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“Holy shit, Andy, do not turn around!”

Andy immediately starts to turn around but Doug grabs her arm.

“What the hell, Doug?”

“I said don’t turn around, dumbass.”

“What am I not turning around for?”

“Devil in Prada at six o’clock.”

She freezes, staring at Doug helplessly. For a moment she thinks he might have made a mistake but then she hears the tell-tale rush of awed whispers and a flurry of commotion as the waiters fall over themselves to attend to her.

“What is she doing here?” she hisses. “I thought you said this was going to be all bankers and city types and we’d eat the free food and go home?”

“It is bankers and city types!” But he’s taken the crumpled invitation from his pocket and is scanning it anxiously.

“Doug? Doug?”

“Oh shit.”

“Doug?!”

“What was her magazine called?”

“Runway! What do you mean what was it called, I worked there for almost a year!”

“Yeah, but…I mean I remember her name because you never shut up about her, but the name of the magazine…Shit. Found it. Sponsored by publishers Elias-Clark…the editor-in-chief of Runway will be in attendance.”

Andy braves a quick look round and then wishes she hadn’t. She’s stunning. Her floor-length dress drapes elegantly over every curve and exposes one soft, inviting shoulder; her lipstick is a striking shade of red that contrasts beautifully with her white hair. She hasn’t aged a day in the three years since she’s seen her.

“Want to make a run for it? We might make it if we go now.”

Part of her wants desperately to stay but there’s no way that can end well – she had burned her bridges so spectacularly there’s surely nothing left to say. He’s right – she has to get out.

“Let’s go,” she says, taking hold of his arm and pulling him bodily through the crowds. Her long evening dress and three-inch heels hinder her progress but she presses on, determined, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the door.

“Six! Oh my God, Six, is that you?”

Shit. So close and yet so far. She thinks about pretending that it isn’t, in fact, her.

“It is you, it is!”

So much for that. With a heavy heart she braces herself as best she can and turns around.

“Oh my goodness, Nigel, I didn’t see you there! How are you?”

They exchange air kisses while Doug stands awkwardly by her side.

“Wonderful, I’m wonderful. And look at you! Is that Versace? You look positively ravishing.”

“It is, although you’re very kind not to mention how out of season it is.”

“Oh Six, do you honestly believe I’m that shallow? I am wounded, I say, wounded. And who is this handsome fellow?”

Doug looks rather pleased at that and she can’t help laughing. “Doug, Nigel, Nigel, Doug. Nigel is my friend from Runway and Doug is my friend from forever ago.”

“A pleasure, sir.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Nervously glancing over Nigel’s shoulder she sees her again, apparently deep in conversation with a tall guy in a tuxedo, although even from this distance she can tell that she’s only pretending to be interested. She feels a strange pang of sympathy for the man.

“Have you spoken to her yet?”

“Who?”

Nigel fixes her with a pointed stare. “The Duchess of Cambridge. Who do you think?”

“Not a good idea, Nigel.”

“I’m sure she’d love to see you.”

“OK, look, there are little white lies and then there are great big whoppers and that was one of them. Doug and I were just leaving anyway.”

“Come on, I’m sure you two can have a civil conversation after all this time, you hardly boiled her bunny.”

“It really isn’t-“ She stops abruptly as Miranda turns around and their eyes meet, sending adrenalin pouring through her veins. Her heart thumps as she waits for a reaction but there’s no expression on her face at all; she just stares for a few moments and then turns back to her companion. Andy takes a deep breath.

“I should go.”

“Fine, we’ll stay in our safe little corner, but you are not leaving until you at least talk to me for five minutes. You never did have lunch with me after you quit in high dudgeon, you kept saying you would and then you didn’t. Such inhumanity. Is she awful to you too Douglas?”

Andy’s not really listening now because Miranda has air-kissed the tall man and is walking straight towards them. Her heart is thundering, her pulse beating double time. She wonders vaguely as to who will catch her if she faints.

“Andrea.”

“Miranda,” she says weakly, clearing her throat and trying again. “Miranda. How lovely to see you.”

“Yes.” Miranda’s expression suggests that she is not, in fact, finding it remotely lovely. “I trust you are well?”

“Oh yes, very well, as well as can be expected, can’t complain.”

“Any one of those answers would have been sufficient, Andrea, I have no need for a response in triplicate. Nigel.” She inclines her head slightly and Nigel takes the hint, shooting Andy an apologetic look as they start to walk away.

In a split second panic she grabs hold of Miranda’s hand and grips it tightly. Miranda turns round sharply, a flash of shock registering on her face before she hides it behind her usual mask.

“Sorry, I…I…just wanted to…”

She looks to Nigel for help but he’s gaping at her uselessly. Doug is looking at her as if she’s put her head in the mouth of a lion.

“The Dior spread last month was amazing, really beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at it.”

“You still read our little magazine? Your outfit would suggest otherwise.”

Miranda eyes her dress disdainfully, although her gaze still sends a small shiver of excitement down her spine.

“I just read it for the articles.”

Nigel tries to hide his laugh with a cough; Miranda glares at him and then at Andy. Their hands are still joined and she’s starting to feel massively self-conscious about it, although she can’t bear to break the contact. To her dismay she can feel the sweat start to form on her palm. Miranda seems to have resigned herself to a few minutes of torturous small talk.

“And how are your own articles coming along? You are still at your little newspaper?”

“I am,” she says, ignoring her tone. “And they’re good, I think. Some of them, anyway. I had a front page a few weeks ago.”

“Andy, that’s fantastic!” says Nigel, looking genuinely pleased for her. “What was the story?”

“Oh, it was a whole sort of crime and civic corruption mess of crap, it’s kind of hard to describe. Good story, though.”

“Sounds fascinating,” Miranda says drily.

“Obviously I can’t compete with last season’s blue versus this season’s cerulean.”

