Stepping through the outer part of my office, I see Emily placing the last magazines and newspapers on my desk. Next to them, A glass of Pellegrino is ready for me, as is my Starbucks no-skimmed latte. I already know I will be less than cordial if it isn’t hot enough.
“Good morning, Miranda,” the new girl says but I refuse to look at her and mainly toss her my Vera Wang coat and Chanel bag across her desk. I think I hear a gasp, but I don’t even bother to check. This new girl, the new Emily, is not her, so why would I care.
“Good morning, Miranda,” Emily, who is actually named Emily and not just one that I cannot be bothered learning their names before I know they won’t be fired, says, rounding her desk. “I left your messages on your desk.” She busies herself at the shelf behind her desk, which is odd. Emily has calmed down a lot the last year and usually greets me with a smile and makes eye contact.
Am I imagining it, or is she acting too casual? I give that two seconds worth of thought, but hurry past her. It’s as if I can’t get into my office, in behind my desk, and flip open the large screen of my laptop and hide behind it. If it wasn’t that so much rides on this issue of Runway, I may have contemplated calling in sick. But I’m fucking Miranda Priestly and I don’t call in sick. Ever.
I pick up the messages and start flipping through them. Authors, photographers, designers, models, and more photographers, and yes, editors…they all need me desperately to return their call. I put the messages from Patrick Demarchelier, Anne Leibowitz, and Dimitri, the new Russian designer I’m cultivating, to the side—and freeze as I read the last one.
Andrea Sachs. I slump back in my chair. So, this explains Emily resorting to her former nervous approach.
It’s been a year since I saw Andrea last. My former second assistant who left me, not Runway, me, in during Paris Fashion Show. I read the message. Of course, she wants an interview. Naturally her editor knows of her short stint at Runway and thinks sending Andrea will be a clever move.
My first reaction is to decline, or simply not answer, but I reel myself in. If I do that latter, Andrea will just hound me, like the tenacious reporter she’s become. Normally, she writes about social injustices, political scandals, and, occasionally, environmental issues. I cannot fathom why she intends to do a fashion piece. Or perhaps it is about me? One thing I know, is that she doesn’t ever do gossip. She was quite adamant in her protection of me when she worked at Runway, and of my girls.
I hate how my heart mellows at the thought of how Andrea took to my children, and they to her. It wasn’t the Harry Potter incident, when Andrea managed to, against all odds, score an unpublished manuscript of the last Harry Potter novel. The girls never really knew who was behind that. No, it was the way she was with them when she was sent to pick them up from Daltons, or take them to piano lessons, or go with them for their fittings of new school uniforms. I would come home to “Andy did…Andy said…Andy thought…” each time, which I initially found utterly exasperating, but after a month, I began to really listen.
“Andy says she’s learning so much working for you, Mom. Isn’t that awesome?” Caroline once said, brimming with pride, and if it was for Andrea or me, I couldn’t tell at first.
“That’s nice, Bobbsey,” I replied, no doubt sounding a bit too bored.
“No, it’s true, Mom.” Caroline grabbed my arm where she sat next to me in the town car. “She says she had no idea at first what it takes to create what you do. I think I didn’t either, but when Andy listed everything that you need to approve or create to make just one single issue of Runway, I was pretty stoked. I mean, you’re my mom and you do all that, all the time.” Caroline beamed up at me and I had to swallow hard at her adoring expression.
“Not to mention when Andy explained why you’re called the Dragon Lady,” Cassidy chimed in.
I grew rigid. “And what, pray tell, did Andrea say about that?” This ought to be interesting, but it could also get Andrea fired.
“She had a cool take on it. That it could be said, and meant, in different ways.” Cassidy turned on the seat and tilted her head. “One person could mean it as an insult, which she thinks has mostly to do with envy. That person can’t do what you do, or at least, not as well. Then there’s fear. You are pretty tough, Mom, and some, especially some men, Andy said, can’t take that, so they try to be scornful.” She stopped talking and unwrapped a Xylitol gum in her mouth. She chewed it until it was malleable enough and then continued. “And then it can be said as a compliment.”
“Compliment?” I flinched.
“Yeah! I mean, yes! She says there is nothing wrong with dragons. As a mythical creature, it has been misrepresented many times. That’s what she thinks anyways. A dragon is someone forceful. If treated right and respected, just imagine what it can do, Andy said. It can be a powerful ally, a protector, and---and this is the best part—Andy says even dragons need love.”
That was when I lost my breath and could only nod.
I get breathless right now, just thinking about it. Andrea kept doing things like that, many times, with my daughters and they adored her for it.
Before I chicken out, I am the Dragon Lady after all, I pick up the phone and dial the number Andrea has given myself. I certainly won’t let Emily or Emily take care of this.
