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FIREBREATHER
By BeachBum

 

“Jackson, we can figure this out. Nobody needs to get hurt.” The negotiator’s voice was still calm even after the hail of bullets had sprayed out of the third floor window.

“No! I know how you operate! You’re just waiting to get your SWAT team in position! They wouldn’t listen to me at the office. You don’t want to listen either; you’re stalling. Well, it won’t work!”

Andy Sachs, feature writer for the New York Mirror, shivered in the cold and scribbled a quick note as she crouched behind the NYPD’s Mobile Command Center two hundred feet from the brownstone. The Public Affairs officer who had been briefing the four pool reporters on the standoff leaned against her back as they peered around the trailer to get a better look in the fading light.

“How much longer ‘til SWAT gets here?” she quietly asked the PA liaison as floodlights kicked on to illuminate the building’s façade.

“The closest team’s coming in from Harlem and traffic’s gridlocked. Ten minutes? Maybe a little more.”

“Can the negotiator keep him calm that long?” Fat flakes of snow began to drift down on the surreal scene before them.

“Anybody’s guess. There’s no way to tell how these things will go. Anything can set them off. But Carlotti, the negotiator, he’s the best in the city.”

Just as Andy was about to ask a question about negotiator training they heard a shout and the crash of breaking glass. She watched in disbelief as a limp body fell to the concrete steps below and lay there like a broken doll.

Oh, Jesus, that’s one of the kids!

“Shots fired! Shots fired! All units move in now! Go, go, go!”

Andy watched in shock when two more tiny bodies sailed out the window as uniformed officers stormed the building. A larger female form tumbled out and hit the steps headfirst with a sickening, wet crunch just as a fusillade of gunfire from within the townhouse indicated that the entry team had engaged the gunman inside. When the firing stopped tactical radios crackled to life.

“Subject is down! Repeat subject is down!” “All clear!” “Clear!” “He’s down!” “It’s over!”

Paramedics dashed to the bleeding bodies sprawled crazily on the front steps while Andy stood on shaking legs, her horror rising as the reality of what had happened overwhelmed her.

Dear God, he killed them all! He killed his whole family! And then threw them out a window like yesterday’s trash…

A TV reporter shoved her aside to position himself with the grisly tableau as a backdrop and began a breathless recounting of events as Andy stumbled away in shock. The incongruity of the cheery Christmas lights decorating the posh Upper East Side neighborhood, the flashing strobes of the Mars lights, and the growing pool of blood oozing down the steps left her reeling and disoriented.

“Andy! Are you okay?”

Bill Hooker, the Mirror’s lead photographer broke through the police line to reach her side. She looked up at him mutely then suddenly froze at the approaching sight over his shoulder. She began to tremble violently as he gripped her arms to steady her.

“Andy? Andy?”

But she couldn’t answer him; her whole being focused on the small body on the gurney being wheeled toward her. When it reached her, the toddler sat up and glared accusingly at her; the bullet hole in its forehead dripping brains and blood and the back of its head gone entirely.

“Why did you let him hurt me? Why didn’t you do something?” Further comments from the murdered child were silenced as a gout of blood spewed from its mouth and all over her clothes. Again and again the small form retched, drowning the reporter in gelatinous ropes of thick scarlet as sirens wailed and lights pulsed around them. She flailed vainly trying to keep the viscous liquid away from her face, but gasped and inhaled and choked on the rancid fluids until her vision blurred and she felt herself sinking beneath the warm, wet clots…

Andy woke screaming from the nightmare, soaked in sweat and shaking. She bolted from her bed and barely made it to the bathroom before she vomited violently into the stool. When her stomach had finally emptied, she collapsed onto the cold tile floor and lay there sobbing. Several long moments later gentle hands reached out and helped her sit up.

“Shhh, it’s okay, honey, we’re here. Let us help you.” Doug tenderly wiped the tears off her cheeks with a damp washcloth and offered a glass of water to rinse out her mouth. Behind him, the diminutive form of their landlady, Ruth Goldberg, clad in her bathrobe and slippers, looked on with concern.

“This was a bad one. Are you all right, bubbeleh?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Or I will be in a couple of minutes.” Andy swooshed the water around in her mouth, spit it into the reeking toilet and flushed it. Doug helped her to her feet and he and Ruth guided her down the hall to the living room sofa.

“Sit down and wrap up in the throw, darling; you’re shivering. I’ll have a cup of tea for you in just a minute.” Ruth was as good as her word and in short order Andy wrapped her trembling hands around a steaming mug of peppermint tea. Three sips later she sighed heavily and finally began to relax.

“When do you see Dr. Markoff again?”

“Thursday afternoon. Dammit, I thought I was doing so well.”

“You are doing well, sweetheart. It’s been over a month since the last nightmare. But you’ve been working too hard lately. You know the stress brings them on.”

“I know. I can take a couple of days off after this week. We’ll have the garbage collection scandal laid to rest by then.”

“Good. You sit here and drink your tea; I’m going to go change your sheets.”

“Ruth, you don’t have to. Please don’t fuss over me.”

“And who else do I have to fuss over? Just sit there and don’t get all fartootst. You, Mr. Wall Street; don’t let her get chilled; it’s cool in here.”

Andy managed a shaky smile while Doug replied, “Yes, Mom.”

Ruth gave a sharp nod, “Good answer,” and headed for the linen closet as Doug draped a fleece throw around Andy’s shoulders.

“What the hell would we ever do without her?”

He just grinned. “Well, starve for starters. You really okay?”

“Getting there. Damn, this one was intense.” She shook her head and took another sip of tea.

“What does Markoff say?”

“Just what I told you. They’ll get farther and farther apart and eventually when I do have one, I’ll be, like, just an observer; it won’t be real. And sooner or later I won’t have them at all anymore. Which reminds me, he said he thinks I’m ready to have you guys disconnect the intercoms.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“I’m not sure. It scares me a little.”

“Then it doesn’t matter what Dr. Markoff says, sweetie. Until you tell us to disconnect the intercoms we’ll stay tuned in. When you don’t think you’ll need us anymore then we’ll turn them off.”

Andy didn’t like to admit it, but knowing that her housemates could hear her if she screamed in the night was still a comforting thought even eight months after the hostage incident. Doug and Ruth had willingly come to her aid right from the beginning. At first, when the horrors came as soon as she closed her eyes one of them had stayed with her each night, sleeping in the guest room. Then as the dreams became less frequent, her therapist had recommended the intercom setup. No matter how early or late, if she had a nightmare they stormed up to her apartment to comfort her. There was no way she could ever repay them for their love and concern. Thankfully, they didn’t expect her to.

“Dougie, I…”

“Shut up and drink your tea, Sachs.” He pulled her head onto his shoulder and wrapped an arm around hers.


A Couple of weeks later…

The cinder running path shimmered in the muggy heat as Andy started her second lap of the Reservoir. The forecasters might claim that fall was just around the corner, but the weather had been all dog days so far. Still, the combination of bright sunshine and endorphins invigorated her as she finished the circuit. Regular exercise was another of Dr. Markoff’s recommendations, and one she was glad to follow, eagerly returning to her collegiate running routine. Not only did she sleep better, it kept her a lean size four despite Ruth’s marvelous cooking.

Twenty minutes later she was jogging a cool-down lap after completing her usual almost-five-miles and heading toward West 89th Street and home. Something drew her attention to an approaching group, and when she recognized them, she nearly skidded to a stop and reversed course. But at the last second she found the nerve to slow her steps and meet the ambling females head on.

Strolling directly toward her were the four residents of 173 East 73rd Street. Miranda, and twin daughters Cassidy and Caroline Priestly, were walking their beloved St. Bernard, Patricia, through the Park and apparently enjoying the sunshine despite the stifling heat. Andy’s breath caught at the sight of Miranda in a Ralph Lauren nautical top belted over crisp linen slacks, and a pair of Michael Kors’ espadrille flats. Even so informally attired, the legendary editor of Runway Magazine still stopped traffic and Andy felt her heart begin to race at the sight of the woman who had ruled her life for eight months. Paris had been nearly two years ago, but she’d known back then even as she’d walked away that she was leaving her heart behind. Miranda still drew her like a moth to a flame. Summoning all her courage, Andy opted for a pre-emptive strike and spoke first.

Nodding, she greeted the Priestlys. “Miranda. Girls. Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, Andréa. Are you just finishing your run?” Only Miranda used that inflection on her name and Andy’s heart did a little tap dance of glee when she heard it.

“Cooling down. Heading home now.” She gestured vaguely toward the Upper West Side. “So, how have you all been?”

Cassidy cut in before Miranda could reply. “We’re fine. Can we still call you Andréa since you don’t work for Mom anymore?”

“I prefer Andy; you can call me that if it’s okay with your mom.” Patricia began to reacquaint herself by sniffing at Andy’s running shorts and in self-defense the young woman began to scratch behind her ears, shifting her feet to avoid the monster dog’s drool. She resisted the urge to laugh out loud as Cass came to her rescue with a large towel embroidered “Spit Happens” tugged from a rucksack.

“So what have you two been doing all summer?” she asked.

The youngster glanced up from her muzzle-mopping and caught the small nod of acquiescence from her mother. “We’re taking a summer school class in American History. Right now we’re studying the Industrial Age and Mom was telling us about how there used to be tons of different newspapers in the city and how kids used to sell them on the corners.”

“Well, I can’t think of anyone who knows more about publishing in New York than your mom, so it doesn’t surprise me that she can help you out.”

“Andréa works at the Mirror, girls. She’s a feature writer for their Metro section.” Miranda smiled indulgently at her offspring and gently stroked Cassidy’s red hair.

“Wow! You’re a reporter?”

“Yep. On occasion I even rise to the level of journalist. Is that something you’re interested in?”

“Oh, yeah! I mean, look at the whole Hurst-Pulitzer rivalry or yellow journalism and the Spanish-American War. And Nellie Bly was like the first investigative reporter ever.”

Andy couldn’t quite stifle a grin at their enthusiasm. “Well, if you’d like to, maybe you guys can come by for a tour sometime.”

Now the other twelve-year-old chimed in. Caroline was usually the more intense of the twins but today she was fairly bubbling too, although that might have been due to the sugar content of the frozen lemonades both girls were slurping. “Really? Could we? I mean not just us but maybe our class too? Or something? That would be, like, so cool!”

Andy dug her ID case out of her pocket and pulled a couple of business cards out. She handed them to the twins who nearly bounced up and down with glee. “Have your teacher give me a call and we’ll see what we can set up.”

“Girls, we shouldn’t keep Andréa any longer. She needs to keep moving after her run so she won’t stiffen up. Say goodbye now.”

They made their farewells and Andy began to jog toward Central Park West and home as Miranda and her girls headed in the opposite direction. Andy mentally shook herself in surprise at Miranda’s friendliness. I thought she’d ignore me completely. And that would be the nicest thing she’d do. Hell, she’s Miranda – I figured she’d verbally eviscerate me and leave me to bleed out on the sidewalk.

It just went to show that, no matter how long it had been, Miranda could still surprise her.



A few days later, Andy and Bill Hooker were discussing the layout of his pictures in the article she was drafting on the new face of Chinatown. They’d spent the past three hours on a walking tour of the fabled neighborhood with members of the local historical society and had a wealth of information to work with. Hooker had taken tons of photos and Andy would be hard-pressed to condense all she’d learned into fifteen hundred words. A sidewalk café had provided not only a shady spot to work but iced, ginger green tea with mint and the pair had begun blocking the article. But Andy soon realized it was going to be a complicated process, so they agreed to go over the art the next morning and both headed in opposite directions for home when they finished their drinks.

Andy cut up Mott Street headed for Canal and the subway. Midway up the block, she was nearly flattened by two workmen carrying a large plaster dragon out of what had once been a storefront noodle house. They set the gilded eyesore down, apologized and went back inside to haul out another load. Andy made to walk away but something drew her back.

The statue was nearly four feet high and had obviously seen better days. Chips and dings in both the cheap gilt and underlying plaster gave mute testament to the years and wear it had endured. But even beaten up the figure was compelling; it didn’t look like the traditional Chinese dragon and had been cast with amazing detail. It had, at one time, no doubt been a beautiful piece.

Not really knowing why, she made a quick decision. Stepping inside the dim storefront she went in search of some kind of authority. A harried young man with a clipboard and cell phone seemed to fit the bill.

“Excuse me? Are you in charge?”

He abruptly ended his call and made a scrawled note on the clipboard. “Yeah, what can I do for you?”

“Is everything here going to be sold?”

“Not sure. We’re just supposed to load up everything and haul it to our warehouse. But we mainly deal in refurbished restaurant equipment.”

“What about the decorative stuff?”

“Like what?”

“Like that gilded dragon out front.”

“That damned thing? It’s been in the way all afternoon. Everywhere we put it we wind up running into it again.”

“So, what’s supposed to happen to it?”

“I really don’t know. Like I said; we deal in restaurant equipment. If it doesn’t have resale value we’ll probably wind up tossing it.”

”Would you take twenty dollars for the dragon and its base?”

He looked at her with a gleam of avarice in his eye. “No, but I’d take forty.”

“Thirty and I haul it off within half an hour.”

“Done.”

Andy paid him and he told his guys to move the dragon and its base up against the front windows out of the way. She thanked him and made to leave when his natural greed again reared its head.

“You into dragons?”

I guess you could say that; I’ve been in love with one for nearly three years. “Errr, yeah, kinda. Why?”

“There’s a whole case of little green ones over there. Plastic, I think. Next to those cheap-ass chopsticks these places always have. Take a look; if you want ‘em maybe we can work something out.”

Andy walked over to the display case and lifted the lid. Inside, on a bed of dusty crimson velvet were two dozen exquisitely carved jade dragons. They ranged in size from just over an inch to nearly five inches high and no two were alike. Some gifted artisan had spent countless hours creating them. The “cheap-ass chopsticks” turned out to be hand-carved ivory and lacquered-wood works of art. Andy’s heartbeat raced as she gingerly ran her fingers over them. A quiet cough from across the room brought her back to the here and now.

“Twenty bucks and you can have ‘em all. They’ll be a pain in the ass for us to pack.”

She pretended to ponder his offer, frowning mightily. “W-e-l-l-l-l, throw in the chopsticks and I’ll think about it.”

“It’s a deal. Denny? Grab a box for the lady, will ya? She’s gonna take the junk in the display case off our hands.”

Andy quickly packed her treasures in the Captain Morgan box they gave her, handed over another twenty and made good her escape before he could change his mind. Back on the street she put in a mayday call to Doug.

“You in the subway yet? No? Then swing over to Mott Street just south of Canal. You won’t believe what I just bought for fifty bucks! No, I need you to help me haul it home!”

An hour later when their taxi pulled up outside the townhouse Ruth was waiting with the basement security gates unlocked. “Do I even need to ask?”

“I struck gold in Chinatown!”

“I sincerely hope you’re referring to something other than this plaster monstrosity.”

“I am. That’s just what caught my attention.”

“Well, haul it inside and let’s have a look. I’m making a pork roast; are you two interested?”

“And when, exactly, have we not been interested in one of your dinners?”

“All right then. Half an hour. Leave the box at my place and I’ll go through it while you change.”

Later, after they’d eaten and cleaned up, the three of them went through the box again. Ruth confirmed Andy’s suspicions that the small figurines were probably very valuable. She had a friend in the estate jewelry business and offered to make a call to get them appraised. Andy eagerly agreed and handed out pairs of the chopsticks to all.

“You know, these are valuable too. You need to let me get them appraised as well.”

“I figured. The lacquered wood ones are unbelievable, not to mention the ivory sets. I just love the way they look. I mean here – look at the end of this pair. Tiny, carved dragon’s heads! Aren’t they amazing?”

Ruth and Doug just looked at each other and smiled. Andy didn’t miss it, either. “Don’t go there. I just liked the way they looked, okay? It wasn’t that they’re dragons; here, I love these elephant ones too.”

“Right. And denial is just a river in Africa.”

“I’m warning you, Chapman, don’t start with me.”

Ruth ignored the good-natured teasing. “I don’t understand why you’re content to do nothing. She’s only a phone call away. Can’t you come up with some excuse to call her? I mean, Fashion Week is coming in a month. Call her up to wish her luck or something.”

“Fall Fashion Week season is her busiest time. She’ll be traveling all over Europe and when she’s here, she’s hosting the week. Besides, Emily could lose her job if she tried to put a call of mine through. I can’t risk it.”

“Have it your way, bubbeleh. It’s your life. But take it from somebody who’s lived a lot longer than you have: life’s too short not to tell someone when you love them. Besides, how do you know she doesn’t feel the same way? Didn’t you say she was nice to you when you ran into her in the park?”

“There’s a world of difference between being civil and being in love.”

“Yeah, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.”

“And if I don’t try I’ll never get my heart broken, either. At least now I can still dream.”

“So what does Dr. Markoff say about this?”

“We, uh, haven’t exactly talked about it yet.”

Ruth glared at her. “Something else you might want to attend to.”

As Andy and Doug climbed the stairs to their apartments later on, he brought it up again.

“She’s right, you know. You ought to at least talk about it with the good doctor.”

“I know she’s right. I’m just scared is all. Haven’t you ever been scared?”

“Scared of the love of my life? No, can’t say as I have. Of course, I haven’t met the love of my life yet, so it’s hard to tell. But I do know that we want to see you happy, and you haven’t been since you came back from Paris.”

“You’re right, too. I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all we can ask.” They reached the second floor landing and the door to his apartment. He wrapped her in a bear hug and then pointed her toward the stairs and her flat on the third floor. “Sweet dreams, honey bunny. We love you, ya know?”

“Love you too. G’night.”


