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This Must be the Place

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Miranda locked the door to her room once she had Andrea all to herself.

She’d watched her lover’s eyes glaze over during dinner after her little speech, and known that she’d be the center of attention once they reached the bedroom. She was right, because Andrea didn’t even let her get to the bed before she pounced, pressing her up against the door. Andrea had her trousers unzipped in moments, and she knelt to mouth at Miranda’s panties before ripping them down and off.

“Oh, geez, you’re so—” Andrea said, before she got her tongue where she wanted it, and Miranda’s knees weakened. She was wet already; how couldn’t she be, with Andrea making eyes at her all night, biting her own soft, sweet lips, blinking slowly and with so much meaning? “Want you so much,” she murmured against Miranda’s flesh.

Miranda let her have her way, running her hands through soft, dark hair. “God, I want you inside me,” Miranda said, and felt the exhalation of breath against her skin.

“Sure?” Andrea asked, ever mindful of consent.

“I’ll tell you if I want you to stop,” Miranda said, and arched her back against the cold wood of the door.

Andrea started slow, one slim digit sliding inside without resistance, and Miranda ached for more, so she asked for it. “Keep going,” she urged.

A second joined the first, and Miranda sighed in pleasure. She had no pain at all and had no idea why she’d been so sure that it would be difficult to feel Andrea inside. Her touch was careful and tender, not rough in the least, and her mouth… It was a perfect storm, carrying her toward her peak.

And because Miranda was finally unconcerned about how long it would take her to have an orgasm, it happened in no time at all. And the thing that made it more thrilling was the moan of pleasure that Andrea made against her skin, when she felt the contraction of muscles around her fingers.

Looking down, Miranda relaxed, and remembered in that instant just how fun sex could be. She pushed Andrea away from her with a smile. Andrea wiped her mouth, eyes hooded. Miranda knelt and knocked Andrea to the ground, straddling her. All of a sudden, she wished she had something, anything, she could wear to fuck Andrea with, but she had no harness to speak of. At once she cursed her unwillingness to explore lesbian sex before now.

She’d had two martinis, and the liquor loosened her tongue. “I want to use my vibrator on you,” she said.

Andrea moaned like she was in pain. That seemed like a yes, and Miranda nearly leapt to her feet toward her bedside table. The thing sat in its satin bag at the back of the drawer, cold and clean and unused over the last months. She turned it on, enjoying the sound of a full charge, and almost laughed when Andrea scrambled off the floor and threw herself into the center of the mattress. “You’ve been holding out on me, Miranda,” she said. “That is one good-looking piece of machinery.”

“I use only the best,” Miranda replied, and turned it up.

She prodded at Andrea with the toy very gently, because it was not small. That was one of the reasons it had sat for so long in the bedside table; it ultimately had not been comfortable. That said, looking down at it as she pressed it against Andrea, Miranda thought she might start getting some use out of it again herself. But not tonight.

Within a few minutes, Miranda had pushed it inside Andrea, who had one arm over her mouth as Miranda fingered her clit at the same time. “Is this good?” she asked.

Andrea nodded, her breath coming hard and fast through her nose as she writhed against the toy. Miranda looked down and raised the vibration level, and Andrea bucked toward the ceiling. She panted as Miranda worked it inside her, until she got down close and used her tongue. Andrea grabbed a pillow at that point, and within moments she felt Andrea come, pulsing all around her. In seconds she came again, hips jerking uncontrollably. Then a hand came down and kept Miranda from continuing her attention.

Miranda shut her reliable little machine off, and listened to the heavy breathing from above her as Andrea tried to calm herself. “Oh, fuck, Miranda. That was so, so good.”

“I’ve been known to have some good ideas,” Miranda quipped, resting her head against Andrea’s smooth thigh.

---

The next day, Andy got on her phone and did some research. Today, Miranda would go into the office for a few hours, but she’d be done by mid-day, and then they were going shopping.

But first, Andy had her final therapy appointment of the year.

She talked about her night terror, and her lack of sleep over the last week. But the conversation was very different from the one she’d had two weeks ago, before she went to Cincinnati. She talked about Miranda, and seeing her kids, and thinking about her future in an entirely new way. The pressure to make a decision about what she would do next had vanished, for no reason whatsoever.

“Have you considered that you were putting the pressure on yourself, Andy?” Jane asked.

“Not really. I mean, I do have to make a decision.”

There was a long pause. “Do you have enough money to live on?” Jane asked.

“Yeah. I have lots of savings. I haven’t even touched the check I got from Independent, and it was close to what I’d make in a year.”

“And is anyone calling you, begging you to cover a story for them?”

Andy thought about that. “No. My email’s been pretty quiet lately.” She frowned. “Do you think my window of opportunity is closing? Maybe I should start making some calls—”

“Andy, let’s focus on what I’m saying here,” Jane said, leaning forward. “You have time to figure out what’s next, at your own pace. You experienced many months of vicarious trauma in war zones, then witnessed a near fatal shooting that could have ended in your own death. That day, your life was reset, but I believe that only now have you realized that the reset took place. Am I making sense here?” Jane asked, peering intently at Andy.

She nodded back.

“The goals of our sessions here are very broad—to help you get through the day, to help you sleep better, to help you recover and make lasting, meaningful relationships. Beyond that, it is to find your new normal, whatever that might be. You don’t have to go back to being a world-traveling reporter if that’s not something you want to do. There are thousands of other opportunities that could be right for you.” Jane sat back and dropped her glasses down on the side table. “I’m not pointing you in any particular direction, but I want you to use this week to visualize what you actually want your life to be like going forward. Work and home included.” She smiled. “Would you want Miranda to be part of your future?”

Andy spoke without thinking. “She is my future.” Andy blinked. “I mean, part of it, anyway. She’s—” Andy blinked some more. “I love her. I’m in love with her. I’ve been in love with her, at least a little bit, for a very long time.” She smiled. “I think I want to stay in New York for a while.”

Jane grinned. “What has finding her again has done for you?”

“Hmm,” Andy said, looking deep inside herself for the answers. “Besides making me feel happy, she gave me something else to think about. I was kind of caught in a rut, self-obsessing. Worrying, feeling sad, then worrying about feeling sad, etcetera. Now I feel… less alone. Less lonely, rather. Because even when I’m alone, it’s okay. She’s still with me.”

“That’s very beautiful,” Jane said. “Does she love you?”

Andy sighed in pleasure. Miranda hadn’t said the words, but she knew the truth. “Oh, yes. She definitely does.”

After her session, Andy felt lighter than she had in months. That lightness made her smile as she walked down to Elizabeth Street to pick up fresh clothes. She packed enough for a few days, not knowing exactly how long she’d be staying with Miranda. As she looked around her apartment, she wondered how it would be to leave it behind, and if the idea of co-habitation would make Miranda panic. They’d only just reconnected, but if Andy followed the instructions Jane gave her, she was visualizing herself living in Miranda’s townhouse, sleeping in her bed, permanently. She rolled her eyes at herself, and locked the door on her way out.

Three nights of good sex were making her get ahead of herself, but there were worse things.

Andy was in the library when she heard the front door open and close. When there was no sound of chatter to follow, she knew Miranda was home. But instead of going to the door to greet her, she went back to her book and let Miranda have some time to decompress.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, Miranda made her way into the library with a faint smile. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Yep. I think I forgot how to read anything longer than a few pages before I got here.”

“One of the perils of the smartphone generation,” Miranda remarked as she joined Andy on the couch. Andy shifted and put her head in Miranda’s lap. “I won’t be going back to the office till Tuesday,” she said. “I’ll have some work, but we’re on a skeleton crew as it is, and the Book is in fine shape.”

“Great. I have plans for you,” Andy said, looking up with her eyebrow raised. She watched the motion of Miranda’s throat as she swallowed.

“Where are the girls?”

“Movies, then dinner. I gave them a hundred bucks and sent them on their way.”

