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Truth and Measure

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"Of course, when it comes to a beautiful woman such as yourself, being a fool is always the right thing to do."

-Kill Bill vol.2

 

Third: January.

Andy had hoped that, waking up on January 1 (after a strangely homey evening that had ended with leftover rice pudding and everybody going to bed at 12:15), she would no longer find Miranda Priestly attractive. Like, maybe it had just been the last enormous mistake she'd made in the previous year. Something that wouldn't matter anymore when they changed the calendars, and on New Year's Day she could start completely fresh. She could even make a resolution of some kind: "I will not fantasize about having sex with Miranda until we are both too tired to move." Then again, she'd broken that one in about half her dreams last night already.

After waking up from one of those dreams at six-thirty, Andy gave up on sleep and staggered into the shower to start her day. Then she dressed and went downstairs, fully expecting to have the townhouse to herself for an hour or so. Though what she'd do with the privacy, she had no idea. Watch some television, maybe. Catch up on the subprime housing crisis or whatever it was. And try to forget all about Miranda for a few hours, until the vision of her in champagne and gold vanished from Andy's mind.

It really wasn't Andy's fault--Miranda had been so stunning that practically everybody at the ball had wanted her, or wanted to be her. Andy couldn't be blamed for being dazzled by something so…perfect. Today would be different. Today everything would be back to normal.

But when she wandered into the living room at five before seven, clinging to a hot cup of coffee, she ran smack into the sight of Miranda curled up on the loveseat by the window in her grey bathrobe. She was wearing her reading glasses as she looked over what appeared to be a fax. No makeup, no jewelry. Her lips were thinned into a line of displeasure, and her brow was furrowed, making her look older. But her bare toes were peeping out from beneath the hem of her robe, and she had a tuft of white hair sticking up from behind one ear.

Andy's stomach plummeted right down into her feet. Fuck. Oh…oh, fuck.

Miranda looked up at the sound of her footsteps, and scowled. Andy immediately took a step back. "Sorry," she said, her heart beating painfully hard. "I didn't think anybody would be up yet."

"Neither did I," Miranda said testily, and tucked the tuft of hair back behind her ear before Andy could protest that it was adorable, which would have been incredibly, unbelievably stupid.

She clutched her coffee mug tighter instead. "Sorry," she repeated. "I'll just, just go back to the kitchen." Probably a good idea. Maybe when she got away from Miranda she would remember how to swallow, and breathe, and do other things that would help her stay alive and drink the coffee.

She'd already turned to go when Miranda said, "No. Stay here. Look at this." She held the fax out to Andy. Andy, accepting her doom, took a deep breath and took the fax with a hand that only shook a little bit. Maybe Miranda would put it down to fatigue. But no: Miranda was looking out of the window onto the still-dark street, not paying attention to Andy at all.

"Preston faxed it sometime last night, when we were gone," she said.

Andy sat down in the nearest chair, set her coffee aside, and looked over the fax. Her eyes widened. It was the document Mr. Praeger had drawn up about Stephen's agreement to give Miranda full legal and physical custody of the baby, and his relinquishment of visitation rights. Stephen had had to sign and initial it about fifty million times. He hadn't missed a single blank space. All the t's were crossed, all the i's were dotted, and all the dates were in good order.

"Oh," she said.

"Maybe this will convince the judge that the waiting period isn't necessary," Miranda said bitterly. Andy nodded, but didn't have a lot of hope that Miranda was right. According to New York law, Miranda and Stephen couldn't even officially file for divorce until a year had passed after they'd separated.

"I want this done," Miranda said, still staring out the window, tapping her fingertips on the windowsill in agitation. "I want this over with, I want it final." Andy held her breath, praying that Miranda wouldn't take it into her head to order Andy to change the court system for her. But all Miranda said was, "October. That's the earliest we can file, and then we've got to wait twenty days for the decree, and…" Her voice trailed off. Her other hand traced briefly over her abdomen, maybe unconsciously.

Andy bit her lip. The child would be three months old by the time Miranda and Stephen got divorced. And once he actually saw the baby, it was entirely possible that Stephen would change his mind, would want to share custody, or at least be a part of its life.

But would that really be so bad? Andy heard Mr. Praeger's voice telling Miranda that the child had a right to know its father. And Miranda had been more than willing to reconcile with Stephen before the whole infidelity thing had come out. Maybe she'd relent. Maybe that would be the best thing for everyone. It'd definitely be better for the kid, who wouldn't grow up thinking that his--or her--father had never wanted anything to do with her. Or him.

But maybe…

There was one possibility that made Andy feel ice-cold inside, and she voiced it before she could stop herself. "What if he changes his mind?" she whispered.

Miranda glared at Andy. "That's precisely what I am worried about, Andrea," she said, gesturing angrily at the fax in Andy's hands.

"Yes," Andy said, and then added, "no, I mean, not about the baby, about--about even the divorce, or something." Miranda stared at her incredulously, but Andy didn't see why the idea was so outlandish. Maybe once Stephen saw his child, he'd decide that he wanted to make his marriage work after all. Or maybe not, but it wasn't like the idea was beyond the realm of possibility.

What if he wanted Miranda back? What if she took him back? For the kid's sake?

"What if he does?" Miranda said coldly.

"Nothing," Andy mumbled, and shrugged, retreating before Miranda's clear reluctance to discuss the issue.

But Miranda might change her mind, too. And if she did, if she took Stephen back and became part of one big happy family unit again, the agony Andy had suffered last night at the ball--watching all those men watching Miranda--would be a fucking cake walk in comparison. Just thinking about it made Andy feel sick, physically ill, now that she knew…

Knew what? Knew what?

"I, um," Andy said, looking down at her watch and swallowing hard, "I need to take my dress back this morning. To Runway U.K.  The office opens at eight, I'll just call Jimmy, if, if that's okay." And if it wasn't okay, she'd take the Underground. She'd hitchhike. She'd walk in her bare feet. She needed to get out of here for an hour or so, needed to breathe.

"Fine," Miranda said, giving her a long, inscrutable look. "We're all going out to lunch today. Be back here by noon."

"Okay," Andy said, and added, "oh, do you want me to fix you some breakf--"

"No," Miranda said, and Andy saw the way her cheeks went a little paler, and the shudder that ran along her frame. Had the morning sickness happened yet? Definitely best not to ask. Andy left the room without saying another word. She called Jimmy, went upstairs, and carefully packed the dress back in its garment bag.

She used the car ride to pull herself together. Well, she tried anyway. She wasn't sure it worked. But she definitely reminded herself of a few salient facts.

Like the fact that Miranda was almost twenty-five years older than Andy. And Miranda was getting divorced. And was pregnant. And actually might not be getting divorced, no matter what she said now. And was Andy's boss. And wasn't very nice. And liked men, not women. And was, in short, the least suitable person on earth for Andy to--to care about. She'd never care about Andy in return, that was for sure, except to think that Andy was a vaguely useful tool who sometimes made her life easier. Not a person. Not a person with thoughts and feelings and hopes and…

It had to be some kind of defense mechanism, Andy decided at once. She was still hurt from losing Nate, and so she'd fixated on somebody 'safe,' or, okay, not safe. Not safe at all. But somebody she didn't even have a chance with. Somebody unattainable. That was it. That was all.

And this was so sudden. At least, it felt sudden. It had obviously been building up for a long time, but that totally didn't matter  because Andy was overreacting and letting her feelings go to her head, and in a few days' time she was going to feel ridiculous about this. This wasn't a true feeling. It was an impulse, a girl-crush on a mentor figure, the result of months of celibacy, it was anything but genuine. It'd vanish like the wind. Especially once Miranda did or said something extra nasty. That'd snap Andy out of it pretty fast.

She told Jimmy not to wait for her, deciding that taking the tube home, or even just wandering around for a couple of hours, would be good for her. Anything that kept her away from Miranda until lunchtime would be good for her, in fact.

The Runway U.K.  offices were much more sparsely populated than they had been on her last visit, although--because it was a Runway  subsidiary and therefore never slept--they weren't completely closed for the public holiday. They felt lonely. So did the streets outside, when Andy emerged from the building after dropping off the dress. Few Londoners, or even tourists, were out and about at eight a.m. after a night of revelry. Andy wondered how her friends had celebrated the New Year back home. Had Lily thrown the usual party? Had Doug brought his usual awful tray of pigs-in-a-blanket? Would either of them have spoken to her, if she'd shown up? The smart money said 'no.'

Andy's stomach growled, and she realized she hadn't had breakfast yet. She stopped in a nearby café, glad of the warmth inside. When she'd decided to go for a walk, she'd forgotten about how fucking cold it would be, especially at this time of day. She'd been spoiled by cozy car rides.

She bought a coffee, bacon and eggs (might as well enjoy them while Miranda wasn't around to get nauseated), and a newspaper. She should probably go for the Times , after her embarrassing realization that she was so far behind on the news. But Andy realized with dismay that the Times 's serious front page couldn't hold her interest today. Disgusted by herself, she got the Sun  instead, and flipped through it until she found coverage of the New Year's Ball with a whole spread of luridly full-color pictures for the curious woman-on-the-street to enjoy. She recognized several of the people she'd met last night. There was Christian, in fact, talking to some cute starlet. Surprise, surprise.

And there was one of Andy and Miranda too. Andy told herself she hadn't been looking for it, but there it was: they were leaving the ball, going down the stone steps. Miranda looked elegant, but also vaguely pissed off. Andy, thank goodness, was looking down at the steps so you couldn't really see her face. She read the caption: "Tyrannical American fashion queen Miranda Priestly leaves the ball with no date but a lowly assistant. Looks like soon-to-be-ex hubby had a better time and bubblier company [see 4D]."

Lowly assistant? Hubby? "Bubblier" company? Lowly assistant?  Already choking with indignation, Andy tore the paper open to 4D, and saw a small, black-and-white photo of none other than Stephen Tomlinson with a dazzling, big-chested blonde on his arm. Apparently she was some young British pop star currently living in New York. And dating Miranda's husband. Stephen was looking down at her with an utterly fatuous expression on his face. His stupid, weak-chinned, indecisive face that Andy had never found remotely appealing, and which she now realized was downright repulsive. Asshole.

The caption for this photo was even worse. "Stephen Tomlinson, the former Mr. Miranda Priestly, ditches the ice queen for our own Lennie Jeff. We call it an upgrade."

Andy crumpled the paper until it was nothing but a tiny ball of newsprint and wished she could get her money back, not wanting to support that kind of garbage with one single penny. Thank God Miranda didn't subscribe.

Andy had only eaten a few bites of her breakfast, but she couldn't stomach another mouthful. Not now. Eight-thirty and her day was already ruined. Great start to the new year. Did the other papers have this kind of crap in them? Not that Andy was going to pay money to find out. She wasn't going to drop any more cash just to be insulted. She didn't have a lot of it to spare, since she was just a lowly assistant who only got to spend time with Miranda because Miranda couldn't find somebody better, somebody more deserving. Somebody like one of those tuxedoed men at the ball. Andy threw a little of that hard-earned money on the table and stomped out the door.

But that just cinched it, didn't it? Not one day later and Andy's presumption, her ridiculous thoughts, had already been shot out of the sky by the British press itself. She hadn't even been able to enjoy twenty-four hours of being in…in lust, or infatuated, or however you wanted to put it.

If Stephen tried to get Miranda back after this, he'd be lucky if Andy didn't kick him in the balls.

Thank God Andy was leaving tomorrow. Miranda and the twins didn't return until the third, but their flight hadn't had any spare seats, so Andy'd had to book a flight out for a day earlier. Good. The sooner the better. London wasn't so hot. Emily could fucking have Spring Fashion Week if she wanted it, as far as Andy was concerned. Maybe Andy could even talk Miranda into that, if she played her cards right.

Since Andy was wearing her mostly-comfortable shoes again, she hugged her arms around herself, glad of her warm coat and scarf and hat, and just kept walking. She remembered how Miranda had needed to go for a walk after discovering Stephen's infidelity. She must have been feeling a lot worse than Andy felt right now. A hundred, a thousand times worse. God.

Andy walked and walked, and occasionally stopped to get a hot cup of something, and occasionally stopped to sit down and look at things and people, but mostly walked while thinking really unhappy thoughts. When she looked down at her watch, it was already eleven-thirty. "Shit!"

She called the townhouse right away. Thankfully it was Padmini, not Miranda, who picked up. "Priestly residence. Hello?" She sounded wary.

"Padmini, it's me," Andy said. "I'm--"

"Oh, thank goodness," Padmini said, sounding relieved. "Reporters have been calling all morning about those terrible pictures in the Sun ."

Andy stopped dead on the sidewalk and closed her eyes. "Really," she said.

"It's horrible, what they print now," Padmini said. "A disgrace. But after the first one, she hasn't answered the phone anymore. It's the best thing."

"Yeah," Andy said, and pulled her coat around her tighter as a gust of wind hit her. All of a sudden it felt a lot colder. "Uh, where is she? What's she doing?"

"She is in her bedroom," Padmini said hesitantly. "She has asked not to be disturbed before lunch. She said she has work to do today."

Work? Then why wasn't Andy there to assist? That was her fucking job, wasn't it, to be a lowly assistant? "I'm on my way back," she said. "I should be there in less than an hour."

"An hour?" Padmini said in alarm. "She wants to leave at noon. Didn't she tell you?"

Andy blinked. "What? She still wants to go out to lunch?" She'd thought for sure that Miranda wouldn't want to stir out of doors after a humiliation like this.

"Oh, yes," Padmini said. "She was most definite upon the point."

Great. Miranda was set on proving something. It figured. "Okay," Andy said. "That's why I was actually calling--I wanted to ask what restaurant, so I could meet you there instead of coming all the way back."

"Aubergine, in Chelsea," Padmini said, and she sounded excited. No wonder. Chelsea was nice, and Aubergine was supposed to be really nice. Andy had overheard somebody talking about it back in Paris. "I will tell her you will meet us there. She will not be happy, though," she added. "Not today."

"I know," Andy sighed. "I'll deal with it. I'll meet you--"

Then there was a clicking sound and Miranda's voice said, "Andrea?"

Andy stood up ramrod-straight. "Miranda? Um. Hi, I was just…"

"That's all, Padmini," Miranda said, and Andy heard another click as Padmini hung up. "Where are you?"

"Um," Andy said, and looked around for a street sign. "I'm not actually sure."

"Why are you not here?"

"You said noo--I'm sorry. I'll see you at the restaurant, though."

"I told you to be back here."

"I know. I'm sorry," Andy said again, and wrapped her free arm around herself, shivering. "I, um, time got away from me."

"Got away from you. Well."

"I was upset," Andy said before she could think better of it. "I just sort of kept walking, I didn't mean to. But I can get to the restaurant before you, and make sure the table's all ready."

"Upset," Miranda said flatly.

"I saw the pictures," Andy admitted. "In the Sun , while I was eating breakfast."

There was silence for a long moment. Andy wondered if, in spite of everything, she'd just gotten herself fired. Then Miranda said, "Aubergine."

"Oh," Andy said. "Yeah. Padmini told--"

"By twelve-fifteen," Miranda said, and hung up.

 


 

Lunch was a silent and awkward affair. Andy had arrived about ten minutes before Miranda, Padmini, and the twins, and was sitting at the table by the time they arrived. Thankfully no reporters had followed Miranda to the restaurant, but several of the patrons inside recognized her. A couple of them even knew her, and as they stopped by the table to say hello, Andy saw the curiosity, and sometimes even the glee in their eyes. Miranda greeted all of them with a cold smile, and soon enough her acquaintances mumbled their farewells and left her alone.

The food was excellent, but Andy couldn't quite bring herself to enjoy it. Still, trying to set a good example (especially for Miranda, who looked less than enthused), Andy ate almost every bite. So did Padmini and the girls. Eventually Miranda managed to eat about three-fourths of her food, which still wasn't saying much, since Aubergine was one of those restaurants that served teeny-tiny portions for outrageous sums of money. Total rip-off. What Miranda needed was a Cracker Barrel. Andy tried to imagine Miranda in a Cracker Barrel, and almost choked on her ice water.

"Did you read the newspaper, Andy?" Caroline asked as the waiters took up the dessert plates. Padmini and Cassidy looked at Caroline in alarm. Miranda looked at her too, but she only appeared sad, not surprised.

Andy blinked. "Um…yes," she said. "How about that Victoria Beckham, huh? Always wearing the craziest--"

"They said really mean things about you," Caroline said.

"That's enough," Miranda said. Andy was astonished. It was the first time she'd ever heard Miranda rebuke one of her children.

"But they did," Caroline persisted. "They called her--"

"Shut up," Cassidy said.

"--a lowly --"

"I said that's enough." Miranda's voice was low, even, and deadly. It was the voice she used at Runway  right before someone was about to get fired. Apparently Caroline had never heard it before, because she shrank from it, looking shocked.

Andy knew she shouldn't say anything. She should let the fraught moment pass. But she spoke anyway, and told Caroline a big fat lie. "I don't care," she said. "I am your mom's assistant. It doesn't matter what people write about me." Nope. It didn't matter what anybody wrote about an assistant. It didn't matter at all.

"I see," Miranda said, and Andy looked at her, startled. She'd been speaking to Caroline. The look on Miranda's face was closed and blank.

"It only matters what they write about your mom," Andy dared to continue, looking back at Caroline. "That's what's important, and that's why they should be ashamed of themselves. I wouldn't have let the staff at my college newspaper get away with that."

Now Miranda was the one who looked startled. She'd obviously forgotten that Andy had been an editor-in-chief too, once. Andy couldn't blame her. Since she'd started working at Runway , she'd pretty much forgotten about it herself. But she thought she'd been a pretty good boss, all things considered.

Not as effective as Miranda, though. She wouldn't do everything like Miranda did, for sure, but she'd learned a lot in the last year. If she had to do it all over again, she'd handle some things differently. She definitely wouldn't take as much crap from a couple of the more prima-donna reporters.

Echoing Andy's thoughts, Cassidy said, "You were an editor too? Like Mom?"

"Well, not exactly," Andy said, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. "Just for my senior year. And a college newspaper's a lot different from Runway ."

"If you want to work at a newspaper, why are you at a magazine?" Cassidy asked, just like Caroline had.

How had she gotten herself into this? "I, I could work at either. I like working at Runway ," Andy said, realizing even as she spoke that it was true. "It's different, but that's not bad. And it's all publishing anyway, right?"

"I guess," Cassidy said, and shifted in her seat, obviously impatient to leave. Caroline played with the edge of the tablecloth and didn't look at anybody. Andy and Padmini exchanged a glance, and Padmini murmured, "Ms. Priestly, the girls are going to a friend's house--"

"Jimmy's here," Cassidy announced, looking out of the window, where she could see the Jaguar rolling up to the curb. Just in time, too, as the waiter arrived with the bill. Andy realized that there were too many of them to fit in the car this time.

"I'll take the Underground back," she said to Miranda. "I should get there in no more tha--"

"I will accompany you," Miranda said.

They all stared at her. Andy was positive she'd heard wrong.

"You're riding the subway?" Cassidy asked.

"Yes, dear," Miranda said absently as she gave the waiter her credit card.

"Can we come too?" Cassidy asked. "I haven't been on the subway in London yet."

"No. Go with Jimmy, or you'll be late to Eva's house," Miranda said. She kissed the top of Cassidy's head, and then Caroline's. Caroline still wasn't looking at her. "Move along." The twins headed for the car while Andy and Miranda waited for the waiter to return with Miranda's card. Andy was still frozen with shock.

The waiter returned, and Miranda signed the credit slip. Then she stood up. Andy staggered to her feet as well, positive that Miranda didn't really mean what she'd said, that she'd actually used some kind of code that meant she wanted Andy to summon a helicopter.

As Andy helped her into her coat, she said, "Um, are you sure you don't want me to call a cab or something?"

Miranda didn't even answer, but instead led the way out the door. Still no reporters. Andy wondered why not.

"Jimmy told the press we were going to Mirabelle," Miranda said, reading her mind like it was easy. "They followed us out of the house, but then split up on their little motorcycles." She smiled faintly. "I pay him to give them inaccurate tips."

"Haven't they caught on yet?" Andy asked.

"Not yet," Miranda said, and sighed. Her breath puffed out in little clouds. Her cheeks were already reddening from the cold. Andy gulped, suddenly remembering why she'd needed to get away from Miranda this morning in the first place. She also remembered dreaming about having sex with Miranda last night, and wanted to sink through the sidewalk.

Miranda looked around with an irritated expression on her face. Crap. Andy had to focus now. "Nearest station's this way," she said quickly, pointing down the street, still not able to believe that Miranda was actually going to enter it.

But she did. She led the way down the street, and then down the stairs into the darkness. She watched silently while Andy paid for two one-trip tickets, she walked through a turnstile, and she looked completely out of place in a fur-trimmed coat and Miu Miu pumps. People stared at her as they passed, although Andy doubted many of them recognized her. She just…stood out.

The station, though not as dirty as a New York station, still stank of people and trash and even urine. Andy almost felt like she should protect Miranda from it, from the crush and press of the real world, from dirt and grime and smells and common things that ordinarily never touched her. But Miranda did not seem particularly perturbed as she scrutinized a map of the Underground on the wall. Andy pointed at it and said, "We, ah, get on this line. Going south. It won't take long from here." Miranda's townhouse was close to Chelsea.

"Fine," Miranda said, and followed Andy through the tiled tunnels and past the big postered advertisements for shows and films.

The line was crowded. Andy stood by Miranda as they boarded the train and used her elbows as best she could to keep people back from them without actually assaulting anyone. Pickpockets were the last thing either of them needed to worry about. Miranda managed to nab a seat, and Andy stood next to her, holding on to a rail overhead.

Miranda didn't speak for five minutes. Then she said: "I took the subway not long ago. That day."

She said nothing else. Andy knew which day she was talking about, though. Andy guessed Miranda had just wanted to get out of her life for a while, even if for a couple of hours: just to be somebody else, somebody who took the subway. To disappear into a crowd and not be noticed, just once, while she got her head together.

But now Miranda was looking around the car in disgust, and Andy decided that an hour or so was probably all she needed to remember why she hated this kind of thing. At least they didn't have to change cars.

"Caroline has asked to sit next to you on the flight home," Miranda said, out of nowhere.

Andy blinked, and then got a very bad feeling. "Um," she said.

"She appears to be connecting with you," Miranda said, and snorted. "In her way."

"Oh, good," Andy said weakly. "But, I mean, you know I'm not on your flight. Right?" Miranda turned to look up at her with wide eyes. "I--when I bought my ticket they copied you on my itinerary. At least, they were supposed to. I told them to. I gave them your email."

"Why are you not on our flight?" Miranda asked, looking like she was getting ready to throw a pretty spectacular tantrum.

"It was full," Andy said. "The only flight I could get was tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes," Andy said, and added quickly, "but that's good, right? It means I'll get back a day earlier and I can take care of, of things before you arrive. Right?" Miranda did not look one jot less outraged. "Did you really not get my itinerary?" Andy said.

"I didn't look at it," Miranda snapped. "I assumed you would know that you were to accompany us home. My God, are you completely incapable of independent thought?"

A man standing next to Andy looked over and whistled at them. "Sorry for you, love," he said to Andy before turning away again.

