Even the complimentary pretzels tasted like guilt.
Andy couldn't believe she was sitting in this overpriced airline seat on her way out of the country while Emily was sitting in a hospital bed with nothing but horrible pudding for comfort and consolation, yet here she was.
It had been a hell of a few days. No matter how many times she checked her phone, there wasn't so much as a peep from Nate, and that was part of the guilt, too. It wasn't the guilt over how she'd treated him that had her checking her phone even a thousand miles above any chance of reception, but the guilt over her own… relief. Andy hadn't felt this free since she was seven years old and jumping off the swing set. She was free of Nate's guilt-mongering words, free of Emily's teary, furious glare, and half an ocean away from her parents' judgmental, prying eyes. She should feel guilty about all of it, and she knew that much, but instead… there was only one kind of guilt, and it was guilt for feeling happy.
By the time they had landed, even that guilt was gone, forgotten in the back corner of her mind as the lights blurred by the windows of the car, illuminating flashes of old-stone streets and the gleam of the silver-rippled seine. Miranda sat beside her, the quiet turn of pages the only reminder that Andy wasn't alone as she basked in the beauty of Paris at night, wide-eyed and grinning like the most enthused tourist in the world. In one quick moment as they turned a darker corner, Andy caught a glimpse of Miranda's reflection in the window, looking up at her with the faintest hint of an amused smile tugging at the corner of her lips, but the lights wiped away the reflection too quickly for Andy to be sure she just hadn't imagined it.
There was a show that night, the usual parade of cameras and couture, but then there was a hotel room, a luxurious shower and an equally luxurious bed, and Andy was warm, comfortable, free, and asleep with a smile on her face.
Of course, all hell just had to break loose the next morning.
"Did you know about this?"
Andy was jolted into awareness at some ungodly hour of the morning by Miranda's deathly soft, furious voice and the feeling of a very heavy laptop being dropped on her stomach. Before she had a chance to rub her eyes clear enough to make out the screen, Miranda was already pacing back across the room, quiet fury radiating from her every motion. "Two days ago! She wrote this two days ago and had the audacity, the—"
Andy managed to tune out her boss long enough to get the gist of what was on the screen in front of her. It was a blog, a WordPress, with an "about the blogger" blurb straight out of, well, the mind of one particular British first assistant. Sure enough, down at the bottom was a half-recognizable image of Emily Charlton taken from behind and a few words explaining her decision to "remain anonymous" while blogging "all the latest tips and goings-on from behind the scenes at one of the premiere fashion magazines in the world."
Well. The "anonymous" bit would have probably been more effective if the most recent blog post in her series about the life and times of a fashion editor's assistant didn't include a vicious diatribe against said editor, recounting being forced to eat nothing but cheese, being passed over for Paris, and… being hit by a taxi.
It wasn't the most coherent of rage-posts, but it certainly got the message across. Where her prior blogging consisted mostly of fashion tips and glowing reviews of each issue of Runway, this latest post was a brutal breakdown of her time working for Miranda, and it was anything but anonymous. It also, in the first line, very clearly read "TO BE DELETED." Andy didn't know that much about the blogging scene, but she knew enough to figure that was a good sign. Emily had every right to be angry and, honestly, Andy was kind of proud of the self-destructive redhead for finally standing up and saying enough was enough, even if she was really only screaming it into the void online, but judging from that little addition, Emily intended it to be just that—an angry note to whoever was listening while she needed an ear, to be erased from history as soon as the hurt had passed.
"—and now I have to deal with this… this nonsense on top of everything else. I expect you to work with Leslie and minimize the press, though heaven knows I'm not going to be able to avoid it completely."
"Miranda, I—" Andy was torn between a desire to laugh and the self-preservation driving her to do anything but. "—This is Emily we're talking about. How did you even find this? I mean, it isn't like this is going anywhere, r-right?"
Her last words ended in a stammering question when Miranda pinned her down with her with her coldest stare. "The comments, Andrea. Look at them."
Andy reluctantly scrolled down to the bottom of the article. 926 COMMMENTS stared up at her. Was that a lot? That seemed like a lot. She quickly returned to the main blog page and checked the other posts Emily had made over the past year. None of them had more than three or four replies. "Oh. I—I'll do that. Let me, I can just…"
She had a wild time extricating herself from beneath the laptop and the mess of sheets her legs had gotten tangled up in, and it was only when she was halfway across the room with her phone in her hand that she remembered going to sleep in only an old t-shirt and a comfy pair of undies. Miranda was staring at her in exasperated disbelief when she turned back around with a squeak. "Sorry, I—I'll just get clothes on the phone I—Leslie! I mean Leslie. I'll get her now. On the phone. I—" Andy knew she was bright red, and the hint of color on Miranda's cheeks was likewise impossible to miss. Andy wanted to sink through the floor in embarrassment. At least then she would be less exposed.