Andy watched her pulse jump in excitement. “So what do your plans include?” she asked, giving away nothing.

“We’re going shopping.”

Miranda frowned and looked down. “Shopping?”

Andy smiled. “Yep. Babeland has short holiday hours, but they’re open till 8. We should go now, if we want to get home before the kids do.”

“What are we shopping for?”

“Something new for you, obviously. Unless you’ve got a drawer full of sex toys that I don’t know about.”

That stopped Miranda short. “We’re shopping for sex toys?”

“We are. You game?” Andy thought challenging her might make Miranda more willing to step outside her comfort zone.

“I don’t typically buy my… intimate products in person. I shop online like the rest of the civilized universe.” She was blushing faintly, but Andy pushed on.

“Well, you can’t test stuff out if you’re not there in person.” Miranda’s eyes widened. “I don’t mean actually test, whoops. I mean feel. I can go by myself if you’re worried about being recognized, but if you dress down and like, wear a hat, you’ll probably go undetected.”

“A hat,” Miranda stated flatly. “You’re saying that if I wear a hat I won’t be recognized?”

“I’ve got just the thing.”

Shortly thereafter, Andy and Miranda stepped off the F train and headed up Delancey toward their destination. Miranda wore stylish dark jeans, glasses, and Andy’s favorite Mets baseball cap. Andy had on the wooly hat from their walk in Yorkville. Nobody had paid an ounce of attention to either of them during the entire trip. “I told you you’d blend in.”

“I’m not recognized every second of the day, darling,” Miranda replied. “I barely notice when it happens.”

Andy laughed. “You don’t notice, my ass,” she joked.

Miranda slowed and checked out Andy’s behind. “Oh, that I notice,” she said.

They went right into the store without pausing, and the colors were bright, if garish. The store had taken the perviness of a back room porno shop out of the equation, but it was too pink for Andy’s taste. Front and center were the objects Andy had been thinking about. Miranda followed her, sticking close to her side. “These are going on your credit card,” Miranda murmured softly.

“Whatever you say,” Andy said, silently cheering as Miranda perused the collection.

Half an hour and a few hundred dollars later, Andy carried a plain white bag out of the shop with glee. “Should we go right home?” Andy said, ignoring the fact that she called the townhouse home. She was eager to get started with their new accoutrements.

Miranda checked her phone. “The girls are there. They’ve got friends over, and they’re getting pizza for dinner.” Her lips pursed. “Let’s have an early supper down here. You live in the neighborhood, don’t you? What’s your favorite place to eat?” Before Andy had a chance to answer, Miranda had discarded her Mets cap into the bag, alongside the carefully wrapped products. She shook her hair out and instantly looked like herself again.

Well, Andy wasn’t about to take Miranda for a slice on a street corner, so she offered, “Uncle Boons. It’s Thai.” And it was right down the block from Andy’s apartment, which was clean, quiet, and best of all, empty. Maybe they’d stop by before heading back tonight.

---

Miranda had not overeaten at dinner, then devoured dessert, for a long while. Tonight, she indulged, having shared plate after plate of divine Thai masterpieces at Andrea’s chosen restaurant. Everything was delicious, and the conversation was perfection. She watched Andrea sip the end of her single glass of beer, and asked how her day had been before their foray into the world of sex toys.

“It was good. I--I had therapy today.”

“Oh?” Miranda hadn’t know she had an appointment.

“I told Jane about us.”

“How did that go?” Miranda asked.

“She was really happy for me. We, um, we talked about a lot of different kinds of things today.” Andrea’s dark eyes met hers, wide and uncertain. “We talked about the future.”

Miranda’s heart thudded heavily in her chest. She nodded her head once in encouragement.

Andrea swallowed, and said very simply, “I love you, Miranda. I hope it’s not too soon to tell you that.”

Miranda was so stunned that tears stung the back of her eyes. They didn’t fall, but her eyes were wet when she reached across the table to take Andrea’s hand, not at all mindful of the small crowd in the restaurant. “Not too soon,” Miranda said. She wanted to say it back, but didn’t want to distract from where the conversation was going.

“I want you to be in my life. I want to spend as much time with you as possible. I was on a really dark road, and I was pulling myself out of it a little at a time, but you somehow showed up and made it so much easier to find a way forward.” She smiled weakly. “I know it’s only been a couple of weeks, but, whatever you can give me, I’ll take it.”

Miranda sighed in tremendous relief. “I thought you were going to say you were leaving town in the New Year,” she admitted.

“Why?” Andrea asked, puzzled.

As much as the words wanted to stay in the back of her mouth, Miranda forced herself to give them voice. Openness was not her strong suit. “Because I wanted you to stay, and while I am very successful professionally, my personal relationships always tend to go sideways. The more I want them to succeed, the harder they are to maintain.” She took a deep breath. “I will give you everything I am capable of and more, Andrea. I will try to deserve your love, and return it.” She gripped Andrea’s fingers. “I do return it. I love you, very much.” Andrea looked as pole-axed as she felt, and she laughed. “I suppose this couldn’t have happened nine years ago, could it,” she offered.

Andrea twined their fingers together, and laughed in return. “I had kind of a thing for you, but I didn’t know it was a thing. It certainly didn’t feel like… this. Not then.” She laid her chin in her free hand, and looked at Miranda with affection.

Miranda thought back to those first months, with Andrea proving herself time and time again. She remembered her beauty, her occasional clumsiness, her efficient intelligence, her dedication. Miranda had felt something different for Andrea, compared to all her other assistants, but she had no inkling what could happen once they were on the same footing. She certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. “No, not then. It’s too bad, though. It would have been nice.” I would have been happier, Miranda thought.

“Yeah,” Andrea said, her tone a little melancholy. “But I’ll take what I can get. You never know when you’ll wake up one morning and breathe your last, right?”

Miranda blinked, and thought that Andrea might have been much better off staying at Miranda’s side for these nine years, but it was too late now.

Once they paid and left the restaurant, Miranda looked around for a cab, until Andrea leaned close to her ear. “Want to see my place?” she asked.

Already, Miranda recognized change in her voice, dripping with sex. She swallowed. “Where is it?”

Andrea motioned with her head, and Miranda followed her, ignoring the way the cold stung her cheeks. Snow crunched under her boots, and her neck was chilly because of the wind, but her ears were already hot. She watched the sway of Andrea’s hips as she strolled down the street, carrying the bag of delightful little items they’d purchased earlier. Perhaps it would be better for them to make a stop instead of going home first. She was glad Andrea hadn’t suggested it earlier. She might have asked to stop for a slice of pizza for dinner instead.

The building was without a doorman, but the entryway was clean and bright, and the elevator was larger than she expected. They rode to the top of the fifth floor of the building and Miranda was surprised when they walked in. It had a large, open living room, with books that lined one wall, and wood floors that looked restored rather than new. “It’s lovely.”

Andrea smirked. “It’s a rent-controlled sublease from an old friend at The Mirror. I’d never be able to afford it otherwise. He’s making a killing and I get to have the nicest place I’ve ever lived in in the city.” She pulled off her hat and dropped it on the coffee table. “It’s got thick walls, too.”

“That’s fine,” Miranda replied offhandedly, glancing around the space.

“It’s very convenient, because the girls heard me screaming that time I had a night terror.”

Miranda froze. “They did?”

“Yeah, they asked me about it the next day. They knew something bad happened.”

A furious blush exploded through Miranda’s cheeks, and she hoped they hadn’t heard anything else.

“I think we’ve been careful, when we’ve been, you know. Enjoying ourselves.” Andrea unbuttoned her coat and left it on the dove grey couch. She kicked off her short boots one at a time, and was already unbuttoning her shirt when Miranda came back to herself. “But I’d rather not worry about making a racket within earshot of your kids and their friends tonight. That sound okay to you?”

Miranda dropped her bag on the ground, checked that the front door was locked, pulled off her coat and tossed it on the floor as she went in search of the bedroom. “Hey!” Andrea called out as she chased after her. “Wait for me!”

