Katie has a much better crayon collection than Miriam does. A whole box of sixty-four, with three different kinds of red, and four different yellows, and only a couple of them are broken. She has nicer toys, too, and a nicer house, and a nicer mom and dad. But she still does everything Miriam tells her to.
"You sit here," Miriam says, "and I'll pour the tea. And then we'll color. I want the Miss Pretty book."
"But I don't want to color the astronauts," Katie whines.
"We'll switch next time," Miriam says.
Katie looks suspicious. "Pinkie swear."
Miriam crooks her pinkie finger and offers it without fear. They've pinkie-swear'd twice now, and God hasn't broken her finger yet. Although it's funny that Katie still believes Miriam every time. It's not Miriam's fault that her best friend is such a dummy--if Katie hasn't learned by now that pinkie swears aren't as serious as crossing your heart, then she probably never will.
But Katie looks perfectly happy as she flounces down to sit on a cushion. She's wearing a much prettier dress than Miriam. She always does. All her clothes are nice, and she won't do anything to get them dirty.
Miriam is so jealous it makes her sick. Why does Katie have all this stuff, and she doesn't? Which is another reason it's okay not to mean it entirely when you pinkie swear, because why should Katie care if Miriam doesn't mean it, when she has nice dresses and crayons and coloring books?
"I would like two sugars, please," Katie says, and folds her hands prissily in her lap, ready and waiting to be served. Miriam takes the teapot and upends it, pouring pretend tea all over Katie's head.
"Hey!" Katie says, shielding herself from water that isn't there.
"It's okay," Miriam says. "I'm just teasing."
Katie moved away two years ago, and Miriam hasn't heard from her since. Katie's parents never liked Miriam, though, so maybe that's why she never writes back, even though she gave Miriam her new address. Maybe her parents don't let her.
Whatever. Katie was a childhood friend; Miriam is onward and upward to better things now. Her new best friend is named Marcia. They have sleepovers and paint each others' nails and talk on the phone. They try out new hairstyles from magazines, and rhapsodize over their favorite movie stars. All the stuff you're supposed to do. And they sound nice together: Miriam and Marcia. It sounds like the title of a book, or maybe even a TV show.
Marcia isn't Miriam's only friend. She has lots of friends. A whole circle of girls who listen to her, who do whatever she wants, who join with her in laughing at the really pathetic kids who sit at the lunch tables in the corners and are terrible in gym. Some of these girls are prettier than Miriam is, but that doesn't matter. She's still better than they are--smarter, more talented, and she's going places. She knows it. And so do they. She doesn't even have to tell them so.
But Marcia is definitely her favorite. She's the prettiest of all. Her parents let her have lipstick and perfume. She doesn't have quite as many nice things as Katie did, but she still obeys Miriam in everything.
She only balks once.
"I'm not kissing you!" she tells Miriam. "You're a girl!"
"That's the point," Miriam explains patiently. "It won't be for real. It won't count."
"Then why should we?"
"For practice," Miriam says in irritation. "When we kiss boys, we want to be good at it, don't we? You don't want to look like an idiot, do you?"
Marcia worries her bottom lip. "I usually just practice with my pillow," she says, and blushes when she realizes how stupid that is. But she still says, "I'm not doing it. It's a sin. I'd have to confess it. I'd feel terrible. Wouldn't you feel terrible?"
Miriam rolls her eyes. Marcia is Catholic and Miriam is Jewish, which means they've both heard a whole lot about guilt. But Catholics somehow seem to make it a lot sexier, with their whispered confessions in enclosed booths.
Miriam, however, is not particularly troubled. Marcia's always been a worrywart. What's she afraid of? True, Miriam hasn't kissed any boys, and doesn't particularly feel tempted to. But it will happen. It'll come in time. That's what everybody says, and she is going to be ready. She won't be caught unprepared.
"It's not a sin," she tells Marcia. "Don't be an idiot. It's just for practice! We're not even really doing it." Marcia looks undecided, and Miriam starts to get mad. "Are you scared?"
"No!" says Marcia, who is. "I just don't want to."
"I'll tell people you kiss your pillow," Miriam threatens.
That does it. "Jeez," Marcia says, and squeezes her eyes shut. "All right, then. Just once. Do it fast."
