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Andy's Turn

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Part 1

December 10, 2016

The restaurant was busy and crowded when Andy walked in: rich people taking a break from their hectic lives to wine and dine at large tables with white maps; meticulously dressed waiters gracefully navigating their way between the diners, carrying trays filled with meat, seafood, and wine; soft jazz music drowned out with chatter and cutlery clinking against plates. Andy, however, spotted her lunch companion with ease: a formidable woman with distinctive features. She was thrilled to meet and catch up with her after such a long time, but at the same time a kind of unease gripped her. They'd never actually dined alone and, knowing the woman, Andy had no doubt she had something up her sleeve.

"There you are," the woman proclaimed jovially when she caught sight of Andy and stood up from her chair in a flurry of tulle and sequins once Andy had stopped by the table.

"Sorry I'm late," Andy said, leaning in to exchange air kisses.

"Oh, don't worry about it," the woman replied with a dismissive hand wave. "You're worth the wait."

"Sweet talker." Andy winked. When both were seated across from each other, she flashed her warmest smile. "It's great to see you again."

"It is, isn't it?" was her date's predictably cheeky response. "It's been too long. How's the book coming along?"

Her jaw dropping, Andy skewered her with a look that was part surprised and part accusatory. "Miranda told you?"

"Of course she did," she answered, again dismissive because of course indeed. If there was anyone Miranda would confide their private life details in (well, as many as Miranda was willing to give away, which wasn't many to begin with), it was Stella.

The first time Andy had met Stella Shelton, she was 23-years-old and working as second assistant to Runway Magazine's Editor-in-Chief. Ten years later and Andy no longer called said editor her boss, but her awe and admiration of Stella had remained just as grand.

Stella, as disclosed to Andy only years after their initial introduction, had grown up in a middle-class household in the Midwest, just like Andy had. Only with five brothers and a misogynistic father, no one had ever believed she would become more than a housewife--including Stella herself.

However, with big dreams and only one teacher who believed in her, come her eighteenth birthday, Stella packed a bag and left for New York City with $300 in cash, zero connections, and big dreams.

Thus began a journey for Stella, who'd started from nothing and, in an industry that constantly tried to put her down, made a name for herself that, ten years later, everyone who was anyone recognized and revered.

One of the first women in a business previously dominated by men, Stella gradually climbed up the publishing world's ladder: starting out as an intern at a long forgotten paper; proceeding to land a job as, basically, an assistant to an assistant, and eventually, finally getting to write.

What had initially started as a position conducted by an editor who could not care less about what Stella really had to say quickly evolved when a columnist at Time Magazine had discovered one of her pieces, recognized an undernourished talent, and shown the work to her own editor.

From then on, though not quite smooth sailing, Stella's road was paved for her, and after years of sweating, crying, and bleeding her way to the top, Stella met her wife, moved with her to LA, and started what would soon become the best-selling women's magazine in the US.

Unlike preceding women's magazines in the country, however, Glass Ceiling neglected to focus solely on beauty, housekeeping, and relationship quizzes and, instead, brought to the forefront the struggles women faced every day, the hardships and fights and prejudices, and heartfelt stories from women all over the country and, later, world, who would not keep quiet anymore. Most importantly, with the success and popularity of her magazine, Stella had, at long last, earned the respect of her peers and paved the way for many other women in the industry to follow in her footsteps.

These days, while pushing seventy, Stella was a force to be reckoned with. Residing in a Beverly Hills mansion with her wife and two dogs, she was still ruling her magazine with an iron fist while also holding a significant share at its publishing house and throwing philanthropic events several times a year. And the fire that had led, urged, and pushed her forward all those years earlier still sparkled in her eyes (as well as in the new funky color in her hair, which, Andy noted, was bright red this month).

No wonder that out of her many "friends," Miranda genuinely liked Stella and, Andy suspected, looked up to her. It had made her, by proxy, Andy's friend, too, which was just one of the many perks of being Miranda Priestly's partner.

"So?" Stella prodded. "How's it coming along?"

"Slow," Andy stated, taking a sip of water. "I wish I'd known what I was getting into when I started it."

With a knowing laugh, Stella replied, "Not as easy as it sounds, huh?"

"Nope," Andy agreed, resisting the urge to bury her face in her hands, as she'd found herself doing quite often recently. "Miranda says I'm just whining, but..." She shrugged.

"Well, what does she know?" Stella said with a mischievous glint in her eyes, to which Andy had to answer with a laugh of her own.

Their conversation was halted when a waiter arrived to take their orders, and once he was gone, Andy leaned back in her chair and asked, "So what brings you to New York this time?"

"You," Stella stated without thinking twice, boring her eyes into Andy's and taking her aback.

"Me?" She furrowed her brows.

With a sly smirk, Stella leaned closer. "I have news," she whispered confidentially.

Andy, then, smiled back, folding her arms against her chest. "Mhm," she prompted knowingly. She had known Stella had something up her sleeve, hadn't she?

It was then that their waiter returned with a bottle of Merlot, stretching out the suspence as he expertly poured a generous amount into each glass before leaving them again. The glint returned to Stella's eyes.

"I think we should toast," she said and picked up her glass. Andy, confused and excited and impatient, mirrored her action and clinked their glasses before taking a very fruity, very satisfying sip.

She closed her eyes, she sighed, and when she opened them again, the smirk was back on Stella's lips, prompting her to inquire, "What did we toast?"

"Our future," Stella said with that same confidentiality, but luckily, before Andy could get irritated and demand non-vague answers, she finally leaned in again and explained, "I'm starting a new magazine."

She looked jubilant with excitement and Andy could finally see why. Her mouth forming a perfect "O" shape, she exclaimed, "Oh, my god, Stella, that's amazing!"

"It is, isn't it?" she repeated her earlier words, sounding even cockier this time around. Which was, Andy noted in amusement, pure Stella.

"Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack."

"Does Miranda know?"

"Oh, no," Stella replied, and now her face was actually beginning to match her seriousness. "Very few people know at the moment. It's very new, something we've been working on for a long time, but it's still very hush-hush." Then, with a look that Andy couldn't quite decipher, she added, "But I believe Miranda's about to find out."

"Is it another women's magazine?" Andy asked, starting to feel the excitement herself. Whatever Stella produced, same as Miranda, was pure gold.

"No, no, we're going in a different direction this time," Stella answered resolutely. "I mean, we'll still include women's politics and the fights for equality, all that, but with this one, I want to show everyone's injustices."

"That's a big duty to take on," Andy noted, taking another sip of wine. Then again, if anyone could do it, it was Stella. Even at her age.

"But a necessary one," she replied, undeterred. "Especially now, with that deranged cheeto getting elected? A lot of people need their voices to be heard, and it's our duty, as the people who are being listened to, to make that happen.

"Minorities: women, people of color, people with disabilities, with limited resources, LGBTQ;" --she gestured between the two of them and now she was no longer vibrating with delight--she sounded urgent--"we're all going to be affected by this huge step back America is taking and this is our time to take action." Pressing a hand to a chest adorned by a large, crystal pendant, she finished, "This is me taking action."

"Well," Andy said faintly, all of a sudden feeling out of breath (and out of her depth), and reached for her glass again. She took a long sip this time and rolled the rich liquid on her tongue, trying to arrange her thoughts.

This was everything she'd ever wanted to stand up for. This was why she'd gotten into her profession in the first place: to tell the stories, to give voices to those who didn't have the privilege of being heard.

The past year had been devastating as she'd watched the growing hatred and cruelty taking over America. Now, with the elections over and done with, she had very little doubt that the new world they were facing would be very grim and that things could only get worse before or if they got better. She felt, in that moment, extremely proud to call Stella her peer and friend.

"We still don't have a name for the magazine," Stella continued as the wine slid bitterly down Andy's throat, sounding calmer but no less passionate, "but we have a concept, we have a purpose, and we're already assembling a team. I'm, of course, going to be Editor-in-Chief."

"That's... amazing." Andy shook her head, still feeling overwhelmed but incredibly happy for her friend. And also bittersweet. "But what about Glass Ceiling?"

"Kathryn Johnston will take over as Editor-in-Chief." Of course, her long time protégé.

"But, that's your baby," Andy persisted, unable to imagine Stella leaving that position. She couldn't imagine Miranda ever letting go of her baby.

Stella, however, seemed to have already made peace with her decision because her smile looked to be aimed more toward comforting Andy. "My baby's all grown up, Andy. I have a new baby now."

And if she could be happy with that, then so could Andy. She smiled, then, wide and genuine, and said, "You're going to do great, I just know it."

"Yes, I will." Stella nodded confidently. "With your help."

"Oh?" Andy said, intrigued.

Placing both arms on the table, Stella looked her square in the eye. "This is why I came here, Andy. I want your talent."

"Oh!" Andy said, finally catching on and shaking her head at her density. "Of course, yes, I'll be happy to write something for the magazine. Absolutely."

Chuckling, it was Stella's turn to shake her head. "No, I don't want you to write for the magazine," she said. "I want you."

"Excuse me?" Andy muttered. Though still smiling, her eyebrows were knitting together.

Very plainly, Stella stated, "I want you to join the magazine as Managing Editor. You'll be one position below me and you'll oversee and run all the editorial content."

And now Andy was finally, really catching on. She was being offered a job. This was what this whole lunch was about: not friends catching up, but a business meeting. Stella wanted her--her--to work for her. To work, almost, with her.

"Y-you want me to work at the magazine?" Stella nodded. "But I... I-I mean, I'm a writer, not an editor. I do freelance. I haven't edited in years."

"So?" Stella said simply, cutting her rambling short. "You obviously have the experience, and what better way to gain more experience than doing?"

"But--" Andy stammered, not even sure what she wanted to say. Thankfully, Stella cut her off, assuming a very businesslike attitude she'd never used to approach Andy.

"Andy, you have a real talent. I've watched you for the last decade and you're great at what you do. I have no doubt that you'll be perfect for this job." After a pause, she added, "And, in the future, once I've finally retired and if all goes well... who knows?" She spread her arms at her sides. "You could have my job."

Andrea Sachs, Editor-in-Chief. Andy could see the words printed in her mind and her heart started beating faster, but her uncertainty must have also been written all over her face because Stella pointed out, "If it's Miranda you're worried about, don't be. This magazine won't compete with Runway in any way."

She wasn't worried about that, but now that Miranda had been mentioned, she remembered something. "You want me to work for you... in LA?" Another nod. "As in... move to LA?" A smile. "B-but, Stella, I live here. My life is here. My job--"

"You're a freelancer. And I can offer you something better," she added solemnly.

"My book--"

"Can be written anywhere."

"And Miranda--"

"This is a big decision," Stella said levelly, and even patted Andy's hand in a comforting gesture. "You don't have to answer me right away; there's obviously a lot to consider. Take a few days, speak with Miranda, sleep on it."

Before Andy could react further, the waiter returned with two steaming plates. Stella didn't take her eyes off of Andy and Andy no longer felt hungry.

Once alone again, Stella picked up her fork and knife and smiled. "Just don't take too long."

 


 

By the time Andy walked through the front door of her house, her feet were sore and her back ached from a full day of running around town, doing research and conducting interviews both for her book and upcoming article. Oh, and of course the lunch meeting with Stella Shelton.

This meant, she realized with chagrin, an extra hour of work-out the next day.

She huffed to herself as she hanged her coat in the closet. All she wanted to do right now was eat whatever took the least time to prepare, take a hot shower, and crawl into bed.

Before she could do any of those things, a large, red and white St. Bernard came hurtling down the stairs, seemingly testing how fast her body could carry her despite its mass. The answer was: fast.

