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Truth and Measure

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Among the faithless, faithful only he.
-Paradise Lost

 

Having personal chauffeur service wasn't that bad for the first twenty minutes of every day, which was how long it took for Roy to get from Andy's apartment to Miranda's house. Roy and Andy were both just waking up, both still unscarred by the day to come. Andy always made sure to have some kind of treat for Roy to make up for his earlier hours, even if it was something as pathetic as a soda (coffee wouldn't do--Miranda would smell it), or a bag of potato chips he could save for later in the day, in case Miranda kept him too busy to eat lunch. It won him over pretty quickly, and the first twenty minutes of Andy's working day passed pleasantly enough for the next week.

It all went to hell the moment Miranda got in the car, of course. By then Roy had gulped down his soda, or stashed the bag of chips in the glove box, or whatever, and Andy had gotten all the yawns out of her system so she could look alert and prepared to take down notes for the instructions Miranda was sure to begin spouting before she even buckled her seatbelt.

Still, there was no need to make it more painful than it had to be, so Andy always greeted Miranda with the brightest smile and politest "Good morning, Miranda," she could manage every day. On the third day, Miranda actually murmured a distracted "Morning" as she rummaged around in her purse for something, but it didn't happen again, so it had probably been an accident.

By the fourth day, Andy had learned the trick of the Pause: after about five solid minutes of orders, Miranda fell silent and stared out the window. Andy immediately used this time to call in the usual order to Starbucks. Sometimes, when she was done, Miranda would start talking again; sometimes she remained silent until Roy pulled up to Elias-Clarke, where Miranda went inside and Andy scurried across the street to pick up the waiting coffee. This had the added benefit of not actually arriving at work with Miranda, and Andy didn't think anyone else even knew about their little carpooling arrangement. Thank goodness. That was all she needed.

After a week, Andy had started to enjoy her job's latest…perk? Responsibility? Whatever it was, she was enjoying it. Sure, she had to get up a little earlier, and had to spend a little more time with Miranda than she had before, but New York in December wasn't exactly a fun place to frolic around on the subway and the sidewalks. It was kind of nice to sit in a warm car with leather seats and watch the world go by during the free, quiet moments.

At some point, Andy realized that it had suddenly become very easy to be quiet with Miranda. Before, being quiet with Miranda had meant Andy was always staying on her toes: awaiting the next instruction, or holding her tongue, or praying that a scolding wasn't on the way, or just trying very, very hard not to be noticed while Miranda thought about other things. Now it just meant…being quiet with Miranda, whether in a car or an elevator or the office at night. Just being there. Hanging out, almost.

The talking part was still hard, though.

On December twentieth, when the twins and Cara were due to fly out to London (Miranda would follow them two days later), Miranda said to Andy in the car, "I hope they'll be…settled by the time I arrive."

Andy glanced over at her apprehensively. By 'settled,' Miranda probably didn't just mean 'unpacked.' She didn't say anything, and Miranda continued, "The girls love London, of course. We go at least twice a year. They have many friends there."

"Oh, good," Andy said, trying to sound cheerful without being too obnoxious. It was a fine balance. "I'm sure they'll have plenty to do, catching up with them." Miranda nodded. "I, uh, got in touch with your cleaning service over there," Andy added, "so, you know, everything should be ready when they arrive."

Miranda had a townhouse in London, too. It wasn't quite as big as the one in Manhattan, but Andy was pretty impressed, anyway. She supposed she'd get a few glimpses of it in February at least. She wondered why Miranda didn't have another one in Paris, and then decided that purchasing prime property in three ridiculously expensive cities might be beyond even Miranda's purview. She was a magazine editor, not an oil baron. Still…there was that nice house in the Hamptons. And the Aspen cabin. And, seriously, fuck Miranda Priestly, it really wasn't fair.

"Good," Miranda said, interrupting Andy's increasingly bitter train of thought. "I hope this time they remember to--"

Her stomach growled. Loudly. Really loudly.

Miranda went red and pinched her lips. Andy kept her face as straight as possible. This happened from time to time, and besides, it was about two in the afternoon. Miranda'd had lunch at eleven-thirty. They were on their way back to the office, so Andy thought fast: the kitchen had yogurt (of course), but maybe something with more protein--a walnut salad, the bistro down the street did those and Miranda liked them--

"Pizza," Miranda mumbled.

Andy glanced over at her, not sure she'd heard right. Then her brow cleared. Oh, of course. She whipped out her phone (she was pretty sure she was the fastest draw in New York City by now) and said, "I'll call La Borghese." La Borghese was a tiny, ridiculously expensive pizzeria that had opened four months ago. They only made pies with fresh, organic stuff from local farmer's markets, and they put weird toppings on them, which meant it was okay for rich people to eat there and act like they weren't at a pizzeria. Miranda liked their pizzas plain and simple, just fresh cheese and tomatoes and whole wheat crust, of course--

"Not La Borghese." Miranda had spoken so low that Andy could barely hear her. Her face was even redder. "I do not want La Borghese."

"O-oh," Andy said, brow puckering up again as she tried frantically to think of another Italian restaurant Miranda liked that served pizza. It was a short list. "There's, um, Vita--"

"I do not want Vitali. I do not want La Borghese." Miranda's face was going even redder. Andy wondered with rising panic if she was going to have a stroke or something.

"Okay," she said helplessly, "so, um, what--"

Then she figured it out. Oh. Wow.

Andy sat up straight, cleared her throat, and said, "Uh. Roy, from here--what do you think the nearest chain would--"

His fingers were already flying over the GPS display. "There's a Domino's a few blocks down," he said. Andy glanced at Miranda, who refused to make eye contact, even as she nodded. Andy leaned forward, squinted at the display so she could read the phone number, and dialed it right away.

"Hi," she said, when they picked up on the third ring. "I'd like to order a small pizza with, with--" She glanced at Miranda again.

"Pineapple," Miranda muttered.

"Pineapple," Andy said.

"You want the Hawaiian?" the bored-sounding guy on the line said.

"The--is that the one that has ham on it?"

"No ham," Miranda snarled at once.

"No, no thanks," Andy said quickly. "No Hawaiian for us."

"Black olives," Miranda said.

With pineapple? Ew. "Black olives," Andy said, trying not to sound grossed out. "Pineapple and black olives and…" She looked back at Miranda again. Miranda shook her head. "That's it."

"Kinda crust? Hand-tossed, deep-dished, Brooklyn style, thin--"

Andy looked at Miranda one more time, and judged that it was as much as her life was worth to ask another question. She remembered how Miranda liked her stupid organic pizzas, and said, "Thin."

"It'll be ready in twenty."

It wouldn't take them that long to get there. "Oh, uh, is there any way you can do it in fiftee--"

"No," the guy said flatly. "This a delivery or a pick-up?"

Andy gritted her teeth and looked at the address on the display again. "We'll come pick it up in a few minutes."

"Okay. Name?"

"Andy. Andy Sa--"

"Okay. See you in twenty minutes, Andy. " The guy hung up.

"Assho--" Andy blurted before she could stop herself, and then squeezed her eyes shut, not even daring to look at Miranda. "It'll be ready in twenty minutes," she muttered. When she opened her eyes again, she saw that Roy's shoulders were practically quivering from his efforts not to laugh. At both of them, probably.

Twenty minutes later, though, Miranda had her revenge. Of course she wasn't going to eat some nasty greasy commercial pizza in front of anybody else, so Roy and Andy had to stand outside on the sidewalk, stamping their feet in the freezing cold and watching their breath turn into ice crystals while Miranda ate her food in the comfort of the car.

"London can't come soon enough," Roy muttered.

"God, yes," Andy agreed fervently. "Roll on Christmas. I mean, it's not going to be much warmer in Ohio…"

"But it's not here," Roy said. "Lucky you. I'm stuck in town. How long will you be with your family?"

"I'm coming back to New York on the 28th," Andy said.

"Any big plans for New Year's?"

"Not a one," Andy said, not even pretending to sound disappointed. After the year-round whirl of standing two paces behind Miranda at social functions, Andy couldn't think of anything more heavenly than sitting on her tatty sofa in her sweatpants, watching the glittery ball drop down to Times Square on TV. She'd rather cut her hand off than actually go to Times Square, of course. "What about you? You and Shelley going to have a night out?"

"Actually," Roy said, "Shelley and I broke up. Last week."

"Oh, no!" Andy said, genuinely sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Roy."

"Yeah, well, it was the same old thing. Long hours, she never saw me, I was never home…you know."

"Do I ever," Andy agreed.

"Yeah," Roy said, and added casually, "so, you know…actually, I was thinking--maybe--"

At that moment, Miranda rapped sharply on the window of her car door. Andy and Roy both jumped; Roy hopped immediately back into his seat, while Andy opened the door, took the pizza box from Miranda's hands (she'd eaten half the slices), and tossed it in the nearest trash can.

"We are late," Miranda said, glowering at the back of Roy's head like it was his fault. Her face was a little flushed, though, and her eyes actually seemed to glow with satisfaction. Andy'd seen herself looking like that a couple of times in the mirror. Usually after she'd just had really good sex. She bit her lip and looked out the window before Miranda could catch her staring. Well…heck, if Miranda could get some post-coital bliss from eating a pizza every once in a while, good for her. And it'd probably be good for everybody else around her, too.

But the memory of Miranda's glow, and the slight huskiness of her voice, kept bothering Andy all day long. For some damn reason.

 


 

Andy had the sinking feeling--certainty, really--that Roy had been leading up to asking her out before Miranda had interrupted him. And, well, that didn't have to be a bad thing, she guessed. He was a really nice guy, and not insanely older than she was. Practically the only guy she ever talked to these days, in fact. He'd never be able to bitch about her long work hours. And she had a feeling he'd actually be a lot of fun to hang out with outside of work. He'd be the kind of guy you could get a beer with, and talk about football, and not even think about the latest trend in pointy-toed shoes for an hour or so.

But she worked with him. Andy had made some pretty big goofs in this job already; she didn't want to add "dipping into company ink" to the list. Truth to tell, he ought to know that too, and she was kind of pissed he'd put her into the position of having to turn him down, if he did ask her. Which he hadn't. And might not. So she really ought to get over herself, all things considered.

In any case, they were both so busy for the next two days that they didn't really get a chance to talk, even when they were alone--they were both still sleepy when Roy picked Andy up in the mornings, and both half-dead when he dropped her off at night. It probably wasn't good to have that much in common with somebody you dated.

Miranda left for London on the twenty-second. Andy had to accompany her to the airport, of course, to take care of last-minute details and instructions right up to the moment Miranda vanished through the security checkpoint.

"You've contacted Dr. Finch?" Miranda asked as Andy helped her remove her coat.

Andy nodded. "He knows you'll be in town, and he knows the, um, situation, so he says he can clear a space for you right away if necessary."

"Mmm. And the Christmas presents?"

"Emily says everything went fine," Andy said, praying that was true, since Emily hadn't said anything of the kind. Emily wasn't speaking to her at all if she could help it.

Which was dumb, really, and Andy was over it. If she'd been in Emily's shoes--if she'd been that desperate for Miranda's attention and approval--well, she wouldn't have alienated somebody Miranda actually seemed to like, for starters. Andy was more than willing to be friends with Emily, to make nice. It would make both their jobs so much easier. But she wasn't about to grovel for it. Not from Emily. What had Miranda said? 'We dictate the terms, not them.'

We. Them. Oh, no. Andy was doing it again. Fuck.

"--these ridiculous extremes," Miranda was saying, and Andy quickly dragged her attention back down to Earth. Miranda was glaring at the metal detectors, the long lines, and the miserable security guards. Andy didn't know what she was complaining about, though--first-class passengers had their own security entrances that tended to be a lot shorter and quicker. "For God's sake, a handful of terrorists get lucky and we've all got to upend our lives and make things as inconvenient as possible?"

Part of Miranda's ire, Andy knew, was that she usually traveled by private jet during crowded times like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Specifically, she used Irv's private jet. But after what had happened in Paris, Miranda and Irv were still barely on civil terms, and now Miranda was stuck flying on Christmas with the rest of the herd. Andy looked deep within herself, and failed to detect even trace amounts of sympathy. She was flying out to Cincinnati tonight, coach class, and it was going to suck. But all she said was, "Yes, it's awful."

Miranda barreled on, as always. "And when I spoke to Cara this morning I could barely understand what she was saying. Utterly terrible phone reception. And I gather the weather's dismal."

"I'm sorry," Andy said.

"And of course I'm going to have to check in with Preston almost every day," Miranda spat, "now that Stephen--" She suddenly seemed to realize where they were, and how angry she sounded, because she cut herself off. Andy stayed quiet, this time. Stephen had been remarkably amenable, so far, to Miranda's demand that he sign himself right out of his own kid's life. Mr. Praeger was still drawing up the paperwork, trying to make sure there were no loopholes.

It was pissing Miranda off like nothing else could have done. She probably hadn't really expected Stephen to put up no resistance. She'd been anticipating battle, victory, revenge. Instant surrender wasn't nearly as satisfying, and seemed to have left her nonplussed.

Miranda glanced towards the security lines, and sighed, as if she was about to be led off by a firing squad. "Well. Here we go, I suppose."

Andy cleared her throat. Miranda glanced over at her, and Andy gave her a smile that she hoped didn't look too timid or weird. "Have a good trip," she said. "Oh, and, um, Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays, whichever," she added quickly.

Miranda's lips quirked up in something very smile-like, but it disappeared almost immediately. Then, to Andy's shock, she said, "You as well," before turning around and heading for the first-class security line. Andy understood that she'd been dismissed, and left right away, already thinking about whether she'd packed everything yet, and what time she'd have to leave her apartment to get to the airport.

Before she turned the corner, Andy glanced back over her shoulder just in time to see Miranda taking off her Christian Louboutins with an expression of profound irritation on her face. Andy laughed softly to herself and hurried for the door. When she made it through the throng of people, to her surprise, Roy was still waiting at the curb.

Andy bit her lip, dithered for a second, and then got in the back seat. Getting in the front would definitely have given him the wrong idea. "You didn't have to wait," she said. "I was going to take the subway home."

"Yeah, well, my afternoon's kind of open now," Roy said, sounding downright chipper. Andy couldn't blame him, and she closed her eyes, luxuriating in the realization of her own freedom for the next week.

"What time's your flight out?" Roy asked.

"Seven-thirty," Andy said, opening her eyes and checking her watch. It was two-forty-five now. She was pretty sure she'd be all ready go to when she got back to her place, but she'd still need to haul ass. She'd need to be at the airport at least two hours before her flight took off, with the way that security line had looked, and the subway was going to be absolutely nuts--

"Want a lift?" Roy said.

Andy stared at him in astonishment, and then managed a weak little smile. Crap. "Oh, no, Roy," she said. "I'll be fine. Thanks, though."

"I mean, I wouldn't mind," Roy said.

"I know you wouldn't," Andy said. Then she tilted her head towards the window, towards the insane traffic outside. "But I'm not going to make you get out in this again when you don't have to. I'll be fine. Thanks," she added, hoping the tone in her voice was final enough, without sounding mean.

"Well, if you're sure," Roy said, and to her relief, didn't press.

Andy, looking for an excuse not to have to speak for the next half-hour, said, "Hey. You mind if I catch a little shut-eye? I hardly slept at all last night, and tonight's going to be hell."

"Well, I guess I can hold off on playing my Guns and Roses," Roy said, and Andy couldn't stop a smile. He really was a nice guy. But…no. Bad, bad idea. "You get some rest."

Andy hadn't planned on actually falling asleep, but she did. It was a nice surprise.

 


 

Being back in her parents' house was like being on a different planet. Her dad had given her a bear hug at the airport, her mom had kissed both her cheeks when she'd walked through the door, and her older sister Rachel had squeezed her tight. Andy realized how much she'd missed just plain, affectionate physical contact since Nate left. She remembered Miranda touching her hand over a cup of Starbucks, and hoped that Miranda got at least a hug from her daughters when she arrived in London. Then Andy decided, deliberately and consciously, that Miranda Priestly was not going to cross her mind again until she had to return to New York.

Easier said than done, of course. Everyone wanted to know about her fancy, exciting job working for a fashion magazine in Manhattan. When she went out for a few drinks with old friends from high school, when she helped her sister set the table, even when she was sitting with her grandparents after dinner, Andy found herself trotting out the same old stories about busy days, late nights, parties, designers, and celebrities. And Paris. Everybody wanted to hear about Paris. From the way people talked, you'd think none of them had been to Paris before, when Andy knew for a fact that her grandparents had spent their honeymoon there.

"No, I didn't see the Eiffel Tower," she had to say, more than once. "I didn't have time."

On the morning before Christmas, Andy and her mother were drinking coffee together at the kitchen table. Her parents' coffeemaker always produced lukewarm coffee, and Andy tried not to compare it to the piping-hot Starbucks she'd gotten used to.

"So," her mother said, "any boys in the picture? Men," she amended quickly.

Andy sighed. She was lucky her mom had waited two whole days, really. "Not unless you count Miranda's driver," she said gloomily. "I think he wants to ask me out."

"Is he nice?" her mother asked.

Andy glared at her. "You're the one who told me never to get involved with anybody I work with," she reminded her. "You always said it was bad news."

"Well, yes," her mother said, "but is he nice?" Andy groaned, took another sip of coffee, and changed the subject.

Christmas Eve was the usual good time. All the Sachses stayed up late drinking eggnog and singing Christmas carols, the quality of which decreased correspondingly with the eggnog intake. Rachel's boyfriend Mark was the worst, singing in a loud basso profundo completely off-key. By midnight, they were all laughing more than they were singing, and when they'd finished massacring "Here We Come A-Wassailing," they burst into applause for themselves.

"What's next?" Andy's grandfather roared, but before anybody could suggest anything, Mark held up his hand.

"If I could have everyone's attention!" he said. "If I could…"

"Are we gonna?" Rachel asked, leaning against him and giggling. He slid his arm around her waist.

"Rachel, do you have something in your pocket?" he asked loudly. She nodded, still giggling. "Hey, you wanna show everybody what you've got in your pocket?"

Rachel stuck her left hand in her pants pocket and wriggled it around; when she pulled it out again, a diamond ring sparkled on her finger.

"We're engaged!" she said. "Mark proposed this afternoon."

Andy's mom clapped her hands over her mouth and cried out as her eyes filled with tears. Andy's dad, who'd obviously known this was coming, stood up and shook Mark's hand with a mix of solemnity and delight, while Rachel kissed both her grandparents before going over to her mother. For her part, Andy felt kind of frozen in place--happy for Rachel, happy for Mark, and sad for a reason she couldn't really pin a name on at the moment.

She and Nate had talked about getting married a few times. After they'd graduated college and had a chance to establish their careers. They'd told all their friends as much, even though they were never officially engaged. Even if things had worked out, Andy knew there wouldn't have been a ring on her finger this Christmas. But maybe next year there would have been. Maybe a lot of things would have been different.

Then suddenly Rachel was kneeling in front of her chair, her eyes shining with happy tears. Andy felt a smile breaking apart her own face, and she vowed to forget about herself for a little while. "Oh, Rach," she said, and threw her arms around her sister's neck, "I'm so happy for you."

"Thank you," Rachel said, and then gave a laughing little sob. "You're maid of honor. I hope you know that."

"I better be," Andy said, and laughed with her, wiping her own eyes as she felt herself tearing up. Must be contagious. "Have you set a date?"

"Next spring," Rachel said. "Sometime in April or May, depending on when we can get the church. Sounds like you better put in your request for time off right away, huh?"

Andy laughed, but her mind was zooming on ahead before she could stop it. Next spring. Miranda was due in July. The kid would be at least nine months old by the time her sister got married. What a weird--

"Andy?" Rachel said, looking concerned.

"What? Oh, sorry," Andy said quickly. "I was just wondering if it would be, um, on Memorial Day weekend."

"Well, we'd like that," Rachel said, "but of course everyone who's getting married in May will want that weekend and…"

Andy tuned out her sister's voice as she went on automatic and said "yeah" and "uh-huh" in all the right places. Soon enough, Rachel gave her one last squeeze, and went back to Mark's side so they could regale everyone with the tale of how Mark had proposed, which appeared, somehow, to have involved a water balloon and a stuffed animal.

It was one-thirty in the morning by the time the party broke up. In the kitchen, Andy and her mom loaded the dishwasher with the eggnog glasses and the plates covered with cookie crumbs. By the time she got back to New York, Andy knew she'd be at least a few pounds heavier, and the diet would have to start immediately. She was going to enjoy the home cooking while it lasted, though.

Andy's mom gently laid a hand on Andy's shoulder. Already feeling dread, Andy looked up. "Are you okay, baby?" her mom asked.

