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Gonna Break Your Heart

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No, I don't want to fall in love
(this world is only gonna break your heart)
With you.

"Wicked Game," as performed by Gemma Hayes

 


 

You’re at a benefit at the Waldorf and it isn’t a particularly large affair, so you notice Andréa Sachs almost immediately.

You have no idea what she’s doing here, how a junior reporter for a second-rate circulation could get invited to this event. And her dress is not designer - isn’t even a particularly complimentary shade of green for her skin tone - but something still loosens inside of you at seeing her again. Something you’d do well not to examine too closely, as it feels a great deal like nostalgia. Cloying sentimentality.

But then you see Christian Thompson beside her. Watch as he puts his hand on the small of her back and offers her that insufferably insolent smile of his, and that feeling within you dissolves. You watch two different people congratulate Thompson for something and he preens and preens, Andréa on his arm like some kind of enfleshed embellishment to his ego.

But this, at least, explains her presence. She’s here to serve as a decoration for someone else.

You’re disappointed in this, let alone that she’s here for him. Though really it serves you right for not knowing better; for having elevating this silly girl in the privacy of your memory. Thinking her perhaps different than the others.

There are no assistants with you tonight, only Nigel by your side. Tonight he is, for the most part, painless company, and an asset in any room. Especially as there are no more 'Mister Priestly's' waiting in the wings to stand beside you out in public. You have decided those days are over.

Andréa has to know that you are here - has to hear your voice among the dozens of others just as you hear hers. But she never makes eye contact, always seems to have her back to you in whatever cluster of people she’s among. After an hour of looking over only to see the elegant slope of her shoulders and the back of her head (her hair pinned up simply if not unflatteringly) you give yourself a stern lecture for having an inkling of interest to begin with.

You cannot fathom why you ever saw yourself in this girl.

Nigel’s making the rounds on his own now, as the the time you have to spend here is mercifully winding down. The next time you look to find him he’s standing in a group that contains Andréa, and he’s holding the young woman’s hands playfully, her head thrown back in laughter as he regales her with some apparently elaborate tale. She’s still laughing, pressing her forehead into his chest as she inelegantly guffaws, and it’s such a telling act of familiarity and affection that it gives you a lingering moment of pause.

Nigel has never spoken this woman’s name since she left you in Paris. Has never hinted at the friendship he’s obviously continued with the ex-assistant at whom he’s now smiled more in the last five minutes than he’s at smiled at you in the last year. And none of this seems to surprise to you, now that it’s staring you in the face, but apparently it you didn't realize it until it was.

Your powers of observation must be slipping, so you chide yourself accordingly.

“I’m on deadline,” you hear Andréa groan to Nigel.

“You can’t spare thirty minutes? For the man who saved your shapely behind repeatedly? It’s one drink, Six!”

“I can’t,” Andréa apologizes. “Not tonight. I shouldn’t even be at this. Except, ya know. . .”

“Christian’s big night.”

You glance back over them as Andréa nods in reply, her face the picture of strained feminine obligation. How painfully and unsurprisingly boring.

“I see your taskmaster’s here,” Thompson says to Nigel, having reappeared with a small group of smirking, similarly insolent people around him. You can't see Nigel's reaction but you can see Andrea's; watch with interest when her face appears annoyed rather than amused.

You aren't able to hear what’s said after that exactly, because you’ve been talking with someone else this entire time, straining to watch and listen to a conversation that is not your own while simultaneously appearing engaged. But from Thompson’s grand, mocking tone, you assume he’s making some clever joke at your expense, the group around him laughing heartily because people always find jokes about Miranda Priestly so terribly amusing - when they think they can enjoy them with impunity.

The group’s laughter comes to a strangled end, and when you turn again you see that Andréa has fixed her escort with an impressively icy glare.

“How fortunate you can take comfort in mockery when discussing someone of superior skill and talent,” Andréa says to her own escort, and in a tone you’d swear she's borrowed from you. Except everything about this rage is decidedly her own, not merely some poor impersonation of Miranda Priestly.

You keep the smile off your lips until later, in your car. Decide not to be angry that Andréa avoided you the whole evening, doing everything in her power to keep a room of people between herself and you.

Affection is transient anyway, and there are so many things you prize above it.

 

. . .

 

You don’t run into Andréa for a long time after seeing her that once, on the arm of Christian Thompson. You hear her name on occasion, in the halls of your own  magazine, after she has a string of success landing freelance work at a few top-tier publications.Some of your staff’s chatter is complimentary, others are speculative; they posit various theories of Andréa trading personal information about Miranda Priestly in exchange for publication.

It’s something you consider yourself. Andréa’s writing may, admittedly, show merit, but so little of publishing is determined by merit alone. You’d be a fool not to entertain the possibility. So you wait. And you watch. But nothing appears about you in the gossip columns other than the usual fabrications and marginally accurate guesses, and after a while you dismiss the thought entirely.

You do, however, occasionally attempt to bait Nigel into bringing Andréa up, but it never works. Not even when you leave a copy of the The New Yorker on your desk the week that Andréa’s article appears inside of it.

“Is there anything else, Miranda?” Nigel asks you, the palm of one hand pressed directly and presumptuously onto your desk. His fingers nearly atop the magazine that contains Andréa’s article.

This isn’t war he’s going to let you win. This is the point to which your friendship with Nigel has devolved; petty stand-offs about a third party to whom you yourself haven’t spoken in years.

You decide it isn’t worth the argument. Not worth risking the fragile, rustling bit of affection Nigel still feels, in spite of all he knows you’ve robbed from him.

“That’s all,” you tell him calmly. And he turns on his heel as you stare hard at his retreating back.

You spin around in your chair sometime later and face the city you’ve built your career in. Wonder if Andréa Sachs ever remembers this building, this office, with anything softer than revulsion

 

. . .

 

When you see Andréa at the annual publishing awards, it’s been five years since she quit your employ. Your breath catches slightly when you see her because she looks surprisingly exquisite in her gown, even if her makeup isn’t quite right for the cream silk she’s wearing. You’re strangely pleased to see her; so intent on speaking with her that you almost forget you’re bookended by assistants who are (no doubt) analyzing your every expression.

“Find out who that woman came with,” you tell the smarter, less elegant of the two. “I need water,” you say to the second, though you have a full glass in hand.

Nigel finds you because he always manages to find you, and he looks you at with a spreading smirk because he knows you’ve noticed she’s here.

“Do they now hand out invitations to this event on the subway?” you ask him, though the insults sounds flat even to your own ears.

“Her two pieces for The New Yorker are half the reason they’re up for that one award tonight,” Nigel says to you. “Are you going to tell me this is news to you?”

“No,” you admit. “I am aware.”

You’ve read everything Andréa’s written and you know how her talent has progressed. But you also know that she has no chance of being made a staff writer for The New Yorker , not even if hers are some of the better ideas the publication has published in recent memory. She’s simply too young, too inexperienced on paper, and this isn’t the way the game is played. A part you quietly worries that Andréa, in all her optimism, hasn’t figured this out yet.

You hope she’ll realize later that not landing something full-time there is actually a blessing in disguise. As much prestige as The New Yorker offers, it doesn’t afford its full-time writers any promise of real tenure. It’s a publication that rabidly and unapologetically eats his own; a practice of which you wholeheartedly approve. Normally. 

“She’s here with Peter Morehouse,” Nigel tells you, and your eyebrows draw up.

“I suppose even gay men desire the decoration of young, beautiful women,” you sneer. Mentally cringe a moment later when you realize you’ve called the girl beautiful.

“Peter does like to make an entrance,” Nigel says of The New Yorker ’s Editor-in-chief, if with a softness you find rather odd. “But I’m of the impression there might be an actual friendship there.”

“Friendship,” you repeat with mocking. “As if anyone’s with Peter’s level of professional success could conceivably commune with some struggling journalist.”

You’ve known Peter for years. The two of you rose to power of your respective publications around the same time, and you went through your divorce from the twins' father a year after Peter split with his longtime partner. (Although following that public disaster, Peter seemingly made the enviable decision to give up long-term relationships all together while you, regrettably, talked yourself into still another marriage.) Your townhouses happen to be almost across from each other. Peter's daughter Hannah attends the same private school as your own girls.

Peter has everything in common with you and absolutely nothing in common with someone like Andréa.

“Inconceivable,” Nigel parrots back, but in that sarcastic tone that’s now forever on his lips when he’s alone with you.

“Her lipstick choice is regrettable,” you note with feigned disinterest.

“Her dress is flawless,” Nigel sniffs, and adjust his glasses.

“It’s acceptable,” you allow, and this earns you the first thoroughly sincere smile you’ve received from Nigel in longer than you can recall.

“Your Pellegrino, Miranda,” your assistant says, reappearing at your side.

“Pellegrino?” you repeat. “Why on earth why I need water when I have a full glass? Honestly.” And when your other assistant appears, no doubt bearing the information you’ve already acquired, you dismiss her with a mere jerk of your head.

It takes a while for you to corner Peter alone. There’s a room full of people tripping over their own feet if only to speak a sentence to either of you, and the few times neither of you is surrounded, Andréa is by Peter's side and they’re deep in conversation. Completely consumed, talking politics or biographies or little-known Mark Twain essays.

“You don’t believe that,” you hear Andréa say to Peter, in a presumptuous tone you would never stand for even Nigel to adopt with you.

“Andy, I do too!" Peter chuckles, and his use of that vulgar nickname makes you wince a bit. Sometimes it’s still painfully obvious that Peter hails from one of those rectangular states that starts with a vowel.

“You don’t,” Andréa tells him. “You’re just adopting that outdated thesis because you know it makes me so annoyed that my head spins off.”

“I’m not that contrary!” Peter defends.

“You’re nothing but contrary,” Andréa laughs at him.

People around them hear this and laugh along now, and you feel decidedly chagrined at Peter. Embarrassed on his behalf that he lets someone so junior to him in power take such liberties in public. Mock him in front of people whose fear and admiration he’s cultivated at lengthy, pained expense.

“Can I borrow your date?” a woman you recognize as being from Vogue asks of Peter, and Peter winks at Andréa.

“Just remember to leave with the editor who brought you,” Peter comments to her. “Especially if you get talking to Anna.”

Anna.  Bloody unlikely, you think.

You extract yourself from the conversation you’re engaged in but haven’t been paying any real attention to, gliding over to where Peter now stands alone.

“Miranda,” he smiles, and kisses your cheek. Actually kisses it. Only Peter dares.

“Watch the makeup, darling,” you admonish him. “I’m out of your price range.”

“You’re out of everyone’s price range,” Peter chuckles, behind his glass of wine. “That’s why you’re worshiped.”

“Speaking of worship . . .” you smirk, and glance meaningfully in Andréa’s direction.

“You of all people should know that Andy’s not capable of worship. She’s too honest for the things that worshiping requires."

Peter’s tone is light and yet it carries an accusation. You can’t help but to be annoyed at this, because as shrewd as Peter is in business, he’s usually a coward outside of the boardroom. Gave a fair chunk of his fortune to his ex just to satisfy the man’s bruised feelings. Let the details of his daughter’s birth be dragged before the press because he didn’t have the spine to legally crush a man he used to love. Peter’s idiotic kindness not even mattering in the end, his ex dying in a skiing accident in Aspen a year after the custody issues were laid to rest.

Whatever male company Peter has chosen to keep since, you’ve never met them and Peter only appears at public function with women everyone knows he’s isn’t sleeping with. Which is a choice you've always seen a fair amount of logic in, until now. Women being so decidedly less prone to public displays of behavior that prove socially and politically problematic.

“I recall Andréa acquiring my lattes as I prefer them,” you purse your lips. “I have no memory of her capabilities beyond that.”

“Miranda,” Peter breathes out forcefully. Plasters a fake smile upon his face because people have begun to stare at the two of you. “Lay off her.”

It’s as openly menacing a tone as you can ever remember Peter using in social setting, let alone with you. Isn’t it fascinating that he’s using it defend the likes of Andréa Sachs?

“We both know you can’t make her one of your full-time writers,” you hiss. “What is this public outing supposed to be? Some kind of consolation prize?”

“That’s rich,” Peter says, and tosses back his wine. “Miranda Priestly worrying about the career of an assistant she fired years ago.”

“She wasn’t fired,” you correct him without thinking. And it’s unfortunate thing to say, a regrettable thing to highlight, but people spouting factual inaccuracies simply chafes you beyond reason.

“I know that,” Peter amends softly.

“Good,” you say, and sip your water.

“Miranda,” he begins again. Rolls his eyes heavenward, as if his own floundering, trivial excuses can be bolstered by Divine power. “I genuinely like Andy. And she knows exactly what my friendship does and doesn’t mean for her career.”

You find that hard to believe. Improbable that a young woman of not even thirty years of age can know the doors that will slam shut on her if she’s too closely linked with Peter Morehouse. The stench of nepotism that follows any woman too closely associated with a powerful man.

“She has a future,” you tell Peter, despite your better judgment. “I will not take kindly to you impeding it.”

“Be careful, darling,” Peter tsks at you. “That sounded dangerously close to an expression of loyalty to another person.”

“Hm,” you scowl halfheartedly. Allow Peter kiss your cheek again.

 

. . .

 

“Six!” Nigel calls to Andréa, more loudly than strictly necessary. He has, rather unfortunately if quite understandably, surpassed his three-drink limit on this occasion. “Look at you in that tiny black dress! So scandalous of you, Miss Ohio.”

“Dear god,” Andréa mutters, seemingly taking a look at Nigel’s appearance. Those flushed cheeks of his. “How much have you had?”

“Enough,” Nigel singsongs, and Andréa takes him by the hand. Looks at you with a pained expression.

“You may have him,” you say to her, giving your most condescending smirk.

“Thanks,” Andréa rolls her eyes.

You’d normally strike a person down for that. But as it's the closest thing to casual conversation the two of you have exchanged in the eight months that she’s been showing up to these events with Peter, you choose to let it pass.

It’s a party for another editor that neither you nor Peter particularly care about. Merely a social expectation that you’ll show up to this crowded, poorly decorated apartment in a historic building on Riverside Drive, and in which everything is expensive if in hideously poor taste.

“Did I just see you pawn your drunken lieutenant off on Andy?” Peter asks you a few moments later, saddling up beside you.

“She took Nigel on of her own volition,” you reply. Motion with some irritation for the first waiter you’ve seen in ten minutes to replace both of your empty glasses.

“At least the wine is drinkable,” Peter says, looking around.

“I’ve already put in my time,” you tell him with satisfaction. “I have every intention of making my exit shortly.”

“Who will keep me company when you leave?” Peter pouts dramatically, wrapping an arm around you. The man is such an unrepentant flirt.

“Isn’t that why you have Andy?” you ask him. Affect your best mid-western drawl for that insufferable truncation of an otherwise beautiful name.

“Funny that you always sound jealous whenever she comes up,” he comments, raising an eyebrow.

“You must be joking. What in heaven’s name could I possibly want with a man whose ego is as big as mine?”

“Want with me? Nothing, I’m sure,” Peter concedes. “But that’s not what I meant when I called you jealous.”

You’re just about eviscerate Peter for whatever he’s just implied when Andréa returns, now sans an inebriated Nigel.

“I put him in a cab,” she announces with a sigh. Sips at the red wine she’s drinking and then looks down at it in disdain. “This Cabernet is awful,” she whispers to Peter, obviously dismayed.

“The Pinot gris that’s floating around is middling,” you find yourself telling her, and nod to your glass.

“Good to know,” Andréa says. Plucks Peter’s glass of Pinot out of his hand and trades it for her own glass with an innocent smile. “Thanks,” she winks at Peter.

You try not to glare at her lack of manners.

“Well,” Peter says. Gives a bark of laughter. “I guess I better fetch another glass of drinkable wine, now that mine has been stolen.”

Peter gets only a few steps before he’s surrounded by people ‘only wanting a word’, and you’re abruptly grateful for Andréa’s company since it affords you some protection. Rare is the idiot who’ll disturb you when you are already engaged in conversation. This is half the reason you insist on Nigel’s company to almost everything.

“Are your fifteen minutes almost up here?” Andréa asks you knowingly. Affords you the same detached, courteous tone she’s used with you the dozen times you’ve had your inevitably brief exchanges at these events.

“Already elapsed,” you reply. Allow yourself to sound relieved.

It’s here that you spot Christian Thompson in a nearby room, right in Andréa’s line of sight.  So you wait for a reaction from her that does not come, which tells you that she has, finally, acquired something of a poker face.

She doesn’t say anything more to you, and this makes you more uncomfortable than it should. The girl did work for you after all, and she keenly knows how you detest small talk. Odd that you now worry that her silence has everything to do with our own preferences and nothing to do with yours.

“I read the piece Runway ran on the changing market of luxury consumption,” Andréa turns abruptly and says to you, when Thompson begins to wave to her. "Not your usual fare."

"Is that the only article you dained to read in Runway?" you ask her pointedly. Are delighted when she gives you a cool sideways glance. It appears she no longer blithely tolerates being tested.

Good.

"No," she admits to you after a long pause, sounding rather torn. "I read a fair number of issues cover to cover."

"You’ll understand if that surprises me," you tell her. But apparently your smile isn't the menacing one you meant to produce, as her lips twitch into the smallest of grins.

"The Hermès spread you ran the other month had more yellow in it than I thought you'd ever allow in an entire issue."

This gets your attention.

"Blame Nigel for that shoot," you narrow your eyes. "That was his mangled inspiration."

"It turned out beautifully," Andréa sighs, sounding wistful. Perhaps something more painful than wistful. "Aspirational in that anguished way that only you can produce."

It's a compliment that shouldn't mean much, coming from someone who had such a limited view of your publication. Irrational that it feels like the entire universe has paused for you, just because this woman managed to see into your intentions.

"It came out as best as I had hoped," you allow. Find yourself brushing her arm softly, as if in thanks.

Peter comes back at this exact moment, and you ignore his amused, insufferably jovial expression. If you've managed to indulge Andréa in two minutes of small talk, he should consider it a favor to him.

"Where's your wine?" Andréa asks him.

"Not worth going through two more rooms to get it," Peter glowers.

"Time to go?" Andréa asks hopefully, and Peter takes his white wine back from her, finishing it one tip of the glass.

"I'm calling a retreat, ladies."

"By all means," you agree. Allow yourself to be navigated by Peter's hand against the small of your back.

"Your coat," Peter apparently remembers, turning to Andréa. You and Peter both had the same the presence of mind to hang onto to your own.

"Willing to let it be collateral damage," she mutters. "Let's just get out of here."

You get outside to find that Peter's car is waiting but yours is not. When you phone your second assistant to demand an explanation, she sputters some nonsense about having expected you to stay later.

"Miranda, just come with us," Peter tells you. "You live across the street from me - literally. It's no trouble."

You're a stubborn person, so of course you don't relent easily. Not to mention that standing outside in the cold for any length of time means you can feel reasonable for firing someone over this.

"Miranda, it's freezing," Andréa implores. Looks ridiculous standing outside of Peter's car because she isn't even wearing a coat over her paper-thin Michael Kors dress. She's already shivering, this week proving unseasonably cold for early October. "You can still fire her. Your prerogative. Please, just get in already."

Peter's car is smaller than yours, its backseat not built for three adults. Andréa's in the middle, apparently trying her best not to touch you, but this means she's comically squishing against Peter.

"Andréa, do feel free to move over,” you chide. “I'm sure that Peter would prefer to exhale freely."

"I'm perfectly comfortable," Peter disagrees. Rests his head against Andréa's. "It's warmer this way."

You turn to face out the window because such a display of physical affection doesn't sit comfortably with you. Keep your eyes trained to the side as Andréa yawns and Peter begins to talk to her in a contented tone.

"Hannah wants you to have breakfast at the house," he tells her. "You should just stay the night."

"I don't have any of my work with me," she replies. "I can't."

"I can send someone over to fetch your things for you tomorrow morning. Maybe Simon."

"Simon isn't setting foot inside my apartment," Andréa insists. "If anyone goes, I prefer it to be Mary."

"Why don't you trust Simon?" Peter asks, and from the tension in his voice you sense this is the beginning of an old argument.

You begin to think it would have been preferable to wait for your own car, out in the cold.

"Simon's done nothing to earn your loyalty," Andréa tells him. "He's incompetent and lazy, and I don't trust him to keep his mouth shut if someone from Page Six offered him a big enough bribe."

"Andy!"

"I mean it," Andréa pushes. "You're in no position to be taking in stray cats."

"She's right, Peter," you say, although only God knows why you think to wade into this. You don't even know the employees they're discussing. "Not everyone's as loyal as Andréa and you'd do well to protect yourself more."

Peter looks positively beside himself when you spare a glance in his direction, though you expect Andréa to be grateful for the help, certainly pleased by your compliment. You don't know what to make of it when you note that her expression is completely blank.

"I saw Caroline's dance recital last month," Andréa changes the subject. "Peter invited me to go watch Hannah and I spotted Caroline in the next class."

"To be accurate," Peter chimes in, "Hannah clamored for Andréa's appearance and Andréa was kind enough to accept the invitation.”

"Caroline's a beautiful dancer," Andréa comments softly. "I was surprised that she recognized me and waved."

"I suspect your Harry Potter acquisition made quite the lasting impression," you admit.

"Harry Potter acquisition?" Peter asks. And you abruptly regret your last comment, now having to relive that particular memory.

"Just a last minute travel accessory for the girls," Andréa replies to Peter, her tone deceptively light.

God. She manages to make it sound so casual. You almost believe for a second she doesn't seethe with anger, remembering the cruelty you so contentedly inflicted on that occasion.

"Sorry you didn't get to have any worthwhile conversations at the party," Peter says to Andréa, after the car’s turned onto 76th Street.

"I did, actually," she corrects him. But she doesn't elaborate and he's left to wonder, Andréa meeting your inquisitive gaze for the briefest moment.

"Who wants a night cap?" Peter asks, sliding out of the stopped car.

You should decline because The Book is probably waiting for you. But then it occurs to you that the girls are with their father. And your own house feels so painfully empty when they're away.

"If we must," you agree. Follow the two of them up the stairs and into Peter’s home.

Andréa lets out a long yawn, once inside of Peter’s foyer. "I think I'm too tired for a drink," she says. Kisses Peter on the cheek and begins to walk toward the stairs. "You two have fun."

"Sweet dreams," Peter calls to her.