"Hey there, pretty girl," Andy cooed, leaning down to kiss her wrinkly forehead and scratch behind her floppy ears the way she liked.

Bernadette, Patricia's successor, as Andy liked to call her despite Miranda's displeasure, welcomed the attention eagerly and inched closer, drooling all over Andy's Ralph Lauren pants.

"Oh, Bernie!" she protested, using a nickname that displeased Miranda even more. Through droopy eyes, Bernadette looked up at her, not understanding what was wrong at all.

Following her to the kitchen, she settled on the floor as Andy opened the fridge and found that the cook had, mercifully, stored it full of leftovers, including an already prepared plate that she only had to put in the microwave.

As she waited for the food to warm up, her stomach growled loudly enough to attract Bernadette's attention and to remind Andy that she hadn't had a bite to eat since her lunch, hours and hours ago.

After devouring her late dinner, she headed back into the hallway and looked up at the stairs, debating whether she should bring her laptop with her. She discarded the idea moments later, knowing she'd probably be out before her head hit the pillow.

Following a relaxing shower and a full facial routine, she finally--finally--settled between cozy sheets, moving closer to the warm body on the other side of the bed.

"Mmm," Miranda hummed drowsily, her voice heavy and laden with sleep, and threw an arm across Andy's middle. "What time is it?"

"After midmight. Sorry I couldn't make it to dinner, it was a crazy day." There had been a time, even in her hectic and packed days of working as a reporter for a newspaper, when Miranda would stay up and await her arrival. These days, while still being at the top of her game and possessing more stamina, at times, than Andy, her age was beginning to catch up with her nevertheless. Sometimes, she would grow exhausted while still reviewing the Book, forcing her eyes to stay open and her head to remain upright.

"What did you and Stella talk about?" she asked, sounding slightly more awake, though her eyes were still closed. Andy was embarrassed, realizing that somewhere between entering the house and climbing into bed, she'd once again forgotten about her lunch meeting. She was also reminded of how as intrigued as she'd been to get an exclusive invitation to dine with Stella, Miranda had been even more curious, not having even gotten the heads up from her old friend who was back in town.

"Um... a lot of things," Andy replied while staring up at the ceiling. She decided that telling Miranda about Stella's offer could wait for the light of day, especially when they were both too tired to have a conversation.

Miranda, perhaps realizing the same thing, didn't push. Instead, Andy felt the arm draped across her abdomen move, and then Miranda's hand was in her pajama pants. "Oh," she whispered.

On second thought, perhaps she wasn't so tired after all.

Miranda slowly rubbed her through her panties, building her up until Andy was thrusting back against her hand, her legs spreading wider.

It felt good. Great, even. How long had it-- last week, when they'd gone out for seafood and Miranda had worn that blue dress that--

"Oh," Andy moaned when Miranda slipped her fingers underneath the cotton material, encountering her wetness, and her brain went blank.

Panting through her nose, she looked down to see Miranda staring up at her, her eyes penetrating even in the darkness. Sliding up Andy's body, she pressed a hard kiss to her lips as her fingers slid inside and her thumb rubbed her clit.

When Andy came, it wasn't the best orgasm Miranda had ever given her, but it was exactly the release she'd needed after the day she'd had, and she gradually relaxed back into the mattress, sated and grateful.

"More?" Miranda murmured, stroking gently, easing her back down.

"I'm good," Andy sighed. "You?"

"Another time," Miranda replied and kissed her jaw before settling back down next to her.

For Andy, however, sleep proved evasive, and even as Miranda's breathing evened out and slowed down, she found herself still awake, caressing Miranda's arm, staring at the ceiling. Thinking about Stella's offer.

She was offering her the world on a silver platter; the dream. Andy's aspirations had never resided within editing, but she'd been in the business for quite some time--not as long as Stella, admittedly, or Miranda, for that matter, but she, too, had inched her way up the corporate ladder long enough to gain a certain reputation and freelance offers from the top magazines around the country. And now she was ready for the next step. She wanted more.

She could do this job--she knew she could. She paid close attention and she learned quickly and, after a decade by Miranda's side, she felt that she'd learned from the best. And she had been the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper once upon a time, she reminded herself, and The Daily Northwestern was no joke. Besides, Stella believed she could do the job, and who was she to argue with Stella Shelton?

This was an incredible opportunity. It could take her to the very top, give her the same--or similar--reputation as Miranda and Stella, and with the latter's name attached, success was guaranteed--both for the magazine and for her. It was crazy and unbelievable and... impossible.

Because this dream job had a catch: it was all the way across the country.

Andy lived in New York. With Miranda. Who had Runway. Which was her baby. Andy had known that from the beginning--before she and Miranda had gotten romantically involved, even. She'd known that a relationship with Miranda meant sharing her with her magazine, and that her work would almost always come first.

Admittedly, in recent years, Miranda had made an effort to clear more time for personal life and found a better balance between home and work, which had contributed to her not being so bitter and unhappy anymore. Or perhaps it was the other way around: her newfound love and joy making her less uptight about her work. It was a chicken and egg situation, but to Andy, it didn't really matter and Miranda, she believed, hardly felt the difference because her work had remained impeccable and magazine sales had never suffered. And their relationship had become, even according to Page Six, one to be jealous of.

But Miranda was still very much dedicated to her job, just as much as she was dedicated to Andy. Which Andy didn't mind--she'd never really had reason to, never felt she was in a competition. Andy was Andy and Runway was Runway, and they both took up very important, separate places in Miranda's life--until now.

Because if Andy took the job, what would Miranda do? What would she be asking of Miranda?

She couldn't move across the country by herself--neither of them would like that; she couldn't picture a long-distance relationship held afloat by phone calls and the occasional visits, and breaking up was definitely out of the question. But Miranda following her to LA would mean giving up Runway, walking away from everything she'd built, everything she loved, everything that was her. And Andy couldn't make her do that.

Runway was Miranda, and she didn't just love her job--she enjoyed it, and there weren't that many things in life Miranda derived genuine, unadulterated enjoyment from. The way she spoke of fashion, the way she gazed at a newly printed issue or touched a piece of couture--those were the things that had made and shaped her, long before Andy had come on the scene.

Andy could live without being an editor. She had never dreamed of it, she enjoyed writing without a boss, and if she really wanted to, she could someday find a different editing position, closer to home.

Miranda, on the other hand, could not live without her magazine. It would take the life out of her, kill the fire that constantly burned within her. She would grow to resent Andy, and Andy, in turn, would resent herself for making her choose. Wasn't that what Miranda's two preceding spouses had done before? Made her choose? In the end, Miranda had always chosen Runway.

It was late, she was tired, and her head was full. It was no time to make decisions and, as she'd determined earlier, speaking with Miranda in the light of day would be a preferable course of action. In the light of day, things would seem simpler, make more sense.

...and then Miranda would have to make a choice. And Andy would be back exactly where she didn't want to be. Perhaps, she thought, it would be better to not tell Miranda at all and put her through that dilemma. And put Andy herself through heartbreak.

At 12:30 at night, that seemed like the best solution. But just for the sake of it, she tried to imagine what would happen if she--they--accepted Stella's offer.

They could get a house close to the beach--not an actual beach house so as to not get sand everywhere, but close enough to be able to look outside their bedroom window and see endless blue and yellow, or sit in the living room and watch the sunset. They would still go on beach strolls in their free time and enjoy the abundance of sunlight. And they would make a home together, one that was only theirs, unlike the townhouse, which both of Miranda's ex-husbands had once called home.

It all sounded even better than Andy's promised job--hers if she only said "yes." It was a lovely, little fantasy that could come true with one phone call.

Rolling onto her side, Andy closed her eyes, knowing what she would be telling Stella.

 

Part 2

December 22, 2016

Another night, another event. Another opportunity for Miranda to remember just how much she hated people.

To her, her own Christmas ball no longer felt Christmas-y, and as another person whose name her assistant whispered in her ear approached to greet her, she wondered why she was still keeping up the exhausting tradition.

The one thing that kept her going was the notion that come Christmas Eve, she would be able to relax at home with her partner and daughter and with limited trips to the office until the new year.

They would light the tree as well as the fireplace; Andrea would, once again, make eggnog that Miranda and Cassidy would pretend to like; and Miranda would finally go to bed at a reasonable hour.

It all made up, if only just a little, for her having to shake yet another hand, air kiss yet another cheek, and pretend to be delighted by a nameless billionaire's presence at her party.

Speaking of her partner, Miranda craned her neck, searching for Andrea. She spotted her--surprise, surprise--by the bar, nibbling on an hors d'oeuvre while deeply engaged in conversation with a woman in a rather underwhelming dress. Andrea, however, was a sight for sore eyes, looking stunningly breathtaking in her vintage Dior.

Velveteen and silk fabric, luxuriously soft to the touch, pooling and flowing at her feet, the black material a perfect contrast with her alabester skin, she looked like a dream and was easily, in Miranda's purely professional opinion, the most beautiful person in the room.

What Miranda cared more about, though, were the garments underneath the exclusive dress. It was a game they'd been playing for years, born of a mere compromise: Andrea getting to choose or, at the very least, have a say in how she presented herself at ritzy, high-end events, and Miranda selecting with careful attention what was hidden from everyone else's view--something only she knew was there and something she'd get the opportunity to remove later.

This evening, due to the strapless cleavage of the dress, it was a delicate, black, and lacy corset, complete with matching panties. And that, perhaps more than anything else, was Miranda's motivator for getting through the evening, just so she could show Andrea her sincere appreciation.

Caught in thoughts that were definitely inappropriate for her current setting, she almost missed the name whispered to her, and returned to herself just in time to paste on a fake smile and welcome another guest she couldn't care less about.

A few guests later, however, her assistant leaned in again and murmured, "Stella Shelton, Editor-in-Chief of Glass Ceiling, and her wife Simone." Despite having her back to the incompetent child, Miranda rolled her eyes hard enough to almost see inside her own brain, having needed no introduction, and took a couple of steps away from her and toward her friend.

"Stella," she warmly greeted the editor--dressed impeccably in a characteristically eccentric, floral gown--and reached out for her arms, her smile genuine.

"Miranda," Stella murmured fondly and even touched their cheeks together. "So good to see you again. It's been too long."

"Yes, it has," Miranda agreed wholeheartedly before leaning in for a similar embrace with the other woman. "Simone, you look lovely as usual."

Dressed more conservatively in a loose and beautifully simple, black gown, the older woman took Miranda's hand between both of her own, patting it and saying, "Oh, you're such a sweet talker, Miranda."

"Careful," Stella warned with a twinkle in her eye, grabbing Simone's arm in a playfully possessive manner, "she's taken."

"So is she," Simone noted, nodding toward Miranda. "Where is that delightful girl of yours?"

Almost a decade older than Miranda, to Simone, Andrea was a child, but she had been one of the first acquaintances to commend the union ten years earlier, even before Stella, who had tried to convince Miranda that she was making a huge mistake. However, Simone--now retired, but then a women's studies professor at UCLA--had argued that love knew no age or gender. Ten years later, Miranda and Andrea no longer needed to prove to the whole world that she was right.

Looking back in the bar's direction, Miranda found Andrea now speaking to a different person while bringing a champagne flute up to dark, red lips. "Andrea is mingling. See if you can catch her in-between all her fans."

While Simone gave a hearty laugh in response, Stella said, "It was great seeing her a couple of weeks ago. She's gotten even more beautiful, while for us it's just downhill from here," she added jokingly.