Andy smiled and put a hand over her mother's. "I'm fine, Mom. I'm happy for Rachel. Really."

"You know," her mom said, "it's okay if--"

"I'm fine," Andy said, letting a little edge into her voice. Her mom looked surprised by it, but it worked, and she dropped her hand from Andy's shoulder. "Look," Andy said, trying to sound nicer, "you go on to bed. I'll finish up here. It's almost all done."

Her mom regarded her for a long, silent moment; then she kissed her on the cheek, and went upstairs.

Andy remained in the dark, quiet kitchen for much longer than she'd intended to.

 


 

Everybody slept in the next day, which meant that Christmas morning didn't officially start until almost eleven. Andy remembered the frenzy that had overtaken Rachel and her when they were children, how they'd thundered down the stairs towards the tree at seven in the morning, their parents following them groggily as they'd headed straight for the gift-pile. Good times.

Presents first, then food, and lots of it. They didn't put breakfast away until it was time to get lunch ready, and by two-thirty in the afternoon, everyone was stuffed to the gills and ready for a long snooze. Andy was ensconced in the Barcalounger in the den, sleepily contemplating the climb upstairs to her bedroom, when she heard her phone ringing. She'd left it in the kitchen. Groaning, Andy lumbered to her feet.

She idly checked the screen, and then gasped, her eyes widening in disbelief. Miranda was calling. Miranda  was calling. And it seemed highly unlikely that she just wanted to wish Andy a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Her father, who was sitting at the kitchen table, looked up from his newspaper. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," Andy lied, fumbling for the 'answer' button. "It's just--hello? Hello, Miranda?"

Her father sat up ramrod-straight. "You're kidding. Isn't she in Lon--"

Andy held up a quick hand for silence as Miranda barked, "Cara has pneumonia."

"I--uh--" Still stuffed and sleepy, Andy couldn't think of anything to say but, "I'm sorry." Then she grimaced: she had to do better than that. "I mean, is she--"

"I put her on the first plane home, of course. I can't have her around here to infect my girls. Or me, for that matter."

"Oh," Andy said, shaking her head as if that would help to clear it. "Okay. Did--I mean, do you want me to call Roy to pick her up at the airport, or--"

"Be here by tomorrow," Miranda said.

Andy's voice died in her throat, and she stood stock-still at her parents' kitchen counter, looking out the familiar window, watching traffic go by on the street where she'd grown up. She could still smell that morning's coffee. The kitchen was toasty warm.

"Andrea?" Miranda snapped, and Andy jumped. Her father had risen to his feet and was looking at her with concern.

"I--tomorrow?" Andy gasped. "I, Miranda--I can't. I'm, I'm at home with my family…"

"If I remember correctly," Miranda said, "Cincinnati has an airport. A big one."

"Well--yes--but, but my passport is back in New York, I didn't bring it home with me--"

"What?" her dad said, his eyes widening. "She can't possibly want you to…"

Andy flapped her hand frantically at him again. "Listen," she said, suddenly inspired, "I'm positive London has tons of nanny services, I'll get online right now and you won't have the hassle of waiting for me to--or Emily! Didn't Emily say she was going home to Bristol?" Andy felt no shame about throwing Emily to the wolves. Wolf. Heck, she'd probably be delighted to spend even more time beneath Miranda's heel. "She'd practically just have to hop in a car and--"

"Is there some part of 'be here by tomorrow' that you did not understand?" Miranda said, her voice a very dangerous murmur.

Andy dug her free hand into her hair and bounced on the balls of her feet. "No--no, but--"

"Let me repeat myself, just in case," Miranda said. "I. Want. You. Here." Andy couldn't believe this was happening. "Use the company expense account. Fly first class, there should be some available seats in there."

"But--"

"Of course, the fact that you have to stop by New York first will slow you down," Miranda said, her voice dripping with scorn for Andy's thoughtlessness in neglecting to bring her passport to Ohio. "Get the first flight out that you can."

"Miranda--!"

"That's all." Miranda hung up.

Andy stared at the phone in her hand, her head whirling, wondering if she was about to pass out. Or if maybe she could just go upstairs, take that nap she'd wanted, and pretend she'd never gotten a phone call at all. No, that was no good. Her heart was pounding so hard she'd never get to sleep.

"Andy?" her dad asked, looking at her with wide eyes.

Andy blinked, bit her lower lip, and met his eyes with a flinch. "Um," she said miserably, "can you drive me to the airport?"

 


 

Her family put up a fuss, of course, but in the end, there wasn't much they could do. It wasn't until a tearful Andy was on the verge of calling a taxi that her father relented and consented to give her a lift to the airport. During the car ride, Andy realized that she hadn't told anybody in her family about Miranda's pregnancy. Figuring that wouldn't exactly be a violation of her unspoken confidentiality agreement--none of the Sachses were, after all, likely to tip off the New York Post --she told her father. She made sure to include Stephen's abandonment of Miranda for another woman, and his eagerness to avoid all responsibility for the child.

Her father wasn't entirely unsympathetic. "Well, that's a lousy thing to go through, no matter how rich and famous you are," he said. "And I'm sorry it's happening to her. But honey, this is ridiculous. I heard you say that Emily's already over there. It's ludicrous that she's calling you, and threatening you, and…" His voice dropped into a growl. "People aren't things, Andy."

"I know that, Dad," Andy pleaded. "But…I don't know. I mean…" She looked down at her lap, at her hands, and then back at him. "She needs me." Her father rolled his eyes. "No," Andy said, suddenly feeling an intense urge to make him understand. Though she wasn't sure she could, since she didn't understand it herself. "Really. I know it's weird. But it's true, I'm practically the only person she talks to now. I'm the only one in the office she's even told, officially. She hasn't even told Nigel--"

Her father startled her by slamming his hands against the steering wheel. "You shouldn't be in that position," he said.

It wasn't anything Andy hadn't thought before, but she heard herself say, "It's not Miranda's fault this happened to her."

"Maybe not entirely," her dad said. "But I still completely fail to understand why she can't spend Christmas with her children and take care of them herself. Since when are you even qualified to be a nanny?"

"I babysat a lot in high school," Andy offered weakly, but her dad didn't go for it.

"I don't know what to tell you that I haven't already said," he said. "You're grown up, you're on your own. You make your own decisions."

The words suddenly made Andy feel very young indeed, and she fumed in silence all the rest of the way to the airport.

 


 

Her dad left her with a kiss and a sad smile. Andy managed to contain her tears until she was sitting at the gate of her flight, but then she allowed herself a good, frustrated crying session, not caring who saw her. She wasn't wearing any makeup to ruin, for one thing. She hadn't worn any in two days. Or any push-up bras, or tummy-and-ass control panels, or hose, or high heels, or any of the other things she was going to be stuffed into for the rest of her "vacation," just so that Miranda would look down her nose a little bit less.

For a few minutes, Andy allowed herself to fantasize about greeting Miranda Priestly in London with a good, hard punch to the teeth. It was a satisfying idea, but she immediately felt guilty about even contemplating hitting a pregnant woman. It wasn't the kid's fault his mother was such an entitled bitch.

His? Or her? Andy remembered that she didn't know the baby's sex, and wouldn't for a while. Miranda wouldn't either. Her ire vanished momentarily in a little rush of curiosity, and even anticipation. If things continued as they were, she would probably be one of the first people to know. That was kind of neat. And still very messed up, she reminded herself, determined not to let go of her bad mood just yet. Miranda had ruined Christmas, like the most fashionable Grinch ever, and Andy wasn't about to forget that.

A cramped flight, a cramped subway ride, a frantic search for her passport, a re-packing, and another cramped subway ride later, Andy found herself sitting in a first-class seat over the Atlantic Ocean. Could've been worse, she thought, as the smiling flight attendant filled her glass with complimentary champagne and wished her a Merry Christmas. Although she wondered how Miranda was going to justify this one to Irv--flying a junior assistant first-class to London, when there were far cheaper and more practical alternatives available. Oh well. Not Andy's problem, for once, and she was glad of it.

She called Miranda's London driver as soon as the flight attendants gave the OK, and by the time she'd gone through baggage claim and customs, he was waiting for her by the curb. He was older than Roy, and wore a wedding ring. Andy relaxed. "Glad to see you made it all right, miss," he said. "There's bottled water if you're thirsty."

"Thanks," Andy said. "I'm okay." She sat back and looked at the time. She'd flown out of Cincinnati at five p.m., and then out of New York at ten-thirty. One seven-hour flight later, she had staggered into Heathrow at ten-thirty a.m., local time. She remembered the jet lag going to and from Paris. This was even worse, because she was the only one suffering through it; Miranda and the twins would have adjusted to the time change and would be fresh as daisies.

"I'd kill for some coffee," she said, thinking that it could only be a plus if she arrived at Miranda's already caffeinated. "Is there any way we could make a quick stop?"

"It'd have to be fairly quick, if you want to be on time for the luncheon, miss," the driver said.

Andy, who'd closed her eyes, popped them wide open again. "The what?"

"The luncheon. Didn't you know?" he asked, glancing at her in the rear-view mirror. "When I told Ms. Priestly what time you were getting in, she told me to make sure you got there in time to attend."

"No, I didn't know," Andy moaned. "'There'? Where is 'there'? And what's this luncheon for?" She realized that she ought to know. Miranda's itinerary was already etched into her brain, and had been for weeks. Today was the day after Christmas, which meant, oh God, it was--

"The Boxing Day luncheon at the Ritz," he said. "In the Music Room. Loads of publishing supremoes. Very posh."

Andy looked down with horror at her wrinkled pants and shirt. "We're going straight there?"

"Yes, miss," the driver said patiently.

"Oh my God," Andy said. "No. Please. We have to make a quick stop. I have to change--I've got all my clothes and stuff in the trunk, I can just grab something--please , it won't take me more than five minutes! Ten, tops!"

The driver held up a quick, placating hand. "Calm down, miss," he said. "All right, all right--let's see. John and Nora have a flat on the way…my friends. I'll ring them." He did, and twenty-five minutes later, Andy was practically sobbing with gratitude in front of a very bemused-looking British woman.

"Well, Jimmy's told us stories about Miranda Priestly," Nora said, looking over at Miranda's driver with wide eyes. "I suppose they must be true. Here, you can change in our bedroom, love. Down the hall."

Andy hauled her suitcase to the bedroom, threw it open, and sorted frantically through her clothes, hoping for something suitable. 'Very posh,' Jimmy had said, but how posh was posh? Well, it was lunch, so, no evening gowns, obviously, which was good because Andy hadn't thought to pack an evening gown, though apparently she should have, shit,  well maybe this grey skirt would do. And this green blouse. And these black shoes. God damn it, she looked like a secretary. Well, she was a secretary, and an expensive one too, apparently, but still…she rummaged around in her jewelry pouch and found a pair of pearl drop earrings that should lend the ensemble a little more elegance. Good, they'd go with the pearl ring her grandparents had given her for Christmas, when life had still been fun. And she could fix her makeup and hair in the car.

"Thank you so much," she said as she hurried back out into the living room. Jimmy gallantly stepped forward to take her bag.

"Oh, don't you look nice," Nora said.

"Really?" Andy asked, looking down at herself anxiously, and brushing at her skirt.

"Oh, yes," Nora said. "Very sophisticated. I especially like those pearls." Her voice was a little too placating, but Andy decided to take what she could get, and thanked Nora profusely.

"I'll tell John about this," Nora said. "He won't half laugh." She took Andy's hand and squeezed it. "Nice to meet you. Enjoy your party."

"I'll do my best," Andy muttered, and she and Jimmy hurried back down to the car.

"We'll be cutting it a bit close," Jimmy said as Andy frantically applied her lipgloss in the back seat. "But we ought to get you there in time. It's just that Ms. Priestly is always--"

"Fifteen minutes early to everything," Andy finished. "Believe me. I know." She put away her lipgloss and spent a risky couple of minutes with her mascara wand before deciding that her face looked good enough (well, except for the dark circles beneath her eyes), and then she went to work on her hair. There was only so much she could do with just a brush and a few bobby pins, but by the time Jimmy pulled up to the Ritz, she'd managed an acceptable, if slightly sloppy bun. She just hoped it could pass for shabby-chic sloppy instead of I-practically-got-dressed-in-the-car sloppy. Either way, it was too late to do anything about it now.

After checking her coat and asking directions from the desk clerk, Andy clutched her bag and headed on unsteady feet for the William Kent House, and from there to the Music Room. She was surprised at how impressed she was by the hotel. She'd seen almost every fancy place there was to see in New York, and a fair number of them in Paris--and after a while, one gilded banquet room seemed much like another, no matter where it was. Maybe her current awe was because she'd come straight from her parents' homey kitchen. Where she'd much rather be right now.

But she wasn't, and she wouldn't be again, not for some time. Andy set her shoulders back, vowed to make the best of things, and ducked quickly into a nearby ladies' room for a last-minute hair and makeup check. No lipgloss on her teeth, no mascara on her cheeks, the bun wasn't falling down: good enough. Time to enter the fray.

The fray, as always, was an exceedingly polite, sophisticated affair. The Music Room was filled with flower-festooned round tables and elegant, uncomfortable chairs, just like the luncheon room in Paris had been. A string quartet played unobtrusively in a corner. The food hadn't been served yet, so everyone was still standing in little groups, chatting and laughing through their teeth as they sipped from glasses of wine, or the occasional hot cup of tea. All very civilized. But make no mistake, blood was in the water. It always was. When you got this rich, this famous, and this powerful, everyone wanted to be us. You. Everybody wanted to be you. Andy wasn't the 'you' in question, and she definitely wasn't part of an 'us,' so really--

At that moment, Andy saw Miranda in the corner of the room, talking to a couple of people Andy didn't recognize. Odd that the sight of Miranda should stop her downward spiral into nonsensical madness, instead of start it.

Then Miranda looked up, and saw Andy fidgeting in the doorway. Her eyes widened, and Andy felt a spasm of pure panic seize her. Shit. Her outfit was gauche. Her hair looked awful. Her makeup was clownish. She'd flown all the way out here only to disgrace Miranda completely--

Miranda gestured imperiously for Andy to join her, her face already reverting back to its usual cool mask. Andy headed towards her on shaking knees, trying not to whimper audibly. She hoped these people weren't especially important, and that she could keep lurking in the corner until Miranda ordered her out of the room in disgust.

But as Andy approached the group--Miranda, two men, and another woman--Miranda turned to look at her again and her gaze was neither hard nor disapproving. Andy blinked. Well, that was…Miranda never shied away from expressing her displeasure, even in front of other people, since she could do it so well without speaking a word. Maybe Andy didn't look as bad as she'd feared. Clinging to a tiny, newfound shred of confidence, Andy managed a smile for everyone and said, "Hello." It only came out a little bit squeaky.

Miranda came forward, said, "Hello, Andrea," and then--what the ever-loving bejesused fucking fuck? --leaned in and kissed the air to either side of Andy's cheeks. Her own cheeks were soft and warm as they brushed against Andy's face. Andy froze, and then, when Miranda pulled away, fumbled for some kind of facial expression that didn't look completely shocked. A smile would do. She just hoped it didn't look too ghastly, but that wouldn't be entirely her fault because seriously what the hell--

"This is my assistant, Andrea Sachs," Miranda said to the three other people, none of whom appeared to notice Andy's astonishment. "She's just arrived from Ohio this morning." Her voice was pleasant without being cooing or false, just as if she was introducing a…a friend or something.

"How nice to meet you," one of the men, a portly, balding guy in his mid-fifties, said. He held out his hand. "Geoffrey Barnhardt."

Andy shook it while Miranda said, "Geoffrey is the managing director of Elias-Clarke's operations in the U.K. And these are the Goldsteins…"

During the next ten minutes, Andy found herself being introduced to several ritzy-looking people who drifted towards and then away from Miranda as she held court in her corner, letting people come to her. This shindig wasn't her doing, but somehow she still managed to be the center of attention. Everyone here knew her. Very few liked her. Andy could tell that much right away.

Then it was time to be seated for the actual food. Andy scanned the tables and saw tiny nameplates at each place. Rats--she hadn't been able to look around before Miranda had pulled her aside. Everybody else had already had time to find out where they were sitting, of course. Andy didn't want to be the only one wandering around like an idiot, so she dared to ask Miranda, "Uh--I'm sorry, but do you know where I'm supposed to sit? I haven't had a chance to…"

"We're at the center table," Miranda said, gesturing at the table in question as she absently glanced around the room. Apparently she'd spoken to everyone she cared to speak to, and now she proceeded like a queen to the center table, with Andy trailing in her wake. It wasn't until Andy caught other people watching her with raised eyebrows that she realized how unusual this had to look. The center table was prime real estate at any function, and usually occupied only by the people in charge and their most important guests. People like Andy, if they were lucky enough to get invited at all, always sat at the tables in the back of the room, or on the outermost periphery. But there it was: a tiny card made of embossed cream paper, with Andy's name on it in beautiful calligraphy, right next to the one at Miranda's seat.

There were no words to describe how self-conscious Andy felt as she lowered herself into her seat, feeling as if everybody in the room was watching her. Which they weren't. Of course they weren't. Miranda was already chatting with the man seated at her left, and the woman on Andy's right was talking to the person on her other side, so Andy was left to sit mutely and try not to fidget. Fortunately, at that moment, waiters emerged carrying trays of warm salad with scallops and prawns. Andy had eaten a fairly decent breakfast a few hours ago on the flight--first-class food really was a world apart from coach--but her mouth still watered and she had to force herself to eat sparingly, aware that it would look really bad for Miranda Priestly's assistant to tuck into her food like a starving animal.

She glanced over at Miranda, and noted with some amusement that Miranda appeared to have the same problem. Hunger pangs again, and not a pizza in sight. Andy bit her lip and looked back down at her salad; if Miranda caught her smirking, she'd be more likely to slap Andy's cheek than air-kiss it. Then Andy blushed again, thinking about how weird that had been. How unexpected. Nobody at Runway would ever believe it. It gave her a warm, pleasant tingle in her stomach.

The woman on Andy's right turned to her. Andy had already been introduced, but realized, to her horror, that she couldn't remember her name or anything else about her. "Did I hear that you have just come today from Ohio?" the woman asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Andy said, hoping she could pull this off anyway. "I was visiting my family for the holidays."

"I've never been to Ohio," said the woman, who spoke with a German accent.

Andy managed a smile for her. "You haven't missed much. They call it 'flyover country' for a reason."

The woman tittered. Miranda cleared her throat, somehow managing to sound displeased--Andy realized that Miranda probably didn't like to think about Ohio too much, especially in company like this--and said, "Helga, how is your dear little boy?"

Helga Schumann, that was it. And her husband Georg sat to her right. He was a big shot executive who owned tons of shares in Delton Wright, Elias-Clarke's main rival publishing house. Corporate scuttlebutt was that they'd tried to lure Miranda away from Elias-Clarke several times over the years. Andy wondered if she would have gone over to them, had Irv succeeded in his little coup.

"Alexis is wonderful," Mrs. Schumann gushed. "He turned sixteen last Wednesday, of course, and did so appreciate the card and flowers you sent--" The card and flowers Emily would have sent, undoubtedly. Yeah, what sixteen-year-old boy wouldn't love a bunch of flowers? "--and he is at the top of his class. We are so proud." She tilted her head. "And your girls? Caroline and…forgive me. Cassandra?"

"Cassidy," Miranda said, with a charming smile that almost hid the fangs. "They're quite well. I can hardly keep up with them, in fact--they're so gifted at music…"

"I had heard that," Mrs. Schumann said. "I do hope that someday I can hear them play."

"Why, wouldn't that be lovely," Miranda said. "And just last spring, they took home top honors for their science project."

"They did?" Andy blurted.

"Yes," Miranda said, giving her a look that promised a quick, but painful death if Andy said the wrong thing now.

"I didn't know that," Andy said, unable to repress her grin, and glad that it wouldn't seem inappropriate. "That's wonderful."

"I must have forgotten to mention it," Miranda said sweetly. But her eyes had narrowed just enough, and Andy backed off at once.

"And you, my dear," Mrs. Schumann said, returning her attention to Andy with a gleam of avid interest in her eyes. "You look so young! How old are you?"

"T-twenty-four," Andy said, suddenly discomfited by something in Mrs. Schumann's attitude, though she didn't know what.

"A baby," cooed Mrs. Schumann. "And how long have you been interested in fashion?"

It was Andy's turn to go red. She was suddenly acutely conscious of Miranda sitting next to her, and the memory of Miranda's words rang in her ears: 'Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you.'

"Just recently, actually," Andy said, trying very hard to sound casual. Airy, even. "I, um, my background is in journalism."

"Really," said Mrs. Schumann. "A reporter? You?"