"Goodnight, Andréa," you bid, because failing to say something would be impolite. Stand in the same spot and watch her climb the stairs until she gets to the top and turns around. Blows you a little kiss before she trudges down the hall.

Blows you a kiss. How ridiculous of the girl to even contemplate such a thing. You turn around and Peter is staring at you with an odd expression on his face.

"I’ll require a cognac to erase the memory of that horribly decorated apartment," you say, and Peter nods.

You try not to look around his home because you have been here many times before. No need for you stare into his dining room and wonder how many times per week Andréa eats there, likely sitting across from Peter’s child.

Odd to picture her sitting in this very room, in her pajamas and bare feet, writing away on her laptop. Keys clicking away under slender fingers and the soft light of morning.

 

. . .

Chapter Text

 And I hate, and I hate -
elevator music,
the way we fight.
The way I'm left here, silent.

  - Tori Amos, "Little Earthquakes"


 

“It’s your birthday,” Peter says to Andréa. “I want to make a fuss.”

“I don’t need a fuss,” Andréa shakes her head. Pushes her bangs into place with an efficient flick of an index finger, a motion that you find mildly fascinating. “I’m a non-fuss kind of girl.”

“But you’re turning twenty-nine” Peter replies. “You should have a big party.”

Twenty-nine,” Nigel drawls, and you silently agree. “How tempting it is to forget that you’re a child.”

The four of you are standing together at an afternoon cocktail party thrown by The New Yorker. It’s Peter’s show, his court over which to reign. But you do so wish that he didn’t have Andréa at his side on this single occasion. The girl’s been on receiving ends of open stares and barely contained smirk since she arrived, and though she’s handled it more gracefully than most would (at her age, or any other), you can only assume it’s taking its toll.

“I think I’d like some air,” you announce, and Nigel looks at you expectantly. “Andréa, would you accompany me?”

How obnoxious that all three of them look so very baffled at this simple request.

“I would prefer to go this decade,” you say to Andréa, and she immediately moves to follow you. Perhaps it's out of latent instinct, a kneejerk reaction to your impatient tone, but it’s been some years since she was your assistant and you doubt she would allow herself to slide into those habits easily.

Andréa is still utterly recognizable to you, but she is not the same wide-eyed creature whom you once employed. She no longer stammers when nervous and her smiles are not given as freely. She has apparently learned that kindness has it costs.

“Late March is my favorite,” she breathes out, looking out at the city beyond the courtyard you’re in. “Still cool enough for scarves and boots.”

You make a noise of agreement in the back of your throat, even though you associate March with endless travel and little sleep.  Days and days away from your daughters.

“Is there a reason you don’t care for birthday parties?” you ask her, thinking about the conversation earlier.

It’s one of many you’ve overhead in the last months, as you and Nigel inevitably end up standing next to Peter and Andréa at events. Lingering there because at least the conversation isn’t entirely boresome and no one within said cohort is going to ask you for any favors.

‘Playing in mixed pairs.’ That’s what you once heard Nigel call your little foursome once, when he and Peter were talking. And you hadn’t thought the jest a funny one; didn’t find it amusing that the only person left on your arm is Nigel or that Andréa’s devoting her time to an older man who mostly delights in her youthful optimism.

But you know your annoyance won’t change the truth. Playing in mixed pairs.

“I’ve never liked big birthday parties,” Andréa tells you. “My least favorite thing in the world is people staring at me.”

“Than I believe you picked the wrong friend,” you warn her. She opens her mouth to say something but then closes it a moment later. Runs a hand along her Armani dress (a nervous tick, you long ago noticed and of which she’s yet to rid herself), picking an imaginary speck of lint off the Prussian blue lace.

“He gives as a good as he gets,” she says after a judicious pause. “He’s a loyal person.”

You believe that she means it. You have known Peter for over twenty years and judge him to be a kinder, more thoughtful person than you have ever been, even if that kindness often leads to regrettable inaction. Recall being deeply frightened for him five years ago, when there were rumors in the press about his health. Peter having dropped twenty pounds and looking ill all the time. People in certain circles starting to whisper ‘cancer’ and you worried they might be right.

But never Peter said anything on the topic, and eventually he regained the weight. Everyone else put it down to stress; the extra professional demands tacked on by the worsening economy. And yet there are time when you do still wonder, as there's something different about Peter since that period. The way he sometimes behaves as if cares less about people think. Carries on as if he's peered over the edge of a cliff and no longer judges many things worthy of the fear he used to attach to them.

“He will throw you a party no matter what you tell him,” you say to Andrea now. “You should accept this reality as one you cannot change.”

“Will you convince him to make it small?” she asks in return. A simple request that still stuns you, as you can’t remember this girl ever asking you for anything. “He listens to you.”

“Everyone listens to me,” you deadpan, and after a moment Andréa starts to laugh.

Everyone,” she repeats. “Right.”

It’s probably a veiled reference to that car ride with her in Paris. Your last conversation with her as your assistant. And her amusement here should anger you; it should produce pain in you, which in turn would make you want to reduce the source of that discomfort to ashes.

How strange to instead find yourself smiling along with her and feeling deeply relieved.

You realize that you’ve been waiting a conversation about Paris - her leaving you without an assistant in your most important week of the year. Have gone months now, looking at Andréa with this vague feeling of dread curled within you. Waiting for one of you to directly address the fact that she walked away from you, despite that she is a person who  rarely walks away from anything, no matter how unpleasant.  What that, logically, must entail about how she felt about that job. How she felt about you.

You draw a painless breath, comforted by the idea that this was probably the most either of you will ever reference the events of Paris.

“You understand that Peter can’t make you a staff writer,” you say to her, suddenly somber. “Not for a long time.”

“Miranda,” Andréa furrows her brow. Looks at you like you’re obtuse. “I know Peter will never make a staff writer. Not now. Not even if I have a thousand articles to my name.”

She’s right. You didn’t voice as much because you thought it cruel. Which is a rare thing for you to do, refraining from voicing something because it’s needlessly unpleasant. You didn’t even notice yourself making the omission.

“And you don’t mind this?” you ask her. “You don’t resent the cost of Peter’s friendship?”

“I resent  that I walk into a room and people immediately start talking,” Andréa says. Gestures with a slight tilt of her head back to the party and the crowd of Peter’s glaring underlings. “But that isn’t Peter’s fault.”

It isn’t not Peter’s fault either, however, and Andréa must know this. Surely she must understand this.

But for some reason you’re unwilling to push the subject with her and so instead you say, “the gossip will bother you less and less. . . It takes effort, but you will become immune.”

She gives you an incredulous look, perhaps doubting that she can ever be completely unmoved by such slights. But then her stare lingers and you realize that she, of course, already knows that not even you are immune. Has seen evidence of this firsthand.

“The mindless chatter of those peons is beyond your concern,” you roll your eyes. Try to ignore that lingering stare as you give a mirthless smile, “it’s doubly ridiculous of them given that you’re obviously not some sexual conquest for Peter.”

“Well I’m sure that’s half of what they resent,” Andréa shrugs, and this has you baffled.

“I don’t follow,” you admit, squinting at her.

“Well if I was sleeping with him I’d at least be doing some good, old-fashioned work,” she elaborates. Gives you a wicked smile.

You try to stop your snicker but you can’t. She’s probably right. Peter’s little minions likely do hate that Andréa gets invited to all the events and is allowed all the important introductions. Managed to catch Peter’s eye, earn his trust and affection, and with nothing so degrading as sexual favors.

“We should get back in,” Andréa tells you after your laughter dies in your throat. “There must be a power vacuum forming in the room, Miranda Priestly being absent from it for so long.”

There’s a certain cynicism about her tone, a kind of understanding of the world that Andréa didn’t possess before. In a strange, childish way, it pains you to hear it.

You think back to that night at Peter’s house months ago, Andréa blowing you that silly kiss from the top of the stairs. That turgid feeling of pain abates.

“I’m certain everyone’s relieved for my absence,” you say softly.

Andréa’s shoulder bumps you slightly as she murmurs, “not everyone.”

 

. . .

 

 

“Peter,” you hiss into your phone when he calls you at your office. “I do not have time for this.”

“It’s her birthday party,” Peter says again. As if you somehow missed that in the last two minutes of him wasting your time.

When he called you himself, no lowly staffer indicating they were calling on behalf of Mister Morehouse, your second assistant put him right through. You judged her competent for doing so until you realized why Peter has phoned.

“Peter,” you growl into the phone, “it’s Andréa’s birthday. Therefore you should be inviting her friends. Not your own.”

That,” Peter says with some frustration, “is exactly what I am doing.”

“Oh,” you manage. How eloquent of you.

“Consider yourself invited,” he snarks. And immediately hangs up.

Two days later you barge into Nigel’s office while he’s in a meeting with someone from the art department, the employee in question fleeing the second you interrupt her mid-sentence and give her a cool look.

“I require a present for Andréa’s birthday,” you tell Nigel. “Please pick out something appropriate from the Closet.”

“I assume I’m to present it to her when I go to her party?” he asks with an expressionless face.

“It appears I will be attendance and will present it myself,” you reply flatly.

Nigel gives you a long look, clearly torn as to whether he wants to advise you about something, but instead he simply stares down at some notes on his desk and nods, “I’ll find something that suits her tastes.”  

Well. That wasn’t so difficult.

It’s three days later that your girls ambush you about Andréa’s party, over dinner.  

“Hannah told us about Andy’s birthday,” Caroline tells you. “She invited us.”

“We want to go,” Cassidy says.

“It’s rude of Hannah to invite people to someone else’s birthday party,” you tell them, forking a piece of salad.

“Andy likes us,” Cassidy replies.

“She always says hello to us when she sees us at Dalton,” Caroline tacks on.

Andréa is a polite person and saying hello to an acquaintance's children is the polite thing to do. The girls shouldn’t read it into the gesture, but telling them this is impossible. They don’t yet understand the gray area between genuine affection and dislike.

“She sat next to me at Caroline and Hannah’s last recital,” Cassidy announces.

“Yeah,” Caroline grouses, “you talked to her through my entire solo.”

“I was watching it,” Cassidy defends. "I was just talking to Andy, too. About her new thing in Rolling Stone ."

Thing ?” you raise your eyebrows, your tone one of disappointment.

“Her article,” Cassidy dutifully amends. “It’s about fashion.”

“I was under the impression Andréa cared little for fashion,” you sniff into your wine glass. It’s petulant even to your own ears, but thankfully there’s no one to witness it aside from your own girls.

“She worked for you for a year,” Caroline frowns over her plate.

“Less than a year,” you correct, as if this makes all the difference.

“You go through, like , a hundred assistants in a month,” Cassidy points out. An exaggeration, if a valid point . “And she dresses well so she must care a little about fashion, right?”

“She doesn’t dress as horribly as she once did,” you sigh. “But is there a reason for your devoted interest in Andréa's fashion opinions?”

“She’s writing about fashion’s impact on women. Feminist stuff,” Cassidy shrugs. Goes back to her dinner as if she already knows there’s nothing she can do defend to you her interest in Andréa’s work.

“Feminist stuff,” you repeat with obvious displeasure, and both of your girls refrain from meeting your stare. Likely assume you’re annoyed with Cassidy’s continued use of imprecise nouns rather than this last revelation of Andréa’s writing.

You can’t begin to count the hundreds of articles, books on feminism that have cited your magazine, cited you by name personally. Their tone typically ranging from vague dismissal to rabid vilification, though the combination of the printed words ‘feminism’ and ‘fashion’ invariably leads to certain predictable diatribes.

You remember all your recent conversations with Andréa at those social functions and bristle with something like indignation. Recall her describing a particular spread in Runway  as  ‘aspirational’ and the very memory of that now produces a sneer. Why you ever expected something more from someone who entered your employ with a superior attitude and the absurd belief that fashion was beneath her, you do not know.

Your girls make no further attempt at dinnertime conversation, clearly sensing your change in mood. And you know you shouldn’t take it out on them, your beloved children, but you’ve never been adept at quarantining your discontent.

. . .

 

“We’ll simply have to move the Valentino meeting to Saturday evening,” you tell Nigel, and when he doesn’t respond immediately, you look up from your computer screen.

“That’s the night of Six’s birthday party,” he reminds you softly. As if you could have possibly forgotten.

“I have no interest in going to that,” you inform him and when he keeps staring, you add, “I am certain I can handle a conversation with Maria on my own. While you squander your time at that particular event.”

Not many years ago, you would have allowed your wrath to bloom further. Prevented Nigel from celebrating Andréa, no matter his preference. But you can no longer expect his blind allegiance regardless of your whims, and such demands must now be rationed.

“I already picked out the present you requested,” Nigel informs you. “I’ll give it to her in your absence.”

“Do what you will with it,” you say with disinterest. Don’t add that you’d hate for his present to be cited in her next piece as some kind of crime against women. Don’t permit yourself to dwell on Andréa one second more during the rest of the meeting, Nigel listening studiously as you cooly bemoan Valentino’s current predilection for garish embellishment.

It’s Friday afternoon when you break down and direct your first assistant to get a hold of Andréa’s piece for Rolling Stone . You even give her a needless explanation about wanting to be prepared if Runway is mentioned directly and she freezes here, unaccustomed to you outlining your reasons for anything.

“She must already be circulating a draft,” you snap. “Get a hold of it.”

It takes the incompetent creature an entire day to track the draft down. It appears in your email on your way to the Valentino meeting and you’re uninterested in your assistant’s explanation for the delay. Debate whether to click on the attachment, because in twenty minutes you’ll be meeting with Maria, grasping for diplomatic ways of telling her that what you’ve seen of their next line is enough to bring Garavani himself out of retirement.

But maybe the meeting will be conducted more expediently if you’re already angered and short on diplomacy, you muse. Click on the attachment without any further dithering.

You regret the decision immediately, as after five minutes of scanning it you feel guilt rather than anger. A deeply unpleasant experience for you, given that you’ve long enjoyed a fairly staunch policy against feelings of guilt.

The piece is still in the early draft stages and thus lacking in a completed picture, but what you find is a poignant essay on female identity. More philosophical than the kind of pandering that so often appears in that publication and more suitable for a magazine like The New Yorker . Andréa’s writing is rife with personal narrative (a theme of her recent work), but she never mentions you nor your magazine by name. Never vilifies or lauds even in indirect references.  Leaves the reader with a deep sense of agnosticism about questions so many authors treat as being tidily solved - something you suspect she’ll doubtless receive some harsh push back on from those idiotic, myopic editors at Rolling Stone.

The nuance of Andréa’s unedited approach stirs something in you on which you’re prefer not to reflect.

The meeting with Valentino goes poorly because you are distracted. It takes two hours to accomplish what should have only taken you half that time, and you return home to the townhouse feeling more fatigued than your schedule today should rightfully produce.

You linger outside your door, looking down the street to Peter’s townhouse. All of the lights are on and Andréa’s party is unlikely to have finished, but it is more than three hours since the dinner began and strolling in now would be decidedly beyond arriving fashionably late . You refuse to stand any longer on your own stoop, pushing open your door to find the ground floor silent. Unusual for this time of evening but perhaps the girls are simply in their rooms.

It takes about ten minutes of searching for you to discover that they aren’t home at all.

On the dining room table you find a polite, carefully printed note informing you that they have gone to Andréa’s party as they thought it ‘socially remiss’ for not a single representative of the Priestly family to appear. The writing is Cassidy’s although the words are all Caroline’s, and you allow yourself a sigh. Have only yourself to blame that your daughters have learned that it’s more expedient to simply seize what they want rather than to hesitate, waiting for permission.

You can’t find it within yourself to be upset with them.

Still, another hour goes by and you grow concerned that they are still out. Their father will be collecting them very early tomorrow morning and both girls are dreadful to deal with when they haven’t properly rested. You send a text to both of them, ordering them to come home. And when that goes unanswered you call Cassidy’s cell phone. The call goes directly to voicemail and the same happens when you call Caroline.

Teenagers are so obstinate. Factor in that these particular teens owe half of their genetics to you, and. . . Well .

You slips your heels back on and then your scarf. Grab your clutch and keys before marching down to Peter’s, refusing to entertain the embarrassment doggedly trailing you.

“Miranda,” Peter smiles upon seeing you, if clearly sounding confused. “I thought you were otherwise occupied tonight.”

“I was,” you reply. “There’s just the small matter of fetching my offspring.”

“They’re out on the patio with Hannah and Andy,” Peter tells you. Walks with you through the empty townhouse, the party now clearly over. Even the caterers have gone for the night.

“Miranda,” Nigel says upon seeing you. Has apparently just come in from the same door to which Peter’s led you, Nigel now stopping in his tracks. Allows himself to look surprised for only a moment before he schools his expression and says, “I hope everything with Valentino went smoothly.”

“It did not,” you admit. You don’t elaborate and Nigel knows better than to ask you questions, so instead he shifts his gaze from you to Peter.

“Thank you for the lovely dinner, Peter,” he says. “I just said farewell to the birthday girl, so I’ll be on my way.”

You follow Peter out his carefully manicured patio, not at all surprised to find your girls prattling on to Andréa about something she can’t possibly be interested in. They’re sitting in chairs across from her, Andréa stretched out in a chaise lounge and Peter’s daughter wedged onto it with her, the girl’s head propped against Andréa’s side, a cheek pressed to the eggplant cashmere of Andréa’s sweater.

Hannah is so much a reflection of her father. Dark hair, pale skin, with green, expressive eyes. Obviously free of any of the reservations concerning demonstrations of affection that your own daughters were raised to have.

“Well hello,” Andréa says to you, pausing mid-sentence the second she notes your presence.

“Hello,” you return. Force yourself to smile at her before directing your attention to your children. “Girls, I do not appreciate you turning your cell phones off. It is now quite late and you’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning with your father, so please bid your farewells.”

Andréa obviously appears to suppress a smile upon seeing the twins’ sullen looks. Caroline bids her happy birthday while Cassidy skulks behind her. You watch as Cassidy decides after a moment to step forward, pressing a tentative kiss to Andréa’s cheek.

“Thank you for my present,” Andréa murmurs, holding Cassidy in place and then dropping a kiss into her red hair. “It was very thoughtful.”

“Goodnight, Andréa,” Caroline says, with unnecessary volume. The girls have always been competitive about attention.

“Goodnight, Caroline,” Andréa replies dutifully. “I look forward to seeing your performance next week.”

“You’re coming?” Caroline brightens.

“She has to,” Hannah replies immediately. “She promised.”

Behind you, Peter laughs.

“Time to go girls,” you hurry them along.

“We can go home alone,” Cassidy tells you. “If you want to stay.”

“We’ll already packed,” Caroline says. “We can just go home and go to bed.”

You give them a dubious expression, not trusting either of those things to be true.

“Bed for you, too,” Peter tells Hannah, and the girl detaches herself from Andréa with significant reluctance. Then he adds, looking at you, “Miranda, I can walk the girls home if you’d like to stay and have a glass of wine.”

You tell yourself it's impolite to turn this down after missing a party you’d previously agreed to attend, but then Andréa gives you the briefest of polite smiles before looking at Peter meaningfully. “I think Miranda’s had a long enough day,” she says.

If there was the faintest trace of accusation in her voice, you’d find it easy to leave. Simple to dismiss the childish impulses of a young woman and whatever bruises she thinks you’ve dealt to her immature feelings. But she doesn’t grant you even that small reprieve. Simply hugs Hannah once more, and picks up a book that’s been beside her.

“That’s kind of you to offer,” you say to Peter. “I believe I’ll avail myself of it, yes.”

If this surprises Andréa, she doesn’t show it. Merely continues to leaf through the leather bound book in her hands as you kiss your children goodnight and then issue stern instructions.

“There’s wine in the kitchen. Including an open bottle of your favorite Amarone,” Andréa tells you, once the two of you are alone. “Food too, if you haven’t eaten.”

You have not eaten, though food does not appeal. Wine most certainly does.

The kitchen is just inside and you find the two open wine bottles easily. Hesitate for a moment because it’s socially appropriate to bring Andréa a glass as well. But of course you have no idea which she'd prefer, her time as your assistant not facilitating any knowledge of her own tastes. So you bring both bottles back out, a silent admission as to your indecision. Place both the bottles and the glasses on the table beside her lounge as you contemplate the chaise beside hers.

“They might be impossible to get in and out of elegantly,” she says, apparently reading your mind, “but they are comfortable enough to be worth the  ding to one’s dignity.”

She’s right, they are. You’re grateful that you chose a pantsuit rather than a skirt today, as otherwise reclining at this angle would create a greater conflict between comfort and propriety.

“Bon anniversaire,” you say after a considerable time is passed in silence.

“Merci,” she murmurs. Fills a heavy crystal glass with Amarone and hands it to you. Then fills one for herself, as you file the preference away.

“Did Peter refrain from inviting half the city?” you inquire.

“He kept it to about thirty people,” she sighs. “Which is about twenty-five too many, in my opinion.”

You give a derisive snort of agreement. Suddenly pleased to have missed the party proper. Happy to allow yourself the indulgence of this instead.

“So. Did my Rolling Stone article pass the Priestly test?” Andréa asks now, with an impressively emotionless voice.

You’re grateful for the low lighting of the patio and the fact that Andréa’s not bothering to look at you, because otherwise she would surely see your uncharacteristic flinch.

“I’m not sure that there was a test, exactly,” you reply with detachment, after you’ve collected yourself for a moment.

It isn’t anything close to the truth, which is a rare thing for you to allow yourself. But you aren’t going to hand over all of your innermost thoughts just because this girl managed to catch you in something.

“Of course there was a test,” Andréa chuckles. But the sound is free of any joy, replete with shades of pain. And anger. Yes, definitely anger. “Why else would you order your assistant to track down a draft of an article by a lowly freelance writer, and for a magazine you aren’t even in direct competition with?”

“May I ask what my inept fool of an assistant did to alert you?” you ask instead. Deflect her anger with your own.

“If she were inept she wouldn’t have gotten as far she did,” Andréa informs you. “It was an impossible task to assign someone.”

“I do not give impossible tasks,” you whisper icily, but regret the words as soon as they’re out of your mouth. Feel abruptly foolish for lending voice to such a shortsighted lie in front of this woman, of all people. This former employee who forever endeared yourself to your girls by once performing a miracle; accomplishing the impossible thing you meant to be her humiliating final task.

And you can feel her rage. Can hear her angry puffs of air beside you. But she doesn’t lash out, doesn’t leap upon you the moment you give her the regrettable opening.