“The Daily Mirror, Andy Sachs.” Her voice. How the hell could I be such a fool and not realize what it would do to my entire system to suddenly have her voice in my ear. Thankfully, decades of media training and self-control kicks in.
“This is Miranda Priestly returning your call.” I know I sound my soft-spoken, indifferent self, but my heart is thundering in my chest. My hands are unsteady, and I pinch my thigh to get a grip of myself.
“M-Miranda.” Clearly, Andrea wasn’t expecting me to get back to her in person. Good. I’m not the only one out of sorts right now.
“You called my office,” I say dryly.
“Yes, I did.” I hear the noise of paper being shuffled, a faint curse, and then she was back. “Sorry. Dropped my pen. Now, as I mentioned, we’re interested in doing an interview with you regarding the new and fresh approach Runway has taken to positive body image for women of all ages.”
Of course. I should have known. My newest baby, which propelled sales way off the charts, is what has attracted the Mirror’s—and Andrea’s—interest. “I see. Am I to understand that you’ll be doing the interview, if I agree?”
“Yes. Just me and my photographer.” Andrea sounds a little too cheery. Clearly nerves on the other end as well. Excellent.
The idea of a strange, sub-par photographer does make me recoil though. “No photographer, if I do this.” Oh, who am I fooling? The mere idea of having Andrea in my life, even for a couple of hours, is pulling me in like a be to a honeypot.
“But we’ll need a fresh photo that isn’t just one from your promotional stack.” Andrea sounds more assertive, which is a nice sign that the young woman has grown.
“Then I’ll ask one of my photographers to take an exclusive one. A headshot?”
“Does that mean you’ll do it?” Andrea’s smile is evident in her voice.
“Amazing. Yes, a headshot will be fine, but do ask them to do several so I have some to choose from. And if you will give us some photos from the shoots in questions, they will be paid for and credited to Runways, of course, that’d be great.” Andrea was in one of her intensive modes right now.
“Something else?” I ask dryly.
“Um. No. Well, when and where, of course. For the interview itself.” Andrea clears her throat.
I check my calendar. “Working lunch on Wednesday. The townhouse.” I wait for her protest. It doesn’t come.
“T-townhouse? Your townhouse?” It’s Andrea’s turn to lose her breath. I’m delighted. Any reaction than pure professionalism is rewarding. I can’t—or won’t—explain why that is to myself. It’s just the way it is.
“Any other townhouse you can think of?” I say, unable to keep from teasing her as I can hear how fast the wheels turn in her head.
“No, no. Townhouse is great. Good for privacy. I mean, for the interview.” Andrea coughs and then I hear her drink something. “Noon?”
“Noon.” I consider saying goodbye, but instead I hang up, which is my habit. “Emily!”
The real Emily comes through the door, looking hesitant. The oddest thing is that I can understand why she is. Even she, who at the time hated Andrea, because she sensed how I came to value on her subordinate, missed Andrea when she simply vanished.
“Yes, Miranda,” Emily says, raising her chin. Good. Not a doormat anymore.
“Pencil in a working lunch for me on Wednesday. Remove anything between noon and three pm.”
“Yes, Miranda.” She waits, and I can see how she’s dying to know what I’ve decided and why. I’m not in a habit of explaining anything to anyone, but I can at least be civil to the one who didn’t abandon me, but hopped on crutches for six weeks, to keep my office, and thus Runway, afloat.
“I’m giving an interview regarding our affirming body image pieces.” I don’t mention Andrea. I don’t have to. Emily knows who the journalist is, and I don’t want her to detect anything from my tone of voice.
“It is a very popular series and step forward for Runway,” Emily says, her smile genuine now. She’s back to her more-at-ease-less-stressed-out mode, which benefits all of us.
“Tell Nigel I want to talk to him. Now.” I return my focus to my other messages. Even the ones I normally cater to immediately will have to wait. I’m going to see Andrea on Wednesday and thus I need to talk to Nigel. If anyone can help me—he can.
Nigel sits across my desk and is looking increasingly puzzled as I have yet to speak a single word. I’ve told both Emilys to not disturb us unless the building is on fire and the flames have reached the Runways office.
I pretend to go over something on my computer and I should know better. He knows my intimidation tactics and they never work on him.
“Miranda? How long am I going to sit here and wait for you to get to the point?” he asks kindly.
I open my mouth to answer but close it again. Eventually I slam the laptop lid closed so fast, I nearly get my newly manicured nails caught. “Fine. Fine.” Standing up, I stare out of the window, which is such a cliché. I tug at my statement necklace, also Chanel, and then swivel toward him. “She wants to interview me. I accepted.”
It isn’t hard to see when the lightbulb goes off in Nigel’s head. It takes him all but three seconds. “Six?” His voice is very soft.
“And that’s why you look like this?” He motions with his hands at me.
“Like what?” I growl. He doesn’t get to mock me. Not even Nigel.