Oh, yes, Andrea had met Stella earlier that month, and Miranda had completely forgotten about that. But now that she'd been reminded, she also remembered never hearing about what had been discussed during their meeting. Thankfully, Stella was ready to clue her in.

"I was very disappointed to hear she wouldn't take the job," she said solemnly. "To be honest with you, I thought she'd jump right on it."

"Oh?" was all Miranda said, tilting her head to the side. She racked her brain, trying to think back on Andrea ever mentioning, apparently, a job offer, but came up empty. She doubted she could forget something like that, anyway. Still, she gave nothing away, letting Stella do the talking, dreading the notion that an outsider would assume her relationship lacked communication. Because it didn't. Of course it didn't.

"The... managing editor position?" Stella drawled, her eyebrows knitting, obviously getting exactly the idea Miranda didn't want her to get. "I'm sorry, I just assumed she'd told you."

Managing editor. At Glass Ceiling? As far as Miranda knew, Stella was very happy with her current managing editor. This made no sense.

Simone, to Miranda's gratitude and shock, came to the rescue. "This woman right here is starting a new magazine." She patted Stella's elbow proudly. "Her own little fight against the direction this country is going in. She asked your Andrea to come work for her."

Miranda started feeling dizzy as Stella took over once again, "She seemed a little taken aback when I told her it was in LA,"--LA...--"but I imagined she would just discuss it with you--"

"Of course," Miranda cut in, snapping out of her momentary stupor. Then she smiled again, but this time it lacked sincerity. "Of course we discussed it."

"Oh," Stella responded, and now she seemed to be taken aback. "Well, then--"

"Andrea decided it wasn't the right time for a change right now," she lied, her smile hurting her cheeks. "You know, what with the book and so many freelance job offers."

"I see--" Stella began, frowning.

"And I try to support her in everything she decides to do."

"She is very lucky to have you," Simone chimed in, blithely oblivious.

"She sure is," Stella agreed, hopefully buying Miranda's fib. "That's too bad, though. I really wanted her."

"Yes, well." Miranda cast a glance behind the couple. For once, she was relieved to see the group of people waiting eagerly to chat with her. Tilting her head again and offering her blandest, most placating smile, she said, "Forgive me, I must continue to mingle now."

"Of course." Simone nodded.

"It was lovely to see you," she added, patting Stella's arm.

Stella began, "You, t--"

"Bye-bye now." Another toothful smile, a small wave, and Miranda was finally left alone.

She looked over at the bar again, but Andrea was nowhere to be found. Roaming the room with her eyes, they finally landed on her target, who, as if sensing she was being watched, looked up and flashed Miranda a brilliant smile. Miranda no longer felt like removing her lingerie.

 

December 23, 2016

"Hello," Miranda greeted Andrea, who'd risen from her seat for a peck on the lips. "Did I keep you waiting?"

"No, I just got here a few minutes ago," Andrea answered, sitting back down. She waited for Miranda to round their corner table and take her seat before adding on an exhale, "It was a long day."

"On my end as well," Miranda agreed, unfolding her cloth napkin and draping it over her lap.

"Things getting crazy before Christmas?" Andrea asked knowingly.

"Everybody's running around like headless chickens," she provided right as a waiter approached their table, carrying a bottle of rosé.

"I already ordered us some wine," Andrea explained as he presented them with the bottle--Miranda approved.

Watching as the pink liquid spilled into her glass, she murmured, "Wonderful."

After that, Andrea carried most of the conversation until the food arrived, reminding Miranda that, with all the frenzy around the office, she'd had to cancel her lunch. Not something she'd disclose to Andrea, though, unless she wanted to get her head bitten off.

"So good," Andrea mumbled around a mouthful of sashimi. "I was so hungry."

"Here," Miranda said, using her chopsticks to pick up a piece of lobster sushi roll, dipping it in soy sauce, and carefully bringing it to Andrea's lips, "try this."

Obediently, Andrea took the proferred food in her mouth, chewed, and moaned. Miranda smiled in satisfaction. Until Andrea brought her own chopsticks to Miranda's plate and, really, Miranda should have known from experience they would end up there. Resigned, she pushed the plate forward.

And taking advantage of Andrea's good mood, she picked up her wine glass, took a sip, and stated, "There is someting we need to discuss."

"Hmm?" Andrea hummed, drinking as well.

Calmly, Miranda caught another sushi piece between her chopsticks, casually said, "I was under the impression that we had a healthy relationship," and popped the sushi in her mouth.

Chewing slowly, she finally looked up at Andrea's baffled face: her smile was still present, but her brow was creased in puzzlement. Miranda's gaze pierced hers challengingly.

"We do..." Andrea responded, making it sound more like a question.

"Yes?" Miranda drawled.

"Yes," she laughed nervously. "Miranda, what--"

"Then how come you didn't tell me about your job offer?"

Gradually, understanding seemed to dawn on Andrea's features, starting as realization, morphing into guilt, and finally settling on resigned acceptance. "Oh," she said with a tight smile. Miranda couldn't be sure in the current lighting, but she thought she was blushing. "Stella told you?"

"What I'm curious about is why you didn't tell me."

Exhaling through her nose, Andrea put down her chopsticks, leaned back in her chair, and shrugged. "There was nothing to tell."

Miranda's eyebrows, she suspected, jumped all the way up to her hairline. "Nothing to--"

"I told her no."

"And you didn't think I should know about it?"

"Miranda, I told her no," Andrea repeated firmly. "I'm not taking the job, so what is there to tell?"

"Oh, I don't know, Andrea," Miranda argued, growing irritated despite herself. Despite her promise to herself that she wouldn't. "I just like to think that we have an open enough communication for you to not feel that you have to keep secrets."

"Hey, okay, whoa, whoa." Andrea's eyes grew in alarm. "I'm not keeping secrets from you." Miranda merely raised an eyebrow and Andrea, looking almost desperate now, leaned forward, covering her hand with her own and softening her voice. "Miranda, I'm not keeping secrets from you. You have to know that."

She did know that. In ten years of partnership, she and Andrea had had their fair share of problems, but a lack of trust had not been one of those since the very early days of their relationship. Which was why she was so puzzled as to why Andrea would hide such big news from her.

"This was just a little, inconsequential thing," Andrea continued, as if reading her mind. "We met, she offered me the job, I said no. That's it--"

"Why?" Miranda demanded.

She shrugged again. "It's just not for me," she said, her voice climbing a few pitches as it usually did when she wasn't being truthful.

Miranda didn't miss a beat. "Why?"

"I--" Andrea shook her head. "I'm not an editor--"

"Why--"

"It's in LA," she finally relented, her shoulders slumping in surrender. "Did she tell you that?"

"She did." Miranda nodded, unrelenting. "Why didn't you take it?"

"Because it's in LA," Andrea repeated, enunciating every word, like Miranda was an idiot. "We live here, we work here--"

"Did I not tell you to take every opportunity you get to climb higher?" Miranda persisted. "In this business--"

"You work here," Andrea cut her off, drawing a few glances from nearby tables. Lowering her voice with a sigh, she said, "You have Runway."

Which was what Miranda had been waiting for. What she'd suspected ever since hearing the word "LA" come out of Stella's mouth. Andrea was putting her career on hold--and that was the best case scenario, because in the worst, she was refusing an opportunity that might never come her way again--because of Miranda.

Well. If she was expecting a tearful "Thank you," she was in for an unpleasant surprise.

"So..."--Miranda squinted, pretending to consider her words--"you turn down an offer that can make your career skyrocket because of me, and then you don't think it crucial for me to know about."

Finally, Andrea looked appropriately guilty, briefly casting her eyes downward. "Look, you're right, okay? I'm sorry, I should have told you. I just didn't want you to feel--"

She stopped herself, seemingly regretting her words, and Miranda raised an eyebrow again. She knew what Andrea had been about to say: she hadn't wanted Miranda to feel that she was holding her back from, as she had just told her, possibly the best thing that could happen to her career.

Because Andrea hadn't turned down the job because she didn't want it or didn't believe in herself--she would have been magnificent and they both knew it. Stella as well. But Andrea had turned her down solely because of Miranda.

"You didn't want me to feel guilty," Miranda quietly finished for her. Andrea looked even more remorseful, but didn't correct her.

 


 

"We are not done talking about this," Miranda insisted, entering the house behind Andrea.

"You can keep talking," Andrea answered carelessly. "I'm going to sleep."

"Andrea."

Sighing, she stopped with her foot on the first stair, visibly exasperated. "Miranda, I said I'm sorry. I should have told you, I shouldn't have hidden it from you, but what's done is done. Can't we just forget abou--"

"Call Stella back," Miranda said flatly. Andrea's eyes widened momentarily before she frowned. "Tell her you'll take the job."

"What?" She seemed completely baffled.

Miranda came closer and placed her hand on the banister, inches from where Andrea's hand rested. "This is the best chance you've ever been given," she tried to levelly reason with her, hoping she'd see the light, "the like of which probably won't come again, at least not for a long time. Don't give it up."

She was disgruntled to see Andrea's unperturbed shrug, but not very surprised. "I already did."

With a sigh of her own, she moved away from the stairs and removed her jacket. Andrea knew how to be stubborn when she wanted to. In fact, besides herself, she'd never met anyone more headstrong. "I must say," she began casually, "I'm disappointed."

Andrea's predictable response came not a second later. "Excuse me?" she demanded hotly, following Miranda to the closet.

"I guess I thought you were more serious about your career," Miranda said, unfazed. "My mistake."

"I am serious," Andrea argued. "But I'm also serious about us. About all this." She gestured with her hand around them. "What do you suggest we do? Have a long-distance relationship? Have phone sex once a week until we get bored and give up altogether?"

"Don't be so dramatic," Miranda retorted, and now she was the one to head for the stairs, feigning nonchalance. It was childish and foolish, but it seemed to be working, if Andrea's heated reactions were any indication. "We can work all those things out later. I thought I had taught you that work always comes first."

"Yeah, well, sorry if I actually care about my partner," Andrea called after her.

Feeling her eyes grow twice their size, Miranda stopped halfway up the stairs and spun around. Andrea's face immediately fell, obviously in regret, but it was too late. She'd said the words, they both knew there was no taking them back, and Miranda turned away and continued her journey upstairs.

 


 

It didn't look as if Andrea was coming to bed any time soon. She was probably in her office or the kitchen, brooding. Which was Miranda's job--and right--at the moment.

She looked to the empty side of the bed--empty of Andrea, anyhow, because it provided surface to a laptop, a phone charger, a crumpled throw blanket, and a thermal mug (thankfully empty) lying on its side, which Miranda grabbed and set on the nightstand, just to be on the safe side.

She then proceeded to look all around their shared bedroom, designed to fit both of their tastes, store both of their belongings, and grant a cozy and homey feeling that would send them both into a peaceful sleep.

The bed was king-sized with an ebony frame and a mattress whose remaining soft sturdiness in spite of years of exposure to strenuous activities attested to its quality. It was one Miranda and Andrea had chosen together--a task not even delegated to an assistant--belonging exclusively to the couple, where no other husband or boyfriend had ever slept or otherwise.

The rest of the room, though maintaining most of its original fixtures, had been repainted in delicate shades of taupe and cream that did wonders in softening the previous dark wood theme set by Husband the First and agreed upon by the second. As to the furniture, Andrea liked the placements and visual aesthetic, which came as no surprise since Miranda had been the one to choose and add them to the room throughout the years, but they now held Andrea's own items along with Miranda's.