“So am I to infer that you deliberately leaked the draft?” you demand of her, because having only part of the truth is unacceptable.

“Once I realized who was poking around, ” Andréa confirms. She doesn’t explain how she managed to lead your assistant around by the nose. You’re certain she won’t even if you press.

“Why?” you ask, sounding more indignant than you have a right to be. “Why let me have it at all?”

“Because, for reasons that I can't begin to fathom, you thought I presented a threat,” Andréa hisses. “And because if I didn’t, you'd have fired that assistant.”

“I may still fire her,” you decide. Say it out loud just to push Andréa’s buttons, though why on earth you feel the need to do this, you don’t have any idea. This girl hasn’t wronged you, only out maneuvered you.

“By all means,” Andréa says, and swings her legs over the lounge with more grace than you’d expect. “I’d hate for you to break form.”

You’re saved from replying by Peter appearing in the doorway. But Andréa is already up and moving to go inside the house.

“Peter,” she says. Takes a moment to stop and alter her tone as Peter looks at her put off expression with confusion. “Thank you for my lovely dinner party,” she begins again, and kisses his cheek before hugging him tightly. “But it’s getting late and I should really be getting home.” She forces a smile that clearly doesn’t feel, and now, finally, you’re angry at yourself. Ashamed that you’re the reason she has to fake that smile. “I’ll see you guys for brunch tomorrow, alright?”

“You’re leaving?” Peter asks her, and throws a questioning look to you before turning back to Andréa. “Let me have Simon drive you at least.”

“No, I’ll take a cab,” Andréa shakes her head. “Thank you though. For everything. It was wonderful.”

“Andréa,” you say, having managed to get out of that infernal lounge. “Wait a moment.”

She spins immediately when you use that tone of command. Favors you with a scornful smile you wouldn’t have thought her capable of producing, six years ago.

“Miranda,” she begins dryly. “Thank you for putting in your fifteen minutes here. It’s honestly the most I could have hoped for.”

Andréa leaves and Peter stares at you for a long moment, but apparently decides not to ask. Goes over to the lounge Andréa abandoned and picks up the book she left there.

“She forgot Nigel’s present,” he says, sounding crushed.

You can see now that it’s obviously a  very old book, probably the first edition of something. The kind of sentimental present befitting a person like Andréa. Not some impersonal piece of couture fished out from Runway’s Closet by someone you assigned the task.

You sincerely hope Nigel didn’t give her that thoughtless token of yours.

“Goodnight, Peter,” you bid him, relieved when he doesn’t offer to see you out.

That much more time to contemplate your shortsighted decisions alone.

. . .

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 You feel it tugging at your heart,
like the stars overhead,
‘til you rest your bones on the killing bed.

- Brandi Carlile, "The Things I Regret" 


 

Monday morning you find out that Nigel is leaving you.

Your mind sputters to stop when that phrase forms inside your mind. Nigel is simply departing Runway to helm the new Elias-Clarke lifestyle magazine, an opportunity he has more than earned after his remarkable tenure in his present position.

It’s a promotion that you’ve quietly nudged along for him in various meetings, countless dinners with members of the board. But still, you were not certain it would come to pass,  and now (as Nigel now sits across from you in your office, not appearing the least torn about leaving your side), it’s a move that feels irrationally personal.

Nigel is leaving you.

“I’ll have my replacement up to speed within the month,” Nigel breezes. Doesn’t fish for any compliments as to his value or the difficulty you will have replacing him. Simply barrells down the list of items requiring your combined attention.

“Nigel,” you pronounce softly once the list is completed. Press the tip of your glasses to your lips. “Did you find anything appropriate from the Closet for Andréa’s birthday?”

“I did,” he says immediately. “Seemed a shame to waste perfectly good Chanel.”

“Hm,” you purse your lips. Don’t allow yourself to ask him what he selected on your behalf or whether she appreciated it. Won’t do at all to betray that kind of sentiment, even to Nigel. Perhaps especially not to Nigel.

A few days later is Caroline’s dance recital. You’ve been able to make it to precious few of these this year, so you rearrange your entire schedule Thursday in order to be at Dalton by 5pm.

Caroline seems more put off by the effort than pleased by it, which is why you so rarely go through the paces of doing what you can to show up her dance performances these last several years. By the time she turned fourteen, she seemed to prefer your absence from such events. When that particular truth stings, you console yourself with the ready thought that it’s better to have raised a daughter whose contentment doesn’t depend on other people.

You see Peter in the audience, two empty seats beside him, and after a moment of traversing the rows of chairs, you slide into the second seat, leaving one vacant between you.

“Light day?” he teases, obviously surprised by your presence.

“They’re always light,” you deadpan.

“Oh yes,” Peter quips. “Sometimes I get so bored of doing crosswords and playing cell phone games, I take a little nap at my desk.” You allow yourself a small smile as Peter looks around at the nearly filled auditorium. “Are you saving a seat for Cassidy?” he asks.

“Pardon?” you puzzle, and he gestures to the empty chair.

“No,” you furrow your brow. “She has drama rehearsal right now.”

“Then I should move down,” he judges. “Be a courteous Dalton citizen.”

He slides into the empty seat next to you  and you realize abruptly that Andréa must no longer be attending this, despite her promise to Peter’s daughter. You feel your mood deteriorate as you realize that the possibility of seeing Andréa is why rearranged your entire schedule to be here.

“A wonderful performance,” Peter says to Caroline later, the two of you having waited to collect your children after the recital.  

“Thank you,” Caroline gracefully pronounces. In fact, she made two significant errors during her performance but she, unlike Cassidy,  is wise enough to refrain from highlighting the mistakes that others miss.

“Hannah mentioned you might be joining us for dinner tonight,” Peter says to her, and Caroline looks in askance to you because it’s the first time this plan’s been brought to your attention.

“I don’t see any reason why your dining with Hannah this evening should be a problem,” you slowly pronounce. A tad suspicious that either of your girls have taken interest in a younger classmate. It’s simply out of character, especially for Caroline.

“There you are,” Peter says upon spotting Hannah. “You’re going to make us late for dinner, young lady.”

“I couldn’t find my shoes,” his daughter immediately explains.

“Well, let’s hope Andy isn’t already waiting for us,” Peter smiles gently. “If so, she might just eat all the pizza without us.”

Andréa . Well, that explains Caroline’s sudden interest in spending time with Hannah Morehouse.

You would give her a stern look, but at the mention of Andréa’s name Caroline has done everything she can to avoid eye contact with you.

“I’ll have Caroline home by nine, Miranda,” Peter tells you.

“Thank you,” you nod.

“I think -” Caroline begins, and clears her throat. “I believe Cassidy just finished rehearsal. Would it be alright if she came as well?”

The little co-conspirators. You have no doubt this was planned.

“Alright with us,” Peter says, but looks to you for approval.

“I suppose if you’re springing one Priestly on Andréa, you may as well be springing two,” you purse your lips.  

For one brief, foolish moment, you expect Peter to invite you as well. Make it three Priestly women for the price of two.

“Alright,” Peter says instead. “Off to collect Cassidy and consume pizza.”  Caroline looks practically jubilant, trailing quickly after him with Hannah beside her.

You get home to find the Book waiting for you, completed early if replete with careless mistakes that you begin to spot the moment you open it.  It's merely a foreshadowing of what you can look forward to once Nigel departs Runway , you decide as you slide your glasses up. Take a bracing breath.  

You settle into your favorite chair inside your den, red pen now in your hand. Listen to your otherwise silent home as you litter your corrections across the margins in swift, angry strokes.

 

. . .

 

Three months go by without your seeing Andréa out with Peter, and her continued public absences makes you question where there’s an actual rift between them or else Andréa is simply avoiding you at all social costs.

You have long suspected that Andréa became friends with Peter despite that he enjoys, in all things, such great proximity to you. Deduced that she fell into Peter’s orbit because her affection for him outweighed her desire to remain distant from you .

Now it seems one of those variables has changed.

Nigel still goes to many of the same events, owing to his new position. But he has his own magazine to run now, his own agenda at such functions, and though he lingers with you longer than anyone else, gone are the days of him being your shadow. It occurs to you, after the first two months, that this transition is more painful than either of your divorces, your professional union with Nigel having lasted longer than the sum of your marriages strung together.

“Strange that we flail without them now,” Peter says to you, at a thirtieth anniversary party for two of your mutual friends. It’s a small affair, free of any true miserable individuals, but you and Peter still find yourself hiding out on a terrace, sharing an illicit cigarette.

“Flail?” you repeat, knowing immediately to whom he’s referring. Only put a slight effort into sounding indignant.

Peter shrugs off your tone, taking the cigarette back from you and closing his eyes as he inhales.

“Andy hates that I smoke these,” he says. Gives a small, hollow sounding laugh. “She keeps saying they’re going to kill me.”

“Is Andréa well?” you ask him, because you can no longer hold the question in.

“Very,” he says, but sounds pained despite the response. “She’s just digging in, trying to get a handle on her new job with Nigel.”

Your eyes snap open at this, your fingers freezing around the cigarette Peter’s just passed back to you.

“Yes,” you say carefully, “her job with Nigel. . . She must be pleased.”

“Nervous, I think,” Peter smiles absently. “I mean everyone wants to be picked up as a staff writer somewhere, but then it happens and you realize that it’s a marriage. That it can be constricting.” He laughs, sounding pleased now when he confides, “I think when Nigel offered Andy the job at Pace he expected her jump at the chance. But she was smart. Careful. Wanted certain freedoms spelled out in writing before she’d even consider it.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less of her,” you say. Annoyed that it’s the truth.

The next week you see Nigel at a board meeting, and he’s obviously fighting to hide his exhaustion and frustration. Some of the budget constraints Elias-Clarke is foisting onto Pace are unreasonable, even in this economy. Yes, Pace is a new enterprise and therefore not yet a profitable one, but it has no chance of succeeding while being forced to fight for each and every penny.

Nigel clearly feels defeated before he’s even begun.

“Did you skip lunch?” you ask him during a break, and he nods his affirmation. “Always take lunch,” you advise him solemnly. The only piece you’ll ever give him, but an important one that's merit he’ll come to understand in time.

“I was supposed to have a working lunch with Andy,” he admits. “But someone called and I got sidetracked.”

It’s unsurprising, you suppose, that Nigel assumes you already know of his employment of Andréa. He likely never entertained the idea that he might keep that fact from you until the masthead was in print.

“I’m pleased you hired her,” you admit to him, although it’s only a portion of the truth. The smoother, easier to grip edge of the truth.

“I’m pleased we both did,” Nigel says. Because whatever else one might say about him, Nigel is remarkably attuned to your thoughts.

 

. . .  

 

The summer goes on, and your attentions gradually narrow with the approach of Fashion Week. It’s the same every year - June is mostly filled with the usual level of crises and then things ramp up in July; August is blur of preparation and painful suffering at the hands of other people’s incompetence, barely avoided disasters surrounding the September issue.

You beg off as many evening obligations as you can, but the ones directly concerning Elias-Clarke have to be accommodated.

The gala for Pace i s impressive, and Nigel is so drunk with pride he can barely contain his smile. You put in more than your fifteen minutes because it’s an exceptional circumstance, but direct your assistant to have your car ready at the thirty minute mark.

“Staying so long at a party the month before Fashion Week,” Peter tsks at you. “Look who’s playing fast and loose.”

You’re just about to retaliate when you notice that Andréa is approaching the two of you, a handsome man on her arm.

“Well hello, stranger,” Peter says to Andréa, abandoning all appearance of propriety and hugging her on the spot.  “And hello to you, Benjamin,” Peter adds amiably. Greets Andréa’s escort in the familiar manner that he employs with people he thoroughly enjoys and frequently dines with.

You wonder how long Andréa has been involved with this man, whether he was at the birthday party you chose not to attend.

“Miranda,” Andréa acknowledges you, giving an efficient nod and an even more efficient smile.

And it’s clear you’re an outsider in this grouping, this handsome man standing with his hand on the small of Andréa’s back and Andréa looking so genuinely pleased to see Peter. But it’s the first time you’ve laid eyes on Andréa in months, so you fail to immediately process your discomfort.

“I gather congratulations are in order,” you say to her, and she considers you carefully.

“I suppose so,” Andréa allows. Runs a hand down her smoke colored Vera Wang dress, as if to smooth out a wrinkle that you know isn’t there. “Though more so to Nigel, obviously. I’m but a mere writer.”

“I look at the back of her laptop more than I see her face,” Andréa’s escort says to Peter, giving a dimpled smile.

“Get used to it,” Peter replies. Takes the words right out of your mouth, except that he says them with kindness rather than bite.

“We both know what I signed up for,” Andréa says wryly, her escort now departing to acquire cocktails.

Everyone tells themselves this, you think darkly.  Everyone hopes that if you simply work hard enough and love strongly enough, you can muddle through it all. It’s certainly the thesis that carried you through your first marriage and then, stupidly, even halfway through your second. But this a commentary you swallow down, saying your goodbyes with minimum fanfare.

“Are you resting enough?” you hear Andréa ask Peter, once you’re several yards away. It's a question you've had yourself, as Peter has looked particularly tired lately. Perhaps even a bit lacking in focus.

There’s a tumult of chatter and a quartet now playing, so you miss most of Peter’s response. Glance back to see Andréa’s worried expression, Peter’s green eyes filled with obvious affection.

 

. . .

 

The second week of September brings the mayhem of New York Fashion Week, and the week after tips into London. Milan. Paris. Tokyo.

It’s more than a month of living in hotels and fighting jetlag. Feeling impossibly filled with hope upon witnessing some of the shows and occasionally vexed by the more spectacular failures.

You spend as much time as possible with your girls upon returning home, attending the bare minimum of events for the first two weeks back in New York. But this reprieve can only last so long, and by the third week you have events scheduled five nights out of seven.

You see Peter at three of these and at each one, Andréa is on his arm. And every night Peter is relentlessly social while Andréa is reserved, her smile rarely appearing.

You chalk it up to stress level. The struggle to exceed her own professional expectations, maintain a relationship, and (apparently) resume her role as Peter’s constant shadow. You inwardly scorn Peter for being so desperately afraid of to be alone. Tsk at Andréa for stupidly making the sacrifice, now that’s entered the point in her career in which her time only will grow a scarcer commodity.

It goes on this way for another month, and by now you notice that Andréa has lost a fair amount of weight. You judge that she’s dropped exactly one dress size. It’s observation you make without pleasure, finding that you preferred her with the extra flesh. Her thinner face now appears somewhat strained, her cheeks absent their usual glow. She appears… foreign to you. Somehow unlike herself.

“Is she unwell?” you ask Peter two weeks later. He's looked drained, dead on his feet the entire engagement, but now stares at you in bafflement. “Andréa looks unwell, Peter,” you whisper to him, standing in the corner of a crowded benefit.

“You sound so very invested, Miranda," Peter tells you with unusual sharpness, and your mouth snaps shut at this.

You hate that he has a point.

The next week brings a party at Nigel’s new home and it’s something you dither about going to because it will be such a painfully small gathering. But then you give yourself a stern reprimand for allowing either Nigel or Andréa to weigh so heavily on your thoughts, fill you with such anxiety.

Andréa is in attendance, if without either Peter or her apparent paramour. You decide that Nigel must share your concern about her weight, as he’s imploring her to try some species of fat-laden carbohydrate every time a tray is passed in her vicinity.

You glance around the room not long after that and note that there’s no sign of Andréa anywhere.

“Out front,” Nigel tips his head to you, appearing at your side. It takes you a moment to process what he means. Realize he must have caught you glancing around for her.

You appear disinterested, of course, and change the subject to the present ubiquitousness of neon-hued fashion atrocities. An error in judgement so resoundingly universal this year that even Jil Sander has fatally disappointed you.

“Too bad I don’t have much hair left,” Nigel deadpans. “Otherwise I could grow it out and jump aboard the dip-dye hair trend.”

The eye roll you afford him is high praise, and Nigel preens appropriately. And then, the moment he quits your side to chat up another of his guests, you slip out the front door.

“I believe you owe Peter an apology,” you say to Andréa, finding her against the retaining wall of Nigel’s modest brownstone, her eyes closed as she smokes a cigarette. “He tells me you frequently chide that those are going to kill him.”

Andréa’s eyes fly open at this, rapidly filling with tears. But just as she never once sobbed in your office at Runway, she doesn’t cry now. Blinks the moisture quickly away, and tries hard to mask her panicked body language.

You tug the cigarette out of her hand, ignoring her glare as you do so. Slip it between your own lips as you stare at her, pouring over the observations you’ve recently filed away. How exhausted Peter has seemed, and the way the woman in front of you has looked so troubled recently, the likes of which you’ve only witnessed once before. Briefly, in Paris. When she thought you weren’t aware of Irv's ridiculous little plot to replace you with Follet.

“Peter is ill,” you guess, your elocution flawless despite the cigarette in your mouth.

Andréa stares at you hard, lending voice to neither confirmation nor denial before she plucks the cigarette right from your lips. Places it back in her mouth despite that it’s now stained blood red from your Dior lipstick. Wet from your own lips.

“I used to lecture him when I’d find these hidden packs of cigarettes around his house,” she says eventually, her hand unsteady but her voice admirably smooth. “It’s not like he’s ever been the kind of person to smoke every day. Even every week.”

“A destructive habit to continue if one isn’t even addicted,” you agree, however hypocritically.

“He’d just laugh at me,” Andréa shrugs dejectedly. Sounds confused and shattered when says, “he’d just laugh and say, you’ve gotta die of something, honey.

The cigarette goes out and she fishes another one out of a crisp, full pack.

You pull the lighter from her shaking hands. Light the new one for her.

. . .

 

Chapter Text


 Are you hurting the one you love?
You say you've found Heaven but you can't find God.
Are you hurting the one you love?
Bite your tongue 'til it tastes like blood.

- Florence +The Machine, "Are You Hurting the One You Love"


 

It’s the girls’ last year of high school, so you decide to make an effort to be home more.

Caroline applies to four colleges, and every one of them is on the West Coast. They’re all competitive schools, certainly worthy of her consideration. But her decision still feels like a clear indictment of you as a mother.

“You won’t consider applying to Columbia along with your sister?” you ask her exactly once, over dinner. Caroline says not a word in response, her blue eyes staring at you with something approaching disinterest before they shift back to the lamb in front of her.

You see Peter only a few times in the coming weeks, but every time you do, Andréa is by his side.

She has managed to regain some of the weight, you’re relieved to note upon spotting her at a party held at Masa. She’s wearing a ginger hued Donna Karan blouse that’s clingy enough to reveal her filled out figure. Her expressions, however, are odd  and uncharacteristically practiced for the duration. And the week after that, a benefit at the Four Seasons, you hear her personally fire Peter’s incompetent assistant, Peter standing mutely as the young man demands to know what standing Andréa has to do so.

“Your ignorance in even having to ask that question tells me I’m right to fire you,” Andréa sighs at the gobsmacked idiot, and removes his work phone from his hand. Sounds tired and resigned when she places a call to Peter’s driver, altering their departure time.

“I guess that’s why you have two assistants,” Peter quips darkly to you, a few moments later. “That way you still have one standing when one gets sacked.”

This implies that you’ve never fired both assistants at once, which is patently false. But you do not entertain this line of conversation with Peter. It's somehow chafed you to see Andréa protecting his interests when Peter’s failing to protect himself.

You head outside rather than chatting with him. Andréa's ducked out the door in a flash of crimson organza, and you don’t know whether she’s upset enough to leave without Peter.

“Will Peter’s car be arriving sometime this century?” you ask Andréa , finding her out by the street.

“Of course,” she says. Wraps her coat tighter around herself. “Once an assistant, always an assistant.”

You aren’t sure what to make of that joke, or else her dark tone. Don’t know whether it’s directed at Peter or you or both. So instead you pull out a full pack of cigarettes - the ones you started carrying in your purse the day after that party at Nigel's brownstone. Light one, take a single pull of it, and then hand it over to her.

You normally only carry cigarettes when you’re in Paris, and Andréa must know this, as she isn’t a person who forgets details. Even then, she doesn’t comment on the aberration when you pull out the pack, followed by the heavy Dupont lighter.

“How ironclad are the NDA’s that Peter makes his staff sign?” you ask.

“Doesn’t matter if he refuses to sue people for breaching them,” Andréa huffs.

Peter hasn’t informed you of his illness, not even indirectly. And Andréa will not permit herself any direct confirmations of it. Not even now, when she so so obviously wants to throttle Peter for being so thoroughly himself.  

Vogue would have published the piece you gave to Rolling Stone this past spring,” you tell her apropos of nothing. “Anna would have merrily printed it and with none of the idiotic changes Rolling Stone tried to demand, if only to accrue a certain species of brownie points.”

“Yes,” Andréa agrees.

“Yet you didn’t considering shopping it there first,” you tsk.“Or did you?”

“No. . . No, I never considered it,” she shakes her head swiftly. Stomps the cigarette out, checking behind her to see if Peter’s appeared yet.

“You’re right to be wary of Anna’s draconian approach to owning articles in perpetuity,” you venture airily.

“Miranda,” the girl frowns. Waves her hand in a dismissive gesture, the gold of the lighter glinting against pale skin. “I’d never give Vogue anything. Let alone something that’s probably going to garner an award.”  

It’s a conclusion you’d already arrived at by yourself, but you’re deeply pleased to make Andréa  speak the words out loud. Happy to see the steam puff out of her mouth in the night hair with every annoyed word, tiny creases forming at the edges of her mouth as she scowls about Vogue and Anna Wintour.

 

. . .

 

You wait for word to break of Peter’s illness. Wait for Peter to tell you something himself. But he holds to his silence and the next month you hear that he’s just thwarted a minor power grab within his own magazine.

People assume you know everything that happens in publishing before it happen,  and this is an error you never correct. The truth is that you know everything that happens within Elias-Clarke and have made it your job to know almost everything that occurs within competitors like Vogue , but beyond that you’re merely one of the first ones to hear the news when the bodies are quietly swept into the street from the doors of other publications.

You imagine that Andréa  has pleaded with Peter to take a sabbatical. Understand perfectly well why he has declined and see that he was professionally wise to do so. But then another two weeks go by and his appearances at functions begin to dwindle.

You have dinner with Nigel two weeks to the day after you stood with Andréa in front of the Four Seasons, sneering together about Anna Wintour.  And you inquire about Andréa because, for some reason, you cannot master your impulses whenever it comes to this girl.