"Yes. Do that," Miranda said quickly. "And be ready for the show at ten. That's all."
Without another word, she was gone.
Andy got Leslie's voicemail on her first try, and when she noticed the clock displaying a brutal 4:00 AM, she decided she had enough time to really get to the bottom of Miranda's anger. An hour in the comments answered all her questions. It started innocently enough, with a few of Emily's loyal followers offering sympathy, then it quickly spiraled downhill when another, seemingly more popular fashion blogger called her out on her negativity. On that comment was a link to a response post that made Andy's stomach churn just reading it. This other blogger had zero sympathy for Emily, scoffing at her diet complaints and insisting that, if she couldn't take the heat, it was no wonder she was passed over for the trip of a lifetime. "Don't blame your boss for your missed opportunities," it ended, and Andy was half a second away from adding her own furious response to the flames when she noticed someone had gotten there first.
Or, a number of someones. After a few comments on either side, a well-known feminist blogger had caught wind of the conflict, and her fierce defense of Emily's original post had even more replies than the first assistant's.
That post seemed to have spring-boarded the many-hundreds-of-comments response Andy now had to deal with. This was a feminist blogger who had been writing an in-depth exploration of the fashion scene for over two years under the screenname "fashionism,"and her post was essentially a call-to-arms for the Emily's of the industry, "all these girls who have been used, abused, and shoved aside in the name of beauty."
Andy had to remind herself that it wasn't her job to take sides right now. It was her job to make sure Miranda made it through this week unscathed, and, more than that, Andy knew this wasn't the response Emily would have wanted. For that alone, she could put aside personal feelings and deal with this as professionally as possible. She owed the other assistant at least that much.
Speaking of Emily. What was the first assistant up to, now that she'd started all this? Why hadn't she called or deleted the post?
Noticing the now marginally-more-human hour of 5:00, Andy hit the first assistant's speed dial.
"Andy? Oh thank God."
"Emily?" she asked. While the accent and desperation were about right, Andy had a hard time believing that Emily would be answering a call from her with any sort of thanks. "I was calling about… your blog."
"Oh no. I was just about to call. Please tell me Miranda hasn't seen. I only just got out of the Hospital last night and with all the commotion of getting my prescriptions and moving around in this bloody chair I never got a chance to… well… I remembered as soon as I woke up and I was on my way to get rid of it, I promise!"
Andy sighed and rested her forehead against her hand. "Too late for that, Em."
The moan of horror that crackled through the line nearly deafened Andy.
"I was on pain meds!" she squawked. "I—I was hardly thinking, I never should have… I—"
"I'm sure it's going to be fine, Em," Andy hastened to reassure her. "I—I'll talk to her. Once she's calmed down."
"Don't you 'Em' me," Emily snapped. "You don't get to… to be friendly. This is all your fault!"
Andy winced. The guilt from the flight had snuck up on her again. "I know it is. Look, I'll fix it, alright?"
"You'd better," Emily snapped, and the line went to static.
Not two minutes after being hung up on, Andy's phone rang again. It was Leslie. They discussed the situation for a while, and Andy felt much better when she heard how calm the other woman was. "It's not the best timing, of course, but a few dozen feminist bloggers aren't going to make much of a stir. I'll be honest: no one will even notice. I'm surprised Miranda even found it. It looks to me like it's going to keep circling around this bit of the internet for a while, then it'll die out on its own. I'll keep an eye on it for a day or two, but you should be all set to… do what you always do."
"Thanks, Leslie," Andy replied. "You're a lifesaver."
She managed to get another two hours of sleep after that, but woke so disoriented she almost forgot to put on clothes. Again.
The day passed in a blur. It was like Runway on steroids. The entire city seemed dressed to the nines and preening for the cameras. Miranda sailed through the shows and the soirees with ease and grace, not one hair out of place, seemingly unruffled by and unconcerned with her early-morning revelation.
Christian Thompson asked her out again, though Andy hardly noticed it happening in the moment. She had one eye on her boss at all times—habit, she told herself. Professionalism. Nothing to do with the cut of that jacket or the line of her calves in those heels or—so Christian's invitation fell in distracted ears. Moving out of the last crowd, Andy wasn't actually sure if she'd said yes or no.
By the time she'd collected the various bags and boxes she needed to deliver upstairs, evening had arrived, and the sight awaiting her in Miranda's suite was entirely unexpected.
She froze in the doorway the moment she saw her. "Oh." Miranda had clearly begun turning in for the night. Her makeup was gone, her skirt, jacket, and sunglasses exchanged for a loose grey robe and reading glasses. The glasses weren't on, at the moment. They dangled from the fingertips of her right hand, raised mid-motion, and Andy could see Miranda's eyes were red-rimmed from crying.