Well, finally. Miriam realizes that her heart is pounding and that she's getting kind of sweaty under her arms. That's dumb--this isn't really her first kiss. It isn't. It's just practice. She steps forward, puckers her lips, and leans in. She forgets to close her eyes. She's looking at Marcia's eyelids when they kiss.
And then: a jolt, like an electric shock. Marcia's mouth is soft. Really soft. And really warm. And she smells amazing. Something in Miriam's chest and stomach begins to melt, and her heart is beating even faster, and she feels, inexplicably, as if she is about to cry. Kissing a boy would be nothing like this, nothing at all, and this is when Miriam realizes that she doesn't want to kiss any boys and never will.
She jumps away from Marcia and wipes her mouth. "Th-th-that was gross," she stammers.
"Duh," Marcia says, opening her eyes. She really does look grossed out. Miriam wants to hit her. Or throw up. "I told you it would be."
"I'm going home," Miriam says, and grabs her purse.
"Huh?" Marcia says, and now she looks surprised. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing!" Miriam almost screams, and bolts from Marcia's house. But she's lying. Something is wrong with her. Something big. She's a freak. A girl fag. A dyke. And if anybody finds out, any of the girls at school, nobody will ever talk to her again, and if her dad finds out--
The next day, word is all over school that Marcia is a great big lesbo. Miriam makes very sure of that. By lunchtime, Marcia's eyes are red from crying, but nobody is listening to her. Nobody believes what she says. Miriam relaxes. Nobody has to know the truth--and nobody will.
It doesn't matter. Since nobody knows, it doesn't matter. Miriam knows she will grow up, and get out of this ugly town, and make it to the big city, and get a hot boyfriend who will absolutely adore her, and have new cars and nice clothes and nothing secondhand, ever. That's always been the plan and she's not changing it. She'll forget about kissing Marcia. She'll learn not to care.
She and Marcia never speak again. A year later, Marcia moves. Miriam does not, of course, ask for her address.
After high school, Miranda gave up the idea of best friends, like most people do. She gave up her name, too, and hasn't been Miriam for almost twenty years now. And good riddance. Goodbye mice in the walls. Goodbye cracks in the floors. Goodbye Princheks.
And then, suddenly, after years and years, hello to Jacqueline Follet.
Jacqueline didn't have to change her name, the lucky bitch--she was born French, rich, and sophisticated. She's nine years younger than Miranda, and absolutely intoxicating. She's gorgeous, well-read, fashionable, and just catty enough that they have everything in common in all the right ways, even taking the age difference into account. Jacqueline is also too young to be a threat; Miranda herself is absurdly young to have nabbed the top spot at Runway, and Jacqueline's own career is just beginning, so Miranda isn't worried about a knife in her back. Not for some years yet.
It comes sooner than she expects.
Jacqueline took a job at Mademoiselle Paris last year, and Miranda hasn't seen her in quite some time. She's missed her. Jacqueline says she's missed Miranda, too. And now they are sitting in a Parisian café during a rare quiet moment during Fashion Week, talking idly about men. Jacqueline's latest boyfriend irritates Miranda, but then, they always do. For such a worldly girl, she has terrible taste.
As for Miranda, she's quite happy with her husband--she really is, absolutely, even if things in bed aren't all they could be, because that's not the be-all and end-all of a relationship. She doesn't envy the way Jacqueline slinks through life with gleaming eyes and mischievous smiles, reveling in the privileges of youth. Miranda's past all that now. She knows what she needs and what she doesn't. What she wants doesn't have to enter into the equation.
They're people-watching while they talk. It's sunny, and everyone in France seems beautiful.
Especially Jacqueline. The sun shines in her dark hair, and she's wearing a new perfume. Miranda can't smell it as much now as she could during the last show, when Jacqueline sat right behind her and the scent wound lazily around Miranda's throat and shoulders like a silk scarf. Like a noose. Beautiful. Miranda realizes that her heart has begun to ache again, and she turns to stare blindly into the street, only half seeing the passers-by.
Then a woman walks by the café. Unlike most Parisiennes in this fashionable district, she is sloppily dressed. Ill-kempt. But she's tall, and lean, and there's something in her loping walk that arrests Miranda's gaze. Something about the sway of her hips that makes Miranda's breath stop in her chest. She wonders if this woman, too, wears perfume. She'll never know.
