back down. “Now, Miranda, I think you owe me at least that much.” She lets out a sigh, one that feels as though it originates all the way down in her toes, and moves to collapse in the very seat she’s been trying to strangle for the last ten minutes. 

 

“She asked me to ‘teach her everything’, as though I’m supposed to know what that means. As though I can just forget that she abandoned me over some little professional qualms-“

 

“She abandoned you? Or the job?” It would take an act of genuine torture to get Nigel to admit how much pleasure he’s deriving from playing devil’s advocate. It’s basically his job title, anyway. Miranda makes a displeased noise deep in her throat and waves a hand to convey that she doesn’t exactly know. 

 

“Does it matter? Should I care? I mean, how can I trust that she won’t run away as soon as things get hard or complicated?” She’s not talking to him, so Nigel sees no reason to interrupt her with answers. “Yes, I will admit that she has made strides since she first began, but how am I supposed to take on such a pupil when gaining her fickle respect is tantamount to pulling teeth?” It strikes them both at the same moment that having Andréa’s respect is important to Miranda, and she can do nothing to hide the faint blush colouring her cheeks. 

 

“She respects you. More than you’ll ever know.” Nigel has had months to perfect his little fairy godmother routine, but he realises that he’s getting dangerously close to revealing things that aren’t his to expose. “I was sitting on her couch, I watched the light dawn in her eyes, and I know that whatever she said, it was the truth. So it’s up to you, the ball is in your court now.” He doesn’t expect the look of surprise, the tinge of betrayal and jealousy in her eyes. “You’re not the only one who confides in me, Miranda. If you doubt my loyalty even after all this, you may very well be a lost cause. I am simply trying to make sure everyone here realises the value of what they have.” 

 

“She thanked me.” It’s not the dangerous quiet of the Dragon Lady, it’s a whisper that slips out seemingly of its own accord, and once again Nigel is struck by the weight of the things he doesn’t know. Miranda’s eyes are downcast and she almost seems to shrink in on herself, making her look much, much smaller than he’s ever seen her. “She said she was honoured to have received the lessons she has learned and when I asked what it was that she wanted, she asked me to teach her. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” 

A helpless chuckle escapes on the tails of maybe the first time Miranda Priestly has ever admitted to not knowing what to do. Nigel wants to cackle, but keeps it reserved to a small grin. He meets those sapphire eyes again, and he knows what she’s going to do, even if she doesn’t. 

 

“Whatever you want, darling.” He places a comforting hand on her shoulder before leaving her to think about it. 

 

* * *

 

It’s early when Andy stirs, bleary eyes crusted together with residual tears and makeup. After the excitement of the previous day, she’d barely made it back to her room before crashing. She can’t even remember whether or not Nigel was still here when she returned. It comes back to her, in that moment; her little diatribe to Miranda’s greatness, the feeling of leaving it all out on the floor between them...well, maybe not all of it, but enough that her own words come back to shock her fully into wakefulness. Exhilarating. Difficult. Amazing. If she hadn’t been there, she would think one was describing Miranda herself. Oh shit... 

 

Something beeps next to her bed, and she realises that’s what must have pulled her from the silky grasp of sleep. Raising her throbbing head, she spots her phone on the bedside table, lit up with an incoming text message. It’s funny, but she’s pretty sure she threw it in a fountain yesterday... 

 

With a gasp, she nearly flings herself onto the floor as she reaches for the device, cradling it gently in her hands as though it were something precious. She has two unread messages, both from a number she can’t help but recognise, and it takes every ounce of bravery she has to open them. 

 

The first had come in at nearly four in the morning, though looking at the clock, Andy sees that was barely a half hour ago. 

 

Very well. 

 

Andy doesn’t even bother to try keeping the ridiculous grin off of her face. Her heart feels like it’s going to swell right out of her chest, and she once again declines to analyse the reaction. She feels like a kid on Christmas morning, and she’s not going to ruin it for herself. 

 

The second text had been the one to wake her, sent only minutes ago, and it’s with a shaking hand that she moves to open it. She can’t stop the fear that Miranda has changed her mind, that the joy she feels in this moment cannot possibly last. 

 

Breakfast is at 6. We have much to discuss.  

 

The same overwhelming feeling of euphoria nearly brings her to tears, until she realises that she only has an hour and a half to get ready for the day, and so far she has no idea what it will bring. 

