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This Must be the Place

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Andy sat and crossed her legs, more nervous than usual. That blinking red light used to always cause a flutter in her belly, but for a long time, it hadn't bothered her. A colleague once told her, “Try and convince yourself that the nerves are really excitement and you’ll be fine.” It took about six months for the words to sink in, but eventually they had. Only her extended time away from the lens had brought back her initial anxiety. Well, that and the prospect of the topics of conversation Derek was planning on bringing up tonight.

This was different than her usual reporting. It was a sit down interview with a well-respected television personality who had chosen her for a lengthy segment. She'd been away from the camera for a while, but even before, she'd rarely spoken about herself on camera. She shifted in discomfort, all the while refusing to let her smile disappear.

A cheerful makeup artist came at her with powder for a last minute touch-up, and Andy dutifully tilted her head toward the light. When she was done, Andy glanced at Derek. “You ready, Andy?” he asked, his dark skin even and smooth, his beard freshly trimmed.

“Sure, I’m good to go. Just say when.”

He grinned. “When.”

---

Miranda leaned back against the luxurious array of pillows and sipped her tea. So far it had not lived up to expectations; she had not rested any better having drunk a small pot of it before trying to sleep. Then again, she had not slept worse, so that was something. She sighed, and turned on the flat panel monitor that hung on the wall. The house was empty now, though the girls would be home in less than a month for Christmas break. There would be no evening phone calls, since Friday meant they were both probably out socializing. As much as Miranda had anticipated some peace after the long week, tonight felt lonelier than expected. Normally one or the other called, Caroline from Poughkeepsie, Cassidy from Providence. She felt proud that they’d each done well apart, but it was sad to imagine either of them as lonely as she. They’d been a trio for so long that life had changed a great deal this past September.

She sighed, and clicked through her recordings for the week.

Hours later she’d worked her way through two news programs and an old documentary on typography when she scrolled to Derek Halpern’s show, recording live. The show was hit or miss, depending on the guests, but it was worth a shot. The first personality was a novelist Miranda didn’t care for, but that segment was nearly over. When the next guest appeared, Miranda paused the DVR quite suddenly as she recognized the face staring back at her.

Andrea Sachs. Rather, Andy Sachs, who still held onto her boyish moniker. Andy, who had spent nine years transforming from a youthful naïf with a stubborn streak to an award-winning journalist who’d reported from some of the most dangerous, war-torn regions in the world. Miranda had followed her career in a silent, curious way as she became more well-known. No one ever mentioned Andy’s name in Miranda’s presence, which she found somewhat amusing, but then Andrea had abandoned her job at Miranda’s side in the most obvious way possible long ago. Looking at her now, it made sense. The girl, or rather woman, had guts. Miranda admired anyone who had guts, even if they acted like an idiot now and then.

That said, Miranda was shocked to see her tonight. Seven months prior, Andrea had dropped off the radar after a witnessing the attempted murder of a Democratic congressman, gunned down at a public library on a perfectly innocuous Thursday afternoon. Before that, Andrea had been a globetrotting foreign correspondent, and Miranda had seen her in the typical reporter garb of wrinkled button-down shirt and jacket, occasionally topped off with ill-fitting but necessarily protective headgear. She had remained as lovely and wide-eyed as she had been as an upstart, even with little in the way of makeup. But tonight, she was far more beautiful than Miranda recalled. In high definition her skin was flawless, perfectly sculpted features almost too large to fit her petite face. The collection of mouth, nose, cheekbones and eyes made for a compelling package.

But her expression was different now, and it made Miranda feel an intense sadness. There was something in her eyes that spoke of things no human should ever experience. As much as this was the same young woman who'd run for her coffee and carried her dry cleaning, the subtle melancholy in the tilt of her mouth was unfamiliar, and it caused a little squeeze in Miranda's chest.

This would be worth spending a few minutes on tonight, certainly. She’d almost been tired before she’d found the program, but the brief spike of adrenaline put off any hope of sleep now.

---

Andy didn’t mind all the questions about the stories she covered, starting all the way back with her intro into investigative journalism at Northwestern. She easily navigated inquiries of how she made the decision to go on camera (“It was do or die. Print was on its way out, and I just prayed I’d never accidentally curse or fall on my face.”) She spoke calmly of her lack of personal life, how she’d once wanted kids, but not anymore. After only a little prodding, she discussed the event that had changed her life, and had no regrets over her vaguely canned responses. She even addressed her lengthy sabbatical, although she glossed over the PTSD, the sleepless nights, the twice weekly therapy sessions that had kept her from losing her mind since that day so many months ago.

She didn't talk about the drinking that she wasn't doing much of anymore. She didn't mention the arguments with her bosses over coming back to work, or whether she'd be back at all. She in particular didn't address the Prozac she took daily, or the Ativan she carried around in case of panic. Maybe one day she'd talk publicly about her own mental health issues, but not yet.

When Derek asked who her greatest influences were, Andy's brain stuttered to a stop. Derek hadn’t brought that one up in the pre-interview. She stared at him silently for a stretch that felt as though it went on for at least a minute. “Gosh,” she said. “I mean, Murrow, and Cronkite, of course. Rachel Maddow, Amanpour, the obvious choices. My own folks, who encouraged me from the beginning. You know, my mom wrote for her college paper, but she put reporting aside when she had kids. Ended up running a local printing business that’s still open, if you can believe it. But she always imagined I’d—I don’t know—live the dream for her, even though Dad was hoping for law school.” She looked straight at the camera. “Sorry, Dad,” she added with a little grin. “I might’ve inherited a gene of some sort, a desire to understand, and learn, and uncover the truth.” Derek nodded, but he seemed to be waiting for more.

A name bubbled up out of Andy’s mind, one that surfaced when she thought about this question privately. There was no harm in saying it aloud now after so many years and so much water under the bridge. She’d never know. This show probably had fourteen viewers in New Jersey watching, so other than the fact that her dad might never forgive her, nobody would care. “There’s one more, which might sound kind of funny, considering who it is, but life is like that, isn’t it?” She heard her voice going high and nervous, and reminded herself to focus. “It’s Miranda Priestly.”

Derek’s expression was comical. “From Runway magazine?” he asked.

She nodded. “I don’t usually put it on my CV, but I worked as Miranda’s second assistant for a short period of time at the beginning of my career.”

He laughed, and Andy felt miffed. She didn’t know if she was more insulted for herself or Miranda. “What does working at a fashion magazine have to do with becoming a world-class reporter? They don’t quite fit together in my mind.” He stroked his chin, and waited intently for her answer.

With a shrug, she began. “Well, it was less about the job, and more of what it taught me, ultimately. I learned a lot about myself. Namely, if I wanted to achieve something badly enough, I had to will it to happen. I discovered I could be tenacious at solving problems. From the most insignificant ones to the biggest crises you could imagine—well, biggest in fashion terms—I approached them all with equal attention. It served me well. Still does.”

“What was it about Miranda then that influenced you so much?”

Andy took a breath, and smiled. “You know, nine years ago, I’d have said something very different. Maybe even that she was everything I didn’t want to be. But time changes one’s perspective, and God knows mine has changed. Today, I consider Miranda an extremely dedicated, thoughtful, focused individual. She wants the best, and demands it of those around her. Back then, that was hard for me to take. I was,” Andy chuckled here, “shall we say, insolent, and one day when I was feeling more self-righteous than usual, I quit. Now I look on that moment with shame, and use it to remind myself on how not to react when confronted with something that makes me uncomfortable.”

Derek nodded. “That’s very interesting, and unexpected. Go on.”

“I marvel at what she’s accomplished, taking a dying format and forging it into something new and vibrant. But on a more personal note, she once gave me a compliment that I refused to recognize as such for a long time, and now I do. I wish things had worked out differently.” The words slipped from Andy’s lips like water, and she wanted to stop talking about this, because it was so not important. But the thoughts had been there, simmering, and now that they’d started flowing it was hard to shut the faucet off.

Derek looked at her suspiciously. “You mean you’re not going to tell us what she said to you?”

Andy actually looked around, gazing briefly at the camera crew and production assistants on the set. “I suppose I can—she once told me that she saw a lot of herself in me. At that moment, I didn’t realize how much those words would come to mean to me. I won’t go into details, but like I said, I was a dumb kid. After a while I forgave myself, and I hope Miranda did as well, though she had every right not to.”

Leaning back in his comfortable chair, Derek asked, “What do you think Miranda Priestly would say to you now, if she were here?”

Andy laughed. That question she could answer without a problem. “I think she’d say, ‘What was your name again?’”

---

The next morning, Miranda waited for someone to mention the interview.

No one did.

She had the strangest feeling that no one even knew it had aired, much less that Miranda had been mentioned. She doubted her staff ran home and watched intelligent television programs often; they were all obsessed with Buzzfeed listicles and dog rescue videos. But as much as Miranda embraced the new, she remained interested in traditional media.

She wondered if Nigel had seen it, and what he would say. She might have to call him, just to find out. It seemed silly, but she felt compelled to discuss it. She didn’t know how to feel, or how to stop thinking about it.

By 2:00 she could wait no longer. She picked up the phone herself and dialed his number.

“This is W, Nigel Kipling’s office,” came the chipper voice.

“This is Miranda Priestly.”

There was a short pause. “Hold one moment, Miranda,” came the stunned answer. Rarely did Miranda call anyone herself, but she enjoyed the little thrill it gave her to shock someone now and again.

She heard a click as Nigel picked up. “Miranda, don’t scare my assistant, it doesn’t become you,” he drawled.

“Oh please, I didn’t say a thing.”

He sighed, the sound familiar to her ears. “You don’t have to, dearest, and you know it.” He chuckled and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“I need to know if you watched Derek Halpern last night.”

“Uh, not usually on my roster. Why? Did somebody bitchslap you on cable and not give you advance warning?”

Quickly Miranda pasted a URL into Slack and sent it to Nigel. “Open that link.” She’d found the interview on the show’s website that morning and watched it again, with the door to her office closed. It caused the same odd feeling in her chest that it had the night before. Sort of a tug in Andrea’s direction. If Andrea had not chosen to thrust herself into the public eye on camera as a career, Miranda believed she wouldn’t have spared her much thought since her departure. But she would never know now, would she? Andrea had become an important journalist, along with growing more beautiful as she’d aged. Miranda had always been drawn to beauty in all forms; this was just another example of it.

Besides, Miranda was too old to inexplicably develop some sort of crush on someone she hadn’t seen in nine years, give or take. A woman, at that. She’d had her flirtations over the years with the fairer sex, but nothing had come of it, nor would it, at her age.

It embarrassed her, so she tried to relax while Nigel watched the video on his computer. Miranda could hear a few words over the line. She’d forgotten how long the video was before her name was mentioned, but the moment it happened, she knew. “Oh,” Nigel said. There was more dialogue, followed by an equally muted, “Well. Hmm.”

Neither of them spoke for a few moments, but Nigel broke the silence. “That was nice. Quite a surprise, I’d say. I remember hearing what happened to that congressman; I didn't realize she was there.” There was a pause. “She certainly has grown up.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. She didn’t know what she’d expected from Nigel, but she’d hoped for more insight than that. “Yes, well. That’s all. I just wanted to know if you’d seen it—”

“What did you want me to say, Miranda?” he asked. “Honestly. I’m curious.”

Exhaling heavily, she replied, “I don’t know.” She felt deflated. Maybe she wanted Nigel to tell her there was some sort of message in the words. One only he could interpret. He’d always understood her better than Miranda had.

“I didn’t realize you’d left such an impression. I thought once she took off on her first location assignment, all memory of the fashion industry would be forgotten. It’s a little…” he trailed off.

“What?” Miranda demanded.

“Romantic,” he finished. “Sweet. In two minutes she gave you better press than anything that’s happened in the last two years. And there was nothing in it for her. I guess all that time on the job didn’t make her any less nice. She was a good kid. Still is.”

Miranda had watched some of the harrowing stories Andrea had presented over the years. She was not a kid, and hadn’t been for a long, long time. Regardless, Nigel was right about the rest of it. “Well, yes. All right. That’s all.”

“Oh, don’t even, Miranda. You wanted to talk about it, so talk.”

She stared at the ceiling. “I simply wanted your take on it. I wanted you…” to call her, and see how she is. “Nothing. I’ve got to go.”

“Miranda—”

She hung up.

---

Andy thought it probably wasn’t that smart of her to roam the empty streets of Manhattan this late, no matter how nice the neighborhood was. Little Italy was quiet after midnight, so she hoofed it to the N at Canal Street and went north to Times Square. There were always hundreds of people there, surrounded by the pulsing, ever-changing LED screens that had taken the place of old-fashioned bulbs that once graced the Great White Way. Andy missed the old-fashioned lights; the city looked so different now that she was back full time.

During daylight hours, she rarely came to this particular corner of the city, but sleep was elusive. She’d hoped that being encircled by humanity would do something to help—make her feel less lonely, make her tired, give her an idea of something she could do unrelated to the work that she wasn’t supposed to be doing.

She still had a lot of trouble sleeping, ever since that day. She had trouble being awake, too, but sleep was worse. Her mindfulness training was having a positive impact on her waking moments, but she didn’t usually launch into her thoughtful breathing techniques while asleep, unfortunately. The Prozac had also helped, even though she wished she didn’t need it. Jane said it was normal to think she was strong enough to go without, but then Jane reminded her that she’d seen someone get shot, and had looked down the barrel of a gun herself. Jane told her that lots of people who took Prozac hadn’t had a mentally unbalanced man try to shoot them, only to have the gun jam just before he’d been tackled by an unobtrusive security detail that Andy hadn’t known was there.

Over the years, she’d spent months in Afghanistan and Iraq, always thinking this could be it; this could be the day her convoy would drive over a mine and she’d be toast. For some reason, attending a very friendly meet-and-greet at a small community library on a sunny spring day was the thing that unraveled Andy to the point of considering abandoning her career altogether.

Andy sat on the enormous, glowing steps near the TKTS booth and marveled at the strangeness that was the center of town now. The lights were brighter, the crowds thicker, the traffic louder. She sipped the foul-tasting tea that was supposed to help her relax; valerian might work for some folks, but not Andy.

“Hey,” a voice said sharply, and Andy jerked, spilling the tea on her jeans. “Are you Andy Sachs? You are, aren’t you. Oh my God, this is awesome. Will you do a selfie with me? I live in Wales—have you been there? If not, you should totally check it out. It’s fabulous.” The accent was American, and the guy seemed friendly enough, and other people were starting to pause and peer inquisitively as he fluttered around her.

“Sure, I can do that,” she said gamely. The guy handed his phone to another passerby and got right up next to her, putting his arm around her. She squirmed for a moment, but smiled brightly into the lens. If there was one thing she’d learned in the past five years, it was how to smile pretty for the camera.

“Me too!” said a blonde girl barely out of her teens. The first man stood to depart with a thumbs up, and the young woman leaned down with an eager expression. “Will you sign this, and be in a picture too? I’m a huge fan,” she gushed. “I want to be a journalist just like you.”

Andy signed what looked like a napkin with a pen someone handed to her. She met the girl’s eyes. “Are you going to school?”

The girl nodded. “Tisch. Double majoring in journalism and social and cultural analysis. I have two more years.”

Andy handed her the napkin and urged her close. “That’s great. Here, where’s your phone?”

A young man held it up and waved at them both. “This is amazing,” he said. “She loves you. Okay, ready?”

Andy smiled again, and waited for the annoying android double flash. A few more fans followed, and she signed and posed with a strange sort of pleasure. It was one of the first times anything like this had happened to her; while she’d been abroad, she either went unrecognized or was ignored. But this was the US, and she was a well-known personality. There were worse things.

The whole affair didn’t take long. When it was over, she felt as though she’d done something nice, and was cheered.

She chose to walk home to Elizabeth Street, taking Broadway all the way down.

---

Miranda glared at the telephone on her desk. “Excuse me?” she said sharply.

There was a short pause before the speakerphone engaged again. “We saw Andy’s appearance on Derek Halpern’s show recently, and thought you were the perfect person to ask,” the voice squawked. “We have other options, but you’re at the top of our list. I know it’s a lot Ms. Priestly, but we are all convinced Andy would be incredibly moved if you could present the award.”

With a roll of her eyes, Miranda reminded them, “We haven’t seen one another in person for many years. Surely you could find someone else.”

There was a short burst of laughter from multiple voices on the other end of the line. “Well, certainly, we could. We have, in fact. But again, it’s because of what Andy said herself. We hadn’t thought of you up until that moment. We didn’t even know she’d worked for Runway, it was so long ago.”

There was a veiled insult somewhere in there, but Miranda chose to ignore it. Weeks had gone by since the interview, and her interest in Andrea had settled into a distant fascination. She remained compelled, one could say, to know more of Andrea’s life, then and now. “How long do I have to decide?” she finally asked.

“We’ll need an answer by Friday. And we can write your speech, so don’t worry about that. Just give me a call—your assistant has the number.”

They’d write the speech? Absurd. Why on earth did they even need Miranda in the first place? “Very well. You’ll hear from me by then.” She stabbed the speakerphone button and stared at the glass wall of her office.

Miranda gave herself five minutes or so to convince herself out of what she had already decided to do, which was say yes. Just because she was curious, of course. At the end of the five minutes, she glanced at her calendar and added the appointment, scheduled in three and a half weeks. It was a Friday, which was unfortunate, but she could manage it. The girls would be home a little over a week later for their winter break, and the Runway holiday party would follow soon after that. Miranda had left herself out of the planning for the most part this season; she was less interested, or worried, than usual.

She and the twins would make an appearance, smile for the cameras, and leave. The girls only showed up nowadays because Miranda liked them to. They had turned out beautifully; all willowy limbs and elegant faces and auburn hair. They could have modeled, if interested, but neither cared to. They’d had enough of the spotlight for a dozen children, and enjoyed the anonymity of the Ivy League, where at least half the other attendees were the offspring of successful, occasionally famous parentage.

But before Miranda saw them, she would have to write a speech about Andrea Sachs.

She opened her Mac and stared at a blank page for a few moments. “Emily! Coffee.”

A moment passed, and she heard the glass door to her office swing open. “Do you mean me, Miranda?”

Miranda raised her eyebrows at a face that did not, in fact, belong to Emily. Adhira’s dark eyes watched her steadily, with patience. She was tall and slender, like Emily was, and had a distinct sense of fashion, like Emily had. Not like Andrea.

“Yes, of course,” Miranda said. “I was thinking of someone else,” she said, though she didn’t owe any sort of explanation. She felt foolish. Coffee would help focus her. It always did.

---

The car inched up the road toward the venue as snow fell on Manhattan. It was a gorgeous night, crisp and cold, but Andy wished the slush from the week before had already melted. She truly hoped she could avoid splashes; this was the first new dress and pair of shoes she’d bought in a while. The Blahniks were a sleek, eggplant wonder, and the last thing she wanted was a stained pair of shoes as she took the stage and accepted an award for the work she’d done over the past few years.

There would be a lot of familiar faces around, people she hadn’t seen for ages. The women who ran the event had promised that her table would be filled with people she knew, not that Andy cared much. She could make conversation with anyone, but it would be nice to be surrounded by friends for a change. Even acquaintances. Anything would be preferable to solitude. Other than her twice weekly visits to her therapist, life was remarkably empty of social occasions. She had made some phone calls, and people were receptive, but lunches were hard to schedule in December with so many people out of town and hurtling toward holiday deadlines.

Her insomnia was no better, but it was no worse either. The dreams were consistent; she’d wake from one after a couple hours of sleep, and that was usually the end of her rest. She hit the streets after that, usually steering toward Chelsea. It just made her feel more human to be around people.

Tonight would be different though, and that made Andy a little uncertain. She was generally comfortable being the center of attention, but there was still a level of anxiety that she hadn’t really considered. She was not afraid of people looking at her, watching her, but for one reason or another, she was unaccountably nervous.

“We’re here, Miss Sachs,” the driver said. “There’s a carpet out. I’ll be right round to get you.”

“Thanks, Alastair,” she said, craning her neck to see the crowd. It wasn’t bad; just bright lights and well-dressed members of the entertainment and media. “Thanks,” she said again as he helped her out of the car. He was right—it was dry under the tent, and she had no trouble navigating the few steps to the press line. An explosion of flashbulbs went off in her face. She spent only a few moments posing; she might have been receiving an award tonight, but she was far from the best-dressed woman around. Instead, she took a deep breath as she approached the first reporter, who waited with wide eyes at the edge of the carpet.

It only took twenty minutes to make her way through the line. Her shoes weren’t the most comfortable, and it was only so enjoyable to answer the same questions over and over. “How are you feeling tonight?” “What are you looking forward to most about the ceremony?” “Who are you most excited to see here?” And so on, and so forth. But it was part of the job, and Andy was just glad she could walk in, sit down and get a drink. A little one, since she did have to make a speech, but a splash of wine was okay now and then.

Inside, the ballroom was elegant and packed to the gills with people dressed in formal gowns. Andy was pleased with her choice of something that fit the bill; a pretty knee length Phillip Lim, accessorized by a Prada handbag she’d pulled out of the back of her closet. It was woefully out of date, but a classic was a classic, right?