The bed was made; it looked like a queen size with too many pillows and a white duvet. The walls were white, and the white curtains were pulled shut. Quickly Miranda checked both windows, thrilled to confirm this was a corner unit, so the bedroom did not have a single shared wall. “Give me the bag,” Miranda commanded, and Andrea did so right away. She disappeared into the bathroom in the hallway and started unpacking her prizes. The boxes were left on the floor as she washed everything thoroughly, and she plugged in to charge something they’d bought for her especially. But Andrea’s item didn’t need a charge; Miranda lifted it and enjoyed the heft in her hand. She took the harness as well—leather, with gold rings—and returned to the bedroom.

Andrea was in the center of the bed, the sheets and duvet pulled down and out of their way. There were candles lit on the bedside table, and thudding, seductive music in the background. “This is excellent,” Miranda said, and Andrea grinned.

“Glad you approve,” she replied, and ran one delicate finger along her cleavage.

“You’re first,” Miranda said, dropping her treasures on the bed and stripping off her blouse, followed by her shoes, socks, and jeans. “I’ve never done this before, so I’ll need some direction,” Miranda added, picking up the harness and dildo and approaching the side of the bed.

“I doubt it,” Andrea said, and reached up to pull Miranda onto the mattress. She rolled Miranda beneath her, covering her body and kissing her deeply. Andrea moved quickly, pushing Miranda’s underwear down with both hands. She pulled the harness up her legs, and slipped the funny looking blue dildo through it before grabbing the lube from the foot of the bed. “I don’t really need this but I’m in a hurry tonight.” She covered the toy from tip to base, and Miranda bit her lip when the thing pressed against her clit. “Mind if I’m on top?”

Miranda shook her head, already feeling out of her depth. Andrea smiled, pulling her own panties off in an instant, and straddled Miranda. “I’m totally ready. Are you?”

“As I’ll ever be,” she replied, and rested her hands on Andrea’s hips.

Then Andrea was pressing down, and Miranda watched, wide-eyed, as Andrea took the toy inside herself in one swooping motion. “Oh, God,” Miranda uttered, feeling the weight in just the right spot.

“Yeah,” Andrea moaned, “me too.” Then she was moving, and the surreal, electronic thumping of the music surrounded them both. Miranda reached up to cup Andrea’s breasts as she lifted herself and slid down a few times as she acclimated to the toy’s girth. “Oh,” Andrea cried again, leaning forward with both hands next to Miranda’s head. Miranda wriggled a little before thrusting her hips up when Andrea came down, and with that, Andrea’s head snapped up to meet her eyes. Then they were working together toward a common goal, Andrea moving at her own pace, and Miranda moving with her.

“Can I?” Miranda asked, reaching down with one hand, and Andrea nodded urgently.

“Fuck, fuck,” Andrea mumbled when Miranda’s fingers found their goal. “Oh, Miranda,” she said, “won’t last like this, oh, shit, you—you—you’re so—Oh!” she cried, jerking and keening a high pitched wail that was far louder than any sound she’d made in Miranda’s home. Apparently she’d been holding back over the last few days. She held herself up with shaking arms, and Miranda caressed the side of one breast, trailing her fingers down her ribcage and hip as she trembled above.

I love you, Miranda thought, and then she said the words aloud. Andrea beamed when she opened her eyes.

---

Andy didn’t take long to recover, and she made a quick bathroom break before retrieving Miranda’s special item. She brought the charger with her to make sure they wouldn’t run out of juice too soon. Miranda still wore her bra, and her reticence was visible when Andy plugged the white cord into the wall. “Want to give it a shot?” she asked, turning the small triangular vibe on. The music drowned out the noise of it, by design. Andy had made the mix on her phone in the basement of her parents’ house when thinking about Miranda, and all the things she wanted to do to her.

Miranda nodded, already breathless. “Yes.”

“Nervous?”

Miranda shook her head. “Just ready.” She bit her lip. “Last month If you’d told me I’d have fantastic sex for four days in a row I’d have laughed in your face,” she admitted. “I thought this was over for me.”

Andy jacked up the vibe and changed the setting to be unpredictable. “Sorry to disappoint,” she said, and pressed it to Miranda’s clit.

Miranda didn’t last a minute before she went off like a rocket. Three minutes later, they tried again; same result.

“Fuck menopause,” Miranda panted, wiping sweat from her brow and dragging Andy down into her arms.

They stayed in bed till 10, making love, kissing, and creating a general mess of the formerly clean sheets. Andy was sore in the best way as they strolled down the hall toward the elevator, their toys packed discreetly inside Miranda’s purse. When she gazed at Miranda as the elevator doors closed, she noted that the little wrinkle that was typically evident between her brows had noticeably smoothed out. Andy tried not to smile.

“What?” Miranda said. “Do I have something on my face?”

Andy shrugged. “Just afterglow.”

“Oh,” Miranda said, and leaned back against the wall. She cleared her throat, and looked away with a blush. “I’m not surprised. That was… fun.”

“I’ll say.”

The cab ride was quiet, and they held hands. Once at the townhouse, Miranda unlocked the door, and Andy got nervous when the place was silent. Andy followed Miranda up the steps to the cavernous game room, and found Caroline playing one of her video games with headphones on. There was an empty pizza box on a table in the center of the room, and Cassidy was asleep on the sofa that lined the far wall. Caroline smiled and pointed to the screen. “I’m playing with Melissa. Want to say hi?” She cringed. “Or is that weird, to meet on the computer first?”

Miranda didn’t hesitate to kneel next to her daughter, searching for the camera. Caroline pointed, and then found the face of her daughter’s girlfriend, who was smiling at the screen and waving. Her hair was dark, with a purple streak in front that was quite fashionable. Andy thought she might be Japanese. “Put these on,” Caroline said, and Miranda pulled on headphones with a mic so they could communicate directly. Andy backed away, preferring to let the conversation go on without her. She picked up Cassidy’s feet from their resting place on the couch, and sat down.

“Hey,” Cassidy croaked. “What time is it?”

“Just after 10.”

“‘Kay. Thanks for the movie, Andy, it was good. So was the pizza. How was your night?”

Andy bit the inside of her cheek. “Okay. You know.”

“What’s going on over there?” Cassidy sat up a little. “Oh shit, is that Melissa?”

“Yep. Caroline introduced her.”

“Whoa. I didn’t expect them to meet so soon.” Cassidy scrubbed her face with both hands. “I guess it’s been easier since you’ve been around.” Andy waited patiently for her to continue. “Caroline felt really alone when she started having feelings for girls. We’re identical, in case you haven’t noticed,” she joked, and Andy pinched her shin in jest. “It’s one of the few things that’s not the same about us, although I’m sure if I met a girl who did it for me, I’d go for it. I’ve never been as shy as she is, either,” she said, brushing her hair back behind her ear. “Anyway, with us being apart for the first time, it was strange. When we were kids, I took care of a lot with Mom on my own—I had most of the hard conversations. If we got in trouble, I did the talking, even if it was Caroline’s fault.” She silently watched her sister and her mother chat with Melissa for a long moment. “This is the first time Caroline’s done something totally by herself, and it turned out her difference wasn’t so big after all.” Cassidy looked meaningfully at Andy. “Now that you’re here, too, Caroline isn’t the only one. I’m actually the odd one out, surrounded by three gay ladies.”

Andy cracked up just as Cassidy did, and they were shushed by Caroline instantly.

“Damn. Guess we’re not invited to the conversation this time,” Cassidy said.

Andy leaned back against the couch cushions and shut her eyes. “That’s okay. Next time.” She felt like she might be able to sleep pretty well tonight, since she’d had good food, and good sex, and good conversation. Maybe those three things were what she’d been missing all along.

Some time later, she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” someone said, and Andy thought it was Caroline, because she had headphones around her neck, and there was no one on the couch anymore. “Mom went to bed. You should go too, I’m on my way up.”