In addition to the paint job, nevertheless, more serious construction work was needed when Andrea had moved into the townhouse what now felt like decades and decades ago. Those had taken place in Miranda's previously strictly exclusive walk-in closet--these days, it was her and Andrea's closet, the phrase coming naturally to her lips as if that had always been the case.

Rows of haute couture carefully picked and gifted to Miranda were accompanied by cozy sweaters and pairs of jeans for Andrea to walk Bernadette in; shelves organized neatly with heels no shorter than three inches were joined by comfortable work shoes with no heels and no glam; designer clothes filled more shelves and occupied more hangers, separated by individual tastes and preferances; drawers of jewelry, drawers of makeup, drawers of underwear and, of course, lingerie. One had also once housed a Jimmy Choo shoebox, which held toys that definitely had not come from Jimmy Choo, but that was now kept in Miranda's second nightstand drawer for easy access.

The en suite bathroom, too, had been altered to welcome Andrea, and while Miranda had once had a hard time embracing her "organized mess," as Andrea referred to it, toothpaste traces in the sink, and open shampoo bottle caps, she'd grown to rejoice in those little reminders of Andrea's defining characteristics and presence, finding herself, despite herself, smiling fondly when she had to put stray hairties littering the marble countertop back into their designated basket.

How could they leave this house? How could she leave this house, leave so many memories made and shared within the very walls surrounding her?

She loved the townhouse. This was where she'd raised her kids and watched them grow, where she'd truly felt at home for the first time in her life, where she'd used her mouth for the first time to make Andrea come.

This was also where both of her marriages had failed, where Cassidy had fallen down the stairs and Caroline had gotten sick with appendicitis, and where she and Andrea had had their worst fights.

It held as many bad memories as good ones, she conceded, but one needed both to make a home, make a life, make memories, and Miranda cherished them all. Wanted them all.

Then again, she and Andrea could also fight in a new, maybe even nicer house. That particular activity didn't limit itself to the confines of the New York borders, and Miranda could perhaps see herself fighting with a beach in the background.

They could buy a new house, and they could splurge. It would be mutually picked, mutually designed, and it would be theirs--not Miranda's house that Andrea moved into, but something that was born and created out of equal partnership. Andrea would like that. And, in fact, Miranda would very much like it as well.

It wasn't the house, Miranda thought with a deep sigh. She was the ruler of an industry that valued change and prided itself on it, where new surfaced every week and old was tossed aside, and the only nostalgia it knew was vintage. Fashion never stopped developing, going forward toward the new trend, the new style, the new shade; new, new, new, and no time to look back, and Miranda was not only an adapter--she was a trendsetter. Besides her iconic hairstyle, she was not only open to change--she embraced and encouraged it.

It wasn't the sentimental value either. Miranda hardly ever did sentimental: not a big fan of big celebrations to mark significant events and not interested in wearing old and cheap jewelry passed down through generations, lying somewhere in a box stuffed in the back of a drawer. She focused on the here and now, and she could leave this house, she could leave New York. If she had to, she could.

It seemed that now she had to. The next step--the best step--in Andrea's career was right ahead of her, waiting to be taken, and the only thing in her way was Miranda. If given the chance, this new job could make her very happy. This was something that Andrea had--knowingly or otherwise--been building up to throughout the entire course of her career, something Miranda knew she would absolutely, without a doubt, love.

Miranda loved her job, too. Starting her journey in the fashion world as a seamstress' apprentice after school hours and claiming the most influencial spot as the one dictating the industry's every rule before she turned thirty-five, she was no longer a wide-eyed child scraping pennies and absorbing every word of wisdom like Bible verses, but rather regarded as powerful, formidable, and not a little intimidating.

Her job, like very few things in life, brought her joy; something that had been so hard to come by since growing up with an alcoholic father and a callous mother, feeling trapped in loveless marriages, clawing her way to the top, and fighting to stay there.

When nothing good was happening in her life, when her husbands were levying accusations at her and her daughters were drifting away and yet another Page Six reporter was labeling her as an unfeeling, terror-inducing monster, then a new fabric sample would calm her frazzled nerves with its soft textures, or a particularly beautiful model would put a rare smile on her face, or an issue's cover would come out looking just right, the light hitting the month's chosen talent from a perfect angle, the font and text placements aesthetically pleasing, the colors residing upon the page mingling in perfect harmony.

When nothing else seemed to be quite right, her job had always offered a breath of fresh air, a lifeboat. A sanctuary.

Of course, she had more than once conceded to herself, her job was many a time the very source of her stress, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. In recent years, especially, inching ever farther from the sixth decade of her life, running the world's best-selling magazine was proving to be more a burden than a privilege--a thought she had been making sure to push to the back of her mind more and more lately.

She loved her job. She enjoyed her job. She derived great fulfillment from her job. Those were all cold, hard facts. She was also getting tired--that, too, was a fact. She was getting impatient more quickly and growing more difficult to please--fact. Convincing herself to leave the comfort of her bed each morning because a "grand day" was awaiting her was becoming more of a challenge--all facts, all true, all very conflicting.

The one thing she wasn't, under any circumstances, conflicted or uncertain about was that while her job did indeed fill a very warm place, she no longer needed to look very hard to find that feeling--only to the other side of the bed.

Miranda never had and still didn't believe in the notion of a great, big love fixing all of one's problems, but though Andrea never had been the solution to all her woes and frustrations, she came pretty close, making balancing on that thin line between success and happiness a lot more bearable.

Because now Miranda had a new perspective. Because now, while still producing the best magazine she could, Miranda had other things worthy of her attention. Because now Miranda had something to come home to. Because now Miranda didn't have a good enough reason to leave the comfort of her bed.

It was crazy to think--if she stopped to think about it--that the once frumpy, junior assistant with an attitude issue had turned Miranda's life completely upside down, growing, developing, and shining right before her very eyes.

It was an old joke, a distant memory: once a timid, overworked assistant, and now the boss of the house. Andrea decided where they went for dinner. Andrea picked what movies they watched. Andrea fucked Miranda. Andrea did this and determined that and Miranda went right along with it, their roles long ago reversed.

But when it came to Miranda's career, Andrea was usually the one to make the compromises. That normally entailed harmless concessions such as glowing on Miranda's arm at some ritzy event or pausing on an article in order to join people she didn't know at a dinner she couldn't care less about. It meant accompanying Miranda on work trips around the world where they spent very little quality time together or waiting at home for days on end for Miranda's return. But now it included putting her entire career on hold in favor of Miranda's.

Miranda, whose career had spanned over four decades. Miranda, who was growing tired. Miranda, who decided it was now her turn to make a compromise.

A sliver of light crept its way into the room before the door shut it out, engulfing the space in its previous darkness. It was then, as she listened to Andrea's bare feet quietly make their way in the direction of the bathroom, that Miranda remembered that she was actually angry, and it wasn't the new epiphany--which didn't seem as frightening as she would have expected it to, at least not while enveloped in the surrealism and possibilities of night--that was grating on her nerves as much as Andrea's earlier words--a backhanded compliment, as Andrea often referred to Miranda's own:

"I'll admit, she's pretty for a fat girl."

"This layout isn't as bad as the one you produced last month."

"This chicken tastes better than it smells. Nice job, Andrea."

"Yeah, well, sorry if I actually care about my partner."

The sentiment had been there, and it might have also warmed Miranda's heart if it hadn't been accompanied by the insult that was a little too close to the bone.

That had been a low blow and they both knew it, but it was true nevertheless--there was nothing Miranda could do to change that, and while she had once loved and cared for her ex-husbands, they had never been as important as her job. If Andrea thought she fell under the same category, if she felt the need to declare that Miranda didn't... well, then. Miranda wasn't sure just what they had been doing for the last decade.

Behind her, the mattress dipped and Miranda hadn't realized she'd rolled onto her side, away from Andrea, but decided to seize the opportunity nevertheless, remaining unresponsive as Andrea shifted closer, rubbed a hand up and down her hip, and whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Well, I mean, obviously I meant the caring about you part, just not... the rest."

Finishing defeatedly, she settled behind Miranda, and even with her eyes closed and her back to her, Miranda could picture her wide-eyed gaze boring into the back of her head in anticipation of a response. She could probably tell Miranda wasn't asleep, already well-versed in the science of Miranda Priestly, just as Miranda could read her desperate thoughts, but she wasn't about to be let off the hook so easily.

That wasn't to say that Miranda's heart didn't clench when an arm draped across her side, reminding her of just how much she had and how much she had to lose, reinforcing the decision that yes, she was making the right choice; yes, she had climbed high enough; yes, it was now Andrea's turn.

Wordlessly, she grasped Andrea's hand, pulled it closer, and let Andrea's relieved and relaxed breathing lull her to sleep.

 

Part 3

December 24, 2016

"Is Caroline for sure not coming this year?" Cassidy asked upon entering the living room, the bottoms of her baggy pajama pants dragging across the carpeted floor, her skin still reddened and her hair still damp from her shower. The blond was growing on Andy--it suited Cassidy and her radiant personality almost as well as the red, though she knew not to disclose her opinion to a disapproving Miranda, who'd had every chemical touch her hair but that of a hair dye.

With her eyes glued to her glaring phone screen, it was hard to tell who the Priestly child (well, Andy conceded to herself, at twenty-three she was hardly a child) was speaking to or whether she was even awaiting an answer, but Andy replied nevertheless, "You tell us; you hear more from her than we do these days."

Lifting her eyes momentarily, there was that old, secretive, Priestly gleam in them. "I think she has a new boyfriend."

"Oh, god, not another one," Miranda groaned from Andy's side on the loveseat, causing her to frown while Cassidy snickered.

"What was wrong with the last guy?"

"You didn't hear?" Cassidy asked while taking a seat on a nearby ottoman, her eyes theatrically wide, piquing Andy's curiousity further.

"What?"

"He got arrested," she said dramatically. Her own eyes widening, Andy spun toward Miranda, who confirmed with a grave nod.

"Drug dealing," she clarified.

Cassidy snickered again. "'Drug dealing,'" she repeated, rolling her eyes, looking exactly like her mother. "He sold weed."

"Do I want to know why you're so casual about weed?" Miranda asked archly, which was Andy's cue to diffuse a potential bomb before her own activities with the Priestly twins two Thanksgivings ago surfaced.

"Anyway,"--she practically bolted from her seat, going for the tray on the coffee table--"I made eggnog. Cassidy, your favorite," she added with a warm smile while handing one glass to the girl.

"Oh..." Cassidy said, matching her smile and exchanging a quick look with Miranda. She looked delighted. "Awesome."

With the tree's lights shimmering in the background, their flickering reflected in the glass of the large window overlooking a dark and quiet street (and Bernadette lying idly underneath, watching), they settled into a comfortable silence.

That is until Cassidy spoke up again, "So what's new?" and beside Andy, Miranda tensed. Andy tensed, too, knowing what was on her mind. Knowing what they'd been carefully teetering around all day. Cassidy, however, obliviously added, "Are you still having a hard time with the book?"

"Oh, uh," Andy stammered, "I'm getting there."

Obviously waiting for more, Cassidy continued to stare, her smile uncertain. Miranda, unfortunately, provided more, "Andrea has some more exciting news."

And there it was. Andy spun again, this time to glare at her, but it was too late: Cassidy's eyes were already growing with interest and Miranda urged, "Tell her."

"There's nothing to tell," Andy quickly replied while shooting Miranda a "please shut the fuck up" look. She seemed unfazed.

"What news?" Cassidy asked, unaware of the exchange or the overall tension that had suddenly overtaken the atmosphere in the room.

