It was after eleven o’clock by the time I got home from work. The girls were fast asleep and so was Cara, on the sofa in the den. I told her a million times she could stay in one of the guest rooms—or at least use the bed—but she always refused. I gently brushed her shoulder to wake her and told her Roy was waiting outside to take her home.
I walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, but I was too tired to think about eating. Pouring myself a glass of water, I headed upstairs, grabbing the pile of mail from the hall table. After checking in on the girls, I tossed the mail on my bed as I finished my water and began to undress. Thinking about the amount of time in my life spent dressing and undressing made me shudder. Maybe if I cared less about fashion, I’d be the sort of mother who was home before her teenage daughters went to bed. I quickly jumped into the shower and let the hot water distract me from those self-destructive thoughts. I was far too old for this.
Once my hair was dry, I swapped the robe for my pajamas and crawled into bed with my reading glasses. At one point in my life, there was always a book—a novel or a biography—on my nightstand. I’d read a few pages each night, and even if half my time spent reading was going back and trying to remember what had just happened, it was significant. A few pages here, a few pages there—it added up. It felt good to do something unnecessary that was just for me—not the magazine, not my daughters. I wasn’t even sure when I stopped. Maybe I’d start that again.
Instead, there were fifteen different envelopes spread across the bed that I needed to go through. I separated them into three piles: bills, invitations, and fundraising. I put the bills aside to take to the office for Kristin to handle. I thought she paid them all online, automatically, but I wasn’t sure. The fundraising letters would have to wait. I regularly supported worthy causes and made over a million dollars in charitable contributions each year, often considerably more than that, but I was too tired to think about that at the moment.
There were three invitations in the pile of mail, which I could tell based on the large, heavy envelopes. The first was an invitation to the annual Friends of the Library luncheon at the NY Public Library. Ishmael Beah, the human rights activist from Sierra Leone who just published his memoir, was the guest speaker. Tickets were $1,500 each or $10,000 for a table of eight. I took a post-it from my nightstand and scribbled a note to remind myself to email Susan and see if she and John would be interested in splitting a table. The second envelope was an invitation for Rebecca Hoffman's bat mitzvah. She was one year below the girls at Dalton, but they played soccer together and Eva Hoffman was always friendly towards me in the bleachers when I was there.
When I arrived at the third invitation, I instantly knew what it was and my heart swelled with happiness.
Mr. Nigel Oliver Kipling &
Mr. Thomas Eugene Miller
invite you to participate in
their celebration of love
Saturday, October 13, 2007
at four o’clock in the afternoon
11 Larboard Drive
Southampton, NY 11968
We’re choosing an extremely private celebration at our home with no electronics or recording devices. Our private photographer will be present for a portion of the evening, and we will have Polaroid cameras available for those who wish to capture any joyous moments.
Nigel & Thomas
I had lunch with Nigel several weeks ago, at the beginning of June, and he told me all about their engagement and mentioned they were looking at dates in the fall. I missed him more than I was willing to admit, as a colleague and a friend. He left me, six months after Paris, for an incredible position at Louis Vuitton with Marc Jacobs. I had a feeling Marc was planning on leaving LVMH for his own line soon, and Nigel would be the best man to help him launch a new brand. He seemed to like his job, and more importantly, he managed to have acquired a personal life. I couldn’t have been happier for him.
I quickly flipped back to the envelope to see how it was addressed: Madame Miranda Priestly. I understood the need to keep the guest list small for such a private event, yet there was a pang of sadness at the missing “and guest” on the invite. It was as though everyone else had given up on my having a personal life, too. I took another post-it to remind myself to tell Kristin to block off that weekend on my calendar and make sure the girls were scheduled to be with their father.
As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered who else Nigel might have invited.
I saw Nigel again in early September when we were seated next to each other at Carolina Herrera. We shared a laugh about how Emily Charlton would have eviscerated the poor assistant responsible for the blunder, then we laughed again when we realized Emily still might. She was still working at Runway, as an Associate Fashion Editor on our digital team. I didn’t interact with her much, but it seemed like she remained close to my assistants, as she was always hovering nearby whenever there was a crisis. Nigel told me that Serena, who left with him for Louis Vuitton, recently started dating Emily, and that they’d both be attending his wedding. I would have never suspected the two of them, but the more I thought about it, Serena’s tranquility and inner boldness was the perfect balance to Emily’s chaos and insecurity. It was very interested to observe their effect on one another in person.
Nigel told me they only invited twenty-five people, and it didn’t surprise me. Years ago, we were both very private people. And to be honest, I wished I could have retained that privacy. My divorces notwithstanding, the press just seemed to be so damn interested in me. It was exhausting, and I was always more than a little envious that Nigel had always been able to stay in the shadows. Thomas, who I still hadn’t even met, was apparently more private than Nigel: The no-electronics policy was his idea. Although it seemed a bit over-the-top at first, after talking to Nigel, I realized that it was what was needed to allow everyone to relax and be themselves—something I rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to do. Maybe I would even allow myself to let go and dance a little.
On the Friday before the wedding, I dropped my daughters off at their father’s for the weekend, then drove myself to my home in the Hamptons. It would be nice to spend some time there by myself this weekend. The previous week was unseasonably warm, but the temperatures seemed to be in the upper sixties this weekend. It would be a lovely night to be outdoors, as patio heaters would be just enough to take the chill out of the air.
On Saturday morning, I walked down the street to the beach early in the morning with my cup of coffee and a warm sweater. It was a habit—a ritual, perhaps—to watch the sunrise from this spot. The last few times I’d been here for a sunrise, I’d left my sleeping children at home with a post-it on the refrigerator. When they were younger, I was able to drag them out of bed to come with me, but once they turned ten, they resisted any and all morning interaction. Regardless, this was the first time I’d had completely to myself on this beach in more than a decade. I didn’t need to be back before anyone woke up or in time to make breakfast. It was as though time had stopped.
This view held a permanence and beauty that transcended time, unlike everything else in this world. I was acutely aware of the passage of time (and not only because my age was rapidly approaching fifty). My work relied on it. Art, fashion, beauty—the magazine couldn’t exist without the passage of time. Time gave us new perspectives, new challenges, and new solutions. I helped designers and brands create beauty around change, and the magazine was there to document it and feed it to the masses. Although I practically promoted this change, I was deeply resistant to it in my own life. I had the same look and the same hairstyle for twenty years. Despite my involvement in the latest fashion, I wore classic styles and vintage gowns. I bought the girls’ father out of the townhouse when we divorced so I wouldn’t have to move somewhere new. I abhorred change in my own life. And witnessing the beauty of this sunrise, I realized I was also in denial about change in my personal life.
Once I became Editor-in-Chief, my personal life was on display whether I liked it or not. My marriage to James, my pregnancy, my daughters, my divorce—all of it. My image was fixed in the public’s mind, and while I had opportunities to change it, I chose not to. I chose to be who they thought I was, who I was at one moment in time, because I was too stubborn to admit it wasn’t accurate. Nigel, who didn’t quite catch enough of the public’s attention, never had this problem. Nigel found his happiness, which would be blessedly on display today. I did not.
And with that, I stood, brushed the sand off my legs, and walked home.
I arrived shortly after 3:30 PM and immediately sought out Nigel. They were planning to do the ceremony first, then relocate for cocktails while the crew re-arranged the patio area with tables for dinner.
“Nigel, my friend,” I said from the doorframe of his room.
“Miranda,” he came over and hugged me. “Vintage Yves Saint Laurent?”
“What did you expect? Miu Miu?” I drolled.
“From you, never. I’m glad you’re here. I’m so nervous,” he said, wiping his brow with his handkerchief.
I smiled as I adjusted the lapel of his jacket. “I’m so happy for you, Nigel. Truly. You deserve this,” I looked down to his sleeves to hide the tears forming in my eyes. “Working for me must have been awful. I kept you from so much, from this.”
“Hey,” he said, softly lifting my chin with his index finger. “Don’t go soft on me. I made choices, just like you. And if I hadn’t made each and every one of those choices, I wouldn’t have found Thomas, so stop thinking like that.”
I smiled and nodded. “I still find it hard to believe you’ve been dating Thomas for three years and I had no idea,” I said, straightening his cufflinks.
“He’s intimidated by you, Miranda. I kept suggesting we all have dinner together, but you’ll meet him now at least,” he said.
“Is he worth the wait?”
“Oh god yes,” he said as he adjusted his tie in the mirror. “There’s still time for you, you know.”
I sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. “That ship has long sailed, my friend. It’s been so, so many years since I actually wanted someone. A few dates here and there for events I can’t bear to attend alone, but there’s nothing more in my future.”
“I refuse to believe that,” he said, sitting next to me. “Times are really changing. I know you don’t like to acknowledge it, but it’s true. You were happy once, Miranda. The public wouldn’t care—honestly, they might like you better.”
I took a deep breath and stood, walking over towards his dresser. He was right, but I really did not want to go there, especially before his wedding. “Nigel, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. It was a lie and he knew I knew he knew it was a lie, but it didn’t matter.
“Okay, just keep an open mind. There might even be someone here for you tonight.”
I turned and glared at him. “Please don’t tell me you’re trying to set me up at your wedding.”
“I’m not,” he said, holding his hands up in surrender. “Not really. I just think we have a mutual acquaintance—that Thomas and I consider a friend to us both—who you might consider. That’s all,” he added with a wink.
“Nigel, I’m glad that you and Thomas invited your friends. I’m not interested, though. I came here alone and will leave alone.”
“To each their own,” he said, returning to his mirror. “Cheryl and Nick are here. I know she was looking forward to seeing you. They will want to show you all the pictures of their grandson.”
“Grandson?” I asked. Nigel’s nephew was only five years older than my girls.
“Scary, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s a sore subject, but they do adore that little boy, Christopher.”
“Then I shall go exchange pleasantries with your sister and look at all the pictures and try not to imagine myself in that position in five years,” I said. “I am really happy for you, Nigel.”
“I know. Thanks,” he said.
The patio was decorated with hundreds of strands of lights and beautiful floral arrangements in purples and yellows. Guests were beginning to arrive, so I took a seat up front behind Cheryl and her husband and asked all about little Christopher. When Marc and his partner arrived, they sat next to me. Marc pointed out Thomas and his family to me. Thomas was an extremely handsome black man, and it warmed my heart to see his parents, who were probably in their eighties, here supporting him. I was very glad Nigel could at least have supportive in-laws. Cheryl saw where I was looking and she nodded in silent agreement.
Before long, Nigel and Thomas made their way through their friends and family, intentionally not walking down anything resembling an aisle, and joined hands, beginning the ceremony. The officiant read a poem and said some words, but honestly, my mind was elsewhere. I didn’t dare look around during the ceremony, but I was desperate to know which of their friends Nigel was nudging me towards. And from the context of our conversation, I sensed it was a she. I turned my attention back to the grooms as they each read their vows, and I couldn’t help the few tears that trickled down my cheek.
Marc pulled a small travel-sized pack of tissues from his pocket and held it out to me. I took one and quietly thanked him as I carefully dabbed my cheek. “You realize no one would believe me if I said Miranda Priestly has human emotions and actually cried at a wedding,” Marc whispered to me.
If he wasn’t Nigel’s employer, I would have eviscerated the man right there, regardless of his talent. But, this was Nigel’s day, so I saved my thoughts for another time and made a mental note to keep his designs off the main spreads for a while.
When the ceremony was over, Nigel and Thomas hugged his parents, then Cheryl and Nicholas, and to my surprise, me. “We never talk about it, but you’re like a big sister to me—despite being nearly a decade younger,” he whispered. “I love you. Thank you for being here.”
I nodded and kissed him on the cheek, soft enough that I didn’t leave a mark.
“I know we’ve only just met, but you’re very important to Nigel, so I’m also glad you’re here,” Thomas said, hugging me.
I also kissed him on the cheek, then dabbed at my eyes with the wadded-up tissue again. As everyone stood to walk over towards the other side of the patio where cocktails were being served, Serena walked up to me and Marc to say hello. She was by herself, and I saw Emily talking with Cheryl and another woman.
I put my hand on Serena’s arm and said, “I think you and Emily make a great pair. Emily has a tendency to get nervous around me, and well, we’re all guests of the newlyweds tonight. Will you say something to her?”
“Yes, of course. And thank you, Miranda. I appreciate it.” She looked over towards Emily and gestured for her to join us. After whispering into Emily’s ear, the redhead looked visibly relieved. I didn’t want to stare at them, but when I looked up I saw who Cheryl had been talking to: Andrea Sachs. I quickly turned my attention back to Emily.
“Hi Miranda, nice to see you,” she said.
“Likewise, Emily,” I said as I leaned forward to exchange air kisses. “Always nice to see colleagues outside of work,” I added with a smile. She would appreciate being considered a colleague.
I asked Serena how she was liking her job at Louis Vuitton, and we casually chatted for a bit more while the waiters passed glasses of wine. I leaned against the pillar and quietly observed the man who held my best friend’s heart. He was reserved, but seemed very physically affectionate—with Nigel and the other guests. He was always hugging or touching an arm or draping his arm over someone’s shoulder. After a while, Thomas asked everyone to kindly move out to the patio and take their seats for dinner.
Nigel walked up to me and whispered, “You’re at Marc’s table. Please try not to murder my boss.”
“I make no such promises,” I said, a smirk on my lips as I walked past him and out towards the patio.
There were six tables scattered around the patio, five of them with four chairs and one with just two. Marc and his partner Lorenzo were seated near the pool, so I walked towards their table. Marc stood to greet me and gestured towards the seat across from him, where my name was written in beautiful calligraphy on a small table card. I started to ask who was joining us, but saw Marc stand and hug Andrea, leading her to the fourth chair at our table.
I’m certain I looked like a deer in headlights because I was not expecting that at all. I thought maybe I would exchange pleasantries with her at some point in the evening, but this? I looked towards Nigel’s table and communicated my exact thoughts to him through my glare, but he could only wink. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. Had I known we would be seated together for dinner, I would have spoken to her earlier to get any sensitive subjects out of the way. I certainly did not want to have an emotionally-charged discussion about Paris in the presence of Marc, who was quite possibly the biggest gossip in the industry.
“Andrea, how lovely you’re here. I didn’t recognize you with the curls,” I said. I was glad to be seated already, because it made our initial greeting less awkward. There was no hug or handshake or anything like that, just a smile and nod.
“Miranda, it’s good to see you,” she said shyly.
“Wait, you know Andy?” Marc asked me.
Andrea smiled and maybe even blushed a little. “I had a brief, unsuccessful stint as Miranda’s assistant several years ago,” she said to him. Her eyes conveyed that the topic was closed, but Marc was nothing if not an instigator, and I knew he would press that issue.
“Oh my gosh, what a small world!” Lorenzo said. “I knew that Nigel knew you from Runway, but I never thought you were an assistant.” The way he said that word really grated on my nerves.
“Lorenzo,” I said, gently twirling my wine glass, “Why would you make such a comment? Do you not think Andrea capable of being an assistant?” I skewered him with my gaze.
“No, I—I just—it’s—she’s—your assistants are all so—”
“—so fashionable,” Marc said, rolling his eyes at Lorenzo and taking his hand.
“Hey—” Andrea began, but I wanted to take this one.
I reached for her arm to silence her. “And pray tell, is it so unbelievable that a beautiful young woman like Andrea would be fashionable? Look at her. She’s wearing,” I quickly glanced over at her dress and tried to hide my gasp, “vintage Chanel, from Karl’s first collection in 1983. I believe that makes her more fashionable than any of us here today. Even you.”
“I apologize, Miranda, I meant that she—”
“Hey, I’m still sitting here,” Andrea said. “And Miranda,” she added, looking at me, “You don’t have to defend me, although I’m glad you approve of the dress.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, mostly because I didn’t realize that I even had been defending her, let alone how vehemently. So I just nodded, then took a drink from my wine glass. “You’re still in journalism, is that right?” I asked.
She exhaled, clearly relieved at the change in subject. We listened to her stories about the newsroom and the pieces she was working on, and I tried not to think about strangling the man across the table from me. Not only had he offended me earlier, but he was extremely rude to her, as well, and I was absolutely certain she had done nothing to deserve it. As she spoke, I let my eyes wander a bit and admired her dress. It was in incredible condition. I was jolted from my thoughts when she leaned over and touched my shoulder. “You’re staring,” she whispered. “We can step into the light if you want to examine the dress. I have it on loan tonight.”
“I was there, in Paris, when this collection debuted,” I said wistfully. “It’s magnificent, Andrea, and I will be interested to look at it more closely. Later, though,” I added.
Once dinner was served, I was debating whether to bring up the fall temperatures or the approaching holiday season to break the silence, but Marc beat me to it.