“Cool. Thanks.” Andy hauled herself to her feet, and asked, “How’d it go?”

Caroline looked at the floor shyly. “Pretty good. Mom was really nice to Melissa, if you can believe that.”

“I totally can,” Andy replied. “If Melissa makes you happy, that’s probably all your mom cares about.”

Caroline stopped Andy in the doorway, and her eyes were damp. “I—I don’t know if I can explain how scared I was to tell her about me,” she said, and two fat tears rolled down her cheeks. “I didn’t think I’d ever have the strength to introduce her to someone I cared about, but I heard you guys at the door, and I just went for it.” She smiled, and Andy saw so much of Miranda in her young face. “It was kind of awesome.”

“I’m so happy for you, honey. Really.” Andy held her arms open just a bit, hoping it was the right call, and Caroline stepped into them. “It’s been so great to spend time with you two. And the fact that you welcomed me into your home has been really generous. Thank you.”

Caroline held her more tightly. “I can tell that Mom is really into you, Andy. I knew it right away, when she started talking about you.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Andy whispered in her ear.

“What?” Caroline asked.

“I’m in love with your mom,” she said, and it felt freeing to reveal her secret to someone other than Miranda.

Caroline pulled away. “Seriously?”

Andy bobbed her head. “I hope it’s okay if I stick around for a while.”

“Yeah, it’s cool. M-maybe you can meet Melissa, if she comes home to meet Mom in person,” Caroline said slowly.

“That would be fun.” Andy backed up, not wanting to put any added pressure on Caroline, who was probably buzzing with adrenaline after the night she’d had. “You should get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“G’night, Andy,” Caroline said, and disappeared up the steps.

Miranda was already in bed when Andy joined her. She kept her voice low, even with the door closed. “Everything go okay?”

Miranda nodded. “Yes. Considering it’s the first time I’ve ever met anyone Caroline’s been involved with, it went extremely well. Despite being over a video game console.”

“Welcome to the future,” Andy responded. “I’ll be right back.” She got ready for bed in the bathroom, washing her face, and setting her own soap next to Miranda’s on the shelf. She gazed at the combination with some happiness. She hurried, flossing and brushing her teeth before heading back to bed. She slid under the sheets and turned off the light before cuddling right into Miranda’s embrace. “Oh, this was such a good day,” she said softly, pressing her lips to Miranda’s neck.

“Mm,” Miranda agreed, “very.”

“Best day I’ve had in a long time,” Andy said. They breathed together in the darkness for a bit before Andy retreated to her own side of the bed, turning on her side and pressing one of her legs against Miranda’s.

She slept.

---

The following day, Miranda woke at 4 to an empty side of the bed. She was disappointed, but not surprised.

Wide awake, she picked up her phone from the night table, checking for messages.

Back by 5, Andrea’s latest text read.

Would have liked to be with you. Next time, wake me, Miranda replied.

She waited.

Not a chance. I wore you out yesterday. Mm.

Miranda agreed, noting the pulled gluteal muscle on her left side. Sufficiently alert, she rolled out of bed and crept silently downstairs to retrieve her laptop and the Book.

Once Andrea returned, they lounged together in the bedroom, and Andrea dozed while Miranda answered emails. They had a quiet breakfast before the twins appeared, and for the most part, they spent a comfortable day doing their own thing. Andrea read, Miranda worked on and off, and the girls entertained themselves.

As evening fell, Andrea went and sat in the backyard on her own, and Miranda didn’t disturb her even though she thought it was far too cold for comfort. There were great drifts of white in the corners of the walled garden, but the furniture had been brushed off. Andrea reclined on one of the lounge chairs, hat on and heavy blanket over most of her body. Miranda observed her briefly; she didn’t have her phone, or a book, or a computer. She simply stared off into the darkening sky, looking up.

Once she returned inside, she said, “I have an idea.” She shook her hat out and dropped it on the kitchen island.

“What sort of idea?” Miranda asked.

“About something I want to do. People I want to talk to, and some stories I can make out of it. Interviews, podcasts, like that. Similar to what I did after th--the shooting.”

Miranda took off her glasses and shut her laptop. “Oh?”

“I don’t want to talk too much about it yet, but I’m having some good thoughts.” She smiled, and looked satisfied.

Miranda felt both anxiety and elation at the words; good thoughts were good, but she hoped they would not take Andrea far from her side. Instead of allowing herself to think selfishly, she reached out and took Andrea’s hand. “I’m very glad to hear that.” She looked out at the garden. “Were you inspired by the weather?”

Andrea laughed. “No. It’s just really quiet outside because of the snow, very peaceful. Nice for thinking.”

“Apparently.” Miranda picked up her phone when it buzzed; it was an email of no consequence, so she ignored it. “Anything you want to talk about?”

“Nah. Maybe tomorrow.” She snagged a couple of marcona almonds from the little ramekin next to Miranda’s computer. “When do we eat?”

“If you’re hungry, then now. Shall we order in?”

“Mm, yes.” Andrea went to the refrigerator and opened it, staring into the shelves. “I could make something but I’m not in the mood.” She shut the door and tried the freezer instead. “Indian?” she asked.

“Fine, fine,” Miranda said. “Get me something vegetarian, will you? And the girls—I want to finish a few things—”

“No problem,” Andrea said, already breezing out of the kitchen.

Miranda turned her attention back to the Book; she opened her machine and continued the last of what she wanted to complete before tomorrow. If felt like only moments before three bags of food landed on the kitchen island; it was time to wrap up if she wanted to have a relaxing evening. Putting a big red X on a jacket that had been bothering her, she added a note to return to it on Tuesday first thing, and shut down.

The countertop was soon strewn with all manner of dishes; there were two orders of chicken tikka masala, chickpea vindaloo, saag paneer, fish curry, brown and steamed rice, and garlic naan. Her stomach growled, and she had a hard time letting her daughters go first as they made their selections. Cassidy and Caroline were both exuberant over their choices when they headed for the dinner table, and Andrea handed Miranda an empty plate. “I hope there’s enough left for us,” she joked.

“They do love Indian food,” Miranda responded, sneaking a forkful of vindaloo out of one of the containers and inhaling it. “And when we’re not in India, we enjoy the Americanized version of it.” It occurred to her that she hadn’t even indicated her preference for dinner tonight, yet here were many of her favorites. That led her to a thought she’d had earlier in the day, as they coexisted in relaxed harmony. “Have you noticed that we haven’t argued once since we got back in contact?” Miranda asked with a frown. “I think that’s concerning.”

Snickering, Andrea responded, “We haven’t had anything to argue about yet.” She eagerly dug into the tikka masala. “As long as you don’t tell me to get the skirts from Calvin Klein, I think we’ll be okay.” She raised an eyebrow at Miranda. “I might yell, though, when we do. Just a head’s up. I try not to, but it’s a bad habit. I’ll try to be thoughtful.”

“I don’t recall you ever raising your voice, before,” Miranda said, thinking back. “Not even when I really made you angry. You never gave me attitude.” With a small snort, Miranda added, “That kind of attitude, anyway. At the very beginning, your irritation was rather transparent. You considered your job stupid—my job, too.” She looked back at those early days with a hazy pleasure, particularly when picturing the wide eyes Andrea gave her with every impossible request. “I enjoyed taking you to task. Rather too much, perhaps.”

“Too much?”

“I mean prior to you, I didn’t often spend more than a moment thinking about my assistant as anything more than an extension of my own arm. I still don’t. But you… your condescension stuck in my craw, I’ll have you know. There was something in your contempt I found appealing.” Andrea was staring with a guilty look on her face, which amused Miranda. “You were appealing, all on your own. You were—let’s say raw upon first arrival—but interesting. I liked your face.” Miranda remembered telling Nigel that when she’d seen him last, and the blush rose to her cheeks with the revelation. “I still do.”

Andrea’s eyes, at times wide in fear as a younger woman, were now gaping at her in surprise. “You thought I was pretty? The smart, fat girl? No way.”