Her phone chimed the arrival of a new text message and she looked up from her editing screen. Andy laughed as she read it and replied with her acceptance to Ruth’s dinner invitation. Doug may be right – we would starve without her. She took a quick glance at the wall clock to her right and went back to work with a vengeance. She needed to wrap this up quickly if she was going to be on time for her appointment with Dr. Markoff.

Andy was seeing the therapist thanks to her boss, Greg Hill. In the days immediately following the hostage standoff, her behavior had become erratic. Andy had risen rapidly at the Mirror not only because her writing skills were solid but because she was steady and could be relied on. But when she missed two deadlines, a staff meeting, and finally blew up at colleague over an innocuous remark, her editor had known something was terribly wrong. He’d hauled her into his office and demanded to know what was going on.

She’d broken down sobbing and confessed that she hadn’t slept in days; that the nightmares were too terrifying. Greg was no expert, but he’d seen enough journalists burn out to recognize the signs of PTSD when he saw them. His wife was a social worker and had recommended Markoff. He’d made an emergency appointment for Andy the next morning.

Ruth had accompanied her and it only took the psychiatrist one look to know he was dealing with someone who was hanging on by a thread. He’d given her a choice: check into a private clinic for 72 hours or go home with Ruth and a heavy-duty dose of Ativan to knock her out. Andy had chosen the latter and slept dreamlessly for two days straight.

At her next appointment she’d related everything about the hostage crisis. He had explained about PTSD and what she could expect to happen. He gave her a scrip for Xanax if she started to feel panicky, recommended the intercom system for the nightmares and regular exercise just because.

Ruth and Doug had jumped in with both feet to support her. Markoff knew that she never would have come back as quickly as she had without their help. The frequency of the nightmares had dropped and the exercise (and resulting endorphins) had stabilized her mood and relaxed her. Life returned to more normal and he was delighted with her progress. All except for one thing – she wasn’t dating. He genuinely liked Andy and couldn’t understand why a beautiful, intelligent, caring young woman wasn’t being besieged with offers. What was also a bit troubling was the fact that she showed no indication of even wanting to date. There was something going on there and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.

Andy was waiting when he opened his office door and ushered her in with a smile.

“It’s been a couple of weeks. How have you been?”

“Pretty good. No nightmares since the one I called you about and I’ve lengthened my run to almost five miles just about every day.”

“How’s the stress level?”

“Not too bad right now. I usually try to keep it down as much as I can and the deep breathing exercises help in the short term. I’m managing pretty well most of the time.”

“That’s good. You’ve got a great support system in your corner, too. That helps a lot.”

“Yeah, Dougie and Ruth have saved my life. I wouldn’t have made it without them.”

“Still eating well? Appetite good?”

“The only reason I can still wear any of my clothes is the running,” Andy replied with a grin.

“Ah, yes; I remember. Your landlady’s pot roast, wasn’t it?”

“My landlady’s anything. In fact, I think I actually weigh more now than before even though I’m the same size. Has to do with the strength training. Something about lean muscle weighing more than fat. Doug tried to explain it to me.”

“You’re doing strength training too?”

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you? Doug and I bought a Bowflex. It’s in the basement. We work out three or four times a week.”

“So you’re running and doing weight work? Good for you. Sounds like you’re taking good care of yourself.”

“I’m trying.”

“I know you are and I’m pleased with the progress you’ve made. Which brings me to something I’ve wanted to talk about with you for a while now.”

“What’s that?”

“Your social life.”

Andy gave a mirthless laugh. “I don’t have one.”

“I know. Why not?”

“What?” she squawked. “You were serious?”

“I certainly am. Why don’t you have a social life? You’re attractive, intelligent, well-educated, charming. People should be beating down your door. So why aren’t you dating?”

“My last relationship ended badly.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Errr …two years ago.”

His eyebrows went up. “Two years? You haven’t dated in two years?”

“I, uh, well, I’ve been really… busy?” she said sheepishly.

“Not buying it. Try again.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Complicated is okay; we’ll just take it a little at a time. Give me the basics. When did you meet?”

“We met in college. We were living together here and been together a year and a half. We just… grew apart, is all.”

“What prompted that?”

”My job contributed a lot to it. My priorities changed and he didn’t like it.”

“What changed?”

“My job – my boss – was very demanding. I’d get phone calls at all hours. I worked weekends. I missed a lot of dates because of work. I started dressing differently. Of course, he mostly liked that part of it.”

“Dressed differently? Did your job have some kind of dress code?”

She gave a short bark of laughter. “You might say that. I worked at Runway Magazine.”

“The fashion magazine. Alright, so I assume you were expected to dress fashionably. That can be expensive. Was that a problem?”

“Ummm, well, actually, no. See, designers sort of gave us stuff… uh, things. Uh, clothes.”

“Gave you things? Clothing? Why?”

“Because of who I worked for.”

“Who did you work for?”

It was time. She needed to tell him even if it opened up that whole can of worms. Andy took a deep breath and plunged in. “I was an assistant to Miranda Priestly.”

“The Miranda Priestly?”

“The one and only.”

“Well, that certainly explains why you had to dress well. So, you worked for the Dragon Lady. That must have been interesting. How did that work out?”

“Not so good. I quit. In Paris. During Fashion Week.”

“You quit? On an overseas business trip? You just walked away?”

“No, I walked away, threw my company cell phone into a convenient fountain and flew home.”

He couldn’t quite stifle a chuckle. ”And where was your famous boss when you did all this?”

“Climbing the steps of the Hôtel de Crillon.”

“And you know this how?”

“We were going into the Chanel show. We’d just gotten out of the car. She went up the steps and I walked off across the Place de la Concorde.”

“Well, I’ve gotta give you full marks for dramatic exits. Let me see if I’ve got this right. You were together in the car and when you got out you just walked away. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out something happened in the car. Want to tell me about it?”

“She told me she saw a lot of herself in me.”

“What did you say to that?”

“I asked her ‘What if I don’t want to be like you?’”

“And she said?”

“She said ‘Don’t be silly, everybody wants to be us.’”

“But you didn’t.”

“She’d just betrayed her right-hand-man to beat the Chairman of Elias-Clark. He wanted to replace her as Editor of Runway.”

“And she threw this right-hand-man under the bus to save her job?”

“She’d helped him get his dream job; he was going to run Holt International. Then she found out about Irv’s plan and who he’d chosen to replace her and got her the Holt job instead. Nigel was just pushed aside like he didn’t exist. She said those kind of decisions were necessary.”

“And that upset you so much you quit your job?”

“I didn’t want to be like her. Cruel… heartless.”

“Does that mean you couldn’t have worked for her and still been yourself? Walking away in a foreign country seems a bit extreme.”

“But she betrayed Nigel!”

“Betrayed. That’s an interesting choice of words. A powerful word. You do realize that a great many people would look at her actions and say that it was just a business decision? That it wasn’t a betrayal at all. I’m curious why you choose that particular word.”

“She stole his dreams. Isn’t that betrayal? Isn’t that what she did?”

“Again, betray is a strong word. Why do you see it in such harsh terms? Many people wouldn’t; why did you react so strongly?”

“Nigel was… is my friend.”

“Is he still at Runway?”

“Yes. She promoted him to the Associate Editor’s position and gave him a huge raise. Big office, bigger staff.”

“So she made it up to him. Interesting.”

“What’s interesting?”

“That the man she supposedly betrayed stayed with her and you left. Bit of an over-reaction, don’t you think?”

Again, she hesitated.

“Why did you react so strongly, Andy? She said she saw a lot of herself in you. That sounds like a compliment. Why did you get so upset you quit?”

“Because she made me do the same thing! She made me stab Emily in the back to go to Paris with her!”

“I take it Emily was an assistant too?”

“Em had been looking forward to going to Paris for Fashion Week all year! And then Miranda told me that I was going instead and that I had to tell her!”

“And what happened when you did?”

She flushed bright red. “Well, it was kind of a moot point. Em got hit by a cab and broke her leg. She couldn’t have gone anyway.”

“Again, many people would see that as a legitimate business decision on Miranda’s part. I’m still wondering why you reacted the way you did.”

“She… she said… It was… “ Andy was fairly sputtering.

“Could there be another reason you reacted so strongly?”

The silence in the room was deafening as he watched her work through it, trying to work up the courage to say something.

“I was… She was… I had…I had… feelings.”

“’Feelings’?”

“I liked her. When she dumped on Nigel and Emily it hurt me.”

“Why would something she did to someone else hurt you?”

“We were a … like… a team. I knew her better than anyone. I knew what she needed before she knew. We were in sync. The office was running smoothly. She didn’t need to be hateful.”

“So you’re saying you had a close working relationship?”

“It really was amazing. Like I could read her mind and she could read mine. Sometimes all it took was a glance and I knew what she was going to need. I’d get it and hand it to her during a meeting and she wouldn’t miss a beat and it was exactly what she needed. I’ve never been so in tune with anybody before or since.”…

“And yet you walked away from her.”

“I had to! My heart was breaking!”

“Why?” he pushed.

“Because… “

“Why?”

“Because I liked her! I liked her a lot and she hurt Nigel and how could I love somebody who could do that to Nigel and Emily? And then she thought I was like her and I wanted to be, but she hurt… she hurt them…” Tears began to flow down her cheeks and she unconsciously hugged herself.

Markoff silently handed her a box of tissues and gave her time to collect herself. When she had he continued quietly.

“So she proved to have feet of clay and you bolted. That about sum it up?”

She nodded miserably.

“We’ll come back to this in a minute, but first, what happened when you got home?”

“Nate had already moved out. He was jealous. He told me ‘The person whose calls you always take? That’s the relationship you’re in.’ And I always took Miranda’s calls.”

“So Nate was gone. How did you feel about that?”

“I was sad because I know he was hurt, but we’d been drifting apart for a while. I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him. I thought about giving it another try but I knew it was over. He got a job in Boston, so I let him go.”

“All right, then; let’s get back to your job. I’ve heard the rumors that Miranda can be vindictive. Did she do anything to you? Retaliate in any way?”

“She gave me a reference. It got me hired at the Mirror.”

“That sounds like a good thing.”

Andy gave another mirthless laugh. “Well, it was a typical Miranda kind of reference. She said that of all her assistants I had been her biggest disappointment. And that if Greg didn’t hire me he was an idiot.”

Markoff laughed. “She really phrased it like that?”

“Yep. Greg made me a copy. I can show it to you, if you like.”

“Okay, so she didn’t do anything to you when you left. Why do you think that was, given her reputation?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s the easy answer. We don’t do easy answers in here, you know that.”

“I really don’t know. I expected her to blacklist me. And she didn’t.”

“Why do you think she didn’t?” He waited, unblinking.

“Maybe she didn’t totally hate me,” she finally said quietly.

“So you liked her and maybe she liked you a little too? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I guess.”

“Okay then, just one more thing I’d like you to clarify for me. Something you said.”

“What’s that?”

“You said ‘I liked her a lot and she hurt Nigel and how could I love somebody who could do that?’ Which was it? Like or love?”

“I… I…”

Here it comes, he thought. “Which was it, Andy? Like or love?”

One single tear tracked down her cheek. “Love,” she whispered.

Bingo! “So you were in love with Miranda and she broke your heart. That’s why you walked away.”

“Yeah, that’s why I walked away.”

“And does that have anything to do with why you’re still not dating?”

She looked at him bleakly. “It has everything to do with why I’m not dating.”

“Even after two years?”

“She’s a hard woman to forget.”

“Tell me.”

“She’s very private. The Miranda Priestly that you see in the papers, in the news, that’s the public Miranda. The icon. The fashionista. The successful businesswoman. The face she shows the world. Her persona. But there’s another side of her. The private Miranda she never lets the public see. The real Miranda.”

“And you saw it? What’s that real Miranda like?”

“Warm and caring and funny and fiercely protective of those she loves. There was this time I delivered the Book – that’s a full-size mock-up of the magazine that she reviews every night. I remember it was a Friday. Usually you just hung the dry cleaning in the hall closet and set the Book on the hall table and left. But this particular night she had a question and she called out for me. So I brought the Book in to her.”

“And?”

“She was in the media room. She and the twins had been watching a movie. There were drinks and bowls of popcorn everywhere. Miranda was barefoot and wearing jeans and Patricia was asleep on her feet.”

“Patricia is one of her children?”

Andy hooted with laughter. “Patricia is the dog. A Saint Bernard. Miranda had her feet propped up on an oversized ottoman and the dog was sprawled out all over them snoring. The girls were with her on the couch, both sound asleep. Snuggled up against her; one in each arm. And she looked so serene – so happy to be cuddling them. There was the softest smile on her face. That’s the Miranda I fell in love with.”

“And now, two years later, you’re still not dating because of her?”

Andy just shrugged. “My head knows it’s stupid but my heart hasn’t quite gotten the message yet.”

“I don’t want to throw cold water on you, but did Miranda ever give you any kind of hint that she cared for you? I mean, she’s been divorced, what, three times, hasn’t she?”

“Only twice! And Stephen was a drunken asshole! He didn’t deserve her!”

“Andy, listen to yourself. Now think about this – Miranda has been married twice and has children. That can indicate a fairly committed heterosexual. Did she ever give you any hint that she cared about you… romantically?”

Andy fidgeted a little. “The last couple of months. It felt like she was, almost, well, maybe flirting with me. I mean, somebody would say or do something dumb and she’d like, catch my eye and roll hers. Like it was a private joke just between us. And I swear, sometimes she acted like she knew I was watching her; she’d walk differently. Sexier. Like she was showing off a little for me. And she didn’t blacklist me. I bumped into her and the girls in the Park a couple of weeks ago and she was actually friendly.”

“All right. I’ll take you at your word. Now, here’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question: what are you going to do about it?”

“Ummm, nothing?”

“Wrong answer. You’re really telling me that you’d be content to worship her from afar for the rest of your life?”

“Well, I’d rather worship her up close and personal, but if from afar’s the best I can get, then, yeah, I’m good with that.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously; I’m kinda like my mom that way. I don’t fall easily but when I do, it’s for keeps. Miranda’s my for keeps.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yep, I’m sure.”

“Okay then. Now I get to have some analyst fun. I am hereby, officially, spitting in your soup.”

“You’re what?”

“Spitting in your soup. You’re sitting there telling me about being content to pine after Miranda from afar. That’s your bowl of soup. I just spit in it. What are you going to do about it?”

“Ahhh, I’ve got it. You’re calling me out.”

“Exactly. You can either eat your soup with my spit in it… “

“Ewww, gross!”

“… or you can toss that bowl out and get a fresh one – a new bowl, if you will.”

She sighed heavily. “I don’t know where to get a new bowl.”

“Then that’s your homework for our next session. Figure out where to get that new bowl of soup.”

“You know, you’re beginning to sound a lot like my housemates.”

He grinned at her. “Well, then, that just proves what I’ve suspected all along. Ruth and Doug are incredibly intelligent, astute people just like me.”

“I know. I only wish all you incredibly intelligent, astute people weren’t ganging up on me.”

When Ruth learned about Andy’s “homework” she silently cheered Dr. Markoff for forcing the issue. Knowing Andy would need all the support she could get, she made an executive decision. Andy was going to throw a party.

“I’m doing what?”

“Throwing a cocktail party. Now don’t get all worked up; I’ll take care of everything.”

“If you’re taking care of everything how come I’m throwing the party?”

“Because you need to. You need a life. Now pick a day and let me get to work.”

Andy consulted the calendar on her iPhone. “Ummm, how about a week from tomorrow? Next Friday?”

“All right. I’ll set it up.”

“So who am I inviting, anyway?”

“Just some people from work. I’ll get with Doug and we’ll work out a guest list. You’ll see, bubbeleh. It’ll be fun.”

By the time Friday evening rolled around, not only had the cocktail party grown into a dinner party, but everything that could have gone wrong with Andy’s day had. A corroborating witness interview in Jersey had been a no-show, she’d broken a heel in a sidewalk grate (thankfully they were only Blahnik wannabes that she’d found in a warehouse store), and, finally on her way home, her train had decided to die for twenty minutes somewhere deep beneath Columbus Circle. By the time she hit their front door she was frazzled, sweaty, and wearing the emergency pair of ancient and venerable8 Bass Weejuns she kept in her desk.

Ruth was prepared for this eventuality and met her at her door with a chilled glass of a nice Riesling, a plate of crab-stuffed mushrooms, and instructions to go shower and relax. The dining room table was already set with Andy’s grandmother’s china and crystal, the aromas coming from the kitchen were enough to make her stomach growl, and plates of cold hors d’oeuvres were sitting around the living room just waiting to be eaten.

By the time Andy emerged from her shower Doug had arrived bearing several bottles of better-than-decent wine and was checking over her liquor cabinet to make sure the fixings for drinks were available.

“Wow, Andy, you look great!” She’d opted for a pair of Donna Karan slacks and a vintage Chanel top she’d scored at a Tribeca consignment shop.

“Your timing is wonderful; your guests should be arriving any minute,” chimed in Ruth as she set a plate of chilled shrimp on the coffee table.

“So did you at least leave Greg a skeleton staff tonight? I can’t wait for you guys to meet Hooker.”

“I didn’t invite anyone from the Mirror.”

“What do you mean you didn’t invite anybody from the Mirror? They all said they were coming…”

“I know. I got your Mr. Hooker to help me out and play along for you.”

“What? Play along? What the… Who the hell’s coming then?”

“Why, your friends from Runway, of course. I thought I’d mentioned it.”

“My friends from… But you said people from work… This is a setup! You’re gonna get them to… Call them back and cancel – right now!” Andy began to panic. It was one thing for Ruth and Doug to know about her feelings; they were family. But to bring Nigel and Emily and Serena into it was too much.