She swallows hard, sips her seltzer, glances back at Jacqueline. Who is watching her with bright, laughing eyes.
"It looks as if I should feel sorry for your husband after all," she says, and smiles slyly. "It looks as if you have a little secret, ma chérie."
And that's all it takes. That single moment is all it takes for fascination to become fury, for affinity to turn into revulsion, for familiarity to become contempt. Miranda will never forgive Jacqueline for this moment. Never.
Men, Miranda decides, make better friends than women. Especially gay men, since they're not always trying to get into your pants. Only some of the time, during really dry spells.
And Nigel's never tried at all. He wouldn't dare. He's been at Runway for several years now, and his diligent work finally attracted her attention; now he's her Fashion Director, her second-in-command, her right-hand man. He has impeccable taste, sound judgment, and he hasn't let her down yet. He doesn't want to lose his job, to miss his chance. He's driven, if not exactly an alpha male.
He's also, she comes to discover, very funny. Quirky in a good way. Now that they're in each other's company more often than not, she begins to appreciate him as more than an efficient worker. When he talks to her--about things other than work, about life beyond Runway--she doesn't feel as if he's scraping his fingernails across a chalkboard. He knows how to handle her occasional little moods. She likes him immensely.
Every once in a while, they share an elevator. Every once in a while, they go out for drinks. But it never gets too personal, too intimate. She's long since learned not to let anybody too close.
Which is why she's surprised to hear herself say, over a brandy, "I don't know. I'm just worried, I suppose. The girls are nearly four, and…children should have two parents."
"They do have two parents," Nigel points out. "Just in different houses."
"You know what I mean," Miranda says, and he nods in acknowledgement, although he doesn't quite look as if he agrees. "They need a father who's there for them. Not just every other weekend."
"Er," Nigel says delicately, "hasn't Greg, uh, been open to the idea of sharing custody mo--" Miranda cuts him off with a look. He clears his throat. "Right," he says. "Well. If it helps, with six brothers, and me not interested in sports…you might say my dad and I didn't exactly connect." He grins and spreads his hands, showing off his sharp, striped vest. "And look how I turned out."
Miranda chuckles, although she is not really reassured. They clink their glasses.
"Who needs men, anyway?" Nigel adds. But the words make Miranda uncomfortable. She changes the subject. He does not seem to notice.
Andrea Sachs has won two major journalism awards, has become a features editor at her paper, and has a hole in her thigh from when she got shot in the Congo. Miranda decides that she has become interesting enough to meet for a drink. And then another. And another, until it's a semi-regular thing.
It's nice to have someone to chat with again. Miranda and Nigel haven't spoken in a while. They're both busy in two different places now, and well, sometimes people just drift out of touch. It happens. And Andrea is more than a simple substitute, a replacement. She's learned responsibility. She has a quick wit and a ready laugh. Her hair's as dark as Jacqueline's, but when she smiles, she means it. And she's not afraid of Miranda anymore.
They begin with drinks once every two weeks, then once a week, and now they have lunch a couple of times a month as well. Not dinner, of course, never dinner. That has implications. And what with Cassidy showing up in the gossip column every few months for her latest binge, followed by her latest bailout, Miranda doesn't need anybody else talking about her private life. At least Caroline's on the honor roll. Miranda's grateful for it every day. It means she hasn't failed completely. It means it's not all her fault.
Andrea always knows what to say. And what not to say. When Miranda mentions Caroline, Andrea comes alive with enthusiastic questions; when the talk inadvertently turns to Cassidy, Andrea shuts up, and the look in her eyes becomes patient and compassionate. And then, when it's too much and starts to get to Miranda, Andrea gently changes the subject.
Miranda comes to enjoy their meetings. Almost to rely on them, and to be upset when they are disrupted for any reason.
One night, when Andrea calls to see if Miranda feels like meeting her any time soon, Miranda surprises her by inviting her to her home for the first time. The girls are gone this weekend, to their father's house (and he'd damned well better keep an eye on Cassidy this time), so there is peace and quiet and no screaming on the horizon. "I don't feel like going out," Miranda tells Andrea, and doesn't add, but I could use someone to talk to. She doesn't need to. Andrea will know.