 

One very hasty, very hot shower later, Andy emerges from the bathroom scrubbed raw and ready to take on the world. She pulls together an outfit that would have terrified her only days prior, and steps back to get one last glance at herself. 

 

The lacy black La Perla body suit displays her curves in an understated yet undeniably sensual way; the ultra-sheer, grey silk Saint Laurent blouse leaving nothing to the imagination; while a devilishly short pleated black skirt complete with hand-embroidered suspenders given to her by Lagerfeld himself finishes off the look, along with an embellished pair of Louis Vuitton ankle boots. 

 

It’s a far more daring ensemble than she ever would have imagined picking for herself, but she realises that daring is exactly the mood she hopes to bring to this new stage of her career and life. She needs Miranda to know that this time around, she’s playing for keeps. That this is no longer just a job she deigns to attend to, but an effort she is committed to putting the full weight of her will and intellect behind. 

 

* * *

 

“Please, Andréa, explain to me why I was visually assaulted last night, instead of sitting down to have a perfectly normal conversation?” Andy’s eyes flash wide as she nearly chokes on the bite of spinach and egg white omelette in her mouth, taken completely off guard by the question and somewhat relieved by the break in the tension. 

 

Breakfast had been served in Miranda’s suite, a quaking French bellboy arriving the customary fifteen minutes early, and so far not so much as a single word has been uttered between the two of them. It’s grating on Andy’s already raw nerves, and she knows that, given the time, her inner babble would have broken forth regardless. 

 

“You’re kidding me, right?” It pops out with absolutely no regard for Andy’s safety, a moment of true disbelief that demands to be recognised. She barely resists the urge to slap a hand over her mouth, though the desperate urge to melt into the floor is harder to dispel. Her goal to just keep her stupid mouth shut is bypassed, however, when a meticulous eyebrow inches skyward. A deprecating chuckle escapes Andy before she pushes her anxiety aside and decides to lay it all out. “Miranda, I haven’t had a single normal conversation with you since we met. You don’t have conversations, you give orders.” Sensing the imminent interruption, she hastens to add, “Which is all well and good when you’re the one making the final decisions but, unfortunately, I think this time we have to come to some kind of agreement.” 

 

“Oh, do we?” The tone is as icy as she’s ever heard it, but there’s a twinkle lurking behind those blue eyes that makes Andy think that maybe it’s time for her to stop being so afraid. After all, she’s got nothing to lose that she hasn’t already lost, and no matter how it may feel, that sharp tongue can’t actually flay her alive. She sits up straight, shoulders back, and dares to return the look. 

 

“Well, our other option is continued miscommunication, and I really don’t see that serving either of our purposes.” So there. If she’s going to test Andy, fine. If she’s going to try to scare her away before Andy makes that decision for herself, so be it. But she’s not going to do so without any resistance. Andy has her claws out now and she’s ready to dig in and hold tight. She hopes Miranda can read the steel in her posture and the iron in her gaze. 

 

“You presume to know what my purposes are?” This time Miranda does actually look slightly affronted, and Andy stifles a laugh. A quick knock signals the bell boy coming back in to clear the table, and Andy understands that this discussion is nowhere near finished, but is also not for the open ears of anyone else. So she waits, greedy eyes roaming the elegant figure as though she were an undiscovered, unseen Rodín. 

 

The editor’s silver forelock hangs artfully over one eye, while the white Dolce ruffle neck blouse holds a stark juxtaposition to the black Alexander McQueen bow-pleated trousers. It’s a rather sedate outfit for fashion week, but Andy’s pretty sure she’ll be the only one to see this particular ensemble, and for some reason that throws gasoline onto her spark of excitement. The idea that she could have more of Miranda than anyone else will get thrills her in an unforeseen and somewhat unsettling way. By the time she’s finished with her less than surreptitious perusal, the table is clear and the boy is gone; Miranda beckons her to the sitting area, where she takes a seat on the same abused chaise she’d identified with the night before. 