“Hi, Andy, wonderful to see you,” came a voice from the entryway. Eleanor Jones led her into the ballroom, talking all the while. “You look gorgeous, of course. Great hair, did you just cut it? I think it’s fabulous. And that dress, who are you wearing? Oh, don’t worry about it, I’m sure someone will tell me later. Not that it matters, really. I mean, fashion is no big deal, but I must say, you’ve really got it together. You could be a model. Did you ever think about trying that line of work? I suppose not—” Andy tuned out, checking in briefly as Eleanor droned on. It was comforting to be asked questions that she never had to answer.

When they reached her table, there were seven seats. “You know Jess Donovan, of course, from your days at The New Yorker—” Andy leaned in and shook hands with Jess, who had not changed a bit in five years. “And Therese from The Times—” Andy made it around the table in short order, reintroducing herself to people she hadn’t seen in a long time. She would once have considered all of these women friends; now, they were just faces. Memories. Other things had swelled up and overtaken everything. It made her a little sad and lonely for the crew she’d traveled with in the Middle East, but it had been a while since she’d connected with any of them.

To her surprise, there was an empty space at the table next to her, but there was no place setting or chair. Maybe someone had clued Eleanor in that Andy was claustrophobic these days.

A waiter appeared at the table and offered her a drink—she kept it simple with a glass of white. The women made polite conversation around the table, congratulating Andy on her work. “I’m really amazed at the work you did in Iraq, Andy. How incredible that your near miss was in the Hudson Valley rather than the red zone, right?” Jess asked, laughing lightly. The other women followed suit.

Andy flinched, stunned at the oblivious nature of her attitude. Somehow she kept her smile pasted on. “Just lucky I guess,” she said.

Therese leaned her elbows on the table. “I haven’t seen much of you lately. Are you handling local politics?” she asked.

“Sort of,” Andy said, hoping to stay on the more superficial side of the conversation. “Mostly I needed a break. I’m writing a lot. It’s been nice to be off camera for a while.”

“Your reports really impressed me, here and abroad,” Therese said, leaning forward and touching Andy’s forearm. “Especially being on the ground in the middle of the political crisis a few years ago in Thailand? I know there are problems with the coverage in volatile locations.”

“I left the technology to the professionals,” Andy replied. “I can do standard tech work in a pinch but my producer was a rock star.”

Nadia Jackson, who Andy thought was still at CNN.com, nodded. “I hear you. A friend of mine who was in Egypt too said there were more than a few blacked out hours till the internet came back up. All she had was her satellite phone.”

Andy nodded. “Yeah. How’s it going at CNN?” she asked, and the conversation turned away from her, and moved on to the lives of the reporters in New York. She envied them the simplicity of their day to day, though she knew that was only on the surface. Anything could happen, anywhere. Tomorrow, one or all of them could land in the middle of a news story, whether they were covering it professionally or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was still the lingering fear, even after all these months, and the taste was bitter at the back of her throat. Once the assumption of safety fled, normal life wasn’t normal anymore. Nothing was, and there was little to ground her in familiarity or comfort. The city had lost some of its charm at the holidays, which would have been hard to imagine were she not experiencing it herself.

Sitting there amongst kind women who wanted only to honor her, Andy felt tears prick at her eyes. She belonged nowhere. A glass of wine appeared at her right, and although she wanted badly to down the whole thing in one long gulp, she forced herself to sip, and smile.

The ceremony began not long afterward. Andy checked the program; her award was near the beginning. “Andy Sachs; Individual Achievement Award; Outstanding News Series— American Independent Digital/BBC World Service.” While the award was specific to her coverage of Congressman Saticoy’s shooting, she hoped she would not be expected to address it directly in her speech. Oddly, the program didn’t list who was giving out her award. She wondered who it might be.

She had worked her way through half the glass of wine when her award was announced. “And now to present the next award, we have a legend in our midst, someone we all know, Andy more than most. Let’s give a round of applause to one of the most successful, and certainly best known Editors in Chief of both the 20th and 21st centuries: Miranda Priestly.”

Andy seemed to physically lose her breath, and for a moment, little lights flashed before her eyes as she trembled in her seat. Breathe, she reminded herself. Fainting would do her no favors. She blinked, and blinked again. It was still true—Miranda was there, walking steadily across the stage, regal and stunning as ever.

If Andy didn’t know for a fact that nine years had truly gone by since they’d last spoken, she would believe that no time at all had passed in the world of Miranda Priestly. Her hair was the identical beautiful color, tinged with a little less pepper at the base of her neck. Porcelain skin, a good deal of it on display, looked timeless and smooth. Her dress seemed to catch every color from the lights at once before settling into a gunmetal gray when she stood before the podium. Most of all, her faint smile, the one that exuded a rare combination of approval and humor, was there for everyone to see.

Andy’s mouth hung open. “Guess you didn’t expect that,” said Therese softly at her side.

“I sure didn't,” Andy whispered.

---

Miranda slid her glasses on and glanced down into the audience. It was lit enough that she could immediately spot Andrea at a table down near the front and center of the room. She was lovely, even with a stunned, vacant expression on her face. So, they managed to keep it quiet after all. Miranda found that gratifying. She did enjoy a good surprise.

Miranda peered down at her notes. It had been a painstaking process to write even this brief speech. Now, staring at a few hundred people in such a public space, she felt it would expose her in a most unnerving fashion, but it was too late. She took a breath, and began. “It’s wonderful to see so many women honored for their outstanding work in the media, and I have great respect for all of you.” That was not entirely true, but one had to make concessions when speaking to the masses. “Tonight I have the pleasure of presenting an award to an exceptional woman, someone whose career I’ve followed for many years. Long before her name became a household one, I’ve kept a close eye on Andrea, or rather Andy, Sachs. I’ve watched her evolve from a confident, somewhat naive city reporter into a brilliant journalist covering world events. Her skill allows her to cover any story from anywhere under the most egregious circumstances.

“Surprisingly, despite her time living abroad, it was an incident of devastating violence on American soil that thrust her more than ever into the spotlight. Fortunately, Andy and the other involved parties survived this act, and further light was shed on untreated mental illness in the United States. Her subsequent reporting will be remembered, arguably more than any other work she’s done, for years to come.

“Andy’s single-minded determination to pursue the truth in the aftermath produced remarkable results. She would say her contributions are small in the scheme of this constant, daily, American tragedy; I would say that the illumination she cast on the situation involving our country’s mental health, and lack of attention to it, is immeasurable. Her continued attention to gun control, with her very personal experience, offers perspective in the news media that few others have to offer.

“Tonight, I look at Andy, and marvel at what one woman with a purpose can accomplish. She is driven, she is trustworthy, she is a true believer in the power of communication to make positive change. I am lucky to have known her, even in passing. I had very high hopes for Andy Sachs, and I can say honestly that I have never been more proud of her than I am at this moment.”

The room was silent, and she glanced around at the faces that stared back at her. “Congratulations, Andrea.” She nodded once at Andrea, who rose from her seat as applause swelled around them. Miranda watched her, their eyes never disengaging as she climbed the stairs on the arm of an escort who appeared and vanished without a word.

“Thank you,” Andrea whispered as she leaned in to kiss Miranda’s cheek. Her hand touched Miranda’s arm for a moment, caressing it very briefly. “Don’t leave?” she asked as she pulled back.

“Mm,” Miranda replied softly, nodding once. With the smile that had won the hearts of thousands, Andrea turned to the crowd, and Miranda stepped back into the shadows.

---

Andy’s entire body shook as she stepped down the stairs to return to her seat. She thought Miranda was following her, but she was on sensory overload. Her speech had been short—a few thank yous, peppered with mentions of some colleagues, a plea for continued focus on health care. She could barely remember what she’d said, and likely wouldn’t until she saw it online. It happened often; once the spotlight was on, she delivered, but had no recollection of it. Something about adrenaline made her short-term memory go haywire, and tonight was no exception.

As she sat, someone quickly arranged a place setting and chair next to her. Miranda took it, her cool beauty striking everyone at the table mute. Andy was relieved the ceremony was ongoing, because she simply couldn’t imagine explaining anything that had taken place within the last five minutes. Instead, when her food was served shortly thereafter, she ate and drank almost robotically. Her halibut was cooked to perfection, but she preferred to watch Miranda devour an enormous steak. It was good to see that some things didn’t change.

Miranda eyed her as she sat back in her seat. “You look pleased with yourself,” she muttered.

“You look pleased with that steak,” Andy replied.

Miranda emitted a huge sigh. “Yes. I’m only supposed to have it sparingly, but this was a special occasion. How was the fish?”

“Tasty,” Andy said. The lights dimmed for a video presentation, and they were quiet again. Taking her life in her own hands, she said very softly, “Thanks for being here.”

Miranda didn’t take her eyes off the stage. “You’re welcome.”

“It’s nice to see someone I know,” Andy added.

Miranda’s eyes narrowed in question. “You seemed to know these women,” she replied.

With a shrug, Andy said, “I guess. Not really. It’s been years.”

An elegant snort was Miranda’s reaction. “Can’t be longer than nine, can it?”

Andy rolled her eyes and put her chin in her hand. “Doesn’t seem that long. I’ve read as many letters from the editor as I could get my hands on. It was like having a continuous one-sided conversation.”

“And I’ve watched your reports, which I suppose is the other side,” Miranda said.

“You really did?”

Miranda nodded, and finally glanced her way. “As many as I could get my hands on.”

Andy felt brighter then. She’d never expected to find out if Miranda had kept track of her, and now that she did, she remembered just how much she’d valued her opinion. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything,” Miranda said so quietly Andy could barely hear her.

Leaning back in her seat again, Andy got a little nervous. “You’re not going to run out in the middle of this thing, are you?” she asked.

Miranda blinked, and turned to face Andy fully. “No, Andrea. I told you I’d stay, and I will.”

Blushing, Andy smiled. “Okay.” It was strange to hear her name fall from Miranda’s lips again, as if she’d never stopped saying it that curious way. She felt calmer, and focused on the ceremony.

When it was over, all of Andy’s tablemates couldn’t take their eyes off Miranda, who appeared not to notice the attention. She did though, Andy was sure, but she was an expert at pretending not to care. And as much as Andy thought it would be more polite to introduce everyone to her, she just didn’t feel like it. Two hours of ceremony was enough, and she was ready to take off. Maybe she could even convince Miranda to come with her. But where would they go?

“Um,” Andy said, searching for something in her memory, anyplace that Miranda might think was acceptable to be seen with her in public. But before she could continue, Miranda cut her off.

“Meet me at Lantern’s Keep. It’s in the Iroquois, on 44th. Are you free?”

Andy stopped short for a moment, and nodded. “Yes.”

“I’m supposed to have a drink with Paolo and Alicia from one of the VCs but I want to make it quick. Take your time here; I’m sure you have people to see.”

With a smile, Andy exhaled. “Thanks.”

Miranda nodded once, and vanished into the crowd, like a wisp of smoke from a candle just extinguished. It was as if the room had dimmed, and Andy looked around, untethered once more.

---

Miranda sipped her glass of seltzer with a splash of lime, gazing at her companions with disinterest. Both Paolo and Alicia were swimming in corporate investments made during market surge of the last few years. Elias-Clarke was one of the many larger businesses investing in their firm, and while Miranda was not officially on the books as a rep of E-C’s investment arm, she remained involved to stay ahead of the curve. She’d had just about enough of their company after forty minutes when Andrea appeared across the room, her pale skin glowing like a beacon in the darkness of the bar.

Alicia, with coppery hair that curled in ringlets down her shoulders, laughed at a silly joke Paolo told, and at the soonest moment she could, Miranda broke into the conversation. “I’m terribly sorry, but I have another appointment. I believe Adhira mentioned it?”

“Of course, Miranda,” Paolo said, finishing his martini swiftly. “Thanks for taking the time to visit. As you may have guessed, we’re very happy with the way things are going.”

They ought to be, Miranda thought. “As am I.”

She stood from the low table to see them off, air-kissing Paolo on the cheek. He gave Alicia a meaningful look and slipped away. “Miranda,” Alicia said when they were alone, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way…”

Miranda lifted an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Listen, I’d love to take you out,” the woman said, her voice softening like honey. She seemed utterly confident, which was curious considering her fidgety nature at the boardroom table. “I know you’ve been married and might not be interested, but I just wanted you to know. And before you object on the grounds of a conflict of interest,” she said, with an utterly charming blush, “the conflict’s been present for quite some time.”

To say Miranda was astounded was an epic understatement, but she simply replied, “Oh.”

“Think it over, all right?” Alicia added, slipping a card into Miranda’s hand. “That’s my personal cell.” She kissed Miranda’s cheek, and her breath was sweet as the candy martini she’d just been drinking. “Call me anytime.”

“Well,” Miranda said, pleased that she didn’t stumble over the word. “Thank you,” she added, at once feeling out of her element, and strangely warm.

Alicia stepped away, her eyes still glued to Miranda until she could watch no longer. Miranda exhaled, and found Andrea standing in front of her a few moments later. “Hi,” Andrea said. “Who was that?”

Miranda frowned, and seated herself, waving for Andrea to sit as well. “I’m not certain.”

“Pardon?” Andrea said. “I thought you said they were—”

“I believe someone’s just made a pass at me,” Miranda said, unable to keep the wonder from her tone.

Andrea nodded, her mouth curving into a sly grin. “Nice.” She looked Miranda up and down. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

“She’s half my age. And a she.” Somehow, the filter between Miranda’s brain to her mouth had shut down.

“Like a woman’s never made a move on you, Miranda, come on. You work in fashion. And face it, you’re probably more beautiful now than you were when I first knew you. You hiding the proverbial picture of Dorian Gray in your attic?”

“Cheeky,” Miranda said, the joke pulling her back down to earth. “Time has made you brave.”

Andrea grinned. “I’m sure you’re right.” She was elegant as she sat in one of the stylish chairs in the back of the bar. The ambiance was warm and cozy, with a fireplace and flowers and beautiful art hanging on the walls. A few other patrons lingered and would probably remain, since Miranda had asked them to stay open later than usual. This was one of her locals during fashion week, and they were always eager to accommodate her presence.

“Drink?” Miranda asked.

“Sure. Just one, though. My shrink would be pissed over more than that,” she said offhandedly and completely without guile.

For the moment, Miranda let the comment pass without digging. She glanced around, and an eager waiter moved rapidly toward their table. “What can I get you?” he asked, leaning down.

Andrea narrowed her gaze as she looked over the menu. “Might take me a minute.”

“Not a problem. For you, Miranda?” he asked. Andrea’s eyes widened very briefly, probably that they knew her by name.

“The Clean Shave,” Miranda replied.

Andrea laughed as she searched out the ingredients of that one. “Cayenne?” she said, smiling.

“I like a little heat.” She had enjoyed most of the cocktails on the menu, and had a part in selecting the ingredients in this particular concoction. They’d asked to call it the Miranda P, but she had given an unequivocal no.

Quickly scanning the rest of the extensive menu, Andrea settled on something Miranda approved of. “The Astoria.”

When the waiter was gone, Andrea sat back against the chair, the fireplace flickering gently behind her.

“Your shrink?” Miranda prodded, finally giving in to her curiousity.

Andrea did not hesitate. “I had wine earlier, and I’m on medication. I’m supposed to be careful.”

“Are you sure you can have one?”

“I am. I don’t drink much since I went on meds, but I make an exception now and then.”

Miranda decided that it was not worth it to pretend that she was not interested in what was happening in Andrea’s life, so she asked, “What are you taking?”

Andrea gazed at her thoughtfully, as though she had expected nothing less. “Prozac, every day, for a while. Ativan when I need it, which isn’t often.”

“Mm,” Miranda said, tilting her head. She was familiar. “For post traumatic stress, I take it.”

Chuckling, Andrea leaned forward and closed her eyes. “You are very perceptive.”

“Not so perceptive. Your history is quite public.” And she had two daughters, one of whom had gone through her own bout of anxiety not long after entering high school.

As they sat together in silence, it was not particularly uncomfortable. Miranda considered why that was; it had been so, so long since they’d known one another, but to her mind, it may have well been minutes rather than nearly a decade. Surely, they’d never been friends, or even friendly. They’d certainly never been equals, but it felt closer to that now. Close enough for Miranda to open her mouth and ask to see her, and have Andrea answer yes. It had been comforting to hear her say the word, and know that there was no sense of obligation behind it. Andrea owed Miranda nothing, and would gain nothing from a simple conversation at a quiet speakeasy.

The drinks arrived. Miranda sipped, rolling the gin around, tasting the heat before swallowing. That first sip from a fresh glass always gave her head a little chill of pleasure. She observed Andrea as she did the same and nodded in satisfaction. “I like this place,” she said. “It’s quiet, and very cool. Not pretentious.”

Miranda smirked. “Pretentious?”

“I didn’t think a hotel bar would be nearly empty this time of night. But it’s relaxing.”

“That’s why I chose it. Time has changed the city very much, Andrea. And it seems to have changed you as well.”

“That’s true.” She gazed at Miranda with inquisitive eyes. “It’s strange to be here, with you.” As she placed her glass down on the table, she looked away. “It’s really good to see you, which is the big surprise. I used to be so terrified of you. Not even of what you’d do to me if I screwed up when I was an assistant.” She smiled as though remembering something. “Back then, the consequences seemed moot. It was just you. Your presence overwhelmed me. Now it’s… kind of a relief. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, by the way. I’ve been having kind of a weird time lately but this is good. Tonight’s been really… good.”

So whatever had drawn them to one another after so many years was mutual. Miranda nodded. “For me too.”

Andrea’s eyebrow lifted; surprise and pleasure broke over her face in a wave. “Honestly?”

“Yes.”

Andrea bobbed her head. “I’m glad. ”

For a long time, they sat quietly together. It was calming, Miranda found, to have a companion who didn’t say a single thing to her. She didn’t have to make polite conversation, or answer questions, or seem interested. Andrea appeared to feel the same. After what seemed ages, Miranda experienced something unusual: she was drowsy. Pleasantly so. If only she could drop her head to the back to the chair and doze. It was past midnight, and only then did she realize the place was empty. Their server sat behind the bar, as though perfectly happy to read on his phone as they sighed and blinked silently. Only then did it occur to her that Andrea might be sleepy as well. The dark circles she had expertly covered for the event were starting to show through her makeup.

“You look tired,” Miranda said, and the sound of her voice startled Andrea out of a trance.

“I do, don’t I.” She brushed her hair behind her ear. “I don’t sleep much anymore.” The way her mouth dropped open told Miranda she had not expected to say the words.

Ah, Miranda thought. No wonder they felt so at home together. Birds of a feather. “Interesting. Is it garden variety insomnia?”

Andrea’s mouth was still open, but she seemed more taken aback by Miranda’s lackadaisical attitude than anything. “Um, I tend to fall asleep for a few hours. Then I get up and walk.”

“Walk,” Miranda repeated. “Where?”

“In the city.”

Now that was something to inquire about. “New York? You walk the streets here?”

“Of course,” Andrea said, laughing. “You think I schlep to Trenton or something? I’m nuts but not that nuts.”

“I suppose you have security. A bodyguard of some sort.”

“No. Just me.”

Miranda was unnerved, and wondered exactly how serious her post traumatic stress was. She would not press, but she knew then that this would not be the last time they would meet. “Is that risky?”

“Oh no,” she replied. “It’s safe. I just walk, and then I go home and try to… stay busy.”

Miranda looked carefully at Andrea’s face, and noticed for the first time, the faintest of lines at the sides of her mouth. But her eyes were large and dark, her lips so generous as to be almost too much to consider. Andrea Sachs remained a puzzle, Miranda decided. One she was interested in investigating further. “Perhaps I could go along with you one night. If you’d like the company.”

There were a few seconds of silence, until Andrea lifted her shoulder in a peculiarly attractive gesture. “That might be nice.” It was settled then, far as Miranda was concerned. “Not now, though. You look tired yourself.”

“I am, in fact. So we’ll call it a night?” A nod was her answer. “I’ll have the driver drop you home?”

Though there was a brief pause in which Miranda was sure an internal debate took place, and Andrea agreed. “Thanks.”

Soon they were seated next to each other in the silver Mercedes, passing the nightlife that spilled out into the street down Broadway. As they drove into Little Italy, Miranda said, “I enjoyed myself.”

Andrea’s hair moved gently when she turned her head, and Miranda thought it looked very soft. “I did too. We’ll take a walk soon, okay?”

“Yes.” Their cheeks brushed as Andrea leaned forward, and there was a whisper of breath against Miranda’s ear.

“See you,” Andrea said, and stepped out of the car.

---

The evening she spent with Miranda, Andy didn’t walk. She wasn’t in the mood the next night either, so when she woke at 3am, she watched old Harold Lloyd silents on tv. When morning came, she felt strangely happy. She sat at Starbucks for a couple of hours drinking too much coffee and writing very little. With no real direction for her work, she was having a hard time deciding what to do. Her therapist advised journaling, but that seemed so…self-indulgent. Narcissistic. She’d spent years focusing on the world, and she wasn’t really in the mood to change that up. But she wasn’t supposed to be working. She was on a break. Relaxing. Except relaxing was stressful. It hadn’t always been so, but it was now.