Andy couldn't have agreed more. But, deciding that Miranda deserved a little leeway after such a crappy morning, she only said, "Miranda, your flight was full. Completely full. I didn't think one day would make any difference." Miranda opened her mouth. "I've got everything lined up for you," Andy added quickly. "There'll be porters waiting to take your bags at the airport, and you'll get priority boarding. And the VIP Lounge. And Roy will be ready and waiting to pick you up at JFK. You won't need me for anything." She tried a cajoling smile. "I even told the girl at the VIP Lounge to have decaf Starbucks waiting when you get there. And juice for the twins."

"Jesus," the man next to Andy said, turning around again. "You want to work for me instead? Not that I can pay you, mind."

"No thanks," Andy said, never looking away from Miranda's face. "I love my job."

"When does this ride end?" Miranda asked through her teeth.

"Three more stops," Andy said, deciding they couldn't come soon enough.

Miranda glared. "Cranapple juice?"

"Cranapple juice," Andy confirmed.

"Don't do this again," Miranda said.

"Yes, Miranda," Andy said. "Sorry, Miranda."

"Get over yourself, Miranda," said the man.

"Okay,"  Andy said, turning around and glaring at him. The brakes screeched and squealed as the train arrived at the next station.

"My stop," he said, grinning at her. "Good luck now."

"Yeah," Andy said, kind of wanting to thank him, but turning her back to him instead. Miranda glowered at him as he left.

"You certainly seem to have the touch," she said.

"I guess," Andy said sheepishly. Men had always liked her, it was true, even before her makeover. She'd conjectured that it had less to do with her shoes and more to do with her breasts.

"I've decided on Lucia's replacement," Miranda said. "Call Nigel as soon as we're home."

"Okay," Andy said. When Miranda said nothing else, she added, "Uh, which one did you pick?"

Miranda blinked, and shook her head slightly as if she was coming out of a reverie. "The least appalling. The one from Elle ." Nigel's pick, then. Andy was relieved. "Judging from her application," Miranda added, glancing down and adjusting her glove, "she would be absolutely delighted to work with me." She glanced up at Andy.

Andy bit her lip to repress a grin. "Work with?"  she said, trying to sound polite.

"I'm glad you understand these things, Andrea," Miranda said, and settled back against her seat.

 


 

Andy kept her word. When she flew out of London at an obscenely early hour the next morning, before Miranda and the twins were even out of bed, she was already running through her mental checklist of the things she had to take care of when she landed. First, call Nigel, and then her parents, drop her stuff off at the apartment and go to Runway  and make sure Emily hadn't fucked anything up too badly…the list went on and on. But Andy had only staved off Miranda's wrath by promising to take care of things, so that's what she had to do. That's what she did best, no matter how lowly she was.

Yesterday afternoon had been okay. Reporters had been lurking across the street of the townhouse when they got back, but they didn't dare get too close, no doubt knowing that Miranda would call the police. And after her fifty minutes of Common People Therapy, Miranda had seemed her old self again, and had spent the rest of the afternoon barking orders at Andy to be fulfilled upon her return to New York. Caroline had been upset ("in her way") that Andy wouldn't be flying back with them. Cassidy hadn't cared. Padmini had given her a very nice goodbye when she'd gone home that night.

All in all, it had been the weirdest Christmas ever.

She called Nigel once the plane touched down. "Come to the office as soon as you've dropped off your stuff," he said.

She called her parents at the baggage claim. "Glad you're home safe, sweetheart," her dad said. "And she's still back there?"

"Yes," Andy said. "She and the twins are flying in tomorrow."

"And she behaved herself?" her dad asked, his voice hard.

Unfortunately, grievously, tragically, "Yes. She did. I told you it's not like that." Because life sucked.

"Well," her dad said.

Andy tried not to notice how shabby her apartment was compared to Miranda's townhouse. Especially her bed with its lumpy mattress. She was going to miss sleeping in Ste--in the guest bedroom  where Miranda had definitely never had sex with Stephen, as Andy had told herself every single night with different feelings on the subject each time. From hysterical denial to toxic jealousy in just under a week. Nobody could say that Andy Sachs was an underachiever.

Keeping really busy was definitely the best way to avoid spending all her time feverishly thinking about what it would be like to have sex with a woman. Okay, a specific woman. Andy was pretty sure that a week ago the very thought of having sex with Miranda would have horrified her. Well, maybe not horrified, but she wouldn't have had the guts to sit around and think about Miranda's breasts and wonder if they were sensitive. Or if Miranda made noises. Or if Miranda liked having sex at all, because it was entirely possible that she didn't, no matter who it was with. Or if it would even be safe for her to do it now. The books said it was, "during most normal pregnancies." But what about this was normal? Not that it mattered because it wasn't going to happen, Andy reminded herself. Over and over.

She took a quick shower, and sighed at the mildew on the tiles. Sure would be nice to have a maid around. And a cook.

The shower, after a long plane ride, plus jet lag, made her sleepy. She dosed herself liberally with coffee on the way back to Runway . She still wasn't prepared to go inside, sit down at her desk, and be confronted immediately with a quivering Emily asking, "Is it true?"

Andy looked blearily up at her. "Is what true?"

"About Miranda?"

Uh-oh. "What about Miranda?"

Emily looked around, and muttered, "Is. She. Pregnant?"

Well, word had gotten around, all right. Nigel had probably given everybody the discreet heads-up. There was no point in pretending otherwise by now. "Yes," Andy said.

"Oh my God," Emily said.

"Pretty much," Andy said.

"How long have you known?"

"Um, a while."

"And you didn't say anything?"

"She didn't want me to. Nigel worked it out on his own."

"Then how did you know? How did you know before Nigel?"

"Um," Andy hedged, "she didn't tell me, exactly." True enough. "Stuff just, just sort of happened, and I knew. Um. Does everyone know now, or just us?"

"'Us'?" Emily said with a sneer, putting her hands on her hips.

"You, me, and Nigel," Andy said, reaching for patience. "Does anybody else know?"

"Who knows?" Emily said. "I haven't said anything."

"Probably the best idea," Andy said.

"I don't need you to tell me what a good idea is, Andrea," Emily said. "Now. We're going to need to start making preparations."

"Preparations?"

"Yes, for God's sake! Arrangements for her comfort. Or were you just going to let her go along as she was? Honestly, does anything like that ever occur to you?"

"Her comfort," Andy repeated.

"Is there an echo in here?" Emily said. "You've been here for almost a year and you still know nothing about the care and feeding of Miranda Priestly? First things first, we need to look up her dietary requirements--"

"You're kidding, right?" Andy said.

"I'm kidding?" Emily's mouth drew back in a snarl. "I'm joking? Oh no, Andrea, apparently I'm the only one taking this seriously. I always have been, you know. I care and you don't. And you're the one who gets to go to Paris, but you don't understand this , you don't know the least thing about this!"  Emily actually slammed a fist down on Andy's desk, making everything rattle.

Andy felt all kinds of things: indignation, pity, and a really evil kind of amusement. She let pity win. "Okay, Emily," she said. "Why don't you get right on that diet thing."

"Don't think I won't," Emily said, and added, "you're not going to last as long here as you think you will."

Andy blinked. "Excuse me?"

Emily stood up straight, and her lips lifted in a mean little smile. "There's a limit to what you can handle, isn't there? Do you think she won't see that? Going with her to her lawyer's office--well, whoop-de-do. This is different, and you can't handle it, I can already tell."

"Emily," Andy said.

"Well. The truth will out. You'll see." Emily tossed her hair.

Andy remembered the way Miranda had kissed the air to either side of her cheeks, and felt sorrier for Emily than ever. She was just a lowly assistant, true, but Emily was even worse off. "I guess it will," she said, and added, "hey, she said something about you to me. About how you dress better than I do."

"She what?" Emily's eyes narrowed.

"It's true," Andy said. "She said you take more risks in fashion and you understand it better than I do."

Emily preened. "Well," she said again. "I'm glad she finally noticed." She looked Andy up and down. "You do have a tiresome addiction to Chanel." She smirked.

Then Nigel arrived. Andy could have kissed him. That was, until he said, "Well? What kind of mood was she in yesterday?"

Shit. Andy narrowed her eyes at him and tilted her head towards Emily just the tiniest fraction. "She seemed okay when I talked to her," she said, praying Emily would just think it had been a phone call. "I, uh, I think she's ready to come home."

Nigel glanced at Emily, who seemed blissfully oblivious to the conversation's undercurrents. "Emily," he said, "Keisha's setting up shop in Lucia's old office. Why don't you go schmooze and get to know her? Then report back to me and tell me what's going on."

Looking thrilled to be entrusted with such a sensitive errand, Emily hurried off. Nigel turned to Andy. "Why are you trying to keep it from her?" he said. "Do you think Miranda won't say something that'll tip her off?"

"Better Miranda than me," Andy said. "I'm not that mean. Oh! Here." She pulled out her notebook. "She had me write down a bunch of stuff for you. I'm just about to type it up. Notes about the next shoot."

"The last thing Miranda needs," Nigel said, "or any of us, for that matter, is some tiresome little office drama."

Andy glared at him. "I don't want drama. I'm not making drama. I'm just doing my job." She turned to her monitor. "She's the one with issues, not me. I've been trying to be nice to her all along."

"That won't pay off," Nigel said. "Not in the long run. What if she makes a play for your position? And don't think I'm talking about being second assistant."

Making a play for Andy's position? Andy knew what he meant. What if Emily tried to usurp Andy's place at Miranda's side, tried to get between them, tried to push Andy away from Miranda? What then?

Andy looked up from the monitor and looked Nigel dead in the eye. "I will end her," she said.

Nigel looked satisfied. "There's hope for you yet, Six," he said.

 


 

Miranda didn't have to break the news to Emily, though. The next day, with Emily sitting across from her at her own desk, Andy got a call on her cell phone. It was from Caroline.

Andy glanced at her watch. It was ten-fifteen. Miranda's flight would have landed twenty minutes ago. Not that Andy had been keeping track or anything. But why was Caroline calling, instead of her mother? Had something happened?

"Hello?" she said anxiously as she picked up.

"Hi," Caroline said. "Mom said I could call you."

"Oh," Andy said. "Okay. Is--are you guys back now?"

"Yeah. We're in customs. It's taking forever."

Yikes. That'd do wonders for Miranda's mood. Andy winced. "But everyone's okay, right?"

"Oh yeah, we're fine. Mom threw up twice on the flight, though."

Double yikes. "She did?"

"Yeah, but she made it to the bathroom both times," Caroline said. In the background, Andy heard Miranda's voice saying something sharp.

"Well," Andy said weakly. "That's good." Emily was staring at her, and mouthed the words, 'Who is that?' Andy mouthed, 'Caroline,' back at her, and Emily's eyes went wide.

Nigel arrived carrying a red paper bag from Cole Haan. "Enjoying the last few minutes of peace?" he asked, before noticing Andy on the phone. "Oops." He placed a decorous fingertip on his lips.

"But she's feeling better now," Andy pressed, hardly noticing him.

"Yes, she's fine," Caroline said, sounding annoyed. "She's mad at you, though."

Andy froze. "At me? What did I do?"

"She said you left a mess in Stephen's room." More Miranda sharp-voicedness. "In the guestroom," Caroline amended sulkily.

"Wha--I did not," Andy said indignantly. "I made the bed and everything before I left. I made sure everything was…"

"You left a hairbrush in the bathroom."

"How--oh." So that's where it had gone. "Sorry. Anything else?"

"You want to ask her?"

"No," Andy said quickly.

"I can bring you the brush," Caroline said generously. "I packed it. In a plastic bag, though, so your hair didn't get all over my stuff."

"Oh. Well…thanks," Andy said. "Uh…tell her I'm sorry?"

"She says she's sorry," Andy heard Caroline say. She couldn't hear Miranda's reply, if there was one. Probably for the best. Then she remembered that she was supposed to call the Donna Karan office in half an hour and pulled out her notebook, getting ready to scribble some notes as soon as Caroline got off the phone.

"She says it doesn't matter," Caroline said, "because she hates you and she's going to fire you." Andy heard Cassidy laugh in the background, and rolled her eyes.

"She said that, huh," she said, and quickly jotted down the name of the guy Miranda had wanted her to speak to. "Okay, I'll just clean out my desk."

"You will?" Caroline sounded surprised.

"Yep," Andy said, and realized she needed a paperclip. She opened a drawer and began rummaging around. "You'll just have to tell her I quit because of what you told me."

"What? You can't do that," Caroline said.

"Why not? She just fired me." Andy grinned as she found a little plastic container full of paperclips. This was kind of fun. "Isn't that what you said?"

"Well--"

"Caroline, where is your mom? Seriously."

"Yelling at a customs official," Caroline admitted.

Andy doubted very much that Miranda was actually yelling, but then another voice said 'Give me that,' and Cassidy got on the phone. "Hi, Andy," she said.

"Hi, Cassidy," Andy said, paperclipping a memo to a fax. "How are you?"

"Are you going to meet us at the airport?"

"No," Andy said, and then went rigid in panic. "Wait. I'm not supposed to, am I? No," she added, calming. "I'm supposed to be at the office. No. Sorry. But Roy should be waiting for you." She hadn't seen Roy since she'd returned from London. She'd been very purposefully taking the subway everywhere.

"We had to leave Padmini this morning," Cassidy said. "It was really sad."

Andy closed her eyes and tapped her fingers on her desk before looking at her watch again. She had to get going on this. "I bet," she said. "I'm sorry. But you'll see her again sometime--don't you go to London a couple of times a year?"

"Yeah. We're going to go next fall. Which is forever, but she said she'll be happy to look after us again."

"Oh good," Andy said, and remembered she was supposed to send an email to a junior designer at Christian Louboutin. Crap. She'd almost forgotten. "Whoops. I mean…good."

"Are you paying attention?"

"Sure am," Andy said, trying to remember the designer's name. Tyrone. "But listen, did your mom want to talk to me about anything?"

"No," Cassidy said. "We're going straight home. She needs to lie down. It's weird that it's only ten-thirty, it feels like it should be later in the afternoon. But she said to tell you that she'd be at work by two-thirty."

"Okay," Andy said, and zoomed in to update the computer schedule at once. "We'll be ready and waiting." She realized that her heart had begun to beat pleasantly at the thought of Miranda arriving at the office after a miserable flight and a long wait in customs. She was clearly out of her mind. "Anything else? Because I kind of have some stuff to take care of for her." Then she began typing. 'Hi Tyrone, This is Andy Sachs from Runway'

"I guess not. Bye," Cassidy said, and hung up. Well, the 'bye' was more than Andy ever got from Miranda, at least. She sighed and set her cell phone down on the desk and kept typing. She noticed the silence after a few more keystrokes, looked up, and saw Nigel and Emily watching her. Nigel's face was thoughtful. Emily's was pale. Andy realized that of course they'd heard her half of that conversation, and bit her lip.

Emily started to talk, cleared her throat, and tried again. "She," she began, "you--"

"I hope you got some time to see London for yourself," Nigel said, and Andy saw Emily's complexion go the color of milk.

"Just an afternoon," Andy said, deliberately focusing on his face, wishing to God that Emily weren't there. "She kept me pretty busy." Even if 'busy' just meant sitting next to her on a park bench.

"Oh well," Nigel said, "there's always next time," and he wandered out after leaving the Cole Haan bag on Emily's desk.

Emily made a horrible little choking noise.

Andy took a deep breath and looked her dead in the eye. "She's getting here at two-thirty," she said. "At two o'clock I'm going to run out and get her a spinach-and-gruyere salad which will provide her with lots of folic acid, protein, and vitamins. She will want water with lemon--not seltzer water, plain water--to drink with it. I'm leaving that up to you. She will be in a terrible mood when she gets here. We are going to get along perfectly, and do our jobs perfectly, and not create any stress for her in any way. Right?" She did her best to deliver the whole speech without blinking. Charles Manson had never blinked, if she recalled correctly.

"I…" Emily's voice trailed off, and she looked at Andy with helpless hatred.

The 'helpless' part was good. Andy had meant to be nice, to be merciful, to remember how sorry she felt for Emily. But instead she heard her voice going very low and flat as she said, "I swear to God, Emily. I'm not kidding." She backed the words up with the power of two pregnancy tests, a three-a.m. phone call, Miranda's lovely shoulders, and a ride on the Underground, all of which combined to make her feel invincible and which ensured that she would crush Emily Charleton like a fucking bug if Emily tried to take any of that away from her. Stephen might be able to, but Emily didn't even stand the shadow of a chance.

"Water with lemon," Emily mumbled, looking down at her desk, before sending her trembling fingers skittering over her keyboard as she looked up at her monitor. Her eyes were bright with tears, but they weren't falling. "Right."

Andy didn't say anything as she turned back to her own computer and finished the email. She didn't need to. They understood each other.

By two-thirty, the entire office was deathly silent. Andy could picture everybody's ears pressed to the ground when the elevator dinged and Miranda walked in, talking on her cell phone. Andy was just putting the silverware to either side of her salad plate.

Miranda looked like hell, though probably only Andy would be able to see it. She was dressed beautifully, impeccably made-up, and moved with her usual confident stride. But Andy, who could look past that now, noticed the exhaustion in her eyes and the tension she was carrying in her shoulders. Andy made a mental note to schedule a massage for later in the week. In the meantime, she saw Miranda pause in front of her desk, still wearing her coat.

Whoops. Andy quickly left the plate and hurried over just in time to help Miranda take off her coat, and took the bag. Miranda didn't look at her or stop talking. Andy hadn't really expected anything else, but she was still a little disappointed to realize that pretty much nothing was going to change after she'd spent over a week living in Miranda's house, making her breakfast and helping take care of her kids. Well, why should it? Nothing would change because nothing was different, except that Andy had let herself ascend to new heights of stupidity starting New Year's Eve.

That was that, really. The rest of the day progressed as most days did, with Miranda being disagreeable, and Andy and Emily scrambling to obey her orders as fast as possible. Today Miranda left the office at six-thirty. Andy had the feeling she was going to do that more often now that she'd figured out she had to start spending more time with the twins.

When Andy dropped off the book that night, there was a hairbrush in a plastic bag waiting for her on the table. Well, out of all the things she'd lost in London, including her hairbrush, her heterosexuality, and her mind, it was nice to get at least one of them back.

 


 

"Have a good trip?" Roy asked in the car the next morning. "I heard."

"God," Andy said. "Don't ask. Really. How was your holiday?"

"It was okay. Spent it with my folks. Went out with some buddies to a bar on New Year's. I guess you went to some fancy 'do. Hey--is it true? I mean, is she actually pregnant?"

"Yeah," Andy said.

"Wow," Roy said. "I mean…holy shit. I guess we'll all have a lot more to deal with, huh?"

Andy whimpered. "Did I mention don't ask?"

He laughed. "Sorry. Later. Okay. Can I ask about sports? You been keeping up with the Giants?"

"The Bengals," Andy said in relief, "and oh my God, they sucked this year."

"No fooling," Roy said, "did you see that last game when--"

Fifteen minutes passed in no time, and soon they were pulling up to the curb as Miranda descended the steps of her townhouse. Andy, mid-rant about a lousy defense, hardly paid any attention to her until she actually opened the door.

"--worst secondary I've ever, oh," Andy said. "Um. Good morning, Miranda."

"Good morning, Ms. Priestly," Roy said.

Miranda ignored Andy completely as she closed the door, but gave Roy one of the coldest looks Andy had ever seen. Andy's stomach twisted. She'd forgotten all about Miranda's threat to fire him. Oh shit. Oh no. Oh please…

Roy, glancing in the rear-view mirror, caught sight of Miranda's deadly glare. Andy saw his eyes go wide in surprise.

"Is there some reason we're not moving?" Miranda asked.

"Sorry," Roy said quickly, and pulled away from the curb.

Andy sat in silence, not even daring to look at Miranda until Miranda said something to her first. Not that she actually wanted Miranda to say anything, because if Miranda said anything, it would probably be something like--

"You two were awfully chatty when I got in the car," Miranda said.

Crap. Andy bit her lip and looked out the window. Please don't fire him, she thought. Since Miranda seemed to be so goddamned good at reading her mind sometimes, maybe it'd work.

When Andy didn't reply, Roy, sounding puzzled, took it upon himself to say, "Yes, Ms. Priestly. We both love football."

"Football," Miranda said. "Really."

"Yes," Roy said. "Uh, right, Andy?"

"Right," Andy said, and finally dared to look at Miranda, whose face was absolutely closed. "Um, the Bengals…bad season…" It wasn't against the law to talk about football. It wasn't even against company policy. Was it? How insane was Miranda about to get?

"Planning to see a game sometime together, Roy?" Miranda asked

Andy stared at her. So did Roy, before he remembered he had to look at the road. "Uh," he said, "I, um…I guess that might be…fun?"

Wrong answer, wrong answer, Andy thought frantically, but with small hope that Roy could read her mind any better than Miranda could.

"Fun," Miranda said lightly, raising her eyebrows.

"…or not," Roy said weakly a few seconds later.

"Right," Miranda said. "I don't think it would be fun at all. Do you, Andrea?"

"No," Andy said, resisting the urge to tack ma'am  on the end of it. She couldn't believe she wanted to sleep with this woman. But she did. Even right now, she did. Even right in the back seat, with Roy looking--

"I rely absolutely," Miranda said, "on the professionalism of all my employees."

The back of Roy's neck was turning red. "Yes, Ms. Priestly."

"I hope I never have to mention this again."

"No, Ms. Priestly."

"Good." Miranda settled back in her seat, looking almost pleased. She said nothing for the rest of the ride, not even after Andy texted in the Starbucks order. But when Andy hurried into Elias-Clarke with the coffee in hand, Miranda gave her a loaded glance over her desk. Locked-and-loaded, even.

"Well, then," Miranda said. "I did not fire him."

Andy exhaled. "Thanks, Miranda."

"I stood to gain nothing from doing so," Miranda said. "That's all."

 


 

Two weeks after her return from London, Miranda's first ultrasound appointment came up. She was at the end of her first trimester, and given that she was "older than most expecting mothers," as Dr. Viswanathan had undiplomatically put it, she was supposed to start having ultrasounds sooner.

The appointment was at three in the afternoon, and Miranda had been in a hellish mood all morning. Everyone had been ducking and covering like mad, and nobody, not even Emily, envied Andy for accompanying Miranda to the doctor. If something was wrong, if everything wasn't okay…of course, there wasn't much that the ultrasound would be able to detect yet. Just whether there was fetal heart activity, and a couple other things. Nothing about the baby's sex, or…anything else.

Andy didn't like to admit that she was frightened, too, and about more than Miranda's bad mood. It wasn't her kid, and Miranda wasn't her…anything, but Andy was still nervous and desperately wanted everything to be all right. She didn't want to look at Miranda's face if it wasn't. So she kept her hands clasped tightly together for the whole car ride to the doctor's office, even as she tried to look perfectly calm and serene for Miranda's benefit.

The hour at the obstetrician's was awful. Andy had to deal with checking Miranda in and then sitting with her in the waiting room, where Miranda didn't say a word. Just once, Andy would have given her eyeteeth for Miranda to bombard her with orders, or call her an idiot, or do anything other than sit so still and quiet that Andy knew she was terrified. She couldn't deal with Miranda being terrified. It was as bad as the night Miranda had learned she was pregnant. No. Worse. And then Andy had to deal with Miranda leaving to accompany a nurse, while Andy kept waiting, which was why they called it a waiting room. Mary tried to distract her by talking about Irish setters, but it didn't work very well.

