It all started when Andy agreed to babysit Lily's sister's step-niece. The sister begged Lily, and Lily begged off, which meant handing Andy's precious Sunday evening into the hands of a spoiled seven-year-old. Andy, desperate to keep at least a semblance her once-close friendship with Lily, had agreed to sacrifice her one entirely job-free night. Miranda was watching the twins' dance recital, and this was the one time during which Andy was certain she would not be receiving any sudden phone calls demanding a performance of superhuman timing and precision.
If it were up to Andy, she would most likely be at home, lying face-down on the couch in an attempt to keep herself away from the refrigerator. Despite the shocking amount of things Nate had taken with him when he moved out of their apartment, he seemed to have left behind his entire culinary stock, and Andy couldn't bring herself to throw away such a large quantity of expensive—fattening —cheeses, meats, breads, and deserts. She kept telling herself that people would come over, people who still ate food, but she knew it wasn't going to happen. If she was being honest with herself, she didn't have a social life any longer. She could pretend that Doug and Lily might still decide to host a small party in her apartment, but if this were even to happen, she wouldn't be there. She could see it now; setting up all of Nate's old food around the house, putting in some music, and then dashing out of the house before anyone had even arrived to rush a steaming cup of Starbucks into Elias-Clarke, no matter the ungodly hour. The worst part was, Andy doubted her friends would even notice her absence. She was no longer a staple figure in her group. She had become the one who received the hugs and the side-eyed judging exclamations of, "It's been too long!"
And so she found herself driving halfway across the district to the home of a woman she barely knew. Andy chuckled to herself at the irony. In her frantic attempt at keeping some normalcy in her life, she was doing something incredibly out-of-the-ordinary and she didn't even have a particular fondness for kids. If only she had a night or two a week, she could be keeping up with Doug and Lily by going out for drinks, even if only for a half-hour, but she had discovered that not showing up at all was better than the scathing looks she received when she had to answer her phone and run in the middle of their evenings.
Ever since Paris, it had gotten worse. More late-night demands, more evening hours behind the desk, more mornings in-office. She knew Miranda had every right to punish her for running off, in fact, she knew she was lucky to even still have the job. After tossing her cell phone into the fountain in her dramatic, childlike fit of temper, she had paced only around one block before finding herself back where she had started, at the foot of the steps still flooded with the crowds of paparazzi which had swallowed up Miranda Priestly. In that one block, her walk had gone from one of anger, to one a freedom, and then quickly to one of shame and defeat. She knew, in that moment, that she couldn't leave. It wasn't that she was afraid for her career; no, it wasn't that. It was that dammed woman. Somehow, her vulnerability had gotten under Andy's skin the night before, and she couldn't just walk off. So she waited in the throng of reporters and camera-folk until the familiar head of silver hair appeared, sunglasses perched firmly upon that aristocratic nose. Taking a shaky breath and briefly contemplating if her next move would prove her clinically insane, she slid into step beside Miranda. If she had not been so attuned to the signature stride so unique to the older woman, Andy doubted she would have noticed the slight catch in her step, but she did notice it, more by feel than by sight, and knew that Miranda was startled. Andy also noted the slightest hint of an arched eyebrow as it raised above the rim of the glasses, but Miranda did not complain as she slid into the backseat of the car with her. In fact, she said nothing—complaint or otherwise—until they had arrived back at the hotel. Clacking their way across the marble flooring by the front desk, Miranda began listing off her usual vague line-up of duties for Andy to complete before the next day. Andy was startled and somewhat relieved to get off without a verbal reprimand, and tried to decide whether this unspoken agreement to pretend her abandonment had never happened was a good thing or not. She had hardly a moment to consider, though, because she had to scramble to piece together what Miranda had said while she was distracted. Apparently, Miranda could see her distress because she removed her sunglasses with a sigh.
"Andrea. You look as though you will fall over at any moment. I have no use for an assistant who is lying on the ground. Go up to your rooms; I expect you well-rested and properly attired for this evening's gala. That's all."
Leaving behind an Andy who did indeed look as like to collapse as not, she strode into the elevator.
