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Better Homes and Gardens

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Miranda Priestly speaks English, French, some Italian, half-forgotten Hebrew, and Flower. Sometimes she thinks she speaks Flower best of all. She's loved flowers, had to have them around her, ever since she was a child and the only spot of beauty at home was her mother's rosebush in the backyard. Her father, in a drunken rage, took a chainsaw to it when Miranda was fifteen. Sometimes she still wishes he'd sliced off his own leg instead.

When she was a struggling young assistant in New York, she scrambled to pay rent on a dingy apartment while also looking fashionable (she was the best bloodhound in the city at vintage and discount stores, in those days). But she always managed to eke out a few dollars for some flowers that she could set on the windowsill by her bed. She rarely lazed around in bed even then, but it was nice to wake up in the morning and see the sun shining through the petals. She usually bought the flowers at a corner grocery: carnations, daisies, rhododendrons, even morning star lilies, if she was really lucky and Mr. Kim had them in that week. They were always a little more droopy than she liked, sometimes even brown around the edges of the petals, but they were affordable and better than nothing at all. Back then, she settled for better than nothing.

Today she doesn't have to. Today she can afford all the flowers she wants. And she wants them. Everywhere, on every surface: there are probably all of two tables in her home that don't have bouquets. She switches these bouquets out every four days, before they can start to wilt. Always a fresh arrangement, always something new and vibrant and beautiful--yet tasteful. Always tasteful. No clashing colors with her décor.

But her little secret is, she doesn't choose the flowers to match the décor. It's the other way around. When she was decorating her new townhouse, she chose earth tones: blues and browns and a few subtle greens. As a result, it looks almost like the flowers bloomed naturally in her home, out of the colors, out of the walls and carpets. So it's extremely rare indeed for flowers to clash with her house, and she can relax on that count.

She's developed a nose to rival a perfumer's. She can sniff a freesia a mile away. (People think she doesn't like them. She does. She likes almost all flowers. It's just that it can be very difficult to blend their scents harmoniously and frankly, sometimes it's not worth the effort.) She can savor gardenias, osmanthus, mimosas. And roses. Above all else, roses. It might be old-fashioned, a little too simple, but Miranda's favorite flower always has been and always will be the rose. She might go through men like a bulldozer goes through a condemned house, but the roses will remain. Will be constant. Will be true.

Miranda discovers this bulldozer tendency of hers during her first marriage. George is a handsome and charismatic man. Handsome, charismatic, and completely unable to keep it in his pants: he strays on their honeymoon. But he's also an accomplished liar, and she doesn't find out about his infidelities right away. It takes five years before she smells--how ridiculous, how like a movie--another woman's perfume on his suit jacket. Did he think she wouldn't notice? Did he think she wouldn't notice those cheap synthetic notes, that ill-begotten brewing of scents masquerading as floral? Did he think she wouldn't find out he was making a fool of her?

It's kind of a secret, but Miranda has a terrible temper. She will get it under control, soon. She will learn to vent her rage in icy whispers, in cutting insults that reduce people, even grown men, to tears. But tonight, Miranda Priestly pitches her first husband's belongings out of their bedroom window and onto the street below, spitting and swearing, yelling that he'd better never come back, that she'll grab the first lawyer she can find and eat him for lunch, make him pay for the rest of his life. (It works.) And she throws, at his retreating back, her favorite vase, making a bouquet of camellias go flying everywhere with a spectacular splash of scented water. The vase shatters, the door slams behind George, and Miranda hides her face in her hands, wishing very, very much that she hadn't broken her favorite thing.

After this, she stops raising her voice.

Greg, her second husband and the father of her children, is different. Not charismatic, not terribly handsome. Harmless, really, she thinks: a good choice. She's been single for three years now, and people are starting to talk. She has to get married. You simply cannot rise in the fashion ranks if you look like you're undesirable, unwanted, unattractive to men. Well, you can if you're stunningly beautiful and take a string of lovers--that lends you a certain je ne sais quoi--but Miranda is not stunningly beautiful, not the sort of woman to have a string of lovers, and besides, she gets lonely sometimes, just like anybody else.

And Greg is kind, and successful, and seems quite devoted, so she accepts his proposal. He adores her. But he doesn't understand her. She knows this right away because he's allergic to flowers. Really, in hindsight that should have been enough to warn her off. But she thinks she can make it work. It's not very difficult to convince him to go on allergy medication, and she keeps blithely filling her home with blossoms, graciously overlooking his occasional sniffles and red eyes.

Sometimes he even tries to give her flowers. She tries, in turn, to appreciate the gesture. But they're never quite right. It's a fanciful notion, and Miranda is not given to fancy, but sometimes she wonders if perhaps the flowers sense (somehow) that Greg hates them, and therefore refuse to cooperate.

When her girls are born, she learns that the professionals don't recommend having flowers in the hospital room. Too much, the nurses tell her, for those little lungs. Miranda doesn't mind as much as she thought she would. The girls are her rarest, most delicate flowers yet, and she knows she will have to tend them very carefully to make sure they bloom. She is confident she can do this. How hard can it be?

