Miranda gazed across the steely blue expanse of ocean, exasperated. Where was the sun? The shoot was not turning out well, and Miranda could blame no one except Mother Nature. That didn't mean she could not focus her anger on someone, though. "Emily." Feeling more than hearing her erstwhile first assistant move up next to her, Miranda did not bother to turn her head. "Where is Nigel?"
"He went to scout out some possible sites. I think he said Castle Rock and the Light Tower. They're up the hill a couple of miles."
"Hmm." Miranda did not bother to acknowledge the information, frustrated that nothing was happening quickly. Although she was tempted to take out her ire on Emily, she refrained. Emily had received the brunt of Miranda's impatience and unhappiness for quite a while now. Miranda feared her assistant was close to collapsing. Or quitting.
Miranda continued to stare at the ocean on the coast of Marblehead, mesmerized by the whitecaps rolling toward shore as seagulls wheeled overhead. Although she had visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard several times over the years, this was her first trip to the northeastern coast of Massachusetts. Breathing in deeply, she tasted the salt even as the breeze ruffled through her hair like a lover's hand. Not that she had felt such an action any time recently.
Nine months ago her soon to be ex-husband, Stephen, had served her divorce papers while she had struggled to preserve her position as Runway's Editor-in-Chief. Nine months ago her world had fallen apart, yet she had been unable to do anything other than shore up the land shifting under her feet as best she could and pretend nothing had changed. Nine months ago she had realized just how easily happiness could slip through her fingers when she was not vigilant. Nine months ago she had learned that she could not hope to maintain a balanced, fulfilling life if she focused solely on her work. Nine months ago she had realized in one agonizing moment that making assumptions, casting quick judgments, and acting on what had turned out to be faulty suppositions could, and had, left her bereft and empty.
As Miranda had pretended nothing was amiss, her battered heart had grieved. She was no closer to accepting the truth now than when it had slapped her across the face in Paris. She was unsure whether she would ever truly acknowledge what had happened. It confounded her to admit that she had not recognized what she had been feeling, what she still felt, or how much she meant to her, until she had walked away without a backward glance during Miranda's busiest week of the year: Paris Fashion Week.
Restless, Miranda firmly pulled her thoughts away from Andrea Sachs, telling herself, as she had for the last nine months, that they were not meant to be a part of each other's lives. Andrea had walked away. Andrea had begun to live her dream as a journalist. Andrea was better off without having a high-maintenance, mother of two in the middle of yet another divorce, editor-in-chief pounding on her door, asking—not demanding—for her time so that the days would once again contain some semblance of brightness.
"Emily. Go rent a motorboat. Be quick." Miranda heard her assistant scamper away as she leaned against the storm wall in front of her, located at the end of the causeway. Breathing in deeply, she took a moment to just be. Once Emily returned they would explore the coastline to determine whether their photographer might be able to take the shots needed for the next issue. Miranda thought that by having their photographer take the pictures from a boat while the models posed at the edge of the rocky coast, they might just be able to capture the dichotomy of the untamable ocean and the halcyon beachside.
After several minutes, Emily returned. "Miranda, I got a boat, but since there is no rental place around here, I had to beg some guy to use his—" she began as she shifted from foot to foot.
Shooting a quelling look at Emily, Miranda rolled her eyes, glad when the worthless information stopped cluttering the air. "Well?" she asked, irritated that Emily was not leading the way to this precious boat she had had so much trouble procuring. As if she cared. When she gave orders, she expected that they would be carried out completely, perfectly, immediately. That's why she was so successful—she expected the best, and people attempted to comply. If they wanted to continue working within the fashion industry, they were successful.
Miranda looked at the sorry excuse for a boat with disbelief. "You expect me to get into that?" Miranda demanded. With a heaving sigh, she looked around. No one was nearby. Redirecting her gaze to the metal contraption bobbing as waves pushed it against the shore, Miranda wondered whether her idea of exploring the coastline was worth pursuing. Emily stood silently, holding on to the edge of the skiff.
Shielding her eyes, Miranda looked across the ocean once more, as if searching for an answer. She saw a small island close by with several cabins scattered across it. Nodding her head, she pulled off her shoes and walked into the shallow water to climb in the boat. Evidently, Emily was a bit stronger than she appeared, for she kept the boat fairly steady as Miranda got settled. Moments later, she joined Miranda in the boat and used an oar to push them off the rocky shore before starting the motor.
"That way," Miranda directed as she pointed northeast, toward the island. Miranda swiveled so she could look at the mainland, searching for likely areas where models could lounge on the rocks. What she saw was not heartening. The coast was rocky and hard to reach. She hoped Nigel was having better luck. Feeling water sloshing over her bare feet, Miranda looked down in confusion. The bottom of the boat was filled with water.