The editor filled the silence with a deep breath. "Oh, there you are," she said, passing the glasses into her other hand and crossing her legs with more nervous motion than Andy had ever seen from this particular woman. She cleared her throat before continuing, "We need to go over the seating… uh… chart for the luncheon."
"Okay!" Andy hastened to reply, wincing at her own perkiness. "Um, yeah. Sure," she added as she made a nervous beeline to the seat across from the other woman. "I have that right—" She rummaged through her bag, fingers not quite obeying her the way she needed them to. "—here."
"By all means move at a glacial pace; you know how that thrills me."
The quiet insult finally brought a sense of normalcy to the scene and Andy managed to present the needed pages without further difficulty. As Miranda reached to take the proffered folder, Andy hesitantly asked, "Is this about… Emily?"
Miranda's reply was clipped. "No." She opened Andy's itinerary, pulling out the needed page. "Okay. So. First of all, we need to move Snoop Dogg to my table."
"B-but your table's full," Andy stammered, still trying to make sense of what further disaster could have struck in a single day.
"Stephen isn't coming."
"Oh," Andy managed. She wished she hadn't said that quite so many times in this one conversation, but in order for that to happen, Miranda would need to stop being so… cryptic. "Stephen isn't… so I don't need to… fetch Stephen from the airport tomorrow?"
"Well." Andy looked up in time to watch Miranda pull the glasses down her nose once more, turning them in her hand. "If you speak to him and he decides to rethink the divorce then, yes, fetch away. You are very fetching so… go fetch."
A heavy silence fell in the room. Andy's mind had gotten stuck on that one, stunning word: divorce. An emotion she'd very much come to associate with Miranda's husband lanced through her gut. Loathing. She had met the man all of three times and, on every single occasion, she had been dumbstruck by how callously he treated his wife. This, though… how could anyone who was married to Miranda Priestly toss her aside because of her… her busy schedule? Her life?
"Since you've already talked to Leslie today, be sure to… see what she can do about the press on this as well." Miranda restlessly drummed her fingers against her glasses. "Another divorce."
Andy looked up. Was Miranda really about to offer more information?
"Splashed across page six. I can just imagine what they're going to write about me. The Dragon Lady. Career-Obsessed. Snow Queen Drives Away Another Mr. Priestly. Rupert Murdoch should cut me a check for all the papers I sell for him. Anyway, I don't really care what anybody writes about me. But my girls, I just… it's just so unfair to the girls, it's just… another disappointment. Another letdown. Another father… figure." The empty laugh that echoed off the end of that word tugged at Andy's heart. "Gone. Anyway, point is… The point is." Miranda drew in another soul-deep breath. "The point is we really need to figure out where to place Donatella because she's barely speaking to anyone."
Andy felt a chill race down her spin when Miranda turned her words immediately back to work. She couldn't change gears that way, that fast. Not when Miranda was sitting there in front of her, looking two minutes away from fresh tears even with the edge of steel in her eyes. "I'm so sorry Miranda. If you want me to cancel your evening I can." With this on top of the half-forgotten Emily situation, it seemed like the least she could offer. What she really wanted to offer was a hug, but despite the intimate revelation of mere moments before, this was work, now, and Andy had to play by the rules.
"Don't be ridiculous. Why would we do that?"
Andy wasn't surprised by the dismissive question. She was almost surprised by how little bite there was behind it, though. Andy couldn't leave it. Not at that. "Is there anything else I can do?"
Then her itinerary was in waving beneath her nose and Miranda was looking anywhere but at her, and it was clear the exchange had ended.
Andy didn't fight the dismissal, but her steps were heavy as she left Miranda alone.
Nigel's news improved her mood, even if it deepened the strange nostalgia that had settled over her evening. "I can't imagine Runway without you!" she stammered. His new job sounded absolutely incredible, but without Nigel… what a different world this position would be. His complete, unreserved, ecstatic joy was absolutely contagious, though, and by the time she'd taken her first sip of champagne, Andy couldn't stop smiling. "Well, congratulations, Nigel. You deserve it."
The trill of Andy's important ringtone suddenly cut through the mood. She checked caller ID. "Whoops, I have to—"
Nigel waved off her protestations in understanding.
"Leslie, hi, what can I—"
"Bad news, Andy. Looks like I underestimated this particular blogger. There's going to be a protest tomorrow. It could go on for most of the day. I can do my best to minimize bad publicity, but there's already going to be press everywhere, and I can't do anything to stop the protesters. It's completely legal."
"Protesters?" Andy squeaked. "Wow." The too-long-buried journalist inside Andy was absolutely rioting at the scent of what could likely be an incredible story. The current assistant, though, was trying to sort through the practical implications for her boss, and the Andy buried somewhere below all of that couldn't stop picturing Miranda's quiet vulnerability and red-rimmed eyes and wondering what she could do to protect her from any more damage.