When the nurse finally came out to fetch Andy, Andy almost tripped in her haste to get to the office. Miranda looked perfectly calm as she sat in front of Dr. Viswanathan's desk, but that could mean anything. Dr. Viswanathan smiled at Andy. She didn't have as nice a smile as Dr. Latchley, but she also wasn't the type of person to smile when something was going wrong. Daring to feel hopeful, Andy lowered herself into the other chair in front of the desk.

"As I was telling Miranda, everything seems to be normal," Dr. Viswanathan said, and Andy decided that getting out of bed this morning had been worthwhile after all. "As you know, there isn't much we can tell at this point, but early screening hasn't detected any serious issues. So we're okay so far."

"'We'?" said Miranda, like a total bitch. Andy could have kissed her.

"You, of course," Dr. Viswanathan said with a strained smile. Andy wondered if she regretted accepting this particular famous patient from Dr. Latchley. "Now I just want to clear up a few things with you. How's your diet?"

"Fine," Miranda said.

Dr. Viswanathan glanced at Andy, who nodded. Then she looked back at Miranda. "You're getting enough iron and folic acid?"

Miranda blinked, and glared at Andy. "I don't know, am I?"

"Yes," Andy said. "In your food and in the prenatal vitamins I always put next to your breakfast. You're taking them, right?"

"Of course I am."

"Exercise?" Dr. Viswanathan asked.

"I meet with my trainer three mornings a week," Miranda said. She waved her hand. "She's got me doing the same thing as last time."

"Which is?" Dr. Viswanathan said. Andy pulled a copy of the exercise routine out of her bag and passed it over the desk. Dr. Viswanathan looked over it. "Okay. This looks good. You're sleeping?"

"Better," Miranda said, sounding evasive for the first time. Dr. Viswanathan gave her a very direct look. "I'm still adjusting to the time change."

Dr. Viswanathan looked surprised. "But didn't you get back from London two weeks ag--"

"I'm fine," Miranda said. "Better. I said I'm better."

"It's important that you get enough rest," Dr. Viswanathan said firmly. "I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I want you to take maternity leave for the last month of your pregnancy. At your age--"

"That is not an option," Miranda said, her tone final.

"What's more important?" Dr. Viswanathan asked. "Your job, or your health? Or the child's health?"

Miranda narrowed her eyes. Andy jumped in. "I, I bet all that can be decided later, right?"

"True," Dr. Viswanathan said, and looked back down at her notes.

Twenty minutes later, as they were heading back to the car, Miranda said derisively, "'Maternity leave.' Honestly."

"Well, you're, you're going to have to take some after the baby's born," Andy said. "Aren't you?"

"Yes," Miranda said, not sounding remotely happy about it. She clucked her tongue. "I suppose Irv knows by now. I suppose he's utterly delighted, just waiting for me to--" She cut herself off.

Andy knew what she meant. In terms of Miranda's career, the pregnancy couldn't have happened at a worse time, when Irv was looking for reasons to get rid of her. Which meant that Miranda, who should be resting, would undoubtedly work harder than ever.

Andy wished like anything that she had a say in all this: that she could make Irv leave Miranda alone, that she could make Miranda stay home and sleep in once in a while, that she could just fix everything. But wishing hadn't done her any favors so far.

It'd be nice to have a life outside of all this. Andy doubted that was going to happen anytime soon.

 


 

Then, two days later, it did. Miranda had gone home at six-thirty as usual, leaving Andy waiting for the book. Andy was almost used to it now, and told herself that she did not miss having Miranda's company until ten-thirty, when they would go down to the car and ride together to Miranda's place without even talking to each other. It was much better for Miranda to be at home with the twins, and resting herself. God knew she kept busy enough during the day.

But tonight, at nine o'clock, Andy checked her email and found a message waiting for her. It was from Christian Thompson.

The email read:

Hey You,

I'm taking you at your word that we're friends again, but I still feel that some kind of peace offering is in order. Thought you might be interested in this tidbit:  Modernity is looking for a piece on the exploitation of service staff in New York. I thought of the series you did on the janitors' union for your college paper. Your writing is solid and you'd be a good fit for this. (Fair warning: the editor hates me right now, so you shouldn't mention me to him. You have tons of other contacts by now, though--make use of them.)

They want something no later than next week. Think you can throw it together by then? Say, 7,000 words of your very best?

-CT

Modernity ? Christian was tossing her the opportunity to write for Modernity ? Modernity  was right up there with Esquire  and Vanity Fair  and even The New Yorker . And Christian was suggesting Andy submit something for it. Suggesting she was good enough for it.

Andy felt like her head had just been set on fire. The exploitation of service staff? She could do that. She'd be all over that. Even as she read the email, the opening paragraph popped into her mind. She grabbed her notebook and scribbled it down before she could forget it, and only then did she reply to Christian's email with effusive thanks. Yeah. Definitely friends again. No matter what Miranda would say about it, because she didn't have to know, did she? Not yet, at least.

For the next hour and a half, Andy wrote, sketching out her ideas and leaving room for further research. It was like being born again, or maybe like coming home. Now she wasn't an assistant, or a nanny, or an invisible peon: now she was a writer again, somebody with intelligence and ideas and the wherewithal to combine the two. Now she was doing what she loved.

She was actually disappointed when the book arrived at ten-thirty, but she grabbed her notes and took them down to the car. Roy saw that she was distracted, and left her alone as she scribbled furiously beneath the back seat light. And for once, as Andy brought the book and the dry-cleaning into the townhouse, Andy didn't hope that Miranda would call for her, or would notice her. She had to get home, had to fire up her trusty laptop, had to get to work.

By the time seven o'clock rolled around, Andy'd had all of three hours of sleep. But even as she staggered into the bathroom for her usual four-minute shower, she knew it had been worth it. She just hoped she had something semi-coherent. She knew she'd made a good start. She definitely had something to work with. She could have it done in time, if she could survive on three hours of sleep for a few more nights. Which she could. She'd done it before.

"You're still going at…whatever it is?" Roy asked in surprise as Andy pulled out her draft and began studying it in the car.

"Uh huh," Andy said absently. "I need to get this done in a couple of days. Oh!" Then she remembered the bag of pretzels she'd brought for him today, passed it to the front of the car, and dove back in. When they pulled up to Miranda's house, though, Andy remembered herself, and quickly stuffed the draft down into her bag.

If Miranda noticed Andy's tired-and-wired attitude, or the bags under her reddened eyes, she said nothing. Instead she began barking out the usual list of orders while Andy scrambled to keep up. Now the usual assistant stuff seemed more like drudgery than ever: getting coffee and arranging for Cara to pick the twins up at Dalton today, when all Andy really wanted to do was write. But she couldn't let Miranda see that.

In the meantime, Andy had a problem to deal with besides writing. Even if she did finish the article, nobody said that Modernity  would take it. In fact, since she was a complete unknown, there was no way they would take it unless she could come up with some kind of contact, like Christian had said.

It was tougher than she'd thought. Modernity  wasn't an Elias-Clarke publication. And even most of the people at Runway  hated her, after all, except for…Nigel! Nigel had lunch with Carter Mathson every couple of months, so even if Mathson couldn't stand Christian, he seemed to get along with another friend--boss--friend of Andy's. She'd ask Nigel.

She cornered him late that very afternoon, practically popping with excitement. He seemed charmed by her enthusiasm, if skeptical. "Modernity , huh?" he said. "It'd be quite a coup for someone as young and unknown as you."

"Just a chance, Nigel," Andy pleaded. "I just want Mr. Mathson, or whoever reads these things, to read my article. Not even read. Just glance over it! If it's not good enough, of course they won't publish it. I just want somebody to take a look instead of throwing it out right away."

"I'll see what I can do," he said. She gave him her most grateful smile, and vowed to think of several little favors she could do to repay him. Too bad she couldn't afford to treat him to a nice dinner or anything. But maybe that would come later. If this got her on her way…

Whoah. Too much, too soon, she told herself. She hadn't even finished her article. There was no sense in getting carried away. She had a job to do here, after all. Several jobs. Not the least of which was taking care of the woman sitting in her office around the corner, who probably wanted a decaf coffee right about now.

"Call Testino," Miranda said, as soon as Andy trotted into view. "And then get me a latte." She looked up just in time to see Andy beam at her, and blinked. Andy turned around and hurried off, not caring if she was glowing for everyone to see. She felt great, filled with possibilities, so why shouldn't she glow? That night, waiting for the book, she was able to throw together a more complete rough draft, and began to double-check her figures, turned up some new information that she could use. Well, she'd have to rewrite this part right here, but that was okay, that was good. It had to be good. For Modernity , it had to be great.

When she got home at midnight, she got on her laptop again, and didn't make it to bed until two-thirty. The next morning, all the makeup in the world couldn't hide the dark circles under her eyes. When Miranda got in the car, Andy thought she had something almost like a concerned look on her face. But that couldn't be right, and Miranda rattled off the usual instructions without missing a beat, so it must have been nothing.

"Been hard at work, huh?" Nigel asked Andy mid-morning, when Miranda was out of the office in a meeting. Andy gave him a tired grin. "I've never seen you so fired up. Maybe I owe you an apology."

"Huh?" Andy frowned.

"That spiel I gave you a year ago. About how you weren't trying, about how you didn't really want to work here. I mean, you weren't, and you didn't, of course."

"Hey," Andy protested. "I'm--"

Nigel held up his hand. "This is different. Look at you. You love what you're doing. I like that--it becomes you." Andy smiled at him again. "Which is good for you," Nigel added, "because Carter wants your article on his desk by ten-thirty tomorrow morning. Email it to his assistant no later than ten. Can you do that?"

"I can," Andy said, her heart pounding. "But, but I won't have had time to show it to anybody else--I mean, I'll have it spellchecked but that's all I'll have time for--"

"If you can't stand the heat," said Nigel, "get out of the brazen bull."

 


 

Andy fired off an email with her article attached at nine-thirty the next morning, in between errands. She hated cutting it so close, but she hadn't had a choice: she'd been up almost all night again, and hadn't put the finishing touches on the article until eight, when she'd been yanked away from her desk by a whole series of tasks. And she still felt like it wasn't good enough.

Then again, if she worked on it for a whole year, she'd still feel like it wasn't good enough, especially for Modernity , and what was she thinking, with her presumption? They'd laugh at her. Carter Mathson would set it on fire--no, he'd order one of his assistants to do it, because he was too important for that kind of thing. And then she'd be blacklisted. She'd have to start writing under a pseudonym, because anything with the name 'Andy Sachs' on it would be--

She was getting ridiculous. She'd sent the article off, and that was that. It would either get published or it wouldn't, but at least she'd tried. At least she hadn't let the opportunity pass her by. She owed Christian one. Again. She just wouldn't pay him back with sex this time, that was all. Still, her hands trembled, and she was on edge all day long, even though she knew that nobody was going to get back to her today.

Tonight, though, was the night Miranda didn't let her get away with it. She'd stayed at the office later than usual. Emily went home at eight, and Miranda called Andy into the office as soon as she was gone, gesturing for her to sit at the other side of the desk. Andy looked at her anxiously and hoped nothing was wrong. Miranda looked pretty good today: her coloring was healthy, and she'd eaten all of her breakfast and lunch. Andy guiltily realized that she hadn't been keeping quite as close an eye on Miranda the past couple of days. But now the article was written, and she could stop obsessing over it. As much, anyway.

"What is it?" Miranda said flatly.

Andy stared at her. What was what? Miranda had been the one to call her in, hadn't she?

"What's your problem?" Miranda clarified. "You've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off for three days, and you look like you haven't slept in a week." She scowled.

Should Andy tell her? Well, why not? It wasn't a secret. She certainly wasn't ashamed of it. Andy had only wanted to hold off until it was more of a sure thing, until she could tell Miranda, 'Actually, Miranda, I'm going to be published in Modernity ,' because then…

Then she'd be a writer again. More than that, a writer who'd done something pretty good, pretty important. She'd be on her way to becoming a person who deserved to talk to Miranda Priestly, someone much more interesting than a lowly assistant, someone who could bring more to the table than Starbucks and a schedule. Someone who could show up at a dinner party and not have everyone wonder why on earth she was there. Someone with a mind and heart to offer, not just an able pair of hands and feet.

But Miranda wanted to know now, and there was no use in lying or trying to cover it up. So Andy took a deep breath, clasped her hands together, and said, "Well, I…I've just been working on an article." Miranda frowned. "I heard, um, through the grapevine, you know, that Modernity  was looking for an article about the exploitation of workers and stuff--I mean, the exploitation of workers. And I did something like that for my college newspaper…" Won a national award for it, in fact, not that Miranda had cared. "So I, I submitted an article."

"An article?" Far from looking impressed, Miranda wrinkled her nose. "You?"

Miranda might as well have slapped her. "Yeah," Andy said, and swallowed. "Me."

Miranda seemed to sense her hurt feelings, because she waved her hand dismissively and said, "You are unknown, Andrea. Someone like you can't just submit her work to Modernity  and expect to get noticed. It's unheard of. You have to know someone."

Slightly mollified that Miranda hadn't been slighting her, just her lack of experience, Andy perked up and said, "Oh, I know!" She wasn't that dumb. "I asked Nigel about it. He said he'd help me. He did help me."

Miranda blinked. "He did?"

"Yes," Andy said. "Well, you know, he and Mr. Mathson have lunch every once in a while. So I talked to him, and he talked to Mr. Mathson, and I just emailed my article to Modernity  this morning." She took a deep breath and exhaled it. "That's what I've been doing. Not while I was supposed to be working, though," she added quickly. "Just while I was at home, or waiting for the book."

This time, Miranda didn't blink. In fact, she stared at Andy without blinking. Exactly like Charles Manson. "I see," she said.

Andy was starting to get a bad feeling about this. But why? "I, um," she said, "I mean, I don't expect--he probably won't even like it. He, he's got to get submissions from better, I mean more experienced writers every day. All these famous people--"

"Yes," Miranda said, her voice clipped. "Get my coat and bag."

Tonight she didn't wait for Andy to assist her, but just snatched her things out of Andy's hands and headed for the elevator without another word. Without even looking at Andy.

Andy sat down at her desk, trembling a little. That hadn't gone well. But she didn't know why. As far as she'd heard, Miranda and Carter Mathson weren't mortal enemies or anything. Modernity  and Runway didn't compete for the same readership, although there was some overlap. All Andy knew was that her glow of anticipation was all gone now, because she was worried she'd upset Miranda.

It was just…Andy had wanted, in some tiny, utterly pathetic part of her head, for Miranda to be proud of her. She hadn't expected praise, of course. But at least for Miranda to see, for Miranda to recognize…yeah, right. So much for that. It hadn't happened, and Andy had pissed off Miranda instead of pleasing her, for some damn reason.

That night, when she delivered the book, and then sat at home in her apartment, Andy thought about how she'd felt so excited, and how Miranda had ruined that like it was worthless. And for the first time in a long time, she let herself hate Miranda Priestly just a teeny little bit.

 


 

"So tell me," Nigel said the next morning, "why is Miranda treating me like I have bubonic plague?"

Andy blinked up at him, and then bit her lip. Fortunately, Emily was away from her desk, and Miranda was out of the office. So she could say freely, "It's not your fault. She's mad at me. I mean, I think that's it. Unless you did something else."

"Something else? Other than what?"

"Other than talking to Carter Mathson for me," Andy admitted.

Nigel glared at her. "You told her?"

"I didn't know I shouldn't," Andy protested. Nigel rolled his eyes. "What? I didn't! She asked me what I'd been so worked up about for the last few days, and I didn't see any point in lying."

"Great," Nigel said.

"I still don't know what was so wrong about it," Andy said, hoping that Nigel could tell her. "I mean, I just wrote an article. Not everything I do has to be related to Runway ." Or Miranda. That had been half the joy of the thing, after all--to do something, just a tiny something, that had belonged to Andy alone.

"Yes, it does," Nigel said, confirming Andy's worst fears. "Miranda relies on you, Andy, to an extent I have never seen before."

"But--"

"She's afraid you'll quit," Nigel said. "She's afraid you're on to something better, and you're going to waltz off after it. Which, by the way, if the opportunity arises--do it."

"Quit?" Andy stared at him. "I'm not going to quit!" The thought had never occurred to her. Not once.

"More fool you," Nigel said.

"Oh, come on, Nigel," Andy said. "It might not get published. And even if it does, it's just one article. It's, it's freelance work. It's not a job. I'm not going to quit for that." Wasn't that what everybody told aspiring writers? 'Don't quit your day job'?

"I don't know for sure if it will get published," Nigel said. "But it's good work, Andy. I read it. I think you're in with a chance."

Andy brightened. "Really? You really think so?"

Nigel pointed at her. "There it is. There's that glow. I bet you anything Miranda saw it, too. And didn't like it."

"But…but that's not fair," Andy said weakly. And it wasn't. It was monstrously unfair, in fact. Did Miranda still not know, did she really not understand, what Andy would do--had done--for her? Didn't she even trust Andy not to quit her fucking job?

"Since when is Miranda fair?" Nigel asked. He had a point.

Andy looked down at her desk. "I didn't know she'd be like that." Then she smiled bitterly. "I guess I should have."

"You should have," Nigel agreed. "Especially since you got me in trouble, too."

"Nigel, I really am sorry," Andy said, looking up again.

He waved his hand, his enormous ring catching the fluorescent lights. "Not your fault," he said. "You can't change her. No one can."

No, Andy definitely couldn't change Miranda. That was something else everybody said, too: don't try to change the people you love. It never works.

Andy realized what she'd been thinking, and wondered if it might be more merciful for her just to jump out of the nearest window.

 


 

Nigel wasn't the only one getting the cold shoulder. Miranda didn't talk to Andy all day either. For once, she talked to Emily instead, who practically trembled with delight and not a little schadenfreude. Her every look to Andy said, 'See? I knew you wouldn't last.'

Andy couldn't respond to it, couldn't rise to it. Not now. Her feeling of invincibility had long since faded. If she'd thought Miranda actually cared about her, then she could have done anything: outraced speeding bullets, leapt tall buildings at a single bound. But knowing that Miranda didn't care, at least not enough to give a shit about anything Andy might ever want or need, ever , if it didn't converge with her own desires--well, that kind of crushed a girl's spirits into the ground.

Miranda only wanted Andy around because Andy was useful to her, and would drop her, had dropped her, like a dirty rag at the first sign that Andy might not be useful anymore. How many times was Andy going to have to learn this one simple lesson? And when would it stop hurting?

Only yesterday she'd been waiting in feverish anticipation to hear from Modernity . Now she couldn't quite bring herself to care one way or the other, except that if her article didn't get published she'd feel even worse. Like she'd gone through all this for nothing.

But Modernity  did call. To be specific, an assistant editor called her at four p.m.--fortunately, Miranda was out--and told her they wanted her article. That it had been good work, although they had a few suggestions for her. That they'd pay her pretty well for it, too, and would keep her in mind for the future. That they liked to nurture new talent.

And in spite of herself, in spite of Miranda, Andy's spirits revived. They thought she had talent? That she deserved nurturing? That she might actually be worthwhile? She opened up her email and found a copy of her draft in her inbox, with suggestions highlighted. She vowed to follow each and every one of them as soon as she got home that night. She wasn't going to let Carter Mathson down. Maybe he'd be slightly easier to please than Miranda Priestly, anyway, who hadn't even eaten her lentil salad at lunch. And after Andy had given the restaurant such precise instructions, too.

Miranda returned to the office at six, and continued to ignore Andy. At six-fifteen, Nigel walked in, gave Miranda something Andy didn't care about, and walked out again. He paused by Andy's desk and lifted his eyebrows. "Any news?"

Andy beamed up at him, letting her face do the talking. He gave her a genuine grin in response, and even reached out to tweak her nose. "Nice work, Six," he said.

"I couldn't have done it without you," Andy said honestly. "Thank you so much, Nigel."

Nigel opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment, Miranda growled from within her office, "Emily."  She sounded furious. Andy realized that of course she'd overheard, and she and Nigel winced at each other. Emily, who'd been watching Andy and Nigel curiously, hopped up and hurried inside Miranda's office. Nigel left quickly. Andy didn't hear whatever Miranda said to Emily in that low, dreadful pitch, but whatever it was, it made Emily scurry out of the office with a pale face, running for the elevator on some sort of errand. Andy kept her head down and hoped Miranda wouldn't say anything to her.

Miranda didn't. That was, until Andy arrived at the townhouse at eleven-fifteen that night with the book. As soon as Andy walked through the front door, Miranda called, "Andrea." She did not sound happy.

Shit. She was going to do it again. Andy was happy for the second time about her article, and Miranda was going to ruin her mood again. But no. No, that wasn't going to happen. Forget it. Andy wouldn't let her do that. She was excited about her work, and she was going to stay excited. So she put away the dry cleaning, lifted her chin, and marched into Miranda's living room with the book in hand and her head held high.

Miranda was not sitting in the comfortable-looking armchair, or on the plush leather sofa. She appeared to be pacing the room, her brow furrowed, her lips pressed together. When she saw Andy, she straightened her shoulders and said, "Have a seat."

Oh, boy. This couldn't be good. Andy put the book on a side table, sat down on the sofa, and tried hard not to think about how she'd made breakfast for this woman two days after Christmas, or anything else that would weaken her resolve not to let Miranda get to her.

"The article you wrote," Miranda said, and paused. Andy bit her lip, but Miranda wasn't looking at her. "They've accepted it?"

"Yes," Andy said. "They called me this afternoon. They want me to make some edits first, though."

"Mmm." Miranda stuck her tongue in her cheek, and looked out the window, into the dark street outside. She had her hands folded behind her back. Andy, squinting, thought she could see the beginnings of a rise in the shape of her belly. Her heart squeezed painfully just at the thought.

"Let's talk about this article," Miranda said.

Fuck. What was going on? Would--would Miranda actually try to stop the article from going to press? She probably could. One call to the right person, and…

"It's just one article," Andy said, hearing and hating the plea in her voice. "Miranda, it was just a random chance I even heard about it, I didn't really expect them to accept it, but--" She gulped. "I'm really happy about it."

"I'm sure you are," Miranda said, still looking out the window. Her hands tensed behind her back.

"I, I thought," Andy said, and then stopped. If she said, 'I thought you'd be proud of me,' or 'I thought you'd be happy too,' and Miranda laughed at her, sneered at her--well, Andy really might die. So she just mumbled, "I didn't think it would bother you."

"Bother me?" Miranda asked, her voice neutral.

Oh, crap. "Well, you, you seem kind of upset," Andy said, trying very hard to remember that night in London when Miranda had sort-of, more-or-less told Andy to be honest with her. That night seemed very long ago now. She gulped. "Um…if it's about, I don't know, my job, or--"

"Your job?" Miranda finally looked at her, frowning. "Didn't you say you wrote it during your free time?"

"Well--yeah," Andy said, nonplussed.

"Then what does this have to do with your job?"

Andy stared at her. Would she ever, in any lifetime, be able to keep up with Miranda? "I," she said, and then, "I don't know."

"You asked Nigel for a reference?"

Did Miranda think Andy had been sneaky about this, trying to go behind her back? Andy could see how that might have looked bad. "I--well, sort of--"

"You did not ask me," Miranda said.

Andy froze with her mouth open. Then she snapped it shut and found herself re-evaluating every single event in the last twenty-four hours. She looked closely at the expression on Miranda's face which, as always, gave nothing away.