Maybe the stress was coming from the not doing. Her therapist was interested in exploring how preoccupied Andy had gotten with her work, prior to that day. But Andy found very little else that interested her beyond work. Her hobbies were all tied up in it: reading magazines, watching the news, devouring the stories online, tracking the happenings that were covered (or more importantly, not covered) on social media. Her therapist advised her to branch out. She hadn’t done it yet.

Days after seeing Miranda, she sat in a bookstore coffee shop, unproductive and bored. Staring at her blank screen, she decided to listen to her therapist for once, and write about herself. She also wrote, without surprise, about Miranda. She described the clothes she’d worn to the event, the way her hair had fallen against the nape of her neck, the color of her smoky eyes as her lids had drifted shut over and over. More than that, she wrote about the feelings that were swirling in her belly now that they’d reconnected. Being in Miranda’s presence, even for those few hours, made her feel something she hadn’t realized she’d missed: a sense of safety. Andy had felt safe, and comforted, far more than anything she’d tried for the better part of a year.

Sitting back in her seat, Andy read what she’d written a second time, eyebrows raised. She smiled. That was something to bring to the Doc tomorrow.

She wrote then about the city, and how it felt to be back for so long. Months of being on the road had turned into years, and for all that time, she’d lived out of suitcases and backpacks. Right now, New York was the closest thing to home she had; Cincinnati was where her parents lived, but she hadn’t spent more than a week there every year since college. And Lily, who would have made the West Village seem like home, had flown off for the greener pastures of the LA art scene. She loved it there—it was cheaper and sunnier, not to mention easier to live in. Andy refused to believe anyone could be happy in Los Angeles, but Lily declared herself living proof.

Andy considered if maybe a visit out to the west coast might do her some good. That could come after spending a couple of days with her folks over Christmas. She looked forward to that quick trip, if only to relieve herself of the guilt of not seeing her mother and father for the holiday since… God, she couldn’t remember. Last year she’d been in D.C., working, and the year before, she’d been in Islamabad. Maybe it had been the year before?

Once Andy finished writing, she looked out the window, startled to find that it was well past dusk. Her phone read 7:18, which meant she’d been writing for almost five hours. Her stomach growled on cue, and she laughed. Finally, she packed up and headed south. A little street food served as her dinner, and when she finished devouring her falafel, she dialed a number as she passed 14th street.

Lily picked up on the first ring. “As I live and breathe! Honey, how are you? I got so worried when you didn’t call me back.”

“Sorry,” Andy said, contrite. “I just… time got away from me.”

“Oh well, it happens. So glad you’re on the line now, and I’m totally free. The place is empty but we have an opening right after the New Year and it’s going to be fantastic.”

Hmm. “Tell me what you’re showing,” Andy said. She listened intently as Lily told her everything, with work, romantic exploits, and the tribulations of Los Angeles traffic. It was as if time had not passed at all between them, just like usual. Though they’d had a few blips of fighting, their friendship had evolved with time. Andy felt blessed that Lily put up with her irregular communication habits and occasional forays into vanity. She remained the only person that Andy kept from her childhood other than her family. That was all right—one person was enough.

Eventually, Lily said, “Listen, Andy, I’m going home for like, five days at Christmas. Please tell me you’re staying at your folks’.”

“Thank God. I’m there for a four-day weekend. Mom wanted me to stay longer but I told her I was working.”

There was a short pause. “And you’re not working?”

Already, Andy had forgotten that while her break felt obvious to herself, it was very possible that most everyone else (except her bosses) hadn’t noticed. She was still out speaking at conferences here and there, and usually her appearances were covered in the news. Surviving a near-death experience always brought the cameras. She just wasn’t writing, and she wasn’t broadcasting or podcasting from anywhere at all. “Um, not really.”

Lily let the quiet stretch out for a long time before she spoke. “You doing okay, Andy?”

Andy sighed. “Yeah. I’m going to therapy a lot. I’m supposed to relax for a while. Get some rest.”

“Rest?” Lily laughed. “This for the girl who hasn’t ‘rested’ since 2002. You must be going crazy.”

“Yeah,” Andy said, nodding. “I might be. You’ll never guess who I saw recently, though. It’s been a fun distraction.”

“Doug?” Lily said, her voice hopeful.

Doug. He’d left for Chicago almost five years ago, and they’d lost touch for the most part. But she had such tenderness in her heart for him, and hoped that if he ever came to New York, he’d call. “No. I wish, but no. This one’s a little more random.”

“Not Nate?” Lily said. “Please tell me it’s not Nate.”

Andy frowned. “No. Why?”

“Because last I heard he was married with two kids in Boston. I was hoping it would work out.”

“Oh,” Andy said, the wind leaving her sails a little. It was funny to think of him with a family, and a whole other life. She’d imagined it for him, but knowing it was true was another story. “Well, not at all. Not even close.” Deciding to skip through the rest of the guessing game, she said, “Miranda Priestly.”

There was a short pause. “Shut the fuck up.”

That made Andy laugh like a fiend, startling some of the pedestrians walking by. “True story.”

“Did she make you fetch her coffee for old time’s sake?”

“Nah, but that might be fun. I’m bored lately.”

“You must be if you’re yearning to do a Starbucks run. How’d it happen?”

So Andy told her, everything from mentioning her on Derek Halpern to their quiet time at that bar. By the end of it, Lily sounded intrigued. “I never thought I’d say this, but she sounds like she might be… kind of nice. Maybe you need to spend time with somebody who doesn’t want anything from you. Other than a little coffee.”

Andy giggled. “Har har. Anyway, that’s what I thought. It just felt really calm. It made me feel better than I have in a while. This is helping too. It’s always the best to catch up with you, Lils.”

“I know, hon. And now that I’ve got you on the line, I want to hear from you more than every three months, you got it? Once a week. As often as you talk to your therapist,” she laughed, and Andy chuckled. “Email me your itinerary for Christmas and we’ll sneak off to Spike’s for a pitcher and some smokes.”

“Ah, college. I haven’t smoked in twelve years, Lil.”

“Me neither. But one or two won’t kill us. Send me that email tonight before you hit the sack, okay?”

“Sure. See you soon. Love you.”

“I love you too, Andy. Bye.”

Andy hung up, feeling warm even as the snow fell.

---

Miranda wasn’t tired, though it was after midnight. She glanced at her phone for the fifteenth time in an hour, wondering if it would ring.

She’d attended the investors’ holiday party the night before, rubbing elbows and smiling and nursing that single glass of champagne for the required hour. She looked stunning, if she did say so herself, and received many compliments, once again from Alicia. She hadn’t made any further overtures, but the look in her eyes said it all. Miranda pretended like she didn’t notice, but it made her glow to feel so admired. Especially by someone thirty years younger, give or take.

Today she’d spent working on the new issue, and following up on a few business calls that had surfaced during the party last night. Adhira took notes on her phone as they’d walked the floor, and delivered them to Miranda promptly at midnight. She thought she’d have to promote the girl in the next six months to keep her on staff. A rare combination of intelligence and an un-annoying personality made her a great asset. Good people seemed harder than ever to find, though Miranda may have grown more persnickety in her old age.

Andrea probably wouldn’t think so. She’d say Miranda was the same as she ever was.

She glanced at the phone again, and gave in. The info was right there in her Google contacts, and she pulled it up and dialed before she could question herself. Even though it was 1am, she took the risk.

The phone rang twice before Andrea picked up. “Hi.”

Miranda smiled. “Hello, Andrea.”

“How’d you know I’d be up?”

“I can’t say I hoped you would be, but I thought to take a chance.”

Andrea laughed, and the sound gave Miranda a little frisson of pleasure across her skin. “You’re in luck. Just woke up from my nap, and I thought I’d explore Yorkville tonight. You interested?”

“Yes. I’ll send a car.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No arguments,” Miranda said firmly. “If I’m walking with you, you’ll arrive in the neighborhood safely. Someone will drive you here, and we’ll leave from the townhouse.”

A few seconds passed, and Andrea said, “All right.”

Forty-five minutes later, Miranda received a text from the driver. He was paid well to be available during the night shift, and he never complained about the strange hours she kept. Not that he would. He knew better.

Miranda wrapped a scarf around her throat and pulled the long cape tightly about her shoulders. It would be cold tonight; almost freezing, but when she first stepped outside it felt rather nice. Jarring, but crisp. Andrea was already out of the car, an ancient-looking baby blue wooly hat pulled down over her head. She grinned brightly at Miranda. “You need a hat.”

“No, thank you.” Miranda didn’t like them. She almost never wore them.

“Miranda it’s the middle of the night. Nobody’s going to see. You know, 90% of a person’s body heat escapes from the head when it’s uncovered.”

“That’s a myth. And I’m not wearing a hat.”

Andrea gazed at her. “I guess I wouldn’t either if I had your hair.”

Eyebrow raised, Miranda gazed back. “Is that a compliment?”

Dark eyes softened, and Andrea just started off up the street, heading north. Miranda glanced meaningfully into the driver’s front seat, and the man nodded. He’d trail them unobtrusively until they returned home. Miranda felt perfectly comfortable roaming the Upper East Side in the middle of the night, but she had the luxury of backup, and she would use it.

They walked, exchanging few words as they went. After about ten minutes, Andrea said, “I expected it to be quiet, but we’ve barely seen anyone. Is it always like this at night?”

With a smirk, Miranda replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t been out walking at 2am recently.”

“It’s nothing like downtown. Tribeca is busy, and so are Chelsea and the Village. SoHo’s pretty dead though on most streets, except Broadway. And midtown—well, you can imagine what that’s like.”

“Mm,” Miranda said, shuddering at the thought of Times Square. “Is it crowded even at this time of night?”

“It's unreal. At midnight you'd think it was noon, teeming with tourists. I don't remember it being like that before, but maybe it was.”

After another block, Andrea paused. “I like this house,” she said, staring at a pretty brownstone with Christmas lights strung around iron railings that lined the stoop. There was an elegant arrangement of plants outside the front door, which lent an air of welcoming to the place. “It looks cheerful. I wonder who lives there?”

Miranda looked up at the dark green door. It seemed similar to all the others on the street, but she had to admit, the lights and the greenery added character that was absent elsewhere. It left her with a vague sense of melancholy, to know that her home would be empty tonight when she returned, and so would Andrea’s. There were no lights on Miranda’s front stoop. At least in a few days a team would arrive while she was at work and erect a perfectly impersonal Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah in the den before the girls arrived home.

“I didn’t put up any decorations this year,” Andrea continued. “I don’t even have any left in storage. When I was younger I put up lights no matter what. My dad’s Jewish but my mom’s Episcopalian, so we celebrated both. I loved having a menorah and a little fake tree, even in this crazy studio I had back…I guess when I worked for you.” Andrea gazed at the lights some more, her face glowing. Miranda thought she looked very young. “I haven’t had a holiday at home in a long time.”

Miranda wanted to wipe that lonely expression away as soon as possible. She wrapped a hand around Andrea’s elbow, stepping close. “Come over Thursday. I’m doing a tree before the girls arrive from school for their break.” Miranda’s eyes widened as she said the words, because this was an out and out lie. She hadn’t decorated a tree herself since the girls were adolescents, and she’d had no intention to start up again.

“Really?” Andrea asked, and her eyes were so bright with longing that whatever regret that bubbled at the back of Miranda’s throat vanished instantly. She nodded. “That would be really nice,” Andrea replied. “Thanks, Miranda. Will anyone else be there? Is it like a party?”

Now Miranda really was stunned. Should she pretend that it was a larger gathering, and she’d only just thought to invite Andrea? That seemed ridiculous. “Well, I hadn’t intended—”

“Good,” Andrea said, cutting her off with finality. “I hoped not. I’m not really up for small talk.” She glanced over at Miranda quickly. “If that’s okay.”

Miranda exhaled. She watched the plume of warm breath dissipate into the air with a sense of relief. “Just us, then. I’ll bring in some dinner.”

“Mm. It’ll be nice to get some holiday spirit in before I show up at my parents’ house. I haven’t been home for Christmas for three years.”

Surprised, Miranda asked, “That long?”

With a nod, Andrea replied, “I called when I could. I worked a lot. The 24 hour news cycle never stops.” A few moments ticked by, and Miranda thought about what it would be like not to see her girls over the holidays. Especially if they were living abroad in potentially dangerous conditions, or had nearly been shot and killed. Miranda suddenly had great sympathy for the Sachs family. “I never thought I’d be the person who couldn’t spare the time to visit family, I mean,” Andrea said. “We were always so close. But something happened, maybe when I was away for so long, and time… it just passed.” She turned to Miranda. “Do you know what I mean?”

Miranda did. Especially when she considered how time had lapsed between the last time she and Andrea had spent any significant hours together. Nine years felt like they’d flashed by in a moment. “I do. The days seem so long sometimes, but the years… they’re like lightning. Last September I woke up one morning and my girls were gone, replaced by young women I barely recognized.” She shook her head. “Not quite that, really, but it felt as if just months before they’d been children, playing games and running around the house, wreaking havoc. Then they packed their clothes and left for college.” Leaving me behind, Miranda thought. I’ve become an empty nester.

Andy smiled. “I remember doing that. My mom cried for a week.”

Miranda raised an eyebrow. “I did no such thing, I’ll have you know. But I do… miss them.”

“I understand that. I bet they miss you too.”

“Oh, every now and then, I imagine they do,” Miranda replied, thinking of their bright red hair, their sparkling eyes that were like mirror images of her own.

They walked on. Miranda had no idea how far north they’d gone, so when Andrea turned right, Miranda followed without question. “When will you visit your family?”

“I leave Saturday morning and come back Tuesday night.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows. “That’s a short trip considering you haven’t been home for so long.”

They’d walked half a block before Andrea seemed able to gather up enough words to answer. “It’s all I can do right now. I told my parents I’m working. They understood.”

It was none of her business, really, Miranda thought. She had no clue what state of mind Andrea was in, only that she seemed to have lost the bright sheen of optimism that had lit her eyes all those years ago. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself. And your parents need to see you. Even if it’s difficult, it’s a good thing to go.”

At Miranda’s reply, some of the tension went out of Andrea’s face. Lines that Miranda hadn’t even realized were there disappeared in the strange, snowy light. Only then did Miranda comprehend just how Andrea had aged since their brief time together so long ago. It may have been nine years in real time, but it was longer in spirit. “I think so too,” she said.

A lone car passed by them slowly, and Andrea leaned closer, shivering in the night air.

---

Chapter Text

Andy insisted that she deliver herself to Miranda’s to help decorate the tree, but this time she didn’t walk. She didn’t want to arrive uptown reeking of sweat, so she hopped a train. Standing in the crush of holiday subway traffic, she didn’t even blow up when the guy behind her brushed against her ass in what may or may not have been a furtive feel up. She was willing to give the benefit of the doubt when there was barely enough room to turn one’s head. The idea of Miranda’s quiet, palatial home soothed her. So much clean, well-lit space attracted her. While her memories of the townhouse were anything but pleasant, she looked forward to spending time there while not worried about being fired.

Thoughts of Miranda were filling her mind often during the day now, and even in the few dreams she had when she slept. New Miranda never questioned Andy too deeply about anything, nor did she require conversation to fill the empty air between them. She seemed as interested in quiet as Andy was. It was certainly the most unusual friendship Andy had ever had, but then again, Miranda was a unique woman. If their time together was filled with walks in the dark, and drinks, and food, and just a little conversation, that was perfectly all right. And if Andy got an imaginary feeling of safety and security out of it, so much the better.

It was early when Andy arrived, barely six o’clock, but Miranda had assured her that she would be there and would not be working. So when Andy knocked, only a few seconds went by before the door opened. Miranda’s deep red silk blouse was stunning, and as she stepped inside, Andy found herself saying, “That color is gorgeous on you. You look fantastic.”

Miranda only blinked at her, and Andy felt silly for moment. “Well. Thank you. It is festive, I suppose. Come in, it’s cold out.” She looked Andy over. “You didn’t walk all the way here in those boots, did you? I don’t want to have to haul you back to your apartment in a wagon.”

“No, I took the train.” Miranda rolled her eyes. “It was fun,” Andy insisted. “Almost.”

“Next time accept a car. You’re too well known to be taking the subway.”

“Miranda, loads of famous people take the train, and I’m not even famous. And I’m certainly not rich, so the train suits me fine. No one recognized me, anyway.” She shucked her coat, exhaling when Miranda’s eyes warmed at her classic ensemble. Andy’s forest green Stella McCartney blouse and fitted dark trousers had been concealed beneath her wool coat, and she’d hoped Miranda would like them.

Miranda met Andy’s eyes, and gave her the coveted half-smile. Andy laughed, and said, “What’s on the roster for tonight?” She followed Miranda upstairs into the main room, and gaped at the nine foot tree near the window. It was bare except for perfectly arranged white lights strung from top to bottom. “Well. Okay then. That’s a helluva tree.”

“It’s a little short, but I suppose it will have to do,” Miranda sighed.

“Short, she says. Sure is taller than any tree I’ve ever had. Is there a ladder?”

Pointing, Miranda mumbled, “Over there,” and crossed the room to the boxes of ornaments stacked on a long table. “This is everything I have. It’s probably far too much for a tree of this size, so I’ll choose and you hang.”

Andy felt her mouth twisting a little, and she offered, “How about we choose together, and hang together?” She lifted her shoulders as Miranda gazed at her. “You can tell me the stories behind all the ornaments.” And I won’t feel like your assistant, since we both know I’m not.

Miranda paused, mouth open, and Andy watched her consider it. “Of course. Yes, we’ll both do it.”

Andy smiled brilliantly, and the moment was forgotten.

They started near the top of the tree, and Andy did do most of the hanging for that part. She didn’t want Miranda on the stool in danger of breaking her neck, so she took off her four-inch boots and waited for Miranda to bring her the ornaments. “What about this one?” she asked, usually when anything looked one of a kind.

“The girls gave that to me after their first trip to San Francisco with their father,” was the answer after Andy hung something that looked rather like a tiny Alcatraz. There was a hand-painted Venus on the half shell—”A holiday trip when they were sixteen,” a surfboard engraved with the words Costa Rica—”Our summer vacation this past June,” and matching teddy bears that were far cuter than anything Andy would have imagined on Miranda’s tree. “I bought those the year they were born,” Miranda explained. “I blame the hormones.”

Andy just stroked the still-soft fur. “They’re sweet,” she said, and hung them in front, right at eye level. Miranda didn’t move them, so Andy felt like she’d won.

Gingerly, Miranda handed Andy a string of delicate colored beads in glass. They were dirty, but there was a reverence to Miranda’s touch that spoke eloquently of the significance of this piece. “Should I hang it low?”

Miranda nodded. “I’ll help.” Gently they laid the beads across some sturdy branches, making sure they were lit well by the lights. Andy waited, and was not disappointed. “They were my grandmother’s, on my father’s side,” she began. “It’s the last remaining section of a longer string that used to reach all around the tree. She bought them in London more than a hundred years ago.”

Andy softly touched a dark blue bead. “They’re beautiful.”

“Not so beautiful anymore, but they’re important. To me, at least. And my girls.”

Tears pricked the backs of Andy’s eyes, and she turned toward a frosty window till they dissipated.

The room grew warm with the fire roaring nearby. It smelled like cinnamon, and the wine was delicious. After nearly ninety minutes, the doorbell rang. “Dinner,” Miranda said. “Just in time.”

The dining room was attached to the great room on the second floor, so Andy helped Miranda haul the loot upstairs. It smelled divine, and tasted better. Andy artfully arranged the lamb with mint and basil, asparagus and a little pasta, and they ate as Dvorak filled the air with cello and strings. Andy was lulled into a near euphoric state, between the wine and the food and the tiny white lights that gave the room such a perfect glow. Miranda seemed to feel it as well. Andy decided she’d never seen a look like the one Miranda wore now, of an ease rarely displayed in the public sphere. Here, at home, she was different. More herself, perhaps.

All at once, Andy thought she’d like to kiss Miranda. It was an odd sensation, but Andy relaxed into it, imagining how nice it would be to breathe her breath, touch her hair. Caress her skin. Hold her. And more importantly, to be held by her, cared for, shielded from everything awful in the world.

Andy wouldn’t do as she’d imagined, of course, but just the fantasy filled her with pleasure. There was no longing, only a sense of contentment to sit here, waiting for whatever might happen next.

She thought she might sleep tonight. Perhaps she could even dream about happy things, instead of being lost in a faraway land.

“It’s nearly done,” Miranda said, tilting her head toward the tree. “Just a few minutes more?”

“Sure,” Andy said, standing to clear the dishes from the table.

Miranda waved a hand vaguely. “Leave them.”

Andy did.

Eventually, there was still a full box of ornaments left, but Miranda had decided exactly what she wanted the tree to look like. When it was done, it was done.

“You sure there aren’t any other special ones in that last box?” Andy asked.

“No, just the angels and the star. I’ll leave them for the girls tomorrow. They like to do those themselves.”

“They’ll be home then?”

“Yes. For three weeks before they go back to school.”

Andy sighed. “Where did they go to college?”

“Caroline’s at Vassar and Cassidy went to Brown.”