A glance at the clock behind Nigel's head revealed only fifteen minutes until her half-remembered date with Christian, and part of Andy breathed a sigh of relief as she said, "Let me just cancel my plans for the evening so I can talk through scenarios with you, alright?"
Christian sounded more exasperated than genuinely disappointed when Andy called, and she had a sudden flash of déjà vu, the memory of Stephen's quiet, angry words on the upper floor of the townhouse as he sneered off Miranda's apology for being late to a dinner. Screw Christian Thompson. She had more important things to deal with.
In the end, there really wasn't that much to be done. The protesters would be there, a few of the smaller online papers had already picked up the scent of scandal, and Emily's blog was going to be a far more viral sensation than the harried redhead could have ever imagined. The best she could do was give the Brit a heads up, leave Miranda a voicemail with the lowdown, and get a good night's sleep in preparation for battle.
Of course, her phone just had to wake her earlier than planned. "Hello?" she mumbled drowsily.
Christian's overly-perky greeting rubbed Andy exactly the wrong way for seven in the morning. "Christian?"
"Well. Seeing as work stole you away from me last night, I was hoping I might steal you first this time around. How does breakfast sound? I promise I'll have you back before the big bad boss even notices you're gone."
Andy groaned into a pillow. There was nothing charming about this man to her right now. He sounded pushy and sleazy and desperate, and Andy couldn't remember why she'd ever thought she could be into that. "Look, Christian. It's nice. That's really nice of you. But I need to focus on Miranda while I'm here. She's having… a rough few days. Lots of stuff to deal with. I can't go gallivanting around the city with you. Not even for breakfast. I'm sorry. Find someone else to… wow with your Parisian charms."
There was a moment of silence on the other end. "You know, Andy," he finally said. "Miranda isn't going to be around forever. If I were you, I'd think about cutting your losses now. At least cut loose a bit. She's not the center of your world, and she's not going to be the center of the fashion world for much longer, either."
Andy's brow furrowed. "What's that supposed to mean."
"I mean—" Christian offered, voice gone slow and patronizing. "—Miranda isn't irreplaceable. She's on her way out. Jacqueline Follet will be taking over soon. Could be next quarter. And she's bringing me on to take care of all the editorial content. Irv's a businessman and, let's face it, Miranda isn't young, and she costs him a hell of a lot of money. Jacqueline is fresh and she can do Miranda's job for half price. Miranda's not even going to have a job for you, soon. Stop giving her your life. Come to breakfast with me. Maybe we can even talk about a place for you in the new lineup."
Andy held the phone away from her ear in stunned silence. She knew she should probably be insulted by Christian's thinly-veiled attempt at buying a date with her with the promise of a new job, but she was too busy being stunned by what Irv had planned for Miranda.
"B-but, Miranda will be devastated; Runway is her life."
She could practically hear the silent, dismissive shrug on the other end of the line. "That's business. She'll find out after the brunch today."
"And Miranda has no idea this is coming," Andy whispered, suddenly sitting up. "I have to go."
"Andy, baby, wait, I—"
"—I'm not your baby."
The satisfaction of hanging up had never been so rich.
She paced outside of Miranda's doors for a long time. She's rushed out of the room half-dressed, her nighttime t-shirt tucked haphazardly into the skirt she planned to wear, but the clock in the hall gave her pause. There was no way Miranda was awake, yet, and it would be near suicidal to be the one to wake her.
Reluctantly, she went back to her room, laid down on the bed, and closed her eyes. There was no way she would fall back asleep now, but…
Somehow, she did, and straight through her alarm, too. "Shit," she hissed, jamming her toes into her shoes and shoving a proper blouse and jacket up her arms. "Shit, shit, shit, shit."
In another minute, she was hesitating outside Miranda's doors again, suddenly remembering she had not just one piece of bad news to pester her boss with, but two.
There was no answer.
She knocked again.
Terrified she might have missed her, Andy knocked with increasing desperation, finally banging the side of her fist against the paneling.
When it swung open, Andy nearly punched Irv Ravitz in the face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ravitz," she muttered, edging around the small, startled man and nearly bumping head-first into the woman she had been searching for. "Miranda!"
"Have you lost your mind?"
Andy winced at the words, but barreled on anyway. "I need to talk to you, I… did you get my message about—"
"The protesters. Yes. Now do not disturb me again."
The door was soundly shut in her face.
A frantic glance at Miranda's itinerary showed here next chance for interception was just before the big announcement itself.
Sure enough, she met Miranda in the halls and managed to spew her warning out in a complete jumble of words. "Miranda! Miranda, wait, I need to talk to you. IrvismakingJacquilineFollettheeditorinchiefofRunway. Christian Thompson told me he's gonna work with her, and Irv is gonna tell you today so I thought that maybe if I told you, then you could fix it," she finished, out of breath.