“So, Andy,” he said. I instantly knew he was going to ask her one of two things: what it was like to work for me, or why she quit. Though curious to know how she would answer, that was a private conversation. “Why the ‘brief, unsuccessful stint’ with Miranda—is she as awful as everyone says?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Marc, don’t be an asshole,” Andrea said, rolling her eyes. “Tell me, how are things at LVMH working for you? I heard that you’re planning to—”
The color drained from his face, and he quickly put his hands up. “Okay, okay! Sorry, my bad. Isn’t this langoustine delicious?”
“Mmm, yes,” I replied, smiling as I stabbed a piece of lobster with my fork. A server came around and refilled our wine glasses. We ate in silence for a few minutes, and after a while, I met Andrea’s eyes. She looked mildly panicked, and I realized she desperately wanted the topic to go away. I gave her the slightest nod, and after seeing neither Marc nor Lorenzo looking our way, I mouthed, trust me.
She nodded and reached for her wine glass.
“Marc,” I said, “you asked about Andrea’s time working for me before. You should know that she had my full support in her departure. She wanted to be a journalist, and I sent a glowing reference over to The Mirror. It was in her best interest to take that position—and we’re all proud of the work she’s done so far.” I smiled at her and gently squeezed her arm. “Also, I don’t think any of my former assistants would ever consider themselves ‘successful.’ I tend to hire extremely eager, over-achieving perfectionists who always feel they could do better, despite what I say.”
“Guilty,” Andrea said, shrugging.
I did not look at the young woman. “Andrea was a satisfactory assistant,” I continued. “She parted on good terms, and she seems to be quite happy now. That’s all there is to say about that, Marc.”
Andrea turned and looked at me, her eyes as wide as saucers.
“Now don’t let it go to your head,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You better not make me regret writing a reference for that paper of yours.” I softly squeezed her arm to let her know I wasn’t being serious.
“If you want to hear about what it was like to work for Miranda, you should ask Emily,” Andrea said with a smile. “She was with you for what, three years?”
“Almost,” I said. “Sometimes I think she forgets she was promoted."
Marc shook his head. “I was just kidding, I’ve heard all about your legendary benevolence towards your employees,” he sneered.
“What the fuck, Marc?” Andrea said, standing up from her seat.
“Are you deliberately acting obtuse or were you born an idiot?” I hissed.
Andrea stood. “Miranda, don’t—don’t say any more. You,” she said to Marc, “come with me.” She took his hand and dragged him off towards the pool house.
Her behavior didn’t surprise me as much as I thought it would, and it didn’t anger me either. Someone needed to put him in his place, and for many reasons, it would be better coming from someone other than me. But that wasn’t it—it was how she defended me, twice in the span of ten minutes. I couldn’t think of the last time anyone had gone to bat for me. Just then, Nigel and Thomas came up to our table.
“How’s everything going?” he asked, gesturing at their empty chairs.
Seeing that Lorenzo was talking to Thomas, I said quietly, “She is defending my honor as we speak.”
“I heard some raised voices. Anything in particular?”
“Just Marc being more asinine than any of my ex-husbands,” I said, finishing my glass of wine.
Nigel reached for the bottle and refilled my glass. “She can be more terrifying than you when she’s pissed. I’m certain he’ll leave you alone the rest of the night. Have some real fun tonight, Miranda. I insist,” he said, bending down to press a kiss to my temple.
“Yes, yes. I will,” I said, holding my fourth glass of wine up.
Once our dinner plates were cleared, everyone returned to the bar area to mingle and pose for photos while the staff moved tables and chairs around.
“Miranda,” Andrea said, tilting her head down the hallway. “This way.” I followed her into a guest bedroom, then through to the en suite. She flicked on the lights. “This is the mother-in-law suite. I’ve stayed here before and know this bathroom has great lighting,” she said. She opened the cabinet under the sink and took out a step-stool, then moved it to the center of the room and stood on it.
I had so many questions but couldn’t put words to any of them because the dress in front of me was so stunning. “I was just an assistant myself for Karl’s first show with Chanel,” I said as I washed and dried my hands, not wanting to risk damaging the delicate chiffon that was nearing a quarter century in age. “This entire collection was stunning. He paid homage to the brand’s classic silhouette while adding lightness and movement,” I said, walking in a circle around her. My fingers grazed the satin loop ribbon trim in awe. “This dress exemplifies everything about that collection.” I squatted down. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” she said.
Reaching for the hem of the dress, I held the black chiffon in my hands. Beneath it were two layers not dissimilar to the outer, and a slightly heavier inner layer to help the dress keep its structure. The craftsmanship on this was superb. Standing up and stepping back, I leaned against the vanity. “Andrea, I think Karl would be pleased to see this on you.”
“Thank you, Miranda,” she said.
I looked up and we locked eyes.
“Why did you lie to Marc at dinner?” she asked as she stepped from the stool.
“I honestly have no idea,” I admitted. “He was being, well you seem to know how he is. I didn’t want to give him any ammunition—to use against either of us. He said something to me before, during the ceremony, and I’ve been wanting to strangle him since.”
Andrea chuckled. “He has that effect on people. I sometimes tease Nigel that he had a much nicer boss at Runway.”
She shrugged. “You’ve been awfully benevolent to me and I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”
“Why did you leave?”
Andrea softly chewed on her lower lip. “I want to tell you and to apologize properly. I figured I would see you tonight. Can it wait until I’ve had a few more drinks?”
I smiled. “Of course. Let’s head back,” I said, gesturing towards the door and following her out.
“Thank you for not being weird about my friendship with Nigel. He had a rough few months when he left. He went weeks without talking to Marc about anything, and that made him realize how much he appreciated being able to bounce ideas off you multiple times a day. I know it’s not my place,” she said, stopping in the hallway and turning towards me, “but he really missed you.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “I had a similar response to his departure,” I revealed. “I didn’t want to smother him, and on the few occasions we met for lunch, he went on about how wonderful things were,” I said. “I didn’t want him to feel any guilt.” It was strange how easy it was to be so honest and vulnerable with Andrea, after having gone some twenty months without speaking to her.
“Marc was at those lunches though, wasn’t he?”
I thought back and realized she was right. Nodding, I looked up. “Are you really happy now, or did you just say that because of who was at the table?”
“I like my job,” Andrea said, walking towards the patio doors. “The work can be challenging at times. It’s a different pace, but I’m finally used to it. I feel good about a lot of the stuff we do at the paper. Like we’re crusaders for truth and justice. You probably think that’s silly.”
I shook my head. “No, Andrea, I don’t think that’s silly. That’s passion for what you do, and just because your passion for your work is different from my passion for mine doesn’t make it any more or less righteous. But you didn’t answer the question.” We reached the bar and she surprised me by asking for a double vodka on the rocks. “One might think you’re trying to get drunk, Andrea.”
“Or I’m just really trying to avoid that question. Plus, isn’t that what weddings are for—getting drunk?”
I had to give it to her, she wasn’t wrong there. “Can you do a greyhound?” I asked the bartender. Andrea looked at me quizzically, but when the he poured vodka and grapefruit juice into a glass and added a lemon twist, she casually pushed her glass over to him for the same treatment.
“This might be my new favorite drink,” she said. “And now I’ll always associate it with you. You’re kinda like a greyhound, you know.”
“I hope you’re not trying to tell me you think I’m a bitch.” I rolled my eyes.
Andrea’s eyes widened. “Oh my gosh, no. Come on, think better of me than that,” she said, taking a sip of her drink.
“So you think I’m thin-skinned, fragile, and need protection? Short-lived?”
Andrea rolled her eyes. “I’m not doing this with you. Come find me when you decide to stop acting like Marc.” She turned and walked over to Emily and Serena and Lorenzo, who were watching Nigel and Thomas dance to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” When the next song came on, they gestured for everyone to join, but I had too much on my mind.
I was surprised at Andrea’s boldness, but again, she wasn’t wrong. I was instigating. I was trying to get her to say something negative about me because that’s what I expected. And if I were really honest, it’s what I felt I deserved. What a terrible friend have I been to him if I couldn’t even see how he was struggling? And here, Andrea was acting as though she actually liked me—and I had no idea what to do with that. Nigel snapped a Polaroid of me, pulling me out of my thoughts.
“Miranda, come dance with me,” he said, reaching for my hand and setting down the camera and photo.
I thought back to what Andrea said, and I didn’t dare turn him down. Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” was playing, so I quickly finished the rest of my drink and took his hand. “This is one of my favorite songs,” I said, letting him take the lead.
“I know,” he said, wagging his eyebrows.
I chuckled and looked him in the eye. “We should try to see each other more,” I said. “I’d need to get to know Thomas better. There’s far too much time that passes between our lunches. The girls ask after you all the time.”