Miranda rips her hand away and she immediately regrets her words.

“Quite. It was charming to see you again, Andrea. Have a pleasant evening.”

Miranda’s six feet away before she’s managed to take a breath. Nigel makes an apologetic face and mouths “Call me” before scurrying off after her. Andy watches as they walk away, her old boss as dignified and haughty and utterly untouchable as ever.

Except she had touched her. Held her hand, to be precise. For two straight minutes, in a public place. And Miranda hadn’t stopped her.

It was something.

 

*****

 

A few weeks later she calls Nigel and arranges to meet him for lunch. He arrives in a dramatic flurry off air kisses and shopping bags and over-the-top apologies for being all of three minutes late and she’s surprised to find how much she’s missed him in all his glory. When he’s finally sat down with a coffee she finds herself beaming at him.

“Was that yours, the Dior spread? I meant what I said, it was stunning.”

Nigel shrugs but she can tell he’s pleased. He was always easy to please, really, easy to flatter, but then she supposes that anyone who works for La Priestly is going to be starving for praise.

She’s thought about that a lot in the last few years, that astonishingly powerful dynamic that Miranda had established – make your employees absolutely desperate for your approval and then hardly ever give it to them. If the world made any sense at all she would have ended up with the world’s most apathetic workforce and instead they were all eating out of her hand. What was that about?

Sometimes she thinks she should read up on some psychology experiments. There was bound to be one, one from years ago when you could do whatever the hell you wanted to some unfortunate animal and no-one would care. Some nasty little experiment where a bunch of monkeys were made to complete simple tasks and half were given multiple rewards and half were ignored and neglected no matter how hard they tried, with only a tiny treat every few months to keep them interested. And no doubt the poor, neglected monkeys worked even harder to try to please their master while the spoilt monkeys just got fat.

She’s never looked it up because knowing that she might be hard-wired to bow and scrape to Miranda didn’t seem like much of a comfort. Especially when you added in the fact that most of Runway’s employees didn’t need a psychology experiment to explain their behaviour – they just loved fashion. And therefore they loved fashion’s queen, or at the very least they respected her and feared her and needed her seal of approval to succeed in their careers.

Andy didn’t love fashion. Andy had wanted to work at Runway about as much as she had wanted to work at Auto Universe. Less, possibly.

Andy was the only prospective monkey in this scenario. Best not to have it confirmed.

“How is everything?”

“Oh, you know, much the same. Short skirts are in, blouses are out, culottes are as yet undecided. C’est la vie.”

“You still happy there?”

He gives her a bit of a look, but she can’t tell whether it’s a warning or something else.

“Of course. Where else would I be?”

“I don’t know, Vogue? You must have had offers.”

“I’ve had plenty of offers.”

“You’ve never even thought about it?”

“Just because you abandoned ship doesn’t mean the rest of us want to.”

There’s an edge to his voice now; she’d better watch it. She wants this conversation to last long enough to at least ask about her.

“No, no, of course not. And I’m sure…I’m sure that she…” She was going to say ‘apologised’, but there isn’t the tiniest chance that she apologised.

“A quarter of a million dollars.”

“What?”

“My budget. The Dior shoot. Quarter of a million.”

“Holy shit.”

“That’s what I said. Or that’s what I said when she was safely out of earshot. She screwed me over once but she trusts me, you know. Even if I don’t trust her.”

Her heart stings a little. She wants him to make it all better, of course, to tell her he’d known all along, to tell her she begged for his forgiveness. There’s another experiment in there somewhere – a long line of monkeys are made to trust their master and the scientist sees how much punishment he can inflict before the trust finally fades away.

“How can you work for someone you don’t trust?”

He shrugs again. “It’s work. It’s life. Shit happens. Anywhere else would be the same. You think your new bossman would give up his job to save your ass?”

“Nope. But she could have at least warned you, not announce it in front of everyone, there was no need to-“

“Humiliate me?” he says coldly.

“I didn’t mean-“

“She did nothing of the kind. She couldn’t risk it getting out, that’s all, she had to make sure it was watertight. It wasn’t personal, it was business. You’re old enough now to understand that.”

“Jeez, Nigel, you want to try sounding a little less like my Dad?”

“Ouch. I am far, far younger than your father, however old he might be. I was 39 again last month.”

She grins at him, grateful that he’s able to keep things light. It’s a strange thing – all those drama queens at Runway and she was the one who threw her phone into a fountain.

“Is she…how is she?”

“She is as she ever was.”

“I’m sorry about the other day. I didn’t mean to sound so bitchy. But that article was so important to me and for her to talk about it like that…”

“Sure. I understand.”

She takes a sip from her drink; she can feel his eyes on her.

“The twins are OK?”

“The twins are fine.”

“What was it…what was it like, after I left? What was she…”

“Ah, there it is. You held out for almost ten minutes. I’m impressed.”

She blushes but holds his stare. “Behave,” she says firmly, trying to sound calm and stern and mocking and casual all at once.

“You won’t like the answer. It won’t be what you want to hear.”

“What do I want to hear?”

“That she was bereft. Heartbroken. Could barely get out of bed.”

“Why the hell would I want to hear that?”

He studies her for a few moments; the blush spreads to her neck.

“Because you’re human. She mattered to you so you want to believe you mattered to her.”

“And I was assistant number 392 and she couldn’t pick me out of a line-up, right? I get it, Nige.”

He winces slightly at the nickname. “You want to know what happened after you left? You really want to know?”

She nods but she’s not at all sure she does, now.

“Nothing. Diddly squat with sugar on top.”

“Uh…excuse me?”

“She hired number 393 the moment she got into the office and went back to work.  A few months later she promoted Emily and hired number 394. Number 393 looked like Kate Moss on a bad hair day, number 394 dressed in Prada top to toe. They were both as useless as usual. Nothing happened after you left. We all went back to normal and pretended that you’d never been there at all.”