Before Andy could stop her, Miranda answered, completely calm and collected, "Andrea got a job offer." And damn it, she sounded proud, as though the whole thing had been cleared and hashed out, as though there was no uncertainty about Andy taking the job and screwing up her career in the process, as though she didn't give two shits about what Andy had to say.

"You did?" Cassidy said excitedly, placing her still full glass on the table and moving to sit to Andy's other side on the loveseat, one leg folded underneath the other. She seemed to be the only one in the room enthusiastic about the topic at hand. "Where? What's the job?"

"There is no j--" Andy began to insist, but Miranda cut her off.

"Stella Shelton is starting a brand new magazine and she wants Andrea to be her managing editor." Despite herself, hearing those words again--Andrea, Managing Editor--this time from Miranda's mouth, sparked a feeling in her that was equal parts pride, elation, and something she refused to identify but felt very much like grief.

"Oh, my god!" Cassidy exclaimed. "Andy, that's amazing!" She looked as impressed as Andy had ever seen her, which made it all the harder to let her down. Thanks a lot, Miranda.

"It is, I'm very honored," she began. "But I'm not taking the job." She didn't have to look to her other side to know that Miranda was rolling her eyes.

"What?" Now Cassidy looked genuinely confused, her brow creased in question. "Why not?"

From her side, she felt Miranda skewering her with a look of her own--a wordless "Why not, indeed?"

"Because..." She shrugged, hearing how high-pitched her voice sounded and hating it. "Because. Now is just... not the right time."

"What are you talking about?" Cassidy asked, beginning to sound outraged with Andy's apparently incredulous decision. "What's stopping you?"

This time, Andy did chance a glance at Miranda, whose face was set in silent displeasure. But really, what did she expect? It was one thing to sulk about Andy not disclosing the offer to her, but she couldn't honestly expect Andy to actually take Stella up on it. Was she really going to leave Runway and follow her all the way across the country for a promotion? And then do what? Garden?

"It's... a lot of things," she said, trying to be evasive, trying to put an end to the conversation. It was getting depressing. And on Christmas Eve.

Cassidy, however, persisted, "Like what?" She sounded almost challenging, no doubt a trait she'd acquired from her mother, never satisfied with a mere "no."

"Well..." Andy looked to Miranda again, seeking help more than anything else this time, but of course none came her way. "For starters, my book--"

She was interrupted by Cassidy's snort, which also sounded very much like Miranda's. Andy was beginning to grimly think all the nicer traits had come from the first Mr. Priestly. "Please. That's a lame excuse."

"No, really," Andy defended herself, and it wasn't a complete lie: she was struggling with it enough as it was, all the while also juggling professional writing; she really didn't need another distraction. "I've already put it on hold twice. I really have to buckle down and devote my whole to it," she said decisively and almost convinced herself.

"And that's why you won't take the job," Cassidy stated, sounding rightfully skeptical.

"Mhm." Andy nodded, her voice high-pitched again, hoping her face didn't give anything away. Beside her, Miranda silently leaned over and grabbed an eggnog glass from the table.

"Andy," Cassidy began gently and placed her hand on top of Andy's own. "No offense, but this is a dumb as fuck reason."

Andy's eyes widened, but to her surprise, from Miranda's side she heard a chuckle. "This is an amazing opportunity," Cassidy continued, trying to make her see reason. "You can't give it up. The book will be written eventually, but this is the here and now. This is what you'll eventually end up writing about and what will be written about you even. You have to live in the present, take every opportunity that comes your way like all of us do. Otherwise your life will just be boring."

Torn between being impressed at how wise that kid had become and overwhelmed at being lectured by her, Andy wondered what she would have to say if she knew the "amazing opportunity" was in LA.

"Mom," Cassidy said, looking over Andy's shoulder, "can you talk some sense into her?"

"I'm trying, dear," was Miranda's serene response before she raised her glass to her lips and took a sip.

"Anyway,"--Cassidy leaned back--"that's all I had to say. Do with it what you will."

Andy settled, for the moment, on being grateful for the advice she'd gotten (even if it wasn't exactly relevant) and patted her thigh. "Thanks, girl."

Her next surprise of the evening came with Miranda's following words as she stood up to leave: "Seems the blond hasn't killed all her brain cells after all."

"Awww," Cassidy called after her, her smile splitting her face in half, "I knew you liked me."

 


 

At the sound of the en suite door opening and the light briefly streaming into the room before being flicked off, Andy abandoned her book, and as Miranda rounded the bed to her side, she turned to face her, supporting her head on a raised arm.

Miranda's black, cashmere robe looked extremely soft and her freshly washed and blow-dried hair even softer. Face free of makeup, she looked more like herself: delicate lines gracing her features, the skin around her prominent cheekbones slightly drooping, her eyes lined with a light shade of red. She looked as beautiful as ever.

Andy watched her perch on the edge of the bed and begin to rub lotion into the tender skin of her hands, and suddenly everything else seemed so trivial and futile. They were arguing about nothing, letting an insignificant, little thing occupy their minds and control their life, when what really mattered was right here.

This was what Andy had always wanted, right here, ten years ago and every day since. She didn't care what she did so long as she got, at the end of the day, to share a bed with Miranda and watch her do something as commonplace as moisturize her hands.

They had a good life together--a wonderful life--and anything beyond that was just frivolous. It was time to put an end to the tension and arguments and move on.

"Wanna have holiday sex?" she offered with a sly smirk.

Miranda didn't turn to face her, but responded nonetheless, her tone accompanied by its usual nonchalance, "And what does holiday sex entail?"

"Well..." Andy's smirk grew slyer as she leaned closer, running her hand lightly across the parts of Miranda's ass and thigh she could reach. "It's like regular sex, but festive."

To her chagrin, Miranda replied with a plain "I'll pass."

She didn't let it deter her. "Well, then how about non-festive sex?"

This time, Miranda sighed heavily and Andy's face fell because she knew that sound all too well. "To be honest with you, Andrea, I don't feel like having any sort of sex," she said, screwed the lid onto her lotion jar, and finally turned to Andy with a piercing look.

Perhaps they weren't moving on after all.

"Fine," Andy relented, giving her own sigh, and dropped back onto her pillow. Dreading the answer, she asked, "What do you wanna do?"

Miranda's look pierced her harder. She tried her hardest not to roll her eyes. "Can't we just let it go? Why did you have to bring it up in front of Cassidy?"

"She was very supportive," Miranda answered casually, as if that had anything to do with anything.

"Yeah, and she thinks I'm a idiot for turning it down," Andy countered and Miranda's eyebrow rose--an unspoken "You are an idiot."

"How do you exactly suppose it's gonna work?" she challenged, half-hoping that Miranda would have an answer, that she'd suggest a plan that didn't include upending their lives and messing up everything they'd built together. "This isn't like a business trip, Miranda, where I would spend a week working in LA, come back home, and forget all about it. I'd have to move there, and I refuse to do it without you."

Miranda opened her mouth to respond, but before she could accuse Andy of giving her what she knew was an impossible choice to make, she added, "And I refuse to make you follow me and leave everything you love behind."

Miranda's mouth closed. Then: "Well," she said quietly and removed her robe, revealing a silken nightgown underneath. "Since you've already made the decision for me." Then she pulled the comforter back and climbed into bed.

Huffing, Andy rose, leaning on her forearm and peering down at her. "Come on, don't be like that. You wanted to talk."

"Well, there's no point, is there?" Miranda said calmly. "Since everything I love is in New York."

Andy cringed. Poor choice of words, but she still maintained that Miranda without Runway wasn't Miranda and that even if she was supportive now, somewhere down the line, she would feel barren without it and Andy would be the one to blame. "You know I didn't mean it like that," she said softly.

"Like you didn't mean it when you said I don't care about the people I'm in a relationship with?" Now Andy's cheeks burned with shame because she did deeply regret saying that.

"Okay," she said, lowering her head. "We didn't actually talk about it. We should."

"If you think I don't care about you--" Miranda began. Andy stopped her instantly.

"I don't," she said vehemently, wrapping her fingers around Miranda's wrist. Maybe a little tighter than necessary. "I don't think that, at all. It was a stupid thing to say and I... I don't know why I said it."

"I don't dwell on the past, Andrea," Miranda said. Her voice was low, but it also had a slight edge to it. "I did some things I regret and some that were necessary at the time, but if you're intent on throwing it in my face--"

"I'm not," Andy assured, squeezing her wrist. "I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted." Miranda nodded, but her movement was also stiff and Andy knew they were still far from reaching a peaceful culmination to their issue.

Then, indeed like an idiot, she asked, "Are you going to apologize?"

And predictably, Miranda narrowed her eyes at her. "And just what am I expected to apologize for?"

"Oh, I don't know," Andy said, trying not to grow irked at her regal, self-righteous tone, their previous calm short-lived, "putting me on the spot back there with Cassidy, not letting this thing go--"

"I'm not planning on letting it go," Miranda replied matter-of-factly.

"Well, too bad," said Andy and stopped herself from huffing again, "because I'm over it." Throwing back the blanket, she climbed out of bed.

"Where are you going?" Miranda asked as though speaking to an incompetent child.

"I don't know," Andy muttered as she tied the sash of her robe--or attempted to, her fingers refusing to cooperate with her frustrated frenzy.

"Andrea, get back in bed," Miranda insisted, sounding even more reproachful.

Finally getting the knot tied, Andy tightened it against her middle and frowned at her, already a few steps away from the door. "I'm tired of arguing about this, Miranda."

Miranda also pushed herself up, but settled against the headboard. "Well, this is what couples do when they disagree about something, Andrea."

Her frustration growing, Andy spread her arms by her sides. "Well, what do you want me to do? Take the job? Leave you here? Drag you with me? What?"

Miranda looked away, but nevertheless said, "That is your decision to make, not mine."

"No, Miranda," Andy stated and gestured between the two of them, "it's ours. We're together. My decisions affect you and vice versa."

"Which is why you gave Stella your answer without consulting me?" Miranda challenged. Her tone was deceptively calm, but her eyes were boring dangerously into Andy's. Andy folded her arms over her chest and this time she did huff.

"Back to that?" she said. "I already apologized for not telling you, I don't know what else you expect. I didn't want to make you feel like you had no choice--"

"And I don't want you to miss out on the best career opportunity you've had so far, Andrea."

"Well, then, I didn't turn it down because of you, okay? Better?"

Rolling her eyes, Miranda retorted, "Then what? The book?"

Her tone was mocking enough that Andy knew she wasn't buying that story in the slightest. Nevertheless, she shrugged and said, "Yes. There is the book and now is really bad timing--"

"Cassidy already gave you her opinion on that," Miranda stated. "You should listen to her, she's a smart girl."

Andy glared. "It's not just the book. I love writing, I'm getting a ton of offers, I don't want to give that up." It wasn't necessarily a lie, but there was very little conviction behind her words and Miranda, of course, was able to see right through her because, annoyingly, she rolled her eyes again. "Miran--"

"Answer me this, Andrea," she said, her words quiet and measured. She was using her Runway voice, the one she used to ask questions whose answers were so obvious the questionee was intended to feel like a fool for not having them. Andy bunched her hands into fists in readiness. "If I wasn't in the picture, if you didn't have me to consider, would you take the job?"

Her fists unfurled--distracted by her confused thoughtfulness rather than in relief. "What?"

"Answer me honestly," Miranda urged. "If we weren't together, if you were single, would you have told Stella yes?"

Andy's laugh sounded nervous to her own ears as she asked, "What kind of question is that?"

"A very simple yes-no question."

