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One Step at a Time

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Life goes back to normal, or some approximation thereof. Nigel finally condescends to speak to Miranda again. Emily sheds her cast and hires a second assistant who is only mostly incompetent. Irv slinks around the office, pretending his days as CEO aren’t numbered. The girls are a little subdued for a while, but they are their mother’s daughters: they persevere.

The scratch on Miranda’s leg heals. She hasn’t seen Andrea in weeks, which is for the best. In fact, she hardly thinks of the girl at all any more.

(The near-permanent wrinkle on her brow would disagree.)

She meets a man named Peter McGinnis, who is handsome, rich, and flatteringly enamored with her. She agrees to a date; he takes her to Brasserie and spends the entire meal expounding on the stock market. When she permits him to kiss her cheek at the end of the evening, the brush of his stubble makes her skin crawl.


She makes it a habit to peruse most popular magazines as a matter of research. (Auto Universe is a longstanding exception; she has little interest in phallic compensation symbols and anyway she has concerns about their hiring standards.) Of the publications she regularly consumes, there are few she truly looks forward to. One is The Atlantic. Which is why she is perturbed to arrive at work on that magazine’s publication day and find it missing from her desk.

“Emily."

Emily II slinks in, her back tight to the wall like a zookeeper entering the den of a particularly carnivorous tiger.

“Something is missing from my desk,” Miranda says.

Emily II glances over her shoulder towards the assistant desks, but Emily isn’t there. Since regaining her mobility—and since Miranda’s mood took a dark turn for reasons that don’t bear thinking about—the first assistant has taken to spending as much time running out-of-office errands as possible.

“Well?”

The Atlantic?” Emily II asks querulously.

Miranda holds out an imperious hand. When the magazine does not materialize from thin air, she snaps her fingers impatiently.

The girl pales. “Emily threw it away,” she whispers.

Miranda’s lips purse. She stares. When Emily II proves too thick-headed to hear the implied question, she snaps, “Why?”

“I don’t know.” The girl trembles, eyes half-closed like a pilot bracing to crash.

Curiouser and curiouser. “That’s all.”

She returns her attention to other tasks but keeps her hearing attuned to the comings and goings outside of her office. Finally, the elevator dings and there is a rapid flurry of whispers, none of which Miranda can quite decipher save for the final, much louder, “Bollocks.”

Emily enters, pale but resolute. “Miranda, I reviewed this month’s Atlantic and determined it to be unsuitable for consumption.”

Miranda’s eyebrows lift in astonishment. “Did you really?” Clearly there is something peculiar going on, if Emily is actually showing initiative about something. “Now I simply must read it. Fetch me a copy at once.”

When the assistant, incredibly, seems as if she will object, Miranda allows a hint of anger to settle across her features. “Now, Emily.”

The task takes longer than it should, or perhaps Miranda is just more impatient than she used to be. In any case, by the time Emily returns her fingers are twitching to get hold of the mysterious magazine.

At a glance, it’s unclear what all the fuss is about. She peruses the articles and stories with interest, making note of a few talented authors she may wish to reach out to in the future. It isn’t until three-quarters of the way through the magazine that she sees a name that makes her blood run cold:

Andrea Sachs

The glossy pages crumple in her hands. She glares down at the neat lines of text, the aesthetically pleasing headline, and waits for her blood pressure to return to normal.

“Close the door,” she snarls, paying no heed to which girl leaps to obey.

Alone with her thoughts and the offending display of words, she contemplates setting the whole thing on fire. If only this were the 90s, when she always had a lighter close at hand.

Of course, she’s fooling herself if she thinks there’s any chance she won’t read the article. She sends a brief, thankful thought—one she’ll never verbalize, naturally—towards Emily for trying to shield her from thoughts of Andrea. She declines to wonder how much Emily has deduced about her former relationship with Andrea, such as it was, and said relationship’s dissolution.

She runs her hands along the crumpled pages, smoothing them as best she can. It’s the happiness article, she sees. Astonishingly quick turnaround for such an esteemed magazine. It seems Andrea did not need to mention Miranda in her submission letter after all. Her exceptional writing speaks for itself.