 

“I think your purposes are actually fairly straightforward.” She begins again, not waiting for Miranda to decide to move things along. She’s staring at a random spot on the wall, but all her other senses are trained exclusively on the other woman. “I think that Runway is a part of you, and in that sense you can only accept from others the perfection that you demand from yourself. It’s not just a job, it’s more than a pay check, more than a title. So yes, I presume.” Amber eyes finally rise to meet sapphire head on. She’s daring Miranda to say one word to the contrary because they both know it’s true, and if Miranda can’t be honest with her, then there’s really very little point to this meeting at all. 

 

“Ah.” Miranda lets out a soft noise of understanding, but doesn’t move to elaborate until Andy shoots her a pointed look. “I have a nasty little habit of underestimating you, Andréa. In this case, it seems you have been far more perceptive than I gave you credit for.” She says it as though she’s surprised by her own fallibility, and once again Andy feels slightly guilty for caring this much. “Alright, but I will still need to hear what exactly you feel you’ll get out of this…arrangement. After all, it’s not a journalistic endeavour.” Andy wants to rebuke the snide comment, but it occurs to her so, so belatedly that Miranda might actually be teasing her. The quirk of lips half a second later confirms her suspicions. 

 

“Miranda, if I knew what you could teach me, I wouldn’t be here absurdly early begging for the opportunity to learn. What I do know is that you do this job better than anyone else, in a way that nobody else could. I don’t hold myself under any illusions that I could carry any job off with the grace that you do, but I need to understand how you do it. The why of it is no longer significant.” 

 

It takes a moment, but Andy realises that the best defence she has against Miranda’s constant air of disinterest is total, unflinching honesty. She notes, sifting through memories of the last eight months, that, while Miranda does like to mess with her subordinates, it is her brutal honesty that elevates everyone around her. She never holds back for the sake of something so trivial and fleeting as feelings.

 

Alright, lesson number one: duly noted.  

 

Miranda, for her part, watches her with that curious expression she’s seen so rarely in her tenure as assistant. Andy thinks she might be impressed, though it’s easy to confuse that facial expression with the one she wears when personally affronted, so it’s not something she would bet on.  She decides to assume the former, and prays to a god she doesn’t believe in that her backbone will survive the morning. 

 

“I, um… gave this a lot of thought yesterday, and I have some conditions I’d like to discuss with you.” Preemptively wincing against what is sure to be a scathing retort, she drops her eyes to watch a bead of condensation streak down Miranda’s standard glass of Pellegrino. 

 

The only thing forthcoming, however, is a soft “Oh?” 

 

“I want a different title. I don’t care what it is, but Emily can keep First Assistant for as long as she wants.” Miranda’s face may as well be made of stone for all the reaction this provokes. “I want permission to implement measures regarding efficiency in office protocol, where possible, and…I need you to do that thing you hate, you know, where you actually explain your decisions. If this is going to work the way we need it to, we have to be a team. I can’t protect you otherwise.” 

 

“Oh, is that all?” Miranda’s tone makes it very clear that Andy is asking a lot from her. “I find it hard to believe that anyone under my employ wishes to protect me. And, what, may I ask, am I to get out of this little…arrangement?” Andy has to stifle a chuckle. She is finding this tête-à-tête surprisingly enjoyable. 

 

“Miranda, did you even read my resumé? I wasn’t accepted to Stanford Law School for my crushing good looks. I’m good at this job, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but so far I’ve been operating under the assumption that I’ll survive this year and move on. You have no idea how good I can be when I actually care.” She’s entering into dangerous territory here, if her words are construed as presumptuous as opposed to informative, as they’re meant. 

“Nigel helped me figure out that I didn’t have to understand something to see its value, something I really should have figured out on my own, but I couldn’t find a way to care if all I was is another face in an endless sea of disappointing assistants. So I’m not going to be. You told me to make a choice, well this is it.” She feels slightly out of breath, and slightly chagrined as she realises that sometimes her mouth really does get away from her, but it’s all true so she has no problem standing behind it. 

 

“Associate to the Editor.” Miranda says, looking at her again with that peculiar expression.

 

“What?”

 

“That is your new title, starting now. Emily will move on to the Art Department in two weeks, as scheduled. In the meantime, you will begin conducting interviews for an assistant.” Miranda regards her silently for another minute before a genuine smile cracks through the usual frosty exterior. Andy can’t help but think that she looks even more gorgeous than usual, her eyes, usually so cold, twinkling with mirth and what might possibly be affection. 

 

Wait, what?