'You?' What was that supposed to mean? But all Andy said was, "Yes. I, um, I edited my college newspaper, actually. And worked an internship at The Cincinnati Post  one summer." Not that it had led to any particularly useful professional contacts, or indeed, to anything but the sure knowledge that Andy didn't want to work in Cincinnati. She'd heard the paper was folding this year, in fact.

"And now you work at Runway ?" Mrs. Schumann asked.

'Duh,' Andy didn't say. "Yes, ma'am," she said instead, and offered a weak smile to Miranda, who was regarding her with a closed, thoughtful look on her face. Then she turned back to Mrs. Schumann. "It was an, um, unexpected but wonderful opportunity."

"I'm sure." Mrs. Schumann looked her up and down. Andy squirmed. "Well, for a reporter, you are certainly elegant!"

"Thank you," Andy mumbled, wishing like anything that Mrs. Schumann would talk to somebody else, especially since for some reason everybody at the table was looking at both of them right now. She looked desperately around the table, but the only other person she knew, of course, was Miranda.

Well…Miranda would have to do, then, since everyone was looking at Andy, and Andy had to say something that wasn't too incredibly inane. She gulped, turned over to Miranda, and said, "So, was your flight over here okay?"

Miranda looked amused for a fleeting second, before replying, "Fine. And yours?"

Oh thank God, she was playing along. Aware that they were on display, and that their tablemates weren't the only ones who were listening, Andy kept looking right at Miranda, pretending that they were the only ones in the room for the sake of her own sanity. "Yes. Um, no layovers between JFK and Heathrow, so that was, you know, nice."

Thankfully, at that moment, Georg Schumann said something to the guy on his right, and Mrs. Schumann leaned away from Andy to participate in the conversation. Feeling a little less in the spotlight, Andy relaxed a little. Seeing this, Miranda looked amused again. Suddenly, Andy desperately wanted to know how she was, if she was feeling okay, if she and the girls were getting along. But of course she couldn't ask about any of that here, so instead she just said, "Have you heard from Nigel since you've been here?" There. Conversation that wasn't small talk. Miranda had, Andy knew, very limited tolerance for small talk.

Miranda sniffed and looked dismissive. "The San Francisco pictures didn't come out as well as either of us had hoped. But they could be worse, I suppose. We'll make do."

'We'll make do'? That one sentence told Andy volumes about how Miranda felt. Miranda never 'made do.' Was she tired, or was she bending to Irv's pressure to keep costs down? Or both?

Andy realized she was thinking about Irv again, and then she wondered what he'd say when he learned that Miranda was pregnant. Oh. That put a whole new spin on things, didn't it? Stephen dumping her, an extremely acrimonious divorce, Miranda being a single mom in a whole new way…it'd be all over the papers, on the lips of all of New York society. And of course it would reflect on Runway , on Elias-Clarke, whether that was fair or not.

Andy had heard any publicity was good publicity. She just hoped Irv felt the same way.

"What?" Miranda asked. Her eyes had narrowed, and Andy realized she'd been staring at Miranda with what was probably a blank, stupid-looking expression on her face.

"Oh!" Andy said. "S-sorry. I was just, um--"

Miranda tilted her head away, obviously already bored by whatever excuse Andy was about to offer, and turned to speak to the man on her left again. You didn't lag behind if you wanted to keep Miranda Priestly's attention. Feeling oddly dejected, Andy spent the next ten minutes poking at her food and trying not to be noticed. Then she realized she was wasting a great opportunity to meet some really important people, and so she made a deliberate effort to make eye contact with, and smile at, those people over the roast fillet of halibut.

By the time the dessert was served, she was chatting shyly with the man on Miranda's left, who was none other than Vincent Wright: the CEO of Delton Wright, the host of the luncheon, and clearly the most important person in the room. Of course. Miranda wouldn't deign to sit next to anybody else. She appeared pleased that Andy was managing to fumble her way through a conversation about Broadway musicals, which was something, anyway.

Andy thought Miranda also looked relieved not to be speaking. Was that why she'd wanted Andy here--to take up some of the slack and keep the pressure off her? Andy decided to try her best. It was pretty easy, though; once she'd engaged the CEO's attention, naturally everybody else wanted to get in on the conversation, and Andy didn't have to say very much after the initial observation on how much she'd liked Cats . The conversation ran from there. It turned out that some of the most important people in publishing were apparently dying to talk about Andrew Lloyd Webber, so long as Mr. Wright was, too.

Miranda said very little, but sipped from her water glass instead and looked idly around the table, moving her gaze from face to face. Andy refused to stare at her, but even the quickest glances told her that Miranda was tired. Well, that made two of them, Andy thought, feeling her former irritation returning just the tiniest bit.

Of course, Miranda never saw events through to the end. It was a miracle she'd stuck around this one for as long as she had, really. Andy had just taken her second bite of cardamom cream with basil jelly when Miranda abruptly announced, "Well, this has been utterly delightful, Vincent, but I really must dash."

Mr. Wright didn't look surprised, but he put up a token protest anyway, along with the other people at the table. "So soon, Miranda? Surely you can finish your dessert, at least."

Miranda shook her head, wearing a fake little smile. "Time waits for no woman," she said lightly, "and nor do my children." Everyone at the table chuckled. "Come along, Andrea."

Andy quickly put her spoon down, dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, and rose to her feet while a nearby waiter pulled out Miranda's chair for her. All the men at the table stood up. Andy smiled at everyone, hoping it didn't look too timid or dumb, and said, "It was so nice to meet all of you. Thank you very much," she added to Mr. Wright. "I had a lovely time."

He shook her hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Andrea," he said. "Enjoy London."

Andy decided not to mention that she probably wouldn't see much of it. Instead, she thanked him again, and then quickly followed Miranda, who was already high-tailing it out of the room, pausing only to wave at certain acquaintances on her way out. Once they'd left the room, Andy suddenly remembered that she was here to work, and pulled out her phone to call Jimmy and tell him they were ready to go.

"Already at the curb," he told her. "Have been for half-an-hour. Valet service hate me, I can tell you--where has she been?"

Andy glanced over at Miranda, who was, as always, two steps ahead. "Well, we're on our way now," was all she said. "See you in a minute."

"Get my wrap," Miranda said without looking at her, when she'd hung up. Andy hurried to the coat check, and returned wearing her own coat and carrying Miranda's mink stole.

Miranda let Andy slide the stole around her shoulders. Usually she donned and doffed her coats by herself, disdaining assistance, but lately she'd been allowing Andy to help her. Andy had no idea why, or what it meant, or if it meant anything, but she played along and tried not to think about it more than necessary. Maybe Miranda was just tired. Or distracted. Or both.

She certainly looked both when her car pulled away from the curb. "Home, Ms. Priestly?" Jimmy asked.

"Yes," Miranda said, and closed her eyes briefly before opening them again and gazing out the window. They'd just pulled into traffic when she murmured, "Thank goodness that's over."

"The food was nice," Andy offered.

"The fish was bland and poorly-cooked," Miranda said.

"Except for the fish," Andy mumbled.

Miranda sighed. "You're still too easily impressed. A few more years at this and you will acquire--" Snobbery, Andy thought. "--sufficient taste to differentiate the mediocre from the good," Miranda finished. "Don't be overwhelmed by a famous venue and a pretty room."

The little lecture embarrassed Andy, made her feel like a kid who'd never seen anything of the world at all. Which wasn't fair. She would lay good money that nobody else in her family (and quite possibly Miranda's) had ever dined on cardamom cream, and they definitely hadn't met Valentino. Just because she hadn't been around high society for as long as Miranda--

Miranda tapped her fingers impatiently on the door handle. "I had an extremely disagreeable dinner last night at Bibi Lannay's penthouse," she said. Bibi Lannay was a wealthy London socialite famous for her dinner parties and supposedly impeccable taste in decorating. She was also famous for calling everyone, no matter who, 'Boopsie.' Andy would have given her right arm to see anyone addressing Miranda Priestly as 'Boopsie.'

When Miranda didn't add anything else, Andy decided that maybe, just maybe it was her cue. She said, "What happened?"

"She is the worst sort of woman," Miranda said, which meant Andy had been right. "I greeted her and she immediately bombarded me with what a hard time she'd had getting dressed for the evening." To Andy's astonishment, Miranda's voice suddenly went high-pitched as she said, "'Boopsie, I do  so hope you approve of the ensemble, it's Pucci of course but I had a dreadful  time deciding between this and the vintage Valentino, and the shoes are Balenciaga, naturally, but,' and on, and on, and on," Miranda concluded, dropping back down into her normal vocal register as she pinched the bridge of her nose, looking martyred.

Andy couldn't stop herself. She cackled, and slapped her hand over her mouth. At least Miranda ought to know Andy was laughing with her, not at her. Even though Miranda wasn't actually laughing.

"Can you tell me what was wrong with that little speech, Andrea?" Miranda said.

At first Andy thought Miranda wanted her to give her feedback on her Lannay impersonation. Then her brain woke up, and she realized it was a quiz. She didn't know the answer, either, and she still felt punchy: from the exhaustion of the last twenty-four hours, from lingering hunger (she'd only let herself eat half of her food), from Miranda's unexpected attempt at humor. Which was why she heard herself say--giggle, really-- "It wasn't long enough? I could have listened to you doing that for a while."

Miranda looked at Andy like she'd just suggested skinning a baby. Andy stopped laughing and started cringing. "Sorry," she said. "It, it was funny."

"There are different classes of people in our circle, Andrea," Miranda said, clearly deciding to ignore Andy's idiocy. Remarkably gracious of her. "The first class is people who act as if they do not care how they appear to the world. They are lying." She glared at Andy. "As I am sure you remember." Andy gulped, and felt the sharp rebuke. "The second," Miranda continued, "is people who know and wear designers. All well and good; that's how we sell Runway . But the third class is made up of the people who wear clothes , and it is these people, and only these people, with whom we truly concern ourselves." For a second, Miranda looked almost dreamy. "People who appreciate what fashion is, and what it means. They are few and far between. And in the meantime, I'm stuck talking to the Bibi Lannays of the world." She rolled her eyes in disgust.

Andy, still wincing from her own faux pas and Miranda's reminder of her early inadequacies, nevertheless realized that Miranda was trying to impart some kind of Important Lesson. Too bad Andy had no idea what it was. "When you say 'wear clothes,'" she said, "w-what do you mean? I mean--you can't just mean they, you know, get dressed."

"There is getting dressed, and then there is dressing," Miranda said. "Tell me the difference." Her voice was hard-edged and relentless. She'd had a bad time at the luncheon and was going to take it out on Andy. Great.

Andy thought fast, although she knew that anything she said wouldn't be good enough. "Well--if what you said about people like Bibi Lannay is--I mean, 'getting dressed' would just be wearing labels, I guess," Andy said. "'Dressing' would be more like, I don't know, you've got your own style, and you care about the clothes, instead of who made them. Wouldn't it?"

"It would," Miranda said.

Andy, weak with relief, dared to press her luck. "But I don't understand," she said. "I mean…do you really mean that designers don't matter?" Surely Miranda couldn't possibly be saying that.

Miranda gave her a disgusted look. "Of course not," she said. "Were you asleep in Paris? Each designer has his own look, his own ethos, his own philosophy. Tap into that, and you understand everything." She looked out the window and drummed her fingers again.

"You don't care about this," she said after a moment.

What?! Oh, fuck, oh-- "That's not true!" Andy said. "I do. I mean, I want to do well, to do my job well, I want to learn…" And she wanted to please Miranda. She always had, almost from the very beginning.

"'My background is in journalism,'" Miranda mocked, still not looking at Andy. It wasn't funny this time.

"Well…it is," Andy said weakly. "She asked me. And I can't change that." She didn't want to. And she didn't want to sit back and let Miranda say…whatever she was saying, either. She wanted to stick up for herself. "I've been trying really hard, Miranda--"

"Mm," Miranda said, her jaw tightening. It was probably the closest she could come to a concession. Andy shut up. "You will never have a career in fashion," she added. "You will never truly understand it."

Andy froze. What? What was that supposed to mean? Was Miranda about to fire her or something? Blackball her from the industry? Why the hell would--

"But you will have a career," Miranda continued. She looked back at Andy, and gave her a cool little smile. "If you keep your head above water long enough."

Oh. Well, that was…okay, maybe. Andy forced herself to relax, and thought longingly of twenty-four hours ago, when she'd been with her family and hadn't had to tread carefully around every single word she spoke and heard. "Th-thank you," she stammered. "I mean, I, I hope so."

"You handled yourself well at the luncheon," Miranda said absently as she leaned forward to look through the windshield at the street ahead. Andy realized that she was on her first trip to London and hadn't once taken the time to look at her surroundings.

But she didn't quite dare to take her attention off Miranda just yet. So she just said, "Thank you," again, remembered the air-kiss, and wondered if she'd fallen into some kind of alternate dimension.

"Now," Miranda said, "we need to discuss tonight. It's dinner at the Cheltinghams'. After this evening the whirl calms down until New Year's, thank goodness."

"Oh, okay," Andy said. "Er--do you have a list of things you want me to do?" Miranda looked at her, frowning. "For the girls," Andy clarified, already dreading a whole evening of looking after Miranda's spoiled kids. Maybe she could find a reason to send them to bed at seven o'clock.

"What about the girls?" Miranda asked, her brow still furrowed.

Andy blinked. "While you're gone," she said slowly, thinking that maybe the alternate-dimension idea had merit to it. Either that or Miranda was going prematurely senile. "Is there something you want me to do while I look after them?"

Now Miranda looked at Andy like she was crazy. "You?" she said. "Do you have some kind of special childcare credentials I don't know about?"

Mentioning the babysitting probably wasn't a good idea. "Well--no, but--"

"I have engaged a temporary nanny on a friend's recommendation," Miranda said.

Andy felt like her whole face had just gone numb. "What?" she said.

Miranda glanced over Andy's outfit as if Andy hadn't spoken. "I suppose that skirt will do," she said, "but of course you'll want a different top for evening."

"I'm--" Andy had difficulty forming complete, non-moronic sentences around Miranda at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. "I'm not here to stay with the twins? I'm going with you?" Miranda gave her the crème de la crème of the 'you-idiot' looks, but Andy wasn't about to stand for that now. "I thought you called me here because Cara had to go home. You said…"

"I said no such thing," Miranda said, turned her head, and looked out the window, evidently intending to say no more on the subject.

Andy's jaw opened and shut. Desperately trying to convince herself that she wasn't crazy, she tried as hard as she could to remember everything Miranda had said over the phone. She'd said that Cara was sick and had to return to America; she'd said that she wanted Andy to fly to London immediately. She'd never actually, explicitly said that Andy would be taking Cara's place, but surely the two things had some kind of causal link, surely Miranda wouldn't have flown Andy all the way out here just to be her fucking dinner companion, she couldn't possibly be in that desperate need of a, of a--

Andy closed her eyes, Andy took a deep breath, Andy collected herself. Don't think. Just do. Don't think. Just do.

"What time are we leaving?" she asked.

"Eight," Miranda said, not looking at her. "We will be there at eight-thirty."

"All right," Andy said. "All right." She glanced at Miranda, and saw that Miranda's throat was a little bit red; the slightest blush was creeping up it, though whether it was from anger or embarrassment, Andy couldn't be sure. But at least it meant that Miranda knew how ridiculous this was.

She must really feel like shit, to be pulling this kind of stunt for company.

"Anyway," Andy said, "how have you been? Do I, um, need to get in touch with Dr. Finch?"

"If you need to, I'll tell you so," Miranda said. "I am perfectly fine." Her tone was quelling, but her posture had relaxed just the tiniest fraction. If Andy hadn't been looking for it, she never would have noticed. She nodded, even though Miranda wasn't looking.

They rode in silence then. Andy took another deep breath and looked out the window, deciding that now was as good a moment as any to get at least a passing glimpse of London. Although, who knew, maybe she'd get more this week. She'd thought for sure she'd be cooped up in Miranda's townhouse the whole time, watching the twins while Miranda ran the social gauntlet. Now she had no idea what she'd be doing. For all she knew, Miranda would decide to take her on a personal tour of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London.

She had to call her parents when they reached Miranda's place. They must be worried, wanting to know if she'd made it to England safely. They'd probably also want to know what the deal was with Miranda, and the kids, and everything else.

Too bad Andy would have no idea what to tell them.

 


 

Following Miranda into the townhouse for the first time was a revelation that explained quite a few things. Jimmy set Andy's luggage in an out-of-the-way corner, where it could remain until Andy knew where she'd be staying that night. Then he discreetly nipped back out of the front door. Andy put her coat and Miranda's wrap in a nearby hall closet, turned around, and saw Miranda standing there in the hallway, looking lost. Well, not lost, exactly, but there was an odd, unguarded, almost wistful expression on her face that nearly amounted to the same thing. Andy heard noises; the twins were chattering to each other in a nearby room, where a television was on. She could smell popcorn. The hallway was decked with evergreens and red silk bows: tasteful, of course, but festive. For just one second, Andy felt as if she'd stepped into a home with normal, well-adjusted people in it.

The feeling didn't last long. Miranda headed down the hallway. Andy, lacking further instruction, followed her until they reached the living room.

Miranda cleared her throat. "Hello, girls," she called, and the voices in the TV room died. There was a moment of stillness; then Andy heard movement, and the twins came through the door. They and their mother regarded each other in silence for a second while Andy squirmed, and then the twins came forward and collided with Miranda in something that looked vaguely hug-like. Miranda's hands trembled on their shoulders, as if maybe she wanted to grasp or hold, but didn't know how and didn't quite dare. So she patted them instead, and then they let her go and stepped back, glancing at each other.

Andy couldn't have imagined anything more different from the exuberant affection of her own family. She quickly looked away, glancing around the hallway like the décor fascinated her, so that if Miranda looked at her she wouldn't see her pity. And then rip her face off.

"Girls," Miranda said, "Andrea will be joining us for the rest of the holiday."

"Hi, Ahndraya," one of the twins said, managing to make Andy's name sound like an insult. The other one giggled.

"Andy," Andy corrected her with a smile that she hoped looked friendly enough. "You can call me Andy." At that moment, a woman appeared in the doorway behind the twins. She was of Indian descent and appeared to be in her early thirties. She wore a kind, welcoming smile, and the twins--who could only have known her for all of twenty-four hours--turned toward her like plants to the sun, beaming at her. This time, Andy didn't even dare glance in Miranda's general direction.

"Hello, Ms. Priestly," the woman said. "How was your luncheon?"

"Fine," Miranda said tightly. Andy finally looked over at her, and saw Miranda looking back, before Miranda returned her gaze to the nanny. "Padmini, this is Andrea Sachs. I told you she would be arriving today. Andrea, this is Padmini." She gestured vaguely.

Andy held out her hand, which Padmini took with a smile. "Nice to meet you," she said.

"And you as well, Miss Sachs," Padmini said.

"Andy,"  Andy said quickly, hoping to forestall that kind of thing right away. Padmini didn't work for her, after all. Andy was an employee too, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. "Just Andy, please."

"Well," Miranda said, her voice bright as she clasped her hands and looked at her daughters. She was obviously over talking to the help. "What have you two been up to today?"

"We practiced the piano," one twin said, sounding dutiful. "Then we ate lunch, and then you came home."

The other twin darted a curious glance at Andy, who felt compelled to ask, politely, "What are you guys practicing now?"

"Brahms," one of them said.

"It's really hard," said the other one.

"Wow, I bet," Andy said, hoping she sounded impressed. "Is he your, um, favorite composer?"

"Ugh, no," the first one said. "I mean, he's okay, but he's hardly postmodern."

"We're into Philip Glass right now," the other one added. "Especially Koyaanisqatsi , but that's not really doable on the piano."

"Oh," Andy said after a moment. They looked like they were two seconds away from laughing in her face.

"Ms. Priestly," Padmini said respectfully, "the girls and I were going for a walk in the park." She tilted her head to the side, looking inquisitive. "But would you rather--"

"No," Miranda said, sounding weary. For the first time since Andy had seen her today, she was allowing her exhaustion to appear fully on her face, which had almost a grey tinge to it now. "Enjoy your outing. I don't quite feel up to it. I'll see you when you get back."

One of the twins bit her lip and looked worried. "Are you feeling okay?" she asked Miranda.

That coaxed the first real smile from Miranda, although it still looked strained and tired. "Oh, I'm fine, darling," she said. "Mommy just needs to rest for a little while."

The twins threw Andy a very wary look. Miranda said, "It's all right, girls. Andrea knows." They relaxed, but still looked at Andy resentfully.

"Does Padmini?" one of the girls asked, looking up at the nanny.

"Yes," Miranda said. "Padmini is perfectly aware that Mommy is having a baby. And Padmini knows not to tell tales out of school." She smiled at her daughters. She didn't need to look at Padmini. The message was practically written in neon letters.