She has reviewed the article many times in the past, but it feels new as she reads it now. Andrea’s examinations of three different couples contemplating when a relationship should come to an end feel especially poignant; after all, Miranda’s own marriage has dissolved since the first time she read this piece.

And a much more important relationship has shattered as well, though when she looks back she sees none of the signs she's so accustomed to from her other relationships. She and Andrea were not growing tired of each other. Quite the contrary, in fact. Miranda, at least, had enjoyed Andrea’s company more the more she’d experienced it, as if the girl were some sort of lethal narcotic. And although they are very different people, conflict rarely seized control of their interactions. Yes, they argued and disagreed as any intelligent people do—perhaps a bit more than most, since Miranda is, after all, Miranda, and Andrea is is, after all, Andrea—but always in a manner that bespoke deep underlying affection.

Or so Miranda had foolishly thought.

She expects the article to be roughly unchanged from the last time she read it— The Atlantic ’s editors won’t have found much in need of improvement—and so she almost skates past an extremely significant alteration. The article, as she remembers, contains three case studies. Previously, the third had examined two people committed to trying to keep a relationship alive despite challenges. Miranda had always been impressed by Andrea’s willingness to use herself as a subject of her own article.

That case study has changed profoundly. Oh, the backstory remains the same, as do the quotes used. Now, however, there is a conclusion to the tale; a melancholy epilogue that speaks volumes about the turn Andrea’s life has taken since Miranda last saw her.

It shouldn’t be easy to say goodbye. The only thing more difficult than sustaining a relationship is choosing to end it before toxicity sets in and corrupts something that was once healthy, like a gangrenous limb left un-amputated. The couple in Study 3 made that difficult decision shortly before the publication of this article. Will they be happier in the long run for having separated? Or will they look back on this decision with regret?

Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, Person A wishes Person B joy as he embarks on an exciting new stage in his career. For herself, she looks ahead to a wide, terrifying, exhilarating horizon and hopes for the best.


It would be churlish, despite everything, not to remark upon the article. Andrea may have turned out to be untrustworthy, imperceptive, and, above all, disappointing, but for an unknown to be published in The Atlantic is remarkable.

(And perhaps a tiny part of her wants to hear what Andrea will say. Perhaps she wants to know whether Andrea is sorry for what happened between them. Perhaps she hopes for an apology sincere enough to accept.)

She composes an email of appropriate coolness. It does not contain the words “congratulations” or “exceptional”, both of which she types and then immediately deletes, but read as a whole it should convey a message of vague acknowledgement. (Also typed and then deleted: “So, you finally threw the chef to the curb, did you?”) Satisfied, if not quite pleased, Miranda addresses it to Andrea’s work account and hits send.

There, she tells herself. Once again, she is finished with Andrea Sachs.

A minute later, the email bounces back.


Miranda meets Simone Daquin, a French fashionista with whom she bonds over shared glee at Jacqueline Follet’s floundering partnership with James Holt. Simone is perhaps ten years younger than Miranda, blonde, with a body that might have been custom designed for Prada. As their acquaintanceship deepens at various events over the course of the next few weeks, she laughs often at Miranda’s dry humor and touches her often with European familiarity.

It is at one such soirée that Miranda finally yields to the curiosity that has been niggling at the back of her brain for months now. Simone has been prattling on about the materials Donna Karan is focusing on this season for almost twenty minutes. Although this is a topic Miranda would normally find intriguing, tonight she is more interested in watching the other woman’s lips and wondering what it would feel like to touch them with her own.

Would she enjoy it as much as kissing a man? Is she even truly attracted to women, or was her strange affinity for Andrea merely the aberration of an unhappy wife?

Simone meets all of the physical requirements Miranda has taught the world to associate with beauty. She is slender but toned, her features symmetrical, her skin lovingly maintained, her choice of couture impeccable. And her personality is certainly unobjectionable; she is witty, charming, and eager to impress.

“—taffeta, though I don’t know how well that will go with the velvet she ordered last month—”

Miranda yields to temptation: she sets a hand on the back of Simone’s neck and stops her words with a kiss.