 

“I’ve been waiting to see that girl again, the one who was so fearless in her interview. I’m glad to see she has made a reappearance. Welcome into your power, Andréa.” With that distinctly unusual moment of praise out of the way, Andy can literally see Miranda shift back into editor mode. “Now, what are we going to do about my double booking at 3? I can’t attend both the Versace and the YSL shows.” 

 

And just like that, everything goes right back to normal, with the exception that nothing is the same as it was. 

 

* * *

 

The flight home is almost as tiring as Fashion Week itself, with a thousand decisions to be made before they even touch back down at JFK. Miranda has somehow made sure the Elias-Clark jet is available for their return trip, though Irv is surprisingly absent. Andy doesn’t even have time to enjoy the unexpected luxury, though, because she’s connected to the onboard wifi and sending emails off by the hundreds from the moment they reach cruising altitude to the moment they begin their descent. 

 

Miranda is in fine form, holding court with Nigel and Jocelyn as ferociously as a General planning a major offensive. Andy manages all of five minutes to herself, between feverishly taking notes and the mass of correspondence, but she takes the time to contact Leslie, Miranda’s PR manager, as well as the twins. They’d asked for her email before the Runway team left, as a way to contact their mother in case of emergency, and she’d readily agreed. After the Harry Potter incident, the three of them had come to an agreement and she finds she rather enjoys talking with them. They’re smarter than she ever was at that age, and seem to have inherited their mother’s rapier wit. 

 

She finally stumbles into her apartment at nearly 2 am, but as exhausted as she is, sleep feels impossible. She’s wired, from the time difference and her new prospects and a million other things, and almost cackles to find Nate- and a generous portion of their shared belongings- missing. That’s fine with her, they’d been over for a long time and she feels better with him gone. That surprises her initially, that she should be so relieved that her longest relationship to date is over, but when the word ‘finally’ escapes her unbidden, she simply sets about rearranging and making a list of the things she’ll need to replace. 

 

It’s nearing 3:30 when her phone rings, that shrill tone recognisable across continents. She answers on the second ring, smiling when her thoughts wander to Nate’s final remarks. 

 

“Lemme guess, you can’t sleep either?” She hopes Miranda can hear her smile over the phone. 

 

“Really, Andréa.” Miranda tuts. “Surely you know by now that sleep is for mere mortals.” 

 

“Oh-ho! We’ve got a comedian in our midst, ladies and gentlemen.” Her cheeks are starting to hurt from the wry grin she can’t seem to control, and for the first time in nine months, she can’t wait to go to work tomorrow. 

 

“I’ll be here all week.” Comes the deadpan response, and she snorts in a rather unladylike manner. 

 

“So,” Andy begins after a protracted pause, “did you call just to practice your material or is there something I can do for you?” She has a brief flashback to Emily frantically whispering ‘The Rules’ to her, and chuckles. She’s broken almost all of them by now and somehow lived to tell the tale, so it makes little sense to start following them now. 

 

“I-“ Miranda stalls, and Andy’s heart jumpstarts. She has never once heard Miranda stutter or cut herself off, and maybe she’s simply losing her mind, but this feels like a very special moment. “I find myself needing your advice. The girls have refused to speak to me since they found out about the divorce, and I… don’t know what to do about it. They’re so young, and they’ve had to deal with so much already because of…well, because of who I am. And of course, Stephen just had to blindside them with it while I was away, the coward.” 

 

So the girls are no longer off limits. Andy hasn’t even begun to finish sorting through her feelings about Miranda’s state that night, but it’s good to know that being entrusted with this information isn’t a one time thing. She’s again struck with the gravity of the changes resulting from that moment. 

 

“Miranda, I think they just need to be reminded that you love them unconditionally. Sometimes kids see a divorce as a statement on the retractable nature of love, but they don’t know enough to see the difference between a marriage and a parent-child relationship. Just, talk to them about it. They’ll see.” 

 

The phone is silent for so long she has to check that Miranda hasn’t hung up on her. The nervous part of her brain insists that she fill the gap, but she manages to shut that voice out. She’ll allow Miranda all the time she needs to process this. 

 

“What have you done with my bumbling assistant? Who is this wise woman I’m speaking with?” Andy feels the laughter bubbling up, and she’s too thrilled and tired to do anything but let it out. 