There are still a few sips of coffee at the bottom of her mug; she stares down at them, willing the tears not to come, willing herself to act like a grown-up.

“Well, that’s reassuring, I guess.” She manages a half-hearted laugh. “Better than thinking she was heartbroken.”

“Mm. No doubt.”

He’s still studying her; she wishes he’d quit it. There are a hundred more questions she wants to ask about Miranda but they seem pointless, now. It had been a painful, wrenching loss for her and a minor inconvenience for Miranda. She’d known that already, really. Hardly a surprise.

They sit together for another half hour or so and she manages to ask the right questions, smile in the right places when he talks about his new boyfriend, but she’s a little relieved when he gets up to leave.

“Say hello to Emily for me. The original Emily, not the new ones.”

“Will do. And Miranda? Want me to say hello to her?”

“Oh. Well. Probably not, I think. I fucked it up the other day.”

“You think you can fuck it up from me passing on a hello?”

“There are really no end to my talents, darling.” She smiles at him and she thinks he’s about to walk away when he pauses, the fingers of one hand tapping on the back of his chair.

“I’m only telling you this because you more or less quit your job because my honor had been impugned and it was romantic and lovely and ridiculous.”

“Um…telling me what?”

“Emily went to Paris. Emily threw her phone in the fountain.”

“Uh…no she didn’t-“

Listen to me, Six. If Emily went to Paris. If Emily threw her phone away. Miranda comes back to New York. What happens next?”

“I don’t understand what you-“

“What happens next, Six? And now I’m leaving. Call me sometime, you’re a perfect delight beneath last season’s colors.”

“Nigel-“

But he’s gone.

 

*****

 

What happens next?

She’s lost in thought the whole way home. The what seems so obvious she wonders what on earth he was trying to say. Because surely what happens next is that Miranda makes life hell. If Emily had quit in Paris and behaved like a little spoilt brat Miranda would have taken her wrath out on everyone within a three-mile radius.

So it’s not the what that’s difficult. It’s the why. Why the diddly squat?

Why hadn’t she been angry? Furious, even, fuming? Why hadn’t she been an absolute stone cold bitch after a pathetic excuse for an assistant had dared to abandon her in Paris? Why hadn’t she spent the next six months making everyone’s life a misery? And why on earth had she given her that reference?

It takes her two weeks to be sure of her answer, or as sure as she can be without an unbiased confirmation. She calls Nigel on a Sunday afternoon.

“If I tell you a theory, will you tell me if it’s crap?”

“…OK.”

“You said what happens next. If Emily quit in Paris the way that I did. And what happens next is that Miranda acts like Miranda times a thousand for the next six months and is completely and utterly impossible.”

Nigel stays quiet.

“What happens next is nine people are fired before breakfast. The assistants are treated like garbage. The whole place is petrified.”

More silence.

“But you said that didn’t happen. You said that everything went back to normal immediately, she just carried on as normal, or as normal as she ever gets. So that means…”

“…yes?”

“Am I anywhere near the right track? Please, Nigel, I don’t want to make a complete idiot out of myself here.”

“You haven’t said anything yet.”

“…that means that I’m different from Emily. I’m different in some way.”

“Yes.”

“But what if…what if I’m only different in how insignificant I was to her? In how little she’s bothered by my going?”

“You think that’s true?”

She doesn’t respond.

“You think number 393 got to ride with her in the elevator? Number 394 holds her hand? You think Emily gets a reference if she behaves like you did in Paris?”

She can’t respond now; the emotion is swirling inside of her.

“So what happened next, Six? What do you think actually happened?”

“She…” She takes a deep breath, trying to get herself under control, to stop her mind racing. “She was hiding. She was hiding it. Emily quits and she acts like a nightmare. I quit and she…”

“Acts like she doesn’t give a damn,” he says quietly. “Got there in the end, kiddo.”

*****

Three weeks pass in a haze. Articles are written, bills are paid, groceries are bought but the details of her life hardly register. She thinks only of Miranda.

Finally, terrifyingly, after another lost evening spent staring at the walls, she realizes that she has to contact her, if only to confirm that she’s gone completely round the bend.

The first plan that comes to mind is a carefully composed email, but the assistants read all her work emails and she doesn’t know her personal email address.

Seeing her in person is out of the question because that apparently leads to highly inappropriate grabbing episodes, and while she rather likes the idea of writing her a an old-fashioned pen and paper letter, now that she’s actually decided to go for it after all this time she can’t bear to wait until it’s delivered.

But she still has her mobile number, the numbers etched into her brain after so many heart-stopping, impossible demands. She’ll stutter and stammer if she calls her though, so a text message it is.

Almost an hour later she settles on something simple but sincere, her heart thudding as she sends it into the ether:

Miranda – it was wonderful to see you. I miss you very much. I think I’ll always miss you. Can we meet? Andrea.

An immediate reply is not forthcoming and her heart rate gradually starts to settle down, her nervous excitement replaced with a worried unease. The most likely scenario is that she won’t reply at all, of course. Or maybe she’ll haul her over the coals one last time for ever daring to quit her job and then she’ll never see her again.

She reluctantly goes to bed, eventually falling into a fitful, restless sleep. Her phone finally buzzes at one o’clock in the morning and her heart thuds dully in her chest as she reads the reply.

Tomorrow, 7pm. You live where?

Wow. She stares at the message, trying to take it in. No requests for an explanation, an apology. No anger…although she’s probably saving that for later so she can eviscerate her in person. She texts the address, expecting a summons to the most expensive restaurant in her neighbourhood – not that there were a lot to choose from. Perhaps she should have recommended Jumpin’ Jack’s Chicken Shack as the place least likely to poison them.

The next reply contains a single word: Fine.

She waits for a follow-up telling her where they’re going to meet but it doesn’t come. She’s just about to text her again when she freezes, staring in mute horror at the screen. You live where?

