Miranda Priestly was an expert in grey.
She had been since childhood, when she discovered a color wheel created by some kind soul who could see all the colors of the spectrum.
(That someone, of course, had found a match. With each passing year, this was a feat which Miranda came to understand grew less and less likely to happen.)
She studied the wheel as though her life depended on it, fascinated by the smallest intricacies that separated one slice from the next. She marveled, she obsessed, she focused every bit of her attention on this wheel more than any other subject in her young life.
Her schoolmates could not discern the differences the way she could; some adults came to believe she saw color as well as those blessed with mates. The teachers who saw colors were amazed that an innocent child of seven could determine periwinkle from sky, chartreuse from lime. Miranda, née Miriam, sometimes guessed when she could not tell one orange from another, but the greys that were green were different from those that were plum, or scarlet, or sienna. Not to mention the fact that context was everything, so frequently just looking at a room provided enough information for Miranda to infer colors and palettes.
The older Miranda got, the more she embraced the perfection of the greys in all their magnificent varieties. She did not yearn for the cheer of cherry blossom, the sadness of navy, the soothing balm of canary. She felt all the infinitesimal shades in her whole body, appreciating their elegance and the way they spoke to her with kindness and clarity.
Even while living her life in charcoal, Miranda knew from their birth that her girls’ hair was a fiery auburn. She disregarded the jealousy that burned when she realized that, at age three, her daughters could see more color than she could. It should not have been a surprise that they were a match for one another; she had often heard there were more ways to find true love than romance. The twins were a pair, and she sometimes imagined the moment they looked at one another at birth, when the world had transformed to, well, whatever it became to those who could see more than she could.
She developed such a discerning eye for grey that at 34, she took the reins of the nation’s foremost fashion magazine, and in three short years, turned it into the world’s best-selling book. Photographers with a full range of vision accepted her direction without question; most believed that she had always seen color. Most of those closest to her assumed she lived and breathed the spectrum. Only a handful of those in her inner circle knew the truth.
For a time, that circle did not include the two husbands who had come and gone over the course of 13 years. Her first had loved and lost his mate at the tender age of 24 in a car crash, so when he stumbled upon Miranda, he agreed that sometimes soul-fated affections were not all they were cracked up to be. From their union they were blessed with two adored daughters. Four years and three mistresses later, when Miranda dismissed him from their home, they both grew to understand they were better suited as friends than lovers.
Her second husband was in the same boat as she, in a world without color, but Miranda deliberately kept that knowledge from him during their first days, months, and then years together. When he finally realized she had been lying to him from the moment they’d met, he packed his things and left on his own. Her withholding of this most basic fact was the thing that drove him away, but Miranda could not bring herself to regret the lie. She had not loved him, but she had liked him, and it seemed to be enough. Finding a mate did not guarantee a lifetime of happiness; sometimes it ended in obsession, in damage, in death. She had seen it over and over, but movies and television and the culture at large made it seem like the only way to true love was to discover that singular experience.
Miranda summarily rejected that notion.
And so, Miranda was at the top of her professional echelon, not to mention completely unattached and uninterested in partnership, when the girl, or rather, woman, first walked into the hallway just outside her office.
The explosion in Miranda’s brain was violent, almost sickening in its intensity. She had squeezed her eyes shut in pain at first, not understanding what was happening, lowering her head between her knees. She breathed through it slowly, soon noticing the magnificent blood red of the Zanottis she’d donned that morning without realizing how absolutely gorgeous they were. She stared at them beneath the desk in astonishment; they were more remarkable than she could have imagined. This, this, was red. When she lifted her head, the pristine white of her office walls, the black and white of the images scattered around her, was forgotten. Instead her gaze was drawn to the bland, perhaps tan corduroy jacket on the young woman, as well as the strange plaid pattern of a hideous skirt that was made up of--she suspected--a drab collection of blues. The chestnut of her hair was barely brushed and without style or shape. But most of all, her lips, certainly pink, were coated with a sheen of clear gloss. That pink--what might it be called? She would have to check her color wheel as soon as she had the chance, as soon as the woman looked at her and realized that she too could see everything as it was meant to be seen, as it really was. How would this woman, the match for her solitary soul, react?
Miranda was suspended in thrilling anticipation.
But there was no response worth noting. The woman walked into her office and sat down, cool and relaxed. She dropped her silly briefcase, another most uninteresting shade of brown, on the floor, where it flopped on its side. “Hi, I’m Andy. Thanks for meeting with me.”
Miranda was astonished at the lack of acknowledgement. To save face, she did her best to feign attention. This girl, this woman who had changed her life in a split second, spoke to her regarding her past writing experiences, her college career, her willingness to learn. Miranda nodded in all the right places, turning on occasion to gaze outside her window, immediately riveted by the silver--how stirring silver was!--of the buildings in her eye line, and more vividly, the absolute perfection of the innumerable blues of the sky. She could barely tear her eyes from its glory.
In that moment, she cursed the existence of whatever god might withhold this magic from humanity, simply for the sake of finding a mate.
When she turned back to Andrea (never Andy), who had unexpectedly brought so much richness to Miranda’s life, the young woman sat as though nothing at all had changed for either of them in the past five minutes.