"You did not ask me," Miranda repeated. "Why not?"

Andy needed another couple of seconds to pull herself together. She took them, and then said, "I told you earlier--I knew that Nigel has lunch with Mr. Mathson sometimes."

"I do too. More often, I daresay."

"Oh." Andy just looked at her, stunned. It had never occurred to her to ask Miranda for any such thing. She swallowed. "Well, I mean, I didn't want to bother you, either. You've got a lot going on." She managed to smile.

Miranda did not smile back. Instead, she said, "Yes. Yes, it would have been a lot of bother for me to call Carter, and ask him to give your article special consideration."

"No," Andy said quickly, "I didn't want special consideration, Miranda, I just wanted him to look at my writing. Just to give it a chance." Because, yipes. Nigel asking Mr. Mathson to read her article was one thing. Miranda telling Mr. Mathson to publish it was something else entirely, and Andy didn't want that. She wanted to approach Miranda as somebody who'd done something on her own merits, not with Miranda's help, for crying out loud. That was the whole point.

"You didn't want to bother me," Miranda said.

"Well, no," Andy said.

Miranda looked her dead in the eye. "It never even crossed your mind, did it?" she said. Andy blinked. "It never even occurred to you to come to me." Andy opened her mouth to lie and deny it, then she wondered if she should deny it, and then she realized she had no idea what on earth she should say, period. She was in the middle of some kind of conversation from bizarro world and had no idea how to handle it.

Miranda evidently took her silence as confirmation. "Why didn't it occur to you?" she bit out. She looked more upset by the minute. "Why, when you heard about this opportunity, did your mind immediately leap to Nigel?"

Andy opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again to say, "I have no idea what's going on here."

"Neither do I," Miranda said. "I cannot fathom what you were thinking. Or not thinking. Why on earth--" She cut herself off, and shook her head.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Andy said hesitantly.

"Tell me why you didn't ask me," Miranda barked, and Andy jumped. "Tell me why you did not ask me for something you wanted that I could give you. That's what I want you to say."

Andy, whose head was swimming, whose heart was pounding, and who'd been on an emotional rollercoaster all day long, said numbly, "Because I don't ask you for things."

Miranda sucked in her breath between her teeth.

"That's one of the first things they told me," Andy said. "You never ask Miranda anything."

"But you--" Miranda lifted a hand to brush her hair out of her face. "Are you some kind of idiot? You're not them. " Everybody wants to be us, Andy thought nonsensically. "You…I know that you do a great deal for me. And you've never asked for anything back. You never ask me for anything at all. Did you think I hadn't noticed? Do you think I am completely ungrateful?"

Andy stared at her, scrambling for something to say. But right now, right when she needed them the most, words failed her. And that moment was all it took for Miranda to raise her chin, to go a little bit red, and to say, "Oh. I see."

"No," Andy said, too quickly.

"Oh. Well," Miranda said, and turned to look out the window again.

"That, that's not true," Andy said, even though it absolutely was. Miranda was right. It hadn't occurred to Andy to ask her for anything, not just because she didn't want special favors, but because even if she had, she never would have expected to get them. It wasn't Andy's place to expect gratitude, not from Miranda. It was her place to give and give and give until she had nothing left. Like everybody else.

"No, I'm fairly sure it is," Miranda said. Then she added, "I think perhaps I have asked too much of you. That will stop now."

"Wha--no!" Andy gasped, horrified. What did Miranda mean? No more doctor's visits, or lawyer visits, or pizzas or diet charts or talks at four a.m. or phone calls or-- She couldn't, she didn't mean that, did she? "Miranda, you don't have to, I mean…"

"No, you don't have to," Miranda said, still not looking around. "Not anymore."

"It's not because I have to," Andy pleaded. That was true. Also absolutely. "It's not just my job. I l-like helping you."

"You do?" There was a trap waiting somewhere in Miranda's voice.

Andy was in too deep to find it, though. "Yes," she said in utter defeat. Miranda was probably going to ask her to do something horrible, just to prove a point. Something worse, more impossible than Harry Potter, because Andy had been clumsy enough to hurt her feelings.

And Andy would do it. If Miranda told Andy to go to the moon, bring back a rock, and turn it into a necklace, Andy would find a way to make that work. Wanting to cry now, Andy could admit that to herself. She wished to God she'd never even heard of Modernity .

"If it's not your job, why do you do it?" Miranda inquired. "Why do you 'like' doing things for me?"

Because Andy hated it when Miranda looked sick and tired, and because she didn't like it when the twins treated Miranda like dirt, and because she thought Stephen was an asshole who didn't deserve Miranda, and because she wanted to have sex with Miranda and she'd never wanted another woman before, and because together all of those things combined into something that was terrifyingly like--

"Because I'm happy to do it," Andy whispered. "It makes me happy to do it."

Miranda finally looked at her. Her eyes nearly skewered Andy, they were so sharp and intent.

"You don't say," she said.

Andy opened her mouth to say 'What?', and then sat very still because she'd just been struck by lightning. Or it felt like that, anyway. Her eyes stretched open wide, and then wider.

"Oh,"  she said.

"Well," Miranda said. "There goes the lightbulb." She looked out the window again.

"No," Andy said, though she was so breathless it was a wonder that the word made any sound at all. "I mean, yes. I'm sorry, Miranda." She licked her lips. "I…next time I need something, I'll…"

"Congratulations on your article," Miranda said, not turning around. "That's all."

Andy left the townhouse as if she was walking in a dream. Roy was still waiting for her.

"S-sorry," she said when she slid into the back seat. "I, uh, she wanted to, um, ask me something."

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I think so," Andy said. She shook her head, and blinked several times, hard.

"I'd offer to buy you a drink for it," he said dryly, "but she'd fire one of us, and I'm betting it wouldn't be you."

"Oh my God," Andy moaned, and threw her head back against the headrest, rubbing her hands over her eyes. "I don't get her." Roy just laughed.

No, Andy didn't get Miranda. She never would. But if Miranda wanted to 'do things' for her, if Andy could trust to her favor for just a little bit longer, before Miranda got bored or got fed up or stopped needing Andy or whatever…well, Andy would have a little bit longer. That meant something.

Miranda wanted Andy to ask her for stuff. Miranda wanted to give Andy something back, for everything Andy had done for her. It would make Miranda…happy…to do that.

Andy didn't know what that meant. She didn't care. But her article was getting published in Modernity , and her glow had returned tenfold, and she had the feeling she was going to sleep very well tonight.

 


 

The next day Andy practically floated in to work with a Starbucks tray in her hand. Nothing unusual had happened that morning: Miranda had given her the usual orders in the car, and then the usual period of calm silence followed. She hadn't made any reference to the conversation they'd had the night before. But she'd looked especially beautiful--everything did, really--and Andy had enjoyed the drive very much indeed, although she'd had to be careful not to stare at Miranda or grin like an idiot.

Still, she was obviously in a very good mood, and Emily drooped the moment she came through the door, accurately divining that Andy's happiness meant the end of hers. Oh well. Sucked to be Emily. Andy was over it, she was invincible again, and nothing could stop her or get her down today.

Nigel saw it too. "Kissed and made up, did you?" he asked. Andy fought her blush valiantly. "Does this mean she forgives me too?"

"I, uh, I guess," Andy said. Why wouldn't it? "She knows I asked you for help, you didn't just, you know, offer it out of thin air."

"So you reassured her that you're still chained to your desk?"

What a weird way to put it. "Actually," Andy said, getting ready to tell Nigel that Miranda hadn't worried that Andy was going to quit, that her feelings had just been hurt. Then she said, "Yeah, I did," because something told her that telling Nigel the truth would be a bad idea. Miranda certainly wouldn't want anybody else to know that she gave a damn about Andy one way or the other.

Now that she thought about it, it was also kind of strange that Nigel had misjudged Miranda. When he'd said that Miranda was worried about Andy quitting her job, Andy had taken it as the gospel truth, because nobody knew Miranda like Nigel knew Miranda. Then again, Miranda was impossible to know, so Andy supposed even Nigel had to get it wrong sometimes.

"I'm sure she found that reassuring," Nigel sighed, and gave Andy a folder. "Do me a favor and give this to her? I'd rather get a look at her from a distance before I come any closer today."

"Gotcha," Andy said. Then she lowered her voice, and added, "Thanks again, by the way."

He gave her a small smile, and left. Andy brought the file in to Miranda, and left with an order to make four copies and distribute them to four junior editors. As she stood over the copy machine, Andy thought some more about her article, and started grinning again.

Then she tried to bring herself back down to earth. She hadn't told anyone about the article except for Nigel and Miranda. She hadn't spread it around the office. She hadn't even told her parents, although she wanted to crow it from the rooftops. But even though she'd made all the edits and sent it in, there was always the chance it wouldn't make the issue. Miranda cut stuff from Runway  at the last minute all the time. Andy wasn't going to stop holding her breath until she actually had a copy of the magazine in her hand, and that wouldn't be for another couple of months.

In the meantime, she had a job to do. Several, in fact. And it wasn't just drudgery anymore. And she wasn't going to quit it anytime soon, no matter what Nigel said.

 


 

Andy's happy glow persisted for forty-eight more hours. But then:

DRAGON LADY KNOCKED UP!

As soon as Andy saw the headline in the Post , she knew that today was going to be a very, very bad day. It was even worse because she saw the headline in Miranda's car. While Miranda was shoving the paper in Andy's face, her own face white with fury.

"Look at this!" she spat.

And the week had started so well, too. Andy took the paper with trembling hands, hardly daring to breathe. Up in front, Roy's eyes were fixed firmly on the road. "Um," she said, "uh…"

"Read it," Miranda said.

Andy cleared her throat. "Um. 'Priestly preg--'"

"Not out loud ," Miranda snapped, and turned to stare out her window. Shit. Andy cringed and read the article.

Priestly Pregnancy Stuns the Fashion World , read the sub header. Then the article proper began: Inside sources have confirmed that Miranda Priestly, New York's favorite frigid fashionista  --who wrote this crap?-- is expecting another child at the ripe old age of…well, don't ask, don't tell. But will this patch up her tattered marriage to finance guru Stephen Tomlinson? Not if the pictures of him with British hottie Lennie Jeff are any indication. Ouch! Page Six wants to know: does the Snow Queen feel the burn?

And what do her young dragonettes think about their new brother or sister? An unnamed teacher at the Dalton School, where Priestly's twin daughters Caroline and Cassidy Hanrahan attend, said, "Well, the girls are angry, of course. What do you expect? But they'll get through this."

Of course they will. When you're a Priestly child, you've got to be used to it.

Andy took in a deep, sharp breath. She couldn't speak.

"My children," Miranda said, still looking out the window. The back of her neck was bright red. "They wrote about my children. One of their teachers--" Her voice broke, and she stopped talking.

"Can you find out which one?" Andy asked at once. Miranda needed a target. A blabby, indiscreet teacher would make a great one.

"I don't care what they write about me," Miranda said, as if Andy hadn't spoken. "They can say anything they like. They can say I slept with half the New York Giants, for all I care--" Andy tried not to gasp. "But not the girls. They can't do that. How dare they mention my girls?"

Andy wanted to suggest that Miranda just get the Post  reporter fired. But Miranda's influence didn't extend that far in the publishing world; if it did, Page Six would never say anything about her at all. It was weird to think that her power, which sometimes seemed all-encompassing, actually had limits. And that she'd reached them.

Andy heard a crumpling, ripping sound, and realized she'd torn the paper. Miranda turned at the sound, and saw what Andy had done. Andy squeaked and tried to smooth it out, but Miranda only smiled bitterly. "Was that therapeutic?" she asked.

"Yeah," Andy said. Then she bit her lip and offered it to Miranda, who snorted.

"I'm going to need something a little more substantial than that," she said.

"Like what?" Andy asked, already prepared to get it for her on a silver platter, no matter what it was. Anything to get that look out of her eyes.

But Miranda was way ahead of her. "Nothing you can help with," she said. "It's quite beyond your purview. No, you just leave this to me." Her bitter smile turned into something much, much scarier. Her eyes gleamed with a light that Andy could only call diabolical.

Andy actually throbbed between her legs, and wanted to sink through the leather seats and onto the street below. If ever there was an inappropriate time…

"Roy," Miranda said, "stop by a bar. I am going to buy a whiskey sour."

"You're what?" Andy stared at her.

"Whiskey sours are my favorite drink."

Andy's jaw dropped. "But…what? You can't--"

"I know that," Miranda said. "That's why you're going to drink it for me."

After a long moment, Andy said, "You're kidding."

"No," Miranda said. "I'm delegating."

So, sitting in a twenty-four hour dive at eight-thirty in the morning with Miranda Priestly staring at her the whole time, Andy gulped down a whiskey sour. She'd never had one before. Her lips puckered and she decided instantly that she didn't care for it.

"Um," she said.

"Every drop," Miranda said firmly, and watched with envious eyes as Andy choked down the rest of it without pausing for air. Thankfully, Miranda allowed her to chase it down with water, and even eat a few pretzels so she wouldn't arrive too buzzed at the office.

Well, Andy supposed there were worse ways to start a day.

 


 

If anybody noticed that Andy was a little…cheerful…that morning, they didn't say anything. Probably because everybody was too busy staring at the carpet and avoiding Miranda's eyes. 'Sources at Runway ,' the article had said. Andy wondered who'd spilled the beans. It could have been anybody, she supposed. And did it really matter? The truth would've come out sooner or later. If the Post  hadn't dragged the twins into the fray, then it might not even have bothered Miranda. As much.

By ten-thirty, after another glass of water, some coffee, and two trips to the bathroom, Andy was completely sober again. She kind of missed the buzz, though, since now she could feel the tension everywhere in the air, and was glad to leave the office that night. Miranda did not call her when she dropped off the book. Andy told herself that this was okay. But as she was turning to leave, she heard a "Psst!"

Sure enough, when she stepped to the staircase, she saw both twins sticking their heads over the banister. Andy quickly laid a fingertip on her lips, glancing around, but Miranda was nowhere in sight. "What are you still doing up?" she whispered.

They shrugged. "We just are," Cassidy said, keeping her voice low.

"Did you see the Post ?" Caroline asked. Andy bit her lip, and nodded. "Chelsea showed us," Caroline added darkly, without clarifying who 'Chelsea' was. "She made sure we saw it."

Andy tried to shush them again, but Cassidy said, "Mom's really mad."

Andy bit her lip, and nodded. "I know," she whispered. ''Are you guys okay?"

Caroline glared at her. "Oh yeah," she said. "We're just great."

"Fine," Cassidy corrected, elbowing her sister. "We're fine."

"Well, good," Andy said, feeling at a loss. "You shouldn't--you shouldn't care what those jerks say. They're not worth it." She tried to smile. "Neither's Chelsea, I bet."

"She was just mad because we told her she was dumb and ugly," Caroline said, as if this was a ridiculous reason to be mad.

"Oh," Andy said, remembering why a little of the twins went a long way. "Well. You should probably, you know, go to bed now. It's late." They rolled their eyes at her but, wonder of wonders, disappeared from the railing. She heard their footsteps heading down the hallway upstairs, presumably towards their rooms.

Andy sighed, and turned to go. As she turned, something caught her eye, and she realized that Miranda was standing at the other end of the hall, towards the kitchen, watching her silently. Andy couldn't read the look on her face, but her stomach cramped up with anxiety anyway, even after everything that had already happened. It was hard to get rid of that instinctive response: of the knowledge that this was Miranda's house, and you didn't just come in and talk to people without her permission. The first time Andy had tried it had nearly resulted in disaster, after all.

So now she just smiled timidly and shrugged in greeting. Miranda raised her eyebrows, and Andy turned to go.

"Andrea," Miranda said, and, as always, her voice sent both dread and thrill all the way from Andy's head down to her toes. More thrill than dread now, but with Miranda, you could never be sure what would happen next, so… Andy turned back around.

"Clear my afternoon tomorrow from eleven to one," Miranda said, and Andy started to sweat. Last-minute changes always threw everybody into a panic--especially the people Miranda was canceling on. "I'll be eating lunch outside of the office."

"Right," Andy said, waiting for clarification. But none was forthcoming. Instead, Miranda gave her another long, considering stare that made her extremely nervous. It reminded her of the way Miranda had looked at her when she'd first applied for the job: sizing her up, coming to a decision.

"That's all," Miranda said, and Andy left in a hurry. She knew Miranda was watching her all the way out the door.

 


 

At three p.m. the next day, between her mysterious lunch and a meeting, Miranda called, "Emily!"

Andy still responded instinctively to that sometimes, and had actually tensed her thigh muscles to get out of the chair before she caught herself. She didn't think Emily had noticed, though, as she hurried into Miranda's office. "Shut the door," Andy heard Miranda say.

There was a brief pause, and Andy knew Emily had to be as surprised as Andy was. In all the time Andy had worked here, Miranda had never shut her office door. Now, in spite of herself, Andy felt a faint pang of worry, of insecurity. Not jealousy, of course. Just because Miranda wanted to talk to Emily about something and obviously didn't want Andy to hear, well, that was Miranda's business, and nothing to do with Andy at all. Probably. Maybe. Shit. Probably.

The next fifteen minutes seemed very long. An underling from Christian Lacroix called, and Andy had to try very hard not to be short with her when she refused to understand that Miranda was in a meeting, even after Andy had explained it three times. But it helped to pass the time, at least, and Emily came out of the office about two minutes after Andy had hung up. She looked pale, stunned, but not unhappy. She gazed at Andy as if not really seeing her.

"Emily?" Andy whispered, wondering what had happened to put that look on her face. Had Miranda fired her? But no, Emily would be in tears if that had happened, not--not--

"Andrea," Miranda called.

Andy bit her lip, and now it was her turn to go into the office. Miranda did not tell her to shut the door. She didn't even look up from her desk. Instead, she just said, "Emily has completed her tenure as first assistant. She'll finish here in two weeks and move on. I want you to contact Human Resources and begin the search for a new second assistant immediately."

Oh. That explained it. Emily had been promoted, not fired. She was 'moving on.' And hadn't been given much of a choice, apparently.

"That's all," Miranda said, and Andy left her office.

Emily was sitting at her desk, looking blankly at her monitor. Andy paused by her desk, smiled at her, and said, "Congratulations."

"Thank you," Emily said, sounding completely out of it.

"Where are you going to go?" Andy asked.

Emily looked up at her, shook her head, and appeared to return to reality. Her lip curled in its usual sneer. "Runway France , of course," she said. "Where else?"

Andy grinned at her. Where else indeed? Emily was finally going to Paris. "Congratulations," she repeated.

Emily snorted, glanced towards Miranda's office, and mumbled "About bloody time," so low that even Andy could hardly hear it.

It wasn't until Andy had dropped the book and dry cleaning off that night, and had returned home, that she realized she'd been promoted too. Complete with a (very slight) pay raise and five extra minutes for lunch. She was first assistant now. And had to replace herself, just as Emily had done a year ago, with her.

Where would Andy be, a year from now? Maybe Miranda would have kicked her onward to better things too, whether Andy wanted to leave or not, and Andy would have no choice but to be grateful. And Miranda would have had the baby by then, too, and the divorce would be final, or maybe it wouldn't. Andy knew you weren't supposed to try to predict the future, and she didn't believe in fate, but at the moment she'd give her eyeteeth to know what she'd be doing a year from today.

But she couldn't find out, eyeteeth or not. The best she could do was think about what to look for in the new assistant. She wanted to find somebody who could do the work and not disappoint Miranda, somebody good.

Just not too good.

 

Fourth: February.

Four days later, Andy was buried under more résumés than she knew what to do with. Cherie at Human Resources said she'd actually weeded out the weakest ones, and given Andy "the cream of the crop." Andy wasn't sure how creamy they were. But some pretty famous names had made it to the top of the Human Resources slush pile: Andy recognized the daughters of society people, girls with big trust funds, big fake boobs, and big expectations of life. They had degrees in psychology, philosophy, geography, nutrition--very rarely anything to do with publishing. The few with writing and publication experience made it to the top of the list.

Andy knew from her own experience, however, that being able to write didn't mean you could do the job. The most important thing, initially, was to have a good pair of legs that you could use to run all over the city at a moment's notice, and self-esteem that could survive Miranda dropping boulders on it every five minutes. And that sort of experience didn't show up on a résumé.

In the car that morning, watching Andy frantically sorting through sheets of heavy cream paper, Miranda said, "Have you found any likely candidates?"

"A few," Andy said. "Well, three, anyway."

Miranda held out her gloved hand. "Let me see." Andy handed over the résumés. Miranda took all of ten seconds to look at all three of them, and tossed them back in Andy's lap. "No," she said. "Keep looking."

Andy looked at her in dismay. These had been her top picks. "Okay," she said. "Uh…could you maybe tell me what was wrong with these, so I, um, know what to avoid next time?"

Miranda picked up one. "I hate her mother." She picked up another. "Her mother hates me." She picked up a third. "I've never even heard of this college."

The only useful thing out of that was-- "No obscure schools, got it," Andy mumbled. But how the heck was she supposed to know about the other? Miranda's feuds and squabbles with the New York elite were notorious and ever-changing. Well, so were everyone else's. Nobody who traveled in those circles kept Best Friends Forever, and they were all drama queens.

"Do not disappoint me, Andrea," Miranda said, and Andy quailed right down to her toes. No matter what, she dreaded disappointing Miranda more than almost anything. It was important to keep Miranda happy, for so many reasons: because it made Andy's job easier, because it was the best thing for Miranda's health (and, by extension, the baby's), and because knowing that Miranda was happy made Andy happy, too. She remembered, more often than she cared to, the sight of Miranda laughing on New Year's Eve, relaxed and amused. Andy would give her right arm to see it again.

And maybe she would. Miranda appeared to have a little more spring in her step these days, more of a sparkle in her eye. She'd had time to absorb the shock of her pregnancy, time to--well--not get over Stephen's infidelity, but she didn't seem to be dwelling on it, at least. Reporters weren't bugging her quite as much now as they had in the forty-eight hours after the news about her pregnancy had broken, and Andy and Emily could easily fend off the ones who had the temerity to continue to do so. Miranda's position was still difficult, still something Andy wouldn't wish on her worst enemy (well…maybe her worst), but she seemed to be dealing with it better than Andy would have expected.

It was totally nothing to do with Andy, of course. Just because Andy was there to make things easier, just because Miranda relied on Andy more than she'd ever relied on another assistant--heck, maybe on anybody--well, that didn't matter. So what if she knew that Andy would do anything to make her happy, keep her comfortable? Why should that give her so much…bounce?

Okay. Not the time to dwell on this, Andy decided. Not the time to let silly fantasies go to her head. If she really wanted to make Miranda happy and comfortable, she could start by doing her job and finding a halfway-decent second assistant.

Four days later, she was nearly in despair. Emily was gone for good in less than two business weeks, and she was so excited about her new opportunity that she wasn't paying as much attention to her duties as she used to. The only thing she had to say about the whole matter was, "It all depends on Miranda. You never know what she's going to want."

Which Andy had figured out for herself a long time ago. And on top of everything else, Spring Fashion Week was hurtling towards all of them like a train. How was Andy supposed to get everything ready for London while also seeking out her own replacement?