"Do I smell… freesias?"
"What?" Andy stammered, completely disbelieving her ears. "No. I-I specifically told them that—"
"If I see—" Miranda flung her coat directly into Andy's face. "—freesias—" Her gloves plunked atop the coat. "—anywhere, I will be very disappointed."
She ran one hand along the curve of her ear, tucking away a stray bit of hair as she passed far too close to Andy's side, leaving the assistant reeling in a cloud of Miranda's subtle, distinct perfume and a haze of confusion.
The entire event was surreal. There was Nigel, making a beautiful speech about Miranda and their work together. There they were, hugging and giving each other a kiss on the cheek as he handed off the mic. Then there was Miranda, looking poised and regal and heart-stoppingly beautiful, taking the stage to crush Nigel's dream under one perfectly wielded heel. Two words—Jacqueline Follet—answered all of Andy's questions even as they stole her breath right out of her lungs and tore the happy smile off Nigel's face. There was a sick sort of admiration twisting in Andy's gut, then, but it was an angry, sad sort of admiration, and not one she ever wanted to feel again.
A member of the event security team pulled Miranda aside as they were headed for the exit. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Priestly. We're waiting for extra security. There's a crowd of women with signs out there right now, and we don't want anybody getting hurt. Just… sit tight for fifteen minutes and we'll have a clear path to your car."
There was a cushioned bench just inside the door. They sat. Andy fidgeted. The first ten minutes passed in complete silence.
Finally, just as Andy glanced up at the other woman for the umpteenth time, a small smile flickered over Miranda's lips. "You thought I didn't know." The smile faded. "I've known what was happening for quite some time. Just… took me a little while to find a suitable alternative for Jacqueline. And that James Holt job was just so absurdly well made that of course she jumped at it," A quiet chuckle punctuated her words. "So I just had to tell Irv that Jacqueline was unavailable. Truth is, there is no one who can do what I do. Including her. Any other choices would have found that job impossible and the magazine would have suffered." She sighed. "Especially because of the list. The list of designers, photographers, editors, writers, models, all of whom were found by me, nurtured by me, and have promised me they will follow me, whenever and if ever I choose to leave Runway."
Another quiet chuckle sent shivers racing down Andy's spine.
"So he reconsidered."
The cold in Miranda's voice had never felt so… empty to Andy before.
"But—" she continued before Andy could find her voice. "—I was very, very impressed by how intently you tried to warn me. I never thought I would say this, Andrea, but I really… I see a great deal of myself in you."
Andy looked up and met Miranda's eyes. She hoped her expression looked as dead as she felt inside, because that was a better alternative to the riot of contradictory emotions the words were slowly setting to boil in the pit of her stomach.
"You can see beyond what people want and what they need and you can choose for yourself."
Andy knew her voice was going to be hoarse, but she spoke anyway. "I don't think I'm like that." When Miranda didn't react, Andy turned away and added, "I couldn't do what you did to Nigel, Miranda. I couldn't do something like that."
Miranda hummed softly. "You already did. To Emily."
Andy almost protested. It had been different with Emily. Emily had never… Emily didn't… Then, before she could find words, she realized the bustle of people she could just see out the glass-plated doors wasn't just the usual press of city passers-by. Those were signs, there. Illegible, but clear in their intent. Mouths were moving in sync, probably chanting, even if the words were muffled by the distance and the doors between them. She'd ruined something wonderful for Emily by going on this trip, and those demonstrators outside were the result. She couldn't look away, and her protests died unspoken.
"You chose this," Miranda continued. "You chose to get ahead. You want this life, those choices are necessary."
"But what if this isn't what I want?" Andy asked, and in that instant, she wasn't sure if she was asking Miranda… or herself. "I mean, what if I don't want to live the way you live?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us." The triumphant gleam suddenly faded from her eyes as she followed Andy's stare out the window. "Except them," she whispered. "Except them."
"The car is ready, ma'am."
A security guard interrupted the moment and Miranda stood, striding towards the doors without a glance back. Andy was left alone on the bench, suddenly struck by the startling realization that, in this moment, she had a choice. She could follow Miranda out those doors, tacitly accepting that every terrifying word Miranda had just spoken was true, or she could just… stand here. She could stand here and… let Miranda go. The thought hurt more than she wanted it to, and that alone solidified her resolve. She wasn't going to turn into Miranda. That wasn't anything she'd ever wanted. There were things about Miranda that… drew her, but not like that. Never like that. Never at the cost of… her own humanity.
Then, the doors were pushed open, and the loud, raucous chant of the women outside caught Andy's attention. As suddenly as the desire to flee had come, it was usurped by the reflexive desire to protect Miranda Priestly at all costs, and letting her go into a crowd of—even rightfully—angry protesters alone was not something she was capable of.