Greg, too, adores the children, and stops adoring her--as if he was only waiting to have someone in his life who deserved his devotion. He also welcomes the excuse to get rid of the flowers, but when the girls are a year old Miranda brings them back in, insisting that it's fine now, of course it's fine.

It's not fine. He cheats on her too. But he's not like George. He mans up and admits it, tells her the truth: he's found someone else, another woman, whom he adores and who actually adores him back this time. Miranda--busy with her career, with their children--is completely blindsided. She'd had no idea. She'd never thought twice about his late nights or lunch meetings. She had trusted him.

And they must make this amicable. For the sake of the children. She doesn't throw anything out of the window.

When he moves out, she fills up the spaces where he used to be. With--what else?--flowers. Flowers on the nightstand, in the kitchen, the living room, the table in the hall, everywhere. One of her friends thoughtlessly tells her that she looks like she's throwing a party, not getting divorced. But Miranda knows the truth. You don't have this many flowers at parties. You have them at funerals, at wakes.

When the girls are six years old, they ask Miranda if they can get a cat. She takes one look at her bouquets and gives them a very firm 'no.' She can just imagine some smug feline jumping on every surface, knocking off vases and bowls just to see if gravity still works.

She suggests a puppy instead. There is still the potential for damage, of course, but at least it wouldn't be quite so…malicious. The girls' faces light up. She realizes that they'd wanted a dog all along, but had decided their mother would never agree to it, and so had worked their way down to a cat without even asking for their original choice. Not the best bargaining stratagem. She will have to teach them better as they grow up.

Stephen is the first man she has ever met who is both heterosexual and truly fluent in Flower. His taste is flawless. He presents her with a small, but exquisite arrangement of orchids, and she immediately accepts his dinner invitation. After their first night together, he sends her a bunch of roses so magnificent that she gets afterglow all over again. And when they marry, Stephen continues to dazzle her, arranging twice-weekly deliveries of flowers to her office--usually blooms of cream and white, serene and pure, calming and soothing her as Runway whirls around her like a hurricane.

On their first anniversary, he gives her another orchid. A big one, growing in its own pot that she can tend with a little watering every day. For once, she does not give this task to an assistant. She keeps it on her desk by his photograph.

Here, she thinks, is a man who will be constant. Will be true. Will understand her.

But he doesn't, although he's not unfaithful. He doesn't betray her in that particular way. He doesn't prefer another woman to her; he just can't stand her anymore. Which is much worse.

They were only married for three years. The orchid by her desk has flourished, even as they didn't.

She gets rid of his picture. She keeps the plant.

A year after abandoning Miranda in Paris, that ungrateful brat Andrea Sachs comes waltzing back into her life as if it's her God-given right. That year of independence has made her cocky, and Miranda can hardly believe it when Andrea says, We were both pretty stupid back then, huh?, and kisses her. She definitely can't believe it when she kisses back. They don't take their time, they don't slow down to talk, they don't even get their clothes all the way off before Miranda's hands are in Andrea's pants and Andrea's mouth is on Miranda's breast even as she tells Miranda how beautiful and soft she is, how delicious she smells.

Andrea's body is as slender and firm as a stalk. The skin over her eyelids is more fragile than any petal. Her mouth is a rosebud, and Miranda's always liked roses most. She's never had a sweeter lover, never known anyone who fit so comfortably against her at night, never met anyone with such boundless--really, such outrageous optimism. Even after everything she's seen, Andrea has chosen to love Miranda, to try to make her happy. Miranda realizes that she is going to give this a chance and hope for the best.

As always, she doesn't get the best. Like Greg, Andrea tries and fails with the flowers. She's not allergic, but her taste is even worse than his. She brings the cheap, corner-store, droopy flowers Miranda outgrew decades ago. Miranda neither likes nor wants them, and when Andrea realizes this, she wilts. Well, she ought to learn. This is important.

Andrea keeps trying, and with more than flowers. Keeps trying so hard, as if she's attempting to make up for her earlier mistake (though she always insists it wasn't a mistake, that if she hadn't left in Paris then they wouldn't be here now, and doesn't that mean it was worth it?). But it's not enough. Miranda wonders if it will ever be enough, if anything or anyone can ever be enough to make up for a whole lifetime of missed expectations and disappointment and betrayal. So what if the shape of Andrea's body corresponds perfectly to her own, so what if the mere scent of the girl intoxicates her? Is that really enough?

She knows it isn't fair to burden Andrea with that kind of responsibility, to force her to atone for her ex-husbands' sins. The girl only wants to love her, after all. And Miranda wants to be loved. It should be so easy. But it's not. Andrea protests, I can't afford those flowers you like--I'm doing the best I can, isn't it the thought that counts? Miranda is astonished that, after nearly a year at Runway, Andrea can still think like this.

The flowers are important. Many things are important. Miranda's not good at some of them, and besides, she worries about the effect all this will have on the girls, who are heading down the slippery slope into adolescence and need all the stability they can get. And there is the magazine. Her career. Her image.