Andy was stunned. “They went to different schools?” At Miranda’s frown, Andy added, “I’m just surprised. They were so close. I suppose they were practically babies last time I saw them.”

“Indeed. I won’t say they grew apart, but Cassidy… wanted to separate more than Caroline did. It’s been good for both of them.”

Andy saw Miranda’s tentative expression, and hoped she was right. “Have they been home a lot?”

Miranda adjusted an ornament on a tree so infinitesimally that it hardly moved. “Not once. Either of them.”

“Ah,” Andy said, and heard the loneliness in her voice, clear as a bell. She hadn’t thought much about Miranda in an empty house, but here they were in a huge house with no dog, no husband, no pounding children’s footsteps. “Whatever happened to Patricia?”

“She died years ago, on July 4th. The girls were fifteen. It was horrible.”

Leaning one hand on the table, Andy gazed at the pattern of the cloth beneath her fingers. “I’m sorry. You must miss her. I mean, you’d miss the girls more, obviously, but pets are family, at least in my house. People talk about an animal’s unconditional love, but I think a human’s love for a pet is just as deep.”

“Mm,” Miranda sighed, and Andy was surprised that her eyes were wet. “She was a very good girl.”

The sound of Miranda’s voice, the sadness in her expression, made Andy want to take her in her arms. She decided there was either something wrong with her, or that Miranda inadvertently made everyone want to care for her.

Andy was in no hurry to go home, even though her job was ostensibly done. The ornaments were in place. It was barely nine. What to do now?

They stood together, gazing at the tree. Andy had to admit, she’d done a great job. “It’s really nice, Miranda,” Andy said.

“Hmm, yes,” Miranda replied. “Thank you for your help.” Just as Andy was about to say she should be heading home, Miranda said, “Stay, if you like. I thought I’d watch a film, or see what’s on television.”

Andy bit her lip, keeping her smile at a controlled wattage. She poured Miranda more wine, got herself some water, and carried a small plate of chocolates across the room to where Miranda sat on a sofa. She’d opened an unobtrusive panel on the wall to reveal what was at least a 60 inch monitor. Andy marveled at the fact that Miranda not only had a television, but that she actually watched it. She handed the wine glass over, and Miranda sipped appreciatively. After surfing a select group of channels, Miranda settled on a black and white film Andy didn’t recognize. “That’s Jimmy Stewart, right?”

“Yes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one.”

“I never have,” Andy said.

Miranda glanced at her in surprise. “Well then, I’ll start it over.”

“You don’t have to—”

“Stop that. There’s no point unless you see it from the beginning.”

So Andy sat back against the soft cushions and tucked her feet up under her. Miranda did the same, and Andy couldn’t help notice the look of satisfaction on Miranda’s face as the shadows danced across her skin.

---

Miranda lifted her head, disoriented. The room was dark except for the bright colors from the television screen, and the gentle radiance of the tree lights they’d left on. For a moment she thought she was alone, until she realized her hand was tangled in dark hair. Andrea’s head was on her lap, cushioned by the pillow Miranda had slid there when her companion had unexpectedly dropped off to sleep halfway through the movie. She’d literally slumped against Miranda’s side, breathing noisily into her ear, so Miranda had carefully eased her down to what appeared at least to be a more comfortable position.

It made Miranda warm to know that this young woman who suffered from debilitating insomnia and who knew what other terrors could fall asleep in her presence. And apparently she could ease Miranda’s insomnia as well. Judging by the fact that a second movie was now playing, Miranda had been “resting her eyes” for at least two hours. She still felt sleepy, in fact. Happy, too.

She glanced at the tree. It was wonderful. Nothing like the tree she’d expected, but everything she wanted. Usually it was symmetrical and bland, but elegant, of course. Monochrome silver teardrops had adorned last year’s tree, and the year before the designer had suggested various shades of blue with ribbons of silver silk draping the branches. The “real” ornaments had stayed packed on the third floor, gathering dust, unwanted.

They would have stayed there another year had Andrea not come over. She couldn’t very well present 15 dozen brand new identical red hand-blown glass bulbs without some embarrassment. Those now sat on the third floor, still sealed in boxes. Perhaps she would give them away.

Andrea’s hand gripped Miranda’s thigh gently, snuffling in her sleep. She mumbled, but did not wake. Miranda remained still, enjoying the weight draped across her legs. On screen, Judy Garland sat alone at a table in a crowded café. Miranda was only able to follow the story for a few more minutes until she dropped off to sleep again, falling instantly into a dream. In it, she walked down Broadway with a red carnation in hand, and she gave it to Andrea when they met one another on a corner.

---

Andy held tight to the hand in hers, and with a jerk, she woke up.

It turned out that the hand in hers was not actually a hand, but a knee, bare except for a silk stocking. Her head rested on a pillow, and she was lying down on a couch. A Christmas tree sparkled across the room, and the television played another old movie Andy didn’t recognize. It was on mute.

When she sat up, she ignored the spot of drool on the expensive-looking pillow and instead focused on the vision that was Miranda Priestly, asleep. Her throat was pale white in the darkness, thin lips closed as she breathed through her nose almost silently. Andy would have thought she were dead if she hadn’t seen the tiny thrum of pulse beating in her neck. Her head was tilted back on a cushion, and she looked pleasantly at ease.

Glancing around, Andy searched for a clock. A digital display across the room was a big blob of red, which reminded her it was time to relent and see an eye doctor. But it had to still be the middle of the night. She’d slept hours, uninterrupted, which was a nice change.

Unable to contain her happiness, she laughed. Miranda’s version of a startle reflex was a deep inhalation, and she opened her eyes to focus right on Andy. As she blinked, Andy’s attention was drawn to the crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. Andy loved them. They made her look real. Imperfect. Wonderful.

“Hi,” Andy said. She nudged closer, until their faces were only a few inches apart.

“Hello,” Miranda replied, and the gravelly voice drew Andy closer still. When Miranda didn’t move away, or ask what the hell she was doing, or tell her to please leave before she called the police, Andy kissed her.

---

Still feeling as though she were caught in a dream, Miranda kissed Andrea back. It was a strange sort of kiss, since her lips were dry, her mouth parched and tasting of wine. But the touch sent a shot of heat right up Miranda’s spine, starting at her tailbone and reaching through the top of her skull. Even her ears tingled.

Andrea hummed against her lips, and the sound of it made Miranda lift a hand to hold her head in place. Both their mouths opened, and tongues touched, and they kissed fully as Miranda’s eyes rolled in pleasure. How long had it been since anything at all had felt this good? Years, maybe. Decades. All her nerve-endings awoke, and though her right arm was asleep from its awkward position, she managed to wrap it around Andrea’s waist.

One kiss blended into many, and minutes later, they broke apart. Miranda’s heart raced. She touched Andrea’s skin, finding even the smears of mascara under her eyes lovely. “I’m too old for you,” she said, because she had to. What they were doing was ill-advised, at the very least.

But Andrea just laughed again. “I know.” And then she leaned in to kiss the corner of Miranda’s jaw, under her ear, where she loved to be kissed. “I don’t mind.”

Miranda tilted her head, feeling high as Andrea’s lips nibbled, moving to the shell of her ear. At the moment, Miranda didn’t mind either. Andrea might be twenty-five years her junior, but she was a marvelous kisser, and a better friend. She liked good food and good conversation, and she knew when to speak and when to be quiet. She was smart, interesting, and above all, she was exactly what Miranda wanted. Not that Miranda had known what she wanted until it had presented itself to her, but that wasn’t at all unusual.

Miranda kissed her downy cheek, and Andrea pulled back. They watched each other carefully, until Miranda reached out for her hand. The silence was thick around them. Miranda was distracted by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the next room.

“We’ll just see what happens,” Andrea said simply. “No promises, no pressure. Just time together.”

That sounded right. “Yes,” she sighed, enjoying the lassitude under her skin.

Andrea kissed Miranda’s knuckles very lightly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve slept like that.” Fingertips traced the sensitive skin at the juncture of Miranda’s thumb and index finger. “It was nice.”

“It’s ridiculous to have you leave in the middle of the night.” Miranda swallowed down the impulse of fear, and asked, “Come upstairs? We could try again, in a bed.”

Something like a smile, but darker edged, curved Andrea’s lips. It sent a shiver directly between Miranda’s legs. “A kiss, you mean?”

For some reason, she didn’t want Andrea to know just how much she wanted another kiss, so she said, “I meant sleep. But I think I could manage both.”

Andrea nodded. Miranda turned off the fireplace while Andrea unplugged the Christmas tree, and together they climbed the stairs to the third floor. As much as she wanted to get undressed, there was a level of awkwardness that wearing pajamas in front of one another would bring about. Instead, she brushed her teeth and gave Andrea a new toothbrush so she could follow suit. The clock read 4:02am; she had appointments in the morning, so she set an alarm. When Andrea emerged from the bathroom still in her clothes, Miranda asked, “Do you want something else to wear?”

Andrea shrugged. “This is okay. If it’s all right with you.”

Her expression was hesitant, so Miranda quickly nodded. She’d removed her stockings, but thought a night in Bill Blass would be fine for once. Moments later, the bed dipped, and Andrea slid closer to arrange a few pillows behind her own back. “Thought I’d sit up this time. You can lean on me, if you like.”

Miranda stared at this creature in her bed, wondering at the strange direction her life had just taken. The woman next to her was too young, too beautiful, too kind. Troubled. Lost. Miranda leaned up and kissed her before she could change her mind, and Andrea’s whimpering sigh was like music. She pushed no further, just exploring Andrea’s generous lips, touching her hair. When they parted, she answered, “That would be nice.”

Andrea set a pillow on her lap, and Miranda lay down. The light went out, and Andrea stroked her hair gently. “Thank you,” Miranda said aloud, feeling more vulnerable in that moment than she had in a long while.

“You’re welcome,” Andrea said, resting one hand on Miranda’s shoulder.

---

A phone rang, and Andy jerked awake.

She’d done it again. Fallen asleep with Miranda, this time in her bed. It had to be a record. Miranda inhaled sharply and sat up, eyes wide and glassy. “What?”

“I think it’s the phone,” Andy replied, her voice a croak.

Miranda glanced over her shoulder. An antiquated land line rang shrilly once more, and Miranda reached across to grab it. “Yes?”

Andy watched Miranda’s expression morph from one of confusion to disbelief. “Reschedule the manicure. Tell Adam I’ll be outside in thirty minutes. I should still make it to the Athenee in time.” She listened to the voice on the other end of the line. “No. Today at 4. If they can’t do it, find someone who can.” A hand crept through snowy hair, and Andy couldn’t help but admire the way it fell in a flawless wave even after hours of sleep. “Fine, fine.” She paused. “Thank you,” she said softly, eying Andy. She dropped the phone back on the table and gaped at the alarm clock. “Did it even go off? It’s 7:30am.”

Andy gaped right along with her. She hadn’t even realized she’d been asleep, but facts were facts. “Wow.” She stared at Miranda. “You’re better than Ambien.”

“Clearly. I have to get ready.”

“Okay,” Andy said, ready to go at a moment’s notice. “I’ll just—”

“Don’t rush. There should already be coffee downstairs, the machine is automatic. I’ll meet you there?” Her voice was cautious, as though expecting to be rebuffed.

Instead, Andy smiled. “Still take your coffee the same way?”

“No,” Miranda said, surprising her. “It’s decaf.”

Against her will, Andy gasped. Miranda rolled her eyes. “Not entirely, just half. I had to cut back. Believe me, that was a three month period during which you should be very glad you were absent.”

“No doubt.” Andy decided she would stop at the nearest Starbucks on her way home, even though she felt well-rested. There was no reason to change her routine now. She rolled off the incredibly comfortable bed and strolled out of the room, choosing not to feel weird about waking up in Miranda’s bed. It’s just time together, she reminded herself. So she admired the Christmas tree once downstairs, fixing a coffee for herself and flipping on the gas fireplace. It was remarkably peaceful to stare into the flames, despite the fact that their dirty dishes still littered the dining room table.

Twenty minutes later, Miranda appeared. It astonished Andy that she could pull herself together in such a short period of time, but she looked as though she’d just emerged from a salon. Andy caught herself admiring the curve of Miranda’s ass, as she had now and then as an assistant. This time she gave herself permission. Who could fault her for appreciating such a lovely part of Miranda’s body? Or all of it, really. At 59, she looked wonderful. She didn’t care a bit how old Miranda was. Whatever they might have together was all right with Andy, even if it was a single night of a few kisses and a few hours of extremely restful sleep. But as she watched Miranda, she knew in her heart that tonight was not the end, but the beginning.

“You look comfortable,” Miranda said in a sigh. “I’d rather stay here than go out, but needs must.” She vanished into the kitchen, and Andy heard the telltale pour of liquid gold. A moment later she reappeared. “When will you be back home? Was it Tuesday?”

“Yes. I’m in around 9 that night.”

“Will you… visit when you’re back?”

Andy felt her insides lighten, pleasure oozing through her belly. “If you’ll have me. I think I’d like to see the girls again, if you wouldn’t mind. Would you?”

Miranda tilted her head, and Andy felt her scrutiny. “I wouldn’t. They’ll like meeting a celebrity. I’m certain they’re fans of yours, in any case. Sometime after you made a name for yourself they asked if you were the same Andy they once nearly got fired.”

Andy preened. “I bet they loved hearing that.”

“They did, as you can imagine.” She sat next to Andy on the sofa and sipped her coffee. “We don’t have to plan it. Just let me know when you’re available.”

Andy stared down at her own cup. “I will. I might text you, or something, before that.” She looked at Miranda’s profile, as distinctive as ever. It made Andy a little short of breath to gaze at the shape of her cheek, and the outline of her features against the morning light. “If that’s okay.”

There was a short pause. “Yes,” Miranda finally said. The single word said many things, most importantly that Miranda was pleased. That she wanted this too, whatever it was.

“Okay,” Andy said, and set her cup on the table. “Will someone come around and, uh—”

“Clean up?” Miranda asked. “Oh yes. Don’t fret about that.”

“Well, then. I guess I should be on my way.”

“I suppose. The driver will be here in a few minutes.”

Andy took the cup out of Miranda’s hands and set it next to hers on the low table. When she turned back to Miranda, the anticipation on her face stole Andy’s breath. Though she wore lipstick, Andy moved close and kissed her, tasting coffee and sugar. The touch was as potent as it had been the night before, which meant it wasn’t just the romance of the holidays, and good food, and old movies. When the kiss ended, Andy felt her heart flutter with happiness. She exhaled very slowly, touching Miranda’s cheek with gentle fingers. “Chanukah Same'ach, Miranda.”

Miranda’s lips curled against hers. “Chanukah Same'ach.”

Andy wondered how difficult it would be to spend days with her parents, wanting to be here instead. “I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas soon,” Andy said. Miranda kissed her again lightly, and Andy clenched her left hand to keep from wrapping it in soft hair. “Bye.”

“Goodbye.”

Andy’s legs were weak when she stood. The boots didn’t make it easy on her, but she somehow made it to the front door in once piece. She pulled her coat on in a daze and slung her bag over one shoulder. It was freezing out, and the brisk air made Andy feel alive. Moreover, she felt hopeful. Glancing over her shoulder, she waved when she spotted Miranda’s face in the window.

What made it even better was that Miranda waved back.

---

Miranda glided around the party, watching with narrowed eyes as a young male model chatted up Caroline. He wasn’t standing too close, but he was holding a glass of wine. She figured Caroline had enjoyed her share of alcohol during her first semester, but if she caught either of her children indulging at a Runway holiday party, they’d be grounded until they left for school.

Caroline looked over and noticed Miranda watching. She rolled her eyes, and mouthed, “Mo-om,” in that way she had for so many years. Miranda just raised an eyebrow that she hoped spoke volumes, and turned away.

The soiree was in full swing, and Miranda gave it about a half an hour before she would make her departure. She was tired, having woken at 4 that morning, thinking of a thousand things. Topmost in her mind were: putting the next issue to bed, and taking Andrea Sachs to bed. Those two bullet points battled for dominance in her mind for the entire day, with Miranda fighting off the latter to finally complete the former. And as much as Miranda would have liked to leisurely spend some time pondering the mysteries of lesbian sex, she had to spend the evening surrounded by people who were not Andrea. But it was admittedly nice to see some faces she hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting with for quite some time.

Namely, Nigel. Quite a few members of competing publications were invited to the party, since so many of them started their career at Runway. It was important to keep connections alive, and tonight was one of the few nights of the year that Miranda thought less about business and more about people.

A waiter passed by with a fresh glass of champagne, and Miranda accepted. There was no harm in enjoying herself; the board had come and gone earlier in the evening, and they had no complaints at the end of this quarter. Of course many of the corporate partners were still hanging about, Alicia included. Miranda looked at her with eyes wide open now, and saw a beautiful woman who did not hold a candle to Andrea. They’d exchanged a few words earlier, but Miranda had given her an indirect “no” to her earlier offer, which had still been open. Alicia had been disappointed, but gracious, and Miranda decided that she quite liked the young woman. Perhaps she would look out for a pretty lesbian who might be a good match.

Nigel sidled up and tapped his glass to Miranda’s. “Hey, stranger. I’ve hardly seen you. You’re being awfully nice to everyone tonight. What gives, my melancholy baby?”

“Oh, Nigel,” Miranda sighed. Again, she found herself drawn to the idea of giving voice to what was happening. He was one of the few, if not only, in her circle who would remember Andrea from years ago. “Nothing, really. A long day.”

He gazed at her from behind his glasses, the thick, metal rims catching the light. “You seem off. More than tired.”

As she opened her mouth to say something vague and uninteresting, Adhira appeared behind Nigel’s shoulder with her eyebrows raised. Miranda knew that look. “Yes?”

Adhira handed her the phone. “You have a message.”

Miranda inhaled, and reached out. “Thank you.” Ignoring Nigel’s curious stare, Miranda touched the screen and opened the text. It was from “A.S.,” as she had hoped. Adhira knew Miranda didn’t want any other calls or texts except those that came in from that number.

Thinking of you, it read. All good thoughts.

Quickly Miranda swiped the message away, wanting to reply immediately but not considering it prudent. She slid the phone into the tiny pouch hanging at her elbow, intending to make a visit to the balcony soon. Alone. She looked back at Nigel, who was watching her carefully.

“Oh,” he said with a sly grin. “Well. Now that’s more like it.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Miranda said, hating that he could read her so well. But she’d known him forever. She couldn’t really blame him.

“You don’t look tired anymore. You look, if I may be so bold, a little hot under the collar.” He eyed the phone now hidden away in her purse. “Who’s the culprit?”

“None of your business,” she replied sternly, though there was still a niggling desire to confess. “I have to go.” She turned around and headed for the balcony, ignoring Nigel’s titter behind her.

“Don’t even, Miranda,” he said, his voice lost in the wind when Miranda emerged into the freezing night air. There were a few smokers outside, all of whom blanched at her sudden appearance. Moments later, cigarettes were extinguished, and she was alone with the exception of Nigel. “Come on, what gives? Who’ve you got dangling on the other end of the line?”

“Shh,” she said. “Go away.” She unlocked the phone’s screen and wished he would lose interest. Where are you? she typed. She glanced back up at Nigel, who grinned indulgently. At least he looked pleased instead of smug. It was some consolation.

“You told me never again,” he said, reaching into his inside pocket for a cigarillo.

“Don’t smoke that filthy thing out here,” she said, shivering. It was very cold. “I don’t want to smell like an ashtray.”

“Who convinced you to go for it? It has to be what, five, six years since you’ve seen anyone seriously?” Nigel placed the cigarillo between his lips, but didn’t light it. “I’m supposed to be quitting, by the way. Don’t tell Leon. He’d kill me.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “Of course he would. Are you still running three miles every day before work and smoking those in secret?”

“Less running, more walking, but yes. He wants me to live a long time, for some unknown reason. Now, back to you. Who is he, and do I know him?”

The phone vibrated in her hand, and Miranda opened the screen.

restaurant bathroom, cincinnati. parents outside. wish i was with you instead. where are you?

Miranda looked up at Nigel, and ignored him. She typed as fast as she could, cursing that she couldn’t use the microphone that had become her crutch. Runway party, balcony of essex house. Very cold. Call later?

Nigel was still entranced by her interest in the phone, but they didn’t even have a chance to speak before the phone quivered again.

Yes—12a. x.

Immediately Miranda locked the phone screen and put it back in her bag. Anticipation curled within her belly, the likes of which made her feel younger than her years. That simple “x” reminded Miranda of the handful of kisses they’d shared, though it was difficult to maintain concentration with Nigel’s far less attractive mug staring at her. “What?” she said sharply.

He shrugged. “I won’t force it out of you, Miranda. If you want to talk, talk.” The cigarillo suddenly tipped up just before he took it from his lips and placed it back in his pocket.

“Remember when I saw Andrea Sachs on Derek Halpern’s show?” Miranda said, the words rushing out of her mouth in a stream. Nigel nodded, frowning. “I’ve seen her. I suppose I’m seeing her, I should say.”

Nigel’s expression did not change. “Her? Her who?”

“Andrea. Andy, if you must.”

His mouth opened. “Not Alicia? Wait, Andy Sachs? Your old assistant who’s now a famous reporter?” He glanced around. “I need to sit down, you’ve just blown my mind.”

