Miranda made several errors in judgment on the January morning she returned to work after a weekend in New Mexico. Caroline and Cassidy had Martin Luther King Day off from school, and she’d used the opportunity to take them to Santa Fe, where she kept her laptop shut and ignored her phone and let the sun heal her. She thought the time away and the sun just might have healed her girls, too. From the flight on Friday through their return on Monday night they were talkative with her—warm—and they didn’t hide behind twinspeak the way they’d been doing more often since the start of the divorce proceedings. Miranda wasn’t always sure if it was conscious, the way they moved in and out of their own language based on how well they trusted the other people in the room. But it hurt her even though it shouldn’t, and this weekend of plain English and art and sunshine and weather that was less biting and chilly than usual could have been three times as long and wouldn’t have been enough.
But all too soon it was seven a.m. on a frigid Tuesday. Snow had fallen during the night, and traffic moved at a crawl. Emily sat next to Miranda in the back seat, her lap a flutter of Blackberry and notepad and pen and the navy blue Marc Jacobs crossbody bag she’d favored lately. Miranda’s first mistake: asking Emily to ride to work with her this morning. It was a calculated kindness, Miranda could admit (to herself); due to some sort of faulty healing, Emily was still in her walking cast for a few more weeks and could probably use a break from the subway. Emily was still off-balance after the Paris debacle, and would do better work if she felt essential again. But now that they were in the car together Miranda was irritated that the woman’s constant motion had infiltrated what was typically time she spent alone, steeling herself for the day. And she was irritated by the way Emily alternated between bold looks in Miranda’s direction and coquettishly-averted eyes but said nothing without prompting, didn’t ask after the New Mexico trip. Miranda wanted smooth, Miranda wanted calm, she wanted a long and very nearly uncomfortable stare from a brunette, she wanted to be warmed up again, she wanted—
“I’m going to need at least an hour for email first thing this morning,” she said as the car pulled up in front of Elias-Clarke. “If not more. I haven’t touched it since Friday.”
Emily’s eyes went wide at that, but surely the girl had noticed that she didn’t receive as many messages as usual over the weekend. “Right,” she said, looking down at the electronic version of the schedule one last time before tossing all her things back in her bag. “That would work if we . . . ” She paused and glanced at Miranda. Again. “Or shall I sort through some of your messages this morning?”
Miranda always read her own email. Her messages were her property (even if they technically belonged to Elias-Clarke). No one, not even Emily, her longest running assistant, had ever read her mail before. But she was cold, and she was tired, and now that she was back in the city she felt her edge returning, this irritable wistfulness that had bothered her since October. It would be nice, she thought, to have a moment to drink her coffee and read her papers. To sit by herself and think, since that had certainly eluded her on this car ride. “Fine,” she heard herself say. “I’ll log you in when we’re upstairs. Now, Rebecca had better have my coffee.” And with that, she was out of the car, doing her ice queen march through greyish slush. It was only when the crowd in the lobby parted before her and she noticed she was alone in front of the elevators that realized how slow Emily still had to walk.
There was a decent padding of time between mistakes, but by 9:30 a.m. Miranda was ready for another. She was on her way back to her office, just approaching the assistants’ desks, when Emily stifled a squawk. “What is it?” Miranda asked sharply, stopping just behind Emily’s chair.
It was almost comical, the way Emily gasped and turned around. “I’m so sorry, Miranda,” she said. She tried and failed to get a gleeful little smile under control. “But this . . . missive just arrived in your inbox. From Andrea Sachs. I’ll get rid of it just as soon as—”
“No. Wait.” She should have had Emily log off. She should have gone to her desk, to her own laptop, to read in peace. But she stood just behind Emily’s shoulders and they read the email together.
Dear Miranda, I’ve seen you on the street at least six times since October, and each time you stare at me. And I stare at you. And we don’t say anything. Just like before. But I miss you, and it was stupid to leave you in Paris, and I’m sorry. My new cell number is (917) 555-5555. Call it? Or email me? Andy
I’ve seen you on the street at least six times since October, and each time you stare at me. And I stare at you. And we don’t say anything. Just like before. But I miss you, and it was stupid to leave you in Paris, and I’m sorry.