 

“On this subject, I have experience. Ask me about something else and I’m sure I can oblige.” 

 

“It’ll have to wait.” Andy hears a sort of strangled gasp and realises that Miranda has just emitted an earth shattering yawn. Her heart jumps again, and if she’s overwhelmed with tenderness at the humanity of that simple act, who’s to say? “I believe it is way past my bedtime.” 

 

Andy flops onto the couch, as the apartment is decidedly lacking a bed, and cradles the phone just slightly closer. 

 

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you have a weakness. Goodnight, Miranda.”

 

“Goodnight, Andréa. Sleep well.” 

 

It’s possibly the longest conversation they’ve had that didn’t begin with the words ‘get me’, and Andy can’t even pretend in her own mind that she isn’t over the moon, but it’s all catching up with her now and she drifts happily into dreams of warm blue eyes and tinkling laughter. 

 

 

* * *

 

The first day back at Runway is somewhat akin to soldiers returning from war only to find that their home has been ransacked while they were away. The clackers could give many a headless chicken a run for their money, and that anxiety seems to have filtered up the chain of command to the point that even Nigel is sporting a wild gleam in his eyes. 

 

Andy hasn’t had a chance to talk with him, or thank him, or do anything other than smile at him in passing, but that changes around 2 pm, when she desperately needs someone to cover for her absence for an hour or so. Emily is studiously not speaking to her, despite the piles of couture in her size that had been delivered to her apartment early this morning, but Andy has far more pressing matters on her mind than whether she’ll be able to get back on her good side. 

Her conversation with Miranda the previous night is weighing heavily on her mind, and she makes the decision to try to assist without alerting Miranda to her intentions. Easier said than done, but if anyone can help her, it’s her fashion fairy godmother. 

 

“Hey Nige!” She calls in a singsong, ducking into his office without knocking. “There’s my very favourite Art Director!” 

 

“What do you want now?” He looks as exhausted as she feels, and she really can’t blame him for being cranky. He probably got less sleep than she did last night. 

 

She sidles up conspiratorially and in a low whisper says, “I’m on a secret mission and I need your help. No one can ever know.” A long moment passes and she wonders if she’s reached her quota of help from Nigel for the year, but then he’s humming the theme from Mission Impossible and shooting her a wink. 

 

“What do you need? A diversion?” 

 

“I need a reason to be out of the office for the next hour or so. Think you can come up with something?” Andy knows that she’s asking quite a lot of him at a point when time is at a premium, but it’s important to her to do this job to the best of her ability, and sometimes that includes going behind Miranda’s back. She’s not proud of it, but this is the only way she can think of to solve this particular problem. Nigel gives her a hard look, but it softens when she returns with a pleading one. 

 

“Oh, I think I can figure something out.” 

 

“Okay, I need to be out of here by three, will that work? I suppose I can always tell Miranda that I’m sick or something, I just don’t want to miss out on too much, you know? There’s so much to do and this is really putting a wrench in the works, but you know I wouldn’t ask if wasn’t important…” She chews on her lip, reconsidering whether or not this really the right move, but Nigel stops her with a gentle pat on the cheek. 

 

“Seriously, child, I’ve got you covered. Stop stressing. I assume that you’ll let me in on the secret at some point?” She gives him a hesitant nod and he claps his hands together. “Alright, I’ll see you before three then, my dear, but in the meantime, some of us actually have work to do!” 

 

She heads back to her desk with a chuckle. She’s breaking her own set of rules by getting this personally involved, but she reminds herself of Miranda’s words, though challenging at the time. You can do anything, right?

 

True to his word, Nigel comes barrelling into the outer office at 2:45, practically wailing. Not even Emily moves to stop him from breaching the inner sanctum, and then he’s in Miranda’s office shouting about incompetence and missing thumb drives and before anyone can say anything, Miranda is calling for her. 

 

“Andréa, some fool seems to have misplaced the photos from the Valentino show. You’ll go get copies from Demarchelier’s studio. If we do not recover these photographs, I’m going to be very displeased.” 

 

“Right away, Miranda.” Andy manages to hide her smirk until she’s past the desks, but can’t quite keep it up when Emily shoots her a smug look.