She was coming here. Miranda was coming here. This was bad. This was very, very bad.

This was not a suitable apartment for Miranda Priestly.

****

Almost 24 hours later Andy takes a deep breath and anxiously plumps the couch cushions one last time. Everything that could be cleaned had been cleaned; everything that should sparkle was sparkling. There was nothing she could do about the cupboard door that was hanging forlornly off its hinges or the dripping tap in the bathroom. Maybe Miranda would be so affronted by the garish wallpaper in the hallway that she wouldn’t even notice them. Maybe she’d be so appalled by the lack of elevator that she’d never come up here in the first place.

And why the hell was she coming here anyway? She had no idea what Miranda was going to say, apart from the likelihood that she was finally going to get the reprimand she deserved for behaving like a brat in Paris.

The buzzer makes her jump and she stares at the speaker pointlessly, heart racing, fighting an almost overwhelming urge to go and hide under the bed. But then the buzzer is pressed again and held down and the memory of what happens when you make Miranda wait finally spurs her into action. She presses the entry button without bothering to talk to her and then stands in the middle of the room trying to breathe.

After a wait of a thousand years there’s a sharp rap on the door. And then there’s Miranda, who sweeps into her apartment and stands motionless in her living room, immaculate and beautiful as ever.

Andy stares at her, trying to ignore the feeling that she’s massively out of her depth and possibly about to be exterminated. Deep breath, she thinks. It’s only Miranda, she thinks. Only the love of your life.

She stops thinking.

“It’s nice to see you,” she says, wincing slightly at her feeble vocabulary.

Miranda doesn’t respond, although she doesn’t really need to. Nice, Andrea? Nice?

“I mean, it’s wonderful to see you. It really is.”

She tries to smile at her but she’s so nervous she’s not sure that she really manages it.

“I had no idea you were living so microscopically,” Miranda says, surveying the room. “Are you reporting for the Mirror on a voluntary basis?”

“Nope, full-time staffer. They pay me twice as much as you did.”

Miranda glares at her; she looks back innocently, proud of her burst of courage.

“Can I get you a drink? I’ve got orange juice, apple juice or if you’re willing to risk the water from the tap we could brave it together. No Pellegrino I’m afraid, not on my microscopic salary.”

Miranda grimaces but makes a vague gesture that she interprets to mean she’d chosen the water. Too many calories in the fruit juice, no doubt.

“Take a seat. I’ll give you the guided tour later if you like, or I could point out the rooms from here. It’s pretty much a what you see is what you get kind of apartment.”

There’s no comment from the other woman as she sits on the couch. Andy fills two glasses with tap water and sits opposite Miranda on the only other chair in the room.

“How are Caroline and Cassidy? I hope they’re well.”

“They are physically well. To my enormous dismay they appear to have entered a rebellious phase.”

“Oh God.” She pictures them with drink, drugs, boys. Girls. A houseful of frat boys and debauchery. “What are they doing?”

“They are shopping at The Gap. It is most unsettling.”

She bursts into laughter which is only intensified by Miranda’s appalled look. It takes her a good minute to calm down.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…I had all these things in my head and then…you’ve got to admit, it could be worse.”

“I suppose. The day they go to Walmart I’ll disown them.”

She laughs again and is pleased to see a hint of amusement on Miranda’s face.

“What about Runway? Everything good there?”

“Everything is much the same.”

“That’s what Nigel said. There must be something interesting going on. It felt like the center of the world when I worked there.”

“Did it now?” Miranda says. She can’t identify the edge to her voice but it doesn’t sound good.

“Sure.”

There’s no reply. Miranda picks up her glass of water and eyes it warily.

“How are your assistants at the moment?”

“They are embarking on the long journey to become adequate.”

“How many have you had since me?”

“I have no idea. The usual amount.”

“Did you call any of them Andrea?”

“They were not called Andrea.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

Miranda sighs slightly in apparent frustration.

“I have no recollection one way or the other.”

That’s a ‘no’, she thinks. No other Andreas.

“Were they good at their jobs?”

“Of course not. Almost every assistant I have ever had has been atrocious.”

“Almost? Who were the exceptions?”

“Andrea, this really is a disappointingly dull topic of conversation. I’m sure you can do better if you apply yourself.”

“Who was your favorite, after me?”

“After…” Miranda trails off, an unidentifiable look on her face. Andy’s heart starts to beat a little faster.

“I meant, after I left, out of the girls you hired after I left. Who was your favorite?

“I do not have favorite assistants. They are merely there. I no more have favorite assistants than I have favorite paperclips.”

“Then who was your least favorite assistant?”

“For goodness’ sake-“

“Don’t you know what I’m asking you, Miranda?” she says a bit too loudly, trying to stop her voice from shaking. “If you don’t want to answer then that’s fine, that’s your choice, but you’re the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met and I think you know what I’m asking.”

Andy can’t meet her eyes. She waits, silently, her body stiff with tension, her heart thumping.

“My least favorite assistant. So many leap painfully to mind. Emily’s direct predecessor thought that coffee was best served spilled over as many different surfaces as possible. Emily the third was allergic to technology and could mutilate a hard drive by existing in its vicinity. One of the first girls I ever hired thought that fax machines worked by actually flinging the piece of paper down the line.

“So. If you’re asking me whether you were my most accomplished assistant then of course you were. If you’re asking me whether you were my favorite assistant then of course you were. This water tastes like pond.”

Andy stares at her, her mouth hanging open slightly. Her mind’s racing, turning the words over and over: my favorite, my favorite, my favorite. But it’s hardly a confession, is it? Like she’d said, most of the assistants were as important as the office stationery. So she was the favorite paperclip – so what?

She grabs hold of a cushion and squeezes it to try to take her mind off her nerves.

“Why did you write that reference?”

Miranda almost takes a sip of her water and then seems to remember its inadequacy at the last minute. “Mm?”