It seemed utterly impossible. Andy learned her first object lesson the hard way when, two days later, she finally pre-interviewed a tall, willowy blonde who'd made it past the initial screening. The blonde had a permanent curl of her lip. Nevertheless, Andy, who remembered how scornful Emily had been to her, gave her a friendly smile. "Hi," she said, and extended her hand. The blonde took it limply before dropping it again. Bad start. "I'm Andrea Sachs," Andy said. "But you can call me Andy."

"Really," said the blonde, whose name was Jessica. "That's cute."

"Er," Andy said. "I guess. So, Jessica…it is Jessica, right? Or do you have a nickname too?"

Jessica looked revolted, but all she said was, "No."

Okey-dokey, then. "Right," Andy said, feeling her smile becoming strained. Jessica had better say something very impressive in the next few minutes if she wanted to have a prayer of landing this job. "Well…okay. Have a seat?" They were in a small meeting-room, near Nigel's office, while Emily manned the phones. Jessica seated herself elegantly, and folded her hands on the tabletop. "So, Jessica," Andy said. "What brings you to Runway ?"

"Lots of things," Jessica said, and looked around, appearing impatient. "Listen, I'm sorry, but my time is kind of at a premium today."

Andy stared at her. "What?"

"I came here for an interview," Jessica said. "Is Ms. Priestly busy or something?"

"Ms. Priestly?"

Jessica glared at her. "You're the first assistant, right?"

"Yes," Andy said, astonished. "Or, I mean, I will be, in a week."

"So you're in charge of her schedule. When is she going to be free? How long do I have to wait?"

"Well," Andy said, and looked at her watch. "No longer, actually. Come on." She headed for the door, Jessica following her eagerly. Then, as Jessica seemed to realize they were heading for the exit, she stopped and frowned.

"Wait a minute," she said.

"Oh, sorry," Andy said sweetly, and pointed ahead. "You probably know your way out already. You don't need me leading around by your hand like a little kid."

Jessica stared at her. "What about my interview?"

"We just had it," Andy said. "Good luck with the job hunt."

Jessica's eyes bugged out. "You were interviewing me? An assistant?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "That's kind of how it goes. Now you know."

"Do you know who my dad is?"

Oh, screw that. Andy gave Jessica her best glare, the one that had made Caroline shrivel up at the dinner table in London. It worked nearly as well on Jessica, who took a step back. Andy slowly raised her arm and pointed at the exit.

"Bye," she said. "We won't call you. We won't keep your résumé on file. And if you play your cards right, we won't fax it to other people as a warning, either. Or a joke."

Jessica opened her mouth.

"That's all," Andy said.

Jessica turned beet red, and actually looked like she was going to cry. She turned on shaking legs and headed for the exit. When she was out of sight, Andy exhaled heavily.

She couldn't believe how terrifyingly good that had felt.

 


 

"What about that candidate you met with this morning?" Miranda asked in the car, later that day.

"Totally disappointing," Andy said.

"I'd get used to that feeling," Miranda said, "if I were you." Then she tilted her head towards Andy, and something like a smile played around her lips, like they were sharing a joke.

Something in Andy's chest became so warm and light that she forgot about being disappointed at all.

 


 

Two days later, the world had mercy on her. A short, slight redhead stood in front of her: a natural redhead, not like Emily. She was skinny, pretty, and fashionable enough to work at Runway.  She seemed awed by the offices, awed by Andy, awed by even the idea of Miranda Priestly. She was also obviously very sweet-natured, hard-working, and dumb as a box of hair.

"The question is," Andy said carefully, "can you pretty much just do as you're told?"

"Oh, yes," the girl--whose name was Eleanor--replied, smiling brilliantly. "Everyone's always told me that's my natural area of expertise!"

"Sit right here," Andy said, and hurried into Miranda's office.

Miranda was on her cell phone, though it sounded like she was wrapping up the conversation. She saw Andy approaching the desk and quickly said into the phone, "Why, that sounds marvelous, darling. Yes. I'll see you then." Then she hung up and looked back at Andy.

"Was that the twins?" Andy asked, and instantly wished she'd kept her mouth shut as Miranda raised a disdainful eyebrow. "Um, I mean, sorry. I just wanted to say that there's a girl waiting about the job."

Miranda lowered her eyebrow, but only a little. Then she glanced towards where Eleanor was sitting.

"Well?" she said.

"I think we've got a live one," Andy said, hoping against hope that she was right.

"Call her in," Miranda said.

Andy turned and crooked her finger at Eleanor, who had been watching them both anxiously from reception. Eleanor trotted in, smiling brightly, her résumé in hand. She was nervous and excited and offering her throat to Miranda like the zeta female to the alpha bitch.

Miranda's eyes gleamed, and Andy knew she'd chosen well. "So," Miranda said neutrally. "Who are you?"

"Eleanor Lake," Eleanor said, and added, "Ellie, please."

Miranda's lip curled. "And what brings you here, Eleanor?"

Ellie blanched. "Um," she said feebly.

"I'll just go mind the phones," Andy said. Miranda glanced at her with a satisfied look on her face, and nodded.

Andy left the office and sat down in her chair, and held her breath as she tried to listen in.

"…think you can bring to the table?" she heard Miranda's voice saying.

"Oh, I love fashion," Ellie replied earnestly.

"Really," Miranda purred. "Well." Andy could just picture the look on her face.

Andy rather thought she could pat herself on the back. Score one brand-spanking-new minion, she thought, and settled in at her desk, satisfied that she had pleased Miranda yet again.

 


 

Miranda seemed pretty happy with Ellie. At least, as happy as she ever got around a new assistant. She was obviously having lots of fun, at any rate--all it took was one cold look from her to make Ellie turn bright red, tremble, and stutter.

As for Nigel, he took one look at Ellie, pulled Andy aside, and said, "You're kidding."

Andy shrugged. "Miranda hired her."

Nigel glanced back to where Ellie sat, blissfully oblivious. "Huh. She suits your purposes well enough, doesn't she?"

Andy opened her mouth to deny it, or act innocent, and instead said, "Yes. She does."

Nigel glanced at her, and she thought he looked impressed. "Well. Good luck training the new you," he said.

But, however much she trembled and stuttered, Ellie could do the job, and that was what saved her. Of course, a monkey could do the job, but at least Ellie was marginally smarter than a monkey. It helped that Andy paid much more attention to training her than Emily had to training Andy, so she didn't have the same humiliating awakening to the new realities of her position.

And, okay, Ellie didn't have the same superiority complex Andy had been nursing at the start of her job. Andy could admit that now as she saw how eager Ellie was to learn, how she didn't think that her new job was beneath her. Well…good for her, Andy guessed.

It also helped that Emily was there for a few more days to man the phones while Andy dragged Ellie all over the city with her, so Ellie could pay careful attention to what needed to be done. And when Andy went somewhere with Miranda, Ellie stayed at the office and watched Emily work the phones and field all the drama.

The day after Ellie had been hired, and Roy was ferrying Andy and Ellie to Hermès, Miranda called Ellie's cell phone. "Hello?" Ellie squeaked, and then went pale. She stammered, "O-okay, Miranda," hung up, turned to Andy, and said, "She said to get her that footstool that she liked at that store. Do you know which footstool? And which store?"

Andy thought hard. Then she said, "Roche Bobois on Madison Avenue. We drove past it yesterday, and she glanced at the window. And then she had the catalogue on her desk this morning."

Ellie's jaw dropped. "Wow," she said. "But which stool?"

Andy shrugged. "We'll just have to see what they have in the window display." She gave Ellie a very serious look. "You've got to pay attention, Ellie. She expects you to read her mind. Notice as much as you can. If she shows any particular interest in something, remember it. Write it down if you have to."

"I don't think I can do this job," Ellie whimpered.

Uh-oh. "Yes, you can," Andy said sharply. Then she heard the words coming out of her mouth: "A million girls would kill for it." Shit. She couldn't believe she'd just said that. But it made Ellie nod, so Andy continued, "And you beat all of them. You made it to the top. Right?" Ellie nodded again, looking a little perkier. "So you can do this," Andy finished, not at all sure of that, but desperate to keep Ellie around until they got back from London, at least. "Just pay attention and keep trying. Roll with the punches."

They arrived at Roche Bobois. There were two footstools in the window, but Andy immediately zeroed in on the one on the left. "That one. The blue one with the modern lines. That matches the stuff in her house. Now go in, order it, and have it sent to her home tonight. Not tomorrow or the day after--tonight.  Rush delivery."

Ellie hurried inside. Ten minutes later, she emerged, looking flushed with victory. "It'll be there by seven-thirty," she proclaimed.

"Great!" Andy said, and patted her on the arm. Ellie became radiant. "You've made a good start."

"I really want to do well," Ellie said earnestly. Then she beamed. "I won't let you down, Andy."

God. She could practically be on a fifties sitcom. Andy managed a smile, and said, "I know you won't."

That night, when Andy arrived to drop off the book at ten-fifteen, she heard Miranda speaking in the den. Andy couldn't hear what she was saying, but her tone was light and breezy, and she even chuckled once.

As Andy shut the door of the hall closet, Miranda called, "Andrea." Andy took the book and hurried into the den, where Miranda was just snapping her cell phone shut. Miranda held out her hand, and Andy gave her the book, even as she noticed the new footstool sitting by Miranda's chair. It matched the décor perfectly.

"The new girl certainly did a remarkable job of picking out that footstool," Miranda said, paging through the book and not looking up at Andy. Her voice was mild, and she looked remarkably relaxed. Talk about being in a good mood.

"She sure did," Andy said, keeping a straight face. Miranda glanced up at her, then, and Andy returned the glance with her most innocent look. Miranda's lips actually quirked. Andy's stomach fluttered for a second, but then Miranda looked back down at the book.

"I'll be having lunch away from the office tomorrow," she said. Just like last time, she didn't say where, or with whom. "I'll return by two. Make sure to update the schedule accordingly. That's all."

"Okay," Andy said, and dared to add, "good night."

"Mmm," Miranda said, keeping her eyes on the book. Then: "Good night."

That night, Andy went to bed thinking of the sound of Miranda's chuckle, and the way her lips had quirked, and the faint, but undeniable shine in her eyes.

 


 

Miranda's glow persisted through the next day. When she returned from lunch, she actually gave Andy something that was almost, almost  like a smile. Emily, for her part, gave Andy the usual look of resentment, although it wasn't quite as poisonous as it had been before she'd gotten her new job.

Andy didn't care. She was happy. Miranda was happy, she was happy, and right now, right at this minute, things were pretty rosy. She was really looking forward to London, too. She'd had a blast watching the Paris shows.

And then, four days after Ellie had been hired, Emily was gone. Just like that. No fanfare, no going out for drinks, and certainly no office party. Runway  didn't work like that. People came and vanished without a trace. That was just the way things were.

It was very weird to sit at her own desk--Andy hadn't seen any point in switching--and see Ellie across the way instead of Emily. A new redhead, but with guileless eyes and a sweet, if vacant smile.

"So," Nigel said, "how are you settling in?"

"Oh," Ellie said, and blushed. "I don't really know yet."

"Okay," Nigel said, after a moment of silence. Andy tried not to laugh.

Right at that moment, Miranda called from within, "Andrea." Andy sighed and started towards the office, but then Nigel laid a hand on her shoulder.

Then he cleared his throat. Ellie looked up and saw them both watching her. "She means you," Nigel murmured.

Andy blinked, and then grinned. Oh, wow. Now that was really weird. And funny. And weird.

"But I'm not Andy," Ellie said blankly.

"Andrea,"  Miranda said impatiently, and Andy gave Ellie a very pointed look. Ellie cringed, got up, and hurried within.

Andy and Nigel looked at each other, and chuckled. Nigel even high-fived her.

There was a murmur of voices. Miranda sounded displeased. Then Ellie headed out of the office, looking shaky, and said to Andy, "She said she meant you."

Andy blinked again. Crap. "Whoops," Nigel muttered, and Andy walked as fast as she could into Miranda's office.

Miranda looked pissed. "Why didn't you come when I called?"

"I didn't think you meant me," Andy said hesitantly. "I mean--you know, when I started here, you--"

"Is the new girl's name Andrea?" Miranda asked.

"Well, no, but…"

"I thought not," Miranda said. "In fact, I believe there is only one Andrea in this office."

"I, I guess so," said Andy, who hadn't really thought about it.

"When I want the new girl," Miranda continued, "I will call the new girl."

"Oh," Andy said.

"Like this," Miranda said, and then called, "New girl!"

When Ellie tottered in, looking nervous, Miranda said, "I want my Starbucks here in ten minutes."

"Yes, ma'am," Ellie whispered.

"That's all," Miranda said, and glanced down at her desk. Ellie opened her mouth to ask a question, and Andy immediately pointed to the door with a look of warning. Ellie hurried out.

Then Andy looked back at Miranda, and felt a warm, delightful glow in her chest. So, she was the only Andrea around here. Accept no substitutes. She cleared her throat, and Miranda looked up at her with a frown. "Why did you call me in here?" Andy asked, trying not to smile. "Earlier?"

Miranda looked confused for the most fleeting of seconds, and then covered it by saying, "Get me Testino."

Andy got her Testino, and as soon as Ellie hurried back in with the Starbucks, Andy took it from her and placed it on Miranda's desk while Miranda was on the phone. Then she took Ellie aside.

"A few things," she said. "You don't call her 'ma'am.' You just call her Miranda. Second, always make sure that the coffee is searing hot, that's how she likes it. Third, when she says 'that's all,' then that's all. You nod, smile, and go away. You don't ask questions. You never ask her questions. Ask me instead."

Trembling, Ellie nodded. Andy felt sorry for her, and gave her a reassuring smile and a pat on the arm as Nigel sidled up to them again, carrying his laptop.

"She's still talking to Testino?" he asked.

"Yes, but it sounds like she'll be done soon," Andy said. "Oh, hey, I have that flash drive you asked for." She went to her desk and opened the drawer.

"Why did you think she wanted to see me, when she called your name?" Ellie asked. She turned to Nigel. "You did, too."

"Well," Nigel said, rubbing the back of his neck, "that's traditionally her habit. She calls the second assistant by the first assistant's name until she decides the second assistant is worth keeping around."

"Oh," Ellie said. "Then why--"

Andy quickly handed Nigel the flash drive. "Here you go," she said.

Nigel took it, gave her a long look, and then said to Ellie, "You'll pick things up as you go."

"It feels like I'll never learn all this stuff," Ellie said, and bit her lip.

"You will," Andy said, hoping she was right. Then she added, "By the way--don't call it 'stuff.'"

 


 

So, yes. Everything was coming up roses. Andy was the only Andy, and Miranda was pleased with her, and Ellie was going to settle in, and London was just around the corner and promised to be pretty darn cool, all things considered. Life, Andy thought that night, was good.

Then, the next day, she got a phone call.

It wasn't a number she immediately recognized. "Miranda Priestly's office," she said as she picked up.

"Hello," a man's deep voice said. "Is this Andrea Sachs?"

"Yes," Andy said, surprised.

"Oh, good," the man said, sounding relieved. "I was afraid I'd get the other one. Miranda said for me to talk to you if I couldn't reach her cell phone."

"Um…oh," Andy said, even more surprised. "Well, uh, what can I do for you, sir?"

"Just tell her, when you can catch her alone, that Stan Oppenheimer called," he said. "Tell her I have to cancel tomorrow evening. Something unavoidable's come up. She ought to understand about that." He chuckled.

"Unavoidable," Andy repeated. "Oh. Okay."

"Thanks. Tell her I'll call her later, if I can actually catch her this time."

"I…right," Andy said, blinking. "Of course."

"Bye," the man said, and hung up.

Andy sat with the receiver pressed hard against her ear for a few moments before she snapped out of it and hung up the phone. Then she realized that her free hand had been digging hard into the desk for the last couple of seconds.

Stan Oppenheimer was one of the senior vice-presidents of Elias-Clarke. He was also very wealthy, divorced, and devilishly handsome. Great smile. Confident bearing. Wore bespoke suits.

Rumor had it he'd been interested in Miranda before her marriage to Stephen. As a matter of fact.

Andy stood up and walked into Miranda's office. Miranda was in the middle of sending Jocelyn away. As Jocelyn left, Andy cleared her throat.

"What?" Miranda said.

'When you catch her alone,' Mr. Oppenheimer had said. So Andy kept her voice low as she approached the desk and said, "Uh, Stan Oppenheimer just called."

Before her eyes, Miranda's gaze became sharp and interested. And bright. She leaned forward eagerly. She…glowed.

"He, um, has to cancel tomorrow evening," Andy said. "Something came up."

And then Miranda's eyes narrowed in obvious displeasure, and she sat back in her seat, drumming her nails on the glass surface of her desk. The glow was gone.

"He, he said he'd call you later," Andy said. "On your cell phone."

"That's all," Miranda said. Andy left the office on shaking knees. Then she sat down so hard in her chair that it probably bruised her tailbone, but even that didn't distract her from her thoughts.

Those phone calls, when Miranda had been laughing, but hadn't wanted anybody else to hear. Those lunches. And they'd been planning to get together 'tomorrow evening.' Andy knew what it meant when a man and a woman got together in the evening. Everybody knew. And Miranda had lit up like a Roman candle just at the mention of it.

When you catch her alone.  Away from prying eyes and curious ears.

Stupid. Stupid. Miranda's glow--because of a man. An absurdly handsome and available man. Well, of course it'd have to be something like that, instead of some stupid lowly assistant who brought her coffee and scheduled her doctor's appointments. What the hell about Andy could possibly make her glow?

Andy was, as always, an idiot.

The rest of the day felt very long indeed.

 


 

The next day, after an equally long night, Andy made quite sure to put her best game face on. And the day after that (when Miranda had her rescheduled lunch with Mr. Oppenheimer), and the day after that. God knew she had enough to take care of, right? She should do her job, right? That was fucking well why she was here, right?

Although, just for the record, Andy personally thought Miranda might have waited just one more month before promoting Emily. It was the twelfth of February, and Fashion Week in London was one week away. Like everyone else, Andy was thrown into frantic preparations, while also trying to train Ellie to hold the fort while they were gone--and Emily wasn't there to fill the gaps. Miranda wasn't slowing down for a minute, either. Their morning rides had no more silent moments; Miranda was talking from the moment she got in the car to the moment her heels were clacking down the marble floors of the Runway offices.

The good news was, now Ellie was the one responsible for getting Miranda's morning Starbucks to her, so Andy didn't have to worry about texting the order in anymore. The bad news was, now Andy arrived at the office with Miranda every single morning, and people had started to notice. Miranda didn't care, of course, but Andy still felt the sting of raised eyebrows and muttered comments. Now she understood what Miranda had meant about passive-aggressiveness. It was really fucking irritating. What was the big deal? So Andy showed up to work with the boss. Who cared? It wasn't as if anything inappropriate was going on. At all.

It was actually kind of refreshing when a wide-eyed Ellie asked her, right up front and without prevaricating, "Why do you always arrive at work with Miranda? Do you really have it timed that well?" Typical. Ellie had come to be in awe of the way Andy kept up with Miranda, plus everything else. She seemed to think that Andy had flights of spirits or something that she could summon to do five different things at once on her behalf.

"Er, no," Andy admitted. "Roy picks me up every morning before he gets Miranda. It's so she can start, you know, giving me instructions right away," she added hastily.

"Wow," Ellie breathed.

Right then, Miranda breezed in. Like everyone else, she had to be exhausted from the frenetic pace. More exhausted, considering. But she never showed it, and she didn't show it now. "Get me the copy from Paul," she said, and Ellie scurried away, obviously trying to avoid eye contact.

"Confirm lunch with Stan," Miranda said to Andy in a low voice.

Andy couldn't quite speak, so she nodded and smiled brightly at Miranda as if nothing was wrong at all. Miranda turned and walked into her office without another word or look of acknowledgment. Andy tried not to gag on her latest hot, miserable surge of jealousy. She'd never felt anything like it before.

How was it possible that Miranda already had a new guy, just a few months after Stephen had left her, and in the middle of a divorce? Was she that desperate to acquire a father figure for her kids? Apparently so. Shit.

And there might be more to it than that. Or less. The bastard really was good-looking. And Andy could tell, from the way Miranda looked when she got in the car in the morning, that she'd stopped throwing up and felt a lot better. In fact, Andy's books told her that after the first trimester, women often got their libidos back. Sometimes they got more than their fair share. Maybe Miranda didn't want a father substitute for her children--maybe she wanted something a lot less complicated. The thought made Andy want to die. Or kill. Or both, that'd be good.

Well, maybe that could be the favor Andy asked for. "Miranda, could you please not sleep with anybody else ever again?"  Then again, it might not go over well. Double shit.

That afternoon, as usual, Miranda returned from her little lunch date looking extremely pleased with herself. Probably nobody but Andy could see it, but Miranda was definitely…satisfied by something. Sated, even. She hadn't looked that happy since the pizza.

Because she was a glutton for punishment, Andy waited until they were alone and stammered, "D-do you, um, want me to make another reservation? Appointment? With him?" She might as well beat Miranda to the punch, might as well get used to it, might as well start trying to numb herself right away.

Miranda stared at her. "Did I ask you to?"

"No," Andy croaked, wishing Stan Oppenheimer in the hottest part of hell.

"What I want you to do," Miranda said acidly, "is check up on the London hotel reservations."

"I did that while you were at lunch," Andy said, trying very, very hard not to think about her room--Stephen's room--the guestroom--at Miranda's London townhouse. "We're all, um, all placed. I mean we've all got rooms lined up."

"'We'?" Miranda said.

"Well," Andy said, with a forced laugh, "not you, obviously, I meant--"

"Nor you," Miranda said, giving her a very flat look.

After a moment, Andy said, "Oh."

"Make sure there is enough room for Jocelyn in the front row at the Asish show," Miranda said. "That's all." She walked off.

Andy took a deep breath and sat down at her desk, reaching for the phone to call the Asish organizers, and then the hotel. Then, when she'd gotten that all taken care of, she found herself staring off into space. Ellie was off running errands, which meant Andy couldn't leave the desk, and she actually didn't have any tasks she could take care of right now. Which left her with time to think, and that was precisely what she didn't need.

So she was going back to the townhouse after all. Andy tried very hard not to feel happy. She tried very hard not to feel anything at all. It wasn't a reason to be happy, it wasn't good, it wasn't fair, it wasn'tright  of Miranda to get Andy's hopes up like that, whether she meant to or not.

Because Andy didn't think she could take it--living in Miranda's house again, talking to her at four in the morning again, making her breakfast and seeing her bare toes again, and knowing that none of it was really for her. That even if Stan Oppenheimer wasn't in the picture, it still wouldn't be for her. That she couldn't afford to get used to it, no matter how much she wanted to.

"Hey, Andy?" Ellie said. Andy jumped; she hadn't heard Ellie come back in. But now Ellie looked worried, and she nibbled her lower lip, which made her look kind of like a rabbit. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Andy snapped, and then, when Ellie's face crumpled, she felt bad for snapping. She was supposed to be nice to Ellie, since Miranda, of course, was unfailingly cold. The good cop, bad cop thing again. "Fine," Andy repeated, more gently. "I just, um, have a headache."

"Oh gosh," Ellie said, looking sympathetic. "I have some Advil if y--"

"New girl," Miranda barked from within. Ellie jumped, and scurried inside. Andy sighed, and stared down at her keyboard. She hadn't been lying. She did feel a nasty headache coming on.

Well, maybe headache was better than heartache. Too bad she had a mortal case of that, too.