Andy's face felt scalded with sudden embarrassment, and she knew her cheeks were red. 'Mommy is having a baby'? Well, that…put it all right out there, didn't it?

"We're not in school," one of the twins said blankly.

"It's just a saying, dear," Miranda sighed. "You all go on to the park. Have a good time."

"We're going to throw bread to the ducks," a twin said.

Miranda smiled at them both. "Throw in a little extra for me."

"What time would you like us to return home, ma'am?" Padmini asked, her voice a little stiff and low after Miranda's warning.

Miranda glanced at her watch. So did Andy. It was almost two o'clock. "Until the girls want to return," she said. "Just don't let them get too cold. Andrea and I will not be here for dinner, of course, so you don't have a deadline." Right before Miranda looked back up from her watch, Andy saw one twin elbow the other and mouth the words 'of course.' Fortunately, Miranda didn't catch it.

Out of nowhere, the twin on the left looked at Andy and said, "Did you get any good Christmas presents?"

Andy started, and looked over at Miranda. Miranda gave her the what-is-wrong-with-you look, and Andy quickly said, "Oh, well, my grandparents gave me this ring." She showed them her pearl, deciding that if they sneered at it she'd give them the what-for, even if standing up to them did get her fired. God. What kind of life was this, where she had to 'stand up' to a couple of ten year olds? And where she might not win?

They didn't sneer at the ring, although they didn't seem particularly impressed, either. "We got necklaces," the one on the right said. Her tone of voice told Andy that they put her ring to shame. Andy wondered what the twins would say if Andy told them that she still wouldn't trade places with them for anything.

Instead, she just said politely, "Oh, that's nice. I bet they're really pretty."

"They are," the left twin said, and turned to Padmini. "Can we go now?" Like Andy had been holding them up or something.

"Let's get your coats," Padmini said, smiling at them and genuinely appearing to mean it.

"Not too cold," Miranda reminded her sharply.

"Yes, ma'am," Padmini said again, and the three of them headed for the hallway. Andy heard the hall closet opening and closing, heard the sound of coats and hats being donned. She realized that Miranda hadn't said goodbye to the girls, nor kissed them, nor anything else, and they hadn't seemed to expect it. Was this how it always was? Or was it because they were in front of other people and felt self-conscious? Or were the twins still angry about the baby? Andy felt a headache coming on, and it probably wasn't just from hunger or fatigue.

The door shut. Andy turned to see Miranda taking a step backwards that almost looked like a stagger. Andy's eyes widened in alarm, but Miranda righted herself immediately, and rubbed a hand over her forehead.

"We have a few hours," she said. "I suggest you use it to rest. I will do the same."

Wow. Andy hadn't expected that, and 'rest' sounded like heaven. Then she wondered where, exactly, she was supposed to do it, since she didn't know where she was supposed to stay while she was in London. Miranda hadn't said anything about a particular hotel, and Andy hadn't had time to find one herself, but surely Miranda had something in mind. Asking her questions was always dangerous, but Andy was too tired to work out a solution on her own right now. "Okay," she said. "Er. Where would you like me to--um--be?"

"Up here," Miranda said, and headed for a nearby staircase. Andy rocked back on her own feet, too stunned to follow her. "You might as well get your bags," Miranda added acidly.

Andy turned around and headed mechanically back towards the front door, glad to have something to do that didn't involve staring at Miranda like a moron. Here? She was staying here? In Miranda's house?

Well, she supposed that made sense on some planet that wasn't this one. It'd save money, if Irv was going to yell. And it'd mean Andy was available twenty-four-seven, without needing to call or text or send a homing pigeon. Miranda could yank her out of bed at three in the morning if she felt the need. Say, if she wanted some fish and chips or something. Fucking great.

But--she'd been invited to stay in Miranda's home. She was pretty sure Miranda didn't just do this sort of thing with people. It was about ten million steps up from being entrusted to deliver the book. That was sort of cool, at least.

Andy grabbed her luggage and hurried back to the stairway, where Miranda was already looking impatient, and then followed Miranda up the stairs. "Cara's room is still a general plague area, of course," Miranda said, wrinkling her nose. "The maid will disinfect it tomorrow. You'll be sleeping in the room at the far end of the hall on the left." She pointed at it, and then gestured at the other end of the hall. "My room is at the end. The twins are to either side." She glared at Andy. "I am sure it goes without saying that you should have absolutely no reason to disturb us."

"Of course, right," Andy said, and then added, "um, I-I should call my parents. You know. Let them know I got here safely."

"Be ready to go at eight o'clock sharp," Miranda said tiredly. "Until then I don't care what you do. Just be quiet." She turned around and headed for her bedroom without another word.

Andy pressed her lips together, and hauled her suitcases to the designated doorway. When she opened it and stepped inside, she stopped dead in her tracks.

There was a huge four-poster bed in the middle of the room, sitting on plush cream carpet, surrounded by mahogany furniture and next to a deep bay window with a cushioned perch. A plasma TV hung on the wall opposite the bed. Everything was spotless, of course. Andy put her luggage down on the floor, shut the door, and wandered around the room with wide eyes. She wondered if all the rooms in the house were this nice, or if some of them were even nicer. Miranda's, say, or the twins', or even Cara's. After all, this was just a guestroom.

Although, for some reason, it kind of didn't feel like a guestroom. There were little touches here and there that felt more personal than that: a desk that was definitely designed for business, and bookshelves that were full of books that somebody had actually read. The room was also decorated in a very particular style, instead of being more, well, generic, Andy supposed. It felt almost manly, in fact, even down to the way it smelled.

Which was when Andy realized that this had been Stephen's room. She suddenly felt rooted to the spot. She had no proof, of course. It wasn't like there were photos in the room (at least not anymore), or graffiti reading "Stephen Not-Priestly Was Here." But Andy was sure that she was right, for no reason she could immediately articulate.

She supposed it wasn't surprising that Stephen and Miranda hadn't shared a bedroom, at least, not towards the end of their marriage. Miranda did like her space, after all. Or maybe he'd snored. Or maybe she did. They'd probably had the same arrangement in New York.

Then Andy looked at the bed and felt the most absurd urge to burst out laughing. Oh God. Oh God, please, please, somebody please  tell her that Miranda Priestly had never had sex in this bed. She clapped her hands over her mouth to muffle a cackle for the second time that day. It was so horrifying and so ridiculous, all at the same time.

Andy sat on the edge of the mattress. Then she bounced up and down on it, hid her face in her hands, and shrieked with laughter some more, glad beyond measure that Miranda was all the way at the other end of the hall.

She took a second to get herself under control, then flopped down on the bed, pulled out her phone, and called her parents. Her mom picked up after the first ring.

"I've been so worried!" she said without preamble. "I checked online, your flight got in hours ago!"

"I'm sorry, Mom," Andy said. "As soon as I got in the car, the driver told me he was taking me straight to some luncheon. I had to beg him to pull over long enough for me to change clothes first. This is the first free minute I've even had. I swear."

"A luncheon. Oh. Well. I was afraid you were lying dead in a ditch somewhere, and she wouldn't even care, or tell anyone you were missing--"

"Oh, she would have noticed I was missing," Andy said. "Trust me."

"Is she there? You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to talk to her," her mom said. Andy bit her lip. Her mom was usually very pleasant, but when she got riled up…and it looked like she hadn't calmed down much since Andy had left Ohio. "I'd like to ask her how she'd feel if somebody treated her own daughters this way."

"Well, she's not here right now," Andy said, thanking her lucky stars for that.

"Or her new baby, how about that? Your father told me. I think this is ridiculous--"

"On that we agree," Andy said. "Yeah. Definitely. But--"

"She's got no right to treat you like this, you had a 4.0, you got accepted to Stanford Law, I mean, my God--"

"Is Dad there?" Andy asked desperately. Thankfully, at that moment, she heard her father's voice saying, "Okay, calm down, Helena," and then she heard the sound of the phone changing hands.

"Glad you got in okay, sweetheart," her dad said.

His voice, calm and reassuring, relaxed Andy at once. "Yeah, me too," she said. "Flight was fine, everything was fine. Is fine."

"Did your mom say something about a luncheon?"

"Yeah. Some Boxing Day thing I didn't know about until I arrived. At the Ritz. It was okay," Andy said. "But the fish was, um, bad."

Her dad snorted. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "And your boss? How's she treating you?"

Andy realized she had no idea how to answer that. "Oh, well, like usual," she hedged. "Not too…not too bad. She looks kind of sick," she added, hoping that maybe drumming up a little sympathy for Miranda might make her parents feel better.

"And the kids? They're doing what you tell them?" Her dad sounded deeply skeptical.

"Uh, I haven't spent much time with them yet," Andy said. "I…I just got in."

"But that's why you're there, isn't it?" Andy didn't say anything, and her dad said, "Andy?"

"She's hired some other nanny," Andy admitted. "I found out when I got here. I have no idea why I'm here, Dad."

"What?" her dad said.

"I said I don't know!" Andy said, and took a deep breath. "Sorry. I'm confused too. I think I need to get some rest--I was going to take a nap after I called you. She wants me to go to some dinner tonight."

"Okay," her dad said, sounding like he was trying to contain his temper. Andy hoped he was mad at Miranda and not her, since it sounded like the sympathy thing wasn't working anyway. "Where are you staying? Some fancy hotel she's paying for with the company card?"

"Uh. No," Andy said. "I'm actually at her place. I guess she didn't want to pay f--"

"Her place," her father said. Andy heard her mother say, "What?!" in the background.

"I, I think it's kind of nice, actually," Andy said. "I mean, she'll probably keep me busy, but I don't think she usually puts people up in her hou--"

"She calls you over there, not to be a nanny, but to go out to lunch and dinner with her, and she's in the middle of a divorce, and you're staying at her place," her dad said.

"What?" Then Andy realized what he meant. She sat bolt upright as her heart started hammering in her ears. "No, Dad. Come on, that's crazy."

"No, this is crazy. Quit your job," her dad said. "Quit and come home. I don't like whatever this woman is up to--"

"Oh my God, Dad!" Andy said, digging her hand into her hair, just as she had when talking to Miranda in her parents' kitchen. It was like she'd fallen down Alice's rabbit-hole. "No! It isn't like that. I mean, come on, she wouldn't…"

"Look, after what I've seen and heard, I'm starting to think there's nothing she wouldn't do," her dad said.

"It's not like that," Andy repeated, hoping she sounded firm instead of hysterical. Then she remembered where she was, and lowered her voice, just in case. "She--if you could see what she looks like now, Dad," she said. "Then you'd know. She's not--she wouldn't."

"Honey, I know you like to think the best of people…"

"I don't think the best of her," Andy said. "But, but this is something she wouldn't do. I mean, she likes men," she added, turning red. She couldn't believe that she was here in Miranda's ex-husband's bed, talking about Miranda's sexual orientation to her parents. This wasn't the rabbit-hole. This wasn't an alternate dimension. This was hell.

"She likes power," her dad said quietly.

"Can we please stop talking about this," Andy moaned. "You said I could make my own decisions. You said that."

"I did," her dad said. "But you've been making excuses for this woman for nearly a year now. What's it going to take? For her to actually--"

"Dad!"

"Okay," her dad growled. "Okay. I guess you know what you're doing," he added in a voice that suggested precisely the opposite. "But honey, and I mean this, you give us a call and we will put you on the first flight out of there. No questions asked. Just call us."

"I will," Andy said, wanting more than anything to hang up. "I promise. But everything's okay. It's weird, but it's okay. Really. I mean, with Miranda, weird's normal," she added, with a horrible-sounding little laugh.

"Andy…"

"Dad. Please," Andy begged. "I'll call you if anything happens. I swear, I swear to God I will."

"We love you, sweetheart," her dad said. "We only want the best for you."

"I love you too," Andy said, and swallowed hard. "I'll--I'll be in touch. Um, I don't think I'd better talk to Mom yet. So, um…bye."

"Probably for the best," her dad agreed. "Bye, honey. Call us."  Andy heard her mother's voice saying, "Let me talk to--" before her dad hung up.

Andy took a deep, shuddering breath, and prayed that her dad could keep her mother from calling her back. She couldn't deal with that right now.

She headed for the bathroom and washed her makeup off before returning to the bedroom, already longing to collapse again. Trying not to feel self-conscious about undressing under Miranda's roof, she took off her skirt so it wouldn't get wrinkled, because apparently it would be doing double-duty tonight. Then she slipped under the immaculate bedcovers, letting the phone drop from her hand to the mattress. It was a really nice mattress. It was a really nice room.

Her father's suggestion had been ludicrous, not to mention wrong. Even if Miranda hadn't been married twice--no, wait, three times--to men , then it was still true that the only thing that excited her these days was pizza. Miranda looked so wretched that even the idea of sex was probably enough to give her morning sickness in the afternoon. Especially since sex had gotten her into this mess in the first place. No, Miranda definitely hadn't brought Andy here to, to, to do what her father had implied. Even if Andy still wasn't sure why Miranda had brought her here. She wondered if Miranda knew, either.

There was an alarm clock by the bed. Andy set it to go off at six-thirty p.m., and then lay back and closed her eyes purposefully. She needed sleep. She was going to get sleep. She had to, if she wanted to be any good to Miranda at all this evening at the fancy-pants dinner.

Sleep was a long time coming, though. And when Andy did sleep, she dreamed about weird, improbable things involving Miranda and the lost, lonely look on her face. Andy hated that lonely look, and wanted to make it go away, to make it better. So she reached out and touched Miranda's cheek, and watched Miranda close her eyes and turn her face into Andy's palm as if she wanted to hide there. Andy felt her heart squeeze in a way that was both painful and good. Miranda said nothing, but kept her eyes closed. Andy rubbed her cheekbone with her thumb.

The alarm went off, and Andy woke up, shaking all over as she jerked out of sleep. She still felt tired, but also strung as tight as a wire, and for a second she was completely disoriented. She didn't recognize the room, and she looked around, wondering where Miranda had gone and if she was okay, before remembering it had just been a dream. And feeling oddly let-down by that.

Her stomach growled. Okay. No more sleeping until tonight, that was for sure. But…but if Miranda was asleep, and it seemed highly likely that she would be, maybe Andy could sneak around, find the kitchen, and see if she could scavenge something from there. It'd mean that she wouldn't be able to stuff herself at dinner tonight, too. A win-win situation. Maybe she could even find coffee.

She eased out of bed, stretched, yawned hugely, and put her clothes back on before heading downstairs. No TV was playing, Andy heard no voices or noise, and so she assumed Padmini and the twins were still out.

She wandered into the kitchen. The fridge was well-stocked. Andy quickly threw a sandwich together, and gave up looking for coffee in favor of a much quicker diet soda. She'd almost finished the sandwich when she heard someone moving around upstairs, and realized that Miranda had begun to stir.

Andy stuffed the last bite of the sandwich in her mouth, and gulped it down with fizzy soda, trying not to choke. Of course, Miranda had invited Andy into her home, so she had to expect that Andy would, at some point, consume her food, and she'd seen Andy eating twice now, so it wasn't like she thought Andy never did it…

Miranda's footsteps began heading towards the stairs. Andy tossed her plate into the dishwasher, finished her soda, and opened the fridge back up, operating purely on instinct. By the time Miranda entered the kitchen, Andy was slicing up a melon and artfully arranging bite-sized sections on a small plate. Melons were supposed to be especially beneficial, and if they were in the fridge then it was a good bet Miranda was willing to eat them. She'd better be remembering to take her prenatal vitamins, too.

Andy glanced at Miranda, determined to keep a pleasant poker face. Good thing, too. Miranda's clothes were wrinkled, and her feet and face were bare, as they had been that night in Paris. She'd obviously brushed her hair, but her face was still drawn and her eyes were still tired. She looked like shit. Evidently her sleep had been as unrestful as Andy's.

She said nothing, but pushed the plate of melon toward Miranda with a smile and a fork. Miranda perched on one of the counter stools and began picking at the fruit. "Did you get something?" she asked in a low voice that still sounded sleepy.

"Just a sandwich," Andy admitted. "Well, and a diet soda." Definitely had to mention the 'diet' part. Miranda made a noncommittal noise. "Do you want anything to drink?"

"Water. Non-carbonated," Miranda said, and ate a melon section. Andy pulled a bottle of Evian from the refrigerator. "Padmini called me," she added. "She and the twins have gone to a movie."

"Oh," Andy said, feeling kind of at a loss as she set a glass in front of Miranda and poured. "Did she say which one?"

"Some holiday children's thing the girls have been wanting to see," Miranda said absently, and sipped her water, staring off into space. Andy fidgeted and wondered what to do. She'd already eaten, and Miranda probably didn't want her just hanging around and staring at her while she--

"Sit down," Miranda said, irritation clear in her voice. Andy promptly sat on one of the stools opposite her and tried not to fidget anymore.

"You called your parents," Miranda said. It wasn't a question, but Andy nodded anyway. "What do they do?" Miranda asked.

Andy stared at her. Then she said, faintly, "My dad's a lawyer. Um. Property law. My mom works for an insurance agency." She decided not to add, 'And they think you're molesting me.'

"And what do they think of your career ambitions?" Miranda inquired.

"They've…always been very supportive," Andy said carefully. Well, it was partly true. "They, you know, they want me to make something of myself. And be happy."

Miranda smiled bitterly. Andy gulped. She wanted to tell Miranda that it was possible to be successful and happy. Even better, she wanted to prove it, to show her. Wasn't that why she'd stuck aroundRunway --to show Miranda that they weren't alike, but that Andy could be good at her job anyway? She'd stuck around Runway  for something, certainly. Hadn't that been it?

Miranda glanced at the clock over the stove. It was nearly seven. "It's time to get ready," she said, and pushed her plate away. She'd only eaten a few bites of melon. Andy tried not to fret.

Instead she cleared her throat and said, "Um--we're not doing anything tomorrow, are we? I mean, going out to anything. Like a dinner or party." The schedule didn't have anything listed, but with Miranda, you never knew for sure. "It's just that I didn't know I'd be going to these things, so I just wondered if I should go shopping and grab a few…"

Miranda gave her a downright ferocious glare. "You do have something to wear for tonight, don't you?"

"Yes," Andy said quickly. "Um--a different top, you said, so I can do that. And I brought a pair of evening shoes." Even though she hadn't known she'd be yanked into Miranda's social whirl. You didn't survive long at Runway  without being prepared for every contingency.

"Do something better with your hair this time," Miranda said. She slid off her stool and headed upstairs, leaving Andy to dispose of the leftover melon and clean up the plate. "We'll worry about the rest later," she added as she rose up and out of sight.

At five till eight, Andy had given up poking at her hair in an agony of indecisiveness. She wished she had the guts just to do what Miranda did, go for one iconic hairstyle and never change it--it would make things so much simpler. The only problem was, you probably had to be an actual icon first. Or did the iconic stuff help make you into an icon? What came first, the hairstyle or the legend?

In her head, Andy heard Nigel's voice saying, 'Sometimes I can't believe I talk about this crap all day.' She hissed in disgust, fluffed her bangs with her fingers, grabbed her clutch, and hurried downstairs. And not a moment too soon: when she hit the bottom step, she heard Miranda's bedroom door open and close, followed by Miranda's footsteps heading down the carpeted hallway. "Andrea?" she called.

"I'm down here," Andy said.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes. And Jimmy's outside with the car." Miranda came down the stairs, and Andy straightened her shoulders and hoped she looked presentable. Miranda gave her the once-over, nodded briskly, and headed for the door, which Andy held open for her. Andy took in and exhaled a deep breath, and followed her down the steps. It was freezing cold, but the day had been fair, so at least there wasn't any ice she'd have to navigate in high heels.

"Oh, um," Andy said as they drove off, "who's going to be at this dinner? It's not--" She gulped. "The Schumanns won't, will they?"

This time, Andy definitely saw Miranda smile before she could stop herself. "No," she said. "Herr Schumann and his heifer hausfrau will not be in attendance tonight." Andy longed to laugh, but after the earlier disaster after the luncheon, she didn't dare. "It's a much smaller gathering, and you will not be seated next to me. Try not to disgrace either of us. Or Runway ."

Andy nodded, still biting her lip to keep from grinning. Miranda definitely seemed to have gotten a little of her spunk back in the last hour. She looked better, though Andy couldn't be sure how much of that could be credited to the best makeup in the world. Her black dress helped her coloring, too. Black had always suited her.

"What?" Miranda asked, staring right ahead, not looking at Andy.

Andy twitched. "Nothing," she said quickly. "You look nice."

"As opposed to death warmed over," Miranda said. "Yes, I do."

Andy smiled again, and bit her lip, again. She was pretty sure she did more lip-biting around Miranda than she'd done in her whole life before Runway .