“My reference, the one you gave to the Mirror. Saying they’d be fools not to hire me. Why did you say what you said?”

The other woman looks at her coolly. “I really have no idea.”

“Greg said it was simultaneously the best and worst reference he’d ever seen. He still teases me about it sometimes, asks me exactly what I did when I worked for you to make you write it.”

“What is he like? Your new boss?”

“Miranda-“

“A fine upstanding member of the fourth estate, fighting for universal justice?”

“He’s-“

“A sterling seeker of the noble truth?”

“Be serious for a minute. I need you to…can we just have one single normal conversation, where we talk to each other, properly, like two adults, like two adult women…I’ve missed you Miranda but you’re infuriating and impossible and it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. I need you to just talk to me for once. Please. Will you do that?”

Miranda fixes her with a steely glare, silent admonishment clear in her eyes. She shouldn’t have said that, of course; you don’t instruct Miranda Priestly. But she’s not sure how much more of this she can take, not after all this time, not alone with her like this after all of these years.

“You have failed to mention the most salient detail of that reference. You were my greatest disappointment.”

Her heart clenches painfully and she pulls the cushion closer to her body. “Jeez, Miranda. You could at least warn me before you say something like that.”

“Don’t be absurd, you were perfectly aware of its content. It makes no difference if I repeat it to your face.”

“Actually,” she says quietly, “it really does.”

Miranda doesn’t respond, watching her in silence, not a hint of remorse on her face. Finally she looks away and surveys the room.

“This really is a minuscule apartment, even for this appalling area. Really Andrea, I would have thought you could at least afford something a little more aesthetically pleasing. And as you’re now dressing like a journalist you should be saving plenty of money from your clothes budget. Would it kill you to find somewhere prettier?”

“Miranda-“

“I can see three doors from right here and I’m presuming that one is a closet. You’re 27 years old, you shouldn’t be living in such squalor.”

“It’s not-“

“You mentioned a guided tour.” She gets up suddenly before leaning down to place her glass on the coffee table. “I believe I will take the tour now.”

Andy tries very hard not to roll her eyes in exasperation. Maybe it’s better this way, she thinks. Maybe she’s crazy to think Miranda ever cared for her and Nigel was just being kind. Maybe she’s not capable of caring for her, not in the way that she needs.

“Three doors, which is one closet, a bathroom and a bedroom. You don’t need a tour.”

“Fine. I shall guide myself.”

“That’s not what I…meant,” she says weakly but Miranda is already striding down the short corridor. She lets out a long sigh as she watches her open the door to the bathroom. Here it comes, she thinks…

“Good God! Andrea!”

“I rent this place, Miranda, I can’t choose the colors.”

“But it’s navy! You have a navy blue bathroom suite!”

“Yep. I do.”

“How long have you been living like this?”

She smiles despite herself. “Two years, three months and about a week. It’s fine when you get used to it.”

“I would never, ever get used to it.”

“Well that goes without saying.”

She hears the bathroom door close and the door to the bedroom being opened. She holds her breath, waiting for the inevitable criticism, although she can’t stop the tiny thrill that chases down her spine at the idea of Miranda being so close to her bed.

There’s silence. It’s a nicer room than the bathroom, but it’s nothing special. Surely she’s due a cutting remark?

As the seconds tick by she starts to worry. Had she left a pair of underwear on the floor? A bra on the bed? Was Miranda speechless with horror at some threadbare monstrosity?

She braves a look down the corridor but Miranda’s nowhere to be seen. Which means she’s now in Andy’s bedroom.

Taking a deep breath she gets to her feet and walks down the corridor. When she reaches the bedroom door she sees Miranda standing regally by the window, staring out at the view that consisted of an apartment block and a fire escape.

“Do you love what I’ve done with the place?” she says nervously.

Miranda doesn’t answer. She doesn’t move.

“You like the view? You can sometimes see people in their apartments. Not that I look or anything, but…sometimes you can. You wouldn’t believe what people get up to behind closed doors. Or perhaps you would, you’ve lived here longer than I have. I haven’t seen an actual murder yet but I think the guy on the bottom right might be a drug dealer. And the woman who lives above him knits in the nude.”

Silence. It’s getting oppressive, now. She has no idea at all what she’s thinking, except…there’s a small voice at the back of her mind that’s telling her…

Taking a deep breath and stealing herself against what might well become the most mortifying moment of her life, she reaches out and, with a slightly shaking hand, closes the bedroom door. She doesn’t try to do it quietly; she wants it to be heard.

Five seconds pass. Ten. And Miranda doesn’t move. Doesn’t ask her what the hell she thinks she’s doing. The voice in her mind is growing stronger, more confident, even as her palms are starting to sweat.

She slowly walks over to the window. It’s as quiet in the room as it ever gets in the city; sounds of the traffic are faint in the distance. Surely the other woman can hear the pounding of her heart.

As she reaches her at the window she stays behind her. Bracing herself again for embarrassment, but feeling strangely sure that it won’t come, she slowly, ever so slowly, slides her arms around Miranda’s waist and lays her head gently on her shoulder.

A soft “Oh” from Miranda tells her everything she needs to know and she tightens her arms, thrilled by the heat of her, the softness, the sheer joy of being permitted to hold her.

After a few moments Miranda covers her arms with her own and they stand there, still, for a long time. She has no idea how long. Time has stopped and the centre of the world has shifted to this tiny room in her tiny apartment. Nothing of any note can happen elsewhere.

Eventually Miranda starts to turn around and she’s worried, briefly, before strong arms slide around her own waist and hold her close. Their eyes meet and there might be a hundred different emotions in her eyes, but the longing is clear to see.