“She isn’t. . .” Nigel begins. Looks away from your table, into the dim crowd of other people, all engaged in their own conversations. Their own problems. “Her work is impeccable,” Nigel says, “but something’s off with her. I don’t know what it is, but something is not right.”

Nigel looks confused and pained when he says it, perhaps even guilty to be telling you this. But now you know that Andréa has not even hinted to Nigel about Peter.

As long as Nigel has known Peter socially, and much as Andréa  obviously adores and trusts Nigel, Andréa has not told him. She has not entrusted Nigel but has she has, in her roundabout way, entrusted you .

“Perhaps romantic troubles,” you make yourself sound dismissive. “Young women are so frequently bent on sacrificing their lives at the whim of their partners. You shouldn’t worry over it.”

But Nigel only looks away again, focused on the thing he can’t yet see.

. . .

 

Stanford admits Caroline via their early application process, and she informs you, with resolute certainty, that she’s going to accept.

“And if you get into the other schools as well?” you ask her, because she still has three pending applications.

“I’d still pick Stanford,” she tells you cooly. Gracefully and quietly ascends the stairs.

“Have you reconsiders your stance on my contacting Columbia?” you ask Cassidy the same night. She applied early and received a letter of deferral, meaning she will have to linger in doubt until March in less you exert some pressure.

“I was deferred, not denied,” Cassidy shrugs.

Deferred. Your daughter. The gall of it.

“It would take one phone call,” you remind her. “One well placed phone call, Bobbsey.”

“I wanna do it on my own,” Cassidy groans. “Just - Mom, please . Please leave it alone, okay?”

“For now,” you agree, deciding not to correct her elocution. “We will let it be for now.”

Cassidy hugs you, tucking her head against your neck,  and the dark edges of your day no longer lack in definition.

“Cassidy has elected to go to Stanford,” you inform Andréa , when the two of you see other at the opening night gala of your favorite dance company. It’s always a needlessly loud, crowded event, but you try to make it every December. Support their opening efforts annually because it was a performance here ten years ago that sparked Caroline’s interest in dance.

“Already?” Andréa asks you, without hesitation. “But it’s so early.”

“I have articulated that point already,” you tell her. Feel a remarkable absence of annoyance at her having stated the obvious. “Is Peter not here?” you ask, after you’ve failed to spot him in the crowd. Can’t imagine that Andréa  has come to something like this if it’snot to help Peter. Though now that you think of it, you’ve never seen Peter at this particular event before.

“He’s arriving late,” Andréa says and sounds a bit nervous. “I think he meant this is as present to me,” she tells you, smiling now. “I love this theater.”

It occurs to you now that this dinner is seven thousand dollars a person; Andréa could never afford to come here on her  own. You stare at her DvF wrap dress, not an uninteresting  approach in black leather, and wonder how all this works between Andréa and Peter. Try to imagine the two of them fighting about money and the things he must insist on paying for to make her participation in his life possible.

Does it keep her up at night? Because it should not, you think sternly. Though knowing Andréa and her midwestern values, she’s probably worrying herself at all hours, fretting about accepting anything like monetary favors.

“This dress surprised me,” you say instead, and run a careful finger along the seam of the lambskin leather. “Diane does not accomplish much that inspires s urprise in me, so I recall seeing this last year and feeling pleased.”

Andréa shifts uncomfortably and you pull your hand away. Feel foolish for the admission.

“There’s Peter,” Andréa nods after clearing her throat with a slight cough. You turn to look for him, finally spotting him among the sea of people chatting about trivial topics and desperately trying to appear chic, and your breath catches in your chest.

Peter looks awful. Likely he has been steadily losing weight and managed to conceal it before, but now he’s beyond that. Beyond completely hiding his thinner face and odd, sickly pallor.

“Andréa. . .” you murmur, turning toward her.

“I know,” she says immeidately. Says it in a low voice that no one near you will be overhear, but even then you catch the way her voice hitches with effort to swallow the panic.

His  illness, whatever it is exactly, is beyond entirely hiding. How far has it advanced?

Andrea leaves your company in order to join Peter, and Peter never approaches you. Not once the whole night.  And while you understand his desperation to avoid you - you, who sees things far before others do - this still marks the first time in years that the two of you have ever gone without speaking at an event. The knowledge makes pain bloom unexpectedly in your chest.

You stay longer that you planned at the gala, far longer than you have the time in your carefully parsed out schedule. Spend two hours staring at Peter’s thinning face and Andréa’s feigned smile while countless others chat unendingly into your ear.

 

. . .

 

Nigel sees the Page Six article before you do. He calls you directly on your cell phone and you know that something unfortunate has happened by the way he says your name the second you pick up. Sounds devastated and broken when he simply says, “Miranda,” and then doesn’t utter another word.

You end the call and tell your assistants to clear the next thirty minutes. March out of your own halls, past your second assistant racing for your purse and coat, right into the elevator. Stab the button for the floor that houses Pace .

“Go away , ” you hiss to the handful of Nigel’s staff, all standing with wringing hands outside of Nigel’s closed door. They promptly flee to god knows where. The ends of the earth, if they have any sense of self-preservation.

“Tell me,” you order Nigel, as soon as you’ve closed his doors. Use a cold, steely tone with him before you see that his eyes contain unshed tears.

But he doesn’t answer you. Only pulls his glasses off and gestures with one hand to his open laptop. Moves from his desk and turns away. Stares with apparent purpose at absolutely nothing.

You scan the lines of text quickly, relieved at first to see that most of it is sloppy reporting and very little of it detailed - until you reach a line that makes you abruptly stop. You go back and read the sentence again, slowly finishing the rest of the paragraph.

Inside sources tell us that Andy Sachs, staff writer for the Elias-Clarke mag Pace and sometime Morehouse bestie, has been residing with the ailing editor from late October on. “Peter knows it doesn’t look good this time,” an inside source tells us. “Andy’s good with his daughter and Peter’s been a single parent for years. His own parents are both dead, so really there's no one else.”

“Such shoddy reporting,” you dismiss. Peter’s father is not dead, only his mother. Peter simply hasn’t had a relationship with his father since he coming out as gay, decades ago.

“I suppose we should be grateful that they’ve mistaken the senior Morehouse as dead,” Nigel says, surprising you. “I can only imagine the quote that bigot would have given the likes of Page Six about his son.”

“Nigel,” you say, more gently this time.

“She used to invite me over,” Nigel interrupts you. “Andy used to make me dinner in the crappy little apartment that she’s lived in since Runway . Not often, but sometimes.” He shakes his head. “And you know, I was feeling really sorry for myself a few weeks ago and basically invited myself over for dinner. And Andy dodged me. Just ignored it like it had never happened and changed the subject.”

“It wasn’t her secret to reveal,” you tell him, realizing that this tawdry column may actually have unearthed a truth of which you yourself weren't apprised. “There was no other way than to avoid the truth.”

“I thought it was because I was her boss now. I thought maybe- maybe it was because of her boyfriend and how little time she has with him, but more likely because I was her boss. And I was so hurt, Miranda. Acted like a child. Ignored her at work for a week.”

You know a bit about showing displeasure in unfortunate ways. Understand the many species of regret that come along with it.

“You had no way of knowing,” you remind him. “You had no reason to see this.”

“He hasn’t looked well in weeks,” Nigel counters. “I didn’t think anything of it. Assumed it was work.” Sounds surprised when he murmurs, “I can’t believe he didn’t tell me.”

You can’t begin to fathom why Nigel thinks Peter should have told him something so personal, but think it understandable that Nigel’s frustration must go somewhere.

“Peter lives across from me,” you say abruptly. Feel a swell of anger. “I can walk to his townhouse in approximately two minutes, and I had no idea Andréa was living there.”

“You're not home much,” Nigel shrugs at you. “Nor do I imagine you and Patricia leisurely stroll through the neighborhood when you are.”

Nigel knows damn well that it falls to assistants to walk Patricia, but still the comment chafes you. You have known Peter for decades. Have been friends with him for decades . Andréa confided in you and only you regarding Peter’s health.

Well, to be precise you guessed and she didn’t deny . But nevertheless. The idea that you didn’t know this last, important detail about her new living arrangement stabs at you sharply now.

You go back to Runway shortly after that, as there’s only so much time away you can allow yourself to deal with this. But when you arrive back at your office, neither of your assistants are in sight. In their place is Emily Charlton, sitting at one of their desk’s with perfect posture and a remarkably calm expression, despite that you long ago promoted her to the art department and she has no business standing here, waiting for you like a lowly assistant.

“Your lunch will be here in two minutes, Miranda,” she informs you. “Your meeting with Patrick has been moved to four, but he’s been apprised that you’ll need to leave no later than twenty minutes after that.”

You’re mollified to hear Emily’s even tone, free of any of the hesitancy that would doubtless color either of your assistants’ voices. Can only assume Emily temporarily dismissed them both when she saw that they were useless puddles of confusion.

“Acceptable,” you say, because she has earned that much from you. “Have one of the assistants get me a fresh Starbucks.” Add, after a moment, “tell them to get whatever you would like as well. They have five minutes.”

Emily stands looking  at you, likely waiting for the dismissal that you do not utter. And you know you should allow her get back to the job you are actually paying her to do, but can’t quite bring yourself to let her go back down the hall yet. Not when you look at her now and remember her sitting at one of the two desks out front. Emily sniping away at Andréa over and over again and Andréa smiling softly back at her, stubbornly resolved to like Emily all the same.

 

. . .

 

Peter disappears from the New York social calendar, and with him Andréa. And the week after the Page Six articles comes out, you beginning walking Patricia around your neighborhood nearly daily.

Your daughters scoff at you. It has been years since you’ve walked your own dog, and you have never walked Patricia unless absolutely necessary. The animal is simply too large to be handled without mortally wounding your own dignity. But walk her you do, every evening in which you arrive home before nine. And then, occasionally, mornings as well.

Your elderly Saint Bernard vacillates between looking thrilled and deeply resentful, depending on the weather and her own mercurial mood.

“Miranda,” Andréa says, stopping on the street as you pass her. It has been two tiring weeks, filled with walking Patricia to and fro, when you finally run into Andréa the day before Christmas Eve. She is apparently out walking Peter’s own dog, Peter’s daughter strolling beside her. “Hannah, honey, will you take Max back to the house? I think he’s getting cold.”

“Okay,” the young girl shrugs. Picks up the tiny lapdog Patricia is quite possibly contemplating having for her supper.

“You fire both of your assistants or something?” Andréa asks with a nod to Patricia. And you don’t think to be all that annoyed because Andréa sounds remarkably amiable as she mocks you.

“Fancied the exercise,” you tell her, grateful when she doesn’t push the subject further.

“I think Nigel’s upset with me,” she sighs to you. Reaches down to soothe Patricia when the animal grows restless, pulling on her leash.

“Most people do not enjoy such omissions of fact, Andréa.”  

You honestly did not attend to take such an accusing tone with her, but this is precisely what flies out of your mouth. Her large, brown eyes look openly wounded for only a moment before her expression snaps closed.

“People think they’re entitled to truths that aren’t theirs,” she tells you flatly. “You’re the one who told me once that I had the ability to see beyond what people want. That I could choose for myself.”

That reference to Paris stings, as it's one you thought she’d never make. Understand immediately that you’ve caused her to do this, because you are always pushing Andréa into corners, continually surprised when she comes out snarling at you. No longer endures it, in the same manner she did when you employed her.

She is far more selfless than you have ever been, but you realize now that you often conflate self-sacrifice with spinelessness. Andréa is prone to the former but rarely the latter. And you are already in possession of this knowledge, quite concretely in fact. So why do you keep making the same, thoughtless error?

“I didn’t-” you shake your head. Unsure what to say to her now. Frustrated that Patricia keeps tugging at her leash, practically dragging you off your feet.

“Patricia, sit, ” Andréa orders, and the dog does what she’s told. Whimpers for a moment at Andréa’s tone, licking desperately at her hand to curry favor.

“I should not have said that,” you tell her. Uncertain as to how many of your verbal transgressions your apology is meant to apply. Confused as to why you’re saying such a thing to her when you never apologize to anyone besides your daughters, the men you failed in marriage.

“We’ll never be friends,” Andréa says suddenly. Sounds perhaps pained rather than angry, although in this you must be mistaken.  “Sometimes I let myself think. . . ” She shakes her head violently. “Forced conversations at events and dinner parties do not make a friendship. I lose sight of that sometimes - when I’m alone with you. But Miranda, we’ll never be friends.”

It feels like someone has struck you across the face.

That statement must have been something you merely imagined, because surely Andréa would not say this to someone in the bright light of a public street, every other door adorned for the nearing holiday and your dog still licking desperately at her left hand.

“I have to go,” she whispers. Adds in an even smaller voice, "merry Christmas, Miranda."

You don't move. Simply stand there and watch her walk away. An unremarkable figure in dark denim, a black peacoat, and sienna leather boots; an image so generic, you would never for a moment consider allowing it into the pages of your magazine.

Patricia whines, shoves her head against your hip and resumes tugging on her leash.

. . .

 

Chapter Text


 

What a wicked game you play
to make me feel this way.
What a wicked thing to do,
to let me dream of you.

-Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game"


 

 

 

The girls spend Christmas with you and New Year’s with their father, and when they slide into the car that will take them to Connecticut, you do what you always do. You sink yourself, inch by inch, into your work.

You do not make any appearances and you ignore Nigel’s invitations to dinner.  Stay at the office until nearly midnight every night, your second assistant looking drawn and tired by the ninth night of your self-imposed punishment.

“Go,” you tell her, because it’s after ten now and she has already been chained to her desk for more than sixty hours this week.

She hesitates, apparently reluctant to leave your phones unattended and your whims uncatered to, and you feel yourself growing angry with her rather than appreciating her dedication.

“Unless you think me incapable of functioning without you,” you murmur, the words dripping with venom. Sit down at your desk and feel satisfied when you hear the sounds of her frantically pulling on her coat.

She goes and the office feels better when you are alone in it. Somehow safer without a  second assistant waiting just outside your door, a dutiful expression permanently affixed to her painfully young face.

 

. . .

 

“Come over for dinner tomorrow,” Peter tells you over the phone.

The two of you haven’t spoken in weeks and weeks. But he calls you late one night when you are again alone, working in your office. Doesn’t say ‘hello’ when you pick up. Simply tells you to come to dinner.

“I don’t think. . .” you sigh. But can’t allow yourself to finish the statement. Can’t allow yourself to articulate the fact that you don’t think the woman living in Peter’s home, carefully maintaining his life, would care to see you.

“Miranda,” Peter says again. Sounds tired and weak in a way you’ve never before witnessed. “Come to dinner.”

So you agree. And the next night Peter’s housekeeper lets you into his home, leads you to the dining room, and then promptly disappears.

Peter is already seated at the table and he looks far worse than the last time you saw him, even thinner with a yellowed complexion. His hair is now shorn short, close to his scalp, and you wonder if he even has the strength to himself out of his chair without help. Consider the possibility that this is why he was already seated by the time you entered.

There is a small meal laid out for both of you, but it’s late and you’ve just come from another dinner. You are not here for a meal, and it’s clear by the way Peter appears pained whenever he looks at the waiting plates that he has no interest in it any of it either.

“I’m waiting,” you tell him eventually, when the silence drags on.

You say with uncharacteristic softness, if not entirely without your usual impatience.

“It was prostrate cancer the first time,” Peter says. “Certainly unenjoyable, but hardly perilous in the way that we judge the typical malignancy. I got to praise myself for beating cancer, being a survivor , without any of the j oys of chemo and radiation.”

“And now?” you ask, when Peter stalls.

“Pancreatic cancer,” he replies. “They caught it when they were doing scans for something else. But not early enough that the operation alone would. . .”  He looks away, anguished when he looks back at you. “I’m officially announcing my resignation as editor tomorrow. . . I’m not giving the press any details about the exact nature of this. I refuse to hand them anything that will help them sell papers.”

“Understandable,” you say.

“I wanted you to know,” Peter says now.

“Me,” you repeat.

It's tempting to take it as a sign of trust, the mark of years of friendship. But you and Peter are the same, no matter the ways you are different, and you know this isn’t why Peter has asked you here.

“I don’t want Andy to be alone in the truth of this,” he confides. “I’ve asked that of her for months already and that wasn’t-” His voice breaks. “That was a selfish mistake on my part,” he finishes with renewed calm.

“I don’t believe mine is the company she would seek, if given the choice,” you observe. Assume you are admitting nothing he doesn’t already understand. “I don’t think my knowledge of this will be much comfort to her.”

“I’ve told Nigel as well,” Peter says, and this surprises you. “Earlier tonight.”

“He cares deeply for Andréa,” you nod. “Nigel is . . . an effective choice.”

A better choice than you, you don’t say. But don’t continue the train of thought because Peter’s face clouds with something strange. Something that looks a great deal like amusement at your expense.

“I loved Nigel,” Peter smiles, “a long time ago.”

Your eyebrows feel like they rise past your hairline. Maybe past the bloody roof.

“It’s been years now,” Peter elaborates. “He and I didn’t get very far down the road before it ended. . . Nigel was just proving himself an asset to you, and we were both working constantly.” His smile turns dark. “He was dealing with Miranda Priestly’s demands at work and Peter Morehouse’s demands in private, and one of those sets of things had to give.”

“Hm,” you say, and Peter grows agitated. Clearly annoyed with your facade of disinterest. So you repeat thoughtfully, “you loved Nigel.”

“I did,” he says. “And then I hated him for choosing your magazine over me. But then I fell in love again and I had Hannah, while Nigel continued to live for Runway alone. At some point I decided the least I could manage with him was a polite friendship.”

“Is there anything I can. . .” you begin to offer, at an uncharacteristic loss for words.  But there’s nothing you can do, no meaningful assistance you can give Peter, and so you do not finish the question.

“I wanted to take Hannah out of school,” Peters exhales loudly, “but she wants to keep going. . . I’m obviously concerned about the press, so maybe if you can run the necessary interference regarding Dalton?”

“Of course,” you agree. Think to ask after his daughter’s present state of welfare but decide it better to skip that. It's not a subject you would want someone poking at, were you in his position.

“Andy took her out somewhere tonight,” Peters tells you, as if he’s reading your mind. “I honestly don’t know where.”

“I’m sure Andréa will attend to Hannah’s best interests,” you assure.

“She said that you wouldn’t want to see her,” Peter says suddenly. “Andy offered to take Hannah out because it would make things easier for me, but then said it was better that way because you wouldn’t want to see her.”

"She is mistaken," you tell him, but do not elaborate. Stare at Peter now, attempting to gauge by his reaction exactly how much Andréa has told him. Whether she has repeated to him her words to you from that exchange, out on the street.

“I can’t make heads or tails of you two sometimes,” Peter snorts softly, shaking his head. “I mean, there are moments when it seems like you two would rather be anywhere but near each other. And then-“

“I’ve never been popular among my ex-employees,” you dismiss, shifting uncomfortably.

“And yet I’ve never seen Andy verbally dismantle someone faster than when they make Miranda Priestly jokes,” Peter informs you with a wary smile. “It’s not even the kind of dutiful professional loyalty that Nigel affords you either. I mean, Miranda. Her reaction when people speak poorly of you is visceral . It’s part of the reason I took note of her in the beginning. Such capacity for loyalty is rare.”

Rarer still among people who are both smart and ambitious, you know.

“Well,” you manage, because his statement has surprised and pleased you. You remember vividly now that benefit several years back, at the Waldorf. Andréa publicly cutting into Christian Thompson when he chose to openly mock you.  But does she react that way still, after all your thoughtless mistakes with her? Even now, when she has far more to lose professionally?

“I’m just saying I don’t understand it,” Peter rolls his eyes.

“You don’t have to,” you breeze. Don’t voice that you don’t understand it either.

You don’t have idea why you care so much about what Andréa thinks of you, or why you worry about how she’s handling the burden of his illness. Drive yourself half mad, analyzing the things Nigel says in passing about her. The fleeting looks she gave you at all those social events to which she accompanied Peter. Lay in bed at night and think to yourself that you would never be able to do for another adult what Andréa is doing for Peter. Marvel at her even as you’re tutting at her blind self-sacrifice.

Because sometimes you still look at her and see a reflection of yourself. But more and more, the person you see is someone different from you. Someone better.

"I suppose not," Peter allows finally, now sounding exhausted.

A childish part of you wants to drag out your conversation with Peter, making it run past the time that Andréa will return with Peter’s daughter, as it’s already fairly late. But Peter looks painfully tired now, and your conversation is easily concluded here. If would ungodly selfish of you to remain here any longer.

You still aren’t sure what Peter physically able to navigate on his own; there is much Peter hasn’t detailed to you about his health. But you highly doubt any offers of assistance from you will  sit well with either of you, and there is still staff present in the house, so you bid him goodnight kindly and leave him at the table. Walk alone to his front foyer and then down the carefully landscaped street, crossing across to your own home. Enter to find the main floor dark and silent despite that the girls are usually roaming about until you chase them to bed.

The Book isn’t waiting for you yet, and you aren’t especially angry at this because you scrapped most of what was presented to you today, leaving your staff to work well into the night. You would obviously prefer to have a product in your hand that is both prompt and of high merit, but if you’re forced to choose between the two, you will almost always favor the latter.

You rarely go to bed at this hour, not unless you have an early flight. But the Book isn’t here to work on (you will most likely have to review it in the morning anyway), and you are now so painfully tired.

You poke your head into both of the girls’ rooms, finding Caroline sound asleep and Cassidy reading in bed. Cassidy often has trouble sleeping just as you did as a child, so you never scold her when you find her still awake. She is in bed, after all, and it’s not as you can complain about her spending the time with a book.

“Bad day, huh?” she asks you sagely, after you kiss her on the head.

You don’t tuck the girls in anymore, not unless they’re sick and specifically wanting your attention. They’re too old not to be annoyed with such demonstrations of motherly affection, the mere attempt often provoking their teenage ire.

“It was not a good one,” you concede softly. Run your fingers through the long strands of her hair.

As much as Caroline is like you in temperament, it is Cassidy who’s able to read you plain as day. You half expect her to start asking questions about Hannah’s father or maybe even Andréa, but of course those questions do not come because Cassidy is intuitive, not telepathic.

“You wanna stay for a while?” Cassidy offers generously. Scoots over in her bed. “Harry’s upset and just about to smash stuff in Dumbledore’s office.”