“Sweetheart, you look like you’re frozen in place on a train track.” Nigel gets up and guides me to the couch that is out of sight of the outer office. The glass doors are shut, but…well, they’re glass.
“I must cancel it, but then—”
“Then she’ll know you chickened out and God knows what she’ll read into that?” Nigel sits down with me, holding onto both my hands. “She’ll just assume you’ve changed your mind, as is the prerogative of Miranda Priestly.”
“No. She will know, or suspect, that it’s more. More than that.” Blinking hard now, I try to stay focused. “And I can’t have that. I couldn’t bear it if she would think that, and pity…I mean pity me.” I’m furious now. Furious at myself and at Andrea for putting me in this position.
“And if you do the interview, it’ll be very professional, right? You’ll be here in the office…” His voice tapers off. “Oh, no, you didn’t.”
“I did.” I want to get up and pace the room, but his hands are still holding onto mine. “I told her to come for a working lunch at the townhouse. On Wednesday.”
“God, Miranda. I have told you before, but clearly it requires repeating,” Nigel says. “You are your own worst enemy. Thought in this case, I think that trait of yours might just bring the both of you some closure.” He tilts his head and looks at me. “Or something else,” he adds gently.
“What? What do you mean? Something else? Honestly, Nigel, you’re not making sense.” I feel like pulling free, but his big, soulful eyes area looking at me with such knowing kindness, it is impossible. I can eviscerate just about anybody under the sun, except my daughter and this man. Perhaps when I face Andrea, I’ll find it that she’s yet another exception to the rule.
“You have been going on autopilot for quite a while, haven’t you?” Nigel asks. He lets go of one of my hands and pushes my bangs out of my eyes.
“Again. Not making sense.” I aim for haughty, but I can only manage a hoarse croak.
“Six walked out on you when you needed her the most. She left you in the middle of one of your most important weeks of the year and, remember, I was there. I saw your fear when we couldn’t find out fast enough if she went home right away, or if she was lying dead in an alley somewhere. You began already then to go through the motion on autopilot. I admit, I was of little help, licking my own wounds.”
“It was all my own doing. I failed you.”
“To save Runway and countless jobs, including mine, as it were,” Nigel says and shrugs. “And since I’m heading toward new and better things with Runway Men in six months, I’ll say you kept your word to me much better than anyone could ever have imagined. But this is not about me. This is about you panicking.”
“I don’t pa—” I cover my eyes briefly with my free hand. “All right. I suppose there’s an element of panic when it comes to my regretting this interview.”
“Let me ask you something.” Nigel taps his chin in a silly, pondering gesture. “What is the worst-case scenario in your mind?”
I don’t want to answer that. I don’t think I can answer that. “I have no idea.”
“Let me suggest some then. That Andy will do a hack job and miss the ball completely?”
“No, she won’t. She’s a solid journalist,” I say quickly.
“All right.” Nigel continues. “Do you dread that she’ll gush about how she’s missed you and how great it is to see you again? You know, be all clingy?”
I snort derisively. “Andrea? Hardly. She rambles, but she doesn’t gush. Not like the new girl in the office.” I motion with my head at the outer office.
“I see. Then, do you worry Andy will understand how much you’ve missed her?”
I go rigid and now I do pull my hand free. “I—” Clearly, I’m out of words again.
“And when she understands this, what if she lets you know how much she’s missed you in return, on a personal level?” Nigel places a hand on my knee, squeezing gently.
“Preposterous,” I say weakly. “Utterly preposterous.”
“Is it?” Nigel cups my cheek and swipes a gentle thumb under my left eye, and then my right. “Don’t cry. I can promise you that it won’t be that bad.”
“I’m not crying.” I object, already knowing that I’m lying, as my vision is blurred.
“Sweetheart. You’ve got nothing to lose. You’ve invited Andy so the two of you can do the interview, and there’ll be time to talk if that’s what needs to happen.” Nigel pulls my reluctant body in for a brief hug. “You’ll be fine. Both of you.”
“How can you possibly know this?” I glare at him, but something has settled inside me, at least a little bit.
“Because I had this talk with Andy two weeks ago. She wanted to do with interview, but she has much the same apprehensions as you do. I bet you telling her to join you at the townhouse means that I’ll have her on the phone shortly.” He chuckles kindly.
“You can’t tell her…anything!” I’m staring at him, aghast at the thought.
“Hey. Calm down. I don’t break confidences. I haven’t told in detail what Andy shared with me. I won’t repeat any of what you’ve told me today either. Just keep the appointment, do the interview, and know that you’ll both be fine, no matter what happens. All right?”
I want to say no. I want to call it all off, but his words, though he left out almost everything, which is reassuring as well as frustrating, make me hope I can see this interview through—and perhaps get some closure, finally. “All right,” I mutter. “I’ll do it.”