They kiss, so softly at first that their lips barely brush together. It’s nothing like her fantasies and infinitely better. In her fantasies they are desperate with other, brimming with passion, ripping clothes and leaving bite marks. In her bedroom on this Sunday evening they’re both shaking, so reluctant to break their hold on each other that it takes them half an hour or more just to get undressed.

Miranda’s authoritative in her fantasies, as demanding in the bedroom as she was in the office, but this Miranda is tender, careful, asking her whether she’s comfortable, exploring her body slowly with gentle hands, kissing her with soft, soft lips, looking at her as if she’s too beautiful to be real.

They make love for hours.

*****

She wakes up to the sound of running water in the bathroom. Sitting up in the bed she quickly tries to make herself a bit more presentable, running a hand through her mussed hair, pulling the blankets up to cover her body. The sound of footsteps in the hallway makes her heart hammer in her chest.

“Hi,” she says, smiling nervously as Miranda enters the room.

“Hello.” She’s wearing Andy’s robe and has removed most of her make-up. At least, removed the minimal make-up that had been left after spending so many hours kissing.

“Did you enjoy my blue facilities?”

“They are an experience.”

“One that you might wish to repeat?”

Miranda sits on the bed, very close to her, she notices happily. “I have three gleaming white bathrooms at my townhouse, Andrea. You would be welcome to avail yourself of them instead of inflicting such horror on your unfortunate retinas.”

“I might take you up on that.”

There’s silence for a while, Andy trying to process everything that has happened. Neither of them seems to be in any rush to get up, but she’s eager to make Miranda stay with her for as long as possible so she searches for something to say.

“You know it’s not pronounced like that, don’t you?”

“What is not pronounced like that?”

“My name. You’re the only person in the world who says it that way.”

Miranda frowns slightly. “And what way is that?”

“Ahn-dray-uh. That’s how you say it, as if it’s accented or Italian or something. Most people say it ‘Andrea’. An-dree-a. You know, like it’s spelled. Like everyone else pronounces it. I’ve always wondered why you say it differently.”

Miranda sniffs. “I assumed that everyone else was wrong.”

Andy bursts out laughing. “Of course you did. And I’m sure you’re right – my entire family have been pronouncing it incorrectly all these years and you’ve shown us the error of our ways.”

Miranda heaves an exaggerated sigh. “It is actually a tremendous burden to be correct at all times. To be constantly surrounded by incompetence. You cannot conceive of the suffering.”

Andrea grins at her. “My poor baby.”

“Do not call me that,” she fires back. “Each and every one of my husbands insisted on trying to call me that. They did not try for very long.”

“My poor darling.”

“Mm. A marginal improvement.”

“Darling it is, my darling.”

“Silly girl.”

“Oh I can’t call you baby but you can call me a silly girl?”

“I can call you anything I like. Andy.” She says the word softly, tenderly. It makes Andy’s heart skip.

“Oh,” she breathes. “Wow. That felt good.”

“Andy it is then.”

There’s another pause as they gaze at each other. Andy reaches out and tentatively takes Miranda’s hand in her own.

“How do you feel?”

She doesn’t answer but she holds their eye contact and Andy feels that old, familiar connection between them. “You look happy,” she says softly, running a finger tenderly down her cheek.

“Your presence in a room makes me happy.”

Andy’s so moved she has to remind herself to breathe.

“Wow, you’re easily pleased,” she says, fighting against the lump in her throat. “Not how I remember you at all.”

Miranda glares at her but she just grins.

“Are you going to mock me when I’m nice to you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Fine.” She moves to stand up but Andy yanks her firmly back onto the bed.

“Andrea! Do you mind!”

“Your presence makes me happy, too. And your absence almost killed me.”

The haughty indignation falls from her face, replaced by a look of pain.

“You’ve been unhappy? Not all this time?”

Suddenly feeling very exposed she breaks the eye contact, concentrating on the ugly green lampshade on the ceiling.

“I’ve…missed you very much. Work has been great and I’ve made some good friends but that year with you was…indescribable. Exhilarating. Thrilling. Magical. And when it all got too much I thought that the answer was to leave when what I really wanted was more of you, not less. All of you. It’s not like I’ve been a nun or anything, I’ve dated, but when you’re comparing your dates with Miranda Priestly they’re never going to come anywhere close.”

Her lover’s silent for a few minutes, absorbing her words.

“My experience has been very similar,” she says quietly. “Although I didn’t bother with the dating part, it would have been pointless.”

“You haven’t dated?”

She shrugs in that barely-there way of hers.

“Not at all? You’ve been linked with dozens of men on Page Six!”

“Oh well then, it must be true. Honestly Andrea, do you believe everything you read in the newspapers? I have had dinner with any number of men but that does not mean that I was dating them. I assumed that my preferred partner was unavailable to me and I had no desire to waste my time searching for a lesser substitute. You had sex with some of your gentlemen?”

“I…” She’s finding it hard to speak again. Not a single date in three years? Because of her?

“It’s a simple question.”

“Uh…yes. I did. A few. But it wasn’t-“

“Good. I’m glad. Contrary to popular belief I am not actually the devil and that means I want the people I care for to be happy. You are a very young woman and you should be living like one. Of course, you must also stop immediately. You will be required to be monogamous from now on. The amorous gentlemen of New York will need to restrain themselves.”

“Uh…you make it sound like I’ve slept with half the city. I’ve had two lovers in three years, thank you very much. And I am not required to do anything, Miss Thing. I will be asked, nicely and politely, if I wish to be in a monogamous relationship and if I say no we will discuss it.”

For a few moments she think Miranda’s going to call the whole thing off, but then she sighs dramatically and speaks.

“As you wish. Do you, Andrea Sachs of Ohio, wish to be in a monogamous relationship with me, Miranda Priestly of Runway, forsaking all the gentlemen of New York?”

“Yes please.”

Miranda’s eyebrows climb up her forehead. “Oh. I thought you were going to-“

“Make you work for it? Yeah, no, I’m too excited.”