 

“Ugh, what are you smiling about?” They seem to have transitioned into trading barbs, as opposed to the radio silence from this morning, though Andy doesn’t know which she prefers. 

 

“I love my job.” She says with a full grin, and the look of bewildered shock on Emily’s face almost makes it all worth it. 

 

Nigel catches up with her at the elevator and covertly slips her a nondescript thumb drive, and she has to stifle a laugh. He shoots her a wink, then struts off down the hall, no doubt to go work on the proofs from one of the other thousand shows they’d attended the previous week. Andy spends the elevator ride putting on her best game face, and she’s surprised when the clackers in the lobby part for her almost as quickly as they would for Miranda herself. Roy is waiting at the curb like she’d asked, and he quickly pulls out into traffic like the expert he is. 

 

“You sure you know what you’re doing, Andy?” Making eye contact in the rear view mirror, she’s a little shocked by the look of reproach on the normally jovial driver’s face. 

 

“Somebody’s gotta step in, Roy, or we’re all in for it. I’m just gonna talk to them.” 

 

“Alright.” The lilt to his words makes it clear he doesn’t believe her but also isn’t going to get involved.  

 

“Look, Roy, I think you and I might be the two people in this world who aren’t afraid of her. That means something to me, and I’m for damn sure going to use it to the collective advantage. This isn’t for my benefit, and you know that.” She’s honestly a little hurt by the reproach; she’d been figuring Roy would be totally on her side, but now it seems like maybe she misjudged him. 

 

“Andy, nobody here is accusing you of anything, I just…I know those kids, as well as anyone could in this position, and if you come blazing in making promises you can’t keep? They’ll never forget it.” The light dawns in her eyes and she scoffs.

 

“No, I’m not here to do anything other than explain, in the best way I can, what is happening. They deserve to understand and I think we both know Miranda has a long way to go in the explanation department. I can tell them my intentions, but I will never make a promise if I’m not 100% sure I can keep it. Jeez, what do you take me for, an amateur?” That gets her a good natured chuckle, and she hopes the two of them are okay. 

 

She likes Roy, he is by far the steadiest of Miranda’s employees, and he’s got a sense of humour that Andy can appreciate. It’s not until he lets her know they’re five minutes away from Dalton that she realises she should really be nervous, but isn’t.

 

* * * 

 

When Cassidy and Caroline tumble into the car, there’s a long moment of confused silence before they address Andy in such a similar way to their mother, it actually takes Andy’s breath away for a second. 

 

“What are you doing here?” They ask in perfect stereo, and she might be creeped out by the simultaneous head tilts, arching brows over cold blue eyes, but it’s so adorably familiar that she simply smiles and asks if they have a minute to talk with her. She’s not particularly surprised that she seems to have been labelled pariah by association. 

 

“Well, it’s not like we have a choice. This is basically an ambush.” Caroline, at least she’s reasonably certain it’s Caroline, sniffs and turns to watch Manhattan roll by. 

 

“Listen, we don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I can just sit here in silence if you like. But I thought you’d want to know that I’m going to be in charge of your mom’s schedule from now on, and I thought maybe we could discuss it. Maybe you have some suggestions?” She takes a moment to remind herself that she’s talking with two eleven year olds, no matter how smart or aware they might be. 

 

The one that’s probably Cassidy brightens up at the offer, but Caroline only narrows her cool gaze as though she’s trying to figure out Andy’s angle. She’s just about to brave calling Cassidy out by name when Caroline speaks again, surprising her with a tone so laced with venom it could actually kill. 

 

“Isn’t that your job? Why do you need our help? Does Mom even know you’re here?” Cassidy shoots her what might be an apologetic look, and nudges her sister. 

 

“Caro…” 

 

“No, it’s okay Cassidy. Those are valid questions. For your information, Caroline, I am perfectly capable of doing my job without you. I’m not asking for your help, I’m asking for your input. Those are two different things.” Caroline pauses for a moment, a little furrow between her brow, considering the wording of the statement. 

 

“Okay, what kind of input are you looking for?” Cassidy asks this time, ignoring the sharp glare from Caroline, and Andy has to stifle a laugh. These two are certainly something else. 