She raced after her horrible, beautiful, massively controversial boss and flung herself into the melee by her side. The clamor was astounding. Leslie had warned her, but seeing these women turning up from all over Europe must be… unprecedented, really, and a mess, and listening to words she had been on the saying-end of more than once in college now being flung directly at her wasn't exactly helping her resolve to stay.
"FASHION KILLS!" the nearest protester yelled, diving between two of the guards and shoving an illegible sign in Miranda's face. Andy grabbed the flailing poster-board and forced herself to push the last few feet to the waiting car. She found herself sitting in the back with her white-knuckled fingers still wrapped around the wooden handle, the sign trapped between her knees.
Once she saw Miranda safe and unfazed in the other seat, the urge to flee sprouted up again, and Andy wondered for a moment if the protesters out there would accept her into their ranks with this stolen sign.
Andy almost missed Miranda's quiet words. "What?"
As she asked the question, she missed her chance to run. The car pulled out into traffic.
"Everybody wants to be us… except them," Miranda repeated her earlier words. "And Emily… the rest of them… She's right, you know?" Miranda murmured, staring out the car window at the passing signs of the protestors. "They all are."
Miranda's triumphant mood seemed to have disappeared somewhere in the crowd back there, and Andy's felt her eyebrows rising so high they must have disappeared entirely behind her bangs.
"I know perfectly well what this industry does to the girls in it, and the ones reading about it at home, trying to grasp hold of this unattainable perfection we've created. I read the posts like Emily's. I go looking for them."
Andy could see the editor's eyes fall closed behind her sunglasses.
"I used to be proud of it. I was so surprised that first time I realized I could be the perfection behind the pages, rather than the… the mediocrity reading the magazines. You've felt that. I've watched you be… seduced by my life. Later, though… it was almost a triumph, knowing how much power I had over so many millions of people."
As the car pulled through a yellow light and past the last of the straggling protesters, Miranda fell silent, leaving Andy to worry her lower lip between her teeth as she considered Miranda's words. Finally, she let herself ask, "And now?"
"Hmm?" Miranda murmured, seeming to have lost herself in thought.
"You said 'used to.' You used to be proud of it."
"Oh. Yes. Well... I suppose now I just... I do my best not to think on it too much. The industry is what it is. Better to be at the helm than watching it sail off into the distance without me. I'd be far too little too late to change it, and I..." She finally pulled her gaze away from the passing buildings and slid her sunglasses down her nose, meeting Andy's stare over the rims. "How would you feel, having to admit your life's work has meant nothing?"
To Andy's continued astonishment, Miranda's voice was trembling.
"I know what fashion does. I know my couture is made of fabrics that probably cost someone a finger, a hand, an entire life wasted in labor that barely put food in the mouth of a child. Should I put that on my tombstone, then? Perhaps just numbers. Number of preteen girls diagnosed with anorexia every year. Number of animals killed to grace the pages of my magazine. Number of lawsuits I've bought my way out of without even looking at the complaint."
Andy wasn't sure, but that looked an awful lot like a tear creeping out from below Miranda's sunglasses.
"Or maybe just one. Just this one. Number of gullible, idolizing girls who I've driven completely over the edge into utter hatred. Number of Emily's alienated into martyrdom. That's it. That's my life work. I probably have more blood on these hands than your average American soldier."
Miranda's hands were visibly shaking as she turned them over in her laps, displaying her pale, unblemished palms for Andy's inspection. "What would you have me do? What would any of them have me do?"
Andy was silent for another two passing blocks. She had been so close to walking away, yet here she was again, feeling something. Half of her wanted to hit her head against the window over and over again until the car stopped and she could run to the nearest bus station without one more bit of worry for Miranda Everybody-Wants-This Priestly, but the other half of her wanted to listen to what Miranda was saying, what she was feeling, and make sure she never felt that way again.
"Emily doesn't hate you. You know that, right?"
Miranda scoffed, turning back towards the window.
"She was going to delete that post. She was… out of her mind on hospital drugs. She's probably going to beg on her knees for your forgiveness. For a second chance."
Miranda shook her head. "She can have it if she asks. It will minimize the press, I suppose. But I… She shouldn't want that. No one should. Not even you, as much as I… as I wish you wanted what I have to offer. I've already lived half my life, Andrea. Runway has been more than half of that. There is no… second chance for me. There's no other path. Even if I wanted it." She folded and unfolded her sunglasses in her palms. "I don't. I've done something no one else in this world could have done with this magazine and nothing will change that. Not Emily with her blog or those… those protesters and their atrociously-spelled signs or you with your ridiculous brown eyes when you—Stop looking at me like that!"
In that final command, Andy witnessed her boss truly raise her voice for the first time in memory. She gulped. "Like what?" she managed, annoyed at her own voice for squeaking.