“Andy, calm down. We just want you to be happy and they can help.”

“They can’t help! It’s nearly Fashion Week and Miranda will have them working so hard they probably haven’t seen the inside of their apartments for a month!”

“And yet they were all delighted to come here for dinner tonight. Funny, that.”

“Please don’t ask me to do this. They’ll hate me; worse, they’ll laugh at me! They’ll run and tell Miranda and she’ll laugh at me!”

“Andy, calm down. Nobody is going to do anything like that. Take a deep breath; you’re hyperventilating. Do you need a paper bag?”

Andy flopped down in a chair and buried her face in her hands. “Oh God, oh God, oh God…” she groaned just as the bell sounded from downstairs. Doug buzzed the new arrivals in and then went into the stairwell to greet them. A minute later they arrived, a bit breathless from the climb.

“Hi! I’m Doug, Andy’s friend. C’mon in.”

“I’m Nigel and these two lovely ladies are Emily and Serena.” Doug was as queer as a three-dollar bill, but even his eyes glazed over a little at his first glimpse of Serena. Thankfully, Emily was well used to this kind of reaction to her breathtaking Brazilian girlfriend, and managed to get his attention with a back-handed swat to his solar plexus.

“Oi, boyo! Back to earth; she’s taken.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry!” Flustered, Doug ushered them into Andy’s flat. “You all know the one moaning in the chair, and this is our landlady and ersatz mom, Ruth.”

Nigel presented Ruth with a lovely bouquet and finished the intros. Doug took drink orders while Ruth brought in the hot hors d’oeuvres then everyone sat down and got to know each other.

The Runway contingent was immediately enchanted with Ruth and Nigel and Doug were having a good time checking each other out. Andy was astounded to see Emily not only sample the canapés, but do so with great relish.

Serena noted her reaction and said quietly, “My querida has finally realized that she was too thin. I like my woman with some curves.”

“I’m glad she’s eating. She looks a whole lot healthier. And happier.”

“As do you, my friend. How have you been, Andy?”

“Getting better. The dreams are less frequent. I’m sleeping much better.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear it. We were all worried about you. Some horrors cannot be easily forgotten.”

“Tell me about it. So how have you and Em been doing?”

“I have finally persuaded her to move in with me. It is a wonderful thing. Oh, and I took her home to meet my family during the summer. We are planning a trip to England over Christmas so that I can meet hers.”

“Wow! In-law visits. So when’s the wedding?”

“I am not sure yet. Our Emily does not move quickly in matters of the heart, but I will wear her down. And when she is ready, I have the ring.”

Andy reached over and squeezed her hand. “I’m so happy for you! In fact, I’m a little jealous.”

“Well, then, we will just have to find you a someone. But I think maybe you’ve already found a someone, hmmm?”

The room got quiet in a hurry. Andy groaned and hid her blush in a throw pillow. To her surprise, it was Emily who tackled the 800 pound gorilla.

“My sweetie’s right. Bloody well time you came clean with us, Sachs. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. So, anything in particular you want to share with us? Or anyone?”

Realizing with growing dismay that she hadn’t been quite as subtle as she’d thought and that they all knew her secret, Andy nodded mutely, doing a surprisingly good impression of a deer caught in the headlights.

From that point on it wasn’t so much a dinner party as an intervention with cocktails. All of Andy’s friends looked her straight in the eye and told her to go for it with Miranda. Andy looked them straight in the eye, told them they were all fuckin’ nuts and poured everybody another drink.

By the time they had finished Ruth’s Coquilles St. Jacques and were happily ensconced in the living room with coffee, Bailey’s and a nice buzz, Andy had capitulated and agreed to do something. Granted, no one had any concrete ideas and Fashion Week was almost upon them, but the coterie was confident they would come up with an idea or two. Andy just shook her head and tossed back another martini.

But apparently, the patron saints of hungover fashionistas and bewildered journalists had been listening, because five days later Fate stepped in and took a hand.



Andy dragged herself up the front steps after another brutal day. Ruth met her at the door and hustled her upstairs into her apartment, babbling all the while.

“So? Did you hear? Have you talked to them yet? What did Nigel say? Do you know what really happened?”

Andy shook her head to clear it. “Ruth, what the hell are you going on about?”

Her landlady’s jaw dropped. “You don’t know? You honestly don’t know? It’s everywhere! Boot up your laptop!”

They went into the den and Andy did as she was told. When she was online, Ruth leaned over and pulled up the Page Six blog. “The you-know-what hit the fan in Bryant Park and Miranda was right in the middle of it. Here. Read.”

Dragon Attack!

Miranda Priestly struck hard and fast and pandemonium reigned at the tents this afternoon when the Dragon Lady of Runway gave the thumbs down to a highly anticipated James Holt line.

“She’s nothing but a witch! A hateful, spiteful, old witch!” cried the distraught designer backstage after his show. At least we think it was ‘witch’. It might have been something that rhymes with it.

The object of his vitriol was conspicuously absent from the after-show schmooze which accounted for the once-praised designer’s very public meltdown. Holt Ltd. CEO, Jacqueline Follet, snapped only a terse “No comment!” when asked about the snub.

La Priestly came, La Priestly saw and La Priestly dumped – all over young James’ designs. The moment the lights came up after the show, the Dragon Lady and her minions flew off for parts unknown without so much as a fare-thee-well. By deliberately skipping the after-party, the fire-breathing Grande Dame of Runway put her kiss of death on the heretofore-rising star’s line.

But the brouhaha begs the question: why did The Dragon Lady incinerate the designer many thought to be a personal protégé? Page Six sought some other opinions to try and discover the reason and the results were telling.

Tim Gunn commented that he thought the show “…was very uneven; disjointed. It seemed like many of the designs were almost strange to James. His usual flair wasn’t there.” Heidi Klum said only that she thought it seemed “…slowly paced; like the show was badly put together; there was no continuity in the designs; nothing to connect them”. Donatella Versace sniped “What can you expect from a flash in the pan?” None of the comments bode well for the House of Holt or its most recent offerings.

If Miranda doesn’t kiss and make up soon can it be long before Massimo Cortiglione pulls his financing? And what will happen to the grand plans for an International Holt line if he does? Our readers want to know, and we’ll keep digging up the dirt until they do!

“Holy shit! She declared war on James and Jacqueline! What the hell could have set that off?”

“Does she need a reason? She’s Miranda, after all.”

“Yeah, actually she does need a reason. And she wouldn’t do something like this so publicly without a damned good one either. Miranda’s not capricious – something’s going on.”

“Andy, that doesn’t matter. This is your chance!”

Andy’s brain was still focused on the blog and what it might mean and it took her a second to catch up. “My what?”

“Your chance! Look at the blog; every other word is dragon. It’s perfect! Now’s the time for you to make your move.”

“Still not following you.”

“Send it to her!”

“Send what to her?”

“That damned dragon in the basement!”

There was a knock at the door and Doug hustled in. “Have you seen it yet? What’re you gonna do?”

Ruth answered for her. “Yes, she’s seen it. Just now. I’m not sure what she’s decided.”

Andy regarded her two dearest friends gravely for a long moment and then exploded in laughter. “Guys, I’ve had a miserable, rotten day and I don’t even have my jacket off yet. I’m tired, hot, hungry, and, well, hungry. Can’t you give me a few minutes to relax before I have to come up with a plan that’s supposed to change my life?”

“Of course we can, darling. And don’t worry; I’ve got a meatloaf in your oven. Can’t you smell it? Dinner will be ready when you are. Relax a little and then we’ll eat. Does that sound better?”

“That sounds like heaven.”

“Then you go and change. Doug and I will take care of everything else. The plan included.”

As usual, Ruth was a woman of her word. By the time Andy emerged from her room freshly showered and wearing a disreputable pair of cargo shorts and her softest t-shirt, dinner was on the table. As they ate, Ruth and Doug explained just how she could contact Miranda and live to tell about it.

“You don’t want to be too direct or she’ll back away. You’ll scare her off. Miranda is the kind of woman who will appreciate subtlety. And we’ve got just the answer.”

“Okay, lay it on me.”

Doug leaned forward eagerly. “You pack up the dragon and have it delivered to her with a note that gives her a clue who’s sending it, but only a clue.”

“Right. Only a clue. And with this clue she’s gonna know it was from me… how?”

“Didn’t you always brag about getting her the Harry Potter book before it was released?”

Andy’s grin was decidedly smug. “Yeah, I really got to her that afternoon. She never figured I could pull that one off.” She warmed at the memory.

“Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.”

“Uh, excuse me? Journalism major here: avoided dead languages like the plague.”

“Loosely translated, it means don’t tickle sleeping dragons. It’s the motto of Hogwarts. I looked it up.”

“Hogwarts? As in Harry Potter… Damn, Doug, that’s moderately to severely brilliant!”

“Thank you,” he preened.

Ruth cut in. “But we’ve got to move fast, bubbeleh. It won’t have the same impact if it’s delayed. It’s got to be delivered first thing tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! How the hell am I supposed to –“

“Relax, we’re all over it. But it’s gonna be a busy night.”

After they cleaned up Andy and Doug started hauling things up from the basement while Ruth set up shop at the kitchen table with her calligraphy pens.

Doug produced a diagram of how to assemble various wood slats into a packing crate big enough to hold the dragon statue. Between them, they managed to assemble it without loss of limb and when Andy looked at the finished product she had to admit she was impressed. But it did beg a question of her landlady.

“Ruth, do you always keep custom crate kits in the basement?”

“Of course not, darling. I had all that brought over this afternoon.”

“And how did you get a custom packing crate kit delivered this afternoon?”

“My nephew is in the logistics business. I called him and he brought it over. He’s going to be delivering it in the morning, too. But you’ll need to decide something first.”

“What?”

“What address you want on the bill of lading. It’s required and Miranda will see it when the delivery is made.”

“Well, if I use the Mirror’s address it’ll be obvious who it’s from. Let’s use this one; she won’t know it but Nigel and Emily might recognize it.”

“Okay, that’s what we’ll do. Is the crate ready?”

“Yup. Let me run down and bring up the packing peanuts and we’re good to go.” Doug headed back to the basement.

“What are we going to do with the base?” inquired Andy.

“I’ve got some expensive wrapping paper for that and a little something else you’re sending her. I’ll attach the note under the bow.”

Twenty minutes later all was in readiness. Andy looked at their handiwork and just shook her head. “If I ever need to stage a coup d’état remind me to recruit you two right up front. You’re diabolical.”

Her housemates just beamed.


Early the next morning, after clearing security, two uniformed couriers wheeled a cart with a large crate and two beautifully wrapped gifts into the freight elevator of the Elias-Clark building. They rode to the 17th floor, exited into the main offices of Runway Magazine, politely requested directions to Miranda Priestly’s office, and thanked the receptionist when she supplied them.

Emily got a heads up from the front desk and moved to meet them as they entered Miranda’s office suite.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ve got a delivery for Miranda Priestly. Sign here, please.”

Emily scrawled her name and took the delivery receipt as the men unloaded their dolly and left. Nigel had seen them in the hall and wandered in to see what was up. The two of them looked the delivery over and discovered the heavy cream envelope.

“Emily?” The quiet voice made everyone straighten up and pay attention.

“Yes, Miranda?”

“What, exactly, is going on out there?”

“A gift for you, Miranda. Here’s the card.” Emily walked into the inner sanctum and handed Miranda the smallest box and envelope. Nigel and the second assistant followed, struggling with the larger, wrapped package.

The silver-haired beauty looked at them with a raised eyebrow and accepted the offered envelope and box.

“Do we know who this is from?”

“There was no name on it, let me check the receipt for an address.” Emily went out to her desk to fetch the waybill as Miranda opened the card.

DRACO DORMIENS NUNQUAM TITILLANDUS. I’m sure James and Jacqueline deserved it.

The calligraphy was beautifully rendered even if the message was a bit obscure. At least until she unwrapped the small box that accompanied it. Inside was a dozing dragon exquisitely rendered in fine jade. The four-inch sculpture was so detailed that Miranda could almost see steam rising from its nostrils. She gave a small smile and carefully placed the whimsical piece on the corner of her desk where it was prominently displayed to anyone in her office.

Miranda’s eyebrow twitched upward at the larger package, and she rose and walked around her desk, intrigued in spite of herself. She began to remove the wrappings, noting that they, too, were elegant and well executed. When the indigo and silver paper fell away a worn, black wooden cube was revealed.

“What is it?” The second assistant was lost.

“I would assume the base for whatever is in that crate. Call down to the mail room or maintenance and see if they have someone to open that.” The second assistant jumped to the phone and Miranda nearly smiled. This one was turning out to be a bit of a pleasant surprise. She just might make it.

“Emily, have you discovered from where this came yet?”

Emily had to fight the urge to grin from ear to ear when she read the address, but kept a straight face. “Uh, no idea. I’ve got an address but I don’t recognize it. Do you, Nigel?” She gave him the receipt and watched as his eyebrows flew up when he read it. Fortunately, his back was to Miranda and she never saw his reaction.

“Nope, not a clue. Here, Miranda,” he turned and handed the slip to her. “It’s the Upper West Side. Does it ring any bells with you?”

“Hmmm, no, it doesn’t. Is maintenance on the way?”

“Yes, Miranda. A couple of guys are coming up.”

Miranda glared at the second assistant over the tops of her reading glasses. “Guys?”

“Uh, men. A couple of men.”

Miranda turned her attention back to the heavy note card she still held. The translation was simple enough and certainly pertinent to yesterday’s events. It was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. I know I’ve seen it someplace, I just can’t remember where. Pivoting back to her desk, she returned to her laptop.

A quick Google search surprised her momentarily but as she realized what she was reading a small smile bloomed on her face. The motto of Hogwarts. That was the school in the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter…?  … Andréa.

The sounds of a power drill from the outer office broke her reverie. She rose and walked into her reception area.

“Try not to completely destroy my offices while you work on that.”

The workman who had been about to drop his drill on the polished surface of Emily’s desk quickly set it on the floor instead. Even brawny maintenance men feared Miranda.

The three men lifted the top off the crate to reveal the packing peanuts inside. Knowing full well that it might hold something worth more than they would earn in their lifetimes, they gingerly reached into the nest of polystyrene to locate the contents.

“I’ve got something. Hang on, it’s strapped down. We’re gonna have to pull the front panel. Johnny, get ready with the shop vac for the peanuts.”

Two of the men made quick work of removing the front panel of the crate and packing peanuts spilled out on the carpet revealing a good portion of the dragon.

No one spoke. No one even moved for fear of provoking Miranda’s wrath. And then one of the more amazing events of her tenure as Editor occurred. The woman whose name alone could make grown men weep threw her head back and laughed. A full-bodied hoot of delight that made everyone around her gape in astonishment.

“For heaven’s sake, get rid of the rest of those peanuts so I can see all of it!” she chuckled.

The workmen leapt to it and in short order the gilded dragon was revealed in all its tawdry glory.

“Gawd, Miranda, it looks like something you’d find in the worst Chinese restaurant in the city!”

“I know, Nigel. That’s why it’s so marvelous. Set it up on the base. I want to get the full effect.”

The workmen obliged then gathered the detritus and left as Miranda circled her newest objet d’art. Although battered, the plaster statue was surprisingly detailed. Miranda smiled and gave another quiet laugh.

“It’s so hideous it’s wonderful. Emily, call Serena and get some of the Art Department up here. Let’s see what they can do with this.”

“You’re not thinking of keeping it?” Nigel was aghast.

“Indeed, I am. I think it will enhance the décor immensely.” Emily just shuddered. “I saw that. Give our Art Department a little credit. Serena has many talents, of which I’m sure you are aware. I’m giving her a chance to shine.” Miranda stared at her first assistant and gave an evil smirk. Emily flushed bright red and mentally cursed her fair English complexion as she dialed the phone.

Serena and her minions arrived in short order. When Miranda summoned, you dropped everything and ran. They gawked at the plaster monstrosity, received their marching orders and then lugged their newest project off to be refurbished ala Runway Magazine.

Miranda returned to her office and went back to work. There was still a lot to do and they needed to leave for the tents within the hour. Thankfully, her coffee was still acceptably hot so there was no need for a last-minute Starbucks run. But when she sat back down she found it difficult to concentrate. Gazing at the small jade sculpture her mind wandered to her former assistant. What are you playing at, Andréa? Whatever it was, Miranda knew that she would play along.

She had no choice, really. That’s what you did when you were in love.

It had begun several months before the disaster in Paris the year before last, when Miranda had gradually become aware that someone extraordinary was sitting at the second assistant’s desk. Each day would begin with a bright smile and a pleasant “Good morning, Miranda!” Then warm brown eyes would sweep over her, checking out her ensemble and her décolletage. Oh, Andréa had been subtle and hidden it well, but Miranda Priestly had been cruised by the best and knew when somebody was checking out her rack, however covertly. So could she really be blamed for putting a little something extra in her walk in response?

She’d thought the flirtation harmless until the morning that lunatic had shown up. She’d always known that Reynard D’Anjou was a bit twitchy, but that speck of madness had taken his designs right to the edge and made him wildly popular. At least until it had pushed him over the edge and everything had come crashing down around him. He’d blamed Miranda for his breakdown and come to the Runway offices with a pearl-handled .22 to settle the score.

Andréa hadn’t liked the look in his eyes and decided he was going to be trouble the moment he walked into the office. Emily had been out seeing to some last-minute additions for a run-through, so Andréa took matters into her own hands, grabbing one of the emergency umbrellas behind her desk and hitting the crash button on her phone. Just as he’d managed to pull the small automatic out of his bag it flew across the room as the lovely brunette took care of business and dropped him like a bad habit. Three sharp blows from the umbrella had broken his wrist, doubled him over and then laid him out cold.