My new cell number is (917) 555-5555. Call it? Or email me?
Emily laughed, a nervous huff. “Unbelievable,” she said decisively, because, Miranda realized, Emily had never noticed the way she and Andrea used to look at each other. Or, perhaps more likely, she had noticed but didn’t have it in her to entertain the notion. Either way, she didn’t know what Miranda knew, which was that Andrea was ready.
“Log off now,” Miranda said. “I’ll finish from here.” But she didn’t chastise Emily. She was too busy memorizing Andrea’s contact information, walking away without a word, silently repeating the number and address like an incantation as she finished the journey to her own desk. As soon as she sat down, she made a note of the information in her planner—not in the address book section but in a hidden place, crammed into the blank space left on January 4. All of a sudden she could not remember what else she had to do that morning, but she knew, vaguely, that the next fifteen minutes or so were her own.
She opened Gmail and created a new email address, a non-Runway address. MP1956 was available as a username; she wasn’t sure if she chose her birth year to humble herself or to scold Andrea for her interest or to make things more difficult or all three. She found her phone and sent Andrea a text message: I’ll be writing you back from my personal email address. Next came the hardest part: the actual writing. She feared her message was a bit bland—how are you, I’m fine, dinner Friday?—but forced herself to hold back. She wanted to write pure sex, a million compliments. But for all their staring, and with one notable exception, they’d never really talked about anything but Runway. Miranda told herself that if Andrea could have dinner with her on Friday, that would be enough to tell. The dinner would either be a date or it wouldn’t.
It had been ages since Miranda had had a real date on a Friday. Now that the girls were almost twelve, Cara, their nanny, didn’t live with them anymore. But she often stayed over on Friday nights so Miranda could take some free time and do what she liked. Even after Stephen moved out, the tradition continued. Miranda knew that Cara, who’d been with them for three years, enjoyed spending some time with her daughters that didn’t involve shuttling them between dance and sports and music lessons, and that Caroline and Cassidy felt the same way. Ever since Stephen left, she’d tried to make herself busy on Fridays but hadn’t been able to bring herself to date.
The rest of the day was like ping-pong between correspondence with Andrea and the rest of her life. A meeting, an email. Lunch with a designer, an email. A shoot, an email. It went on like that for much of the week, so that the days were made not only of steak and coffee and parades of skinny women and going home to try to keep that Santa Fe sun alive but of metallic, flirtatious sentences.
Late Thursday night, Miranda checked her email one last time before bed and found a different sort of message from Andrea. There was no salutation, no signature, and the tone was angry despite the fact that Miranda’s last message had been about beauty.
I’ve decided I don’t want to go to the restaurant tomorrow night. I want to cook for you at my apartment. It’s tiny and ugly and almost affordable. Also, I gained back all the weight I lost for you last year. Which was actually only about ten pounds. Sometime in the last couple of months I realized that, oh, I WAS NOT FAT. I dress better than I used to but not like the woman you used to challenge to staring contests. I have become a vegetarian. So, if you can handle spending time with me without making any nasty comments about my apartment or my jeans or the way my ass looks in my jeans or meat or the absence of meat, then I will look forward to hosting you, Miranda, my new friend, for whom I do not work, at 7:30 tomorrow evening.
I’ve decided I don’t want to go to the restaurant tomorrow night. I want to cook for you at my apartment. It’s tiny and ugly and almost affordable.
Also, I gained back all the weight I lost for you last year. Which was actually only about ten pounds. Sometime in the last couple of months I realized that, oh, I WAS NOT FAT.
I dress better than I used to but not like the woman you used to challenge to staring contests.
I have become a vegetarian.
So, if you can handle spending time with me without making any nasty comments about my apartment or my jeans or the way my ass looks in my jeans or meat or the absence of meat, then I will look forward to hosting you, Miranda, my new friend, for whom I do not work, at 7:30 tomorrow evening.