 


 

The day before they left for London, Miranda had lunch with Stan Oppenheimer yet again. She returned almost buoyant, yet again. Andy didn't tell anyone, yet again.

"I need these dresses messengered to Michaela immediately," Nigel said. Then: "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing," Andy mumbled. "I'm just tired. I mean busy. I mean tired."

"Try coffee," Nigel said. His tone was light, but she kind of thought he was looking at her with concern.

 


 

Andy knew Miranda had to be feeling better now, because she didn't throw up even once on the flight to London. She did, however, keep everyone as busy as she had on both the Paris flights. And she wasn't the only one: Nigel, Jocelyn, Keisha, Paul--all of them were always thinking of last-minute details, making last-minute changes that Andy had to punch frantically into the master schedule instead of sleeping or reading or watching the in-flight movie. Even worse, she was sitting next to Miranda. In the first class section of an Airbus they were hardly bumping elbows, but Miranda was always out of the corner of her eye, and why couldn't Andy be sitting in front of her instead? Then at least she'd have to turn her head to look at her.

After the flight landed, everyone was practically sprinting for the door the moment they got through customs. And then Fashion Week was on. This time, there was no relaxing downtime in Miranda's townhouse, no chance to take a nap before the next big social engagement. The Runway  group went to the hotel, except for Andy and Miranda, who headed for Miranda's house. Andy and Jimmy exchanged 'hello, again' smiles in the car, but they didn't quite dare say much more in front of Miranda, who was obviously far more goal-oriented this week than she had been in December. Well…good. Fine with Andy. If Miranda kept moving, then Andy had to keep moving too, which was exactly what she needed. She was here to work, after all.

They didn't stop at the townhouse for longer than it took to freshen up and change. Andy noticed that Stephen's razor head and traveling-case were gone. But she didn't have much time to dwell on that as she got out of her wrinkled clothes and threw on a fresh outfit, washed her face and re-applied her makeup, and combed her hair. There. She almost looked human again. Also: talk about déjà vu.

She needed to be ready before Miranda, as always, so she didn't spend as much time on her face as she might otherwise have done, and instead clattered downstairs towards the kitchen, hoping the staff had stocked it exactly as she'd told them to. Everything seemed okay.

Miranda clacked into the kitchen just as Andy had stuck her head inside the fridge. "What are you doing?" she said, sounding displeased. "It's time to leave."

"I know," Andy said hastily, and pulled out a bottled smoothie. "But it's four hours until dinner, and I thought you might want one of these." She offered the bottle to Miranda, who already looked as fresh and awake as if she'd never set foot on an airplane. "It's, like, a protein and soymilk something. Mango-flavored."

Miranda looked skeptical, but she took a sip, and then nodded indifferently. Which meant she loved it, and Andy had better make sure she got more of them. At least she'd done something right.

Then Miranda lowered the bottle from her mouth, and Andy realized the smoothie had left a peach-colored milky ring around Miranda's lips. It momentarily hypnotized her, and her heart thumped pleasantly at the sight of it--it was cute, and sexy, and like she needed another reason to want to kiss Miranda?--but probably nobody else should see it. It wasn't exactly dignified or fashionable, and nobody but Andy would think it was adorable.

She cleared her throat. Miranda frowned at her. Andy started making circling motions over her own lips with her index finger, and then Miranda stared at her like she was crazy. "You've got," Andy said, and tapped her lips.

Miranda's eyes went wide. "I've got to what?"

"You've got stuff on your mouth from the smoothie," Andy said, wincing in apology. It somehow seemed much ruder when you had to come right out and say it. Especially to Miranda.

Miranda's eyes opened even wider in understanding. Her cheeks went pink too. Hoping to stave off a snit-fit, Andy quickly offered her a paper towel. Miranda snatched it and dabbed at her mouth, peering at her reflection in a nearby glass cabinet and scowling the while. "Let's go," she said, and put the smoothie down on the counter.

"Oh," Andy said, inexplicably crestfallen. "You don't want--?"

"I want--" Miranda cleared her throat. "I want to go. Is there something complex about this?"

"I'll get your coat," Andy said, trying not to sigh audibly.

"This is an extremely important week, Andrea," Miranda said, like that wasn't a massive understatement, and like Andy didn't already know it perfectly well. "Don't let yourself get distracted."

"Distrac--" Andy began, and then cut herself off, going rigid when she figured out what Miranda meant. 'Being distracted' meant 'fussing over Miranda's pregnancy.' Which Miranda did not want and would not appreciate. Not this week, anyway. Maybe not anymore, period. Okay. Fair enough. Totally fine. Right?

"Right," Andy mumbled, tossed the smoothie in the trash, and headed to get the coats, thinking very hard about not thinking at all.

 


 

That very afternoon, disaster struck. First of all, the front row at the Asish show did not have a seat reserved for Jocelyn--a detail Miranda had told Andy to take care of personally. Fortunately, Andy noticed the mistake before Miranda (or Jocelyn) arrived, and pounced on the staging director immediately.

"Listen, I don't know what to tell you," he said.

"Tell me you're going to boot one of these people so Jocelyn Cooke can get a seat," Andy said. "I spoke to Elyssa, and she said--"

"Oh, that explains it," he said. "Elyssa quit three days ago."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," Andy said, trying very hard not to sound panicked, because Miranda was due to arrive any second. "But Jocelyn is in Miranda Priestly's entourage."

"Oh, she's--ohhhh," the staging director said, his eyes going wide. "Really? Shit. Okay. Let me fix that…"

Thank God. He went to talk to the woman who'd had the temerity to take Jocelyn's seat. Andy, bouncing on the balls of her feet and hoping the woman would vacate her place before the rest of the Runway crew arrived, glanced over to the other side of the room. Which led to the second part of the disaster: she saw Stan Oppenheimer sitting in the third row.

What? What the hell was he doing here? He wasn't supposed to be here. At least, Andy hadn't heard that he'd be here. Not that she had any reason to know such a thing. Mr. Oppenheimer's schedule wasn't even remotely in her purview. But surely Miranda had known he would be here. And hadn't mentioned it.

Well, why should she mention it? Andy gulped hard. Miranda wasn't accountable to Andy for her movements. If she didn't need Andy to schedule a lunch or something, then Andy had nothing to do with any of it. They had 'gotten together' in the evenings, after all, and Andy had never heard a word about it until Mr. Oppenheimer himself had told her.

Then there was a flurry of attention by the door, and Andy knew Miranda had arrived. She always made an entrance: people got out of her way, cleared a path for her, watched her with equal parts envy and admiration, murmured to each other as they watched her pass. Andy remembered the way Emily had breathed, "Oh, she's amazing!" when Miranda had descended the stairs at the museum benefit. With tears in her eyes, no matter how much she'd denied it. And she'd been right. 'Amazing' didn't even begin to cover it.

Stan Oppenheimer was watching Miranda, too. He looked approving. Andy wondered how many punches it would take before his face actually caved in.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Jocelyn's seat was free now, and Andy thanked the stage manager as she took her seat in the second row behind Miranda, who hadn't noticed the momentary glitch. Then she tried to pay attention to the models on the catwalk, and the clothes they wore, instead of on the ridiculously rich, handsome, and available man across the way.

To Andy's relief, though, Mr. Oppenheimer didn't attempt to speak to Miranda after the show. And there were two more shows before dinner, so she was able to keep busy and try not to think about him. Then there was the dinner itself, and Andy definitely wasn't sitting at Miranda's table this time. Even Nigel wasn't sitting at Miranda's table.

But Carter Mathson was. And when dinner was done, and people were milling around, Andy found herself standing by Miranda's side as Miranda introduced her to the editor-in-chief of Modernity , who'd accepted Andy's article, who thought she had talent and deserved nurturing. Andy garbled out her thanks for his consideration, trying to sound appropriately grateful without veering over into 'pathetically grateful' territory. After all, he might just be her ticket out of Runway , away from Miranda and to a place where she could do serious work and maybe even get her mind back. She should want that. No--she did want that. Of course she did. It was what she'd always wanted, wasn't it?

"You've got potential," Mr. Mathson said, and shook her hand. "I'm glad Nigel sent you my way," he added as he turned to go. "Tell him so. Miranda--always a pleasure."

"Carter," Miranda murmured, but Andy could tell the mention of Nigel had displeased her. Probably because she'd been trying to one-up his generosity, and Mr. Mathson hadn't let her.

"Thanks for introducing me," Andy tried.

"Call the car," Miranda said. "We're going home."

Andy didn't ask if Miranda was okay, because Miranda didn't want Andy to get distracted. So she just called the car, and rode in silence with Miranda back to the townhouse.

The silence was oddly tense. Andy wasn't sure why. She and Miranda hadn't had a disagreement; Miranda hadn't even found out about the almost-mistake with Jocelyn's seat. Andy had done everything right all day long. But it felt very stiff and uncomfortable in the back seat right now.

Oh, heck. Andy was totally imagining it. What was wrong with her? She was just tired, and had endured a really long day--several days--and she was still wrung-out with inappropriate jealousy over an interest Miranda might not even have in some other guy. And even if she did, it wasn't Andy's business to be jealous in the first place, as she'd told herself a million times  already.

All of this tension was just in Andy's head. She was projecting it onto everything. So what if they weren't talking to each other in the car? Miranda didn't have anything to say, that was all. She was probably just as tired as Andy was, if not more so.

Jimmy stopped the car at the curb, and Andy and Miranda climbed the steps to the townhouse. Miranda's shoulders were as straight and proudly-set as ever, but she was definitely moving more slowly.

Andy unlocked the door and held it open for her, and they both stepped into the darkened hallway. There were no kids asleep upstairs this time, no Padmini waiting to welcome them home with a tired smile, no smells from dinner leftovers. Andy realized, in a way that had not actually occurred to her before, that it was just her and Miranda here tonight--all week, in fact.

The knowledge gave her a jolt, but she was far too exhausted to analyze what kind of jolt it was. Instead she just turned on the hall light and helped Miranda out of her coat. Miranda didn't say anything, but she did give Andy a long look. Her own face was expressionless.

Andy normally would have fumbled for something to say, and would have come up with something dumb like, 'Long day, huh?' Or something maybe slightly more useful, like, 'Is there anything else I can do for you tonight?' But not now. Now, for some reason, after that quiet car ride and in this quiet house, no words would come to her. So she just looked at Miranda right back, and thought about that peachy ring around her mouth; and then her brain shut down in self-defense and became mercifully blank.

Miranda kept staring at her. Andy kept staring back. It didn't feel like defiance. The opposite, in fact. Surrender. Okay. Miranda had won. She'd won whatever game they'd been playing all along, ever since Andy had been hired. Andy had nothing to say to her. She was only waiting to be dismissed.

Miranda took a breath, as if she'd decided to say something after all. But she exhaled it, didn't speak, and turned and headed down the hallway. Andy removed her own coat and hung it in the hall closet, deliberately taking her time, and by the time she got to the foot of the stairs, Miranda had already ascended them. By the time Andy got to the second floor, Miranda had shut her bedroom door.

Well…good. Feeling like her shoulders and legs and everything else weighed a thousand pounds each, Andy dragged herself into the guest bedroom, shut the door, and got ready for bed. Her alarm was set to go off at six, and it was gone eleven now, and her body's clock was completely screwed up again.

She fell asleep almost immediately. And dreamed.

"Look at this," Miranda said, and held out a newspaper. Andy looked at it. Chocolate Pudding Now In Style , read the headline. Andy smiled, happy that chocolate pudding was in fashion and now she could eat it.

But Miranda didn't seem as happy. "Did you do this?" she demanded. "I told you not to talk to the papers. Is this your fault?"

"No," Andy said. "I didn't go to the papers. I just like chocolate pudding." Miranda only sneered. "Don't you know why I want to make you happy?" Andy pleaded.

"Of course I do," Miranda said, and held up the paper again. Now the headline read, Andy Sachs Loves Miranda Priestly , like a schoolyard taunt. Andy had much preferred the news about chocolate pudding, and wished it would come back.

"You've embarrassed me in front of everyone," Miranda said.

"I'm sorry," Andy said, but that wasn't true. She looked down at the newspaper, where the headline didn't change, and felt too sad to be sorry. Too sad to do anything at all.

Then she woke up, feeling like she had a stone in her chest, and blinking back actual tears. She'd never cried in her sleep before. It felt pretty pathetic. The clock at her bedside read 2:00 a.m. She didn't want to go back to sleep, she wanted to stay awake until that dream was all gone from her head and wouldn't come back, but she couldn't. So she fell back asleep.

The dream returned. Twice.

 


 

Thankfully, though, the dream didn't show up the next night, or the next, or the one after that. Maybe Andy's subconscious had gotten it all out of her system, but it was much more likely that Fashion Week was such a sensory overload that Andy didn't have room for it anymore. For the next four nights, she dreamed about work--shows and clothes and people in fancy dress, and Andy was always scrambling to make the next appointment, always running late, always trying to catch up, always letting everybody down.

Daytime wasn't as bad as that. In spite of trying to train Ellie at the same time, Andy had done her London legwork well, and except for the snafu at Asish, everything she'd scheduled had gone off without a hitch. So far. Now that she'd had practice in Paris, this came a little easier. Even Jocelyn and Paul--who, like everybody else at Runway , had resented her ever since Miranda had begun to favor her--were grateful for Andy's attention to detail, for her efficiency. Maybe they'd cut her a little fucking slack for once when they got back to New York.

As for Keisha, Lucia's replacement, she told Andy up front, "Y'know, I can tell what Miranda sees in you. You're really on the ball."

"Thanks," Andy said, and meant it. But Miranda--who apparently 'saw something' in her--had no such kind words for Andy. She hardly had any words for Andy at all. The most she did was ask every day about how Ellie was handling things back at Runway , always in a faintly accusatory tone, as if it was Andy's fault that she'd only had one week to train her before they'd left.

Andy called Ellie every night, and made sure that Ellie told her about every single message, every little detail, no matter how insignificant Ellie might think it. The girl might not be bright, but she was definitely good at doing what she was told. Besides, Andy had given her very precise instructions, and with half the staff out of the office there wasn't all that much to do. Everyone knew Miranda would be in London, so nobody was calling to make last-minute appointments, or demanding to speak to Miranda immediately, or anything like that. The most Ellie had to do was transfer calls to the clackers who were actually there, and try not to pee until it was time to go home.

So every day Andy said, "Sounds like everything's going okay, Miranda," and would pass along anything important that Ellie had told her, which usually wasn't much. Sometimes Miranda would have her call Ellie back with additional instructions; most often, she gave Andy a curt nod and sent her off on some other errand out of an endless succession of errands. Then, at the end of the day, they'd return to the townhouse and continue not to talk.

It was awful. And weird. They were staying in the same house, and Miranda was speaking to Andy less than ever. No more talk about the twins, no more bitching about the media, and certainly no more inquiries about Andy's parents or life or anything insignificant like that. Just silence.

In fact, sometimes, just sometimes, Andy wanted to scream at Miranda. To break the silence, to yell, to remind Miranda that she was there, that she existed, that she had feelings too, that she deserved to be--to be--to be considered, even if she didn't deserve anything more. She wanted to shout, "Look at me," or anything else that would make Miranda stop staring right through her and giving her orders like she was programming a robot. But of course Andy couldn't do anything like that. It wasn't her place. It wasn't her right. She didn't deserve any such thing, anything at all.

At least Miranda hadn't been in contact with Stan Oppenheimer, as far as Andy could tell. It was easier to keep track of her during Fashion Week, of course, especially given that Andy was staying in Miranda's own house. But even that didn't necessarily mean anything. Miranda was sneaky, she always had been, and if she wanted something she'd find a way to get it. It wasn't like Andy could keep watch over her every minute of every day, no matter how often they were together. Miranda and Mr. Oppenheimer had probably found one or two opportunities…they'd probably been able to get together and laugh and do things that made Miranda glow, like, like…

Yes, all in all, it was a very good thing that Andy kept so incredibly busy. It was good not to dwell.

And then, on Thursday afternoon, at yet another reception, Andy finally caught Miranda talking to him. It didn't look particularly intimate (well, it wouldn't do to look intimate in front of other people, now would it?), and it certainly wouldn't appear unusual to anyone else--why shouldn't she chat with one of the higher-ups at Elias-Clarke? In fact, when you looked at it that way, Stan Oppenheimer was practically Miranda's boss. Which was so gross and wrong, and totally different from Andy's own situation, in ways that she was still trying to think of.

Looking around desperately for a friendly face, or at least some kind of distraction, because there was only so much she could be expected to take, Andy came up dry. Nigel was off in a corner talking to Georg Schumann. Oh God, Andy hoped that didn't mean Mrs. Schumann was around here somewhere. Whenever she thought of Helga Schumann, she heard Miranda's voice calling her the 'heifer hausfrau,' and got torn between the urge either to laugh or to drown even more in self-pity, neither of which would be appropriate at this reception. Although it would be kind of sweet to tell Mrs. Schumann--who'd said, "A reporter? You?"--that she was getting an article published in Modernity . Hah. Take that.

Then again, maybe not. And Jocelyn, Keisha, and Paul were all occupied too. Just as Andy had decided to nurse a cocktail somewhere out-of-the-way and try to forget Miranda Priestly existed, at least until the reception was over, she heard:

"Well hello again, Miranda-girl."

Christian's voice was so sly, so full of mischief, that Andy caught herself grinning before she'd even turned around. 'Miranda-girl.' He often called her that. Andy wondered if he realized how appropriate--or, really, inappropriate--it was.

"Hi, Christian," she said.

He offered her a glass of white wine. "Apparently I've made it my mission in life to give you alcohol at important functions."

"I can't think of a better occasion for alcohol," Andy said, taking the glass. Christ knew she could use a drink right now. They smiled at each other, and clinked their glasses together. "You been taking in the shows?"

"Actually, no," he said, surprising her. "I've been visiting friends in Edinburgh. I just got back in town this morning. Otherwise I would've tracked you down a lot sooner." His eyes gleamed. "Believe me."

Andy rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you didn't dump your Edinburgh friends," she said. "I would seriously have worried about your priorities."

"Yeah," he said, looking her up and down without shame. "If they'd gotten a load of you, though, they would've said the same thing."

Andy laughed before she could stop herself. It felt good. It felt like it had been months since she'd laughed. "Wow," she said, when she'd stopped. "That's amazing. You use such terrible lines, and you're somehow the best smooth-talker I've ever met."

He laughed too. "I want to hear examples of your smooth-talk sometime," he said. "Since you're such an expert."

"I don't have to smooth-talk anyone," Andy said. "The smooth-talkers come to me." She grinned. "Obviously."

She knew it was stupid to stand here and flirt with Christian again. Really stupid. But damn it, it felt so good to flirt, to have someone pay her attention and think she was attractive, someone suave and charming who could make her laugh. She felt like she'd just been pulled out of her own head for a little while, made to stop moping, and it felt great.

"My goodness," Christian said, his grin growing wider by the second. "I can't believe I stayed away this long. Though I'm sure you've kept busy."

"You better believe it," Andy said.

He glanced over Andy's shoulder, and nodded his head. Andy didn't have to turn to know who he was looking at. "It's true, huh," he said. "She's pregnant? I notice her publicist hasn't denied anything."

Andy swallowed, and took a hasty sip of wine. Great. Talking about Miranda--just what she didn't need. "Yep," she said.

"Did you know when I saw you on New Year's?"

No point in denying it. Andy nodded. Christian whistled. "We were keeping it under wraps," Andy said, unnecessarily.

"I bet," Christian said. "So, personal assistant, is she gonna have you changing diapers in a few months?" It was probably a good thing that he couldn't hear the bitterness that powered Andy's rueful chuckle. "I have to admit it looks good on her," he said. Then he grinned and added, "You can tell her I said so. It'd piss her off like crazy."

"That it would," Andy agreed. But he was right. Now that she wasn't sick anymore, being pregnant became Miranda. Not that she had some magical motherly radiance or anything--it was more that pregnancy actually slowed her down long enough for people to get a good look at her.

"But to my purpose," Christian said, thankfully breaking her chain of thought. "Seems like you could use a break. You got any free time before you're due to go home?"

Andy should say no. Should beg off. Flirting with Christian at a party was one thing; actually agreeing to date him again was something else. "Well--" she began.

"Hey," he said, and waved a placating hand, as if reading her thoughts. "I swear I'll behave myself. I heard you're staying at her place?" Andy nodded. "So what if I promise to have you home by midnight?"

Andy smiled. "What do you have in mind?"

"A careful reintroduction," he said, "to the intellectual delights of our former friendship." Andy rolled her eyes. "And maybe dinner and a play. If you're free."

A play? Andy brightened at the words. She'd been longing to go to the theatre while she was here, but of course she'd had no time. "Miranda's got a big dinner tomorrow night," she said. "What show?"

"That's my surprise," he said. "But I'll have great seats. Just say the word."

Andy shouldn't do it. But she'd already done so many things she shouldn't…going out with Christian again was the least of them.

"The word," she said.

His smile was much more genuine this time, and she blushed in spite of herself. "I hate to say it," he said, "but now might be the best time for me to split. I don't think she's noticed that I'm here."

"It doesn't matter if she does," Andy dared to say, and then shrugged. Well, it didn't, did it? Why would Miranda care about what Andy did with a man Miranda had already squashed like a bug? Why would Miranda care about what Andy did at all?

"No?" Christian looked skeptical. "Call me, okay?"

"Sure," Andy said. "When I know more about when I'll be free."

He winked at her. "Until later, then." Then, after pressing a hand to his breast, he departed.

Andy grinned again. She took a quick sip of wine to hide it, and caught Nigel watching her out of the corner of his eye with raised eyebrows. He wasn't talking to Mr. Schumann anymore, and he tilted his head, summoning her to his side. Andy hurried over, trying to look appropriately straight-faced.

"Oh, my," Nigel said.

"It's nothing," Andy said, trying to sound casual. "I mean, it's not going to be like it was before."

"Really," Nigel said.

"Really," Andy said, not at all sure of that.

"Are you certain?" Nigel said. "Or is he going to be one of those men,  you know, the ones whom you know are so very bad for you, and yet you can't leave them alone?" Andy stared at him, and he waggled his eyebrows. "I've had my share of experience with them."

"Yeah?" Andy said. "You ever been one of them?"

Nigel snorted. "I wish. Just try to have a little fun before he sends your heart spinning in flames to the ground like the Hindenburg ."

Now it was Andy's turn to snort. "He doesn't have that kind of hold on me, Nigel," she said. Meanwhile, the woman who did was talking in a small cluster of people across the room. Thankfully, Stan Oppenheimer appeared to have vanished.

"Sure. Changing the subject," Nigel said, "I saw that Miranda introduced you to Carter Mathson a few nights ago."

"Yes, she did," Andy said. "He was nice."

"I'm sure he was," Nigel said. "That cleavage you were sporting wouldn't have hurt, either."

"Nigel!" Andy gasped, scandalized.

He grinned. "It's too easy. You can't take the farm out of the farmgirl."

"I never lived on a farm," Andy snapped. "Jesus, Nigel, I never meant to--"

Nigel waved his hand. "That's the way the world works, Andy. If you've got it, flaunt it. No matter what 'it' is." He raised an eyebrow at her. "You're the kind to make the most of a new opportunity, after all."

Andy's senses immediately went on alert. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Sorry?" Nigel said. And then: "Oh, look--our mistress calls."