Miranda could barely respond, so when the woman departed under the assumption that the EIC of Runway magazine was uninterested in anything she said, it was a full two minutes before Miranda sat up and summoned Emily. “Call her back,” she said, marveling at the striking electric charge of her assistant’s hair, of the peacock eyeshadow Miranda had never before recognized. “She can have the job if she wants it.”
Miranda went home that evening, a Friday, thankfully, amazed that she had gotten through the day without drawing undo attention to herself. Nigel had admittedly watched her with some small interest during a meeting late that afternoon, when she decided that really, three o’clock meetings on a Friday in spring were unnecessary, and she was going to go home early. Of course, Miranda was simply desperate to see more, to experience green, and purple, and gold. She knew that this Andy person, her purported mate who didn’t seem to realize there was anything at all between them beyond a thankless job, would return to the office on Monday, but how could Miranda give the idea of true love a second thought when the sky would soon turn to violet, or rose, or tangerine? Or all of the above?
And so, with her children at their father’s for the weekend, Miranda raced home. The entire time, she stared out the window of her chauffeured car and marveled. Once indoors, she spent at least thirty minutes examining the various hues of the Moroccan rug in the study before noticing the time. At that, she went to the kitchen and retrieved an expensive red (how silly that it was simply called red) from the wine fridge, opened it, and poured nearly a third of the bottle into a glass. After racing to the rooftop, she wrapped herself in a blanket, reclined on a comfortable chair, and watched the sky gradually transform into indigo darkness. She drank the wine. She wept.
When she returned to the kitchen, wrung out and buzzed, she frowned when the doorbell rang. Who on earth would be visiting now? The book was already on its corner table, marked with post-its of varying hues.
Through the side window, she recognized Nigel. When she opened the door, he smiled knowingly. “So,” he said.
She was almost angry. Almost. But his tie was paisley, with shades of purple and yellow that screamed for attention. His gaze was full of understanding. “So,” she replied.
With that, he pushed past her and made his way to the kitchen, emptying out a bag that overflowed with groceries. “Strawberries, blueberries, honeycrisp and golden delicious apples, a pomegranate, a banana. Almonds, cashews, pepitas, pistachios, hazelnuts. Brie, manchego, gouda. I couldn’t resist a pumpernickel, for which I brought you a marmalade and uncultured butter for tomorrow’s breakfast, but for tonight, a French baguette.”
She stared at the rainbow of riches on her counter in awe.
“I see you’ve already started on a red, but I brought you a rosé too, and champagne. None of which we have to drink unless you want it, but I thought options might be nice.”
They made plates for themselves and gorged on fruit and nuts and bread and cheese, leaving just enough room for the small red velvet cake at the end. Miranda cooed when he sliced into it. The colors and textures enhanced her enjoyment of it all.
Nigel didn’t ask, at first, who had caused this transformational experience. Miranda confessed somewhere near the end of the first bottle of red, which was really more of a deep ruby that Miranda could drown in.
“It was that girl,” she finally admitted.
Nigel was gobsmacked. “The one with the--” he motioned to his jacket, “And the--” and then to his hair, or lack thereof. “The new assistant?”
“Well I’ll be damned. No wonder it took so long. She can’t be more than 25.”
Miranda reared back, realizing that yes, this young woman was born when Miranda herself was just finishing college, still convinced that color was irrelevant and true love, even moreso. It was a wonder their paths had ever crossed at all. Miranda still didn’t know if she was happy about it, but when she looked down at the cadmium red pomegranate seeds still tucked inside their perfect segments, she was grateful.
“I don’t get it,” Nigel said, apropo of nothing.
“Why didn’t she experience what you did?”
Miranda chuckled ruefully. “Perhaps I’m broken. Perhaps it doesn’t happen for everyone.” She shrugged her shoulders. “No surprise, frankly. Nothing is ever easy for me.”
Nigel frowned to himself, tapping the arm of his glasses against his lower lip. “Hmm.”
Miranda spent the weekend in a blur, comparing her beloved wheel of former greys to the reality of the spectrum. She got lost in it all and was nearly devastated when Monday came and she had to return to her pristine white walls at the office. But then again the girl was there, wearing the ugliest sweater Miranda could imagine, but still, cerulean was an underappreciated color when one really thought about it.
Days passed, then weeks, and the more time Miranda spent with this young woman, the angrier she grew. How dare this insipid Andrea not notice that Miranda was her match? How could it be that Miranda had been so changed by a split second in her presence, but she was not affected at all? It was evident she had not experienced what Miranda did that first Friday. But here she was, day after day, looking actively uninterested in Miranda or anything about her except answering her phone calls, typing on her computer, and getting her coffee.
What an utter joke the universe had played upon her, granting her color but not the love that was supposed to come along with it. In her bitterness, Miranda pushed Andrea, needled her, challenged her at every turn. But the more Miranda threw at her, the harder she worked. Andrea stretched and strained as if eager to accept all the punishment Miranda could foist upon her.
One evening, Miranda heard the woman arguing with someone on the phone. It was clearly a private conversation, but Miranda did not care. She listened greedily.
“I can’t be there, Nate. You know I’m working.”
There was a pause.
“Well, if that’s how you feel, there’s not much I can do about it.”
“It is my choice. You know why being here is important to me.”
And then, with a disheartened tone Miranda had not heard before, “Okay. I’ll help you pack over the weekend.”
Miranda’s eyes widened. Her heart beat faster.
She heard a sniffle, followed by a loud swallow.