Miranda turned away, her voice cracking. "Like you think you can fix me."
The silence in the car was deafening. Andy couldn't believe how quickly the tone of the day had turned. Just moments ago, she had been furious at Miranda, ready to leave her high and dry in the middle of her busiest week of the year, but now… now she was still angry, she couldn't let that go, but she was also… confused. Painfully so. What did Miranda want from her?
Andy bit her lip. She bit her lip, swallowed as best she could with a throat as dry as paper, and sucked in as much air as her lungs could hold. "You know—" she managed, forcing the words out in an arid huff. "—I would never try to fix you. Having said that… you could… I don't know…" She sighed in sudden annoyance at how difficult it was to put one word after another when sitting next to Miranda Priestly. No one had ever made her as effectively tongue-tied as this particular, ridiculous woman. "It doesn't have to be you… getting changed. You're allowed to do things differently… just because. Not because of Emily's rage-blogging or all this other… stuff."
Miranda's head spun towards her and Andy was skewered with a flesh-melting glare for daring to use that particular word, but she soldiered on.
"Don't change for them. Just… do what you've always done? Work your Runway miracles. But do them in a way that makes up for some of the… I'm just gonna say it… the guilt that has you all wound up right now. If you know you've been messing up, wouldn't it be better to do something about it? Not just sit around being miserable because you're too stubborn to even listen to yourself when things go downhill?"
What did she have to lose? She was planning on quitting anyway. She might as well say what she was thinking. Consequences be damned.
To her surprise Miranda's response was a cold, deadly smile. "Listen to yourself. You're not exactly in a position to talk like that. I've seen your work. I remember those little newspaper clippings you set on my desk that first day. 'NU Women Take Back the Night.' You're probably the only… actively feminist assistant I've ever had, and yet—just like every other complicit bystander silently benefiting from my work—you've silenced your morals. The world vilifies everyone but you, you realize? They vilify the women out there calling for my head, and they vilify the head they're calling for. The moment you dare have a voice, you'll be punished for it. The only way to not live every moment of your life with a cloud of hatred hanging over your head is to do what you've so eagerly done—be silent, be passive, and do your job."
"I—That's not what I—I don't—"
"Oh, but you do," Miranda murmured. "Even Emily with her unintentional activism has had more to say about this world than you."
Andy fell silent again, weighing Miranda's words. "Fine. Maybe that's true. But for me that's… temporary! I'm not going to be your assistant forever, I just… You're making it sound like the only way to… to have a voice here is to either be you or be against you, and I'm not interested."
"Really?" Miranda asked, a hint of genuine surprise creeping into the arch of her eyebrow. "I'd have thought you'd be happy to be out there with the rest of them."
"Not against you."
The moment the words snuck past Andy's tired, confused lips, she regretted them.
"I mean—I don't mean—I just…"
"Yes," Miranda slowly drawled. "What did you mean?"
She leaned subtly closer, her stare piercing right through Andy's defensive posture and ineffectively stammered excuses and skewering her straight through the heart.
"Not against you," she whispered again. "I—Yeah. Even you said it. Those women are right. No one should have to go through what Emily did. And it's kind of your fault, and it's a little bit mine, and the rest of the blame goes to—" Andy paused, waving her arms aimlessly around the interior of the car. "—all of this. The industry. And you're part of that, but you—you're you."
When Andy's words died, Miranda's eyebrow seemed to climb ever-higher on her forehead. "Not exactly a glowing summary of my better qualities."
Andy groaned. Miranda was right. She was doing a horrible time defending her own defense of the woman sitting across from her, and she knew perfectly well why that was. Her better qualities were… personal. They didn't belong in this weird, political conversation rooted in their respective career paths. "I know. You're just… you're different. I like you."
Miranda's eyes narrowed. "What is this, Andrea? Have we gone back to middle school? Are you passing me a note in class?"
Andy felt a furious wash of heat rise up her cheeks. Miranda's goading was getting to her, and she was one bit of snark away from saying "Fuck it!" to all of this and just… just…
"I don't know why I bothered having this conversation in the first place. This was never even about you."
"It is, though!" Andy felt something inside of her burst, and the words raced for the new opening, spilling free into the air. "You can't call me passive and then act like this isn't personal! It's personal, alright? I was going to leave today! After what you did to Nigel? I was done. I was already so close to done when I read Emily's post because, you know what? I've had so many of the same experiences working here. I've been passed over and spurned for silly mistakes. I've lost weight and sleep and a stable relationship to work for you and maybe I'm crazy for it, but I've done it because sometimes, I see you and I… I just… I can't look away. The part of you that sat there and admitted how many mistakes you've made? I like that part of you! And the times when you've been worried for your kids and… and the time you hired me on a whim. I like you. But I hate this job."