"Is something wrong?" Miranda asked.

"No," Andy said, and a giggle escaped her before she could stop it.

"I never noticed that you snickered this much before," Miranda said, sounding displeased.

"Sorry," Andy said, giggled again, and swallowed hard to get herself under control. "You know, you said funny things, so I, I laughed." She shrugged helplessly. It couldn't be that hard to understand.

"I'm well-known for my sense of humor," Miranda said, rolling her eyes and looking away. 

"Well, no," Andy admitted, "but…"

"Why don't you save your voice for the party?" Miranda said. Andy took the not-a-hint-at-all, and sulked until Jimmy pulled them up to the curb in front of a very fancy London house, bigger than Miranda's.

She'd never understand why Miranda had to be so unpleasant even when there was no need for it. She'd intentionally said something funny; Andy had laughed; Miranda had made Andy feel stupid for laughing at funny things she'd deliberately said. And she'd flown Andy all the way over here on Christmas with no explanation, and talked to her like she was an idiot, and hadn't even eaten more than a few bites of melon when Andy knew she needed the calories. Bitch. How was Andy supposed to feel sympathy or compassion for her when she just wouldn't stop being herself? No wonder Stephen had found somebody else. How hard must it have been to be married to that?

So by the time a real, live, honest-to-goodness butler held the door open for them both, Andy had worked herself into an impressive snit, and was very glad indeed that she wasn't sitting next to Miranda at dinner. But she still had to stand by Miranda's side during the pre-meal mingling. Lady Cheltingham had kissed Miranda's cheeks, thanked her effusively for coming, and then turned the two of them loose on the twelve other people hanging around in the parlor. Just like at the luncheon, Miranda did most of the introductions. At least these people seemed a little friendlier and more laid-back. They weren't all out to cut each others' throats, for one thing.

Andy got her fair share of strange looks from them, though. This wasn't a meeting of publishing heavies, after all. It was a purely social function. So why was she, as Miranda's assistant, even here? Miranda, of course, made no effort to explain, saying simply, "This is my assistant, Andrea," and leaving it at that while she went on to further pleasantries.

Still irritated, Andy tried not even to look at Miranda. She couldn't ignore her outright, but she could focus instead on all the new people she was meeting, most of whom seemed a lot nicer than Miranda even if they were confused by Andy's presence. It would probably be much more fun to work for them. Well, a girl could dream. So she shook hands, and smiled, and made small talk, and did her best to pretend that Miranda wasn't there except as a voice to her right that introduced her to people out of thin air.

The dinner gong rang at eight-forty-five sharp, and the party drifted towards the dining room. To Andy's shock, Miranda took hold of her arm in something like a pinch. Andy managed not to yelp, but she couldn't quite muffle a squeak.

"Stop sulking," Miranda muttered.

Andy definitely looked at her then. "I," she said, but she couldn't really deny it. "I was being nice, wasn't I?" she asked instead, trying not to sound impudent.

"Oh yes," Miranda said, and stuck her nose in the air as she headed for the dining room, letting go of Andy's arm. "You can nice us all to death, can't you?"

"What?" Andy rubbed at her arm as she followed Miranda.

"For God's sake, laugh like an idiot if you must," Miranda said, "and spare me the cold shoulder. Now do your job."

Andy's head spun as she took her seat between two sweet old matrons, one of whom had already shown dangerous signs of talking about her three small dogs. 'Do your job'? But Andy'd been doing her job. She'd been sweet as pie to everybody but Miranda, who didn't count, because Andy was here to schmooze with other people, not with her. They weren't even sitting together. And Andy doubted anybody else would have noticed for a second that she'd been pissed off. So the 'cold shoulder' remark must have meant--

Had it bothered Miranda personally? Did Miranda actually give a crap about how Andy felt about, well, anything at all? The question gnawed at Andy all through dinner, and she was grateful that she didn't have to do much more than exclaim over toy poodles and make sympathetic noises about the stock exchange.

They actually stayed for the whole meal this time. Andy was glad, because the food was really good, although apparently she wasn't the best judge of such things. And she needed time to get her bearings. Again. By the time the butler was helping Miranda into her coat, Andy, bolstered by good food and coffee, felt marginally more in control of herself.

Miranda didn't even wait for the door to close behind them before she said, "I despise passive-aggressiveness."

"Um--" Andy began.

Miranda headed down the steps towards the waiting car. Andy hurried after her. "That sort of high-handed attitude is precisely what I do not need," she said flatly. "How many times must I tell you, Andrea? If a problem arises, you do not wait for someone else to notice it and fix it for you. You deal with it."

"You--" Andy stopped dead on the last step, and stared at Miranda in utter disbelief. "Are you saying you want me to tell you when I'm upset with you?"

Because that couldn't be right. No way. Impossible. Miranda didn't want to know when Andy was upset about the weather, much less--there was no way she could really--

"I want never to have this discussion again," Miranda said, and waited at the car, giving Andy an impatient glance. Andy jerked herself out of her paralysis and hurried forward to open the door. "That is what I want. I have no time for that kind of childishness." She gave Andy a really good glare before she slid into the car.

Andy walked around the car and got in at the other door, welcoming the warmth, and the softness of the seats. It almost made up for her utter confusion. She'd just lost all the equanimity she'd managed to build up during dinner. But she should have expected as much, really. Childishness? Easy for Miranda to say, but Andy had been working on the assumption that Miranda would fire her ass if she so much as breathed a word of discontent.

She glanced at Miranda, who was making a great show of looking in her handbag. Jimmy pulled away from the curb. "Uh, sorry," Andy said.

"Mmm," Miranda said without looking up.

"I'll try and be more…direct."

"Mm-hmm."

"And you won't get mad at me?" Andy pressed, because it seemed important to clear that up.

Miranda whisked a small mirror from her bag and peered at her eyes in it, squinting in obvious displeasure. She prodded the skin beneath one eye. "Arrange a facial for me tomorrow," she said. "This weather is wreaking havoc on my skin."

"Sure thing," Andy said, her heart pounding. She didn't know why, though: was she scared, or relieved, or what? Why couldn't anything be simple with Miranda?

"And yes, you will need to find something to wear," Miranda said, as if they'd never stopped having that conversation in the kitchen. Like always, Andy scrambled to keep up. "For the New Year's Ball. We will not stay long--I promised the twins I'd be with them at midnight." There was an element of pure determination in Miranda's voice, and Andy got a sudden mental image of Miranda knocking people out of her way at a fancy party so she could get home in time. Andy wouldn't put it past her. "You will go to the Runway U.K.  offices," Miranda added. "Call and tell them to expect you. They have their own Closet, of course, so borrow something from that."

"Okay," Andy said, wondering if Runway U.K.  also had its own Nigel.

"Just don't let them talk you into that menswear-inspired trend," Miranda added, her voice dripping with disgust. "The cuts are so boxy you'd look preg--" Then she choked and actually fumbled her mirror. Andy quickly looked straight ahead.

"Ridiculous," Miranda finished after an excruciatingly awkward couple of seconds. "You would look ridiculous."

"Okay," Andy said again, wondering if that should be the only word she ever said for the rest of her life, just to be on the safe side. They were silent for the rest of the ride to Miranda's house, where Padmini awaited them. Her smile was still friendly, but tired.

"The girls?" Miranda asked her at once, as Andy helped her out of her coat.

"We had a lovely time, Ms. Priestly," Padmini said. "They said they hoped you would look in on them when you got home."

Miranda looked blank for a moment. "Aren't they asleep?" she said. "It's nearly eleven-thirty."

"Yes, of course, ma'am," Padmini said, looking surprised that Miranda had needed to ask.

"Then why would I…" Miranda seemed to realize what she was saying, and turned pink. Padmini's eyes went wide. Andy quickly hung their coats in the hall closet, and brought out Padmini's own, holding it out to her with a bright smile.

"What time are you supposed to be here tomorrow?" she asked.

"Nine o'clock," Padmini said, giving Miranda one last, faintly spooked look. Miranda turned and walked briskly down the hallway without another word. When she was out of earshot, Padmini turned to Andy, and murmured, "Is she--have you worked for her very long?"

"No," Andy said. "Not too long. Less than a year, actually."

"Oh," Padmini said, and put on her coat, glancing back down the hall where Miranda had vanished. "I don't understand her," she added. "I don't understand women like her at all."

Andy agreed completely, so she wasn't sure why the remark got on her nerves. 'Women like her'? What was that supposed to mean? She heard herself saying, almost defensively, "Miranda loves her kids."

Padmini looked at her and said, quickly, "Oh, of course! I wasn't saying…well…good night, Miss Sachs."

Andy opened her mouth to remind Padmini not to be so formal, and said, "Good night."

The door closed behind Padmini. Andy found herself dithering in the hallway, not sure what to do, not even sure what she was thinking about, just that she was sleepy all over again, and more confused than ever.

She heard Miranda's footsteps moving around upstairs, heading towards her bedroom. As Andy listened, she stopped at one door, and then moved on to another--the twins' rooms. Andy took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly, relieved for a reason she couldn't quite put a name to.

Everything would make sense in the morning. Or at least she'd be more equipped to pretend that it did.

 


 

Andy's alarm went off at seven the next morning. Miranda hadn't given her a particular hour at which to rise and shine, but she figured this was reasonable enough. Deciding that it probably wasn't good form to emerge from the bedroom in her pajamas, Andy ignored the grumbling of her stomach and showered in the spacious bathroom. She hadn't taken the time to look at it yesterday, but now it confirmed her suspicions: little odds and ends, like an old razor head and a leather traveling-case she found in a cupboard, had clearly belonged to a male occupant.

She made her hair presentable, dressed, and decided that not even Miranda could be anal enough to care that Andy wasn't wearing makeup at seven-thirty in the morning at home. So Andy headed downstairs, listening for other sounds of life. She didn't hear anything, but when she arrived in the kitchen, the twins were already there, munching their way through toast and cereal. The girls looked up at Andy in unison, but said nothing. Andy managed a smile. "Morning," she said.

"Good morning," they chorused, as correct as mini-Stepford wives.

Andy wasn't fooled for a second. "Is your mom still asleep?"

"She's probably been throwing up," one of them said casually, like it was the most normal thing in the world. "She does almost every morning. It's really gross," she added with a child's relish.

"It's not as bad as it used to be," the other one said. "And then she gets a shower, and then she comes to breakfast."

The first twin glanced at a nearby clock. "She should be here in a few minutes."

"Oh," Andy said faintly. "Then, um…let's…get started on that. Breakfast." She remembered what was in the fridge and the cupboards. No yogurt or bananas. "Does she like toast?"

"How can you not like toast?" The twin rolled her eyes. "It's just bread."

"Good point," Andy said. "Uh. Sorry. Which one are you?" She'd been able to guess at it once before, back at Penn Station. But she'd probably used up all her luck by now.

"Caroline," said the one on the left.

"Cassidy," said the other, unnecessarily.

"Caroline. Cassidy. Thanks," Andy said, watching them carefully. Had they even given her the right names? Probably not. The sly glances that the twins exchanged only confirmed her suspicions. She reached for a nearby loaf of bread and added, "Did you wake up last night?"

"Huh?"

"When we got home. She looked in on you," Andy clarified.

"I didn't wake up," the-one-who'd-said-she-was-Cassidy replied.

"Let's go watch TV until Padmini comes," supposedly-Caroline said, evidently not including Andy in the suggestion. She put their plates in the dishwasher and the twins headed out of the kitchen without a backward glance.

Andy sighed, slapped some butter on the bread, and popped two slices in the toaster oven before cutting up another slice of melon and putting decaf coffee on to brew.

A few minutes later, she heard footsteps descending the stairs, and glanced up to see Miranda entering the kitchen, fully dressed and made-up, appearing totally composed. Andy, looking closely, could see that her skin looked too pale beneath the makeup, but otherwise she seemed pretty steady on her feet. "I made you some breakfast, if you want it," Andy said. At that moment, the toaster oven clicked off, and Andy whisked out the buttered slices. Miranda just stared at them, and Andy suddenly felt self-conscious. "I mean…it's just toast and melon," she said. "I didn't know if you'd…or do you want something el--"

"This is fine," Miranda said. "You're making coffee?" She sat down at the table, and Andy set a plate with toast in front of her.

"Decaf," Andy said, with a tremulous little smile. "Water, too?" Miranda nodded. As Andy went to fetch it, she added over her shoulder, "Your facialist's practice opens in an hour, so I'll call then and see if she can fit you in today."

When she turned back with a glass of water, Miranda was looking at her in obvious surprise. "You already have the number?"

Andy looked back at her, surprised as well. Since when did Miranda expect her, or anyone, to be anything less than perfect? Besides, Andy'd gotten into the habit by now. "Well…yeah," she said. "It's on my list. My London contact list, in my phone, anyway." Along with Miranda's physician, her housekeeping service, her hairdresser, her favorite florist, and, of course, the main office of Runway U.K. , plus a few others. When it came to Miranda, you could never, ever be too prepared. You could never really be prepared at all, in fact.

As Andy discovered when, after a moment, Miranda said, "Oh. That's…good." They blinked at each other for a few minutes. Andy felt herself turning red from both pleasure and embarrassment, and she could have sworn that beneath her makeup Miranda's cheeks had gone faintly pink, but at that moment, the coffeemaker bleeped. Relieved beyond measure, Andy poured Miranda's coffee, and began brewing some regular for herself.

"You are going to the London Runway  office today," Miranda said, her tone far more businesslike as Andy poured her own coffee. It wasn't a question.

"All right," Andy said. She sat down and took the second piece of toast for herself, careful not to get crumbs everywhere.

"And try to bring back something interesting, for once," Miranda added. "You are entirely too likely to play it safe. Take a chance, for God's sake--you work for Runway , and you wear the most predictable clothes."

Andy almost choked on her toast, unable to believe what she was hearing. She'd always thought her clothes were beautiful. Classics. Not…not boring . Nigel himself had given her his stamp of approval, back in Paris. Emily had even said she looked "chic" at the benefit.

"What--" she began.

"That's one area where Emily has the advantage over you, at least," Miranda added, her voice deceptively mild, and Andy shut her mouth at once. "She takes risks. That is what you do, in fashion."

What? Like Miranda could talk. She wore classics, too. She certainly didn't show up to work in the kinds of clothes Emily wore. Emily wore iridescent eyeshadow, painted her fingernails blue, wore dresses with epaulets that rivaled a linebacker's shoulder pads, and Andy knew that red hair wasn't natural. And she so, so wasn't saying anything of the kind to Miranda. So instead, she just asked, "Is there anybody in particular I should ask for there?"

"I trust you to figure things out on your own by now, Andrea," Miranda said, and ate a bite of melon. Andy wondered if she could somehow make Miranda eat all of it this time. She had no idea how anyone might go about accomplishing such a thing. "Although heaven knows, if they don't instantly give you what you want, I'm sure you'll have a great deal of trouble handling yourself."

Andy turned red. "I can do it," she said defiantly, and almost hoped they did give her trouble, just so she could prove it to Miranda.

But they didn't. After making Miranda's appointment for ten-thirty a.m., she called for Jimmy to run her to the offices of Runway U.K.  as quickly as possible so that the car could return in time to take Miranda to her facial. (Miranda had only one chauffeured car in London and clearly did not appreciate the deprivation.) Everyone at Runway U.K.  was remarkably accommodating. She didn't try to speak to any bigwigs, but rather reached out to her fellow assistants, all of whom were sympathetic to the demands of people like Miranda. And surprised that Andy got to go to the New Year's Ball. "I'd kill for an invitation," said a tall, skinny young woman named Georgie.

"Imagine all the people you'll hobnob with," added a tall, skinny young woman named Janys, which she spelled funny.

"She wants me to be more daring," Andy said, and tugged at her Ralph Lauren pants, which, until this morning, she'd thought were quite serviceable. But apparently "serviceable" was suddenly a dirty word to Miranda. Maybe this was just a mood swing on her part. Hormones or something. "She thinks my clothes are boring."

Georgie and Janys nodded. They were apparently far more of the Emily School--maybe it was an English thing?--and by the time Andy left, she had a flimsy-looking little dress made of black tulle, sequins, and organza that she never would have picked out for herself in a million years, but which they assured her looked perfect.

It did fit well, but-- "Shouldn't it be floor-length?" Andy said, staring at the short skirt. "I mean, it's a cocktail dress." They rolled their eyes, and she left before she could push her luck any further.

Miranda called her just as she was heading out the door. "Are you on your way back?"

"Yes," Andy said, and practically ran for the waiting Jaguar. At least the cocktail dress wasn't too heavy to lug. "We should be back in twenty minutes." It wasn't even nine o'clock yet. Miranda had plenty of time to make it to her appointment. Jimmy helpfully opened the door so Andy could toss the dress bag into the back seat.

"I've just arranged lunch with some friends," Miranda said. "So I won't be home to eat, but I'll return for the girls in time for our outing." She was taking them to a museum, apparently determined to get some mothering in come hell or high water. Maybe she just wanted to get back in practice before the next one was born.

"Okay," Andy said. "Uh, where will you be?" she added as she slid inside the car and buckled up.

"Roka," Miranda said, her voice absent. She was probably multitasking. Like always. "Some sushi place, apparently."

Andy sat bolt upright. "You can't have sushi!" she said.

"What?"

"It's--I read--" Andy suddenly remembered Jimmy in the front seat, and said, "I mean, I heard that restaurant wasn't very good."

"Andrea," Miranda said. She sounded, on a scale of one to ten, about Level 8 Impatient.

"Raw fish is bad," Andy muttered, staring out the window. "You, uh, you can't have raw fish. Or undercooked anything, really." It hadn't been on the caresheet--something Andy should really call Dr. Latchley about as soon as she got back to New York--but she remembered running across it in a book. The book had been very definite on the subject.

"…I know that," Miranda said, and Andy knew she totally hadn't. "They serve more than sushi, Andrea, for heaven's sake. Now come home immediately."

"We're on our way," Andy said. "Oh, and they loaned me a dress tha--"

Miranda hung up. Whoops. Andy winced. Miranda had been acting so…differently for the past couple of days that Andy had forgotten her intolerance for idle chatter. Miranda had not asked about the dress; Miranda did not want to know about the dress; that was all.

Andy looked at the garment bag lying on the seat next to her, and twiddled her thumbs.

 


 

The afternoon came as a pleasant surprise to Andy. Miranda returned from lunch, hauled the twins away from Padmini, and gave Andy the rest of the day off.

"Do what you want, Andrea, but be home in time for dinner," Miranda said, glancing almost apprehensively at the twins as they prepared to go out. For a second, Andy thought Miranda would change her mind and order Andy to accompany the three of them.

In fact, it seemed that Miranda was on the verge of doing exactly that. Andy said quickly, "Any suggestions? Uh, about what I should do?"

"Yes. Buy a guidebook," Miranda said, and, successfully diverted, ushered the twins out the door to the waiting car.

Andy, who had no such luxuries, headed for the nearest tube station, reveling in the dual sensations of freedom and anonymity. Nobody here knew she was Miranda Priestly's assistant, nobody would care about the shoes she was wearing, nobody would keep an eye on how much she ate, and she could do whatever she darn well liked.

And she would, Andy resolved. She was going to make up for Paris, and actually see the city this time. No Bond Street, no Oxford Street, no shopping, no fashion. Not today. She was going to take in a museum or two, or see Big Ben and Parliament, or look up the houses where famous writers used to live. She was going to get some Culture with a capital C, and she'd even brought her camera. She'd email the photos home to her parents. Maybe that would mollify them a little--show them that she wasn't slaving away for Miranda all the time, that she'd actually gotten a little mini-vacation. All paid for, too, which was nice. Her mom loved London. She'd probably be thrilled that Andy was actually getting to see some of it. At least, Andy hoped so.

But to her disgust, Andy found herself thinking about Miranda anyway. Wondering what she and the twins were up to, if they were getting along, if the girls were treating her decently, if she'd need to call Andy for anything. Not that Andy wanted her to. She was just curious.

She'd probably find out tonight at dinner, Andy told herself for the thousandth time as she tried, yet again, to capture the perfect photograph of the Millennium Bridge before a whole flock of tourists wandered in front of her camera. Even if Miranda didn't say anything out loud, Andy was starting to get pretty good at reading her silent moods. Most of them were unpleasant, but Andy had managed to work out a classification system: irritated, impatient, disgruntled, annoyed (which was ever-so-slightly different from irritated), brisk, brusque, tired, wired, vengeful, vicious, pensive, brooding, melancholy, and, just occasionally, lonesome. Rarely happy, though. Which was a pity. Now that she thought about it, Andy wasn't even sure that she'd ever seen Miranda smile. Not a real smile, instead of a fake social smile, anyway. Even the smiles she gave the twins seemed strained.