“Alicia,” Miranda mumbled, wondering if she’d misled the young woman. “Why on earth would you think I was seeing her? We’ve barely exchanged more than three sentences privately, two of which included her making a pass.” She lifted an eyebrow. “A well-executed pass, I might add, but nevertheless I’m not interested.”

“She’s going around telling people she’s after you, and that there’s at least a glimmer of hope. Apparently she’s barking up the wrong tree. Sort of, but not really,” Nigel said. “Well I’ll be. Andy bloody Sachs. Poor Alicia. She’s had you in her sights for months, probably before you even met. She’s about to get her heart broken.”

Miranda frowned. “She’s pretty, but I’m not interested. Also, she can’t have her heart broken. She doesn’t even know me.” She glanced over the balcony, taking in the glittering skyline. “If Andrea hadn’t come back into my life, then I might have considered it.”

Nigel gaped then. “When did you become bisexual? Not that it bothers me, mind you, but you could have mentioned it during the, say, twenty five years we’ve known one another.”

“Nigel, don’t presume to know all my secrets. There’s plenty I keep to myself.” She pulled her wrap more tightly around her shoulders, noting that she had little other armor to speak of. “In any case, I’m quite taken with Andrea. She was a fine assistant years ago, but she’s… matured, in a way no one should have to. She’s much quieter. And a little sad.” Not to mention lonesome, Miranda thought. Like me.

“I guess that’s what years in war zones will do to you,” Nigel quipped. “I know why you wanted me to watch that interview now.” He shook his head. “I never would have thought it, Miranda. Is she really worth the risk?”

A laugh bubbled up inside her. “Risk, you say. What am I risking, Nigel? I'm almost 60, and my children have gone off on their own. Runway is thriving. Even if it all came crashing down I’d have enough money to last three lifetimes. My legacy is secure, but my house is empty every night. And I like Andrea’s company. I like her face too. It’s quite beautiful, wouldn’t you say?” she asked, wondering where all these thoughts were coming from even as she said them.

There was a long silence, during which Nigel’s smile became kinder, less jaded. “It’s a very beautiful face,” he agreed. “I’d like to see her again. Perhaps you two would have dinner with Leon and me? When you’re up for it, of course.”

“I’m sure Andrea would enjoy that. Maybe after the new year.”

“Good.” Nigel came closer then, touching her arm gently. “I’m glad for you, Miranda. Really.”

Finding herself choked up, Miranda’s voice was rough when she said, “Thank you.”

“Don’t stay out here too long, now. You’ll catch your death.”

Miranda stared out again onto the tiny lights that blurred before her eyes. “I won’t,” she said, as the door closed, leaving her in peace once more.

---

Andy crept downstairs into the basement of her parents’ house, where she’d done all the things she’d wanted to hide when she lived there. After she left for college, the basement lost its attraction, but she still hung out down there once in awhile, especially when Lily was over. Downstairs they could talk all night and laugh without disturbing anyone. The rooms afforded the only place in the house with an element of privacy. Thus, it was the ideal location for a phone call with Miranda Priestly. Even at 34, Andy didn’t feel like telling her parents that she was canoodling with a woman who was two years older than her own mother. She’d tell Lily tomorrow though, when they went downtown. Andy was dying to see her old friend, and they’d have plenty of time to spend together before Andy went home for dinner.

She watched the clock on her phone, her body perfectly still. When it turned to midnight, she hit a button and waited. There wasn’t even a ring on the other end when she heard a soft, “Yes?” in her ear.

“Miranda,” she sighed.

“Andrea,” Miranda said.

Just the sound of her voice thrilled Andy. “How are you?”

There was a short pause. “Fine—I’m getting out of the car. I just arrived home.”

“From the party? Was it fun?”

Miranda’s laugh raised the tiny hairs on the back of Andy’s neck. She had it bad, apparently. “I wouldn’t say fun, but it was a passable way to spend a few hours.” A door slammed in the background. “Hold on a moment. Girls?” Miranda said, the sound directed away from the mouthpiece.

“Hi,” came distant voices. “Regina came over to meet us after the thing.”

“All right. Don’t forget you have plans with your grandfather early tomorrow.”

“We remembered,” one of the twins said, sounding exasperated. “Who are you on the phone with?” someone asked.

“Someone you’d very much like to meet. I’ll tell you later.” There were another few seconds of silence, and Andy imagined what Miranda was doing. Throwing her coat over the hall table, removing her heels, climbing the stairs, winding her way to the bed they’d shared so recently. “Hah,” Miranda breathed. “There. Alone at last.”

“Where are you now?”

“My room,” Miranda replied.

Andy smiled. “I like that room.”

“Mm, so do I. I’ve enjoyed it a little more of late.”

Andy closed her eyes, and leaned back on the new couch. “I’m in my parents’ basement.”

“Mm. Sounds glamorous.”

Grinning, Andy glanced around. “Oh, it’s glamorous, all right. There’s a foosball table in the corner that I doubt anyone’s played in fifteen years, but my dad refuses to get rid of it. The place is kind of like a game room now. My brother lived here after he was in college, when he couldn’t find a job. When he left, I was still in high school, and it became my den of iniquity.”

“Really?” Miranda sounded intrigued. “Do tell.”

“You know, kid’s stuff. Played too much Nintendo, got drunk, smoked a little weed. And I nearly lost my virginity down here too, but my folks came home from a dinner early and that was the end of that.” Thank goodness, Andy thought.

“How titillating. How old were you?”

“Seventeen,” Andy replied. “Might as well be a million years ago.”

“Not so very long though,” Miranda said. “Do you feel at home?”

Andy turned the question over in her mind, really considering the answer. “To be honest, no. It’s just a place to visit, now.”

Miranda was quiet. “Mm,” she hummed. “Perhaps that will pass.”

“I don’t think so. Everything is different.” She had a sudden thought that felt true, so she said it. “Or maybe everything is the same, and I’m different.”

“I’m sure there’s an element of that,” Miranda began, “but your parents aren’t living in a vacuum. They’ve changed too, I’ve no doubt.”

Shrugging, Andy pulled the blanket down over her from the back of the couch. “I know. But it seems so much the same. Even the cupboards. If I’d taken a picture of the shelves twenty years ago and compared it to today, they would probably be identical.”

“That must mean that if there’s something you like in the cupboard, you can always count on finding it, can’t you?”

Brow furrowed, Andy chuckled. “Miranda, it sounds like you’re defending my family.”

“I might be. Is that surprising?”

“It is. I never figured you for someone who would appreciate sameness. You’re always searching for innovation and originality.”

“Only in fashion, Andrea. I still like my steak rare and my coffee hot. I eat the same thing for breakfast every single day. It’s compulsive, but I enjoy knowing what to expect. Don’t you?”

Andy shut her eyes and thought about it. “I don’t know. I think I forgot how. I’m used to never knowing what’s up next. It feels like my synapses aren’t firing the right way anymore. I’m understimulated or something.”

This time, Miranda was the one who paused. “Or you were overstimulated for a long period of time,” she said softly. “Have you considered that?”

Andy blinked, and stared up at the stucco ceiling. Her father had spread the stucco himself after she graduated from high school. He’d wanted to make the space a workroom, but never got around to it. Instead he kept on using the garage, and continued to park one of the cars in the driveway, even during the winter because there was no room for it.

For fifteen years this had been going on, and Andy figured it would probably happen for another fifteen.

“Andrea?”

“Hmm? Oh, sorry,” Andy said, taken aback. “Got lost in thought.”

“What thought?”

“Maybe when I went away, or even when I moved to New York, I was looking for something that wasn’t like being at home, where nothing really changes. And I went a little too far.” There might be something to that, Andy thought.

“Not too far,” Miranda soothed. “You’re all right. Give yourself time. Perhaps you’ll find something in the middle, where the familiar would be a comfort amidst adventure.”

Smiling, Andy closed her eyes again. “That sounds nice.” She felt sleepy and warm. “You’re a pretty smart cookie, you know.”

There it was again, the laugh Andy was growing to love. “I don’t believe anyone’s ever called me that before. To my face or otherwise.”

“I’m unique,” Andy said.

“Oh, I know that,” Miranda drawled. “I know that very well.”

---

“When will I get to see you?” Andrea asked, what seemed like hours after they’d first started speaking at midnight. In fact, hours had passed; it was nearing 2am, and Miranda was feeling a pleasant languor.

“Are you still coming home Tuesday?” Miranda questioned. She didn’t want to seem too eager, but she might as well accept that one had to reveal interest to move things forward. Playing it safe was not going to work this time, since there was no guarantee that Andrea would continue to pursue her if she didn’t tip her hand at least a little.

“Yes.”

“Mm.” Miranda considered it. She was booked that day, the morning hours packed with work meetings and the afternoon and evening to be spent with the girls. “How late?” she finally asked.

“I could probably be at your house by ten. If you wanted company, that is. I know the kids are home and that might make it… weird.” She chuckled. “Hell, this whole thing seems a little weird if you ask me.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s been a long time, Miranda. I don’t think that this—whatever we have going on—is the kind of thing that people could look at and say, ‘Oh, obviously.’ Do you disagree?”

“When you put it that way,” Miranda said, her lips twisting into something that resembled a smile, “you’re quite right. I don’t mind, though. I’ve never done the obvious thing. I can be unpredictable, or so I’ve been told.”

There was a cackle on the other end of the line. “Uh, I’ve heard that too. Now and again,” Andrea said. “So if I were to happen to show up at your house straight off the plane with a suitcase in hand, you won’t panic, right?”

“I would not panic,” said Miranda, feeling that joyful anticipation well up inside her once more. It was strange how certain nerve endings, dormant so long, remembered exactly how to work, reawakening and firing just as they’d never stopped. “If the girls are home you can see them.”

“Home? You think they’ll be out carousing?”

“Possibly,” Miranda sighed. “It’s odd to have daughters of age who don’t want their mother telling them a reasonable hour to arrive home, but apparently I’m not ready to let go of every rule in the house. When they were in high school, curfew was midnight, and I’ve pushed it to 2am as long as they have a driver. But still,” Miranda sighed, “I worry. And pray that whatever they get up to won’t end up in the tabloids.”

“Huh,” Andrea said, “I think I remember something happening a couple years back—”

“Oh yes,” Miranda interrupted, “Cassidy went out with an older boy from a very popular band when she was a junior. I didn’t feel comfortable putting a stop to it—I couldn’t, really. But it was, shall we say, distasteful to see a photo of my teenaged daughter kissing a 21-year-old in the Post.”

“And how did she react?”

“Not well. She’d only been on the periphery of public scrutiny until then, and learned quickly that it wasn’t her cup of tea.”

“I take it they broke up?”

“Thank god. He was a nice enough boy, but I have limits. I believe Cassidy’s dating at school, but Caroline’s much more closed mouthed. She’s never shown much interest in boys.”

There was a short pause. “How about girls?” Andrea asked.

Miranda blinked, impressed that Andrea would ask so plainly. “It’s occurred to me. We’ve talked about sex, and relationships, but if she’s leaning in one direction or another, she hasn’t told me.”

“Maybe if she finds out we’re seeing each other, she might open up. If that’s even an issue.”

“Perhaps. I suppose I’ll find out eventually.” How odd, Miranda thought. She could be right. “And your parents? What do you think they’d say if they knew about us?” Miranda stumbled slightly on the word “us,” suddenly self-conscious putting herself into part of that equation.

“I’ve no clue. They want me to be happy, and they’re liberal. I think they’d be more freaked out by our age difference than the gay thing. I’m not worried.”

Again, Miranda marveled at how easily Andrea spoke of the chasm that separated their ages. “Why not?”

Andrea laughed. “Miranda, I don’t plan on moving back to Cincinnati anytime soon. If they’re unhappy, it’s on them. And I don’t care that you’re older than me. You get that, don’t you?”

“I do,” Miranda said. She still had doubts, but was intent on ignoring them for now.

“Listen, not to sound like a jaded old news man, but I’ve seen a lot of shit in this world, Miranda. Things that make me question how the hell civilization has managed to survive, much less progress. I’ve looked into the eyes of a man who had every intention of killing me, even though he’d never met me before in his life. So when something, or someone, makes me feel good, I’m not letting go. You’re that someone. I hope that’s all right with you.”

Miranda’s heart thudded noisily in the otherwise silent bedroom. She looked at her hands, the veins raised and flushed with blood in the dim light. “It is,” she said softly. She searched for other words, but found none.

“Great,” Andrea added finally. There was a long pause, almost as though Andrea was allowing her lengthy diatribe to settle over both of them. After a sigh, she heard she question, “How about your folks? Think they’ll accuse you of robbing the cradle?”

Only a little uncomfortable, Miranda replied, “They’re both dead. The girls have only ever known one set of grandparents.”

“Oh,” Andrea said, her tone immediately contrite. “I’m so sorry, Miranda.”

“It’s all right. It’s been a long time.” After she’d left home at 17, her mother had never forgiven her, but her father had come around eventually and mended their relationship. His death had stung, and some days the wound of losing him twice opened up once more.

When she’d gone out on her own, she’d been younger than her girls were now. On occasion it amazed her that she’d survived New York with what little money she had to her name. Trying to imagine either Cassidy or Caroline fending for themselves in the city was outrageous. She was probably doing them a disservice, but they’d grown up sheltered and protected. Beloved, far more than Miranda had been.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” Miranda murmured, to break the first truly awkward silence she’d experienced with Andrea.

“You don’t have to—”

“I know. But I will. Just not at 2 in the morning over the phone.” She wished she could rub her cheek against Andrea’s before resting her head on the pillow, wished a slim arm could fall around her and hold her. “Will you sleep tonight?”

“I’ll try,” Andrea replied. “You?”

“I think so.”

“You can call me, or text you know, any time. There’s not a lot to do here. I raked some leaves with my dad today. Tomorrow I might help him clean out the gutters.”

“Thrilling,” Miranda said. “Don’t fall off the roof.”

“Not a chance. I’ve got plans for next week that I don’t want to miss.”

“See that you don’t.” Miranda waited for a moment, enjoying the tension fluttering between them despite the hundreds of miles keeping them apart. “I’ll speak to you soon. Sleep well.”

“I will. You too.” Andrea’s timbre sent a tingle down Miranda’s spine. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

When Miranda hung up, she was breathless. Not ten minutes later, she was out light a light, dreaming of rainfall, and burning leaves.

---

Andy opened her arms and Lily stepped into them, crushing her close. “Girl, it’s been too long,” Lily said, and Andy could hear the pleasure in her voice.

“Sure has.”

They parted, and Lily looked at her closely. “You look like shit on a hat. I can tell you’re not sleeping but you can explain why on the way. Come on, let’s get going.”

Andy laughed, but followed her down the steps and off the porch to the rental car that sat waiting in the driveway. It was freezing, and Andy pulled her scarf closer around her neck even during the few seconds it took for them to get to the car. “Nice ride,” Andy offered.

“Oh stop, it’s a Chevy. I miss my hybrid back home, but this was all they had left.”

“How’s the stereo?”

“Loud.” Lily glanced across the seat at her, a familiar expression on her face. “Got a phone in that giant bag of yours?”

“I do indeed,” Andy replied, retrieving it.

Lily handed over a white cord. “Hook it up.”

Andy scrolled through the hundreds of albums and settled on the one that was bound to make Lily go crazy. When the first strains of “Blister in the Sun” sounded through the speakers, Lily laughed and gunned the engine as a street light turned green. “Oh baby, you know what I like,” she drawled over the bass.

So they sang loudly enough for Andy to feel hoarse, and for a few minutes, the years fell away. The music brought her back to the nights when she and Lily would go out to football games, or concerts downtown, or clubs that would let them in without IDs. They never got into serious trouble, but Andy knew that was luck more than street smarts, because they’d done their fair share of stupid things. It was bittersweet to remember, because Andy had grown away from the young girl she’d been not so many years ago. As had Lily. Life was not what she’d thought it would be. But was it for anyone? She wondered how Lily felt. Maybe she would ask, if the time was right.

Soon they found their way to a new coffee shop near Fountain Square and settled in with strong cinnamon tea and two servings of chocolate cheesecake Andy felt guilty just looking at.

Lily got right to the point. “So, spill it. A, I want to hear about how you’re doing, and b, why the heck you’re hanging out with the Dragon Lady again. Who I guess isn’t as dragonesque as we originally thought, but I’ll let you tell me about that,” Lily said, before taking a healthy bite of her dessert.

Andy smiled, and shrugged. “How I’m doing… Well, better than I was that day in March,” Andy said, knowing Lily would understand the one in question. “After the first few days, I couldn’t face going back to work. I had flashbacks, all the time. I had a lot of bad dreams, night terrors. Waking up screaming and sweating, then not sleeping at all. I got my act together just long enough to do this two-part podcast about the lack of mental health services for the underinsured, then went to the company and said I needed a break. They gave me one, along with a very large check to keep me afloat. I think they were worried I’d sue or something, since I was on the job when it happened.”

Lily nodded, her face a picture of sympathy. “I bet.”

“It was really fucked up. But when I started therapy, like, really getting into it, I think a lot of the stuff that was happening to me was already going on before that day. I hadn’t really processed most of what I saw in the hot zones, and I still haven’t. The shooting just brought it all to the surface in one moment, and I couldn’t get back to normal.” She smiled ruefully. “Whatever that is.”

Lily’s eyes were steady as they watched her, drinking in every word. Not judging, only listening. “Okay.”

“I wasn’t sleeping well. I’m still not, much at least, but I’m trying. I’m on medication, to help with depression. I have something to take for anxiety if I need it. My therapist keeps telling me mindful meditation will help, but I’m not very good at it yet.”

“I’ve tried that. It isn’t easy.”

“Yeah. So, I’m doing better now, I think. Talking helped, and the meds were a godsend. Being in New York has been great. And I really love my therapist.”

“Thank goodness. I hate thinking of you in the big bad city all by your lonesome.” Lily’s face took on a dangerous grin. “Except I don’t think you’re lonesome, are ya.”

Andy rolled her eyes. “That is bad.”

“And so true. What’s up with Miranda?”

“I don’t know. I got this award, and she was there, and I just—all these things came bubbling up. She’s an overwhelming personality, and as gorgeous as she ever was. But there’s something different about her, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it.”

Lily snorted. “Maybe because she doesn’t get the privilege of seeing how high you can jump anymore.”

“Very funny,” Andy chuckled, knowing that even if Lily was joking, there was an element of truth to her words. “I told you, I don’t know. She was much more approachable. And she made me feel… calm. And safe.” Andy blinked, and decided to lay it all out there. “We slept together.”

Lily’s eyes got wide. “How was it?”

Andy realized what she said, and sat up straight. “No, no, we haven’t, um, done that yet. I mean we actually slept together. In her bed. I held her. She’s got insomnia, probably as bad as I do. It was weird, but great.”

“Geez.” Lily took a final bite of her cake and pushed the plate away. “What else?”

“We’ve taken a walk together, and sat around. I don’t feel like I have to talk every second I’m with her. It’s nice to be quiet. I think she fills something up in me just by being there. And I really… love it.”

Smiling, Lily asked, “Love? That’s a big word.”

Andy nodded, almost to herself. “I guess.”

“You think she feels the same way?”

Andy had no concrete proof, but she believed it anyway. “Yeah.”

Now Lily nodded, with a great big grin. “Well then. She must be worth it. You do realize she’s a million years old, right?”

“Oh please. You’ve seen pictures. She’s beautiful.”

“I’ll give you that,” Lily said. “She had work done?”

Andy scoffed. “As if I’d ask. If so it’s subtle enough to be invisible. Because I’ve been right up close.”

“Got your head in the lion’s mouth, huh?”

With a laugh, Andy leaned back. “Something like that.”

---

Miranda was jittery by the time Tuesday night arrived. She’d spoken to Andrea only sporadically since their marathon conversation over the weekend. A few texts had been exchanged, short messages that let Miranda know that Andrea was thinking of her, counting the minutes.

Miranda was still counting the minutes, especially because she knew Andrea’s plane had touched down almost half an hour earlier. She was probably still at JFK, waiting for baggage, but that made it no easier.

The girls were watching a ridiculously loud action movie on the huge-screen television, but both of them knew something was up. They each kept an eye on Miranda when they thought she wasn’t looking, which touched her. After the fourth time Miranda checked her phone for a text, the movie paused. “Mom, what is up with you?”

Miranda blinked, looking down into Cassidy’s eyes. “I’m expecting a call.”

Caroline rolled over and stared up. “From the person you think we’d want to meet?”

“Yes.”

“Who is it?” Cassidy asked pointedly.

Setting the phone down, Miranda finally said, “A friend. She’s coming to visit tonight, and I thought you could say hello.”

Cassidy rolled her eyes. “That’s a really in depth description, Mom. Does the friend have a name?”

Putting aside her hesitance, Miranda said, “Andy Sachs.”

Twin sets of eyes went wide. “No way! Andy’s coming here? Tonight?” Cassidy exclaimed. “That’s fantastic! Do we get to talk to her? Ask her about all the stuff she’s seen? Oh my god, Mom, she did this amazing podcast thing right after that congressman got shot. Everyone I know listened to it. She’s like, a genius.”