Miranda was glad to be alone and doubly glad that Emily would never read this email. She had been guilty about that fat comment—or comments?—for a long time, and was actually relieved to hear that Andrea’s ultimate response to such nonsense had been to return to size six rather than force herself past size four and into two territory. There wasn’t a clear way to put this relief into words without sounding like the biggest hypocrite in Manhattan, but she pictured herself on Friday night, divesting Andrea of her jeans and showing plenty of appreciation for that ass. This thought was arousing enough that she considered touching herself while reading that harsh, perfect email about a dozen more times, but she got as far as a hand halfway past her waistband before deciding it was better to wait.
It was with that nervous anticipatory energy that she wrote back:
Suits me. See you at 7:30. Text me your address in the morning?
Suits me. See you at 7:30. Text me your address in the morning?
No salutation. No signature. Cold now, warm later, yes.
In the morning Miranda packed the proper contents of an overnight bag but rolled every item until it was very small. She would carry the clothes and toothbrush and makeup in what was essentially a glorified purse. Not that anyone would ask her questions about her plans. Still. She didn’t feel like parading a weekender bag in front of her staff.
She distracted Caroline and Cassidy from their breakfast long enough to kiss them and tell them she wouldn’t be home that night, that Cara would be there like so many other Fridays. She’d already decided that if dinner failed—if, in Andrea’s mind, there was nothing between them but a potential friendship—she would stay alone in a hotel that night and lick her wounds in private. She highly doubted that would happen. Andrea was still angry and Miranda was hot for it and if anything, she thought the evening would be more explosive than she was imagining, but she’d never forgive herself if her brain didn’t provide that out.
The day lasted forever—no emails in her Andrea inbox—but finally it was 6:45 and Miranda called for her car.
Andrea, standing in her doorframe, was beautiful. She wore smart black leather boots, jeans perfectly faded and form-fitting, a lovely dark green blouse that, if she didn’t know better, Miranda would say was designer-less. But Miranda knew everything had a maker. Andrea’s hair was a little shorter than she remembered, but still long and glossy and healthy. “Hey,” she said, and smiled, and ushered her into an apartment the size of Miranda’s extra-large purse. Tiny, yes, but the other adjective Andrea had used in her email did not apply. Andrea’s new place was a studio, barely large enough for a full-sized bed and a kitchenette and a breakfast nook and a sofa that seemed to be suffocating in its allotted space between two packed bookshelves. It didn’t satisfy Miranda’s desire for well-lit wide open spaces, but it was freshly clean and there were gorgeous angular line drawings framed on the white walls and it smelled like garlic and herbs and fresh air—she must have opened a window, just briefly, as she cleaned—and it was where Andrea lived and so it was not ugly.
Andrea was nervous, that much was plain. The bravado from her email was gone, and she looked a second away from stuffing her hands in her pockets and scuffing the hardwood floor with her toe. No. This would not do. Miranda hadn’t accepted this invitation only to spend another eternity in silence, tension crackling between them. Before, the tension had to crackle; breaking it would have been inappropriate, could have cost either one of them their jobs.
But now, on this free Friday? Miranda made a show—eye contact, a lazy half-smile—of removing her long wool coat, of tossing it and the bag onto the couch. “Andrea,” she said softly, and stepped closer. “Thank you.” And then she took the girl by her shoulders and kissed her on the mouth. The kiss deepened immediately, was mutual, was solid and almost familiar, like a staring contest physically manifested.
When they pulled away, though, Andrea’s eyes were saucers, her cheeks scalded red. She gulped before speaking. “Did you know before?” she asked. “What this was, I mean.”
“Yes,” Miranda snapped. “Of course I knew.” Miranda was queer. It was fundamental. She’d understood that for years. And years. Years of making the same sorts of mistakes over and over, and damn it, she would be rewarded for getting out of that cycle. By now, though it had been less than a year, she felt she’d known the same about Andrea for almost as long. And had waited forever. “Was that a surprise?” Oh God, she thought. Please tell me it wasn’t.
“No, no, not exactly. I knew I liked, um, the way we’d stare each other down. But I thought it was, like, more of a power thing.”
“What’s the difference?” Miranda asked, incredulous. “What isn’t power?”