“Mm,” she says, smiling, her expression uncharacteristically warm. “Well. Foresaking all the ladies of New York, too, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Have there been any ladies of New York?”

“No. Only you.”

“Good.”

Andy laughs. “I thought I was supposed to be sowing my wild oats all over the place? I’m flattered that you had to ask, though. Must be a natural at the whole gay thing.”

She runs a hand up under the robe to stroke the inside of Miranda’s thigh, stopping just short of anywhere too intimate and watching in pleasure as the other woman tries unsuccessfully to hide her arousal.

“You were supposed to be having the appropriate amount of fun for a young single woman. For some reason I would prefer that fun to be with young men.”

“It means you’re my first. The only woman I’ve ever touched, the only woman who’s ever touched me. That’s the reason.” She slides her hand down the thigh and then up again, feeling the delicious tension begin to invade her lover’s body.

“Mm. Do you wish to talk or do you wish to…” She waves her hand vaguely but her meaning’s clear.

“Have you been with women before?”

As soon as Miranda hesitates she knows the answer.

“It’s fine if you have, of course it is. Might come in useful, actually, if one of us knows what we’re doing.”

Miranda raises an eyebrow. “I’m thoroughly relieved to have your approval as I am unable to alter events that occurred before you were born. Before the marriages, before the children.”

Andy’s suddenly struck by a worrying thought and she stills the movement of her hand. “You’re not…you haven’t been trapped in the closet all this time, I mean, you’re not actually a lesbian and the men have been-“

“For show? Oh no, nothing like that. Sex is not a problem. Sex is simple mechanics. Particularly with men, who are ludicrously easy to satisfy as I’m sure you know. And I would not have been trapped. I could have announced that I was a lesbian 20 years ago and made it fashionable overnight.”

“And love?”

“Excuse me?”

“If sex is not a problem, is love…have you loved…”

“Love?” There’s silence for a long, long time. “Love is…elusive.”

Andy sits up fully, leaning into her lover and running her fingers gently through her hair.

“You know you’ve found it now, don’t you?” she says quietly.

“Have I now?”

Her voice is dripping with haughty indifference, but Andy knows that she’s asking for real.

“Yes,” she says firmly, placing one tender kiss on her cheek and then another. “Have I?”

“Yes,” says Miranda quietly, leaning into her touch.

“Good.”

“Good, Andrea? Good? Your vocabulary has not improved, I see. We admit to a mutual love and all you can say is ‘good’?”

“My brain is focusing on other stuff.” She runs a hand up her thigh again, her caress earning her a quick intake of breath and her words a steely glare.

Stuff?

“Mm. You know, stuff like how many freesias I’m going to buy you tomorrow, and what shade of cerulean cardigan I’m going to wear on our first date, and where I can buy a coffee machine with temperature settings of cold, lukewarm and ‘Oh my golly gosh this beverage is chilly’”.

To her surprise Miranda whips the blankets away from her, straddling her and taking hold of her arms to pin her to the bed. Any gazes up at her, suddenly breathless, her body tense as she waits for her next move.

“You seem to be under the impression that I am the type of person who enjoys jokes.”

The hold on her arms tightens, the warm body on top of her pushing her further into the mattress. A flush of arousal runs through her.

“You are mistaken. I do not enjoy jokes. What I do enjoy…”

Miranda draws away from her slightly and surveys her from top to toe, as if to emphasize her naked helplessness.

“I do enjoy…silk.” A smooth hand lightly caresses the inside of her thigh. “And beauty.” The hand caresses her stomach slowly. “And velvet.” The hand slips gently between her legs, followed, sometime later, by her mouth.

*****

“I burnt the toast. Sorry. Bit distracted.”

Miranda pokes at the charred remains of a piece of bread. “Burnt is rather an understatement, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah, probably. I incinerated the toast. Because you were feeling me up at the time.”  Andy’s fearless this morning; Miranda loves her and desires her and anything is possible.

“For goodness’ sake, Andrea, we are not in high school. Caressing. Embracing. Loving. And I expect you to be able to multi-task.”

“Everyone has their limits,” she says, grinning happily as she remembers the glorious start to her morning. “How’s the coffee?”

“Appalling.”

“It is a bit. Sorry. Not exactly what you’re used to.”

“Not exactly.”

Andy watches her for a few moments, still trying to believe the fact that a freshly-showered, immaculately dressed Miranda Priestly is sitting at her kitchen table after making love to her for most of the night. And a fair bit of the morning.

“None of this will be, you know that, right?”

“Excuse me?”

“What you’re used to. None of this will be anywhere near what you’re used to.” Suddenly she’s insecure. Miranda’s studying her, serious and calm.

“What I am used to,” she says slowly, “is drunken husbands. What I am used to is men who want their shirts ironed and their dinner on the table.”

Andy sits nervously, eyes flitting between her charred toast and her lover. “And men who can buy you diamonds and take you anywhere in the world in a private jet.”

“Is that why I’m here?” Miranda says, suddenly cold. “You’ll need diamonds and expensive gifts from me?”

“What?! No! Of course not!”

“But you see fit to assume that’s why I chose my own partners?”

“That’s not what I meant!” says Andy, taken aback. “Look at this place, Miranda. There’s nothing I can buy you in the world. There’s nothing I can give you apart from love.”

To her surprise Miranda laughs; she stares at her, confused.

“Nothing you can give me in the world. Merely love. Burnt toast, atrocious coffee, not a cent to your name and all you offer as compensation is mere love.”

Andy blushes slightly. “When you put it like that…”

“Mm.”

They gaze at each other, a smile dancing around her lover’s eyes. Miranda’s phone rings; she glances at the screen but ignores it. Andy raises an eyebrow in question.

“Emily. She can wait.”

“I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you let me answer it.”

“I thought we had just established that you’re practically destitute.”

“I’ll sell a kidney, it would so be worth it. Two thousand.”