Andy realized that she'd made it halfway across the bridge without even paying attention to anything but her thoughts. Growling to herself, she glanced at her watch. She had two hours left. From here, it would take about forty-five minutes to get back to Miranda's place on the tube. Give it an hour to be on the safe side. So she had an hour to herself.

She was wondering if it would be worth it to attempt the Tate Modern in an hour when her phone rang. Miranda. "Hello?" Andy said, answering at once.

"Come home now," Miranda said. "I can't reach Padmini, and I need you to watch the girls while I go to Dr. Finch."

Andy blinked, and then her heart tripped into panic-mode. Miranda didn't have an appointment, which had to mean-- "Are you okay? What's wro--"

"Be quick," Miranda snapped, and hung up. Her voice had trembled a little, though. Andy was very glad that she was wearing comfortable shoes for once as she sprinted for the nearest tube station, her heart in her mouth.

The trip back to Miranda's townhouse seemed interminable. Andy kept looking at her phone, in case somebody had called in the nanosecond since the last time she'd checked and had left a message. What could be wrong? Miranda had seemed a little listless this morning, but the twins had implied that was normal. And she'd been fine when she'd returned from lunch at Roka. Shit. She'd better not have had the sushi. It'd be just like her, though, not to listen, to ignore advice willfully just because it came from somebody stupid and beneath her notice like Andy.

Even though the trip felt like it lasted forever, Andy was surprised, when she hurried up the townhouse steps, to realize that only thirty minutes had elapsed since the phone call. She'd run as fast as she could, and had had really good timing with catching connecting trains. It could have been a lot worse. Still, she felt like it had been years since she'd seen the townhouse as she turned the key in the door.

"Hello?" she called as she closed the door behind her. She heard footsteps, and two worried-looking ten-year-olds appeared around the corner.

"Have you heard from Mom?" one of them demanded.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," Andy said. She put her coat and scarf away, still breathing heavily, and patted down her hair. "What happened?"

"We were at Victoria and Albert, and she said she didn't feel good," the other twin said. "Jimmy drove us home, and then she took her temperature and it was too high."

A fever? Andy womanfully resisted the urge to bite her lip or otherwise look anxious as she took off her gloves. "And she was able to talk to Dr. Finch right away?"

They shrugged sullenly. "I guess," one of them said. "She left, anyway, and told us to be good until you got here."

"Oh," Andy said. Then she added, "Well, I hope you'll keep being good even though I'm here now." She attempted a smile.

They weren't buying it. "Why did she bring you here?" the one on the left said, out of the blue.

Andy started. "I--um--"

"It's because Padmini doesn't stay here all the time like Cara does," the one on the right said bitterly. "She just doesn't want to stay here alone with us."

"Oh, no," Andy said at once. "I'm sure that's not true." Although she wasn't sure of that at all. "She loves spending time with you. I--you know, she almost fired me when I couldn't get her a flight in a hurricane so she could see--"

"Shut up,"  said the twin on the right, and stomped off. Andy watched her leave with wide eyes. She was willing to bet anything that was the one who'd been sulking in the car when they'd returned from the Hamptons. Caroline, then.

"She was going to spend the afternoon with us," the other twin, Cassidy, said, giving Andy a very direct look. "Just us and her."

"Yeah," Andy said, nodding in relief. She dragged her hand through her hair again, and decided that the kid deserved some straight talk since she seemed to be the reasonable one. "Cassidy, right?" Cassidy nodded, looking surprised. "I don't know why your mom wanted me to come. She didn't tell me. I'm just trying to help her."

"Caroline's really angry," Cassidy said, unnecessarily. Then she added, "She needs more therapy than me. Dr. Bryson said so. But she doesn't want to go, and Mom won't make her."

"…oh," Andy said, realizing she'd stumbled on something that was definitely none of her business. She quickly looked at her watch. "Oh, hey--how long until the cook arrives?"

She looked up, and saw Cassidy watching her with hooded blue eyes. She looked very much like her mother at that moment, and Andy knew she was being judged. Then she remembered this was an ten-year-old kid, and glared right back.

Cassidy apparently came to a conclusion, though Andy had no idea what it was, and shrugged. "Cook's been here for twenty minutes," she said. "We're having salmon." She gave Andy a quick look. "She has a list of food Mom's supposed to eat," she said. "Did you make it?"

"I, um, typed some stuff up," Andy said feebly. "From books. I need to add more, though." Maybe that would be her after-dinner project. If Miranda came home and everything was okay. Or even if she just picked up a phone and let Andy know what the heck was going on.

Echoing her thoughts, Cassidy said, "I'm gonna talk to Caroline. Will you tell us if Mom calls you?"

"Sure," Andy said, before she could think better of it, and Cassidy scampered off, leaving her dithering around in the hallway. Well, dithering wasn't good for anyone. And the twins obviously neither needed nor wanted Andy to hover over them like some Victorian nanny, so she decided to make herself useful by going to the kitchen and offering her services to the cook. The cook, a woman named Ellen, gave her a very odd look but let her cut up some vegetables. That was about all Andy could do anyway. Sometimes she really missed Nate.

She wondered what he'd say about all this. If he'd thought she was too wrapped up in her job before… It was probably for the best that they'd ended it before things could get any worse. It would never have worked. There wasn't room for Nate in her life now, or anybody like him.

"Are you all right?" Ellen asked, and Andy realized she'd been staring at a pile of raw green beans for several seconds without moving. She shook her head rapidly and began chopping.

An hour later, dinner was all ready and Miranda still wasn't home. The twins kept wandering in and out of the kitchen, looking a little more worried each time, asking if Miranda had called yet. By then, Andy had cut up what seemed like every vegetable in the house, so instead she decided to keep herself and the twins busy by setting the table. Ellen said her good-byes; dinner was being kept warm in the oven, she'd scrubbed all the pots, and she had nothing left to do. She seemed to feel bad about leaving the three of them alone, and Andy wondered if Ellen thought she was as much of a child as Caroline and Cassidy. So she straightened her shoulders, said they'd be fine, and politely saw Ellen out the door.

Fifteen more minutes passed. Andy was hungry, and she knew the girls were, too, even though they were also nervous. After five more minutes, she was on the verge of suggesting they go ahead and eat, when the front door opened and shut.

The twins ran to the hallway at top speed, and Andy, to her immense relief, heard Miranda's voice murmuring a greeting. She decided it wouldn't be helpful for all three of them to pile on Miranda in the doorway, so she went ahead and began putting the food on the table, figuring it was what her own mom would have done and was therefore an acceptable plan of action.

A few moments later, Miranda entered the kitchen, trailed by her daughters. She appeared wan and drawn: no great surprise, Andy guessed. She poured Miranda a glass of water, and some juice for the twins.

"But you're okay," Caroline was pressing, sounding remarkably concerned for a girl who'd had nothing good to say about her mother an hour ago.

"Yes, darling," Miranda said, and absently stroked Caroline's head before she sat down at the table with an obvious expression of relief. "Dr. Finch said it's nothing to worry about, and just to rest a little and drink more fluids."

"Did he give you anything?" Cassidy asked.

"Just Tylenol," Miranda said. "It brought my temperature right down." She patted Cassidy's arm. "Mommy was very silly to worry, wasn't she? Now sit down and eat your dinner."

"I'll get yours," Caroline said quickly, and ladled plenty of food onto Miranda's plate from the casserole dish.

"Thank you, dear," Miranda said. "It smells good."

"There's spinach in it," Cassidy said. She looked at Andy. "She's supposed to eat spinach, right?"

"Right," Andy said, as she set the juice glasses at the twins' places. "Folic acid. Good stuff."

"Do you like spinach?" Cassidy asked.

"Love it," Andy lied, deciding to set a good example. Cassidy appeared to buy it.

Miranda had eaten two bites of her dinner when she appeared to realize that three sets of eyes were watching her attentively. She raised her eyebrows. Andy flushed and quickly began to eat her own food, but the twins weren't so timid. "You're not sick anymore, right?" Cassidy said.

"I'm tired, but I'm fine," Miranda said firmly. "What did you girls do while I was gone?"

Caroline looked down at her plate and began pushing her food around. "We just hung out," Cassidy said, sounding evasive, and Andy wondered what she and Caroline had talked about, what they'd said about their mother. "Andy helped the cook."

"Mm," Miranda said, obviously not giving a shit about what Andy had or had not done. "I'm sorry we had to leave the museum so early."

"It was boring," Caroline muttered.

"It was not," Cassidy snapped.

"I don't like museums."

"I don't like parks, and we go to those."

"You get to watch people in parks. What do you see in museums? Just a bunch of stuff by dead  people."

"Not in the Tate Modern," Andy said before she could stop herself, and Miranda and the twins looked at her. They all had identical, laser-like blue stares. Andy tried not to quail. "I mean, there's a lot of art in there by people who are still alive. It's all contemporary stuff."

"Woo-hoo," Caroline said, and rolled her eyes. Now that she knew her mother was okay, her snotty attitude had obviously returned in full force. Miranda, predictably, did not rebuke her, but went on eating her salmon. Duly chastened, Andy looked back at her own food and gritted her teeth.

"I want to go to the Tate Modern," Cassidy said. "Can we, Mom?"

"You didn't like it last time," Miranda said.

"I was nine. Now I'm almost eleven," Cassidy said. "I'm much older now. I bet I'll like it better."

Miranda shrugged, and ate another bite of salmon, looking like it took some effort. Andy tried to ignore her pang of worry. "If you want, I'll tell Padmini to take you both tomorrow morning."

At those words, Caroline's mouth curled up in an almighty sneer. She opened her mouth, and Andy knew what she was going to say. Right before she spoke, though, Caroline happened to glance at Andy, and ran full-steam into Andy's very best Don't-You-Even-THINK-About-It glare, which, as it happened, she had also inherited from her mom. Caroline being bratty to Andy was one thing; Caroline being bratty to her exhausted, sick mother was something else. Andy wasn't the boss of the twins, and she didn't want to be, but there were limits to what she could silently endure.

Caroline's eyes widened, she went a little pale, and then she looked down at her plate. Andy realized that her heart was pounding, and she sipped her water to regain her composure. She felt like she'd just gotten away with something really dangerous.

"I don't want to go to the Tate Modern," Caroline said, but her voice was nearly a whisper. It sounded more pathetic than sullen, and Miranda gave her daughter a quick look.

"Well, remember, you're spending the afternoon at Henry and Elizabeth's house," she said, "so you won't have to stay very long."

"Maybe Andy can take you somewhere else," Cassidy said. Andy's head snapped up and she stared at Cassidy in mute horror before she got her face back under control. Not that Miranda even looked at her to see her reaction.

Then, to Andy's astonishment, Caroline said, "Okay." She was still looking at her food.

"That's settled, then," Miranda said, and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. "Cassidy will go to the Tate Modern with Padmini, and Caroline, you will go--somewhere with Andrea. I'll stay home and keep off my feet." She patted Cassidy's arm again. "Like the doctor told me to." Then Miranda stood up. She'd eaten almost everything, which would have relieved Andy if she hadn't still been too outraged to speak. So much for not being a nanny.

"The food was good. Andrea," Miranda said, not deigning to look at Andy, "make sure spinach shows up from time to time in my lunch when we return home. Now I'm going to lie down for a little while. Girls, will you please do the dishes when you finish eating?"

"Sure," the twins chorused, and looked at Andy. Andy sighed.

 


 

Andy went to bed at ten-thirty that night, after doing dishes, watching TV, and reading in her room until she was bored to death. Unfortunately, she woke up two hours later and couldn't go back to sleep.

Damn. Jet lag was probably still screwing with her. That, and, well, pretty much everything else. She and Caroline were supposed to go somewhere in the morning, but Andy didn't know where yet, or, for that matter, how she was supposed to put up with Caroline for hours all by herself. Caroline liked Padmini, for Christ's sake, not Andy. This wasn't going to be fun. Which meant that Andy needed her sleep, but no matter how much she tossed and turned, she couldn't nod off again.

She gave up at one o'clock and slid out of bed with a grunt. It wasn't doing her any good to stay up here. Might as well do something worthwhile instead of staring at the ceiling. She reached for the novel she'd left on the nightstand, deciding to go downstairs and read in that huge, comfy-looking armchair in the den. Then, without knowing why, she put the novel aside and picked up the pregnancy book she'd brought with her instead.

Ten minutes later, she was comfortably ensconced in the comfy armchair downstairs with a fluffy throw covering her knees, reading by lamplight. Every once in a while she paused to underline something. Miranda was three and a half months along now, and according to the book, she'd start showing in a month or so, maybe less. Heck, she might be showing now, but Miranda had an unerring knack for dressing in the most flattering way possible, so nobody would ever notice. Andy wondered how long it would be before even well-cut blouses and decorous skirts could no longer do the job. Maybe Miranda could suddenly decree that empire dresses were fashionable for office wear. And comfortable shoes. And support hose.

Looked like ultrasounds would start soon-ish, along with some other prenatal tests. The book said that these tests were especially important for older mothers, and then started saying things about birth defects, and "detecting" them early, and one-chance-in-a-hundred, that Andy didn't want to think about and decided not to underline. Miranda had had the twins late in life, and they'd come out okay, hadn't they? Andy decided instead to focus on things she could actually do something about, and took notes for a great big list of Dos and Don'ts that she could conveniently leave lying somewhere Miranda was sure to see it. No sushi, for starters, or aspirin; lots of green leafy vegetables, and take the damn vitamins, and massages were good…

Andy opened her eyes. The book was lying open on her lap, but she'd dropped her pen, and Miranda was standing over her in her grey bathrobe, with an expression on her face that looked very much like shock. It vanished almost the moment Andy focused on her.

"Oh," Andy said, and scrambled to wake up at once. "Sorry. Time is it? I'm awake. Breakfast, I can fix. Um. I think I dropped a pen." She sat up, looked around, and tried to appear alert.

Miranda sat down on the hassock in front of the armchair. "Calm down. It's four-thirty in the morning." She sounded irked, but there was still something strange in her eyes that Andy was too tired to figure out.

"Oh?" Andy blinked hard. Her eyeballs felt dried out. She glanced towards the window and saw that it was still dark outside. Her jaw almost dislocated itself in a yawn she couldn't quite stop.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Miranda said.

Even half-asleep, Andy realized that was a weird thing for Miranda to say. "You didn't," she said. "I think." She yawned again. "I couldn't sleep. Jet lag, or something."

Miranda nodded. She had bags under her eyes and did not look well. Andy squinted, and, just like that time Miranda had called her at three in the morning, let fatigue cloud her judgment long enough to say, "Are you really okay? You didn't just say so because you were in front of the twins, or anything?"

Miranda nodded again. "It was nothing serious. Thankfully. I…would not have wanted it to be." Then she stared off into space, while Andy processed the fact that Miranda had decided she wanted the kid after all.

She tucked her feet up under the blanket. "Um, so, why are you awake, too?"

Miranda ignored the question and said, "Caroline is very sensitive." She still wasn't looking at Andy.

"Oh," Andy said, when it became apparent that Miranda wasn't going to keep talking. "Yeah. I mean, sure." She rubbed a hand over her eyes, and blinked again.

"More than Cassidy," Miranda said. "She always has been. But brilliant, of course. They both are."

If that was true, Andy thought, then they damn well could have come up with an award-winning science project all on their own. But she just nodded and made a vague noise of agreement.

"Greg and I used to say that Caroline takes after me, and Cassidy after him," Miranda continued. She shrugged, as if to say she wasn't sure it was true, or if it even mattered.

"I take after my dad," Andy said. "At least, Mom says so." Except for the glare she'd given to Caroline, apparently.

Miranda picked absentmindedly at the sleeve of her bathrobe, her lips pursed in thought. "What do they think about you being here?" she asked.

That was the second time Miranda had asked about Andy's parents in as many days. Andy, too surprised to lie, said, "They don't like it." Miranda thinned her lips. Fuck. "But, I mean, that's just because it's Christmas…" Oh, that wasn't any better. "It doesn't matter anyway," Andy tried.

Miranda finally looked at her, with raised eyebrows. "No?" She sounded disbelieving.

"Well…I mean…" Andy said, "I'm here, aren't I? You, um." She took a deep breath. "You wouldn't have fired me if I hadn't come. Would you? I mean, you didn't actually say you would, or anything." Miranda hesitated ever-so-slightly, before looking away again and shaking her head.

Andy took another deep breath, and realized she'd always known that. Miranda would have been angry, hurt, if Andy had said no. Might have made her life a little more unpleasant back at the office. But she would not have actually punished Andy, would not have ruined or fired her.

She just might have trusted Andy a little bit less. Leaned on her a little bit less. Felt like she couldn't count on her. And that, that was the thought Andy really couldn't stand.

"Anyway," Andy said. "I'm here. So. Yeah."

Miranda looked back at her. Andy wondered if she knew what Andy was thinking, or if she cared. "So you are," she said, her voice and face absolutely neutral. "Where are you taking Caroline?"

"I don't know," Andy said, and swallowed around the sudden thickness in her throat. "Wherever she wants, I guess. She said she likes parks. And people-watching."

"Don't let her get too cold," Miranda reminded her, and tugged her robe's collar tighter around her neck, as if she was cold herself. Andy made to offer her the blanket, but she shook her head wordlessly. Then she said, "You got a dress for the ball?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah," Andy said. "A couple of girls there, um, helped me pick it out." She cleared her throat. "It's…short. It's a cocktail dress, really." Miranda raised her eyebrows. "Do you want me to show it to you?" Andy added, already preparing to go upstairs and fetch it. She'd feel a lot better if Miranda told her it wasn't totally ridiculous-looking. 

"No," Miranda said. "I don't want to see it until New Year's." When Andy started, she added, "Andrea, is there something about 'take a risk' that you do not understand?"

"No," Andy said, hearing exasperation rise in her voice before she could stop it. "I mean, sorry, no. But--what if I look bad, or embarrass you or--"

Miranda gave Andy a scornful look. "Embarrass me?" she said. Andy hung her head. "You might embarrass yourself. I promise you I won't be bothered one way or the other."

Andy looked back up, and glared at her. Miranda glared right back. For once--due to irritation, fatigue, or something else entirely--Andy did not back down. After a moment, Miranda appeared satisfied, although not quite impressed, and tilted her head to the side.

"Own your decisions, Andrea," she said. "You don't really care about what they think. I know that, so don't try to pretend otherwise. I will not be convinced by your corn-fed, aw-shucks wholesomeness." She rolled her eyes.

Okay, seriously? "I don't care about me," Andy snapped, "I care about--" She almost said, you.  "--the reputation of the magazine. I mean, I work at Runway , how would it be if I showed up looking awful?"

"If you look awful, I'll leave you at home," Miranda said flatly. "Does that ease your mind?"

"I--well, yes, actually," Andy admitted. Heck, with that in mind, she might as well try to look as awful as possible. She'd wanted a nice, quiet New Year's, after all, not one where she got all tarted-up and had to smile fakely at rich people she didn't know.

Maybe Miranda sensed this, because she glared again. This time Andy just tried to look innocent. Although that probably didn't fool Miranda anymore, if it ever had. "I'm so sorry," Miranda said, much too sweetly. "Did you have wild, exciting plans for New Year's in Ohio? Did I interrupt your social whirl?"

"I was going to be back in New York by then," Andy said, and yawned before she could help herself. "So," she mumbled around it, "'less you count maybe hanging out with Roy, I guess I didn't have any…"

Miranda blinked. "Roy?"

Andy nodded. "Yeah, Roy." Miranda looked blank. "Your driver," Andy prompted, deciding not to clarify, 'for the last ten years.'

"What about Roy?" Miranda said. "'Hanging out' with Roy?" Her brow drew down alarmingly, and her voice got sharp.

"Um--" Andy said, surprised. "I mean, he sort of mentioned…I guess we might have gone out for a beer or someth--"

"My driver asked you out on a date?"

"What? No! I mean, he didn't actually say--"

"Do you have any idea how unprofessional that is?"

"Oh my God," Andy said, wide awake now, her heart starting to race at the scowl on Miranda's face. "No, Miranda, it wasn't like that, I swear." She tried to laugh. "We're not, I wouldn't…it was just kind of a, you know, a buddy thing."

"Oh, yes, Andrea," Miranda said. "I'm sure men invite you to bars all the time so they can be your 'buddy.'" Andy turned beet red. "That kind of fraternization is completely inappropriate, and I won't have it. Nip it in the bud at once. Or I will." She frowned at Andy. "I am surprised at you, frankly."