Miranda could feel sympathy, but there was also a strange sense of pleasure at knowing that Andrea was no longer attached.
She did not call Andrea into the office, but when Miranda departed thirty minutes later, she appreciated that there was no evidence of tears on her assistant’s cheeks, nor in her eyes. She looked just the same as always. She hurried to help Miranda with her coat and carefully handed over her bag. “Goodnight, Miranda,” she said.
Her wan smile made Miranda want to draw her into an embrace. Miranda imagined herself wrapping her arms around the slim shoulders, stroking long dark hair, inhaling the scent of her.
Instead, she said, “Goodnight, Andrea.”
A few weeks later, Miranda was stunned when Andrea arrived at work with a new haircut, a new ensemble that had come straight from the closet, and a new attitude. She threw herself into work more intently that ever, and Miranda found herself more drawn to her with each passing day.
One sultry summer afternoon, Andrea attended a showing with her, and when it was over, Miranda motioned for her to join her in the elevator. She could tell the young woman was pleased with this special treatment. They rode down together in silence, which Miranda enjoyed immensely. In the car, the silence continued, but Miranda felt Andrea’s attention on her in a way she had not experienced before. The air was cool inside the car’s cabin, but still, she felt slightly flushed as Andrea perused her hands, bare of adornments. Her nails were manicured with only clear polish, and her ring finger’s paleness had finally faded after a year without her wedding band.
“You look nice today, Miranda,” Andrea said, just as the car pulled up to the curb at the office. Miranda was so startled she couldn’t reply quickly enough, as Andrea threw open her own door and practically leapt out to race around and open Miranda’s. She beat Roy to it.
From behind her sunglasses, Miranda looked at this beautiful young woman and said, “Thank you.” From there, Andrea followed her inside the building, and then again into the elevator. She stood just a bit closer to Miranda than necessary; no one else joined them, naturally, but there was certainly room enough around them for a dozen people or more. Still, Miranda felt the enticing warmth of her shoulder, at least until the doors opened and they disembarked.
Ten days later, the night of the gala arrived. For this, one of the most important events of Miranda’s professional year, Miranda eschewed her typical black gown in favor of a carmine red that had become one of her very favorites. Meanwhile Andrea, while initially not scheduled to attend, took Emily’s place when it was apparent the first assistant should be home recuperating from a flu.
As a favor, Miranda had asked Nigel to dress her.
“What’s the goal?” he inquired before taking on the challenge. “Should she blend into the wallpaper or stand out?”
Miranda could not mask her half grin. “What do you think?”
Later that evening, when Miranda spotted Andrea at the foot of the staircase, she swallowed a sigh. The dove grey, off the shoulder gown with a ruched bodice and cascading skirt was the opposite of what her assistants typically wore to events like these. It demonstrated subtlety and substance, and not a single other attendee’s ensemble could compete with it. Andrea’s beauty, almost desperately downplayed when she had first arrived at Runway, was now on display for all to see. Nigel knew Miranda would appreciate grey even more now that all the colors around it had been revealed. Seeing Andrea purposely wearing it was all the more moving.
When Miranda reached her side, Andrea said, “Hi,” reaching to her hairline as if to tuck an errant hair behind her ear. But every strand was in perfect order, and only then did Andrea herself recognize the movement as the anxious tic it was. “I’m nervous. I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but I am.”
Miranda chuckled in sympathy. She no longer jumped down her assistant’s throat at every turn. She didn’t have the heart for it. Her initial anger that Andrea was not the match Miranda had pretended not to long for her whole life had dissipated. Now, Miranda simply enjoyed the woman’s presence, and would do so as long as she stayed. It would not be forever. She would move on in her career to greater heights, as she deserved. Her intelligence and fortitude would take her far. And with Miranda guiding her path (without her knowledge, of course), the young woman would have anything she wanted.
For the first 48 years of her life, Miranda had withheld. She had been unkind. She had restricted her willingness to experience joy. She had taken her own pain and sorrow and despair and flung it out onto the rest of the world. But coming to know Andrea had changed her. Miranda Priestly the icon might seem the same on the surface to the greater public, but Miranda the woman understood love now. It was an unusual love, surely, almost platonic in its purity, resulting in the desire to provide comfort and safety for this woman for the rest of her life. Was it gratitude for providing the only thing she had lacked before their meeting? Miranda wasn’t certain. But whatever it was, she felt it all the same.
She placed her hand on Andrea’s arm. “There’s no need to be nervous. You’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.”
Andrea blinked in surprise. Miranda was delighted by the blush that instantly pinked Andrea’s cheeks, flying down her throat and across her decolletage. “I--” Andrea swallowed, swaying slightly. “Thank you, Miranda.”
Miranda lifted her hand, embarrassed by the action she had thoughtlessly taken. She hoped she hadn’t made her assistant uncomfortable. Because as much as she loved, Andrea did not love in return.
When Emily broke her leg just before Paris, it was as though destiny itself had decided that Miranda would be forced into spending more time with the assistant who had captured her heart along with her soul.
She had initially thought to ask Emily to stay behind and Andrea to take her place, but that felt ungenerous; she owed Emily, who had bent over backward for nearly two years to make Miranda’s life easier. Instead, she simply accepted that Andrea would stay home while Miranda went to Paris. Then the accident happened, and after Emily went to the hospital, Andrea packed her things.