Her first thought is that this is much, much better than kissing a man. Simone’s lips are softer, fuller; they part with a sigh to welcome her tongue. Her second thought is that she is attracted to women. She is very attracted to women. It may be that she is not truly attracted to men at all, if this is what attraction is meant to feel like.

Simone lets out a sound halfway between a moan and a purr. She clutches Miranda’s hips, pulling her closer and sending a bolt of electricity down Miranda's spine. Miranda loses herself in sensation, head spinning, and deepens the kiss.

Andrea, she thinks wistfully, and wishes for long, dark hair to tangle her fingers in.

“Oh my God.”

She doesn’t startle. She chose to do this here, in the open, knowing she would be seen, because she will not hide who she is. Miranda Priestly does not feel shame in the face of society’s judgment; Miranda Priestly dictates society’s judgment.

She disengages from the kiss in her own time, pleased with Simone’s lust-filled expression and smudged lipstick. But when she turns her head to see who stumbled upon them, she is stunned to find that it is not some stranger gaping back at her.

“Douglas,” she says breathlessly.

Douglas Sommer, her erstwhile assistant and one of Andrea Sachs’ closest friends, is too shocked to speak. His mouth opens and closes. His eyes dart from Miranda to Simone and back again.

“Do you know this gentleman, Miranda?” Simone says, sliding an arm around her waist. It’s a more proprietary gesture than she typically exhibits, and perhaps that is why Miranda steps away from that questing hand.

It occurs to her to wonder at Douglas’ presence at this event. He’s dressed smartly, with a green cravat and a pair of loafers he couldn’t possibly have afforded on an accountant’s salary. In one hand he holds a glass of champagne; in the other, an Old Fashioned.

“A former employee,” she tells Simone, though the answer that springs to mind first is a friend of a friend. “Would you mind terribly if he and I had a word?”

Simone blinks at her, hurt and confusion passing across those aristocratic features before composure wins out. “Of course. I’m suddenly rather thirsty.”

She brushes a hand across Miranda’s lower back and disappears into the kitchen.

Miranda studies Douglas, who now appears deeply uncomfortable. He shifts from foot to foot, takes a sip of champagne, and examines the unremarkable carpet.

Having requested this conversation, Miranda now finds herself searching for a way to begin. What does she hope to get out of what will no doubt be an unpleasant exchange? Why had she not simply dismissed Douglas and continued with her far more enjoyable activity? Simone would clearly have been amenable to taking their explorations somewhere more private. Miranda thinks she would have quite enjoyed that education.

“How are you, Douglas?” she asks at last.

He digs his toe into the rug. “I’m doing pretty well. Great, even. You?”

Her patience for pleasantries has been exhausted. She shakes her head. “And her?”

“Who, Andy?”

As if she could be referring to anyone else. Her narrowed eyes must convey her irritation, because he hastily adds, “She’s hanging in there. I’ll tell her you asked after her.”

“Hanging in there”? Since when has audacious Andrea Sachs ever been content to simply “hang in there”?

“She must be pleased with herself,” Miranda says waspishly. “A publication in The Atlantic, and quitting her job to boot? I saw that she is no longer with Auto Universe.”

Douglas’ eyes go wide. “Quitting—?” He cuts himself off, shakes his head. “You two really don’t talk anymore, do you? A couple of months ago, you knew more about what was going on with her than I did.”

She frowns. His answer implies that there is more to know. “What—”

“Doug, did you get lost looking for the—Miranda.” Nigel rounds the corner, wearing a smile that vanishes as soon as he catches sight of her. He comes to stand beside Douglas with an ease that bespeaks long familiarity. He takes the Old Fashioned and swirls his glass, the large ice cube clinking.

“Nigel," she says flatly. "I did not realize you and Douglas had continued your association.”

His smile is very pleasant and very fake. It's the smile he gives Irv Ravitz. “We’ve been seeing each other since Paris."

As you would know if we were still friends is the unspoken accusation that hovers between them like an agitated swarm of bees.

“Miranda was just asking me about Andy,” Douglas says in a rather high-pitched voice.

“Ah, Andy.” There’s a malicious spark in Nigel’s eye that puts her on her guard. “Poor girl. She was having a rough time of it when we saw her last week, wasn’t she, Doug?”