I should be feeling reassured and empowered since Nigel is so certain it will go well, but I’m not. The risk of all this blowing up in my face is great. And that’s not even taken into consideration how it might shatter my heart.
Tuesday evening, I’m working in my study when I hear the shuffle of slipper clad feet by the open door.
“Yes, Bobbsey?” I look up. It’s Cassidy.
“I heard from Mrs. B that you’re having Andy over for lunch here at the house tomorrow.” Cassidy kicks at the threshold with her toe.
“I am.” I congratulate myself on my non-committal tone.
“Why?” Cassidy takes a step inside.
“She’s going to interview me for the Mirror and I thought we should not be interrupted. You know how people tend to do that at the office sometimes.” I smile at her and put my pen down. I have been going over an article I’ve commissioned on the fashion industry’s enabling on Asian sweatshops, but the first draft the author delivered is beyond subpar. I’ve applied enough red ink comments on the printed-out document that it looks like I’ve slaughtered a pig on top of it. It may not be salvageable.
“Yes,” Cassidy says slowly. “Still. At the house?”
Alarmed, I frown. “Do you mind that Andrea comes here?” Now I’ve got yet another reason to doubt my decision.
“No, no. It’s not that. I was just hoping…well, do you think she’ll still be here when Caro and I get back from school?” Weighing back and forth on her soles now, Cassidy is trying her best to sound casual.
“I don’t know. Perhaps?” What is this about? “Why do you ask? Do you want to meet her?”
“Yeah. Yes.” I haven’t talked to her in almost a year. Caro and I really liked her. She was always so cool with us.”
“I know. You used to tell me about the conversations she had with you.” I smile.
“That was just it. She talked to us like we were regular people. Not rich, bratty kids.” Cassidy grimaces. “Thought we were just that, in the beginning. Trying to prank her. You know.”
I know my girls’ history of pranking assistants and nannies. How odd that I haven’t thought of how that behavior stopped when Andrea left. I haven’t had one single complaint from my housekeeper, their current nanny, who has been the first that didn’t quit after three months or less, or any of their sporadic babysitters.
“I know,” I say, answering Cassidy. “You’ve matured in so many ways, Bobbsey.”
“Yes,” Cassidy says and light up. “But that’s not all. She did such great things that your former assistants wouldn’t have thought of, ever. Like when she borrowed your car without asking and came to get Caro and me that time.”
I wince. I have thought of that so many times. It was Andrea who brought my girls to the office when she Emily wouldn’t let her interrupt the meeting I was in with Irv, my boss, and the board of directors.
“I remember,” I whisper, more to myself than to Cassidy.
“If Andy hadn’t come, when dad was acting so strange…who knows what could’ve happened.” Cassidy comes over and hugs me.
I hold my darling girl close. That moment when I got back to the office after the meeting is forever etched in my memory.
“What are my girls doing here?” I asked Andrea tersely, but my stomach clenched at the sight of the distraught Caroline in her arms and the angry Cassidy sitting on her sister’s other side. “What’s going on?”
“Dad was drunk and hurting Caro,” Cassidy said bluntly and wiggled her tablet at me. “I’ve written everything down. Like a testimony. He was calling you names and when Caroline talked back at him, he got really mad and grabbed her arm.” She jutted her little chin out. “So I filmed some with my phone and wrote stuff down. Just in case.”
“Dear Lord,” I said and sat down next to them. Caroline pivoted and wrapped her arms against me instead. Cassidy held out her phone and I took it and pressed play on the small screen.
“Your bitch of a mother is doing her best to fuck things up as usual,” James shouted. “This is my week to have you and she has to schedule things to screw things up.” He was slurring and waving an empty glass at Caroline who took a step back. James grabbed her by the arms again. “And you have the nerve to—”
“Sir? James?” Andrea’s voice came loud and clear over the phone and then she was in the picture as Cassidy zoomed out. “You’re scaring Caroline. Please. Let her go.”
“How the hell did you get in here?” James snarled, still shaking Caroline’s arm.
“Your door was not only unlocked, but half open. Let Caroline go and I’ll take them back to their mother.” Andrea walked up and placed her hand on James’s where it held onto Caroline. “Now. Or I’ll call the police.”
“You? Miranda’s meek little assistant? She’ll fire you for causing a scandal.” James nearly tripped over a coffee table as he took a step back.
“I don’t think so. She loves these girls more than anything and when I tell her what went on here—”
“And I’m filming you, Dad,” Cassidy interrupted, her voice a mere growl.
“What the fuck?” James blinked at his other daughter. “Oh, what the hell…” He shoved Caroline toward Andrea who caught the crying girl in her arms.
“Let’s go, girls. Now, Cassidy. Stop filming and come with me.” Andrea waved at Cassidy and the screen went black.
I looked up at Andrea. “How did you know?” Her eyes were the darkest I had ever seen them.
