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How to Rule the World in Ninety Days or Less

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If Andy had to guess, she’d say she spent a grand total of 90 minutes staring at herself in the mirror on Saturday morning, outfit after outfit failing to meet some invisible standard. What does one wear to an afternoon of soccer with the Priestlys? The event in and of itself sticks in Andy’s mind as a sort of oxymoron, a statistical improbability that mocks her with its sudden importance in her life. 

 

Eventually, she has to force herself out of the apartment in Lululemon track pants and windbreaker, hoping against all hope she won’t be left alone with Miranda for any extended length of time. 

 

Things have been off between them since that fateful car ride on Thursday afternoon; a thick, cloying tension had filled the office on Friday, sending Emily off into paroxysms and Nigel into an ever deepening scowl. In all truth, Andy would have begged off entirely if her conscience hadn’t bombarded her with images of the twins’ hopeful faces. They’ve played second fiddle enough already in their short lives, and she won’t allow herself to become yet another adult who can’t be trusted to follow through for them. 

 

She spends much of the subway ride to the townhouse oscillating wildly between terrified excitement and all consuming anxiety, finally landing on a stomach-churning combination of the two. By the time she climbs the front steps, she has forced herself to admit that this reaction to the idea of seeing Miranda doing something so casual as attending her children’s extracurriculars cannot possibly be healthy. 

 

Granted, she knows that much by now. She knows that exactly zero part of her involvement wherever Miranda is concerned comes from a place of professional interest. And, oh boy, is there interest. Overwhelming, all consuming interest in a thousand little things that she has absolutely no business caring about. 

 

It doesn’t surprise her, of course. Miranda has always been ever so slightly larger than life, and who can blame Andy for wanting to search out all those little hollow places between the image and the reality? 

 

She’s so lost in her thoughts as she lingers on the top step, she doesn’t notice the door opening or the small face poking through asking her if she’s coming in. It isn’t until Cassidy grabs her hand to tug her into the entryway that she realises she isn’t alone. 

 

“You okay, Andy?” The girl seems to understand the nervous energy crackling through the assistant, but any reply Andy might have given is lost under the bellow that rings out through the house. 

 

“Moooom! Where did you put my gear?!” 

 

Then, from somewhere else Miranda’s voice rings out, louder than Andy has ever heard it. 

 

“Caroline, what have I told you about shouting! Your gear is by the door, where you should be if you don’t wish to be left behind!” Andy can’t help the wide grin that splits her face, the sheer normality of the scene dispelling the majority of her worries. 

 

“You ready to play?” She asks, turning to face Cassidy. The girl gives her a wide smile, and Andy can feel herself returning it. 

 

“Oh yeah. We’re playing Bridgeford again. Last time they won, but this time we’re gonna kick their butts!” Andy had forgotten how wonderful that childlike enthusiasm is, and now she feels a strong urge to join in. 

 

“Heck yeah you are! Gimme five.” Cassidy gives her the requested five, and also the down low, but Andy likes her too much for the too slow. “So, you never told me, what position do you play?” 

 

“Caro plays attacker, I play center mid. I like seeing the field open up and figuring out how to get past their defense. Coach told me that Caro gets to score the goals, but I get to make the decisions. Did you ever play?” Once again, Andy is struck by how scary smart these kids are. Their positioning very much reflects their temperaments, and Andy thinks their coach probably knows exactly what they’re doing. 

 

“Are you kidding? I only played sweeper for fifteen years. My team won state all four years in high school.” Andy nudges her with a huge grin. 

 

“Really? Awesome! Thank god someone coming to our games actually knows what’s going on. Mom has a terrible habit of accidentally cheering for the other team.” It takes everything Andy’s got not to let out the massive cackle building up in her chest. Cassidy gives her a look that says she knows exactly how difficult a task that is. 

 

“Oh, there you are, Andréa.” Her heart stutters and skips a beat at hearing those words yet again, albeit under extremely different circumstances. Miranda glides down the last few stairs with Caroline trailing just behind her, and Andy feels a little like she’s been punched in the chest. Miranda is wearing artfully torn black Rag & Bone high-waisted skinny jeans, an ivory Donna Karan drop shoulder cropped blouse, and Castañer ankle tie wedge espadrilles in black suede. 

 

Andy is pretty sure she’s going to hyperventilate. 