Miranda goes very still. Nigel is in touch with Andrea? Her Andrea? “What rough time?” she demands.

He shrugs. The spark becomes a gleam. “Well, between her mother and her job—”

“Nigel,” Douglas interrupts sharply.

Nigel looks at the other man. That gleam goes out.

“Andy isn’t a weapon for you to use in your fight with Miranda,” Douglas says. “She doesn’t deserve that.” The undercurrent of anger in his voice reminds Miranda how much she likes him.

Nigel has the grace to look abashed. He rubs his thumb along the curve of his glass. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Andy’s mom is really sick,” Douglas tells her. “Andy’s been spending a lot of time in Ohio with her. And then she got fired from Auto Universe a couple of weeks ago. Plus, you know, she ended things with Nate, which we still don’t really understand.” He paused. “Honestly, I don’t think she’d want me to be telling you all this, but I know you care about her, and she could use all the support she can get.”

“I’m tired,” Nigel announces, draining his glass. “Doug, I should make our excuses to our host. Miranda, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She gives him a tight nod. It chafes to be the target of his scorn, but she knows that if she were in his place she would be far less civil.

Left alone with Miranda again, Douglas no longer looks like a spooked deer. He sets his empty glass on a table.

“I don’t know what happened between the two of you," he says. "She won’t talk about it. I just know she’s hurting and you obviously still care about her. You should call her.”

Miranda swallows to moisten her throat. “I’m afraid that is impossible.”

“Funny. She said almost the same thing when I told her to call you.” He touches the unhappy smile that adorns his lips. “You and that woman...I didn’t know that about you.”

Her eyes narrow. “Does it matter?” Is he, a gay man, going to dare judge her for this?

“It might have,” he says cryptically. “I suppose it doesn’t anymore. I’d better go. Have a nice night, Miranda. It was good to see you.”

“Good night,” she murmurs.

As she watches him go, a slender arm links with her own. “Shall we find somewhere private to pick up where we left off?” Simone murmurs, lips brushing suggestively against Miranda’s ear. “I’ve been very patient, and I have a very large bed.”

That warm, pleasant feeling from before is long gone. She extricates herself from Simone’s grip, and though she attempts to do so as tactfully as possible, she suspects from the other woman’s expression that she has failed.

“Or maybe not,” Simone says, letting her hand fall.

“This was a mistake,” Miranda says.

A door closes in Simone’s eyes. “I see. So what they say about you is true.”

Miranda purses her lips. “And what might that be?”

“Distant. Untouchable. Careless when it comes to the well-being of anyone but yourself.”

It would hurt less if she spoke with venom, but Simone is ever poised. Each word is said with calm precision, like a scalpel in the hand of a skilled surgeon. And like a poorly sedated patient, Miranda feels each slice, though she gives no sign of it.

“Goodbye, Miranda.”

Simone departs with exceptional grace, and Miranda is left alone.


Sometime later that same evening, Miranda finds herself on the stoop of a building in Hell’s Kitchen, gazing up. The brick facade is crumbling and the faint stench of urine makes her nose wrinkle. The lock, however, is fully functional; Miranda knows, because she tried to gain entry to the building and was denied.

She studies the line of buzzers. According to a much faded label, A. Sachs (“N. Cooper” has been crossed out with a single neat line) occupies apartment 4E.

Miranda considers; she hesitates; she aches.

She presses the button.

She fumbles for what to say when Andrea responds. Instead, there is a harsh sound as the door unlocks.

The foyer is dusty but free of offensive odors. She gingerly sets first one Manolo Blahnik and then the other on the warped linoleum stairs. She climbs one flight; another. By the last flight, she is a little out of breath and her legs ache. No wonder Andrea is able to drink those cavity-inducing beverages if she makes this climb multiple times a day.

Apartment 4E is at the end of the hall. There is a worn but clean welcome mat to set it apart from the otherwise uniform set of doors. Before she can knock, a familiar voice calls: “Hang on! I’m just grabbing your tip.”