Miranda had stared at her assistant, astonished. “Wherever did you learn to do that?”

That heart-stopping grin had bloomed across Andréa’s face as she replied, “Ten years of competitive lacrosse, Miranda. I know how to high stick somebody.”

They’d watched in silence as police dragged the groaning man away. As the doors had closed behind them, it occurred to her that Andréa had positioned herself between Miranda and the danger and had not budged an inch until the threat was completely removed. It was at that precise moment she realized this was considerably more than just a harmless flirtation.

And so it had been. In the ensuing weeks Andréa had become almost an extension of herself, instinctively anticipating what was required and having it close at hand so it was available even before Miranda requested it. They had become so in sync with each other that Miranda sometimes felt that Andréa could complete her sentences for her. It had certainly insured a marvelously smooth-running office. And, much to Miranda’s dismay, more than one steamy, XXX-rated dream.

But it wasn’t until she had turned on the steps of the Hôtel de Crillon and found Andréa gone that she understood the true depth of her feelings and that the cost of keeping her hold on Runway had been far, far higher than she had anticipated. She had barely kept her focus after that, but, somehow, they had staggered through the remaining two days of Fashion Week. When she had returned to the office, Emily had several suitable replacements pre-interviewed and awaiting her final stamp of approval. They had all been adequate, more than adequate, really, but none of them had been Andréa. None of them would ever be Andréa.

She’d caught a brief glimpse of the girl a couple of weeks later and the beautiful young woman had smiled and waved at her from across the street. That smile had nearly felled Miranda and she froze, but once in the safety of her car she had watched, fixated, as her heart walked away toward Radio City, firmly in the possession of her former assistant. She hadn’t been able to resist a smile as a memory of that hideous cerulean sweater bubbled up, but knew in her heart that letting go was the best thing she could do for the woman she had come to love.

So Miranda had contented herself with memories. Everyone had assumed that the faint air of sadness that clung to her was because of the divorce, but she knew the truth of it. She and the girls would be far better off without Stephen but her heart would always belong to the lanky brunette who had walked away.

And then the chance meeting in the Park a few weeks back. Andréa had been radiant, her complexion glowing from her run. Miranda was gratified to see that she was still a size four; Andréa didn’t need to be any thinner than that. It had been wonderful to watch her with the girls and she had to admit she was pleased that Andréa had taken the time to arrange a tour for their class the following week. The twins had enjoyed themselves immensely on the junket and chattered about the outing all through dinner that night.

And now, this. Interesting.


Fashion Week concluded with a flourish and the staff of Runway heaved a collective sigh of relief, relaxed for thirty seconds, and then went back to work. Thankful that the fall shows were now over, they concentrated on putting together the foundations of the spring showcase issue.

The Art Department, however, had more immediate concerns, with Serena putting her people to work on “Her Nibs”, as the statue had been dubbed. The base was sent out to a custom cabinetry shop to be sanded down and re-lacquered in gleaming ebony. Several of her people had painstakingly removed all the cheap gilt and another group was hard at work patching dings, chips and cracks in the plaster beast. And Serena’s artists were feverishly researching what a dragon ought to look like.

It came as no surprise that a traditional Chinese Dragon was usually shown in red and gold. But Serena had worked for Miranda long enough to know that Miranda would not be constrained by tradition, and since the statue itself wasn’t typical, she decided that she needn’t be either. They settled on a palette of jewel tones heavy on blues and purples. The dragon’s throat and belly were feathered in a pale, silvery blue, while its scales were air-brushed from deepest purple and indigo to iridescent teals and greens. Serena let her inner child out to play a bit, and the statue now sported sapphire eyes, crimson nostrils and golden claws all of finest cut crystal. The overall effect was stunning and Serena knew in her gut that Miranda would be pleased.

She decided to keep the reveal low-key and merely called Emily to report that they were finished and on their way. Emily relayed the information to Miranda who had all she could do to restrain herself from leaping up and running to meet the delivery contingent. Instead, she nodded to Emily and returned to her laptop, keeping one eye on the outer office.

Serena, Nigel and her staff arrived a minute later pushing a draped form on a small, wheeled cart. Miranda rose and strolled out into the reception area.

“Well,” she said, cocking an eyebrow, “let’s see it.”

“I ope you like it, Miranda.” And Serena swept the drape off. 

Emily gasped, Nigel let out a low whistle and even Miranda was frozen for a long moment. Then she began a slow circling of the beast, drinking in the myriad details.

“Well done, Serena. It’s precisely what I wanted. Let’s set her up over here by my office, shall we?”

“Her, Miranda?”

“Of course, her. Only a female dragon would have taste enough to have her talons manicured by Swarovski.”

When the base and statue were in position Miranda stood back and took in the whole effect. The gleaming dragon now guarding her door was the absolute right touch.

“Exactly what we needed. I believe we’ll have to come up with a name for our new mascot. Again, beautiful job, Serena. Please congratulate your staff for me. Now, we’ve had enough fun for one morning. Let’s get back to work. The Holiday issue isn’t going to finish itself.”

As she walked back into her office she reached out unconsciously and caressed her new door warden.

Perfect.
Andy’s phone beeped the arrival of a picture message and she picked it up to look. She pored over the picture for a long minute, chuckling to herself.

“This is great! Ruth and Dougie won’t believe it. And it’s guarding her office, what a hoot!”

She forwarded the message to Ruth and Doug and went back to work.

Okay, opening salvo fired. Now what?


Word of Miranda’s new acquisition spread like wildfire through Elias-Clark. The morning after it was installed Irv invented an excuse to drop by her office and see it for himself. He usually demanded their meetings take place on his turf to keep home field advantage, but rumor had it she’d spent a mint having it restored and he wanted to check that out. Maybe this latest stunt could be used as leverage to finally get rid of her once and for all.

When he pushed open the door to her offices he saw it immediately and stopped dead in his tracks. The damned thing was huge! To make matters worse, the Art Director was supervising a workman attaching an engraved brass plate to the enameled base. He took a long appraising look and then strolled into Miranda’s office.

He indicated the statue with a tilt of his head. “Truth in advertising, Miranda?”

She smiled a smile that never even came close to her eyes. “Merely fair warning to all and sundry. What can I do for you, Irv?” He certainly didn’t waste any time getting here.

“Tell me what the brass plate says for starters.”

“Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.”

“And that means?”

“Loosely translated: Don’t tickle sleeping dragons.”

“I didn’t know you were ticklish, Miranda.”

“Everyone has their secrets, Irving. Still, I thought it only fair that visitors be given a sporting chance. Levels the playing field a bit that way.” What an incredibly annoying little man. And so transparent.

“So what did this little ‘sporting chance’ cost me? I understand it was a wreck when you got it.”

“It was a bit battered. Our Art Department did a wonderful job on it, don’t you think?”

“I’ll decide how wonderful their job was when I find out what it cost me. That’s expensive crystal and they look custom cut. So, how much?” I hope it’s a bundle because I’m going nail your couture-covered ass to the boardroom wall with it!

“For you, Irv? A bargain at… nothing.”

“Nothing?” Damn her arrogance! What’s she trying to pull?

“Well, as of tomorrow, nothing. I had Serena do a cost run of time and materials. My accountant is cutting a check and will messenger it over to the CFO’s office this afternoon. That way she’ll always be my personal door warden.”

“Personal door warden? And here I thought you could take care of yourself. Slipping, are we? Does Public Affairs need to call a press conference?”

“No, I should think word of mouth will suffice, don’t you?”

“Just so you don’t put it on the company payroll. I’m surprised you haven’t named the damned thing yet since you’re that fond of it.” Insufferable bitch!

“Oh, we’re working on it. I’ve had several excellent suggestions from my staff, but I’ll know the right name when I hear it.” And thanks to you I’ve just had the most marvelous idea. Who said you weren’t good for anything except schtupping the steno pool? “Was there anything else?”

“No, I just stopped by to see if you had the final figures for the Fashion Week receptions. I’m putting together a report for the Board and I need them.”

“Accounting is pulling the final invoices together this morning. I’ll have them for you by Friday as agreed.” Now go play with your golf balls and let the rest of us get back to work.

“Friday then.” He pivoted and stalked back to the elevators.

“Emily?”

“Yes, Miranda?”

“Call the printers and see if they’ve started their run of the current issue. If they haven’t, find out how long it will take to make one tiny change. And get me Patrick.”

Six days later the new issue of Runway hit the shelves and the fashion industry went crazy. When Miranda Priestly chose to make a statement she did so with considerable panache.

The formal black and white Vargas portrait that had, for years, accompanied her Letter from the Editor had been replaced. In its stead was a quarter-page, full-color Demarchelier of Miranda casually leaning against her Dragon. Resplendent in a drop-dead, black Armani suit, her knowing smile and pose were an unmistakable “Fuck you!” to all her detractors.

Andy took one look at it in the advance copy that had been messengered to her and had a hot flash. She was so turned on that she couldn’t sit still and seriously debated taking the rest of the day off to spend some quality time with that photo and her vibrator.

She ran her fingers over the heavy, monogrammed stationery that had bookmarked the page and re-read the hand-written message for what seemed to be the hundredth time.

Andrea –

Thank you so much for both the moral support and the incredibly thoughtful gift. We’ve put her to good use as you can see.

Cassidy and Caroline have suggested “PYRO” as a name. We’d welcome your input on the matter. Say dinner, Friday? Around 7:30 pm, the Central Park boathouse? If you fancy a stroll in the Park, we’ll meet you at the corner of 5th Avenue and 72nd Street at 6:45.

Miranda

I suppose it would be bad form for me to just run over there and ravish her on her desk. God almighty, how can a mere mortal make a business suit so damned sexy?

Her musings were interrupted by the arrival of yet another messenger, this one from a vaguely familiar address. She slit open the heavy envelope to discover an 8x10 print of that photo and a scrawled note from Michael, Demarchelier’s assistant.

Andy –

Emily thought you might like this. Can my guy take a picture or what! Hope all’s well with you. Let’s try to get together for coffee sometime, I’ll give you a call.

Mickey

Frame; I’ll need a frame. Forget the frame, I’ll get it blown up to life-size for over my bed. But then I’ll never sleep. Fuck it - sleep is overrated. Jesus, look at her! Were they right in high school? Can it kill you to jerk off too much? Heheheh, gives new meaning to “died by her own hand”… Batteries! I’m gonna need a lot of batteries…

Several eternities later, Friday finally rolled around.

Knowing Miranda’s proclivity to be fifteen minutes early to everything, Andy was leaning against a lamppost on the designated corner shortly before 6:30 p.m. when she heard her name being called. She looked down the block and spied the Priestly twins running to meet her as Miranda followed at a more sedate and dignified pace.

“Hi, Andy! You ready for dinner?”

“Hi, guys. Hello, Miranda.”

“Good evening, Andréa. Are you ready to perambulate in the Park? We have plenty of time to work up an appetite before our reservations.”

“I’m ready when you all are.” When the light changed, the girls grabbed Andy’s and Miranda’s hands and dragged them across the street into Central Park.

The setting sun was still warm as they strolled under trees awash in autumn colors. They stopped to watch a last group of diehard model boat mariners retrieved their vessels from the Conservatory Water and Caroline commented that it looked like fun.

“You ought to come over and try it sometime. You can rent model sailboats over there at the boathouse.” Andy commented.

“We can? Oh, Mom, can we do that tomorrow? Please? That would be so cool. You said that we could take Patricia for a long walk tomorrow. We could do both, couldn’t we? Please, can we?”

“We’ll discuss it later. Do either of you know anything about the mechanics of sailing?”

“What about it? You just turn the sail thingy until the wind pushes you.” Andy couldn’t resist a laugh at that naiveté. Caroline wasn’t amused. “What’s so funny? Isn’t that what you do?”

“Well, sort of. But what if the wind doesn’t happen to be blowing in the direction you need to go? How do you steer then?” Caroline frowned as she tried to work out the physics. As Andy let her think it over, Cassidy jumped in with a pragmatic solution. “Well then, if you know how to sail then you need to come along and teach us. That would be fun! We could sail boats and walk Patricia and have lunch.”

“Well, I know a little about sailing, but my friend Doug is the one that really knows how to sail. His father taught him and he spent all his summers sailing while he was growing up. He’s the expert.”

“Girls, don’t you think you should ask Andréa before just demanding that she instruct you? She most likely has plans of her own for tomorrow.”

“Do you, Andy? Please, come and teach us how to sail, please?”

Andy found it impossible to resist their unbridled enthusiasm. “Actually, I don’t have plans. Let me call Doug and see if he’s available to captain this regatta.” She pulled out her iPhone and hit Doug’s speed dial code. He answered immediately.

“What’s happening? Did you make a move yet? Are you going to see her again?”

Andy grinned and shook her head. “That would be nothing. No and yes. What do you know about sailing model boats?”

“Well, I can sail the big ones. How hard could it be? Why?”

“We have been requested to teach the Priestly twins how to sail model boats tomorrow afternoon. Feel up to the challenge?”

“Sure. What time?”

“I’ll work it out and get back to you. Rumor has it that lunch is included in the invitation as an extra incentive.”

“So I get to teach a bunch of gorgeous women how to sail and get a free meal to boot? I’m down with that. Okay, I’ll talk to you later. Don’t drool on La Priestly too much at dinner, but if you must, make it count.”

Andy turned partly away from the twins as she quietly hissed, “I won’t, smartass!” and disconnected the call. Turning back to the grinning children she said, “Okay then, looks like we’re on for a sailing lesson tomorrow. You guys will like Doug and I promised to feed him so you’ll need to decide where we’re getting lunch too.”

Cassidy and Caroline stared at each other intently for a long moment then nodded at each other. Shifting their gaze back to Andy they chorused “Cart food.” Andy’s jaw dropped and she looked at their mother.

:”That was just creepy. Do they do that often?”

Miranda smiled indulgently at her offspring. “Constantly. They have since they were old enough to speak. I gave up trying to figure it out a long time ago and simply write it off to a twin thing. It drives their teachers crazy; I’m sure that’s part of the reason they do it. Girls, let’s get moving; we don’t want to miss our reservation.”

Without fanfare she linked arms with Andréa and began strolling toward the boathouse and dinner, the twins chattering away as they moved off.

“And I was walking to the nearest subway stop when a couple of workmen carried it out of this old Chinese restaurant . They were just going to throw it out and I really liked it so I bought it. Doug helped me get it home.”

“So why did you send it to Mom?”

“Well, there were all those articles about her and James Holt and they all called her a Dragon Lady. And I thought it would be kinda fun just to let her know that even though the press was stomping all over her she still had friends.” Andy took another bite of her dinner and sighed in pleasure. “Boy, you guys were sure right about these pork chops. They’re fantastic!”

Caroline grinned. “Just wait until dessert. We always get the ice cream and sorbet selection and a cookie plate. You get a lot of different flavors that way.” She noticed Andy’s frown. “What’s wrong?”

“Just trying to figure out where to put the plates so I have a fighting chance of holding you two off long enough to get a taste or two.”

“We’ll share; don’t worry. And if you wanted, you could order the vanilla brulee and we could share that too.”

Andy shot Miranda a look. “Why do I think they’ve been planning that ambush for a while?” Cassidy and Caroline just smiled angelically. “I recognize that look. Now I know something’s up.”

Miranda chuckled and just shook her head. “Your only option at this point is surrender. For the most part they’re humane captors but I wouldn’t push them where dessert is on the line.”

Andy saluted smartly. “Yes, ma’am! So you guys decided that the dragon needs to be named PYRO. I think that’s a terrific name for her. Have you convinced your mom yet?”

“Pretty much. Wasn’t that a great picture she had taken of it?”

“It sure was. Emily had Demarchelier’s assistant send me a copy of it and I keep it on my desk at home. It’s a terrific photo of both of them.”

“Tell us about your friend that’s going to teach us to sail. How long have you known him?”

“I met him my second day in college, so that means I’ve known him for just about ten years. It was early on a Sunday morning and I didn’t know where I was going and I walked into the guys’ bathroom by mistake. Doug was using the err, …. Well, he was in the bathroom. And we just stared at each other then started to laugh and we’ve been best friends ever since. In fact, he got me my apartment.”

“So you guys live together?”

“No, we live in the same building. He has the apartment on the second floor and I have the apartment on the third floor. He met our landlady in a blizzard and helped her home. She had just renovated her townhouse to add two apartments upstairs from hers and she asked Doug if he wanted one. Then she asked him if he knew anybody who might be interested in the other apartment and he dragged me uptown the next morning to meet her. Ruth is like a second mom to both of us and I can’t think of any place else I’d rather live.”

“Where do you live?”

“On the upper west side; west 89th Street. And you know what’s even neater than living with Ruth and Doug? Ruth turned the roof into a garden and it’s so cool up there. There are trees and bushes and a little herb garden and a patio and even a fountain. It’s really neat and very eco-friendly. Our very own green space.”

Cassidy nodded sagely. “We’ve been trying to talk Mom into doing the same kind of thing. Maybe you could invite her over so she could see yours some time.”

“You’re all welcome to visit. Ruth loves to show it off and I think you guys would like it too. She’s talking about adding a fish pond next summer.”

“Sweet! Can we Mom? Can we go visit Andy and see the roof garden?”

“Let’s see if she survives sailing lessons without killing you first. Then we’ll talk about a roof garden tour.”

Forty-five minutes later Andy hugged the twins and air-kissed with Miranda, promising all the Priestlys that she and Doug would meet them at the Conservatory boathouse the following morning at 10:00 am. With a final promise that she would not be late, Andy flagged down two cabs and she and the Priestlys took their leave.