Andrea was awed by everything she saw from the moment they landed, and Miranda silently watched as Andrea’s mouth dropped open in pleasure at each sight and sound they beheld on the way to the hotel.
In Paris, as always, Miranda was in her element. But this year more than any other, Miranda felt alive, as though her veins thrummed with a vitality she had not had even in youth. Was it the colors? Was it Andrea’s presence by her side? Was it a combination of both, or perhaps neither? She could not tell, nor did she care. Instead, she appreciated. She bestowed her smiles with alacrity; she paused for photos with an as yet heretofore unheard of patience; she chatted and applauded and clasped hands with any and all who approached.
This new Miranda was the talk of the town. Both men and women came to worship at her feet; she was wooed by many, without success. Even Irv, who had always detested her very presence, seemed to warm to her. For years, Miranda knew Irv had schemed to oust her from her post, accusing her of everything from skimming off the top of her expense accounts to overspending egregiously simply because she could get away with it. But in these last months, Irv had somehow come to recognize, even value, Miranda’s immense skill and preternatural understanding of fashion. She no longer heard rumors of her imminent demise. When they met in the boardroom, the tension and competition that had always accompanied their meetings vanished. Instead, they seemed to both want the same thing: success for Runway, which meant success for all.
Without the sensation of a constant, lingering threat, Miranda was unshackled. And so, when Nigel had come to her some months earlier about a new position with James Holt, Miranda told him he should take it, with her blessing. Here in Paris, he would move on, and Miranda would begin her search for a new Artistic Director. No one could truly replace her right hand man, but perhaps she could unearth a candidate who would complement her. She had some ideas already; only time would tell how many would try to land the position. In a few days, she would find out.
Each morning, Andrea greeted her at the door to her suite with a scalding coffee. She went along with Miranda to every show, every meeting, every lunch, and every dinner. She took copious notes, recounting at the end of each day the looks she believed Miranda favored above all the others. In every case, she was correct. Whenever Miranda confirmed this fact, Andrea glowed with satisfaction. Andrea’s pleasure gave Miranda pleasure, and it almost appeared as though Andrea felt the same. That was just a fantasy, Miranda knew, but still it seemed that way. In the evenings, when they sat at crowded restaurant tables with designers and models and photographers, Miranda’s attention was consistently drawn to Andrea’s enormous brown eyes, a delicate amber in candlelight. When those eyes met Miranda’s, it was as though they had an understanding that went beyond words.
The day of the JHI announcement, Andrea came to her door wearing a delightful dress in a purple so dark it was near black. “Russian violet,” Miranda muttered when she saw it, and Andrea took a deep breath. Her eyes appeared unfocused; for a moment, Miranda was afraid she might faint.
“Yes,” Andrea said on a tremendous exhalation. “That’s exactly right. Miranda, can you tell me--”
But before she could continue, Nigel appeared over her shoulder in the hallway. “Hello, ladies! Today’s the day. Will you join me for coffee and croissants before we head over?”
Miranda turned to Andrea, who had deflated. She gazed fervently into Miranda’s eyes, but there was nothing to be done. Whatever it was would have to wait.
Andrea was quiet throughout the rest of the morning, then into the afternoon before the luncheon. Miranda introduced Nigel as the new head of James Holt International to much applause, and Nigel’s effusive praise of Miranda in return embarrassed her. For nearly twenty years their relationship had been of mentor and mentee. Now, they would be true equals. It gave Miranda tremendous satisfaction.
In the car ride back to the Ritz, Miranda was quiet but curious. She saw Andrea wrestling with something intensely difficult, so much so that she knew she could not draw it out of her without permission. When they finally came, the words were like a stab to the heart: “Miranda, I have to give notice.”
For a moment, Miranda could barely draw breath. She felt dizzy; how could this have happened so quickly? She thought surely she would have another six months at least, perhaps even a year. But to be abandoned so suddenly after finally finding something precious, however one-sided, was a terrible pain. She had to look away, out the window of the car, to focus on something that could distract her from this tearing hurt. “Why?” she finally asked.
Andrea’s voice shook. “It doesn’t matter. It’s nothing you can fix. It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m the problem.”
That drew Miranda’s attention back. “What problem could you possibly have that would force you to depart like this? To abandon me now, when--” I’ve come to need you so desperately? When I’ve come to rely on seeing your smile every morning and every evening? “--Just when I need to find a replacement for Nigel? I need stability, Andrea. I’m--I’m not prepared for you to go. You must stay. You must.”
But Andrea was shaking her head. Tears were in her eyes. “I can’t Miranda. I’m so sorry.”
The finality to her tone made Miranda desperate to know what could possibly be causing this; her expression showed a true devastation. Miranda couldn’t even look at her red-rimmed eyes, or the tear-tracks that revealed alabaster through her foundation. The colors of her beautiful skin--Miranda would never have known, never suspected the depth to something so simple only eight months ago. She would have seen them as her beloved greys and not recognized the delicacy of this small detail. Miranda knew she would not forget this moment, nor the colors that Andrea had granted her just by being alive.
In the end, she owed Andrea everything. If this is what she needed, Miranda would give it to her. No matter what.
The flight home was a blur.