He smiled and I thought I saw a little tear in his eye. “They email me and tell me about all the ugly things their teachers wear.”
I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re my best friend, you’re family, and the last year hasn’t felt right.” I would never tell him this, but I was a little jealous of the fact that was closer with Andrea than he was with me.
“I agree. When we get back from the Maldives, we’ll have you, Caroline, and Cassidy over. Pick a day,” he said.
“We will.” We danced until the song ended and Cher came on. I squeezed his hand before letting go.
“Where did you and Six go before?”
“She let me admire her gown. We went into the guest room for better lighting,” I said as I accepted another greyhound cocktail from the bartender.
“Is that code for devouring one another?”
I nearly spit out my drink. “What?! Nigel!”
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just saying. Have some fun, Miranda. She’s available, by the way. In case you were curious.”
I stared at him and tried to keep my face expressionless, but it was no use. I could feel the blush creeping up my cheeks.
“Ahh, so you are curious,” he said quietly. “The pool house is open, if you find yourself needing privacy.”
“If this wasn’t your wedding, I’d throw this cocktail in your face.” Just then, Thomas walked up and slipped his arm around Nigel’s waist and pressed a kiss to his lips. “I haven’t forgiven you for that comment,” I said, pointing my finger at Nigel before Thomas dragged him away.
It wasn’t the comment itself that bothered me, it was the truth of it. Back when she worked for me, I noticed her. I had beautiful women parading in and out of my office every hour of the day, and yet, she’s the only one I noticed. At first, I attributed it to her awkwardness, but once she acclimated, I had no excuse. She stirred something within me that I hadn’t felt in years, decades even. I could hardly think straight when she was nearby, yet I never wanted her to be too far from me. She was as alluring as she was calming, and I was embarrassed at how comforting I found it to simply sit next to her in a car or stand next to her in a crowd. But it never felt like it did just now, when Nigel told me the girl, who was no longer my employee, was single.
I walked back towards where I had been sitting with a fresh drink in my hand and watched Andrea on the other side of the patio. She was smiling and laughing and dancing with her friends—people who would be my friends, too, if I’d let them. Andrea was beautiful, a truly gorgeous woman. I was mesmerized by her naturally curly hair, the ease with which she brushed her strands over her shoulder or tucked them behind her ear. Elton John’s “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” was playing, and all I could think about were her big brown eyes and how I could get lost in them. By the time I realized she was walking straight towards me, it was too late to excuse myself.
Andrea handed me another drink and perched on the arm of my chair. “What were you thinking about?”
I blinked my eyes a few times. “I, uh, Nigel,” I said, quickly coming up with something innocent. “How many weddings we went to as each others’ plus ones over the years.”
“No significant other?” she asked, looking down at my ring finger.
“No,” I quickly said. “Not—no. New subject.”
“What’s that?” She pointed to the Polaroid Nigel left on the table. I picked it up, and saw it was the photo he took of me before asking me to dance. I handed it to her. “Miranda, this is stunning! Is this from just now?”
I nodded, and suddenly felt very self-conscious. “I had no idea he was taking it.” Looking up at her, I silently wished she would change the topic.
“Tell me about your dress,” she said without hesitation.
For a split second, I thought about saying, let’s go to the pool house and I’ll show you, but then I quickly collected my wits. “It’s Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, from 1990 or 1991, I can’t recall,” I said.
“I really like it on you. It’s a much different silhouette than what you normally wear,” she correctly observed.
“Yes, well, I’m trying to be a wallflower tonight,” I said with a smirk.
She smiled and touched my arm. “Oh, Miranda, you could never be a wallflower. We’d all have to find a new wall.”
“Are you drunk?” I asked teasingly.
She shrugged. “A little, maybe. What’s Rive Gauche?”
“Left Bank is the literal translation. It was Yves’s foray into prêt-à-porter—really he was the first to offer ready-to-wear designs at all. His studio was on the Left Bank in Paris, and he opened up this little boutique in the sixties that was all inspired by modern art—Picasso, Mondrian, van der Rohe—and he called it the Rive Gauche. The name stuck,” I said.
“Wow, I had no idea. I really love modern art. Maybe that’s why I like your dress,” she said with a smirk. “You don’t want to know what I thought Rive Gauche was.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well now you have to tell me.”
“Promise not to laugh?”
“I make no such promise,” I said with a smile.
“Ok, promise not to embarrass me with this, then?”
“I can promise that. What did you think it was?”
“A type of fabric,” she said, quickly bringing her drink up to her lips.
I bit my lower lip in an attempt to keep from laughing, but when she looked up at me, we both started cracking up.
“Miranda!” she said, nudging my shoulder. “Stop it!”
I reached up to wipe the tears from my eyes. “Thank you for that laugh, Andrea,” I said, reaching for her hand before I could talk myself out of it.
She smiled and squeezed my hand. “Weird question, but will you dance with me?”
I looked at her with curiosity and wondered whether Nigel dared nudge her in my direction, as he did her with me. Did it even matter? Andrea and I were adults, sharing conversation and a laugh. Would dancing at a very private wedding be that bad? And playing was “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, a song that was neither slow nor romantic and therefore wouldn’t be terribly inappropriate.
“Have you talked yourself into it yet?” she asked, softly squeezing my hand.
“Sure, why not,” I said, finishing my drink and, with that, deciding to let myself have a little fun.
As we joined the others, Andrea sang, “It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there,” and winked at me. I rolled my eyes as though I could never agree with that lyric, and soon the song changed to “Blame It on the Boogie” by the Jacksons.
I couldn’t help but watch Nigel dancing with Thomas and his family. This was the happiest I’d seen Nigel in years—decades, even—and while that was wonderful for him, it only reminded me of my own unhappiness in that area.
Andrea put her hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Don’t look now, but Emily is looking at you like you’re a hallucination.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
“Because you’re dancing.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please.”
“I am one hundred percent serious, Miranda. Maybe you should just go dance with her so she at least knows it’s not all in her head,” Andrea suggested.
I quirked my eyebrow. “Subtle or over-the-top?”
She grinned. “I say as over-the-top as you can go.”
I gave her a little nod and went over to where Emily and Serena were and reached for Emily’s hand. “May I borrow her for a minute?” I asked Serena with a wink. She smiled and nodded and I reached for Emily’s other hand as “Best of My Love” by The Emotions played.
She stared at me, mouth agape, hardly moving.
“Emily,” I said firmly, moving my hand to her shoulder. “Emily, I’m starting to get a little offended at your behavior. Are you just now realizing that I’m a woman with a life, however meager, outside of Runway?”
“I’m sorry, Miranda,” she said quickly, blinking and smiling. “I think I was in shock.”
I raised my eyebrow at her.
“Right,” Emily sighed. “It’s very heartwarming to see you like this,” she admitted, finally starting to loosen up and let her body move to the beat.
“‘Heartwarming’ is not a word often associated with me,” I replied.
“That’s what was so surprising—not that I didn’t know you had a private persona, but I never thought I’d see it,” she said. Serena and Andrea chose that moment to join us, saving Emily from any further scrutiny. We danced to a few more songs, then I excused myself to use the bathroom and find another drink.
“You’re awfully friendly with your ex-assistants,” Marc said as he stood next to me at the bar.
I set my half-empty glass down but kept my eyes focused on the dance floor. “I don’t need to explain myself to you. I’m not sure where you get off speaking to me like this. We are not friends, Marc. I am simply trying to show respect to you as my best friend’s employer.” I met Nigel’s eyes and he frowned. I gave him a little smile then turned to Marc and took his drink, setting it on the bar next to mine. “We are going to go out there and dance a little bit and smile and make sure Nigel sees.”
“I’m not a huge Stevie Wonder fan,” he said.
I laughed and smiled at him. “If you want any chance of appearing on the pages of Runway in 2008, you’ll join me—and look happy about it.”
“For once in my life,” he sang, leading me towards the dance floor with a smile. “Fitting song title, no?”
“Oh, absolutely,” I said, throwing my head back in pretend laughter. “Because this is never happening again. I find your personality quite detestable, and I know I’m not alone in that. Others in the industry agree. There’s only so much room for personal egos in fashion.” I smiled at him the same way I always smiled at Jacqueline. I knew if Emily or Andrea were watching, they’d spot it right away.
“Oh, and you’re one to talk,” he hissed.
“Smile,” I reminded him. “And you don’t know me at all. The media has carefully constructed what they believe to be my ego over the years. You’ll find that there’s not much truth behind any of it.”