"No, it's not because that's not the case. We are together so--"

"Hypothetically," Miranda interrupted and even crooked a half-smile. "Humor me."

Andy felt her cheeks redden again in a mixture of frustration, bewilderment, and embarrassment at having a ready answer that made her feel like a fool nonetheless. The look in Miranda's eyes told her she knew exactly what that answer was, but her gaze wasn't as hard as only moments earlier. It was almost... warm.

Andy shook her head. "Miranda, this is ridiculous," she murmured, her voice coming out weaker than she liked. "It's hypothetical, why does it matter?"

In lieu of an answer, Miranda's eyebrow rose.

"It doesn't matter," Andy insisted.

"If we weren't together," Miranda repeated slowly, solemnly, "would you have taken the job?"

Andy took a deep breath, exhaled it, and finally said, "Yes." Miranda's head began to move toward a nod, but she didn't waste half a second adding hastily, "But we are together so there's no point to that question."

"The point is you do want this job, Andrea, and I'm apparently keeping you from it." Andy inhaled again and opened her mouth to dispute her, but she continued, "Not your book, not your freelancing; me."

"Fine," Andy snapped, then added out of spite, "then I'll take the job and move to LA without you, since apparently life without you is so much simpler and better." She wasn't surprised to see Miranda's eyes roll again--perhaps even a little relieved that she found the notion so--

"Ridiculous," Miranda muttered, then held out her hand. "Come here." Andy raised her own eyebrow and folded her arms again. "Come here," she insisted. Andy sighed and came over, seating herself on the edge of the bed, by Miranda's feet.

"Now," Miranda said calmly, again sounding like she had all the answers, but now her features had smoothed out and her eyes had grown warmer. She even laid her hand on top of Andy's. "Don't say foolish things. You wouldn't consider moving on your own if we were married."

Slightly pacified by the change in the atmosphere but still adamant to hold her stance, Andy mumbled, "You know I don't want that." She stroked Miranda's hand to show there were no real hard feelings, but after all it was an old, agreed upon decision--mutually made. Miranda had broached the subject in the past--being older, more traditional, and so used to "tying the knot" to make it official. Andy had never felt the need for a signed contract to confirm what they had was real, and as the years passed and neither had deigned to up and leave, Miranda had seen the light.

They were, at the end of the day, as married as any other couple who'd gone the legal course; equal partners in everything that mattered and dedicated enough to their union that parting ways was unthinkable, which was undoubtedly the point Miranda was trying to make. She gave Andy a knowing look.

"Can we just..." Andy said softly, weighing every word in her mouth, "can we let this go? I said no, it's done, and..." She shrugged. "If another opportunity comes, I promise we'll talk about it."

"Andrea--" Miranda began, but this time she was the one to cut her off.

"Miranda, please," she said, her voice lacking its earlier energy and defiance, drained of a fight to fight, "I'm tired. I don't wanna talk about this anymore."

In response, Miranda's lips pursed, but she didn't say anything. She regarded Andy in silent contemplation, her face blank and unreadable. Finally, looking as though she was succumbing to having a tooth pulled, she surrendered, nodding her head.

"Thank you," Andy breathed out in relief. If she'd expected a weight to be lifted off her chest, though, she was still waiting.

"Come here," Miranda said again and tugged on her hand. "I'll give you that holiday sex."

And despite everything, a grin broke out on Andy's face and she came happily.

 


 

After she'd fallen asleep, Andy grabbed Miranda's robe and went downstairs, letting her legs guide her until she found herself standing in the entrance to the kitchen, staring aimlessly into a darkness only broken by various, insubstantial lights like the green digits on the microwave's clock and Miranda's charging laptop. She sat down at the head of the dining table, resting her chin in the palm of her hand.

According to the microwave, it was 1:36 A.M., but while Miranda was sleeping soundly upstairs, Andy felt restless. At this time of night, the house stood still and quiet, as if frozen in time until its occupants awoke and life resumed its course. Instead of soothing, however, Andy found the silence--interrupted every once in a while by the dull hum of the fridge and the occasional car passing by outside the window--unsettling. It allowed her thoughts to run rampant, and run rampant they did.

Despite the closed window, she felt a chill run through her body and pulled the robe tighter around herself, enjoying its decadent feeling against her skin as well as Miranda's scent on it. Of course, now she smelled like Miranda, too.

The sound of footsteps startled her and she perked up in her chair, feeling like a child who'd been caught doing something she wasn't supposed to, even though there was nothing wrong with her sitting in the kitchen of her own house. But when Cassidy came into view, her body deflated in relief, sagging back in its seat.

Which wasn't necessarily the called-for reaction because with the blaring light of her phone mere inches from her face, surrounded by otherwise almost total darkness, she looked pretty frightening. Not to mention, Andy had actually forgotten she was staying the night instead of going back to her own place.

It wasn't until she'd taken a few steps into the kitchen that her eye caught Andy, and if she was also startled by her presence, she didn't show it. Instead, she gave a mere nod of acknowledgement before making a beeline for the fridge. How she could have her eyes buried in whatever happenings occured on her phone screen and still not trip was beyond Andy, who tripped getting off a rug.

She watched the girl open the fridge, take her eyes off the device just long enough to locate whatever she'd come into the room for, and take out a bottle of coke. If Andy's mind hadn't been otherwise occupied, she might have even found the process of trying to open it while keeping firm hold of the phone amusing. When Cassidy tilted her head back to drink straight from the bottle, though, Andy had just enough presence of mind to be thankful that Miranda wasn't there to cause a scene.

When she was finished, Cassidy held out the item in question and raised her eyebrows: a silent offer, which Andy refused with a shake of her head. Cassidy shrugged and proceeded toward the pantry, by which point Andy decided she'd watched enough and returned to her silent musings, eyes once again fixed, unfocused, on the microwave clock. It was 1:48 now.

"You and Mom fighting?" she heard behind her and startled again, turning around to see Cassidy balancing the coke bottle and a bag of chips on one arm while still holding her phone with that hand and with the other holding an earphone, which Andy hadn't even noticed until now, out of one ear.

"No, of course not," she was quick to reassure, and even managed a small smile.

Whether it pacified Cassidy or not, she wasn't sure, because instead of leaving, she joined her at the table, asking, "What's up with you two?" but at the same time, she seemed as casual as ever--as casual as if they were sitting at the table and having a conversation over lunch, not surrounded by darkness and the dead silence of night.

"What do you mean?" asked Andy, pretty sure she knew what she meant.

As expected, Cassidy clarified, "You seemed kinda weird tonight. Like... I don't know, you were fighting." Not so expectedly, she paused what appeared to be a video on her phone, removed the second earphone, and gave Andy her whole attention.

Uncomfortable and touched by her concern at the same time, Andy gave her another smile and patted her hand. "Everything's fine, I promise. Don't worry."

"Sure?"

"Sure."

Cassidy kept staring at her for a few moments more before shrugging--seemingly satisfied with her answer or just not caring much either way--and returning the earphones to their rightful place. Once again trying to keep hold of all her items, she got up and signaled her departure with a simple head gesture toward the kitchen doorway, to which Andy nodded before returning to her aimless staring, listening as the footsteps grew farther and quieter.

So, that was that. And that was that.

 

Part 4

January 1, 2017

They weren't talking about it. It was a new, unspoken tactic: if they didn't mention it, it wasn't happening.

Except they were talking about it in every way other than verbal. Miranda noticed it in the silences that had suddenly taken over shared dinners, in the way Andrea would religiously go over her own articles time and again before sending them to their intended editors, in how their lovemaking had become inexplicably distant.

They were putting on a show, smiling and going about their lives and pretending that nothing had ever happened, nothing had shifted, nothing had changed. It was, Miranda finally concluded, more exhausting than fighting.

"Miranda?" Andrea called from the entertainment room just as she reached the bottom of the stairs on the ground floor. Sighing, she turned and headed back upstairs.

"What is it?" she asked from the doorway of the room, where Andrea stood between the black couch and the 65" television on the wall, frustratedly punching random buttons on the remote control.

"I forgot how you turn it off again." She turned pleading eyes toward Miranda. Still dressed in her work clothes--silken, black blouse and brown trousers with thin, black stripes--she fit right in with the hardwood flooring and brown, floral patterns on the TV's wall.

Miranda suppressed another sigh and conceded that in recent years it had become more complicated than just pressing the on/off button as she stepped further into the room, taking the remote from Andrea's hand.

"You're using the wrong one," she said calmly, put it on the black, polished TV cabinet, and picked up another one, handing it to Andrea. "Here," she continued, coming to stand next to her, "you press this button... then that one, and now--"

"That?"

"Yes. There, done." Before them, the screen turned black. "Remember that the next time you tell me I'm ancient," she joked and turned to leave with a light tap on Andrea's ass.

"Moi?" Andrea called after her, feigning innocence.

"Come downstairs," she called back before reaching the stairs, the scents from the kitchen wafting upstairs, "dinner should be ready soon."

Dinner was roast lamb with potatoes and vegetables. It smelled heavenly and tasted even better. Miranda couldn't bring herself to enjoy it. Andrea seemed distracted as well. She hadn't inquired about Miranda's day apart from asking how it had gone and Miranda hadn't questioned her about hers. They sat on opposite sides of the table, the distance between them seeming to stretch longer than it actually was, the only sounds in the room being their cutlery tapping and scraping against their plates.

Miranda was three quarters into her meat when she put her knife and fork down, took a sip of wine, dabbed at her lips with a napkin, and announced, "I have decided to retire."

Andrea's face lifted from her plate, as though in slow-motion, her eyes looking larger than usual. She still had food in her mouth, which she seemed to be having difficulty swallowing--or, rather, gulping--before replying in a voice that was barely there, "What?"

"It is time," Miranda replied serenely and pushed her plate away, clasping her hands demurely before her.

Andrea's face was the epitome of bewilderment, as if Miranda was speaking a language she couldn't comprehend. She'd also stopped eating. "Miranda, what are you talking about?"

Miranda elaborated, "I already have a few candidates in mind to replace me. I'm thinking maybe Alexis Campbell--you remember her? We had dinner with her a few weeks ago-- well, anyway, I believe that, with the right guidance, she can do a fantastic job."

Andrea stared at her blankly, her mouth open but no words coming out, and she added, "Of course these things take time--it won't happen overnight, obviously." She flapped her hand in the air. "A lot of changes will have to be made, many people to inform, many things to discuss and take care of... but the bottom line is," she said and bored her eyes into Andrea's impossibly wide ones, "now you won't have an excuse."

"An..." Andrea began faintly, cleared her throat, and tried again, "an excuse?"

Miranda gave her one more pointed look, leaned back in her chair, and said, "I've spoken to Stella."

Andrea's eyes grew even bigger. "You-you've--"

"She's agreed to give you one more week to accept her offer before she gets someone else." Andrea's mouth opened into a comical "O." Something occured to Miranda then and she chuckled. "Your little stunt may actually work in your favor. Maybe she'll think you're playing hard to get and offer more money."

Andrea, however, didn't jump for joy. Her eyes had shifted from Miranda and she leaned back in her own chair, her jaw set, her lips pressed into a hard line. Finally, she said, "Why did you do that?"

"It didn't look as if you were going to any time soon," Miranda replied confidently.

She hadn't really expected thankful hugs and kisses, but she also hadn't expected Andrea's face to turn almost red with fury. "I told you to drop it," she said, her voice low.

"Well--"

"I told you to drop it, didn't I?"

"Yes," Miranda said, unyielding, "and I decided not to."

"Miranda, you-you--" she stuttered, as she usually did when she was angry. Her voice was also rising. "You can't just make a decision on both our behalves!"