Nigel tried to speak to both of them, but Miranda could hardly talk about what had happened in the car. Only once they had landed at JFK, only once back with her girls in her arms could Miranda let the fullness of her despair descend. This loss was beyond her comprehension, and she’d never even kissed Andrea. She’d touched her, once, had stood near her on occasion, had smelled her perfume and imagined loving her a thousand times. But she only had a single moment of touch to look back on and remember.
Andrea’s last two weeks were terrible. As Nigel packed 18 years of memorabilia and paperwork and artwork and carried them to the elevator a box at a time, Andrea herself placed her own meager possessions in a small bag and carted them out of sight in one trip. Her desk remained completely bare during the final five days.
Emily recognized something horrible had happened. She wrung her hands and anxiously broke her own cardinal rule: she asked Miranda if there was something she could do to help.
Miranda said, “No, Emily, but thank you.”
Emily’s face crumpled for a moment before she regained her composure. “Of course, Miranda.”
Miranda knew she needed to be completely focused on finding Nigel’s replacement. She had shoots to approve, layouts to edit, stories to read through, and interviews to schedule. All of those things felt Sisyphean. Her depression was a blanket pressing her into the ground, made worse by the echoing sadness emanating from Andrea just outside her office.
One last time, on the last Thursday before the last Friday they would have together, Miranda tried again. “Andrea?” she called out just past seven, after Emily had eagerly abandoned her post and the traffic in the halls had thinned to a trickle.
“Yes, Miranda?” Andrea asked, pen and paper at the ready. But her smile was absent. Her clothes were drab once more; she wore the ridiculous cerulean sweater she had from her first official day.
“Are you certain you won’t change your mind?”
Andrea swallowed, and shook her head once.
“Can I help you find something else?”
That drew something like a sob from Andrea. “No, Miranda. I’ll be fine.”
“I-- I have to go. I--I’ll call Emily back to get the book tonight--I can’t stay any longer--oh, god,” she said. She backed out of the office, dropped her pad on her desk, snatched the purse that hung from the back of the chair, and fled.
Miranda stood motionless, staring at the empty space Andrea had left behind. The chair spun slowly in her absence.
The last day felt like a punishment meant to draw out the torture for both of them, so she asked Emily to have Andrea complete her exit interview as soon as HR could schedule it and then depart at her leisure. Perhaps she would not have to see her again at all, even though it’s what she wanted most in the world. Just a last few minutes to be near her was everything.
For most of the morning, Miranda stayed away, going to two showings in a row then to a lunch she scheduled at the last minute with Nicholas Ghesquiere, who happened to be in town. Just after 2:15, Miranda returned to an empty second assistant’s desk as Serena and Emily chatted amiably in the hall. “Hello, Miranda, I have your messages--”
“Hold my calls,” Miranda said, tossing her coat on the empty desk. She swung the door shut behind her and closed her eyes.
She just needed to get through the day.
But at 2:30, Nigel came to the door and knocked. Miranda shook her head at him, but he nodded in reply. His expression was strangely pleasant, considering how miserable Miranda felt. How dare he look happy when she felt like she was dying?
“Hi,” he said, finally opening the door without permission. “So I have to tell you some things. Urgently.”
“Aren’t you done here yet? Don’t you have another job lined up?” Miranda waved a hand in dismissal.
“Thanks, okay, great,” he said, and sat down. “I’m going to need you to listen really closely.”
Miranda rolled her eyes.
“Andy’s in love with you,” he said.
Miranda was so startled she gasped aloud. Nigel smiled.
“That’s why she’s leaving.”
“It’s more than that, though. I got her to come to lunch with me, and I got her to tell me the truth. I thought she might need some liquid courage but she’d been so desperate to talk about it with someone it took barely five minutes to get the whole story out of her.”
Miranda was practically trembling in her seat. “What are you talking about?”
“Right. I’ll start at the beginning and give you the chronological rundown.” He raised his eyebrows and Miranda nodded in reply. “Okay. When Andy was 18, that’s seven years ago mind you, she took a school trip to the city, from Cincinnati. That’s where she’s from, in case you didn’t know.”
Miranda did, in fact, know that, but she motioned Nigel to go on.
“They were here with a big group of kids, roaming the city with a chaperone, seeing the sights and going to Broadway shows in the evenings over the course of four days. It was the first time she’d been away from her parents for more than a night or two, so it was a big deal.” Nigel took off his glasses and cleaned them with his tie. “Anyway, Andy was having fun, running around and raising hell like your average 18-year-old. She and her friend Lily broke away from their chaperone for an afternoon, a Thursday, she told me. She said it was March 19th at 2:13pm, when she randomly arrived across the street from this very building, the Elias Clarke building. There was a crowd of people milling around near the entrance, as there always is in the afternoons, with people coming and going and whatnot. And her world exploded into color.”
Miranda’s heart stopped. Her whole world stopped.
“From the crowd of people, she couldn’t discern who it was she’d seen. She almost got hit by a car, running into the street and shouting for whoever it was to stop. Another pedestrian dragged her to the sidewalk before she could cause an accident, and her friend Lily had to hold her back from trying again. She waited for the light to change and they rushed over and into the building, searching for whoever it was, but she couldn’t get past security. She couldn’t even get to the elevator banks. Her match had disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again.”
“Oh my god,” Miranda breathed.