“They called me. Or Cassidy did, I mean.” Andrea spoke with tense lips. “I apologize, but I borrowed your BMW and drove to their father’s house in New Jersey to get them. When Cassidy said that James was scaring Caroline and I couldn’t reach you—”
“Why didn’t you alert me?” I asked angrily.
She hesitated before she answered. “I—I should have.”
“That was my fault, Miranda,” I heard Emily say from the door to the outer office. “Andy tried to tell me, but—I was afraid to let her disturb you as the meeting was so important.”
My fury exploded. “Not as important as my daughters’ safety and wellbeing, Emily!” I roar. I could tell everyone was startled as I never raise my voice.
“I’m sorry, Miranda.” Emily went pale.
“It’s not her fault either,” Andrea said firmly. “You forbade us to interrupt the meeting no matter what, and even I am reckless enough to pull such stunts, Emily is not. You have instilled this type of fear and intimidation in her and the rest of the staff deliberately. They lose track of what’s reasonable because they want to keep their jobs.” Andrea met my gaze without wavering.
And I backed down. Not sure how it happened. Perhaps it was Caroline’s tearstained cheeks, or Cassidy’s disapproving stare. Or, most likely, it was because I knew it was the truth. There were times when my employees would rather do something stupid, than be the object of my scorn.
Right then and there, my gratitude toward Andrea, and my relief that my girls were indeed safe, I knew things had to change. It was one week before Parish fashion week and I had yet to find out what the future would bring me, but I knew this second assistant, so unlike anyone I had met in the last decade, had put on the path of change.
“Yes, Bobbsey, I’ll ask if Andrea has time to stay for dinner as well. She may have to go back to the Mirror, but if so, I might be able to persuade her to come back—tomorrow or on some other evening.” I don’t know who all those words, and making promises at that, leaves my mouth so easily. It’s insanity. It’s even beyond that.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll go tell Caro. She’ll be ecstatic.” Cassidy kisses my cheek and I know I have created yet another hurdle for myself climb. To watch Andrea stay for the girls’ sake, will peel away another protective layer around my heart. I might have to confess things to myself that I’m not prepared for—and perhaps never will be. I can hear the clatter in my chest as one piece of heart-shielding cover falls off. Who am I kidding? I haven’t even seen Andrea yet and it has already begun.
I let the caterer out the door, thinking I have fifteen minutes to get ready—and finds Andrea standing at the bottom of the few steps leading up to the entrance of my townhouse. Dressed in black skinny jeans, a white shirt and a mustard leather jacket, she looks professional. Add to that her computer messenger bag slung over her shoulder and the way she looks entirely relaxed as the caterer passes her with a polite nod, and, most likely, an appreciative glance—she looks like she owns the world.
I, on the other hand, feel sucker punched. Some invisible person has snuck up right in front of me and driven their fist into my solar plexus and I cannot—I won’t—let that show. I don my cold-and-polite smile, the one I used to practice in front of the mirror when I was a very young woman set on succeeding in this cutthroat business.
Andrea returns it with one of her honest, blinding ones. I hold the door up, blinded, but pretty sure the cold-and-polite is still in place.
“Do come in, Andrea.”
“Thank you for doing this, Miranda,” Andrea says and enters my home for the first time in over a year. Am I delusional or does the house change before my eyes? Are all my blue and white accents suddenly more vibrant? I shake my head and hold out my hand, impatient as always.
Andrea hurries and shrugs out of her jacket and hands it to me. “Now why does this shake the foundations of my world—you hanging up my jacket?” She flashes another smile.
It’s all I can do to keep breathing, keep the cold-and-polite in place even if it will soon make me look like raving lunatic. “You’re not my assistant anymore.” I point toward the dining room where the caterer, who isn’t really a caterer, but a waiter at Smith & Wollensky that brought what Emily ordered via phone to my house. “I thought we could start by replenishing and you can begin the interview when it suits you.”
“Sounds great—wow!” Andrea stops on the threshold and stares at the dining room table. I told Emily to ask for sample platters of all their dishes, and they took it literally. Andrea is gaping, and I’m not far behind. I glanced at the table before, but not from this angle.
“We won’t be able to eat all that.” Andrea turns to me so fast, I have no way of stopping where I’m walking up behind her. I bump into her and my skin is on fire immediately.
Andrea’s eyes grow bigger. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
I disregard her superfluous apology. “Whatever the two of us can’t manage, or the girls, I will have sent to the closest homeless shelter. It’s what we normally do at Runway these days.”
“Really?” Andrea beams. “That’s great. Usually what the Mirror bestows upon us during meetings are donuts of assorted flavors and people virtually inhale them. So, no leftovers.”
“Donuts?” I crinkle my nose. I haven’t had one since I was in high school.