The next morning, Doug was so hyper that he had Andy at the boathouse by 9:00 am, and that was after Ruth made them both French toast for breakfast. Andy couldn’t be completely sure, but she was willing to bet that her housemates were just as excited as she was at the prospect of her seeing Miranda again. Granted the twins and the dog would be along, but at this point Andy was willing to take what she could get.

The Priestlys arrived at 9:40 on the dot. When introduced to Miranda, Doug was gracious and courtly, but when presented to Cass and Caroline, instead of shaking hands he said only “Dude!” and knuckle-bumped them both. He was immediately awarded “totally cool” status and a permanent rank of good guy in their world. Andy was impressed and even Miranda had to fight back a smile. When Doug and the twins headed to the boathouse to rent the fleet, Miranda and Patricia and Andy took seats on one of the many benches lining the pond. To Miranda’s delight, Andy reached down into her rucksack and produced a surprise from Ruth: a large thermos bottle full of fresh, hot coffee. Settling back with a steaming cup Miranda decided all was right in the world.

“Your friend Douglas has quite the way about him. He certainly knew how to make friends with the girls.”

“There’s a part of Doug that stubbornly refuses to grow up. Half the time I could kill him but he’s the best friend I’ll ever have.”

Miranda looked at her curiously. “Really?”

“I’d have never made it through this past year without him.” Andy hesitated. “I had a bad experience last Christmas and it’s been… difficult… to get past it.”

Miranda looked alarmed. “Were you injured in some way?”

“No, no nothing like that. I witnessed something on a story that affected me profoundly. It’s taken me a while to put it behind me. That’s all.”

“And your Douglas has helped you get over it?”

Andy looked at her with a level gaze. “Doug and Ruth kept me sane this past year.”

Miranda returned the gaze and reached out to touch her hand. “Then I’m glad you have them in your life. I truly am.” Anything more that might have been said was forgotten in the return of the twins and Doug and the beginning of the sailing lesson.

Doug kept it short and sweet and as uncomplicated as Bernoulli’s Principle could be kept. In short order he and Andy helped launch the twins’ boats and the regatta was off and running. Both twins seemed to grasp the concepts of tacking across the wind and in no time flat were piloting their boats with surprising skill. Doug, by virtue of his background, could literally sail rings around everyone and did precisely that. Both Caroline and Cassidy walloped him when he steered his boat too close to theirs, and Andy threatened to kneecap him when he rammed hers broadside. Miranda and Patricia, as the duly appointed cheering section, supplied applause, positive reinforcement, and excited woofs as they enjoyed the spectacle.

The official model boat racing season had ended two weeks previously, but there were several other enthusiasts plying the waters nearby and in short order, Doug had organized everyone into an impromptu race. Andy withdrew at that point and joined Miranda and the dog for a caffeine fix.

“They’re doing really well, Miranda. I never thought they’d catch on this quickly. Doug always says that sailing is 80% instinct and they must have them. Look, they’re holding their own against folks with a lot more experience. And they look like they’re having fun too.”

“Yes it does. I suspect that Santa may get some last-minute requests for model boats this year. You do realize that I’m going to blame you if I wind up sitting here every Saturday morning next summer because they want to join the weekly races.” Her twinkling eyes belied any censure in her words and she smiled warmly at the sight of her offspring jumping up and down and shouting as they maneuvered their small craft toward the designated finish line.

“I get the blame? I can deal with that. But with those two you’ll be lucky if they don’t want sailboats for the Hamptons house. As for the Saturday races here I’ll bring the coffee, okay? And perhaps the occasional Danish and dog biscuit?”

“Sounds doable.” Both of them stood and cheered as the twins finished a respectable third and fourth out of nine boats.

When the rental equipment had been returned and the race rehashed for a third time, Miranda reminded the twins that they had promised Doug lunch for teaching them.

“Have you given any thought to where you’d like to eat?”

“What about cart food? That’s what we wanted to do in the first place.”

“Girls, I don’t know about cart food. You hear so many things.”

Andy and Doug exchanged a look. “Miranda, we know two very good ones.” Turning to Doug she posed a question. “Carnegie John’s or Uncle Gussy’s?”

“Carnegie John’s is closer; 56th and 7th.”

“Okay, how’s this? You and I grab a cab down there and bring lunch back? Miranda and the girls can stake out a picnic table in the vicinity and we’ll meet up with them.”

The twins vetoed that idea because they wanted to go to the cart too. Doug tried to explain that there was no place to sit and eat at the carts while Andy described the food at both award-winning carts to Miranda. It was finally decided that Miranda would summon Roy and their car to ferry Doug and the twins to buy lunch from Carnegie John’s while Andy and Miranda walked Patricia back home. All five would then rendezvous at the townhouse to eat lunch there. Miranda regarded this as the most workable solution, and everyone began walking back to 5th Avenue where Roy was to pick up the carry-out crew.

Not surprising anyone except perhaps Doug, Roy and the Mercedes were waiting curbside when they arrived at the street. He greeted Andy warmly and they chatted for a moment while Doug and Miranda negotiated lunch finances and the twins kept Patricia from following every other passersby back into the park. Miranda and Doug finally came to terms and he and the girls piled into the back of the car while Andy shouldered her ruck and the two women headed back down 72nd street toward Lexington and the townhouse.

“You’re absolutely sure about this food cart?”

“Absolutely. Both Doug and I eat there every chance we get. It’s won awards for the quality of its food, and it’s been rated as one of the top ten food carts in the Tri-State area. It’s not like it used to be; food carts have to pass the same inspections that restaurants do, so the quality has improved dramatically. But Carnegie John’s has always been tops in the city.”

Miranda appeared to relax at that news and Andy decided to take a chance and push a little.

“Look, I didn’t want to ask you in front of the girls, but what really happened at the Holt show? I know the press thinks you were just being La Priestly and dissing him for some imagined slight, but I know you don’t work that way. There’s something going on. Can you tell me what it is?

Miranda thought for a moment. “I suppose I can. But I’m not sure….”

“You can trust me.”

“I know that. It’s just that I haven’t yet decided on the best course of action.”

“Do you want to talk about it? I’m a good listener.”

“I’m sure you are. For starters let’s just say I have some serious questions about most of the items in the Holt line. Give me a couple of days to get everything together and I can show you then. But I can’t do it openly.”

“How about over dinner? Let me take you out and you can tell me then.”

“I don’t mean this to sound the way it will, but I’d really rather we not be seen. I have no problem seeing you socially, but I can’t risk what I’m going to tell you being discovered. And the only evening I have free this entire week is Thursday. The girls are eating out at a friend’s house for a study group that night and I can get away.”

“So, Thursday and we need privacy. Let me work on that. I’ll call you Monday or Tuesday and let you know what I figure out. Okay? Anything you absolutely won’t eat?”

“I’ve never been fond of liver and onions or stuffed peppers.”

Andy hammed it up shaking her head and snapping her fingers in disgust. “Damn! And I knew just where to take you for the best liver and onions in the city!”

Miranda glanced over at her and chuckled. “I believe you’re seriously disturbed.”

“I have my moments. Okay, no liver and onions or stuffed peppers. I can handle stuffed peppers but I’m in complete agreement on the liver. Can’t stand the stuff. See? I’m easy.”

“I’d heard that about you.” Miranda slid the comment in so smoothly that Andy literally stopped walking with her jaw hanging open before she exploded in laughter and hustled to catch up.

“I truly have missed you, Miranda.”

“And I you.”

Andy’s smile was warm and inviting. “I’m glad to know that.”

Andy and Miranda had barely finished setting the kitchen table when Doug and the twins returned with armloads of food.

“Did you guys clean them out or is there a pita or two left for some other hungry soul?”

“Nope. Doug said that since we’ve never had cart food before that we needed to get a wide selection so we could experience everything Carnegie John’s has to offer.”

Miranda’s eyebrow arched toward her hairline. “Experience everything Carnegie John’s has to offer? You sound like a travel agent.”

The girls dissolved in giggles as Andy helped them unload the bags onto the table. There were salads all around, steak and chicken platters, souvlaki skewers, gyros with tomatoes and onions and tzatziki sauce on warm pitas, hot sauce, and a couple of tubs of ranch dressing. But that was only the beginning. From two other plastic bags, the lunch crew produced four made-to-order Belgian waffles with fresh fruit, Belgian chocolate fudge, walnuts and a sinfully rich concoction called dulce de luche all topped with mountains of whipped cream.

Miranda stared at them aghast and Andy nearly had a foodgasm at the sight. “How did you get these?”

“You won’t believe it. We’d just loaded up lunch at Carnegie John’s. Roy pulled around the corner to head back here and there was the yellow truck. He pulled over and we ran up and ordered dessert. Took maybe three minutes.”

“People seriously eat these?” Miranda couldn’t tear her eyes away from the confections.

“Oh yeah! Wafels and Dinges trucks are on a rotating schedule all over the five boroughs. You need to check their web site every day to see where the trucks will be that day. To just run across one is an unbelievable stroke of luck.” Andy glared at the twins. “Do not even think about touching that chocolate one. That baby is mine. Understood?”

“How can you eat all of that and still walk?”

“Lots of practice. And a few extra laps of the reservoir when necessary.”

“See Mom? If we made the lacrosse team we’d get all kinds of exercise so we could eat stuff too and you wouldn’t have to worry.”

Now Andy’s eyebrows shot up. “Lacrosse? You guys want to go out for lacrosse? That’s great!”

Girls, Andréa played lacrosse in school. Was it just high school?”

“High school and college,” Andy replied around a mouthful of chicken and rice.

“Cool. So were you any good?” Caroline could always be counted on to cut to the nitty gritty.

“Was she any good? I’ll have you know Andy played on the NCAA National Championship team!” Doug had been a loyal friend and hadn’t missed many games throughout their college years.

Both twins’ eyes bugged out. “You did?”

“Yep, we beat Virginia for the national championship my senior year.”

“Who’d you play for?”

“Northwestern. The Wildcats.”

“Which is also one of the top-rated academic institutions in the country.” Ever the mother, Miranda felt obligated to remind everyone that academics were the true reason to attend college.

“It sure is. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve won the national championship for the last 5 years either.”

The twins were seriously impressed. Miranda wasn’t so sure.

That night after dinner, Andy and Doug gave Ruth a complete blow-by-blow of the day’s events. She was thrilled that Andy had a date with Miranda and didn’t seem fazed at all when Andy described the limitations she needed to deal with.

‘So you want to make it a special night and you need it to be private. Not a problem. I know just the place.”

“Where?” Doug’s curiosity was thoroughly piqued.

“Up on the roof. I saw an ad for a pre-fab gazebo that they swear they can assemble in a single afternoon. How about I get one built and you turn it into an intimate dining space for two? Will that be special enough? All it’ll take is a few hours and a couple of thousand Christmas lights.”

Andy was so overcome with emotion at her landlady’s generosity she couldn’t speak. All she could do was stand up, walk over to her and wrap her in the tightest hug she could manage. “It’s perfect. I can get dinner catered from somewhere and…”

“You’ll do no such thing. I’ll cook and Wall Street here can practice his waiter skills. That way you and Miranda can be alone together.”

Andy turned to Doug. “Do you mind?”

He grinned from ear to ear. “I don’t know; do you tip well?”

They spent Sunday afternoon stringing the lights and bright and early Tuesday morning a construction crew arrived to build the gazebo. By the time Andy and Doug got home from work it was complete and they promptly strung more lights in and around its beams. Ruth’s favorite landscaper was coming the next day to decorate the new structure with plants and then all would be in readiness for Thursday night.

She called Miranda Monday night to confirm and told Miranda that she would pick her up at work around six Thursday evening. When Miranda insisted she could just meet her at the restaurant, Andy stood her ground and insisted that she would pick Miranda up. Her only concession was to allow Roy to drive them.

Andy arrived at the Elias-Clark building with plenty of time to spare. She found Roy leaning against Miranda’s town car in the usual spot out front and greeted him happily.

“Hi Roy!”

The big man grinned and wrapped her in a bear hug. “Andy! Nice to see you again so soon. I understand you’re taking us for a ride tonight.”

Andy laughed from the depths of the hug. “It’s no big thing. I asked Miranda to have dinner with me and I wanted to make it special. Since she’s been everywhere and done everything, I had to come up with something different. But don’t worry. We’re only going to the upper west side – west 89th Street to be exact.”

“Well, whatever you’ve got planned, you’ve certainly got her attention. She was as twitchy as I’ve ever seen her this morning on the drive in. She kept Emily on the phone demanding that the schedule be cleared early so she could leave the office on time. Then I had to go fetch three different outfits so she could change if she decided she needed to. Em said she’s been growling and pacing all day long.”

“Oh Lord, I’m gonna have to apologize to everybody. I never meant for them to have to deal with cranky Miranda.”

“Not cranky Miranda, Andy. Excited Miranda. Maybe-a-little-nervous Miranda. So you gonna tell your Uncle Roy what’s going on? Am I gonna have to program your address into our GPS so it’s instantly available?”

“Just my address? I’m crushed. Why not my phone number too?”

“Don’t need to; already got it. Honey, your phone number is still number 3 on the speed dial. Right after the twins. She had your new number programmed in about thirty seconds after the account was activated. That has never changed.”

“My new number? But I don’t have a new number.”

“Sure you do. You got a new phone and number when you got back from Paris.”

“Two years ago? You’ve had my number on speed dial for two years?” Interesting. Maybe everybody was right. Maybe I do have a fighting chance here.

“So, something to tell me, young lady?”

Andy grinned. “Not yet. But I promise if there ever is, you and Em will be among the first to know.”

“Fair enough. I just… Andy, you know she’s difficult. She’ll make you tear your hair out on a daily basis. But she’s worth it. Just in case you don’t remember.”

“I remember, Roy. I’ve always remembered. And I always will.” She slipped him a note with her complete address on it. “Here; I’m going to be an optimist and tell you to program the GPS. Now let me call the lady and see if she’s ready to go on this date.”

Roy busied himself with the GPS as Andy took a deep breath and called Emily.

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”

“Hey, Em. It’s Andy. I understand I owe you guys for a pissy Miranda day.”

“It wasn’t so bad this morning but she’s been pacing like a caged lion all afternoon. Are you downstairs?”

“I am. Should I come upstairs and pick her up?”

“I don’t think so. It would raise too many eyebrows around the office and she’s nervous enough about tonight as it is. Just let me tell her you’re downstairs waiting.”

“Okay. You know her mood best. I’ll be down at the car with Roy.”

“I’ll tell her immediately. We’re rooting for you, Andy. This will be good for both of you if you can work it out.”

“Thanks, Em. I’m nervous too. Keep your fingers crossed.”

“Nigel said to tell you we want a complete report tomorrow night at Brewster’s. Usual time.”

“Gotcha. I’ll be there. And thanks, Em. Tell the others too. I never would have worked up the nerve if it wasn’t for you guys and my homies.”

“Enough of that, now. Pull yourself together. You’re taking Miranda Priestly to dinner.” And with an evil chuckle, Emily hung up. She rose and walked quietly through the glass doors into the inner sanctum.

“Miranda? Andrea Sachs is waiting at the car.” It was all she could do to hold in a laugh at the panic-stricken look that flashed across her boss’s face. “And I put those files and notebooks in a tote for you. It’s at my desk when you’re ready to leave.” Ever the proper minion, Emily returned to the outer office and retrieved Miranda’s coat and bag from the closet and stood ready to hand them to her nervous employer when she swept from her office to leave.

Miranda took a deep breath and shut down her laptop. She rose and stepped into her private bathroom. Checking her appearance in the mirror, she tried to center herself. She asked you out so that you could tell her about Yves. This is probably nothing more than a business dinner to her. Don’t build it up in your mind to be anything more than that. It’s only dinner. It will be what it will be. Gripping the sink firmly with both hands she looked directly at her reflection in the mirror. Do not screw this up! Then she straightened and strode out to meet her future.

She shrugged into her coat and took her bag and the tote Emily had prepared. The new girl had the elevator waiting and the ride to the lobby was direct and uninterrupted. A security guard held the lobby door open for her, and as she stepped onto the plaza she saw Andréa standing next to open car door that Roy held.

“Good evening, Miranda. Thank you for letting me use Roy tonight. At least I know you’ll get home safely that way.”

“My safety is a concern this evening? Where precisely are we going for dinner?”

“A new place. Hasn’t been discovered yet. Very exclusive clientele. Impossible to get a table unless you know the right people. Unbelievable chef.”

“Well, lead on then. If it’s as good as you claim I’m sure we’ll have a delightful meal.”

Roy’s encyclopedic knowledge of New York traffic got them to west 89th Street in a remarkably short time. Andy had fired off a text message to Doug as they were pulling away from Elias-Clark, and when Roy pulled to the curb in front of their place he was waiting to open the door and usher them inside.

“Good evening, ladies. Your table is ready, if you’ll just follow me.”

“Good evening Douglas. You have many talents, it would seem. I had no idea you moonlighted as a major domo. Lead on.”

Both Andy and Doug were grinning as he showed them into the tiny service elevator in the rear of the townhouse. Emerging onto the third floor foyer, he opened the roof door with a flourish and led the way up. “Right this way, please.”

Andy brought up the rear and breathed a sigh of relief at Miranda’s delighted smile as she stepped out into the roof garden.

“This is wonderful! However did you manage this? You realize I can’t bring the girls over here; they’ll never want to leave.”

“All it took was a ton of Christmas lights and a lot of extension cords.”

Their hard work had transformed the roof garden into an enchanted glen. Every tree, shrub, bush or potted plant had tiny white Christmas lights strung in it. Inside the small gazebo they had woven dangling icicle lights all through the rafters. An intimate table for two was set with Ruth’s Limoges and Baccarat on a fine Irish linen tablecloth. They had been prepared for a cool evening with space heaters, but the weather gods were cooperating, giving them one last Indian Summer evening before the chill of winter descended. Doug took Miranda’s coat and bag, filled their water goblets and disappeared after promising to return with their appetizers and wine.