 

It’s not that it’s the most exquisite outfit she’s ever seen from the editor, she’s just never seen Miranda look so casual , and she’s pretty sure she’s never going to recover. Her heart seems to be under the impression that she’s just run a marathon, and she wouldn’t even be surprised if she were to find out she’s drooling. 

 

“I’m sorry, but we really do have to get going if we’re to be on time. Girls, to the car.” Andy blinks in surprise, looking up to find Miranda turning on her heel and marching out the door, the twins following in step behind her like ducklings. She snorts at the thought, then hurries to catch up. 

 

* * *

 

Walking through the crowd of Dalton parents feels like running some sort of highbrow gauntlet, where the smiles are sharp and the greetings meant to establish dominance. Andy instantly feels miles out of place, but the protection afforded by her position at Miranda’s side doesn’t go unnoticed. She wonders if this weird combative energy is present at all schools or just the elite ones, though she guesses she never would have noticed as a kid because she was always on the field. 

 

“Andréa, I am glad you decided to come. It gets somewhat…isolating.” Miranda surprises her by murmuring in her ear as they find seats in the stands. It takes her a second to get over the pounding in her chest to actually comprehend what Miranda is saying. She gets lonely here? At her questioning glance, Miranda continues. “I have no interest in engaging in the little politics the other parents here seem to enjoy, and as you know, I am not worried about winning any popularity contests. However, I worry that my reticence to get involved with such things affects the girls, and they have to deal with so much as it is.” 

 

“Well, I for one,” Andy begins with a shy smile. “Am here to watch two amazing kids kick butt, and I really couldn’t care less about the rest. But if you need, I will absolutely throw down.” The blush she feels creeping over her cheeks causes her to duck her head, but Miranda’s light laugh prompts her to look up again. 

 

“Really, you would ‘throw down’ for me?” Twinkling blue eyes draw her in, fill her up, and she can do nothing to prevent the mega-watt grin that emerges.

 

“Miranda, I’m fairly sure that is the sum total of my job description. But even if it weren’t, yes. I would ruin a few manicures and tear out a few hair extensions if anyone decided to try to mess with you or the girls.” 

 

“Well, I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” The tone is indifferent, but Andy is almost certain she can spot a little smirk. She’s just about to reply when the starting whistle blows. 

 

Ten minutes into the game, Andy realises she should have warned Miranda about her tendency to cheer at a somewhat…excessive level. After the third startle beside her, she decides it’s necessary to take a different approach. 

 

“Sorry, I never…well, I’ve always been like this. My mom too. Doesn’t matter what sport or whether we really care about the teams, as soon as we decide who we’re rooting for, we’re all in.” Miranda gives her a strange look, as though she’s never seen her before, then turns back to watch the match. 

 

“I overheard you speaking with Cassidy earlier, you played as well?” At Andy’s slight nod she continues. “I was wondering if maybe you wouldn’t mind explaining to me the rules of this ridiculous game? I’ve never really had the head for team sports.” An immaculate eyebrow raises at Andy’s rather indelicate snort. 

 

“Miranda, I think you would be incredible at team sports. Provided, of course, that you were the captain.” 

 

“Yes, well.” She seems pleased by this, so Andy starts her explanation. 

 

“There are eleven positions on each side, and they are sort of grouped by their purpose. Caro is playing striker, one of the main offensive positions, and Cass is center mid-fielder, kind of like the strategist of the team.” As the game continues, she explains each of the various positions and their main purpose. Then she moves on to the rules, surprised to find that even after an almost ten year gap, she hasn’t forgotten a single one. 

 

As the half-time whistle is called, Andy’s phone beeps with a message and she grins to herself. She makes a quick excuse about going to stretch her legs, and heads out to the parking lot to find a jolly Roy leaning against the car with a tray full of hot Starbucks. 

 

“Andy, you know she’s never going to let you leave after this, right?” He knows the drill with the assistants, but it’s clear that this is about far more than the job for her. 

 

“That’s the point, Roy boy.” She shoots him a wink and gives him a warm smile. “Thanks for doing this, I owe you one.” 

 

“You owe me more than one, young lady. Just be glad I’m too much of a gentleman to ever collect.” He chuckles at her feigned look of hurt. 