“So seven years ago, Andy decided that whatever happened in her life, she was going to move to New York, live as close to this neighborhood as possible, get a job in this building, and find her mate. Nothing was going to stop her. Even if the person was already long gone, or didn’t even work here and had just been passing by, this address was somewhere to start. She moved to New York with a boyfriend who tried to convince her that finding her match didn’t matter and that what they had was enough.” He grinned. “You know how well that turned out.”
“Mm. Nate,” she whispered, recalling that brief phone conversation that had caught Miranda’s interest.
“That’s right. They broke up in May. Anyway, she applied for every single job opening in this building. For months. She applied for 22 jobs. The interview to work for you was her first, and her only offer.”
Miranda thought about that day now, how she had hidden her life-altering experience so completely from Andrea. It was a certainty that Andrea had expected her match would reveal himself--or herself--inadvertently when they clapped eyes on one another. Of course she would have assumed it would be obvious.
“After she started, she began this intricate search of the building, meeting as many people as she could, walking the floors on her lunch breaks one level at a time. All the while you were here stewing, pissed as hell that a 25-year-old had fucked you over. Right?”
Miranda nodded helplessly.
“So then, Andy starts really liking this job. She starts getting good at a few things, then everything. She learns fast and people appreciate her work. They appreciate her. Then you start appreciating her. You start treating her kindly. You smile at her now and then. You spend time together. You charm her. And you turn her head. She stops hoping to find her match on her next elevator ride. Instead, she starts riding the elevator with you, and she quits hunting altogether for this imaginary love she might discover if she could just have a bit of luck.”
Miranda pressed a cool hand to her forehead. “This cannot be happening.”
“So then, in Paris, at first Andy thinks, it doesn’t really matter that she’s in love with you. You see color and you’re obviously not with your mate, and the same goes for her. But she knows you’re out of her league. The whole world practically falls at your feet. You’d never look twice at her. What on earth could she be to a woman like you? And besides, it wouldn’t be fair, since you deserve to be with someone you’re truly a match for.”
It was hard to keep from screaming. “So she quits.”
“So she quits. She realizes that she needs to go back to her search, even though the person she wants to be with more than anything in the whole world works right here. And that she loves her--meaning you--no matter who her match might be. And it’s breaking her heart, right this minute.”
“Nigel,” Miranda exhales, “Are you telling me that Andrea Sachs saw me outside this building more than seven years ago and never mentioned the fact that she’s been looking for her match this entire time?”
With a laugh, Nigel threw up his hands in disbelief. “I thought maybe you could check your calendar. I know you keep them all. Seems worth the effort to make sure.”
Standing up so quickly she saw stars, Miranda stumbled over to the filing cabinets in the alcove where she kept historical documents from the past 10 years. Thank god her assistants were so organized. It was a shame Andrea had never thought to peek at the calendars; she might have figured this whole thing out eight months before. Quickly Miranda pushed and pulled the file folders around till she found the one she was searching for. “What date was it?” Miranda asked, flipping to March.
“The 19th, 2:13pm.”
Miranda scanned the pages quickly. “Of course she remembered the exact minute.”
“You mean you don’t recall the exact date and time you saw Andrea?”
Honestly, Miranda didn’t. But she remembered everything else from that day. Everything.
“Here, it’s here.” She leaned back, missing her readers, and squinted at the appointments. “Calvin Klein, then lunch with Donna at La Caravelle at 12:30. I must have been back by 2:30, I had an appointment here with Steven Meisel, in my office.” She looked up at Nigel. “She saw me. I know she saw me. I must have been on my way from the car to the door, and she saw me.” Tears gathered in her eyes, imagining what that must have been like for Andrea, to have experienced such a thrilling discovery followed by a crashing disappointment.
Then again, Miranda could only have imagined how she would have reacted in the moment. Seven years ago, she had two preschoolers at home and a husband who had yet to be discovered as a cheat. The thought of an 18-year-old girl from Cincinnati bursting color into her life would have been an immense shock. It would have knocked her entirely off course. She might have been far angrier with Andrea than she had been eight months previously. It might have ended very badly, for both of them.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat and stared at the calendar, racking her brain for a memory of the date. Only when Nigel shook her by the shoulder did she emerge from the fog. “Hey, come back, Miranda. No more of this. You need to go get her. You have to tell her the truth.”
Miranda gaped at him. “You didn’t tell her it was me all along?”
He shook his head. “It’s not my secret to tell.”
“Good lord,” Miranda said, throwing the calendar to the floor before realizing that was a mistake. She needed evidence if she was right; Andrea would want proof. She might think Miranda was lying just to keep her from running away. She grabbed it and carried it back to the desk, checking her schedule for the rest of the day. It was clear enough, and she asked, “Is she back yet from HR?”
Nigel rubbed his head, wincing slightly. “Miranda, she’s been gone for almost two hours.”
Terror gripped her. “Oh no, no, what am I going to--”
“You’re going to sneak her address from the payroll system and go to her apartment, right now.”
Miranda exhaled and collapsed into her chair, lightheaded with relief. “Of course. Yes, of course. Right now.”
Miranda dismissed Roy, who looked uncertain about leaving her on her own on Avenue B, but she had lived all over the map of Manhattan during her 30 years of residence. She knew this neighborhood well from once having shared an apartment with two other girls just a single block away. It felt only right that Andrea would live here too, as if instinctively following Miranda’s trail around the city. She approached the door and read the list of names, spotting a smudged but legible “Sachs” on the third floor, apartment 3E. To her pleasure, the exterior door swung open and two young men departed, ignoring her completely as they continued their conversation. She slipped inside and glanced around, remembering what it had been like to live in a building like this, surrounded by people but totally alone. She wondered if Andrea felt like that.
