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Truth and Measure

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And where the offense is, let the great axe fall.
-Hamlet

 

Sunday felt very long.

It felt longer because there wasn't a hell of a lot for Andy to do. She'd done as much planning as she could manage for both parties: the twins' birthday bash, and Miranda's little mystery extravaganza. The other stuff, the Runway  stuff, well, nobody liked being disturbed on Sundays unless it was a real emergency, and Andy didn't have any of those to deal with. So for once, all she had to do was sleep in, relax, maybe clean up her apartment, watch some TV or read a book or go for a walk.

Miranda had a full day, of course. There was the visit from her trainer at the crack of dawn, and then her lunch meeting at one, and then the twins returning at four this afternoon. She'd have plenty to keep her occupied. She'd have no reason to sit around all day thinking about having sex with Andy. So there was no reason for Andy, for her part, to return the favor.

Instead, just before lunch, Andy called her parents. They didn't pick up, so she left them a voicemail telling them to buy the latest issue of Modernity  right away, and give her a call once they'd had a chance to look through it. Now it was time to do something else with her free time, her blessedly free time.

And besides, it wasn't like they'd have much time to get together tomorrow anyway. They'd be at work, and if Ellie was still sick, Andy would be stuck hanging around at the office until ten o'clock. It was one thing to fool around late on Friday night when you didn't have work the next day and your kids were out of the house, and quite another to do it on Monday when your kids were a few doors down.

The kids. Yikes. Andy hoped she really hadn't left any incriminating articles of clothing lying around. That wouldn't do. They might be warming up to her--better not to blow it.

Andy dusted all of her shelves and watched an American Idol  re-run. Halfway through watching diminishing levels of talent, her parents called.

"Baby!" her mom gasped breathlessly, as soon as Andy picked up. "I can't believe it! Oh, honey!"

Andy beamed. Payoff. "Hi, Mom," she said. "You found a copy?"

"A copy? We bought ten copies. We're giving them to everyone! Your father tells me not to be silly, but I want to have ours framed. Well, just the article, of course, not the whole magazine--although, you know, maybe--"

Andy felt her face heat up with embarrassed pleasure. "I'm not sure that's necessary," she laughed.

"Necessary? Of course it is! My baby publishing something in a big important magazine? For the first time? You'd better believe this article is going to get better treatment than just going in a scrapbook,Richard."

There was a click, and then her father's voice sounded down another line. "Congratulations, honey," he said. "We're so proud of you. How long have you known?"

"Well, I submitted the article at the end of January, and they told me they wanted it a few days later," Andy said. "But, you know, I didn't want to say anything until it was in print. Stuff gets cut all the time at the last minute. When Miranda showed it to me, you could have--" She realized what she'd said, gulped, and soldiered on. Might as well. Hell, it couldn't hurt. "--knocked me over with a feather."

"Miranda?" Her dad sounded surprised. "She helped you get it published, huh?"

"Good," her mom said, and it was Andy's turn to be surprised. "It's about time she did something for you."

"Wha--no," Andy said indignantly. "That's not…I mean, she didn't…"

"Why not?" her mother said. "That's why you work there, isn't it? So you can make these connections?"

"Um," Andy said. "Actually, it was…well, Nigel helped me get it published." Credit where credit was due. "But Miranda pushed up the publication date," she added quickly. "She helped make sure it didn't get trashed."

"Good for her, I guess," her dad said, sounding cautious. "And Nigel, too. I'm glad they're helping you on your way."

"Yeah," Andy said. "She's, um, she's been really…good lately." She was very thankful her parents couldn't see her blush. "Good to me, I mean. She--I think she appreciates--"

"She ought to," her mother said. "She ought to have appreciated you all along."

Andy restrained herself from knocking her head against the table. "She, well, she's not that bad," she said. "Really. I swear."

"Glad to hear it," her dad said. "But honey, this article. Really. That's amazing. Congratulations," he repeated.

"Your father acts cool, but he's going to tell everyone at the office tomorrow," her mom said. "Not that I won't, too."

"You've already told everyone at the office," her dad said. "And a fair amount of strangers at the newsstand."

"Mom," Andy said, laughing again, knowing that she should be bashful and modest, and not feeling modest at all. Heck, she was twenty-four (okay, almost twenty-five) and had an article published in a prestigious magazine, and one of the most important magazine editors in the world thought it was 'good work,' which, coming from this particular editor, was the equivalent of winning a decathlon. Andy was pretty sure Miranda hadn't just been bullshitting her because they were sleeping together. That wasn't her style. The thought made her glow all over again.

All of a sudden, she wished really hard that she could tell her parents about all of it. What was going on between Andy and Miranda, how happy Andy was, how she wanted them to be happy for her too. And the impossibility of that put a lump in her throat.

"Well," she said, and swallowed, wanting to say all of it and knowing she wasn't going to. "It was a great birthday present, I'll tell you that."

"I bet," her dad said. "You know, your mother and I were both thinking--not that we can get up in time for your birthday, but maybe we can come visit you sometime soon-ish. Both of us, this time."

"Oh, that'd be great," Andy said, trying to sound enthusiastic, and maybe overdoing it a little bit. "I'm sure I'll be able to snag some free time. A weekend, maybe." Actually, she wasn't sure of that at all, but she could do her best. "I can call and let you know. Or, um, you can call me when you want to come up and I'll see what I can do."

"Well, we don't want to put you out," her mother said. "We know you're busy."

"No, Mom," Andy said. "I'd love to see you. Really. Really! It's fine."

And it was fine, she told herself as she hung up after a few more minutes of chatter. Of course it was fine. She'd love to see her parents and there was no reason they shouldn't come to New York. It wasn't like they'd take one look at her and immediately intuit that she was sleeping with Miranda Priestly and, worse, was head-over-heels in love with her into the bargain. She could handle them.

Yeah. Great. She was already looking forward to it.

 


 

Andy wondered how Miranda's Sunday had gone: if she really had kept so busy that she hadn't thought about Andy too much. She found out on Monday morning when Miranda got into the car and refused to look her in the eye.

At first, Andy panicked. Had she screwed up something without knowing it? Let a crucial work detail slip by? Had the twins somehow figured out that Andy had spent the night with their mom? Had she done something else to piss Miranda off? Which was a tricky question because, really, the list of Things That Could Piss Miranda Off was long enough to power a perpetual-motion machine. But had she actually done any of them?

Miranda began to give the usual stream of instructions and commands, her voice calm and unwavering as ever. As ever, Andy scrambled to keep up, but she couldn't help noticing that Miranda didn't look at her for the whole car ride. By the time they got out of the car at Elias-Clarke, Andy's glow of anticipation had turned entirely into apprehension and she was almost dreading the elevator ride to the office.

But once the elevator doors closed, Miranda didn't round on her with invective or accusations or anything. She didn't look at Andy, either. Instead she said, in a faintly strained voice, "How was your Sunday?"

"Fine," Andy said, surprised. Even now, Miranda hardly ever made small talk. "I didn't do much. I, um, called my parents about the Modernity  article, and they were excited, so that was nice."

"Mm," Miranda said, and Andy had a hunch she hadn't heard a word.

"What about you?" Andy said, deciding she might as well go full speed ahead and see if she could figure out what was going on. "I mean, you know…was lunch okay? Or the twins, or…?"

"Lunch was fine," Miranda said, her voice clipped. "The twins are fine. They want you to come by for dinner tonight."

"Oh," Andy said, surprised again, and pleased. "Well, that's…sure, of course I will. I mean, if you want me to."

"Ye--"  Miranda stopped and cleared her throat. Color bloomed on her cheeks and she stared at the buttons for the different floors. "That's fine."

Andy's eyes went wide. Miranda's cheeks went redder.

"I thought about you a lot yesterday," Andy said, feeling the beginnings of a smile.

"That's enough," Miranda replied at once, standing ramrod-straight. Not straight enough to disguise her shiver, though.

Andy bit her lip to hide her grin. So that's why Miranda couldn't look her in the eye. Well, she had said she'd want to do it a lot from now on. "I hope Ellie's feeling better today," she said. "Otherwise I guess I'll have to take a rain check."

"Oh, I'm sure she's past the contagious stage of whatever she had," Miranda said, sounding like she was gritting her teeth. "How much damage can she do between the front door and the hall table?"

"True," Andy said, biting her lip harder.

"Be appropriate today, Andrea," Miranda said, her voice razor-sharp. "The last thing I need is some insinuating, giggling…" That got rid of Andy's grin right away. She turned to stare at Miranda in disbelief, and thankfully, Miranda trailed off.

"Of course," Andy said pointedly. Like she'd ever be that dumb. Wearing sexy boots to work was one thing--everybody wore outrageous stuff at Runway.  Looking all moony-eyed at the boss was something else, and Andy knew it. And Miranda knew that Andy knew it.

In fact, Andy thought that Miranda might need reminding much more than Andy did. She apparently hadn't been kidding about Andy's opening up a floodgate. When she strode into her office for the first time, a muscle started twitching at the side of her lip, and Andy suddenly remembered offering to fuck Miranda on her desk. Which was undoubtedly what Miranda was thinking about right now. And as the day wore on, Miranda appeared to grow more and more distracted; her cheeks were constantly flushed, and her voice was as hoarse as if she'd caught Ellie's cold.

She had a meeting at four, followed by a thirty-minute facial. Andy hurried into her office at three forty-five to give her a folder for the meeting, and once again, Miranda refused to look at her, although Andy was pretty sure she didn't see the layouts right beneath her nose either. She had her ankles crossed tightly together, like she had to pee. Or, no, not like that, exactly. More like she was trying to restrain herself from wriggling in her seat.

"Oh," Andy breathed before she could stop herself, as a sudden rush of heat hit her. Miranda looked up at once, into her face, and read what was in Andy's eyes. Her own eyes glazed, and Andy thought, for one wild second, that there just might be some merit to closing the doors and--

"Here you go," she mumbled, shoved the folder into Miranda's hand, and high-tailed it out of there at once. Five minutes later, Miranda left her office without giving either Andy or Ellie a passing glance, and Andy didn't exhale until she'd vanished from sight.

"She's been in a strange mood today, hasn't she?" Ellie asked, keeping her voice low and looking after Miranda. Andy felt a wholly inappropriate surge of jealousy, until she realized that Ellie had probably not been staring at Miranda's ass like Andy definitely had.

She managed a smile. "When isn't she? Hey, I’m glad you seem to be feeling better."

"Oh, I am," Ellie said with a much bigger, more genuine smile of her own. "A weekend's rest did the trick. I think it was just one of those twenty-four hour bugs."

"Good," Andy said, and added with a grin, "you were kind of pitiful." Far from being offended, Ellie giggled and nodded.

An hour later, Nigel arrived in reception. "Well," he said. "That was a fun meeting. I don't think she heard a word anybody said. It's a good thing she doesn't actually have to talk to her facialist." Andy gave him a look of non-committal sympathy, and he rolled his eyes. Then he smiled at her. "I got a look at a certain magazine yesterday morning."

Andy smiled radiantly at him. "Did you? Isn't it great? I still can't believe it. I can't believe it's actually there!"

"Your article?" Ellie said. "Oh, Andy! Why didn't you tell me? I have to get a copy!"

"I just found out myself, on Saturday," Andy said, grinning at her too.

"Nice birthday present, huh?" Nigel said. "Speaking of which, keep Wednesday night clear. Wednesday is your birthday, right? The thirteenth?" Andy nodded. "Keep it clear," Nigel repeated. "I'm taking you out for cocktails."

"Nigel," Andy said, genuinely touched. "You don't have to."

"Oh, I really do," he said. "I need something to look forward to. The Charleston shoot is going to hell."

"The shoots are always going to hell," Andy pointed out. "And then they always turn out okay."

"Well, yes," Nigel said. "But that doesn't make them less of a pain in the ass in the interim." He sighed. "The shots along the Battery shouldn't be a problem. It's just posing a bunch of stick-thin models on schooners and sailboats in the harbor that's giving me nightmares. Sun glare. Flapping sails. Wind." He shuddered. "And divas. My god, the divas."

"Aren't the models used to that kind of thing, though?" Andy said.

"I meant the photographers."

"Oh."

"And of course you want it to be dramatic. Nothing all furled up and stationary, so the sails have to be out, and I don't know about you, but I don't know much about sailing. But I do know that when the booms are swinging around like baseball bats and you have models and photographers ducking and covering left and right…well, that's how it happened in the Keys last time, anyway…"

"Oh, no," Andy said, laughing.

"Well, that's just a question of torque," Ellie said casually.

Nigel and Andy blinked at each other, and then Nigel turned to Ellie's desk. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, you know," Ellie said, smiling at him. "Torque. It's just a vector that measures the tendency of a force to rotate an object around its axis. It's one of the rotational analogues of force, mass, and acceleration. The closer you are to the axis, you know, the sail pole, the more force you need to move your object, like the boom, around it. But the farther out the object is, like the end of the boom, the less force you need to move it. It's like when you push open a door--you don't press at it close to the hinge, because that's harder, you push it by the knob or the edge, that's where it's easier. You need less force. That's sort of like when the wind moves the end of the boom around. It doesn't take a lot of force, and next thing you know--" Ellie swung her own arm around in a wide arc. "Whammo! So that's torque. Force is the push, and torque is the twist."

Nigel and Andy stared at Ellie with their jaws slowly sagging open.

"It's simple, really," Ellie added. "I mean, that's just the basics. You don't really need to know all the formulae. Although once you get into working out the scalar product of two vectors, that's when it really gets interesting."

"Oh," Andy said.

"Anyway, maybe if you just make sure the booms are really stable where they connect to the poles," Ellie added, beaming guilelessly at them. "So the wind would have to exert a lot more force if it wants to move the ends. Maybe some kind of buttress, just for the photoshoot. I can draw you a diagram." Then she blushed. "If you think it would help."

"I," Nigel said. "Uh."

"Ellie," Andy said, and blinked rapidly. "How do you--I mean, how do you know--"

"Oh!" Ellie's face brightened. "I double-majored in physics and English. I didn't put physics on my résumé, though, I didn't think it would look very stylish."

"Y-you--um--"

"My adviser said I might want to think about grad school, and a career in astrophysics, but I told him that fashion was my passion." She suddenly smiled again. "Hey, that rhymed."

"Rhymed," Nigel said. "Yes."

"I just couldn't see myself working in a NASA lab," Ellie said, and shook her head. "Talk about boring. I'm so glad I got the assistant job here. It's a lot harder, though." She smiled ruefully. "Physics is so easy. But, you know. I wanted the challenge."

"Oh," Andy said. "Challenge. Right."

"Yeah. Hey," Ellie added, "is it okay if I run to the ladies' room really quick?"

"S-sure," Andy said, and she and Nigel stared after Ellie as she hurried away.

After a moment, Nigel said, "Did I just dream that?"

"I have no idea," Andy replied. "But I think you better get her to draw you that diagram."

 


 

Ellie didn't seem to notice how she'd stunned Andy and Nigel, and spent the rest of the afternoon as cheerfully oblivious as usual. She did read Andy's article in Modernity  and said, with genuine awe, that it sounded really smart.

Miranda returned from her facial at five-thirty with her skin glowing and radiant. Well, it ought to be, with the amount of money those procedures probably cost. But her eyes glowed too--gleamed, really--when she told Andy to pack up because it was time to leave, and Andy's heart began to pound at once.

The ride to her townhouse was unusually silent, and Miranda spent most of it staring out of the window while Andy texted various people. When they got out of the car, and Miranda turned the key in the door, Andy saw that her hand was shaking. And as soon as the door closed behind Andy, Miranda turned on her with fire in her eyes, dropping all pretense of disinterest. Andy felt an answering clench between her own legs, and she reached up to cup Miranda's chin (Miranda's eyelids fluttered), to lean in--

Footsteps on the stairs. Fast, running children's footsteps. Andy and Miranda jerked apart at once, and for one moment Andy wondered if Miranda was actually about to scream with frustration. For her part, she wore her best, brightest smile as the twins clattered into view, and busied herself with helping Miranda take off her coat. She was very, very careful not to brush up against anything inappropriate. Miranda trembled anyway.

The twins didn't seem to notice. "I thought we heard the door," Cassidy said. "Hi, Andy."

"Hi," Andy said, and took her time sliding Miranda's scarf off her shoulders, savoring the way the back of Miranda's neck went red.

"We're getting our essays back in two days," Caroline told Andy, her eyes shining. "But the teacher already told both of us that ours were really good." She scowled. "She wouldn't say which one was better, though."

"That's great," Andy said as she hung Miranda's coat in the hall closet, and then her own as well. "I knew you'd both do well."

"Isn't that great, Mom?" Cassidy appealed to Miranda.

"Wonderful," Miranda said, glancing sideways at Andy. "I'm so proud."

"Good evening, Ms. Priestly," Cara said as she came downstairs, and gathered her own coat.

Miranda, who usually asked something about how the girls had been that day, or reminded Cara of an appointment, said blankly, "Hello," as if she had no idea who Cara was or what she was doing in the house.

Cara blinked, and then said, "Hi, Andy. Good night, girls, I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."

"Night, Cara," Cassidy said, and took hold of Miranda's hand. "Come on, dinner's ready, and we're starving. Jimena made pizza tonight!" And indeed, the townhouse did smell heavenly this evening: tomato sauce and cheese. Andy wondered if pineapple and black olives would be involved. Probably not.

"Darling," Miranda said, "Why don't you two go ahead and eat? We'll be along in a moment--I need to talk to Andrea about something urgently--"

Andy's jaw almost dropped. Miranda had to be kidding. She wanted to sneak off for a quickie before dinner with the kids just down the hall? Judging by the color high on her cheeks, yes, she definitely did. And she wasn't looking anywhere near Andy, which meant she knew how ludicrous it was.

"You had all day to talk to Andy," Cassidy replied. "You can talk to her after dinner. C'mon!" She tugged at her mother's hand. Miranda gave in and let Cassidy lead her down the hallway, but tossed a look over her shoulder at Andy that was both helpless and smoldering. Andy gulped and started after her. Maybe the 'creating-a-monster' idea hadn't been too far off base.

"We had a good time with Dad this weekend," Caroline said behind her. Andy jerked to a stop and glanced down at her, startled. "We ate take-out Chinese and watched Night at the Museum . Have you seen that?"

"No," Andy said, letting Caroline walk next to her on the way to the kitchen. "Any good?"

"It was really funny. I loved it when the T-Rex came alive. I mean the skeleton. What did you do this weekend?"

Andy tried very hard not to blush, or say, 'Made your mom happier than pizza ever did.' Or Caroline's dad, apparently. Instead, she said, "Not much. I just took it easy, actually. Slept in." Which was true. "Lounged around." Also true. "Called my parents." True, true, true. "Kind of a dull weekend, really." Big fat lie.

"Too bad," Caroline said, already sounding bored as they arrived at the kitchen, where Jimena, a stocky woman in her mid-forties, was getting the pizza out of the oven and putting it on a large white platter. The rest of the table was already set. "What do you like best on your pizzas?"

"I'm not picky, really," Andy said. Although she hated black olives, she wasn't dumb enough to say so. "I like most stuff. What does everyone want to drink?"

"Juice," Caroline said.

"Diet Coke," Cassidy said.

"It's too late in the evening for Diet Coke." Miranda. "Juice for both of them, Andrea, and I'll have water."

"Okay," Andy said, and raided the fridge. By the time she had all the drinks ready, Jimena had put everything else on the table and departed as quietly as a ghost, which was exactly what Miranda paid her to do. Talk about one of the silent workers of New York. Too bad Andy hadn't been able to interview Jimena for her article, but it probably would have gotten both of them fired.

The pizza was a plain-and-simple margherita, but perfectly done. The twins had gulped down two slices each by the time Andy had finished her own piece. Miranda was only picking at hers, and only half-listening to the usual chatter of her children. Every once in a while, she squirmed.

"Andy, you're coming over for dinner on Wednesday, right?" Caroline asked suddenly. "Mom's coming home that night, she doesn't have anything to do, right, Mom?"

Miranda blinked, returned to Earth, and nodded. "Of course she can come by."

Caroline looked expectantly at Andy. "Sure," Andy said, and then remembered. "Whoops. I mean, I can't. I told Nigel I'd do something with him on Wednesday."

"Nigel?" Cassidy sounded outraged. "But Wednesday's your birthday, isn't it?"

"Cassidy,"  Caroline growled, and Andy grinned as she realized that some sort of surprise had been thwarted. Then she glanced at Miranda, who was glaring at her, and tried not to cringe.

"Sorry," she mumbled. "I, um, he asked me this morning. We're just going to go out for a drink or two, I think, nothing big--I mean, it is a work night." Now all three of them were glaring. "I'm sorry!" Andy said, feeling very ganged-up-on all of a sudden. "I didn't know--I guess I can reschedule."

"That's okay," Cassidy said, sticking her nose in the air. "We get it."

"Oh, boy," Andy said, grinning again in spite of herself.

"She can share our party," Caroline said to Cassidy. "It's not very much later, and we'll have a better cake."

"But she can't invite any friends," Cassidy pointed out. "Everything's all set up and there's no more room."

"Oh," Caroline said, and looked at Andy. "Do you have any friends?"

"I, um--" Andy's eyes went wide as she realized that she couldn't actually say 'yes,' unless she was counting Nigel and Miranda. Possibly Christian. Maybe Ellie. "Well…"

"Caroline," Miranda said sharply. "What a question."

"Sorry," Caroline said, and returned to her pizza. All talk of a party for Andy ceased, while Andy nursed the unhappy realization that she pretty much had lost touch with all of her non-Runway  friends, mostly without realizing it. She'd been keeping too busy to know how busy she was keeping--too busy to realize that Runway  was becoming her whole world and reason for being.

No. Not Runway . Miranda. Which was a different thing altogether, and possibly worse. The thought made Andy feel sad and apprehensive at the same time. It wasn't good, it wasn't healthy, to be so wrapped-up in caring about one person to the exclusion of everyone else in your life. But it was kind of intoxicating too. Kind of exciting. In a scary way. A scary, dysfunctional way.

Damn it. Maybe she should bend her pride and get back in touch with Doug and Lily again. She just didn't want to, particularly, not after that bitterness with Nate, not after they'd been so high-handed about dumping her. Maybe she could make an entirely new, more understanding set of friends instead. With all the free time she had. It took some real effort not to sigh audibly.

Instead, she decided to talk about something fun. "Hey," she said to the twins with a grin, "you guys know Ellie, right…?"

The twins soaked up the story of Ellie's unexpected brilliance like two little sponges, and Andy realized that she'd been ousted as the mastermind behind their next science project. Fine with her. Ellie could probably help them build a spaceship to Mars or something.

Miranda, on the other hand, appeared not to hear a thing. Her cheeks were red again, her eyes foggy and distant, and Andy, who recognized the signs, understood that Miranda was so turned on that she actually had to be hurting by now, after waiting for so long. Two days of no sex right after Andy had helped her work up an appetite. From famine to feast to famine again. Talk about hormones working overtime. She'd be hot beneath her clothes, quivering--wet and ready--

Dessert seemed to take forever.

"Homework," Miranda said, as soon as Caroline had finished her lemon sorbet. It was the first word she'd spoken in nearly ten minutes. "Andrea, are you ready?"

"Absolutely," Andy said, proud that her voice didn't wobble. She hoped the twins didn't notice that Miranda almost dropped her spoon.

When the twins disappeared upstairs, Miranda turned to Andy again. Her eyes were as hot and fierce as they'd been an hour before, but there was something else in them now--confusion, helplessness. She looked wildly around the kitchen, obviously realizing the truth: they couldn't do anything here. If the twins came down…and there was no way Miranda was going to be able to wait until their bedtime. Neither was Andy. They couldn't exactly slip into one of the upstairs bedrooms unnoticed, either.

"Is there a--" Andy whispered.

"Bathroom," Miranda choked, and led the way out of the den, down the hallway to a half-bath that had a toilet, a sink, and just enough room for two people to stand by the door. The door shut behind Andy, and Miranda grabbed her at once, kissing her hard, already making noises in the back of her throat, already shaking.

Andy wasted no time in turning until she had Miranda up against the door, and bent down, tugging at Miranda's collar until she could get at her throat to lick and suck. Miranda sobbed.

Andy cupped Miranda's breasts, squeezed them, and Miranda's knees nearly gave out. "Oh," Andy gasped into her ear, and kissed her throat again. "We have to work out a better system."

Miranda clawed at her back. "We will--please--"

"Because otherwise," Andy whispered, unbuttoning her blouse as fast as she could, "how am I supposed to take my time with you--" She gave up on the blouse and just shoved Miranda's skirt up, and then tugged her underwear down. Miranda immediately covered her mouth with her hand, squeezing her eyes shut. "How am I supposed to do you slow--" Andy slid her hand up into the warmth and the wet--so unbelievably wet, the result of a whole day of waiting. Miranda moaned. "How am I supposed to give it to you so slow and gentle, just the way--" Andy slipped one finger in, "--you--" she moved the finger, rubbed gently, "--like it?" Miranda's head fell back and hit the door, her throat working, her hand barely muffling her cries. "How am I supposed to get you on a bed, how am I supposed to fuck you until you feel so good, until you can't take it anymore?" The words alone made Miranda shriek into her palm--and then Andy slid her thumb up, rubbed her clit, so lightly--

It took Andy's hand on top of Miranda's to muffle her howl. She clenched around Andy hard, and then harder, and Andy kept moving her thumb, just barely brushing Miranda's clit until Miranda began shaking her head back and forth against the door.

"How am I supposed to do all that?" Andy panted against her throat, and then slid her hands, sticky fingers and all, into Miranda's blouse so she could cup her breasts through her bra. "How am I supposed to get enough?"

"You," Miranda rasped, yanking her underwear back up. "Against the door--right now--"

Andy obeyed without thinking and then, dear God, no way, Miranda dropped to her knees with more grace than should be possible for a fifty-year-old woman who was five months pregnant and had just come her brains out. Which meant it wouldn't have been possible at all for anyone else. But Miranda did it, and she pulled at Andy's underwear.

"You're going to try this for the first time up against a bathroom door?" Andy gasped.

"For God's sake, hurry," Miranda hissed, and Andy found herself slipping out of her shoes and letting her underwear dangle around one of her ankles while Miranda spread her legs wider, slid up her skirt, and leaned in.

She didn't know any better than Andy had, of course. It didn't matter, not tonight. Just the sight of Miranda on her knees between Andy's legs had little explosions going off in Andy's brain, and then Miranda's tongue, Miranda's tongue  was--

Andy didn't scream or anything, but by the time she was done, her knees were giving out, and she slid down to sit smack on her ass on the floor, putting her eye-level with Miranda. Who leaned in to kiss her so she could taste herself. Then they parted with a sigh. Miranda's face was still red, but she no longer looked like she was about to die of sexual frustration.

"That was," Andy began, when Miranda suddenly gasped. And pressed a hand to her abdomen.

Andy froze in panic, her afterglow vanishing as if it had never been. Oh, oh shit, she'd done something, she'd somehow hurt the baby when they'd--how could she have been so--what a complete, fucking idiot--

"It kicked," Miranda said, her eyes as big as the pizza platter from dinner.

"It--huh?" Andy stared at Miranda. "It, it did? He did?"

Miranda grabbed Andy's hand--her own still trembled--and pressed it to the bump on her belly. For a few seconds, Andy felt nothing. And then: a very slight, extremely subtle, yet undeniable thump. Movement. Miranda gasped. So did Andy.

"Holy crap," Andy said. Arousal was gone, terror was gone, and only wonder was left. She and Miranda stared at each other, and Andy was sure Miranda's look of astonishment mirrored her own.

Then Andy realized that they were both sitting on the floor of a bathroom in Miranda's house, half-naked and freshly-fucked, feeling the miracle of life. She was the one with her hand over her mouth now, muffling laughter. "Oh my God," she said. "That's--" The baby kicked again. "Wow!"

"Yes," Miranda said, and shook her head, still looking stunned. But not unhappy. Not at all.

"That's good, right?" Andy said anxiously. "I mean, it's about time for that to happen--you're feeling okay, right?"

"Right," Miranda said, starting to sound her old, exasperated self. "I'm fine." She frowned. "A pity we can't call the twins."

Andy snorted, and then started to feel kind of self-conscious. "I need to get my underwear back on," she said. "It's like we have an audience."

"Don't be ridiculous," Miranda said at once, and sat back on her heels. "You're not turning prude on me now." Her glare could have melted lead.

"Of course not," Andy said, not actually feeling very sure of that as she looked at Miranda's belly again. "Wow," she repeated.

"Mmm," Miranda said, and then struggled to her feet with a grunt, putting one hand on the sink to brace herself and looking a lot less graceful than when she'd descended. Andy stood up too, and quickly pulled her panties on before slipping back into her shoes. "The wonder of motherhood aside, Andrea, being pregnant is a degrading and miserable experience."

Andy winced. "Well," she said weakly, "you're handling it like a champ. I mean, you seem to be." Miranda did not look particularly flattered. Andy took a risk, took her hand, and added, "Plus other stuff." She waggled her eyebrows. Miranda rolled her eyes, but looked much more pleased this time. "You were great."

"Yes, well," Miranda said, and fastened her blouse. She glowered at Andy when she realized she was missing a button. "Necessity. The mother of invention. Et cetera."

"We're a mess," Andy said, glancing in the mirror over the sink. They were. Their clothes were askew, their hair stuck up and out, and their lipstick was smeared everywhere they'd kissed: mouths, throats, cheeks. Miranda in particular looked like Andy had assaulted her with a tube of Bobbi Brown in Blue Raspberry.

Without missing a beat, Miranda slid open one of the drawers beneath the sink and whisked out a pot of makeup remover and a hairbrush. "The bathroom's too small," she complained. "Wait in the hall until I'm done."

"What?" Andy said. "What if the twins come downstairs and see me?" Even an almost-eleven-year-old could figure this one out.

"I'll be quick. And if they do, you'll think of something."

"Necessity and invention, huh?" Andy grumbled. Miranda smirked. Andy punished her by leaning in and taking another kiss. A long, soft one. Miranda gasped, and Andy pulled away with a little smirk of her own.

"Hallway," Miranda mumbled. Andy nipped out of the bathroom without another word.

Not a bad way to end your Monday, really.

 


 

"Really, do you want me to cancel on Nigel for Wednesday?" Andy asked the next morning in the elevator. "Did the twins have something in mind?"

Miranda shrugged. "I think the girls wanted to make you a cake. Or help Jimena make one."

Which meant watching Jimena bake the actual cake from start to finish, and maybe leaving to play video games in between, but Andy was touched anyway. "Aww--that's so--I can cancel if…"

"We can do it on Sunday instead," Miranda said blandly. "They'll be home for lunch, but are going to a friend's house for dinner."

"So--" Andy grinned. "After they leave--"

"Yes," Miranda said, looking straight at the elevator doors. Andy grinned some more and wondered if she could make Miranda blush before they got out of the elevator again. Maybe she should start keeping some kind of scorecard.

"Did the baby kick again last night? After I left?" she asked.

Miranda glared at Andy. "Please tell me that is not linked forever with sex in your head."

"Um--"

"It kicked again this morning around six-thirty. I woke up the girls so they could feel it." Miranda frowned. "Him. I suppose I should say 'him.'"

"What did they think? What did they say?"

"Lots of things. Questions, mainly. 'Does it hurt? Can you tell if it's a hand or a foot? Is he doing any somersaults?'"

"Somersaults?" Andy laughed.

Miranda sighed. "Greg told them, in a fit of fancy, that they accomplished all manner of acrobatics while I was pregnant with them. Their favorite has always been when he told them that they managed ballet en pointe."

"I can actually kind of picture that," Andy said, imagining two twin babies in tutus. And Caroline, at least, had obviously been a prima donna from the moment of conception.

Miranda gave her a sidelong glance. "They thought that you'd think it was 'cool' and couldn't wait to tell you all about it. They expect you tonight as well."

Andy looked at her. Miranda had a very serious look on her face, and Andy decided to respond in kind. "What do they think of me?" she asked. "I mean, what am I to them? Do you know?"

"No," Miranda said. "But they like you. They like it when you stop by. Let's be grateful for small favors."

"I am," Andy said, but then they arrived at Runway  and conversation had to cease. At least, that kind of conversation. Miranda stepped into 'boss' role without missing a beat, and immediately started talking about making an appointment with her personal shopper. She even managed to say the words 'maternity wear' without gagging, which was an improvement over last time.

"Make it for Friday," Miranda said as they headed down the corridors with clackers scattering before them like seagulls on the beach. "Two o'clock."

"Got it."

"And take detailed notes for your recommendations."

"Oka--my recommendations?"

"You're going, aren't you?" Miranda said, without looking at her, her tone as imperious as ever. "Don't stick me in anything hideous."

Andy's jaw dropped, and then she recovered herself. "Right," she mumbled.

Miranda glanced at her, then, as they rounded the corner. No one was near them, and she murmured, "Since you seem to take an active interest in what I wear."

Andy squeaked and went red. Miranda smirked and swept into her office. Andy sighed; Priestly, 1, Sachs, 0.

That night, Miranda didn't squirm through dinner, although she did appear uncomfortable when the twins asked her to 'make the baby kick for Andy,' as though fetal movement could be performed on command.

"It's okay," Andy said quickly. "I'm sure there will be plenty of, um, oppor…I mean, he'll probably…"

"He! That's right," Cassidy said, and ran upstairs. "The names!" she called over her shoulder before Miranda could object.

"We've got to finish the names list," Caroline explained. "We almost forgot them, and we've got a whole lot left."

"Oh, wonderful," Miranda said, and her shoulders slumped very slightly. Andy gave Caroline what she hoped was an enthusiastic smile.

Tonight the twins made it through the rest of the list, laughing uproariously at some of the more outrageous suggestions. By the time they were giggling over 'Zeno,' it was eight-thirty, and Miranda had to promise that she would think very seriously about several names before the twins went upstairs without a fight. When they vanished, she sat back in her chair with an 'oof.' Then she looked at Andy.

Andy grinned. "'Xerxes.' Xerxes all the way."

"I'd rather not name my son after one of the most notorious womanizers in Jewish history," Miranda said dryly.

"Christian, too," Andy said, remembering fragments of stories from Sunday school. Her family had gone to church on and off when she and Rachel were little, but by the time they were in junior high it had turned into Christmas-and-Easter, and eventually into nothing at all. She added, "You're Jewish?"

"I was raised Jewish, yes," Miranda said, and her eyes went cool.

But Andy didn't give up right away. "I'd, I'd like to know more about you," she tried. "About how you grew up." Maybe even Miranda's real name, but that might be a long shot.

"It doesn't matter," Miranda said, so immediately and flatly that Andy knew it mattered a whole lot. "I haven't practiced in years, never raised the girls in the tradition, and won't raise him either." She raised an eyebrow. "You might have noticed our Christmas decorations?"

"Right," Andy said quickly. "I mean, sure. But that's not all I'd like to…"

"I really don't want to talk about it, Andrea."

"Okay," Andy repeated, and now her voice came out a lot smaller than she meant it to. It sucked that Miranda could still scare her so much, under the right circumstances. She cleared her throat and tried to sound less wimpy. "I mean--right."

Miranda looked weary. "You already know certain things about me that I never told my husbands," she said, and Andy blinked in shock. "Other things you don't know, but please leave it at that. I'll…" She sighed and looked extremely annoyed. "If you insist, I'll tell you. I'd rather you didn't insist." But Andy was adept at decoding Mirandaese by now. 'I'd rather,' of course, meant 'don't.'

"Okay," Andy said, yet again, because what else could she say? "But if, if you ever want to--just, yeah. Sorry. I don't want to push." Although she did. But Miranda wasn't the kind of person you could push and hope to get away with it. Which was frustrating as all hell, but again…what the heck was Andy supposed to do about it? She didn't know. Not yet. She'd figure something out eventually. She hoped.

Miranda snorted. "Now I've made it sound all romantic and mysterious. I promise it wasn't. The opposite, in fact." She wrinkled her nose and sipped at her water. "It's not the kind of thing I want to hide, exactly. More the kind of thing I just want to forget."

Andy nodded as if she understood, although she knew she didn't and couldn't. She'd had a happy childhood with a lot of good memories. She didn't want to leave it behind or forget it. But Miranda was clearly working on giving the twins that kind of childhood, too. Only time would tell if she succeeded, of course, but…but maybe Andy would be allowed to help with the new one, the boy without a name.

"So," she said. "Seriously. 'Umberto.' What about that? Don't you think it's got, you know, gravitas?" Miranda rolled her eyes so hard she probably sprained something, but she was almost smiling again. "Or 'Valdemar.' He can grow up to be a Viking."

"Are you going to spend all night joking around?" Miranda asked archly.

Andy opened her mouth to be indignant, and reconsidered. "As opposed to what?"

Miranda just looked at her.

Tonight, they slipped into a seldom-used study down the hall from the bathroom--Miranda sheepishly admitted she'd forgotten all about it the night before--and Andy reclined on a sofa as Miranda drove her fingers in and out, hesitantly at first, and then with more confidence as Andy whispered encouragement into her ear. It didn't take long. "Ohhh," Andy said, clenched, and slumped back against the cushions, breathing heavily.

"Well," Miranda said, looking insufferably pleased with herself as she sat back and licked her fingers. "It really isn't rocket science after all."

It was Andy's turn to roll her eyes. "Maybe I'm just really easy, did you ever think about that?"

"Often," Miranda said, and stroked Andy's mouth with the tip of her finger. Andy licked it, nipped, and Miranda swallowed hard.

Easy, huh? They'd see who was the easy one. Andy looked directly into Miranda's eyes, and was pleased when Miranda swallowed again. "So," she said softly. "You want me to tell you what I wanted to do to you that night? On New Year's Eve?" Miranda's eyes widened. "In your dress?"

"Yes," Miranda whispered.

Andy didn't bother buttoning up her shirt, or even putting her underwear back on, as she slipped off the couch and knelt on the carpet, spreading Miranda's knees. Miranda's breath hitched, and Andy inhaled the wonderful smell, just becoming familiar.

"It's a long list," Andy said. She stroked the inside of Miranda's knee. "You were perfect, top to bottom. Did you know that?" Miranda shook her head. "Mm-hmm. You walked into the kitchen that night and bam, ton of bricks. Everybody else saw it too. Everybody at that ball." Andy swallowed, remembering how it had felt, seeing all those people ogle Miranda. "You talk about guys wanting me. But everybody wanted you that night. Every man in that room wanted to fuck you."

"Well," Miranda said faintly.

Andy bent down, kissed her knee, and kept going. "But nobody wanted you like I did." They couldn't have--otherwise Miranda would have been mobbed. "I like your coat closet idea. I like the idea of you on the floor, on top of a mink coat, trying to keep quiet in the middle of a party." She leaned forward until she could nuzzle Miranda's breasts through her shirt. Miranda hissed and shivered. "I would have yanked the dress down around your waist. Too bad if I tore it, I wouldn't have cared. Just so long as I could get at these." She nuzzled again. "I would have had my hands and mouth on these until you spread your legs wide and begged me." She bit Miranda's nipple through the shirt. Miranda said 'ah!' and quickly bit her lip. Andy sent her fingertips questing up past Miranda's knee, up the inside of her thigh, to her underwear.

"Now," she said, and stroked lightly. This time Miranda made the 'nnngh' noise. Andy slipped her fingers beneath the elastic and satin, and into the wetness, and the 'nnngh' became 'oh!' "Now then." She moved her hand until her knuckles, trapped between the wet and the satin, rubbed against Miranda's clit. "You like that idea? You like this?"

Miranda opened her mouth to speak, and then came instead, with a long, shuddering sigh. Then she went pink-cheeked, and sank back against the sofa.

"Talk about easy," Andy said, and licked her fingers. "All right, down to business."

Miranda opened her eyes and blinked at Andy. "What?" But she was off-guard and relaxed, and didn't put up a fight when Andy urged her to lift her hips so she could slide her underwear off.

"Now," Andy said again, and licked her lips this time. "Now let me show you what else I would have done on that mink coat." Miranda gasped; Andy leaned in; Miranda whimpered, and after that, didn't manage to say anything coherent for a while.

Which was okay. Andy had her mouth full and wouldn't have been much good at conversation.

 


 

Andy wasn't sure how she'd expected her birthday to start off, but it wasn't with a six-thirty a.m. phone call from Miranda saying, "You'll have to take the subway this morning. Cassidy's running a slight temperature and I'm not coming in until eight-thirty."

Andy held the phone away from her mouth just long enough to spit toothpaste into the sink before she said, "Good morning, Miranda. Sorry about Cassidy, it's not serious, right?"

"No, I don't think so," Miranda said. "I'm just waiting with her until Cara arrives. Hopefully she can go to school this afternoon. I'd better go--I'll see you at the office. Oh, Happy Birthday." Then she hung up. Andy grinned, and did her best to wash the remaining sleep out of her face before she put her makeup on.

She'd almost forgotten how noisy and crowded the subway was at rush hour. She got pushed and jostled and cursed at, and couldn't score a seat, which meant she had to hang on to an overhead strap while balancing in tightly-pinching high heels. And it smelled. Maybe she'd been getting a little spoiled lately.

Andy reached Elias-Clarke at seven-forty-five: since Miranda was going to be late, there had been no real rush. The security guard smiled at her as she ran her pass card and entered the turnstile. She just missed the elevator (which was nearly full anyway), and sighed, setting back on her heels to await the next one.

"Going up?"

Andy blinked, turned, and glanced down a little bit to see Irv Ravitz standing next to her and smiling. "Oh," she said, and summoned a bright smile in return. "Good morning, Mr. Ravitz."

"Morning, Andy. It is Andy, isn't it?" Surprised, Andy nodded, but before either of them could speak again, the next elevator arrived. The door dinged open, and Irv headed in. He saw Andy hovering by the door, and motioned her in with him. "Oh, come on. I'm not Miranda," he chuckled.

Andy managed another smile and hurried in. The door closed before anyone else could join them. Irv pressed '17' for Runway's floor, and then '11' for his own. The elevator jolted into motion. "Then again," he added, "I hear you get special elevator privileges with her. How'd you manage that?"

His tone was friendly enough. Andy still felt edgy, stuck here alone with the man who'd nearly kicked Miranda to the curb, and was no doubt planning to try again sometime. Maybe sometime soon. But it was suicide to be anything but friendly to the chairman of Elias-Clarke. "Oh," she said with a little laugh, "I don't know that I managed anything. You know Miranda. You just go along with what she wants and don't ask questions."

"True, true," Irv said. "I hear a lot of good things about you, though. She seems pretty impressed with you. With your performance. Summoned you to London at Christmas, didn't she? You must be doing something right."

"Oh, well," Andy said, trying hard not to blush, and trying really hard not to think about what Irv would say if he knew how well Andy performed for Miranda. And vice versa. "I'm just doing my job. I'm glad to hear I seem to be doing it well."