 

“Well, I know that your Mom works harder than anyone else on the planet, and she misses you guys a lot. I thought there might be some days you’d like to see her more, if I can schedule it. Maybe get her some extra time on weekdays that she can spend with you without having to work.” Andy once again notes the light that flares in Cassidy’s eyes, and doesn’t miss the look of shock that briefly crosses Caroline’s face. Predictably, though, her look hardens into a near perfect imitation of Miranda, and Andy mentally braces herself. 

 

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase. What do you actually want? Assistants aren’t even supposed to talk to us.” The dig is quite good, coming from an eleven year old, but Andy has faced a much sharper tongue every day for almost a year. 

 

“Alright, you want it up front?” Concurrent nods. “First, I’m not an assistant anymore, and second, an assistant’s job is to make your Mom’s life easier, right? Do all the stuff she doesn’t have time to do.”

 

“Right…” She can tell Cassidy is already on the same page, but Caroline is a tougher nut to crack. 

 

“But I think her other assistants never really thought about making her life better. I already know that I can get her coffee the right temperature, and I can answer phone calls in my sleep. Keeping things organised is, well…easy. But your Mom is an artist, a brilliant one, and artists need things in their life that fuel them, otherwise everything starts to lose colour, to blur together, and they get tired of it. The biggest inspiration your Mom has is you two, and the more time she gets to spend loving you, the less drained she gets by the stupid things people can’t do correctly. Do you understand?” She really hopes she’s making her point, but can’t be sure. It does help when Roy meets her eyes and gives her a wink. 

 

“We did an assignment last month on Ancient Greek culture, so we know all about Muses. Is that what you’re talking about?” Cassidy asks, oozing genuine curiosity. 

 

“Um, kind of. Except Muses are said to come and go, whereas you guys are always.”

 

“That’s what she said about Stephen. And now he’s gone too. So you can schedule her all day every day, for all I care.” That hard look is back in Caroline’s eyes, and Andy knows she’s got one chance to do this right, or she’ll just get the trademark Priestly persona, possibly forever. 

 

“Okay, Caroline, here’s the thing. Did you know that your Mom has to approve every single design, accessory, photograph, layout, budget, and article in Runway, every single month? She makes more decisions in a day than most people make in a year.” Sceptical blue eyes widen noticeably. 

“Runway is her passion, it’s part of what makes her who she is. It’s incredible, but most people never think of it like that. People like Stephen see her and think that she’s beautiful and powerful and they want to be around her, but once they find out how much work it takes to do what she does, they don’t think of anything but the fact that it takes her away from them. So they ask her to let go of it, they ask her to let go of a part of herself, which isn’t something she can do because it would change who she is. It’s selfish and wrong to ask that of somebody.” 

 

She sits back, resigned to the fact that Caroline will make her judgment and whatever it is probably won’t change. 

 

“So it’s a respect thing?” Andy nods, glad that she seems to at least be making a little headway. “They want the good parts of her without the parts they don’t like?” Andy smiles. 

 

“Exactly. Which is an awful way to treat someone, and I think your Mom deserves better than that. She deserves to spend all her free time with you guys and not worrying about the decisions other people are making about her passion. That’s what I want to give her, because I want to respect all the parts of her, not just the ones I like… Do you understand now?” 

 

Caroline gives her a hesitant nod, and she truly wonders if nobody has ever tried to explain this to them before. 

 

“So, if we wanted to have movie nights on Thursdays, you’d try to make that happen?” Cassidy asks tentatively, and Andy’s heart breaks just a little bit for the sweet vulnerable girls looking up at her with something like hope in their eyes. 

 

“Well, you’d have to talk to her about the movie part, but if you wanted her to be home by, say, 6 on Thursdays, I can certainly try to make that happen.” The simultaneous grins that break out warm her just enough that maybe she should question it, but she doesn’t have that kind of focus right now, so she pushes the thoughts away. 

 

“Really?” Caroline asks, a little breathlessly, and if there was a way, Andy would make sure Miranda never missed another minute with these little girls. 

 

“Really. But I need you to understand that I might not always be successful. I can’t promise that it’ll happen every week, but I’ll try my hardest. That much, I can promise.” 

 

“She doesn’t know you’re here, does she?” Once again Caroline pins her with an inscrutable look. 

 

“No, I faked an emergency so I could come talk to you.” Andy shoots them a wry grin before adopting a more serious look.  “She called me late last night and she sounded really sad because you didn’t want to talk to her. I know divorces are scary and it seems like everything is going to be different, but you have to understand it’s scary for her too.” 