After that, everything returned to the way it had been, but everything had clearly changed. Andy was still second assistant, was still responsible for delivering the Book, and was still in charge of answering to Miranda's every beck and call. Some of the changes were dramatic, such as the clear extension of Andy's hours. Others were more subtle, and Andy wasn't sure what to think of them. For one thing, the nature of her jobs had changed. As soon as Emily was up and walking again, Miranda took to sending her off for out-of-office tasks. Andy now only fetched her coffee on the way up in the mornings. If Miranda needed a mid-day scorcher, Emily was sent to Starbucks. If Miranda needed clothing the closet could not supply, Emily was sent down the street. If Patricia needed walking, Emily was sent to the dog. Andy found herself doing all of the scheduling, following Miranda to every shoot and run-through, and answering the majority of the phone calls. It was almost as though she had taken on the first assistant job without the bonus in her paycheck. Andy figured it was Miranda's way of keeping an eye on her and punishing her at the same time, but in all truth Andy didn't mind the change. She adored watching the Dragon Lady in action, as long as she could observe from the sidelines and not be in the center of attention. Since Paris, her deep appreciation for Miranda's work ethic and deftly controlled empire—as well as her icily-kept façade of perfection—had only increased. She knew Miranda was dealing with a hectic divorce on the side of her usual business, but her control never slipped in front of her employees. Being around her constantly, however, had offered Andy a few glimpses of the woman she had seen that night in Paris.
Recently, after a particularly grueling day of failing shoots and reshoots, followed by what had clearly been an unpleasant dinner with Stephen, Andy had walked into Miranda's office to find her resting her head on her forearms, letting out a deep sigh of discontent. Knowing Miranda would not appreciate having her moment of weakness witnessed, she had backed out without speaking. Miranda did not see her, thanks to months of practice entering and exiting the Priestly townhouse on silent heels. Turns out there was a use for that after all. After a brief but fierce internal debate, Andy had gone out on a limb and brought Miranda a coffee-mug filled with chamomile tea, setting it on the corner of her desk and walking out before Miranda had a chance to respond. Miranda never acknowledged the gesture, but she drank all of the tea and cleaned the mug herself.
That had been Friday, and now it was Sunday, and all Andy wanted to do was sleep for years to get rid of the stress that had built up all throughout her body and mind. Inside, however, Andy knew a few hours alone in her dreary apartment wouldn't help in the slightest. It would simply give her time to dwell on thoughts of Miranda that she was barely able to keep from her consciousness while at work. Thoughts of gently taking Miranda's hand as it trembled slightly in anger around the phone when Stephen was on the other line. Thoughts of taking that very hand and bringing it to her lips, placing a slight kiss upon the ageless skin.
Here she was, miles away from work, and still, she couldn't escape from the steely gaze of her employer.
And in all truth, she hardly wanted to.
At the very least, this babysitting job should provide a few hours of distraction. If there was one thing she knew about children, it was how good they were at draining every ounce of energy one could put out into their hands.
The girl turned out to be well-behaved and not difficult to be around. Charlotte was just old enough to be past the point of demanding piggy-back rides and games involving too much physicality, but not old enough to be sullen about having someone to look after her. Instead, she seemed to be content to talk avidly about her elementary school for as long as Andy was willing to listen. When Andy mentioned her fashion-related work, she immediately perked up and began asking if Andy had met anyone famous, seeming to think fashion was another word for Disney Channel.
Andy used the best of her culinary skills to make heart-shaped grilled cheeses for dinner, and knew by the look on Charlotte's face that she had been sufficiently impressed. In another hour, she went off by herself to get ready for bed, leaving Andy to lie back on a slightly dog-haired couch for a quick TV-nap before the parents got home. All in all, she decided it hadn't been the worst way she could have spent the evening, and decided she would tell Lily to ask her again if it came up. More tired than she had supposed, that was the last thought that passed through her head before she dropped off into sleep.