Bemused, Miranda waits. There’s a thump, a muffled curse, and then what sounds like an entire stack of cans falling over. A moment later, the door opens just wide enough to frame Andrea’s wan face.

At the sight of Miranda, Andrea’s fatigued smile vanishes. Miranda braces herself for a smart comment—You’re not the delivery guy—but the other woman simply stares. There are dark circles under her eyes. She’s lost weight, too, her cheekbones jutting out in a way Miranda would find appealing in a model and which suits Andrea not at all.

The silence stretches too long. Just as Miranda is about to resort to an inane ice breaker, Andrea says, “What are you doing here?” Her voice is flat. Unfriendly. Of all the night’s mistakes, this is the biggest.

Still, Miranda finds herself asking: “May I come in?”

Andrea glances over her shoulder into the apartment. Is someone else there? A new boyfriend, perhaps? Her face is inscrutable when she looks back at Miranda. “That isn’t a good idea. What do you want?”

Miranda wants the last few months undone. She wants to go back to that awful lunch and change the subject before Andrea can say what she said. She wants her friend back.

“I want to be able to forgive you,” she says.

Andrea closes the door in her face. Miranda glares at the offending slab of wood. It remains firmly shut.

A man wearing a bicycle helmet and backpack reaches the top of the stairs and makes for Andrea’s apartment. He looks at Miranda, raises his eyebrows, and reaches past her to knock.

“Go away, Miranda,” Andrea shouts.

Miranda extracts a hundred dollar bill from her Birkin bag and offers it to the delivery man. He takes it with wide eyes, handing her a plastic bag containing a heavy paper bag presumably laden with carbohydrates. He tips his helmet to her and hurries off as if afraid she’ll change her mind.

“I have your dinner,” Miranda calls.

“I’m not hungry.”

At some point, without quite realizing it, she’s decided she won’t be leaving this hallway until she and Andrea have had it out. Tonight, she has reached her tipping point. The status quo of the past few weeks cannot be borne any longer. She must have her say, and hear Andrea's in return.

She examines the wall, decides it isn’t overly filthy, and leans back against it. She opens the bag. Inside is a box of rice and a plastic container of Thai noodles. After a night of finger food and wine, the smell makes her ravenous.

She takes out the plastic fork and the noodles, sets the bag on the floor, and digs in. The food is instantly restorative, restoring her equilibrium. She closes her eyes as flavor bursts on her tongue.

The door eases partway open again. Andrea gapes at her through the narrow gap. It should be an unattractive expression, but on her it isn't. “You’re still here. Eating my dinner.”

Miranda quickly chews and swallows. “Yes. We must talk, Andrea. Tonight.” She dabs her mouth with the napkin.

Andrea shakes her head, in astonishment rather than denial. “It’s been months. What’s there to talk about?”

Mentioning their falling out had not turned out to be the right call. Miranda tries a different tactic. “I saw Douglas tonight. He told me about your mother. Is she very ill?”

Andrea slams the door.

Miranda breathes out through her nose. She takes another bite, tempted to finish the container. Only thinking of how her personal trainer will torture her tomorrow convinces her to set the rest aside.

She came here imagining that Andrea would be the one to extend an olive branch. That fantasy has proven futile. She knows what she must do.

“I sabotage myself,” she says to the door. Her voice is soft; she doesn’t know if Andrea can hear, but she has no intention of baring her soul to the occupants of apartments 4A through 4D. “All my life, I have ruined the things that make me happy.”

She pauses. When there is no immediate response, she contemplates the state of the floor and debates how long she will be able to remain standing in three-inch heels before she will need to abandon all dignity and sit on the plastic delivery bag like an urchin.

The door cracks open once more. Andrea looks at her with dark, perceptive eyes Miranda could easily lose herself in.

Hope rises like the sea at high tide. Faced with this unexpected opportunity, it is surprisingly easy to swallow her pride. “I want you in my life.”

Andrea’s lip curls. “How can that be true when you obviously don’t trust me? Looking back, I see how you were just waiting for me to screw up every time we talked. And the instant I made a mistake—that very instant, with no chance to explain or apologize—you were gone.” She scrubs a hand over her face. “Your mercurial moods are part of why you're such a fascinating person, Miranda. But I’m not interested in pursuing a friendship where I’m constantly on trial.”