Marc smiled and spun me around. “But the way you treat your assistants—”
“—would be illegal under most of our labor and civil rights laws, not to mention in violation of Elias-Clarke’s code of conduct,” I said. “You really should stop believing everything you hear.”
Just then, “Baby I’m Yours” by Barbara Lewis began to play. Andrea came over and reached for my hand. “I’m stealing her away, Marc,” she said, pulling me over towards where Nigel and Thomas were. “This is a good one, and I know you can dance because I saw you with Nigel earlier,” she added, pulling me closer. I tried not to think about the lyrics or the fact that this was a slow dance.
“Yes, but the question is can you?” I asked, placing my other hand on her hip and following her lead. I shouldn’t have bothered to ask that question because, as it turned out, she was an incredible dancer—and a lead at that. She twirled me around and I gasped as we rejoined, her hand firmly on my shoulder.
“Does that answer your question?” she asked with a smirk.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” I sighed. I hadn’t meant to ask that out loud, but once it was out there, at least I had the good sense to blush.
Andrea leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You’re like a greyhound because you are persistent and aggressive and fastidious, all while looking like some sleek, elegant work of art. You’re sensitive but not fragile, Miranda.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, but thankfully, a new song came on, “You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me” by The Miracles. “Oh! I really love this song,” I said. Aside from my discomfort at her compliments, I was enjoying myself, slow-dancing with her and humming along to the melody. It was comfortable. I was comfortable—comfortable enough to start singing as she led us around the patio. “Seems that I’m always thinking of you. Oh-oh-oh you treat me badly, I love you madly, you really got a hold on me.” The words hung heavy between us.
She twirled me around a few times, and I was vaguely aware that she was steering us away from the other guests. “I don’t want you, but I need you,” she sang. “Don’t want to kiss you, but I need to. Oh-oh-oh you do me wrong now, my love is strong now, you really got a hold on me.”
Andrea twirled me again, but pulled me back closer than before, close enough to make me gasp as my entire torso was pressed against hers. “Why did you leave me in Paris?” I blurted. I cringed as soon as I said it because it was absolutely the wrong time to ask that. She tried to pull away, but I held her there, my hand firmly pressed against her lower back. “Andrea,” I said, squeezing her hand, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that. You don’t have to tell me.”
When she looked up at me, she had tears in her eyes, and my heart ached.
I reached up and cupped her cheek. “Really, it’s okay,” I said. Her eyes held so many unspoken thoughts, but I knew I didn’t want to pressure her into a conversation here. “Are you staying in the area tonight?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Em, Serena, and I are taking a car back to Manhattan.”
“My place is just a few miles from here. Why don’t you come over, and we can talk or whatever,” I heard myself saying as my heart pounded through my chest.
Andrea stared at me for a good thirty seconds. “Inviting me back to your place?” she asked, quirking her eyebrow.
“Yes. It’s…whatever you want it to be,” I said. I felt her arms tighten around my waist, not even realizing until then that they were there. My gaze fell and I softly brushed my thumb across her lower lip. Her breath hitched, and her lips parted ever so slightly. Just as I decided to lean in and kiss her, she jumped back.
A mildly-inebriated Thomas clambered over to us, and Andrea gave me an apologetic look. I shook my head and squeezed her hand, smiling softly.
“My my, you look like you’re having fun,” I said.
He put his arm around my shoulders. “Oh, I’m having a blast. Are you enjoying yourselves?” he asked. “Nigel is so happy you’re both here. Can I introduce you to my family, Miranda?” he asked.
“Of course, I’d love to meet everyone,” I said, squeezing the young woman’s hand once more before releasing it.
“I’m having such a good time, too,” Andrea said with a bright smile. “I’m going to use the ladies’ room, and I’ll pop by and say hello to your mom and aunties afterwards. Miranda, find me before you leave,” she said, stepping away with a little wave.
I smiled and nodded. A million things went through my mind at once as I realized she was coming home with me.
Thomas must have sensed it, because he took my hand and led me towards the bar, where the bartender had our drinks ready before we could ask. “Miranda, I feel like I interrupted something back there,” he said.
“I think you did,” I admitted. “But also I think that’s probably a good thing. We were a little caught up in the moment.”
“If one of the first things I do as his husband is ruin things between you two, he’ll never forgive me,” Thomas said.
This made me laugh, though I’m not sure why. “Things are not ruined,” I said. “I’m not a sixteen-year-old who’s going to sneak off to the pool house to make out with someone during a party. You didn’t ruin anything.”
He visibly relaxed. “Oh thank god.”
“As Nigel’s friend and honorary big sister, though, I feel as though I need to properly threaten you, Thomas.”
“If you hurt him in any way,” I said, pausing dramatically, “I will tear you apart. I will destroy you. I’m serious. And if you’re ever in a situation where it feels inevitable that you’re going to hurt him, call me immediately, and we’ll figure something out.”
He nodded. “I know what you’re capable of, Miranda. I won’t hurt him. Cheryl and Nick each had similar talks with me, actually. You siblings are merciless.”
“Good,” I said, wrapping my arm around his. “Now that that’s squared away, I think you promised to introduce me to your family.”
When Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” began to play while they were cutting their cake, Nigel happily directed everyone’s attention to the shoes Thomas was wearing: midnight blue loafers. I could tell right away they were nubuck and not suede, but I couldn’t identify them, which led me to think they were either vintage or from one of those ancient Italian shoemakers. My knowledge of menswear was sorely lacking, but it didn’t really matter. Nigel clearly knew that better than me. They were blue-ish suede-ish shoes, and Nigel was happy. That's what mattered.
I stood with Cheryl and Nicholas while the happy couple fed each other little bites of cake. When Thomas wiped the crumbs off Nigel’s mouth with his thumb, Cheryl quietly gasped, and I turned to look at her. “Mom used to do that to him all the time,” she said with tears in her eyes.
I wrapped my arm around her waist and leaned my head against hers. “He has us, and he has Thomas’s whole family now, too. They’re all so wonderful.”
“I know,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “They really are. It’s the best I could have hoped for.” A few servers brought around slices of cake, and I noticed Emily waved hers off. I excused myself from Cheryl and her husband and took two plates of cake off one of the server’s trays while I walked over to Emily.
“I see they missed you,” I said, handing her a piece. “I have been told it’s vegan, gluten-free, and made with agave and stevia instead of sugar. It’s from a bakery in Bed-Stuy that Caroline really likes, since she’s trying to eat vegan when possible.” I smiled and added softly, “Will you give it a try?”
She nodded and took a bite, and I did the same. It was a pistachio cake with fresh raspberry and Swiss meringue buttercream filling. I vaguely recalled Caroline telling me something about using plant butter and aquafaba, but I felt like the less I knew about the ingredients, the better I could enjoy it.
Emily’s eyes widened. “This is really good, and I’m not just saying that,” she said, going for another bite. I smiled at her, and we quietly ate our cake. She finished about two-thirds of her slice before handing her plate to a passing server.
I put my hand on her arm. “You’re a beautiful young woman, Emily, and I would say that even if you were a size twelve, do you understand?” I hoped my words came across as reassuring and supportive.
“Thank you for saying that, Miranda. I’m actually doing better with all the dieting. Serena really helps,” she added, blushing.
“Good. I’m glad. You can come to me, too, if you need anything. There’s no shame in seeking help—especially from people who care about you.” I hugged her and pressed a kiss to the top of her head like I do with my daughters.
She nodded, and Nigel came over and grabbed my hand as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” began to play.
“Oh, Nigel, shouldn’t this be for you and your husband?” I asked. The word felt unnatural on my tongue. I had known Nigel for so many years, and for the vast majority of them he had been single, never married.
He shook his head and gestured towards Thomas who was dancing with his mother. I refrained from making any mother comparisons. “Thomas told me he interrupted your almost-kiss,” he said quietly.
I couldn’t hide the smirk on my face. “I invited her over tonight.”
“And she told me to find her before I leave.”
“That sounds like a yes.”
“You seem a bit reticent.”
“Maybe. Not about being with her. I mean, if the electricity before was anything to go by…” My voice trailed off. “I don’t know what she wants beyond tonight. I don’t want to hurt her.”
“She wants you, Miranda.”
I just stared at him in disbelief.
“What do you want out of it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. She makes this friendship thing seem so easy. It feels too good to be true,” I admitted.
“It’s not. I know the feeling, but I’ve been friends with her for almost three years and it’s still just as easy as it was in the beginning. She’s pure and honest, honey.”
I glared at him. He knew I hated being called anything other than my first name, particularly outside the bedroom. But I trusted him more than I trusted any other human on this planet, and if he thought that feeling would last, then I knew exactly what I wanted.