“Yeah. I really like the ones with chocolate frosting, but lately I think I overate on them.” Andrea sits on the chair I motion toward, in a ninety-degree angle from me when I take my seat at the head of the table.
I let my eyes roam her lithe body. “You don’t look like you overindulged.”
Andrea laughs, her infamous cackle that could get the entire outer office going into paroxysms at any given moment. “Probably because I’m on my feet all over Manhattan this last year.”
“Ah. The life of a cub reporter.”
“Yeah. I bet you wonder why I got the assignment to interview you.” Andrea grows serious.
“You know me. You’ve worked for me. That together with the fact that you’re a good writer.” I shrug. “Any or all of the above.”
Now Andrea blushes and it makes her look even more beautiful. Can it be that her lips grow fuller as well, or is that my sinful imagination?
“I would hope the latter, but sure, my editor knows very well that I used to work for you. He was the one you faxed.” Squirming, Andrea places some lettuce on her salad plate.
“I see.” She can’t hold that fax against me, can she? It must’ve helped her get in the door.
“I never truly thanked you for that.” Andrea plucks at her utensils. “I suppose there’s a lot we haven’t talked about that should be dealt with.”
There. Goes. My. Breath. Again. I stab at a piece of innocent cucumber and places it in my mouth. A clever way not to have to answer. A delaying tactic. I swallow, and my respite is over. “Do share, Andrea. I’m very interested in what you think we’ve left unsaid.”
Andrea mimics my tactic after pouring some Caesar dressing on her salad. Chewing on a piece of lettuce, she prepares. “I left you in Paris because it hurt to be around you.” She raises her chin in a clear challenge.
“Hurt?” Not in a million years could I have imagined that sentence coming out of her mouth. “How?”
“Are you certain you want to have this conversation, Miranda?” Andrea fills her bigger plate with a little from several platters on the table. How can she maintain an appetite when we’re headlong into what happened between us? “I mean, once the genie is out, it’s out.”
“You started it.” I triumph, because she sort of did.
“Perhaps. And to answer your question, it hurt being around you for several reasons. On the surface, it pained me what you did to Nigel. If I’m painfully honest, it hurt even more when you said you saw something of yourself in me—and not in a flattering way.”
I’m shaking on the inside now. Who was I kidding? This young woman had clearly an axe to grind, rather than fond memories, of her short stint with me…with Runway.
“And it hurt because I wanted so much more and knew it could never, ever happen.” Andrea places her fork on the edge of the plate. Her eyes area like warm amber now as the light from the window hits her from the left.
I must have misunderstood. I watch her, trying to remember exactly how she worded it. I can’t. “What?” I whisper.
“Don’t worry, Miranda. I found my bearings when it comes to my feelings a long time ago. I’m not here to embarrass you.”
“No, I mean, what did you say? Exactly?” I wrinkle the napkin on my lap in my fists.
Andrea blinks. “It hurt because I wanted more than I knew was possible. That what I dreamed of could never happen.” She tilts her head.
I sip my Pellegrino. “To set the record straight about Nigel, he is leaving Runway to head up Runway Men two floors up in the Elias-Clarke building.”
Andrea smiles broadly. “That’s beyond amazing. Good for Nigel. And for you.”
“I fail to see why losing Nigel is good for me—or for Runway, but it is time.” I sip my mineral water again. “As for my unfortunate comparison, I do realize that the situation was not entirely comparable. I had my magazine to consider as well as all it’s thousands of employees around the globe. I maneuvered you into taking Emily’s place in Paris, which you did—”
“She broke her leg. She couldn’t go.” Andrea has started eating again and now grips her utensils hard.
“And you were talking to her at the time, ready to let her know that she was being pushed aside. You were prepared to do that to further your career.”
Looking deflated, Andrea leans back in her chair. “I always did think I was to blame somehow for her being careless and getting hit by that car. No matter what I was going to tell her or not, I distracted her…” Andrea gives a helpless little shrug.
“That’s not on you,” I say firmly, aghast at how she managed to take the blame where no blame had been cast. “Emily never blamed you for that part. And when you sent her the clothes you were gifted in Paris, she all but erected a shrine in your honor. And she went through four second assistants in as many weeks.”
“Really?” Her lips slightly parts at my words, making Andrea looks so soft, so approachable, I must force myself to remain in my chair.
“Yes.” I keep going before I completely lose my nerve. “As for what you hoped for and that you thought was impossible, or something to that effect, I’m not entirely sure what you mean.” I place my glass very carefully on the coaster on the table. “All I can say is that I wouldn’t have invited you to my home, or doing the interview, if not everything was possible.”
It’s an educational experience to watch Andrea as her mind goes through my last sentence, while trying to analyze it. Eventually, she seems to give up.
“What?” she askes quietly, in that special low, husky vibrato she gets when she’s either nervous or intimidated. I want to kick myself. This is not what I want. At all.