Miranda bows her head. “I regret that I’ve given you that impression. Truly, I was never waiting for you to ‘screw up’, as you put it. I was waiting for myself to ruin everything. And I did, by not allowing you to defend yourself.”

Andrea leans her shoulder against the door frame. Has her expression softened a tad? “What would you have said? If you’d given me that chance?”

What had Andrea’s words been, exactly, on that awful day? You make time for the things that matter to you.

“I would have asked whether you truly believed my marriage did not matter to me,” Miranda says carefully, as if reading the lines of an unfamiliar script.

Andrea scoffs. “And I would have said that of course that wasn’t what I meant. I know how important it is to you for your girls to have a stable home. I also know, even if you’d never admit it, that you very much want a partner you can rely on." She blows out through her nose. "And then I’d have said, hopefully with some tact, that it was unfortunate that Stephen couldn’t be that person. Which, by the way, was a decision you made a long time before he got around to filing for divorce.” Her tone challenges Miranda to disagree or take umbrage.

She does neither. Everything Andrea says is true, of course, even if the words sting. This frank appraisal of her marriage would have been unacceptable coming from anyone else, but hasn’t Andrea earned the right to speak her mind? Hasn’t Miranda demanded that she do so?

“You could have chosen your words more carefully,” she mutters as the tension she’s been carrying for the past two months melts away. She doesn't know whether she forgives Andrea, or whether she has realized there is nothing to forgive. It's all the same.

Andrea’s jaw firms. She's magnificent, with her excellent bone structure and those eyes that see what people would rather keep hidden. “Sure. And you could have warned me I’d be paying for your celebratory champagne. I know some great fifteen dollar bottles we could have enjoyed.”

Oh. Right. She winces. Storming out had seemed like the thing to do at the time, but even in her dudgeon she had realized leaving a copy editor with such a hefty bill had been extreme. Not that she’d done anything to rectify the situation. Now, standing in Andrea’s doorway and feeling a glimmer of optimism for the first time since that fateful lunch, she wonders what the hell she’d been thinking.

“Emily will wire you a thousand dollars tomorrow,” she says.

“No, she won’t. You made a decision, and we’re both going to have to live with it. It’ll be a lesson for us both.”

Miranda scowls. “A lesson in stubborn pride.”

“A lesson in not taking things for granted.” Andrea smiles crookedly. “I’ve missed you. So much has happened in my life lately—good and bad—and my first reaction was still to want to talk to you about it, even when I was calling you nasty names in my head.”

“I’ve missed you as well. More than I would have thought possible.” She’s missed that smile. Her arms itch with the urge to wrap around the other woman and hold her close.

Andrea’s smile fades. “I’m willing to try,” she says somberly, “but only if you accept the fact that I’m going to make mistakes. I’m human. Can you believe me—can you trust me—when I say that I will never intentionally hurt you? That I’m on your side no matter what? Because if you can’t, I think we need a clean break. I can't go through this again.”

“I can,” Miranda says quickly, lest a pause be taken for hesitation. Andrea is asking much of her—trust is Miranda’s rarest and most precious commodity—but if anyone deserves it, it’s her. And Miranda is unwilling to go back to the way things have been since she tossed Andrea out of her life. She will promise whatever she must to keep the other woman close, and she will do whatever it takes to keep that promise.

Andrea nods. If there’s a flicker of doubt in her eyes, well, Miranda deserves it. “You’d better come inside, then. Bring my dinner, and mind your step.”

She finally opens the door all the way. For the first time, Miranda can see through to the interior, which looks as if it’s been hit by a tornado. Papers are strewn across the floor, the tiny table, and every other available surface. Coffee mugs tilt like drunkards on the kitchen counter. The aroma of instant noodles hovers in the air.

“Were you robbed?” Miranda demands, standing at the threshold of the chaos.

Andrea chuckles and heads to the coffee maker, which is warming an old, half-filled carafe. “I've got a lot to catch you up on. Close the door behind you.”

Heart joyful, mind braced to process and address whatever terrible events have recently transpired in Andrea’s life, she complies.