“I’m aware, darling. And while I’m sure you have many questions, I’d prefer it if you allow Andrea some time to sit and relax. She’s home now because she needed a break.” After a controlled breath, Miranda added, “She’ll be staying the night.”

Cassidy was practically ebullient in her reaction, while Caroline was thoughtful, watching Miranda with interested eyes. “Why?” Caroline asked. “Doesn’t she have a place in town?”

“She does,” Miranda began slowly, “but we’d like to spend some time together.”

Neither girl moved. “Spend time, like how?” Cassidy asked.

Heart in her throat, Miranda finally uttered, “We’re seeing each other.”

 

The room was utterly silent for a few seconds, before Cassidy managed a less than eloquent, “Huh?”

Miranda lifted an eyebrow. “I think you heard me.”

“You’re dating Andy Sachs? Isn’t she like, really young?” Cassidy questioned.

Miranda wanted to laugh. It truly was remarkable that age was of greater interest to her daughter than the fact that her mother had just revealed she was seeing a woman. “Well, she is young. Thirty four, in fact. That’s twenty five years my junior.”

A moment passed, during which Miranda watched Cassidy work things out silently. “That is a Holland Taylor-Sarah Paulson level of cool, Mom.” Cassidy glanced at Caroline. “Isn’t that cool, Caroline?”

Caroline remained still, with the exception of a dramatic flush that had crept up her neck. “So,” she started, “You’re, um, gay now?”

Glancing up at the ceiling, Miranda simply said, “You could call it that. Andrea interests me, more than anyone I’ve met in a very long time. I enjoy being with her.” And so far, their relationship was less centered around sex than others from her past, but she wasn’t about to bring that up with her children. It was odd enough to have to discuss this with them at all. She looked down again and sighed. “What else?”

“How long have you been dating?” Cassidy asked.

“Not long. A couple of weeks.” Dating felt like a rather juvenile term, but she had no other word for it, so she didn’t protest.

“Are you going to tell people?” she continued.

“I have no plans to hide it if anyone notices, but I don’t intend to hold a press conference.”

More silence followed, until Cassidy finally nudged Caroline. “Come on.”

“Um,” Caroline said, and swallowed. Her lips firmed, and Miranda’s heart skipped a beat. “I’m dating a girl at school.”

Miranda was very careful not to break eye contact. “All right.” She pondered what exactly to ask, since it was clear Caroline had probably not intended to tell her the news quite yet. “Are you happy?”

That seemed to be the last thing Caroline expected to come out of her mother’s mouth. She gaped, and Miranda waited. “Um, I guess. I like her.”

“She’s nuts about her,” Cassidy said. “I like her too. We’ve Facetimed a lot. I want to meet her. Do you think Caroline could bring her home next time—”

“Cass!” Caroline exclaimed.

“What? I haven’t gotten to meet her in person because of classes, and we’ll both be home again in March. That’s only in three months. There’s no harm in asking—”

“Perhaps,” Miranda interjected. “I would like to meet this young woman—what is her name?”

“Melissa,” Caroline said, pushing her hair behind her ear. At that moment she looked so young, and the expression in her eyes spoke of a tenderness that moved Miranda.

“Well, I look forward to learning more about her. We can talk about a visit home later.” Miranda glanced at Cassidy. “And you? Any secret paramours I ought to know about?”

“Please,” Cassidy said. “Like I’d hide it. Since that guy I met during orientation cheated on me after three weeks, I’m off men for a while. What an ass.”

Miranda held her tongue about profanity for once. “He certainly was,” she asserted, and Caroline nudged her sister with a shoulder, grinning. “Well then. Tell me more about Melissa, Caroline.”

---

Chapter Text

Andy paid the cab driver after he lifted her suitcase out of the trunk of the taxi. “Thanks,” she said distantly, barely noticing the car drive away as she pulled her luggage to the top of the stoop. Snow fell from the sky as though welcoming her back with a shower of white. It barely felt cold to Andy, since thoughts of Miranda warmed her through and through.

She knocked on the heavy wood, hesitant to ring the bell for some reason.

Moments later, the door swung open, and Miranda greeted her with a steady look. “Come in,” she said. “Let me help you.” She took the strap of the backpack as Andy hefted her rolling suitcase over the threshold. She was careful not to scuff the entryway.

“Hi,” Andy said finally, brushing the snow from her shoulders. She said it again as Miranda came close, her eyes warm and inviting. “Hi.”

Then they were in each other’s arms. Andy burrowed close, feeling at home, and happy. Miranda’s arms around her shoulders made her feel as though nothing could touch her; not bad dreams, or real dangers, or fear of either. She felt love, and was loved.

She knew that now. It might have been hanging over her from years before, all this affection and attachment, but it had finally bloomed. Andy had lots of experience loving other people, but it had been a while. It would take some getting used to.

“Welcome back,” Miranda said, and the words slid down Andy’s spine like honey. Suddenly she felt more than just attachment. Attraction, thick and deep, sprung up unexpectedly and trickled through her body. When Miranda’s hand brushed her shoulder blade, Andy shivered.

“Thanks,” she said, wondering if Miranda felt that same shock of heat. When she moved to look at Miranda’s face, she thought there was some reflection of longing there, but it was veiled. So much of Miranda was a mystery. Andy supposed she’d have to ask straight out, but not yet. “Are we—um—” she glanced around, looking for twins, or cooks, or housekeepers who might be watching.

“The girls are upstairs. We’re alone,” Miranda said. A glimmer of the lust Andy was so hoping for leapt out, and Miranda licked her lips.

“Well,” Andy said, trying not to let it show that she was suddenly breathing a little more heavily. “Is there any mistletoe around here or what?”

“In the den. This is close enough,” Miranda said, moving in and finding Andy’s mouth. It was just as she remembered; exploratory and somewhat hesitant, which made Andy want more all at once. When Miranda’s tongue reached out, Andy flicked at it, grabbing at the back of Miranda’s head and angling her own to the right. They both “mmed,” and Andy snuck her cold fingers up the back of Miranda’s sweater. There was a gasp, and as Miranda’s lips opened wider, Andy took full advantage. She stepped back, pulling Miranda with her until they fell against the front door in a full-on make out. It was only when Miranda’s leg slipped between hers that Andy recalled where they were, and who else was in the house. She held back a moan, trembling with delight and a tinge of regret.

“You should, ah, stop that now if you don’t mind. I’m supposed to be reasonably coherent when I meet your kids again, aren’t I?” Andy said, trying desperately not to breathe her “my most recent meal was fast food in an airport” breath in Miranda’s face. Mints had covered the worst of it, but she was still self-conscious.

“Oh,” Miranda said, her gaze darting all around the townhouse in a hurry. “Right.” She put a hand atop her head, just cross-eyed enough to make Andy feel smug. “I need a minute, I think.”

“Me too,” Andy said, dropping her voice low and smiling conspiratorially. “Want to sit?”

“Of course.” Miranda’s hand rested against Andy’s lower back as she led her into a formal sitting room that Andy had spent no time in at all. It was somewhat cold, but it would do. They sat on a sofa that was expensive, pretty, and uncomfortable. Instead of leaning back, Andy nudged herself forward, knees touching Miranda’s. She reached out to hold her hand.

Miranda stroked the sensitive skin of Andy’s palm. “How was the flight?”

She shrugged. “Quick but bumpy. The wind was rough, so I’m glad I made it in before the snow gets going.”

Miranda blanched. “Snow?”

Andy nodded. “We’re supposed to get a few inches tonight.” Briefly she wondered if Miranda was panicked that Andy might get stuck there longer than just overnight. “But I’m sure it won’t even stick. It’s not that cold. I’ll be able to head home in the morning.”

Her face relaxing, Miranda’s eyebrow lifted. “That’s not what I was concerned about. It’s only that the girls are scheduled to leave for their father’s the day after tomorrow for New Year’s. If the weather is bad in Connecticut they might get their wish after all.”

“What wish is that?”

“To stay in town. They’re not big fans of spending three days in Hartford, playing board games and Wii with their step-siblings. Plus, the Elias-Clarke New Year’s Eve party is usually quite something.”

Elias-Clarke party. The words echoed in Andy’s mind. She found herself torn, wanting both to be invited and to stay home on New Year’s, a night she never really enjoyed.

Miranda continued. “I wasn’t looking forward to the event myself. I rarely do. But I’ll go.” She blinked, as though waking up from a dream. “Might you consider… coming along?”

Andy inhaled carefully, attempting to play it cool. “Sure. That could be fun.”

“I offer no guarantees, but I’d appreciate the company.”

“And you’re not… uncomfortable at the idea of people seeing us together?”

Miranda ran a hand through her hair. “May as well ring in the new year not with a whimper but a bang, I always say.”

Laughing, Andy nuzzled Miranda’s hand. “I’d like to be there for that.” She nodded once more. “Then yes, for sure. I’ll go. Might need a hand picking something out to wear.”

A roll of the eyes was the exact response Andy had been aiming for, and she got it. “Of course I’ll help you. You can drop in the office tomorrow, or any day this week if you like. We’ll find something. In fact, there’s one thing—something from a new designer—I think it may be perfect for you. It’s crimson, and—yes,” Miranda said, tilting her head and trailing her eye down Andy’s body. “Crimson may be ideal. There’s one in jade as well, but with your skin tone—”

Andy waved her hand in Miranda’s face. “Hey, how about you dress me up in your head later, okay?” Miranda looked up, not chagrined exactly, but contrite. “I’d rather hear how your holiday was.”

“Oh, fine,” Miranda said. “Lots of presents, and the girls played music all day and forced me to watch them play video games for two hours. I thought after they went to college all of that would be over, but I was unfortunately wrong.”

“You’re never too old for gaming, I guess.”

“We had a lovely dinner, and they helped me cook. Caroline has been taking classes. She bought a pasta maker, so we had an Italian Christmas day.”

Andy was impressed. “Handmade pasta? Wow. I never thought of you as the type to cook from scratch.”

“Well, consider yourself surprised.” Miranda put a hand to her throat. “I find it very rewarding to cook for family and friends, when I have time.”

“I’ve never made pasta before. Maybe I can try it sometime.”

Miranda nodded. “Yes.”

“Take any walks while I was gone?”

“Nocturnal? No. One though, on Christmas Eve, up the road where we went before.”

“That’s a nice walk,” Andy said, thinking about the quiet moments they shared then. Perhaps Miranda was saying she’d thought of Andy in her absence, but didn’t have the words.

“It was.”

Silence crept between them, and unlike before, it wasn’t so relaxing. Now Andy felt nervous, wanting to reach out but uncertain how, or what it might mean. Fortunately it didn’t last, because Miranda asked softly, “How was it with your parents?”

Andy glanced up at the ceiling, in search of the perfect word. “It was… bizarre. They didn’t ask a lot of questions about how I’m doing after that—” she paused, remembering how her therapist had encouraged her to start saying the words— “the shooting. We talked around it. I think they were afraid of what I’d say. We talk on the phone once a week or so, but it tends to be pretty generic.”

“Mm.”

“They want me to be happy, and normal. They don’t want an adult child with depression and PTSD. I mean, they get it, but my mom seemed upset that I take medication. She’s more into the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ school of thought.” Andy shrugged her shoulders. “It wasn’t a big deal, though. They were glad to see me, and I was glad to see them.”

As Miranda lifted a hand to stroke Andy’s cheek, her expression melted into something so tender that Andy wanted to weep. Instead, she pressed her forehead to Miranda’s and breathed, all the while wondering what the hell she was doing falling in love.

---

In Andrea’s absence, Miranda started wondering what the future would hold, both personally and professionally, if Andrea chose to return to her globe-trotting ways. Would she would stay in New York or disappear to some other part of the world, far away from the Upper East Side? With Andrea gone to Cincinnati, it reminded Miranda of what life had been like without her, just a few weeks before. It sapped some of the hope stirring in her belly to know that their time together may end in the not too distant future. She didn’t want to think about that, and instead focused on what was right in front of her. Especially with Andrea here, so beautiful and caring.

Now, Miranda watched as Andrea talked to her girls, who had politely waited for them upstairs until Miranda was ready to make introductions. As they all chatted, Andrea answered the twins’ questions thoughtfully, her occasional kooky laugh making Miranda smile too. But there was a twinge of sadness beneath it all, one that Miranda couldn’t completely ignore.

After half an hour, Miranda stood and wheeled Andrea’s bag up another flight of steps to her room. She dressed for bed in silk pajama pants and a camisole, covering up with her robe before heading down to say goodnight.

Andrea was reclining on the couch, listening intently as Caroline talked about her classes. “Your kids turned out smart, Miranda. Despite their best efforts to the contrary,” she quipped.

Cassidy chuckled. “Yeah, we tried pretty hard, didn’t we.”

Miranda raised an eyebrow. “I let them get away with murder until they hit 13, but things changed. A few assistants after you, Andrea, they did all their own school work.”

“It sucked, but it worked out,” Cassidy said. “It wasn’t like we couldn’t do it, after all—we just didn’t want to.”

“And now you’re both doing well?” Andrea asked.

“I’ll make the Dean’s list, and I think so will Cass,” Caroline said. “Even though she always waits till the last minute to write her papers.”

“Well, that’s not so unusual,” Cassidy countered. “I finish on time. That’s more than I can say for a lot of people.”

They bantered for a few minutes, arguing about past incidents of near disastrous school projects that always managed to end successfully, and when Miranda glanced at Andrea, she seemed perfectly at peace. Her expression said she was in no hurry to go anywhere.

Neither was Miranda.

So they all stayed together for another hour, until Cassidy yawned one too many times. “Considering you got up at 10am, I’m surprised you’re tired,” Miranda said.

“I’m still a teenager. We need a lot of sleep,” she said. “I guess I’ll hit it. Coming, Care?”

“Yeah. I’ve got some reading to do anyway.” Caroline crossed to kiss Miranda good night. “See you in the morning,” she said.

“See you in the morning,” Miranda echoed. Cassidy kissed her too, and they both waved to Andy.

“Bye Andy. You like eggs?” Cassidy asked.

“Sure,” Andrea answered.

“Great. You’re cooking tomorrow—I like mine over easy,” Cassidy joked, bolting from the room before Miranda could give her a piece of her mind.

Miranda watched Andrea as she laughed, enjoying the lines that framed her mouth. She truly had grown lovelier as she’d left her youth behind. Briefly it made Miranda self-conscious to think of her body and its changes, but there was nothing to be done about it now.

“Ready to go upstairs?” Andrea asked.

“Yes,” Miranda answered, and she stood, beckoning for Andrea to follow. When she turned the lights off, she said softly, “You don’t have to stay in my room if you don’t want to.”

But Andrea put her hand on Miranda’s lower back and replied, “I want to.” A cloud of warmth expanded out from where Andrea touched her, spreading through her limbs. It made her slow to move, but Andrea pushed her along gently, urging her toward the room they would share. When they arrived, Miranda turned to ask if she wanted to use the bathroom first, but Andrea didn’t want to hear it. She pulled Miranda into her arms right away, into a kiss languid and long.

“Do you want—” Miranda managed as Andrea’s lips trailed down her neck, “to put on your pajamas?”

Andrea paused, her breath hot between Miranda’s collarbones. “I hadn’t planned to, but I can.”

Uncertainty swelled up in Miranda—where was all this self-consciousness coming from? She wanted Andrea, very badly, or at least she thought she did. The longing was there, and her body was reacting as though it was interested, but it had been some time since she’d shared a bed with anyone at all. Things were not the same for her as they had been. Smelling Andrea’s rich scent, feeling her lush, firm body made Miranda feel a thousand years old.

Andrea lifted her head, touched her cheek. “Be honest,” she said. “We owe each other that. We don’t have to do anything if you’re not certain.” Fingers caressed Miranda’s ear, sending a chill down her spine.

“I don’t know how to say—” Miranda closed her eyes and took a breath. “I’ve been through menopause.”

Andrea blinked. “Okay.”

Might as well get things out on the table. “Things, including my libido, don’t quite work the same way they used to.”

Nodding faintly, Andrea asked, “We can try, if you want to. I don’t exactly have any preconceived notions about sex with you, other than my, uh, fantasies. And they include wanting to make you feel good.” She swallowed, and Miranda saw the desire clearly on her face. “Really good. Better than good.”

“And I’d like to remind you of my age,” Miranda added, and regretted the words the instant they came out of her mouth.

But Andrea just smiled. “Consider me reminded. And since we’re talking about the important things, I’ve been tested recently, and everything’s a-okay.”

That surprised Miranda, who hadn’t been tested recently, but then again she’d had no reason to be. “I’ve—well, yes. I don’t have anything either.” Unless she’d caught something from her vibrator.

“Excellent. So,” she said lightly, and Miranda suspected she was trying to hold back her eagerness. “We give it a shot?”

“Yes,” Miranda said, before she could change her mind. If it wasn’t wonderful, she would just have to figure it out afterwards.

“Kiss me,” Andrea said, and Miranda did. That slow burn fired inside her, and it flared up at Andrea’s low moan. Arms clutched at her waist as Andrea moved them back toward the bed. Miranda felt overwhelmed, because when Andrea turned it on, she held nothing back. Pulling at the robe, she bit at Miranda’s shoulders, raking her teeth all the way across. Her breath was a frenzy and her hands cupped and squeezed everywhere they touched. When she reached Miranda’s breast, she just pulled the chemise down artlessly, sucking the nipple straight into her mouth.

Miranda’s knees dipped, and her brain lit up. For the first time, she thought that perhaps she’d been wrong, believing that the sex would be less thrilling now than it had been before. By the time she could focus again, Andrea had thrown the robe and chemise on the floor and was working the knot of her pants. “Shit, I made it tighter. Help!”

So Miranda did, feeling silly at her half-naked state, but then Andrea actually tore her own shirt open, sending buttons across the room. Andrea’s bra was gorgeous, but her breasts were magnificent. Then her trousers fell, and of course the panties matched, and when Andrea straightened up, Miranda was still standing there, unable to work her fingers because this glorious creature had her completely gob-smacked. Andrea knocked her hands aside and knelt, clearly trying to be calm as she fussed with the tiny knot. “Can’t believe this,” she muttered. “Here—” she yanked at Miranda’s pants, which truly had betrayed the both of them by refusing to budge.

“Wait,” Miranda said, and lunged for the dressing table, where she kept a tiny scissors for stray threads. “I’ve got it.” She snipped once. The string came apart, and Andrea grabbed her around the waist, kneeling to kiss her belly as she pulled the pajamas down and off.

“Got you,” Andrea moaned, “I’ve got you.” She licked at Miranda’s pelvic bone, hands cupping her ass.

“The bed,” Miranda said, worrying that she wouldn’t be able to stand much longer. Andrea loosened her grip and Miranda backed up a few feet and found herself sitting on the mattress. Before she could decide what to do next, Andrea was there, still kneeling, urging Miranda to sit up long enough to get her underwear off. She pushed Miranda’s legs open and stared, brushing at the trimmed, nearly colorless hair with her thumb.

“Can’t wait to do this,” she said. “Ready?”

Miranda’s eyebrows went up. They were starting with that? “Um—”

But Andrea was already there, lifting the tufts of hair and kissing lightly. Miranda fell backwards onto her elbows. It was exciting, but she was distracted. “I’m sorry—” she muttered, and Andrea’s head came up.

“What?” she panted.

Swallowing her pride, she said. “I want this, I do, but I don’t get as wet as I used to—”

Andrea’s grin was lecherous. “I think I can help with that.” She licked her lips, and the gesture was wildly sexual. “It’s not a problem.” She put her head back down between Miranda’s legs and licked, her tongue agile as it slipped around her folds.

“Oh fuck,” Miranda said, arching because it felt so good. She felt Andrea’s chuckle and laughed herself. Closing her eyes, she forgot about how old she was, and how young Andrea was, instead concentrating on how good everything felt. Andrea’s hands played at her nipples while her wet tongue slid inside, and Miranda groaned.

She pushed her hips up toward Andrea’s mouth, opening wider. Again she was anxious for a moment; it might take her a while, but Andrea seemed to be in no hurry. In fact, she appeared to be enjoying herself quite a lot. Andrea brought one hand down, rubbing and stroking Miranda, but she never tried to go inside. Soon, sooner than Miranda expected, she felt the stirrings of an impending climax. “There, oh yes, there, there,” she hissed, and Andrea’s tongue got quicker, more focused. “Oh yes, yes—” A few more strokes, despite all her earlier worries, she came. And it was huge. Pleasure throbbed through her, exploding out through her nerve-endings. She hoped that the girls hadn’t heard her moans. But it had been phenomenal, and she’d deserved to enjoy it. “Oh my god. Oh my god.”

Andrea kissed her thigh open-mouthed before crawling up on the bed to straddle Miranda. “You’re wonderful, wonderful,” she repeated, leaving kisses all the way up her body. “Oh, Miranda.”