“Do you really like it?”

“It’s marvelous! You did all this?”

“Well, Doug and Ruth did a lot of it. She’s cooking tonight, by the way, and, as you see, Doug will be playing the role of wait staff.”

“You didn’t need to go to all this trouble.”

“Yes, I did, Miranda.” Andy reached across the table and took her hand. “It took me two years to work up the courage to ask you out and I wanted it to be special. I’m just lucky that I have friends who were willing to help out.”

“I seriously doubt you’d have friends like that if you weren’t that kind of friend yourself. Thank you for going to all this trouble. But it wasn’t necessary.”

Chocolate eyes held azure ones. “Yes, it was. I needed to show you how much I… how special you are to me. And I need to apologize for walking away from you in Paris.”

“No, you don’t. God knows, it wasn’t my finest moment. I understand why you had to leave. I’m just glad we found our ways… back. I’m very… very glad you had the chutzpah to send me that dragon. It opened a door that I had thought closed forever. I was so happy when I realized it was from you. Can you ever forgive me for not telling you what was going on in Paris? For not trusting you?”

“You did what you had to do. I know that now. I was foolish and stupid for doubting you. So please, can we just put the past behind us? Where it belongs?”

This time the blue eyes ensnared the brown ones. “I would like that very much. I…”

Miranda’s reply was interrupted by a mechanical sound coming from the area of the doorway. Doug emerged from the stairway and turned to the brick wall adjacent to the door. He slid open a metal gate to reveal a dumbwaiter which held their wine and appetizers. He placed plates of sizzling broiled diver scallops with garlic and clarified butter in front of them and poured a chilled Verdelho to accompany it. A basket of fresh-from-the-oven sourdough rolls completed the service and he waited until Miranda had taken a sip of the wine for her verdict.

“This is marvelous. I don’t think I recognize it though. What is it?”

“It’s a Bremerton Verdelho varietal from Australia. They served it at an IPO launch party I attended and I enjoyed it immensely. The verdelho grapes are just now being grown domestically. Most established vintages come from Spain, Portugal or Australia. I’m glad you like it. Enjoy your appetizers. I’ll be back with your salads in a bit.”

Miranda took a bite of her scallops and smiled. “These are delicious. What other delights might we look forward to this evening?”

“I have no idea about the salad, but the main course is going to be seafood paella. I believe yesterday afternoon was dedicated to the construction of the perfect cheesecake. And I heard rumor of a strawberry/blueberry mix to top it with. Will that suffice?”

“It sounds wonderful. If I eat it all you may need a crane to get me back to the car.”

“Then it’s a good thing that Dougie and I work out on our Bowflex®, isn’t it?” they chatted about doings at Runway while they ate. Doug must have been watching from somewhere, because just as they finished the scallops, he arrived with a miniature Cobb salad for them. Andy commented that it was her favorite salad and was a bit surprised that the remark brought a smile from Miranda.

“Was something I said funny?”

“Not funny. I was just thinking back to how you said you had wonderful friends. A made-from-scratch cheesecake and your favorite salad? Someone obviously thinks the world of you.”

“I’m pretty lucky. You’ll get to meet Ruth later on. It’s a good thing she’s busy with dinner or she’d be up here too. She can’t wait to hear why you dissed James and Jacqueline at the tents. Will you mind if I tell her?”

“Not at all. In fact, I’ll tell all three of you the story if you want to hear it. I just ask for them to keep it to themselves until the issue resolves itself. After that, it won’t matter.”

“I’d trust both of them with my life. They won’t say anything.”

“Fair enough. Perhaps we can share that cheesecake together while I do.”

“I believe that would be an excellent idea.” When Doug appeared to clear their salad plates Andy invited Ruth and him up for cheesecake and coffee.

The paella was exquisite and after several bites Miranda gave Andy a frankly appraising look. “Do you eat like this all the time? How do you manage to stay a size four and eat food this wonderful?”

“I run five times a week and lift weights. It’s kinda hard sometimes; Ruth is an unbelievable chef and she loves to cook for us. But believe me, it’s worth it.”

“I couldn’t agree more. This paella is the best I’ve ever had. I’d resemble the Goodyear blimp if I ate it often.”

Andy couldn’t resist a grin. “Note to self: get Miranda some running shoes and a map of Central Park.” They spoke about their fitness regimes as they finished their entrees and Doug cleared the table, then sat back to wait for Ruth and Doug to join them. When introductions were made and all four were settled with dessert and coffee Miranda began.

“What happened during Fashion Week began several weeks earlier when I received preliminary sketches of James Holt’s collection. . I don’t know if Andréa ever told you, but I get preliminary illustrations from most of the designers prior to Fashion Week. Normally, I just glance at them looking for trends we can utilize in the magazine, but something about James’ drawings caught my eye. And not in a good way. I brought them with me. I want you to look at them.”
Miranda withdrew a binder and two battered sketchpads from her tote. She opened the binder to show two of James Holt’s newest creations. Then opened the sketchpads and laid them next to the Holt drawings. Andy and Doug stood and crowded around Ruth to get a better look.
“I want you to look carefully at these drawings. Look beyond the glitter and flash; look at the bones of the design.” With that, she settled back in her chair and sipped her coffee.

The three housemates pored over the drawings, occasionally reaching out to trace a line with a finger. Andy caught it first, but Doug and Ruth were only a moment behind her.

“I’ve got it. Here; look at how this is cut on the bias. Both of the drawings are cut exactly the same way!”

“It’s more than cut the same way, bubbeleh. Those are essentially the same dresses. All Holt did was add this ruffle to disguise the bias cut.” The older woman looked straight at Miranda. “Were there more than just these two?”

“All but three dresses of the collection were taken from these sketchpads.” Andy and Doug took their seats again.

“All but three? My God, Miranda, that’s… I don’t know what it is. Plagiarism? Theft of Intellectual property? I don’t know what to call it, but it’s got to be illegal. If word of this gets out James Holt International is finished. Did you ask James? What did he say?”

“When I called Jacqueline she hung up on me. I made a special visit to James’ studio and put it to him face to face. He denied it, but he wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then he became evasive and finally asked me to leave. I knew then that my hunch was correct. He stole the designs. I’d been hearing vague rumblings that he was completely blocked for months. Couldn’t design anything.”

Ruth was paging through one of the sketchpads and looked up. “These sketches are amazing. Why haven’t we seen them before now?”

Andy chimed in. “Ruth’s right, Miranda; these designs are incredible. Who did them?”

“A beautiful boy named Yves Bouchard. He was a gifted designer who died many years ago. A victim of our modern holocaust.” Doug shook his head and Andy looked at her quizzically. “He was one of the early AIDS victims.” She looked up at Andréa as tears filled her eyes. “We lost so many back then, so many lovely boys. You’re too young to know; you have no idea what it was like.”

“Then tell us. Tell us about him.”

Miranda settled back in her chair and took a steadying sip of coffee. “I started at Runway in 1974. I met Yves at Deauville in ’76. I was an Assistant to the Assistant Fashion Director, he was fresh out of L’École des Beaux Arts and apprenticed in the House of Dior. Somehow, we both recognized something in the other and found ourselves becoming fast friends. He was brilliant; oh, Andréa, he had such an eye! The only person to even come close since is Valentino but I believe that had Yves lived he would have eclipsed him.

“He was one of the early victims. Back then, it was a death sentence. He was diagnosed in ’78 and dead five months later. They all died horribly; all those boys. They died of diseases no one ever heard of. It was a nightmare. No one knew anything. How the virus was transmitted, how to treat it, not even what to call it. The first cases appeared in ’76 and ’77. Then more and more got sick with diseases only animals got. With cancers so rare that the oncologists had only seen them in textbooks. With so many infections all at once and fevers so high their brains literally liquefied. Wasting away until they looked like some horror out of Auschwitz.”

A tear began to slip down the alabaster cheek and, unthinking, Andy reached out and took Miranda’s hand. She squeezed it reassuringly and Miranda collected herself and continued.

“Funeral directors wouldn’t embalm them. Nurses wouldn’t care for them. Ambulances wouldn’t carry them. Did you know that it was called GRID until 1982? Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Then it got into the blood supply and the hemophiliacs began to get sick too and they realized that it wasn’t just a disease of gay men. That’s when they changed the name to AIDS. But how many thousands had died before then? While the sanctimonious politicians and religious zealots smirked and congratulated themselves that “the right kinds of people were dying”. And they died by the thousands… by the tens of thousands. And my Yves was one of them. God, I hope there’s an especially hot corner of hell for Jerry Falwell. He convinced Reagan that the CDC and NIH didn’t need any funding for AIDS research because AIDS was God’s judgment. Falwell said, ‘AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals’. That bastard! So many beautiful boys; so much creativity and passion… lost because ‘the right kinds of people were dying’.”

She looked at Andréa bleakly and murmured, “Did you know that Reagan never even used the word AIDS publicly until 1987? Everyone in the gay community knew something was terribly wrong by ’77. Mainstream news media was carrying stories about AIDS in ‘81. And the President of the United States did not use the word publicly until 1987.”

She lowered her head and fought back tears of anguish. Andy reacted the only way she knew how; she slipped out of her chair and took Miranda in her arms; holding her while she wrestled with the unspeakable loss. Ruth murmured a Yiddish curse under her breath and wrapped her arms around a weeping Doug. It took several long moments before everyone had collected themselves and Andy had returned to her chair.

“Can we do anything? Is there anything that can be done?” Doug was ready to take to the streets.

“Only one of us can do anything. I hesitate to ask, but, Andréa, would you consider telling his story? Would you let the world know what James and Jacqueline did?”

“Gladly, Miranda. Those two deserve to be run out of town for what they did. Do you have any idea how they got their hands on Yves’ sketches in the first place?”

“I have a suspicion. And I’ll give you some contacts that should be able to give you the full story. But I cannot be seen to be involved in this, Andréa. I have to remain apart from your story because this will become a scandal. And I cannot risk the magazine being involved in any way.”

“That’s no problem. People will remember what happened at the tents and will put two and two together, but I’ll keep you out of the article.”

“Thank you, And thank all of you for this wonderful evening. It’s getting late and I need to get home; my girls will be back from their dinner soon and I try to be home when they are.”

Andy took Miranda downstairs while Ruth and Doug cleared the dishes. In the foyer, Miranda turned and thanked her once again for the evening.

“I truly can’t remember when I’ve had as good a meal with such wonderful company. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. I wanted tonight to be special, but you were the one that made it special. Thank you for sharing Yves.”

Miranda reached into her bag and pulled out a small flash drive. “Everything you’ll need to get started is here. If you require any other information, let Emily know and she can get it to you. I’m sorry, but this means that we really can’t be seen together until your story breaks.”

“I know. That’s just motivation to get it written faster.” Andy took a deep breath and pushed on. “I’ve missed having you in my life, Miranda. Now that I’ve got you back in it, I’m not planning on letting you go any time soon. Is that okay with you?”

“Far better than okay. I’ve… missed you, as well. More than I can say.”

Andy leaned in close. “Then why say anything?” she whispered as she brushed her lips against Miranda’s. She waited a moment and then kissed her in earnest, nearly collapsing in relief when Miranda returned the kiss with fervor. Andy wasn’t aware of moving, but discovered she had Miranda in her arms while their kiss deepened and her senses reeled. Unable the think of anything beyond the feel of Miranda in her arms she swept her tongue across her lover’s bottom lip seeking entry and groaned deep in her throat when it was granted. She explored Miranda’s mouth eagerly and felt her hands begin to caress the slender body pressed against her. Knowing she needed to stop but wanting anything but, she forced herself to gently break the kiss and pull back.

Both of them just stared at each other as they tried to sort out the tidal wave of emotions surging through them.

“Wow.”

“Editor-in-Chief of the biggest fashion magazine in the universe and the best you can do is ‘Wow’?”

“Yes. So I guess I’ll just have to keep a writer close by to save me. Know anybody who’s available?”

“Nope. That position has just been filled. But I’ve gotta tell you, after that kiss there’s no way I’m going to survive being apart from you for long. Can we renegotiate the parameters of my writing the story to include the occasional surreptitious phone call?”

“How occasional?”

“Nightly?”

“Acceptable. Given the fact that I would probably spontaneously combust if I couldn’t speak with you too.”

“Okay, no public contact. Private nightly phone calls allowed. I can work with that.”

“As can I. Do you have my numbers?”

Andy blushed to the roots of her hair. “Yes. Your cell number and the landline for the townhouse are numbers 1 and 2 on my speed dial.”

“I see I’m not the only one who clung to the tatters after Paris. Why did we wait so long? We’ve wasted two years.”

“Not wasted. I had a lot of growing I needed to do. Personally and professionally. I’m a better match for you now.”

“And I had to go through that ridiculous year of separation before the divorce. At least we don’t have to contend with any of that nonsense.”

“No, we don’t. Miranda, I…”

Miranda silenced her with another scorching kiss. When they broke apart she rasped, “Andréa, my darling, sometimes you talk entirely too much. And now I really must go. Will you call me?”

“Count on it.” Andy brushed one, last, lingering kiss on Miranda’s lips then lowered her arms and opened the front door. She escorted Miranda to the waiting car and waved Roy off when he got out to open the door. She did it herself and made to hand Miranda into the back seat.

“Thank you again, Andréa. It was a wonderful evening.”

“It was my pleasure. We’ll have to do it again soon. Maybe next time you come you can bring the girls. I know Ruth would love to meet them.”

“We’ll see.” Miranda leaned in for the pro forma air kiss and slipped gracefully into the car. “I’ll speak with you soon. Good night.”

“G’night.” Andy closed the door and rapped twice on the roof to let Roy know it was clear to pull out. She stood at the curb watching until the Mercedes disappeared around the corner then let out a whoop of pure, unadulterated joy and bounded back inside to help with the dishes.

Holy shit, she loves me!


Greg didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to approve Andy’s story pitch. He was so excited at the possibilities it opened that he decided to do a whole special series based around it. Andy would write the Yves Bouchard story and the exposé of what happened during the Holt show. Other writers would report on the impact of the pandemic culturally and on the arts in particular. Marc Sternberg, a gay man with a strong background in politics would write a historical piece on the AIDS epidemic and Stephanie Corelli would write an article on the current state of the AIDS pandemic; newest drugs, prognoses, global treatment initiative and the like. He assigned Hooker to photograph facilities and social welfare agencies dedicated to patients with AIDS. The plan was to publish a special insert “The State of AIDS; Forty Years of Struggle, Gain and Loss” with the personal story of Yves Bouchard as the cornerstone. The reporters dove into their assignments with relish.

Andy called several contacts she’s maintained in the fashion industry and located a senior staffer with Dior who had been working there in the mid 70’s and might remember Yves. It took a bit of coordination with time zones and Ruth translating the French, but finally Andy spoke with someone who had known Yves personally. During their conversation he told her that Yves’ mother was still alive and living in a small town in the Provence region of southern France. Another three days on the phone with various public records offices and she finally had a name and address: Mme. Angelique Casteau-Bouchard of Vaucluse, France. Andy waded through all the information she could on the small village and finally managed to get a number for the local Gendarmerie precinct. After explanations to three different officers, a clerk finally dug up the phone number for her out of the local directory. Andy took a couple of minutes to sip on a double-shot latte and relax from her bout with French law enforcement before proceeding. After double-checking the time difference to insure she wasn’t calling too late, she placed the call.

“’Allo?”

“Bon soir, madame. Je m’appelle…”

“You are American, yes?”

“Yes, ma’am, I am.”

The woman chuckled softly. “I speak English. Would that be easier for you?”

“Very much so, thank you,” Andy said in relief. “Madame Bouchard, I’m calling about your son, Yves. I’m writing a story about him and his designs for the New York Mirror, and I’d like the oppor…”

Any warmth that had been in the elderly woman’s voice vanished instantly. “What is your name?”

“My name is Andy Sachs and I’m a feature writer for the New York Mirror. I’m doing a story on…

“So, you use your true name this time! Salope! You have no shame! Did you put him up to it the last time? Tell me!”

“Last time? Mme. Bouchard, I’m very sorry but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Casse-toi! Why should I believe you?”

“Why shouldn’t you believe me? What is it you think I’ve done?”

“You must have put him up to it! He came here claiming to be Andy Sachs from New York; claiming to want to learn from my Yves’ designs. So I met with him and showed him Yves’ sketches and he took them! Seven months ago! It took me nearly a month to discover that Andy Sachs was a woman. Those sketchbooks were all that I had left of him! Petite putain!”

“Mme. Bouchard, please believe me, I’ve only been to France once and it was two years ago. I just learned about Yves a week ago, and I’ve never sent anyone to speak with you. Whatever happened, I had nothing to do with it. I’m so sorry.” Andy’s brain raced to connect the dots and figure out why her name had been used by the thief.

“Then how did you learn about my Yves? How could you know him?”

“I… a friend of his told me about him.”

“And who is this “friend”?”

Andy knew instinctively that she was going to have to be completely truthful to win the elderly woman over. She took a deep breath and plunged in.

“Miranda Priestly told me about him. She showed me Yves’ sketches and told me his story. A couture house tried to pass off his designs as theirs; Miranda saw the dresses at their show in New York and recognized Yves’ designs right away. She asked me to write the story of what they did and to tell Yves’ story as well. I’m writing a piece to expose them.”

“Miranda? She was a true friend to my Yves and has been a good friend to me as well. You know her?”