Miranda cringed. “It’s unfortunate how the most cutting things one says are so often what are remembered in the end. You were never fat, Andrea. You were always lovely.”

The surprise melted into a gentle smile. “Don’t go soft on me, Priestly. You never thought twice about me back then. And you did not like me right at the start. I sure didn’t like you.” There was glee on Andrea’s face, as though she were imparting the most fascinating of secrets. “You were horrible to me. And I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

That was titillating. “Oh?”

“Not sexually,” Andrea corrected. “Although I probably dreamed about you that way, especially later, after I got to know you more. Once we were in tune.”

“Mm,” Miranda hummed. “In tune. That’s very much how it was.” Not so unlike it is now, Miranda thought. “I never did. About you.”

“Oh, bullshit,” Andrea corrected. “You loved me in those Chanel boots.”

Nine years later, Miranda remembered. “Oh, fine. I did love those boots.” She could still picture them quite clearly.

“I can tell. Too bad I had to give them back when I left.” Andrea took a bite of chicken, but Miranda knew there was something on her mind. “I’m sorry, by the way, for leaving, back then. I know you know, but I wanted to say it. I’ve had a long time to look back and see things from a different perspective.”

“I do know,” Miranda assured her, putting a hand on one delicate wrist. “There’s no groveling necessary. All right?”

“Yeah,” Andrea replied, looking relieved. “I’ve been sitting on that for a while, and glad to have it out in the open.” She wasn’t quite ready to let go of the subject. “I’ve been thinking about Nigel too, and Emily. How are they? I never even asked.”

“Nigel is enjoying W very much. He’s been there six years, and we’re... close. Closer than before, I mean. Friends.” She inclined her head toward Andrea and spoke very seriously. “You know what happened in Paris, that was business. Not personal. It was not a nice decision, but it was the right decision, in the end.” Andrea nodded. “Nigel came to understand that, and we recovered. I helped him go to W, but it was a loss at the office. He is, as I came to realize later, irreplaceable to me on many levels. I wish I saw him more often.” Perhaps she would take Nigel’s invitation to dine with him and Leon seriously. “Emily is at Dior, but she’s involved in the LVMH Prize every year. She has an eye for new talent.” She gazed at Andrea with narrowed eyes. “Present company excepted. You’ll get to see them both tomorrow.”

“They’ll be at the Elias-Clarke party?”

“It’s not just for our publications, of course. Everyone will be there. Emily is flying in tomorrow morning. We don’t talk frequently, but I hear from her quite a bit over email. Usually she sends links to clothes she either hates or loves, and I tell her if she’s right or wrong.” Miranda smirked. “Aside from you, she’s the only other assistant I keep in regular touch with. You both made quite the impression.”

“I’m so glad, Miranda, and I’m thrilled they’re doing well. I’m excited to see them.”

“They’ll be surprised to see you. Or Emily will. Nigel already knows.”

“Knows what?” She served herself some curry, and nearly dropped the container at Miranda’s next words.

“That we’re together.”

Miranda hadn’t yet seen this exact expression on Andrea’s face. “Seriously?”

“Yes. I spoke to him the day after I saw you on Derek Halpern. Then I told him we were seeing one another, when I attended the holiday party while you were away.” Miranda shrugged. “He was persistent. Besides, I’m not ashamed. I liked having someone to talk with about you.”

“What did he say?” Andrea asked, her eyes bright and curious.

She paraphrased Nigel’s comment, for effect: “He asked me if I’ve been gay all this time and never bothered to mention it.”

Andrea cracked up, and clapped her hands in delight.

---

The night passed in a haze of some sleep and more sex, because why shouldn’t they? Andy left the toys in the bedside drawer this time, preferring to use her tongue, her hands, her lips to bring Miranda to orgasm as many times as she could. Andy reveled in the panting, wild thing Miranda became when they took off their clothes. Sometime after two in the morning, she’d asked for four fingers and gotten them, the pressure of Miranda’s knuckles against her triggering a release that left her breathless and boneless on the damp sheets. It was a good thing Miranda went first, because Andy was pretty useless after that.

Later, Andy wondered if the explosion of ideas yesterday had eased her anxiety, since once they both conked out, Andy slept straight through till seven. She had some research to do today online, since she didn’t want to contact the VA till after the new year. The concept was in its nascent stages, but now that she’d been turning it over in her mind, she was dedicated to the idea. Veterans who were suffering from PTSD were known to the general public, but Andy wanted to tell individual stories as part of a whole. A series of interviews, given the right circumstances, could make a compelling podcast. With her notoriety, the collection could be successful in bringing more attention and understanding to a somewhat invisible part of the population.

When she woke, Miranda was already out of bed. Andy found her in the kitchen with the Book, coffee cup at the ready. When Miranda looked up, the pleasure in her slate grey eyes made Andy want to cry. How long had she felt lonely and unhappy before Miranda had come back into her life? It felt like eons. So when the tears threatened to spill down her cheeks, she let them, and Miranda came and held her. It felt cleansing, to mark the moment and let this painful year come to a close with the realization that she could feel good again. Beloved. Cherished.

Miranda, wisely, did not ask what spurred on this display of emotion. Instead, she fixed Andy a special cafetiere of Kona medium roast, pouring her a cup with half and half and a spoonful of sugar. Andy sat at her side and watched her work with a special kind of satisfaction, and rested her head on Miranda’s shoulder now and then.

Once the girls were awake, Miranda announced that they were to have brunch at Cafe Boulud, which was news to Andy. They all got dressed and took a cab to 76th street, and no one noticed them beyond the occasional glance of surprise at two familiar faces dining together. Andy didn’t suspect that their photo had been taken, but she did wonder if a few clandestine shots might have been captured by subtle smartphones and posted to social media. She had no intention of worrying about coming out; the sooner the better, as far as she was concerned. Obviously Miranda was of the same mind, since they did choose a highly visible location for their first outing with Caroline and Cassidy.

Once back at the townhouse, she headed to the small study off the kitchen to open her laptop and got to work. Miranda interrupted her at five, and Andy blinked at her in surprise. “You’ve been in here for hours. I’m about to start getting ready.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Indeed. I spoke to Nigel, and he and Leon are having dinner in Chelsea before we go to the Pier. Mind if we join them?”

Andy thought there might be a touch of ambivalence to Miranda’s question, but she also really wanted to see Nigel, and meet Leon. “What’s at the Pier?”

“The gala is on a yacht. We’ll be able to watch the fireworks near the Statue of Liberty.” At that, Miranda looked stricken, and her mouth opened in uncertainty. “Ah, well,” she began, then shut her mouth.

“What’s wrong?” Andy asked.

“The noise from the fireworks—I hadn’t considered it. Are you—? Well, I’m not sure.”

Andy read between the lines, touched deeply at Miranda’s concern. “I saw fireworks at the 4th of July, and I was okay. Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you positive?”

Andy set the computer to the side and went to Miranda, taking her in her arms. “You’ll be with me. I’ll be fine.”

One of the things Andy realized she loved was watching Miranda get ready for a big event. It was a process; long bath first with a face mask and salt scrub, then moisturise, followed by lingerie. Then came the hair, then make-up, and the dress was last. She’d recently had a pedicure and manicure, otherwise it would have taken far longer. It was a kind of pampering that Andy was unused to, but she agreed to go along with it when Miranda ushered her through the same process. She skipped the facial mask, though, since she wasn’t sure how her skin would react. The last time she was at an aesthetician had been during her days working on camera for CNN, and that was years before.

They stood next to each other in front of the master bath mirror when all was said and done, and Andy was wowed. Her dark crimson next to Miranda’s charcoal gown was a perfect pairing, and when an arm came around her waist, she knew that the photos of them together would be beautiful. After she did a last touch up to her dark lipstick, they were ready. At the bottom of the stairs, Cassidy and Caroline, both in navy dresses of different styles, waited for them. They nodded their heads in a matching display of sly approval.