 

“How do you know?” Cassidy asks, sounding like she really wants to know, as opposed to an attempt to discount Andy’s words. 

 

“Well, my parents got divorced when I was a little older than you, and it was scary. They yelled all the time, they said mean things to each other, and it never really felt very safe. And I started to act out, doing things like picking on other kids, or I dunno, luring unsuspecting assistants up the stairs just to make the fighting stop.” She fixes them with a knowing look, and they at least have the decency to look chagrined. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad. I understand why you did it. I am here to get some payback, though.” 

 

Caroline instantly looks outraged, while Cassidy looks concerned and a little upset. 

 

“What kind of payback?” 

 

“You have to come get ice cream with me and tell me about your day. I think it’s only right.” Mirrored yelps of delight bring on a blinding smile, and she thinks this might actually work. “Roy, take us to Sugar Hill, and step on it.” He grins at her in the rear view mirror and she knows she’s probably done something right. 

 

“Right away, boss.” 

 

* * * 

 

“Andy?” Cassidy had come out of her shell almost as soon at they arrived at the parlour, but she seems slightly shy again, so Andy tries to put her at ease while also wiping mint chocolate chip off her chin. 

 

“‘Sup kiddo?” 

 

“Do you really think Mom’s beautiful?” The question shocks her, and she swallows convulsively, inadvertently giving herself serious brain freeze. Her eyes bug out and she sticks her thumb against the roof of her mouth while the girls giggle at her antics. 

 

“Oof, brain freeze.” She laughs when the worst of it is over. “To answer your question, Cass, I think your Mom is a lot of things. Infuriating, brilliant, elegant, and yes, beautiful.” 

 

“Do you like her?” This question comes from Caroline, who’s been a bit more subdued since they arrived. 

 

“I don’t really know, Caro, I think so…but it’s hard to figure out how much is actually her and how much is the face she has to put on to be good at her job. From what I do know, I like Miranda the woman and I respect Miranda the Editor very much.” Caroline nods absently, mulling the answer over in her mind. 

 

“Can you really tell us apart?” Cassidy asks, and Andy giggles. 

 

“I’m not sure. Wanna test it out?” They’re wearing their school uniforms, so there isn’t really an obvious tell. “Why don’t you both go to the bathroom, and then one of you can come out and I’ll see if I can tell who it is. But wash your hands first.” They hop out of the booth, grumbling about not needing to be told to wash, and make their way to the ladies’ room. 

 

Not even two minutes later, Caroline comes back out, wearing Cassidy’s headband and backpack, and Andy laughs. 

 

“Care, did you really think the headband would do it?” The shocked look on the girl’s face makes Andy laugh even harder, and by the time Cassidy rejoins them, they’re both hopelessly lost in a fit of the giggles. 

 

“She got us, Cass.” Caroline gasps, and Cassidy looks up at Andy with wide eyes, impressed. 

 

“Stephen could never do that…even Dad sometimes gets us confused.”

 

“Are you kidding? You guys are, like, totally different!” Andy cries, and the warm look Caroline gives her might melt all the ice cream in the world. Checking her watch, she notes that she’s got to get the girls home to Cara and head back to the office ASAP, so she urges the girls to grab their things and they meet Roy at the curb with a small cup of chocolate gelato. Andy tries not to think of it as a bribe. 

“Andy, could we maybe…do this again sometime?” This question comes from Caroline, and Andy grins. She’d set out to help the girls understand Miranda a little better, but she’s not going to take the girls’ good graces for granted. 

 

“Sure thing, kiddo. Maybe if I get the book early sometime this week, we can meet up on the stairs and find some time to hang out.” Caroline looks overjoyed at the response, and Andy vows then and there to do everything in her power to make these girls happy. “Here’s my card, it has my phone number and email on it. Call or text me if you ever need anything, okay? I mean anything. Even if you just want me to get your Mom’s attention for you.” With a nod and a yelled thank you, the girls are flying out of the car and into the townhouse, and Andy takes a deep breath. 

 

That wasn’t so bad, but I think they’re gonna take some work. 

 

“Alright, back to work, Roy. And thank you.” 

 

“Anytime, Andy. Anytime.”