When she woke, she did so slowly, feeling sunlight on the backs of her eyelids and that delicious lethargy in her limbs that meant she was well rested. She stretched and yawned, feeling a warm blanket slide off of her arms. A moment later, she jolted upright, realizing what this meant. "Shit!" she hissed, not only because something had obviously gone wrong and she had slept through the entire night, but because of a jolt of pain that ripped through her scalp as her hair tried viciously to remain attached to the couch. "What the…?"
Charlotte's face had appeared around the open door-frame leading into the kitchen. "You looked tired, and you didn't wake up when I poked you, so Mom said you could sleep over." Charlotte was smiling sweetly, so it was impossible for Andy to be upset with her. However, she absolutely had to leave. She was already late for work, she wasn't even near Elias-Clarke, and she didn't have a change of clothes with her. She couldn't arrive in the sweat-wear she had donned for this babysitting. There was a more pressing problem, though.
"Oh, no." Charlotte said. She seemed to have noticed that Andy couldn't move her head any farther than it was. Her face paled, and she fled into the kitchen, calling, "Mommy!"
A moment later, Joanne, the women Andy had met the previous night as Lily's sister's husband's step-sister—if she got that right—walked around the doorway. "Good morning. I hope you don't mind that we let you sleep; you just looked too exhausted."
Andy gritted her teeth. "Thank you, that was very kind, but I really need to get to work now. And, um, I seem to be stuck to your sofa…"
Joanne's eyebrows rose, then she winced in sympathy. "Ah. That explains why Charlotte looked so afraid. "Charlotte!" she called. "Get in here!"
Charlotte peered around the door. "I'm sorry! Jonathan was playing with daddy's tool-box yesterday and he spilled something and I told him to tell you but he didn't want to get in trouble and he left right before Andy came over and I didn't want you to be mad and not let him come over anymore and…"
"It's alright sweetie, just tell me next time! Remember, it's okay to make messes, as long as…?"
Charlotte looked sufficiently sorry, "…you make sure they get cleaned up."
"Right. Now, do you know what spilled?"
Charlotte nodded. "I put the jar in the recycle bin." Then she fled the room.
Joanne hustled out and returned a moment later. "I'm so sorry."
"How bad?" Andy asked, wincing as she tried yet again to tug her hair from the side-cushion. The entire lower part of the left side of her head wouldn't budge, and from the corner of her eye she could see something brown and flaky peeling around the edges.
"It's rubber cement. My husband is an artisan carpenter, and this is the stuff he uses for his birdhouses. It's slow-dry for adjustments, and it must had dried while you were sleeping. Waterproof as well, since it's for the outdoors. I don't know how to apologize enough! I'll include enough money for a haircut with your check…"
Andy felt surprisingly calm, and wondered if the knowledge that this day was going to be the worst she could remember having in a lifetime had sent her into a state of shock. "Really, it's alright, you couldn't have known. If I wasn't so tired…"
Joanne gave a weak smile, obviously relieved she wasn't going to be on the receiving end of a fit of anger. "I can get you some scissors… Or maybe I should just help cut you out myself," she added on as an afterthought, seeing how little Andy could move her head.
Five minutes, a few curses, and a significantly lighter head later, Andy was back in her car, speeding towards her apartment. She hadn't taken the time to even make the hair one length all around, so her head felt lopsided. She was determined to get home, change, put the hair in as artful a ponytail as she could manage, and rush to work. She could get a haircut later that night. She had no idea how she would look with short hair, and was determined not to dwell on in. Glancing at the clock on her dash, Andy let out a small sigh of relief. It was only six-thirty, so if she hurried, she could home before seven and at the office before half past. Technically, she wouldn't be late, but she knew she may as well be. She couldn't decide if she was relieved that her cell hadn't been charged the night before, because though it meant she had an excuse for not answering any of the calls she was certain Miranda had sent her, it was also going to be just one more thing she could be reprimanded for.
Dashing through a shower in record time, she was almost grateful for the shortened hair, since it made drying much faster. She got dressed slightly more sloppily than she knew she should, but she wanted the extra minutes for her hair. Finally looking in a mirror, she nearly screamed.