 

“Rude. Now get outta here before she catches you and puts you to work.” She sticks her tongue out, and it hits her that maybe she was wrong all those months ago. Maybe she does fit in here. 

 

“Aye aye, cap’n.” He tips his hat and she gives him a shove before jogging back to the stands. 

 

To her dismay, as she approaches their spot, she finds a pinch-faced blonde woman sitting in her seat and a bristling Miranda where she had left a relatively calm one. 

 

“Excuse me, sorry, I need to grab my seat back before the game starts.” She interjects none too apologetically as she hands the editor her searing hot latte. The blonde looks up at her with a thinly veiled expression of annoyance, and Andy almost laughs. Lady, I don’t care, you’re not going to ruin this

 

“Of course. Ms. Priestly, I’ll get out of your hair, but please do consider it. We’d love to have you on board.” With that, the woman stands and stalks away, but not before shooting Andy another acidic look. 

 

“I leave you alone for two minutes!” She teases gently, pleased to see the wrinkle in Miranda’s brow smooth out slightly. “Seriously, though, I’m pretty sure I could take her. I can see the headlines now: Priestly Assistant Brawls in the Bandstands…Soccer Smackdown at Priestly’s Dalton Day Out…” Andy lets a wide grin slip onto her lips as she evaluates Miranda’s look of bemusement. “Oh, I know, Dalton Disaster: Assistant Spits Fire on Behalf of the Dragon Lady .” 

 

“Oh, please Andréa. Be serious.” She can tell, though, that Miranda is about to say something shocking. She always gets this little quirk at the corner of her mouth, an extra twinkle in her eye. “It would be more like, Runway Gone Rogue: Priestly’s Assistant Pulls No Punches .” 

 

Andy can’t keep the genuine happiness out of her voice when she hisses, “ Excellent .” She casts a gaze out over the field to see that both teams are retaking their positions, and pauses to take a sip of her now bearably hot coffee. It’s only her months of training her senses on Miranda that allow her to catch the soft whisper. 

 

“Thank you, Andréa.” She’s tempted to simply leave it there, but she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has without pushing the envelope once or twice. 

 

“Whatever for?” Andy flutters her lashes and adopts her most innocent tone. It’s entirely worth it to see the way Miranda has to stick her tongue in her cheek to prevent a smile breaking through. 

 

“You didn’t have to get me coffee. Or get rid of that…blood sucker. Your company has been…enjoyable.” Miranda nudges her playfully and she thinks she might fall over from delighted shock. “Don’t think I missed your texting Roy.”  

 

“I don’t think you miss anything, ever.” It’s not flattery, not false posturing. Andy is pretty sure that if the clues are there, Miranda could solve any problem. She lets her eyes settle on the flush of cold cheeks, slightly brighter than they were a moment ago, and sighs. Maybe this is getting untenable, maybe she’s playing with fire, but she doesn’t care. If it keeps Miranda safe and warm, she will happily burn. 

 

* * *

 

“You guys did amazing!” Andy finds herself nearly knocked off balance by a twin tornado, but she certainly doesn’t mind. 

 

“Girls!” 

 

“They’re alright, Miranda. They just won the game, like I knew they would! They can knock me around all they want.” Andy’s hand is grasped tightly by a flushed Cassidy, while Caroline moves to shrug under one of Miranda’s arms. 

 

“Did you see, Andy?? Caro was wide open and she had that amazing shot!” Cassidy seems to be almost overflowing with energy, and Andy wonders if she was ever this pumped coming off the pitch. 

 

“Of course I saw! That assist was great, li’l playmaker!” She gives Cassidy a wink before catching Caroline’s eyes. “You too, Lead Foot.” The girls dissolve into giggles at the ridiculous nicknames, while Miranda heaves a long suffering sigh. “So, what are we doing to celebrate?” 

 

This sparks a minor squabble between the girls, though it never progresses to the point of adult intervention, and Miranda shoots Andy the most incredible look of helpless exasperation. Never before has the feeling of being included been so sweetly intoxicating, and it’s all she can do not to swoon right then and there. It doesn’t help that Miranda holds her gaze, such a soft look spreading across normally stern features, and Andy loses herself in it for a long moment. 

 

Of course, her attention crashes back down to earth when the twins make it clear they’ve come to a decision, but she can’t find it in herself to mind all that much. 