I didn’t catch Andrea alone again until almost midnight when the party moved to the driveway as we all walked to our cars. I saw her whisper something to Emily and Serena before hugging them and coming back towards the house.
“You can still give me a lift, right?” Andrea said as she walked up to me. “Because I just said goodbye to my other ride.”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “Roy will be thrilled to see you.”
Andrea turned to Nigel. “Did Roy ever drive you, Nige?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I always got stuck with fucking Klaus.” I smiled at that, but frowned at the next words out of his mouth. “Miranda always had to ride alone,” he said to Thomas, rolling his eyes.
“We should be going,” I said, taking Andrea by the wrist.
She pulled away from my grip. “Wait, Nigel, what do you mean she rode alone? I always rode with her.”
“Yeah, you did. Did you notice anyone else?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
I was going to murder him. Who would have thought I’d be thinking of murder so much during a wedding? “Nigel, you’re drunk. Go inside with your husband,” I said, taking him by the shoulders and pushing him towards Thomas. “I love you both, congratulations, and don’t forget about dinner when you’re back from the Maldives,” I called out.
Andrea hugged them and hurried to join me as I walked towards the car. “Is that true?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said as I kept walking towards the car. “I will explain after we say goodnight to Roy.” Roy was surprised to see her, and I was glad to see him smiling. For as much time as I spent with him over the past ten years, I never interacted with him much. But Andrea apparently made up for that in her seven months in my employ. Their conversation continued for the duration of the ride to my home. Apparently Roy read each of Andrea’s articles in the paper, and they both somehow found time to keep up with baseball (they had opposing views on whether Colorado or Boston should win the World Series). Thankfully, we arrived at my home before a fight broke out in my car.
“Miranda, will you be needing me again tonight?” he asked.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“I’ll take a cab to my hotel,” Andrea said. She stood on her tiptoes and hugged him. “It was really good to see you.”
“You as well, Miss Andy. I’ll try and find it in my heart to forgive you for being a Rockies fan,” he said. “Goodnight, and see you Monday, Miranda.”
“Goodnight, Roy,” I called out before walking up the front steps and unlocking the door. I held the door open for Andrea, and she looked around. “Weren’t you ever here?”
She shook her head. “I had a lot of things delivered here and had gardeners and cleaners and cooks come here, but I was never physically here.”
“Well then, welcome,” I said. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Just water, please. Not sparkling.”
I nodded and poured two glasses of water, one for myself and one for her. “You didn’t have to lie,” I said, “about coming here.”
She shrugged and took a gulp of water. “I didn’t want to make things difficult for you.”
“Ah, well, I appreciate that, Andrea.” We stood around the kitchen island for a few minutes, drinking our water in silence. “You were the only assistant I ever had ride with me. I’m sorry that you never knew that. It never occurred to me to say anything, and apparently my staff didn’t dare mention it.” I wasn’t sure how much more explanation I wanted to provide. “On occasion,” I said, “Emily rode with me, but only if we were short on cars or needed to be somewhere urgently. The nervous energy comes off that woman in waves.”
“Oh, I know that feeling,” Andrea said. “I rode out here with her. Thank god for Serena.”
“Mmm, yes, I can imagine. You were different, though. It was comfortable. I didn’t care if you noticed me falling asleep after a long day or heard me on a personal call with my daughters. You had no qualms waking me up or helping me get my coat off or anything like that,” I said, thinking back.
“Well I’m glad that’s how you felt about it. I was really nervous at first, but I think I just hid it better than Em,” she said, opening the fridge and pouring herself another glass of water from the pitcher. “Nigel is kind of like Em in the car.”
“Indeed. Which is why he never rode with me and Roy more than a handful of times,” I said.
Andrea stepped closer to me and nudged my shoulder.
Unable to put this off any longer, I took a deep breath and reminded myself of what Nigel said: She wants you.
“Having second thoughts?” Andrea asked.
I turned and looked her in the eye. “Not at all. It’s okay if you are, though,” I added.
Those brown eyes couldn’t have been any clearer when she replied, “I’m not.”
I reached up to cup her cheek as she set her glass on the kitchen island. She wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me closer. I could feel the heat rising in me.
“Shall we pickup where we left off?” I asked in a husky voice I barely recognized as my own. “I believe I was saying this is…whatever you want it to be.”
I tried to hold her gaze but her lips beckoned. I hadn’t been with a woman in nearly twenty years. I certainly hadn’t planned for it tonight, either. If we went up to my bedroom, it was probably a mess. God, when was the last time I used my trimmer? Would I need lube? Was my bottle in the drawer expired?
“Miranda,” she said, wrapping her other arm around my waist. “Will you stop thinking and kiss me already?”
With those words, my fears melted away. I closed the distance between us and captured her lips. It immediately felt right. There was a kind of magnetic, tingly, sparks-flying chemistry between us, and all I wanted was more of her warm, wet mouth.
“Oh god,” she moaned, taking in a deep breath.
I reached up and tucked her hair behind her ears. “Do you even know how irresistible you are, Andrea?” I whispered, taking her lips once again. I nudged her mouth open with my tongue and let out a tiny moan as I deepened the kiss.
She wasn’t exactly passive, though. Andrea’s mouth and tongue worked expertly in tandem, meeting and exceeding my every expectation. Her fingernails dig into my shoulder blade as she pulled me closer.
I gently sucked on her lower lip. “Do you know how badly I want you?” I asked.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she said, playfully squeezing my ass, “before I ruin this dress.”
Gasping, I pulled away. “Don’t even think about it,” I said, following her upstairs.
“I can’t help my body’s reaction to you,” she said, looking back over her shoulder.
I tried to etch this exact moment into my mind because I wanted to remember it forever. Following Andrea up the stairs, her hair slightly mussed, her lips red and swollen, eyes gazing back at me as if I was the object of all her affections. Even if this only happened this one time. Even if the sex was awkward and terrible. That look in her eye and this feeling in my heart—that’s what would keep me going. I followed her into my room, into my closet, where she held two hangers in her hands.
“Any interest in undressing me?” she asked with a smirk.
I stood behind her and reached for the fragile zipper, carefully lowering it all the way so she could step out of the dress. Brushing her hair to one side, I softly kissed her neck, then her shoulder before I pushed the tiny spaghetti strap down her arm.
“These are barely holding on,” she said.
“They’re not original.” I repeated the kiss on her other shoulder blade and she shimmied her shoulders out of the straps, not caring too much if the straps were damaged in the process. I carefully slid the dress down her body so she could step out of it, then she helped me put it on a hanger and on the hook. “It’s a shame I was so focused on that dress,” I said as I admired her in her strapless bra and lace cheeky briefs.
“Your turn,” she said, handing me the other hanger. “May I?”
I nodded and turned. She carefully unbuttoned the top button, trailing her fingers down my back and sending a shiver up my spine. I gestured towards the left side, and she found the tiny hook-and eye and zipper, carefully unfastened it, then slid the dress down.
Stepping out of the dress, I took off the ridiculous bodysuit-bra-contraption I had to wear because of the low back on that dress and held my arm across my breasts.
Andrea hung my dress next to hers. “I want to see you,” she said, stepping closer and reaching for my arm.
“Yes, but not like this. Gravity is—it’s not my friend,” I added, gesturing back towards the bedroom. I was reaching for the lamp when she came up behind me, pressing herself into my back and wrapping her arms around my waist, snaking her hands up to my breasts and nudging my arm away.
“I’ll hold ‘em for ya,” she whispered. The warmth of her breath on my neck made my nipples harden in her hands. I let out a groan when she took my left nipple firmly between her thumb and forefinger. This girl would be the death of me. Maybe I should start planning my funeral.
She pinched it again, harder this time, and my hips bucked in response. Quickly pulling back the duvet, I spun around and grabbed her, devouring her lips as my breathing quickened. She pushed me back until I was sitting on the edge of the bed and stepped in between my legs. I watched as her fingers softly stroked my thighs with her neatly manicured nails. I felt a flutter in my belly, and when I looked up, I saw the most wondrous expression in her eyes.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are, Miranda?” she said as she moved her hands up to explore my face.
I ignored the comment and reached around to unclasp her strapless bra, then she pushed me back into the bed and crawled on top of me, kissing me hard. It felt so exquisite, for a minute I forgot to breathe. Andrea moaned into my mouth as I reached for her nipples, rolling and pinching and drawing out delicious mewls from the woman. Her hair kept falling in her face, in my face, between our lips.