"Emily. If I wanted to swim, I would not have been so subtle as to ask for a boat. How hard is it to navigate without drowning us?" Miranda ground out. The water was cold, and her feet felt unpleasantly numb. She shifted so that they rested on the side of the boat.
"I'm sorry, Miranda. I don't understand what's happening." Emily's eyes jumped frantically around the interior of what Miranda was starting to believe to be a deathtrap, as if looking for a neon sign to provide her with the answer as to why water kept seeping in.
Miranda spied a small beach pail toward the front of the boat and slid forward to grab it. Eyes widening a bit as she noted how much water was now in the boat, Miranda began to bail the water quickly. After a few minutes of Miranda's manual labor and Emily's panicked breathing, Miranda scanned the horizon. The island was farther away than she had anticipated. They were about two-thirds of the way to it. Firming her lips, Miranda got back to the task of bailing the water out of the bottom of the boat.
"Find a spot to land on the island, Emily. There are houses on it, so people must visit it." At least, she hoped so. She had no intention of being stranded on a deserted island with Emily, of all people. Now if she were with Andrea…she rolled her eyes at the absurd thought. So ridiculous. So pathetic. To be thinking of her still after all this time, to be fantasizing about being with the assistant who had walked away so proudly, so easily.
The waves slapped at the boat a bit more forcefully as Emily steered them toward shore. Just in time, too. Miranda's arms were beginning to tire, and she was not bailing the water out quickly enough to compensate for the leak. She was sorely disappointed by Emily's inability to rent a boat that wouldn't sink. The task had been a simple one, yet Emily had failed. What did that mean? How could this have occurred? Emily was the most competent assistant she had ever employed. If one discounted Andrea. Grimacing at the wayward thought, Miranda shook her head slightly, as if that would dislodge such rebellious musings from her mind.
Emily cut the engine as the tide pushed the boat on the sandbar. Miranda got out, becoming progressively annoyed as water splashed her pants, and helped Emily pull the boat up more so that it would not drift out to sea when the tide came in. If it weren't full of water by then.
"I hope you didn't pay too much to rent that deathtrap," Miranda sniffed as she looked up a slight incline. The land was sandy and littered with different-sized stones. No boats were on the shore, unfortunately. Perhaps the island inhabitants had moved them inland.
Looking around them, Miranda noted the entire area was uneven, the rocky ground sloping upward. The sand beneath her feet was packed down, but small rocks pricked her feet. It must be close to high tide, she surmised, as she saw how sundry pebbles, seashells, and seaweed created a marked line merely ten feet inland. As if to reinforce her thoughts, waves pushed at her legs, urging her to take action. "Emily, we need to pull the boat up more," Miranda directed. They silently pulled it over the land, dragging it to softer sand.
Miranda found her cell phone in her purse and held it close to her face so she could read the screen. No service. Scowling, she looked over at Emily. "Call Nigel immediately."
A moment later, Emily's hesitant voice told her what she had feared: her phone could not find a signal, either. Miranda sighed, thoroughly frustrated.
No one was around. The only sound she heard was the hypnotic rhythm of the ocean. Taking a few fortifying breaths, Miranda glanced toward Emily. She looked on the verge of tears. Miranda rolled her eyes. That's all she needed: a maudlin Brit. Knowing Emily would follow, Miranda gingerly picked her way through the rocks to higher ground. Sandals would be welcome about now. Or water shoes. Something to protect her feet from the punishing debris that blanketed the sand.
Cresting the incline, Miranda stopped while gazing around. She saw three cabins spaced out on this side of the island. She heard nothing, saw no one. The area was peaceful and calm. She knew several more structures were on the island. Miranda hoped she would not have to bang on every door to find someone to help her return to the mainland. She supposed, at worst, she could stay in one of the cabins overnight. No doubt, Nigel would report her missing, and they would investigate. She would be found—she had no doubt of that. It was just a matter of time.
With a sigh, Miranda made her way to the front door of the house closest to them. She knocked and listened for several moments. Nothing. Miranda walked to the next cabin, Emily wordlessly following, and repeated the process. Nothing. Even before she reached the third cabin, she knew no one would answer.
She supposed, if watching, some would expect her to direct Emily to knock on each door as she situated herself comfortably off to the side somewhere, enjoying the late afternoon weather. People had odd ideas. She was a go-getter, a person who waited for no one.
Why have Emily search for help when she was just as capable? Not to mention, Emily had already failed at her last task, and Miranda knew that her assistant was probably feeling pretty uncertain. That type of mentality would only attract more disappointing results. Better to allow Emily to regain her balance before making any other demands. Miranda would be sure to make her next demand attainable, although Emily would never know Miranda was setting her up to succeed.