The car delivered them to Scarpetta promptly at 7:30, and Nigel’s expression when he saw Andy was an unusual combination of joy and sadness; he obviously knew she’d been through the mill over the past few years. He held her a little longer than necessary, and Andy was nearly overcome. He kissed her cheek, and she saw the sheen of wetness in his eyes before shaking her head and laughing. That broke the melancholy mood, and he introduced her to Leon, his partner of many years. Leon had smooth dark skin and amber eyes, with smart tortoise shell glasses that suited his profession as the Vice-Chancellor of a university in the Bronx. His welcoming smile put Andy at ease, and right away she sensed that their togetherness would be lasting. Cassidy and Caroline were very friendly toward both men, and Andy figured that they’d had lots of dinners together during the years since Andy had left Runway behind.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you, Six,” Nigel told her as they took their seats. “Really. It’s wonderful. Although I will tell you I am shocked.” He grinned in Miranda’s direction. “At least I was when Miranda told me you two were back in touch.”

“I like to keep you on your toes, Nigel,” Miranda said as Leon pushed in her chair.

“You two look smashing,” Leon commented as he took his own seat. “You’ll make quite an impression tonight.”

“That’s the idea,” Miranda said, slipping on her reading glasses with the menu in hand.

Over appetizers, Andy heard the story of Nigel and Leon’s meeting at a performance of Shakespeare in the Park’s “Comedy of Errors.” What followed was a second date at “Love’s Labours Lost,” which was sufficiently sophisticated. They rounded that out with a third date at a screening of “The Heat” at Leon’s insistence, and despite Nigel’s snobby reticence, he loved it, and subsequently realized he could end up loving Leon as well. They’d moved in together shortly after that, and hadn’t spent more than a week apart ever since.

The girls talked about their first semesters at school, and Caroline was brave enough to mention Melissa. Nigel was clearly thrilled, but he held back his enthusiasm. He and Leon both talked about their own experiences of coming out as young people, while Andy and Miranda both stayed quiet, since this evening could be considered their own “coming out” to the public.

The meal ended with the dinner course, since they wanted to leave room for dessert and cocktails for the boat ride on the Hudson. As they headed to the restaurant exit to catch a cab, Nigel took Andy’s arm. “You look nice, kid. Feeling okay?” he asked.

Andy nodded with calm assurance. “Never better.”

“I know we haven’t talked, but you’ve been on my mind, you know.” He took his glasses off and rubbed them clean with a cloth from his pocket. “You’re special. Always have been. I hate what happened to you.”

“I’m okay, Nigel. I promise. I have lots of support. More than ever.”

When they arrived at the Pier, the place was swimming in paparazzi and celebrity. Andy hadn’t been exposed to anything like it for quite some time: the klieg lights, the models, the camera flashes were all distant memories. The twins disappeared into the crowd, already on a mission to escape the presence of adult company. Andy and Miranda moved toward the boat without stopping, but Miranda unexpectedly took her hand as they hit the walkway. Miranda didn’t smile, but instead looked regal and imposing as she surveyed her devotees. This was Miranda Priestly’s universe. Just watching her, Andy was reminded of the power of her persona. Miranda in private was caring, thoughtful, occasionally insecure, always curious and interested in those she loved. In public, Miranda wielded herself like a glacier, drifting by in silence, able to dismantle the greatest of ships with a single glance.

Andy admitted to herself that it was a turn on. Miranda was still the dragon, the devil, the demon who controlled the fashion world and the galaxy that surrounded it. It thrilled her, even all these years later. Andy held her hand more tightly, and when their eyes met, Andy licked her lips unconsciously. Miranda’s eyes followed the movement of her tongue, and Andy knew that her desire was visible, and returned.

By the time they’d climbed the gangplank and stepped onto the yacht, Andy thought their picture had been taken a thousand times or more. She’d better call her parents in the morning, before they heard from someone else about the big news.

Every eye turned toward them as they moved into the sphere of compatriots and friendly foes; some noticed their clasped hands with wide eyes, or missed that detail altogether when distracted by Miranda’s glow. Few approached at the beginning, at least until the current head of Elias-Clarke noticed Miranda and held out a hand in welcome. Henry Carpenter was a 180 degree pivot from the personality of Irv Ravitz; coming into the job, Carpenter was hugely wealthy, well-respected in the industry, and relatively hands-off when it came to the E-C properties. He liked to play golf, and run board meetings, and get paid; he also liked it when his team did their jobs well so he could make as much money while expending as little effort as possible. But the trait Miranda liked best of all was that anyone who crossed him or Elias-Clarke was summarily destroyed. She valued him because, unlike Irv, he saw her as the innovator she truly was. He left her alone, and Runway continued its successful trajectory in both traditional and new media avenues.

“Henry,” Miranda said, a sly grin on her face, “so lovely to see you tonight.” She held out her cheek for him to air kiss.

He turned to Andy with curiosity. “You look familiar, young lady. Have we met?”

She tried not to bristle at the “young lady” label, and considered that the man had to be in his seventies. “No, sir, I’m a reporter. My name’s Andy Sachs.” She held out a hand, and his eyes narrowed. She could tell the instant he recognized her name, and she hoped he wouldn’t ask questions.

“Andrea worked for me many years ago,” Miranda said, likely detecting the same detail and turning the conversation. “We’ve only recently reconnected.” Her hand came around Andy’s back in a subtle gesture of possession, and Henry noted it with some small surprise.

“Interesting, interesting,” Henry said, eyebrow raised. “Hope you enjoy the party. Miranda, I’ve got some questions about the next board presentation, but it’s the holidays and I don’t want to bore you with work the whole night. We’ll talk soon, shall we?”

“Of course, Henry. Happy to help,” she replied, and smiled as he nodded. Once he was out of earshot, Miranda murmured, “Questions about our relationship as it relates to the next board presentation, I’m sure.”

“Should you be worried?” Andy asked, suddenly anxious on Miranda’s behalf.

Miranda turned to her with a smirk. “No.”

As they moved through the crowd, Miranda accepted a glass of champagne, and handed one to Andy as well. Andy had skipped the booze at dinner so she could indulge at least a little bit this evening. Any opportunity for Veuve Clicquot was worth taking advantage of.

Andy was heading for the railing in the hopes of gazing down at the water when she heard a slight ruckus to her left; moments later, Emily Charleton, in all her resplendent glory, burst through the crowd and gaped at the two of them.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t believe Nigel’s text, but here you bloody are.” Her harsh words said one thing, but her expression told an entirely different story. Emily was smiling fondly, looking right into Andy’s eyes. She seemed relieved to find her in one piece. “Christ, get over here, you sodding cow,” Emily muttered, and opened her arms. Andy laughed as she accepted a hug the likes of which she’d never had from her old colleague, and it felt wonderful. There was an unexpected weight to Emily’s embrace; it was firm, and warm, and above all, caring.

“Oh, Em, so good to see you,” Andy finally breathed, shocked at the experience.

“Don’t be ridiculous, you haven’t thought of me in years,” Emily said, stepping back, visibly fighting her own reaction. “Nor I you. But there it is.” She turned to Miranda. “Hello, Miranda.” She moved in to air-kiss Miranda’s cheeks, and Miranda accepted her offering with the subtlest grin imaginable. “I can’t believe you’re seeing one another, mind you,” Emily added, turning back to Andy, “but there’s no accounting for taste on Miranda’s part. I’m going to have to hear it all from the beginning, but I’ll need at least two glasses of wine beforehand. Let me get to the bar so I can prepare for this insanity.” She stepped back but did a doubletake, returning to Andy for another hug. It lasted only seconds before Emily pushed her away, cursing to herself. “Oh, bollocks, I need a drink.”

Andy stood there, breathless. She looked over at Miranda, who was following Emily’s progress with something like affection in her eyes. “Never a dull moment,” Miranda murmured, running her fingertips along the inside of Andy’s forearm.