There. It was all out in the open just in time for the car to pull up by the curve in front of the next event destination.
To her surprise, Miranda didn't open the door. Instead, she pressed the lever on the privacy panel. "Circle the block. I'll tell you when to stop. That's all."
The panel rose again.
Slowly, Miranda turned towards her again, but she wasn't meeting Andy's eyes. "And if I told you they were one and the same?"
It took Andy a long time for her brain to connect Miranda's questions to her last words. "You're not your job. I mean, come on. You—what, you read feminist articles written about you in your spare time? You have a family and a dog and you… You're you. Maybe the job doesn't exist without you, but not the other way around."
A slow smile was curling one corner of Miranda's lips, and Andy couldn't stop staring at it.
"What does that mean, then?" she murmured. "That you like me, Andrea."
Andy shivered. The tone of Miranda's voice had dropped and seemed to have taken the temperature in the car with it. By now, Andy was out of fear. "It means, when you say my name like that… I get chills."
"Oh," Miranda murmured, and it was the softest, most vulnerable sound Andy had ever heard.
"But," Andy quickly amended, unwilling to admit anything else until she said two more cents. "When I think of what you did to Nigel, and to Emily, in a different way… I feel sick."
Miranda looked up at her with suddenly pleading eyes. "What would you have me do, then? I won't give this up. Not for anyone, but I—I would do some things for you. Not everything, but… more."
"An apology Emily would be a good start," Andy managed, presented with a strange, newfound power and unsure how far her influence might extend. "Something public, since half the feminist bloggers seem to be involved in that one, now, instead of just letting it blow over and disappear. And Nigel, well… he trusts you to make it up to him. Don't let him down."
"Very well," Miranda murmured. "Is that all?"
"That's—" Andy paused. She wasn't going to use Miranda's trademark closing words. Not for this. "—a start. Otherwise… you want things to be different too. You said it yourself. So don't… don't ask me what I want. Ask yourself what you want. You know—" She dared to lighten her tone. "—on your tombstone."
The spluttering laugh that spilled from Miranda's lips was the realest bit of amusement Andy thought she'd ever heard from the editor. Once again, Andy found herself incapable of tearing her eyes away from the little wrinkles at the corners of Miranda's mouth, the soft swell of the lips between them, and the flash of teeth as she ended the sound with a smile.
"And if what I want, right now, has nothing to do with Runway, or… activism, or Emily or Nigel or those protesters?"
Andy shrugged. It was all she could manage when Miranda was sliding closer again. Andy wasn't sure when the seatbelt had come off, but it was definitely gone, and Miranda was definitely only a few inches away from her.
"Andrea," Miranda murmured, and Andy wasn't sure if it was a question, an exclamation, or a command, but she had come too far to turn back now.
Miranda's lips were there, just there, and Andy wasn't sure who moved first, but someone groaned softly and Miranda's mouth covered hers and oh, yes, this was a part of Miranda she could like without any stipulations. Andy leaned into her, feeling her lips reformed, reshaped, fitted against Miranda's softness with the same cool clarity of everything the other woman had ever done. The tip of Miranda's tongue skated over the surface of Andy's lower lip and was gone too soon, but the hand at the back of her neck made up for it, tugging gently in her hair to change the angle of the kiss, redirect it into something warm, something hot, something that sparked along her skin and woke places inside of her she hadn't even realized were so lifeless.
There was a pause, a breath, but then Miranda made a small sound in the back of her throat and pulled Andy close again. Miranda's mouth was as captivating as her commanding stare, as enthralling as her graceful beauty, as gentle as her quiet, demanding voice. Andy wondered if she'd ever really been kissed before. She couldn't have been. Not like this. Her fingers fluttered in the air an inch from Miranda's skin, afraid, even now, that she hadn't really been given permission to touch the woman in front of her. Finally, she traced the sweep of Miranda's cheekbones with the tips of two fingers before letting them drift up into her hair, finding the silver strands as soft as she's always imagined.
A honk from outside the car pulled them away from each other, and Miranda slowly smoothed down her hair and the neck of her jacket. "Well then," she said. "I get the feeling we've a lot more to discuss, now, but I think we've kept our adoring public waiting long enough."
Andy hadn't remotely caught her breath, but she nodded. Their conversation wasn't done, but the fact that they'd had one, a genuine certified conversation, was more of a start than Andy had ever dared to imagine.
One rap on the privacy divide signaled the driver to let them out, and Andy watched for a moment as Miranda was swallowed up by the paparazzi, the camera flashes glinting in her hair the only thing keeping her visible as she started up the steps in a crowd of glimmering admirers. After only a few footfalls, Miranda looked up and turned back, her eyes unfailingly seeking out Andy's figure by the car.
The impatient arch of that particular eyebrow had never felt quite so… welcoming.