"From what I hear, you are," Irv said. "You know, you and I had a pretty good conversation going about John Cheever, didn't we?" Andy nodded, trying not to wince, considering that the conversation had started up only moments after Miranda's soon-to-be-ex husband had insulted Irv. "Pretty awkward moment. You saved it. Don't think I didn't notice what you were up to."

This time Andy couldn't control her blush. "O-oh," she stammered. "I…I just--well…"

He waved a hand. "It was a compliment. You can think on your feet. You're a good kid, and I like you."

"Oh," Andy said, blinking. "Well, thank y--"

"That's why it pains me to fire you," Irv said.

Andy froze, sure that she must have misheard. "What?" she said.

"Don't worry," Irv said. "I'm sure you'll find something, a smart girl like you. Get Miranda to help."

"Help?" Andy said, her eyes going wider. "Mr. Ravitz--I don't understand--"

"Not a lot to understand, really," he said. "You're fired."

Andy stared at Irv. Irv stared right back.

"What?" Andy whispered. "But--but y-you can't just--"

"Oh, yes I can," he said, and now his eyes were hard. "I think you'll find, Andy, that I can hire and fire anybody in this building, regardless of what Miranda Priestly has to say about it. Make sure she understands that before you go. You can stay until the end of the business day. After that, you're done."

Andy couldn't respond. Surely none of this was real. Surely this wasn't actually happening.

They reached the eleventh floor. The door slid open. Irv glanced back at her, and this time, his gaze was not without pity.

"First-class flights to London cost a pretty penny, especially on the company card," he said. "Tell her to find a less expensive toy next time."

The doors closed between them, and Andy was left alone in the car.

It came as a surprise when the doors opened again and she saw the familiar glass-and-cream walls and panels of the Runway  offices. Maybe she had been dreaming. Maybe she'd just hallucinated that whole encounter.

But no. She hadn't imagined that: not the cold, hard purpose in Irv Ravitz's eyes as he made Andy the first casualty in his war with Miranda Priestly. Because that's what it was. Irv wasn't pulling his punches now. Andy had been waiting for it, dreading it, since Paris, and now it was here. And she'd been the first one caught in the crossfire.

What the hell was she going to do?

She headed into the reception area in a daze. At some point she made it to her desk--oh, but it wasn't hers anymore, was it?--and sat down hard, staring blankly at nothing.

Suddenly Ellie's voice trilled out, "Oh, Andy! Happy Birthday!"

Andy's head jerked around to see Ellie hurrying forward, still in her coat and with her face flushed from the cold; she balanced a tray of Starbucks in one hand with a small bouquet of flowers in the other. The flowers had a bouncy yellow balloon tied to the slender green vase.

"Happy Birthday," Ellie repeated, setting the bouquet down on Andy's desk with an air of triumph. "I picked these up last night, do you like them? Whoops--let me just put Miranda's coffee out before I spill it--" She glanced around, frowning. "Isn't she here yet?"

"Cassidy got sick this morning," Andy heard herself say. "She won't be here until eight-thirty."

"Oh." Ellie pouted. "I guess I didn't have to rush so fast this morning, then. I hope Cassidy's okay, though," she added quickly.

"Yeah," Andy said, still feeling like her entire body had been shot full of Novocain: puffy and numb. "Me too." She stared at the flowers. "Um. These, these are really pretty. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Ellie said, beaming. "Let me just find somewhere to put this coffee--do you want Miranda's latte? Since I'll have to run out and get her another one anyway."

"No thanks," Andy said.

"Okay," Ellie said, and added, "you look a little pale. You're not getting sick, are you?"

"Um," Andy said.

Right then, Nigel appeared. He grinned at Andy. "Good morning, birthday girl," he said. "How's the morning treating you so far?"

Andy gasped, hid her face in her hands, and started to cry.

There was shocked silence for one moment, and then Ellie asked, distraught, "Andy, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Andy said, and then the sheer absurdity of saying that made her give a sharp, painful, hysterical little laugh. She hiccupped, and Nigel quickly offered her a tissue, his eyes wide. She dashed it over her eyes, and saw little mascara smudges coming away. "Irv Ravitz just fuh-fuh-fired me," she added, deciding that there was no use trying to keep it a secret--not from Ellie and Nigel, anyway. Besides, apparently Andy had to be out of Elias-Clarke forever by tonight, so what was the point in concealing the truth?

The thought made her cry harder, but not too hard to hear Ellie gasp, disbelievingly, "What?"

"H-he fired me--just now--in the elevator--I, I, I--"

And then Nigel's hand, warm and firm, was on her shoulder as he said, "Come on. Get up. We're going to my office. Ellie, watch the phones and keep quiet."

"Okay," Ellie whispered as Andy obeyed the arm tugging her elbow. She covered her nose with another tissue and followed Nigel down the hall, glad that it was still early and not everybody had arrived at work yet.

Nigel got them both into his office and shut the door. "Sit down," he said, and eased Andy on to a high-legged stool. "Don't fall off. Now tell me what happened."

Andy related it all, every word and detail that she could remember, while Nigel's face went through a series of changes: it was incredulous, at first, and then it darkened with anger, and finally, smoothed out in resignation. "It's been coming for a while," he said. "I didn't know it would come like this, though. And on your birthday. Christ, I'm sorry, Andy."

"Not your fault," Andy mumbled, staring down at her hands, lying limp and useless in her lap.

"No," Nigel said. "But I think I can help." And now there was something else in his voice: the unidentifiable tone Andy had heard a few times before, but never understood. She looked back up at him, trying to blink her tears away.

"Well," Nigel said, and seated himself on another stool, facing Andy. He crossed his legs and rested his hands on one knee. "I was going to tell you this over drinks this evening, but why don't we bump it up a few hours, hmm?"

"Bump it up?" Andy asked. "Bump what up?"

"Remember when I asked you about your birthday, back in London?" Nigel said. Andy nodded. "Bet you thought it was a weird question, didn't you?" Andy nodded again. "Well. Call me a sentimental fool. But I knew it was in March, and I figured the timing would work out. I didn't know it would work out this well, though."

"Nigel," Andy said, and her voice wobbled.

He looked contrite and tilted his head to the side. "Sorry. Now's not the time for mysteries, is it? Let me put it plain and simple: I'm offering you a new job."

Andy just stared at him, unable to summon up any other response.

He grinned, and then stifled it, as if realizing it wasn't quite appropriate. "You heard me. That's what I was going to tell you tonight. A new job. Consider it a birthday gift to you, from me, the newly liberated Nigel Kipling."

"Newly liberated?" Andy managed, shaking her head.

"I'm quitting," he said, as casually as if this wasn't the most shocking thing he'd ever said to her. "I'm leaving Runway . It's over, done, hey presto, fini. I'm gone. And I want you to come with me."

"What?" Andy gasped, rubbing her forehead as if that would help. "What are you talking about?"

Nigel sighed. "I wish we were at a bar. This sort of thing always goes over better when you have a drink in your hand. But here it is: for months, I've been in talks with Georg Schumann at Delton Wright. You've met Georg, haven't you? He said so." Andy nodded mutely. "Yes. Well. As it happens, Delton Wright has decided to launch a new magazine. A men's magazine. And they want me at the helm as editor-in-chief." Nigel leaned forward, his eyes intent. "Me, Andy."

"A men's magazine?" Andy asked disbelievingly. "I mean--like--"

"Oh, no," Nigel said quickly, laughing. "No, we're not talking Playboy  or Maxim . I mean like Esquire , or even GQ . Sure, there's a certain amount of pandering involved, but we're going to have some class. Think of it as Runway For Men , only with articles on politics and mountain climbing instead of society parties and interior decorating." He paused, then conceded, "And a few women in bikinis, okay. You've got to. But they're not the main thing. Plenty of other magazines do that."

"Plenty of…" Andy shook her head. "O-oh. Well, that's--and you're--but Nigel…I mean, you're a fashion director, not…"

It was Nigel's turn to shake his head. "I've been Miranda's right-hand man for more years than I care to count," he said. "It was the apprenticeship from hell. I've seen every aspect of every single thing she does, over and over again. And I've helped her do about ninety percent of it without getting the credit. Trust me on this one: I can pull off being an editor-in-chief." He took a deep breath. "And don't let this give you the wrong idea, but my God, I would sell my soul never to have to direct a photo shoot again. Remember what I said about the schooners?"

"But Miranda," Andy whispered, imagining Miranda's face when she got the news.

"If I wait for Miranda to give me the go-ahead, I'll be stuck here forever," Nigel said. "I learned that the hard way. I'm ready to move on, Andy. I'm ready to get out--to live life on my own terms. She's not the only one with vision, you know." He took a deep breath. "I won't lie to you. This is a huge undertaking. It's always risky--starting a magazine from the ground up. Bringing people together, mixing new blood with established talent, trying to figure out what sells as fast as possible. But Georg wants it. And he's making sure that Vincent Wright wants it, too."

Vincent Wright. Andy had met him at the luncheon on Boxing Day. The CEO who was really into Broadway musicals. This had to be a dream.

"We've got full support from Delton Wright, full backing," Nigel said. He leaned forward. "I want you to be a part of it too, Andy. I've seen your work ethic, I've seen how fast you learn, I've seen your writing. Play your cards right, and you've got big things ahead of you. As soon as I knew for sure it was going to come together, I thought of you."

"Me?" Andy croaked.

"I can't promise you the moon or stars," Nigel said. "Not yet. But I need an assistant too. Someone who knows what she's doing, who knows the ropes beyond getting coffee and running menial errands--someone who can really help me get this thing off the ground. Andy." His face was alight with enthusiasm. "I mean it. Inside a year or two, you can be a junior features editor. You know--the articles, the reviews, the 'real stuff' you care about. And you can go up and up from there."

"Go up," Andy said.

"I know it's a lot to take in," Nigel said. "Especially after what Irv just pulled. But Andy--now you've got no reason to say no. Think about it. It's like destiny, if I believed in destiny. Fate. Karma. Kismet!"

"I--" Andy gulped. "I guess--I--Nigel, I really think I should talk to Miranda--"

Nigel sat back with a heavy sigh. "How did I know you'd say that?"

"Nigel, I have to," Andy protested. "I mean, Irv fired me, I have to talk to her about that, at least. It's, it's basic courtesy!"

"I know," Nigel said. He added, "And I know you feel like you owe her something, too. You don't." Andy's jaw dropped. "She owes you. She owes you big time, for everything you've done for her. And it's time for her to pay you back."

"It's not like that," Andy protested, wondering why her stomach was cramping up so much.

"Of course it is," Nigel said. "It always is. Besides." He sat back again and regarded Andy very seriously. "This isn't the last move Irv will make, Andy. He's out for her blood and he's the chairman of the goddamned company. He can beat her. He will beat her, eventually."

"No," Andy whispered.

"Yes," Nigel countered. "Believe me, I don't like it either. I care about Miranda too. But Irv firing you is like sending up a great big firecracker, and everybody will know what it means. Just picture rats fleeing a sinking ship. That's what it's going to be like around here."

"No," Andy repeated, wondering if she was going to cry again. She'd definitely started shaking. Because all the denials in the world wouldn't change the fact that Nigel was only speaking the truth. Irv had somehow found a crack in her defenses, Miranda was under fire, and nobody would want to weather it with her. Except for Andy, who would have stayed by her side no matter what, but who'd already been thrown off the battlefield without being given the choice.

"Keisha's coming too," Nigel said, interrupting Andy's train of thought.

"K-Keisha?"

"Oh, yes. I sounded her out not too long after I lured her from Elle.  I've always liked her. And she likes you. I'm getting together a good team: her and other people, from all over the business. Mostly men, I have to say--but not all." He took a deep breath. "Come on, Six. You owe me." He pointed his index finger at her nose. "For Modernity.  No reason not to pay me back, not now."

"I know," Andy whispered. "I…it's just a lot to, to…"

"To take in, I know," Nigel said. "Look. I don't want to kick you while you're down. This was supposed to be an exciting opportunity, not something you feel forced into because you don't have a job anymore." He grimaced.

"Nigel, I appreciate it," Andy said at once, because now she was starting to come out of her daze, and she knew she had to make that clear. "I do. Whatever happens. Really."

"Tell me you'll think about it, and answer me soon," Nigel said. "Within the next day or two. I need to know."

Andy relaxed. A day or two. That would give her time to talk to Miranda. Time to think. "I promise," she said.

His eyes twinkled. "I hope you say yes. I've started to like having you around. Come on. You and me, kid. Let's blow this popsicle stand."

Andy managed a weak smile. "Well--I--"

Suddenly, the door to Nigel's office slammed open with such force that both Nigel and Andy jumped; Andy, her nerves run ragged, actually cried out. And she felt no calmer when she saw Miranda Priestly barreling into the room, still wearing her coat and clutching her bag, her face tight and glowing with a fury Andy had never seen before. It was terrifying, and out of the corner of her eye, Andy saw Nigel cringe a little. But Miranda didn't even seem to notice him. Her gaze was so fierce that Andy wondered if it might not actually bore all the way through her head and into the wall behind.

"You're, um, early," Andy said uselessly. She wiped her eyes again with the back of her hand and sniffled. "Is, is Cassidy oka--"

Breathing quickly, Miranda said, "Eleanor has just told me, though I am sure she must be mistaken, that you said Irv Ravitz fired you this morning. There was something about an elevator."

Andy swallowed, shivered, and nodded.

Miranda took a deep breath, and held her shoulders up very, very straight, quivering like she was about to explode on the spot.

"Miranda," Andy whispered, with no idea of what she'd say next. She found herself wringing her hands.

"Don't worry," Miranda said, sounding as if she was strangling on something. Andy felt a tug deep in her gut, deep in her heart, and suddenly wanted more than anything to jump off the stool and run to Miranda and wrap her arms around her, though who would be comforting whom? She wasn't sure. "Don't worry," Miranda repeated. "I'll take care of it. I'll--he can't do this. I won't let him. You're not going anywhere."

"Don't be so sure," Nigel said.

Andy whipped her head around to stare at him in horror. "Nigel," she gasped because, seriously, oh shit, oh no--

Miranda shook herself, as if she'd just noticed Nigel was in the room. "What are you talking about?"

"Nigel!" Andy repeated, on the verge of panicking.

"It's okay," Nigel said, never breaking eye contact with Miranda. "Andy, will you please leave? I need to talk to Miranda alone."

"No--Nigel, wait, please--let me talk to her first--"

"Miranda," Nigel said, "I really must insist. Trust me. We need to talk right away."

"Miranda--" Andy began.

"Andrea, please leave," Miranda said, and Andy froze. Now Miranda was looking at Nigel with that same deadly focus. As if she'd already figured out what he was going to say. Maybe she had. "I'll speak to you later."

And…that was that. There was no arguing with Miranda when she used that tone of voice. Andy slunk out of Nigel's office, feeling as pathetic and inconsequential as she had on her first day at work. More pathetic. At least she'd had a job then.

"Andy?" Ellie whispered, when Andy returned to their desks. The phone rang, and she jumped to answer it. "M-Miranda Priestly's office…"

Ellie was going to be the only one doing this after today, Andy realized as she sat down heavily in her chair. Eleanor Lake, Miranda 's only assistant. Would Irv even let Miranda hire a second person? Would he degrade Miranda as much as possible in the name of cutting costs, before moving in for the kill? Of course he would. Why shouldn't he?

Andy vowed that the next time she saw Irv Ravitz, she was going to make a crack about his height. And then maybe his weight. And then maybe his glasses. And possibly even his penis size. Anything that would make him feel as angry and humiliated as she felt right now. Fuck John Cheever, anyway. She grabbed her purse and headed for the ladies' room, where she did her best to fix her ruined makeup.

When she returned, she was just in time to hear Ellie say, "Yes, thank you, I'll tell her you called," and then the click of the phone going back into the receiver. "Andy?" she said again.

Andy sighed as she headed over to Ellie's desk, feeling how much her shoes pinched. "All right, Ellie. Irv says I have to be out of here by the end of the business day, and I can't come back."

Ellie's eyes widened with horror as she jumped to her feet. "What? But--but what about two weeks' notice, or--"

"That doesn't apply when you're firing people," Andy said. "At least it doesn't have to. At least when you're Irv Ravitz. Today is officially my last day." She raised a trembling hand to her forehead and pushed her bangs out of her face before she realized that her hands were, in fact, trembling. She tried to stop them. She couldn't, quite.

"Oh, no," Ellie gasped. "Then…then…"

"So you have to do all this yourself," Andy confirmed. "I'm sorry, Ellie. I don't even know if Irv will let Miranda hire a new second assistant." Ellie went pale. "Listen, I'll do my best," Andy said, and swallowed. "If you can handle the phones, I'll throw together a couple of lists for you--stuff you need to know--like phone numbers, the people you should always try to speak to, and her favorite restaurants and florists and stuff--"

"Andy…"

"--and of course, you know, even when I'm gone you can always call me if you have questions--you can--"

"Andy," Ellie said, and to Andy's great surprise, slipped one arm around her shoulders in a half-hug. She didn't look panicky, not right now--the opposite, in fact, like she was the one trying to calm Andy down. "It's okay. We'll work it out. It's okay, we'll manage." She patted Andy's shoulder.

No you won't , Andy wanted to say, nobody can do what I do, I'm indispensable.  But she wasn't. Nobody was.

Perhaps even Ellie could figure out what she was thinking, because she added quickly, "But I will call you, I mean, I'll have to. If you don't mind. There's still so much I don't know yet--"

"Right," Andy said, and had to restrain herself from rubbing her eyes, because she'd just reapplied all her mascara and she wasn't about to do it again five minutes later.

"But…" Ellie lowered her voice and sounded almost apologetic. "But what'll you do now?"

"I don't know," Andy said, thinking about Nigel's job offer, thinking about Miranda's furious insistence that Andy could stay on, somehow, even when she had to know that wouldn't work. "I don't know yet."

"Andrea."

Ellie immediately jerked her hand from Andy's shoulders, and Andy turned to see Miranda heading towards them. Her face was pale, but calm, and Andy couldn't read any particular emotion in her eyes anymore.

"Go home," she said to Andy, her voice flat.

Andy stared at her. "What?"

"I said go home." Miranda slipped out of her coat and tossed it, with her bag, on Ellie's desk. Ellie gasped, and scrambled over to the closet to put them away. Miranda took the opportunity to murmur, "Just…please, it's for the best, before word spreads. I'll tell Eleanor to keep her mouth shut, and I'll call you as soon as I can. I have to speak with Nigel some more, anyway."

"Oh," Andy whispered. "Okay."

For just a moment, regret and anger flared in Miranda's eyes again. But then Ellie hurried back to her desk, and Miranda jerked her head towards the door. "Well? Go on then."

"Yes," Andy said, and managed a smile for Ellie as she headed to the closet to fetch her own coat and bag, maybe--probably--for the last time. "Bye, Ellie. Feel free to give me a call."

Ellie's lip wobbled, and Andy hoped desperately that she wouldn't start crying in front of Miranda, who looked as if she was about five seconds away from taking out her rage on the nearest available object. Ellie managed a weak little wave, and then Andy headed for the elevators, glad when she didn't run into anybody who seemed to know what had happened. Glad when she didn't run into Nigel.

The subway ride felt even worse, and longer, this time. Andy felt antsy, impatient, even though she didn't know what exactly she was waiting for: just that she was going to go home, change into her pajamas, and eat something fattening while she waited for Miranda to call. It was her birthday, right? Might as well celebrate. Hell, she could even open up a bottle of wine. Who cared that it was just past nine in the morning? She'd done it before, hadn't she, in the service of Runway ? Good thing Irv didn't know about that, at least.

No silk pajamas today, Andy thought, as she doffed her Sonia Rykiel and threw on a tank top, a sweatshirt, and a pair of cotton pants. Comfy clothing. And that was another thing. She was going to have to return almost all of her clothing to the Closet--Nigel had given it to her on loan, not to keep. Plus her Sidekick. She couldn't exactly keep using the company phone plan. Or the Starbucks card. Or any of the other perks she'd become accustomed to without even noticing.

Unless Miranda somehow managed to get Andy her job back. But how could she? Nigel was right: this was Irv's opening sally, it had to be, and he wouldn't have done it if he didn't feel confident he could pull it off. Oh, he'd probably give Andy her job back, all right--if Miranda sacrificed her pride and asked him nicely. Begged him. Andy would rather jump from the roof of Elias-Clarke than let that happen, but that was okay, because she was pretty sure Miranda would too.

Besides…maybe it was for the best. Andy swallowed hard. Dipping into company ink, and all that. Maybe it was more…moral to be with Miranda only as a lover, instead of an assistant. A lowly assistant-cum-chess pawn. Maybe it might put them on something closer to equal footing--except that, since they'd started up together, Andy had never really felt on unequal footing at all. She probably should have. But she hadn't. It took something like this to show her how powerless she'd been all along, how little she mattered in the grand scheme of things.

What would happen to Miranda if she lost Runway  now? What would she do? She wouldn't want to sit around at home and watch the baby all day. That wasn't who she was. She had to have challenges, big ones, high-profile ones that, when she took them on, made people look at her with respect. Andy understood that need. She felt the same way. She always had.

"I see a great deal of myself in you."

Andy laughed hysterically, for far too long, and then poured herself an oversized glass of wine.

 


 

When she'd finished the glass, she flopped down on her sofa and turned on the TV, determined to revel in the freedom to be ratty and gross and lazy. During her last period of unemployment, when she'd been frantically searching around at newspapers as she and Nate did their best to live on a sous-chef's salary, she'd never let herself laze around. Job letters and phone calls every day, reading every newspaper she could get her hands on in the hopes that somebody would need a kid fresh out of college, even applying to be an unpaid intern at the Herald-Sun  once, in a moment of desperation. (Nate had nearly taken her head off for that one.) And then Cherie at Elias-Clarke had called and changed her life forever.

One year ago today, Miranda had hired her. She'd worked as Miranda's assistant for exactly one year. "You work a year for her, and you can get a job at any magazine you want," Emily had said. Except that Andy only wanted the job she'd just lost.

So she was going to sit around and be miserable for a while. No reading papers today, no making phone calls. If need be, she had another job lined up, and all she had to do was tell Nigel yes.

She tried to tell herself that he was right, that she should be happy about her new opportunity. It did sound exciting. A chance to be part of something new, to get in on the ground floor and see if the risks paid off. Sure, she'd never envisioned writing features on mountain-climbing at Runway For Men , or whatever it was going to be called. But that didn't have to be a bad thing. Surprises could be fun.

Yeah, Andy thought, trying to keep her mind on Animal Planet instead of bursting into tears again. She just lived for life's little surprises.

She watched TV until noon, got up, realized she had nothing in the fridge, and ordered Thai. It was one o'clock by the time she finished lunch, and she decided that a nap was immediately in order, because being unconscious was definitely preferable to the alternative right now. She conked out on the couch with a half-empty container of pad thai on the coffee table, and reruns of The O.C.  playing on the television and intruding into her dreams. Summer kept asking Andy if she should get back together with Seth or not, and Andy kept saying, "Who cares, I'm gay now," but Summer wouldn't listen and eventually turned into a chair.

She woke up to the insistent ringing of her phone, which she'd left in her bag, which she'd left on the kitchen counter. She banged her shin on the coffee table trying to get to it, but had managed to stop cursing by the time she answered the phone. It was Miranda. "Hello?"

"Are you at home?"

"Well, yeah." Where Miranda had told her to be.

"Do you have plans tonight?"

Was Miranda making fun of her? "No," Andy said incredulously.

"Fine. I'll stop by your place after work."

"You'll--" Andy's eyes bugged out. She was already looking aghast at the wreck of her apartment. It had been ages since she'd cleaned. "You're coming here?"

"Isn't that what I said?" Miranda said, sounding irritable. "It'll be easiest if I drop by after work. And we have a lot to discuss."

We have a lot to discuss.  It was uncomfortably close to We need to talk.  Ominous. Andy shuddered. "Did you--I mean, did Nigel--"

"Yes," Miranda said shortly. "We'll talk about it later. Look for me around eight-thirty--I've promised the girls I'll be home for supper tonight."

"Oh," Andy said. "O-okay. I'll see you…call me if…"

"I will," Miranda said, and hung up. Andy stared at her apartment again, at the shelves that badly needed dusting, at the worn carpets begging for the touch of a vacuum, at the tatty sofa and cheap table and chairs. She thought of the grime in the bathroom. Great. She'd always wanted to spend her birthday cleaning house. This was the worst day ever.

It was three-thirty now, though, so she had a decent lead time. Andy sighed, decided to tackle the living room first, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work.

It actually wasn't too bad, she realized, midway through scouring the tub. Cleaning kept her mind off other things, like, say, the future. Or maybe that was just the bleach killing her brain cells. It was hard to be sure. Either way, by the time seven rolled around, Andy's apartment was cleaner than it had been in months.

Then she sighed, and did what she'd been dreading: packing up her Runway  clothes. Each item had its own dustbag or covering, of course, which she had religiously used when she wasn't wearing something. (Once she'd caught Nate using a folded-up Isabella Fiore dustbag as a makeshift oven mitt. It had been one of their more memorable arguments.) The shoeboxes and garment bags stacked up on the bed until Andy was astonished by two things: one, how much stuff she'd borrowed over the course of a year, and two, how she'd managed to cram it all into her closet.

It sucked. Everything sucked. It was like she was packing a whole year of her life away. Well, she was, wasn't she? Packing away everything she'd worked for, changed for, sacrificed for, given up friends for--and for what? In the end, it hadn't even been her choice to leave Runway  and take a different path. She was just like Emily, who'd been kicked on to "better" things without her own say-so, only this was about ten times more humiliating and Emily would probably be really happy if and when she heard the news.

Andy was leaving Runway  now, and her place at Miranda's side, and all the duties she'd taken on and had grown to cherish: duties that made her want to get up in the morning and see what each new day would bring, for love's sake. Only now they weren't her duties anymore. All that was gone. All that was ruined.

Seven-forty. She had no appetite to finish the pad thai, and tossed it into the garbage. Then she settled in to wait, brooding.

Miranda didn't disappoint. She called Andy at ten after eight to confirm that she was coming, and arrived at eight-forty-five on the dot. Andy decided later that the moment Miranda Priestly walked into her apartment and looked around had been one of the most surreal of her life. But Miranda didn't immediately sneer, roll her eyes, or turn around and walk out, so Andy supposed it couldn't be that bad.

Miranda looked exhausted and unhappy. She'd probably had a worse day than Andy, who'd at least been able to sit on her ass and watch TV for a few hours, when all was said and done. She shut the door behind herself, and she and Andy silently regarded each other for a long moment.

"Happy Birthday to me," Andy said brightly.

A bitter smile twisted Miranda's mouth, and Andy wished she hadn't made such a dumb joke at a time like this. "Indeed," she said, and inclined her head towards the couch. "Let's sit."

"Oh, sure," Andy said, also regretting her poor manners. It had just been so long since she'd had company. "You, um, want something to drink?"

"No," Miranda said, and seated herself on one end of the sofa. Andy took the other, tucking one knee under herself so she could face Miranda directly. Miranda, however, kept both feet firmly on the floor, and appeared fascinated by her lap.

"Take the job," she said after a moment, and with what appeared to be some difficulty.

Andy swallowed. "Miranda…"

"I said take it," Miranda said sharply. "Nigel is correct. It's an excellent opportunity for you--one that is not likely to pass your way again. You'd be a fool not to take it, even if Irv hadn't forced our hands."

"So, I guess that's a 'no' on me coming back to Runway , huh?" Andy said, and yet again wished that she'd kept her big mouth shut. "I mean…"

"Yes," Miranda said. "It is a 'no.'"

"I'm sorry," Andy mumbled.

Miranda glared at her. "You're sorry? You are sorry? Out of all the people who should be sorry--"  She spat out the final word, and then trailed off, turning to gaze off into the distance.

Andy had no idea what to say. None. Even now.

"I should have seen it coming," Miranda said. "Nigel. I should have seen it. You're the one who told me…" She shook her head.

"You've been worrying about other stuff," Andy said feebly.

"That I have," Miranda said. She looked back at Andy. "Not the day either of us pictured, is it?"

Andy laughed shakily, and decided she'd had enough of the 'decorous distance' thing. She scooted in closer on the couch, until her knee bumped Miranda's thigh. "I was thinking earlier about how much I love surprises," she said.

"It must have been going on in January," Miranda said, as if Andy hadn't spoken. "When we had lunch with Vincent and Georg and Helga. They would have known. It would have been in the works." She clenched her hands. "And of course they said not a word to me. Why would they have? Just because Nigel--" She nearly choked on the last word.

"Do you not want me to work for him?" Andy asked quietly. "Do you want to cut your ties with him?" She wondered what she'd do if Miranda said yes.

But luckily, Miranda said, "No. Well, I mean, I want to, but it wouldn't be wise. I doubt very much that he's outlived his usefulness just yet." The words sent a chill down Andy's spine, but Miranda kept talking. "As he proved today. At least he's got a place for you. He knows your worth. Take the job," she repeated. "He's right--it's time I did something for you."

Andy sat up very straight and glared. "He said that?"

"He said many things," Miranda said, and she looked more tired than ever. "He said many things that he has undoubtedly been waiting to say for a long time."

"Oh, God, Miranda," Andy said.

Miranda waved her hand. "I can handle it, Andrea. I assure you that I'm still quite able to look at myself in the mirror, no matter what Nigel Kipling says." Andy managed a smile. "And as I said, he's right. I've been wanting to do something for you for a while." She glared at Andy. "Not that you make it easy."

"That's not why I'm with you," Andy said.

"Exactly," Miranda said, and rolled her eyes. "Well. This isn't what I ever imagined, but it'll do as a stop-gap measure."

"A what?" Andy blinked. "What kind of gap are we stopping?"

To Andy's astonishment, Miranda smiled. A sly, secretive smile. She reached up and touched Andy's cheek. "I'm up to something," she said.

"You?" Andy said, widening her eyes. "I don't believe it."

Miranda lowered her hand back into her lap, but leaned forward slightly, her eyes gleaming. "Don't worry," she said softly. "I'm not beaten, Andrea. I never am. I can promise you that things will improve soon." She cupped Andy's chin. "For both of us."

After that, Andy had no choice but to lean in and kiss her, so she did. It was light and surprisingly chaste; after the day she'd had, she really wasn't in the mood for sex, and besides--

"Isn't Roy waiting?" she whispered when they parted.

"Yes," Miranda said. "I told him to find somewhere to be until I called him."

"Would he mind carrying that to Runway  for me, after he drops you off? Or tomorrow morning. I'll help him carry it down to the car," Andy said, gesturing to the piles of clothing and shoes on her bed, and knowing it wouldn't matter a bit if Roy minded at all.

Miranda glanced over, and her eyes widened. The stack was so high that it was actually visible from the sofa. "Good grief," she said.

"I didn't know it was adding up like that," Andy said sheepishly.

"Neither did I," Miranda said. "I hope you still have the boots."

"Yeah," Andy admitted. "I was going to return them--"

"At your peril," Miranda said flatly. "But Roy can take the rest. He was very upset to find out what Irv had done to you, by the way."

"Roy's a good guy," Andy said. "I'm glad you didn't fire him. Hey, that is something you did for me," she added with a smile.

"Is that what you think?" Miranda said, looking surprised. "Don't be silly. If I'd fired him, you would have had no reason not to date him."

Andy's mouth fell open.

"So, call Nigel and take the job," Miranda said. "And see if you can keep Sunday night free after all. The girls are counting on you."

Andy wasn't about to let her get away with it. "Roy," she said. "That was back in January, and you said you didn't--oh, you knew back then, you totally knew--"

"I wonder what kind of cake they'll decide on," Miranda said thoughtfully. She tapped her lips. "Now that you're going to be working at some men's thing, you won't have to watch your figure quite as much, but you should still be careful."

"Uh huh," Andy said, crossing her arms and relieved at the departure from seriousness, glad to embrace a moment that wasn't fraught and horrible. "Sure. Whatever. If I decide to get fat, you can't stop me anymore, can you?"

Miranda looked at Andy down the impressive length of her nose. "You're awfully cocky now that you're gainfully employed again, or about to be," she said.

"Yeah, well," Andy said, "you know, if anything happens to Runway --if, you know, Irv--"

"Oh, Irv won't--"

Andy took Miranda's hand in hers and continued earnestly, "--then I want you to know you can rely on me. We might have to pinch a few pennies to get by--"

Miranda's unwilling snort of laughter was the sweetest sound Andy had heard all day.

 


 

At nine-thirty, just a few minutes after Miranda and Roy had gone, Andy's parents called to wish her a happy birthday and ask her how her day had been. To her horror, she started crying yet again. She felt like a faucet.

"You got fired?" her mother said in disbelief. "She fired you? She fired you?"

"No!" Andy said at once, and gulped back her tears. "No, Mom, she didn't. It was the company chairman. He's mad at Miranda and wanted to take a cheap shot at her." She wiped her eyes and laughed bitterly. "I got personally canned by the guy at the top. I guess it was kind of an honor."

"Oh, sweetheart," her dad said. "Just when you were doing well. And you've seemed so happy lately."

"Yeah." Andy closed her eyes. "I have been. I've been really happy. It's been great."

"I'm so sorry, honey. And on your birthday, I can't believe… Do you have anything, any leads on--"

"Oh, I've already got a new job," Andy said quickly. "With Nigel."

"Nigel? The fashion director?"

The whole story took a long time, and by the end of it, Andy was exhausted all over again, especially because she had to keep pausing to reassure her parents and make them feel better, instead of it being the other way around.

"Well, at least you've got something lined up. Sounds like it could be exciting," her dad finally said, trying to sound bright and cheerful.

"Yeah," Andy said, trying in her turn to sound duly excited.

"I'm so sorry you got caught in the middle like this," her mother said, not trying to sound anything but angry. "I'm sorry that man is making you pay for her mistakes."

Andy's eyes widened. Crap. "Mom, no," she said. "It's not Miranda's fault. Irv was the one who decided to fire me, she's not responsible for that. I told you she's been nice to me."

"Well, apparently she hasn't behaved as she ought," her mother said, "and you're paying the price for that."

"Your mother's right, in a way," her dad said.

"In a way. Oh, well, thank you, Richard."

"I'm just saying--Andy, sometimes it's more dangerous than you'd think, sticking around such a difficult personality, putting all your eggs in her basket. It's easy to get caught in those kinds of power struggles when you don't have much power yourself. I'm sorry it happened to you."

"Yeah, me too," Andy said, and hid her eyes in one hand. "I'm going to miss Runway ." That wasn't even the half of it. "Can you believe it? After all that complaining I did…"

"Well," her mother said, and now she did sound happier, "maybe you'll actually have some free time."

"I…maybe," Andy said, not very sure of that at all. "I mean, starting a whole new magazine--there's bound to be lots of--"

"And it's a men's magazine, didn't you say?" her mother said.

"Helena," her dad said firmly.

"What? 'Helena' what? All I'm saying is--"

"Let's not push--"

"--wouldn't it be wonderful if you could meet a nice young man there? Or anywhere, really--"

"Helena," her dad repeated. "Let's not…although of course we'd be very happy for you, sweetheart."

Andy clenched her jaw to keep from screaming.

 


 

Andy called Nigel the next morning and accepted his offer. "Oh, thank God," he said. "I faced down Medusa yesterday for you, and I'd hate to think it was for nothing."

Andy winced, wanting to stand up for Miranda, but also wanting to know what had happened. "Was she awful?"

"Not as much as I'd expected," Nigel admitted. "She was hurt. And angry. Okay, enraged. But she wanted what was best for you, even as she obviously yearned to break my neck." He paused. "She'll miss you, Andy. Definitely more than she'll miss me, after what I pulled."

"She'll miss you, too," Andy said, deciding not to add that she and Miranda would continue to see plenty of each other anyway. Or…no, of course they would. Wouldn’t they? "That's why she's so angry at you," she added.

"Danke, Sigmund," Nigel said without venom. "It's a duck-and-cover day around here, I'll tell you that. We haven't gone within ten feet of each other. I gave her two weeks' notice. She said she only wanted one."

"Yikes," Andy said, wincing again.

"Next week can't come soon enough," Nigel said. "I can't wait to get started." His voice didn't exactly tremble with excitement, but it came close. Andy grinned, glad to focus on Nigel's elation instead of her own gloom. "And you don't have to wait. You're not officially on my payroll yet, but I've got a few things I'd like you to get started on, if you don't mind."

"Sure, hold on," Andy said, and reached for her notepad. After a year of working for Miranda, she'd almost arrived at the point where she got panicky if it wasn't within arm's reach. "Okay, go ahead."

"They're setting up the offices on the tenth floor of Delton Wright. I've called security and told them to have a pass waiting for you, so you should be able to go straight up. You can get started setting up your space, arranging everything like you want it. Just get familiar with the place, shake a few hands if anybody's around, introduce yourself--you know, that kind of thing."

"Gotcha," Andy said, deciding that she hadn't needed her notepad after all. "Anything else, boss?"

"I like the sound of that," Nigel sighed.

"You were always my boss," Andy pointed out. "Sort of."

"You know what I mean. Whoops--I have a meeting. Thank God she won't be there. I'll call you later." Then he hung up without saying goodbye. He'd imprinted that much from Miranda, at least. Andy rolled her eyes, wondering how much Nigel was going to emulate Miranda without even realizing it. And if he'd be able to pull it off.

During her subway ride, Andy tried not to think about how she'd been driven to and from work in a Mercedes every day until yesterday. Or how, after getting out of the car, she and Miranda had talked in the elevator--talked with Miranda! In an elevator!--as they took advantage of a few moments of privacy at the start of a busy day.

What would Miranda be doing right now? Working at her desk, most likely, since she didn't have anything scheduled this morning. Andy knew her schedule for the rest of the week. It was strange and upsetting to realize that in a few days, though, she'd have no reason to know what Miranda would be up to at any given time, no connection at all to what was happening at Runway.

Andy was halfway to Delton Wright on the subway when her phone rang again. Ellie. Hoping nothing catastrophic had happened, but glad of the distraction too, Andy answered at once. "Hello, Ellie?"

"Andy, I've been thinking," Ellie babbled, "if I use my lunch break and go downstairs to talk to Irv, maybe I can ask him really nicely, and maybe he'll hire you back."

Uh-oh. "What's going on down there?"

"She's horrible!" Ellie said. "She keeps starting to tell you to do things, and then she remembers you're not there, and she always gives me this look like it's my fault--"

"Ellie--"

"--and I know I can't do what you do, Andy, I never could, but I'm trying and she doesn't even--"

"Ellie…"

"--care, she hates me now when I didn't even do anything, and Andy, she is crazy  today, I've never seen anybody be this mean in my whole life--"

"Ellie!" Andy shouted, and everybody in the subway car turned to glare at her. She ignored them as she continued, "Where are you right now?"

"At my desk. Under my desk," Ellie amended.

"Under it?"

"She's gone, so she doesn't know I'm talking to you."

"Why are you under your desk?"

"It just feels safer down here," Ellie said.

"Ellie, I am not talking to you until you get up and sit in your chair," Andy said sternly. "Pull yourself together."

"Okay," Ellie whimpered. After a moment she said, "I'm sitting down now."

"Think about…" Andy floundered, and then had an idea. "Think about Miranda like a physics problem."

"How?" Ellie sounded doubtful.

"You know," Andy said, bluffing because she'd never taken a physics course in her life. She thought it was supposed to be kind of like math. "You figure out what the, um, equation is missing, and you add it. Or whatever. Approach her like you'd approach, uh--algebra?"

"Algebra," Ellie said thoughtfully. "Actually, that was never my favorite."

Andy rolled her eyes. "Well, just--"

"Besides, I don't think Miranda is a rational number."

"You might be on to something there," Andy acknowledged.

"Chaos theory, maybe," Ellie said. She giggled. "We can call Miranda a strange attractor, how about that?"

"Absolutely," Andy said, closing her eyes briefly. "So--"

"It's so nice to make geeky jokes again! I really miss that from Physics Club in college. Didn't you just love Physics Club?"

"Ellie! Focus!"

"Sorry," Ellie said meekly.

"Now, what does Miranda want you to do that you feel like you can't?"

"Everything at once," Ellie said. "I mean, I can do all the things she wants, just not at the exact same time, and as fast as she wants them. How did you always do that?"

"I knew people who helped me," Andy said. "People at Starbucks, maitre d's at restaurants, assistants at other magazines, junior people for all the designers. Get to know everybody at the bottom, just like us. I'll email you a list."

"Thanks so much, Andy," Ellie said. Then, "Oh! Here she comes. I have to go."

"Don't go back under the desk."

"I won't. Thanks, Andy. Bye!"

It might, Andy acknowledged to herself, have been a bad idea to give Ellie carte blanche to call her when she needed help. But she hated the idea of leaving Ellie to Miranda's tender mercies.

Or maybe it was the other way around. She grimaced, thinking of Miranda depending on Ellie to anticipate her every need and wish, spoken or otherwise. How much could a list really help Ellie? Taking care of Miranda involved more than lists. Sometime in the last few months--no, even before Paris--Andy had developed a sixth sense when it came to anticipating what Miranda was going to need, want, or do. Well…most of the time. There were, Andy thought, notable exceptions. Like London, where Miranda had walloped her. Both times.

God! Andy hated that she wasn't at Runway  now and doing what she did best. Hated that she was not looking after Miranda in a way that Ellie couldn't. Hated  it. She'd gotten used to being with Miranda all day, nearly every day, and now she…wasn't. And she wouldn't be again, not like that. The thought hurt with nearly physical pain. Who the hell did Irv Ravitz think he was, anyway?

Still, maybe it was better this way. Healthier. Less codependent. That's what the experts would tell her, anyhow.

Andy decided that all experts, everywhere, could go to hell. And she was definitely keeping Sunday night free.

The Delton Wright offices were every bit as lavish as the offices at Elias-Clarke: same marbled floors, same gleaming elevators. Different colors, at least. Andy showed her driver's license at the security desk, and received her pass in due order.

"The Distinguish  offices are on floor ten," the guard said, looking bored.

Distinguish . Andy blinked, realizing that Nigel hadn't even told her what the magazine's title was yet. Had he chosen it himself? Probably not. She didn't think even editors-in-chief got to make that kind of call. Oh well, could've been worse. Could've been Stuff.

As she'd expected, the office was in chaos: a few walls were being torn down to create more open space, while elsewhere, partitions were being raised. But Nigel's office was ready, and Andy found that without much trouble. It was smaller than Miranda's, but had large windows and a great view. Her desk--at least, she assumed it was hers--sat in the small anteroom outside. Not too bad. This part of the office had hunter-green walls, and a few abstract art prints and paintings had already been hung. Tasteful without being old-fashioned. But Andy realized that she missed the pale Runway  offices already, the illusion of light and space that the cream walls and glass panels had created.

But maybe that would've been too girly. And Nigel was obviously intent on carving out his own place, on distancing himself from Miranda and her fiefdom. Good luck, really, Andy thought.