“She’s lightened up on the eyeshadow,” Andy quipped, swallowing back the emotion she felt. “I’m a little bummed.”

“But ever faithful to Westwood,” Miranda replied. They waited, interested when a handsome gent touched Emily’s elbow where she stood at the bar. She turned to them and gestured with her chin, and his gaze found them as well. He smiled, and Andy thought this was someone she’d like to meet. Emily handed a champagne to him, and carried two glasses of red back to the small circular table where Miranda and Andy had settled. So far, no one else had approached, which was fine with Andy.

“This is Graham,” Emily said. “He’s always wanted to meet you, Miranda.” She threw back an enormous swallow of wine with a wince. “Now, start, and leave out anything that’s going to make me lose my mind.”

“Lovely to meet you, Miranda,” Graham interrupted politely, holding out a hand to her as he took a seat next to Andy. “Sorry my wife’s being so incredibly rude.”

Andy exclaimed “wife!” at the same moment Emily shouted “rude!”

“I’m not being rude,” Emily declared, “I just need to know exactly what’s going on between these two. I’ve as much right as anyone.” She sipped her wine once, then again. Half the glass was gone.

“You’re married!” Andy said with a grin. “Congratulations. So nice to meet you, Graham,” she added, and they shook hands as well.

He slid an arm around Emily. “We’ll be married two years in April, assuming she doesn’t leave me before then,” he said, self-deprecatingly.

That snapped Emily out of her single-minded attention. “Don’t even joke about that, darling.” She turned to Andy. “I adore him and I plan on never letting him out of my sight. Now, stop distracting me and let Andrea here explain exactly what’s going on between her and Miranda.”

“Em, I’m not sure they—” Graham started.

“It’s okay,” Andy said, “We’re not hiding anything.” She glanced over at Miranda, wondering what she expected her to say. “We’re, uh, dating.” She grimaced. “That’s it.”

Miranda snorted. “You know, she recently won an award for story-telling,” she said. “Her expository talent knows no bounds.”

“Oh, fine, you tell them then,” Andy said, sitting back and sipping her champagne.

That wiped the smirk right off Miranda’s face. She blinked, and her lips pursed in a familiar shape. “We recently met at an event. Now we’re seeing each other.” Andy burst out laughing. “Very funny. I suppose I don’t know what to say. That is what actually happened.”

Emily’s eyeroll was epic; she leaned close to Andy stared intently into her eyes. “What event?”

So Andy told her about the ceremony, and Miranda’s speech, and getting a drink afterward. Miranda didn’t interrupt, and pressed her lips together in silent mirth each time Emily emitted a gasp of surprise. She talked a little about decorating Miranda’s Christmas tree, and Emily looked startled.

“What?” Andy asked. “We did a nice job.”

“Nothing,” Emily said, glancing briefly at Miranda.

“Come on, out with it,” Andy said.

Miranda sighed deeply. “Emily knows that I usually hire a team to do the tree. I haven’t decorated one myself since the twins were young.”

Andy blinked. “Oh.” She blushed, inexplicably. She knew Miranda loved her, and desired her. She had not considered Miranda’s pursuit of her; she’d thought she’d done all the wooing. Andy smiled, and felt warmth in her belly. This is happiness, she thought.

Graham nodded at Andy. “A perfect setting for the start of a romance.”

Remembering the kisses they’d shared that night, Andy said, “It was romantic.”

“Let’s move on,” Miranda said with some impatience, certainly uncomfortable with the revelation that she had a heart, not to mention feelings.

Andy snapped out of her stupor, not wanting to embarrass Miranda any further. “Right. Anyway, I went to see my parents in Cincinnati,” she continued, mentioning meeting the girls again but skipping over any allusion to sex or side trips to Babeland. She was saving those details for Lily, whom she would speak to tomorrow during their New Year’s Day call. Years before they used to brunch together on the 1st, but this year they would Skype while Andy had lunch and Lily had breakfast out west. She hoped Miranda would want to join her for at least part of it.

She spoke of their dinner with Nigel and Leon, and finished with, “Then we came here to the party. Now you’re up to date.” It hadn’t taken long, but Emily was still watching her in disbelief.

“And you’re telling me that nothing went on between you all those years ago,” she said, peering intently at Andy.

“I swear.” Andy still wondered exactly might have happened between them if she’d chosen to stick around Runway, but that ship had sailed. “Would have been fun, though.” She winked at Emily, and Graham burst out laughing.

“Fun.” Emily’s eyebrow rose in distaste. “I would not have considered that fun, accidentally stumbling on the two of you…” Andy glanced at Miranda, hoping Emily hadn’t had enough wine to stick her foot in her mouth. “...being romantic.” Andy exhaled in relief.

 

“You would not have caught us,” Miranda said firmly. “The office is for work only.” She briefly eyed Andy, who got the message. That was a shame. It would have been pretty thrilling to get up to no good in Miranda’s glass office, or even the Closet. She gazed at the twinkling lights that hung from the ceiling, considering all the creative ways she could lure Miranda into sex, only to jump when Emily clapped her hands in front of her.

“Wipe that lecherous look off your face, Andrea. You’re in public,” she snapped.

Andy shrugged, feeling only the slightest twinge of embarrassment. “What? I was just thinking about—”

“Don’t even,” Miranda cut her off. “This conversation has nowhere to go but into the gutter, and I for one refuse to be a part of it.” Her eyes glittered in amusement, though, so Andy knew she wasn’t in any real trouble. “I’ve got to speak to Henry, and I should do it before it gets too late. He does like his bourbon.” She brushed her cheek against Andy’s, whispering, “Don’t reveal all my secrets.”

“Never,” Andy assured her, and squeezed her hand as she left the table.

Emily watched her go with a familiar expression of awe; she was no longer so intimidated by Miranda, but the intense admiration remained. “She still looks gorgeous. I believe she drinks the blood of virgins in the basement of the townhouse.”

“I’ll let you know if I find any exsanguinated bodies next time I’m spring cleaning,” Andy replied with a grin.

Graham moved his chair a little closer to Andy’s. “Is it serious between you?” he asked.

Andy bobbed her head. “Yes.”

Emily inhaled, and said, very firmly, “Don’t hurt her.”

Unable to keep her smile to herself, Andy tilted her head with affection. “Aw, Em. I will really, really try not to. I promise.” She leaned over and kissed Emily’s cheek, ignoring the answering whoop of irritation. “I am so glad to see you again.” With that, she turned to Graham eagerly. “So you’ve heard my story. Now tell me yours. How’d you meet?”

---

Miranda allowed herself a second glass of champagne following her very brief, surprisingly thought-provoking conversation with Henry.

“She’s a catch, Miranda. Don’t wait too long to buy her a ring.”

Miranda had found it difficult to keep her jaw from dropping. “Pardon?” she’d asked.

“I’m just saying, a woman like that never stays single for long.”

“What do you mean, ‘a woman like that’?”

Henry had laughed easily. “It’s not an insult, Miranda. She’s brilliant, insightful, and beautiful. Andy Sachs is going places, and she’s got a lot to say. My wife and I listened to her podcasts about the attempted assassination of Jake Saticoy, and they were extraordinary.” He’d leaned closer to her. “My wife’s quite a few years younger than myself, but she’s never seemed to mind. I suspect Andy doesn’t either.”

As much as Miranda didn’t want to respond, she’d also appreciated his comments about Andrea’s talents. “She doesn’t.”

“You see?” He’d lifted his glass in a toast. “I tip my hat to you, Priestly. Don’t let her get away.” After clearing his throat, his tone had changed. “Now, onto more pressing business. I want to discuss a potential purchase we’re considering. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumblings?” he asked.

It had taken her a moment to catch up, having expected the need to defend herself and her new relationship. Fortunately, she had heard the rumblings Henry referred to. “Indeed.”

He had moved toward the boat’s railing, and lowered his voice. “I’d like your thoughts. Pricing, value, ROI.”