"Why not? You did."

"That's-that's not--" she stopped herself, Miranda's words fully catching up with her, and pointed a finger at Miranda, sounding accusing and defensive at the same time. "This is different. You can't just go up to people behind my back and meddle in my business! There has to be some sort of trust between partners, you know."

Miranda had to stop herself from erupting in laughter at the irony of her words, but she did tilt her head to the side and give a bitter, little chuckle while reaching for her wine glass. "I'm getting a déjà vu," she murmured into it and took a sip.

Andrea pressed her lips together again until they were almost white. Then she placed her hands on the table and rose from her chair, saying, "I'm going to call Stella right now, tell her this isn't happening--"

"Sit down, Andrea," Miranda commanded. Andrea looked at her, but didn't sit back down, so Miranda nodded toward the chair, her gaze more pointed. She watched Andrea's nostrils flare with her breath even as she sullenly complied.

She took another sip of wine, giving Andrea time to regain her composure, and by the time the chilled flavor of her Coche-Dury Caillerets slid down her throat, Andrea's features had somewhat softened, although she still looked more upset than Miranda had seen her in a long time.

"Miranda, what the hell?" she said bluntly. "We decided to stop talking about it, to let it go. Now you're telling me that you called Stella, that you're leaving Runway, what-what--" she seemed to be having a hard time finding her words, her mind evidently blown. Huffing, she glared at Miranda. "What do you want me to say?"

"'Thank you' would be a good start," Miranda muttered dryly, clasping her hands again. "This is a good thing, Andrea."

"No, it's not!" Andrea snapped, banging her hands on the table. Miranda flinched, then watched her bury her face in her hands, her hair falling around it. "You caught me off guard, okay?" she mumbled into her hands.

"I assure you, I did not make that decision lightly," Miranda said quietly, shifting slightly in her chair.

Andrea looked up from her hands, fixing her with her gaze. "Then why?" she asked, just above a whisper. Removing her hands completely, she continued, "You should have talked to me."

Miranda chuckled again, but this time it was entirely humorless. "Because we've been talking so much lately?"

Andrea had the decency to look ashamed, if only slightly. She rubbed her face, leaned back in her chair, and stared at Miranda, her eyes sad. "I can't ask you to do that."

"You're not asking me anything, Andrea," Miranda assured her. "I came to that decision on my own."

"That's what you think," Andrea said, to her surprise. "But you didn't. You feel cornered--"

Miranda frowned. "Please--"

"You do," she insisted. "You might not realize it now, but what's gonna happen in a few months, or a year, when you no longer have Runway and you're stuck with me in LA? You'll blame me, and you'll hate me."

Ludicrous. Absurd. Still, Miranda found herself saying, "And if you give up that job and we stay here, you'll hate me."

Andrea's eyes widened again. "What?" she whispered, appearing well and truly shocked at her words. Then she leaned forward, shaking her head. "No, Miranda. No."

Miranda just kept her eyes from rolling. "Do you want to tell me you haven't been spending the last couple of weeks hating me? Just a little bit?"

"What?" Andrea repeated. "No!" She reached for Miranda's hand across the table, grasping it hard. "Miranda, no, never." Her eyes, big and dark, were pleading with Miranda to believe her. And she did. She did.

"But this is different." She let go of Miranda's hand, sounding pained. "Runway is your whole life. You love it."

"You seem to be under the misguided impression," Miranda said slowly, her forehead crinkling, "that that means I love you less." Andrea, momentarily, looked even more ashamed and the lines in Miranda's forehead deepened. "Are you?"

"I know you love me," she said in lieu of an answer.

"But you think I love Runway more."

After a brief silence, Andrea replied, "I don't want to make you choose," which also didn't answer her question. Her lips pursed.

"I've made my decision, Andrea."

"Miranda, I..." Andrea shook her head again. "I can't ask you to do that-- I won't," she corrected herself resolutely. "I won't let you do it."

"This was my decision," Miranda said, feeling repetitive. "You didn't make me do anything."

"And now what?" Andrea demanded, barely waiting for her to finish. "You'll leave Runway and move to LA, and what will you do then?"

Miranda offered a small shrug, answering truthfully, "I don't know yet." Then, in the spirit of being honest, she continued, "You're right: Runway has been a very big part of my life for a very long time; honestly? I'm not entirely sure who I am without it. But this is something I've been thinking about for a while, and I'm excited to find out."

Andrea's chin was in her hand. She was peering at her through weary, doubtful eyes, looking more torn than Miranda, who pushed her chair back, saying, "You have a week to give Stella an answer. This could be a great, new chapter for both of us."

She stood up, but just before leaving, placed a hand on the table, leaning toward Andrea. "Just for the record: I do love Runway," she said in a tone that was more scolding than warm (because, really, Andrea should have known better). "But I love you more."

 

Part 5

"Miranda," Andy whispered in Miranda's ear, nudging her shoulder slightly. No reaction. "Miranda." She nudged a little harder.

"Mmm?" came Miranda's sleepy response, muffled by the pillow.

"Wake up," Andy whispered. Wordlessly, Miranda turned further away from her, pulling the blanket up to her neck. Andy rolled her eyes, huffed, and pushed at her shoulder. "Miranda, wake up."

There was a deep inhaling sound, the ruffling of sheets, a groan, and then Miranda was facing her, slowly forcing her eyes open with a frown. "Wake up," Andy said again, patting her shoulder now, urging her to go faster as her eyes blinked several times into focus.

"What is it?" she asked groggily, squinting in the darkness. "What's wrong?"

"Did you mean it," Andy dove right in, "when you said you've been thinking about it for a while?"

Appearing confused as all hell, Miranda rubbed a hand across her face, rolled onto her back, and shook her head, as if to clear it of the sleep-induced fog. "What?"

"At dinner," Andy clarified, "when you said you've been thinking about retiring for a while. Did you mean it?"

Seconds later, the penny seemed to have dropped, but instead of giving her an answer, Miranda's frown deepened. "That's what you woke me up for?" She immedialy rolled back onto her side, showing Andy her back. "Go to sleep, Andrea, we'll talk about it tomorrow."

If only she'd known that Andy hadn't been able to shut an eye since climbing into bed. Growing frustrated, she shook Miranda, hearing a long exhale before she rolled onto her back again, covering her face with her hands. When she removed them, she exhaled again and admitted, "Yes, I meant it."

As if hearing about it for the first time all over again, Andy's jaw sagged open, her eyes running around the darkness in a vain attempt at comprehension. Finally, she asked, "How long?"

"'How long' what?" Miranda asked, sounding tired and pissed off that she was awake.

Andy pressed nevertheless, "How long have you been thinking about it?"

"I don't know, Andrea, I didn't exactly mark the day on my calendar," she answered impatiently, then sighed. In a softer voice, she said, "A while. A few months, maybe."

A few months. In a few months they'd talked about their days at work, had countless meals together, picked out a new coffee table for the den, and at no point had Miranda found the time to disclose her newfound feelings to Andy. "And this whole time you've been preaching to me about keeping things from you?" she asked incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"There was nothing to tell," Miranda said, resigned, and now Andy heard how annoying that sounded because of course there was something to tell! It was a big something. Miranda, however, continued, "It wasn't so much that I was considering retirement as I was just... I don't know." She sighed again, rubbed her face again, sounding uncertain. Rarely was Miranda ever at a loss for words.

"It's been getting more exhausting lately to do my job, not as exciting. More often than not, I find myself too tired to even care. I guess getting older will do that to you, but... I don't know, it's not just that..." She shook her head, then turned it toward Andy, hasty to add, "Don't get me wrong; I do love my job, I do enjoy it. But it's not the same anymore."

"Has something happened?" Andy questioned quietly.

"No, nothing's happened," she breathed, looking back up at the ceiling. "Nothing out of the ordinary, anyway. I think I'm the one that's changed. I'm sixty-five, Andrea; most women are already retired by that age."

"Not necessarily," Andy argued weakly. "If you were a judge, you could still have five more years left."

"And if I were a model, I'd have been long kicked out of the industry," Miranda replied. "Point is, it was a long time coming. It would have happened sooner or later. Our current circumstances just gave me the little push I needed, that's all. Who knows," she added with a chuckle, "maybe it's a sign."

"You don't believe in signs," Andy mumbled. "And I don't wanna be the one that pushes you."

"You're not," Miranda stated simply, not reassuring her in the slightest. "Trust me when I say that if I never have to comfort another high-strung designer or put up with the suffering faces of my incompetent assistants, it will be too soon."

"But what if you miss it?" Andy asked lamely even though it was a valid point.

She sighed. "It's true that there's a lot more good to my job than bad. I have very little doubt I'll miss it." She was doing a terrible job putting Andy's mind at ease and convincing her that she should, in fact, let her step down.

As if reading her mind, Miranda turned her head to her again, stating, "My mind has already been made, Andrea. If I miss it, I'll miss it. I miss a lot of things: I miss sitting in a chair for more than an hour and not having back pain, I miss having steak for lunch three times a week, I miss not swallowing a handful of vitamins every night, and I miss sending my children off to school. You grow old and life goes on."

Resting her hand on Miranda's arm, Andy murmured, "You're not that old." She tried for a joking tone, but the fact was: the older Miranda got, the realer the possibility became that sooner rather than later Andy wouldn't have her anymore. It was terrifying to think that in twenty-thirty years, it would be just her when she wanted so much more. Then it wouldn't matter if they lived in New York or LA; if Andy was an editor or Miranda was.

Right now it was a joke--born of a rocky start defined by their age difference and formed into a familiar aspect of their relationship, something that didn't matter. It would matter now, if Miranda took a step back from her career while Andy took a step forward to advance hers, if those little reminders of the gap between them became more pronounced, more evident, harder to ignore.

Today, Miranda would leave her job. Tomorrow, Andy would accompany her to the doctor's office twice a week. Wasn't that how it usually went? Andy remembered her grandfather's aging process accelarating, his health deteriorating the moment he no longer had work to keep him, well, alive.

Couples were supposed to retire and grow old together; by the time Andy retired, Miranda would--

"Getting old isn't necessarily a bad thing," Miranda murmured, mercifully pulling her back to the present. "Take that from the editor of a fashion magazine." With a mirthless smile, she added, "Maybe that means I really should be stepping down."

Whatever she saw on Andy's face must have tipped her off because she said, "I'll still be Miranda Priestly, I can promise you that. I might not be here to run a magazine, but I still control this entire industry. People won't be quick to turn their backs on what I have to say."

Andy thought about her words. "Remember when I still worked for you, and Irv tried to replace you?" Irv Ravitz, too, had retired since, replaced with a chairman who didn't dare step on Miranda's toes. Andy no longer worked for Miranda either--not since that very day, in fact. A lot had changed. More than Andy had thought, apparently. "What would you have done if he'd succeeded?"

"That was ten years ago," Miranda confirmed her thoughts dismissively. "I didn't let him, and even if I had, I would have found a way to stay on top. Maybe I would have even started a new magazine and, trust me, it would have been way better than anything Jacqueline Follet would have done with Runway. But," she continued, "that was ten years ago. I don't need to fight anymore." There was a pause before she finished quietly, "And ten years ago, I didn't have you."

Dropping her head onto her pillow, Andy rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She was beginning to regret choosing the middle of the night for this discussion because there was too much to comprehend and process.

Only a few hours earlier, Miranda had told her she'd decided to retire; now they were regarding the subject as if it was a done deal. Andy hadn't given Stella her answer yet, hadn't even thought about what kind of a boss--because that was, at the end of the day, the job she was being offered--she'd be. Hell, she didn't even know how much money the job would pay, though that was the least of her and Miranda's problems.