"Hey, there! You must be Andy Sachs."

Andy turned to see a tall, confident -looking man in an argyle sweater striding towards her, hand extended. He looked to be a few years older than her--early thirties, maybe. "I'm Brad Chesterton."

Okay, so yet again she was going to be surrounded by people with fake names. Andy smiled and shook his hand. "Hi."

"I'm senior manager of marketing." Brad didn't let go of her hand. Oh, crap. "I've heard a lot about you from Nigel. Looking forward to working with you."

Well, if he was in marketing, hopefully Andy wouldn't have to work with him too much at all, since Nigel seemed to want to groom her for features--a plan she was completely on board with. "Thanks," Andy said, and tugged her hand free, trying not to appear rude. "Likewise."

"So, you're setting up? Want a hand?" Brad looked her up and down, and Andy regretted wearing just a sweater and jeans. After last night, her wardrobe had been drastically reduced. She'd scored some lovely couture in London, but it didn't exactly make up a practical working wardrobe; for that, she was left with her dowdy old pre-Runway  clothes that didn't even fit her anymore, and she wished desperately for more sophisticated gear. Sure, it would have looked ridiculous to walk into a construction site in a suit with high heels when she wasn't even on the payroll yet, but at least she wouldn't have felt like a little kid.

"No, I think I can manage, thanks," she said, already feeling depressed. She'd gotten spoiled in more ways than one at Runway , it seemed. Smarmy, smug guys like this never survived long around Miranda.

But Miranda had been right about one thing: Andy was good with men. And she'd dealt with her fair share of guys with a superiority complex at The Daily Northwestern,  too. Newspapers were nothing if not a boys' club. She could handle Brad Chesterton. Looked like she'd have to.

"So," Andy said, drawing herself up straight and tilting her head just slightly to the side. "Marketing director, huh? Or--I'm sorry--senior manager, is there a difference?"

Brad's face fell a little, but he kept smiling. "Well, uh, a slight one. You know, I'm working my way up. Just like you."

"That's how it goes," Andy said sweetly. "But it's pretty cool, getting in on the ground floor." Memory stirred; a whisper of Miranda's voice drifted through her head, and she said, "Really an exciting enterprise."

"Definitely," Brad said, gratefully leaping onto firmer ground. "I came here from Maxim , did you know that? Talk about a different paradigm." He grinned. "No posters of bikini babes everywhere, for one thing."

"Yeah, well," Andy said, "I think I prefer it this way, myself." She gave Brad a knowing smile: I know what you're up to, and it's not working. He very nearly winced. "I think we'll all have a lot of adjustments to make. I'm from Runway . That's really different, too."

"Yeah." Brad's eyes lit up with renewed interest. "You were Miranda Priestly's personal assistant, right? God, what was that even like? I've heard she's terrifying."

"She is," Andy said with a rueful smile, "but it's not that bad. You get used to it. And I learned a lot." About all kinds of things. She tried not to blush, and then tried not to miss Miranda so much in that moment that her stomach actually hurt.

"I bet," Brad said. "You know, we should get together sometime. Share war stories. Over drinks or something."

Seriously? "I imagine things'll be kind of crazy around here at first," Andy said. "Maybe we can grab lunch sometime, if the cafeteria's as good as the one at Elias-Clarke."

His smile only wavered a little as he said, "Right. Yeah. Sounds like a da--" His eyes widened. "Plan. Sounds like a plan."

"Sure does," Andy said, clapped her palms, and rubbed them together. "Well! Looks like I'd better get started setting up. It was nice to meet you, Brad."

"Likewise," he said. "I'll, um, see you around." He gave her a weak little wave, and left. Andy watched him go with relief.

It could have been worse, she decided as she went to take a look at her desk, at the computer that hadn't been hooked up yet, at the phone with a dangling cord. She just hoped it didn't get worse. She also hoped that she could choose the artwork that would inevitably get put by her desk, since she'd be the one looking at it all the time, and she wasn't too fond of Klee and Miró and the other guys dotting the walls.

She didn't take too long. There wasn't a lot to do or see, and she was leery of running into Brad again. Instead, she stopped by Human Resources, pleased to find that Nigel had already faxed in the appropriate paperwork--he really did want her on board--and signed a few forms, got her picture taken, and had a permanent security pass to replace her temporary one. The HR guy, a nice man named Fred, was able to reassure Andy that Information Services would provide her with a company phone within the next day or so. She'd been given her Sidekick on her very first day at Elias-Clarke. Made sense, if your whole job centered on doing whatever your boss wanted you to do at any given moment of any given day.

She left Delton Wright around one o'clock, grabbed a sandwich at a nearby deli, and headed off to shop. She couldn't afford Versace, but she still had to look like a million bucks--even if it wasn't a woman's fashion magazine, it was still a hoity-toity lifestyle rag. If she scoured the secondhand stores, or Filene's, she might be able to find a few things. Canal Street knockoffs were iffier. Nigel would spot them a mile away, and so would everybody else, probably. She'd never hear the end of it. And she couldn't exactly wear the Chanel boots, either. Brad would drool and Miranda would kill her.

Shopping served as a good distraction from her many conflicting feelings, and three hours later, she'd scored a last-season Proenza Schouler wool skirt, a used pair of black Salvatore Ferragamo pumps (in dire need of a shine, but wearable), and a Pucci scarf with a nearly-invisible stain on it when Ellie called again. Andy sighed heavily. Well, she'd asked for it, after all. "Hi, Ellie," she said. "What's up?"

"Hi, Andy, I'm sorry to bother you, but I think it's possible that I maybe accidentally deleted your address book," Ellie said hesitantly.

Andy closed her eyes and prayed for strength. "I have a backup on my laptop," she said. At least that particular gadget was hers. "I'll email it to you when I get home."

"Oh, thank you," Ellie said. "I'm sorry."

"No problem. Hey, Ellie?" Andy said, trying to be as tactful as possible as she crossed the street. "Do you think maybe you could limit the calls to once a day? That way you can, you know, accumulate your questions and ask me about them all at once."

"Oh," Ellie said in such a small voice that Andy immediately felt evil. "Okay."

"I mean, unless there's an emergency," Andy said quickly. "Losing the address book qualifies."

"Oh," Ellie said again, but this time she sounded relieved. "Thanks, Andy, I really don't know what I'd do if--eep!"

"What's wrong?" Andy said, but she heard Miranda's cold voice speaking in the background, which answered that question.

"N-nothing, M-m-m-m-m--" After about ten tries, Ellie managed, "--Miranda. I was just c-calling Andy because, um, because--"

"Ellie," Andy began, stepping out of the flow of foot traffic and standing near a shop window. But then there was a muffled, thumping sound, and Miranda's voice said, "Andrea?"

"Hi, Miranda," Andy said, desperately wishing that she was hearing Miranda's voice under different circumstances. "Uh…I was just helping Ellie with…" She gave up. "How's it going today?"

"How do you think?" Miranda snapped. "In the entire time you were here, did you bequeath anything useful to Eleanor? Anything at all?"

Andy took a deep breath. "Okay," she began.

"Did I hear her say that she actually deleted our address book?"

"My address book," Andy said quickly. "The one I kept for my reference. Not the official one." Please God let that be true. "I'll send it to her again."

"She can do nothing right," Miranda spat. "I've never seen such--"

"Oh, come on," Andy said. "She'd do better if you didn't scare her so much. God knows it worked for me."

"If she had a tenth of your brains, it might work for her too," Miranda said.

"You just haven't asked her about math yet," Andy said, trying to lighten the mood.

"I can get her to count the minutes until I fire her, how about that?"

"Miranda!" Andy said, appalled. "You can't fire her!"

"I most certainly can," Miranda said.

"Is she standing there listening to this?"

"No. I'm in my office."

"She can probably still hear--"

"Do I care?"

"No," Andy said. "I guess you don't."

"I seem to remember having a conversation with you, Andrea," Miranda said, her voice tight. "About how I will hire and fire anyone I please. And how you will not reproach me for it."

"Yeah, that's right," Andy said, and, to her shock, felt tears stinging her eyelids, felt anger gathering in her stomach. "That's great. You go ahead. Fire anybody whenever you feel like it. You and Irv can start a club."

She knew she'd gone too far the moment the words were out of her mouth; seconds later, Miranda hung up and confirmed it.

"Shit," Andy said, to nobody, and stomped her foot hard on the ground. "Shit, shit…" What had that been in aid of? She'd probably just made Miranda pissed enough to fire Ellie right away.

She mastered her immediate impulse to call Miranda back and apologize, knowing that Miranda would probably be too angry to answer, and would definitely be too angry to be reasonable. Instead, she returned home. When she closed her door behind her, twenty minutes had elapsed, and she decided to risk calling Miranda's cell.

On the second ring, she got sent to voicemail. Okay, then. She sighed, and decided to leave a message. "I'm sorry," she said after the beep. "That was a stupid thing to…well, it's all stupid, the whole thing sucks, but I shouldn't have said that. Sorry. Well, mostly sorry. Um. Call me when you're not mad anymore." Then she hung up before she could get to the choices menu, wimp out, and either delete the message or edit it fifty times.

Forty-five minutes later, her phone rang again. Her heart started working overtime, but it was Nigel, not Miranda. Trying to swallow her disappointment, Andy answered. "Nigel?"

"How'd it go this morning?"

"Fine," Andy said, deciding not to mention Brad. "The place looks nice. I like your office. Very impressive."

"Yeah, isn't it great? Did you meet anyone?"

Or maybe there was no help for it. "Brad from marketing," Andy said.

"Oh boy," Nigel said. "Did you bring your mace?"

"So you've met him," Andy said, and grinned.

"I wanted Jerry on board for marketing director," Nigel said. "And Jerry wanted Brad. Sorry."

"I handled him," Andy said. "No worries. I stopped by HR, so that's all taken care of, and they said I should get a company phone by…tomorrow, I hope. So you can put me to hard labor whenever you feel like it." The sooner she was busy again, the better. "Oh, hey, I like the title. Distinguish.  Who picked that?"

"Board of directors voted on several suggestions," Nigel said, "although they graciously accepted my input as well. I'm okay with Distinguish . It was certainly not the worst option."

"Oh yeah?"

"My personal favorite suggestion," Nigel said, "was Ecce Homo ."

Andy--who had been in the middle of pouring herself a cup of coffee--nearly knocked her mug over. "What?" she gasped.

"Yeah. Some guy on the board thinks he's a classics scholar and likes Latin."

"Ecce Homo . Jesus. You are kidding. You're really not kidding?"

"I'm not kidding," Nigel said. "I told them that not a lot could turn me off this project, but putting the word 'homo' in the title of a men's magazine would do it for sure." Andy laughed helplessly. "Oh, sure, it's funny now. Anyway, I'd better go--"

"Wait," Andy said quickly. "Did, um, did Miranda fire Ellie?"

"I don't think so," Nigel said, sounding surprised. "I just spoke with her five minutes ago. Ellie, I mean. She didn't say anything about that. Why?"

"Oh, well," Andy said, relieved. "I was talking to Ellie earlier. She had a few questions, you know, and I gathered that Miranda was being, uh--difficult."

"Well, we're still avoiding each other," Nigel said, "but the word in the cubicles is that she's not exactly improving as the day goes on. Shocking, I know. But I'd better get back to work. I'll call you later if I think of something else."

"Bye," Andy said. Well, at least Ellie wasn't fired yet. That was something.

She needed something else to do now. Something useful. Or at least tiring. Numbing, even.

Maybe she should go shopping some more. But first, she'd copy Ellie on the address book.

 


 

Miranda finally called Andy at a quarter till six. Andy answered the phone with a shaking hand. "Hi," she said.

"I haven't fired Eleanor and you are not going to try to interfere in such a way again," Miranda said, "all right?"

Andy took a deep breath and released it. "All right," she said. "I'm sorry."

"Good."

Andy rolled her eyes. "So how was your day? Are you on your way home?"

"No. I have a dinner. How quickly some forget."

"Oh, that's right," Andy said, wincing.

"And I'd better go get ready."

Andy's heart fell. Well, Miranda never had been much for phone chitchat. "Okay," she said. "I, uh, I missed--being at work today."

There was a pause, and then Miranda said, "Yes, well. You'll be keeping busy soon enough."

Andy bit her lip. "Looks like it." Then she decided to go ahead and say, "When can I see you again?"

"Keep Sunday free, as I said," Miranda said. Andy couldn't tell anything from the tone of her voice. "You can stop by around noon."

Today was Thursday. It was going to be an excruciating couple of days. "Okay," she said. "But, I mean, we'll, you know, talk before then." She paused. "Right?" Because going from seeing Miranda all the time to talking to her for less than ten minutes a day--

"I suppose so," Miranda said. "If you want."

What? Okay, there were limits. Andy put a hand on her hip. "Are you still mad?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I told you to call me when you weren't mad anymore."

"You'll have a long wait," Miranda snapped. "I am very angry about very many things right now, and your tasteless little…joke, or whatever it was, is the least of them."

"It wasn't a joke. I was pissed off, too," Andy said. "About 'very many things.' I still am. I don't want to take it out on you."

It would have been a great time for Miranda to return the sentiment, but of course all she said was, "Then don't. I've had a wretched day, and I foresee many more in the future until things settle down."

But what did 'settle down' mean? If Irv fired Miranda, well, things would settle down pretty quickly. "How long do you think that will take?" Andy asked cautiously.

"I don't know," Miranda said. "I have to go."

Andy supposed that it was too much to ask that Miranda throw her some kind of bone. "Okay," she said, suddenly feeling very tired and very, very sad. "I'll, um--" Talk to you later? See you around? "Um," Andy said again, wishing desperately for coherent words, and feeling inexplicably as if she was about to cry. "Have a, a good dinner."

"I'll try. Goodbye," Miranda said, and hung up.

The phone wasn't Andy's property, strictly speaking, and she didn't have a replacement yet, so she didn't throw it across the room. But she really wanted to.

 


 

Andy went through the rest of the day with a heavy heart, and decided to give up and go to bed at ten o'clock. Maybe she could read until she fell asleep.

She started by re-reading her article in Modernity . The page numbers in the bottom right corners had become smudged by now, she'd looked at it so often. She looked at her title, at her by-line, at her words in print.

It made her feel better. Irv had tossed her aside like she was worthless. Even Miranda hadn't seemed to care too much about her feelings today. But looking at her article reminded Andy that she'd done something smart and worthwhile. Nigel had seen promise in it, anyway, believed that it could be a stepping-stone to a new career for her. Andy had talents. She was capable. And even in the midst of her hurt feelings and loneliness, reminding herself of that restored a little of her confidence.

Maybe she could brainstorm, see if she had any new ideas to write about. Miranda was right about one thing: Andy had made lots of good contacts lately, and it didn't make any sense not to use them. But she couldn't use them without writing, either. She ought to stretch her brain out, at least.

She'd gotten as far as "Book reviews?!…essay collections, Christian&Benny, interview maybe" when her phone rang at 10:15. She hoped it wasn't Nigel, hoped that he wouldn't prove to be like Miranda in that particular way--calling her at all hours to do completely ridiculous things.

But it was, in fact, Miranda. Andy's eyes went wide. She hadn't expected that, and she answered the phone at once, her heart lifting immeasurably. Miranda probably wasn't calling just to bitch her out. "Hello?"

"I'm home."

"Oh. All right," Andy said. "I mean, hi. How, how are you?"

"Don't ask," Miranda said, and sighed. She didn't sound angry. At least, not at Andy. And she was calling again, after Andy had pretty much given up hope for the night. Andy realized, feeling much, much better, that the evening wasn't completely ruined anymore.

"Okay," she said, smiling. "How was dinner, then?"

"Dull, but productive. Stan asked after you. Word travels fast."

"Stan? Stan Oppenheimer?" Andy blinked. "I didn't know he was going to be there."

"We neglected to consult you," Miranda said. "But I promise we were well-chaperoned."

Andy's face burned. "I didn't mean…"

"No?"

"Well," Andy said, feeling extremely embarrassed, "maybe I meant it a little bit. But I didn't really mean it."

"No?" Miranda repeated, sounding amused now.

"Look, I spent like a month wanting to knock out all his teeth," Andy said. "I'm working on it."

"You can relax," Miranda said. "No one in their right mind would be interested in a single pregnant mother of two, now would they?"

Andy refused to take the bait. "So, what did you talk about?" she said. "You and Stan and your chaperones."

"Many things," Miranda said. "You'll be gratified to know that there was a healthy dose of anti-Irv invective. You would have enjoyed it. I wish you'd--" she coughed, "it's a pity you missed it."

Andy smiled, and got a warm glow deep in her belly. Better and better. "Well," she said, "you'll just have to invite me to the next cabal meet-up. Where did you all go, again? Wasn't it some kind of poker table in the back room of a warehouse?"

"Hilarious," Miranda said.

"Did anybody smoke a cigar?"

"Are you finished?"

"I think so. Um, seriously, though. How was your day? I mean, were people…you know, was everything…"

"I said that word travels fast," Miranda said. "I have no idea why you want me to repeat myself."

"You don't want to talk about it, I guess," Andy mumbled.

"You guess correctly. Dinner marginally improved my spirits, which meant that the day was only marginally less intolerable." Miranda sighed. "I'd rather hear about your first day of unemployment."

"First and last," Andy said. "I went by Delton Wright, saw the Distinguish  offices, got put on the payroll. I am now officially a gopher again." The moment of silence went on for far too long. "Miranda?"

"You were not merely a gopher for me," Miranda said, sounding strained. "I hope you know that."

"Yeah, I know," Andy said, surprised. "And you weren't just a boss for me." Duh. And then there was another pause. "This is news?" she said incredulously.

"Apparently not," Miranda said. "Eleanor isn't--you know she's--I really might have to fire her. And I don't want to hear a word about it. I refuse to go groveling to Irv for a second assistant, which means the first one must be capable. Too much depends on it."

Andy closed her eyes. "I know," she said again.

"She's not you, Andrea. Not even close. Now that it won't go to your head, I might as well tell you that you were exceptional at your job."

"Now that it won't--" Andy sighed. "I mean, thanks."

"Everything ran smoothly." Miranda sounded like a petulant child. So what else was new? "Or at least you made it look like it did. You fooled me, at any rate."

"Only some of the time," Andy said. "I learned a lot at Runway.  I was pretty hopeless at the beginning, in case you forgot."

"I forget very little," Miranda said. "Well…at any rate--"

"I missed you too," Andy said.

Silence.

"Oh, come on," Andy said. "I did. And so did you, so don't--"

"Of course I did," Miranda said impatiently. "I didn't know you were waiting for my input. I can never tell when you're just listening to yourself talk."

"Nice," Andy said, but she wasn't mad at all because Miranda had admitted to missing her, which was very cool. "There's no chance we can get together until Sunday?"

"I don't see how," Miranda said. "I'm booked, and even if I wasn't, you'll have plenty to do, yourself."

"Yeah," Andy admitted, feeling sad all over again. Sunday felt very far off. "Well. That stinks." A thought occurred to her. "Do the twins know I've been fired?"

"Not yet," Miranda said. "I didn't want to talk about it yesterday, and I didn't return home tonight until after they were asleep."

"So…what will they think when I stop by on Sunday? When I keep, um, hanging around, even though I don't work for you anymore?"

"How many times do I have to tell you that I can't read their minds?" Miranda said. "I have no idea what they'll think. I'll tell them tomorrow night."

"Okay." Andy swallowed. "I hope they say…I mean, I hope it's okay. Will you call me? Or can I call you?"

"Yes. After nine. I'll be curious to hear how Nigel's little project is starting to come together. If it is."

Andy decided not to mention Smarmy Brad. Miranda did not deal well when men came sniffing around, and her jealousy would not be cute or benign tonight. "You think it'll go under?" she asked instead.

"We'll know soon enough," Miranda said. "When new magazines fail, they fail quickly. I'm not holding my breath."

"Well, I am," Andy said indignantly. "Seeing as how I work there now."

"We would find something else for you," Miranda said. "I would."

Nice thought, but one thing hadn't changed: Andy still didn't want to owe her professional success to Miranda. And it wasn't just that--Andy didn't want Nigel to fail, either. And she wasn't dumb enough to say anything of the kind to Miranda. Instead, she said, "Yeah, well. Anyway. So, I'm…I've been taking notes. About articles and stuff I'm thinking about writing. Just different things."

There was a pause. Then Miranda cleared her throat and said, "Well? Like what?"

Andy beamed, and settled back against the pillows to chat with her girlfriend for a little while, enjoying her improved mood all over again. Too bad she only had a cell phone; she would have enjoyed twirling a cord around her finger.

 


 

The next day, Andy got her new phone, and immediately texted her number to Miranda, Nigel, and Ellie, in that order. A few hours later, it occurred to text her parents too. But she couldn't really be blamed for her absentmindedness, because yet again she was on the hop, running around and taking care of things for Nigel. The contractors and building maintenance were both being too slow about getting everything set up: computers, phones, office spaces, cubicles. So Andy spent a good part of her time harassing people on a Saturday and pressuring them to do their jobs. It took her best combination of being a sweet person and being Miranda, but eventually she cajoled Tech Support into hooking up computers for all the finished offices, which was a big step forward, while she stood over them and watched. She also requisitioned a coffeemaker for the break room, which would probably get her more kudos than computers ever would.

And after that, it was time to set up yet another address book and begin to send out "hello!" emails to the various designers, writers, photographers, and other movers and shakers she'd met while working for Miranda. Andy had generated a lot of goodwill during her tenure at Runway  by being competent and mostly good-natured. She'd definitely been more appreciated outside the office than in it, and it couldn't hurt to leverage that with the people who could help them get, and keep, their project off the ground.

The place was a wreck, too. But the construction in this part of the office was done. Andy located a vacuum cleaner leaning idly against a wall, abandoned by housekeeping, and set to work around her desk, and then Nigel's, with a vengeance.

It felt good, keeping busy again. Making herself feel a part of the place, trying to carve out a space for herself to make up for the one she'd just lost. And after chatting to Miranda last night for nearly an hour, she didn't feel quite as much as if she'd been cast out of Eden. Not as  much. But still, a little. Which was why it was good to keep busy, after all.

To Andy's pleased surprise, Nigel called her at seven-thirty and told her to wait at the Distinguish  offices. He arrived fifteen minutes later, looking exhausted, and gave her a wry smile.

"I was busy wrapping up business all day," he said. "I'm so glad she wasn't there. I just thought I'd stop by and see what…" He glanced around the reception area, and saw Andy's iMac humming along atop her neatly-organized desk. Then he craned his head into his office and saw the same thing. "Wow," he said.

"I sat on Tech Support's head," Andy said.

"Do I smell coffee?"

"I got a coffeemaker."

"Did you vacuum?"

"Dusted, too."

"Do you want my job?"

Andy laughed. So did Nigel. "Give me another ten years," Andy said. "At least. Then, maybe."

"Ahhh," Nigel said, and stretched, pressing at the small of his back. "I kid, I kid. I'm not giving up this gig." Then he took a deep breath, and exhaled it slowly. He looked a little apprehensive.

"You'll be great," Andy said. "This whole thing will be great. I've been sending emails," she added. "And I got some replies. It sounds like a lot of people are excited about what we're doing."

"I know," Nigel said, and raised an impressed eyebrow. "I got copied on a lot of those replies. You've been a busy little bee." Andy shrugged, deciding not to say that keeping busy was the best remedy for missing Miranda. Or thinking incessantly about having sex with her tomorrow. They hadn't been together since Tuesday night! Totally unacceptab--

"Well," Nigel said, and rubbed his hands together as he headed into his office. Andy, yanking herself away from her increasingly-inappropriate thoughts, watched with amusement as he sat down in his chair and straightened his shoulders. Then he lifted his chin.

"Ahndraya," he began.

"Oh, no," Andy said, already giggling.

Nigel prissily placed his hands on the top of the desk, and then looked at Andy over the rims of his glasses. "I'll want my Starbucks here in five minutes. No. Three."

"Oh…stop…" Andy said, and leaned back against the wall, holding her stomach as she laughed.

"And then I'll want to hear from Testino yesterday. Literally. Now hurry up and reverse the Earth's rotation--"

"Yes, Nigel," Andy managed as she tried to control herself. "I'll get Ellie on that right away."

"Oh God," Nigel said, and broke character as he lowered his head to his desk, laughing. "Ellie. We left her with Ellie."

"Well," Andy wheezed. "Maybe not for much longer." The thought sobered her. "If Ellie can't do the job on her own, she's toast."

"Out of your hands, I'm afraid," Nigel said, sitting up again.

"I know, but I feel kind of responsible," Andy said. "I mean, I hi--I recommended Ellie in the first place. And Miranda told me she might have to fire her if…" She realized just a moment too late what she'd just confessed. When Nigel looked at her with wide eyes, she knew he'd realized it too.

"And when did Miranda say this?" Nigel inquired neutrally.

Andy took a deep breath and tried to sound casual, which didn't really go well with taking a deep breath, so she wasn't surprised when it didn't work. "Uh. Recently. Yesterday, in fact."

"So you're still talking to her," Nigel said.

"Yes," Andy said, refusing to break eye contact or back down. She wasn't about to lie about it. Not to Nigel. It wasn't a crime to communicate with your former boss. She wasn't ashamed.

"You know," Nigel said, and leaned back in his chair, "I'm actually not as surprised as I probably should be." He never took his eyes off Andy's face.

"Well," Andy said feebly, "you said she'd miss me…I mean, you knew all along that she…"

"Needs you?" Nigel said bluntly.

Andy turned pink. "I guess so," she said. "But, but I won't let it interfere with my job, Nigel. I work for you now, not her. It's just--" She waved her hand helplessly. "We're sort of--"

Nigel's lips quirked. "Friends?"

"Yeah," Andy said in relief. "I mean--yeah."

"I wonder if it's easier to be friends with Miranda outside of work," he mused, and then smiled ruefully. "You'll have to let me know. I don't think I'll get the chance to find out for myself."

Andy bit her lip, wishing she could say otherwise. But Nigel had wounded Miranda. Worse, he'd caught her unawares, and that was what she'd never forgive. The best Andy could tell Nigel was that Miranda had decided he might still be 'useful,' and she was pretty sure she shouldn't say that at all.

"Anyway, what are you doing tomorrow afternoon?" Nigel added. "I'm attending a little get-together with Jack and Lazaro. Should be fun. Lots of alcohol. Be nice if you could come too."

"I, uh, I'd love to," Andy said, and bit her lip. "But I might already have plans."

"Oh?" Nigel raised both eyebrows. "Anything particularly exciting that justifies missing an opportunity to make new connections?"

"Well, um, I, er," Andy said, and squirmed. "Actually, it kind of falls, um, under the rubric of, uh, the subject we were just discussing."

"The sub--" Nigel blinked. "Miranda?"

Andy blushed. "It's sort of maybe possible that the twins want me to come over so they can, you know, give me a birthday cake." And then Andy could give their mother something else.

"A birthday cake," Nigel said, his eyes huge behind his glasses. "The twins. You."

"Well--"

"The twins."

"They like me," Andy said defensively. "I was there for Christmas, and--what's not to like?"

"Nothing," Nigel sighed. "I'm just trying to imagine the cake."

"I just hope I'm allowed to eat it," Andy said, with an attempt at a smile.

"Indeed," Nigel said. "Well…have fun."

His expression was closed, thoughtful, and it made Andy nervous. She realized that she was on the verge of asking his permission, of asking if it was okay with him if she continued to hang out with Miranda, which was just crazy. So she just shrugged awkwardly and said, "I'll try." Then she tried to smile again.

Nigel sighed, and the thoughtful look vanished into something that was much more of a resigned, why-do-I-even-bother look. "I'll think of you when I'm sucking down Cosmopolitans and discreetly ogling male models," he said.

"Discreetly?" Andy blinked. "At a fashion party?" She couldn't imagine the need. Nigel wasn't exactly closeted. He wasn't a flamboyant queen, either, but everyone who knew him knew that he was gay.

Nigel sighed again. "It's not a secret that I'm gay," he said, echoing Andy's thoughts. "But it's one thing for a fashion director of a woman's magazine to be gay. It's another thing for the editor-in-chief of a men's magazine. Sure, the average Joe--well, the better-than-average Joe who buys our magazine--won't know much about me. Or care, probably. But there's something to be said for not causing a homosexual panic among the delicate American male public."

"Ecce Homo , huh?"

"Exactly."

"But what does that mean for you?" Andy's eyes widened. "You're…are you going back in the closet or something?"

"No, no," Nigel said impatiently. "That's why I said 'discreetly' ogling. I'm going to live my life, Andy. Especially now that I actually have a chance to get one." He smiled wryly. "But I must be circumspect." He shrugged. "Not a big deal, really. Frankly, the thought of having a boyfriend at all blows my mind, after my tenure at Runway ."

"I never heard about you dating anybody," Andy admitted.

"I didn't," Nigel said, "unless you want to hear about more sordid--"

"No," Andy said instantly. "That's okay. Really."

He chuckled. "If you insist. Now." He snapped his fingers. "Get me some coffee. Double-quick. Chop-chop."

Andy stared at him. He looked back hopefully. Andy put one hand on her hip. He sighed.

"So much for inspiring terror in my subordinates," he said.

"Be nice or I'll sic Brad on you," Andy replied, and they laughed again.

 


 

That night, Andy was the one to call. She was pleased when Miranda picked up right away, though she knew that if she made any 'waiting by the phone' jokes, the conversation would be over before it could even begin. And she hadn't heard Miranda's voice all day long, so that option wasn't on the table.

"So, how's it going?" she said.

"It went," Miranda said, and hearing that, hearing her, made Andy feel weightless, buoyant and giddy. "I'm glad the day is over."

"What happened?" Andy said in concern.

"Nothing out of the ordinary," Miranda sighed. "Just another Saturday where I had not a moment to myself, until now."

"Oh." Andy bit her lip. "Should I call back later? Or--" It was already ten o'clock. "Or just wait till tomorrow?"

"No," Miranda said, and added, "I told the twins this evening. That Irv fired you."

"Oh, um," Andy said, "what…I mean, did they…does that mean--" That Andy wouldn't be coming over the next day after all? The possibility made her feel sick.

"They were outraged," Miranda said, sounding the tiniest bit amused. "Caroline, of course, was sure it had to be my fault somehow."

Andy winced. "Whoops."

"You will have to tell her otherwise."

"I sure will," Andy said in sudden, pure relief. "So…tomorrow's still on, then?"

"Of course it is," Miranda said impatiently. "Why would you think otherwise? For heaven's sake."

Andy rolled her eyes, glad that Miranda couldn't see it. "You're the one who said you couldn't read their minds," she reminded her.

"I don't have to be a mind-reader to know they like you," Miranda said flatly. "Grow a little backbone." Andy's jaw dropped. "Can you stop by around eleven-thirty tomorrow?"

"Sure," Andy grumbled. "If I start growing that backbone now, I might be halfway-done by the time I get to your place."

"I certainly hope so."

"I got a lot of work done today," Andy said, deciding it was time to change the subject. "I set up a coffeemaker."

"My goodness," Miranda said. "And here I was afraid that your talents would be wasted."

What, like Andy had been using them to their highest potential at Runway ? "Nope," she said. "In full bloom."

"So I see."

And then Andy got an idea. A wonderful, magnificent, possibly-impossible idea. "I mean, I am multi-talented," she said.

She'd tried to sound innocent--bland, even--but something in her voice must have tipped Miranda off, because the moment of silence went on a little too long. And Miranda sounded suspicious when she replied, "I suppose so."

"I've missed you," Andy said.

Miranda cleared her throat. "Well," she said. "You'll see me tomorrow."

"I haven't seen you since Tuesday."

"I came by your apartment on Wednesday."

"Not what I meant."

"Andrea--"

"I meant I haven't seen some of my favorite parts of you since Tuesday."

"Andrea!" Now Miranda sounded almost scandalized.

Andy grinned. "Well, it's true."

"You'll--as I said--tomorrow."

"Not soon enough," Andy said, and Miranda's breath caught again. "Have you missed me too?"

"I, uh," Miranda said, and then admitted, "yes."

"Any particular parts of me?"

"This conversation took a classy turn," Miranda said.

"Sorry," Andy laughed. "I didn't know phone sex was about class."

"We are not having pho--we are not doing that."

"No?" Andy made sure her disappointment came through loud and clear.

Miranda coughed. "No."

"Even if I do all the talking?"

"No."

Andy felt her face flushing, growing hot, felt her nipples going tight beneath her t-shirt. "Even if I tell you all the things I want to do to you as soon as the twins are out the door tomorrow?"

"Who says," Miranda replied, "that you are going to do all the work?"

Andy gasped. She could practically see Miranda smirking on the other end of the line. She rallied quickly. "But it's my birthday party, isn't it?" she said.

"I'm pretty sure we already had that particular kind of party," Miranda said archly.

"That was the pre-birthday party," Andy said at once. "This is the post."

"Who do you think you are?" Miranda said. "Paris Hilton?"

Andy ignored her and barged onward. "So, anyway, as birthday girl, I think I should get to do whatever I want. And what I  want is to do you."

"I…" Miranda's voice trailed off, until she added in a defeated tone, "Yes?"

Andy grinned. The night was looking up. "Yeah. See, I don't know why this is, but…I mean, don't get me wrong, everything you do to me feels great," she added hastily. "But what really gets me going is pinning you down and, you know. Having my way."

"Oh?" Miranda said faintly.

"And you like it too, don't you?" Andy said. "I like doing. You like being done to. Don't you?"

"…Yes," Miranda admitted.

"How's that make you feel?" Andy said, feeling her face flush hotter than ever. "All you have to do is just, I don't know, be,  and you'll drive me crazy. Does that make you happy?"

"Yes," Miranda repeated. Gulped, really.

"Good." Andy smiled. "So. You'll let me, won't you?"

"Let you what?"

Andy closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Strip you off, lay you down, and fuck you."

"Oh," Miranda said after a few seconds. "Well."

"And take it slowly," Andy whispered. "No more of that quickie stuff. We'll take it so slowly. Just the way you like it. I like it too."

"Y-you do?"

"Oh, yes," Andy said. "Licking you up and down. And whatever else you want. Don't you know I like doing that?"

"I might have had a clue," Miranda croaked.

"Will you let me do that?" Andy said.

"You--" Andy could practically see her discarding a dozen clever responses before giving in and saying, "Yes."

"Good," Andy breathed. "I can't wait." She paused. "Can you wait?"

"I don't have much choice, do I?" Miranda said in a strained voice.

"Yes, you do," Andy said. "You know you do. You're alone, right?"

"Don't," Miranda warned.

"Why not?" Andy said. "What would be wrong with it?"

"With what?" Miranda inquired. "Surely if you want me to do it, you can say it."

"Touch yourself, then," Andy said, and she blushed at her own audacity, telling Miranda Priestly to masturbate.

"You would like that, would you?" Miranda murmured. "Listening to that?"

It was Andy's turn to make a croaking noise. "Yes," she managed.

"That's a shame," Miranda said, "because while I have certainly done my fair share of that, I'm afraid that this time it would not be nearly enough to satisfy me. I want your touch, Andrea. Not my own."

Andy's mouth opened, but nothing came out. And yet more nothing. Then she managed a squeak.

"Good night, Andrea," Miranda purred, and hung up.

Andy stared at her phone, and then fell back down against her pillow with a wail, cursing Miranda with all of her heart.

 


 

Andy arrived at Miranda's place at eleven-thirty on the dot. She'd been up since eight, and had filled the morning with writing, reading, even a brief, brisk walk, none of which had served to take her mind off having sex with Miranda. Not even the cold shower that had followed up the walk helped.

She rang the doorbell--she'd kept her key, but it still seemed rude just to let herself in--and heard the pounding of feet. A twin. Then the door swung open, and Andy saw it was Caroline. Instead of saying hello, Caroline turned her head and bellowed, "She's here!" back into the house.

"Hi, Caroline," Andy said.

"Come on," Caroline said, and to Andy's complete astonishment, took her by the elbow--neither of the twins had ever touched her before--and dragged her down the hallway, barely giving Andy time to close the door behind herself. "Jimena baked the cake first thing, and lunch is almost ready."

"Oh," Andy said, stumbling forward, glad that her heels were only an inch high today. She hadn't had much extra time for shopping, which meant that she was stuck wearing her pre-Runway  gear again, although she'd tried to work it to its best advantage. At least Caroline hadn't said anything. "Okay. What are we eating?"

"That chicken-pasta-thing you said you liked one time. So do you like your new job? Is it going okay? I can't believe you got fired. I hate Mr. Ravitz. We all do."

"I'm not too fond of him myself," Andy said, as Cassidy hurried down the stairs to meet them. "Hi, Cassidy."

"Happy Birthday," Cassidy said. "Are you coming to our party?"

"Thanks, I…" Just a few days, and she'd already forgotten what a whirlwind the twins were. What was it going to be like with a baby boy on top of it all? "I don't know. I hope I can, but I might have to work now."

"You can't work," Caroline whined. At that moment, Miranda followed Cassidy down the stairs, her eyebrows already raised at the sight of Caroline gripping Andy's arm. Andy smiled up at her, but tried not to beam. Phone conversations aside, it was hard to believe they hadn't even laid eyes on each other since Wednesday night. "Mom, tell Nigel to let Andy come to our party," Caroline appealed.

A shadow flitted over Miranda's face. "Andrea has a new job now, girls," she said firmly. "It's not for me to tell her what she can or can't do. And I'm not going to ask Mr. Kipling to do any such thing, either." 'Mr. Kipling'? Andy cringed. "Now what did I tell you about answering the door yourself?"

Caroline rolled her eyes. "I knew it was Andy. I checked before I opened the door. It wasn't some kidnapper guy."

"That's what you think," Andy said. "I might be very cleverly disguised." Caroline let go of her with a little squeal of fake fear and real glee.

"Let's eat lunch now," Cassidy said, and headed for the kitchen with some of her mother's natural authority. Caroline obeyed it and followed her, while Andy resisted just long enough to make eyes at Miranda, who'd reached the bottom stair. She seemed okay: she appeared relaxed--well-rested, even--and her color was good. Andy hoped Ellie had been making her eat lunch, though how Ellie would accomplish such a thing, Andy had no idea.

"So, how are you?" she said softly. "How've you been?"

Miranda did not reply. Instead, she lifted one eyebrow again. Her eyes gleamed, which probably meant she'd already forgiven Andy for the not-quite-hideous skirt and sweater.

"Ulp," Andy said, and started sweating.

Miranda smiled a tiny, predatory little smile. "And you?" she said politely. "How are you?"

"Better now," Andy managed. Miranda's smile grew more predatory.

"Mohhhhhhm," Caroline called impatiently from the kitchen. "Aaaaandy."

Miranda tilted her head to the side, and swept down the hallway. Andy followed her, trying not to stare at her ass, already thinking about the birthday present she wanted most.

To her surprise, the twins had presents for her too. She really hadn't expected that--the cake alone had been a shock when Miranda had first mentioned it. But after they'd all finished their chicken-pasta-thing, the girls handed Andy two slender envelopes with her name on them. For one weird moment Andy wondered if they'd given her cash, but when she opened Caroline's envelope, she saw two tickets to the Broadway production of Wicked . Cassidy's envelope had two tickets to The Lion King .

"Th-th-thanks," Andy stammered, trying not to look spooked. Were they suggesting that she take their mother on a date or something? Or was this a subtle hint for Andy to find a boyfriend and get lost?

But it all became clear as Cassidy said, in a businesslike tone, "You're taking me to The Lion King  and Caroline to Wicked . I wanted to see The Lion King  in London, but we didn't get to."

"…Oh," Andy said.

Miranda frowned at Caroline. "I thought you wanted to see Beauty and the Beast  again." Caroline shook her head 'no,' all innocence. "Isn't Wicked  a little too adult for you? I've heard…"

"I'll be with Andy," Caroline said sweetly. "It'll be okay."

Andy gaped at her, but it appeared to placate Miranda, who nodded. Andy stared back down at the tickets: two more afternoons sacrificed to the whims of Priestly females. It could be worse. At least she liked musicals.

Besides, she was touched that the twins wanted to spend more time with her. "Thanks," she repeated, and smiled at them both. They grinned back. "I haven't seen either of these yet. We'll have a great time." Both tickets were for different Sunday matinees--not just the best time for the twins, but also the day when Andy was least likely to be running errands. Thank goodness. She didn't relish the idea of having to explain her need for time off to Nigel. If he'd thought a cake was weird…

She remembered, suddenly, the closed and thoughtful look on his face that night. And for the first time, it occurred to her to wonder if he knew--if he'd guessed--because with that little speech about being discreetly queer…

"Andrea?" Andy blinked and looked up at Miranda, realizing that she'd drifted off into space. Miranda had a little frown line between her brows.

"Sorry," Andy said at once. "I was just, just--" she glanced back down at the ticket in her left hand. Wicked.  "--wondering where the Gershwin Theatre is. I know I've seen it a lot. It's, um, driving me crazy."

"Duh," Cassidy said. "Broadway."

"No, it isn't," Caroline said at once. "51st street. I looked it up online. Duhhh."

"How am I supposed to know where every theatre is? They're--"

"Girls," Miranda said, and they shut up. "Where's The Lion King ?"

"The Minskoff," Cassidy said sulkily.

"Is that one on Broadway?" Andy asked, trying to cheer her up.

"No," Caroline chortled.

"It's close," Cassidy grumbled. "They're both close."

"Yeah, but you were still wrong," Caroline said.

"So," Andy said quickly, "cake, huh?"

"Oh yeah," Caroline said, and they both hopped up from the table, immediately distracted. Maybe they had ADHD or something. Didn't most kids these days? Either way, Andy and Miranda exchanged a relieved glance as Cassidy carefully carried the cake tray to the table, while Caroline followed with tiny plates and forks. They didn't sing "Happy Birthday," although Caroline hummed it almost under her breath.

It couldn't have been more domestic, more cozy. And out of the blue, Andy remembered herself as she'd been a year ago. Still big-eyed and idealistic, still wearing shabby clothes (well--at least she was in those again), still hating Miranda Priestly, still with her head up her size-six ass. Still with Nate and so many other different things.

A year ago, she could never have envisaged anything like this: sitting at a kitchen table with Miranda and her daughters, about to have birthday cake, waiting--eagerly!--to make love with Miranda when the kids were gone. She wouldn't even have believed Miranda's private world had anything this peaceful or happy in it. She wouldn't have thought much about it at all, in fact, but would instead have made all those mistakes, both little and big, that had so nearly gotten her fired and exiled in such a way that she would never have known what she was missing.

She was, Andy thought as she carefully cut the cake, very lucky indeed.

"It's made with Splenda and low-fat icing," Caroline piped up. "So you won't gain too much weight."

Well, mostly lucky. "Great," Andy laughed, not even daring to look at Miranda as she cut both girls a big slice. "Miranda?"