 

“We wanna go back to that place Andy took us.” Andy’s a little charmed by the choice, but judging from the wince on Cassidy’s face and the raised eyebrow on Miranda’s, Caroline’s phrasing has steered them into dangerous territory. She decides to jump in before there’s a clashing of the two stronger personalities. 

 

“Kiddo, I’d be more than happy to get us all there, but don’t you think you ought to ask your mom first?” She tries to convey her meaning more through facial expression and tone than direct wording, especially since she’s not sure how pleased Miranda will be with her reprimanding one of the girls. 

 

To her surprise, Caroline capitulates immediately and Miranda sends her a grateful look. 

 

“You’re right, Andy. Sorry, Mom. Would it be okay if we went to the place Andy took us for our celebration?” 

 

“I think that’s an excellent idea, girls. I’d like to see what kind of place Andréa has you all gallivanting off to.” Twin cheers draw a wry grin from the editor’s lips, and Andy can’t resist mouthing, “ Gallivanting ?” with a smirk. When Miranda gives her a little shove, she’s certain it’s not an accident. 

 

* * * 

 

Hours later, Andy finds herself at the bottom of a pile of slumbering Priestlys on the floor of the girls’ media room. The twins had put up a good fight, but sleep had taken them sometime during the second half of The Philosopher’s Stone, whereas Patricia had never entertained the idea of doing anything other than claiming whatever part of a human she could find and sleeping on it. 

 

So it came to pass that Andy ended up under all three sleeping ladies, fielding amused glances from Miranda over on the sofa. Andy shoots her a silent helpless plea once circulation becomes a serious concern, and Miranda decides to have mercy on her hapless assistant. 

 

Corralling the girls into pyjamas and then bed is a relatively painless process, though there’s a slightly awkward half-second when Cassidy requests Andy help tuck her in. Caroline is already dead to the world. Looking to Miranda for confirmation, she’s caught by the unexpectedly tender look on her boss’ face. Miranda seems to recover quickly, though, and the next five minutes are spent reassuring Cassidy that she will see Andy again soon. 

 

Afterward, Andy prepares herself to head out, not wanting to overstay her welcome. This day has truly been a gift, from witnessing La Priestly with triple fudge ice cream on her nose snorting silently at something Caroline said, to spending time discussing the Harry Potter films versus the books with a surprisingly passionate Cassidy, and she doesn’t want to give herself a chance to ruin a perfect memory. 

 

“Would you care for a glass of wine? It’s still early yet…” Miranda asks, looking almost…shy? This breaks Andy out of her headspace, and she gives Miranda her brightest smile. Who is she kidding, she’ll take whatever she can get, consequences be damned. 

 

“Yes, please.” Andy follows Miranda to a room she hasn’t seen before; thinks she’d be hard pressed not to describe it as a drawing room. 

 

There’s a vintage style dry bar in the left hand corner behind the door, and it seems that Miranda has given up on the idea of wine because she tiptoes over and lifts a bottle of McCallan in silent question. Andy nods, and knows this drink probably exceeds her weekly food budget, so she vows to savour it. Still, she can’t resist teasing Miranda about it a little. 

 

Accepting the tumbler, she sinks into a sinfully soft couch and takes a small sip, letting the scotch linger over her tongue, basking in the smoky burn as it slides down her throat. 

 

“Thanks, this wine is excellent.” She hides a foolish grin behind her glass, seriously gratified when Miranda collapses next to her with an undignified snort. 

 

“Would you believe that the wine is downstairs and I simply do not have it in me to make that trip twice?” Miranda fixes her with a coy smirk and Andy nearly chokes on eighteen year old, silky smooth scotch. 

 

“Hey, it’s your prerogative, lady.” She says, hands raised in surrender. “I’m not complaining.” The only acknowledgement is a low hum. 

 

Gentle silence fills the room, each woman lost in her own thoughts, the warm, low lighting lulling them into a state of pronounced comfort. Andy can’t get the image of Miranda, usually larger than life, looking so small and powerless when faced with the thinly veiled harassment at the game earlier out of her head. 

 

She’s just about to turn and ask what the pinched woman wanted when Miranda breaks the silence first. 

 

“I think…” Here she seems to pause and consider. “I think I owe you an apology.” You could knock Andy over with a feather. It’s the last thing she would’ve expected her boss to open with. 