Andrea grinned at that. “Point taken,” she said slowly. “Okay. Yeah.” She laughed, a bit wild. “I feel better. And dinner’s almost ready, so make yourself comfortable.”
The breakfast nook was so close to the bed that they practically ate dinner on top of the covers and Miranda’s stomach jumped with nerves. She hadn’t expected this feeling, had anticipated only the rapturous give-and-take of food and sex, maybe an argument, feverish promises to meet again. But she found herself turning down wine and drinking only water because even the thought of alcohol made her feel a little sick. She ate only one small serving of food despite the fact that the ratatouille and garlicky greens and yeast rolls were profoundly delicious, all homemade, created with such care that the meal was precious. She stared more than talked.
They’d been eating in silence for a while when Andrea put down her fork with a clatter and a grin. “I had so much to tell you,” she said. “And I will. And I’ve got so many questions for you too. But right now all I want to do is kiss you again.” It was the work of a half-second for her to stand up from the table and sit on her bed. The back of Miranda’s chair was only a couple of inches away, and as soon as Andrea sat she took Miranda’s hand and held it until Miranda sat with her. “Don’t tell me you’d only planned on one kiss.”
“I hadn’t,” Miranda replied. “Of course not.” To prove it, she leaned close and waited a bit more, and this kiss, a gift from Andrea to Miranda, was even deeper than the first. There was no time to feel self-conscious about the flavors of dinner lingering in their mouths, no time to worry about anything but their clothes and how quickly they could feasibly take them off.
“I did want you,” Andrea said as she unbuttoned her blouse. “I know I did, on some level. Your comments and evaluations—I cared about your opinion of me like it was a boyfriend’s, you know? But you were way more intense than any boyfriend I ever had.”
Miranda couldn’t go on without apologizing. “I said things I regret.”
Andrea shrugged. “It’s done. But I was serious about not wanting to hear any fat comments.”
“C’mere,” Andrea said. She giggled. “Take off my clothes and show me how sorry you are.” Miranda, having waited so long, had thought rough and triumphant and relentless when imagining the sex she’d give Andrea. The thought of that still turned her on, but she was worshipful as she took off Andrea’s clothes. She kissed everything she uncovered. She trembled. She was thankful.
Soon enough they were naked. Miranda heard her own voice whispering “Let me?” and realized the apartment was silent, which meant the music she hadn’t noticed playing had stopped, and Andrea said “Yes” and they didn’t break eye contact until Miranda buried her face between Andrea’s legs and was gentle and thorough and kind.
And Andrea was rough and triumphant and relentless. She pulled at Miranda’s hair, hard, and the pressure on the follicles made her scalp burn pleasantly, like relief after a long-suffered itch. Andrea made it very clear that she had particular expectations for Miranda’s mouth, and Miranda took every suggestion. She wanted to be the absolute best, to be good for Andrea, to give her everything. When Andrea came, it was with a wordless shout, so miraculous that Miranda almost forgot to keep going, to see it through.
When it was over Miranda watched Andrea let herself go limp, breathing hard and smiling at the ceiling. But soon enough she pulled herself into a sitting position and smiled down at Miranda. “How do you want to be?” she asked.
Miranda had imagined taking Andrea face-down, and that obviously hadn’t happened yet. She’d imagined lording above her and making Andrea hers, had figured that would be exciting for them both, the sort of natural continuation of all those long looks. But she realized now that she’d already achieved that, at Runway, from behind her desk, across the room from her. Andrea was waiting, and Miranda saw that she had to become Andrea’s. She scooted to the middle of the bed and knelt with her legs tucked beneath her, then bent at the waist and shifted her weight forward so that her forearms were planted and her breasts just brushed against the sheets. She rested her face against a pillow, adjusted it so she could breathe. In other words, she humbled herself. MP1956.
Before she had much time to wonder what would happen next—Andrea had almost certainly never slept with a woman before, and might be perplexed by the puzzle Miranda had made of her body—Andrea began to massage her shoulder blades. In doing so, she had started with the one place that consistently gave Miranda pain.
“I always wanted to do this for you,” Andrea said, leaning so her face was close to Miranda’s. “I’d see you subtly trying to work out knots in the car and I practically had to sit on my hands not to reach out and help you.”