“Don’t panic,” I say calmly. “Can you elaborate on your statement?”
“What statement?” Andrea’s mind is still in what-the-hell mode.
“Of what you thought were impossible. In Paris.”
Andrea, unsurprisingly places a piece of steak in her mouth and chews. Stalling again.
“Okay,” she says, swallowing even after the piece of meat has left her mouth. “Since you ask. I thought it was impossible that you would ever see me as I saw…see…you.” She stops and looks at me with widened eyes. She clearly expects to be slashed by my razor tongue, or simply dismissed. It makes me ache and I have to stop myself from rounding the table in an attempt to reassure her.
“I did see you,” I murmur, again clinging to the napkin that soon will be beyond repair, the way I go at it. “I did, even if I shouldn’t…couldn’t.”
Now Andrea sits up straight in her chair, placing her utensils on the place again. “What? In what way could you have…did you…You were married and you’re straight, aren’t you?”
“What do those assumptions have to do with anything?” I say, realizing that Andrea’s snatched the ball and is tearing down a path leading to God knows where with it.
“A lot, I’d say,” Andrea says. “You never gave me any indication or a trace of hint that you…saw me.”
“How could I? You were my employee. My subordinate. We weren’t equals by any stretch of the imagination. Apart from risking being reported for sexual harassment…” I stop abruptly when I hear my own words. Damn it.
“I get that, though.” Andrea’s voice is so soft now, it wraps around me like a silky blanket. “You would have risked everything, and you were already losing so much.”
“Yes.” She does get it. Thank God.
“So that part about seeing me, it was something secret?” Andrea places her napkin on the table with an unsteady hand.
“Very secret. In part, even something I kept from myself. I can be quite accomplished at compartmentalizing.” I find it surprisingly easy to share this with her. After all, it’s a big deal. I’ve never voice this to anyone. Ever.
“Isn’t that how you manage your high-octane job, being a good mom, and dealing with the fact that you’re a very public person that the gossip magazines and Page 6 love to invent things about?” Now Andrea gets up and crouches by my chair. She places a gentle hand on mine, freeing the napkin from half of my grip.
“Yes.” I can’t string more words together right now. Not when she touches me. Back when she worked for me, we would accidentally touch on occasion. She would pass me in a doorway or lean in to indicate something on my computer or on a document, and our shoulders would meet. One time, and this moment has been in that part of my mind where I stow memories I never want to forget. Andrea was leaning over me, trying to decipher her own handwriting as I had just complained about it. Nervous, she had followed the unreadable scribbles with a trembling index finger and as she leaned in closer, her left breast rubbed against my cheek. It took a few moments for her to notice and I didn’t move away. When she did notice, she bounced backward so fast, she fell against the window behind my desk.
“Goodness, Andrea,” I said. “Please don’t fall out and add to the rumors that I toss assistants out the window if I find them lacking.”
She of course apologized profusely but kept it general. A devil in me had to put her on the spot, which should have alerted me to how I found her mesmerizing. “What are you apologizing for, exactly?” I nailed her with my eyes, demanding an answer as the cruel Dragon Lady I can be.
“I…um…crowded you. I apologize.” Crimson red, Andrea tugged at her fingers, another sign that turmoil ruled among her inner organs. “I…eh…I can type my notes and email to you instead. It’ll be faster and less…hrm…intrusive.”
I took pity on her then and dismissed her, and not in an unkind way either.
And now, current Andrea is covering my hand with hers and running her thumb over the back of my wrist. “Miranda. Am I here because you need me to tell you how I used to feel…hell, how I still feel?” She drew a trembling breath. “I can do that. No problem. But if this is some sort of experiment to get closure because of Paris, I’m not interested. On the other hand, if you meet me honestly, no matter what your emotions may have morphed into, I respect that. So, no games. No guessing. Can we do that?”
If I ever was at a fork in the road, this is it. I sit there and watch Andrea, this new and more assertive Andrea. She was always in there, it was just the nature of being a second assistant that obscured the formidable woman that looks into my eyes and asks me to be honest.
I clear my voice and let go of the napkin completely. “You’re here because it was time I knew.” I’m not sure I make sense but keep going. “You’re here because I, as a thoroughly selfish woman, want you to be. And you’re here because I care about you to a degree that not having you in my life in any way, shape, or form, is hurting me.” There. I have never been that honest with anyone. And I’m not afraid. That is the strangest part. I have just bared the jugular of my soul and she may either slash it or kiss it.
I’m thinking metaphorically, but Andrea, being her absolute amazing self, rise on her knees and kisses the back of my hand and then my cheek. No polite air kisses, oh no, proper, long and gentle kisses where her full lips cushion my skin.