"A small piece," Miranda said, and when Andy finally looked at her, she saw that Miranda was struggling to hide the faintest grimace. Not surprising for a woman who loved black-ops Haagen-Dazs. But she nibbled at her slice with at least the veneer of enthusiasm, and Andy did as well. It really didn't taste the same as normal cake, but it was edible, and the girls seemed to enjoy it.

Cassidy swallowed a bite of her cake, took a gulp of milk, and said, "Mom, what did you get Andy for her birthday?"

"Oh, not much," Miranda said. "Just a few little things."

Andy almost choked on her cake. Miranda wasn't looking at her. "Um," she said. "A few little--?"

"Like what?" Caroline said eagerly. "Is it all those boxes in the living room?"

All those boxes? "Um," Andy said again.

"Good heavens, Caroline," Miranda said lightly. "There aren't that many."

"You, you didn't have to," Andy said feebly. Why had Miranda gotten her anything? She'd had Andy's article published early in Modernity , and they'd had a whole day in bed together. Andy couldn't have imagined a more perfect present. And the idea of getting more material gifts--especially several material gifts--disconcerted Andy a little bit. One five-thousand-dollar pin was bad enough. She didn't need a sugar…mama.

"I know," Miranda said, and sipped her water, still not looking at her. "But it seemed to me you would need a few new outfits for work."

A few new-- "You didn't," Andy said. Miranda shrugged, which meant that an entire wardrobe was probably awaiting Andy in the living room. "Oh," Andy said, wondering frantically how she could be gracious about this while also conveying disapproval. It seemed impossible. So 'gracious' it was, at least in front of the girls. "Well. Thanks," she added.

"Thank Eleanor," Miranda said. "It was her idea."

Andy blinked. "Ellie?"

Yet again, Miranda seemed to be trying to hide a smile. "She was conscripted to help bring in your castoffs from my car," she said. "And on Friday she said something to the effect of what a shame it was, that you could no longer simply call up a designer, say you worked for Miranda Priestly, and get free samples of whatever you wanted. Directly from the source."

Andy's eyes widened. "As in--not Runway  property?" It had never occurred to her to try anything like that, since Nigel had been fairly generous in doling out samples. Now she felt like an idiot for not trying it all along.

"As in," Miranda confirmed. "It's the first insightful thing she's ever said, I'm sure. Although I was also impressed by the diagrams she left on my desk for the sailboats in the Charleston shoot."

"Oh my God," Andy said, and started laughing in relief. So Miranda hadn't spent money on--hadn't even really been involved in--that made it okay, right?

"Her taste is not completely appalling," Miranda said. "She selected everything herself. I believe she was quite particular."

"Aww," Andy said, touched and impressed and realizing for the first time that she really missed Ellie, as well as Miranda and the frantic bustle of Runway . "What a sweetheart."

"Well, she worships you," Miranda said, and gave Andy another amused look. "When she's not cowering, I get the distinct impression that she thinks I can't run my office nearly as well as you did."

Andy laughed out loud. "Well--can you?"

"I knew it would go to your head," Miranda muttered.

"So let's see the clothes," Cassidy said, and both Andy and Miranda jumped a little--Andy had forgotten the twins were even there, and it looked like Miranda had, too. "Do you know what she picked out for Andy, Mom?"

"I might have glanced over the collection," Miranda said. "As a gauge of Eleanor's general taste and sense. As I said--not completely appalling."

It certainly wasn't. Cassidy and Caroline peered over Andy's shoulders eagerly as they all three sat on the floor and looked through the gifts. Miranda, of course, was regally ensconced in a chair, while Patricia, who had wistfully watched them eating their chicken-and-pasta lunch, flopped down in a corner and went to sleep.

Andy let the twins unwrap the boxes, and they tore through Ellie's careful handiwork with gleeful abandon, pausing to pass judgment on each item. Andy was glad to see that Ellie had picked things that Andy would have picked for herself: nothing Emily-like, nothing too "risky," things that Andy would actually wear, no matter how Miranda sniffed. The twins seemed to approve, on the whole. Among other things, a Marc Jacobs blouse was "ooooh," a Michael Kors skirt was "hmmmwell ," a pair of Chanel sunglasses was "pretty cute," Loeffler Randall shoes were "nice," and a little Prada bag, striped bright pink and purple, was "Mom can I have one too, pleeeeease?"

"You're a little hard on your bags, girls," Miranda said sternly. "Don't think I haven't noticed how you fling them anywhere you please. Or leave them on the floor."

"We'll be careful," promised Caroline, who'd said she didn't even care about fashion and other 'stupid crap.' She was looking longingly at the bag, which almost looked like a piece of candy made out of leather. Andy cupped it protectively in case the kid got any ideas.

"I'd never throw it anywhere," Cassidy said. "Ever!"

"We'll see," Miranda said, and the twins exchanged satisfied glances. Then Miranda looked at her watch. "Oh, my. You're due to go in five minutes."

"Oh gosh!" Caroline said, and Cassidy scrambled to her feet, kicking aside wrapping and tissue paper.

"Who are you going to visit?" Andy asked. "Chelsea?"

They stared at her with matching looks of horror. "Chelsea?"  Caroline said.

"Are you nuts?" Cassidy added. "We hate her!"

"Oh," Andy said, and shook her head. "I thought--I mean, sorry."

"Come on," Caroline said to Cassidy, and they gave Andy one more exasperated look before heading upstairs.

Andy glanced over at Miranda as she placed the Prada bag back in the box. "How do you keep up with that soap opera?" she said.

"I don't," Miranda replied. "That's what you're here for."

"Oh, well," Andy said, and put the top back on the box. "Is that all I'm here for?"

"None of that until the girls have left," Miranda said. But her cheeks had gone pink and the gleam was back in her eyes. "Just a few more minutes."

"Hope Roy isn't late," Andy said lightly, knowing that Roy was never late.

"Behave yourself."

"Me? I'm just packing up all these lovely presents." Andy put the lid back on a box from Alvin Valley.

Miranda cleared her throat. "There might be one more." Andy looked up at her quickly, and saw that her cheeks were even pinker.

"Really," Andy said, and grinned. Miranda nodded. "Gosh, why wasn't it here with all the other stuff?"

"You are infuriating," Miranda said, very calmly for someone with a blush like that.

"I guess." A horrible thought suddenly occurred to Andy. "Wait--Ellie didn't pick--"

"Oh, no," Miranda said. Her eyes smoldered. "No, no, I gave this one my personal attention."

"Whew," Andy said, relieved and aroused and more than a bit curious. Nate had bought her naughty underwear a few times--always the stuff that was so gaudy and cheap that they'd both cracked up before she could even put it on, but it had done the trick. She didn't think Miranda would have bought her underwear like that. "Glad to hear it."

"Yes," Miranda said, shifted in the chair, and winced. "Nnh."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes," Miranda said, and rose to her feet, "but I think I'd better go upstairs." Now her pink cheeks didn't so much suggest arousal as embarrassment. "Say goodbye to the girls when they get back, and then feel free to come on up."

"Oh, okay," Andy said, delicately not pressing for further information--Miranda had said that pregnancy was a degrading experience, and would not appreciate being asked about the particulars of whatever symptoms degraded her at any given moment. "I'll, uh, be up in a minute, then."

"Fine," Miranda said, and headed quickly out of the room. A few minutes later, Caroline and Cassidy burst into the living room with jackets and backpacks.

"Bye, Andy," Cassidy said breathlessly. "We're late!"

"Are you going home now?" Caroline asked.

Andy willed herself not to blush. "In a little while," she said. "Your mom wants to talk to me." She thought fast. "I think she, um, wants to know about Nigel's magazine."

"Does she hate Nigel now, or what?" Caroline said.

"Well, uh," Andy began, but thankfully Cassidy rolled her eyes and tugged at Caroline's sleeve.

"C'mon," she said, and repeated, "bye, Andy." She yanked her twin out of the living room, and Caroline called over her shoulder, "Happy Birthday!"

"Thanks," Andy called after them, and grinned, realizing that at some point she'd kind of gotten attached to them. They ran down the hallway, and the front door slammed shut behind them.

Andy realized she was now alone in the house with Miranda for the first time since, well, their first time. Which, okay, had only been about a week ago, but still. She took a deep breath and stood up. "Don't mess with my presents," she told Patricia sternly. Patricia opened one eye, made a whuffling noise, and went back to sleep.

Then Andy headed upstairs. She made sure to knock on Miranda's door, but when she got no answer, she worried enough to open it and poke her head inside. "Miranda?"

"I'll be out in a moment," Miranda called from behind her bathroom door. "You can come in."

Relieved that Miranda hadn't passed out or anything, Andy shut the door behind her and sat on the bed, trying not to bounce up and down in anticipation. Miranda apparently wasn't feeling well, after all. And that was the most important thing. Andy had to be considerate and thoughtful, even if she felt like she was about to explode. Because Miranda might not even feel like--

Miranda opened the door and left the bathroom in a rustle of champagne-colored silk and gold lace. She was wearing the gown from New Year's Eve.

Andy's eyes widened, her heart stopped, and her jaw dropped open. She felt like she couldn't breathe. Miranda folded her hands placidly in front of herself and cocked her head to the side, her eyes bright with amusement, which was par for the course whenever Andy looked like a drooling idiot. But how else was Andy supposed to look, with Miranda standing right in front of her and wearing…that?

It fit her differently now, of course. There was more belly underneath it, for one thing. And her breasts were bigger than they'd been on New Year's. And she obviously wasn't wearing any kind of bra. And oh, oh, oh.

"Um, uh," Andy said, and held out both her hands, frantically beckoning Miranda to the bed, not sure her own knees would hold her up if she tried to stand. Miranda chuckled and glided forward, and Andy's head spun as she remembered how Miranda had moved in that dress, how everyone in the ballroom had stared at her, and how Andy had been so completely certain that she'd never--that Miranda would never--

She stood up. And without a word, she took Miranda's face in her hands and kissed her, very slowly, very gently, as if it was their first kiss all over again. Miranda grabbed her shoulders and pressed closer, but seemed content to let Andy take her time with their kisses. Days. It had been days since they'd…

"You have quite a few fantasies to fulfill," Miranda breathed against her mouth.

"Yeah?" Andy said, and bent down to kiss Miranda's throat. Oh Jesus, she was even wearing the same perfume. She'd even made her hair fall across her eyes the same way. Had she done it on purpose, or was Miranda just being Miranda , uncannily able to do the perfect thing with the perfect outfit every single time? "What fantasies might those be?" She nipped. Miranda hissed. "Tell me."

"Let me see," Miranda said, tilting her head to the side; Andy cupped her breast through the silk, and she shuddered. "Oh. There was…something about a coat room…if, if I remember cor--" Andy rubbed her thumb, and felt Miranda's nipple go pebble-hard. "--oh,"  Miranda moaned.

"That was the one I came up with," Andy said, her head starting to spin. She slid her free hand down Miranda's back, stroked her ass. Miranda shuddered again. "What about yours?" She kissed Miranda's shoulder. "Remember yours?"

"I…"

"About me pushing you down on the bed while you were still wearing the dress, and still in your shoes." Andy kissed her, deeper this time, until they were both panting. "About how wet you'd be." She bit, gently, at the side of Miranda's throat. Miranda groaned, sliding her hands up and down Andy's back; Andy felt her getting weak in the knees, felt her breath getting uneven, and recognized the other signs that meant Miranda was losing the ability to do anything but let Andy fuck her. "Are you wet yet?"

"Andrea," Miranda said, and then whimpered, "Andrea,"  when Andy began to kiss downward along the edge of her bodice, nuzzling at the rise of her breasts. When Andy bit her nipple through the silk and lace, Miranda gasped, and scrabbled at Andy's back with her fingernails, rubbing her nose in Andy's hair.

Andy's knees shook, and she sat down on the edge of the bed. Miranda made to join her, but Andy held her still, so that she could lean forward and bury her face in Miranda's breasts again, could reach around her and cup her ass. Miranda swayed forward even as her head fell back, and she had to put her hands on Andy's shoulders for balance.

"You said you'd beg me to do whatever I wanted to you," Andy said. She stroked up until she found the gown's zipper between Miranda's shoulder blades, and carefully slid it down. The hiss of the zipper, almost indecent by itself, made her feel faint. She didn't want Miranda to take the dress off yet, though, so she left the zipper at half-mast and tugged at one of the gown's spaghetti straps. "Here--let's--"

Miranda wriggled, shrugged, and eased the strap down until she'd slipped her arm through it and exposed one of her breasts, flushed pink and with its nipple tight and hard. Andy leaned in and kissed and licked and pulled with her teeth until Miranda said "please" and "please" and "oh."

Then Andy, feeling dizzy with heat, paused just long enough to pull off her sweater and shirt before tugging Miranda down to the bed, laying her flat and leaning over her and kissing her again, over and over again. She reached beneath the skirt--Miranda trembled eagerly--to find the soft, smooth skin she loved. And higher up until she realized Miranda wasn't wearing any underwear at all.

"Oh," Andy whispered, and moved her fingers. "Yeah, you're wet."

"Oh God," Miranda said, shaking, looking up at Andy with dazed eyes. Andy moved her fingers down and away, to stroke the inside of her thigh. "Oh, no, please--"

"Please what?" Andy whispered, nibbling her throat again.

"Please," Miranda managed, "it--it's been so long, I need, I need--"

Andy remembered Miranda hanging up on her the night before, and smiled against her skin. "Need what?" She kissed Miranda before she could reply, and whispered, "My mouth? You want my mouth on you?" She stroked Miranda's thigh again. "Want me to eat you right up?"

"God!" Miranda gasped, and squeezed her eyes shut. Andy pinched her nipple. "Oh! Please, I…please, just…"

"It's my birthday," Andy whispered, and something in her voice--maybe the promise of torment--made Miranda moan and tremble again. "And I get to do what I want."

"Oh, no," Miranda whimpered.

"And I want it slow. Nice and slow."

"No," Miranda repeated, which might have worked better if her nipples hadn't gone even harder, and if Andy hadn't felt her moisture beginning to drip down the inside of her thigh. "I…I need…"

"I've got what you need," Andy said, and proved it, making love to Miranda slowly, peeling the gown off her inch by inch; and the more Miranda begged for Andy to hurry, to do it faster and harder, the more thrilled she was when Andy refused to comply. By the time they were both naked, the gown was probably ruined and Miranda had lost the ability to speak in recognizable words. Andy finally gave in to her own desires, stopped the torture, and fingered Miranda so slowly, so gently, that when Miranda began to shudder and sob and clench all around Andy's fingers it came almost as a surprise to them both.

"Oh," Miranda moaned when she was done, and melted back against the mattress, trembling. The sight of her, flushed and delighted, made Andy's vision swim. "Oh my God. Oh my God."

Andy, sticky and breathless and so turned on she thought she was going to die, tried to come up with something to say. All she managed was, "I love doing this. I…" Miranda opened her glassy eyes and looked at her. But before Andy could say anything else--before she could admit to loving Miranda even more than sex--Miranda stroked her own hand up Andy's thigh.

To her own surprise, Andy gasped, "No. Not yet."

Miranda blinked and said, hoarsely, "No?"

"Not yet," Andy repeated, and swallowed hard. There was something else she wanted more. "Let's get you cleaned up."

Miranda blinked again. "What?" And then, when Andy bent her head and began lapping hungrily between her legs, she cried out, "Oh!"

"Can't get enough of you," Andy panted, feeling her cheeks and even her hair and ears getting sticky. She kissed, licked, sucked, all while Miranda writhed and grabbed at the pillows, too breathless now to beg or plead. "Wish I could do this to you--all the time--"

"Oh, oh, oh," Miranda wailed, and came again. Andy pulled away, licking her lips while Miranda's thighs quivered, and waited for Miranda to pry her eyes open. After a moment, she did, as her breathing began to slow again. She trembled, covered her eyes with her hand, uncovered them again, and swallowed hard. "Umm." Then she managed, "Come here."

Andy did, lying down next to her, looking into her eyes while she tried to get herself under control and make the moment last. Miranda, of course, was interested in doing no such thing. Instead, she touched Andy's chin, urged her in for a kiss, and greedily tasted herself on Andy's lips.

"Well," she said throatily when they parted. Her voice made Andy shiver; Miranda was always at her most mischievous when she'd just been sated and was ready to turn the tables. "Enjoyed that, did you?"

Andy might have been able to come up with something smart-assed, had Miranda not trailed her fingertips up the inside of Andy's thigh. So she just gasped, "Yeah," instead.

"Did you get what you wanted?" Miranda's eyes glinted. "'Having your way with me.' Wasn't that how you put it? Did you get to do that?" She slid her middle finger inside Andy; Andy clenched and almost came on the spot. Miranda's lips curved in a pleased little smile. "Well, did you?"

"You tell me," Andy panted. "You were there, weren't you?" Miranda pressed her thumb against Andy's clit, and Andy whimpered. "Oh. God."

"Yes," Miranda murmured. "I was there."

"A couple of times," Andy said, and grinned, suddenly elated; for no particular reason, she loved Miranda so much in that moment that it hurt. It actually took the edge off her arousal for a second. She beamed down at Miranda, combed her sweaty hair off her forehead, and kissed her nose. Miranda, of course, looked surprised, and then suspicious. Andy chuckled. "So, are you going to get me off, or what?"

"You do laugh at the strangest times," Miranda said, and took her revenge by sliding another finger inside Andy. Andy stopped giggling at once, and bit her lip too slowly to stifle a moan. It was Miranda's turn to chuckle. "So what would get you off?"

Andy decided to go for it. She kissed Miranda's forehead, then her temple, and murmured, "Last night you said you've touched yourself. More than once." Miranda hissed, and her fingers went still. "Tell me what you think about." She cupped Miranda's breast again, plucked at her nipple. Miranda made the 'nnnh' sound. Good. "Tell me."

"Stan Oppenheimer," Miranda said. Andy's jaw dropped; Miranda gave her a bland smile; Andy snarled, and Miranda's smile got a little bigger.

Her warm delight all gone, Andy said, "That was the worst possible moment to--"

"You," Miranda said.

"--joke about--what?" Andy said. And then: "Oh." She gulped.

"I think about you," Miranda breathed.

"Jesus," Andy said, lowered her head, and rested her forehead against Miranda's, staring right into her eyes.

Miranda's breath puffed against Andy's lips as she said, "Would you like to hear about the first time?"

"Yes," Andy whimpered, but forestalled Miranda by kissing her because she couldn't help herself.

When she pulled away again, Miranda flexed her fingers. It felt good. Andy trembled. And trembled harder when Miranda began to whisper. "When you kissed me in the stairwell. That first night."

"Oh my God," Andy gasped.

"I was so surprised." Miranda turned her head, kissed Andy's throat. "I dressed for bed. I tried to go to sleep." She bit down lightly. "I couldn't."

"Miranda," Andy said, digging her nails into her own palms as she tried not to come, her mind on fire. "Oh--"

"I thought about New Year's Eve. And how much you wanted me. And how soft your mouth was." Miranda licked where she'd bitten, and began to thrust with her fingers. Andy's hips jerked. "And I wondered what I would do if you came into the room and slipped into bed with me, and began to kiss me, touch me…"

"Jesus," Andy sobbed again, grinding down onto Miranda's fingers.

"What would I do?" Miranda murmured. "Would I be angry? Would I tell you to leave? Or would I…" She parted her legs. Andy groaned and buried her face in the soft, salty curve of Miranda's throat. "I wondered. And I did this. Exactly this." Miranda began to brush her thumb over Andy's clit again. Very, very lightly. "Exactly what I'm doing to you now. Which is when I discovered that I do like it slow. And gentle."

"Going to come," Andy panted against her skin. "Going to…going…"

"But you like it rougher," Miranda said, "don't you?" And she pressed down firmly with her thumb.

"Christ!" Andy wailed into her shoulder and thrust her hips once, twice, before freezing in place because she couldn't move anymore. Pleasure locked her muscles up, and Miranda didn't stop moving her thumb, and…

She almost fainted. The world definitely got blurry and grey, and she couldn't exactly remember the seconds between Miranda lifting her thumb away and Miranda sliding her fingers out.

"I think," Miranda said--gasped, rather--"that we made an even bigger mess than before you cleaned me up."

"Ungh," Andy replied. "Did…did you really do that? After I kissed you?" Or had Miranda just thought Andy would 'like the idea'?

"Oh yes," Miranda said. "I really did."

"Wow," Andy said, and could almost hear Miranda rolling her eyes. She didn't mind, but just nestled in close and waited to get control of her own mind back. Yeah. Fat chance of that by now. "Thought you said you didn't like talking dirty," she added and, for want of something better to do with her hands, gently stroked Miranda's rounded belly. She was glad the baby hadn't kicked during their exertions. It might have put her off her stride a little.

Miranda hmph'd, but didn't sound truly upset as she said, "Many of my former rules don't seem to apply to you. That's the least of them." Andy grinned as her delight returned. "Besides," Miranda added, "apparently I'm good at it."

"Oh, yeah," Andy said fervently.

"Yes," Miranda said, having needed no affirmation. "I like doing things I'm good at."

"You don't say," Andy said, propped herself up on one elbow, and squinted at the clock on the nightstand. It was almost three. "What time do the twins get back?"

"Five," Miranda said, rubbing her thumb idly against Andy's arm. She didn't quite meet Andy's eyes as she added, "Plenty of time left."

Andy was pretty sure she wasn't talking about sex. She combed her fingertips through Miranda's sweaty hair, realizing that she was still unsure how many casual caresses she was allowed. Kissing was one thing, and sex another; touching Miranda just for the sake of doing it was something else entirely. She was disappointed, though not surprised, when Miranda's mouth thinned a little bit, and Andy pulled her hand away, resting it back on Miranda's stomach.

Miranda appeared to have no objection to that. Maybe it was just the hair. "So," Andy said, "How's it been going? What's the latest scoop on the Charleston shoot?"

Miranda rolled her eyes and said, "My God," and Andy settled down next to her, stroking her belly soothingly while Miranda held forth on Jocelyn's incompetence, Serena's incompetence, Paul's incompetence, Matthias's incompetence, and pretty much the incompetence of everybody she had ever met in her life except for Andy and, astonishingly, Ellie, who seemed to have earned herself a brief reprieve with her diagrams.

There was one other person she didn't mention. "Tomorrow is Nigel's last day, isn't it?" Andy asked softly.

"We're not talking about that," Miranda said. Her body had slowly been tensing up for the past couple of minutes, and Andy realized now that she'd been bracing for the mention of Nigel's name.

"Okay," Andy said.

"I can't believe," Miranda began, swallowed, and repeated, "We're not talking about it." She stared up at the ceiling and refused to turn her head a single degree in Andy's direction.

Andy thought she understood her anger. Nigel had been by Miranda's side for nearly twenty years, always faithful, always steady, always there. Always competent. He'd outlasted all of her husbands. He'd weathered her moods and catered to her whims and--from what Andy had gathered--very, very occasionally called her on her bullshit. He'd been her best friend. And he'd had enough.

Andy couldn't blame him, really. She remembered Miranda's total lack of remorse for screwing him over in Paris; it was one thing to protect your own interests, but it was another thing never even to apologize for it, and of course Miranda hadn't apologized. If Nigel had given Miranda unconditional support--of all kinds--it had always been a one-way transaction. No, Andy couldn't blame Nigel for wanting out. But now, looking at Miranda's blank face and tightly-pressed lips, Andy could hate him a little for it. Just a little.

"I made him what he is," Miranda rasped.

Andy froze, wondering if Miranda was actually about to cry. She wasn't sure she'd be able to handle that, because what did you do, offer to comfort her, or pretend you didn't notice, or what? But Miranda didn't cry. She just swallowed hard and didn't say anything else.

"He…" Andy's voice trailed off. She felt like she ought to say something, but had no idea what that could be.

Miranda didn't wait to hear it, in any case. "Nicky Barolini. That's his real name. Not exactly old English aristocracy, is it?"

"He told me he grew up in Rhode Island," Andy said hesitantly. Miranda snorted, but didn't seem inclined to reveal any more about Nigel's sordid past. Perhaps she realized it would open the door for Andy to ask about her own. "He, uh, told me I should change my name too," Andy added, and attempted a chuckle. "He said mine was too drab."

"He's always liked you," Miranda said. "Even when he didn't." When Andy had still been fat and dowdy, Andy supposed.

"Maybe," Andy said, and took her courage in both hands. "He, um, loves you, though."

"That's enough," Miranda said immediately, and Andy bit her lip. But she'd only told the truth. Nigel did love Miranda, as hard as it was, as bitter as he might be. "What's wrong with 'Andrea'?"

"It was the 'Sachs' part he objected to," Andy said. "He suggested 'Sackville-West.'" She managed to giggle, even if it was slightly strained.

Miranda finally turned to look at her with wide eyes. "He suggested what?"

"'Sackvi'--no, no, it wasn't like that," Andy said quickly. "Not like a, you know, a lesbian thing. It was ages ago, before we ever…he was just teasing me." Miranda did not look appeased. "It was, like, all the way back in December," Andy added. "He didn't know. Because there was nothing to know. Of course. You know? Um."

"Maybe you just should stick to sex talk," Miranda said.

"Yeah," Andy mumbled. She was starting to feel uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable. After all, she wasn't all that sure that Nigel hadn't guessed about their thing. And she would never say so to Miranda, who would probably freak.

But thinking of Nigel made her think of something else he'd mentioned. Something else she wanted to talk about. How to bring it up?

"You know, uh, he and I were talking the other day," she said. "About how, you know, he's openly gay, but he's editing this men's magazine." Miranda made a noncommittal noise. "He says he's going to have to be more discreet."

"Of course he will."

"But he's not going back in the closet. He just wants to be more, uh--" What was the word he'd used? "Circumspect."

"How fascinating," Miranda said. She shut her eyes and sighed. "Why are you telling me about how Nigel handles his love life? Or lack thereof?"

Good question. Why was she? "I was just, just wondering," Andy fumbled, "about how you're supposed to manage it. I mean, how you walk the line. Between hiding and just being…circumspect." Miranda opened her eyes again, and looked at Andy. She didn't say anything. "I'm just saying," Andy added hastily. "I'm not trying to--I don't want--I just wondered--"

"Do you want to come out of the closet?" Miranda inquired, her voice and face absolutely neutral.

"I--" Andy realized she was seriously considering it for the first time ever. This, what they had, was so intensely private that even Miranda's children didn't know about it, or didn't know all about it. Andy's worries about her career and her family aside, what would it be like to be chased down the streets by men with cameras, pilloried in Page Six?

Awful. Completely awful. "No," Andy said. "Not really."

Miranda smiled a little, and even touched her cheek, just like she had on the night she'd come to Andy's apartment. "Compromises are possible in circumstances like these," she said. "Within certain circles, there are certain people about which certain things are known. And not discussed. And even hidden. Discretion is all." She dropped her hand and stroked Andy's shoulder with one fingertip. "And even that would be too much right now. In the middle of the divorce and pregnancy." And the trouble with Irv, she didn't have to say.

"No, I know," Andy said quickly. "I wasn't saying--I mean, I was just thinking out loud, really. I like what we have. I like the way we have it. Private."

"Me, too," Miranda said. Then she added: "Patience."

Andy stared at her. "You're telling me to be patient?"

Miranda's brow furrowed. "Well, yes," she said, in a what-are-you-getting-at voice.

Andy rolled her eyes. "Miranda, you want everything yesterday. You can't even stand for your coffee not to be…"

"That's not me being impatient," Miranda said. "That is me refusing to tolerate unnecessary delay. Roll your eyes again, and I'm kicking you out of bed. There is a difference between waiting for something important, and--stop. I'm trying to--Andrea!"

"Yes?" Andy said, but her voice was kind of muffled.

"I, um, I--ooh--"

Andy lifted her head for a second to say, "Just making sure you won't kick me out of bed." Then she bent back down, and Miranda stopped complaining for a while.

"Infuriating," she moaned when Andy was done. "Utterly…utter…mmm."

Andy licked her lips and flopped back down next to her, making the mattress bounce. She tried to think of something smooth to say. All she could come up with was, "I think I'm really gay for you."

"Oh, good," Miranda said vaguely, and then gasped again and pressed a hand to her belly. "Ah!"

Again, Andy felt that rush of panic. She tried not to freak out, and just said, "Um, is it, is he--"

"Kicking again," Miranda grunted, and shifted on the mattress. Andy raised one hand and let it hover in the air until Miranda said, "For God's sake, of course you can." Then Andy touched her belly and felt the faint thumping.

"How often does he move?" she asked.

"There's not much of a pattern," Miranda said, her breath calming a little. "Yesterday he moved several times. This is the first time he's moved today."

Andy nodded. "The books say it's different for everyone," she said.

Miranda looked amused. "Do they? What else do the books say?"

"All kinds of stuff you'd know if you'd read them too," Andy said. The baby kicked again, and she laughed. "See? He agrees with me."

Miranda waved her hand. "I read every single one of them eleven years ago. Most of it was common-sense, as far as I could tell. Besides, I've got you around."

"Like moss on a log." Another kick. "Huh. What's that?" Andy rested her ear against Miranda's stomach. "What did you say, kiddo?"

"Oh, please," Miranda said.

"'Hey…Mom…you…should…listen…to…Andy.'"

"It's hard not to, son, she chatters incessantly," Miranda said. Andy, in a fit of insanity, raspberried her stomach, and Miranda responded by squirming away and snapping, "No. Stop that." She didn't sound remotely amused this time.

Okay. No touching the hair, and definitely no raspberries. Andy sighed. Maybe she should ask Miranda to make her a list. Maybe Miranda already had one. "Sorry. The books also say raspberries are good for babies," she joked lamely. "I guess I got mixed up about which kind."

"Obviously," Miranda said, and then got an arrested look on her face. "…raspberries."

Great. Andy sat up with a groan and patted her hair down as she glanced at the clock, resigning herself to her fate. Three-twenty. "I'll call Agata Valentina. They should have them ready by the time I get there."

"Get papayas too," Miranda ordered, her eyes already shining. "They have wonderful papayas."

"Anything else?"

"Do you like blood oranges?"

"Love 'em," Andy said, and hauled herself to her feet, looking around for her clothes. Then she glared at Miranda. "You notice how I don't have to do this anymore, but I'm still doing it? Getting you everything you want? I am totally spoiling you." Miranda lifted an eyebrow. "No. More than that. I am enabling you." Miranda settled back against the mattress, looking smug. "You better appreciate this," Andy growled, and put on her panties.

"Oh, I assure you," Miranda said airily. She added, "Bring me my robe, would you? It's hanging on the hook in the bathroom."

"Oh my God," Andy muttered, and stomped to the bathroom. Miranda's chuckle followed her all the way inside.

 


 

That night, as she got ready for bed, Andy thought about what she'd said. She knew that she really was spoiling Miranda, of course. Indulging all her whims. And also that she didn't really care. Now that it wasn't her job, wasn't what she was paid to do, spoiling and indulging Miranda was a pleasure, both in and out of bed. Miranda clearly thrived on it, too, just as she thrived on getting fucked while Andy thrived on fucking. It seemed to be working out pretty well so far.

Andy had to keep telling herself that over and over again--that it was working out, that it was fine--during the next week. When she arrived at the Distinguish  offices on Monday morning, nearly everybody was there, including Keisha, who seemed delighted to work with Andy again. Well, she'd always been nice about that, even when everybody else at Runway  had treated Andy like she had the plague.

Brad was there too. "So," he said, "how about that lunch in the cafeteria?" He raised an eyebrow and grinned, showing his dimples.

"I am going to be so busy," Andy replied, wishing she could tell him exactly what she thought of him. Instead, she contented herself with imagining what it would look like if Miranda attacked him with an axe. "Sometime, though, for sure."

"Ugh," Keisha said when Brad left. "He's kind of cute, though."

"Please, take him," Andy said.

"Forget it," Keisha said. "No dipping into company ink." Andy's eyes widened. "You never heard that phrase?"

"I, um," Andy said, and tried not to gulp. "I might have."

Nigel arrived that night, at about eight-thirty, after wrapping up his last day at Runway.  He received a standing ovation as soon as he walked into the office, and Andy was pleased to see how the exhaustion on his face--and the traces of sadness--melted away at all the enthusiasm. Somebody even popped a bottle of champagne.

There wasn't quite enough to go around, so Andy generously declined and raised a glass full of Perrier instead as they toasted. "To new beginnings," Nigel announced.

"And high sales!" laughed Jerry, the marketing director. Brad punched him in the shoulder with a grin. Jerry winced, and Andy and Keisha shared an amused glance. Maybe Jerry wouldn't want Brad around for too much longer, after all.

The night was intoxicating in more ways than one, and by the time she went home at ten-thirty, Andy was feeling as dizzy as someone who'd drunk half a bottle of champagne. Everyone in the office had been so energetic, so pumped, so ready to go, and tomorrow the work of the magazine began in earnest. The optimism, the potential in the air, was practically tangible. Had Miranda felt like this when she took the helm of Runway ? Andy longed to ask her, but right now she had a feeling that Nigel's defection would be too new and too sore a subject.

Miranda called her as she was taking the subway back to her apartment. They didn't talk for very long tonight, as it was already late, and they carefully avoided all mention of Nigel and Distinguish  and Andy's new duties and coworkers and everything else. Instead, it was mostly small talk about the twins; Andy asked how Miranda was feeling, and received a curt "Fine," which meant she felt like shit. By the time they hung up, Andy was biting her lip and wishing for the closeness of yesterday afternoon. Leaving Miranda had sucked (especially taking into account her post-raspberry bliss), and their schedules were so busy now that they hadn't been able to agree on a time to see each other again until next Sunday afternoon, when Andy was taking Caroline to Wicked  and wouldn't be able to hang out with Miranda anyway. It was almost like being in a long-distance relationship, even though they both lived in the same city.

It didn't help that the next week was packed--getting the magazine started, and getting to know dozens of new people, certainly kept Andy occupied. She was pleased to see, though, that she hadn't lost her touch. On Tuesday, a harried-looking Nigel said, "I need the--you know, for Jeffrey's feature on the election, the--"

Andy handed him the folder without a word. "Don't forget your meeting at two," she said. "And Ramone will call in ten minutes. And you have lint on your cardigan."

"Thanks," Nigel said, and with that word, uttered so casually, he set himself apart from Miranda forever. "Why don't you read over Jeffrey's piece?" he added. "Have you had a chance to look at it yet?" Andy shook her head. "Well, go ahead. Take a pencil to it and see if you have any suggestions or corrections. He doesn't have to know they came from my assistant--and I'll take a look at them before I send them on. If all goes well, I'll put you two in touch."

Andy might get to work with Jeffrey Toobin? The thought made her head spin, and she hurried back to her desk with a draft of the article. She got interrupted several times by the phone, but by three that afternoon she'd gone through the whole thing. Nigel, back from his meeting, glanced over it quickly and nodded his approval. "Fax it," he said.

How cool. Andy grinned like an idiot for the rest of the day.

Which made it even worse when she called Miranda that night and realized she couldn't tell her about it. If the Modernity  article had pissed Miranda off, then she'd be downright furious when she discovered that Nigel was personally putting Andy in touch with influential writers and editors during her very first week at work. Miranda getting jealous about men was one thing, and mostly endearing, but Miranda getting jealous about work was a whole different animal, and not endearing at all. Andy hated it and, not for the first time, wished that Miranda could act like a goddamned adult about things like this.

Maybe she should mention it. Maybe Miranda should start getting used to the idea that Andy was going to have a professional life that no longer depended on her. Maybe Andy should just go to the zoo and stick her head in a tiger's mouth and save them both a lot of time. It wasn't worth it. Not yet.

Talk about spoiling somebody. And not in the fun way.

So the evening conversations were a little strained, and a little short. But the week passed by, and Andy worked her butt off and ran errands and talked to Jeffrey Toobin over the phone, and it seemed like no time had passed at all by Sunday afternoon, when she found herself knocking on the townhouse door. Miranda answered the door herself. "Hello," she said as Andy stepped inside. "Caroline's been looking forward to this."

"Me too," said Andy, glad that it was true. She'd heard good things about the musical, and after her frantic week, it'd be nice just to sit in an audience as a face in the crowd, and let somebody else do the running around for once. "Should be fun."

"You should leave soon," Miranda said without preamble. She'd had a lunch meeting scheduled, which meant Andy hadn't been able to come by and hang out before leaving with Caroline for the show, which was at three-thirty. It was two-thirty now. "I'll call Caroline."

"Okay. Hey." Andy reached out and touched her hand, glancing down the hallway. They were alone. "How are you doing today?"

"Fine," Miranda said mildly. "Nothing out of the ordinary. And you?"

"Fine," Andy replied, feeling vaguely disappointed. It all seemed very…formal, after the easy reunion last week. "I'm good."

Then Caroline's footsteps sounded loudly on the stairs, proving that Caroline had not needed to be summoned at all. She really must be looking forward to this. Miranda rolled her eyes, and as Caroline hurried into view, she said, "How many times do I have to tell you and your sister that young ladies do not charge around the house like elephants?"

"Sorry," Caroline said. Andy was amused to see that she was carrying a little Prada bag much like Andy's own, only in different colors. Big surprise. She was sure Cassidy had one too. "Come on, let's go!"

"Caroline," Miranda said.

"Sorry," Caroline said again. "Hi, Andy. How are you?"

Surprised, Andy said, "Oh, I'm fi--"

"Cool. Come on, we're going to be late!"

"We are?" Andy blinked. They needed to get going, but they weren't exactly down to the wire. "But Roy isn't here yet."

Miranda cleared her throat, but Caroline said, "We're not going with Roy, I want to go with you on the subway again. So we have to hurry."

"Oh, okay," Andy said, trying to sound as excited as Caroline obviously felt. She'd been looking forward to a cushy ride in the car, even though she hadn't quite looked forward to seeing Roy, and watching as he wondered why on Earth she was still hanging around. Hmm. Maybe the subway wasn't a bad idea. "Yeah, that'll take a little longer. We should go."

"Be careful," Miranda said firmly. "There was a subway incident yesterday afternoon. I read about it in the paper."

There were 'subway incidents' every day, in varying degrees of severity, all over the city. But all Andy said was, "We'll be careful. I take the subway every day to work. It'll be fine."

"Hmm," Miranda said, but she had no further objections as she kissed Caroline goodbye and gave Andy another loaded glance. It wasn't the sexy loaded glance this time; it was the if-anything-happens-to-my-child-I-will-kill-you loaded glance. And in spite of everything, it still made Andy shiver.

"Y-yeah," Andy said, and got the tremble in her voice under control right away. "I mean, we should be back by seven at the latest. Probably earlier."

"You're welcome to stay for dinner, of course," Miranda said, and finally Andy saw warmth in her eyes. Something in her chest lightened, expanded.

"Yeah!" Caroline said.

"Sure," Andy said, and smiled at them both, relieved for no reason she could explain. "I don't see why not. Thanks."

"Cool," Caroline said again, and tugged at Andy's elbow. "Now come on."

"Bye," Andy said to Miranda over her shoulder as she obediently followed Caroline out the door and down the front steps.

Wicked  was fun, and both Andy and Caroline liked it, but Andy thought that Caroline might have enjoyed the trip to and from the theatre even more. In stark contrast to their day-trip around London, she held Andy's hand on the subway trip--"Mom says the subway's worse than the Underground and we shouldn't get separated"--and chattered on and on about everything she saw, including the grosser subway passengers. This might have been okay, except that she hadn't yet learned the trick of keeping her voice down, so both Andy and Caroline drew their share of nasty looks. Well, that was like London, anyway.

At least Caroline kept quiet during the show, but afterwards, as she bought an exorbitantly expensive T-shirt, she started talking again. Andy couldn’t help but remember the girl who'd said repeatedly that she didn't want to talk at all, that she wanted to be left alone. Then again, at the time Miranda had basically been ignoring the twins' existence as she tried to come to grips with her new circumstances. She was much more involved with their lives now--maybe more than she'd ever been before. That would explain Caroline's exuberance, if she no longer felt like her own mother was cutting her dead.

Andy wondered what the twins' father thought about his ex-wife's pregnancy. If the two of them had talked about it at all. If they ever talked, beyond what was absolutely necessary for the girls. Andy doubted it; she'd done her fair share of leaving messages for Greg on Miranda's behalf. Apparently Miranda didn't 'do' amicable break-ups. The thought made Andy uneasy, and she shied away from it.

Caroline kept talking all the way through dinner, and by the time they were done with the salad, Cassidy was already writhing with jealousy. "Mom, can I change my ticket to Wicked  now?"

"You've been talking about seeing The Lion King  since Christmas," Miranda said in exasperation.

"I can see that later!" Cassidy looked at Andy hopefully.

Andy bit her lip. "They're sold out for the rest of the season," she said apologetically.

Cassidy rolled her eyes, but before she could say anything else, Miranda said, "There, you see?" Which meant she didn't want to bend to Cassidy's whim; if she had, she would have thought nothing of getting Ellie, or somebody else, to procure the impossible tickets. Come to think of it, Ellie-or-somebody-else would already have had to do that to get Caroline's tickets too. Andy sure didn't miss that part of the job. "Don't worry," Miranda added with a wry smile. "When you come back talking about The Lion King , Caroline will want to see that, too."

"Bet I won't," Caroline said, and stuck her tongue out at Cassidy.

Andy opened her mouth to say, Settle down.  Then she realized what she was doing and closed it right away. It had almost been a reflex--either that, or the result of yearning to tell the twins to settle down for months. But she had no right to do that. They weren't her kids.

Neither was the baby boy, not really. She wondered, with uneasiness, how much say she'd get in raising him, in teaching him how to behave. Would Miranda let her guide him, scold him, anything like that? How might you go about negotiating such a thing?

Instead of telling the twins to shut up, she said to Cassidy, "Come on, I'm dying to see The Lion King . I've heard great things about it for years. I bet we'll love it. Please?" she added with her most hopeful smile, the one that even worked on Miranda sometimes.

It worked on Cassidy too, who said, "Well, okay," and appeared mollified. They got through the rest of dinner with a minimum of fuss, and then the twins retired to do the homework they'd been putting off all weekend, as they cheerfully admitted themselves. "I had a great time, Andy!" Caroline called over her shoulder as she and Cassidy thundered, exactly like elephants, back up the stairs.

"Me, too," Andy said, and this time her smile was genuine. She turned back to see Miranda looking at her silently, and felt apprehensive for no good reason. She took a breath, realized she had nothing to say, and exhaled silently, ending with another smile.

"She behaved herself?" Miranda said neutrally. "Everything went well?"

"Sure," Andy said, surprised that Miranda had bothered to ask about Caroline's conduct. Would wonders never cease? "We had a good time. Everything was fine." Miranda nodded wordlessly. "Um," Andy added, "whose idea was it? The tickets. For me to take them to--was it you?"

Miranda shook her head. "They suggested it."