Miranda reached up with both hands to hold Andrea’s breasts briefly before unfastening her bra. When she sat up, once more Miranda was struck mute by her beauty; her skin was so light, breasts tipped with pale nipples drawn tight. She barely knew where to begin. “How do you—”

Before she could finish, Andrea dipped forward and pressed their bodies together, legs twining. “Just want to be close to you.” She rubbed against Miranda’s hip, and even through her panties Miranda could feel the heat and wetness. Her eyes were closed in pleasure and she hummed as she moved. But Miranda wanted to do more than just hold her; she slid her hand between them into Andrea’s underwear. Andrea jerked, cursing under her breath and whining. Miranda inched down to get a better angle, sliding two fingers inside. Andrea’s eyes flew open, her expression filled with a fierce affection, and it made Miranda’s heart open. Hips thrust down fast and hard until Andrea lurched forward, grabbing Miranda’s hand and holding it to her as she pulsed tightly, climaxing. Her eyes nearly closed as she whimpered her way through it.

“Ohh,” Miranda sighed as Andrea relaxed, slumping half onto the bed, half onto Miranda.

Miranda wrapped her free arm around one shoulder and held her, wondering if Andrea could hear the blood rushing through her heart.

---

Andy hadn’t had sex with anyone for a while—it had to have been over a year. She’d had a one night stand with an American soldier in Pakistan, and he’d been sweet but uninterested in attachment. Andy wasn’t interested either, and their night had been little more than two rounds on a cot under a scratchy blanket in terrible heat. She’d had a good enough time. They’d both had a lot to drink, but not so much that she hadn’t insisted on a condom, or been paranoid about being interrupted by another soldier busting into the tent.

Tonight was very unlike that encounter.

For one thing, Miranda was beautiful. For another, she was surprisingly shy. Andy knew a bit about what happened when a woman went through menopause, so she’d deliberately not pressed her luck with her fingers. Not that it made a difference to her—the point was to make Miranda come. It’s not as though she was unfulfilled by lack of penetration, but from the way Miranda was acting she’d probably have to reiterate that. Andy was pretty happy with how things shook out, personally. Miranda tasted wonderful, and not just between her legs; her skin was salty and fresh and clean, but most of all real. It felt so nice to be close to her, and she couldn’t move very well since her orgasm had sapped the energy right out of her body. She shifted to her side so she wouldn’t crush Miranda, and rested her head in the crook of her shoulder.

Her eyes closed, and she drifted. She laughed once as she fell asleep, because her dream Miranda had said something hilarious as they walked down the street.

To Andy’s great disappointment, she woke at 3am. When she lifted her head from Miranda’s shoulder, Miranda inhaled audibly, and her eyes opened. “What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Andy replied. “Just woke up.”

Miranda glanced at the clock at the bedside. “Hmm. Right on time.”

So much for Miranda curing my insomnia. “I guess. I thought I’d get through the night.”

Miranda chuckled. “Considering how fast you fell asleep, I thought you would too.”

Andy rolled her eyes, but had to grin. “Just like a man, huh.”

A hand stroked through Andy’s hair. “Not even remotely. But it was amusing, nonetheless.”

“Couldn’t help it,” Andy sighed, inhaling Miranda’s warm, sleepy smell. “After the flight and my family and everything, I was tired. And you know, really good sex can do that to a person.”

There was a short pause. “Was it?” Miranda asked lightly. “Good?”

Ah, Andy thought. They could talk about it now, get it out of the way. “Yep.” She glanced up and wished there was a light on so she could see Miranda’s face better. “I thought it was fabulous. How about you?”

Miranda’s chest lifted as she breathed in. “Well, yes, I agree. I simply hoped that you weren’t disappointed.”

A few charming quips came to mind, but at the moment, they probably wouldn’t go over well. Time to be very, very straightforward. “So, I’m going to say this, okay, and don’t interrupt me till I’m done.” Miranda opened her mouth, and Andy barreled on. “I don’t have a penis, in case you didn’t notice. I mean, I’d be happy to be inside you, but if you don’t want that, I don’t either. Ever. It’s not something I’ll miss. I’ve been with a woman before, Miranda, but I don’t have any proclivities that aren’t getting satisfied here, okay?”

After a few seconds, Miranda nodded silently.

“Good.” It was time for a few questions of her own. “Does it hurt if you try?”

Miranda shrugged. “I haven’t, not for a long time. There’s just not as much happening down there—”

She wanted to crack up at Miranda’s use of “down there” as a euphemism, but wisely she kept it to herself. Instead she interjected, “Oh, how I beg to differ,” and pictured Miranda rolling her eyes.

Miranda scoffed, which was just as good a reaction. “Please. Everything takes longer, and you know about the rest. But I suppose you’re right. I haven’t planned to take hormones, but I may look into other options that could help if it makes sense.” Andy waited, and this time the silence lasted much longer than before. “Assuming this is something you’d like to do again.”

Andy closed her eyes, and laid her head back down on Miranda’s shoulder. “It is, Miranda. Definitely. Count on it.”

Truly, she didn’t know how it would all evolve, but she knew two things: she wanted to be able to work again, and she wanted Miranda. It might take a while to figure it out, but between the two of them, Andy thought they could achieve anything.

Softly, she caressed Miranda’s shoulder. She listened carefully until Miranda’s breathing evened out, and applauded herself for helping her lover back to sleep. Slowly she eased from the bed and found Miranda’s robe.

Downstairs, she crept into the library where Miranda did most of her work, and found a novel she remembered hearing about years ago but never had a chance to read. She had the time now. She had loads of time, and for once, it felt like a luxury.

---

In the morning, Miranda held back a blush when she ate breakfast with Andrea and the girls. No one said anything suspicious, and that was a huge relief. Cassidy was the one she was most concerned about—her mouth had often gotten her into trouble with both herself and her father, and of course half the instructors at Dalton. She wondered if the same thing was happening at Brown, but somehow she doubted it. Her daughter had matured over the past three months. Miranda was a little disappointed by that. Watching the young woman her child had become filled her with pride, but she missed the hellraiser too. The one who had drowned her pancakes in syrup and butter, the one who would rather break a dish than wash it. She seemed almost serene, and wiser than her years. Miranda held a hand out and brushed it through Cassidy’s hair, surprised to find tears in her eyes.

“Mom?” she asked, already alert.

Miranda just waved her hand and stood up, although her plate was not yet empty of fruit. “Nothing,” she said, and sat back down again.

“Are you sure?” Cassidy said, touching Miranda on the shoulder, and it made Miranda feel miserable to miss her daughters while they were actually in the room with her. They would leave soon, though, and the bittersweetness welled up in her and spilled over. Later she would blame Andrea’s presence for pulling so much emotion to the surface, but now, she just wanted to hold her girls and tell them she loved them. So she did.

When Cassidy hugged her, with Caroline hovering nearby, she sniffled. “I just love you and I’m glad you’re home.” At that, Cassidy’s arms tightened, and Caroline moved behind Miranda’s chair and held her too. Andrea was silent as a sphinx, watching them with soft eyes, coffee cup steady in her hand. Miranda felt no shame at this burst of feeling. It was a pleasure to be so close to the girls, and the tears soon slowed to nothing, and she kissed the cheeks of both of them. “Don’t mind your mother, girls. It’s a bit of empty nest syndrome.”

Caroline moved back to her chair, but still scooted closer. “Well you won’t be rid of us as fast as you expected anyway. There’s no way we’re going to Hartford.”

Miranda nodded, glancing out onto the small, snow-covered backyard. “I think it’s still coming down,” she said. “I’ll call your father and let him know.”

“Don’t let him talk you into it, Mom,” Cassidy said. “I know the train would get us there but I really, really don’t want to go. I can fake a cold, anyway. He wouldn’t want his precious twinsies to be exposed to any germs. Or Jillian won’t.”

Andrea glanced at Cassidy. “Twinsies?”

“He ended up with another set. Haley and Stevie. They’re eight. They’re sweet, don’t get me wrong, but I really don’t feel like learning to crochet with Jillian, or sitting in on her holiday book club, or whatever weird activities she’s got planned.”

“Totes,” Caroline agreed. “She asked about that scarf she made me start knitting last year, and I told her I finished it and gave it to someone.” She grimaced. “Whoops.”

“Don’t worry, girls, I’ll take care of it.” She doubted Jeffrey would mind much; he was very occupied with his young wife and children. But something occurred to her that gave her a start, and she sat up in her seat.

“Miranda?” Andrea asked. “You have the funniest look on your face.”

“Well, I—” She was almost chagrined, but not quite. “Well, Jillian is Jeffrey’s third wife, and I’ve often teased him about… her youth.”

Both twins’ eyes got very wide, and Cassidy’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, wow. I never thought about that.”

“How old is she?” Andy asked.

Miranda pressed her lips together, hoping not to laugh when she said it. “43.”

Andrea’s eyebrows flew up, and she clapped a hand to her mouth. She laughed then, the most evil-sounding laugh Miranda had ever heard from her. She slapped a hand to her thigh and the twins joined in, giving Andrea high-fives across the table. “Well, you’ve got that beat,” Andrea said. “Think he’ll let you have it?”

Miranda could only imagine. “Oh, undoubtedly.” She glanced at Andrea, and laughed. This was one issue about which she would not mind being teased. Not when she had this prize all to herself.

---

Andy spent the morning with Miranda at Runway, not paying any attention to the odd looks she got from various clackers. Some faces were familiar, since a few had survived the occasional layoffs as the business shifted. Lots of people she didn’t know recognized her from her reporting, and one young woman introduced herself in the Closet and started to say how huge a fan she was, at least until Miranda appeared holding the crimson dress of earlier conversation. At that, the woman froze and scurried away as if terrified.

“Good to know you haven’t lost your touch,” Andy had quipped. Miranda only smirked.

Now that she’d been fitted with a dress that was being hemmed and adjusted to fit her frame like a glove, she could sit around and do nothing in the townhouse. That afternoon she stopped at home to pick up a few things to wear, and to grab a bottle of nice wine she’d stashed for just such an occasion. Most of the day she spent reading in Miranda’s library, remembering how nice it was to be still, to get lost in another world. Not to say it wasn’t a challenge to stay focused; her attention span was far shorter than it should have been. But she tried, and burned through a hundred pages of a novel until Cassidy interrupted a little before dinner time.

“Do you think Mom already talked to my dad? About us staying here?”

Andy nodded. “She left a message this morning. I’m sure they’ve already spoken.”

Cassidy flopped down in the plush armchair across from the sofa where Andy reclined. “I like hanging out with them, don’t get me wrong. I’d just rather go to the Elias-Clarke party. And two sets of twins in one house can get a little complicated,” she said, her eyebrows waggling.

“I’m sure,” Andy replied. “Do you get along with the kids?”

With a nod, Cassidy inspected her manicure. “Pretty much. They’re sort of horrible though. They looove to play tricks on anyone and everyone.”

“Hmm. I guess it came from your dad’s side of the family.”

“What?” Cassidy asked.

“Uh, like you don’t know.”

A few seconds passed. “Oh.” Cassidy had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well, we were younger then. And bored. Besides, Mom’s assistants were always good targets. She never fired them for anything we did, by the way.”

With a laugh, Andy said, “She almost fired me. Believe me, I remember very, very clearly.”

“Oh yeah? I guess you would. You were like, barely a blip on the radar for us though. How long were you at Runway?”

“Not quite a year.”

Cassidy peered closely at Andy, and Andy felt a little uncomfortable. The gaze reminded her of her mother, as if she were assessing and finding her wanting. “Couldn’t hack it, huh?”

“Decided not to hack it,” Andy corrected. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

“Fair enough. Mom seems to like you now though. Were you guys, you know, together back then?”

“No way. I doubt we had much in common other than Runway.” Andy knew there had been more between them then, or at least there was a complexity to her own feelings toward Miranda at that time, but that was not for Cassidy to hear.

“Do you have more in common now?”

Andy thought about it. “Maybe. I feel much differently about her, and about myself too. I was so young, barely older than you are now. I thought I knew it all.” She chuckled. “I found out I don’t know anything, and every year I seem to know a little less.”

Cassidy rolled her eyes. “Don’t make it sound like you’re so old. You’re not even 35. But you do seem kind of down…” Cassidy tilted her head, as though some burst of understanding had just come over her. “Listen, a friend of mine at school, well, she’s depressed. In a major way. Or she was, anyway. She got help. Maybe you need somebody to talk to?”

Andy watched her, impressed by her insight. She smiled gratefully. It was refreshing to have someone ask so clearly. “I’m getting help. And depression’s a factor, but it’s just a part of a lot of stuff that’s happened.”

Cassidy nodded. “You saw something awful.”

Andy bobbed her head. “I did. But I’m lucky. I survived, and I get to see your mom, and you two. It’s just tough to—not forget, exactly—but to keep my memories from controlling me.”

“I’m glad you’re seeing a shrink. I was in therapy for a while, me and Caroline both. Between the divorces and always being in the papers and you know, general hormonal insanity, we had a rough patch. Plus I went out with that guy—” Andy knew the one she meant, “—and he turned out to be a real douchebag.” She sat back and stared into nothingness, and Andy wondered what was on her mind. “Sometimes,” Cassidy said softly, “I think about what life might have been like if Mom wasn’t who she is. If we were just a regular family that nobody knew about. If maybe then she and my dad would never have split, if mom was just a housewife in New Jersey or whatever.”

Andy let that simmer for a moment before asking, “What do you believe?”

Cassidy chuckled. “If mom was a nobody, she and Dad wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be here. So it doesn’t really make any difference.”

Andy shook her head at Cassidy’s slightly bitter expression. “You are who you are, Cassidy. You can’t change where you come from but you can look at your life with a critical eye and decide where you’re going. Where you want to be.”

With a shrug, Cassidy assented. “I guess. I always got the impression that Mom wanted us to go into the industry, maybe even work at the magazine. But we’re not interested.”

“What are you studying?”

“I’ll probably end up doing English, with a concentration on writing. Maybe teach somewhere, or just keep going and get a Masters. Caroline is trying art and design. She wants to work on websites. We’d rather do stuff unrelated to fashion.”

Andy chose not to mention either that Runway’s pages were filled with articles written by some of the most respected authors and essayists of the 21st century, or that Caroline’s interest in design had undoubtedly been influenced by an aesthetic considered the best in the business. They’d figure it out eventually, and they’d learn to appreciate everything their mother’s work had taught them, even by osmosis. “Sounds good,” she said simply.

Cassidy stood and scanned some of the library shelves for a few minutes. She pulled something down and flipped through it before saying, “I’m going to get a snack. Want anything?”

Andy replied, “No, I’m good. Thanks for the chat, though.”

“Sure,” Cassidy said, leaving the room in silence. As conversations with teenagers went, that one was pretty good. Andy smiled, and went back to reading.

---

When Miranda arrived home, the house was quiet, but it was a different kind of quiet than the usual. She knew that upstairs, her daughters were enjoying their vacation doing heaven knew what, and that somewhere, Andy was waiting for her. She roamed the first floor and came up empty, but there was a pot on the stove with the fire on low. She lifted the lid and smiled—stew, with vegetables, potatoes and meat. Perfect for tonight. Miranda shivered over the hot broth.

“Hey, that’s supposed to be a surprise,” Andrea said, not quite sneaking up on her. “Geez, even your coat is cold. Take this off.” She slid the heavy wool from Miranda’s shoulders and tossed it on a kitchen chair. “Hi honey, welcome home. I made dinner.”

“Very domestic.” Miranda replaced the pot’s lid and took Andrea in her arms. “Where’d you learn to cook?”

Andrea smirked. “An old boyfriend.” At Miranda’s look of suspicion, Andrea chuckled. “This is my mom’s recipe. Just the basics. I know you probably won’t eat it but there’s fresh bread too.”

“You made bread?”

Andrea nodded. “I found a bread maker in a cupboard and I couldn’t resist.”

“I’ll have some of everything.”

“Good. And who gave you a bread maker? Didn’t they know about your aversion to carbs?”

“Some of us enjoy baking as much as we enjoy eating, darling,” Miranda said. She meant it.

“You bake bread?”

“Mm. I find the process, and the smells, very comforting. And for the record, I do eat bread. Just not every second of the day, like some people,” she teased, glancing sideways in Andrea’s direction.

“Hey, bread is one of the finer things in life. I’d rather be a six than a four if it means I get to enjoy the delights of a crusty baguette. Not to mention ice cream now and then.”

Miranda smiled gently, not bothering to add that she was starting to come around to that particular point of view. “When can we eat?”

“Now. I’ll see if Cass and Caroline are up for it.”

A few minutes later, they gathered around the small table in the kitchen. The smells were divine, and Miranda’s mouth actually watered as Andrea ladled out a full bowl of stew. The bread was still warm, with a little butter melting into the softness. A salad of greens, walnuts and ribbons of parmesan was a crisp counterpoint, as was the glass of light syrah from a bottle that Andy had opened an hour or so before. The soup warmed her, the meat melting in her mouth as she chewed. “My god,” she mumbled. “It’s wonderful.”

“Thanks,” Andrea replied, looking very pleased with herself.

“Bet you could get used to this,” Cassidy said, winking at Caroline so quickly Miranda almost missed it.

“Indeed I could,” Miranda said, ignoring the thought that she should not, in fact, get used to this, because Andrea may soon be on her way once she returned to her career, and that would be the end of it.

“I’m glad you like it,” Andrea said, and something in her tone made Miranda look up. Her expression was enigmatic; open, and not sad in the least, but not particularly happy either. It made Miranda want to enjoy the moment, and not think of the future in all its uncertainties.

She reached across the table and took Andrea’s hand for a moment. “Thank you,” she said.

“Welcome.”

“Yeah, thanks, Andy,” Caroline said, and the heaviness loosened between them. “You know I bake bread too. Mom taught me. I can even make it without the machine. There’s this amazing recipe from the New York Times using a dutch oven...”

Caroline prattled on about bread for a while, and Miranda was able to listen with most of her attention. She forgave herself for being maudlin about the future that would come after their dalliance. Still, she couldn’t find it in her heart to regret their coupling. May-December romances were made to be brief, and she knew that. It was only a shame that she had to feel the pain of departure before it had even happened.

---

That night, Andy dressed in light flannel pajamas her mother had given her for Christmas, and laughed at Miranda’s critical expression.

“It is winter, Miranda,” Andy said. “These are for cold weather.”

“I’ve installed a rather advanced radiant heating system in my home. I don’t see any reason to pretend you’re on the arctic tundra.”

Andy just licked her lips. “I hear body heat’s the best way to stay warm anyway. Maybe I should—” She began to unbutton her top, and Miranda’s eyes glazed over. So much for Miranda’s post-menopausal status. She’d thought maybe Miranda’s sex drive would be a little less revved up than Andy’s, but she was wrong. They rolled around for awhile on top of the covers, kissing and petting until Andy’s underwear was pretty much done for. It was a return to her teenage years, when she had done a lot of everything but sex, no matter how much she’d wanted to. But this time she knew it would lead to somewhere wonderful, even if it didn’t end in orgasm. She would share Miranda’s bed, and they would wake up together.

Of course it did end in orgasm for the both of them, and for Andy it happened twice since Miranda went down on her with enormous enthusiasm. She felt entirely exposed, since Miranda kept the lights on and examined her intently, keeping her eyes open with every lick and kiss and caress. It didn’t take long for Andy, who jammed the back of her wrist against her mouth to keep from crying out. That seemed to do something for Miranda, who crawled up and straddled Andy, kissing her desperately. Andy touched her, surprised at the amount of wetness she found. She was gentle and careful and didn’t go inside, and Miranda moaned and whined quietly as if she enjoyed the process of making love far more than she had the previous night. This time it really was about something other than just the result. When she came, Andy watched her face from very close up, and could feel the wondrous flutter beneath her fingers. Miranda exhaled in a sob, Andy felt utterly grateful, and so in love it nearly hurt.

Miranda used the bathroom before settling down to bed, and she rolled her eyes when Andy pulled her pajama top back on. “I like being comfortable,” Andy said. “I spent enough nights miserable when I was overseas.”

“Yes, yes,” Miranda replied, and dragged the sheet over the two of them. “Do your feet get cold?” she asked.

“Um,” Andy said, lifting her shoulders. “Sometimes.”

Miranda pulled the duvet as far as their shins, and Andy enjoyed the weight of the heavy comforter against her feet.

“Thanks,” she whispered, pulling Miranda against her body, who squirmed in vague discomfort. She had the suspicion that Miranda did not always like to be held as she fell asleep, so she backed off and aligned herself a few inches away. She rested a hand against Miranda’s hip, and when she heard a sigh of contentment, she knew she’d done the right thing.

---

Miranda was startled when she heard something that woke her from a deep sleep. She’d been dreaming of the Runway halls, with Nigel back at her side, telling her that she should have been complaining about Jocelyn’s accessory choices, even though Joss had been promoted to design director long ago.

But all that was forgotten when she heard a crying sound next to her; Miranda wasn’t sure what was happening. It was dark, but suddenly she felt the vibration of the body at her side. Something was kicking the mattress.

“Andrea,” Miranda said, and reached out.

Something launched itself out of the bed, and the body Miranda had reached for was gone. There was a scream, and the scream continued, growing louder until it cut off into total silence. Miranda scrambled to the side of the bed and flicked the light on, realizing that Andrea was still trapped in a semi-sleep state, jerking in what she’d called a night terror. Her eyes were half open, and her face was damp with sweat.