Miranda had followed him, and offered her opinion on the possible acquisition of a well-known entertainment property that had been flailing for nearly ten years. They’d had a quick back and forth, until Henry’s wife came to claim her husband.

“He can’t talk business all night, as much as he’d like to,” Georgina had said, smiling as he placed an arm around her.

Miranda had never thought much about their age difference, perhaps because Georgina was only slightly younger than herself, while Henry was in his late seventies. It was his third marriage, and her first, and in business, older men and younger women were the norm. These two had been, to her knowledge, very happily married for 25 years.

Just then, Miranda had wanted to know the exact gap in their ages. She’d have to look it up. Later.

Only moments after Henry’s departure, she was surrounded by members of her own staff, in various states of sobriety (or lack thereof). She had more patience than usual with them, feeling generous of mood and confident about the future. While Runway was still the center of her universe, her orbit had expanded rather suddenly. Her options in life were broader, and the reason for that was seated about thirty feet away, with Caroline and Cassidy back at her side. The girls flanked her, as if standing sentry against invaders who would attempt to move into her personal space. A fair number of the party’s attendees had not seen them arrive together, and likely had no idea why Andrea was at a New Year’s Elias-Clarke soiree at all.

Miranda would enjoy setting them straight on Tuesday, if the need arose. For now, she was content exchanging pleasantries with various creative execs, hangers-on, and editors in chief of the various E-C publications in attendance. There were also a handful of important designers, models, and photographers present, and it was essential to touch base, simply to show her appreciation. In turn, she would enjoy their continued loyalty. She had played this game for many, many years, and even as technology turned her world upside down, some things had not changed in the least.

Finally, Nigel came to rescue her, pulling her away with no excuses other than to say that Miranda needed a break, because it’s a party, for crying out loud, and doesn’t she deserve to have a little fun with her friends? Miranda was grateful; it was getting tiresome, the small talk and compliments and sucking up. He brought her to Leon, who was standing not far from Andrea’s table, which allowed her to observe them more easily.

“The girls look like they’re having a good time,” Nigel said. “I know I say this a lot, but they’re grown into smart, sophisticated young women. I feel very proud of them, which is odd since we’re not related.”

“You’ve had as much an influence on them as their father, Nigel. You’re the only other man who’s been a consistent presence their entire lives.” His face changed, as though he’d never considered that fact. “You met them the day they were born. You should be proud.”

“Huh,” he said, and sipped his drink. “That’s… well. Yes.”

Leon smiled. “Uncle Nigel, offering sage advice to his young admirers,” he said.

Nigel laughed at that. “Admirers? I think not. They did enjoy pranking me for most of their childhood. I hope they’ve grown out of it.”

“They have. But the capacity remains, so you should stay on guard,” Miranda reminded him. “You never know.” She double checked that their drinks weren’t obviously boozy. She trusted them, to a point. They were teenagers, and they would push the envelope as often as they could.

At least Andrea was there. It was nice to have a second set of eyes on the alert. Miranda enjoyed watching their friendly interaction, lacking awkwardness or unfamiliarity. She could not remember introducing a romantic partner to them who had slid into their family unit so seamlessly.

Nigel interrupted her thoughts, his voice almost a murmur. “When we talked a couple of weeks ago, at the party, you said Andy seemed sad.” His eyes were soft as he spoke. “She doesn’t look very sad now.”

Miranda nodded, and they both turned toward the table. Andrea was listening to Graham tell a story as he gestured wildly, making everyone around him laugh. Her grin was broad and relaxed; her eyes sparkled in the candlelight. She seemed to glow with pleasure and happiness. “No, she doesn’t. Not tonight, in any case.” Before she could hesitate, Miranda said, “But she has bad dreams.” She stopped herself then; she didn’t want to share things better off kept private.

Nigel nodded. He glanced over at her, and noticed that Miranda was uncomfortable with the revelation. “If she didn’t, I’d be surprised,” he added. “She’s not the same girl we knew.”

“No,” Miranda said, feeling a gentle ache at the loss.

“That said, things seem like they’re going well.”

Miranda inhaled, and let her guard down. “I don’t want to jinx it.” She felt her low-level anxiety rising up, worrying that things would go wrong at any moment. “I can’t ruin this, Nigel. I can’t.”

“Hey,” he said, putting a hand on her back. “I didn’t mean to cause a ruckus. She’s nuts about you, you know. Everyone can tell. You two look good together.” He sniffed, and shook his head. “You did years ago, too. I remember. At least, after we did some eyebrow clean up on the farm girl,” he teased. “I still pat myself on the back for that one. She turned out to be quite something, under all that polyester.”

“Mm, yes. You had excellent raw materials to work with.” Miranda knew that now, first hand. She’d seen everything in all its glory.

Andrea glanced around then, in search of something. When her gaze reached Miranda, it was clear she’d found what she was looking for.

The anxiety eased then. Miranda had found what she was looking for too.

---

Miranda joined their table when it was just past 11:30, and she looked tired. “Done chatting?” Andy asked.

“Yes, finally. Nigel saved the day,” Miranda said, taking her seat. Everyone made room for Nigel and Leon to pull up chairs as well, which was difficult because the place was growing more crowded. A server set a fresh bottle of champagne in the center of the table, and passed around glasses for everyone to toast. When Caroline and Cassidy both glanced at their mother, she nodded. “Just a bit for both of you. Otherwise it’s bad luck.”

“Cool,” Cassidy said. “I’m gonna go find us some snacks. I’m hungry.”

Caroline pushed her chair out and followed her. “She’s always hungry. Andy, I’ll try to find some of those brownie things, ‘kay?”

“Thanks!” She hoped they’d be successful. They looked delicious, but she hadn’t hunted them down, since the conversation had been too much fun to leave. Andy hadn’t had a night out like this, filled with so much wonderful, often hilarious conversation, for a very long time. Between dinner with Nigel and Leon and then sitting with Emily, Graham, Miranda and the girls, she felt surrounded by good company. She would have to set a New Year’s Resolution to make an effort to get together with people she cared about more often. She hadn’t been much in the mood lately, but that was changing.

Miranda took her hand and threaded their fingers together to rest against Andy’s thigh. “Having a good time?” Miranda asked.

“Definitely.”

It took the girls nearly twenty minutes to find their way back to the table, but they came bearing gifts: canapes, arancini, an entire plate of salad with cannellini beans and beets served with slim slices of crusty bread. Best of all, they had a small tray of the brownies Andy had been lusting after.

Everyone, including Emily, dove in, and they decimated the entire spread. Andy was impressed that Emily had broken her habit of incessantly talking about the food she wasn’t eating, and had started enjoying life. She was as stunning as ever; her red hair was lustrous, if slightly more subdued than in previous years, and her blue eyes danced with mirth. Andy could tell that Graham was more than a good match for her. Their stories of their four years of living in London, followed by three years in Paris had made them into a team of not just romantic partners, but friends. They charmingly finished each other’s sentences, and their love seemed almost a visible thing.

When the time till midnight grew short, there was an announcement that fireworks could be seen over the water at the moment the new year began. That sent most of the revelers toward the railings, and their little group was no exception. Andy loved that people made way for Miranda, as they always had, and instead of forcing their way to a good position, one appeared directly in front of them. The air was cold and crisp, and Andy carried both their coats as they looked upon the river. Andy enjoyed the motion of wrapping Miranda up in her warm Armani fur. It was faux, per Caroline, although Miranda did not publicize her transition away from the real thing. She pulled her own coat over her shoulders, and felt warmer still when Miranda linked arms with her in preparation.

For the first time in ages, Andy could not wait to wipe the slate clean.

Suddenly the countdown began; the shouts of “Ten, Nine, Eight…” went on all around her, and Andy bit her lip in anticipation. She looked over at Miranda, who was already watching her with love in her eyes. Miranda smiled as the year began anew, and leaned in to capture her lips. Andy heard the fireworks explode above them, and all she needed was to hold Miranda in her arms, and know that everything was just as it should be.

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