"Fuck," she hissed, the expletive slipping past clenched teeth as she took in the ragged hair just covering the top of her left ear. She had known it was bad, but bad had just become disastrous. There was no way that tiny fringe of hair would fit into any sort of respectable up-do. If she put it up, it would look like a fringed carpet hanging down the side of her face. The cutting hadn't even been in a straight line, in fact, it seemed Joanne had cut each piece individually to a different length. Though she hardly ever cussed, Andy whispered, "Fuck," again, just for good measure. At least her bangs were intact.
After a few minutes in which she allowed herself to wallow in a small bit of self-pity, she realized staring in the mirror wasn't going to regrow her hair. In a moment of desperate brilliance, she put the long half up in a messy bun, slicked back the short parts with a ridiculous amount of hairspray, and hunted for a hat. She had nothing appropriate for the warm spring day, and though she had a few hats from last winter's season that were at least somewhat fashionable, none covered the mess on her head. The best she could do was an old crocheted beanie, and she could only pray Miranda had gone blind. Looking back in the mirror, she thought she looked at least presentable and not as though her head had been fed through a paper shredder. Scooping up her phone from the charger, she juggled her purse and keys as she hailed a taxi and tried to replay her voicemail all in one motion.
Thankfully, Miranda had not called directly, but there were three messages from Emily. The first had been from the night before, warning her that Miranda was expecting her early. Andy winced. The second was from this morning, in which Emily sounded distinctly pissed, asking why she had not answered her phone and making sure she would be in early, since the first run-through of the day had been moved up. The third was from a half-hour ago, and Emily sounded frantic.
"You're late! My god you're actually late. And you still aren't picking up this dammed phone. Miranda is on a rampage and if you don't show up in the next five minutes with coffee hotter than hell I don't doubt I will be training a new assistant. Oh, what is it Nigel can't you see I'm busy? Bloody hell can't you see that's what I'm trying to find out?"
At this point, Nigel stole the phone.
"Six? You chose the wrong day to sleep in. Stephen showed up here, the ass, and I couldn't tell if he was drunk, hung-over, or both. Miranda is going to strangle someone, and I'd really prefer it be you than me."
He handed it to Emily, who seemed to be in the middle of her, "I love my job, I love my job…" mantra. "Just get in here. I don't care if you're in Redondo Beach, California, you will be here or I'll strangle you myself."
Through her panic, Andy was actually somewhat flattered that Emily had deigned to admit needing her. Still, of all the days to be late, this seemed to have been a bad one. Andy knew that if Stephen was there, Miranda was going to be an absolute nightmare for the rest of the day. Andy felt terrible for her. Despite her reputation and the trashing she was being served daily in the papers over the divorce, Andy knew it was Stephen that was the real monster in the relationship. She had seen him drunk, and she had seen him sober. The only difference between the two was that drunk, his insults were louder.
She dialed the Starbucks downstairs when she was three minutes away so that when she arrived, she could race through and snag the boiling beverage and dash straight into the elevators. As the metal doors slid shut, her cell rang, and as she picked it up, she was met with Emily's voice yet again. "Oh thank god you're actually alive. Please tell me you're less than five minutes away?"
"I'm in the elevator, and I'm so sorry I'm late…"
"I don't care. Just get your overweight arse in here now."
"Does this mean I still have a job?" Andy asked cautiously.
"By some miracle," Emily hissed, "Miranda hasn't asked me to contact HR. But I wouldn't count on anything. She may just want to dismiss you in person. Or flay you alive."
The doors slid open, and Andy hung up, realizing how stupid she looked with the phone on her ear and the other line sitting mere feet away from her.
Emily's eyes zeroed in first on the coffee. "Set that on her desk—she'll be back in minutes. She only just managed to drag Stephen out of the run-through before he could—Did you walk through an unnaturally large spider-web this morning?"
"What?" Andy asked, blinking at the sudden change of topic.
"What is on your head? Take it off this instant!" Emily looked panicked. "And here I thought we were actually making some progress with you…" Emily muttered under her breath.
"Can't," Andy called over her shoulder as she hurriedly set the coffee on the edge of Miranda's desk.
"What do you mean, can't?"