 

“Pardon?” It’s out before she has a chance to snap her jaw shut. To her surprise, Miranda doesn’t skewer her with one of her Medusa glares, instead she turns to regard Andy contemplatively, running a fingertip over her lip in that maddening way. Only, without the couture and made-up mask, the mannerism takes on an entirely different feel. 

 

“I forget, so often, that there are lines. You know how it is at the office: I get almost everything my way. But that’s how it has to be, for the sake of the magazine.” Miranda falls silent, but Andy knows by now not to fill the resulting vacuum, letting her take her time to find the words. Andy doesn’t exactly know what she’s talking about, anyway, so it’s in her best interest to sit, deathly quiet, and hope she gets answers. 

 

“So often you go above and beyond, I find myself wanting to adjust to it, to bask in your excellence…granted, in the beginning I couldn’t stand it. However, I forget that your methods and reasons are your own, that I am not…entitled.” There’s a horrible hollowness in her voice, as though the words echo around a cavern built of Miranda’s perceived inadequacies before finally spilling out from unwilling lips. 

 

“Miranda-“ 

 

“I am sorry, Andréa. for demanding what was not mine to want. I am rather disappointed in myself, if I’m honest. I used to be a decent-“ The way Miranda cuts herself off provokes an intense aching need in Andy to know what comes next. 

 

“A decent what, Miranda?” Her voice is so cautious, so tremulous that she’s certain the simple sound of it will send the editor hurtling back into herself, just like that unspoken evening in Paris. 

 

“Friend. I used to be a decent friend.” She says it like she’s trying to convince herself more than anything.

 

“Are we friends?” Andy sounds about as gobsmacked as she feels. 

 

“You’re my assistant.” 

 

“Associate.” Andy wonders if Miranda cares about the difference. “We could be friends, you know. I don’t think it would change much.” Miranda scoffs, but this is instantly very important to Andy, something she feels is as necessary to her life as oxygen or sustenance. 

 

“You don’t want to be my friend, Andréa. As you saw for Nigel, it rarely ends well for the other party.” Miranda lets out a forlorn sigh, as if she’s already resigned herself to the shallow attentions of people who only ever take from her. 

 

“Please.” She scoffs right back. “It’s easy.” When Miranda, predictably, raised her shocked gaze to Andy’s, she continues, “You apologised, which was lovely but ultimately unnecessary, so in return I’ll tell you why it happened in the first place. That’s what friendship is, give and take in good faith.” At Miranda’s raised brow, she takes a deep breath and sets about doing her part to really level. 

 

“My ex-boyfriend, my friends…they hated how much time I devoted to my job. They had the same attitude I did when I started, only, when mine began to evolve…theirs didn’t. When I realised I could sort of anticipate your needs, when I felt like I was actually making a difference by showing up, it became…important to me. In a building full of rusty hinges, it’s an incredibly heady feeling to be the one holding the oil.” She lets out a dark little chuckle. “You make it so clear, Miranda, when someone has your approval, even if it’s only to that person. Being good at the job is only part of it. Feeling like it was you and me against the incompetence of the world, that’s what makes me want to do the impossible.” 

 

Andy takes a massive final gulp of her drink before plunking it down onto the coffee table and turning to face an unreadable Miranda. She attempts a half-hearted smile. 

 

“The idea of trying to explain that to you was…terrifying. It felt like I was offering up all my softest parts, just asking to be hurt. It made me vulnerable and I didn’t react well. As you know.” 

 

Miranda’s question catches her off guard, but she’s learned by now never to expect a certain reaction where the subject is in any way out of the norm. 

 

“I make you feel vulnerable?” 

 

Andy smirks humourlessly. 

 

“You do know who you are, right?” 

 

“Nevermind that. Vulnerability suggests a certain level of investment. It wouldn’t have the ability to hurt if you didn’t care.” It’s a statement, but there’s a million questions in her eyes. Andy almost wants to laugh. 

 

“Miranda, I think we’ve established that I care.” 

 

“Not about Runway?”

 

“Ah…no?” 

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah.” 

 

And that’s that. Andy finally gets around to asking about the woman at the game and they discuss the twins’ performance, and eventually the time comes for Andy to head back to her empty apartment. Apart from an interesting moment at the door, it’s the first time in recent history that Andy feels absolutely sure of where they stand.