Andy looked up and saw that Miranda was giving her an impatient look. "Whoops. You coming?" she said to Nigel.

"Not yet. I'll be at the Azzarello show by two, though."

"Okay," Andy said, and hurried after Miranda.

Andy's lingering, Christian-induced good mood lasted until Miranda said, as they were approaching the car, "I've scheduled lunch with Stan tomorrow, in the brief window between the Herrerra and the Burberry shows. Keep it quiet."

Christian might as well not even have existed, then. So this was how Miranda and Mr. Oppenheimer were going to manage some alone-time. "Of course," Andy said, trying not to let her hand shake as she held open the car door for Miranda. Miranda hardly seemed to notice her as she got in the car.

Don't scream, Andy had to remind herself yet again. Don't shout. Don't dwell.

That night, they got back to the townhouse almost at midnight. For the first time all week, as Andy helped her with her coat, Miranda spoke. "I'll want to rest before the dinner tomorrow night," she said. "We'll return here at five."

Andy blinked. They  would? "Okay," she said carefully. "I'm--I'm not supposed to go to the dinner too, am I?" She didn't think she was, but with Miranda's caprices--

"Of course not," Miranda said, as if she couldn't believe Andy had asked such a dumb question. "That's all." She turned and walked away.

That night, Andy lay awake thinking about Christian, and Nigel's cryptic words about new opportunities, and Stan Oppenheimer. She also remembered, for some reason, the way Miranda had looked in her bathrobe in the hotel room in Paris: tired and sad. And defeated, but not for long. That night seemed like years ago now.

This time, when Andy fell asleep, she didn't dream about either newspaper headlines or Fashion Week. Instead, she dreamed about Miranda's mouth and Miranda's body. Her mind was a little fuzzy on the actual details; all she knew was that Miranda's skin was soft beneath Andy's mouth and hands, and that Miranda, for once, welcomed Andy with open arms. And in her dream, for the first time in a long time, Andy felt joyful. Like she'd come home, like this was the rightest thing ever, like everything was okay at long last. Miranda shuddered and whispered that Andy was wonderful, that what Andy was doing to her felt so good.

So of course Andy had to go and wake up in the middle of it. As she awoke she realized that her skin was tingling, and she had a wet ache between her legs, even though the dream hadn't been super-explicit. Still half-asleep, refusing to let herself really wake up or think or anything at all, she reached down between her legs and rubbed, allowing herself to remember only the noises Miranda had made in her dreams--soft, pleased little murmurs and moans--and the way Miranda had felt beneath her, so warm and welcoming. She remembered this, and only this, until she came with a moan of her own. Not a cry. Not a scream.

Then she lay still and waited for her heartbeat to slow down, still keeping her mind as blank as possible so she wouldn't start thinking yet again about how pathetic she was. She reached out, took a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand, and wiped off her fingers.

Her last thought, before she drifted back to sleep, was maybe she should try for a little action with Christian after all. She was obviously in desperate need of it.

 


 

As they were driving away from the townhouse the next morning, Miranda told Andy, "I will be leaving for the dinner from the townhouse at seven-thirty, sharp." Andy nodded, knowing that Jimmy had just taken it in, too. "And don't forget my lunch appointment."

"Right," Andy said, hoping that her voice didn't sound too sharp. She cleared her throat, just in case. "Ahem. Sorry. Of course."

The lunch appointment really was pretty short. Miranda and Stan Oppenheimer only had thirty minutes to spend together. Andy spent the whole time thinking in agony about all the different ways you could pass thirty minutes. She and a couple of her boyfriends had tried several of them.

Trying to distract herself, she used some of the free time to call Christian, and arranged to meet him for dinner at eight. The play, whatever it was, started at nine, so they'd be cutting it close, but it couldn't be helped. And just briefly talking to Christian, just the idea of going out and doing something like dinner and a play, away from Miranda, made Andy feel a little better.

At least temporarily. Miranda arrived at the Burberry show three minutes before it was due to start. She was flushed, as if with excitement, and she was practically purring as she took her seat. Her eyes glowed with satisfaction. With pleasure.

Andy wanted to vomit. She found it almost impossible to pay attention to the show itself, and only with a huge surge of willpower did she keep things running smoothly until five in the afternoon, when she and Miranda returned to the townhouse.

Miranda retired immediately to her room without a word, as usual. Andy tried to catch a little shut-eye so she'd be fresh for her…not date…thing with Christian tonight. But she only managed twenty minutes of fitful dozing, and then she gave up, got up, changed and did her makeup, and decided to pass the rest of her time going over the schedule. The Runway  crew returned to New York on Sunday morning. This was Friday night. Andy thought she had everything all lined up--cars, seats on the plane (she'd definitely managed to get herself on Miranda's flight this time, she thought humorlessly), baggage check. But it never hurt to give anything a tenth look.

She went downstairs to work. At ten after seven, the kitchen phone rang. The call was from Miranda's home phone number, so it had to be something to do with the twins. Andy picked up at once, trying not to worry. "Hello?" she said.

"Hi, Andy," a twin said. Since they were calling from Miranda's house, and not their cell phones, Andy had a harder time telling which girl she was talking to. "How's it going?"

The breezy words reassured Andy that all was well in New York. "Fine," she said. "How are you guys? What's up?"

"Nothing," the twin said. Her tone, casual and almost indifferent, made Andy decide she was Cassidy. "We just wanted to call and say hi to Mom since we've got a thing at school later, when she usually calls us."

Andy smiled. "Aw. She'll be really pleased by that." She looked up at the clock. "She's got to go to a dinner in fifteen minutes. I'm sure she'll be down soon." Andy certainly didn't feel up to bearding her in her lair, but if the twins wanted her to-- "Do you want me to go get her?"

"Yes," Cassidy said, but then Andy heard Caroline saying 'give me that,' and the sound of the phone changing hands.

"Hi, Andy," Caroline said. "Are you having fun at Fashion Week?"

Caroline always asked the hard questions. "I'm getting tired at Fashion Week," Andy said, trying to sound jovial. Caroline giggled. "I was just about to get your mom."

"Not yet," Caroline said. "We talk to her every day. It's been forever since we talked to you."

"I guess so," Andy said, surprised. "So, what've you guys been up to?"

"I did better than Cassidy on my math test," Caroline said.

"Oh," Andy said, and then Cassidy took the phone back and said loudly, "But I did way better than Caroline on my history paper."

Andy didn't think she'd written any 'papers' when she was ten years old. "Well, congratulations to you both," she said hastily. "That's great. Sounds like you did really well."

"Chelsea got suspended this week," Cassidy said, sounding satisfied. "For smoking in the girls' bathroom."

"What?" Andy said, appalled. "Is Chelsea your age?"

"A year older," Cassidy said, as if that made all the difference. "And she's dumb, too. The bathrooms all have smoke detectors."

"Well," Andy said, and then Caroline took the phone back.

"Our birthday's next month," she said. "We're going to be eleven."

"I know," Andy said, and tried to sound bright and chipper. "I've got to start planning your party soon. Hey, any ideas about what you want?"

"We want David Blaine to do a magic show," Caroline said. "And we want that guy from Ace of Cakes to bake our cake for us. Chocolate. Tell him we want it to look like a grand piano."

"That guy?" Andy reached for a pen and pad of paper. "Which guy?"

"I don't know his name. You know. That guy. With the stripey beard. He looks like he should be a biker or something."

"I'll find out," Andy promised. "Grand piano, huh? He can do that?"

"He can do anything," Caroline said, sounding breathless. Andy grinned.

At that moment, she heard footsteps descending the stair, and realized that Miranda had emerged from her room. She was dressed for dinner and looked absurdly beautiful. Andy had expected no less, of course, and felt an ache in her heart just at the sight.

When Miranda saw Andy, her eyes widened in surprise. Andy wondered why, until she remembered that she was dressed up in evening clothes too. Showing cleavage, no less, and on her night off. Still frowning, Miranda gestured at the phone.

"It's the twins," Andy said, and then told Caroline, "your mom's up now. I'm gonna give her the phone, okay?"

"Wait!" Caroline said. "We didn't tell you everything about the party."

"You can tell me next time I see you," Andy said. "In a couple of days. We'll get it all worked out. Bye," she added, over Caroline's continued protests, and then handed the phone to Miranda.

"Hello, bobbsie," Miranda said, never taking her eyes off Andy, looking her up and down over and over again until Andy felt really nervous. "Mommy's going to have to call you later. She's running very late right now."

Huh? Andy looked at the clock. It was twenty after seven. Miranda didn't have to leave for ten more minutes, and she was already ready to go. She had a little time to catch up with the twins, who had short attention spans anyway.

"Yes, yes, we'll work everything out with your party. I promise," Miranda said. "I'll talk to you again tomorrow. Bye-bye." Then she hit the 'off' button on the phone, and glared at Andy, who'd started to squirm. "Why are you so dressed up? I told you that you weren't going to the dinner."

"I know," Andy said in surprise, and looked down at herself yet again. "I'm going somewhere else."

"What? Where?" Miranda demanded.

"I ran into Christian Thompson," Andy said, trying very hard to sound casual, and not let Miranda see in any way that Andy wanted to undress her. "We're going to have dinner."

"Christian--" Miranda's eyes bugged out. "Are you joking?"

"No," Andy said, even more surprised at Miranda's outrage. Sure, Miranda had no reason to like Christian, but she'd effectively neutered him, hadn't she? He wasn't a threat anymore. Heck, after the way she and Jacqueline had double-crossed him, he'd probably never even think about challenging her again. Miranda had to know that. She could read people like a book.

The last time they'd talked about him, in fact, had ended with Miranda laughing her head off. Andy tried very, very hard not to think about that. "We're going to have dinner and go to some play," she added.

"Dinner and some play?" Miranda looked at Andy like she was speaking Chinese.

"Well, yes," Andy said helplessly. Then, trying to lighten the mood, she said, "I'll, uh, make sure he doesn't end up in a towel this time. Um. Ha, ha."

Miranda's cheeks turned bright red. "You cannot be serious," she said. "You are having dinner with this man? After what he attempted to do to Runway --to me?"

Uh-oh. Andy had obviously miscalculated. Badly. "But you stopped him," she said quickly. "This is just--he just wants to spend time with me, that's all. I mean, Miranda, if he was up to something, he wouldn't want to have dinner with me of all people, right?"

Miranda gave her most derisive laugh. "Oh really? Who better than you?"

Andy stared at her. "Miranda, he knows I went to warn you in Paris. He knows I'm not going to give anything away, he knows I won't, I won't betray you." Miranda opened her mouth. Andy quickly added, "If he does have some kind of agenda, it doesn't include me. I wouldn't give him anything. You know I wouldn't."

"I know nothing of the sort," Miranda said.

Oh.

Forget Stan Oppenheimer. Forget everything. Miranda could not have come up with a single more hurtful, hateful thing to say if she'd plotted for centuries. Andy just looked at her in complete shock.

"What?" she said after a moment.

"You heard me," Miranda said.

"You don't really mean that," Andy said faintly. "You can't mean that." Miranda just looked at her. "I--you can't," Andy added. "I, I don't believe this."

"I might say the same thing," Miranda said, plainly unaware that she'd just broken what was left of Andy's heart into a thousand pieces.

"I don't believe this," Andy repeated, as if Miranda hadn't spoken at all. "I've…you don't trust me? After everything, everything I've--I've done anything you ever told me to do, or asked me to do--I've--"

"Yes. Indeed," Miranda said, her voice cold as ice and snow. Her eyes were hard and unyielding. What the hell was wrong with her--surely she didn't actually think--

Then Andy realized the truth. This was it.

This was when she'd finally crossed the line, made the same kind of mistake that Roy and Lucia and Emily had. She'd fucked up in a way that Miranda considered unforgivable, and nothing Andy had ever done or offered, no sacrifice she'd ever made, mattered at all compared to that.

The cold look on Miranda's face said it all. Andy had seen that look before, and it always meant the same thing. No exceptions. Specifically, it meant that now Andy was finally, officially yesterday's trash.

"I'd thought I could rely on you, I admit it," Miranda said, her voice every bit as calm and cool as when she'd fired Lucia, and threatened Roy, and told Andy that Emily wasn't going to Paris, and… "Apparently not. I'm extremely disappointed."

"Oh," Andy said. So this was how it felt when the hammer fell. Like nothing. It was much too overwhelming to feel anything. It seemed like her fingers and toes were numb, like nothing around her was real.

"'Oh,'" Miranda mimicked. "Is that all you have to say for yourself? I'm surprised."

"I'm not," Andy said, hearing her own voice coming from a long way away.

Miranda frowned at her. "What?"

"I'm not surprised at all," Andy said, hearing how hollow her voice sounded. Maybe it was good that she felt so bad--the pain was too great, too much for embarrassing tears that would humiliate her in front of Miranda.

Miranda's glare got sharper. "If you do have something to say--"

"I guess I do," Andy said

Miranda scowled and continued, "--then I suggest you say it now."

"Why, because I won't get another chance?" Andy said. Well. If that's what Miranda wanted, then here it came. Here came all the words, everything Andy had never meant to say, everything she'd kept stoppered up in her throat because it would do no good to say it.

Here came the scream. Here came the yell. It was, as they said, all over but the shouting.

She laughed. It sounded awful, horrible, and felt worse. "Oh my God. I knew this would happen," she said. "I knew it. I did everything. I did everything right. But it doesn't matter, does it? I mean, you don't care. It doesn't matter to you--"

"Excuse me?" Miranda tilted her head back.

"--you think I'd just throw it all away and go tell Christian--oh. Ohhh, I get it," Andy said, her eyes going wider. The revelations just kept coming, each new one worse than the last. "Because you think I'm like you. That's it. That explains it." And it did. It explained everything. Andy couldn't believe she'd been so stupid, hadn't seen it until now.

"What?" Miranda's eyes bugged out again.

"You said so, in Paris," Andy said, pointing a shaky finger at her. "That I was like you. Didn't you?" Looking stunned, Miranda nodded. "So, so you think I'd turn on you, you think I'd throw you away, because that's the sort of thing you do to people. Right?"

"What?" Miranda repeated, her eyes going impossibly wider.

"No, no, I've got it now," Andy said, still unable to stop talking. Everything was boiling up to the surface now, boiling out of her mouth, and it was too late to put the lid back on it. Why bother? She was as good as garbage anyway, right? "Sorry. I just forgot for a little while. What you're really like."

"What I'm--what I'm like?" Miranda sounded disbelieving, like all this was some big fucking surprise to her, like she didn't even know--

"Yeah," Andy said, not about to stop now, because what would be the point of stopping now? "You, you treat people like things. And as soon as they fuck up once--just once--you toss them, like Lucia and Emily and--you think I'm like you? You said I did the same thing to Emily, but you think I could do it to you too? You think I could ever do something like that to you?"

Miranda's face wasn't red anymore. Now it was chalk-white. Almost like she was upset by what Andy was saying, but that couldn't be true, because even after everything they'd been through  Miranda didn't think of Andy as anybody worth keeping around. She could have screwed Stan Oppenheimer on the kitchen table while forcing Andy to take notes, and it would have hurt less than this.

And the worst of it was, Andy had been so stupid, so deluded, as to allow herself to hope. Miranda had told Andy to be honest with her, had implied she'd like to help Andy, had said a lot of things that had gotten Andy's hopes up for no reason, except that it hurt that much more to have them crushed now. Too bad Emily couldn't be here to see this. She'd have gotten a huge kick out of it.

The kitchen clock chimed the half-hour.

The sound snapped Andy back to reality, and Miranda appeared to wake up too. But she was still pale and trembling, still had that same unidentifiable…something in her eyes. Rage, that had to be it. Fury. She was going to kill Andy. Tear her limb from limb because Andy had finally dared to open her mouth and--

Andy couldn't bear it, any of it. Not anymore. She had to leave. "I've got to go to dinner now," she said, and grabbed her bag as she fled for the door without another word. Outside, Jimmy was just pulling up to the curb. Andy didn't stop to wave, didn't even look at him as she practically ran for the nearest tube station in high heels.

She had no idea how she was supposed to concentrate on a play, or even eat dinner, much less have an actual conversation with Christian. But she had to try. She needed to be somebody else for an evening, or at least pretend to be, before she returned that night and learned that she'd been fired and had to leave Runway  and never come within sight of Miranda Priestly again.

Nigel had said that she was good at recognizing opportunities. He probably didn't know she was even better at fucking them up. Well. He'd find out the truth, soon enough.

 


 

Christian obviously knew that something was wrong. Andy was sure that her distress had to be written all over her, no matter how brightly she smiled. But he let it go until they were sitting in the restaurant.

"Okay," he said. "What happened?"

Andy opened her mouth to deny everything, and said instead, "I think I just got myself fired."

"You?" He raised his eyebrows. "The perfect employee?"

"I mouthed off," she admitted. In a big way. 'Mouthing off' didn't even come close to what she'd done, actually. The ride on the crowded tube had calmed her down, given her a few moments of distance. And now that she was feeling better--well, not better, but 'saner'--she realized how nuts she'd gone, how she'd said things that would be beyond the pale for anyone, to say nothing of a lowly assistant giving sass to her boss.

"Good," he said, and raised his glass. "About time. To you, my dear."

Though she really didn't feel like it, Andy clinked her glass with his because it would have looked weirder not to.

"So what did you say?" he pressed.

"I, um," Andy said, "I don't want to go into it. She…she said some stuff, and I got upset, so I said some stuff back, and then I left."

"Walked out on her, huh?" Christian said, sipping his wine. Andy nodded in shame. "Sounds familiar. Did you tell her that you weren't her baby?" Andy almost choked on her own wine, and Christian smiled ruefully. "Sorry. I didn't mean for that to sound like a low blow. I guess it did, though."

"Yeah, well," Andy said with a shaky chuckle. "It's okay. I guess I'm really good at dramatic exits."

"The best. So what are the odds that she's going to call and interrupt our lovely evening to fire you?" Christian appeared genuinely concerned.

"God, who knows? I--" Andy's eyes widened. "Shit. I left my phone at home. At her place. It was on the counter next to my bag, and I just…"

"Hey." Christian leaned forward with a reassuring smile. "It's okay. You can't do anything about it now." True enough, Andy thought dolefully. "What's the worst that can happen? She doesn't call and ruin your night?"

Yeah. Yeah, that. Or maybe she'd feel sick, or have to go to the doctor and Andy wouldn’t be there, or--

"Right," Andy gulped, and took a large swallow of wine.

 


 

The play they saw was the fledgling effort of one of Christian's writer friends, and even Christian had to admit it wasn't very good. Still, Andy did her best to sound enthusiastic when Christian introduced her to the playwright backstage.

The playwright's name was Ambrosia. "What did you think about the third scene in the second act?" she asked eagerly.

Andy thought fast. Was that the one where the man dressed as a duck had been trying to flirt with the elderly maiden aunt? Or was it the one where the little boy died of pancreatic cancer? Just to be on the safe side, she said earnestly, "It was so  interesting. I'd love to know your secret for coming up with such, um, inventive dialogue."

"Between you and me," Christian said as they left the theatre later, "it's coke. Lines and lines of coke. You'd be amazed what you'll come up with after that."

"Flights of brilliance, huh?" Andy said. Christian waved down a nearby cab.

"Where to?" he asked, and she could easily read the look in his eyes.

She could go home with him. She could sleep with him and forget about everything but mindless physical sensations for a while, work off some tension, and avoid facing the music for a few hours longer.

Andy looked at her watch. It was almost midnight. "I think I'd better go back," she said.

Christian looked disappointed, but not exactly surprised, as he held the door open for her. But, unlike Miranda, he wasn't into long, silent car rides, and he kept talking about his collaboration with Benny Doran. Andy was thankful. She could just listen and nod and occasionally make an impressed noise while her mind whirled and spun. By the time the cab pulled up to Miranda's townhouse, she was almost shaking with nerves.

During the last few hours, Miranda had apparently not seen fit to cordon off her house with a chain-link fence, or dig a moat, or station a guard, or do anything else to signal that Andy was not welcome to return. Still, that didn't really mean anything.

Christian got out, held open her door, and then they looked up together at the darkened windows of the townhouse. Andy guessed Miranda was home by now, and probably--hopefully--asleep. Unless, of course, she was out with Stan Oppenheimer, doing what Christian had wanted to do with Andy. Like that mattered now.

"I guess this is goodnight," Christian said. "You're leaving on Sunday, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "I am." They looked at each other. "Thanks for, for dinner, and everything," Andy said.

He smiled, bent, and kissed her cheek. "Take care, Miranda-girl," he said softly. "I'll see you around again."

Andy blushed for a variety of reasons, and then gave him a smile--but stepped back so he'd know a real kiss wasn't on the cards. He waved at her as he returned to the cab, and Andy looked up again at the townhouse, which suddenly seemed much more imposing than ever before. She took a deep breath, went up the stairs, and turned the key in the lock. Well, Miranda hadn't thrown the latch. That was something, anyway.

She crept into the house as quietly as she could, taking off her shoes as soon as she gained the hallway, and tiptoeing up the stairs. There was no light shining out from behind Miranda's bedroom door, but her coat had been hanging in the hall closet. So she was definitely home, even if she wasn't emerging from her lair to breathe flames in Andy's face before putting her on the first flight out of London.

There was no sticky note on Andy's bedroom door reading "You're fired." Nor was there any similar indicator in the room itself. Not even a message written in blood-red lipstick on the bathroom mirror, though Andy admitted that one had been a long shot.

Instead of feeling relieved, she only felt more anxious. No doubt Miranda was just stringing her along, making her wait in agony for the final blow. Miranda was good at that kind of thing. As Andy got ready for bed, she realized she was actually shaking with nerves, in spite of her exhaustion at the end of a very long and difficult day.

But the bed was soft, and the covers were warm, and even Andy's chattering psyche was no match for her physical weariness tonight. Too much. She'd been through too much today, too much all week, to keep her eyes open for another second. So she closed them, and dropped into a deep, though unquiet slumber.

Unfortunately, though Andy had dodged her earlier, Miranda was waiting for her in her dreams.

"I told you not to talk to the papers," Miranda said. "Now I have to fire you."

She wasn't showing Andy the paper this time. Andy kept trying to get a look at it, to see the headline, but Miranda kept pulling it out of her reach. "Please don't fire me," she pleaded. "Please don't make me go."

"I have to," Miranda said. "Everybody knows that. You knew this couldn't last."

"I'm sorry," Andy said. "I'll never screw up again. I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"I don't want you here," Miranda said, scowling and impatient. "You have to go."

"Please don't send me away," Andy begged. "I don't care if you're a bitch. I don't want to leave you!"

Then Miranda punched her in the shoulder.

"Ow!" Andy said, and grabbed her arm. "What was that for?"

"Wake up," Miranda said, and shoved her again. "Andrea. I said wake up."

Andy opened her eyes to find that someone had grabbed hold of her shoulder and was shaking her back and forth. "Wake up," Miranda's voice repeated. She sounded pissed off.

Andy blinked and squinted. Someone had turned on the lamp by the door. It must have been Miranda, in fact, who was sitting on the side of Andy's bed and determinedly shaking her awake. She dropped her hand when Andy opened her eyes, and pulled it back into her lap. She was wearing her bathrobe.