Another misconception. People believed that Miranda wanted others to fail, particularly her underlings. That simply was not true. She knew what others were capable of—many times, they did not. When she demanded certain tasks be completed that seemed undeliverable, she was really providing them with opportunities to prove not just to her, but to themselves, that they were able to accomplish whatever they set out to do. Many merely did not believe in themselves. She enabled them to become empowered, self-reliant, confident. It was just that so many believed they would fail at their assigned tasks, so they did. Self-fulfilling prophesies.
Miranda studiously avoided any thoughts regarding the Harry Potter manuscript. That was a different matter entirely.
Shaking her head to dislodge those thoughts, Miranda picked her way around the curve of the island, her eyes sweeping the area for more houses. Four more were clustered on the top of a small, rocky plateau at the top of a hill. Some green shrubbery hugged the jagged rocks surrounding the well-worn path she ascended. As the dirt path wound around beach brush and hardy plants, Miranda found herself charmed by the simplicity of the island. Primitive though it was, it was a change from the City, where everything was congested and people filled every area. Here, she could hear herself think.
Once she reached the top of the gentle incline, Miranda paused. One of the cabins had the front door wide open. Tilting her head, Miranda listened for the sound of voices. She heard what sounded like a man and a woman talking. From the cadence of their voices, it seemed they were arguing. Miranda's eyebrows rose. She was not keen to interrupt a domestic dispute.
With misgivings, she walked slowly around the cabin. Her eyes fell on an elevated rock some twenty feet away where a long wooden table and matching bench rested. In the backyard itself, Miranda saw a ring of rocks around a shallow depression in the earth—obviously, the fire pit, with logs ringing it. A hammock swung gently in the wind, attached to two steel rods anchored in to the rocks. With no trees on this small island, the owners had been forced to improvise.
It struck Miranda that every piece of material used to erect the structures must have been brought over by boat, as had all the food, supplies, and recreational items. Truly, this was a world away from civilization.
"—No matter what I say, no matter what I do, it's never enough. She's always in your mind. I thought that once you had quit, we'd have a chance to make this work, but it's only gotten worse. Jesus! You even say her name while you are asleep! I can't compete with—"
Hearing her name pronounced so particularly, as if she were some ghost arisen from the grave, Miranda turned her head quickly and felt her heart begin to pound as the impossible became her reality.
"Oh, for fuck's sake! Of course she's here! Did you invite her? Is that why you're breaking up with me?" a scruffy young man exclaimed, hands in the air as he stared at Andrea Sachs.
"Wha—what? No! Nate, I had no idea." Andrea swung toward Miranda. "How is this possible?" Her eyes were wide and wet, her hair wind-swept and tangled. She wore a navy blue tank top and khaki shorts, revealing more sun-kissed skin than Miranda had ever witnessed on her former assistant. She was gorgeous.
"Do you have a phone I can use, Andrea?" Miranda asked. A shake of those dark locks caused Miranda's heart to skip a beat even as it signaled bad news.
"I'm sorry, Miranda, but phones don't work over here. We have a two-way radio with the harbormaster, but that's only for emergencies," Andrea said.
"We need to contact the mainland. Our boat has a hole in it," Emily said, her eyes flittering between Andrea and Nate.
"Well, isn't this just great. All of us on one cozy island. Too bad I'm leaving!" the petulant man-child said as he leaned over to pick up some abhorrent sneakers. "You can have her," he snarled at Miranda.
"Take me with you," Emily said. Miranda tore her eyes away from him to look over at Emily with raised eyebrows. As if in answer, Emily explained in a low voice, "Once I get back, I'll contact Nigel and find a way to come back to get you."
The thought of being left on the island alone with Andrea, who was plainly distraught, caused a bolt of energy to surge through her. She had spent the last nine months actively pushing thoughts of this woman away and now it seemed that not only would she be forced to interact with her, but she would have to do so directly after witnessing a heated exchange between Andrea and her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, if Andrea had indeed just broken up with the man.
"Let's go, Red," he said as he strode away without a backward glance. Emily followed him.
The air seemed charged, whether from the argument Miranda had just witnessed or from her being alone with Andrea, she could not determine. They stared at each other as if not quite sure whether the last few minutes had really occurred. It all seemed so ridiculous and unlikely. How was it that after nine months of not seeing each other, they both had ended up on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts?
Truthfully, Miranda had no desire to speak. She did not want to enter the next moment where declarations and explanations were made. That would precede reactions and decisions she was not ready to make. She gazed at Andrea, appreciating her beauty, while accepting the feelings Andrea's special aura always made her feel—safe and cared for. She inhaled a large breath of the salt-tinged air and let it out, squeezing the bridge of her nose with two fingers. A whimper brought her eyes back up.