"Make it short."
"I don't have any hair on half of my head."
Emily's mouth dropped open in a highly unsophisticated manner. Before Andy could be subjected to any further inquisition or scathing remark, the phone rang. Andy could hear Nigel's trademark, "Gird your loins!" through the line. "She's out for blood," he added, and Andy could see Emily visibly swallow.
"Is it really that much worse than usual?" Andy asked.
Emily's only reply was a curt nod. Andy gulped. The elevator opened. Andy only had time to half-fall into her desk chair before Miranda whirled in.
Nigel was right. It was clearly the wrong day for Andy to be late. Miranda's lips were fixed in the purse of extreme displeasure and the clack of her heals echoed with more force than usual. Still, even in her anger she was stunning. The deep-emerald skirt clung just enough to her thighs and ended just above the knee, paired with a summery, sleeveless silk blouse in a delicate cream color covered by a matching emerald sweater. Her golden heals caught the light as she walked and, as usual, they were precariously high. She slung her bag onto Emily's desk, not sparing Andy a glance, and stormed into her office. A moment later her voice drifted out.
They both scuttled as quickly as humanly possible into the office. She seemed calmer now as she held the coffee mug and took a sip, the harsh set of her jaw loosening slightly as the searing latte passed her lips. "Emily, contact my lawyer. Tell her I wish to discuss what we spoke of before in more detail. Also, make sure the twins will stay with their father for another week. Make it clear they are only to return to the city at my discretion. Then cancel my facial and my lunch with Donatella. Have Nigel send me the pictures from the one I hadn't been sure about, and bring in my new laptop when it arrives. Was anything else scheduled for this morning?"
"Since you moved up the run-through, Irv wanted to see you at ten for brunch. Also your preview for the new line of summer scarves is at eleven."
"Cancel the preview and tell Irv I am unavailable."
Emily nodded. Miranda then turned her eyes to Andy. Instead of her usual lingering once-over, her gaze immediately caught on the hat. Her lips pursed once again. "Andrea, what would possibly encourage you to wear that offending scrap of fabric on your head? Remove it immediately, and see that it is disposed of."
Andy grimaced. "I, um, would really rather not," she said, trying to sound apologetic and not like she was arguing. One simply did not argue with Miranda.
Miranda was clearly not having it. "Andrea…" she said, the warning clear in her tone.
"I promise, if I take it off, you're going to wish I had left it on," she said.
Miranda arched an eyebrow. "Oh?" Andy had the sudden, near-uncontrollable urge to bite her nail and fidget under Miranda's harsh scrutiny. "And why is that?"
She didn't really want to explain. Though she hadn't said anything, Andy could already tell that Miranda was angered at her late arrival, and was getting more so at her refusal to remove the—admittedly ugly—hat. She also knew it would be worse when she explained her lack of hair, but she spoke anyway, wanting to avoid any further comments about her glacial pace.
"I'm missing quite a bit of my hair," she finally said. She resisted the urge to explain herself. Miranda hated when someone used what she deemed an unnecessary amount of words. It was all about economy with that one. However, it would appear this was to be an exception.
"Explain," she said flatly, leaning back slightly in her seat.
Emily was practically twitching beside Andy, as she had not been given a clear dismissal. Miranda finally seemed to notice her presence and snapped, "Emily! Have I not already given you tasks to take care of?"
Emily flushed and Andy winced in sympathy. "Yes, Miranda," she said, hurrying away.
Andy watched her retreating back in an attempt to avoid Miranda's prying glare.
"Andrea. Sit. Explain," Miranda said, clearly exasperated at the need to repeat herself.
Despite the annoyance in her tone, Andy still noticed that there was something…different… in the way Miranda said her name when there were no others in the room. Maybe it was simply that Andy's reaction was different when she was alone with Miranda, as though her name was a direct line to the thoughts Andy was so careful to keep under locks when at work. Either way, there was no disobeying. Andy sat in the chair across from Miranda, and explained.