“I used to work for her. I know she was a good friend to Yves, Madame; she wept when she spoke of him. If I may suggest something? Call Miranda tomorrow and ask her about me. She can tell you who I am. And then when you’re certain I am not going to betray your trust perhaps then we can talk. Would that be acceptable?”

As soon as the elderly woman had agreed to verify her identity and they hung up Andy was dialing Runway.

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”

“Em, it’s me, Andy. I need her for about fifteen seconds. I promise it’ll be short.”

“Wait just a moment.”

Fifteen seconds later Miranda came on the line. “Yes, Andréa? What can I do for you?”

“I just got off the phone with Mme. Bouchard. She called me several not-very-nice names. I think I just found out how Jacqueline and James got their hands on those sketchbooks. It seems somebody – some man – using my name, got her to show him Yves’ sketchbooks and stole them from her. Seven months ago. What I need to do now is try to find out who impersonated me. I’m going to have to tell Greg about this and I’m pretty sure that if I can figure out who did it our legal department is going to get involved. Anyway, Mme. Bouchard needs you to verify who I am to her. She trusts you.”

“I’ll call her straight away. So seven months ago, someone impersonating you met with her and stole Yves’ sketchbooks? Well, the timing would be right, at least.”

“Yeah, and I’ve got an idea or two who else might have been involved. But first off I need for you to get her to talk to me. I can’t do anything without her cooperation.”

“You’ll have it. Andréa, I want you to nail these frauds. I could almost forgive James for being desperate enough to use someone else’s designs. But to trade on an old woman’s grief over her dead son? That’s despicable.”

“I’ve got worse words than despicable; most of them unprintable. Just get her to talk to me, okay? I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Give me an hour then call Mme. Bouchard back. Let me know how it goes.”

“You’ve got it. Thanks. I’ll call you later tonight with a full report.”

They hung up moments later and Andy stormed into Greg’s office. When he heard that someone impersonating a Mirror staff member stole private property his face got an unhealthy shade of red and he was on the phone to the paper’s in-house counsel within a minute. Then he and Andy went upstairs to the lawyer’s office and she repeated what Mme. Bouchard had told her. The attorney concurred that if Andy could prove it, the theft was actionable as was the impersonation. She had a couple of ideas about what could have gone down, but needed to speak with the widow Bouchard before she could determine the truth of the matter.

Back at her desk she counted down the remainder of the hour impatiently. The moment the required time had elapsed, she placed the call. Mme. Bouchard answered on the first ring.

“Madame? It’s Andy Sachs again. Did you get a chance to speak with Miranda?”

“Yes, I did she assures me that you are trustworthy and will do your best to discover who did this.”

“I promise you I will. But I need your help. Do you have the time to answer some questions for me now or is there a more convenient time for me to call you?”

“Now is fine. What did you want to know?”

“Tell me about Yves. Tell me what you want the world to know about him.”

“Aren’t you being a bit presumptuous? Do you really think your article will be read all over the world?”

“No, I’m not that conceited. But Miranda Priestly loved him dearly and Miranda Priestly will make sure that his story is heard all over the world. So tell me about your son. I want to get his story right.”

“Even as a small child he knew what he wanted to do. He would draw on any flat surface. I cannot count the times I punished him for drawing on the walls when he couldn’t be bothered to find paper. I finally tired of doing so and began leaving tablets for him to draw on all around the house. Such an eye he had...”

“He met Miranda at the Deauville Festival in 1975 or ’76 and they became fast friends…”

“Yves always said that the woman wearing the dress was the most important thing. That couture should, above all, flatter the wearer…”

“He was so sick those last weeks; he could hardly turn over in bed. The nurse said…”

“After the funeral I used to sit in the garden and leaf through his sketchbooks. Just looking at his thoughts and notes made me feel closer to him. I felt so empty inside… what is the word? Désolé…” She paused for a long moment then almost snarled, “That’s what he said. ‘Je suis désolé’. Bâtard!”

Andy’s head spun. Je suis désolé. God, could it be? “Mme. Bouchard? Can you tell me what he looked like? The man who visited you?”

“How do you say…average height. Blond hair. It was… not curls but…”

“Wavy? Wavy blond hair?”

“Oui. Wavy blond hair. He had such sad eyes. Quel salaud!”

Wavy blond hair… sad eyes… je suis désolé… “Mme, Bouchard? Do you have an email address? I’d like to send you a photograph to look at.”

“No, but ma petite fille… granddaughter… is here. Chérie? Write down your…”

Andy quickly sent a recent photo that had appeared on Page Six and paced until she got a response.

“Merde! It is him!”

Gotcha! You sonuvabitch!


“Dammit, Sachs! Give me two minutes’ peace to read the damned thing willya?”

“Sorry, Greg. It’s just… I’m just…”

“Christ! Go get a cup of coffee or something. Anything! Take an early lunch; just stop pacing like a caged lion.”

She surrendered with a groan and finally went with Marc and Stephanie to order a sandwich at a nearby deli. Doing so killed almost a half hour and by the time the trio returned with their lunches Greg had read through all of the primary articles. He leaned back in his chair with his fingers laced behind his head.

“You guys knocked this one out of the park. Here’s how it’s gonna go down; it’s Friday and we’re going to use the weekend to build circulation on this special edition. The story will break on the website at 3 p.m. with the individual stories being posted every ten minutes to build momentum and get a buzz going. We’ll also run the complete feature section as a special insert for tonight’s evening edition and the morning edition tomorrow. I’ve ordered extra print runs for both. Our forecasters are predicting we’ll pick up nearly a hundred thousand additional readers when people realize that only we have the whole story. Timing it like that also leaves you three available for interviews in time to make tonight’s network and national news. You’ll probably be on the Monday morning shows too.”

“Are we going to give them a chance to respond to the articles?”

“At 2:15 p.m. one of our staff writers will place a call to their offices outlining what we’re printing and giving them a chance to respond before we go to press.”

Andy bolted out of her chair eyes blazing. “No way! Those bastards are mine! I should be the one to put it to them!”

“And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t be the one to call. The reporter who makes that call needs to be icy calm and you’re too invested in this story. Besides, I kinda thought you’d want to be at their offices when it went down.”

“At their offices?”

“Yeah, because at 2 p.m. Detectives Nichols and Stevens of the Major Case Squad will serve search warrants for the offices of Holt International - and if need be, the residences of its officers - to recover five sketchbooks which are the property of a Mme. Bouchard of Vaucluse, France. I thought you might want to be on site when that happens.”

Jaws dropped around the room. “How the hell did you manage that?” Andy sputtered.

“The District Attorney’s office is cooperating with Interpol and the French police to serve the warrants and attempt to recover the books for Mme. Bouchard.”

“What about…”

Greg held up a hand. “Let me finish. There is also a separate arrest warrant being issued for one Christian Thompson for grand theft. It seems they received a polite call for assistance from Inspector Ladouceur of la Sûreté. The French want the thief extradited and Jack McCoy, in a fit of international cooperation, not only agreed but threw in separate charges of receipt of stolen property against James Holt and Jacqueline Follet. They’ll serve the search warrants first which will give them a chance to respond to our call. If they find the sketchbooks then they’ll arrest everyone.”

Marc shook his head in disbelief. “I still don’t get it. I mean what are the chances? Of all the reporters in Manhattan, he just happens to choose you to impersonate when he steals the notebooks?”

“Marc, I have a history with Christian Thompson. We didn’t part on good terms and he probably used my name as payback in case there was trouble. Speaking of trouble, what’s legal going to do about it?”

“Our attorneys have called the French to see what’s possible. Since he entered the country legally on his own passport and only used your name with Mme. Bouchard there’s no international fraud charge that can be brought. There are State charges we can bring but, frankly, he’ll do more time on the French charges than anything we could hang on him. Legal is looking at ways to sue him in civil court to recoup damages for defamation. Right now, that’s about the best we can expect.”

Andy thought a minute. “I guess I can live with that. The most important thing is to return the sketchbooks to Mme. Bouchard.”

“Well, we’ll keep our fingers crossed on that one. Frankly, I’m not holding out a lot of hope. If they had any sense they’d have destroyed the books when La Priestly snubbed them in Bryant Park. But at least you’ll be there to see for yourself. Okay, any questions? This is going to be big and I want us looking like the pros we are. Review the files before we upload them to the web site. Double check that your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed. I’ve already got special editors going over the print copy. Andy, you hook up with the detectives at the Midtown South precinct on west 35th at 1:30 p.m. Do not be late. I don’t care if you have to leave here right now; I want you to walk into those offices with the police. Clear?”

“I’m all over it, boss. I’ll be there; don’t worry.”

Back at her desk she had time to send a surreptitious text message to give Miranda a heads up. Writing the story had been a terrific high, but she was desperately missing Miranda. Nightly phone calls were okay, but she needed to feel that slender body in her arms with every fiber of her being. Tomorrow could not come soon enough. She ate her pastrami on rye as she combed through her interview notes and the proofs of her article. By 12:30 p.m. her messenger bag was packed up and she was downstairs hailing a cab.

The bust couldn’t have gone smoother. The two detectives and ADA Casey Novak led a squad of six uniformed officers into the Holt International offices a few minutes before 2 p.m. and served the search warrants. The squad immediately fanned out and began going through anything that was large enough to conceal the sketchpads. Jacqueline blustered about threatening to sue everyone and James was so frightened he was nearly jumping out of his skin. By the time the Mirror called to get their comments on the article, Jacqueline was foaming at the mouth and James was in tears. After Mirandizing them, it took Detective Nichols less than five minutes to get a full confession out of a blubbering James, who then went to a floor safe behind his desk and produced the sketchbooks. Jacqueline came unglued at the sight of them, screaming at her partner that she had told him to destroy the books weeks ago. Both were then formally arrested and led away in handcuffs. A separate squad of uniformed officers arrested Christian Thompson at his home on theft charges at the same time.

Andy gave Hooker a heads up and the photographer and a legal reporter were waiting at Central Booking when the three arrived. The Mirror was three hours ahead of everybody in town with photos of their perp walk. James and Jacqueline were arraigned and bail was set at half a million dollars each, while Christian Thompson was ordered held without bond pending extradition hearings the following week. He was promptly shipped off to enjoy the hospitality of Riker’s Island while he awaited his hearing.

When Andy got back to her desk the phones were lit up like Christmas trees and security had wrangled the reporters that had stormed the building into a large conference room on the 5th floor. Andy, Marc and Stephanie took turns fielding questions from the shouting horde. By the time they’d finished with televised interviews with each network, all Andy wanted to do was to duck down a back stairwell and make a run for it. Instead, she found herself being dragged into Greg’s office by Marc and informed that the three of them were going to appear on the Rachel Maddow Show that evening. They needed to be at 30 Rock by 8:30 pm to get through hair and makeup and be prepared for a free-for-all interview session lasting the final fifteen minutes of the show.

“So go home and change if you need to. I want all three of you looking sharp tonight. Clear?”

Wearily Andy nodded and went back to her desk. Crap! By the time I get a cab home and get cleaned up I’ll just have time to make it to the studio. She checked her watch, debated with herself for a long minute, then picked up her cell phone and hit the speed dial.

“Hello, Andréa. May I assume by the fact that my office is being besieged by reporters that everything went well?”

“It did. Maybe a little too well. I was going to suggest we try and get together for dinner later, but I’ve just been told that we’re booked on the Rachel Maddow Show tonight. By the time the show goes off the air I’ll probably be asleep on my feet so that kinda rules that out. I’m sorry; today has just been crazy.”

“Would you consider meeting me at the townhouse? I can arrange a light supper there when you’re finished. And if you’re that exhausted, you could just… stay… if you wanted to.”

Andy’s breath caught at the thought. “I’d like that. Very much. Now I just have to figure out how to get home and back in time.”

“Why are you going home?”

“I’m going to be on live national TV tonight. I don’t want to look like a dorky reporter.”

Miranda became all business. “Do you have toiletries with you?”

“Yeah, I keep an emergency bag in my desk. I really just need to change my clothes.”

“Someone will be there within the hour. Will there be a problem with security?”

“I… Miranda you don’t have to…”

“But I do have to. I can’t have my former assistant make her TV debut looking like a refugee from a jumble sale. It would look bad for the magazine. Size four? Do you still wear an eight-and-a-half shoe?”

When Miranda went into Fashionista Supremo mode, she took the expression ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ to new heights. Andy knew when to surrender. “Right on both counts. How can I say thank you?”

“Just look as good on camera as you always do to me.” Miranda hesitated then plunged in. “You realize that our names could be linked by Monday. Are you ready for that?”

“Yep, let ‘em come. But what about you? What about the girls?”

“They’re at their father’s tonight and tomorrow night. I plan on speaking with then Sunday afternoon when they return. I was hoping you could be there with me when I do. If that’s acceptable?”

Andy felt her heart melt. “I can’t think of anything I’d like more. But right now I need to go. I’ll call you when I’m leaving the studio.”

“All right. Someone will be there shortly. I’ll see you later.”

“Can’t wait. Wish me luck; this is my first live interview.”

“You won’t need any; you’ll do fine. But I also believe in covering all the bases so break a leg.” The call clicked off.

Chuckling and shaking her head, Andy called down to the security desk and asked them to have a visitor badge waiting for someone asking for her. She went back to reviewing her interview notes and it seemed only minutes before a male clacker who worked for Nigel arrived with a large garment bag and two soft shoe bags under his arm. He dropped them on Andy’s desk, handed her a scrawled note and then headed back to Runway.

Six –

You done good girlfriend! Herself is strolling the halls grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary and that’s always good news for us.

I was instructed to go with “classic Professional” tonight. So, basic black Armani it is. I couldn’t remember if you favored Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin so I sent a pair of each.

Make us proud!

Nigel

She grabbed her emergency bag from her desk and gathered up the things Nigel had sent over and headed for the ladies room across the hall. It wasn’t until she had hung the garment bag on a stall door that she realized she had an entourage trailing in her wake and eager to see what treasures those shoe sacks might hold. Andy laughed and gave them free rein while she opened the garment bag. She gasped when she saw that it contained a duplicate of the stunning suit Miranda had worn for her Pyro picture.

Everyone wanted to know how she’s managed to score the clothing and Andy was forced to explain that she’d thrown herself on the mercy of an old friend who worked at Runway. She briefly described the Closet and explained that the clothing was just on loan and would be returned first thing Monday morning. The women of the Mirror were suitably impressed, wildly jealous, and very opinionated on the shoes choice. It only took Andy a few minutes to change and put her hair up. She figured that the network makeup people would take care of her face. She gave herself a quick once over in the mirror then gathered her stuff and headed back to her desk. For the record, she opted for the Louboutins. And she looked like a million bucks.

“Good night, guys. See you Monday.” Andy was exhausted after the broadcast and wanted only to get to Miranda’s. She was so beat even her teeth were tired.

“Hey, was Greg going to call us about the Monday morning shows?”

“Yeah, he said he’s text us with details. I think he said we’ll each do a different network, but I’m not sure. Right now I’m so tired my brain is granola. He’ll let us know, regardless.”

“Good enough. Where’s everybody headed? Want to share a cab?” Marc and Stephanie were both headed downtown so they grabbed a cab together while Andy flagged another heading in the opposite direction. Tossing her messenger bag and carryall into the back seat she piled in and collapsed against the cushions.

“73rd and Lex.” She let her mind drift as the cab swung back into the flow of traffic.

Wow, that went way better than I thought it would. Rachel is really fun. I thought she’d be focused on the whole AIDS thing but she really got into Yves’ story too. That was nice. God, I’m beat. I’ll be lucky if I don’t fall asleep over supper. Great way to spend your first night with the woman of your dreams: sound asleep in a spinach salad. Not a pretty picture.

She’d been avoiding thinking about the night ahead as much as possible for fear of losing all higher brain function, but now that she was en route to the townhouse she let her mind wander. The mental image of Miranda gazing at her with bedroom eyes took her breath away. Exhausted or not, it was enough to fire up her libido. If she let herself go and tried to imagine making love to Miranda, spontaneous combustion became a very real possibility. In a last ditch effort at self-preservation, she called Ruth to check in.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“We watched. You were wonderful, bubbeleh! And you looked so good too. Where did you get that suit?”

“Miranda messengered it over to me. She said she didn’t want me looking like a jumble sale reject if there was any possibility I would have to reveal that I used to work at Runway. She was right; Rachel did her homework and asked me directly about it.”

“And you fielded the question beautifully. We were so proud of you! Are you coming home soon?”

“No, actually…” Andy paused. Why do I suddenly feel like I’m telling my mom that I’m sleeping at Miranda’s? She took a deep breath and forged ahead. “Actually, I’m heading to Miranda’s for a late supper. Probably won’t get home until tomorrow. Maybe Sunday.”

Ruth must have had her on speakerphone because she heard Doug’s unmistakable whoop and a quiet laugh from her landlady. “Well, good for you! It’s about time. We’ll want a full report when you get home. I’m so happy for you, honey.”

“Will it ruin my gritty New York reporter image if I confess I’m scared to death?”

“Not even a bit. You’re nervous because you know the real thing when you see it. That’s always a bit scary. But you’ll be fine. We’ll see you when we see you.”

“I love you, Ruth.” The words of support gave Andy a dose of much-needed courage.

“I love you too, bubbeleh. Now go relax with your girlfriend.”

When they arrived, Andy passed the driver a handful of bills and trotted up the three steps to the townhouse door. She took a deep breath and raised her hand to knock but before she could, the door was opened by a smiling Miranda. When she was safely inside the foyer and the door locked behind her all she could do was stare at her casually dressed soon-to-be lover. Words failed both of them as they simply gazed at each other. Finally, Andy managed coherent speech.

“Hi.”

“Hello.” Miranda smiled an almost shy smile. “I was waiting… watching for you.”