"Oh." Andy blinked, got her courage together, and said, "Did they…I mean, when Stephen started coming around, did they ever ask to…"

"No," Miranda said.

"Oh," Andy said again.

"Well now," Miranda said, clearly done with that, "I imagine you've been very busy this week. At work."

"Yeah," Andy said cautiously. "I mean, you know, we've talked…"

"Not much," Miranda said. "You have been reticent."

Shit. She should have known Miranda would call her on it sooner or later, should have been prepared. "Well, I--I didn't know if you'd want to talk about it," Andy said.

Miranda narrowed her eyes. Double shit. "Why not?" she said. "Why wouldn't I want to talk about it?"

"Because you're mad at Nigel," Andy said, deciding she might as well get it over with. "And I didn't think you'd want to hear about him."

"I'm not 'mad' at Nigel," Miranda said coldly. "What an idea."

Oh, great. Miranda was in a mood and was going to play it like that tonight. Andy knew there was a reason she'd been nervous. She muffled a heavy sigh, and said, "Okay, then. Yes. I've been very busy. So has he. You know, trying to get everything together and off the ground…"

"Yes," Miranda said, her eyes flat and closed. "I know."

"I was thinking about that, actually," Andy said hesitantly. Time to turn the focus away from Nigel and Distinguish  and on to-- "About what it was like when you started at Runway . How you had to adjust, and the things you did, and everything."

Miranda lifted one shoulder in a bored half-shrug. "You'll find out soon enough," she said. "You're going through all of that yourself."

It would be nice to blame the attitude on hormones, but Andy knew better. "But it's different," she said. "You were taking over something from somebody else, and running it in a totally different way." It was true. Miranda had swept in when American Runway 's numbers were down, toppled the previous editor, and revived Elias-Clarke's flagship publication with a speed and effectiveness that had astonished the entire industry. And she hadn't slowed down since. What was Irv's problem, anyway? Weren't ad sales and subscriptions at an all-time high? Didn't the magazine turn a profit?

"Was it difficult?" Andy added. "When everyone had to adjust?"

Now Miranda looked thoughtful. "I seem to recall firing a lot of people. It settled down after that." She tapped her fingers against her lips and scowled. "Heady times, indeed."

Then Andy figured it out. "Work's been rough this week, hasn't it?" she asked quietly.

Miranda glanced at her quickly. "It's always rough."

"Extra rough, though?" Andy said. "More than you said on the phone?"

Miranda pursed her lips. "People believe they can see the writing on the wall," she said. "They think I don't hear the whispers, or know about what they say behind my back, or listen to the gossip about who will inevitably replace me when Irv lowers the boom."

"Who," Andy licked her lips, "who do they think--?"

Miranda shrugged. "Beatrice LaSalla is the current favorite," she said. Beatrice LaSalla was the editor-in-chief of Runway Italia . "But the gossip changes every day. I'm sure there's a betting pool." She smiled grimly. "Jacqueline was supposed to be a sure thing. I wonder how much money changed hands over that one."

"Do you think Irv's going to make a move?" Andy said. She added, "I've been listening. But I haven't heard people talking about it. At least, not around me or--" Nigel. Andy realized suddenly that nobody had mentioned Miranda in front of Nigel all week. "I mean, I haven't heard anything."

"I'm sure he's planning on it," Miranda said. "But he's taking his time. First he fired you; in a few days it will be Paul, or Jocelyn, or someone else. And then someone else again. He'll want to draw it out. Save me for last. He's angry about Paris--about how I humiliated him." Andy shuddered. "Try not to worry about it."

"Try not to--" Andy stared at her. "Miranda--"

"I'll take care of it," Miranda said firmly, attempting to close the subject.

No dice. "I know you will," Andy said, praying that was true. "But, I mean, I'm going to worry. I am worried. I, I can't be there, and I can't help--"

"You never could," Miranda said. "Not with this."

She'd probably meant to make Andy feel better, in her own, Miranda-ish way. It didn't work. Instead, Andy just felt reminded, yet again, of how powerless she was and always had been. "Yeah," she muttered. "I know."

Miranda sighed. "Your time will come," she said. "I told you to be patient. Just work your way up the ladder."

"I know," Andy said again, trying not to sound like a sulky little kid. Miranda could do that well enough for both of them. "I'll--but is there anything I can do?" Then she winced. She hadn't meant to sound quite so pathetic.

But Miranda gave her a half-smile, and actually seemed pleased. "You do enough," she said. "In a very different capacity. You help me, Andrea. Never fear about that."

Andy blushed with sudden pleasure. Well, that was…good. She abruptly remembered that she and Miranda hadn't seen each other since last Sunday--that, in fact, it had been a whole week since they'd…how had she not noticed?

Well, never mind. No time like the present. She tried the hopeful smile again. Miranda, interpreting it immediately, turned pink herself. But she also looked apologetic. "I haven't felt well today," she said. "I really don't think…"

Andy practically tripped over herself to say, "Oh, right, sure, no problem." The last thing she needed was to look desperate. Then she added anxiously, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing dreadful," Miranda said. "Just exhaustion, discomfort, various symptoms I'm not going to tell you about, and perhaps a general malaise." She grimaced. "It was not a good week."

"You know, you can--you can tell me about that on the phone," Andy suggested. "You don't have to stew over it. It's not like I mind hearing it."

"But I mind talking about it," Miranda said, and then amended, "every day. It would wear me out. It's--easier when it's face-to-face." She frowned. "I wonder why."

Andy considered. "Maybe--"

"It was a rhetorical question." Miranda stretched in her chair, and winced as she patted her belly. She definitely looked a little bigger than last week. Andy realized that now they weren't seeing each other every day, the changes in Miranda's body would become more dramatically visible. Weird. "He gave me no rest last night."

"Maybe he'll calm down tonight," Andy said.

"I live in hope," Miranda said. "Well. I guess it's better to have him doing high kicks than the alternative." She gave Andy a quick glance. "Dr. Viswanathan's office called me at work this morning."

Andy blinked. "Yeah?" Then she sat up very straight. Of course--two weeks after the last ultrasound, the lab results from the amniocentesis would be ready. How could Andy have forgotten? She hadn't been that busy, surely? "What did--I mean, is everything--"

"Everything is fine," Miranda said calmly. "Just as the ultrasound suggested."

"I…" Andy swallowed. "Were you worried? Were you thinking about it? I--"

"Not as much as I might otherwise have been," Miranda said. "We've been a little distracted. Don't worry. I was almost as forgetful as you." She looked embarrassed for a fleeting moment, before shaking her head and saying, "Well, at least we didn't sit around tearing our hair out over it. That's one good thing, anyway."

"Yeah," Andy said, still feeling guilty as hell. Seriously, how had she… "But--just to double-check--everything came out okay? The chromosomes and, and, uh--"

"Yes," Miranda said in exasperation. She looked thoughtful. "Although I was a little worried that the ultrasound might have misdiagnosed the baby's sex, and we'd have to put up with a whole different list of names from the twins." Andy laughed breathlessly. "Oh well. I go in again next Friday, no doubt for an entirely different battery of tests." She snorted. "'Routine checkup.' Please."

"Well, you know," Andy said, "tests are, um--" She realized it would be a terrible idea to say 'important for older women.' "--useful," she finished weakly.

"If you say so," Miranda said, and glanced at the clock. It was nearly eight-thirty. "I hate to say this," she began.

"I'd better get going," Andy said, beating her to the punch and trying not to sound too disappointed. She hated being selfless. "You need to rest."

Miranda smiled mirthlessly. "Two nights ago, I fell asleep reading the book. No warning. I closed my eyes for a moment, opened them, and it was two in the morning and I was still in my chair."

"Look, take care of yourself, okay?" Andy said. She stood up and dared to squeeze Miranda's shoulder. Miranda didn't shrug her off, or seem to mind. "Is Ellie making you eat lunch?"

"Eleanor couldn't make water ripple if she threw a rock in it," Miranda said. "But every day my food appears, from a menu that I am sure she didn't make up, and I eat it."

"I left her a few lists," Andy said sheepishly.

"I'm shocked and amazed," Miranda said. She looked pleased again. Well, it was a form of getting spoiled, Andy supposed. "The pear salad in particular is delightful."

"I'll let her know," Andy said, and grinned.

"Will you be able to come to the twins' party on Saturday?" Miranda asked.

Andy stopped grinning and took her hand off Miranda's shoulder. "No," she said, and shifted from foot to foot. "There's a thing I have to go to for work." A reception in the late afternoon that Nigel had been invited to, and he was dragging her along. She hadn't dared to say no, this time. And she hadn't wanted to. Jeffrey Toobin was going to be there. It might be fun to see David Blaine's magic show, but she could catch him on TV without a ton of eleven-year-olds and their nannies running around. "I'm sure it'll be fine. The Ace of Cakes guy says everything's looking great on his end."

Miranda arched an eyebrow. "So Eleanor told me," she said. "And you as well?"

"I might be keeping on top of the arrangements," Andy admitted, feeling more sheepish than ever. So she'd felt an obligation to see the project through. Big deal. But Miranda smiled again, looking touched, which was the best possible payoff. "Maybe we can get together next Sunday again. Or before," Andy added hopefully. This once-a-week-thing sucked. They had to be able to come up with a better plan.

"We'll see," Miranda said. "You're working late most nights now, aren't you?" Andy nodded unhappily. She was Nigel's only assistant, and she'd been staying at the office until at least nine o'clock every night, like everybody else, while the first issue struggled towards the press. Sometimes later. And while she'd had to stay at least until ten every night at Runway , nine suddenly seemed unendurably late, since she was missing Miranda and the twins. But at least Nigel didn't yell at her if he caught her sneaking a granola bar or something at her desk.

Miranda didn't look pleased anymore. More like resigned. "So it begins," she said. "The late nights and…" She tilted her head to the side and regarded Andy thoughtfully. "You wondered, didn't you," she said, "why I was late for dinners with my husband. Why I missed family events. You wondered--like so many people--why I couldn't just keep those simple, straightforward promises."

Andy swallowed hard, and nodded.

Now Miranda almost looked sad. "You're about to find out," she said.

 


 

Miranda's words troubled Andy more than she would ever have admitted. Admitted to Miranda, anyway.

She'd left Miranda that night with a kiss, trying hard not to wish for more. And she'd gone home and stared at the ceiling--since meeting Miranda and working at Runway , she'd started doing that a lot--and pondered.

Miranda had said Andy was like her. She'd been right; Andy had been forced to admit that long ago. But Miranda wasn't completely right. Andy was different in some ways, important ways. Wasn't she?

She remembered coming home late on Nate's birthday with her pitiful little cupcake and candle. Remembered whispering, "Happy Birthday," while he looked at her like she was a stranger in her couture. Remembered a dozen other times when she'd had to dash out in the middle of a date, or a quiet moment together, or--once--during sex, to answer Miranda's latest summons. Andy decided then and there that she'd let Nigel fire her before she tried to explain to Miranda why they had to stop making love because Andy had to pick up his dry cleaning. There. That was different, wasn't it? That was a change for the better, right?

Right. Andy groaned and pulled her pillow over her face.

She had to keep her priorities straight. There had to be room for compromise. Because God knew Andy wasn't the only guilty one; Miranda was busy too, as busy as always, and under more stress to boot. They could let work drive them apart very, very easily, if they weren't careful. Or…or if they didn't care enough--if Miranda decided their relationship wasn't as important as her career, or Andy did, or--

No. Not even an option. Andy wouldn't let this go for anything, wouldn't let go of what she and Miranda had, whatever the hell that was.

Would she?

Andy lifted the pillow from her face and thought about Jeffrey Toobin, and about being a features editor, and about writing freelance and publishing more articles, and about winning Pulitzer Prizes and everything else. And, as always, whenever she thought about those things, indulged in those daydreams, she felt a tug of desire, the pull of ambition. Her childhood dreams were within reach. She didn't want to give them up. She didn't think she could.

But she couldn't give up Miranda, either--Miranda, whom she loved more than she'd ever loved Nate, whom she desired more than she'd ever desired Christian, and who might not love her quite as much in return, but who at least…cared for her. She'd said so, anyway. Andy didn't want to give up dinners at the Priestly table either, or the baby, or even the twins, or any other part of the strange, domestic world she'd been sucked into willy-nilly ever since Christmas. Before then, even.

How were you supposed to manage it? How were you supposed to juggle? Who the heck was Andy supposed to ask for advice--Miranda? Nigel? Yeah, right. She wondered unhappily why there were no normal people in her life anymore. Lily would probably have had some helpful pointers, except Andy hadn't spoken to Lily since October, and couldn't forget the disgust and contempt in her eyes when she'd dismissed "the glamazon," the person Andy was turning into. And in the last few months, Andy hadn't magically turned back into the girl Lily had known for years. She'd changed more than ever. Lily would never forgive her, and Andy wasn't sure she could forgive Lily, either.

So Lily was out, maybe forever. And who else was there? Who, indeed?

 


 

"I'm not surprised you're so busy, honey," her mother said the next evening. Andy'd gotten off work remarkably early: it was only ten o'clock. "It's a new job, a new magazine. You're going to have to pull some late shifts."

Andy closed her eyes. "I know, Mom," she said, trying to be patient. "I don't have a problem with working late. I got used to that at Runway . But…I just…I mean, there's got to be a little time for me, doesn't there? For my life?"

"Well, of course there does. I don't want you turning into some kind of robot. Nobody wants that."

"So how do I do it?" Andy said in frustration. "You and Dad both work full-time now." Once Andy had started high school, her mother had returned to her career part-time, and when both Andy and Rachel were in college, her mother had started working full-time again. She and Andy's father both said it was for the extra money to help pay for tuition, but Andy thought there was more to it--the need to keep busy in the face of an empty nest. "How do you two make time for, you know…each other?" Her father was a lawyer, after all, which required pretty brutal hours too. But when Andy had been little, somehow he'd always managed to come home in time for dinner, to be around every weekend and help out his wife, to play with his daughters. "How did Dad pull it off when Rachel and I were kids?"

"You just make the time, baby," her mother said, which was the least helpful advice Andy had ever heard in her life. "I don't know. You make choices. You make sacrifices. You can't have it all," and then she added darkly, "no matter what they say about 'the modern woman.'" Andy winced. "You just have to work out what's most important to you."

"I know that," Andy said impatiently. "I mean, that's easy to say. But it's harder when there's--uh, I don't know. Something fun I want to do. But I can't, because I'm at work until ten-thirty or eleven every night, and then I'm so tired I collapse when I get home. Almost every night. Not just some nights."

"Well, you've got to pay your dues," her mom said. "Isn't that what you're always telling us? Although your father and I always said you shouldn't have to--" Andy suppressed the urge to howl. Perhaps her mother sensed her distress, because she finished, "Well, never mind that. You're young. You don't have a family. You're not even dating anybody right now--are you?" she added hopefully. "Is that what's bringing this on?"

"No men in my life," Andy said, wondering if there really was a hell, and how much time she was buying herself in it. "Sorry, Mom. I'm just asking."

"Oh," her mother said, sounding disappointed. "Well, what I meant to say was, you have less to juggle now. So it's easier for you to concentrate on work, until something better comes along."

Like a woman and her two kids, with one more on the way. "I, I know," Andy said helplessly. "That's…yeah. But…"

"And you'll know it, when it happens," her mother said. "When the right one shows up. It wasn't Nate, was it?"

"No," Andy said, closing her eyes. "No, it wasn't."

"Right," her mother said. "I know my little girl. You're smart. You've got your head together. When the right man shows up, you'll figure out what's most important. So will he, if he's worth anything."

"Yeah," Andy gulped.

"Just think about what you want, when the time comes," her mother said. "Do you want the awards and the money, or do you want friends and family? I know they say you don't have to pick, that it's not like it used to be. But it is, and you do."

"Yeah," Andy said again. "I know." She remembered the moment when she'd chosen not to leave Runway . How she'd decided, in a fit of self-righteousness, that she was going to prove to Miranda that you could have it all, that you could be happy and successful and nice and all of that. And that she'd prove it to herself, too. Yeah. Great. Now who was proving what to whom?

Then, to her horror, her mother said, "You know who you should think about? Your old boss. That woman." Andy realized that she couldn't remember the last time her mother had actually deigned to say Miranda's name. "A string of failed marriages, and children she doesn't know how to bring up--"

"That's not true," Andy said, before she could think better of it.

"Didn't you tell me how spoiled they were?" her mother said. "How she doesn't even make them do their own schoolwork?"

"Um," Andy said.

"Right," her mother said in triumph. "Is that the life you want? You just think about that. And now she's pregnant and her husband doesn't even want to stick around--"

"Quit," Andy said at once. "Stop it, Mom. Leave Miranda out of this."

"Well, aren't you touchy," her mother said. "Hit a little close to home, did I?"

Closer than she could possibly know. "Just stop, Mom," Andy said. "I don't want to talk about Miranda."

"Well, all right," her mom said, and now she sounded soothing. "That's all I've got to say, anyway."

She would have said a lot more if she'd known the truth. "Well," Andy said. "Thanks for your help."

"There's no need for attitude," her mother said. "Just remember. When you meet The One, it'll all fall into place."

"Yeah," Andy said. "I bet it'll get really easy then."

"Andrea," her mother said sharply.

"Sorry," Andy sighed. "I'm just tired. I'd better go. It's late."

"You take care of yourself," her mother said. "Don't work too hard. And don't worry too much. Okay?"

Talk about easier said than done. Andy finished the phone call with the usual pleasantries, and growled with irritation when she hung up.

Barely five minutes later, her phone rang again. Miranda, checking in for their nightly chat. Well, they still did that, at least, even if they sometimes only made it through fifteen minutes before one of them begged off from exhaustion. It was better than nothing.

"Hey," Andy said as she picked up. "What's up?"

"Hello, Andrea," Miranda said. The sound of her voice lifted Andy's spirits right away. "Things are--well, I had to go to a party tonight. Do you remember that odious little man who works for Michael Kors? Pierre what's-his-name?"

"Vaguely," Andy laughed, and made herself more comfortable on the couch. It'd be longer than fifteen minutes tonight. She could tell. Good.

In fact, it was almost an hour. By the time they wound down, Andy was yawning hugely, and trying desperately to keep her eyes open. But she wasn't so sleepy that she couldn't come to a decision, and her heart pounded as Miranda said, "Well, I suppose I'd better go."

"Yeah," Andy said. "Good night. I, um, I love you."

There was a moment of silence. And then another one. It felt like it lasted for years. Andy writhed on the sofa, already regretting her stupidity, but still hoping and waiting desperately for--

"Well," Miranda said faintly. "Yes."

Andy blinked, not at all sure what to make of that.

"Good night," Miranda added. Her voice was softer than usual.

"Yeah," Andy said. "N-night." And then she pressed the disconnect button right away with a shaking finger, before she could say something that would screw everything up, assuming she hadn't just done exactly that. And then she went to bed, and stared at the ceiling yet again.

Well…she'd said it. She'd started staking a claim for what was important in her life, for what mattered the most. And Miranda had said, "Yes," whatever that meant in the grand scheme of things. So it had gone okay. Nothing to freak out about. Yeah. Sure.

She kept looking at the ceiling until her eyes closed and she finally went to sleep, exhausted by her own thoughts.

Her phone's insistent bleeping woke her up what seemed like four seconds later. Andy opened her eyes with a gasp; she rolled over and squinted at the phone display. It was three-thirty in the morning. And Miranda was calling.

Emergency? Still more than half-asleep, Andy answered right away. "Hello? What's the matter?"

"Did you mean it?" Miranda demanded.

"Huh?" Then Andy woke up just a little more. "Oh my God," she said, and mashed her face into her pillow.

"Well, did you?" Miranda said. "I have been lying awake for hours--"

"I haven't," Andy said, lifting her face back up. "You woke me up. Again." Although later she would realize this was a good thing. Having this conversation in broad daylight would have terrified her. It was easier when she was groggy and pissed off. "Of course I meant it. Jesus."

"Oh," Miranda said.

"I wouldn't say that if I didn't."

"Sometimes people--you know, these days the word 'love' is tossed around like--"

"Oh, my God," Andy said again. "Did you really not know? Come on."

"Well," Miranda said.

"Give me some fucking credit." Andy rubbed her hand against her forehead. Unbelievable. And there were only three hours before she had to get up again.

"There's no need for--"

"Miranda?"

"What?"

"Don't call me at three in the morning unless you are dying."

"I--ah."

"And don't die," Andy added, deciding that was necessary advice since Miranda apparently needed some kind of instruction manual for everything.

"I--"

"And I'm not going to the girls' birthday party, but I'm still sticking around and I love you." At three-thirty in the morning, this sounded like the best plan she'd ever come up with. Andy was proud of herself.

"I," Miranda said. She sounded a little strangled. "I--"

"We're gonna make it work," Andy said, and rested her head back against her lovely soft pillow. "And also, the kid's going to do his own schoolwork. Can I go back to sleep now?"

"I--" Miranda said again, and finished, "--suppose so."

"Thanks," Andy said, hung up, and dropped the phone back on her nightstand. She had the feeling that maybe they hadn't quite finished something, but she'd work it out in the morning. Later in the morning. Besides, Miranda needed the rest, too. She was sleeping for two now, and…

Andy rolled over and went back to sleep. For some reason, it was much easier this time.

 


 

She felt exceptionally tired when she woke up the next morning, and she was actually on the subway and headed to work before remembering that she'd told Miranda she loved her the night before. It made her blink a little, as she tried to recall the conversation they'd had afterward. Really afterward. She'd been kind of out of it.

But she still felt good about what she'd said. She'd told Miranda the truth, even if Miranda had been strangely surprised. Really strangely. Seriously…what did she think Andy felt? Did she think Andy would have gone through all this crap if her feelings hadn't been serious? Miranda sure wouldn't be going through this if she didn't feel the same--right?

She vowed to put Miranda out of her mind, at least temporarily, when she arrived at work. But that plan went out the window as soon as she brought Nigel his coffee and was greeted with his frown as he held out a square, cream-colored envelope to her. It had her name on it.

"I got one too," he said, and held up an invitation on heavy paper. Andy recognized it immediately. She'd been the one to order it from the stationers, after all. "Apparently we're both invited to her little shindig in a couple of weeks."

Andy didn't have to fake her surprise, at least. She was astonished that Miranda had invited Nigel. And astonished, too, that Miranda had sent Andy an invitation at all, when she'd already personally invited her. More, sent the invitation to Andy's job, where of course Nigel would be sure to see it.

"What's she up to?" Nigel said, echoing Andy's thoughts.

"I have no idea," Andy said, glad she could be honest. "She told me to organize the party last month--" She paused to be grateful that the event was now in the hands of the party planners, and not Ellie. "--but she never told me why she's throwing it, or what it's for. I don't even know who's coming." She'd been kicked out before the guest list had been finalized.

"Great," Nigel said. "Now I'm paranoid. I mean, I was invited before, of course, but that was…" His voice trailed off.

"Maybe she's, um…not as mad as we thought?" Andy suggested. Then she shrugged helplessly when Nigel raised his eyebrows at her. "Sorry. I don't have a clue. Really."

"Fantastic," Nigel said. "Andy: I now designate you my official food taster. If you try my salad and fall over dead, I'll fund a scholarship in your name or something."

"We might not get to sit together," Andy pointed out, deciding that Nigel was almost certainly joking.

"Fair enough," Nigel said. He added, "I hope we get to sit together."

"I've never felt more appreciated," Andy said.

That night, Miranda, of course, refused to say a word about her intentions. "Poisoning Nigel," she sniffed. "Where does he come up with these things?"

"So you're not mad at him anymore?" Andy asked.

"We're not talking about it," Miranda said.

Ouch. "Right," Andy said. "So you're not going to spill the beans about the party."

"Not a single bean."

"I'm supposed to wear my snake pin to this thing, right?"

"This 'thing'?"

"Sorry. I guess I don't know what to call it. I can't imagine why--"

"Wear the pin," Miranda sighed. Then she added, "But not the boots."

Andy grinned. "No? You don't want me to wear your favorite boots?" Miranda was in a remarkably playful mood tonight. Maybe Andy's little confession yesterday had made her happy. That would be wonderful. Not that Andy had been worried. She totally hadn't been worried.

"Those boots are no longer for public wear," Miranda said. "Those boots are for me."

"Those boots are made for wal--" Andy gave up. "Are uncomfortable. We'll save them for special occasions. Really, really special occasions."

"Such as?"

"Such as you just got crowned Queen of the Universe or something," Andy said.

"That would be special," Miranda allowed. "Well, give me time."

"If anybody can do it," Andy said, and laughed. "So what should I wear?"

"I do believe the invitation specified," Miranda said. "Formal wear."

"I know that," Andy said, rolling her eyes. "Anything specific in mind? Well, I have a nice red sheath I got in London…"

"The Marchesa? Hmm." Miranda said. She paused. "Oh, my, yes."

"Marchesa it is, then," Andy said, still grinning. "There are a few rosettes on the left strap. I can hide the snake in them. Like the Garden of Eden or something." She raised her eyebrows suggestively, even though Miranda couldn't see it.

"What a charming notion," Miranda said. "And you look good in red, with your skin. I like you in red."

Andy beamed. Her ego was getting stroked up and down tonight, and it was great. How often did Miranda stroke anybody's ego but her own? Not often. "You do, huh? Only in red?" Might as well fish for a little more, if Miranda was feeling generous.

"I like you best," Miranda said, "in nothing at all."

Andy's breath paused, and she felt herself begin to blush. "Oh," she said, and gulped. "Well, that's…thanks."

"Are you sitting comfortably?" Miranda inquired.

"Um." Andy blinked. She was on the sofa. "I guess so. Why?"

"Because I require you to be comfortable," Miranda said, and added, "and flexible, at least for the next few minutes."

Andy's eyes widened. "Are we," she croaked, "are we going to…over the phone?"

"Oh, yes," Miranda said mildly. "I assume you have no objections."

"No, none at all," Andy managed. She felt like the top of her head was spinning off into space. "I--uh--none at all!"

"Seeing as how I denied you on Sunday," Miranda cooed, "and after you'd waited so patiently all week."

"Not patiently," Andy said, jumping to her feet and stumbling towards her bed where she'd be a lot more 'comfortable.' And flexible. She almost tripped. "Just because I had to."

Miranda wanted to do this. Miranda was probably going to be awesome  at this. Andy yanked her pajama bottoms off, along with her underwear, and tossed it all on the floor. She wondered what was making Miranda more accommodating tonight, but she wasn't about to push her luck and ask.

Instead she asked, "So, uh, have you ever--you haven't before, have you? Phone sex. Had it. I mean."

"No," Miranda said, sounding amused. "I think this is the part where I'm supposed to ask you what you're wearing, though."

"Just a t-shirt," Andy said, and confessed, "I pretty much just ripped off my pants." Miranda's breath caught. Andy bared her teeth in what was probably a pretty savage smile. "You like that idea?"

"Lose the shirt," Miranda said, her voice hoarse. She cleared her throat. "Get naked. This instant."

"Say please," Andy said.

"Oh, no," Miranda said. "You'll be the one begging tonight. Not me."

Andy damn near fainted at that, but she also set the phone down just long enough to pull off her shirt. Yes. Miranda was definitely going to be awesome at this. "Okay," she whispered when she picked up the phone again. "I'm all naked, and on the bed."

"Good," Miranda murmured. "You should never be anywhere else. Or in any other condition."

"Uh," Andy said, and shuddered. Not that she'd ever admit it to Miranda, but she'd never had phone sex before either. It was already shaping up to be a lot of fun. Once Miranda let her voice drop down low like that…

"You should always be naked," Miranda continued. "Always on the bed. Always with your legs spread. Always wet and ready." She paused. "Are you?"

"Getting there," Andy croaked, feeling herself beginning to get slick and swollen without even a touch. Legs spread, Miranda had said. She could do that. She spread them so wide her thighs burned, and even that felt good.

"Because of me?" Miranda said. "You are wet because of me? And me alone?"

"Nobody but you," Andy said, her fingers twitching as she stroked them up and down her thigh. "Promise. Really. Uh. Should I touch myself n--"

"No," Miranda said, and Andy stilled her hand with a whimper. "Not yet. How often must I tell you to have patience?"

"I, I can't," Andy panted. "Not around you. Every time I see you, I can't wait."

"But you make me wait," Miranda said softly. "You make me wait, and then you make me scream."

Andy thought about what Miranda sounded like when she screamed. And when she had to muffle it because they had to be quiet. And how her throat worked and her cheeks went red, and her eyes closed in ecstasy, and Andy whimpered, helplessly.

"Do you like that?" Miranda continued. "I think you do. I think you enjoy knowing the effect you have on me. Knowing that no one else has ever done to me what you do."

"What--l-like what?"

"Well, let's see," Miranda said. "You already know that nobody else has made me come by eating me before." Andy whimpered again. "So that's not a surprise. Hmm. Do you know that nobody else has ever made me scream? Or…beg?"

"B-beg?"

"Oh, yes," Miranda said. "I have never begged anyone else to touch me, or lick me, or fuck me, or any of that. Anyone but you. But with you, I can't…" Her voice trailed off, and she resumed, hoarsely, "I can't seem to stop myself."

"I love it when you beg," Andy whispered. "But you don't have to. I'll give you anything you want." Miranda gasped, and Andy's hips twitched. "I'll touch you and lick you and fuck you until you can't even move anymore."

"Andrea," Miranda choked.

"And then I'll do it again. And again. You don't have to beg, Miranda." Andy took a shuddering breath. "I could do you all day long--still wouldn't be enough--wish I was with you right now, doing all those things to you, right now."

"Andrea--!"

"Are you naked too?"

"I--close enough," Miranda managed. "I wish…I wish you were here too."

"You do?" Andy panted. In that moment she really did want it more than anything--wanted to be with Miranda, who wanted her there, too, because nobody had ever made Miranda feel like Andy did--

"Yes. Let me tell you…let me tell you what I wish you were doing to me right now."

"Oh," Andy said. "Jesus, yes. Tell me."

"Touch yourself first," Miranda whispered. "But slowly. Don't come."

That was a tall order, for sure. Andy gritted her teeth and brushed her fingers against herself, against her labia, and panted "Nnh," into the phone. Then she said, "All right."

"Are you?"

"Yes." Andy swallowed. "Are you?"

"Not yet," Miranda said.

"How naked are you?"

"Underwear off," Miranda said. "Skirt up." She paused. "Heels on."

"Oh God," Andy said, and had to move her hand away and grab her thigh before it was too late. "Tell me now. Tell me--"

"Your mouth," Miranda said. "I want your mouth. Between my legs. Now."

"Yeah?" Andy panted. "No foreplay? You want it right now?"

"Yes," Miranda said, her voice strained. "I cannot wait. You have been teasing me for hours."

"H-have I?"

"Oh yes. All day long. A low-cut blouse, a short skirt, and every chance you got, you flaunted yourself."

"I totally would," Andy admitted. If she'd thought for one second she could get away with it at work. In fact-- "Are we at work?"

"Yes," Miranda said. "You started in the elevator, of course. You knew there were cameras, and we couldn't--you whispered to me."

"I did?" Andy panted. "What did I say?"

"You tell me," Miranda said. "You tell me what you said in the elevator."

Oh God. Of all the things Andy had ever wanted to say to Miranda in the elevator-- "Okay," she said. "I said, 'Miranda, I'm going to fuck you cross-eyed. It's all I'm going to think about today. And every time I look at you'…"

"Ah," Miranda said.

"…'every time you see me looking at you, you're going to know that I'm thinking about it. All the time.' That's what I said. And then…after work…"

"Y-yes?"

"We're not going home. I'm locking the door to your office. I'm closing the blinds."

"You--you'd--"

Andy had her eyes closed as she tried to remember the layout of Miranda's office. It was difficult under the circumstances. "And you're on that sofa in the corner. Where you've got more room. And this is why I've got my head between your legs and you're pulling on my hair."

"Yes," Miranda whimpered. That whimper undid Andy every time. "Y-yes, that's…that's why we're here…"

"I've spread you wide and I've got my tongue in you. You taste so good. And I know you like it slow, but I can't do it slow, not now--"

"Nnngh--"

"I'm going at it fast, because…" Andy's mind raced as she tried to think it out and then say it, "…because…we could get caught any minute, we don't know if everybody's gone home--and we should have waited, but I couldn't, and I didn't even take off your clothes, I just made you pull up your skirt and--"

"And I did," Miranda panted. "I did…"

"You did," Andy moaned, and slid a finger inside herself, dying to rub her clit, knowing that she'd come in a heartbeat if she did. "You've got your leg over my shoulder. Now tell me what you want."

"I, I, um," Miranda said, and rallied. "I want you to move your tongue. I want your fingers inside me instead. T-two, I think." Andy heard her gulp. "I want your tongue, up…higher."

"On your clit?"

"…yes."

"Are you touching yourself now?"

"Yes," Miranda whimpered.

"Oh, God. Tell me what you're doing. Do you have two fingers in?"

"J-just barely. Just tickling."

"Feel good?"

"Not enough…"

"No?" Andy said. "You want me to give you more?"

"Yes--"

"Then I'll just have to unbutton your shirt."

"Oh," Miranda moaned.

"And take off your bra." Andy closed her eyes, imagining Miranda's perfect, perfectly sensitive breasts. Remembering how gorgeous they'd felt against her lips and tongue that first night, and how she'd sent Miranda through the ceiling just by nuzzling them. She tried to remember, too, the textures and the softness, and oh, God, she could practically taste-- "And I'll use my mouth. Just the way you love it. And you love it."

"Oh…God…"

"I suck you and bite you. Hard. But then I make it softer. Then I just lick."

"And, and," Miranda panted, "the other one--you use your hand, your fingers--"

That had driven her nuts, too. That had made Andy feel a thousand feet tall. "Yeah. And you've got your hand covering your mouth. You can't keep quiet. You never can."

"Not with you," Miranda admitted, and the admission itself almost made Andy come. "I--oh--"

"Are you close?"

"Yes--but I'm trying not to--"

"So am I. Jesus." Andy flicked her thumb over her clit and her hips jolted as she almost came; the close call, the risk, thrilled her even more. "Do you know what you look like right now?"

"What…what do…"

"Where are you? Really? On your bed?"

"Yes--"

"Where I ate you the first time? Where I fucked you in your dress? That bed?"

"…yes…"

Andy pulled her finger out and slid two back in, hard. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she moaned helplessly, but she didn't come. Barely. "What did you do with the dress, anyway? Do you still have it?"

"Yes--but it's rui--"

"No. We tore one of the straps, and you got wet in it, and it smells like you. It's perfect. Will you let me have it?"

"Oh," Miranda panted. Then she huffed out a chuckle and said, "Make it worth my while."

"Trade you for the boots," Andy offered, not really kidding. Hell, she'd probably trade an arm for the right to keep that dress in her closet forever.

"Well," Miranda gasped. "Good start…keep going."

"I, okay," Andy said, trying to think beyond the throb between her thighs. "I can--let me tell you what you look like right now. You're on your bed, and your shirt's off…isn't it? Because you were too hot to keep it on?"

"Yes…"

"And your skirt is hiked up around your hips, and your legs are spread, and you're still in your heels."

"One heel," Miranda managed. "I, um, the other one--"

"Got kicked off," Andy breathed. "And you've got a hand between your legs. And I'm watching you."

"Y-you…you're…"

"I'm standing in the room. At the foot of the bed." Andy's eyes closed yet again as she pictured it: Miranda's skirt (that pinstriped one Andy really liked) bunched up around her hips--her legs in the black stockings she usually wore (on her amazing  thighs)--one foot shod (in, yeah, one of those burgundy Manolos)--and from the other ankle, the one without the shoe, dangled her underwear (black lace). And those elegant fingers buried inside the most beautiful thing of all.

"I'm watching you," Andy repeated in a whisper.

"Watching--oh--no, don't look--"

"No? Why not?" Andy said relentlessly. "I told you I wanted to watch you do this. From the start."

"Don't…" Miranda sounded delirious. "…don't--oh--"

"I'm going to watch," Andy said, and curled her fingers. Lights were flashing in front of her eyes. "I'm watching you. Do what I tell you to do." Just that idea made the lights flash brighter. The idea that in bed, if nowhere else, Miranda would do what Andy wanted, because nobody else made her feel like Andy did. That  idea. "Do what I tell you, so I can see."

"Oh--"

"Take your fingers out. Nice and slow. Take them out."

"Please--don't make me--"

"Take them out."

"Oh…"

"Are they out? Are you empty?"

"Y-yes--"

God. God.  "Now slide one back in. Your middle finger. Slowly. Not fast, slowly."

"Oh…slowly…" Miranda's voice was the threadiest whisper now. Andy imagined her face, the way her mouth would be open while she panted, and her eyes closed, and her chest heaving for air. If she was close enough, she would be shaking.

"Is it in?" Andy choked. Miranda's whimper was confirmation enough. "Move it in and out, just a little bit. Right around the entrance. You love that." Right where the G-spot was. God yes, Miranda loved that. "I'm watching you. Remember."

"Yes…I…I remember…" Miranda made a strangled sound, and continued, breathlessly, "I remember I said that you were going to beg…not me…"

"I--" And just like that, the tables were turned. "I am?"

"I'll do what you want," Miranda whispered. "I'll do anything you want."

"Uh--uhm--"

"But I'm not like you. You have to beg me to do it." Miranda's voice suddenly dropped into a low growl of command. "Now. Beg me."

"Jesus," Andy said, feeling like her clit wasn't just standing at attention, it was saluting and running up a flag. "Oka--please, Miranda." She swallowed harshly. "Please touch yourself. Please fuck yourself."

"How? Tell me how you want me to do it."

"Whatever it takes," Andy said, giving up, unable to prolong this for a single second more. "Make yourself come. Do whatever it takes. Now."

"Say--"

"Please," Andy begged. "Please make yourself come, please let me hear you, Miranda, please--"

"Ah--yes, I'll, oh--"

"Please, Miranda--"

"Oh!" Miranda cried, her voice low and raw enough that Andy knew she wasn't faking it, wasn't playacting even a little. "Oh, oh--" And just the sound of it, of those breathless noises Andy loved, was enough to make Andy ram in her fingers and rub with her palm and arch into her hand until she was coming so hard that her whole palm got soaked. "--oh God, yes, oh," Miranda finished, her voice dwindling down into a whimpering whine. "Oh."

"F-f-fuck," Andy managed. Yeah. More than awesome. She gasped, and exhaled. "Was that…was it good?"

There was a pause while Miranda gulped to get her own air back. "Yes," she rasped. "Yes. It was good."

"Sounded good," Andy breathed. "That was amazing. You're amazing."

"Am I?" Miranda sounded terribly pleased with herself. "Well. Now it's your turn."

Whoops. Andy squirmed. "I kind of already took my turn."

"What?"

"I couldn't wait," Andy admitted. "I got off when you did."

"I didn't hear you," Miranda said, sounding outraged. "You were supposed to--"

"Sorry," Andy said, wincing. "Guess I still don't know how to be patient."

"Evidently not," Miranda huffed. "How selfish."

"I know," Andy said sheepishly. "It was really nice of you, though."

"I wanted to hear you."

"Sorry," Andy repeated. "We'll just have to do it again sometime. Or in person, where you can see me, too," she added hopefully.

"I might have a headache."

"You might," Andy laughed. "I feel pretty good right now, though. Don't you?"

"I suppose," Miranda sighed. Andy could just picture her dragging a martyred, sticky hand across her forehead. "I mean, I've certainly felt worse." Andy laughed again, helplessly. "Really, is there anything that doesn't make you giggle?"

"I don't know," Andy said, holding on to her stomach, knowing that her giddiness was making everything seem a lot funnier than it really was. "Thank you. Seriously. That was great."

"Oh, well," Miranda said lightly. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"When can we get together in person?"

"Are you free on Sunday afternoon?"

"Yeah," Andy said. Apparently that was turning into their default time. Well, it was better than not having a default time, but still. "Won't you be tired after the party on Saturday?"

"Yes," Miranda said.

After a pause, Andy sighed, and said, "I'll be there. What time?"

"Come for dinner again." Andy perked up. By dinnertime, Miranda might have revived a little. And after dinner, the twins always had homework, which meant…

"Promise you won't have a headache?" she asked.

"I make no such promise."

"Okay." Yeah, that had been too much to hope for. "I'll be there by--uh--"

"Six-thirty."

"Right. Sunday at six-thirty. And I'll call you tomorrow night?"

"I've a dinner that will run late," Miranda said. "I'll call you."

"Okay." Then Andy yawned. "Sorry. Right, sounds good."

"Coming prematurely, rolling over, and going to sleep," Miranda mused. "I think I've already married a couple of men like you."

"Miranda!" Andy said. Miranda snickered. "That was mean!"

"I'm sorry," Miranda said. "I guess I wanted to step out of character for a moment."

"Yes," Andy said, deciding to imitate Miranda's snotty tones. "Well. I simply can't keep my eyes open. Do forgive me. I'd better go." She paused. "And I have to wash my hands."

Miranda hmph'd, but it was really a laugh. "Don't let me keep you from your well-earned rest," she said. "Sleep well."

Like the night before, her voice was unwontedly soft. It gave Andy the courage to say, "Okay. You too. Good night. Love you."

"I--yes," Miranda said, and now she sounded breathless. "Good night." Then she hung up.

Andy blinked, and then frowned briefly at the ceiling. That was weird. Miranda didn't exactly seem inclined to return the words, but she obviously didn't mind hearing them. In fact, judging by the way she'd felt compelled to call Andy at ridiculous o'clock the night before, the words were pretty important to her. Of course, the real test would be when Andy could finally say them face-to-face. If she could get the guts to. Looking Miranda Priestly dead in the eye and saying, "I love you"…how were you supposed to pull off something like that?

Better than the men Miranda had married, Andy hoped. She'd figure it out. In the meantime, she followed their example by rolling over, turning off the lamp, and falling fast asleep. Washing her hands could wait.

 


 

There was no phone sex the next night, however. Nor was there playfulness. True to her word, Miranda called Andy. It was almost eleven, and her voice was brusque, her words clipped and short as she said hello and inquired after Andy's well-being as if she were about to be led off to a firing squad within moments.

"What happened?" Andy asked.

"Irv fired Jocelyn this morning," Miranda said.

"Oh no," Andy said, grimacing. "But…you expected it, didn't you?"

"Jocelyn didn't," Miranda said. "I had to put up with her wailing and crying until the moment security escorted her out. At least Irv spared you that indignity." Andy shivered, glad she'd avoided that particular abject humiliation. "She's mounting a wrongful dismissal suit, of course. No doubt she'll get some kind of quiet settlement."

It hadn't occurred to Andy to do anything like that. She didn't think she had the energy or spite for it, though, and she certainly didn't want to draw any more of Irv's attention to her relationship with Miranda. "I hope she finds--I mean, you'll probably give her a recommendation or…" Andy let her voice trail off. There was a pointed moment of silence. "Anyway, I hope it works out for her."