"But nothing happened," Andy pleaded. "Nothing would have. I'm--even if he was interested, I'm not." Then she shivered. "Uh--when you say you'd nip it in the bud--"

"I'd fire him," Miranda said, and stood up without further ceremony while Andy stared at her in speechless horror. "And at the first sign of inappropriate conduct, I will do exactly that."

"No!" Andy said. She couldn't believe this. Roy, fired? And it would all be her fault, just because she'd been thoughtless, said something stupid-- "Miranda, he…he's worked for you for so long, please, you can't…"

Miranda gave her a very, very cold look. Then she left the den without another word.

Andy slumped back in the armchair, trembling. Oh, fuck. Had she just gotten Roy fired? She hadn't meant to, she never would have wanted that. And he'd know exactly what had happened, because no doubt Miranda would tell him, and he'd hate Andy for it, and it wouldn't even be fair, because she'd tried to explain everything to Miranda and Miranda hadn't listened, just like always. Or she hadn't wanted to hear. Just like always.

But that just reminded Andy of the truth, really. Miranda was willing to throw away a man who'd loyally worked for her for a decade, just because of some incredibly stupid, incredibly small thing. It was worse than what she'd done to Nigel, because at least Nigel still had a job. Jesus.

Andy tossed the pregnancy book aside, tossed her notes to the floor, and stomped back upstairs to her own bedroom at the other end of the hall. Not that she'd be able to sleep.

 


 

Cassidy and Padmini had already departed in the car with Jimmy. Caroline had wanted to sleep in, and now she and Andy faced each other like enemy combatants in the front hallway. At least, that was how Andy felt about it; Caroline's own expression was inscrutable.

Miranda hadn't stirred out of her room yet. Cassidy had gone to check on her earlier, and had delivered the news that "Mommy is just going to take it easy today." Andy sure as hell wasn't going to disturb her, and Caroline didn't seem inclined to go and give her a goodbye kiss or anything, so Andy supposed it was time to go.

She put her gloves on while Caroline wound a fluffy blue scarf around her neck. "So where do you want to go?" Andy asked.

She'd expected a sulky shrug, or an eyeroll. But Caroline, without looking at her, said, "The London Eye."

Okay. Fair enough. Andy could do that. "Got any money?" she asked. Because she wasn't paying for this.

"Mom gave me some," Caroline said. "For lunch, too."

"We have to be back by two, right?" Andy said. Caroline nodded. "Well, let's get going, then," Andy said, trying to sound hearty. Like that was going to work.

As it happened, Caroline seemed to like the Underground, and was surprisingly good about sticking close to Andy. Of course, she was ten, not four, and not quite so prone to wandering off by herself. But it was good to know that Andy wasn't likely to lose one of Miranda's kids in London, which could only be atoned for by ritual suicide.

Caroline didn't want to talk either. She wanted to walk around London and take pictures with her tiny silver camera. Occasionally, though, Andy saw emotions flitting across her face, and they were rarely good: a passing spasm of sorrow, a quick flash of anger.

Then Caroline caught her looking, and snapped, "What?"

Oops. "Nothing," Andy said, and looked ahead again.

"I don't want to talk to you," Caroline said.

"Fine with me," Andy said before she could stop herself.

"Everybody's always trying to talk to me," Caroline said. "I don't want to talk to anyone, so just shut up, okay?"

"I didn't say anything," Andy felt obliged to point out.

"Yes, you did. Last night. When you gave me that LOOK." Caroline stopped walking and rounded on Andy, the snarl on her face remarkably reminiscent of Miranda's. "You're not my mom. You're not my nanny. You're just an assistant. And you're a stupid  assistant who came up the stairs."

Andy took a deep, deep breath. "Okay," she said. "You're going to say you're sorry, or we're going home right now. And I'm going to march you in to your mother and you are going to tell her exactly what you just said to me."

"No, you won't," Caroline said.

"Oh, you bet I will," Andy said, trying desperately to remember how her mom had handled her when she got like this. Caroline opened her mouth to speak again, and Andy overrode her with, "On the other hand, if you say you're sorry, then we get to go to the London Eye and do other fun stuff. It's up to you."

"She won't care," Caroline said.

"Fine. Let's go, then," Andy said. She jerked her head back towards the nearest tube station. "If that's what you really want."

Caroline didn't move, but just kept staring at Andy.

"It's up to--" Andy began again.

"I'm sorry," Caroline said.

Andy straightened her shoulders. She couldn't believe that had actually worked. Caroline didn't look sorry, of course, but she'd apologized, and that was all Andy had asked of her. "Okay," she said. Then she pointed to the London Eye. "Come on. We're almost there."

After purchasing the exorbitantly-priced tickets, they stood silently in line, waiting for the next available car. Caroline didn't look angry now, or even all that mutinous. She looked thoughtful. Meanwhile, Andy looked at how high the damn thing was, and remembered how scared she was of heights. Oh, God. Not fun. Not fun at all. But it wasn't like she could let Caroline go up by herself, now was it?

Andy considered actually that for a moment, and then shook her head, earning curious glances from both Caroline and the other people in line. No. Not even a possibility. With her luck, Caroline would wind up sitting next to some old pervert without Andy to keep an eye on her.

"Where are we going for lunch?" Caroline asked.

Good question. It was eleven-thirty, and by the time they got done with this, it'd be time to eat. "I don't know," Andy said, and tried to think of something British. Not a pub. "Fish and chips?"

"Mom would be mad," Caroline said, and then considered. "Yeah. Fish and chips."

"Why would your mom be mad?" Andy asked in genuine surprise. Surely Miranda only applied those dietary standards to models and employees, not her spoiled kids.

"Too much fat and grease," Caroline said. "She doesn't let us have stuff like that. Or fast food."

Andy opened her mouth to say Then maybe we shouldn't , and gave up. "Well…you can eat extra vegetables tonight, or something," she said.

"I think Ellen's making pizza," Caroline said, and she actually sounded enthusiastic about something. "Mom said she wanted some. I like pizza." Andy looked away quickly, before Caroline could see the shit-eating grin she just knew was on her face. Sure, Miranda didn't approve of fatty, greasy food for her kids. She'd also gorged herself on half a pizza from Domino's. Why shouldn't Caroline get some fish and chips if she wanted?

Then the line attendant opened the chain to let the next herd of tourists into a newly-available capsule. "Finally," Caroline said, and hurried to be the first inside. Andy cast an apologetic glance at the other passengers. At least everyone could tell that she was too young to be Caroline's mother.

The capsule, which was surprisingly large and spacious, lifted up with a faint jerk, and Andy sat down hard on the bench in the middle. She suddenly had a lot more sympathy for how Miranda must feel in the mornings, and felt really pathetic, because the wheel moved at a snail's pace. She closed her eyes for a few minutes. That helped.

When she opened them again, Caroline was looking at her in obvious disgust from where she stood by the plexiglass. "I thought you wanted to be a reporter," she said.

"I do," Andy said in surprise. "How--"

"Then how are you supposed to do stuff like riding in helicopters?"

"I," Andy said, and squeezed her eyes shut again. "I'll figure that out when I come to it, I guess. But how did you know I want to be a reporter?"

"Mom told us," was Caroline's half-expected response. Half-expected, but still weird. A week ago, Andy would never have believed that Miranda talked about her to her children. Now she didn't know what to believe. About anything. "Where do you want to work?" Caroline added.

"Lots of places," Andy said, and pried her eyelids open again, trying to smile at her young charge. "I'd love to write articles for magazines, you know, freelance stuff. Like The New Yorker  or Vanity Fair . But your mom's right, too--I'd also like to work for a paper where I get to go out and cover stories." She chuckled, and then gulped. "No helicopters, though."

"Didn't you have to fly on a plane to get here?"

"Planes are different," Andy said.

"How?"

"They--I--they just are," Andy said helplessly. "I always keep my eyes shut when we take off and land, and in the middle, I can just pretend that I'm not actually floating really really high over the ground." She gritted her teeth and looked down at the Thames, so far below. "Can't exactly do that here."

"Maybe this'll be like in a movie, where the Ferris wheel stops working for hours and we're stuck right at the top," Caroline said with a certain amount of glee. Andy whimpered. "Does Mom know you want to be a writer for a magazine and not a newspaper? She didn't say anything about that."

"I'm not sure," Andy said. "We haven't, um, really talked about it. I mean, I'd be happy working for eith--"

"You should tell her," Caroline said. "You should write something in Runway ."

"I should?" Andy asked, vaguely recalling that humoring children sometimes worked. "Like what?"

"That stupid crap Mom likes," Caroline said, and her eyes got dark again. "About clothes or shoes or big parties. What else?"

"…oh," Andy said. "Well--"

"Do you like Mom?" Caroline asked.

Andy became aware that some of the other passengers were starting to glance at them. No wonder: once you got inside the capsule, it became painfully obvious that it was going to be a slow trip up and down. Drama inside was probably more interesting than the London skyline outside. "S-sure," she said. "She's, um…she's…"

"She's a bitch,"  Caroline said, slowly and deliberately, giving Andy a very hard look. Testing her even as she tested out a forbidden word.

Andy looked Caroline right in the eye. "Okay," she said. "I'm not your mom and I'm not your nanny. I'm not your therapist. I'm not your friend. Right?"

"Right," Caroline said, looking uneasy now.

"But I work for your mom. I do a lot for your mom. And I am always, always going to be on your mom's side. No matter what." Andy took a deep breath. "You want to complain, talk to somebody else. Okay? That's not my job, and I don't want to hear it."

Caroline's eyes widened, and her shoulders straightened up. Andy felt bad for talking to her that way, and a little scared that Caroline might run to Miranda and tell her all kinds of horrible things about Andy that might not even be true. So she added quickly, "What I'd rather do is walk with you around London and look at cool stuff and not talk about anything. Isn't that what you wanted, anyway?"

"You don't want to talk to me?" Caroline said faintly.

Andy was definitely getting the stink-eye from some other passengers by now. "Sure I do," she lied, and then added more truthfully, "just not about that." She tilted her head to the side. "I mean…you've got other people to talk to about that stuff, right? And you said you didn't want to talk to me."

Caroline came and plunked herself down next to Andy on the bench. "Everybody's on Mom's side," she said. "Nobody's on mine."

Oh, hell. Why hadn't Andy tried reverse psychology? Maybe if she had pretended to want to talk, Caroline would've clammed up again, and then Andy wouldn't have to hear things she shouldn't know. "I don't know why you have to be on different sides," she said cautiously. "She's your mom. She loves you."

"She got rid of Stephen," Caroline said. "She even got rid of Dad. She gets rid of everybody."

"I, um," Andy said, and cleared her throat, "I'm sure she's not actually trying to--"

"She'll get rid of you, too," Caroline said.

Andy snapped her mouth shut.

"I'm not going to start liking you," Caroline said. "I'm not going to care about you at all." She hopped up from the bench and went back to stand at the plexiglass, looking out over the water. She didn't even look at Andy for the rest of the trip down, much less speak to her.

Which was fine, because Andy couldn't think of anything to say. The kid had a point, after all.

 


 

The rest of the morning passed pretty tranquilly, to Andy's surprise. Once they got off the Eye-- Caroline hopped out while Andy staggered--they had a quick lunch of greasy fish and chips wrapped in newsprint, and then hurried back to the townhouse on the tube. They didn't speak more than a few words, and none at all about Miranda, or the baby, or fathers and stepfathers, or any other topic Andy didn't want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Caroline did, on the way back, observe that a vagrant sitting near a tube station looked really dirty and gross and should just get a job.

By the time they arrived at the townhouse, it was nearly time for Caroline and Cassidy to accompany Padmini to their friends' house. Cassidy looked happy, and Padmini seemed to have had a good morning, although the look she gave Andy was fairly cautious. Andy sighed. She supposed she had picked sides, after all. According to Padmini, Miranda was still resting in her room, although "Ms. Priestly told me she has had lunch and is feeling better today." Andy was relieved to hear it, but for Miranda to rest placidly in her room meant that she still had to be feeling pretty wiped.

When she closed the door behind Padmini and the twins, Andy found herself at loose ends. She wasn't used to being at loose ends. Not since she'd started at Runway . But she didn't have an assignment or errand, now that she was back from babysitting Caroline, and she certainly didn't want to disturb Miranda. At the same time, she didn't feel like she just ought to take off on her own without permission. Miranda might need her for something.

So Andy, too restless to read or watch TV (and feeling kind of bloated after her oily lunch), wandered as quietly as she could through the townhouse, paying close attention to it for the first time. She'd only really looked at her bedroom so far. Now she noticed the hallway lined with bookshelves, the fine china plates in the cabinets, the tasteful modern paintings and prints on the walls. But more importantly, she noticed the photographs.

Miranda had a photo of the twins on her desk at Runway . She'd had one of Stephen too, once upon a time. And Andy had seen two large portraits of the twins in Miranda's Manhattan home. But of course she'd never really had the opportunity to explore the place like this. Here, as she walked around, she saw pictures of people Miranda knew and presumably cared about. Andy didn't recognize most of them, and she didn't see pictures of anybody who looked like they might be Miranda's parents, or brothers and sisters, or anything like that. There were a few photos from work, like a large group portrait of important people at Elias-Clarke, including Miranda and Irv. There were more pictures of the twins.

Andy couldn't stop staring at one particular photo, and she carefully picked it up from the shelf. In it, Miranda held one of the newborn twins, and her second ex-husband, Greg, held the other. It was a candid shot: Greg was grinning at the camera while Miranda looked down at the baby in her arms. You couldn't really see the look on her face, and she held the baby a little awkwardly, as if she wasn't used to it yet. But she gripped its tiny body firmly and cradled it close to her breast, protectiveness written even in the set of her shoulders. To her astonishment, Andy got a lump in her throat.

Miranda's hair was mostly dark in the photo, although going white at the temples. She'd been a brunette with hair lighter than Andy's; you could still see traces of the original color on the hair at the nape of her neck and around her ears. The twins were almost eleven, which meant the photo was almost twelve years old now. Miranda would have been nearly forty. An "older mother" even then. No doubt she'd thought she'd never go through anything like that again. God. Why had she decided against an abortion, anyway? Not that Andy knew for sure, but…in Miranda's shoes…well, she didn't know for sure.

"I hardly knew what to do with them," Miranda said behind her.

Luckily Andy didn't drop the photo, but she wasn't quite able to suppress her gasp as she turned around. Miranda, rather than looking penitent, appeared slyly pleased that she'd scared Andy. Of course.

"Well…looks like you figured it out," Andy said feebly, placing the photo back on the bookcase with a hand that only shook a little bit.

"Have I?" Miranda said. "How did you and Caroline pass your time together?" She folded her arms over her chest and tilted her head to the side. Her voice was not particularly hostile, her eyes were nowhere near as cold as they'd been last night (well…this morning), but Andy knew she was being interrogated.

She tried not to squirm, or shift back and forth on her feet like a naughty child. "We went to the London Eye," she said. "And had lunch. That was pretty much the whole morning. It was…fun."

"And Caroline?" Miranda said. Her voice was sharp now. "How did she behave? What did she say?"

Andy decided not to mention that Caroline had called Miranda a bitch. "She said she didn't want to talk to me," she said instead. True enough. "She said everybody tries to talk to her, and she's sick of it." Then Andy shrugged, as if to say nothing else had happened at all. "So, you know, we didn't say too much to each other, and just--looked at the view. Well, she did. I kept my eyes closed." She tried to laugh.

Miranda's lips thinned, and her shoulders slumped a little. She appeared disappointed, but there was no way Andy was going to tell her what Caroline had actually said: not just the bitch thing, but also the thing about Miranda getting rid of people. It might be true, but what good could that do now, except to make Miranda feel even worse while Caroline felt that Andy had betrayed her confidence?

Andy tried to think of something else to say, something that would make Miranda feel better but not be a complete lie. She was coming up dry when Miranda said, "It's one-thirty. Call Nigel. He should be awake by now. Tell him I want him to send me the applications he's screened for Lucia's replacement."

"Oh," Andy said, relieved at the change of subject. "Okay. Um. How are you feeling today?"

"Fine," Miranda said, and brushed past Andy on her way towards the stairs. She didn't offer any other information, didn't say what she was doing or where she was going, and Andy sighed to herself as she pulled out her cell phone and called Nigel.

"Sure thing," he said, when she gave him Miranda's instructions. "I'll email them in a few minutes. But why didn't she call me herself?"

"Huh?"

"You're in New York, too," Nigel said patiently. "Why did she call you  and tell you to call me?"

"Uh--" Andy remembered that today was the 28th, the day she was supposed to return to New York from Ohio. "Actually, I'm not…" her voice trailed off, and then she said, "not sure."

"Too early in the morning for you, huh," Nigel said. "Well, I hate to cut into your vacation time, but if I have to come into the office today, I'm going to need you."

"What?"

"No whining. I'll buy you a nice lunch. Think you can be here in an hour?"

"Um--that'll be a problem," Andy said, her stomach squirming at the thought of what Nigel would say. "I'm actually not in New York."

"Didn't you say you were getting back in today?"

"Yeah, well, plans…changed."

"Great," Nigel said. "Of course you didn't inform anybody else of this. I was counting on you to be here at least by tomorrow, Andy."

"I'm sorry, Nigel," Andy said. "I--I really couldn't help it."

"You better hope Miranda doesn't find out," Nigel warned. "You're not sticking to the game plan. She doesn't like that."

"Uh…"

"And if you think she won't care just because you're an assistant, well, I think we both know how that story ends--"

"She knows my plans changed," Andy said, deciding that there was no point in trying to hide anything. Nigel would know soon enough that Andy had been with Miranda in London, against all logic and common sense. Everybody would. And then he'd just be pissed that Andy hadn't told him over the phone. "She changed them for me."

"She--oh. What?"

"I'm in London," Andy admitted.

There was a very long silence. Andy tried to break it by saying, lamely, "Cara got pneumonia and had to go home."

"Really," Nigel said. "And Miranda flew you over to take care of the twins? That's what you're doing?"

"Not exactly," Andy said, and bit her lip.

"Thought not," Nigel said. "Jesus Christ, Andy--"

"Nigel, I don't know why--"

"Okay. Look, I don't have time…okay. I'll email Miranda about those candidates." He hung up.

Andy stared at her phone and fidgeted. He hadn't sounded mad, exactly. At least, not at Andy. Well, why should he be? Nigel, of all people, knew what Miranda's whims were like.

She wondered, suddenly feeling nauseated, if he was jealous, like Emily--if he resented her meteoric rise to favor. But that wouldn't make sense, that wouldn't be fair. Andy might be Miranda's go-to girl for all kinds of weird stuff now, but she wasn't Nigel . Nobody could replace Nigel. That was half his problem, wasn't it?

"Andrea?" Miranda called from downstairs.

Andy jumped, and hurried towards the stairs. "Sorry, Miranda," she said as she descended. "Nigel says he'll email you in a few minutes…"

 


 

Andy looked at the organza-and-tulle cocktail dress lying on her bed, and sighed.

She had to be ready to leave in an hour. She might as well put on the damn thing. She just really didn't want to go to this shindig; everybody was going to think it was weird that she was there, if anybody noticed her at all, and she'd probably only recognize a few people, and her shoes were going to start hurting her feet about twenty seconds after she put them on. And with her luck, she'd spill champagne all over the dress and have to get a new line of credit just to pay for it. But there was no help for it. Miranda would kill her if she tried to back out, no matter what she'd said about leaving Andy behind.

Andy shucked off her shirt, reflecting that the last three days hadn't been so bad. In fact, she was starting to get disturbingly used to the whole arrangement of living in Miranda's home with Miranda and her kids and the occasional servant. But Miranda had definitely been keeping her close, and wouldn't appreciate having to fend for herself tonight.

Andy'd had no more afternoons out by herself. Although there had been one outing to a park with Miranda, the twins, and Padmini: Miranda, feeling a little perkier, had rested on a bench and watched the twins playing tag with the nanny with a flat, unreadable look on her face. Rather than joining in the game, Andy had sat down next to her, which was all Miranda had seemed to want. It was apparently the only reason for Andy's presence, in fact. Miranda hadn't said a word the whole time. Awkward.

So except for that one afternoon that had ended with Miranda's medical scare, Andy was either dancing attendance on Miranda, the twins, or all three at once. She still wasn't sure where she stood with the girls. Cassidy was obviously reserving judgment, but Caroline--who'd vowed not to care about Andy--had taken to sitting next to her at meals or during car rides, although she never talked to her and rarely looked at her. She would only cede her place to Miranda, who did pretty much the same thing. Andy had no idea what to make of this, except to know for sure that she'd never mention it to Nigel.

Both twins, however, preferred Padmini to either Andy or Miranda. Andy was totally fine with this. She was pretty sure that Miranda wasn't. Which was not Andy's problem. At all.