You know this book backward and forwards, as the girls reread this entire series more times in a year than you honestly care to count. But it is so unlike your daughter to invite you into her bed and (admittedly) this scene is something of a favorite of yours.  

"By all means continue destroying my possessions,” you murmur, this particular line of dialogue having long ago lodged itself in your mind. “I daresay I have too many."

Your daughter nods. Presses her body against you and allows you to wrap an arm around her.

 

. . .

 

You find out that The Mirror has obtained a series of pictures of Peter leaving Sloan-Kettering, a photographer having snapped several stills of Peter in a wheelchair, looking frail and pained with Andréa beside him, helping him into a waiting car.

It takes a combination of threats and bribery to get the publication to sit on the pictures, but agree they do. You count it a small, small victory as you see Peter’s name again and again in Page Six.  

You sneer to yourself about this, as Peter has long been beloved in publishing, having played the role of a diplomat while you have played the dragon. And yet, none of that alleged respect and affection has stopped other editors from selling papers, magazines with gossip concerning the man’s illness. Publicly announcing every detail of his pain that they can get their hands on.

Typical.

“Andy said you did a nice thing for Hannah’s dad,” Cassidy informs you, days later. It’s a Monday evening and you’ve moved mountains in order to be home early for the girls.

“I’m not sure what she’s referring to,” you adjust your napkin in your lap. Ignore Caroline watching your every motion, in the manner of a bird of prey tracking a small rodent.

“When I went to get frozen yogurt with Hannah yesterday. We saw Andy and she said you did something to interfere with the press,” Cassidy continues. “She said that whatever you did was pretty costly to you, but you did it anyway.”

“Hm,” you say. You weren’t even aware that the girls have had any contact with Andréa recently. Certainly don’t know what to make of her having said such a thing to your girls.

And you could deny altogether what they’re referring to entirely, but Andréa used to work at The Mirror and no doubt has multiple sources there. She probably tried to make that picture go away under her own power. Tried and clearly failed.

“That was nice of you, mother,” Caroline pronounces.  Gives you a rare smile before she goes back to eating her dinner.

You go to bed that night thinking about the pictures The Mirror was going to run. Know that their editor must have thought it perfect given their compelling counterpoint of death and beauty; Andréa looking so lovely and young beside the man in the wheelchair, her unlined face filled with such affection and her hair blown just so by the wind.

 

. . .

 

You attend the annual publishing awards just like you always do, despite that the timing of this event is so painfully close to Paris, your work days having averaged nineteen hours for the last two weeks.

Both of your assistants are present, though you are without an escort. Nigel is here, representing his magazine in all the pain that such things entails. You make a note to find him sooner rather than later; allow yourself such weakness in light of your present fatigue.

When you find Nigel ten minutes later, Andréa is on his arm. It doesn’t surprise you that she is here tonight, as she’s receiving an award for that the piece that ran in Rolling Stone last summer. The same one she told you she’d never considered giving to Vogue , precisely because she knew it would garner such accolades.

It’s tempting to commend her ability to divine the merit of her own work (an ability so many lack, mistaking it for humility), but you she and Nigel look so at ease, standing alone together, that you feel disinclined to approach.

You realize that the Andréa is wearing Chanel and you feel abruptly curious. A shame to waste perfectly good Chanel, Nigel had said about the birthday present he’d chosen for Andréa on your behalf, last spring. But of course you can’t be sure, as you never set eyes on Andrea’s present yourself. Perhaps Nigel will provide a subtle confirmation in due course.

Nigel works the room, while you remain stationary, forcing the room to rotate around you. You notice, after a few minutes of observation,that Andréa is still beside Nigel, no handsome paramour coming to claim her arm. You file the observation away, telling yourself it’s unimportant even as the question niggles at your thoughts.

“Miranda,” Nigel greets, sometime later. He has appeared beside you at the best possible time, interrupting the predictably high-handed chatter of The Atlantic ’s editor. Edges the woman’s monologue out with an insincere apology and the practiced smile he’s sharpened to a keen edge.

“Impeccable timing,” you murmur, when the tiresome woman disappears back into the crowd.  

“So you’ve always said,” Nigel sniffs, kissing the air at your cheek. You allow him the presumptuous jest. Glance around for Andréa but fail to locate her within the circulating throng.

“Andy ducked out to make a call,” Nigel offers. Whether he caught you looking or simply guessed, you’ll never know. “Checking on Peter.” He grimaces. “Get some air away from all these smiling vultures just waiting for her to say his name.”

“They must all be pinning their hopes to a mention of him in her speech,” you sigh, with no small amount of disgust.

“She won’t,” Nigel shakes his head. “I’m fairly certain she’d rather set herself on fire than give them a single quote about him.”

You’ve exerted what influence you can regarding Peter, quietly and ruthlessly. But there’s only so much even you can do about the press. Your own daughters have learned this firsthand, many times over.

Nigel brings up Paris and you chat in some detail about the designers who’ve set themselves up for spectacular failure. Spend a pleasant few minutes debating the garishness of certain shades of purple that you’ve resigned yourself to seeing a great deal of, in at least five different shows.

“There’s my date,” Nigel says. Nods to where Andréa now stands, giving an impressively cold smile to a man who looks vaguely familiar. “I’m going to go cut in over there before she kills that reptilian Features Editor from Rolling Stone .”

“By all means,” you murmur.

“But my, my. May I just point out how well Ms. Sachs fills out your birthday present?” Nigel winks. Glides away before you can offer a repost to his ridiculous cheek.

The awards dinner is tedious and the food, as always, subpar. You listen with only one ear to any of speeches, making mental lists concerning your Paris itinerary. The calls you need to make regarding Caroline’s living arrangement at Stanford. That repulsive smell of the new cleaning product your housekeeper must have adopted for your kitchen tile and how you have now forgotten to raise this with her twice .

“- thank Nigel Kippling,” the familiar voice cuts into your thoughts. At which point you realize that Andréa is now the one speaking and you have already missed the first moments of her speech.

She says kind, glowing things about Nigel, unsurprisingly grateful for his friendship and longtime mentorship. Thanks Rolling Stone in one brief sentence, citing not a single person by name, and you nod with approval at the subtle but effective slight.

“And though she’s disinclined to enjoy such public sentiment,” Andréa transitions. Gives the a look one can only describe as rueful as she adjusts the black tulle at her waist, continuing, “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Miranda Priestly for a lesson she taught me when I was too young to value it. One she offered by her own, singularly impressive example.”

Someone at your table chuckles, likely expecting this to be some setup for a joke at your expense. But the smile disappears from Andréa’s face and she stares down at Nigel, not attempting to seek out your own face.

“The lesson was one of fortitude,” Andréa explains somberly, to the assembly of people you know she once venerated and now must hold in no small measure of contempt. “Fortitude in all things. . . Fortitude in the face of every adversity.”

 

. . .

 

The evening winds down slowly and you fail several times to casually close the distance between yourself and whatever spot Andréa happens to be standing upon. When you see her kiss Nigel’s cheek, clearly bidding him a good evening, you make an unbecoming beeline for where they stand.

“Andréa,” you say, touching your hand to the elegant shoulder that's already turned away from you. She freezes in place, hesitating several beats before she pivots to face you.

“Miranda,” she acknowledges. And while her smile is clearly strained, her eyes- her eyes are remarkably soft.

“I'm on my way out,” you tell her. “May I offer you a ride?”

She now resides a stone’s throw from you, so you bank on her being too polite to decline even if she wishes to. She doesn't have the option of saying it's too much trouble and you suspect she will not voice that she prefers to ride alone and in silence.

“Of course,” she accepts with a tilt of her head. Follows you out to your waiting car, trailing you as she did when she was in your employ and you could rely on the safety afforded you by her fear.

“Thank you for your help,” Andréa says, when the car glides into traffic. “With The Mirror.”

“Hardly an effort,” you dismiss.

“So I’m wrong to assume that The Mirror will soon be granted a rare exclusive with Miranda Priestly?” Andréa volleys back, brows arched.

You cringe. You cannot even allow yourself to contemplate the annoyance of personal questions you’ll soon be subjected to by some sniveling idiot employed by that rag.

“The appetizers at this event are always so hopelessly beige,” you observe instead.

“Beige and brown,” Andréa agrees. Gracefully allows for the change in subject.

You don't ask her why she praised you in front of a room of people handing her an accolade. You cannot bring yourself to inquire whether some part of her doesn't hate you, or how big that part is in relation to the whole.

“I was a bitch to you,” she sighs, after you've past many minutes in silence and are quite close to home. “That day on the sidewalk, before Christmas. I was a bitch and I said a shitty thing.”

“You were astute to point out that unlikelihood of a friendship between us,” you murmur and turn away, to the window. “If only because I’ve never devoted much time to cultivating such attachments.”

The car rolls to a stop in front of Peter’s home and you hear the driver’s door click open and then shut again. You dare to glance back at Andréa, her brown eyes still so very soft and failing to look away.

“It was a nice thing you did for Peter,” she reiterates and grabs your hand. Squeezes it once before letting it go. “And it was shitty, awful thing I said.”

Andréa’s door opens, your driver standing dutifully beside it. She slips out and you finish your journey home.

You go upstairs, into your bedroom, and change into clothes you can comfortably work in. Stand for a moment near your mirror and mouth the word ‘fortitude ’ to the image looking back at you. Grimace a moment later at the strangeness of the action.

. . .

 

Chapter Text


And by the time I go,
your love has been sold
to everyone else but me.

- Thelma Plum, "How Much Does Your Love Cost" 


 

Peter dies in March. 

You're in Paris and the frantic dash of Fashion Week is almost over. Another full day of shows, a handful of public events during which you must be on high alert. You look forward to the end more than you once did; feel your mind starting to wander, in the rare minutes of inactivity. 

You know something is wrong when you see Nigel raise his phone to his ear backstage, after Versace's mediocre presentation has concluded. And you assume it's the normal Paris emergency - an incompetent staffer, a mixup regarding seats at the next show - until you see the way Nigel's face goes utterly blank of all expression. Watch him end the call slowly, then make his apologies to Donatella's nearest underling before excusing himself and promptly leaving. 

Nigel has confided that he wanted Andréa with him in Paris but she was unwilling to leave Hannah and Peter. Even the most acerbic part of you acknowledges she would have been a fitting choice. She isn't Pace's fashion writer but she knows the way to get things done on the ground here. No doubt still carries a certain amount of goodwill, having been once noted as Miranda Priestly's 'likable' assistant. You also suppose her grasp of fashion hasn't evolved for the worse in her years since Runway

Peter's too sick to leave, Nigel had said of Andréa's refusal. Appeared to understand it completely, while you yourself mentally tsked about the secondary role of her career. The chances she might not be afforded in the future. 

"Excuse me," you breeze to the cloud of Versace minions chattering at you. Follow Nigel outside, doubling your speed once in the hallway that leads to the exit. 

You find Nigel outside alone, apparently waiting for his car. There are tears in his eyes but he isn't crying. Nigel is too well versed in art of public appearance to let them fall freely here. 

"He's dead," Nigel tells you. Confirms what you'd already suspected. "Peter's dead." 

You nod but say nothing. Send a message for your own car because there are now calls of your own you would like to make. 

A dark car that isn't your pulls in quietly and Nigel doesn't wait for the driver to open the door. Grabs the handle himself and folds himself efficiently into the seat. Does not offer you a lift, for which you cannot fault him. Privacy must be snatched in the rare moments it appears. 

"Andy's all alone in New York," Nigel shakes his head, having failed to shut the door. Reaches out for it now and grabs the handle. Gives you a sad smile when your eyes lock. "Peter's dead," he reiterates, "and Andy's alone, managing the falling kingdom." 

The door shuts and the car pulls out. Your own car appears in your view, down the street.

You turn back on it and begin to walk. To where you aren't certain. Perhaps simply away.

. . .

 

The funeral is held for a week to accommodate the traveling schedules of Peter's many colleagues and social satellites. Nigel informs you that Peter found the idea of burial deeply morose, surely opted for cremation. 

The day of the service is bright and cloudless. Cool enough to necessitate jackets. Throngs of people cloaked in the safety of peacoats and unremarkable dark trenches as they take their seats in the park Peter's apparently chose for the event. You do not bring your girls despite that they desired to come. Too many photographers stationed outside, you had to explain them, if with no small amount of regret. 

Nigel finds you immediately, for which you are relieved. You allow him to briefly grasp your hand, then entwine his arm through yours. He leads you to the front row of what is by no means a small funeral. Your seat surprises you but then again, you and Peter had a long, unmarred friendship - a rare thing in your set. Andréa is rightfully in the center of the front row, her arm tightly around Peter's daughter. Nigel sits to the other side of the red-eyed, weeping teen. Touches her hair with a gentle, familiar hand.

It takes you longer than it should to realize you are meant to sit on the other side of Andréa. 

"Thank you for coming," Andréa offers once you're seated. Sounds tired. Nay, exhausted. 

You say all the right things, of course. But even then, everything sounds wrong. Wrong that a woman half Peter's age has taken on the burden of Peter's life and now his death. Exceptionally cruel and cowardly of Peter to have transformed a young woman's life because he was too selfish to suffer through the loneliness of middle age alone. 

"I'm mad at him," Andréa admits after the services. A long line of well respected people have gotten up and offered eloquent praise of Peter's life, and Hannah has cried and cried while Andréa has sat with a remarkably tranquil face. 

"You should be," you tell her.

"This is my favorite time of year," she says as she watches Nigel continue to lead Hannah out of the circulating mass of people, nominally to show her some rare flowers planted near the fountain.

 "I remember," you admit.

"He died during my favorite time of the year," she reiterates, sounding put off. 

"He did," you sigh. Employ the tone you use to point out tepid lattes to speak of your now dead friend. 

Andréa's face splits open in tears that you make no pointless attempt to soothe. Merely stand in front of her and block all view of her smudged eyeliner and blotchy cheeks. Keep those who would approach at bay by way of your glare. 

. . . 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 



If the sun don't shine on me today,
and if the subways flood and bridges break,
will you lay yourself down and dig your grave
or will you rail against your dying day

- The Lumineers, "Sleep on the Floor" 


 

 

The beginning of April marks your last spring with the girls at home.

This has been a growing seedling of pain within you since the beginning of their senior year, but then Peter dies just as the city's flowers and trees come alive and that tiny sprout of fear blooms within your chest. You spend the drive to work distracted by uncharacteristic, maudlin musings - feel unnerved by the sights of streets still crowded with fabrics of gray, navy, and black.

You call your first assistant into your office and inform her offhandedly that you'll be spending more time at home in the evenings. Instruct her to go through your calendar and edit your commitments after 6pm down by half, then send you the draft.

You want to roll your eyes when the girl simply freezes. Stares at you as if she wants to ask if this perhaps a joke at her expense.

"I'm waiting..." you sigh, and she flees back to her desk. Spends the entire day hammering away at your calendar and even then, only reduces it by a third.

"An acceptable beginning," you decide. Ignore her audible sound of relief.

Three days later, you breeze home at seven o'clock, expecting to surprise the girls with a dinner out at the new restaurant they've been begging to try. But instead you find your house empty save your housekeeper, presently working on cleaning up the den.

"Where are the girls?" you demand. Find the kitchen spotless, devoid of any sign of meal preparation. Not at all what you expected, given you failed to inform your staff of your change in plans.

"With Miss Morehouse," your housekeeper informs you. She is less timid than most, having survived fifteen years and two divorces.  Her slowness to fear proves an advantage more often than a liability.

"With Hannah," you repeat. Realize you've given precious little thought to Peter's child in light of your own, self-obsessed reflections.

"And Miss Sachs," she nods. "Caroline sent a text to say they're staying there for dinner."

Miss Sachs.

You've seen Andréa's face printed across a few local gossip rags since the funeral, but have yet to see her in person. You have thought of her often, even lying awake once and remembering Andréa's brazen candor that first month at Runway. Reclined in your bed that night, your mind supplying with an endless stream of images and sounds after Nigel informed you Peter's wish was for Andréa to assume legal guardianship of Hannah.

"Will his father fight the will?" you'd inquired. The two of you were having sashimi and tea at the time, your questions cool and idle even as Nigel stared into his ecru porcelain cup, likely collecting himself.

"Hannah is about to turn seventeen," he shrugged slightly. "I can't imagine any court will be interesting in wasting their time hearing the case if he does."

You changed the subject and Nigel seem relieved, not bringing Andréa or Peter up again in your subsequent meetings.

"They spend a lot of time over there," your housekeeper says now. "Sometimes they take Patricia with them."

Your girls have not taken real interest in Patricia since she was a puppy. A puppy for which they begged and pleaded, but were keen to play for exactly one month - at which point Patricia became your dog and her needs a new subset of your staff's problems.

You don't comment on how odd you find any of this. Merely locate your phone from within your purse and text Cassidy about your intentions for dinner.

We're already eating pizza here, Cassidy texts you. And then, Come join us :-)

Pizza does not appeal and neither does entering a dead man's home. You consider simply ordering the girls home, but such firm tactics never work anymore- they are simply too old for it. Even if they return as you demand, they will be silent and angry (Caroline) or sulking and whining (Cassidy), neither of which makes for an enjoyable evening.

I do not enjoy pizza, you text back to Cassidy. Glare down at her immediate, mocking reply.

Liar, liar pants on fire. Punctuated with a tiny cartoon icon of what appears to be a flame.

You roll your eyes heavenward. Remind yourself that you bowed out of a very important engagement to spend this evening with your girls. Receive another text, this one from Caroline's phone.

Andy says to tell you there's Greek salad too.

You smile. This is as close to an engraved invitation as you will get from Caroline, and such instances are spectacularly rare. You decide to make a calculated surrender now, while you still have the chance.

There in a few minutes, you reply to both girls. Procure your purse and then your keys. Inform your housekeeper that no one will be dining at home tonight.

It isn't a long walk, but traffic is still loud and angry, even on your relatively sedate street. The sun has already set, the sky gray with dying light. It faintly illuminates a large, flowering plant you don't recall from any previous visits to Peter's doorstep.

"You're home early," Cassidy observes when she opens the door. Poor manners, opening a door to a home that isn't hers. But you hold your tongue as she greets you with a hug and smile, both of which you are immensely grateful to receive.

"I didn't anticipate your social calendar would be so full as to preclude dinner out," you tease her. Begin to feel ill at ease now, walking into this home without direct invitation and having failed to make contact with Andréa since Peter's death.

"We didn't know you were coming home," Cassidy says.

"I know," you allow.

You follow Cassidy deeper into the foyer and then into the empty sitting room. Stand among Peter's things - the accent rug he acquired in Milan, the French oak table made by his maternal grandfather - and miss your friend more deeply than before. Feel pain and curiosity that Andréa is living here, surrounded by Peter's life.

And then you hear a sound you are well acquainted with, even if you have not had the pleasure of hearing it in quite sometime. Caroline. Giggling like mad.

"Troublemakers," Andréa tsks over Caroline's laughter. But the sound of actual rebuke is absent, the word drawn out as if for dramatic license.

"Caroline?" you call out. Still feel decidedly uncomfortable and unsure, traipsing around this house. Invading a private sphere Andréa was keen to guard from others when Peter was still alive.

"In here," Andréa calls, though you can plainly hear where they are. "This was supposed to be a working pizza party," you hear her continue, obviously not to you. "Do you remember us all agreeing that I would order pizza and we would all sit here, eating and working on our respective tasks?"

"I can't be held responsible for the fact that you're easily distracted," Caroline replies to Andréa as you enter the informal dining room. Reach visual range in time to see Andréa throw back her head and laugh loudly at the snarky retort your daughter has delivered.

"Excellent, you're here," Andréa says to you. And the ease with which she addresses you catches you off guard. "You're just in time to save me from being outnumbered." 

"There's three of us," Hannah points out. Offers you a plate of pizza you politely wave away. "How are you not still outnumbered?"

"You don't know Mom," Cassidy says and winks at you. Resumes a chair it appears she's vacated to open the door for you, a half eaten piece of vegetarian pizza on a plate next to her French textbooks.

There's established feeling in the room of comfort and familiarity. Banter that was begun without you and will continue if you leave. These are your children, and yet you feel like an outsider standing here and listening. A foreigner who does not know the language or the rituals.

"Would you care for some Greek salad?" Andréa asks. "It's from the place you used to like that's across from that place you think is horribly overrated."

This description applies to more establishes than one can count. You are about make a curt observation about this when you notice the decidedly smug expression Andréa is sporting.

A joke, you realize, but one that is meant to include you rather than ridicule.

"How clever," you eye her, no actual ire in your sarcasm. "Nigel is obviously cultivating a wealth of wit under his employ."

"Sometimes not so much," Andréa sighs and hands you a plate of rather lovely looking salad, followed by a glass of white wine. Sauvignon blanc, you decide after a measured taste. Not what you would have chosen to pair with the meal, but rather acceptable. "His less than wit-filled minions are causing me grief at the present moment."

She gestures to a pile of papers littered with dark blue marginalia. Neat, efficient handwriting you remember from the countless notes that once punctuated your daily life - annotated budget amendments, lists of the girls' afternoon activities. Small, yellow post-it notes forever lining the left side of her computer.

"Writers must contend only with their own mediocre writing," you muse. "Editors must deal with everyone's."

"Advice I could have used when negotiating my terms of employment at Pace," she volleys. 

"Do you regret demanding the opportunity to transition after a year?" you ask. Feel not the least bit guilty for knowing the exact terms of Andréa's contract; terms she essentially dictated to Nigel before she would consent to come on board.

"No," Andréa replies to you. Brushes bangs out of her face and sips at her wine. "No. I wanted to grow."

"But growing sucks sometimes," Cassidy ventures from the other side of the table. Says it with the kind of detached maturity you know her to possess, her word choice notwithstanding.

"Sometimes," Andréa nods in agreement and meets your eyes with a wry smile. "Sometimes it totally sucks."

. . .

 

"I didn't think you ate pizza," Nigel comments idly. "Not since the eighties ended."

He's sitting in your office, looking over a mock-up of a Galliano shoot you may well have to scrap entirely. You watch him frown, slightly, at the overwrought attempt brought forth by his replacement. Trust him not to comment, either to your or anyone else.

"I never consumed pizza in the eighties," you reply coolly. "That was but a baseless rumor."