"If I took the job, we'd be moving away from Cassidy," she said, her soft voice sounding loud in the quiet of the night.

"And closer to Caroline, what's your point?" Miranda countered.

"LA isn't that close to Seattle."

She heard a sigh from her side and knew Miranda was rolling her eyes impatiently. "Andrea, the only thing that matters right now is whether you want this job or not. The rest we can deal with later." Andy bit her lip, not answering, so Miranda pressed, "Do you want this job?"

"I don't know," she breathed. Yes. No. Now, more than ever, she was unsure. "There's a lot to consider." Miranda sighed again, but didn't say anything. Together, they lay side by side, staring at the ceiling, not going to sleep.

Andy didn't speak. Miranda didn't speak right back. Andy didn't speak some more. She couldn't be sure what Miranda was thinking and didn't feel like asking, already feeling inundated with new information. Eventually, however, she furrowed her eyebrows and asked, "Do we need counseling?"

Miranda's response was almost immediate: "Don't be absurd, we don't need counseling."

"We don't speak to each other," she said wearily, finding a certain shadow on the ceiling very interesting. In the dark, it was hard to tell what it was. "I didn't know you were getting tired of Runway, you... well, I didn't tell you about the job. We shouldn't have secrets."

"Andrea, couples don't always have to tell each other everything," Miranda replied, sounding very level-headed and very tired. Andy felt bad for waking her, especially since she still was the editor-in-chief of Runway, where she was supposed to be in the morning. "There's nothing wrong with keeping some things to yourself." Andy felt her gaze shift to her as she pointedly said, "So long as it doesn't affect the other person."

"In other words," Andy said, still not looking at her, "it's okay that you didn't tell me about Runway, but not okay that I didn't tell you about the job."

"Well," Miranda answered flippantly. "I was still figuring it out."

"So was I," Andy said, knowing they were treading water by now. Sighing heavily, she asked, "So now what?"

 

Part 6

June 16, 2017

Andy's blue Nikes left their smudged prints on the beach as she picked up her pace, leaving clouds of sand behind them. The bright, blinding sun shone down on her and her ears buzzed with the sound of her heartbeat and panting, blocking out the crashing of the waves. She regretted forgetting her earphones, and regretted the decision to jog in the first place, wondering when she'd finally learn her lesson that running in the middle of the day--on the beach, no less--was a dumb idea. Californian summer was about as friendly as Ohian winter. If she'd gone jogging any earlier than the time she'd had to be at work, though, she would have woken up basically in the middle of the night.

All in all, she felt like shit, remembering why she hated working out. It wasn't worth the toned ass.

With much relief some time later, she reached her front door--arched ash wood on the bottom and a series of glass windows on the top; surrounded by potted plants in green and purple--and supported her hands on her knees, breathing heavily.

The feeling of relief quickly vanished upon entering the house, instead replaced by immense loneliness. It was a huge house, and she was the only occupant.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, she passed the stairs to the left of the door and the den in front of it and made her way through the short hallway toward the kitchen, walking by flower vases, an original Paul Gauguin given to her by Isaac Mizrahi as a housewarming gift (but, really, just to suck up), and a picture of her and Miranda at the end of the hall, where she stopped with a bittersweet smile.

That was also where she took note of the weight on her feet, realizing that she hadn't taken off her sandy shoes, beyond thankful for the hardwood flooring of the hallway.

Barefoot, she entered the kitchen, surrounded by soothing tones of white and cream in the open space, where she deposited her water bottle on the island, next to a vase of orchids. They were Miranda's favorite flower, which gave her a small pang of longing in her chest.

She didn't linger long, only taking the time to make sure that the numerous windows and doors around were closed before she turned on the central air conditioning and returned down the hallway to the flight of stairs--which were carpeted in white, so it was a good thing she was no longer wearing her dirty shoes.

She tried not to dwell on the size of the house, the amount of time it took to get from point A to point B, lest she should get too depressed, too lonely. The shower would cheer her up, she told herself, as it usually did.

And indeed, she couldn't help the grin that lit up her face as she entered the master bathroom. It was a giant room, and in the middle was a giant shower stall--if it could be labeled as such. It was big enough to fit about half a football team inside; part of it grey marble tiles, part of it sheer glass; with a rain shower head, a hand-held one, and enough room to store just about anything Andy could think of. Even at the townhouse, she hadn't known such luxury.

She supposed soon enough it would get old and the novelty would wear off, but for now, she was milking it for all the pleasure it provided.

There was also a deep and spacious bathtub, but she wasn't very tempted to use it alone, opting, instead, to step into the stall and turn the water onto its hottest setting--despite the sticky, heated state of her skin.

As the water cascaded down her body, washing her hair of sweat and sand and ridding her muscles of their tension, she closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and smiled dopily, even letting out a little moan of satisfaction. She was cheered up, all right.

Clean and fresh, she donned the black, cashmere robe she'd stolen from Miranda and looked in the mirror: her nose, cheeks, and forehead had, predictably, gotten some color, and she rubbed lotion into the tender skin before entering the bedroom, feeling sleepy and light and ready to spend the rest of her Sunday relaxing.

She plopped down on the king-sized bed and, through the sliding, glass door to the balcony in front of it, watched the sun begin to make its descent in the sky, toward the water. She was just pressing the button by the side of the bed, bringing down the blackout shades to shield the top part of the door from the intense light, when her phone rang--just in time for their daily call.

"Hey," she answered on the first ring, resting her head on a fluffed pillow, feeling like a teenager speaking to her high school sweetheart.

"Hello," Miranda's warm voice came through the speaker. "Is this a good time?"

"Perfect," Andy answered. "I just finished showering."

"Ah, yes, your beloved shower stall," Miranda quipped, a hint of sarcasm on her tongue. Andy was pretty sure it was just jealousy. "It's good to know you no longer need me to get you off." Yep, definitely jealous.

Snickering, Andy asked, "What are you up to?" She removed the phone from her ear briefly to check the time, noting that it was just after 6:30 P.M. in New York.

"Making myself dinner," Miranda answered, to her surprise, and indeed she heard the clinking of dishes on the other end.

"Where's Juanita?"

"I sent her home; I'm not very hungry, anyway." So she'd be having a salad, Andy thought to herself, knowing Miranda, or perhaps make a panini if she felt up to the task.

"Tough day at work?" she asked in sympathy.

"Short day," Miranda replied, which normally would not be a good sign in her book. Now she'd spoken with a sigh of relief. "I'm more interested in hearing about yours."

"Well." Andy settled in more comfortably, happy to indulge her. "I had to come in extra early again; everything is still a mess, but a good mess, you know?" In a few weeks, they would finally get the magazine's first issue off the ground and the real hectic work would commence, but for now, she still had a moment or two to breathe. "The offices look amazing--did you see the pictures I sent you?" At Miranda's hum of confirmation, she continued excitedly, "And we got a fridge for the kitchen today."

"Oh, well, thank god for that," Miranda said and now it was definitely sarcasm. "Heaven knows you won't survive without a fridge."

"Mhm," Andy agreed nonetheless.

"How is the assistant hunt going?" Miranda changed the subject and Andy's face fell.

"Harder than I thought," she admitted. "They're all either too perky or not perky enough. Why is it so difficult to find someone to help you?"

She could practically hear Miranda's smile through the phone, and finally understood her struggle through the years. If she'd known then, perhaps she wouldn't have teased her so much about her particular standards. Perhaps. "Don't settle for anyone less than excellent, Andrea."

"Got it." Andy smiled, but wasn't looking forward to another day of interviews. Changing the subject again, she asked, "Did you see the latest article on TMZ?"

"Yes, I'm a big fan of gossip."

Andy chuckled before saying, "They're surer than ever that we're over. They got some paparazzi shots of me coming and leaving home alone. I look pretty good, actually; I think the sun is making my hair lighter."

"Let them think what they want," Miranda said tiredly and Andy heard a chair dragging against the floor, which would be Miranda sitting down to eat. At that moment, her stomach grumbled, reminding her that she'd only had half a turkey sandwich for lunch, which she'd already burned off on the beach.

"What are you eating?" she asked.

"Salad," Miranda said simply and she congratulated herself on guessing correctly.

"Wish I could eat with you right now," she said softly, missing Miranda even more. She was also starving, especially after her work-out and shower, but no way was she getting out of her cozy bed any time soon.

Miranda, however, assured her, "Soon."

"How's training Alexis going?" she questioned, brought back to the more important matter.

"Good. It won't be long now," Miranda answered, not elaborating further. "She asked after you, of course."

Rolling onto her side, Andy propped her arm up on the mattress and rested her head in the palm of her hand, staring at her white, wooden cabinet, which was still mostly bare aside from some trinkets and a few awards she'd collected throughout the years. At its foot, like in various other spots around the house, lay boxes she hadn't yet had the time to unpack. Some had Miranda's name on them.

"Are you having a hard time letting go?" she asked gently, then hurried to add, "It's okay if you are."

There was a brief silence on the other end before Miranda's voice came through again, lower, "I'm getting a little nostalgic, I'll tell you that. If you repeat that to anyone, I'll deny it," she added, making Andy laugh. "I didn't realize there were so many memories everywhere."

Andy smiled. "Thirty years," she said softly, as if Miranda needed a reminder.

"Yes," Miranda responded just as softly.

"Did you hear that all your pet designers want to open branches in LA? I read that on TMZ, too. Maybe all is not yet lost."

"I am beginning to think you spend way too much time on TMZ," Miranda said, but her tone was light and teasing. She waited for Andy to finish giggling before continuing, "Anyhow, I think I need a break before anything else. It's high time I got some rest. After that... we'll see."

"Well, I got the perfect patio furniture for you to rest on," Andy supplied, thinking of the cushiony chairs on the back porch, overlooking a gigantic, green backyard. Enough room for Bernadette to run free and enough view for Andy and Miranda to feast their eyes on without the interruption of skyscrapers. That was one point in LA's favor.

"I even got a hammock," she added sweetly into the phone.

"You won't catch me alive in a hammock," Miranda retorted dryly. Andy smiled to herself, listening to her chew and breathe, resting her head back on the pillow. Her eyes were getting droopy, even though it was a bad idea to fall asleep in the middle of the day, but she didn't feel the need to fill the silence with words; instead she was content to just be with Miranda, exist in two different places and in the same place all at once.

A while later, hearing what she assumed was Miranda getting up and clearing her dishes off the table, she did say, "I miss you."

The muffled noises on the other end halted and Miranda's breathing returned. Then: "Me, too, darling."

"I can't wait for you to get here. Without you, it kinda sucks." It was true: the managing editor job was shaping up to be challenging and promising, Stella was kind and helpful, she was slowly getting used to and falling in love with LA, but without Miranda, it was all dull and tasteless. None of it mattered when she returned to an empty house, unable to share her experiences and stories and listen to Miranda's right away.

She ate alone, she showered alone, she slept alone, and phone sex was not as fun as it had been made out to be. She was counting down the days until Miranda wrapped up everything back in New York and joined her, for more than a brief visit, in their new life together, their new chapter.

"It won't be long now," Miranda repeated, her voice low and soothing. It was almost--almost--enough for Andy to imagine she was there beside her if she closed her eyes. "And if anyone gives you a hard time, they'll have to deal with me."

Smiling from ear to ear, Andy did close her eyes, promising herself she wouldn't fall asleep. "Awww, I knew you liked me."

 

End.