The clock on the nightstand read 5:30 in big red numbers. Andy immediately propped herself up on her elbows, ready to fly out of bed. "What's the matter?" she gasped. "Are you okay?" It had to be an emergency. "I've, um, hold on--" Shit, her cell phone was still on the counter downstairs, wasn't it? "Lemme get phone--Dr. Finch--just a minute, I can--"

"It's quite the education, watching you wake up," Miranda said. She didn't sound like she was sick or in pain. She didn't sound angry either, not exactly. Andy blinked, and squinted at her again.

"Are you okay?" she repeated.

"No," Miranda said.

"Shit," Andy said, before she could censor herself. "What's wrong? Don't you want me to call the doctor?"

"Why?" Miranda said. "Will calling the doctor magically make you trust me, somehow?"

"Huh?" Andy said.

"We need to discuss what you said earlier," Miranda said. "About using people, and throwing them away."

Andy stared at her. Then she turned and looked at the bedside clock again. It read 5:31. "N-now?"

"When else?" Miranda snapped. "We're both up and running at seven, aren't we? This is the only free time we have on our entire schedule today, Andrea. As you know."

"Oh," Andy said, and blinked again, raising one hand to rub the sleep out of her eyes. She didn't think she was entirely successful, but Miranda had scared her so much by waking her up that her heart was still pounding. Just like the night after she'd learned Stephen was cheating on her, and had decided on and then rejected getting an abortion within twelve hours, calling Andy at three goddamned a.m. to keep her updated. Apparently waking Andy up was her favorite hobby.

But now Andy had to focus, because both her job and her personal happiness were probably on the line. No matter how pissed off she was, how rejected she felt, she didn't think she could handle it if Miranda kicked her to the curb. Not now, not yet. Just a little more time. Please.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, "about what I said."

"No, you're not," Miranda said.

"Yes, I am!" Andy snapped, forgetting her good intentions already. What, did Miranda suddenly know Andy's feelings better than Andy did? "I feel terrible about the way I talked to you."

"But you meant every word of it," Miranda said.

"Um," Andy replied, realizing that Miranda would see through a lie in a heartbeat.

Miranda looked away, staring at the wall. For the first time, Andy noticed how straight her posture was--rigid, almost--and how tightly she was clasping her hands in her lap.

"I will do whatever is necessary to keep Runway  the best magazine it can be," Miranda said, still not looking at Andy. "To that end, I will hire and fire anyone I please. No one who works for me is irreplaceable, Andrea. Not Emily, not Lucia--not even Nigel. I'll do what I have to do, and I will never apologize for that. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Andy whispered, feeling about two inches tall.

"You will not reproach me for this again. Yes?"

"Yes," Andy repeated, wondering if she would get any severance pay at all, and how many therapy sessions she'd be able to afford with it.

"However," Miranda said, keeping her gaze firmly focused on the wall. She stopped, took a deep breath, and started again. "However, this--professional tendency of mine does not extend to my private life. As I had assumed you were aware, but obviously not." Her voice got sharp, like it always did when she was pointing out Andy's stupidity.

Andy realized that her elbows were aching from the way she'd put her whole body weight on them, and dragged herself to a sitting position. It would have put her eye-level with Miranda, if Miranda had deigned to look at her. "I, uh," Andy said, "okay."

"People who are part of my personal life," Miranda said, her cheeks going a little red, "people like that--these people are not replaceable. And I do not 'throw them away.'"

Miranda had shocked Andy before. Heck, she'd shocked Andy more often than anybody else of Andy's acquaintance. But she'd never shocked Andy into actually wondering if she was hallucinating or on drugs. "Oh," she said.

"'Oh,'" Miranda mimicked, but it lacked bite this time.

"I'm," Andy said, and gulped, "personal?"

"Yes," Miranda said, in a voice as clipped as if she'd just told Andy to get her coffee.

Miranda wasn't firing her. Miranda didn't hate her. Miranda thought of her as somebody personal, as a, as a…

"So, I'm your, your…" Andy took her courage in both hands. "I'm your friend." Just saying the words made her feel terrified and exhilarated all at once.

Miranda did not reply, and Andy wondered if she'd actually gone too far, if she'd overstepped.

Then Miranda said: "I have noticed the way you look at me."

Huh? Andy opened her mouth to say something, when she realized what Miranda meant. What Miranda had to mean.

Miranda snorted--still  not looking at Andy--and continued, "I'm observant, Andrea. And you weren't exactly subtle on, oh, let's say, New Year's Eve."

Andy's exhilaration was gone, but the terror remained. Plus a healthy dose of complete and utter humiliation. She'd never been so mortified in her entire life. She felt like every muscle in her body had just locked up at once.

"I'm," she choked, and finished with, "oh my God."

"Oh, calm down," Miranda said. "Although I'd thought you were straight. Didn't you have some kind of boyfriend?"

"I am," Andy croaked. "I did. It's just um--oh, Jesus. Miranda, I'm so sorry. I didn't know I was--" What? 'Obvious'? Miranda had seen through her immediately. What if everybody had? What if Andy was the laughingstock of the office--of everywhere--the pathetic, lowly assistant with a hopeless crush on her boss?

"I'm sorry," Andy repeated, wanting to die. Really wanting it, this time.

"Are you?" Miranda said.

"I," Andy said, straining to get enough air, "I didn't mean to--I mean, I never wanted to make you uncomfortable, I--" She swallowed hard. "I never meant for you to know."

"Well, I know," Miranda said. "And no matter what you are, I am straight. I have never been attracted to another woman in my life."

"I know," Andy said, wondering if leaping from the window would actually kill her, or if she'd just break a few bones. Maybe she could aim for the iron railings. "Miranda, I never, of course I never really thought--or h-hoped, or--" She almost strangled on the lie. It was a really big lie. She'd lived on hope for months now, no matter how stupid or vain it was, and she didn't know how she was supposed to get by without it. "I didn't--"

"That said,"  Miranda interrupted, using the shut-up tone Andy knew so well, "I have never understood why physical attraction has to be necessary for a relationship."

Whatever Andy had been about to stammer next died in her mouth.

Oh. No, forget about before. Andy really and truly had never been so shocked as she was right now.

"What?" she said numbly.

Miranda looked at her at last. Then she stood up from the bed, appearing extremely frustrated, and began to pace the room. "You and I have both had relationships with men. Several, yes?" she said. Andy nodded mutely. "Considering where we are right now, obviously those have never worked out well." She glared at Andy fiercely. "Right?"

"I-I guess," Andy squeaked.

"Right," Miranda said. "We have been with men who did not appreciate or understand our goals. Our motivations. What drives us."

"That's--I mean--yeah--"

"Yes. But." Miranda took a deep breath. "I understand you," she said. "Better than you think. And you understand me."

"No," Andy said. "No, I, I don't think so."

"Let me put it this way," Miranda said. "You understand me better than anyone I have ever known. You anticipate everything I want. You know what I will say before I say it."

"I didn't know you were going to say this," Andy said, pretty sure her eyes couldn't get any wider. Then she added, "Um…what are we talking about?"

"You care about me," Miranda said flatly. "It isn't just sexual. You care for me . I know that."

Andy nodded, trembling, thinking that she lacked the power to confirm or deny anything at all. Or to speak, period.

Miranda looked out the window into the darkness beyond. Andy could see her only in profile now. There was definitely a visible swell at her abdomen.

"I care for you," she said abruptly.

After what felt like five solid hours of silence, Andy managed to breathe, "Oh." Miranda didn't make fun of her this time. This time she just smiled bitterly and nodded.

Then she said briskly, "You should have more self-confidence. I've told you this a million times before. I don't know how long it's going to take to sink in."

"Self-c-c-c--"

"I invited you into my home," Miranda said. "Twice, for God's sake. I told you I'd do anything for you--"

"Wha…anything?" Andy sure as hell couldn't remember Miranda ever saying that.

"Anything within reasonable limits," Miranda said, gesturing impatiently. She was still looking out of the window. "I even let you go toddling off with Christian Thompson--"

"Let me--"

Miranda rounded on her with eyes full of fire. "Never  do that again."

"Oh, um," Andy said, shrinking back against the headboard.

"My point is," Miranda snapped, "I care for you, obviously--" her voice growled with disbelief at Andy's thickness, "--but after tonight's little dramatic display…" Her glare got much worse. "You ruined my entire evening. I had to talk to important people about important things, and I had to do all that in an extremely bad mood."

"S-sorry?" Andy offered weakly.

"Which is when I realized that we had to talk," Miranda finished. "Now. What do you think?" Then she waited. She actually folded her arms and tapped one bare foot on the carpet.

"Think?" Andy shook her head hard. She couldn't think. She might never be able to think again. She was pretty sure that Miranda had just killed her brain. Miranda rolled her eyes. "Look," Andy said. "I'm sorry. You are really going to have to spell this one out for me. I do not understand. I'm sorry," she repeated helplessly.

"We do not have to have sex," Miranda said through her teeth, "to have a satisfying relationship. Is that clear enough for you, Andrea?" Her face was bright red now.

Andy fell back against the headboard, utterly thunderstruck. Miranda wanted--Miranda was suggesting--proposing--

"Like," she managed, "like a, a platonic…thing?"

"Precisely," Miranda said.

"We…you and me, we'd be…together?"

Miranda paused. Then she nodded, looking relieved that Andy was finally catching on.

"I'd, I'd still be your assistant," Andy said, sure now that she was on drugs, that Christian had somehow slipped an acid tab into her wine. Miranda nodded. "And we'd still…do all the stuff we already do." Miranda nodded again. "S-so…so…how is that--I mean, what you're saying--how is that different from just being friends? Or--doing what we've been doing?" Which hadn't exactly been friendship either, as far as Andy could tell.

"In practical terms, not very different," Miranda acknowledged. "In other terms…very different."

"Okay," Andy said. Then she said, "I'm going to need coffee for this, aren't I?"

Ten minutes later, they sat perched on the kitchen counter stools while Andy clutched her mug of coffee and Miranda regarded her silently.

Andy took a long sip, grateful that her hands weren't shaking so much that she sloshed the hot coffee everywhere. They still shook a little, though. "A-all right," she said carefully. "You…you care about me." Miranda nodded, her expression flat and unchanging. "But," Andy continued, trying her best not to sound stupid, "not like a friend? Exactly?"

Miranda tried to look cool, but ruined it by swallowing visibly. "Not exactly."

Andy gulped too. She'd never had a relationship talk like this before, where both parties were braced for impact. She still couldn't believe she was having a relationship talk at all. "But you said," she said, and cleared her throat, started again. "You said you were straight."

"I am," Miranda said, and shrugged irritably. "Are you expecting me to explain this logically? I can't. If I asked you for friendship, and nothing else, I'd be selling us both short. You feel more than friendship." She sighed. "So do I. I don't care when my friends go on dates with other people. I don't see the point in pretending otherwise."

"So, it, this is--you care about me in a, in a--" Andy swallowed. "Romantic way. Sort of."

Miranda tilted her head to the side: an almost-nod. Then a definite nod. A 'yes.'

Andy's heart began pounding and she got a little dizzy. She couldn't believe this was happening. "Wow," was all she could say.

Miranda's lips finally crooked in a smile. "Mm."

"For…for how long?" Andy's eyes widened. "You said--when I stayed in your house the first time?"

"No," Miranda said, and Andy blinked. "Not then. I don't know, Andrea, I didn't exactly check my watch or mark it on a calendar."

"I sure didn't see it on the schedule," Andy said, wondering if it would be okay to crack a joke for once. If it would be okay to laugh, now, when Miranda said something funny. If it would be okay to do things you'd actually do with a normal person. Miranda didn't rebuke her, although she didn't laugh either.

Then Andy remembered something, and decided she needed to clear it up fast. "But what about S-Stan Oppenheimer?" she asked, swallowing around the bitter taste in her mouth that had nothing to do with coffee. Because maybe Miranda was trying to get at some kind of…open relationship thing, where you were 'committed' to one person but were still free to have sex with other people. People you were actually attracted to. And Andy, who was all for letting people swing however they wanted in private, decided that she wouldn't be able to handle that at all.

Then she realized Miranda was looking at her as if she'd shown up to work wearing an Old Navy blouse. "Stan Oppenheimer?" Miranda said. "What about him?" She actually sounded a little alarmed. Then she narrowed her eyes and said, "You haven't told anyone that I've been meeting him, have you?"

"No," Andy said, stung. "You told me not to. Remember?" Hadn't they just had this conversation, about Miranda trusting Andy not to stab her in the back at the first fucking opportunity?

"Oh, yes, I remember." Miranda tapped her lips and looked at Andy thoughtfully. "You thought I was seeing him?"

"Well…yeah. You're not?" Andy said.

Miranda glared at her. "Yes, Andrea. I often date men on the side when suggesting a relationship with someone else."

"Well, how should I know?" Andy said, and took a very resentful sip of coffee. She could get away with saying stuff like that now. She had to be able to. "All those lunches, and you met in the evenings, and you, you, you--" She couldn't say it.

"And I what?" Miranda snapped.

Andy had to say it. "You always came back looking happy," she mumbled. "I mean…really happy."

Miranda raised a curious eyebrow. "How happy?"

"Just-had-sex-happy," Andy admitted, blushing.

To Andy's surprise, instead of getting offended or annoyed, Miranda actually smiled. "Really," she said. "Hmm. How interesting." She even chuckled. Andy looked at her in confusion, and she waved her hand. "I am not at all interested in Stan Oppenheimer," she said. Then she glared at Andy. "You might trust me that much, at least." Her voice was as even as ever; only the look in her eyes betrayed how deeply hurt she'd been by the accusations Andy had leveled at her a few hours before. Andy knew that she would never, ever admit it out loud.

So it was time to put something else out there before she lost her courage. "I will," Andy said, "if you trust me." She swallowed. "You said…earlier, you know, when I said that I wouldn't betray you to Christian--you didn't believe me." Miranda pursed her lips. "That can't be true," Andy said. "Can it? I mean, if you, if we want--that can't be true. You've got to know I'll--" she couldn't stop a sudden, bitter little chuckle. "I'll do anything for you. 'Reasonable limits' or not."

"That's a dangerous promise to make, Andrea," Miranda said lightly, although the look in her eyes was very serious. "A little too extravagant for now, don't you think? Now stop being so dramatic." She rolled her eyes. "Try not to take it too seriously when I say things in the heat of anger that I might not entirely mean."

The sad thing was, that was the closest to an apology Andy was going to get. The really sad thing was, she'd settle for it. She was probably going to settle for a lot from Miranda, Andy realized. She was probably going to make all kinds of compromises and allowances she'd never make for anybody el--

Miranda tapped the countertop and looked at Andy intently, bringing her back to Earth. "Andrea, I am asking you to trust me," she repeated. "Let's please forget about Stan."

"Okay," Andy said, and she was pretty sure she'd already forgotten about whoever they'd just been discussing. He couldn't have been very important, because Miranda didn't care about him. She cared about Andy--whatever that meant. Which was a big question, and they should probably get back to it.

"You said nothing in practice would be different," she said. "But in other ways…"

"Now we know," Miranda said simply. "We've said it out loud. Things are different, just because of that."

"Okay," Andy said, hoping for a little more elucidation.

Miranda watched her own hand tracing patterns on the countertop. "To begin," she said. "You will not see Christian Thompson, and I will not see Stan Oppenheimer. Nor anybody else."

It took a few seconds for that to sink in. Then: "We'd--we'd be…exclusive?" Andy squeaked, hardly daring to believe her ears. Miranda nodded, and though her expression was cool as a cucumber, the tips of her ears went the tiniest bit pink.

It sounded amazing, fantastic, impossible. Everything Andy'd wanted. With one tiny exception.

"Just…you said platonic," she said, still squeaky but much less hopeful. "As in. Um. C-celibate?" Hoping that Miranda would roll her eyes and tell Andy, yet again, that she had completely missed the point.

Miranda hesitated, and then nodded again.

"Oh," Andy said, and gulped. "Oh, I um, but I…"

"Sex isn't that important," Miranda said flatly.

"Yes, it is!" Andy said. Miranda raised her eyebrows. "I mean, okay, it's not the most important thing, not at all, b-but--I mean, I like sex."

Miranda looked extremely sour. "Really."

"Well, yes," Andy said, unable to see what was wrong with that, and wondering if someone had recently whacked Miranda unconscious with a copy of The Bostonians  or something. "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," Miranda said through her teeth. "Only that we don't need it." She stabbed her finger against the countertop with surprising force, and then looked unhappy as she said, "I know you're young, and you think…I'm asking you to trust me," she repeated. "I know. Compared to the rest, we don't need it. We are suited for each other. I am trying to convince you of this and--"

"No, I'm convinced," Andy said quickly, horrified by the idea that Miranda might suddenly take it all back. "Miranda, I really am--"

"Then stop trying to…have you ever had a relationship with a woman before?" Then Miranda's eyes widened, and Andy realized she'd never considered that Andy might actually say yes. "I mean--well, have you?"

"No," Andy admitted, "but--" Too late. Miranda's eyes gleamed in triumph.

"Well then," she said, obviously thinking her suggestion was logic itself. "So neither of us has tried anything like this before. I seem to remember," Miranda added dryly, "that you blushed the first time you brought me Polaroids from a lingerie shoot."

Andy blushed just remembering it. All those boobs in black lace everywhere she turned, and then she had to hand photos of boobs in black lace to a sneering Miranda Priestly. "That's different," she said. Miranda smirked. "It is! Besides, I got over that stuff. I see it all the time now." She took a deep breath. "And the models--they're not you."

No. They weren't. Nobody was: not Christian, certainly not Nate, and not anybody else Andy had ever known. Nobody but Miranda could get her wound-up and worked-up like this. Nobody had ever pissed her off so much, scared her so much, upset her so much--or sent her to such extremes of joy without even trying. It probably wasn't good for her. She didn't really care.

So Andy had to look at the bigger picture here. She didn't want to talk Miranda out of her cockamamie idea, even if the 'platonic' thing wasn't Andy's style at all. So: agree. Compromise. Change Miranda's mind later. It wasn't as if they would have jumped into bed together tonight anyway. Heck, it was probably a good idea to take it slowly. A really, really good idea.

Besides, whatever else, Andy couldn't let Miranda get away--she couldn’t shoot herself in the foot now, before she even knew what was going to happen next.

Miranda blinked, and then cleared her throat. "Well," she said. "Be that as it may--"

"Okay," Andy said, before she could change her mind.

Miranda stopped, and said, "Okay what?"

"I mean, okay," Andy said, and took a deep breath. Into the breach. Into the dream, maybe. Even if she really had gone crazy, even if she was only hallucinating…well, it was better than reality, so carpe diem. "Let's try it. Let's do it."

Miranda looked shocked for a second, and then suspicious. It figured. "Just like that?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "Just like that." Miranda still looked suspicious. "Look," Andy tried, "whatever we do, it's got to be an, an improvement, right? On the way it's been." Miranda nodded slowly. "So let's try it," Andy repeated. "I mean, it was your idea."

"So it was," Miranda said cautiously.

"Well, then," Andy said, as if that explained everything. Then she extended her hand. "Shake on it?" she suggested, expecting Miranda to roll her eyes.

"Ha, ha," Miranda said, right on schedule. Then, to Andy's astonishment, she stuck out her own hand and gripped Andy's firmly. Andy thought of when their hands had touched over cups of Starbucks--which had happened all of twice. Miranda's hand was soft and cool compared to Andy's, which had been clutching the coffee mug.

Andy hadn't quite realized, until that moment, how starved she'd been for the feel of Miranda's skin. So she didn't let go right away. Maybe Miranda didn't want to sleep with her, but surely she could endure a little hand-holding once in a while.

"You'll have to give me the cues," Andy said hesitantly. "I-in public, I mean. If you want anything to look different, or if I'm doing something weird, or…" Because it wasn't Andy's image at stake. Just her happiness, and Miranda had that on the line too.

"We'll be discreet," Miranda said, which meant, in Miranda-speak, that nobody could find out. Andy had known as much. Then Miranda rubbed her thumb against the back of Andy's hand before tugging her own away, and made Andy blush. Miranda gave her a wry half-smile. "Maybe I'm lucky. This is the first relationship I've ever attempted where somebody knew the worst about me from the start."

Andy grinned. "True." Then she stopped grinning. "Wait, I do know the worst, right? There isn't any worse-worst, is there?"

"That's all part of the fun, Andrea," Miranda said. "Finding out."

"Great," Andy said glumly. "And you've only seen the best of me." She glared at Miranda. "Wait'll you find out all the lousy stuff. You know, the things that'll drive you cra--"

She stopped. Miranda was looking at her with something that was a lot like tenderness. Andy had never seen that look on Miranda's face before. She stopped breathing for a second.

"No, Andrea," Miranda said. "I have not yet seen the best of you. You're just discovering it for yourself." She arched her back in a lazy stretch. Andy tried not to stare. "I'm going to get my shower and get ready for the day. You should probably do the same."

"Now?" It was ten after six, Andy realized. "But--we've still got a lot to talk about--" Like the fact that Miranda was pregnant, for one damn thing, and how Andy was supposed to fit in with that, and what the girls would say, or if the girls were even going to know, and…

"Yes, we do," Miranda said. "Let's not talk about it at six in the morning on the last day of Fashion Week. Honestly."

"You're the one who woke me up," Andy reminded her, so glad that Miranda had.

"Only so we could get the most important thing out of the way," Miranda said, waving her hand dismissively. "I told you we're on a tight schedule." Before Andy's jaw could drop too far, Miranda slid off the stool and sauntered around the counter towards Andy, looking a lot more seductive than she should if she didn't want to get laid.

Andy forgot whatever she'd been planning to say. "Okay," she said faintly. "So--uh--so--we'll--"

Miranda leaned in, and Andy lost track of her lungs again as Miranda, for the second time, kissed her cheek. Only this wasn't a fake, social air-kiss. Miranda's lips, softer and warmer than her hand, pressed gently against Andy's skin.

No. Not a dream at all. This was real, because even Andy's feverish subconscious couldn't have come up with this, couldn't have anticipated the way it would feel. And she learned that if she'd been craving Miranda's touch, then she'd been fucking well dying for her mouth.

She realized she'd have to die a little bit longer as Miranda pulled away before Andy could even collect herself enough to return the favor. Miranda appeared a little flushed, but sounded quite calm as she said, "We should be ready to go in about an hour," and headed for the stairs. Andy remained frozen on the stool, looking after the woman who had so casually upended her world yet again. It was getting really disconcerting.

But that was okay. It was totally fine. Miranda cared about her, cared for  her, wasn't having an affair with Stan Oppenheimer, wanted to be exclusive, for Christ's sake, and Andy could do anything in the world. If Miranda was okay with Andy loving her, then Andy could jump any hurdle, she could knock down any door, she could overcome any--

She could be ready to go in fifty-five minutes. That'd be a start. Shit. Andy drained the rest of her coffee, trying not to choke on it in her excitement, and shoved the cup in the dishwasher. Then she grabbed her phone from the counter and rushed up the stairs, glad that Miranda was taking a shower and couldn't see her, because she was grinning like an idiot.

Miranda had just talked her into a relationship. A relationship with a woman twice her age, who was getting divorced, pregnant with another man's child, already had two kids, was Andy's rich and famous boss, and didn't even want to have sex with her. And to top it off, Miranda had managed to make Andy deliriously happy about the whole thing.

Andy had been right all along. The woman was a menace. But she was Andy's menace now, so that was okay. It would be okay. It had to be okay.

Andy would make it okay. She was getting pretty good at that kind of thing.