Thrust, perry. You give more of yourself in conversation with Nigel than you do with most, but even this  amount is carefully measured out. Not so much given as won by persistent effort.

"She was glad to have you over," he says. Apparently has no interest in holding onto even the thinnest pretext today.

"Whom?" you ask idly. Purse your lips as you think about the Galliano mock-up. Assess the cost of the designer's temperament given his dwindling creative force.

You glance up to find Nigel looking down his glasses at you, and in the same manner he often regarded new assistants you were destined to fire within a week.

"Have I missed something?" you sigh. Rearrange a stack of papers on your desk.

"Andy," he begins pointedly. "She was glad to see you... She said it was one of the few normal conversations she's had with anyone since Peter died."

"How unfortunate," you respond. Actually mean it, but of course keep this from your affect.

You are quite certain now that Nigel wants to throttle you, and the only reason he hasn't is that he respects you and, beyond that, still fears you on some level.

"Right," he says. Nods down at the catastrophe of September issue you have on your hands. "Well. Good luck with this."

"Nigel," you murmur. Stop him as he rises from his chair. "Is she alright? I wanted to inquire myself but the girls were..." You begin again, banishing the hesitancy from your voice. "Nigel, is Andréa alright?"

"I don't know," he shrugs. "She's pushing through and managing to smile. But ... I think she feels at loose ends."

You make a vague, agnostic noise in the back of your throat. Slip your glasses off and polish them with the edge of your stark white blazer.

"She was glad to see you," Nigel repeats. Nods again and then slips out of your office.

. . .

 

Your budget meeting ran late today, which means your entire afternoon schedule became a casualty and now you are late leaving to Dalton for Cassidy's theatre performance. Your darling girl's last school play and you may, despite all your efforts, disappoint her.

"Roy?" you inquire. Sound annoyed when in fact you are nervous, seeing the hopeless snarl of track spread out in front of your town car. You know that Cassidy will search the theatre for you before the lights go down and the curtains go up. If she doesn't see your face among the crowd, she will absolutely assume the worst.

"Close, but we'll get there," Roy assures you. Pulls into another lane and makes a sharp turn, and then another and another. Carves a most circuitous route that somehow manages to deliver you at Dalton right on time.

You swallow the 'thank you' that bubbles up in your throat, nodding to Roy instead as you exit the door he's pulled open for you. He smiles, briefly, back.

The small threatre is mostly full, with open seats scattered on the far edges of the back. You feel a renewed burn of indignation at the incompetence of that budget meeting, resigning yourself to less than optimal viewing of your daughter's performance.

You're stopped by an efficient wave of an arm beckoning you from the front of the crowd. When you see that that the arm is attached to a shoulder graced by thick brunette hair, you fill with relief. Make fast, efficient strides to close the distance between yourself and Andréa just as the lights begin to dim.

She removes her purse and you slide into the seat she's saved for you. As predicted, you see Cassidy's face peering out from the black curtains, obviously ooking for you. You throw her a little wave before she smiles and disappears.

"Thank you," you say to Andréa. Sound as supremely grateful as you feel and yet cannot find the will to regret the lapse.

"I was coming anyway," she shrugs. "Nigel said both of your days exploded with that meeting, so I assumed you might have to cut it close."

You fight the urge to thank her again. Settle into your seat and watch Cassidy perform as Charmian in Antony and Cleopatra.

"She's quite good," Andréa says to you, at intermission.

"Yes," you reply.

There are refreshments in the lobby, small clusters of parents talking business or school politics. You pass another mother you happen to loathe and feel the prick of interest when she gives Andréa a disdainful look, Andréa answering it with an icy, weaponized smile.

You arch an eyebrow at Andréa, who rolls her eyes, admitting to you, "we might have had a small, heated discussion over the etiquette of savings seats."

"Oh?" you encourage.

"I considered playing it the nice way but she had PTA President written all over her and frankly," she sips her Pellegrino and gestures around, "my ever fitting here is out of the realm of possibility." 

You understand the ground Andréa intends cover with that lone sentence. Note the small subgroups of staff (drivers, personal assistants, etc) here in place of parents who failed to show. They chat among their own kind but do not mingle outside of it.

Andréa is far more than a nanny and yet still less than a parent. There's no comfortable world here for her at Dalton. How many other ways has Andréa now been left kindless since Peter died, stranding Andréa half in his own world?

"So Caroline's coming tomorrow night?" Andréa asks you.

"With her father, yes," you elaborate. Ask, before the silence can stretch, "and where is Hannah this evening?"

"Ill," she replies and you sense that it is a lie even though she sells it well.

The lights flash and the crowd begins to shuffle back to their seats.

"Miranda," a grating voice assails you. "So pleased to see you were able to make it."

The obnoxious woman from earlier appears beside and has the nerve to touch your arm. You watch Andréa's expression morph into one of dark amusement.

"Yes," you acknowledge and pull your wrist away. "My dear friend Andréa was kind enough to save me a seat."

"How lovely," the woman lies, and now you want to throttle her yourself.

Andréa ushers you away before you can say something you might regret given the setting.

"About that one recital and the hurricane," Andréa whispers when you're back in your seats and the curtains open. "That score is now settled."

Your momentary confusion dissolves into clarity; clarity into amusement.

Settled, yes. Definitely.

 

. . .

 

Have you eaten lunch?

You know that Andréa has your personal number despite that she has not used it since she worked for you. Still, you consider signing your text (with initials perhaps?) in the event that she wrongly thinks it a wrong number, deletes it out of hand. You decide against it (even initials), regretting this decision when twenty minutes goes by without a reply from Andréa.

But perhaps she knew the sender and simply didn't think to reply? Or she has already eaten lunch? Wonders why on earth you care if she has eaten lunch as you (deliberately) failed to write a clear social invitation?

It's like you knew I was passing Smith and Wollensky, Andréa replies. Your phone skitters across the desk with the incoming message and you make yourself wait several seconds before reading it. A moment later it vibrates again in your hand, My phone was on silent during a meeting. Happy to fetch food for both of us if your window is too short to allow an outing.

Your window is, in fact, too short now to allow for lunch out, but you do not like the idea of Andréa 'fetching'. In fact, you find it decidedly uncomfortable.

You sigh.

I am regrettably short on time, you text her. Carefully deliberate your next words. Will accept the favor of your delivering on the sole condition that you allow me to pay for lunch.

Andréa's response is succinct: a tiny face appearing to roll its eyes. You would be tempted toward offense if Nigel did not himself favor this emoticon when texting you about Donatella when you're both in Paris. The absurd commonality amuses you.

Same order as always? she asks, and you're relieved she didn't simply assume.

I have cut down on red meat actually, you answer.

You inform your second assistant to call Smith & Wollensky and authorize a charge to your account. Force your attention back to documents on your screen, ignoring the nervous energy now emanating from your outer office. Their questions aren't your concern.

You've succeeded at getting something accomplished when your first assistant announces Andréa. You wonder if your second assistant has simultaneously decided to lobotomize herself, as you told her 'coffee' two minutes ago and yet clearly see her working away behind her desk.

"Andréa," you greet, and a symphony of smells fills the space, contenting  you on a primal level.

"Thank you, Heather," Andréa bids to your assistant, and then closes the glass door behind her.

Coffee. Besides lunch, Andréa has brought you your afternoon coffee.

"Andréa. . ." you begin, uncomfortable and yet unsure as to why this is familiar scenario now feels so wrong.

"Miranda," she interrupts whatever sentence you were about to string together. "Let's skip dissecting the mere acquisition of coffee. I walked by Starbucks and wanted one after the day I've had. Let's not..."

She doesn't finish the sentence. Places the coffee on your desk and then makes a vague circular gesture with her now free hand as her words trail off.

"Thank you," you pronounce softly. Words you rarely say and yet find yourself saying to Andréa quite freely, the gratitude sincere and flowing.

"They'd already started your usual order - well, your new usual order - when I walked in," Andréa says and opens the boxes. "But you're welcome to try mine as I think you may enjoy it."

Your coffee is hot. Very, very hot. You should not be surprised and yet you are. Know, without question, that Andréa's little speech means she has had to address her own mental discomfort with being the bringer of your coffee.

The equal footing relieves you. Another oddity you file away, to be examined later. 

"What occurred to make you so desperate for a coffee of your own?" you ask, returning to the thread of her previous comment and pulling out something useful.

"God," she rolls her eyes dramatically. "I had a meeting with Arnold Steiner. Prelim for that New York power players series I'm doing."

You hazard a passing glance at the thin silk blouse she's wearing and give her a pointed smirk.

"I know," she says, when she notes your meaningful gaze. "I mean, like," she stops and fails. "They're just breasts." She sounds younger, less composed in her present state of agitation. "I've dealt with plenty of letches, but not a single thing this guy said to me today was usable."

"There are letches," you observe between bites of lunch, "and there are letches. . . And then there is Arnold Steiner."

"How does he even manage to campaign for office, what with boobs bouncing around him with every second person on the street?"

You shakes your head, snickering inwardly. Feel empathy for Andréa though you are far more cynical about these things.

"You've barely touched your lunch," you admonish and Andréa gives you a quizzical look you do not immediately understand.

"Here," she says in reply. "Try my spiced mac n' cheese."

You give her a pointed look to say no, absolutely not as you pick at your Caesar salad.

"One bite," she insists, "and I promise never to tell a soul."

"Fine, fine," you relent, and roll your eyes. You skip the debate because you know the woman is insufferably stubborn and the dish does smell good.

It's excellent. Perfection, if sure to send you careening toward a larger dress size if you ever made it a habit.

"Well?" she demands.

"Acceptable," you pronounce. It's clear she does not believe in your indifference, pushing her lunch closer to your end of the table at which you're eating.

You wish to ask about Andréa's new legal charge, as the girls have not seen Hannah in two weeks, Cassidy's social invitations to her schoolmate going alarmingly unanswered. It is a difficult topic and Andréa has shown no sign of broaching it herself. This is a delicate thing, and you are dreadful with intersection of 'delicate' and 'conversation'.

"Did Cassidy decide on a dorm at Columbia?" Andréa asks you, and it is now your turn to grit your teeth.

"I'm still hoping to dissuade her from living on campus," you wave your fork, "but... she has shown a strong preference for one dormitory, yes."

You can tell Andréa is amused and this raises your hackles. It is bad enough that Caroline insists on studying all the way in California - Cassidy preferring to flee the comfort of the family home when her university is in the same city is just... painful.

"She's not trying to get away from you, Miranda," Andréa says and sounds gentle. "She just wants to be more of an adult."

"I do not understand why she cannot be an adult at home," you hiss. Sound petulant and irrational but do not care as you are safe to do so here.

"I have no wisdom," she apologizes.  "I live with a teenager who either clings to me or loathes me depending on the moon and the tides of the ocean, and I have... I have no skills," she shakes her head. "No idea what I'm doing."

"She has a therapist?" you ask, despite that this might be over the line.

"A good one," Andréa confirms.

"It took three tries before the girls found one they worked well with," you confide.

There's a gentle knock on your door, your first assistant standing on the other side looking apprehensive and torn.

"Oh dear," you say when you note the time.

"Sorry to keep you," Andréa offers, tossing away your lunch boxes.

"No need," you wave away the apology. Send your assistant away with a mere glance so you may bid your goodbyes.

"Thank you, Miranda," Andréa says. Speaks the words gravely, in that sincere way she still has despite how she's advanced in the art of self-defense. "I... Thank you. Lunch was lovely."

It's absurd that she is thanking you, given the circumstances of the meal. But you take it as face value and nod to her as she departs.

"Good day?" Caroline asks, hours later. You're all in the family room and the girls were about to head upstairs.

"Bobbsey?" you murmur. The day has actually been longer than most in recent memory.

"You've been smiling," Cassidy explains,

"Have I?" you puzzle, rub your face. "I didn't realize."

You offer no explanations and the girls push no further, leaving you to your work.

You climb into bed that night and mentally turn over your day. Find yourself hoping that Andréa enjoyed lunch as much as you did, her contentment in your company feeling disproportionately important within the privacy of your thoughts.

You fall asleep easily. Dream about the girls still being in grade school. Silver stickers pressed to the top of graded assignments, cheap blue ribbons displayed with loud, enthusiastic pride. 

. . .

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

Don't bother writin' or callin' my phone
I heard your words baby
and they're too far gone

- Hestina, "You Don't Fool Me"


 

 

 

It's a Friday when your second assistant decides to quit exactly thirty seconds before being fired. You are you are in your office, reminding your first assistant that her recent promotion entails the added duty of correcting the fatal blunders of the other one when you hear the scraping of a chair in the outer office and then a thud of something hitting the floor.

You do not often allow people the luxury of quitting ahead of termination. Typically note their righteous indignation building to the requisite point and fire them before they can go through the pathetic gesture of casting themselves as any species of victor with regard to you or your magazine. It is a preference that both the Board and your own HR department bemoan to absolute tedium, it being far more legally favorable to allow an employee to simply quit. You have yet to find it within yourself to care about this particular liability.

But today has been frantic enough - you have been uncharacteristically unfocused enough - that you apparently miss the foreshadowing that precedes your second assistant's theatrics. You've yet to fully address your first assistant's poor choice in hiring the incompetent girl when she storms out on her own. Gets into the elevator with some exaggerated huffing and then disappears behind the closing doors.

"Well?" you snap at your only remaining assistant, when the phone in the outer office begins to ring. You've just given her a list of ten things you want done in the forty-five minutes, but must you state the obvious? Someone - clearly - must still answer the phone.

It's half past nine before you leave the office, return home to an empty house because the girls are with their father for the weekend. Your evenings without them are more difficult now, with their imminent departures looming. But this week they have been campaigning steadily, and to your utter exhaustion, for separate graduation parties despite the extra planning that will entail. You are relieved to let their father take the brunt of their arguing and pleading for the next two days. He takes the brunt of so little else after all.

You heat the soup your housekeeper has left you for dinner but only eat half the bowl. Dispose of the rest in favor of a glass of wine, most of which you allow to breathe for some time as you tackle the Book. Make notes aggressively and swiftly. Dispatch of all of the errors, giving less contemplation than normal to the relevant corrections.

Do you ever contemplate the paths you didn't take?

You receive Andréa's vague, existential question at half past midnight, and via your personal email account. You've been steadily working away on your laptop but have begun to lose momentum. Click into your personal email when your concentration begins to truly wander.

It is not the first communication you have received from her by way of email. There have been a handful of traded articles, a few inconsequential missives about Dalton. But this communique is altogether different, and you are positive she is sending it via email solely because of the hour.

You have seen Andréa socially exactly once your impromptu lunch that day at Runway. A single dinner with Andréa and Nigel at that new Japanese restaurant Nigel seems fairly smitten with, though for reasons you cannot fathom.

Andréa's presence at your monthly dinner with Nigel was an unexpected one, though not necessarily unwelcome. Still, after listening to Nigel banter freely with Andréa through two courses and an entire carafe of sub par sake, you felt tired and at loose ends. Cited your schedule and the early morning ahead of you while Andréa regarded you with what could be construed as disappointment, Nigel own's face a a bit too expressionless for your liking.

"Sleep well," Andréa had bid you, but refrained in partaking of the air kisses you and Nigel exchanged. Smoothed the front of her cream linen dress and sat back down, attending to her sake as her bangs obscured her eyes from view.

Not a question easily addressed in this medium, you type out now in reply. Stare at the blinking cursor and feel the most perplexing anxiety before you continue to type, feel free to call.

Neither your landline nor your cell phone ring once you dispatch your email. You consider the possibility that in the twenty minutes between Andréa having sent her email and your replying, she has actually fallen asleep like a sensible person. 

You feel exhausted now. Perhaps even tired enough to fall asleep. Close your laptop and go about turning off the lights in your study. Slowly pull yourself up the staircase, step by step.

You have already dressed for bed, having attempted to sleep earlier with zero success. But rituals are rituals even if they've already been completed once, so you enter your bathroom and peer at your skin in the vanity. Moisturize where appropriate and then flick the bright light off with a disapproving glance to the aging woman in the mirror.

You're in bed with the light off when the cell phone on your nightstand begins to vibrate. You are tired now. Painfully so. Still, you do not actually consider letting the phone ring out to voicemail.

"Hello," you sigh, once you've stabbed blearily at the phone's screen.

"Oh," you hear Andréa gasp, "you were asleep! I'm sorry."

"I wasn't," you correct. "In a better, more ideal version of the universe, I would have been. But that version of the universe appears to be uninstantiated."

"Philosophy? After midnight?" She sounds amused if tired.

"Your email indicated a certain philosophical mood," you retort. "I'm simply keeping with the theme."

There's an uncomfortable silence after that, and you regret your invitation for Andréa to call. It is late and you do not partake in the mundane social rituals that so often accompanies friendships. You have chosen to forgo exactly this kind of inconvenience for years now, both because your limited time does not allow for it but also because you were never good at it, even in your youth.

"My second assistant walked out today," you say, in an apparent effort to fill the silence.

"The new one?" Andréa asks, though she already knows the answer.

"She never managed to turn up with anything more than in a frigid latte - not once in two weeks," you hear yourself carry on.

"But she walked out?" she asks. "Instead of you firing her?"

"Few have been afforded the luxury," you admit, and then regret starting in on this topic. "I assure you I would have preferred to fire her, but I was busy attending to someone else's failures."

"You would have fired me eventually," Andréa says after a brief lull. This one more comfortable than the last. "I would have made first assistant probably. But I would have disappointed you at some point. Made some fatal error."

"Everyone disappoints me," you reply. "Simply a fact of life."

Your words are detached, you voice characteristically unemotional. But you are speaking them in the privacy of your bedroom - from the comfort of your bed, with the the lights off and only Andréa's voice in the dark. The admission feels impossibly intimate. So very dangerous.

"I've been thinking about my time at Runway all day," she sighs over the line. "Wondering would have happened if I hadn't stormed out like a child."

"Had you submitted your two weeks notice, I would have rewarded your professionalism with immediate termination," you tell her. Confirm what she surely already knows to be true. That you are petty and punitive when people refuse to accept what you graciously offer them.

"Yeah," she says with what sounds like laughter over the line. "That much I knew. But I guess I meant... what would have happened if I'd stayed. Followed the path you were offering."

You normally have no patience for such counterfactual musings. Find them self-indulgent and pointless. Have discouraged them in your girls, ruthlessly stamped them out in yourself. Incinerated others, including your husbands, for doing exactly what Andréa is doing now.

"I do not know that you would have fatally disappointed me," you tell her. "The way that others inevitably do."

"A kind thing to say," she says and then apparently yawns. "You'll forgive me if I don't share your optimism on the matter."

Optimism. You tut at the word inside your head. Cannot remember the last time anyone has accused you of such a youtful liability.

"Hm," you say. Manage to mostly silence your own yawn with a hand over your mouth.

"I will leave you to the sleep I likely rudely interrupted," Andréa says now with some contrition. "But I'll be around the house all day tomorrow if you and the girls don't have plans for lunch."

"The girls are with their father," you inform her.

"Well," she begins and then pauses. An odd, uncomfortable beat following the single word. "I'll still be around."

"Yes," you acknowledge. Almost end the call without a further word, in the fashion you do with everyone exception your daughters. Choose instead to say, "good night, Andréa."

"And to you, Miranda," the voice on the other end of the line bids you, promptly replaced with the relative quiet of your bedroom. The low drone of your air conditioner kicking on.

You roll over onto your side, turning over Andréa's initial question about paths not taken. You failed to answer it and Andréa refrained from asking you again. Clearly knew better than to push you on a topic so deeply personal, even if your emailed response did, uncharacteristically, invite further discussion on the matter.

You pull the covers higher over your exposed shoulder to fight the draft from the air conditioner. Ignore the nagging sense of being forever alone inside your thoughts.

. . .

Saturday brings the kind of heat and humidity that is downright cruel for the beginning of summer. You work on your laptop until noon, sipping mineral water in your breakfast nook and occasionally watching the gardeners toil away on the other side of your windows.

They're still trimming your wisteria too short, you notice with annoyance. Consider going outside to tell them so but simply do not have energy to deal with it. Shut your laptop and move away from the window instead. Tell yourself it's time for a midday meal, as you've only had water and coffee since you awoke.

Your housekeeper does not work the weekends - you have always preferred the absence of servants spying eyes on the weekends regardless of whether the girls are home or not. You are certain that if you only open your refrigerator, you will find neatly stacked containers of prepared meals for you to reheat as you desire. But instead of going into your kitchen and procuring your own lunch, you find yourself changing your shoes and finding your keys. Venturing out into the thick heat only to traipse down the street, your favorite pair of Chanel sunglasses protecting your eyes from the midday glare.

"Miranda," Andréa smiles when she opens her front door. Or is still Peter's front door? Your mind hiccups up over the question as you realize with blooming anxiety that you have turned up her without any notice, not even a perfunctory call.

"You mentioned lunch," you manage, in something dangerously closely to blurting. Remain outside the door despite that Andréa is clearly waiting for you to come in. "Unless you and Hannah are otherwise engaged."

"Hannah's at a dance camp all weekend," she corrects.  "Jesus, it feels like July out here!  Come inside already."

You do as you're told and Andréa closes the door behind you. Stares at you with an expression that indicates perhaps some species of befuddlement.

"You have impeccable time though," Andréa continues and begins leading you deeper into the townhouse. "I had just decided to make myself lunch."

"I had thought perhaps Boulet," you think to lie. Decide it far less rude to turn up with no notice if you're extending an invitation to dine out. "I've found they're lunch menu to be less redundant than their evening offerings. Quite satisfactory."

"Go out?" Andréa cringes. "In this heat? I'll pass." She leads you into the kitchen where an array of vegetables are laid out, some already neatly chopped and piled by cohort on a plate. "Besides, I just finished the prep for my favorite pasta salad. Join me?"

"Alright," you agree, sounding mildly put upon. Find yourself coming to rest upon a a brushed nickel bar stool as Andréa moves about the kitchen, turningburners up and down, opening and closing cabinets filled with spices. 

"I don't recall Peter being fond of Art Deco," you muse out loud, looking at the matching bar stool next to you.

"He wasn't," Andréa concurs. "Those are mine." She adds the plate of various vegetables into an already simmering pan. "The first time he saw those, back in this apartment I had for ages, he declared them ugly. Asked if I bought them when I was drunk."

"I wouldn't call them unattractive," you offer. Unsure what to say about Peter or else his friendship with Andréa; the topic feels like such a minefield now.