Miranda was terrified; should she try to wake her? Leave her there on the floor? Where on earth was her phone? Surely she could find the answers quickly if she had access to the internet.

In a moment, she had her phone in hand, and sought instruction with shaking fingers. In the 60 seconds she searched, she found conflicting responses—it was okay to wake the person, hug the person, leave the person alone—so she simply got off the bed and placed a hand on Andrea’s back. She rubbed gently, and watched as Andrea turned over. Her eyes were open, but her pupils were huge and dark.

“Will you come back to bed?” Miranda asked. Andrea blinked and sat up, placing one hand on Miranda’s shoulder to lift herself off the floor and back into the bed. She simply flopped onto the mattress and turned over onto one side. When that happened, Miranda decided to press her front to Andrea’s back, hearing the soft “nngh” sound that Andrea made.

Miranda was not tired now in the least. Her heart pounded, her head ached, and her hands were clammy. She waited for a while, wondering if she would have some indication that Andrea was truly asleep, resting, and not going to start screaming again. She hoped her girls hadn’t been frightened by the sound.

Because Miranda was frightened. She’d never heard Andrea make that noise, and wondered how many of these night terrors she’d experienced with no one there to comfort her, or help her back into bed.

Miranda’s thoughts raced for a long while, until she heard that odd intake of breath that meant Andrea had awakened. She glanced at the dim bedside clock; it read 3:36am. Carefully, Andrea started to extricate herself from Miranda’s grip, but Miranda held onto her to indicate that she was up too.

“Whoops, didn’t mean to wake you,” Andrea said. “I’m just going to go down to the library and read.”

She was talking as though nothing unusual had happened between the time they’d fallen asleep and this very moment. “You’re what?”

“I’m gonna go read. You’ve got some great stuff downstairs.” It was only then that she noticed Miranda’s surprise. “Is that not okay?”

“You had a night terror,” Miranda finally said, very softly, because although she wanted to speak the truth, she didn’t want to upset Andrea. “You screamed bloody murder sometime ago, and threw yourself off the bed.”

Andrea blinked a single time, clearly stunned. “I did?”

Miranda nodded.

“I’m so sorry,” Andrea replied, lurching down to throw herself into Miranda’s arms. “I must have scared you to death,” she breathed.

“Not quite death,” Miranda murmured, stroking her back gently. “But it was unexpected.”

“It’s been a while,” Andrea said, “at least I think it has. I guess I don’t always remember.”

“No,” Miranda said, and closed her eyes.

Tonight, she followed Andrea down to the library and retrieved a slim volume of poetry that she’d hadn’t taken up for many, many years. She made herself comfortable on the long couch, pleased when Andrea set a pillow in her lap and maneuvered between her thighs. They read together for a little while, until Miranda set the book down on the side table, rested one hand in Andrea’s hair, and closed her eyes.

---

Andy woke to a great blast of sunlight on her face, one that had probably been there for some time. She was very cozy, covered in a blanket and flanked by Miranda’s legs on either side of her body. The library couch turned out to be a very nice place to catch a few z’s after a night terror. She turned her head to regard her human pillow, who breathed deeply and evenly above her.

Over her shoulder, Andy observed the grandfather clock that stood as a silent sentry in the room. It was almost 7:30, which meant she’d had a fair amount of good, if interrupted, sleep. Miranda probably had as well. Her stomach didn’t growl, but she felt peckish, and wondered if Miranda had to get up and go to Runway. As much as she wanted to let her sleep, she knew it wasn’t the best idea.

“Miranda,” Andy said softly, running one hand along her thigh. “Miranda.”

Miranda opened her eyes, and winced at the light. “God,” she breathed, and turned away. “I guess we slept.”

“We did. It’s half past 7. I’m sorry I didn’t wake you sooner.”

With a deep sigh, Miranda stretched without disturbing Andy’s position. Her smile was crooked. “It’s fine. They’ll probably think I’m dead or something when I’m not there before everyone else.”

“Or they’ll think you’re enjoying a nice leisurely holiday with your family. And your, um,” Andy searched her brain for an appropriate word. “Romantic companion,” she finally settled on, even though it sounded silly.

Miranda snorted. “I doubt anyone at the office thinks I’ll ever have a romantic companion again. They’ll be very curious when you show up on my arm at the party this weekend.”

“Let ‘em be curious. I’m not ashamed.” Andy blinked, and took her time deciding whether or not she actually wanted to say her next words aloud. She went for it. “Are you?”

Miranda put one hand against Andy’s head and ran her fingers through her hair. Andy groaned in pleasure. “Not in the least.”

As Miranda got ready for work, Andy poured very hot half-caf with a healthy dollop of milk into a fancy to-go mug that seemed like it would hold the heat properly. She tested it and it was so hot Andy couldn’t even drink it; that would do. She sent Miranda on her way with a little container of oatmeal and blueberries with cinnamon and a dash of sugar, patting her on the ass as she went through the door. “Bye, honey,” she teased, and Miranda huffed in exasperation before she kissed her.

The girls were still sleeping, and probably would be for a while, so Andy settled back down on the library couch to read some more. She felt spoiled and thrilled to have absolutely nothing to do at all, except make a few phone calls and write in her journal.

Once Cass and Caroline were up, Andy decided she’d make them breakfast too, even though it was more of a brunch. A veggie omelette seemed like a good option; it was easy and healthy with a quick clean up, best of all.

When Caroline was almost finished, she put her fork down and stared at her plate. “I heard you screaming last night. I’m going to assume they weren’t sex screams, because it sounded like you legitimately thought you were going to die.”

Andy felt her face flush absolutely scarlet, and covered her eyes. She laughed, just a little, because she had to. “I had a night terror. I’m really sorry I woke you.”

“Is that like a nightmare?” Cassidy asked. It looked like this was the first she was hearing of this, which was some small comfort to Andy.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t remember. Your mom said I fell off the bed and got pretty upset, but I guess I went back to sleep. I woke up all the way after that and she told me what happened. ”

There was a very long pause, so long that Andy was searching her brain on how to explain her PTSD symptoms, when Cassidy said, “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than sex screams.”

Andy’s eyebrows nearly launched into the sky, and Caroline laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair. Andy joined her a moment later, holding her stomach. “We can never, ever mention this to your mother,” she wheezed.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Caroline said. “I definitely won’t.”

Andy let the girls lure them into their game room, and they introduced her to Skyrim, because “she could do that one without having to be real gamer, at least to start.” Andy was compelled enough to give it a go. She worried she was boring the twins as she worked her way into the game, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as Andy was, so she went along with it.

A couple of hours later, Miranda texted; she’d be home at 7. The Priestly housekeeper was off for the week, as was the private chef who came in on demand when the girls were home. When it was just Miranda, Andy discovered, Miranda either ate out at restaurants or brought dinner in. But Andy was interested to learn that Miranda often cooked when she had dinner parties. She would leave a kitchen full of dirty dishes for the housekeeper (of course,) but she was apparently not shy about trying her hand in the kitchen when the spirit moved her.

That inspired Andy to make another meal, this time with fresh chicken she found in the drawer of the refrigerator. She made pesto from scratch (thanking Giada Di Laurentis for her easy recipe) after a visit to the market down the block and put the pasta on when Miranda texted that she was leaving the office. When the door opened, Andy greeted her at the door, and Miranda kissed her before it was even shut.

“Smells good,” Miranda said.

Andy grinned. “Dinner’s ready, honey. Shall I fix you a martini?”

Miranda held back a grin. “I know that’s a fifties housewife joke, but it doesn’t sound terrible.”

“I’ll make it extra dirty,” Andy replied.

The twins served up Miranda’s portion of pasta and they all sat together in the dining room. When Andy set her drink down, Miranda looked up at her in wonder.

“I’m not sure what I did to deserve this, but it’s very nice indeed.”

Andy sat down and got herself some salad. “I like cooking now and then, and since I didn’t do one productive thing today, I thought it would be nice to show my appreciation for the beautiful accommodations and good company. Your kids taught me how to play a game today, and the rest of the day I just whiled away on my own.”

“We are so glad we’re not in Hartford, by the way, Mom. Thanks for letting us stay home.”

“Your father will expect a visit from you after the New Year, darlings, so don’t get too comfortable.”

“Yeah, but it will only be a few days, and the holidays will be over, so it’s just… easier. And we’re totally coming to the Elias-Clarke thing, right?”

Miranda sighed, as if put upon. “I suppose. But you must be on your best behavior. No champagne, no flirting, and no disappearing acts. Understood?”

“Okay, Mom. You won’t have to worry this time.”

“I should think not,” Miranda said, waving a fork in the air. “Andrea and I will undoubtedly attract a fair amount of attention, so I’ll have enough to think about.”

Caroline’s face changed at that. “Are you worried about coming out to, you know, the whole world?”

Andy pondered this herself, and had been considering it now and then ever since Miranda had asked her to attend the soiree. She waited for Miranda to answer first, and she was not disappointed.

“No,” Miranda said, very simply. “I’m past the point of concerning myself over the safety of my position at Runway, darlings. I’ve done everything in my power to make the magazine, and beyond that, the entire Elias-Clarke family, survive and thrive. However, I don’t consider myself incapable of adaptation. Or rather, evolution.” Miranda’s eyes gleamed, and Andy was dying to know what she was thinking about. “But if I were to say, find myself interested in doing something else, I would not shy away from it. I’m 59 years old. I can remake myself into something entirely new, should the spirit move me. We are part of a very fortunate, very privileged sect of Americans who can afford to abandon their careers in favor of something else, without fear of financial repercussions.”

Andy stared at Miranda, shocked beyond belief. Something told her Cassidy and Caroline were having the same reaction. “You’d leave Runway?” Cassidy demanded to know, almost angrily.

“If I were forced out,” Miranda replied smoothly, sipping her drink. “I would fight back, naturally, but I also know that I have many other skills to offer the world outside fashion.”

“But what would you do?” Cassidy insisted on knowing.

Miranda’s expression grew calm, but focused. “I have decades of expertise in advertising, design, art and photography, marketing and distribution, finance, editorial, human resources, event planning, digital media, recruitment and executive management, among other things. I have personal and professional relationships with every high-level entertainment CEO or CFO in the entire country; I have instant name recognition that reaches far beyond my given focus; and more importantly, I have drive. You’ll note that I didn’t mention fashion in that list, darling. Fashion is in my blood; it’s the thing that urges me to create a perfect product, every time I approve the Book before it goes to print. But you can rest assured that were I asked to leave, or should I choose to leave Runway, I would not be hard pressed to find another position that suited some aspect of my vast skillset.”

Andy had never heard Miranda talk about herself so directly before; she’d known that Miranda believed strongly in her abilities, since the very beginning. But every word she’d spoken was true. She knew a lot about so many things that it left Andy breathless. She thought she might be drooling, just a little bit. She chewed the inside of her lip, and tried not to squirm in her seat. I’m going to have sex with the most fabulous woman in the universe tonight, Andy thought, and smiled.

Miranda caught her eye, and when she saw the look on Andy’s face, she licked her lips.

---

Chapter Text

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.

---

Chapter Text

FIVE MONTHS LATER

From the driver’s seat, Miranda waited impatiently for the trunk to be shut, indicating that Cassidy had loaded the last of her belongings into the car. When it finally happened, she fastened her seatbelt and waited for her daughter to join Andrea in the back seat.

“Oh my God, Cass, you’re taking forever. Hurry up!” Caroline cried. “We still have three more hours to go and I’d like to get home this millennium.”

Miranda rolled her eyes as Andrea snickered behind her. “You sound just like your mother,” Andrea quipped. Miranda looked in the rearview mirror and narrowed her eyes threateningly. Andrea just laughed harder.

“You’re lucky you’re back there,” Miranda murmured, grateful when Cassidy joined them and closed the wing-shaped door.

“I’ve unplugged, we should be ready,” Cassidy said. “All charged up.”

“Good. Let’s go.” Miranda started the car and set out on the final leg of their road trip, glad to be behind the wheel. Andrea was a fine driver, but there was something to be said for being in control once in awhile. She was driven around so much of the time that she forgot how pleasant it was to take charge on the open road.

Traffic had been on their side, since they’d left New York very early to pick up Caroline at Vassar. This was the first time they’d all been together since Christmas. Caroline had visited Melissa’s family in Boston for spring break while Cassidy had come home, and both girls had been at the townhouse over the long Presidents’ Day weekend when Andrea had been in Washington, D.C.

This was also their first road trip with Andrea’s new friend, Baxter, who was resting in a soft crate in the center back seat.

“Can’t you take him out?” Cassidy begged. “I barely got to meet him! He’s so cute?”

Miranda cleared her throat. Baxter was not the finest specimen of canine magnificence; he had an underbite, and his fur always looked unkempt despite the fact that Andrea brushed him every day.

“I can, but he has to have his safety harness on. Here,” Andrea said, and unzipped the crate to let the dog out.

“Oh, he is just the cutest!” Cassidy said, lifting him close as he tried to lick her face. “He’s so soft!”

“I see you up there making faces, Miranda,” Andrea crowed, “And the girls are going to know when we get home that Baxter sleeps on your feet in bed.”

Miranda scoffed. “He does not. He has a perfectly serviceable crate.”

The crate, however, was almost never used. Baxter was Andrea’s dog, without a doubt; he was a rescue she’d decided to get after wrapping the first season of podcasts about vets and post traumatic stress. While he was far from a service animal, his calm, affectionate nature made him a perfect match for her. She was weaning herself from Prozac, and apparently doggie kisses were helping fight mood swings and the returned insomnia. She’d finally settled into a reasonable sleep pattern starting around March, but her decision to slow, then stop her meds had brought her sleep issues back to the forefront. The dog usually stayed with Andrea when she awakened, and she had stopped roaming the streets in the middle of the night in favor of reading down in the study.

That didn’t keep Baxter from regularly sleeping on Miranda’s feet. After the first three nights of the animal staring balefully at them all night long from inside his crate, Miranda had (while sighing with exasperation) allowed the dog to sleep at the foot of the bed, on a blanket of his own. She had clandestinely done the same thing with Patricia after Stephen had vacated the premises, enacting the rule that she always stay on her own side of the bed. These days Miranda could handle a terrier mix cuddling up against her shins, but a St Bernard was a different thing altogether.

She eyed Baxter, and hid the affection she felt for the little mongrel. He was sweet, and he’d been extremely good for Andrea. That alone made him a hero in her eyes.

“Mom, you don’t have to pretend you don’t like dogs,” Caroline reasoned as she turned back to watch her sister pet the lone male of their household. “We know Patricia slept on your bed, too. I don’t know why you used to act like she slept on that dumb dog bed in the corner.”

Andy’s voice was sugar sweet when she said, “Probably the same reason we keep Baxter’s crate in the room with us. For appearance’s sake.”

“Honestly, must you tell them everything?” Miranda asked, checking her rearview mirror as they merged onto the highway. She reached for the thermos of coffee and sipped it; it was still scorching, to her relief.

“Well, if you can spare him, he can sleep in my bed while I’m home,” Cassidy said, already in love. “I wonder if the dorms allow animals,” she said, almost to herself.

“They don’t,” Miranda said sharply, and added, “You’re not ready for the responsibility. Imagine the constant care of a child with limited learning capacity, who will never grow up and learn to feed himself. Stick to your studies for now, darling.”

“I could get a dog walker!” Cassidy declared. “Plus I could bring him to classes—”

“You’ll have plenty of time to take care of Bax this summer, kiddo,” Andrea reasoned. “He loves a good walk around the park. But he’s probably pretty old, so we don’t overdo it. He just wants food, kisses, and cuddles in a warm bed at the end of the day.”

“Don’t we all,” Miranda murmured as she settled the car into the fast lane.

The girls led much of the conversation, and Miranda stayed quiet, having already heard most of their stories about final papers and packing up at the end of the semester. She’d spent a fair amount of hours on Facetime with each of them in the evenings over the last month and change. She’d had more time for them, because recently, Miranda had made a concerted effort to delegate more at Runway. It was a process she’d been working her way into for a few years, but with the sudden acquisition of love, it went into a higher gear. The days passed so quickly, and the nights felt too short when she spent twelve hours at work. One day, she simply decided she would go in at 9 and leave at 6 every evening, at the latest.

To her amazement, it worked.

She took advantage of email, Dropbox, Slack, Join.me, and Skype. She opened jpegs during intermissions at the theatre, and sent back notes as the lights went down for the second act. She stole away to the powder room at benefits to check revisions, made model selections in the car on the way to dinners, and reviewed the living, virtual copy of the Book while traveling with Andrea. She ran the magazine more efficiently than ever, which allowed to her to fit more life into her waking hours.

She also made herself available to Andrea in a way that she had not, in the past, with her husbands. They had never understood Miranda as Andrea did, nor had they supported her work and career in the same fashion. She, in turn, saw the profound value in Andrea’s profession up close, through the individuals she spoke to, wrote about, and represented in the media. Miranda was able to add her own advice and recommendations as Andrea worked toward the completion of each podcast episode. Occasionally, as Miranda would listen to the finished product, she would recognize the fruits of one conversation or another, from late night chats, early mornings in bed, or texts they would exchange during the workday.

Miranda only realized the widespread acclaim of Andrea’s podcast “Fallout” when she visited the New York Times website. On the homepage of the Arts section, she found a glowing thousand word review, and discovered that the ongoing series had been downloaded over 12 million times. It was not slowing down, either.

Five months of solid work had resulted in something remarkable. In March, Andrea found the strength to reunite with Congressman Saticoy around the anniversary of the shooting, and it had been healing, perhaps for both of them. The congressman had recovered almost a hundred percent physically, but his own trauma remained, and their emotional conversation had evolved into the sixth and final episode of the project. It would go live this weekend, so Miranda was relieved that the girls would be home to both distract and support Andrea.

Only when she heard Cassidy’s voice rise in volume did she focus on the conversation behind her. “I thought you already lived there!” she exclaimed.

Andrea laughed. “I mostly do. But you know, we didn’t want to move too fast. We’d only been seeing each other since December. I didn’t want to assume, and neither did your mom.” She searched for Miranda’s eyes in the rearview mirror, and smiled. “Moving in is a big step.”

“It’s a good thing you’re doing it now,” Cassidy said in reply. “Baxter needs his two mommies to live in one house, don’t you, baby?” she crooned, and her voice was muffled, as though she was burying her face in the dog’s fur.

“Good lord, darling, you’ll get fleas if you keep doing that,” Miranda said sternly.

“As if you’d let something with fleas set foot inside your house, much less this zillion dollar car,” Caroline said. “Anyhow, way to go, Mom. You’ve officially bagged a hottie.”

There was an eruption of laughter as Miranda barked Caroline’s name in irritation.

They made it home by late afternoon, and Miranda let her daughters haul their own things in from the car. She was tired, and relieved to have made the trip in one go. Andrea insisted on helping them, so Miranda climbed the stairs to their bedroom and lay down on the bed, fully clothed. With her eyes shut, she spent a few minutes just listening to the sounds of her children and her lover as they argued and giggled and shouted their way through the townhouse.

It was lovely.

She was dozing when she heard the tap-tap-tap of paws climbing the miniature staircase that led from her bedroom’s floor to the mattress, and Baxter collapsed with his two paws and head across Miranda’s ankles. He watched her with eager eyes, still panting from the effort of chasing the girls around as they unpacked. Despite his multitude of imperfections, he looked quite regal from this angle. She chuckled to herself, and blinked lazily when Andrea entered the bedroom.

Leaning against the doorframe, Andrea exhaled. “You look cozy.”

“Mm,” Miranda replied. “Join me?”

“Definitely.” Andrea got down beside her and arranged her long body to press up against Miranda’s, close as she could. Her lips nuzzled the crook of Miranda’s neck. “‘M tired too,” she murmured.

That was no surprise. She had not slept much the night before. That was another reason Miranda had done nearly all of the driving today. “Are you ready for this weekend?” Miranda asked, softly.

“Yeah,” Andrea said, throwing an arm across Miranda’s midsection. “It’s fine. Besides, I can help you with work. I know you’ll have a lot to do because of taking today off.”

Miranda threaded her fingers through Andrea’s hair and closed her eyes. “I’m sure they’re doing quite all right without me.” She had already sent a text to Adhira confirming the book’s hard copy delivery at 7 by her new replacement, and there were no fires that needed tending at the moment. “There’s plenty of time.”

“That’s good,” Andrea mumbled. “I’m happy the girls are home. We’re gonna have fun this summer,” she mumbled, still shifting her legs in an effort to get perfectly comfortable.

“I’ve no doubt,” Miranda said, and waited, ever hopeful. The room was silent, and the floors below had grown quiet too. She imagined her girls in their own rooms, unpacking their belongings, hanging their clothes in closets, arranging photos on bedside tables. Miranda experienced a special sort of contentment to have her daughters under her roof once more. It was new, this feeling, still tinged with bittersweetness, knowing that in just a few months, they would depart again. But this time, she would not be alone when it happened. Andrea would be by her side, and they would hold hands and wave as her girls went off on their own to discover the world.

Her thoughts drifted as she recalled the day’s simple pleasures, until the breathing against her collarbone fell into a familiar, even cadence. Only then did Miranda let her eyes close, as she followed Andrea into slumber.

~the end