She scoffed at herself. She knew Andrea felt like that. No longer would she question her intuition when it came to the woman who was her match. She would trust.
Once in front of 3E, she hesitated only for a moment before knocking on the door, hard. She waited in anticipation, worried Andrea was not home, or checking the peephole and ignoring her. But less than a minute later, the door opened just a crack as Andrea gazed out at her from beneath the security chain. “Miranda? What are you doing here?”
She knew the right approach. She didn’t even question her next words. “I’m here on urgent business. I need to look at my calendar with you before you go. It’s extremely important.”
Andrea blinked, and as though some sort of robotic response overtook her, she nodded and stepped back to swing the door wide open. “Sure, right. Okay, sorry. It’s um,” Miranda glanced around as Andrea closed her eyes, “it’s messy. I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
The apartment was not messy, just comfortably lived in. A couch, a coffee table, a bookshelf lined with books that were stopped on one side by a stack of the eight most recent editions of Runway. The kitchenette across the room was clean. The only items visible on the countertop were an overturned glass and a few small plates resting on a dishtowel, drying in the refracted sunlight from a nearby window. The bed - a full size mattress resting on a boxspring - was in the far corner, and a nightstand was also stacked with books and pads of paper. A closed door a few yards away surely led to the bathroom. It was a small, tidy studio, and at once, Miranda felt at home in the contained space. It could hold nothing extraneous; only the essentials were welcome. She felt essential here.
“Why are you smiling?” Andrea asked with a frown. “I’m not embarrassed to live here. I don’t make that much money and I had to move when I, um, became single.”
Miranda hadn’t realized she’d been smiling. She chuckled to herself. “I like it.”
“Oh,” Andrea said, putting a hand to her hair before stopping herself. “Okay, come over here then and show me the calendar. I left Emily notes on everything, was she not around to answer?”
Miranda narrowed her eyes. She did not lie. “She was not around for this particular period, no,” Miranda said slowly, seating herself on the sofa and pulling the calendar from her handbag. She set it down on the coffee table and watched as Andrea looked at it in confusion.
“What is that--” Her eyes grew wide. “Nigel. That bastard--I told him everything in confidence--how could he--”
Miranda ignored her and instead opened the book, flipping to March 19th. “8:15, pilates with my personal trainer. 9:15, a conversation with Cameron Diaz about an upcoming cover. 10:30, editorial. 11:15, the team from Calvin Klein. 12:30, lunch with Donna Karan, followed by a 2:30 with Meisel back at the office.” Miranda pressed her finger to the 2:30 time slot. “Do you see what I’m seeing here, Andrea? Come over here right now and look at this page.”
Andrea shook her head.
“Yes, you can. You will. Sit down here and look.”
With a sigh, Andrea followed instructions. “I’m -- I don’t know why you’re doing this--”
“I was on my way back inside the building, do you see? I was there. I was walking from the car to the front door. And you were across the street.” Miranda was watching her face as she said the words, and there, just for a second, she saw a flicker of light. Of recognition.
Andrea’s eyes met hers. “What?”
“I had lunch with Donna Karan at La Caravelle at 12:30, and I would have been there at least until 2. That’s about a ten minute drive, give or take, and with traffic, it would have been a few minutes more.” She had Andrea’s attention now; wide brown eyes stared back at her, unblinking. “I would have left the car and walked straight into the building. I wouldn’t have even seen you.”
“What?” Andrea repeated, her voice fainter now as the truth began to sink in.
“I didn’t see you again until the day of your interview, when you walked into the outer office of Runway, and I saw color for the first time in my life.”
Yes, Miranda could tell, it was working--she was starting to believe. “That’s not possible, Miranda. I mean--I could hardly process anything when it happened to me--that whole day you seemed totally normal--”
“You didn’t even know me. You didn’t know my name. You assumed that the head of a fashion magazine, of all things, would of course be able to see color. But you would have been wrong. It was you. I saw you, and everything changed.”
Eyes growing wider, Andrea pointed her finger at Miranda as if in accusation. “You mean to tell me that you--that it happened while I was standing 10 feet away from you and you didn’t even say anything?” Her voice grew louder in her agitation. “You knew--you knew the whole time and you didn't even tell me?” By now she was shouting, and Miranda let the emotion wash over her. In fact, she enjoyed the thrill of it. Andrea’s energy was electric. The hair on Miranda’s arms stood at attention, and she had goosebumps along her shoulders and across her back. “I fucking searched that building top to bottom. I walked the streets all over midtown, every goddamned day. I looked and looked and looked--”
“And I was right there, all along,” Miranda finished for her, reaching out to take her hand.
That gave Andrea pause. She gazed at Miranda’s fingers with uncertainty. “Are you--are you absolutely sure it was me?” She finally asked, with tears in her eyes.
“I am absolutely, absolutely sure it was you,” Miranda said, exhaling. She believed.
“Oh my god,” Andrea said. “You mean to tell me I inadvertently fell for the one person I was meant to be with anyway?”
Miranda nodded. “And I spent eight months trying to convince myself that I wasn’t meant to be with you, because you were so clearly not my match.”