Miranda could not reply. Her face tingled as it would if she were about to cry, but she didn’t think she was. Andrea rubbed her shoulders and shoulder blades and the length of her back until she felt totally pliant. And then, only then, did Andrea take her place behind her, grazing the sides of Miranda’s breasts with warm fingertips, extending the strokes in increments until they included her torso, her ass. Eventually Andrea nudged her legs apart, encouraged her to lift up, and filled her somewhat tentatively. “I can take more,” Miranda said through clenched teeth, and when Andrea gave her more the pressure and the speed and the angle conspired to make her realize she was going to come relatively quickly. The pressure increased to an almost impossible level; the only other time Miranda had felt like this, she had been alone, using a toy, and had completely surprised herself by ejaculating. The fact that it wouldn’t be such a surprise this time was not particularly comforting. For a frantic second she wondered if she could stop herself or at least use her hand to prevent some of the mess, but it was too late. She felt the whole world pulse at once and with it the more specific pulse of her own pleasure, liquid filling the non-space between her cunt and Andrea’s palm. “That’s it,” Andrea said softly, cradling a stabilizing hand around Miranda’s hip, and later, when she pulled out and Miranda turned, red-faced, to look at her, Andrea’s expression and posture and everything read love and fascination. Miranda glanced at the sheets, trying to assess the damage, but Andrea said “Look at me. It’s perfect. Look at me.”
For all there was to say, the real conversation didn’t start until later, past ten o’clock, when Andrea got up to reheat dinner so they could actually eat. They ate their fill then, sitting naked at the little table and laughing at the scene. They talked and talked—talked and ate, talked around mouthfuls of toothpaste as they brushed their teeth, talked and returned to bed, talked until they were asleep.
Because Miranda traveled frequently, she was used to waking up in the night and having to place where she was. Nevertheless, the realization hit her hard this time. It was so much: to be in this small, well-used room, and not alone, and with Andrea specifically. She stirred enough to feel the coolness of the sheets where her body had not been, then huddled back into the warmth.
“You awake?” came Andrea’s voice, sleepy.
“Only just now,” Miranda said. “You?”
Miranda turned so that she was lying on her back, stretching luxuriously as she moved, and Andrea oriented herself toward her. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said, and she rested her hand at the space between Miranda’s legs.
Miranda wanted nothing more than to mimic that gesture, so they held each other in the dark. When their fingers started moving, Miranda couldn’t tell the difference between the sensations she was given and the ones she was giving. “Ohhh,” she hissed.
“A little more,” Andrea said, and eventually they came like stairsteps, one after another, losing count right away. Miranda searched for Andrea’s face and could see, once her eyes adjusted, that Andrea’s own were shiny with tears. She wasn’t a sympathetic crier, or at least she hadn’t been, but the sight made her eyes well up with the tears that had perhaps taken root much earlier, during that first massage.
When she fell back asleep, she slept soundly, and woke up alone in bed in an apartment that was finally full of light. Andrea stood at the stove in sweats and an almost embarrassingly delectable white tank top, attempting to light a burner for a moka pot. “Mornin’,” she said. “It’s already nine.”
Miranda hadn’t slept that late in years. “Good morning.” She was bashful about the gravelly quality of her voice.
“What do you have going on today?”
She cleared her throat. “I need to be home by noon to let Cara go home for the weekend. I won’t be going in to work today, just spending time with my girls.”
Andrea nodded. “Want to go get breakfast first? There’s a great place just down the street.” She bounded over to the bed, sat next to Miranda with a bounce. “I don’t even have to turn that burner on. We can just get dressed and go.”
Miranda did not particularly want to go out to breakfast. She was sore and tired, and a sense of overwhelm, huge and near-tangible, was lodged in her chest. “All right,” she said anyway. “Breakfast.”
The restaurant was made mostly of plate glass windows but was cramped, and they were seated in the exact middle, it seemed, at a table that was not the eye of a large hurricane but directly in the path of a thousand small storms. “I asked for mineral water, not ice water,” Miranda said to the server. “I asked for hot coffee, and you’ve given me lukewarm coffee. Do you plan to bring me the steak and eggs I ordered, or are you just going to choose something at random?”