“Miranda. I care about you more than I can express in words.” Andrea blinks away a few errant tears. “And that’s saying a lot, considering that words are my bread and butter.” She smiles sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about eloquence,” I say and turn slightly to be able to cup her face with both hands. Her complexion is immaculate, and I revel in the feel of it. “Listen. I promise you will get your interview, in as great a detail as you want to, but can we please move to the den. I need to be comfortable with you, when we talk about his further. That is, if doing so is what you want?”
“It is.” Andrea stands up and I let go of her face with some regret, but also take her hand.
I guide her to the den, not caring about the food we leave behind on the dining room table, and when she sits down next to me, so readily, I pull her close. Having Andrea in my arms, it makes all my synapses fire in a repetitive cascade. Her shoulder-long chestnut hair smells of a fresh shampoo with a note of apple. My old self would have deemed that plebeian, but now…it’s her scent.
“Oh, God, Miranda.” Andrea pulls back enough to look at me. Her eyes scan my face as if searching for something. And then she kisses me. I’m agreeable, of course, but completely unprepared for my own reaction.
My body tingles and erupts in goosebumps. I can feel my lips parting and becoming so sensitive to the slightest touch that I whimper. Andrea hums against me as she carefully runs her tongue against my lower lip. I fall back against the backrest and she follows me in one fluid movement. She holds me in place with gentle hands just shy of my breast. I know my nipples must be clearly visible behind my thin lace La Perla bra and the thin satin, sleeve-less blouse. They ache and my entire being screams for Andrea to touch them, but of course, she’s too much of a gentlewoman to do so uninvited.
But, oh my, this woman can kiss. She explores my mouth and invites my tongue in to hers with the same voracity. She hums and whimpers, moans and whispers, and dear Lord, the sounds she makes while engaged in a kiss. It makes me lose all perspective of what we’re doing but this is the only thing that feels right.
I take one of Andrea’s hands and places it on my left breast. Immediately, I know that is not enough. It will never be enough.
She grows still for a moment and pulls back enough to look at me again. “Miranda?”
“Yes, Andrea.” I smile tremulously at her. “Like that. That’s exactly how I care for you, darling.”
Andrea melts into me, her hand still on my breast, cupping it, caressing it lightly, and she buries her face into my neck and inhales deeply.
“I love you, Miranda,” Andrea says with tears in her voice.
I loathe for her to feel distressed when it comes to the topic of our feelings. I try to disregard the beyond stimulating caressed bestowed upon my breast and hug her closer. “Silly girl. I love you too. It should be obvious if you’d paid attention.” I’m being facetious and hope she realizes it.
“Pardon me for being dense.” Andrea lifts her head and I’ve seen her smile numerous times before, but this…this is something different. It’s smile that holds a promise and hopes that what we have just begun to explore will prove to be what we hope it is.
“Not dense,” I murmur and kiss her forehead. “Beautiful, inside and out. Brilliant.”
Andrea inadvertently, I think, squeezes my breast and end up tweaking my rock-hard nipple. I groan and arch into her exquisite touch, demanding more. Instead, Andrea soothes my breast, and thus me, by slowing down her movements. “The girls will be home soon,” she says and look happy and undecisive at the same time.
I check the time on the small antique clock over on a sideboard. She’s right. “They wished for you to remain, so they could say hello. Can I interest you in sharing the rest of the abandoned lunch with us if we reheat it?”
Throwing her arms around my neck, Andrea kisses me as if it was the last time, over and over. “Yes,” she finally manages between gasps. “I love your Caroline and Cassidy. I can’t wait to see how much they’ve growned and how they’re doing. Thank you.”
“What for?” I ask, still buzzing all over and praying I’ll be able to pull myself together before my eagle-eyed girls come charging in.
“For this. For being so brave. For letting me in.” Andrea runs her fingers through my bangs. “I had reconciled with the fact that I would have to finally move on. Then, one look from you, not to mention how incredibly sexy and beautiful you are when you let yourself to, and I was there again. All the love I felt, which I had buried somewhere deep inside, came rushing back. I don’t think I can ever push it back down where I kept it again, Miranda.”
I kiss her lightly on the lips. “You don’t have to, Andrea.”
The moment when Andrea finally relaxes completely into my embrace and merely rests her head on my shoulder, is another moment that belongs in the “never forget” part of my mind. She’s back in my life and I will go to any length to keep her there. I’m normally goal oriented and competitive, so it doesn’t surprise me that I regard this in the same manner. I love Andrea Sachs and she loves me back. I’m going to make this work, not fall back in to old habits and let work take over everything, but instead keep my eyes on the price, as my daughters say.
“What’ya thinking about?” Andrea stirs, but remains against my shoulder.
“What matters,” I whisper. “You. My girls.” I know I must get up from the couch soon, but for now, I revel in the clarity loving Andrea gives me. Passion can lead to serenity. Tears can lead to laughter.
And Andrea an I will guide each other.