"I was babysitting for a friend last night," she started. "Across town. Charlotte—that's who I was watching—had gone to sleep, and I was just going to take a quick nap before her parents got home, but I fell asleep, and apparently I looked tired because when Joanne got home she decided to let me sleep over at their house and not wake me up."
Miranda interrupted. "I did not ask why you were late this morning, Andrea. I asked what happened to your hair."
Andy tried not to get annoyed. It did no good getting angry at Miranda. "What happened to my hair is why I was late. I can't explain one without the other."
If it had been anyone else, Andy would have said the expression on Miranda's face would have been an eye-roll, but Miranda simply did not roll her eyes. Instead, she gave a long-suffering sigh and said, "Very well, continue."
"Well I woke up with sun on my face, and I knew something had gone wrong, so I sat up, but my head was attached to the back of the couch." Andy almost thought Miranda was going to make some comment about sleeping on a couch, but she seemed to restrain herself. "It turned out that a friend of Charlotte's had spilled slow-drying rubber cement on the couch earlier in the day, and they didn't tell anyone, so I had the bad luck to sleep in it. I couldn't even move my head, so Joanne had to cut me off the cushion. I rushed straight home and I didn't even realize how much hair I'd lost until I looked after my shower…" Andy realized she was definitely going into more detail than she needed to, but she was stressed, and she couldn't help it. "I thought I could just pin it up or something, but it isn't even longer than my ear on the left side. I thought a hat would be more presentable than what I did to keep it up. I can… get something better from the closet to cover it with…"
There was a strange look on Miranda's face. It was almost as though she was trying not to laugh. After a moment, she said, "Unacceptable. You cannot walk around all day in a hat. Let me see the damage."
Andy swallowed thickly. "I could go get it cut now?" she squeaked.
Miranda leveled her with a glare. "Do not make me repeat myself."
Andy turned her head away, but complied. She pulled out the five or six bobby pins she had used to secure the hat and pulled it away from her scalp. She thought she heard Miranda gasp slightly, but as she was not looking at her, she couldn't be sure.
"Take it down as well," she ordered.
After talking out the hair tie and more bobby pins, she tried to smooth it out, with limited success. Miranda was silent. When she could take the drawn-out pause no longer, Andy raised her eyes once more to Miranda's face. Miranda looked livid. For once out of only a handful of times, Andy could see an actual emotion on Miranda's face, and she flinched away from the force of it.
"Such a waste…" Miranda whispered, and Andy was unsure if she was talking about her hair or the time wasted by Andrea's tardiness.
"Sorry?" Andy said. She knew apologizing was usually a bad idea around the boss, but she didn't know how else to respond.
"Oh don't be ridiculous, Andrea," Miranda said, finally snapping out of her strange stare. "This was hardly your fault."
Andy had to keep herself from gaping. Since when did Miranda care whose fault it was? She certainly hadn't hesitated to blame a hurricane on Andy.
Miranda leaned forward, sliding her reading glasses down the bridge of her nose as she studied Andy's hair. "Hmm. Stand," she ordered. Andy stood. "Turn." Andy turned, wondering what was going on, but unwilling to ask. "Hmmm," Miranda hummed again when Andy was facing her once more. "It is... salvageable."
She stood up, setting the reading glasses down on the desk as she moved around it, and strode into the doorway of her private bathroom facilities. Andy was uncertain what to do. A moment later, Miranda's head reappeared. "Come along, Andrea."
Andy slowly followed. "Um…"
In the spacious restroom, Miranda pointed to the edge of a large bathtub. "Sit down, stop idling."
This time, Miranda actually did roll her eyes. She bent down and began rummaging around in a cabinet. Despite Andy state of near-panic, she was still able to appreciate the view. "Andrea. I cannot allow you to walk around all day with that mess on your head, nor is it appropriate for you to wear a hat inside all day." She stood, now holding an abnormally large bowl. She slid it into the sink and allowed it to begin filling with water as she slid open a drawer. "You will sit, and I will fix this."
Andy suddenly thought she knew what was happening, but didn't quite believe it. "F-fix this?"
Miranda's hand emerged from the drawer holding a hairbrush and scissors. "Yes, Andrea. Fix this."