The server, a gangly young man of about twenty, looked stunned. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, stuttering over the words. Miranda felt immediate guilt. This was a family place, unpretentious and noisy, and it took the fun out of sharpness. He picked up the coffee and ice water. “I’ll get that fixed right away,” he said, a hint of judgment in his voice, and rushed off.
“There’s no need to be rude,” Andrea said immediately, deadly quiet, staring down at the table. “Don’t take it out on him.”
“Take what out?”
“You know what I mean,” she said, but Miranda didn’t. She had to hear it, though; better to have it out now than bury the conflict until it was too late. “Last night was . . . crazy. It’s okay if you’re overwhelmed or feeling weird or whatever, but don’t be rude. I hate that.”
There was an uncomfortable silence then, which lasted until the server returned with San Pellegrino and a mug of coffee sending off steam signals that could have reached the Finger Lakes. Chagrined, Miranda thanked him carefully. She felt like a tamed tiger who had forgotten herself.
The second the waiter left the table, Andrea leaned close. “I’m super sore,” she said. “Aren’t you?” She grinned in a way that let Miranda know she was not talking about, say, her arm. Not that it wasn’t obvious. When Miranda nodded in agreement, she continued. “I love that feeling: being out in the world with you, doing this normal thing, and having that little reminder of last night.”
The moment righted itself then. The sunlight sharpened, the cacophony of restaurant sounds became more music than din, the burn between her legs was punctuated with a pleasant little twitch of feeling. “When can we see each other next?”
They’d settled on Sunday, and Sunday was foremost in Miranda’s mind as she walked into Elias-Clarke on Monday morning. The building loomed like a ship against the grey sky (the sun from Saturday hadn’t even made it through the afternoon), but the thought of going inside didn’t bother her. She was too happy, sated in that way that leaves one desperate for more.
Andrea had offered, entirely guilelessly, to sneak around with her. Or to meet the kids again, spend time with them in whatever context Miranda preferred. Or a little of both. In Andrea’s words, she meant to move as “quickly and slowly” as seemed appropriate.
So, although it was maybe a bit insane, and certainly a bit soon, Miranda called Andrea on Sunday morning to ask for a suggestion: if she were to teach Caroline and Cassidy how to prepare something vegetarian, what might Andrea be happy to come over and eat?
“Pizza and salad?” Andrea asked hopefully.
So Caroline and Cassidy found out just how long it takes for yeast dough to rise—too long, but with excellent results—and how to make a tomato sauce even Miranda’s own mother might have approved of, and that night they met their mother’s friend Andrea and ate and talked and the adults behaved themselves perfectly well. After dinner, they all watched a movie, the perfect excuse for a profound sleepiness to take over, the sort of sleepiness that presented a need for Andrea to stay. And when several small eternities went by and the girls were tucked in bed, Miranda took Andrea to her bedroom and just about bit through her own lip in an effort to keep quiet.
Now, entering the lobby doors, Miranda worried the ridge she’d bit into the inside of her bottom lip with her tongue. She smiled to herself, pressed her lip just gently against her teeth, raised her fingers to her mouth.
Just then, out of nowhere, there was Emily, a bit wide-eyed again, caught in the act of studying the happiness on Miranda’s face. “Good morning, Miranda,” she said, clipped but polite, and instead of completing their journey Miranda’s fingers changed course and closed around the offered cup of coffee. Rebecca, the new woman, always got the first coffee. So, the cup was not work but a gift.
Miranda nodded. In her language with Emily, this was thank you. With her chin she waved Emily into the elevator with her. This was thank you very much. “Miranda,” Emily began. Miranda didn’t want to hear the schedule just yet, but she needn’t have worried. “I wanted to apologize. Last week, your email—I, I, I shouldn’t have laughed.”
Another nod. “All right,” Miranda said. She gave Emily a long look, and was met. “Emily, explain the morning.” The elevator door opened on the well-lit hall and they made their slow way to the desks.