So it is possible that Miranda does not do her best with Andrea. That she doesn't try as hard as she could. That she is prepared to lose her from the very beginning, that she never really did hope for the best, not this time.

For this, and other reasons, Andrea leaves too. Leaves again.

"Mom, is Andy going to come back?" Caroline asks. Then she adds, "What happened to the vase?"

"Don't touch it," Miranda says. "The maid will clean it up in the morning." She is very tired.

Life is hell. Work is hell. Even Nigel nearly resigns, and eventually Miranda doesn't recognize herself in the mirror. She can't be that person, that hollow-eyed creature.

Stephen's orchid wilts beyond revival, and Miranda has her assistant toss it into the dumpster.

Finally, she caves. She gives up. She gives in.

After one month of trying to live without Andrea and realizing that she can't, Miranda sends her a bouquet. She agonizes over it for three whole days, even as she knows that Andrea won't appreciate the effort--won't care that Miranda chose camellias over gardenias, refused to use baby's breath, chose to include violets and then changed her mind and then changed it again and put them back. She might, Miranda hopes, notice the one perfect rose, tucked a little to the left of center.

And because Andrea's nearly illiterate when it comes to Miranda's favorite language, she includes a small note. Well. You do what you have to do. It's better than nothing. She does not apologize, of course, but she does say Come back. She does not add that she will do anything, anything at all, for Andrea to return; she will not say that unless and until it is strictly necessary. She will not bargain down.

She doesn't have to. Andrea comes back. Miranda feels--knows--that something important has fallen into place, and she decides that all the rest of it can go to hell. They'll make this work because there's no alternative. Andrea says I missed you too, says she missed Miranda's taste and smell, says she missed Miranda so much that she was sick with it, and she won't walk out again, she's really sorry about that, she regrets it more than anything else she's ever done. And they spend an entire day in bed. It is glorious.

Now Miranda tries. Andrea came back this time, but Miranda might not be so lucky in future, so she'd better not screw it up again. What was she thinking last time, assuming defeat at the outset? What kind of attitude was that? She is disgusted with herself. Things will be different now. She takes Andrea out to her favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, the hole-in-the-wall place Miranda had refused to visit before. She orders Paul to write an article on the symbolism of different flowers for the February issue, flowers from all over the world: how other cultures speak that language, whether a rose really is a rose is a rose. And she kisses Andrea as often as she can.

Well, they fight again, of course. But Miranda comes to learn that fighting doesn't mean the end, doesn't mean that the relationship is dead, and besides, Andrea always brings her flowers to apologize. Her taste has greatly improved. Miranda is pleased by this, and by other things. Once, Andrea even shows up to bed with a rose between her teeth, which makes Miranda laugh so hard they nearly don't have sex.

On their first anniversary, Andrea sniffs Miranda's neck, sighs happily, and says, "Cinnamon."

Miranda blinks. "I beg your pardon?"

"You smell like cinnamon tonight. You do, sometimes."

"I do not," Miranda says indignantly. The very idea. "I'm wearing Amarige Mariage." Which has notes of neroli, magnolia, and…cinnamon, Miranda suddenly remembers. "Oh."

"Yeah," Andrea says, knowing she's right. "Last night I swear it was nutmeg. And some clove, maybe. And you know what? There's always a little pepper."

"What?" Miranda stares at her. "I'm a spice rack?"

"I like spices," Andrea says, almost defensively. Miranda tenses and knows that she will have to be nicer for the next few minutes if she wants to go to sleep happy. "When I was little, my mom always cooked with fresh ones. They're not the same when they're all dry and ground up. Our kitchen always smelled like spices. I loved them."

"Well," Miranda says. "That's…" She doesn't know what to say, actually.

"I think that's why I went out with Nate," Andrea adds. "He was a chef. I mean, I can't cook, but…he understood about that stuff."

Miranda glares at her, and Andrea looks back sheepishly. They're not supposed to talk about former husbands, lovers, or boyfriends, because Miranda has discovered in herself a jealous streak that can lead to very ugly moments. Andrea, for the record, is even worse. "Sorry," she says. "I just wanted to say I've always loved spices, and I love you--" Miranda finds herself blushing. "--so, I don't know, I guess my nose just tells me you're, you know." Andrea grins. "Spicy."

"Well," Miranda says again, more dumbfounded than ever.

Andrea droops like a flower that needed water a few hours ago. "I know it sounds kooky. I guess you don't understand."

"Oh," Miranda says, and pulls Andrea down for a kiss. "No. I do." Kiss. "I do."

She gives Andrea a spice rack for her birthday, impressive and gleaming, filled with fresh samples of the best and rarest. They keep it in the kitchen so that it won't overpower the rest of the house. Andrea adores it. Adores Miranda, too. Adores Miranda enough to keep struggling with Flower for years and years, never giving up, fumbling with its basic grammar for the rest of their lives.

And while Andrea learns Flower, learns Miranda's language, Miranda happily devotes her remaining years to mastering Spice.