That startled Andrea out of her own thoughts; she gazed longingly at Miranda and her eyes softened in sympathy. She put her free hand to her chest. “Oh,” she breathed. “That must have been so hard for you.”
Miranda swallowed, wishing she could hide this particular sadness from Andrea, who had herself been carrying her own loss for far longer. But the connection between them was shimmering now in a way it hadn’t before. She reached out and took Andrea’s other hand too, and this felt far different than the single time Miranda had touched her wrist. Her heart began to race as they each held on tightly. She watched in wonder as crimson rose along Andrea’s throat, climbing up into her cheeks.
They stared at each other, fascinated, neither able to move. Andrea’s lips trembled as they began to curve into a smile that grew larger. Finally, she laughed as tears slipped down her cheeks. “Miranda, I’ve been searching for you for so long.”
“I’m here now,” Miranda sighed, closing her eyes in relief. “I’m here.”
“I guess I should, um, tell you then,” Andrea said. Miranda looked at her. “In person, I mean, instead of you having to hear it secondhand.” She took a deep breath. “I love you.”
Miranda was stunned at the spark that the words caused inside her; she’d known the truth for some hours now, but hearing it directly from Andrea moved her deeply. She felt her echoed reply brimming inside her but could wait no longer to stroke Andrea’s cheek, to draw her close, to look into her eyes as their lips touched for the first time. Andrea’s lids fell shut and she made a high, desperate noise as Miranda pulled her in, their mouths fitting together as they had meant to be all along. Then Andrea was crawling on top of her, knees pressing against Miranda’s thighs, two hands sliding up the back of her head to grasp her hair. Miranda groaned in pleasure as Andrea’s tongue met hers, realizing that every kiss she’d ever had in her past life paled in comparison. Holding Andrea, feeling her warmth, slipping her hands beneath the thin t-shirt she wore felt more intimate than anything she could imagine. Knowing her, remembering the gift they’d given each other, seven years apart, made this one of the sweetest moments of Miranda’s life.
Later, as dusk fell over her silver city, Miranda trailed her fingers down the peach valley of Andrea’s throat, marveling as the goosebumps followed wherever her touch roved. So this is what it could be like, she thought. This is what it would be like, forever.
Andrea arched, her spine lifting from the mattress that had cushioned their bodies as they’d made love. “I feel like I’ll never have enough,” Andrea whispered, biting her lip. Her legs were restless, knees rising and parting as Miranda’s hand fell between them again. She was so slick, so soft and welcoming as Miranda pressed two fingers lower, dipping inside just a bit, then a little more, then deeper still. “Ungh,” Andrea moaned, her hand finding Miranda’s and pushing down so Miranda’s palm was hard against her clit. “Yeah, oh, yeah,” she breathed, meeting Miranda’s rhythm, searching out a kiss. “Can’t believe this,” she said.
Miranda couldn’t either. They’d been at it for hours, unwilling to keep their hands off each other. In some ways, Miranda wondered if it was better this way, waiting all this time until they wanted this closeness more than anything else.
“Fuck,” Andrea said, “Oh fuck. I’m--”
Miranda kept going, feeling the start of the flutters that were already familiar as the pressure intensified and squeezed around her fingers over and over. Andrea cried out, panting until she collapsed back on the bed. A few moments later, she turned to Miranda, eyes dark and sultry. She looked as though she were in an altered state. Her mouth was hot against Miranda’s until it moved to her neck, her breasts, her belly. She kissed between Miranda’s legs, tongue dancing against her flesh lightly, fingers playing in tandem as Miranda’s heart nearly pounded out of her chest. She watched Andrea, eyes closed as though savoring the taste, purring her own delight, until she couldn’t anymore. She came in a long wave that carried her high and far away until the pleasure ebbed into small aftershocks.
She lay still, basking in the afterglow, until Andrea crawled up into her arms. They rested together in silence as Miranda touched the chestnut hair she adored.
“Will you need to go home soon? For the girls?”
Miranda nodded. “Yes. Will you come with me?”
“Of course. I’ll -- I’ll do whatever you like. Be with you as much as you need.” Her tone sounded odd, considering the revelations of the day.
Miranda raised Andrea’s chin, noting the uncertain expression. Then it struck her like lightning. She was an idiot. She inhaled and finished the sentence she’d never gotten around to earlier: “I love you, too.”
Andrea’s amber eyes widened in astonishment. She chuckled in obvious relief. “Okay, that’s good. I wasn’t totally sure.”
“I was distracted. I apologize.” She ran fingernails down Andrea’s lithe back. “You are very distracting.”
Andrea laughed again, wriggling across Miranda for a moment to turn on a lamp. The room had grown dark, and the gentle light illuminated them both in a golden glow. Andrea reclined against the pillows, lifting one arm over her head so it framed her face. For the first time, Miranda noticed how the tips of her soft breasts were the same amaranth pink as her kiss-swollen mouth. Miranda’s heart thudded with happiness. “I would have loved you even in grey,” she murmured.
Andrea’s mouth opened slightly, her face awash with a joy Miranda had never before seen. She hoped to bear witness to it again and again. Andrea swallowed, the tears in her eyes betraying the depth of her emotion. “Isn’t it nice that you don’t have to?”
Miranda smiled as she leaned down for a kiss. “Yes, darling. It is.”