"It's put me in an embarrassing position," Miranda said. "To say the least. I overheard Amanda wondering if the next editor-in-chief would want new office furniture, or would keep mine as a memento."

"What?" Andy said incredulously.

"So I lost two underlings today," Miranda said. "Extremely irritating."

"What are you going to do?"

"Hire a new contributing editor and bookings editor," Miranda said. "Human Resources is even more annoyed with me than usual."

"That's not what I…"

"Beyond that? We'll see," Miranda continued. "I'm currently playing it by ear."

"Did anything good happen?" Andy asked hesitantly.

"Eleanor did something right."

"She did?" Andy smiled. "That's great. What?"

"I don't remember," Miranda said. "I just remember observing it in surprise, and moving on."

"Oh, uh," Andy said, and decided it was time to stop talking about work. "So how are the kids?"

Miranda was always happy to hold forth about her daughters, who apparently wanted Andy to know that they'd both done well on their latest French test. As for the boy-in-waiting, "I'll be able to tell you more about him Friday night."

"Wh--oh," Andy said, remembering yet again that Miranda's next checkup with Dr. Viswanathan was on Friday afternoon. She felt incredibly crestfallen as she realized she wouldn't be tagging along for this one. "That's right. I wish I could go with you. On Friday, I mean."

"Yes, well," Miranda said. "I'm not taking Eleanor, I'll tell you that."

Andy, who knew that Miranda would pick and choose the advice she wished to listen to, said, "Well, she might be usef--"

"I am not taking Eleanor," Miranda repeated. "Call and talk to that receptionist with the dogs if you want a spy."

"I'm pretty sure there are laws against that."

"Oh well," Miranda said. "If it really gives you a thrill, you can always call and schedule my cesarean section."

Andy's eyes opened wide. "I can--what?"

"Schedule my C-section," Miranda repeated impatiently. "July is already filling up, and I'm due by the middle of it. Hold on just a moment, let me get my calendar--"

"Are you kidding?" Andy said. She honestly had no idea.

"Why would I be kidding?" Miranda asked. "Ah, here we go. Yes. Well, I'm due around July sixteenth, didn't the doctor say? Something like that. Anyway, why don't you call and pencil me in--"

"P-pencil you…"

"--let's say, the weekend of the twelfth. I'm still fairly open then. Unless Dr. Viswanathan has some kind of objection, but I can't imagine why she would."

"Neither can I," Andy said faintly. "The twelfth. Okay. I'll, um, call tomorrow."

"I'm assuming--" Miranda cleared her throat. "That you don't mind--"

"No, not at all!" Andy said quickly. "No. I mean, I'd rather take care of this instead of Ellie. Absolutely. I'll, I'll make sure I have that weekend off, too." Surely by July she could come up with some excuse to Nigel for why she needed to take--paternity leave, or whatever you wanted to call it. "And, you know, after that, too, if…since…"

"Yes." Miranda cleared her throat again. "Good. Make sure you let me know when it's all arranged."

"I'll call them first thing tomorrow," Andy promised, absurdly glad to be in charge of something on Miranda's schedule again.

"Good," Miranda repeated. "I'd better go now. Tomorrow promises to be similarly trying."

"Okay," Andy said, trying not to sound worried. "Yeah. You, you get some rest. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Yes." Miranda paused. "Until tomorrow, then."

"Good night," Andy said. There was another pause. "Love you," she added.

She heard Miranda's breath catch, but all Miranda said was, "Yes. Good night," before hanging up.

"Yeah," Andy said to her phone. "Don't say it back or anything, it might kill you." Jeez. Not even a 'me too.' Well…maybe tomorrow night. Or at least sometime soon. Surely. Surely?

It was, Andy supposed, remotely possible that Miranda had communication problems. She snorted, plugged her phone into its charger, and turned off the light.

 


 

The next morning, while riding the subway to work, Andy called Dr. Viswanathan's office. It was nice to talk to somebody who didn't know she'd been dismissed from Elias-Clarke in disgrace, and who wouldn't think it was strange that Andy was still arranging Miranda's appointments.

"Dr. Viswanathan does surgeries in the mornings on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays," Mary informed Andy. "But have she and Ms. Priestly spoken about delivery options yet? I can't really schedule anything until Dr. V gives me the all-clear herself," she added. "That's the way we do things around here. Her way." She chuckled.

"I, uh, I don't think they've talked about it yet," Andy said. She'd been present at all of Miranda's previous consultations, and they'd never discussed anything about how the baby would actually be born. The twins, Andy knew, hadn't been born by C-section--not even Miranda would be able to cover up that kind of scar. "I mean, not that I know of."

"Well, Ms. Priestly's coming in tomorrow morning. I'm sure she and Dr. Viswanathan will get it all worked out then. And we'll look forward to seeing you too--Katie just whelped a new litter, and I have pictures!"

"Oh," Andy said, "well…uh…"

"Whoops," Mary said. "Incoming call. Sorry, Andy--is there anything else I can do for you today?" she added, in a much more professional voice.

"No, I--"

"Have a great day!" Mary chirped, and hung up.

That night, Miranda said, "What do you mean I have to talk to Dr. Viswanathan about it? Why should I have to receive permission for how to give birth to my child?"

Miranda excelled at asking questions for which there was no right answer. Andy sidestepped this one as best she could. "Why do you want a C-section in the first place?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Miranda said.

Andy blinked. "It's more painful--"

"I have every intention of being unconscious."

"--messier--"

"Doctors and nurses are paid to clean up after themselves."

"--and it has a longer recovery time."

"Nonsense," Miranda sniffed. "Most of it is mind over matter."

"Miranda, they cut a great big hole in you," Andy felt obliged to point out. "And then they have to sew it up afterwards. And you don't get to hold the baby right away, he'll have to be taken to a neonatal unit--"

"You've read up on this too, I see."

"Of course I have!" Andy rolled her eyes. She'd even tried to watch different kinds of birth videos on Youtube, but they had made her kind of queasy. She wondered how she was going to handle watching it in person, and decided now was definitely not the time to worry about it. "You should too. I mean, why do you want to--"

"I can schedule it. I know exactly when it's coming and what will be done. No surprises."

"Oh," Andy said.

"Does that answer your question?" Miranda said. "I've had enough surprises concerning this particular child. I want to know that one fine morning I will go to the hospital, undergo a routine surgical procedure, and, if all goes well, exit the hospital at a predetermined time with a healthy baby in tow. I don't see why I shouldn't."

"Well--" Andy began.

But Miranda had a full head of steam now. "I get my blood pressure and blood sugar and a dozen other things checked every time I go to that office. I've had amniocentesis and two ultrasounds, and I'll have one more. I've had children before. Why exactly does she think I need to be rubber-stamped?"

"Miranda, please don't get mad at her tomorrow morning," Andy begged. "Remember what Dr. Latchley said--there aren't as many obstetricians as there used to be--"

"Don't be ridiculous," Miranda said. "If you look, they're there."

"I'm sure she just wants to talk really quickly with you about it, and I mean, you were going anyway, it's not like you're going to need an extra consultation." Andy's plea was at least two-thirds selfishness. If Miranda dumped Dr. Viswanathan--or vice-versa--the last thing Andy wanted to do was be in charge of finding a replacement. "Just keep an open mind, please? Especially this late in the game!" Andy had no idea how 'late in the game' was considered 'too late' to change doctors, but as far as she was personally concerned they were well past the deadline.

"I'll try," Miranda said grimly, as if she'd only be able to stick to it with firm resolve. Andy closed her eyes in despair. "I expect to be treated with respect as a mature adult."

Andy bit down on a hundred different responses to that, none of which were flattering. "Yeah," she said. "Well, just…it doesn't have to be a big ordeal. The visit. You know, think of it like--you're just going in for routine maintenance. You're getting your fluids checked."

There was a long moment of complete silence.

"What I mean is," Andy began, turning red.

"These pearls just fall out of your mouth, don't they?" Miranda said.

"I just wanted to say--"

"My fluids?"

"Well, you know, they'll check your blood again, and probably swab your mouth for glucose, and of course they'll get you to--"

"Stop," Miranda said. "Stop right now."

"Sorry," Andy said, wanting to sink through the floor, but also wanting to laugh, which Miranda would appreciate even less.

"On that note, it's clearly time for bed," Miranda sniffed. "Good night. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know how it went." Then she hung up without waiting for Andy's reply.

Oops. Andy hadn't even made it to the "love you" tonight. But then she imagined what Miranda's face must have looked like when Andy compared her to a car, and it made Andy laugh so hard it didn't matter. And she was still laughing when she turned out the light and went to sleep a few minutes later.

But ten minutes after she went to sleep, her phone rang again. Miranda. By now Andy didn't automatically start panicking, but she was suitably concerned when she said, "Hello?"

"Well?" Miranda said. Andy blinked, confused, until Miranda said, again, "Well?"

"Uh," Andy said. "I…I love you?"

"Thank  you," Miranda said, clearly exasperated by Andy's thickness, before hanging up again.

Of all the--! This time Andy was much huffier as she huddled back under the covers, considering and discarding the idea of calling Miranda back within moments. Miranda was weird. Andy was sleepy, and would press the issue tomorrow night.

Probably.

 


 

"I'm sending you on a mission," Nigel said the next day.

"Ready and waiting," Andy said as she set his coffee on the desk.

"I want you to go with Jamie to the Kidman interview today," he said. "Do the whole assistant thing, yeah, but mainly try to observe. Jamie's one of the best there is when it comes to interviews, and it was a real coup to get him for this job."

To say nothing of Nicole Kidman, Andy thought. She'd sell covers. "Thanks," she said, delighted. "I'll get Pam in here from the main reception desk. She can cover the phones while I'm gone."

"Great," Nigel said. He opened his leather-bound day planner and frowned. "And while you're schmoozing with the glitterati, I'll be in Accounting."

"It's rough at the top," Andy said sympathetically.

"Just for that, I'll seriously consider sending Brad along."

"I am totally going to scoop the pool," Andy said. She, Nigel, Keisha, and a couple of other people had a betting pool going as to how long it would be before Jerry came to Nigel, requesting that Brad be let go.

"Do you know something I don't?" Nigel said.

"Intuition," Andy said blandly. That, and she'd overheard Jerry saying as much to somebody else by the water cooler.

"Wonderful," Nigel said. "Intuit yourself to work, would you?"

Nicole Kidman, as it turned out, was pretty nice, although she didn't pay much attention to Andy after the initial introduction. No wonder, really--she'd probably met more personal assistants than she could count. And Jamie was gracious about letting Andy hover out of the way while he got the scoop on Nicole's latest movie, latest charitable cause, and latest red carpet gown. She had to leave a couple of times to refresh their bottled waters, but that was it.

Jamie was good. Andy was amazed by how easily he put Nicole at her ease with banter that was friendly, but not presumptuous; by his incredible preparation (he seemed to know everything about every moment of her public life); by how quickly he thought on his feet, discarding one question or comment for another when a particular line of inquiry didn't seem to be leading anywhere. By the end of the interview, two hours later, Andy felt like she'd known Nicole Kidman since grade school.

Jamie rose to take his leave, air-kissing Nicole at both of her cheeks while Andy hurried forward with his coat. "Thanks so much for your time," he said. "I understand Annie's going to be by tomorrow for the photos?"

"I just love her," Nicole said, her eyes shining. "She always makes me look like a goddess."

As she spoke, she glanced casually at Andy, who dared to say, "Wouldn't take much work." She chuckled breathlessly.

Nicole flashed a beautiful smile. Andy got even more breathless. "Well, aren't you sweet," she said. "Good luck at the magazine." Andy swallowed hard, and nodded. "Jamie--a pleasure."

"Wow," Andy said, as they left Nicole's hotel. Andy was going back to Distinguish , but Jamie was going back to his apartment to type up his notes. "That was--thank you so much for letting me watch." She held up her notebook, where she'd frantically been scribbling her observations. "I learned so much!"

"My pleasure," Jamie said. "I've got to get going, but are you going to be at Nigel's little 'do tomorrow?" When Andy nodded, he said, "Then I'll see you there and we can debrief a little. Cheers."

Thrilled, Andy hailed the nearest available taxi--the budget for Distinguish  didn't allow for the staff to be ferried around in company cars, not yet--and returned to show Nigel her findings. He was pleased by Andy's notes. "Got educated, did you?"

"It was fantastic," Andy said. "The interview's going to be amazing, Nigel. You'll see."

"Good," Nigel said. "It's our premiere issue. It better be amazing." He took a deep breath and expelled it shakily. The first issue was scheduled to go to press in six months--a vanishing moment, in magazine time, when you were starting from scratch. And they'd be competing with the big September issues to boot. Andy patted him quickly on the arm, and he shook his head, chuckling ruefully.

"Excuse me, Nigel?" Both Andy and Nigel looked up to see Jerry from Marketing walking towards them with an agitated look on his face. "Can I bend your ear for a second about an HR problem? Shouldn't take long."

Nigel glared at Andy, who blinked back at him, all innocence. "Good odds?"

"Four-to-one," Andy said smugly.

"Then you're buying a round sometime," Nigel said, and extended an arm towards his office, smiling at a puzzled Jerry. "Shall we talk?"

Andy wound up staying at the office past ten o'clock yet again, and her feet, as always, were aching after a day of running around. Just like at Runway . But she was amazed to realize--and felt a little guilty when she did--that her new job was a lot more fun than her old one, though the duties were nominally the same. Part of it was the excitement of the new venture, part of it was her increased level of responsibility, but part of it was also, undeniably, her relationship with Nigel, which was far more relaxed and friendly than it had ever been with Miranda. Even being together with Miranda wasn't exactly 'relaxed.' Andy felt disloyal even thinking about it, but it was true.

It was also true that she missed Miranda like crazy, though, so that made her feel a little better. Sure, it was healthier, more well-adjusted, whatever, to have a life apart from your lover. And sure, Andy was taking to her new position like a fish to water. But…but it would be nice to see Miranda more often than once a week. That wasn't asking too much of the universe, was it?

It was with relief, therefore, that she answered Miranda's call at ten-thirty, skipping the greeting entirely as she said, "How'd it go?"

"Dr. Viswanathan has graciously allowed me to schedule a C-section on July twelfth," Miranda said. Andy immediately reached for her pencil and paper. "Eight-thirty in the morning at Columbia University Medical Center."

"Got it," Andy said, scribbling. Dr. Viswanathan also taught at Columbia, where she was very highly regarded. Really, if Miranda had tried to drop her, Andy might actually have blown a gasket or two.

"I tried to get the girls to agree to spend the weekend with their father," Miranda said. "They refused."

"Of course they did," Andy said, astonished. "They'll want to see their brother. I mean, wouldn't you?"

"I don't want them here if--" Miranda stopped. "Anyway, it's scheduled. Tell me about your day."

"Nothing'll go--" Andy stopped too. "It was fine. It was good. I met Nicole Kidman, she was pretty nice."

"Did you tell her to stop being a blonde?" Miranda said. "Really, there are so few people who can carry off red hair, and she just throws it all away."

"I was too busy trying not to gush about Eyes Wide Shut ," Andy said.

"Arthouse pornography," Miranda sniffed. "I expected better of you, Andrea."

Andy rolled her eyes, but let it go. "We should rent a DVD. I bet it would be fun to watch a movie with you."

"You would be the first person ever to say such a thing."

"Sunday night. I'll bring a DVD. A slasher film. You'll be crawling in my lap by the end, begging me to protect you." Andy thought for a moment. "Then we'll have sex on the couch."

"You're destined for disappointment on that front," Miranda said. "But bring a movie, if you insist. We'll watch it with the girls."

"Yeah?" Andy perked up again. "What do you want to watch?"

"You decide," Miranda said, and Andy's excitement instantly transmuted into panic. "See if you can guess what I'll like."

"Don't I even get a hint?" Andy asked weakly.

"No," Miranda said. "Now: good night. Don't count on hearing from me tomorrow," she added.

She'd probably be craving a couple of hours of pure peace and quiet, after the twins' circus of a birthday party. Andy was glad she didn't have to go anymore. "Okay. Take care. I hope the party goes well."

"So do I," Miranda said. "Well. Good night," she repeated.

"Good night," Andy said, and let the pause drag out. "Oh, are you waiting for something?" she added in mock surprise.

"I don't know," Miranda said softly, and something about the tone of her voice--wistful, almost apprehensive--flipped Andy's brain upside-down. "Am I?"

"I love you," Andy said at once, suddenly wishing more than anything that Miranda was in the room with her so she could show, not tell. "Uh. Je t'aime? Te quiero. Uh…" She racked her brains. What was the German for--

"Don't hurt yourself," Miranda said, sounding amused instead of apprehensive now. "I'll see you on Sunday."

"But--well, yes," Andy said, "but--"

"Good night," Miranda said, and hung up.

"But!" Andy said again, although it was too late. She seriously considered calling Miranda back. After all, by now Miranda knew, had to know, that Andy wanted her to say it too. But she wasn't saying it. What the heck was going on? Why couldn't, why didn't she just…say it?

Miranda undoubtedly had her reasons. Andy wasn't sure she wanted to hear them, not right now. She flopped back down at the mattress and glared at the wall instead of the ceiling, just for a change of scenery.

 


 

Andy tried to be in a good mood at the reception the next day. She wasn't going to let Miranda's inability to say a very simple thing ruin what could be a very good opportunity for Andy to network and make connections. Miranda would never let such a petty little concern distract her, after all.

She arrived early--some habits died hard--so she was there to greet the first guests, one of whom was Jamie. They got to talking about the interview, and about technique and strategy, and one thing led to another until Jamie was saying, "The Daily Northwestern , huh? My nephew was the sports editor there four years ago. Lucas Usher--my sister's kid."

"Oh, I remember Lucas!" Andy said. She didn't, actually, although she'd known him by sight: until she'd actually been editor-in-chief her senior year, she'd had nothing to do with the sports section. But she remembered-- "He did some really innovative things with the spreads."

"Yeah?" Jamie said, looking pleased. "He takes after me, Linda says--my sister --and I got him to shadow my friend Bernard at the Times  two years ago. Sports is his thing, though. He's actually interning at ESPN now." He waved at a waiter, who brought two small glasses of white wine. "I've heard of you before, you know. I've worked with Christian Thompson a couple of times."

Andy bit her lip. "Oh, yeah?" she said. "Christian and I have, uh, run into each other once or twice." And she hadn't given him a second thought since Fashion Week.

"He said you had talent. I saw your piece in Modernity --he was right." Jamie tilted his head to the side. "Did you know that Rolling Stone  is looking out for someone to write a few book reviews here and there?"

"No," Andy said, and she knew by the way Jamie grinned that her eyes had just lit up. "I know Seamus Burghton. I mean I've met him. I can contact him, then?" Miranda had told her to, ages ago, and what with one thing and another she'd forgotten completely.

"Are you asking my permission?" Jamie laughed. Andy blushed. "Sure. I'd go ahead, if I were you--why not? Oh look, Kennedy's here. May I introduce you? You'll love her."

So Andy met Kennedy Fraser, and then Mark Stutzman dropped by, and by the time Nigel arrived with Jeffrey Toobin, Andy's head was spinning and she felt giddy.

Mr. Toobin greeted her with a handshake and a pleasant smile as Nigel introduced them. "Haven't we met already, Ms. Sachs?" he asked.

"We have?" Andy blinked. "I mean, I don't think so."

"No, I'm fairly sure we have," he said. "Miranda introduced us, didn't she? At the Ritz in London, on the last night of Fashion Week. Just about a month ago."

Nigel raised an eyebrow at Andy, who felt her face turn bright red. Shit. Miranda, she remembered, had introduced her to a lot of people that night, including Seamus Burghton, and Andy had tried so hard to pay attention and remember everyone--but that had been the night after Miranda had told Andy she cared for her, and had kissed her cheek, and had led her around the room by touching her waist and elbow, and that meant Andy had apparently met Jeffrey freaking Toobin and forgotten all about it. "Oh, gosh," she said, wanting the ground to swallow her up. "You're right. I'm so sorry--"

"It's all right," he said good-naturedly. "I've heard stories about what Miranda's assistants have to go through during Fashion Week. I'm surprised you remember anything at all!"

"Yeah," Andy said with a weak laugh. "Well, I…I'm sorry…I've always been a huge admirer of your work…"

All in all, it could have been worse. They talked for a little while; Andy scrambled to redeem herself by discussing Mr. Toobin's article as coherently as she could, while Mr. Toobin smiled tolerantly and let her run on. Andy supposed she would have been flattered that Mr. Toobin remembered her if she hadn't been so busy with her own mortification. One of the most important political writers of the day, a hero of Andy's for years, and he'd just been a face in the crowd a month ago. It was embarrassing as hell.

Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, Nigel excused himself and drifted away. Andy didn't run into him again until the reception was breaking up. "I'm exhausted and starving, darling," he said. "Let's grab a bite. Unless you have an appointment?" he added blandly.

"Nope," Andy said. She looked at her watch: seven-thirty. The reception had run late, and she hadn't even noticed the time. "All yours tonight."

"Excellent," he said, taking her arm as they headed into the cooling evening air. He hailed a cab and gallantly held the door open for Andy before sliding in behind her. "Alfredo's Trattoria on Eighth," he told the driver, and added to Andy, "I miss the Town Cars."

"They'll come," Andy said reassuringly. "We're on our way. I was watching, during the reception--everybody wanted to talk to you."

Nigel nodded. "We've been able to offer some attractive advertising packages, we've lined up a couple of big names for content…it's coming together. I'm glad to get out of there, though."

"You didn't enjoy the reception?"

"Well, the most entertaining part was watching you face-plant in front of Jeff," Nigel said. "It was all downhill after that."

"Oh God," Andy said, as her humiliation resurfaced at nearly full strength. "I was so embarrassed. I can't believe I didn't remember him."

"It wasn't like you," Nigel agreed. "What night was it you met him, again?"

"Uh…the last night of Fashion Week, he said," Andy said. "At the Ritz. I'm still trying to remember meeting him, but I just don't." Chiefly she remembered smooching Miranda on the stairs after they returned home. That had eclipsed a lot of other stuff.

"You know, you looked like hell that whole week," Nigel said.

"Oh," Andy said. "Gee, thanks."

"Except that last day," Nigel added thoughtfully. "I noticed the difference. Do you remember that, at least?"

"Er. Yeah," Andy said. "I guess…I guess I'd just been feeling a little run down." Run down by a truck: sick with jealousy and anger and grief that had turned, all in a heartbeat, into joy. No wonder Nigel had noticed the difference. "But you know, I, I do remember feeling better that day."

"I was worried about you," Nigel said. "I'd been wondering if Miranda made you sleep chained to the wall in her house or something."

Andy forced a laugh. "Oh, no," she said. "No, no."

"Apparently not," Nigel said. Then he added, "Hey. Whatever happened to that cute pin you had on the next morning--when we were in the airport?"

"I--actually I put it in the--" Andy frowned. What the hell was going on? "Nigel?"

"Oh, you know, the Stephen Webster snake," Nigel said. "The one Miranda really liked, but apparently gave to you." Then he turned and looked her dead in the eye. His face was--not cold, exactly, but intent. Serious. As serious as she'd ever seen him.

"I…I put it in the bank," Andy said softly. "In a safe-deposit box." Nigel nodded. Andy licked her lips. "I don't want to lose it," she whispered. "I'd hate for anything to happen to it."

"I'm sure," Nigel said. He looked away from her, peering through the windshield. "This restaurant has pretty good wine."

Andy felt frozen for the rest of the cab ride. They didn't speak again, but she knew what was coming. Nigel had figured it out. Or he'd already known and was deciding to bring it up now. Or he was just guessing, but had guessed just enough.

The cab pulled up in front of a small, unprepossessing restaurant. Nigel paid the cab driver and got out, rounding the cab to open Andy's door for her. In the interval, the driver met Andy's eyes through the rear-view mirror and said, in heavily accented English, "You are busted. For what, I don't know."

"Um," Andy said. "Yeah."

"Your husband?"

"No," Andy said at once, just in time for Nigel to open her door, and she practically fell out of the cab in her haste to exit.

"Welcome to Alfredo's," Nigel said. "It's one of the few decent Italian places I've found where I'm not somehow related to the owners. Or the waiters. Or the cooks. Or anybody." They both looked up at the blinking neon sign for a moment, and then Nigel silently led her inside. The interior wasn't exactly five-star. Maybe not even three. But it smelled heavenly. Too bad Andy had lost her appetite.

A hostess led them to a booth, they took off their jackets, and Nigel ordered two glasses of the house red. Now that, Andy could get behind. She didn't want to get too drunk, though--who knew what she'd say?--and she hadn't had more at the reception than a few bites of various hors d'oeuvres, so she decided to go easy. It was going to be tough.

Nigel swirled the wine in the glass, sniffed, sipped, and then nodded appreciatively. Andy didn't know why, since this wasn't exactly the kind of place where the sommelier hung around until you'd decided you approved the vintage, but whatever gave Nigel a kick. She carefully sipped her own instead of chugging it like she wanted.

"So," Nigel said, and opened his menu. "You know I'm violently opposed to consuming carbs, but the clam linguine here is excellent."

"Oh," Andy said. "You, um, go ahead. I'm actually not hungry." Nearly nauseated, actually.

"We'll split an entrée," Nigel announced, and waved the menus at the nearest server. "One order of clam linguine, two plates."

"You want to share, it's five bucks extra," the waitress said, and popped her bubble gum.

"Fine," Nigel sighed. The waitress left.

Out of nowhere, Andy heard herself say, "I wonder how often people spit in Miranda's food."

Nigel paused with his glass halfway to his mouth, and then snorted. "Good question."

"My ex-boyfriend was a chef," Andy said, determinedly watching the waitress until she disappeared into the kitchen, not looking at Nigel. "I heard all the horror stories about what they did to the customers' food if they didn't like them." And Miranda was no politer to underlings in restaurants than she was anywhere else. She'd probably eaten her body weight in spit, snot, dandruff, and anything else the staff felt like putting in there. At least half of those savory rare steaks had undoubtedly been dropped on the floor.

"Great," Nigel said. "Now I'm not hungry either."

"Sorry," Andy said, glancing back at him. His nose was wrinkled, but he didn't look mad. "You were pretty nice. I bet she doesn't hate you or anything." Except Nigel had ordered one entrée instead of two, which would drive down her tip, so…maybe Andy would stick to the wine.

"Well," Nigel said, and gave Andy a half-smile. "When you and Miranda go out to dinner, you'll just have to be extra sweet to the waitress. Play the sympathy card."

Andy smiled mirthlessly right back at him. "I don't think I'll be going out to dinner with Miranda any time soon," she said.

"No?"

"No," Andy said. "Nigel. Come on--"

"She's a charming dinner companion," Nigel said. "You wouldn't think so, but she is. She can be very, very charming when she wants."

"Yes," Andy said, and gripped her wineglass more tightly. "Yes, she can."

"Andy, I've been watching it happen for months," Nigel said, his voice low and utterly serious. "Maybe I didn't understand what I was seeing--not completely--well, I was kind of preoccupied." He snorted again. "I should have put it together long ago. But I have now. The twins baking you a cake was probably the tip-off." He shook his head. "I want to ask you if you're crazy, and all that kind of thing, but the answer's pretty obvious."

Well, here it came, then. There was no use hoping that maybe, by some act of God, they weren't going to have this conversation. Andy swallowed hard. "What do you want me to say?" she whispered. "I know it's a bad idea. I know it's the worst idea ever."

"That's a comfort," Nigel said. "Andy, can't you see what's really happening here?"

"Yes. Yes, I can," Andy said, looking Nigel in the eye, vowing to prove how serious she was. "Nigel, I know it's stupid. I've known all along, and so has she."

"Miranda's judgment isn't sound right now, Andy," Nigel said firmly. "Not about things like this. You of all people should know that."

Andy stared at him. "What?"

"You know what I mean," Nigel said. "Miranda needs you. I've said that all along, even when I didn't know the whole truth. People in trouble will grab the first thing they can find to save themselves. Sound judgment doesn't have to enter into it."

"I don't--" Andy's eyes widened. Nigel couldn't possibly mean what she thought he meant. "I don't understand. What are you trying to say?"

"I'm sorry," Nigel said. "I know it's a hard thing to hear. It's a hard thing to say. But after Stephen left her, and she learned she was pregnant, I watched her grab on to you--"

"Wait," Andy said, and her hand began to shake. She had to set down her glass. "How--that's not--"

"--like she realized she didn't have a friend in the world, right when she needed one," Nigel finished. "Andy, I'm not saying she doesn't care about you. She obviously cares. She feels like she can't get by without you, apparently." He shrugged and sighed. "Maybe that's what love is. I wouldn't know. It's been a while."

"You think she's with me because I'm the only person around?" Andy gasped, feeling tears beginning to sting her eyes, but vowing not to let them fall. "You think that's why she wants to be with me?" She shook her head. "No. That's not true. You don't know what's going on, you don't have any idea--"

"I don't?"

"No!" Andy said at once. But…maybe that wasn't true. Maybe he did.

Andy remembered, with a sickening lurch in her stomach, how Miranda had approached her in London only after Andy had walked out on her--had she been afraid that Andy'd finally had enough of her, that she was finally going to leave and had to be stopped by whatever means necessary? She remembered how Miranda liked it when Andy said she loved her--how she seemed to need to hear it--but how she never said it back. Maybe she panics when you're more than ten feet away.  Was that it, was that why Miranda was so willing to stick out her neck? For need, not love?

How many times had Andy thought about this very thing before she and Miranda had gotten together? How many times had she reflected that Miranda had no friends, nobody to turn to--how many times had her own parents told her it was bizarre that Miranda should rely on her, a lowly assistant, so much?

No. Come on. This was ridiculous. Andy tried to remember the other stuff, the good stuff, like talking on the phone, and laughing together in bed, and having cake with the twins, who Miranda thought needed a second parent, a father figure of some kind--

Thinking wasn't helping. Andy took a deep breath and tried again. "She…" But she didn't know what to say. "Nigel…" Because what could she say? Well, how about: "Nigel, she's not stupid. She knows what's at stake for her." Everything. "You really think she would do this if I was just…" She swallowed. "Convenient?"

"I don't know," Nigel said, to Andy's surprise. "I don't know her nearly as well as I thought I did, apparently. Andy, listen to me. I'm not saying anything's wrong with you. I'm not saying that at all."

"No?" And god damn it, there went the first tear, dribbling mascara down her cheek.

Nigel sighed, and offered her a paper napkin. "Is that Diorshow?"

"Yes," Andy mumbled, dabbing at her cheek.

"The black shade's not right for you. Try the brown. But what I'm saying is, there's nothing wrong with you. You're a fine person. Truth to tell, you're becoming one of my favorite people." He offered her a sad smile. "Miranda has every reason in the world to care about you. I'm just not sure she's doing it for the right ones."

"Oh," Andy managed, and swallowed hard, trying frantically to shore up her dignity. "Jesus, Nigel."

"Andy, I'm not telling you this for my health, or yours," Nigel said quietly. "If you get caught--if Irv Ravitz gets wind, or hell, the press--"

"Oh, God, stop, please," Andy said.

"Stop?" Nigel sounded incredulous. "You think they'd stop, if you told them to? Do you remember what I told you about being discreet?"

Andy laughed bitterly, and wished she could stop trembling. "I wondered if you were talking about us," she said.

"I was talking about you," he said. "Miranda knows the risks. If she wants to throw herself and her job and her family to the lions, that's her business." He sounded rather bitter himself. He really never had forgiven for Miranda for Paris. "But you don't deserve that."

"We're being discreet," Andy said, and added pleadingly, "aren't we? Nigel, you--you haven't heard talk, or--"

"No," Nigel admitted, and Andy relaxed for a moment. "No talk, no gossip. Yet." He took a deep breath. "Andy. I've got to put this on the table. Distinguish  is new. We can't afford a scandal." Andy stared at him. He stared right back as he said, "I've worked very hard, and I've waited a long time. If you get caught--if a scandal breaks--"

"You'd sell twice as many copies," Andy said, reached for a new napkin, and blew her nose.

"Possibly," Nigel conceded. "The people who read gossip rags would love it, at least. The advertisers, maybe, maybe not. And where the ad revenue goes, the shareholders follow." He tilted his head to the side. "It could go either way. I'll admit that. But if it went the bad way…"

"…I'd be out of here," Andy finished. Her heart felt like it was about to pound its way out of her chest.

"You need to know," Nigel said. "And that's why this is my business. Aside from the fact that I am your friend as well as your boss, and if you make me fire you when we could be having a fabulous time together, I will hate you forever." He played with the saltshaker, not meeting her eyes, while she struggled for breath. "Believe it or not…I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I don't know what you should do. I'm not even telling you Miranda doesn't love you. I have no idea how she feels. I'm not making you pick sides. I'm just letting you know…what you need to know. So you can make an informed decision. Whatever you decide."

Suddenly, the waitress appeared out of nowhere and put a big steaming platter of clam linguine between them, along with two plates and two sets of utensils. "Anything else for you, doll?" she asked Nigel.

"No, thank you," Nigel said, and in the sole remaining rational part of her brain, Andy was amused to see how politely he spoke this time. "This looks great." The waitress nodded and walked away.

"I will admit," Nigel began, and paused. Andy looked at him, but didn't prompt him. He continued anyway. "I will admit that she was gracious--as gracious as she knows how to be--about letting me spirit you away when Irv fired you. I remember finding it remarkable, at the time, what she said." Nigel lifted his chin in the air. "'I'll at least trust you to look out for her.' Believe it or not, that's what I'm trying to do."

"I think I need to go," Andy mumbled, slid back into her jacket, and picked up her handbag. Nigel opened his mouth. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you." Nigel looked incredulous. "Well, I mean, I am, but--I know you're not trying to--I appreciate--" That was a lie. She didn't appreciate this at all. "Thanks for, for telling me all this stuff." Thanks for nothing. Andy could quite happily have gone on for some time shoving all her fears to the back of her mind. She didn't want to deal with them. She didn't want to have to deal with them.

"Andy, I want you to be happy," Nigel said. "Hell, I want it for myself, too. Just remember that Miranda's got her limits. If something goes wrong, there's only so much she can--or will--do to protect you, and the same goes for me."

"Enjoy the linguine," Andy said, staggered to her feet, and hurried out of the restaurant without another word. She thought she heard Nigel say her name as she left, but she didn't stop to make sure. Thankfully, he didn't try to pursue her out of the restaurant or anything.

Now she just had to figure out where to go. Striking out down the street, towards the nearest subway stop, Andy decided she should probably just go home. Go home, maybe drink a little more, or a lot more, or watch TV, or write, or do anything but wonder if--

She kept walking, but whipped out her cell phone, and before she'd quite realized what she was doing, Miranda was on the other end and saying, "Hello?"

"Um," Andy said. "Hi. Sorry to both--how was the party?"

"It was fine," Miranda said, sounding annoyed. "And I'm exhausted. As I told you I'd be."

"Yeah," Andy said. "I, uh, sorry."

"Is something wrong?"

Andy, who was barely paying attention to where she was going, couldn't really decide how to answer that. "Um…"

"What is it?" Miranda demanded. When Andy didn't reply immediately, she snapped, "For God's sake, out with it. Are you in the hospital or something?"

"No," Andy said.

"Did somebody die?"

"N-no--"

"Did you get fired?"

"Not yet," Andy rasped.

"What's that?"

Andy cleared her throat. "Sorry. I said no. I, um--" She blinked, realizing she was close to crying again. "Shit. Sorry. I shouldn't have…" She closed her eyes, stopped walking, and moved to stand by the side of the nearest shop window, out of the foot traffic. "I have to know something. It's not going to wait until tomorrow. I'm sorry."

"What are you talking about?" Miranda said. 

"I was just talking to…and…" Andy took a deep breath, and let it out. Okay. Miranda liked it when people got to the point, and Andy was probably two seconds away from a resounding hang-up. And it was long past time to speak her own mind and to ask for what she wanted. "I need to know. Do you love me?"

The ensuing silence stretched on and on, for far too long.

"Oh," Andy finally said, wondering if an asteroid would miraculously hit her or if she'd have to go all the way to Brooklyn Bridge so she could jump off. "Oh."

"Why are you asking?" Miranda said.

"Why am--" Not all the paper napkins in the world would save her mascara now. "Oh."

"Where are you?"

"Eighth and forty-seventh," Andy said hollowly. Like it mattered? "But, um, I'm going home." Either that or she'd crawl under the nearest rock. Or buy a one-way ticket back to Cincinnati--that could work too.

"No, you're not. Come here. Come here at once."

"But--but I--"

"I am not having this conversation over the phone," Miranda said.

"Miranda…"

"And don't hang around waiting for the subway. Call a taxi and get over here." Miranda hung up.

Andy stared down at the phone through her blurry eyes, shaking even harder than she had in the restaurant. Why hadn't--it was a fucking simple yes-or-no question--why couldn't Miranda just say--

Her phone rang, again. Andy jumped. It was Miranda, again. Andy twitched. "H-h-hello--"

"In case you were wondering, this is not negotiable," Miranda said. "I mean it. Get over here now." Then she hung up again, and Andy found herself sticking out a hand to flag a passing taxi before she could even think about it. You didn't argue with that tone of voice.

She shivered all the way to the townhouse. This was worse than getting called on the carpet at Runway . Way worse. At least at Runway  you knew that Miranda was going to tell you what a colossal fuckup you were. Here and now, Andy had no idea what was about to happen, what she was going to do. No idea at all. Was she going to get dumped? Was she going to get a patronizing pat on the head? Would anything happen at all that would allow her to salvage her remaining self-respect?

What happened was that Miranda answered the door before Andy could even ring the bell, and yanked Andy inside by her elbow so that Andy nearly stumbled and fell. Miranda's lips were pinched with displeasure, and got even more pinched when she saw the evidence of Andy's tears. Andy had done her best to wipe off her streaky makeup in the cab, but she couldn't get rid of her red eyes or cheeks.

"The twins are asleep," Miranda said in a low, dangerous voice. Andy looked at her watch in confusion, feeling totally disoriented: it was nearly eight-thirty. "They're worn out. I don't want to wake them up. Keep your voice down and follow me." She turned and marched towards the study on the ground floor where they'd had sex on the couch the day before Andy had been fired, which suddenly seemed like ages ago.

Miranda closed the door quietly, but firmly, when they were both in the room. "What happened?" she asked flatly. "Why are you calling me in floods of tears and asking me if I love you?"

"I just want to know," Andy said feebly. "Can't you tell me? Just--one way or the other--"

But Miranda pressed on. "This hasn't come out of nowhere, Andrea. This is not some random question you have decided to ask out of the blue. Why. Are. You. Crying?"

"I'm not anymore," Andy said, and sniffled.

"Andrea," Miranda said.

"I--" Andy realized she had to tell her. Someone had learned the truth about them. Miranda needed to know about that. "Nigel," she said. Miranda's eyes darkened. "We were talking, and…and he told me he's figured it out…" She swallowed. "I think he's been putting the pieces together for a while. He--you know, he knows us, and he realized…"

Miranda's jaw tightened. "And?" she said. "Is he planning to tell anyone? Go to the press? Call Irv?"

"No!" Andy said at once, wiping at her eyes again. "No, Miranda. He wouldn't do that. He just wanted to talk to me about it."

"Why?" Miranda growled. "If he's not going to tattle, why has he stuck his nose in our business?"

"Um--uh--"

"Tell me!"

Andy straightened her shoulders, shocked at the vehemence in Miranda's voice, at the fury in her eyes. She hoped fervently it was directed at Nigel, not at her. "He just wanted to talk to me," she repeated, and swallowed. "You know, he just wanted to make sure everything was…was okay…" She left out the part about Nigel firing her if the affair became public. It didn't seem necessary, and it did seem like the kind of thing that would push Miranda over the edge into a frothing rage. Andy had never seen that before, and she didn't want to right now, for sure.

"Was okay?" Miranda said. "He wanted to make sure everything was 'okay'? Does he think I'm putting a knife to your throat or something? Forcing you into this?"

"No!" Andy said, and wrung her hands. "He, just, he's worried too, about what might happen if--he doesn't want us to get in trouble."

"And that made you cry?" Miranda said, narrowing her eyes. "Nigel's touching concern for our mutual well-being made you cry?"

"No," Andy said, for what seemed like the millionth time. She took yet another deep breath and decided it was time to stop beating around the bush, time to stop being a coward. Miranda despised cowards. Miranda had told her, again and again, to grow a backbone and speak her mind. She probably had no idea how terrifying that prospect was to most people when they were faced with a clearly enraged Miranda Priestly. But that didn't, couldn't matter, because--

"He said," she said, trying not to let her voice shake, "that he was worried that you, you just need me, instead of--instead of loving me, or caring about me, you know, as a person and not a--well, of course I told him that was ridiculous, that you wouldn't take all these risks if you didn't care, that would be stupid, but--" She gulped. "He said that you just needed someone to be, be there for you, because things were so tough, and I was the only one who was there, I was convenient, I guess--I mean, of course that's wrong, I know that's wrong, but, but--"

Miranda's jaw was hanging open. Andy grabbed her own arms, as if she was standing outside in a blizzard, and kept going. "I tell you I love you and you don't say it back and I don't know why. Maybe you think it's stupid or something, but if you could say it just once, I'd believe you. I'd feel a lot better. Honestly. That's really all I want. It's not such a big deal, is it? It's--"

"You'd believe me," Miranda said. "It would make you feel a lot better."

"Yes!" Andy said. Why the hell was this so hard to understand? Even if Miranda thought it was a meaningless gesture--which she didn't. "You like it when I say it to you. Don't you? I mean, you called me in the middle of the night to make sure I meant it when--"

"You believe I don't care about you?" Miranda said. Andy had no idea what to make of the expression on her face, which was completely blank except for her burning eyes.

"I know you care about me," Andy said. "I never--"

"You believe I don't care about you," Miranda repeated.

"No, I don't!" Andy yelled, and then quickly lowered her voice, remembering the twins. "I know you care. I said that. You said that. Back in London. I mean the second time. You said you cared."

"Yes," Miranda said. "Yes, I did."

"It's just a stupid word," Andy said, resisting the urge to shake Miranda with all her might. "I mean, three stupid words. Why is this freaking you out?" She flung her arms out. "I'll say them to you any time you want. I can say them till the cows come home. Hey, look at this, it's easy--"

"Stupid--"

"I love you. There, see? Want me to do it again? I can do it. I can do a lot of tricks. I can hold my breath underwater for more than a minute."

"You are being utterly ridiculous," Miranda said. Her face was pale now.

"No," Andy said. "No. I'm not." She gritted her teeth and finally put it all into words. "It's not ridiculous, it's not stupid, to love somebody, and tell them so, and want them to tell you back. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that."

"Or what?" Miranda said. Andy stared at her. "Or what?" Miranda repeated harshly. "Is this an ultimatum? If I don't make some kind of grand declaration, you walk?"