“Want me to tie it back?” she asked.
I ran my fingers through her hair and tugged firmly. “Don’t you dare.”
She grinned and tilted her head to the side, causing her gorgeous curls to cascade down to my face. “What else do you like, Miranda?”
Pulling myself up a bit, I captured her lips again. “This,” I whispered against her open mouth. “This,” I repeated, kissing her even harder and turning to my side. She laid back against the pillows and I couldn’t help but go straight for her breasts, dragging my tongue across her nipple as I softly sucked on the hard nub. She ran her fingers through my hair, nudging me upwards. My knee landed between her thighs, and she parted her legs for me, inhaling sharply as my thigh made contact with her hot center. “What about you,” I said, trailing my fingertips down her neck and across her collarbone. “What do you like?”
“Anything you’ll give me,” she said. I could feel her hips on the verge of bucking against my thigh and it was incredibly arousing.
“That’s not an answer.” I pushed myself up on my elbows, suddenly grateful my trainer always insisted on planks. “Be specific.”
“Have you ever been with a woman?”
“Yes. Answer my question,” I said, bending down and licking my tongue between her breasts, not moving my eyes from hers.
She bit her lower lip. “Use your tongue?”
I smiled and lowered myself back down, kissing her lips, then her jaw, then her neck, softly licking her skin after each kiss. I knew what she wanted, but her body was too delicious to ignore. I kept traveling downward, kissing and licking every inch of skin above her waist. “Anywhere else in particular, Andrea?” I asked.
Andrea closed her eyes and arched back into the pillows. “Fuck, Miranda. I think I could come just from that voice of yours.”
That was certainly interesting. I moved my hands to her hips and slipped my fingers beneath her lace briefs. “May I?” She nodded in response and pushed at her panties. I slid them off her, finally taking in her gorgeous legs. “Scoot back,” I said, running my hands up and down her calves. Then I leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her lower abdomen, right above her neatly trimmed curls. Remembering what she said, I voiced one of the thoughts in my head, “Oh Andrea, I want to taste you so badly.”
She moaned and her hips jerked upward so hard they nearly reached my chin. “Oh fuck, please,” she begged.
I bent down and flattened my tongue, dragging it across her folds, moaning at the dual sensations of her scent and her taste. Using my fingers, I held her folds open while I lapped at her juices as though she were an oasis and I’d been stranded in the Sahara. Andrea writhed beneath me. I circled her clitoris with my tongue, softly licking that hardened nub before sucking it into my mouth and quickly releasing.
Her eyes shot open and she moaned loudly. “Like that,” she panted. “Like that, Miranda.”
I did it again. And again, sucking longer and harder this time, swirling my tongue back and forth while I held her in my mouth until her thighs began to quiver and her orgasm shot through her like a bolt of lighting. I gazed at her in awe and thought I would definitely want to do this again.
After licking her clean, I kissed my way back up her body. My own body was strumming with need, and when she whispered, “I want to taste myself on you,” I thought I was done for.
She pulled me in hungrily and I was happy to oblige. Pushing me onto my back, her hands moved across my body, touching me everywhere all at once. When her thumb brushed against my nipple, it was almost enough to push me over the edge.
“I’m so close,” I moaned into her mouth.
She slipped her hand down between my legs and pushed the satin fabric out of the way.
It felt like I was wet, and I hoped that was true. At this point, I was too far gone to have any misgivings. “There’s lube in the drawer,” I said, pointing towards the nightstand.
“Oh, you definitely don’t need it,” she said as she stroked her fingers through my folds. She held her hand up and separated her fingers so I could see just how much I didn’t need it. “Will it hurt if I go inside?” she asked, pressing a kiss to my right hip.
“No—err, I don’t know,” I said. I hadn’t thought about that, but at this point, I didn’t care if it hurt. “Just—uhh,” My hips jerked against her hand. Thankfully, she understood, and her fingers made a few quick circular motions against my clitoris. “Yes, there,” I panted. “Again, again.” I clutched the sheets in my fists and my orgasm tore through me like never before, my body positively quaking. Andrea kept her hand there while the remaining tendrils flowed through my veins.
“My god, you’re sexy,” she said, bringing her hand up and inhaling. She slowly licked her fingertips. “You were drenched,” she said, leaning forward and kissing me again. “If I’d have known you were that wet, I would have fucked you in the car.”
I groaned as my hips jerked forward. “Damn you,” I hissed.
“Did you just—?”
I shook my head. “Almost.” She quickly moved her hand back between my legs, dragging her fingers through my slick folds then applying quick, circular pressure like before. I nodded and closed my eyes as I arched my back. I felt myself climaxing again, and when she whispered, “I’ll never get tired of fucking you,” my body erupted with pleasure. I reached down and stilled her hand as I attempted to catch my breath while she pressed tiny kisses to my neck and chest.
“I’ll make a note to use caution when using that word as a verb,” Andrea said with a wink. She tucked my hair behind my ear and kissed me softly. “So beautiful,” she said admiringly. “I’m going to use the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
I nodded and closed my eyes. “Pajamas are in the top left drawer. Use whatever you need,” I added, waving in the direction of the en suite.
A few minutes later she came back wearing a cotton jersey pajama top and a pair of cotton underwear. She held out my robe without saying a word. The woman could still read me like no one else. I slipped into the robe and kissed her lips. “I’ll only be a few minutes. There’s an extra phone charger in the kitchen by the coffeemaker if you need.”
After selecting a silk nightgown for myself, I used the bathroom and cleaned myself up, relieved to find that lube wasn’t necessary at all. As I looked in the mirror, I remembered that she’d seen me without makeup before. This wasn’t like when I was dating a man, where I was nervous to let him see me without makeup for fear that he would be disappointed at what I really looked like. Andrea had already seen me—at my worst—and she still wanted me. I put some cleanser on a cotton pad and removed my makeup, applied a moisturizing serum, and brushed my teeth. When I returned to the bed, Andrea’s phone was plugged in on the nightstand, and she was drinking a glass of water.
“I brought you one,” she said, pointing to the glass of water on the other nightstand, next to my reading glasses and a stack of post-its. “Hydration is important.”
“Thank you,” I said, smiling and walking around to the other side. I took a few sips before settling against the headboard. “Come here,” I said, holding my arm out and gesturing for her to lay against me. I gently ran my fingers through her hair. “What are you thinking about, darling?”
“How comfortable it is with you, like this,” she said. “I mean, there’s no awkwardness whatsoever, is there?”
“No, not really,” I said in agreement. “It’s quite a relief.”
“Do you do this often?” she asked.
I laughed. “God, no. There hasn’t been anyone since my divorce, and really, almost a year before that. I can only imagine what kind of vitriol your esteemed colleagues would have written about me if I’d been dating.”
“I apologize on behalf of my entire industry,” she said.
Her words were dripping in sarcasm and I loved that we had the freedom to explore this dynamic. I didn’t have to watch what I said to my employee or worry about an assistant overhearing. Andrea had the freedom to ask me things and tease me in ways she never could as my assistant. I hoped she felt that, too. “I take it you’ve been with a woman before?”
“Is that your way of telling me you think I’m a pro?” she quipped. “I’m just teasing. To answer your question, yes, two, to be specific. Seven years apart. Can I ask when your experience was, since it clearly wasn’t recently?”
I sighed and ran my fingers through her hair. “It was nearly twenty years ago, before I married James. Maggie. I made her show me her birth certificate when she insisted she was not a ‘Margaret,’ so don’t get any ideas,” I added, prompting her to smile. “Neither one of us was particularly emotionally invested, so when she moved across the country for a job, we said goodbye and that was that.”
“What about this?” she asked. “How’s the emotional investment?”
“To be honest, I am invested. Much more than I’ve been comfortable to admit.”
“Same,” Andrea said. “I’m all in. That’s why I left in Paris.”
I pulled back and looked down at her. “What?”
“I was emotionally invested in you, even back then. I was falling in love with you, Miranda, and I knew it wouldn’t end well for either of us, with me as your assistant and your very public divorce,” she admitted.
“So it had nothing to do with what I said in the car?” I asked. Up until this evening, I was certain that’s what had caused her departure. I spent the past eighteen months regretting the words I used.
“No. If anything, that just confirmed my thoughts. You were starting to open up to me, but I couldn’t let it go any further.” She looked up at me and softly stroked my cheek. “I’m really sorry about that, Miranda. I could have done things differently, handled it more professionally. More than anything, I deeply regret my timing.”
“The timing could not have been worse, I’ll give you that.” I sighed and took her hand. “But I survived. You survived. We’re both here now.”