Miranda has a wicked gleam in her eye but to Andy’s disappointment she answers her own phone. “Emily. Stop speaking. I will be late this morning, tell Kristen or Kirsten or Tallulah or whoever she is to adjust my schedule as necessary, get the Prada line ready for me the moment I arrive and do not let Nigel start the photoshoot before I have cleared the skirts from Donatella, several of her previous selection could have been designed by a wayward chimp. Do you want to talk to Andrea?”

Andy tries not to spit out her coffee.

“Yes, Emily, that Andrea, the Ohio one who beamed because it was Tuesday. No? Well, I’ll pass on your complete indifference, I’m sure she’ll be very touched.” She hangs up.

“Aw, she didn’t want to speak to me? We were friends. Sort of. In a way.”

“If she had a preference one way or the other she was unable to voice it. For some reason she seemed a little surprised that I was with you. Perhaps she’ll decide we ran into each other in Central Park while walking our dogs bright and early.”

“She’ll figure it out, you know. Maybe not today, but she will.”

“Then she will.”

Another rush of happiness runs through her as she realizes that Miranda isn’t going to demand that they sneak around. They sit quietly for a few moments, sipping their coffee, Andy wondering exactly how late Miranda is going to let herself run and thankful for her own lack of deadlines.

“I might, you know,” says Miranda, out of nowhere.

“Uh…might what?”

“Buy you diamonds. If I feel so inclined.”

“But I could never-“

“I will buy you whatever I please.”

“But I-“

“What is the point of wealth if you can’t spend it?”

“But I can’t buy you anything in return.”

“I’m not asking for anything in return.”

“You know what I-“

“We shall set a limit if you are uncomfortable. Ten thousand dollars, shall we say, for the start?”

“…Ten thousand dollars? For one present?”

“Don’t be silly. Ten thousand dollars per month, that’s enough for a mid-range handbag, a half-decent pair of shoes now and then.”

“Uh…I….”

“No good? Would twenty thousand be more acceptable?”

“Twenty?” she says weakly. “I can’t even…”

“Thirty? You don’t seem at all satisfied.”

“Stop going up, stop, stop. One thousand. One thousand for one birthday present, absolute maximum, that’s it.”

“Ten thousand per month, with extra for birthdays.”

“Fifteen hundred.”

“Nine thousand.”

“One seven fifty, no extras.”

“Eight and a half thousand and this is a ludicrous argument. And you are a ludicrous girl.”

Despite her words, Miranda’s looking at her as if ‘ludicrous’ might not be exactly how she would describe her. As if something much softer might be far more apt.

“Two thousand, five hundred extra for birthdays and Christmas, absolute final offer.”

“Eight thousand, no limits on Christmas and birthdays and that is my absolute final offer.”

Andy can’t help but grin, despite her slight unease at the enormous sums of money they are talking about. “We appear to have reached an impasse.”

“Apparently so. Eight thousand it is then.”

“Hey! That’s not how this is going to work, I thought I made that clear this morning.”

“I always get what I want, Andrea.”

“But you didn’t…” she blurts out, regretting it immediately.

“What? Andrea? What didn’t I?”

“You didn’t come after me. You said that you wanted me but you never tried to…”

Andy shifts in her chair, wondering whether she really wants to know why Miranda had never pursued her, especially as Miranda looks thoroughly discomfited by the question.

“There have been a few times over the years when I’ve made subtle enquiries, discovered you were with some man or other and checked whether he was good enough.”

Once again, Andy’s head starts spinning.

“And as your taste in men seems to only encompass the deathly dull but innocuous pretty types I have never seen a need to intervene.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you never contacted me.”

Miranda looks away. “You never contacted me.”

Andy laughs. “Are you kidding? Hey Miranda, how’s it going, you remember the annoying assistant who left you in Paris three years ago, want to get dinner and a movie?”

“You assumed I would say no?”

“Of course I assumed you would say no!”

Miranda inclines her head slightly; it takes her a moment to read her meaning.

“Oh. Wow. But you’re…you’re Miranda. I mean, no-one says no to you. Ever.”

“Don’t be absurd, I would not have been asking for your latest collection. You were straight, you’d quit my employ, you were barely out of college and I am twice your age with two daughters. Not to mention I was so abominable to work for you didn’t last a year. I had no reason to anticipate your interest until you sent that text.”

“Wow,” she says weakly. “We’ve both been-“

“Wasting time. Idiotic, of course, but three years is not thirty. And perhaps 27 is a more appropriate age for this to begin, you have had a chance to experience at least something of the world before you tie yourself to one person.”

“You talk about this, about us, as if it’s so certain, as if it’s forever…”

Miranda’s face falls; for a horrible moment she can see a deep sadness on her eyes. “I had thought that’s what we had agreed. Was I mistaken?”

“You weren’t mistaken,” Andy says softly, taking her hand, relieved to see the sadness dissipate. “I guess I’m not sure how we agreed it, though. We haven’t talked about it. We said we loved each other but I’ve loved people before and I never felt anything like this. I’ve never spent a single night with a person and woken up…devoted.”

The most gorgeous expression appears on Miranda’s face, one of pure happiness.

“Devoted,” she says. “A lovely word.”

“The vocab’s not so bad now, right?”

“Not so bad now. And to answer your question, there is no answer to your question. A design is beautiful or it isn’t. A love is real or it isn’t. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” she teases. “We’re talking about true love and that’s all?”

“You are going to be utterly exasperating. It’s been less than 24 hours and I’m already exhausted by your very presence. And it’s time I went to work.”

Miranda starts to get up but Andy tugs at her hand. “Stay for five more minutes.”

The other woman pauses, giving her a haughty look as if to say, “Why should I?”

Andy kisses her palm gently and tugs at her hand again. “Stay for five more minutes,” she says softly. “For me?”

Miranda stays.