"Grand declaration?" Andy said incredulously. "Saying, 'hey, I love you,' to somebody in your own house is a grand declaration? What do the twins have to do to get it, fill out forms in triplicate?"

"How dare y--"

"How what?"  Andy took a step forward. Miranda stood her ground, her jaw twitching, her eyes flashing with fury. "At least tell me why you won't say it. Can you at least tell me that?"

"I've tried," Miranda said.

Andy's mouth shut with a snap. Miranda didn't say anything else. They looked at each other.

"I've tried," Miranda repeated through her teeth. "Several times."

Andy felt like she was about to choke. "What?" she said. Miranda had 'tried' to say it? Like you might say you 'tried' to go on a horrible diet, or you 'tried' to enjoy yourself at a boring party? "So you just can't--what does that even mean?"

"I can't do it over the phone," Miranda said.

"I--huh?"

"I can't--I'm not saying it over the phone," Miranda said. "Not the first time. That's not the sort of--I told you it shouldn't be casual, because people--"

"Are you--" Andy couldn't believe this. "Are you telling me I did it wrong?"

"I wouldn't presume," Miranda sneered. "How could I? It's so easy for you. Those words are so stupid."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it!"

"I'm not going to say it over the phone," Miranda repeated. "I need to say something like that in person."

There was a pause. "Well?" Andy said, spreading her arms again. "Here I am!"

"Forget it," Miranda snapped. "Not when I want to tear your head off."

Andy's arms immediately dropped back down. "Tear my--"

"I can't believe you called me up and--have you gone through the last few months with your eyes shut?" Miranda hissed. "How can you possibly not know what you mean to me? One conversation with Nigel and you go to pieces. How immature are you?"

"Immature?"

Miranda slipped into her most vicious mimic-mode. "'Miranda, Nigel said something that made me doubt everything you've ever done or said'--"

"Everything you've--"

"--'and I left my brain in another handbag this morning, so would you please kiss me and make it all better'?"

"I'm upset," Andy yelled, not caring that she was raising her voice this time. "You told me to tell you when I get upset. Remember?"

"And what's all this about me needing you just because you were there--"

"Didn't you?" Andy said. "What about Christmas? We hadn't exactly had a lot of deep conversations or anything when you called me to London out of the blue." Miranda twitched. Caught. "So what was that about?"

"I--" Miranda inhaled sharply through her nose, and then exhaled, slowly. "You…impressed me in Paris," she said. "I told you that. And when I learned about you and Christian Thompson, I was even more--you would have advanced at Runway  if I'd been fired. You knew that, didn't you?" Andy nodded silently. Like that would have mattered to her. She'd never even thought about it in those terms. "But you came to warn me anyway. And afterwards--you did everything I needed, everything I asked, without complaint, without asking for anything in return. I noticed this. I told you I noticed this. Did you forget?"

"No," Andy said, her mouth dry. "No, I didn't."

"How many people in your position would have done the same?" Miranda said. "I'll tell you. Few. And of those, almost none would have had your resourcefulness or your intelligence, which I seem to remember dimly." Andy opened her mouth. Miranda held up her hand. "No, no, you wanted me to say this, didn't you?"

"I don't know what you're saying," Andy said, beyond frustrated. "Because it's really starting to sound like you're saying you needed me because I was there!"

"I did!" Miranda shouted. It was the first time she'd raised her voice all night. It was the first time she'd raised her voice to Andy, ever. "I needed you because you were there, and you were there because I needed you.  At times like that--you learn who your real friends are--I saw what kind of person you were. Are you actually blaming me for finding that attractive? Should we have had a 'deep conversation' where I explained this to you in detail?"

"Um--uh--" Only Miranda, Andy decided, could make a declaration of feeling, or whatever, that made you feel like you were the most goddamn stupid creature on the planet. "I mean, I was just saying--"

"You're being an idiot," Miranda said. "I am extremely disappointed."

"Well, gosh, I'm sorry," Andy said, clenching her hands into fists. "I'm sorry if wanting to hear that you love me makes me an idiot."

"Well, it does," Miranda snapped. "You should already know."

Andy blinked. Miranda turned red, evidently realizing--

"You said it," Andy said slowly. "Sort of."

"Apparently," Miranda said, and cleared her throat like it was no big deal. "Well, that's all you're getting tonight--I really can't believe you sometimes, Andrea. Honestly--"

"You said it," Andy repeated. She suddenly felt like she'd been wearing a heavy suit of chain mail, and it had just dropped off her, leaving her feeling as light as air, as free as a bird. "You love me."

Then she took her own deep breath and exhaled it. "Thank you."

"No, no, thank you," Miranda said. "For making my day even more exhausting and stressful than it already was."

"Uh. Sorry." Andy dragged her hand through her hair. They stared at each other some more.

"So," Andy added after a long moment, "is…is that it? Are we--uh--okay?"

"I'm perfectly fine," Miranda said, and lifted her chin. "I'm seriously wondering about you." Her cheeks were still pink.

"No, I'm, I'm good," Andy said, boggled by the incredible feeling of anti-climax. "Thanks. I'm, uh, sorry I got so freaked out."

"Are you really this insecure?" Miranda demanded. Her coloring was returning to normal. "At the first hint of censure from the outside world, are you going to buckle? If you can't handle a few harsh words from Nigel, for God's sake…"

"No, I can handle them," Andy said quickly, realizing that yes, in fact, she could. "Now I--it wasn't the censuring part. Now I know how you, uh, feel--now that we've talked about it--I'm better. I can deal. Really." Miranda looked extremely skeptical. "I wasn't worried about what Nigel thinks." She took yet another deep breath. "You love me. I love you too. So I'm okay now."

Maybe better than okay. Miranda had said--or as good as said--that she loved Andy for who she was. Not just as somebody who was 'there.' As a person with hopes and feelings and everything that Andy had been so sure, before London, that Miranda couldn't see. But she saw.

"How romantic," Miranda sneered, but something had flickered in her eyes for just a moment that made Andy step forward, decidedly into her personal space. "That's all it takes, and suddenly the world is shiny and new again? Stop." She put up a hand between them, just as Andy leaned in. "Don't you dare kiss me. I'm not joking."

"You sure?" Andy said, remembering that some of her best sex with Nate had happened after they'd made up from a fight. Not that she and Miranda had technically made up yet, and not that this was an appropriate moment at all, but Miranda's color was up again, and they were both breathing quickly, and it had been a really long time, and it would be totally amazing if they--

"I'll bite your tongue off," Miranda said, and added, "and then I'll kill Nigel. Leaving aside the fact that you actually believed him, I can't believe he said those things to you. How dare he?" Her lips trembled. "How dare he presume to know how I feel about you, or about anything at all?"

"He said he didn't know how you felt," Andy said, and in spite of Miranda's injunctions, laid one hand on Miranda's hip. Miranda didn't push it away, and her cheeks flushed. Oh, boy. "About me, or about anything." Miranda tilted her head back. "He doesn't know how I feel about you, either."

"Andrea," Miranda began, and swallowed.

"He doesn't know--" Andy stopped and licked her lips nervously. She leaned in closer. Miranda's breath caught and she didn't move away. "I don't care if I get fired, I don't care if people find out--" Right at that moment, it was true.

"I'm still angry," Miranda said faintly.

"--and I know that's really stupid and I probably don't know what I'm talking about, and I'm sorry I wigged out but everybody wigs out sometimes, and you make me really happy and--"

"It is really stupid," Miranda said, her eyes flashing again. "And you have no idea what you're talking about. And I, for one, do not 'wig out.'" She took Andy by the shoulder. "Come here."

She kissed her. Next thing Andy knew, her hands were in Miranda's hair while Miranda unzipped Andy's jacket, and there was a slightly bigger bump between them than there had been the last time they did this, but Andy could handle it just fine; she tilted Miranda's head back and kissed her over and over, pausing to whisper, "You going to bite my tongue off?"

"No," Miranda panted, already too worked up to snipe back. She fumbled with the buttons on Andy's blouse, pushed it open, slid her hands around Andy's back, and began clawing at the clasps of her bra.

"You still angry?" Andy nuzzled her hair, kissed her hard on her throat.

"Yes," Miranda said, popped Andy's bra open, shoved it up, and cupped her breasts.

"Okay if I bite you?" Andy asked against her skin.

"Yes!"

So Andy bit, and Miranda moaned and squeezed, and Andy kissed her again and wondered how they were going to do this, if they could even make it to the couch or what, because Andy wanted to do everything all at once and there was no way they could--

"Mom?"

They both froze. Andy heard Miranda's breath stop, just like her own heart. The door to the study was closed, but they hadn't locked it, and a twin was--

"Are you in here?" the twin persisted from outside. The doorknob turned. Andy and Miranda jumped apart from each other like they'd been set on fire, and Andy yanked her jacket around herself and zipped it up just in time for the door to open and Cassidy to step into the room. She looked sleepy. When she saw Andy, she looked surprised.

"What are you doing up?" Miranda managed, and then added, "Sweetheart."

Cassidy did not immediately reply, but instead looked back and forth between Andy and her mother with widening eyes. Shit. Andy tried to smile at her and look casual, aware that her jacket was bulging in a couple of strange places, and that they were both rumpled and flushed.

"Cassidy," Miranda prompted her, sounding sharper than she usually did with her children. "Why aren't you in bed?"

"I heard you yelling," Cassidy said. "I heard somebody else yelling too. Was it you?" she asked Andy.

"Er," Andy said, and looked to Miranda for help. "No, I was just…"

"Everything's fine, darling," Miranda said. "Andrea and I are just talking. Nothing's wrong."

"Oh," Cassidy said.

"Is Caroline up too?" Miranda asked.

"No," Cassidy said. "I think she's still asleep." She looked back at Andy, who tried to keep her arms at her sides and hold down the bulges. "She played Dance Dance Revolution for, like, hours. She's really tired."

"Oh," Andy said. "I mean--wow, that's great. So the party was fun? Did you like David Blaine?"

"Yeah, he was okay," Cassidy said slowly. "He--"

"Cassidy, you can tell Andrea all about the party tomorrow," Miranda said firmly. "She'll be coming by for dinner. Won't you?" she added to Andy.

Andy blinked, and then nodded in supreme relief. "Sure," she said. "If, if that's still the plan."

"Why wouldn't it be?" Miranda said pointedly. She turned back to Cassidy, who was watching them both. "Go back to bed, darling. I'll see you in the morning."

Cassidy glanced at Andy again. "Yeah," Andy said, trying to sound perky. Did she usually sound this perky? "Good night. Oh, hey, Happy Birthday--I've got presents for you and your sister, but I'll give them to you tomor--"

"Were you two fighting?" Cassidy asked bluntly.

"Cassidy!" Miranda snapped, and both Andy and Cassidy jumped. "Go to bed!" Cassidy gasped, exchanged a scared look with Andy, and scurried out of the room without another word.

Andy exhaled a long, shuddering breath when the kid was out of earshot, and pressed a hand to her heart. "God." Busted twice in one night. No fun. No fun at all.

"I told you to keep your voice down," Miranda hissed.

"You were yelling too!" Andy protested. "She heard both of us."

"I--yelling." Miranda suddenly frowned. "Stephen and I never yelled." Her eyes darkened. "Except at the lawyers' office."

Well, now was a great time to talk about the ex, and especially to remember his infidelity. Andy put a cocky hand on her hip. "Apparently Stephen and you never did a lot of things." Miranda snarled. Andy raised an eyebrow. "Am I right?"

"Stephen and I," Miranda said deliberately, "never had any protracted whining and moaning sessions about whether or not we were loved."

Was that supposed to be a low blow? Really? Andy looked her dead in the eye. "Maybe that would've helped," she said. Miranda's eyes widened. "What's wrong with yelling every once in a while? It's not like we're doing it all the time." She and Nate had yelled sometimes. It was when they'd stopped talking at all--when Andy had pretended that nothing was wrong and that she hadn't changed--that they'd both become resentful and unhappy.

She stepped forward. Miranda's eyes narrowed again. Andy kept her hand on her hip. "I don't think we should keep stuff bottled up. I think we should--" How had Nigel put it? "--get it out on the table, if we have to."

"Well, yes, obviously," Miranda said, rolling her eyes like she was some big relationship genius. "But--"

"And I don't know about the whining," Andy said, "but a protracted moaning session sounds pretty good."

"You are the worst," Miranda said at once. "The absolute worst. Go home. Where do you even come up with--go home." She flapped her hands in the air like she was shooing a whole bunch of flies.

"Okay," Andy said. "Am I still bringing a movie tomorrow?"

"Why not?" Miranda said. "See if you can find one where a woman throttles her clingy, irritating lover."

"Chick flick. Got it," Andy said, and added, "I'm not clingy." Well…not much.

"Out," Miranda said, pointing towards the study door.

"And you love me," Andy said, beaming.

"Out!"

Andy got out, without even a kiss, but she didn't mind. She'd arrived in tears and was leaving wreathed in smiles. For no real reason--except that Miranda had sort of almost said she loved Andy, and yeah, actions spoke louder than words and all that, but Andy still felt like she could fly. Talk about a mood swing. Andy was pretty sure she'd never really had those until she'd met Miranda.

So she flew towards the nearest subway stop, not even caring that her shoes had long since started to pinch. She did, however, forget that her blouse and bra were undone beneath her jacket until she was actually standing in a subway car. Thankfully, nobody seemed to hear her squeak.

She was grateful to gain her apartment, where she quickly stripped and changed into her most comfortable pajamas. She was in a good mood now, energetic and happy, and thought she could get some good writing done. Oh--she should email Seamus Burghton about those book reviews. In fact, she'd do that right now, and--

Her phone rang. Andy sighed and picked it up. Then she bit her lip when she saw that Nigel was calling.

She cleared her throat, answered the phone, and said, "Hi."

"Okay," Nigel began.

"Nigel, I'm sorry I--"

"--had your little drama moment, yes, yes," Nigel said. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "Yeah, I am, actually."

"I thought I'd give you a couple of hours or so to cool down," Nigel said.

"Good idea," Andy agreed, very glad indeed that Nigel hadn't called during her showdown with Miranda.

"I was just hoping to--you know what?" Nigel said. "I felt terrible. I can't believe you made me feel terrible."

"It's okay," Andy said, forgiving him instantly. It was easy to forgive people when you felt so expansive. "I don't feel terrible anymore. Don't worry about it."

Nigel sighed. "Do I need to ask how you spent those couple of hours?"

"Probably not," Andy admitted.

"Oh God, she's not there, is she?"

"No. I'm at my place. We, uh, talked it out." Andy paused. "Good talk. It was a good talk."

"Great," Nigel said. "Up charges the white knight; the fair maiden says, 'No thanks, pal,' and shacks up with the dragon. I'm never trying to help anyone again."

Andy laughed. "That's what you were doing, huh?"

"I have no idea what I was doing," Nigel said.

"Why are you so sure I'm the fair maiden in this picture?"

"No," Nigel said at once. "We're not going there. We are not even joking about it." Andy laughed again. "Christ. There are things I never want to know. Why did I call you?"

"Nigel, really," Andy said, becoming serious, "it's okay. We--you know, we're just doing the best we can. We're trying to figure it out. We don't want anything bad to happen to anybody."

"If you say so," Nigel said, and Andy had to give him credit: the day when Miranda didn't want something bad to happen to somebody was a day that had not yet arrived. "Just remember what I said."

"Gotcha," Andy said. "By the way, I have a question."

"Yes?" Nigel sounded suspicious.

"What kind of movies does she like?"

"You're going to watch movies with Miranda?" Nigel said.

"Nigel, just tell me," Andy pleaded. If Nigel didn't know, nobody would.

"You're going to--okay," Nigel said. She could practically see him rolling his eyes up to the ceiling and praying for strength. "She'll tell you she likes Truffaut and Bergman and whatever thing won the most recent Palme d'Or. She's lying. She thinks it's boring. I have no idea what she really likes, if she likes anything. We've never shared a single tub of popcorn. True story."

"Great," Andy said, rolling her eyes. "Thanks."

"Good luck," Nigel said. "Glad it's not me."

"Yeah, me too," Andy said. "So, we're…we're good, right?"

"Until you do something idiotic, we're fabulous," Nigel said. "Don't do something idiotic. More idiotic. Please." He paused. "Look, I'm sorry, but I just have to tell you one more time. What you're doing is idiotic."

"I think you've made that clear," Andy said, starting to tense up again. "I'm not asking you to approve or anything." Although she longed for him to approve. For at least one other person to.

"Good," Nigel said. "I don't." Andy closed her eyes. "But except for what I told you, it's none of my business. I'll keep out of it, Andy. I care about you, I care about her, and I'm keeping out of it."

"Nigel, I care about you too," Andy said, and to her surprise, she felt her throat getting thick. "I don't want to make trouble for you, or the magazine. I swear."

"I know," Nigel said.

"I'll--I'll try not to do anything stupid. Stupider."

"Glad to hear it. Please don't ask me any more questions about movies. Or anything else. I don't want to be involved again. I mean it."

"Right," Andy mumbled. So much for Nigel's approval. Apparently they were going to pretend, together, that nothing at all was going on. Maybe it was for the best--but-- "Okay. Yeah. I'll see you Monday morning."

"I'm counting on it," said Nigel, and hung up.

Well, that kind of brought down her mood a little. But she'd told the truth to Miranda, Andy thought, as she brushed her teeth. She could handle Nigel's disapproval. She could, if necessary, handle more than that. Of course, it would be great if she didn't have to.

Then she flopped into bed, exhausted. She was half-asleep before she remembered that she'd been planning to email Seamus Burghton, and all the way asleep by the time she decided it could wait until the morning.

 


 

The next day, after emailing Mr. Burghton and then spending more time than she liked to think about at the movie rental place (especially since Nigel had been no help at all), Andy made her movie selection. Very carefully. And brought it to Miranda's place that night as if she were bearing a golden chalice.

"But that looks boring," Caroline objected.

"I like it," Andy said, trying not to sound defensive. And she did like it. She'd watched it as soon as she'd rented it just to make sure she could say that.

"It's old!" Caroline said.

"It's a classic," Miranda said softly, regarding the DVD case; it was the first comment she'd made since Andy had dug the movie out of her handbag. "You girls will enjoy it."

"You and Andy can watch it later," Cassidy whined. "Let's watch Freaky Friday. "

"We'll watch this," Miranda said, giving Andy the case back and nodding towards the DVD player. "We are restricting your Lindsay Lohan intake. And Mommy likes this movie." Andy tried not to gasp with relief. And triumph. The twins opened their mouths to protest again, and Miranda added, "You can either watch this or do your homework."

The twins--who'd talked Andy's ear off all through dinner about the party yesterday--now grabbed a couple of cushions and flopped down on the floor in resentful silence, lying on their stomachs and staring up at the enormous plasma TV, while Andy and Miranda sat together on the couch at a decorous distance from each other.

Violins and horns started swelling, the words To Catch a Thief  appeared on the screen in bold pink letters, and Andy barely--just barely--heard Miranda give a soft sigh. She bit her lip to keep from giggling with childish delight. She'd chosen well. And for the next couple of hours, Andy watched Miranda out of the corner of her eye, seeing her enthralled by Cary Grant and Grace Kelly on the French Riviera, surrounded by luxury and saying their lines in smooth, cultured tones that Miranda had obviously worked hard to emulate.

Andy remembered what Miranda had told her once, about how she'd longed to escape her humdrum origins, get to New York, get the power and the money and the townhouse and everything else. How did a girl growing up poor in Toledo, Ohio develop such a burning desire? What had Miranda sought in coming to New York? Andy had wanted to change the world, but Miranda had wanted something else entirely.

So at the movie store Andy had homed in on the old classic films, slick features done in black and white and featuring the stars of decades past: Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo. Movies where women swanned around banquets dripping diamonds from their necks and wrists while their satin gowns glowed in the candlelight. Where stars said the old, classic lines that everybody knew--here's looking at you, kid --and tilted their heads just right. Miranda was into classic things. And head-tilts.

So. Grace and Cary it was. And it had worked.

To Andy's pleasure, the twins got into it too, once they'd overcome their sulks. "He's gorgeous," Cassidy said dreamily as Cary looked deeply into Grace's eyes.

"And she's so pretty!" Caroline said. "Look at her hair!"

"Ssh," Miranda said.

"Why did I take up stealing?" Cary Grant asked. "To live better, to own things I couldn't afford, to acquire this good taste that you now enjoy and which I should be very reluctant to give up."

"Then you are frankly dishonest," John Williams replied.

"I try to be," Cary agreed. Miranda chuckled, and then bit her lip. Andy grinned.

When the movie was over, and the twins had finished rhapsodizing about how Grace's gold ballgown had looked just like the one in Beauty and the Beast , they retreated upstairs to do homework. They took their birthday presents with them: Andy had procured copies of the posters for both Wicked  and The Lion King , signed by the current cast principals. She was still astonished by how easy it was to call up a theatre, mention Miranda's name, and get whatever she asked for. Runway  did theatre reviews, after all, even if a lot of people never read them. Apparently it would have been simplicity itself to get thoseWicked  tickets for Cassidy. Andy was still glad Miranda hadn't given in, though.

The twins had liked the posters. Andy had even gotten them framed (although she had a hunch Miranda would insist on re-framing them in something much more expensive as soon as Andy's back was turned), so they could go up on the walls right away.

When they were alone, Miranda turned to face Andy on the couch. Andy scooted in closer, and Miranda did not object. She raised an eyebrow. "So," she said. "How much psychoanalysis did you attempt before you picked out this movie?"

Well, Miranda had seen through her from Day One, so why should today be any different? "Who said it was about you?" Andy lied. "I like the movie too. I wanted to watch it."

"Regardless, good pick," Miranda said, blessedly letting it go.

"Huh. You know what you need?" Andy said softly, looking into Miranda's eyes, reaching out and resting a hand on her knee.

"I'm sure you're about to tell me," Miranda said, and swallowed hard. Andy rubbed a thumb against her knee, and she shivered.

Andy grinned. "You need to admit that you just can't do everything by yourself." Miranda blinked, and then rolled her eyes in disgust. Andy, undeterred, laughed and kept imitating Grace Kelly's flawless enunciation as she said, "That you need the help of a good woman--and you just aren't the lone wolf you think you are--"

"That will do, Grace," Miranda said, reached out, and tugged Andy in for a kiss. When they parted, she didn't pull back, and Andy happily settled in next to her, sliding an arm around her shoulders so they could get comfortable.

"So," Andy said, "you liked the movie? Or am I still in the doghouse?"

"You tell me," Miranda said and, without meeting Andy's eyes, slid her hand beneath Andy's shirt, and traced her fingers idly over Andy's side. Her hand was cold, and it was Andy's turn to shiver. "Does this feel like the doghouse to you?"

"Um," Andy said, shivered again, and kissed Miranda's temple. "I don't know yet. Keep going so I can decide."

"Here?"

"Anywhere's good," Andy said, chuckling breathlessly, and kissed Miranda's cheek. Miranda tilted her head, and Andy did it again. Miranda's skin was soft, and she wasn't wearing much makeup tonight. "Anywhere, anytime." She thought about the study, even though she really didn't want to move. "Maybe we should--"

"I love you very much," Miranda said quietly.

Andy's heart stopped. The words rang through her head for a moment, and she wondered if she'd imagined them; then she pulled back just enough to look at Miranda's face, and knew she hadn't. Miranda was regarding her seriously. And watchfully. Waiting for her to react.

So naturally Andy said, like a moron, "Yeah?"

"Yes," Miranda said, and nodded as if to finalize the matter.

"Oh," Andy said. "Well." She swallowed. "Wow."

Miranda smiled faintly. "Mm-hm." Then she wrinkled her nose. "Are you crying?"

"No!" Andy said instantly, dashing a hand across her eyes. "I just, um, I got dust in my, there was pepper in the food tonight, I think--"

"Oh, for God's sake," Miranda said, sighed, and reached over to the table beside the sofa, where there rested a box of Kleenex. She plucked out a tissue and gave it to Andy, who sniffled and dabbed at her eyes. She felt completely ridiculous, but she was also glowing so hard she felt like a nuclear reactor.

"Thanks," she said thickly, and gave Miranda what was probably a pretty wobbly smile.

"You're welcome." Now Miranda looked amused.

"And I--you know, I--me too--"

Miranda pressed her lips together as if to stop a smile, and was not entirely successful. "Yes? You what?"

"Well," Andy said sheepishly. She looked down at the Kleenex and fiddled with it. "I do. Love you. I mean…a lot. So--yeah."

"Well, I'm glad we got that worked out," Miranda said, looking like she was about to laugh in the face of Andy's devotion. Andy couldn't have blamed her, but fortunately Miranda controlled it in time.

"What else do you want to work out?" Andy asked, trying to sound smooth again, but ruining it when she hiccupped.

"Cassidy," Miranda said, and pulled her hand out from beneath Andy's shirt.

Which was not exactly what Andy had been expecting, or hoping for. "Oh, uh," she said. "What about--" The penny dropped. "Did something happen after I went home last night?"

"No," Miranda said. "But I got my fair share of looks this morning at breakfast. Although I don't think she's said anything to Caroline yet."

Well, that was one good thing. Andy bit her lip. "What kinds of looks?"

"I'm not sure," Miranda admitted. "'Curious' isn't the right word, but it will do for now."

"Suspicious, maybe?" Andy suggested. Then she reflected that she and Miranda were still curled up on the sofa all cozy-like--snuggling, almost, and the thought made her blush--and all Caroline or Cassidy had to do was wander back downstairs and their suspicions would be laid to rest. "Is everything okay?"

"Of course it is," Miranda said. "But you're taking her to the theatre in a week, and I wanted you to know."

Andy hoped fervently that if Cassidy came up with any burning questions they'd occur to her before then, and she'd address them to her mother and not to Andy. "Well…thanks," she said. "I'll, um, bear it in mind." Then she decided that this was not going to be the main memory of tonight that she carried home with her; she was going to remember love, in words and hopefully in deeds too.

She traced her fingertips over Miranda's hip, and Miranda's eyelashes fluttered. She might actually have been batting them, but even now Andy wouldn't put money on that. "Are you tired tonight?" Andy murmured.

"Yes," Miranda said, and Andy drooped. "But not too," Miranda added. Andy perked up. Miranda raised her eyebrows. "Does the study suit?"

"Oh, yes," Andy said breathlessly. She was really starting to like that study. She sat up and positively hopped off the couch. Miranda watched enviously as she struggled to do the same, only without the hopping part. Andy offered a hand, and Miranda glared at her.

"Not until that is absolutely necessary," she growled, and levered herself up before rising slowly to her feet. "And I don't appreciate the concern."

"Sorry," Andy said as she traced a fingertip up and down Miranda's arm. "I hope what's about to happen in the study won't bother you too much, then." Miranda tilted her head to the side in inquiry. "I'm going to be pretty thoughtful and considerate."

Miranda raised her eyebrows again. But it was no more than the truth. Andy was going to treat Miranda very, very well tonight. Leave her with no cause to complain. Not that she ever did, but tonight Andy was really planning to overdo it.

Maybe Miranda saw it in her eyes. She swallowed hard and looked eager before she could entirely master herself. Ha.

"Lead the way," Andy said, and licked her lips. Miranda rolled her eyes. And did.

 

Sixth: April.

Andy left Miranda's house that evening feeling thoroughly pleased with herself. She'd left Miranda thoroughly pleased too, so maybe one had led to the other. She drifted to sleep that night remembering the sound of Miranda's muffled cries and the taste of her skin.

Seamus Burghton got in touch with Andy on Monday and asked for a sample review; he returned the sample on Wednesday with a few corrections and an offer to write reviews to be published in Rolling Stone  for a book that hadn't even been published yet. She'd get an advance copy. And if she did well on that review, she'd get another.

Neat.

Miranda was very pleased to hear this on Monday night--probably because she'd actually introduced Andy to Mr. Burghton. Andy was wholeheartedly relieved to be able to chatter in excitement about her career without worrying about stepping on Miranda's toes. Or hurting her pride.

As for other matters, Miranda didn't mention Cassidy all week, so Andy assumed everything was well, and there were no questions, no problems, no ripples in the water.

On Sunday, she found out differently.

Like Caroline, Cassidy wanted to take the subway to the theatre instead of the car. Since neither Andy nor Caroline had met with violent deaths last time, Miranda seemed much more okay with letting Cassidy go below-ground. She saw both of them off with a kiss to Cassidy's cheek and a pat on Andy's arm, which made Andy blush, because even though the gesture was totally chaste, it was the first time Miranda had touched her in front of the twins. Cassidy, however, did not appear to notice. Caroline was at a friend's house.

Cassidy was a much quieter companion than Caroline. She responded to Andy's feeble conversational sallies with indifferent, usually monosyllabic replies ("fine," "cool," "yeah," "nah"). It reminded Andy, in fact, of the Underground trip she'd taken in London with Caroline, who'd refused to speak until she'd finally lost her temper. But Cassidy didn't look like she was about to blow a fuse. She looked…not withdrawn, exactly, but reserved. Thoughtful. Watchful.

Andy suddenly had a bad feeling about this.

But Cassidy warmed up as the afternoon went on. She appeared to love The Lion King,  and for her part, Andy enjoyed it a lot more than Wicked , though she'd never tell Caroline so. "And I don't even have to get the poster," Cassidy added as she bought a Lion King baseball cap after the show. "I like the one you got me, with all the signatures."

"Oh, good," Andy said in relief as they headed down the street and towards the subway stop. Cassidy abruptly decided she wanted to wear her cap right away, so they paused on a street corner where Andy snipped off the tags. She grinned as Cassidy stuck the cap on her head and then carefully scrutinized her reflection in the nearest window. "Very stylish," she said.

"Yeah," Cassidy said, and led the way to the subway. "The show was pretty cool. I liked the boy who played Simba. I mean young Simba. He was cute. He…" Andy half-tuned her out while she shepherded them both through the turnstiles and through the tunnels, making sure they didn't get separated. It was more crowded than it had been a few hours ago.

But it wasn't so crowded that Cassidy didn't get a seat. Andy stood next to her, holding on to a strap while Cassidy looked idly around the subway car, swinging her legs back and forth. As always, most of the people in the car ignored everyone else completely, choosing instead to read, listen to music, or stare at the walls as if they contained the secrets of the universe.

"Hey," Andy said, and Cassidy looked at her. Andy smiled. "Thanks for my ticket. I enjoyed the show."

"Yeah," Cassidy said, and gave Andy a long, thoughtful look that made Andy extremely nervous. Then Cassidy bit her lip and looked down at her knees, and mumbled something Andy couldn't hear.

A little alarmed, Andy squatted until her ear was more level with Cassidy's mouth. "Sorry?"

Cassidy didn't look at her as she replied, "I said, I saw you kiss my mom."

Andy froze. Cassidy kept staring at her knees. "Oh," Andy said, as her heart started pounding. "Oh, um. When?"

"A while ago," Cassidy said, and shrugged. "After you guys got back from Fashion Week." Which didn't exactly narrow it down. "I never told anybody."

"Oh," Andy said again, weakly. "N-not even your mom or Caroline? Or--" she swallowed. "Your dad?"

"I said I didn't tell anybody," Cassidy said, glaring at her.

"Right, right," Andy said quickly, wishing that her brain weren't failing her completely. "S-so…um…are you…"

"You were fighting with her last week," Cassidy said. "I heard you. I heard both of you."

Andy swallowed. "Yeah. Did, did you ask your mom about it?"

"I'm not dumb," Cassidy said flatly. "She'd be mad. You saw it."

"Yes," Andy admitted. "Well, it…it wasn't a big deal. We were just, you know…" Just what? How the hell did you explain something like this to a kid? Should you even try? Andy'd never had a conversation like this when she was eleven with her mom. Or anybody else. She had no point of reference.

"You yelled at her," Cassidy said.

Andy gulped. "She yelled at me too," she said faintly, feeling more like an eleven-year-old than Cassidy for the moment. She tried to rally. "Cassidy, it's okay. We worked it out."

"Mom never yelled at Dad or Stephen," Cassidy said. "Even when things got bad. I've never heard her yell."

"Okay," Andy said, trying to sound adult and reasonable instead of panicky. Kids could smell fear, couldn't they? Like horses? "Yelling doesn't have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it's better to yell than keep stuff bottled up inside where it just gets worse." Great. She had to explain it to the mother and the daughter both. "You know what I mean?"

"No," Cassidy said.

"I mean, I'm not saying that yelling's good," Andy said quickly. "I'm not saying you should go around yelling at people. In fact, that's the first time your mom and I have ever yelled. In fact--"

"I really hate Stephen," Cassidy said. "I mean, I really, really hate him."

Andy paused, nervously waiting for Cassidy to continue. When she didn't, Andy said, "Me too." That made Cassidy blink, and she looked up at Andy at last. Andy nodded solemnly, and Cassidy smiled for just a second.

Then she stopped smiling. "Stephen ruined everything," she said. "Me and Caroline were only seven when he and Mom got married, but I remember. Everything was wrong after he lived with us. Everything was different." She kicked back against her seat. "He wasn't, you know, mean to us or anything, but nothing fit right."

"I…" Andy had no idea what to say except, "I'm sorry."

"And then he left, and Mom got pregnant--" Andy decided not to mention that the two things had actually happened in reverse order. "--and everything sucked. She stopped coming home to eat, and she didn't even ask us what we talked about with Dr. Bryson--" The twins' therapist, Andy remembered. "--and she was tired and sick all the time, and Caroline started breaking all the stuff in her room and making bad grades, and one time she got in a fight and had to stay after school." Cassidy took a deep breath. "I wondered if we were going to go live with Dad. Everything sucked," she repeated.

"I'm sorry," Andy said again, uselessly. "Do you, um, think things are better now?"

"Since you got here, yeah," Cassidy said, astonishing her. But she wasn't smiling at Andy; she had that same wary, watchful look on her face. "I mean, it got better over Christmas, after you came. She lightened up, I mean Mom did, and then when we got back she started coming home for dinner again." Cassidy worried her lip. "And then you started coming over too. And…"

Andy's eyes widened. "Cassidy, that's not because of me," she said quickly. "She just needed some time to get used to things. To figure stuff out. She's always loved you, you know, worried about you and wanted you to be--"

"I don't want you to fight," Cassidy said, and looked back down at her knees. "It's okay so long as you don't fight. I don't want you to make her sad. I don't want it to be like it was before."

"It won't be," Andy said, trying to sound firm. "But, Cassidy, I--I can't promise not to fight with your mom again. Sometimes people disagree. But it's okay if we do." Cassidy shut her eyes tight. "Cassidy," Andy said, her voice low and urgent, "listen to me, okay? I love your mom. I love her a lot. And she knows it. I'm not going to make her sad, even if we do argue every once in a while." She attempted a smile, even though Cassidy couldn't see it.

"I don't see how it's okay to yell," Cassidy said. She bit her lip and looked at Andy. "You made her angry."

Andy sighed and decided not to mention that she and Miranda had actually been in the middle of tearing each others' clothes off when Cassidy interrupted. "For a little while, yeah," she said. "But don't you and Caroline ever fight? Don't you yell at each other?" Cassidy nodded. "Does that mean you don't love each other anymore?"

"I guess not," Cassidy said slowly. Apparently this had not occurred to her. Andy hoped like crazy it was working. "But we're kids."

"So?" Andy said, shrugged, and repeated, "Sometimes adults argue, too. Everybody does. It's the way people are. If your mom and I are fighting it doesn't mean we're going to, um…break up." And for a moment the world seemed strange and unreal again, as Andy reflected that she and Miranda Priestly had a relationship to break up at all.

"Caroline told me about how you hung out with her in London," Cassidy said, as if Andy hadn't said anything at all. "Riding the London Eye and stuff. She said you told her you were always going to be on Mom's side. No matter what."

"I am," Andy said, squirming. "But see, when I said that, what I meant was--"

"What if I don't like you?" Cassidy said. "What if Caroline doesn't either?"

Ouch. Really ouch. Andy's heart fell harder than she'd expected. She opened her mouth to say, 'Why don't you?' or maybe, 'Then why did you want me to take you to the theatre?' But then she got a good look at Cassidy's face. She was regarding Andy intently, and Andy realized she'd been asked a hypothetical question, not given a statement of fact. It was a test.

"I'd feel bad," she said. "I like you. I want you to like me. But mainly it'd make your mom sad if we didn't get along. So, if you didn't like me, I'd feel bad, but I'd handle it. But I'm not going anywhere, and we should at least get along well enough to keep your mom happy." She regarded Cassidy very seriously. "Don't you think?"

Cassidy nodded. She licked her lips. "I was just asking," she said. "I do like you okay. Well, I mean, you're better than he was."

"Better than Stephen?" Andy said, and dared to smile. "Well, that's good, right?"

"But I'll hate you worse if you ruin it," Cassidy said. "If you screw everything up like he did and then leave us alone again. I will hate you so much worse." Her blue eyes were hard as flint. And in that moment, she was so very like Miranda that it took Andy's breath away.

She swallowed. "I'm not leaving you alone," she said, and then the subway screeched. Andy realized it was their stop, and stood up so quickly she almost fell over. "Whoops," she said. "Come on." Cassidy followed her out of the car, out of the tunnels, and then back up into the fading daylight.

"You're eating dinner with us, right?" Cassidy said.

"Yeah," Andy said, unable to decipher anything from her face. The kid might be more like her dad in most respects, but she was doing an uncanny imitation of Miranda tonight. "I mean, I think that's the plan."

"Are you going to start staying over?" Cassidy said. Andy blushed, but before she could reply, Cassidy added, "Stephen didn't start staying over until after he and Mom got married. And then he just moved in."

"Oh, um," Andy said.

"But you and Mom can't get married," Cassidy said, and frowned, as if this was a real dilemma.

"True," Andy said, trying not to break out into a sweat. Then she decided that Cassidy was Miranda's child and so it was Miranda's turn to take her fair share of the heat. "You'll have to ask your mom about that. I mean me staying over." Not marriage. Definitely not marriage. And please not over dinner, either. "That's really up to her."

"I guess," Cassidy said.

"Hey," Andy suddenly felt compelled to say as they drew closer to the townhouse. "You know, I--I'll try really hard not to screw anything up. I'm not going anywhere."

Cassidy gave her a level look. "You better not," she said.

Andy's skin almost crawled. But she supposed Cassidy's threat was approval, too, in a way. The twins didn't want her to leave. They wanted her and Miranda to stay together, even if it was only for stability's sake. And because it made their mother happy. Because Andy had arrived when Miranda was miserable and had, without really meaning to, made her happy. And that was--well, really, that was--

When Miranda let them into the house, she seemed to notice the spring in Andy's step, and the sparkle in her eye. She didn't ask questions. But she did murmur, "Hello," kissed Cassidy's forehead--and then kissed Andy on the cheek, too, making her tingle. Cassidy did not appear remotely surprised. Or offended.

"Where's Caroline?" Cassidy asked.

"Upstairs," Miranda said. "Call her down for dinner, please."

"Caroline!" Cassidy yelled before she'd even taken two steps towards the staircase. Andy and Miranda both grimaced. "It's time to eat!"

"Cassidy, really," Miranda scolded. "How many times--"

"Sorry," Cassidy said blithely, and headed into the kitchen, even as Caroline's footsteps began thundering down the stairs. Elephants again. Andy grinned at the despairing look on Miranda's face, and let her hand brush Miranda's fingers as they followed Cassidy into the kitchen.

"Did you have a good time?" Miranda asked.

"Sure," Andy said. "I'm tired, though. It's good to be, um, back."

"Yes," Miranda said, and let their fingers brush again.

 


 

When Andy left Miranda's that night, Miranda did not kiss her cheek again, perhaps because the twins were both watching carefully and she didn't feel like pushing it. But neither was she surprised when, the next night, Andy told her over the phone about her conversation with Cassidy.

"They're perceptive," she said. "They often ask after you during the week. And they're--they do like you."

"I think so," Andy said. "I mean, I hope so. Yeah."

"You're…you suit them better than Stephen. They're more comfortable around you already." Miranda paused, and admitted wryly, "So am I." Andy chuckled. "I do wish Cassidy hadn't seen us kissing, though," Miranda added, and Andy could hear the frown in her voice. "I wonder when she did?"

"Beats me," Andy said.

"The foyer. It must have been…or perhaps that time in the kitchen? Regardless--"

"You remember," Andy crowed before she could stop herself, sitting straight up on her bed and grinning. "You remember every single kiss and where I gave it to you, don't you?"

"Andrea," Miranda said, and Andy could sense her blush from halfway across Manhattan.

"It's okay," she said, and laughed. "So do I. And it doesn't really matter, does it? She was okay with it. Except for, you know, the yelling thing." Miranda said nothing, and Andy knew she was still trying to work out how she felt about the yelling thing, too. "I bet Caroline knows, too, even if Cassidy didn't say anything," Andy added.

"Really," Miranda said.

"Yeah. Remember when she interrupted us? Hey, where were we that time? You know, I just don't recall--"

"I'm about to hang up," Miranda said.

"Okay, okay," Andy said, still grinning. "Sorry."

"As you should be. But I really am about to hang up. I need to get to the book. And prepare a little more for my meeting on Thursday afternoon. And then there's the party, of course."

"Of course," Andy said, rolling her eyes. "So, are you going to tell me--"

"Good night, Andrea," Miranda said firmly.

"Oh," Andy said, crestfallen. So she still had to wait with everybody else. "Right. Well, I should get some sleep, anyway. So should you," she added sternly.

"I will," Miranda sighed. "I can't seem to help myself these days. Well. Good night, Andrea."

"Night," Andy said. And, as always, "Love you."

"Yes," Miranda said, as always, and hung up.

Andy shook her head and smiled. Some things never changed.

 


 

On Wednesday, while running errands, Andy took the liberty of stopping by her bank to make a little withdrawal. She got the Stephen Webster snake brooch from its safe deposit box, and spent the rest of the day carrying it around in her handbag and guarding it with her life.

Nigel said, "It's a lovely pin, Andy, but I'm not sure you need to carry your handbag with you when you go from the art department to advertising and back."

"I know," Andy said sheepishly. She could have explained how special the pin was, but Nigel wouldn't want to hear it. Which was too bad, because he was the only person she could have told at all. "I think it's the buildup," she added. "I haven't worn it anywhere except to this party, and I know the party is a gigantic deal, but I still don't know why."

All she knew was that Miranda was 'up to something'--she'd never said what--and was pulling out all the stops. It undoubtedly had something to do with those meetings she'd had with Stan Oppenheimer, or maybe Irv, or maybe both--Andy wasn't so dumb she couldn't put those things together, but she had no way of knowing exactly how they combined or what Miranda was planning.

"So she's never said anything?" Nigel asked.

"Nope," Andy said. "Silent as the grave. I have no idea what's happening. I mean, I have a few guesses…"

"So do I," Nigel admitted. "Well. We'll find out tomorrow." He took a deep breath and exhaled. "Why does she still make me nervous?"