"High praise from Miranda Priestly," she chortles. Slides a glass of sparkling water across the island to you. "We're switching to wine with lunch, but water now."

"Wine at midday?" you tsk somewhat genuinely. "Working for Nigel must be as unpleasant as working for me if you've taken to drinking at this hour."

"Working for a friend is tricky," she admits. "But today I drink because this house is presently devoid of a teenager. Which means I am in the rare position of being responsible for no one except myself. And as the twins are away, you too are an example to no one and a guardian to none."

"You make it sounded vaulted," you say.

"An eloquent defense of alcoholism," Andréa winks and opens the lid of a pot to poke at something. "Honestly though. I adore Hannah and she's family to me... But it's still nice to get a weekend off. Is that awful?"

"No worse than my being relieved than my daughters are gone this weekend, despite my cliché maternal agony over their impending departure to college."

"Do they really want separate graduate parties?" she asks now, eyebrows knit together. "Despite that their friend groups involve about a ninety-five percent overlap?"

"For that conversation," you declare, and hold up a hand to stop her, "I will need wine."

Andréa's pasta dish is simple but well seasoned. You sit with your twin plates and twin wine glasses in the solarium Peter had added on to the townhouse five years ago. The bright midday light filters through the row of minature citrus trees lining the garden outside. Shadows of long, extended branches cast against the chairs and carpet.

"These are my favorite chairs in the whole house," Andréa confesses. "So comfortable."

"I picked them out," you announce after you've swallowed a bite of food.

"Peter actually asked for decorating help?" Sounds distinctly surprised when she asks.

"He asked me to choose between two chairs," you explain, smirking now,  "but one was hideous and the other as comfortable as brick. So I bought him these and spared myself the possibility of a visiting a friend only to recline in a horrible chair."

 "Merely an act of self-interest," Andréa pronounces. Solemn voice but twinkling eyes.

"Of course," you nod. "Pure narcissism."

The two of you begin to chuckle at the same time and you feel strangely calmed. Contented in a fashion you rarely feel, and never outside the company of your daughters.

"You ducked out of our dinner with Nigel pretty quick last week," she accuses. Pronounces the words casually enough of course, but the accusation is plain to see and so is the hurt that bleeds through her expression.

"I recall lingering some time," you lie.

"I always know when Nigel's gone out to dinner with you because he comes in the next day, bitchy and tired and barely hiding his hangover." She leans back in her chair and crosses her arms. Looks impossibly young with her bruised ego.  "I'm sorry I crashed your friend dinner... I should have declined when Nigel invited me."

"No," you hold up your hand. Feel a rush of words you barely manages to stem before you speak them. "No," you say more carefully. "You were a welcome addition. But you and Nigel seemed fairly engaged and I did have a very early meeting."

Andréa offers you a weak smile. Likely doubts your words but perhaps she still appreciates the relative diplomacy of your response.

"I regret marrying Stephen," you say suddenly and then watch as Andréa's eyes go wide before she quickly schools her expression. "You asked last night about paths not taken," you continue, by way of odd explanation for your outburst. "A mode of thought I seldom dwell in and have little use for as a rule... But marrying Stephen was an unmitigated mistake. One I waste more time regretting time than I can rationally reconcile."

"Did you love him?" she asks, and it's such a predicable question. Such a boring, predictable question you almost find unworthy of her intellect.

Almost.

"I loved him in...  a thin way," you hear yourself say.

"In a thin way way," Andréa repeats thoughtfully. "I think I know what you mean."

Your mind drifts to that boyfriend she had when she worked for you (a cook, wasn't he?). And that dimple-faced gentlemen you met on her arm at Pace's event, almost a year ago. Both long gone, obviously. The thought fills you with an odd kind of relief.

The subject changes and lunches progresses to less personal topics. Andréa refills your wine glass twice and seems genuinely content to linger on whatever subject you bring up. She also curses loudly when she still spills Rosé on the ecru carpet. Glares at you without an ounce of fear when you mock her for her clumsiness. You laugh at her displeasure, more loudly than can be considered elegant.

You go home, tipsy but no so far from sober that you won't be able to work soon. Go about your list of tasks with a kind of buoyancy you rarely feel and even then do not sustain for such a length of time.

The hours tick by and so does the work, and you cannot ever say that everything is finished because there is always more to do, other problems waiting to be be solved. But you can say that what you have done is enough, and so you do. Pronounce so in your head and close your laptop and file away both budget printout and the long list of notes your first assistant had made for you the previous afternoon. 

Thank you for lunch, you type out to Andréa as go about making yourself a cup of evening tea. It was pleasant.

The minutes evaporate along with your now boiling water. Your lavender tea steeps and steeps in the large ceramic cup you now stare into, still listening for your phone to chirp.

It doesn't and you fill with an uncomfortable feeling you cannot immediately identify. Sip your now lukewarm tea and pace a slow semi circle around your kitchen. Catch yourself staring at your still silent phone.

Longing, you realize with both fear and disgust. Longing for the friendly chatter of someone you saw mere hours earlier.

You dump the disgusting, tepid tea down the drain. Leave the dirty cup in otherwise spotless sink. Decide that you most definitely have another two hours of work in you and anything less will be pure sloth.

You hear phone chirp from the kitchen as you begin to ascend the back staircase up to your office. Do not hesitate a single moment before climbing upward, away from distraction and toward the certainty of work.

. . .

 

It's far too early for cheerfulness when you see Nigel’s beaming face. Smell a familiar but rare cologne as he bravely saddles up next to you in the lobby.

“I suppose,” you acquiesce. Answer his unasked question and allow him to join you in the elevator.

He’s in one of his infuriatingly good moods. You know it by that obnoxious smile, sense the joking coming before he even opens his mouth.

“I do so appreciate it when you share your toys,” he says and you roll your eyes violently. “Buy you a scotch tonight if you don’t have plans with the girls?”

A scotch holds appeal, though you have an entire Friday to get through first. You have no idea yet what species of idiocy await discovery in the coming hours.

”Possibly,” you say as the elevator arrives at Pace. Nigel glides off a cheeky wink that (he should be very grateful) his underlings do not see. 

The day is rife with setbacks though none prove disastrous. You begin to consider Nigel’s offer tentatively viable by late afternoon. 

Nigel asked if I was up for drinks tonight, Andréa texts you. Are you coming too?

You scan the messages thirty minutes after they were sent, but do not send a reply. Refuse to acknowledge Nigel’s message, received an hour later, asking roughly the same of you.

“Coat. Bag,” you say to your new second assistant hours later. You are certain the idiot girl will not last a month, but then again you thought that of Andrea too and- 

Your mind comes to a wrenching stop at that particular line of thought.

You exit the building and surrender yourself to the relative privacy of your car, which drives you directly home. Work until you cannot keep your eyes open. Ignore the name Andréa at every turn your mind makes.

 . . .

"What's wrong?" Cassidy sighs dramatically from besides you in the town car.

"Nothing has to be wrong for your mother to decline to cater to your every passing whim," you hear yourself snark. Glare at the driver when he glances back with a wince.

"Yeah, okay," your daughter continues, "so I want my way and I'm not getting it. Roger that. But like, you've been in a bad mood since we got back last Sunday. So I'm asking what's wrong and not in I-just-want-my-way kind of way."

You take a deep breath.

"Did something happen at work?" Cassidy presses. "The asshole Irv?"

"Language," you admonish, even if you do approve of that particular choice of colorful adjective.

"Mom," Cassidy pleads. "Seriously."

"You do not... Do you not sometimes simply have a bad week, Cassidy?" you ask rhetorically.

"I do. But typically storm clouds like the big ones over you right now require something like a calculus midterm."

She gives you a self-satisfied smile and you feel your bad mood being undercut, regardless of your conscious wishes.

"Thank you for caring about my bad week," you pat her knee. "I appreciate the concern, however unwarranted."

The car enters the Columbia campus and then slowly navigates past various buildings that seem vaguely familiar from Cassidy's compulsive dormitory research.

"It would be more cost effective for me to simply buy you an apartment nearby," you point out again, ignoring your own redundancy.

"Mother," Cassidy rolls her eyes. "I want a normal college experience."

"Normal for whom?" you demand. "And besides, normal implies ordinary. And you, my darling, are not ordinary."

Cassidy's only answer is a groan and when the car stops she looks at you warily.

"Please don't make this hard by insulting the tour guide or calling the dorm appalling, please?" Cassidy pleads of you.

"Cassidy." You would be furious, but her look of desperation makes that impossible.

"If you hate this and don't want to help, that's okay. I'll ... I don't know, I'll ask Andy maybe? But please don't make this hard because you're in a bad mood. Mom, please?"

"Ask Andréa?" you repeat. Dig your nails into your own palm hard enough to hurt.

"She said some things that helped a couple weeks ago," Cassidy says and you feel her shoulder move against you as she shrugs. "When I was talking about what I wanted in my room. And no, I'm not saying I don't want you here. I'm just saying I want you here in a constructive way, Mom!"

"Fine," you relent. "That is... a fair request."

Cassidy smiles at you and you try to return the gesture, even if the prospect of this makes you anything but happy.

"Maybe I'll come back with Andy if she has time," Cassidy muses as she climbs out of the car with all of the grace of a newborn horse. "She lived in dorms so she knows the drill."

"Mmhm," you manage through clenched teeth. March toward a nervous looking young man holding a clipboard.

. . .

 

"Cassidy?" you call up the staircase, upon returning home from a painfully tedious afternoon reception at Vera Wang.

"She's not here," Caroline informs you from her perch on the couch.

"Not here?' you repeat, hands on your hip.  You've just come home to find a letter from Columbia stating that Cassidy has failed to fill out all of the paperwork related to her dormitory. If she doesn't electronically sign her forms soon, her spot might be given away.

"She wanted Andy to read something," Caroline says, sounding bored. Which means that she's in fact jealous. "I think she was going to play video games with Hannah afterward."

You have no desire to appear at Hannah's home as you have done previously, as for the last two and a half weeks you have ignored each and every communication from Andréa.

"I'll call her phone," you say to yourself more than to Caroline. Dial Cassidy's cell phone, only to hear it ring from within a pile of Cassidy's belongings, heaped atop a chair directly across from Caroline. 

You close your eye. Swear softly in French.

"Language," Caroline tsks. Has her eyes afixed to the book in her hand though the corners of her lips are turned up, her expression too smug for your liking.

"I don't suppose you would be willing to go fetch your sister for me?" you ask. Wonder if it is beneath you to resort to bribery here.

"I can't say I want to aid and abet you avoiding Andy," Caroline breezes, and you feel your jaw hang open.

"I don't follow," you lie. "I'm merely a tired, old woman. Hoping the daughter I painfully birthed will take pity on me - use her young legs to carry my message to her sister."

"No," Caroline replies and turns a page. "I don't know why you're dodging Andy but it's mean. She was actually worried about you until we told her that you’re fine."

"I am Not. Avoiding. Andréa," you draw out slowly. Try to sound as calm as possible.

"Excellent," Caroline pronounces. "Then your going over then won't be awkward."

Her blue eyes twinkle with malice even as face remains otherwise expressionless. It's as if you are looking into the most infuriating mirror in existence.

"Fine," you relent. "I will go fetch Cassidy myself."

You remind yourself as you walk that you have done nothing wrong. You and Andréa have no standing social obligation, and you are an incredibly busy person. A busy, important person - responsible for helming a business that keeps hundreds of people employed, generates millions of dollars in revenue.

Nothing wrong, you repeat to yourself, until the moment Andréa swings open the front door.

"Cassidy," Andréa calls, without saying hello to you. "Your mother's here."

"Two minutes," Cassidy shouts back. Sounds like she's immersed in a game.

"Now please," Andréa rebukes, sounding remarkably firm. You find yourself consumed with curiosity as to what her mother sounds like, whether Andréa has borrowed that tone from memory.

"Here," Cassidy says, appearing at the bottom of the stairs. Andréa smiles at your daughter's chastised expression. Touches an affectionate hand to her red hair before she turns on her heel and retreats back into the house, and away from you.

"What's up?" Cassidy asks you, at which point you proceed to lecture her about deadlines and responsibility.

"This dorm is what you wanted," you remind her needlessly. "Do you want to lose your place in it because you were too lazy to sign a form?"

Cassidy shifts from foot to foot, making her apologies. Informs you she has her laptop with her, asks whether she can remain here with Hannah if she fills it out now.

"Fine," you relent. It feels so futile to be strict when soon you can't control their comings and goings at all.

Cassidy disappears back up their stairs, apologizing again as she goes. You should head straight home now, accept the out Andréa has handed you by disappearing from sight, not engaging you in conversation.

"Andréa?" you call instead, because apparently you are a woman of completely conflicting desires today. Round a corner to find Andréa typing away in a small room you don't remember Peter having previously set up as an office.

"Yes?" she asks, obviously angry at the intrusion. Continues typing, her keystrokes pointed. Long, elegant fingers jabbing at the laptop's keys as if fencing with the backlit buttons.

"My apologies," you say, unsure of yourself now. “You're obviously occupied."

"Yep," she shoots back. Sounds flippant. "Super occupied."

The wise course of action would be to leave her alone to her snit. This is what you wanted anyway, is it not? To leave Andréa alone and be left alone by her?

"What?" she finally shouts at you, after you've remained in place, simply staring at her for more than a minute.

"Do not shout at me," you hiss back in your usual lethal manner, but Andréa is far from intimidated. Sits behind her obviously antique desk, hands hovering over her keyboard, eyes narrowed and ominous, her spine drawn completely erect.

"Miranda, you have ignored my calls. Ignored my emails. Ignored my texts. You now waltz into my home, uninvited, and apparently expect me to pay attention to you when I am in fact trying to meet a deadline. Either tell me what it is that you want from me or get out and let me work."

"I don't know," you admit. Have nothing else to offer either Andréa or yourself in explaining your odd behavior.

"Not good enough," she tells you and shakes her head. Begins typing again.

"We'll never be friends," you blurt and she freezes. "We'll never be friends... Those were your words, not mine."

"Are you..." she begins. Stops and rubs both hands over her face. "Are you saying you agree with that statement, or are you merely throwing those words back in my face now that it's convenient?"

"Neither," you decide out loud. "I'm... trying to understand what you meant."

Why she seems to like your company even though she hated you, you mean.

"Miranda," Andréa says, and sounds deflated now. "You're you."

"Not a particularly enlightening explanation," you snap. Assume she's commenting on character, your lack of amiability.

"You're Miranda Priestly," she begins again. "Publishing mogul. Fashion empress. People give you your own elevator car just because you're you."

"And?" you puzzle. Genuinely aren't following whatever it is that Andréa is trying to say.

"And I'm me, Miranda. Plain old me. The only reason we share an orbit is because of a mutual friend who was kind enough to die on us."

"That isn't true," you retort, not having thought your words through.

"I'm fine not fitting in with the Dalton parents and I was fine not fitting in at all those galas that I went to with Peter. It was his life, not mine, and to extent that it's my life now it's only by default.” She searches you over, looking deflated and roused simultaneously. You do not dare to interrupt, lest she not continue. “You exist on a much higher plain than I do. Which is why in particularly shitty moment I said we could never be friends."

"Oh," you say, your intellect apparently deserting you. Feel a deep, unpleasant tension beginning to uncoil from around your chest.

”And I believe I already apologized for that months ago,” she says.

“You did,” you respond. Feel very small now. 

"I do actually have to finish this," Andréa tells you and nods to her computer. Sounds apologetic rather than dismissive. 

"Of course," you say, and feel selfish for disturbing her. Selfish for pushing your way into her home and her time, after you'd seen fit to ignore her for weeks.

"We'll talk later," she promises, and you feel yourself nodding. You turn to leave, the ground floor of the house silent save the soft clicking of Andréa’s continued typing.

"How is she?" Caroline asks you later, in the kitchen.

You have decided to cook pasta for the girls. Something simple perhaps. Simple and filled with vegetables.

"Cassidy?" you ask absently.

"No," Caroline says. Sounds put upon by your slowness to understand.

"Andréa is up against a deadline," you reply. Dice a pepper into neat chunks and then deposit it in a pan. Think contentedly about Andrea furiously typing away in that little office. Her antique desk and a painting of almond blossoms behind her head.

"Like death and taxes," Caroline laments. Snakes an olive from the counter and pops it in her mouth.

. . .

 

Chapter Text

 


And every night my mind is running around her
Then it's getting louder and louder

- BØRNS, "Electric Love"


 

 

Every summer of your existence as a mother has been spent in expectation and preparation of Runway's September issue.

Your girls have previously gone off to various arts camps and vacations with their father while your own energies distilled further and further down. Always spending the long, bright days of the season subsisting on adrenaline and the lattes fetched by your assistants at all hours of the day. 

But this year is different because your girls are graduating.Very soon Caroline and Cassidy will their bags for college and they will quit your family home.

You do what must be done at work, push yourself and others harder than you ever have during the hours you spend within those walls, but at the end of most days you go home before eight, sometimes make it for dinner. Work with your already beleaguered first assistant to plan the girls' party in the lead up to graduation.

Caroline and Cassidy have, oh so benevolently, finally agreed to a joint party celebrating their achievement. But there are still a variety of logistics to consider. And as you've learned this week, the politics of teenagers to weigh.

"Sasha isn't talking to Ethan," Caroline tells your first assistant. Points with obvious frustration at a seating chart Heather has just finished, for the fourth time.

You are all at the townhouse, your first assistant seated in the living room with your girls, a dossier of papers neatly fanned out in front of her and a seating chart in the middle of the table.

"Okay," Heather replies slowly. Plucks the names off the paper tables and makes the required change. Doesn't remind Caroline that it was her idea to put these particular people at the same table only four days ago.

You have been more hands on than usual with this particular party, but there is only so much you can do on your own. As it is you are doing the family seating arrangement yourself, lest you have to tell your first assistant about the politics therein. 

"Hello, Heather,"  Andréa says, a few moments after Cassidy's opened your front door.

"Andréa," your assistant bids, and Cassidy and Andréa both titter.

"Only Mom calls Andy that," Caroline informs her. Makes a displeased sound with a change Heather has made to the seating chart.

"My apologies," Heather offers, and Andréa waves her off with a smile that you still find startling in its sincerity.

"You promised me dinner," Andréa reminds you. Seems understandably wary that she might be the one who has to arrange a delivery, in the likely event that you forgot.

Heather makes an utterly unconvincing showing of disinterest in the familiarity with which Andréa now addresses you, and you feel resentment prickle at your neck. It is regrettable that the logistics of your schedule now occasionally require an assistant's presence in your home; a further intrusion into your private life.

"I had Vietnamese brought in," you inform Andréa and are pleased to see Hannah, presently lingering shyly behind Andréa, immediately perk up at that. "Hello, Hannah," you say in what you hope is a warm voice. "Thank you for joining us this evening."

Hannah is quiet. She always has been around you, even before her father passed, so you aren't surprised at all when she smiles at you, then disappears around a corner with Cassidy.

"I thought Taylor and Addisu were on the outs since the last play," Andréa says and points to the table chart Heather has just completed anew. Caroline merely shrugs, perhaps to communicate to a lack of knowledge but more likely to convey a lack of interest. The children mentioned are Cassidy's friends, not Caroline's.

Heather plucks name after name off the paper table. Sits up straight in her seat, as if she's trying to compose herself before she throws the whole thing onto the floor.

Andréa gives you a meaningful look. It is one you are rather quick to understand, but Heather is your assistant and her work is at your discretion. You do not take kindly to others expressing opinions as to that work, and have made that point cruelly clear to several others, most notably your ex-husbands.

Andréa looks at you again, as if willing you to see her line of thought. And this should be enough to make you truly obstinate - it should make you cold and utterly unyielding - but the truth of the matter is that there is so much else for Heather to be doing. Pressing tasks that don't involve apparently contemplating tea leaves to ascertain the ever changing politics of Dalton's graduating class.

"Heather," you begin, and watch as your assistant braces, expecting a verbal lashing. "Tomorrow morning call the caterer and confirm that the second cake will be made with coconut flour, not almond flour. Inform them that peanut products are not so much as to be opened in their kitchen until my order has been delivered in its entirety, lest they would like to be a receiving end of a lawsuit that will bankrupt themselves, their children, and any future grand children their children should see fit to produce in their abject poverty."

You continue your list of tasks as the Andréa, your girls, and Hannah move the delivered food to the dinning table. Send Heather off with a 'that's all' that leaves her blinking before she stands up, gathers her things and practically sprints out your door.

Dinner is on the quiet side of things but pleasant. You have had Andréa and Hannah over for dinner once last week, have managed two scraped together lunches with Andréa, though regrettably brief and eaten in your office. All of these meetings were at your request, a fact you are deeply uncomfortable with. But Andréa has shown no further interest in dissecting your previous misstep with her, nor has she demanded further apology from you regarding idiotic behavior. You have mentally weighed the balance of affairs and declared them a net profit.

Dinner conversation shifts and Caroline asks Hannah about the dance intensive she's apparently going to over the summer, this development news to you despite your several conversations with Andréa.

"Later," Andréa mouths when you look to her confirmation.

You find the promise comforting, for reasons you cannot readily identify. Look forward to talking alone with her, once the girls have scampered upstairs to do heavens knows what.

"Alright," Andréa says, once the dining rooms' been cleared of dished. "So onto this seating chart."

"You needn't worry yourself with that," you tell her. Feel acutely comfortable with the idea of Andréa taking over in a task where your assistant left off.

"I hear the girls talk about these names week in, week out," Andréa sighs, sounding much put upon. "I am more of an expert than I would like to be."

"Hm," you say. Attempt to be gracious in the face of her kindness. "Girls, please come help Andréa."

"Are Ellie and Selena still broken up?" Andréa asks them.

"No," Caroline replies. Rolls her eyes for punctuation.

"Back together again," Andréa says and plucks Selena's name from one paper table and moves it to another. "Maybe the fifth time will be the charm for those two."

"Ha," Cassidy snorts.

"Did Rashad accept Sarah's apology?" Andréa asks, her hand hovering like a viper over yet another paper name.

"Ish," Hannah shrugs and you watch as Cassidy pulls a face.

"Ish," Andréa repeats. "So different table for Sarah then."

More questions, more changes. Andréa's knowledge of Dalton Academy's horrifies you, until you realize how many hours Cassidy (and sometimes Caroline) spend  over with Hannah, likely regurgitating the days' events while Andréa is also at home, undoubtedly attempting to get work done amidst the chatter.