“Really?” Andy’s grin would have lit a black hole. “I’m… I’m glad.”

Miranda reached out and took her carryall, setting it on the bottom step. “Come; let’s eat and then we can relax and talk about today.”

Andy hung her coat in the hall closet and dropped her messenger bag on one of the kitchen chairs. Something simmering in a pot on the stove smelled divine and the table was set for two with a bottle of red open and breathing. A basket of crusty baguettes was waiting on the counter and Andy liked the look of the wheel of brie waiting to be sliced into. Of course, the best looking thing in the kitchen was Miranda at the stove gently stirring the pot.

Half an hour later, stuffed full of a stew she would willingly call ambrosia, Andy pushed herself back from the table with a groan. “My God, Miranda, I can’t eat another bite! I don’t know what was in that stew but I’ll give you my firstborn for the recipe.”

Miranda’s musical laugh echoed around the kitchen as she rose to clear the dishes. “I’ll give it freely. It’s a recipe I got in a tiny hamlet named Ballycullen in Ireland. We were there for a shoot, naturally, and got stuck there with car trouble. I sent the rest of the crew ahead with Nigel and Emily and I stayed the night until the car was repaired. We stayed in a small hotel above the pub and this is what was for supper that evening. I took one bite and offered the cook a king’s ransom for the recipe. Thankfully, she was willing to give it up for far less; simply my promise to pass it on to anyone who wished. It’s called Drunken Irish Stew and the reason it’s so good is that there is both Guinness and wine in it. It’s simple to make and you can use either beef or lamb. I usually serve it with soda bread, but the boulangerie was sold out so I had to settle for sourdough baguettes.”

“The words ‘settle for’ should never be used in the same sentence with that stew. Talk about comfort food! It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“Yes, I know. The twins love it too. They will be most displeased to discover I made it tonight.”

“If they love it why will they be upset you made it?”

“Because they’ll only get to eat it once. Usually I make a much larger pot and they get to take it for lunch several days in a row.”

“I see. Then lucky me.” Andy rose and helped Miranda load the dishwasher and clean up after themselves. They two made quick work of it and were soon sitting in the study with a plate of gorgeous looking grapes, the brie and a pot of Earl Grey.

“I taped the show. Would you like to watch it?”

“Will I seem conceited if I say yes?’

“Not at all.” Miranda hesitated a moment, obviously thinking of something, then continued. “Let me get the dessert and let’s go watch the show somewhere we’ll be more comfortable.”

Andy grabbed her carryall and messenger bag and followed Miranda upstairs to the master bedroom. She stepped across the threshold into what seemed an oasis of cool serenity. The walls were a soft dove gray, the high, coffered ceiling a darker shade of gray with stark white beams, and the accent colors jewel-tones of deep blues and purples. Andy was drawn to a stunning piece of art that hung on the wall opposite the bed. As she approached it she felt the hairs on her arms pebble up when she realized that it wasn’t a print of Mondriaan’s Duinlandschap but an actual oil painting.  

“Mir – Miranda? Please tell me that I’m not looking at several million dollars’ worth of Mondriaan.”

The quiet chuckle behind her did little to relax her. “No, unfortunately the original hangs in the Gemeentsmuseum in the Hague. They were unwilling to part with it so I I arranged to have it copied. It’s rather a good likeness, don’t you think?”

“It’s freakin’ gorgeous is what I think.”

“I think so too. No matter how hectic or insane my day has been, looking at it soothes my soul.”

Andy turned suddenly and wrapped Miranda in her arms. “I can’t tell you how many times I could have used that this week. If I hadn’t been able to talk to you every night I think I would have lost my mind this past month. I mean I understand why it was necessary, but I can’t tell you the number of times I nearly stormed over here in the middle of the night because I missed you so much.”

The blue eyes she gazed into shimmered with unshed tears. “I’m so sorry, my darling. But it’s over now and we can move on. Together…”

That first kiss was soft and shy and hesitant, but the ones that followed grew in intensity until Andy could only groan with want at the feel of Miranda in her arms. They dealt with each other’s clothing as well as first-time lovers can, and Miranda gently steered them across the room to where they could take their pleasures in comfort. The bed was huge and the featherbed that topped the mattress was dressed in 1800 thread count cotton sheets. The sensations overwhelmed Andy as she and Miranda sank into its depths, their bodies savoring the soft decadence that cradled them even as their lips savored the taste of the other.

Andy’s head was spinning from the onslaught of emotion and the tactile wonder of Miranda in the altogether. As dynamic as she was in the halls of Runway and the world of high fashion, Miranda was slender of frame and Andy reveled in the delicate feel of her. Over and over she lost herself in the scent and taste of Miranda’s skin, kissing her way down that alabaster neck to feast on the soft skin of her shoulders. Miranda’s nipples pebbled against her palms as they slowly stroked over her chest and Andy’s lips descended to capture one in a heated kiss. She laved the hard nubbin and Miranda arched beneath her, offering her breasts to Andy’s seeking tongue and running her hands through Andy’s hair as she pulled her more tightly against her.

Words failed them, but each seemed to instinctively understand the whimpers and moans of the other as their passion grew. Andy’s mouth followed the trail of her hands down Miranda’s body, taking her time to discover all the sensitive places she could. As she eased herself between Miranda’s legs, the scent of arousal emanating from the glistening folds before her nearly pushed her over the edge. Sliding her fingers down to separate the delicately furred outer lips, she gazed in awe at her lover’s intimate secrets and couldn’t stop herself from plunging in. The first stroke of the flat of her tongue gathered Miranda’s essence and swirled it around the erect and swollen nerve bundle that was her goal. Miranda writhed under her touch, hands fluttering on Andy’s head to encourage her to continue. Andy paid attention to her groans of pleasure and let their intensity guide her in what Miranda desired. She worked slowly, almost languidly, pushing Miranda’s need higher and higher as she feasted on her lover.

A gasped, “Inside… oh, please, inside!” led her to ease two fingers into Miranda’s dripping center, pushing them in as deeply as possible and stroking that most sensitive spot inside as she withdrew. Over and over she thrust and stroked as her lips and tongue engulfed Miranda’s clit and drove her wild with want. Andy was lost in the heat and wet and scent of Miranda’s arousal and carried her lover closer and closer to the edge until with a shriek, Miranda’s body shuddered as the first wave of a shattering orgasm crashed over her. Again and again she writhed as Andy drew out every bit of ecstasy.

Finally, unable to tolerate the intensity of sensation any longer, Miranda’s hands pushed feebly at Andy’s head. The young woman moved up the spent body and wrapped Miranda in her arms, caressing her as she came back to herself. He touch was not without effect, for as quickly as she regained her breath, Miranda rolled Andy under her and began her own tender assault.

Feverishly her lips and tongue tasted the soft sheen of sweat that now covered her lover. Andy was wonderfully aroused at having made love to her, and Miranda took advantage of that by quickly kissing down to the ample bosom before her and sliding her fingers through the hot slick folds she discovered lower. It took only moments and Andy exploded in orgasm, crying her name as she did. Miranda, however, was not nearly finished with the woman she had dreamt of for two years and her lips tracked down to that fragrant nest to explore more fully. Andy moaned as those warm lips possessed her utterly, immersing herself fully in the rising need they brought forth. Miranda drove her pitilessly; eagerly devouring the heated flesh until Andy, sobbing with pleasure, came again and again. Exhausted, the women finally surrendered to their bodies’ demands and slept, spooned snugly together.

Miranda was awakened much later when the warm body pressed against her back suddenly jerked away. Sleepily, she raised herself up on one elbow and looked behind her. Andrea’s sleep was definitely disturbed, her head thrashing back and forth on the pillow and her arms and legs twitching.

…a limp body fell to the concrete steps below and lay there like a broken doll…

…Paramedics dashed to the bleeding bodies sprawled crazily on the front steps… Dear God, he killed them all! He killed his whole family! And then threw them out a window like yesterday’s trash…

Miranda knew from dealing with the twins that it wasn’t a good idea to wake someone having a nightmare too quickly so she spoke quietly, not yet daring to touch her lover.

“Andréa? Darling? You need to wake up.”

…the toddler sat up and glared accusingly at her; the bullet hole in its forehead dripping brains and blood and the back of its head gone entirely.

She reached out and gently touched the clammy shoulder next to her. “Darling, you need to wake up now. You’re having a nightmare.”

“Why did you let him hurt me? Why didn’t you do something?”

Miranda was becoming alarmed now; she shook Andréa more firmly and raised her voice considerably, “Andréa! Wake up now; you’re dreaming.”

…a gout of blood spewed from its mouth… again and again the small form retched, drowning her in glutinous ropes of thick scarlet as sirens wailed and lights pulsed… she flailed vainly trying to keep the viscous liquid away from her face, but gasped and inhaled and choked on the rancid fluids until her vision blurred and she felt herself sinking beneath the warm, wet clots…

“NO!” Andy woke screaming, confused by the unfamiliar surroundings. She bolted from the bed and staggered into the adjacent bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before heaving her guts up as she retched over and over. She was dimly aware of soft lights coming on and then warm fingers gathered her hair off her neck and gently placed a cool washcloth on it. A warm body pressed against her as arms held her while she vomited.

“It’s all right now, darling. I’m here. It’ll be all right.”

Andy began to cry as the heaves subsided and felt herself be pulled away from the toilet and hugged against a wonderfully warm Miranda.

“Shhh, it’s all right now. I’ve got you.”

“M-Miranda, I’m so s-sorry.”

“Shhh, none of that. There’s nothing to be sorry for. Here, take this.” A glass of cool water was pressed into her hand and she rinsed the foulness from her mouth and spat it into the bowl. Miranda rose and donned the soft gray cashmere robe Andy remembered from Paris. Returning to where Andy sat she flushed the toilet then reached down and took both the young woman’s hands.

“Feel steady enough to come with me?” When Andy nodded, she helped her to her feet and guided her back into the bedroom to an overstuffed sofa near the fireplace. “Here, darling, sit here. Are your pajamas in your bag?”

Andy nodded and wrapped her arms around herself, only now realizing that she was still nude. But Miranda never missed a beat, handing Andy the flannel Cookie Monster PJ bottoms and well-washed Northwestern tee shirt she’d found. “Darling, you’re shivering. Why don’t you go take a quick shower while I change the sheets? You’ll sleep much better if you rinse off the sweat.”

“Miranda, I’m so sorry. I…”

“Go shower and get warm again. We can talk when you’re finished. Everything is all right.”

By the time Andy had showered and donned her pajamas, Miranda had remade the bed and put on a pair of silk pajamas as well. She helped Andy back into bed then turned off the lights and snuggled close against the woman she loved.

“So, I assume this is what Douglas and Ruth helped you with?”

“I’m so sorry, Miranda. I don’t get the nightmares very often. When I’m tired and stressed they come roaring back and these past couple of weeks have been rough.”

“I understand darling. Are you seeing anyone?”

“Yeah, I’ve been seeing a therapist for nearly a year now. It happened last Christmas; maybe you remember. The Goldman-Sachs trader who shot up his office then went home and killed his family? They didn’t live too far from here; up on 82nd street.”

Miranda gently caressed the pale cheek in front of her and pressed a feather-light kiss on Andréa’s lips. “I remember. It was a horrible scene as I recall.”

“It was. I covered the standoff for the paper. Something about watching those children be thrown out the windows and splattering on the concrete steps really got to me. But the PTSD is getting better and the dreams far less frequent than they were.”

Slender fingers brushed damp bangs off Andy’s forehead. “It’s a wonder more of you don’t have it with the horrors you have to cover. I cannot tell you how often I thank God that what passes for news in my industry is usually no more serious that improvements in sewing technology. I’m so sorry that your career has cost you so much.”

“I really am getting better. But God, what crappy timing I have. Our first night together and I…”

“Stop that this instant. I will not have you feeling guilty over a perfectly natural reaction to man’s inhumanity. I’d be more worried about you if you could take something that horrible in stride.”

Soft brown eyes gazed into bright blue ones. “You’re really something, Priestly. The whole world thinks you’re tough as nails and you’re really just a big softie.”

“I am with those I love. The Dragon Lady is the persona I must wear in my business life. At home I try very hard to be myself. I hope you’ll remember that.”

“Why do you think I fell in love with you? Because you allowed me to see the real you, not the Runway you. I fell in love with Miranda, not La Priestly. I’ve always known the difference.”

“Then we’re starting out in a good place. Do you think you can sleep now?”

“Yeah; as long as I can hold you while I do.”

“Well, here I am.” Miranda turned over and skooched backwards. Chuckling, Andy spooned against her and wrapped her arms around her lover. They surrendered to the hour and the day and the stresses of life and both went limp as sleep claimed them, safe and warm in their bed.


The next morning they indulged in a lie-in, not rising until a bit after eight a.m. They went downstairs in search of coffee, and Miranda got a pot brewing in short order. Andy discovered some decadent berries in the refrigerator and decided to make her mother’s Swedish pancakes for breakfast. While Andy mixed up the batter, Miranda claimed the morning paper off the stoop and then poured them each a cup of coffee.

Miranda set the table then sat and read over the special insert in the Mirror while Andy sliced up a bowl of strawberries and blueberries and started cooking the paper-thin pancakes. They talked about various aspects of the case and Andy filled her in on details of the final denouement yesterday afternoon. They were speculating on what would most likely be happening to the main players when Miranda’s head snapped up.

A split second later they heard the sound of the front door flying open. A moment after that Patricia charged into the kitchen, tail wagging, and followed closely by the twins.

“Mom? What smells so good? Are you…” Both twins came to a screeching halt as they took in the domestic scene before them. Neither pair of bright, blue eyes missed the salient facts that their mother was still in her sleepwear reading the paper while Andy (also still in sleepwear) was calmly making breakfast like she did so every day. Miranda froze, the twins froze and even Patricia halted in her headlong rush.

“Uh, Mom? Andy?”

It was Andy that saved the day. “Whoa! Looks like we’re gonna need a whole lot more pancakes. One of you get plates and silverware for yourselves and the other one get over here and help me mix up some more batter. C’mon, hop to it; these things aren’t any good if they’re cold.”

Miranda rose to pour juice for the girls as everyone else got over their initial shock and followed orders. In no time at all, the table was set and the twins were kneeling on stools at the counter watching as Andy cooked.

“So, how come you guys are home so early?”

“Dad and his new girlfriend got sick. They think it was bad clams at dinner last night. Anyhow, he called a car service to bring us home. It’s better this way. We’d rather be here with you guys than there.” Andy just smiled at Cassidy’s comment. “What are those things called that you’re cooking?”

“They’re Swedish pancakes. They’re kinda like crepes, but the batter is a little different. It’s a lot thinner than regular pancake batter and you pour it in then roll the pan around so that it spreads out all over the bottom. If you keep the pan nice and hot when you do that and you get a real thin pancake. See? When they’re cooked, you just fold ‘em up and serve them with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Some people like syrup on them, but I prefer them with just fruit and sugar.”

“Where did you learn to make these?”

“Well, my grandmother taught my mom and my mom taught me.”

“So who are you going to teach how to make them?”

“I suppose I could teach you guys, if you’d like.”

Both twins grinned from ear to ear at that prospect. Andy folded the last of the pancakes onto the warm platter and sent the girls to their seats as she brought it to the table. The girls declared them even better than the cottage cheese pancakes they loved at the Central Park Boathouse. Andy thanked them with a smile and tried to steer the conversation to neutral topics. The twins weren’t having any part of that, spurred on by the fact that their mother appeared to be hiding behind the newspaper, blushing attractively and looking like a deer caught in the headlights. They kept looking back and forth between Andy and Miranda and giggling.

“So, did you sleep over last night, Andy?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I did.”

Miranda cleared her throat and chimed in. “Andrea was on the Rachel Maddow show last night and came over here for a late supper when the show was over. We discussed the special article she was writing about my friend Yves. Well it came out yesterday and it was big news. She had interviews all afternoon and evening and then finally did the show.”

Cassidy might have been content with that explanation, but Caroline kept digging for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “We had dinner together once, Andy helped us learn to sail, and you’ve had dinner with her. So, are you guys, like, you know, dating now?”

Miranda cleared her throat, took a deep breath and waded in. “Yes, Andréa and I are seeing each other socially. Is that all right with you?”

The girls looked at each other and did their silent twin-speak thing before Caroline answered. “Yeah, it’s cool. We’re not all squicked out or anything. But we think you should have your sleepovers at Andy’s instead of here.”

“Why?” Miranda could come up with no earthly reason why her daughters would say that.

“Because that way we can all go and Cass and I can hang out in the roof garden.” Andy and Miranda just looked at each other and shrugged.

“Well, when you put it like that it makes perfect sense.”

“So you guys aren’t gonna be like, kissing all the time or anything, right? ‘Cause that would be kinda squicky.”

“Why would that be squicky?”

“’Cause it’s Mom, you know?”

“Hey, I’ll have you know your mom is a great kisser.”

“Eeeewwwwww!”

Miranda looked over the tops of her reading glasses at her offspring. “Girls, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a hundred times; anything worth doing is worth doing well.” The twinkling of her eyes made everybody else at the table dissolve in helpless laughter and Miranda felt her heart swell at the sight. Andy and the girls began talking about maybe taking in the zoo that afternoon. Miranda watched them laughing and eating and felt tears fill her eyes.

Just look at them; becoming a family right in front of my eyes. How Yves would have loved this! He would have spoiled the girls rotten. And he would have loved Andréa. More importantly, he would have loved how she makes me feel.

Miranda Priestly did not usually consider herself a spiritual person, but at that moment she knew in her heart that Yves was looking down at the scene in her kitchen.

Oh, my friend, I still miss you.

Looking down and smiling on them all.

 

End