Andy laughed, but privately she felt the same way. Sure, Miranda had always been secretive. And of course it was okay to have secrets. She didn't have to share everything she did with Andy, because Andy wasn't clingy, after all. But this, the party, was obviously a big deal to Miranda, and it seemed kind of weird that she wouldn't give Andy, her girlfriend, even a tiny clue about why.

By the next night, neither Andy nor Nigel had shed their case of the nerves. Andy hadn't spoken to Miranda the night before--she'd had to stay too late at Distinguish , so there had been no final opportunity to try to worm something out of her. So now, on Thursday night (and that was another thing, it was weird to throw an evening party on a work night), Andy and Nigel found themselves sharing a cab.

"Thanks for the lift," Andy said, smoothing down her skirt.

"Not at all," Nigel said. "I wasn't about to let you take that work of art on the subway." He admired Andy's red sheath. "Marchesa was gorgeous this year." His eyes widened. "Wait, where's your pin?"

"What?!" Horrified, sure that the pin had fallen off her gown, Andy looked down to see it shining near her shoulder, exactly where she'd fastened it. She glared at Nigel, who smirked back. "Don't do that."

"Sorry," Nigel said, not looking sorry at all. "But you do look lovely, darling."

"Thanks. So do you," Andy said, patting the arm of his tux. "How come you never wear a tie?"

"You're incurably bourgeois," Nigel said, and leaned forward to peer through the windshield of the cab. "Well. Here we are."

"Here goes nothing," Andy agreed.

"She can't do anything too awful, can she?" Nigel asked hopefully. "She's not going to announce that she bought Delton Wright and is canceling our magazine, is she?"

"I wouldn't put it past her, but I doubt it," Andy said, and patted his arm again. "Nigel, really. I mean, I don't know for sure, but I don't think it has anything to do with you. This was in the works before you quit." Nigel did not look reassured. "Oh, come on," Andy added, and stuck her chin in the air. "Man up."

Nigel glared. "Just for that, you can open your own car door," he said as the cab pulled up to the curb. Oh well. Just so long as he paid for the ride.

The party was in a roof garden atop an art gallery; Andy had known that Miranda would disdain anything so plebeian as a normal restaurant, and besides, not a lot of well-known restaurants were keen to dethrone their famous chefs in order to make way for somebody else's cook-of-choice. The gallery, however, had a kitchen that it frequently rented out for such events (Andy suspected the place made more money from hosting parties than it did from selling art), and which Yves had pronounced adequate for his needs.

Though Miranda was closed-mouthed about the purpose of the party, she had told Andy that she'd decided to pare down the guest list to forty-five people from her original estimate of sixty. The whole event had an almost intimate air for a gathering of the New York elite. There were no movie stars here, no celebrities; and yet, surrounded by the millionaires and billionaires who played the city like a grand piano, Andy felt more out-of-place than if she'd been sitting next to Bruce Willis. Or Nicole Kidman, for that matter.

She tried to ignore the feeling as she and Nigel arrived arm-in-arm in the door, where a polite maitre-d' was informing everyone of their seats as they entered. Andy wished there had been someone like him on Boxing Day. "Nigel Kipling and Andrea Sachs," Nigel told him.

"Ah yes, Mr. Kipling," the maitre-d' said, without even needing to look at a seating chart or anything else. He obviously had it all memorized. "You will be at Table Four, between Helga Schumann and Rudolph Poindexter."

Nigel drooped visibly, and Andy tried not to grin. Rudolph Poindexter was eighty-five years old and, by all accounts, rapidly going senile, while Helga Schumann was…Helga Schumann. Talk about being in the doghouse. "She's not sitting with me?" Nigel asked pleadingly, tilting his head towards Andy.

"No, sir," the maitre-d' said. "Miss Sachs is sitting at Table One, between Miranda Priestly and Tilda Barnhardt."

For a moment, Nigel and Andy stood frozen together, too stunned to move. "I'm where?" Andy squeaked.

"At Table One, miss," the maitre-d' repeated patiently. "Your place card will be waiting at your seat."

"Um," Andy said.

"Thank you," Nigel said, and quickly steered them both away from the door, where people had begun to line up behind them. They stopped by a large potted tree, not quite hiding behind it, but almost. "Breathe," he ordered.

"I'm breathing," Andy gulped. "It's not weird. Right?"

"Right," Nigel said, patting her arm and glancing around the room.

"I mean, I sat with her at the main table on Boxing Day. And she took me to that New Year's Ball. And introduced me to people during Fashion Week. So people know that she takes me places."

"Uh-huh."

"And just because she's throwing the party, this isn't a big deal, I mean, the press isn't even here…" Security was keeping the media at bay tonight, and paparazzi usually weren't too interested by a bunch of old men in tuxes anyway. Miranda hadn't exactly gone out of her way to publicize the event, either. It was definitely private-invitation-only. So, surely--

"I said breathe," Nigel said, and Andy did. "Pull yourself together. If it isn't a big deal, then don't act like it is, or it becomes one. Man up," he added with a small smile. "At least you're not with Rudolph and Helga. Now. Let's be polite and greet our hostess."

"Right," Andy said, nodding hard, feeling her hoop earrings bobbing with her. "Right." They maneuvered their way from behind the tree and into the thick of the party, nodding and smiling as they went. Andy tried to look relaxed, to smile, but it was hard, because she kept imagining that people were staring at her as she walked by, wondering what the hell she was doing there. There were only a few other people her age present, and they were all children of the establishment, all heirs to fortunes and empires.

Or they were the trophy wives of powerful older men. Andy shied away from that thought at once. That wasn't her. She belonged to neither group. She--

"Good evening, Miranda," Nigel said.

Andy jerked herself back into the moment, and was so glad she did, because suddenly she was standing in front of Miranda. Who looked like a goddess. She was wearing a filmy, billowy, floor-length evening gown whose colors drifted from dark grey at the breast to silver at the feet; it brought out her the white of her hair and the blue of her eyes, and draped gently over her belly from where it cinched beneath her bust. Sapphires glowed and caught the light in her drop earrings and in the fantastical, spiky choker that graced her throat. Andy realized it was a piece made by Stephen Webster. Just like her snake. Holy…

"Nigel," Miranda said, tilting her head and giving him the polite, empty, I-probably-hate-you smile that she turned on almost everyone at these events. Andy felt his arm stiffen, and briefly felt very sorry for him, before Miranda turned to face Andy and the smile became, almost imperceptibly, genuine. And then--just as on Boxing Day--she leaned in and kissed the air to the side of Andy's cheeks. She was wearing a new perfume tonight that smelled of sandalwood and myrrh. And though Miranda did not linger, Andy melted.

"Andrea," Miranda said, pulling back. "Don't you look lovely tonight."

"Thanks," Andy croaked, but before she could do something so stupid as return the compliment with interest, Miranda turned to the man at her left. Stan Oppenheimer. Andy hadn't even realized he was standing there; she'd been too preoccupied with the way the candlelight played off Miranda's bare shoulders.

"Andrea, I don't believe you and Mr. Oppenheimer have been formally introduced," she said. "Stan, this is my former assistant, Andrea Sachs. She'll be gracing our table this evening. You already know Nigel, of course."

"A pleasure, Andrea," Mr. Oppenheimer said, taking Andy's hand in a firm, warm grip and giving her a charming smile. Andy managed to smile back, even though she still kind of had the instinctive desire to slap him, which really wouldn't have been fair, considering. Still, she was relieved when he let go of her to shake Nigel's hand instead. "Nigel. Good to see you again. How's the new magazine coming along?"

"Swimmingly," Nigel said, glancing back and forth between Mr. Oppenheimer and Miranda. His arm was still tense; Andy had the feeling that if she tried to disengage her own from it, she'd sprain something. "I'm very pleased with our progress."

"Wonderful," Miranda murmured, and there were definitely daggers in her eyes now. Andy's stomach squirmed as she tried to decide whether she wanted to ravish Miranda back behind that potted tree or run screaming into the night.

"Well, you were a great loss to Elias-Clarke," Mr. Oppenheimer said, apparently oblivious to the dangerous undercurrents. Or uncaring of them. "But who knows, maybe we'll be able to woo you back someday."

"Who knows," Nigel agreed tightly. "Thank you."

"Ah," Miranda said, glancing at somebody over Nigel's shoulder, smiling, and waving. "Amanda, darling."

Nigel and Andy took the hint. Nigel bowed his head and said, "It's lovely to see you both. Enjoy the party."

Miranda ignored him completely. "You too," Mr. Oppenheimer said. "Andrea, looks like I'll see you again in a few minutes." He smiled, and Andy gratefully let Nigel lead her away.

"What do you think Tahiti's like?" Nigel mused. "How fast can we get there?"

"Oh, Nigel," Andy said, though she had to admit it sounded tempting.

"It'll be great. We'll rent a bungalow. I'll wear a grass skirt and you can play the ukulele."

"I think that's Hawaii," Andy said. "But I'm game."

"Really?"

"Yeah. After dinner."

"Damn," Nigel said. Just then, the dinner gong rang; Andy glanced down at Nigel's watch and saw that it was eight p.m. on the dot. Of course a Miranda Priestly fête would never start a minute late or early. Andy and Nigel had arrived just in time, along with a few other stragglers.

Nigel released Andy, who flexed her arm until she could feel it again. Then, trying very, very hard to be inconspicuous, she almost crept to the head table, where people were already seating themselves. Miranda wasn't there yet, but a man held out Andy's chair for her as she arrived on trembling knees. Geoffrey Barnhardt, she recalled. She smiled at him; he returned it. "A pleasure, Miss Sachs," he said. "You remember Tilda, of course?"

"Oh, yes," Andy said, trying to sound breezy as she moved her head to say hello to the woman on her left. And as she did, she found herself staring at Irv Ravitz, who sat with his wife across the table.

With murder in his eyes.

Andy froze, and swallowed hard. "M-Mr. Ravitz," she managed. He just stared back at her with a narrowed gaze; his wife was studying the flowers on the table with great concentration. A minimalist arrangement of orchids, just as Miranda had specified. Each place was set with three wineglasses: two empty ones for red and white, and champagne flutes that…were already filled. Uh-oh.

Andy felt a hand on her left elbow, and nearly jumped. But it was only Tilda Barnhardt, looking at her with a kind smile, as if she'd realized how terrified Andy suddenly was. "My dear," she said, "how lovely to see you here tonight."

"Th-thank you, Mrs. Barnhardt," Andy said, and tried to smile. "It's good to see you again. How are you?"

"Marvelous," Mrs. Barnhardt replied. "And you? I understand you're working for our chief rival now?"

Her eyes twinkled, and there was no hint of malice in her voice, but Andy was still mortified. "Uh," she said, refusing to look anywhere near Irv, "I…yes, I had a wonderful, er, opportunity to…"

"So I heard." Mrs. Barnhardt playfully tapped Andy's arm with her fingertips before turning to smile at Irv. And now there was a little malice with her twinkle as she said, "Irv, however could you let her get away? Miranda's a book on how gifted she is. And you know that doesn't happen often."

Irv gave Mrs. Barnhardt a very tight-lipped smile. Mrs. Ravitz pursed her lips and moved her gaze from the orchids to the flatware.

Okay, so tonight was about screwing Irv over. Not such a surprise, on reflection. Andy wondered about the particulars, but supposed she'd find out about them soon enough. In the meantime, she just had to keep smiling and acting as if she went to parties like this every night, and be very glad that she hadn't had a hand in whatever was going on. She had a feeling it was pretty dirty. Because if it was about Irv, and screwing him over, Miranda wouldn't settle for anything clean.

Then, as if summoned by Andy's musings, Miranda appeared on the arm of Stan Oppenheimer. She smiled benevolently down at the table; the Barnhardts beamed back up at her. Andy didn't dare even look at Irv to check his reaction.

"Well," Miranda said, as Stan let go of her arm. "No reason not to kick the evening off with a toast. Irv? Would you do the honors, or should we?"

"Choke on a dick," Irv replied, his voice low and even. "Try your ex-husband's. Think that'd be enough to bring him back?"

Andy nearly choked, herself, but Miranda didn't seem particularly perturbed. Neither did anybody else, although Mr. Oppenheimer said, "Simmer down, Irv. You want to get out of this with your dignity, don't you?"

"At the very least pretend that it was all your idea," Miranda said, the corners of her mouth lifting in her cruelest smile.

"Oh for God's sake, Irv, just say something," Mrs. Ravitz said, her voice hoarse. She placed her hands in her lap and raised a vacant smile to greet the room. "Get it over with."

Irv's face darkened with fury, but Miranda said, "Excellent." She turned around and clapped her hands; thirty-eight guests raised their eyes expectantly. "Good evening my dear friends. Thank you so much for finding the time to attend our little soirée tonight." A light scattering of applause.

"Thank you, thank you," Miranda repeated. She was positively glowing with demonic joy. Andy hadn't seen her like this since Paris. "Well. I'm sure many of you are curious as to why we're all here on this lovely night, getting ready to enjoy some wonderful fare at the hands of Yves Camdeborde--" More applause, and cries of anticipation. "But before we begin, Irv Ravitz would like to make an announcement. And then a toast, didn't you say, Irv?"

Without another word, Miranda sat down smoothly in her seat. Andy hoped she wasn't planning on getting up again anytime soon, because it wouldn't look half as graceful. Stan Oppenheimer also sat down, and began to clap. Soon the other guests, looking interested and apprehensive by turns, followed suit. Andy caught Nigel's eye. He raised his eyebrows at her, but she could only shrug.

Irv rose to his feet; managed a tight smile; took a short bow.

"Ladies and gentlemen--my friends--good evening," he said. "I have some exciting news for everyone! Some of you will be surprised. Well, you shouldn't be." His smile became more avuncular. He might have been playing the part of somebody's kindly old grandpa. "It's no secret that I'm closing in on seventy, is it?"

"You carry it well!" somebody called from the far end of the garden. There was appreciative laughter; Irv forced a chuckle, and Andy saw his right hand clench briefly.

"Well, thank you, Reggie," Irv said. "But there comes a time in a man's life when he just wants the simple things. You know--playing with the grandkids, tending the garden, wintering in the Maldives." More laughter, although comprehension was beginning to dawn on people's faces. "So it is with both pleasure and regret that I announce tonight that I will be stepping down as chairman and CEO of Elias-Clarke, effective next month."

Murmuring broke out all over the roof. Andy exchanged another glance with Nigel, and saw that, like her, he hadn't exactly been expecting it, but he wasn't surprised either.

Irv raised a hand, shaking his head genially. He really was pulling this off pretty well. "No, no, my mind's made up," he said. "I've long had a dream of paradise: the prospect of a long, peaceful retirement." Hesitant laughter all around. "Mavis and I already have plans to travel the world with nary a board meeting in sight. I'm confident that Elias-Clarke will continue to move forward towards the vision I laid out for it when I took over…more years ago than I like to think about." He chuckled again. "Ladies and gentlemen: it is my pleasure to introduce to you the new CEO of Elias-Clarke: Geoffrey Barnhardt, taking over from our UK operations." Geoffrey stood up to enthusiastic applause, and sat down again.

"And," Irv continued--Andy wondered if the tic at his forehead was visible from any of the other tables-- "the new chairman, Stan Oppenheimer." Mr. Oppenheimer stood up to more, slightly surprised applause, and re-seated himself. Miranda reached over and patted his arm with a smile.

So it had been a mutual power-grab. Andy didn't know squat about this kind of thing, but she was pretty sure neither Barnhardt nor Oppenheimer alone would have had the power to take down Irv. Barnhardt had worked on it from London, and Oppenheimer had kept a closer eye on things in New York.

And who had brought them together? Whose idea had it been in the first place? Not that she knew for sure, not yet, but Andy was pretty certain that she wouldn't need to look any farther than the woman on her right. Miranda had her head tilted to the side and was gazing angelically across the crowd as she joined in the applause for Oppenheimer and Barnhardt. And, of course, for the demise of Irv Ravitz.

The demise and public humiliation. Irv was being gracious because it was better than admitting that he'd been taken completely by surprise; he'd even come to a party to celebrate his own defeat before his peers and friends. Miranda wasn't just twisting the knife. She'd stabbed Irv with it while it was still white-hot from the forge.

And that was why the party was on a Thursday. Miranda wanted everybody talking about it at work the next morning, around the water coolers and coffeemakers. She wanted it to make the rounds right away.

Andy shuddered. There was a great deal about Miranda she admired. There was much about Miranda that she adored. This wasn't one of those things.

Irv, still smiling, made to sit down. "Oh, no, Irv," Miranda trilled. "Don't forget you promised us a toast!"

"Hear, hear," Mr. Barnhardt said, and began to clap. So did everyone else, with calls of encouragement.

Jesus.  Andy was astonished that Irv didn't leap over the table to throttle Miranda where she sat. For a split second, he looked as if he was seriously considering it, but then he gritted his teeth, took his champagne flute, and raised it high.

Everyone else picked up their own flutes. Miranda's, of course, contained mineral water. "My friends," Irv said, sounding only a little bit strangled. "To the future of Elias-Clarke!"

"The future," everyone chorused, and took a drink. Andy barely tasted hers.

Which was a shame, because Miranda turned to her and murmured, barely audibly, "Clicquot Grande Dame, Andrea. Savor it for me."

Yeah, right. Andy supposed she should have felt triumphant, too. Vindicated. When Irv had fired her, she had longed for revenge, longed to humiliate him as he'd humiliated her. But right here and now, she just felt embarrassed, and out-of-place, and as if she was still bracing for disaster. What was she doing at Table One, watching the chief of a multi-billion dollar corporation going down in flames, as if she belonged here? Why couldn't she be spending a nice quiet Thursday night in her pajamas?

Irv sat down, and Andy prepared herself for the most awkward first course in history. But then Stan Oppenheimer stood up.

"There's one more announcement," he said, "which I have been authorized to make on behalf of the lovely and multi-talented Miranda Priestly--who is apparently too shy--"

That got a real laugh out of the crowd. Miranda smiled and made an 'oh, you ' gesture with her hand at Mr. Oppenheimer.

"Elias-Clarke is in a time of great transition and, as Irv said, exciting change," Oppenheimer continued, even though Irv had said no such thing. "But change always brings startling adjustments. Therefore it is with no small regret that I announce to you tonight that Miranda Priestly will be stepping down from her position as editor-in-chief of Runway  magazine."

The words were barely out of his mouth before the room exploded. It seemed that Andy hadn't been alone in half-expecting Irv's destruction, but nobody had expected this at all.

As for Andy, she felt as if someone had just slammed her head into a wall. Miranda? Stepping down from Runway , her life's blood? Miranda?  Retiring?

And she'd said nothing about it to anyone at all? Including Andy?

She looked over at Nigel, who also looked like he was about to pass out cold. Then she looked back at Miranda, who was smiling and nodding beatifically while everyone stared at her in shock.

"But. But!" Mr. Oppenheimer said, raising his hand for silence. "It is with unmitigated pleasure that I announce that she will remain with Elias-Clarke in a new and different capacity, one which we have created especially for her: as vice-president in charge of the American division of our women's magazines."

More murmuring as people's eyes widened, once again, in comprehension. Andy, for her part, wondered how she was still upright in her own chair. "For nearly two decades, Miranda has transformed bothRunway  and the fashion industry," Mr. Oppenheimer continued. "She is a visionary. Many would say, a genius: I would hardly disagree." He grinned. The guests laughed. "She will now bring this incredible vision to bear in an executive role within Elias-Clarke, dictating--excuse the word, Miranda!--not only the course of high fashion, but the things that affect everyday women in their everyday lives, on every level. I for one am confident that she's up to the job. Ladies and gentlemen: to Miranda Priestly."

"Miranda Priestly," everyone chorused, and drank again.

Andy clinked her glass with Tilda Barnhardt as if in a dream, and turned back to Miranda, who did not, of course, toast herself. But she did look back at Andy, into her eyes, with a gleam of utter satisfaction.

"Oh my God," Andy muttered through her teeth, trying to smile like she was expected to. "What…how…"

"We'll talk later," Miranda said calmly, as the clapping died down.

"Enjoy your dinner, everyone," Mr. Oppenheimer said, and took his seat to one final round of applause. And next thing Andy knew, a waiter was placing the first course in front of her, and pouring her a glass of white wine. Puligny-Montrachet, if Andy remembered correctly. And there was cold lentil soup made with sheep's milk and tapioca, one of Yves's specialties. And this couldn't really be happening.

The Ravitzes left directly after the first course, waving briefly at the crowd and ducking out. Apparently it was more painful to keep up appearances than it was to retreat without a word. Well, Irv was a billionaire. He'd handle it. Andy was on to a new crisis now.

"S-so, Miranda," she stammered as the waiters brought out trays of sorbet to cleanse the palate for the next course, and began to pour the red wine. "Tell us a little more about this new job of yours. Or, well, tell me--I'm sure everybody else is already in the know." Like Andy should have been. But she still managed a smile.

"Mmm," Miranda said, looking pleased as she sipped her water. "Well, it's quite simple, really. And quite complicated." The Barnhardts and Mr. Oppenheimer chuckled. Without the Ravitzes at the table, the atmosphere had become positively congenial as the conspirators congratulated themselves on their success. "The Barnhardts and Stan and I have agreed to create this new position in which I am in charge, as Stan said, of women's publications: Runway, Herself, Vanity Chair, Women's Life , and so on. And a Teen Runway  is in the works too--very exciting, isn't it?"

"I can't wait," Mrs. Barnhardt said. She turned to Andy. "My daughter Angelica is flying in from London to be part of the editorial staff. You two should get to know each other--share war stories about starting a new publication."

"Oh," Andy said, trying hard for enthusiasm. "That sounds great."

"Yes," Miranda said, taking control of the conversation once more, a skill that came easily to her. "You see, Andrea, what I have noticed for years is that our women's magazines lack that certain unity, that uniformity of what Stan calls--accurately, I think--'vision.'" She turned to smile at Mr. Oppenheimer, who raised his wineglass in return. "Herself  has stagnated for five years now, and Vanity Chair  is an awful mess. It's time to clear out the deadwood. Bring in fresh blood. I’m mixing my metaphors, of course…"

"Wow," Andy said. "That's um, that's um…"

"Magnificent," Mr. Barnhardt proclaimed. "As are you, Miranda. As is everyone at this table." He smiled benignly at Andy. "Including you, I understand. But no doubt you feel a little overwhelmed by all this, yes?" Andy nodded wordlessly. No point in denying it. "Don't worry," Mr. Barnhardt said. "So do we." They all laughed. Andy managed to laugh, too.

The discussion for the rest of the dinner was more or less over Andy's head, as Miranda, the Barnhardts, and Stan Oppenheimer chattered excitedly about their plans. Andy listened in, following along as best she could and trying to learn what was going on, but there was only so much she could contribute to a conversation about trimming down the budget for The Sporting Life .

"Speaking of trimming budgets," Mr. Barnhardt said, and looked at Miranda pointedly.

Miranda waved her hand with a little laugh. "I promise not to do too much damage, Geoffrey. I'll hire people who are likelier to pinch pennies than I. If they can work up to standard." She turned her sparkling eyes on Andy. "I think I can persuade them to do that, don't you, Andrea?"

"For sure," Andy said, nodding. "But." She swallowed, and glanced briefly down at Miranda's belly. "I mean, if you don't mind my asking…"

"Oh, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Miranda said carelessly, as if she hadn't just upended her own life and, by extension, Andy's. "It's true the timing isn't ideal. But I understand that a generous maternity leave isn't off the table."

"Take at least a month," Mr. Oppenheimer said. "More, if you want it. Elias-Clarke'll be waiting when you get back."

"We hope," added Mr. Barnhardt. Everyone chuckled.

Beneath the tablecloth, Andy felt Miranda nudge her foot with her own. She froze: had she done something wrong, said something amiss? Was Miranda telling her to shut up? But then, all of a sudden, Miranda's foot didn't have a shoe on it anymore, and it was rubbing gently up and down Andy's ankle.

Footsie. Miranda was playing footsie with her. And she was in that silver dress, and smelled of sandalwood, and her eyes were sparkling, and Andy really, really wished she was less susceptible, because she was trying hard to be indignant and confused and indignantly confused. But that was going to be tough when Miranda was giving off her very best fuck-me vibe like there was no tomorrow.

Shit.

Over the dessert, when the Barnhardts and Mr. Oppenheimer were briefly engaged in chatting with each other, Miranda quickly leaned in and, without getting improperly close, murmured in Andy's ear, "Take a cab to my home tonight." She rubbed her foot again. Andy swallowed. "I should wait. I can't." Andy tried not to blush. "Can you? Will you mind if I keep you up just a little late tonight?"

"Uh," Andy said, breaking out in a sweat. "I…"

At that moment, Mrs. Barnhardt turned to Andy with a smile, and Miranda leaned back. Mrs. Barnhardt gestured at Andy's shoulder.

"My dear," she said, "I've been meaning to tell you all night--that's a really lovely pin."

 


 

Because it was a Thursday, the guests did not linger over their food and wine, and the party had largely broken up by ten o'clock. There had been only two courses and dessert, all exquisitely prepared. Miranda was one of the first to leave: she always was, even when she threw the parties herself, but she'd still stayed unusually late tonight. Undoubtedly she'd decided to lap up the glory for a while. Nights like this were few and far between, even for Miranda.

Miranda left at nine-thirty. Twenty minutes later, Andy could wait no longer, and gathered her things. "Leaving so quickly, Andrea?" Mr. Barnhardt said in what seemed to be genuine surprise.

"Oh, I, I really have to get going," Andy said, shaking his hand. "I have to be at work tomorrow morning, and it'll, um, take me a while to get home." Especially since she was stopping by somebody else's house on the way. "I enjoyed it so much. It was lovely to see you all again."

"And you as well," Mrs. Barnhardt said graciously. "Miranda has such good things to say about you." Andy's cheeks scalded; seeing this, Mrs. Barnhardt smiled. Then she leaned in to speak softly to Andy. "Of course we were all scandalized by what Irv did to you. What a low blow. It was Miranda's idea to seat you here." Of course it was. "Didn't it send a beautiful message? I so hope you enjoyed the look on his face. I know I did."

"Y-yes," Andy said, and tried to smile again. "I'm, it's a little overwhelming. Er. What a night, huh?" She laughed shakily. "I hope you all enjoy the rest of the evening."

Mr. Oppenheimer raised his wineglass. "I'm sure we will. Good evening, Andrea."

Andy hurried out of the party, just remembering to wave at Nigel on her way out. He was deep in conversation with an obviously tipsy Mrs. Schumann, while at his other side, Rudolph Poindexter appeared to have fallen asleep. He sent Andy an envious glare as she fled.

She hailed a cab as she emerged out of the gallery and into the street, glad she was carrying some cash. Paranoid once again, she took off her pin and put it in her handbag. Then she used the rest of the ride to Miranda's house to work out what she was going to say.

As it happened, she didn't get the chance to say anything. She paid the driver, left the cab, mounted the front steps, and was yet again greeted by Miranda yanking open the door and hauling her inside.

Only this time Miranda didn't order her into the study so they could yell at each other. She slammed the door shut again, and Andy barely had time to hear the lock click back into place before Miranda cupped Andy's face in her hands and kissed her soundly. She was already gasping. She hadn't looked this frenzied since the time they'd had sex in the bathroom. Andy wondered if she was going to get out of this alive.

"The twins," she mumbled against Miranda's mouth.

"With their father," Miranda replied, taking Andy's clutch and tossing it carelessly to the floor before tugging at her wrap. She kissed Andy again. "Spring break." Andy's wrap fell to the floor too, and Miranda cupped her face once more. "You're beautiful," she groaned. The raw need in her voice made Andy's head spin. So did the filmy silk of her gown, like and unlike the dress on New Year's Eve in the way it moved and hung on her body.

"Like a rose," Miranda continued dreamily, smiling against Andy's mouth, plucking at one of the rosettes on Andy's shoulder. "So beautiful in red." She actually sounded drunk. Well, if anything could intoxicate Miranda, it'd be masterminding a hostile takeover. No wonder she'd looked post-coital after meeting with Stan Oppenheimer. No wonder she'd laughed when Andy told her so.

"Come upstairs," Miranda said between kisses. "To my room."

Andy had the vague feeling there were questions she had meant to ask, or accusations she had meant to levy. But the fact was, Miranda still smelled like sandalwood and myrrh, and her skin was as soft as ever, and she was all over Andy begging for sex, and maybe, Andy decided fuzzily, questions could wait. She kicked off her shoes, and followed an already-barefoot Miranda up the stairs.

They almost didn't make it a couple of times. On the landing, Miranda stopped to take another kiss which ended with Andy's back against the wall while one kiss turned into four; the same thing happened in the hallway to Miranda's room. But they stumbled on and, before Andy quite realized it, Miranda was pushing her back down on the mattress of her bed.

Tonight varied from their normal routine. Miranda didn't seem inclined to lie back and enjoy it, like she usually did. She seemed more interested in ravishing Andy from top to bottom, and occasionally whined in frustration when her increased bulk wouldn't let her do what she wanted to do at any given moment. But mostly she wanted to kiss, which meant that her arms were wrapped around Andy's waist, and Andy's hands were tangled in her hair as they lay in a ten-thousand-dollar pile of crumpling silk, red against silver, their legs moving together restlessly underneath.

Andy moaned into Miranda's mouth, and Miranda shuddered at the sound of it, kissing her even harder. It almost bruised, it almost hurt--but only almost. Just enough to keep Andy anchored in the moment, wrapped up in the scent of sandalwood and the feel of Miranda's hair in her hands. It was so different to see Miranda so aggressive in bed. Just this side of scary. But it was hot too, Andy thought dizzily, as Miranda began kissing her throat like she was starving for it. It was hot to be wanted so much, needed so much--was this how Miranda felt when Andy pressed her down on the bed and devoured her? Like she was the most desired thing in the world?

Because that was exactly how Andy felt right now, and she moaned again, trying to get closer. Miranda clutched her tight and growled. They paused just long enough for Andy to take off her earrings, and then Miranda was at her neck again, kissing and nuzzling and sighing while Andy slid one hand down, grabbed her skirt, and began to slide it up her legs. Soft skirt, soft legs, soft everyth--

Miranda moaned. "I want to, I want," she panted, and cupped Andy between her legs, "--with my mouth--" Andy gasped. "--but I don't see how,"  Miranda finished with a frustrated growl. "My stomach's too…and there's no way I'm getting on my knees again."

She wrestled with the zipper on the back of Andy's dress, and Andy sat up just enough so they could shuck the gown down around her waist. Andy pulled off her bra, and Miranda bent and took a nipple in her mouth. Andy groaned, the sound echoing in the room, and she realized they could be as loud as they wanted tonight. Cassidy, she thought, would probably think this kind of yelling was every bit as upsetting as--

"You'll just have to sit on my face," Miranda said, and her words, uttered in a brisk, no-nonsense tone, sent Andy's train of thought right off the rails and into the chasm below. "Get this thing off," she added, and the work of art Nigel had so admired got tossed down on the floor like a dirty dishrag. Miranda wedged a pillow under her head and got comfortable as Andy discarded her slip and panties with shaking hands.

"Keep the stockings," Miranda ordered hoarsely, stroking Andy's thigh-highs. Andy supposed that they were sort of the underwear equivalent of the Chanel boots. "Now--hmm--straddle me--" Andy did, throwing one leg over Miranda and straddling her chest, keeping her weight on her knees, feeling drunk herself now. Miranda had this look on her face, like she couldn't wait, like this was going to be the most incredible thing she'd ever done in her life. Like Andy always felt when making love to her.

"You smell marvelous from here," Miranda breathed, and slid her hands up the backs of Andy's thighs until she was cupping Andy's ass. Andy whimpered. "Move up. Don't you dare suffocate me." Andy scooted up and then lunged forward until she could grab the headboard, to support herself while Miranda--

"I'm going to ruin my makeup," Miranda said, grabbed Andy's hips, and went for it. She'd only gone down on Andy once so far, but apparently she'd been thinking about it since then, because she moved her tongue as if she'd been planning a well-ordered campaign for ages. Andy wailed and bucked, trying to balance on her knees and not fall down or break Miranda's nose, which was hard because all she really wanted to do was gyrate and grind against those lips and that tongue and even those teeth. Miranda's tongue skipped and slid nimbly over her labia, up inside her and then out again, teasing her clit and then moving away, until all Andy could think about was the movement of that wicked wet thing that was driving her insane.

It was embarrassingly short. Again. Andy knew that Miranda probably didn't want to spend hours eating her or anything, but it seemed like no time until Miranda's tongue--Miranda's! Tongue!--was swirling around Andy's clit so hard and fast, so hungrily, that Andy was squirming and sobbing and coming while lights flashed behind her eyelids. And then all of a sudden her clit was so hot and sensitive that she had to arch away, gasping, while Miranda's mouth chased after her with bereft little moans. But Andy wasn't like Miranda, who could come an absurd number of times in a row whenever she felt like it, and she had to lift a shaking leg up and over so she could collapse next to Miranda on the mattress.

"Oh. Wow," she said, and this time she was the one who covered her eyes. "Oh wow. Miranda. Jesus. Wow."

"Mmm," Miranda said. Andy opened her eyes and turned her head to see Miranda licking her lips. Her shiny lips. On her slick and shiny face. She'd ruined her makeup, all right, and looked exactly like the cat who stole the cream. She was panting too. "I take it that was a success."

"God," Andy said, forgetting about whatever it was she'd worried about earlier. "That was--you're amazing. You're incredible." She rolled over, threw an arm across Miranda, and kissed her, tasting herself. Miranda kissed back enthusiastically, sliding her fingers through Andy's hair, which was falling out of its stylish updo.

A stylish updo that was held together by surprisingly few pins. Miranda plucked at one, pulled it out, and smiled as a lock of hair fell down over Andy's left ear. "Take it down," she murmured. "Take down your hair for me."

Andy panted some more, sat up, and obeyed. She pulled out three more pins, shook her head, and her hair cascaded down around her shoulders. Miranda looked utterly enchanted. She'd never seemed so relaxed, so open, so happy. At least not that Andy had seen.

Time to make her happier. "So," Andy said. "Your turn, right?" Andy's turn, too. Andy's turn to eat her right up.

But Miranda said, to her surprise, "Not tonight. I'm quite satisfied, thank you." Oh. Well. Huh, Andy thought, trying not to be disappointed. She could certainly understand how Miranda felt, after all. And besides, there would be more chances. Plenty more. They had time.

Miranda beckoned, and Andy lay down by her side again. She rolled to her own side, and combed her fingers through Andy's loose hair. "Wasn't that wonderful?"

"Oh, yeah," Andy said fervently, and then she realized that Miranda hadn't been talking about the sex. Her feelings abruptly took a one-eighty as her misgivings returned in full force. She watched Miranda's eyes shine while she thought about her new job and humiliating Irv and…

"Everything I dreamed--everything I knew it would be," Miranda said, still petting Andy's hair, oblivious to her sudden distress. "I told you, didn't I? That things would improve for us."

"Yeah," Andy said, and swallowed. "You did. Uh, I'm curious--how long has this been in the works?"

"Oh, ages," Miranda said airily. "I had the idea when I saw Geoffrey at the Boxing Day luncheon, actually. He's always hated Irv, and suddenly it all came together. I enlisted Tilda, of course--a guarantor of success." She chuckled. "We all had lunch a few days later. I agreed--"

"At the sushi place," Andy said.

Miranda blinked, and then looked astonished. "Yes," she said. "You remember?"

"I remember a lot of things," Andy said. It was part of what made her good at her job.

"Well," Miranda said, evidently impressed. "Anyway, I agreed when we got back that I'd get in touch with Stan. I did. He was more than agreeable." She chuckled. "He's always been agreeable. Geoffrey and I should handle him nicely. But he's good-looking and has charisma--I don't know if you've noticed, but Irv's lacking on both counts--and PR will love him."

"But," Andy whispered. "You're…" Where to begin? "You're giving up Runway ."

"Oh no," Miranda said, and shook her head. "Weren't you listening? Everything I did for Runway,  every innovation I made, everything I did to make sales skyrocket…I'll do more of that. Everywhere." Her eyes gleamed. "I am not giving up Runway , Andrea, not at all. I'm not losing a magazine. I'm gaining eight."

"Oh," Andy said faintly. "But…what about fashion and…I mean, isn't that what you really love?"

"I really do," Miranda said. "I really love a lot of things, Andrea. Why on Earth should my new job give me less influence in the fashion industry?"

"I--"

"One does not need to edit a fashion magazine to love fashion or to influence it," Miranda said firmly. "And all those people in the industry who are beholden to me--well, they have all the more reason to listen to me now. Oh, I'll still be attending Fashion Week, Andrea. And sitting in the front row. I hope you understand that, at least."

"I guess," Andy said feebly.

Miranda moved her hand out of Andy's air and began to stroke her bare arm. "My contract is written in stone, Andrea. Preston's looked over it at least twenty times. No loopholes. Nobody can touch me now." She raised her eyebrows. "And the obscene pay raise doesn't hurt anything. Executives really do make above and beyond the hoi polloi, Andrea. And then there are the shares." She bared her teeth in a terrifying grin. "It's tasteless, isn't it? I don't care. I know it's not the most important thing, and I'll never say it again, but I don't care tonight. We are going to be filthy rich."

We.  Everybody wants to be us. "Oh," Andy repeated. "I always thought, you know, that you were already pretty rich. Not that I cared--"

"Yes, yes," Miranda said, and shrugged impatiently. "I know." The look in her eyes suddenly became serious, and Andy's heart began to pound. "I do know that, Andrea."

"Oh," Andy gulped. "Good."

Miranda's lips quirked. "In fact, if memory serves, you offered to keep me on your salary should the need arise."

That made Andy laugh breathlessly. "Yeah," she said. "Um. But I, uh, I don't think you'd do so well at being kept." She paused. "Neither would I."

Now Miranda looked exasperated. "I know. Didn't I just say so? You're nobody's pet, Andrea. I wouldn't love you if you were." At the magic word, Andy's brain went blank, right on schedule. "But the fact is, I've got money, and I'm going to have more money. And you are part of my life. However you handle that--handle it." Andy went stiff, and her jaw dropped. Miranda raised an eyebrow. "Truth hurts?"

"I--" Andy swallowed hard. "Yes. Sort of."

Miranda sighed. "I knew it was tasteless. Calm down. It doesn't really matter. We've been muddling along, haven't we? Nothing has to change."

But everything had changed. Or at least, some very significant things. The money wasn't even the worst of it--Miranda obviously liked having it (probably because of Toledo, Ohio), but it wasn't her main motivation. No, Miranda's life was about her work. And now she had new work. A lot of new work. Running nine magazines instead of one--with her level of commitment and attention to detail--was she nuts? Especially now?

"Stay the night," Miranda said. The look in her eyes had become tender again. And hopeful.

Which was when Andy realized she wasn't going to say anything. Not now, not tonight. Whatever the long-term implications, Miranda was basking in her triumph and wanted to share it. And Andy, who loved her, just didn't have the heart to ruin her evening. How often did Miranda open up like this, anyway? They could have a…discussion later, couldn't they?

So all Andy said was, "I have to be at work at eight o'clock tomorrow. And I didn't bring a change of clothes or anything." She looked at the clock by the bed. It was almost eleven. Hardly insanely late, but she still felt exhausted. And the bed sure was nice.

Miranda cleared her throat. "I have a few things here that will fit you. I decided to--just in case, sometime…"

Oh. Huh. "Do you want me to bring any of your stuff to my apartment?" Andy asked. "Just in case, sometime?"

Miranda chuckled. "They're in the guest bedroom closet," she said, and patted Andy's hand.

Andy blinked. "Ah," she said.

"Well, you know I prefer--"

"Sleeping alone, got it," Andy said, sighed, and patted Miranda's belly, reminding herself that she'd already agreed to this. Oh well. It was still better than putting on her probably-shredded couture and taking the subway home, since she didn't have enough for more cab fare and she sure wasn't going to ask for a handout now. She rose from the bed and patted down her hair. Miranda watched appreciatively, and Andy blushed, remembering that she was only wearing thigh-highs.

"Can I borrow your bathrobe?" she asked.

"Nobody's here but us," Miranda pointed out.

"I know," Andy said, shifting from foot to foot. "But, um, I don't usually just walk around naked."

"More's the pity," Miranda said. "It's on the hook in the bathroom."

It was the same grey bathrobe Miranda had worn in Paris and London. Either that or a very convincing look-alike. Maybe Miranda liked this particular style of robe so much she'd bought several of them. Andy had to admit, as she shrugged into it, that it was very soft and comfortable.

"Not your color," Miranda said when Andy emerged from the bathroom. Andy rolled her eyes. Miranda, unrepentant, quirked her lips. Then she sat up with a groan. "This dress isn't as comfortable as it looks."

"It looks pretty bad right now," Andy said. It was true. The silk skirt was rumpled and crinkled, and there were bound to be a few stains in telling places. "Pajamas'll feel better." She bent down and pecked Miranda on the cheek. When she pulled away, Miranda's eyes were glowing again.

"It really was wonderful, wasn't it?" she said. Before Andy could fumble for a response, she added, "I'm glad you were there, Andrea. I'm glad you could see it, too."

Andy swallowed hard and smiled. She hoped it didn't look too fake. "Get some rest," she said. "What time are you leaving in the morning?" Maybe they could have breakfast.

"No later than seven," Miranda said. Andy drooped. "I'll have plenty to do tomorrow, believe me. There's the press, for one thing, when the announcement breaks. At least Eleanor is good at handling them."

Andy blinked. "She is?"

"Oh, yes," Miranda said. "She's still not entirely sure how the phones work, so she winds up redirecting the calls all over the building. I believe the last person to field questions about my pregnancy was Julian in Accounting."

"That's--" Andy shook her head rapidly to clear it. "Well. That's really…"

"Yes, isn't it?" Miranda rose to her feet and stretched. "I think I need a shower. Sleep well, Andrea. You have the key, so just make sure you lock the door when you leave in the morning. I'll call you," she added. "Perhaps we can get together tomorrow night. It seems a shame to waste an empty house." She smirked.

"…Sure," Andy said, and left Miranda's bedroom, heading down the hallway to the guestroom, where Miranda would probably not surprise her in the morning by crawling into bed and demanding sex.

A shower didn't sound like a bad idea. Nor did sleep. Nor did anything else that would let Andy put off fretting for a little while longer. It might be jumping the gun to fret, anyway. It would be better to wait and see what was going to happen, wouldn't it? Maybe Miranda's schedule wouldn't change as drastically as Andy feared. Maybe Miranda would be able to handle it without too many problems to herself or her family. Maybe Miranda would magically realize in the middle of the night that you were supposed to tell your significant other when you were thinking about rearranging your life willy-nilly. Not asking their permission or anything, just…informing them.

Yeah. Maybe all that would happen. Andy wasn't holding her breath, though.