She pressed a kiss to my collarbone. “Does that mean I am forgiven?”
“Absolutely not,” I said. She looked up at me with a furrowed brow. I reached down and brushed the backs of my fingers across her forehead, down the side of her face. “You are absolved, Andrea.”
Her eyes widened and she sat up, straddling my lap. “I am madly in love with you, you know,” she said before capturing my lips in a searing kiss. It was as warm as the previous kisses were hot, tender as the previous kisses were ravenous.
“Darling,” I said after a while, softly patting her hips. “I adore kissing you and I’m not complaining at all, but it’s very late, and I am exhausted. The girls are getting dropped off at seven tomorrow.”
Andrea’s eyes widened. “That’s like less than five hours from now.”
“No, 7:00 P.M.,” I clarified.
“Oh, okay. A little more time until my carriage turns back into a pumpkin, then,” she said, tucking her head in the crook of my neck and draping her arm across my waist.
“Hmm, not a one-time thing,” I muttered, kissing the top of her head. “Let's sleep.”
I woke a little after six with my arm draped across Andrea’s waist, my hand beneath her shirt. I carefully moved away so as not to disturb her, then quietly brushed my teeth and changed into jeans and a sweater. I still had time to catch the sunrise, which wouldn’t be for another thirty minutes or so. In the kitchen, while I was waiting for my coffee to brew, Andrea came down the stairs.
“Hey,” she said, yawning as she walked up to me. “Where are you going?”
“To the beach to see the sunrise. I don’t think I’ve ever missed one when I’ve stayed here,” I said. “Would you like to join?”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’d prefer to stay back and take a shower,” she said.
I smiled. “That’s fine. I won’t be long,” I said, wrapping my arms around her waist. “It was lovely waking up next to you.”
She pouted. “I woke up alone.”
Pulling her closer, I kissed her lips softly. “I’m sorry, darling. I’ll make up for that,” I said. “Maybe a nap after breakfast?”
Andrea nodded as the coffee maker signaled that it was finished brewing. She pressed a kiss to my lips, lingering a little longer this time, then reached for the coffee pot and filled my stainless steel mug. “See you soon,” she said, handing it to me.
I smiled and took the mug, then walked out the front door and towards the beach. The sunrise this morning seemed different, though I knew it was me who had changed overnight. Andrea had my heart for some time now, but up until about twelve hours ago, I was unwilling to acknowledge it and I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was the fear of rejection or ridicule because of her age—or mine. Or maybe it was because she was a woman and it had been two decades of marriages and divorces and children since I’d outwardly identified in that way. But thanks to Nigel’s not-so-subtle nudging and a few cocktails, I recognized what was right in front of me all along. Who was right in front of me.
After all she saw of me, she wasn’t scared away. She was quite possibly the kindest, most genuine person I’d ever known, but what I admired most was the way she stood up for herself, no matter who she was talking to. While this was a bit infuriating when she was my assistant, I was proud of the way she handled herself with Marc. Beneath her gentle exterior was an unyielding strength that perhaps outmatched my own.
I gazed out over the water as the peachy hues spread across the horizon. While I would have normally stayed out in the chilly morning air for a while longer, I wanted to be indoors with the very beautiful, warm body who was waiting for me at home.
When I walked through the front door, I couldn’t help but smile. Andrea pulled all the shades up, letting the bright morning sun stream into the room. She fried bacon and made toast and was standing at the stove, cooking scrambled eggs. My lounge pants were about three inches too short on her.
“Hey, how was the sunrise?” she asked, looking up at me with that megawatt smile of hers.
“It was okay, but I’d rather be here,” I admitted, hanging my coat on the hook and stepping out of my shoes. Walking up behind her, I wrapped my arms around her waist and pressed my body into hers, leaving a soft kiss at the nape of her neck. I wanted the woman so badly in that moment—to possess her and be possessed by her. I wanted to feel her from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I let my hand slide beneath her shirt and she quickly pushed me away.
“Miranda, wait! I’m going to overcook your eggs and they’ll taste terrible,” Andrea said, laughing and shaking her head. “Patience, dear.”
I stepped away and watched her finish cooking, trying my best to not let my impatience show. She turned off the stovetop and divided the eggs between two plates, then set the pan down on a heat-resistant trivet. Walking over to me, she snaked her hand around my neck and pressed several slow, languid kisses that held the promise of much, much more. She released me, then pressed a kiss to my cheek. “Let’s eat.”
When I stepped out of the bathroom in my robe after my shower, Andrea was curled up on my bed. “Can we talk?” she asked.
A wave of anxiety swept over me as I began to think of all the possible things she could want to talk about, all the ways she could find to say she regretted last night. I silently nodded and walked over to the bed, tying my robe tighter. I felt her arms around my shoulders, enveloping me in her warmth. I closed my eyes, as though that could protect me from whatever she had to say. “What is it?” I asked.
“Please relax, it’s nothing bad,” she said, gently massaging my shoulders. “I promise. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
I exhaled. “Okay, what?”
She took a deep breath. “I want to see more of you. When we’re back in Manhattan,” she said. “Last night when you were half-asleep you said ‘not a one-time thing,’ and I really hope you meant it, because I want more of this with you.”
My eyes widened. That was unexpected, but very much aligned with my own thoughts on the matter.
“I want more breakfasts with you and dances with you and times-being-so-aroused-I-might-explode-but-we’re-in-public with you,” she said, softly cupping my cheek. “I want more conversations with you, more car rides with you, and more nights making love with you.” She smiled as her thumb brushed my cheek. “Please say something,” she added with a worried look.
“Yes,” I said, “yes, I want that, too.” I kissed her softly and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I want to re-introduce you to my girls and spend Saturday nights watching movies. I want my eyes to light up when I see an incoming call from you, and I want you to be my plus one for all future engagements. I want all of this, Andrea. Is that crazy?” I was a bit surprised at my admission, not because of its contents but because of its honesty. This woman now had the power to hurt me very deeply, and all I could do is trust that she wouldn’t. “Is that too much?”
She shook her head. “Not for me, no.”
I pressed a soft kiss to her lips. “Good. I also really want a nap right now,” I said with a smile.
Andrea laughed and threw her arms around me, hugging me tight. “I thought you’d never ask,” she said, turning and fluffing the pillows.
I curled up next to her, not bothering to change out of my robe or put clothes on. “You know,” I said, lifting my head from her chest, “I’ve been attracted to you for some time, going back to when you worked for the magazine. It was absolutely out of the question when you were my employee, but when you left, that’s when I realized the depth of my feelings for you. I never fathomed that you would be interested in me in that way, so I packaged all that up and tucked it away.” That was more than I’d even told Nigel, and I hoped it wouldn’t scare her away.
“I saw it—your attraction, I mean—when I was your assistant.”
My eyes widened. “You did??”
“It was so subtle, I’m sure no one else noticed,” she clarified. “There was one occasion in your office when you looked me up and down and licked your lips and blushed. You were talking on your cell phone so we didn’t exchange any words.” She reached for my hand and interlaced our fingers. “From that day on, everything I wore, everything I did, I was trying to get that reaction again.”
I sighed and curled more tightly into her body. I remembered that day. I was on the phone with Donna, and I bumped into the desk because I was looking back at her in those Chanel boots. It was highly likely I’d been falling in love with her since that day, but I just didn’t know it. “Are you sure you want to do this? I don’t want either of us to have any regrets,” I said.
“Over a nap?”
“No,” I said, in all seriousness. “A relationship with me. Between us. Public, eventually.”
She was silent for a few minutes, then she sighed. “I don’t know how much clearer I can be, Miranda. Do I need to marry you to prove that I want this?”
A smile crept across my face, and I’m sure she could feel it against her chest. If I said yes, I had no doubt she’d book us on a flight to Vegas. That was all I needed to know. I was certain this young woman would go to the ends of the earth for me, as I would for her. And the rest, well, we could figure that out together. “I love you, Andrea,” I said. “I want you to know that. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for you.”
“This will be great, Miranda, I just know it.” She tightened her arm around me.
“Okay, but no regrets. We talk to each other before making decisions like walking away, you hear me?” I said. I didn’t intend for it to come across as stern as it did, so I added, “And I will try my hardest not to shut you out when I’m upset. Is that fair?” I pushed myself up on my elbows.
“It’s fair,” she said, pressing a kiss to my lips.
“Good,” I said, curling back against her chest. “Now, will you please fall asleep with me?”
“Yes, Miranda,” she said, exactly in the way she used to say it.
I smiled and said, “that’s all."