Andrea arrives, and they sit in the den, drinking single malt. With Miranda's coaching, Andrea has come to appreciate fine liquor instead of the girly little mixed drinks she used to favor. The drinks had nearly ended as soon as they'd begun when the words "Jack and Coke" crossed Andrea's lips; thankfully, she allowed herself to be guided, and now smiles appreciatively as she drinks the whisky. "So," she says, crossing legs that are still long and lean as she settles back in her chair. Miranda is on the sofa. "Why aren't we going out tonight? Is everything okay?"
"Yes," Miranda says. "I suppose so. I think so. But word's sure to have gotten out, and I'd rather not be stared at tonight."
Miranda takes a deep breath and says it. "I'm leaving Runway. I handed Irv my resignation this morning. I'll be gone in a month."
Andrea does a marvelous impression of a fish.
"Well, I couldn't stay forever," Miranda adds, deciding to go ahead and explain before Andrea can garble out the inevitable question. "I want to go out on top. Of my own volition. Before Irv comes up with some other plan to kick me out." He was bound to, sooner or later.
Andrea, to her credit, recovers swiftly, without any of that are you SURE? nonsense that everyone else has said, or will say. Because of course Miranda is sure. She has made her decision. She will not change her mind. She never does.
"Wow," Andrea says instead, and takes another quick drink, to Miranda's faint amusement. "So how are you feeling about it?"
"Fine, of course," Miranda says, and adds, "almost." Andrea smiles. Miranda does not smile back, and Andrea stops smiling, puts down her glass, and moves to sit next to Miranda on the couch. Uninvited, but not too close.
"What are you going to do now?" Andrea asks.
Miranda shrugs and puts her own glass on the coffee table. Her hands have started to tremble a little, and she carefully places them in her lap. "Take over the Met Board of Trustees. They need somebody competent at the helm."
Andrea smiles again. Then she bites her lip. "Who's--uh--who do you think will--"
Miranda just looks at her, and for a moment she can't bear the knowledge that Jacqueline Follet will return to publishing and take Miranda's place. Will twist the knife that still remains in her back. "The usual suspect," she says.
"God," Andrea says. Then she adds, "You know, I think she's gained weight."
Just like that, the knowledge becomes bearable after all. Miranda laughs in astonishment, and Andrea gives Miranda her most radiant smile.
Beautiful. Miranda's head spins. Miranda's heart aches. Beautiful.
Her thoughts must show in her eyes, because Andrea's own eyes widen. She looks stunned, and Miranda's laughter dies instantly. The room gets cold. She wants to disappear. She feels a noose looping around her neck, getting tighter and tighter with each fraught, miserable second. Because now Andrea knows. She knows everything--she's going to grab her bag and run right out of the house--she's going to--
Andrea scoots in closer on the couch. Her gaze is focused, intent.
Miranda realizes that, for the second time in her life, she is going to kiss her best friend.
Then what? What happens next? Will Andrea tell? Will tomorrow's newspapers let everybody in the world know that Miranda Priestly is a lesbo? Will--?
Andrea's eyes are enormous and dark. She has full lips. She reaches out, touches Miranda's cheek. Rubs her thumb over Miranda's bottom lip, and swallows. "Hey," she whispers, "um…can I…?"
Miranda cannot speak. She nods, barely. What she wants is what she needs. And oh, she needs, and oh, she knows--
Please don't let me ruin it, she prays to a God she stopped believing in because he never broke her fingers. Please don't let me screw it up this time, please hit me with lightning before I can destroy it, oh please--
Andrea kisses her. And there's that jolt, that melting feeling that Miranda's never forgotten, that never went away, that's been lying in wait all along. Andrea sighs, as if she got jolted too, and kisses Miranda again. Her mouth is so soft. She smells so good. Miranda wonders if she's about to faint. Or die. She has waited for so very long.
Then Andrea pulls back and looks into Miranda's eyes. Whatever she sees there makes her brow furrow with worry. "Uh," she says, "are you…okay?"
Miranda has no idea. She stares at Andrea helplessly, trying to breathe. Nearly failing. Andrea touches her cheek again. Miranda's eyes squeeze shut and she grabs Andrea's hand, holding it there.
Andrea's breath catches. "So," she husks. "What now?"
Miranda doesn't say anything. She doesn't know the answer, so she keeps quiet. And they sit there on the sofa, she and Andrea, Miranda holding Andrea's soft, warm hand against her cheek while night falls outside.