Padmini was staying late with the girls tonight. She was going to teach them how to make rice kheer. They were excited. Andy would much rather have stayed home and learned how to make rice kheer too, but no, here she was, standing in her underwear and feeling fat as she looked down at the tiny dress. It had looked okay at Runway U.K. , of course. Georgie and Janys had said so. Maybe they were just being nice. Andy wondered what Miranda was wearing. Probably nothing risky.

Mumbling and grumbling, she slipped the dress on, and fiddled with the tulle and ruffles in front of the mirror before reminding herself that the dress was supposed to look charmingly asymmetrical and un-put-together, which was okay just so long as her hair and makeup and everything else looked absolutely perfect and well-groomed. Great. The rest of the hour passed in putting on and wiping off cosmetics, putting up and taking down and putting up hair, and emergency eyebrow maintenance. When it was time to leave, Andy had lost all objectivity, and stared at the woman in the mirror with a certain sense of fatalism. She had no idea if she looked "acceptable" or not. What would be, would be.

As she hurried downstairs, beaded clutch in hand, she heard the twins and Padmini chattering in the kitchen. Well, they'd be the first people who saw her, which meant that it was likely that the first criticism would be the harshest, since the twins could be even more brutal than their mother. That'd be a relief, in a way. Get the worst of it over with.

They looked up as she came into the kitchen. Padmini's face broke into a wide, warm smile, as she said, "Why Miss Sachs, you look lovely."

Cassidy didn't smile, but she did say casually, "That's a pretty dress."

Two out of three wasn't bad. Andy glanced at Caroline, but Caroline was busy stirring a pot full of something.

"What do you think, Caroline?" Cassidy said pointedly.

Caroline shrugged and refused to look up. "It's just a dress," she said. "Who cares?"

"Well, I like it," Cassidy declared, and Andy gave both her and Padmini a grateful smile as she tugged self-consciously at the hem. But before she could say thanks, all four of them heard Miranda descending the stairs, and all four of them, even Padmini, held their breaths until she swept into the kitchen. Then Andy lost her breath completely and abandoned all hope of getting it back.

She was used to seeing Miranda in black. Miranda looked great in black. She almost always wore black to formal events, and while her dresses were never exactly severe-looking, the cut and make was always up-to-the-moment modern, not a single line or stitch wasted in unnecessary frippery or romance.

So Andy was not  used to seeing Miranda in filmy, floor-length champagne silk, with a full skirt that flowed down from the empire bodice. The color, which by all rights should have washed her out, instead matched her skin tone so perfectly that she almost appeared to be naked beneath a thin film of gold lace. The dress was also extremely low-cut. It was not the dress of a pregnant fifty-year-old newly single mother. It was, it was…

Andy didn't know what it was. She was only dimly aware that her heart had started racing and the blood was roaring in her ears and her whole body felt burning hot. Mostly she was realizing that she'd never wanted to have sex with another woman before, but now she did, and specifically she desperately wanted to have sex with Miranda Priestly, and it felt like every day they'd known each other had just been building up to this moment right here and now. Andy had a horrible feeling of inevitability, of something falling into place just at the moment when she'd stopped paying attention and had let her guard down.

She heard herself saying stupidly, like she had when she saw Miranda at the benefit, "Wow." Only it sounded a lot more breathless and Miranda could actually hear her this time.

Miranda glanced at her, raising her eyebrows even as she gave Andy the once-over herself. "I mean, uh," Andy added.

"You look gorgeous, Mom," Cassidy said.

"It is a beautiful dress, Ms. Priestly," Padmini said sincerely, and Andy saw the wistfulness in her eyes. Too bad she and Miranda couldn't switch places for an evening, so Miranda could stay home and spend New Year's with her kids while Padmini dressed up like a queen and went to the ball. But if that happened, then Miranda wouldn't be in that dress , and the world would be a much poorer place.

"Hmm," Miranda said, still looking Andy up and down, tapping her lips with her fingertip. For the first time in her whole life Andy wondered what it would be like to kiss her, and immediately wished she'd taken her dad up on his offer to fly her home. The gold bangle on Miranda's wrist caught the light.

Then, without a word, Miranda turned around and left the kitchen, heading back towards the stairs. Andy helplessly watched her go, and only when the champagne silk had vanished from sight did she feel that she could breathe freely again. Holy…holy…oh, holy…

"I like your dress better," Caroline said. Andy blinked, pulled out of her stupor, and turned around to see Caroline stirring the pot more furiously than ever.

"Thanks," Andy said, and if she'd been able to muster a single coherent thought she would have been seriously worried about Caroline's good judgment. In the meantime, she tried to take deep breaths without making it obvious, and to slow down her heartbeat. The twins and Padmini didn't seem to notice anything amiss.

"Caroline, don't stir so fast," Padmini said, and Caroline slowed her spoon down, still not looking up.

Andy heard the rustling of a silk skirt, and realized that she'd been staring at the twins and Padmini almost without blinking as she tried to get her head back in order. She needed more time, but she didn't have it. So she took another deep breath, and when she turned around she was able to look at Miranda with her usual bland, helpful smile.

Miranda, who hadn't become one iota less stunning in the last three minutes, held out a hand to her. Sparkly things dangled from her fingertips: a necklace and a bracelet. They were made of wrought iron, surprisingly small and delicate, and had tiny crystals hanging off them. "Wear these," Miranda said. "You need some jewelry."

"Thanks, Miranda," Andy said, and reached out with extremely steady hands to take them. They'd look perfect with her outfit. Of course.

"It's a good dress," Miranda said, looking her up and down again, pursing her lips, only not (apparently) in the bad way.

Andy realized that she'd been much too stunned to feel self-conscious. "Thanks," she said again, like an idiot.

She fumbled with the clasp of the necklace while Miranda said, "Girls, we're off. Give Mommy a kiss. We'll be back before midnight, I promise."

Cassidy trotted forward and kissed Miranda gamely enough. Caroline darted a quick glance at Andy, and then an even quicker kiss on Miranda's cheek.

Andy got the necklace on, and said to the twins in a much-too-bright voice, "Will you save some of that rice pudding?"

"Okay," Cassidy said. "We're going to put rose petals in it," she added, sounding very impressed at the thought.

"How lovely," Miranda said. "Now come along, Andrea." She led the way to the hall closet while Andy concentrated on both walking and managing the bracelet clasp. By the time Miranda opened the closet doors, Andy had almost regained her composure, so she wasn't completely thrown when Miranda pulled out two coats: one, a fur wrap, and the other a tailored jacket. "Now," she said, in the tone of one giving a test. "Which one should I wear?"

Andy thought about it. "The jacket," she said.

Miranda looked displeased. "I would have said the fur."

"I know," Andy said. Miranda blinked. "Taking a risk?" Andy dared to add, and wondered where the hell that little bit of chutzpah had come from. Well, she supposed once you realized you were dying to have sex with Miranda Priestly, nothing else could scare you anymore. Getting fired might actually be a good thing, since it would give Andy time to check into the nearest mental health clinic.

Miranda snorted, but she actually put the fur back and donned the jacket. Then she reached into the closet, removed Andy's coat, and tossed it at her just as if she was dropping her own coat on Andy's desk back at Runway  back before Emily had been demoted.

"Well?" Miranda said as she put her gloves on. Andy snapped back into reality and opened the front door.

 


 

This was turning into pretty much the worst evening of Andy's whole life.

Worse than the time she'd caught her junior-high boyfriend making out with her best friend at a school dance. Worse than the time her dad had discovered her sneaking back home at twelve-thirty in the morning on a school night, smelling of beer. Worse than the journalism awards ceremony at Northwestern where she'd come in second to her most hated rival, a vapid little blonde who'd slept with at least two professors. Worse than all that.

Sitting next to Miranda in the car was awful, for starters. Andy had to pay attention, or pretend to, while Miranda talked on and on about the candidates Nigel had put forward to replace Lucia, and how almost all of them were completely unsuitable, and the rest were mostly unsuitable. "The hair on one of them," she said with a disdainful sniff, and Andy started thinking about the way Miranda's own hair whispered and tickled at her ears and the back of her neck. It looked softer tonight than it had on the night of the benefit, when she'd swept it completely off her forehead. Tonight her forelock curled loosely over one eye and made it sort of look like she'd just gotten out of bed, only in a good way and after doing something really fun while she was in there.

Miranda broke off in the middle of her tirade to ask, "What are you staring at?"

"Nothing," Andy heard herself say, as if from a great distance. "Didn't Nigel really like the one who works at Elle ?"

"Oh my God, that one," Miranda said, rolling her eyes, and then she was off and running again while Andy sat there and thought about her earlobes and tried not to stare at her breasts.

By the time they actually arrived at the ball, Andy was pretty sure she'd used up at least a quarter of her allotted heartbeats for the coming year. And it wasn't over yet. She had to watch Miranda's jacket slide back off her shoulders and into the hands of a waiting attendant. And then she realized she was staring again, only they were in front of other people now, and she had to stop.

So then  she had to pretend that she neither noticed nor cared about the appreciative looks Miranda was getting even from men half her age. They made Andy's throat close up and then it got difficult to breathe. Also, it was harder to disguise feelings of murderous jealousy than it was to disguise lust--or at least, it felt that way. Andy found it easier to concentrate on the envious glances Miranda got from the other women at the ball. Those she could handle, even take pride in, because her boss looked better than all of them.

Now she and Miranda were making their way through the party, while Miranda chatted and smiled at various acquaintances and introduced Andy, who hardly even saw their faces, let alone remembered their names. She probably looked like she was on drugs or something. Thankfully, Miranda didn't seem to notice anything wrong.

At one point, Miranda accepted a flute of champagne from a passing waiter. Before she could stop herself, Andy gasped, and had to turn it into an embarrassed little cough when Miranda's current tuxedoed interlocutor glanced at her. Miranda gave her a very pointed glare and didn't stop talking to him. When he'd wandered off, Miranda's glare got a lot more pointed, and she muttered, "Get ahold of yourself."

"But, but you can't," Andy squeaked, "I mean, you're not supp--"

"I'm not going to drink it. I'm going to hold it so that nobody else tries to give me anything and gets curious when I say no. I doubt anybody will notice that I haven't changed glasses all evening."

"…oh," Andy said. "That's a good--you look really nice tonight."

Miranda stared at her. Andy wanted to die. She looked wildly around the room, hoping that somehow Miranda wouldn't notice she was blushing, or at least would put it down to something else. "I mean, everybody does," she babbled. "This is…I wonder how many people are here."

"Why don't you go off and count them?" Miranda said. "Get a drink, meet people, and for God's sake stop hovering."

Hovering?  Why the hell else was Andy here tonight, if not to be Miranda's personal satellite? And 'meet people'? That was a lot harder without Miranda around. What was Andy supposed to do, walk up to some tight-knit group of the rich and famous and introduce herself out of the blue?

Well, they were only staying for another hour. It couldn't be that bad. She could probably find a potted fern to hide behind until it was time to find Miranda again. Feeling like a kicked puppy, Andy slunk off in search of a champagne flute of her very own, looking around for the nearest waiter.

"Allow me," a familiar voice said behind her.

Andy turned around, sure she had to be imagining things. But no: there was Christian Thompson, standing in the middle of the New Year's Ball and offering her a glass of champagne with a small smile on his face.

It wasn't his old smile, the charming one that had always tried to talk her into bed without any words at all. This one managed to be both resigned and wistful, acknowledging everything that had happened after their one-night stand.

"Didn't expect to see you here," he said.

Andy overcame her shock just long enough to take the champagne. She definitely wasn't having more than one glass. She, Christian, and alcohol were a deadly combination. "I could say the same of you," she said, and managed a laugh. "How--how are you?"

"Been better, been worse," he said. "You're here with Miranda?"

Here with Miranda.  He made it sound like a date. No, wait, that was just Andy's fevered imagination. "Yes," she said, and glanced around, wondering where Miranda had gone. "It was kind of last-minute, but, um, here I am."

"You look great," he said quietly.

Andy took a deep breath. "Oh. Um. Thanks."

He grinned. "Sorry. It's weird, I know."

"It's not weird," Andy said too quickly. He raised an eyebrow. "Okay, it's weird, but it doesn't have to be bad."

"Yeah, well, I think a lot about you," Christian said. Andy blushed. "I know we parted on bad terms. I regret that. I do."

"Me too," Andy admitted. She'd found it in her heart to feel sorry for Christian, even though she still thought he'd acted like a sleaze. Still…he'd had no reason to care about Miranda, no reason to feel any kind of loyalty to her. He'd had no reason not to go for the gold. He hadn't known that Miranda's husband was leaving her, that her life was falling apart, and that losing Runway  would have been the final nail in the coffin. He couldn't have known. "She sure caught everybody off guard, didn't she?"

"Including you, I guess," he said.

Andy more than anybody else. "Yeah. Including me." Andy sighed and sipped her champagne. "Well, it worked out for her, but what are you up to these days?"

"Actually I'm collaborating right now. My last collection of essays sold well, so Benny Doran and I are getting together and trying a hybrid project. Essays and short stories. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, that kind of thing."

"That sounds pretty cool," Andy said. "How's it going?"

"Great. Benny's a fun guy. We're hoping to have it out in a few months, actually, luck willing."

"Cheers to you, then," Andy said, and they clinked their glasses together. "How long've you been in London?"

"Since Paris," he said, and shrugged. "Still can't face New York. I'll give it another few months. Hey." He lifted one shoulder. "Are we friends again?"

"Sure," Andy said, suddenly feeling uneasy.

"Well, when I do make it back, do you mind if I look you up? I'm not trying to rush into anything. But I always liked spending time with you."

"We never actually spent all that much time together," Andy reminded him.

"True," Christian said. "But I do have fond memories about what little we managed." He even dared to waggle his eyebrows, and Andy laughed.

Then she sobered and said, "I'm tempted." She was. "But Miranda probably wouldn't like it very much. She knows you were in on the whole thing with Irv and Jacqueline." Andy had been the one to tell her, after all.

"Hmm." Christian rubbed his chin. "It'd have to be very secretive, then. Furtive, even. You know, I've always liked the word 'furtive.'"

Andy rolled her eyes and gestured around the packed room. "We're not off to a very good start."

"Indeed we're not," Christian said, glanced over her shoulder, and raised his eyebrows again. "In fact, I'd say we're off to the worst start possible. Whoops."

Shit. "Don't tell me," Andy said.

"Sorry. Guess who," Christian said. Then, "My God. She's actually coming over here."

"I'm not looking," Andy said quickly. "I'm acting innocent. In fact, you accosted me. In fact--"

"You've been trying to escape," Christian said, nodding solemnly. "Quick, let's talk about totally innocent topics before she gets here. You made any good investments lately?"

"Invest--uh--no. I don't have any money to invest. But if I did, uh, they'd…probably be good?"

Christian nodded, trying to look thoughtful when it was obvious he wanted to grin. "Well, you want to watch out for the subprime market," he said, letting his voice get a little louder, which meant Miranda was honing in on them. "You've probably seen it all over the news. Worst time possible to sell a house. Good time to be a buyer, though."

"Oh, right," Andy said, realizing how long it had been since she'd even had time to sit down and watch the evening news. Her whole life had been about the news, once. "Yeah. My sister's in real estate, actually, she was talking about…"

"Andrea," said a very frosty voice. Andy winced, straightened out her wince, and turned around with what she hoped was a surprised, but not shocked, expression.

"Oh, Miranda!" she said. "Hi."

"Good evening, Miranda," Christian said politely. Andy glanced at him and saw the laughter in his eyes. Miranda would see it, too.

"Good evening," Miranda said curtly, before looking back at Andy. She'd ditched her champagne glass. "Come along. We're leaving."

Now Andy really was surprised. "We are?" she said, and glanced over at an enormous gilt clock. They were supposed to stay for forty-five more minutes.

"Yes," Miranda said, whirled, and stalked off without another word, presenting Andy with her perfect shoulders. Andy stared at them, momentarily hypnotized, and hardly heard Christian saying something about giving her a call sometime. She waved at him, mumbled an absent 'goodbye,' and followed the shoulders, and then the hair, and then the graceful arms, towards the front door. She hoped it wasn't obvious to anybody else that she was ogling Miranda from behind, but she couldn't help herself. At least the voluminous skirt hid Miranda's ass.

They got their coats. Miranda didn't say a word, or even look at Andy. She was a little flushed, but that might have been from the heat and the crowd. She did, however, look stone-faced.

Andy waited until they were in the cold night air to say, "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Miranda said, still not looking at her. Camera flashes started going off all around them as the photographers haunting the building realized that a celebrity had just exited it. "Where is the car?"

Andy craned her neck, and pointed at the Jaguar pulling up to the curb. Jimmy had spotted them, thank God. Miranda immediately descended the steps, with Andy watching anxiously to make sure she didn't slip. The steps weren't icy, but you never knew with high heels. Before they got in the car, she dared to ask, "You're feeling okay, ri--"

"Yes," Miranda snapped, and slid inside. Andy followed suit, and silently buckled her seatbelt. Jimmy pulled away.

Then, to Andy's astonishment, Miranda said, "Christian Thompson's still hanging around, I see."

"Uh," Andy said. "Actually, I didn't know he, um, was in town. Until tonight."

"And he sought you out?"

"Yes," Andy said, confused. "I mean, I just turned around, and there he was."

"What does he want?"

"I--huh?"

"Don't make me repeat myself," Miranda said.

"He said he just wants to, uh, hang out with me again, if he comes back to New York," Andy said, completely bewildered but figuring there was no real reason to hide it. "We, you know, we didn't part on good terms. But--"

"No?" Miranda studied her bangle. "And what terms were you on before?"

Oh, God. "We were friends," Andy said. Miranda gave her an extremely direct look. "We had a thing," Andy admitted in a very small voice. "I mean, a short one," she added hastily.

"A thing," Miranda said.

"Yes," Andy said, turning red and hoping Miranda couldn't see it in the shadows. She decided it wouldn't look very good if she added, 'But I was drunk.' "But it, it was short, like I said."

Miranda looked out her window. "Christian Thompson, Roy…" she said. "The list of inappropriate men just keeps growing, doesn't it?"

"Miranda!" Andy said, shocked. "That's not true!"

"Isn't it?"

"No," Andy snapped. If Miranda wanted to know when Andy was upset with her, then they were well on their way to the first test case. "I told you I'm not going out with Roy. And Christian, okay, that was a bad idea, but that's how I found out. About Irv and Jacqueline and all that, back in Paris. And then I came and told you right away." Didn't Miranda get it? Andy had chosen her over Christian, over Nate, over Doug and Lily, over Emily, hell, over her own family. What else was it going to take?

Miranda blinked at her. "I seem to remember--" She frowned. "Yes, you did say he'd told you about it." She raised an eyebrow. "You neglected to mention how."

"Uh--" Andy suddenly wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. "I'm not sure why--it's none of your--how is that even relevant?"

"Oh, my," Miranda said, and pressed her lips together as she smirked.

"Miranda--"

"Did you at least let him get his pants back on?" Miranda asked, her eyes gleaming.

"He was in a towel," Andy said, before she could summon the presence of mind to cut out her own tongue.

Miranda stared at her. Andy froze. She couldn't possibly have just said--

Then Miranda Priestly burst out laughing.

Really and truly. Her shoulders shook, her eyes went wide, and her lips parted in incredulous glee. "What?"  she gasped, clapping a gloved hand over her mouth too late to stifle herself.

"Miranda!" Andy spluttered. "I--he--"

"Oh my God," Miranda said, and pressed the hand to her breast as she let out another peal of laughter. Andy growled and stared out her window, her cheeks flaming. It figured that Andy's abject humiliation would be what finally made Miranda crack up. Nice.

Miranda finally regained her voice. "Well, I suppose you had your pants on," she chortled. "That's something. You did, didn't you?"

"Yes," Andy said much too quickly.

"You didn't?"  Miranda looked like she was actually about to double over.

"I did!" Andy said, deciding that she would die before she told Miranda that she'd run out of Christian's hotel room without her shirt, showing her leather bustier to the world before she'd remembered to put on her jacket in the elevator.

"Oh," Miranda said again, and pressed her fingertips to her forehead while she got herself back under control. "Oh. Well." She took a deep breath. "I guess I do hope we run into him again, then."

"You wouldn't," Andy said, breathless with horror. "You--Miranda, you wouldn't say anyth--"

"Oh, of course not," Miranda chuckled, waving her hand. "I'd just look at him, and know."

Then she looked over at Andy just as they passed by a streetlight that shone into the car. Her cheeks were appealingly pink, her smile was unforced and natural, and her eyes still sparkled with mirth. She almost looked…affectionate.

Andy instantly forgave her for every single thing she'd ever done. Then she looked out her own window before she could be caught staring at Miranda's mouth.

Yeah. Worst night in a long time.