"Anything else?" Andréa asks, and the girls' answer is blissfully silence. "Alright then. So these spots are open," Andréa gestures. "Anybody decides to break up, or ghost someone, or start a rumor about someone's father in the next two weeks - they go there."

"With the band kids?" Cassidy asks. Voices the suggestion as if Andréa is proposing sending the children to purgatory.

"With the band kids," Andréa solemnly confirms. "But closer to the dessert table. So you'll still get to appear politically neutral."

"Heavens," you say. Give an incredulous laugh. You thought holding an event with Donatella in attendance was complicated.

"This is serious business, Miranda," Andréa winks at you. "Not the stuff of political amateurs like naive young Heather."

Caroline and Cassidy are so pleased about the new seating arrangement that they do no prickle at your shared humor at the youthful dramatics. They simplycollect their phones from various rooms and wander at various speeds up the stairs.

"Thank you," you say. Because those words are so apparently easy for you to say Andréa. Inexpensive for you to offer now, despite years of thinking their price far too dear to ever consider.

"I'm happy to help," Andréa smiles. "But I do accept payment in wine."

You pour her only half a glass before she motions that it's enough.

"You still have work," you guess.

"As do you," she says and lifts her glass. "So let's enjoy this brief reprieve."

You sink further into your chair as an act of agreement. Allow a comfortable silence to bloom between you.

"The dance camp is at Oberlin college," Andréa tells you a few minutes later.

You enjoy this manner Andréa has of leading right into a topic with as little preface as possible. Your conversations are never long these days, so you value the expedience now more than ever.

Oberlin. You are aware of this particular intensive, despite it being held at a college in one of those dreary middle states. Caroline had once considered it in passing until she learned Oberlin was in Ohio. You have little doubt that her technical skills suffered for sharing her mother's prejudices.

"It's about two hours from my parents," Andréa continues, "so not so close as to feel like she's being watched. But close enough for me to feel comfortable with her being there for a few weeks."

You have vague memories of Andréa's parents. You did not see them at Peter's funeral, only the week after it. Coming in and out of Peter's townhouse. Carrying groceries. Walking Peter's dog. Doing what most people do in the wake of death, you suppose. Not that you ever thought to do such things yourself.

"They weren't at the funeral, were they?" you ask. Feel immediately embarrassed because you have asked a  thoughtless question, and only to satisfy the puzzle of your incomplete memory.

"No," she says quickly. "They... were supportive. In their own way. But they don't approve of - well, of any number of my life choices. My friendship with Peter included."

"Mm," you say. Do not ask any of the many questions this statement brings to mind.

"They think have an unfortunate habit of getting caught up in the slip stream of powerful people," Andréa supplies. Hands you this very private truth on a silver platter, without you even trying for it.

The words aren't without sadness (you've always pegged her as someone who hailed from a close-knit family) but her tone dwells somewhere between bitterness and anger.

"What do you think?" you ask her. Remember the therapist you once saw on occasion and do your best impression of her now, as you metabolize Andréa's words. Watch Andréa run an absent fingernail along the twill material of the Michael Kors slacks she's wearing.

"I think I'm loyal," Andréa replies. Drinks her wine in a less than dainty fashion. "And yeah, I think I have a nurturing streak that sometimes gets me into trouble. But mostly I think I'm drawn to the smartest people in the room. People who share my ambition. It makes sense that some of those people happen to be older and more influential than me."

You do not point out that there are a multitude of smart, ambitious people her own age  and yet even at Runway Andréa was closest with Nigel. The truth is so obvious Andréa must herself know this, whatever her blind spots.

"On a less narcissistic note," Andréa shifts, and you want to interrupt her - to tell her that that you are in fact quite interested in this line of discussion.  "I'm amazed you're managing to be home this early given how relatively close to September it is."

"I've made changes," you reply. Sacrifices, you mean. Of yourself. Of your staff. Possibly of the quality of your magazine, but that has yet to be determined. You still have two more months in which to wring blood from stone.

Andréa's expression softens as she looks at you with something you can't readily identify. Not admiration exactly, but something akin to it. The moment hangs for a second, perhaps two, and in it your heart blooms out of your chest.

"I should let you get back to it," she says by way of apology when she glances at her watch. "Thank you for dinner. And the company."

"Yes," you manage awkwardly. Because it feels so incongruent for this woman to thank you when her presence feels like such a reprieve for you. Has for sometime.

"Touch base when you can," she tells you, and waves you off from walking her out once you stand.

"I will," you say, and are rewarded with a radiant smile and a kiss upon the cheek.

 Hannah and Andréa depart, the house rapidly growing still as the girls busy themselves with projects upstairs. You focus your attentions on the Book, though your mind occasionally pauses to think about the rough weave of twill, the faint smell of a perfume too bright and floral to be your own.

. . .

 

The girls graduate. You successfully avoid crying in public although you do later cry in the shower. You do not attempt to disentangle the pride from the pain as you press your forehead against the Calacatta marble, allowing you fear and sorrow to pool around you.

The next day brings their graduation party and the disagreeable politics of family and ex-in-laws, which consumes more of your attention than such things rightfully should. And the first cake is entirely wrong, the icing a shade too dark to be in keeping with the Ravenclaw theme Cassidy had requested, but both both girls seem pleased nonetheless. You temporarily file away your grievances for later action.

Nigel attends, as does Andréa. There is so much for you to oversee that barely talk to either of them. You spot Andréa going for a second slice of cake with your ex-mother-in-law beside her, chattering away as Andréa remains completely expressionless.

"Congratulations, mommy dearest," Nigel says to you. Takes the venom out of that comment with his wide, kind smile.

"Thank you," you say. Decide to tell him at some point in the future that he looks he's from the Midwest when he smiles like this. "But I'm quite sure the accomplishment belongs to Caroline and Cassidy."

"And to you," Nigel reiterates. Tips his glasses at you before he slips off, perhaps to rescue Andréa.

The party finishes, finally, and people begin to leave, finally. You have already lost the battle to the pressure headache that's been building at the base of your skull.

"Miranda!" Andréa calls. Cuts through a small crowd of people filing out to make it to where you're standing. "I'm on my way out. Wanted to say 'hi' and 'goodbye', as it were."

"Thank you for coming," you say in the velvety, insincere voice you use on others. Hear it come of your mouth, as if by default, and think to correct the impression. "The girls were very pleased you and Hannah made it," you finish. Grasp Andréa's arm as if to underscore your point.

"I would never miss a Ravenclaw cake," Andréa says without a trace of irony. "Even if I did have to get through that shrew of a woman to get to it." Andréa motions her head in the general direction of your (second) ex-mother-in-law and you let out a tiny snort despite yourself. Feel Andréa squeeze your hand, as if in solidarity, and then collect Hannah with a silent gesture.

"Drinks this week?" Nigel asks you on his way out. You are certain he wants to discuss Pace with you in private because there is a growing nest of financial worries there. You do not think you have either the energy or the time, no matter your wish to support Nigel and his magazine.

"Perhaps," you say. Bid Nigel and the other guests farewell, then close your door with a solemn prayer to gods you do not believe in.

. . .

 

Are you awake?

You send the text off, into the night, and wait in bed with your thoughts until your phone vibrates in your lap. Delivers a reply you weren't expecting.

Feel free to call, Andréa tells you.

"It's one o'clock in the morning," you lecture into your cell phone.

"Says the woman who is also awake," Andréa volleys back.

"I've been working," you admit. Hear the exhaustion in your own voice. The weakness. You no longer think to hide these things from Andréa. You no longer want to, it appears.

"I quit a few hours ago," Andréa yawns. "Popped up wide awake a little while ago."

"Unfortunate," you note. Have trouble finding the right words here, expressions of empathy having never been your strong suit.

"It's been like this for a while," she admits. "I just invest in really good concealer."

"I need less sleep than most," you observe. Feel a train of thought forming but you are tired and your mind is slow to define a direction for your words.

"I'd noticed," she snarks. "Ya know, back when I got five am calls from Emily when you decided to pop into the office at six."

"Emily," you repeat with amusement. You wonder to yourself if she's terrorizing the offices of British Runway to the same extent she did those in New York.

"I miss her," Andréa sighs. "No more catching up with her at parties now that she's in London."

"She'll have to be in New York next month," you tell Andréa. You do not reveal the project Emily's magazine is working on. It will be a coup for them, assuming they don’t bungle it before fruition.

"Really," Andréa draws out.

"Mm," you sigh.

The silence stretches, and you consider ending the conversation given the hour. There is a chance that you could sleep now. A slim chance to get a solid rest.

"I'm meeting with Hannah's estate lawyer tomorrow," Andréa says.

"Oh?" you prompt, now wide awake .

"The upkeep on this house is costing her estate a lot of money. It's one thing now, when she's still at Dalton. But next year... I think they should consider selling."

You and Andréa have not spoken of money or the provisions of Peter's will. You assumed Peter would rightfully leave the townhouse and most of his estate to Hannah, but of this you've yet to have confirmation.

"No one asks about the money," Andréa says, sounding more tired than before. "They'll ask all kinds of painful questions about my relationship with Peter, his illness. The ways he suffered. But the topic of money is somehow verboten."

"People are singularly uncomfortable asking about money, yes," you say and sigh. "Which amazes given their lack of tact in every other domain."

"He considered leaving me more," Andréa tells you now. Says it in the smallest voice. "I didn't want to gain at the expense of Hannah."

"I suspect you didn't want to gain from his death at all," you venture. Find it an obvious truth, knowing Andréa.

"No," she says. Sounds like might be close to crying now, her voice pitched and watery. "Every time I go pay for something now I feel sick to my stomach."

"You can give all of it away," you tell her. "But it won't vanquish that feeling. It will not lessen that particular pain."

"No," she agrees again. Sounds more sure of herself now, if still speaking quietly. "No, it won't."

You wake up the next morning to find the phone on your pillow, laying where it evidently dropped when you fell asleep. Your call to Andréa reads as lasting two hours and thirty-one minutes, though you spoke for less than half an hour.

You go about your morning. Drink your coffee and scrutinize your newly applied eye makeup in the light of three different mirrors. Roam the house in silence because the girls are still sound asleep and will be for hours now that that they don't have school.

You allow yourself a few minutes to read the news online, your mind wandering to Andréa. Picture her awake and doing roughly the same.

You wonder if she still adds milk to her coffee. Suspect she reads the political headlines before the business section. Smile to yourself because those things may still change with time.

. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


Oh, the heart it hides
such imaginable things

- Florence + the Machine, "Sky Full of Song"


 

 

The end of June proves unusually hot, and you smooth down your general loathing of summer and its perennial accompaniment of grotesque fashion trends as the month ticks away.

The failures of your staff mine new depths of stupidity as the mercury simultaneously climbs. You sit behind your desk, wondering if they have all suffered some kind of heat stroke that now impedes their basic cognitive functioning. 

"Please explain to me how so many of you have suffered a simultaneous decline in intellect," you say to someone from accessories. The new head of the art department (now the second replacement for Nigel, as the first lasted less than a year) opens her mouth to offer some apparent explanation, then promptly closes it when she apparently realizes that you’re likely to fire her, too.

"That's all," you dismiss quietly. Clearly this run-through is a colossal waste of your time and your staff are unprepared. You idly consider firing them all and hiring an arm of interns. You doubt the quality of work product would differ if you did.

"I'm busy," you snap into your cell phone when Andréa calls you.

You regret your tone as soon as the words have left your mouth - inwardly cringe at the idea that you have spoken to your friend this way. But spoken them you have, and your mind fails to find a verbal remedy fast enough.

"You could have just cancelled lunch," she replies with irritation. "Because if you had, I wouldn't need to call you in the first place to ask where the hell you are."

She hangs up before you can get another word in, and you fume here. Not at Andréa, who has reacted to your words in the manner your snappishness deserves, but rather at the incompetence of your assistants. Heather has proven capable enough with your schedule, but the new second assistant has twice deleted entries by accident. You've learned of the new girl's ineptness only from Heather's hushed, scornful words reaching your ears from the outer office, Heather having apparently fixed the deletions before they effected the flow of your day.

But not today, apparently, as you have just missed your appointment with Andréa because both of your assistants failed you simultaneously.

"Heather," you call softly, and by the way she walks in you can tell she has already braced herself.

"A long standing lunch appointment was apparently deleted off my calendar today," you say, and pause a long moment here in order for her fear to properly bloom. "As the most rudimentary elements of maintaining a schedule have somehow eluded you, I suggest you brush up on them rather than accompanying me to the Rodriguez showing this afternoon."

Heather's jaw clenches for a moment before she schools her features. It's a tiny sign of indignation, a reflex most people have left behind by the time they make it to first assistant. But Heather has a backbone that has thus far proven rather unbreakable, and you have gathered that Narcisco is her favorite designer by how often she wears dresses of his creation. You assume she has been looking forward to the showing today. Which is precisely why you are now forcing her to remain here rather than accompanying you.

"Yes, Miranda," Heather grits out politely but does not smile. You take a cruel joy in that as you sit down at your desk, open the calendar your assistants have managed to bungle today.

Alas, you open it to see a rare and disturbing problem. There, from one to one-thirty-five, is your scheduled lunch with Andréa. It appears your schedule was never changed; you simply failed to keep track of your obligations as your day fell apart.

You glance at your watch to see that it's just shy of two now. You have an appointment with someone from advertising in twelve minutes and meetings back to back after that. But the last time you spoke with advertising about the Cavalli account they'd made mistakes in two different figures, so perhaps you have the right to be a bit punitive today.

"Cancel my meeting with advertising," you tell your assistants, as you exit past them and into the hall.

You were supposed to meet Andréa out of the building for lunch, but your are sure her present mood means she will likely refuse to answer your phone call.

Well. Needs must, you tell yourself as you enter the elevator and push the floor for Pace.

"Andréa Sachs," you say to Nigel's assistant. The young man is obviously panicked at seeing you, as Nigel is presently in Barcelona.

"End of the hallway," the assistant says with an ungodly squeak. "Then to the right. She'll be the last door."

The offices of Pace are no less frenetic than that of your own magazine, but even in Nigel's presence there is a certain element of fear that you find somewhat missing within the space here. It's something about which you have privately tsked at to yourself during previous visits, it being clear to you that Nigel's staff are too comfortable to be of proper service to him. Such comparisons to your own magazine even giving you a feeling of pride, somewhere in the deeper recesses of your mind.

You stride along your corridor now, people stepping abruptly out of your path, and the fear you inspire chafes rather than pleases. You feel like a large rock thrown into otherwise calm water. Worse yet, a blunt knife taken to a smooth piece of silk. The sensation is jarring and discordant, but you swallow that discomfort down. Turn the corner as instructed and scan for Andréa's office.

You worry for a moment that you're going to learn here that Andréa is one of those insufferable people who works with their door open, but mercifully you find her door properly closed. Which means of course that you must ask for entrance - a task you now approach with an absurd level of apprehension.

"You're early," Andréa calls after you've rapped against her office door. The stern expression she wears shifts into something (slightly) softer when she opens it, seeing that it's you rather than whoever she was expecting.

"Oh, but not you," she tuts. "You're late, not early." And there's a certain playfulness in her voice. A degree of yielding that you easily spot and would normally seize upon, merrily skipping over any acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

"I apologize," you say instead. The words come as such quick reflex that you wonder if such muscle memory is the lasting mark of multiple failed marriages.

"What happened?" she asks, but sounds only mildly interested. As if she expects you to blame your staff, an assistant. It is your habit after all, and even if you know concretely that the error today was yours, the temptation to blame Heather and the other one still remains...

"I had to suffer through the most mangled run-through I've witnessed in... years," you begin, "and somewhere in my frustration, I lost track of everything else. Including my own personal appointments."

The admission of fault appears to dispel the remaining hardness of her expression, relief flooding your chest because finally, something is going right today.

"May I?" you ask, as she's already motioning you to sit in the chair opposite her relatively small desk.

"I have food," she tells you. "I'll share it with you if you go easy on judging how little I've done to decorate this room."

"How 'easy' am I required to go?" you ask as you look around. She has a decent view but the furniture here looks like it all came standard with the office. Not a single thing bespeaks her personality or style, the space both sterile and depressing.

"I don't work from here that often," she defends, and pushes her sandwich and salad toward the center of the desk.

You already know this, and the only reason you thought to find her here now was because she'd previously bemoaned two meetings she had to conduct here today.

"If you find this space an apt reflection of you..." you begin with an ambivalent roll of your shoulder, and then trail off.  You smile maliciously when Andréa glares, handing you a plastic fork.

"I take it back," she says. "Your version of 'going easy' is actually worse."

"In that case, this room is gray and one step up from a cubical. Your home office is lovely. Why you've chosen to keep this place such a horrid little tableau of institutionalism, I will never know."

"Miranda Priestly calling something I picked out 'lovely'," she says to herself thoughtfully. "Oh, how much money twenty-three year old me would have given for this experience."

"I doubt you have shared your lunch with me then," you reply, rising to the challenge.

"Maybe. If you'd asked nicely," she smiles at you. Then giggles like a school girl when you put on your most scandalized expression.

You share her lunch, the two of you halfheartedly picking at a Ceaser salad that's been horribly over-dressed and a turkey sandwich that lacks any discernible flavor aside from sodium.

"So I take it the new Emily is still making Heather's life hell?" Andréa asks you after you've eaten all that either of you care to.

"She is making my life harder," you sniff. Have half a mind to be offended here. "You and your odd preoccupation with the comfort of my first assistant."

"Heather's a keeper," she rejoins. "Your life will be even harder if she quits. Why do you think I bring her that secret coffee whenever I swing up there?"

"You bring my assistant coffee?" you feign annoyance. Discard the empty food container into the trash, the quiet thud an appropriate punctuation.

"Don't pretend you didn't know that," she tells you immediately. "You don't miss a single thing that happens within the walls of your lair."

"Lair," you repeat. Say it in a voice that would have had her frozen in panic back when she worked with you. "And to think I thought your wit had surpassed the level of Dragon Lady references."

"Lots of things have lairs besides dragons," she points out, gesturing with the white plastic fork she's yet to toss out. "Wildebeests, for example." You narrow your eyes in a glare and her smile only grows wider as presses on "Mad scientists. Bears. Serial killers."

"Thank you," you cut her off, and she gives a loud, obnoxious honk of a laugh. "You think yourself so funny."

"No, I think myself a lucky, lucky girl because Miranda Priestly chose to visit my sad little office just to eat an equally pitiful lunch with me."

"The food was woefully subpar," you admit. "Though the company did elevate it."

You gives you a beaming smile and swift kiss to the cheek. A demonstration of affection she gives to many people, though never before to you. You feel momentarily off balance.

"Off with you now," she shoos good-naturedly. "Before you're late to a meeting and we make dear Heather's life even harder."

People likely flee from you again as you make your back to your own office. But if so, you do not notice. You think instead about Andréa waving that ridiculous plastic fork in the air like some tiny sword. Try not to laugh, lest the employees of greater Elias-Clarke witness it.

You return to your office two minutes after you the time you intended to leave for the Roriguez showing.

"Coat, bag," you say to your second assistant, the annoying creature clopping around with all the grace of an elephant.

"By all means, take your time," you say to Heather when she remains seated. "I'm sure Narciso has all the time in the world to wait for my first assistant to stroll in."

Heather's eyes enlarge, her hand quickly clicking at something on the computer before she rushes to join you in the hallway. She won't get an apology. Obviously. But being in your position means never explaining changes in your directives.

 . . .

 

"It feels like we're bleeding out," Nigel confides to you over dinner at a tiny bistro you often frequent with the girls.

You have put off having this conversation since the girls' graduation, as you've selfishly guarded what little energy you have left this time of year. But Nigel is your friend, and he stayed by your side despite moments of marked unpleasantness. You remind yourself that the least you owe him is your ear and the limited advice you have to give.

"I think we all feel that way," you tell him. Allow him to top off your wine, even though you have no intention of finishing the glass.

"Not like this," he shakes his head. "I might have to cancel our Halston shoot entirely. Another round of budget cuts."

It's unwise of Nigel to tip his hand so much to another editor, even one under the Elias-Clarke umbrella. Then again, he knows you well enough to realize that you've already learned this information yourself. Knows, too, that you are too intent on your own vision to even contemplate scooping up someone else's creative droppings. 

"Do not cancel," you advise and take another sip of your wine. "When the shoot's a success, you can leverage it against the Board."

"And if that doesn't work?" he asks. And here you have a moment of empathy for his employees - the dozens and dozens of people who will have far more difficulty finding a comfortable place to land than Nigel himself will.

"We do this to create and curate art," you remind him. "If we can't do that, even in trying times, then we have no business doing any of it anymore."

Nigel seems both mollified and thoughtful after this, and in the ensuing conversation about Caroline's upcoming orientation at Standard (an unneeded hassle, you claim) your mind drifts to Andréa. You have little doubt she'll have trouble finding a commiserate job if Pace folds, as she is simply too well connected now in addition to her obvious merit. But you wonder here, as Nigel complains about his neighborhood association (petty fascists, he maintains), whether Andréa will stick by Nigel's side if his ship truly begins to sink.

Has Andréa come far enough in her career to separate personal loyalty from professional necessity? Most people with her level of success would have already, but Andréa is made of entirely different stuff than most people. And isn't that why continually marvel at her?

"By all means, smile at my expense," Nigel grouses now.

Smile? You didn't realize you were.

"Well," you say smoothly. "Forgive me for finding a measure of amusement in the idea of this much drama stemming from the placement of a lone potted plant."

"It's personal expression," Nigel defends.

"Of course," you say. Manufacture the false, syrupy voice you've employed to goad every one of your husbands.

"A potted plant isn't just a potted plant," Nigel says. Adds with an insufferable little smirk, "no more than a turquoise belt is just a turquoise belt."

The reference take a moment to find a home in your memory. When it does, you are torn between agitation and affection, Nigel being forever able to pluck Andréa right from your very thoughts.

 

. . .

 

Caroline and Cassidy take off on a long-planned trip to South Africa with their father, leaving you with an empty house that is but a preview of what your life will soon become. You come home the first evening to find no one to greet you, not even your pet, as Patricia is sound asleep somewhere upstairs. You feel your already wretched mood further deteriorate as you slide off your Prada heel, one after the other.

You are too enervated to sleep and too distracted to work, and you are certain the Book holds only further disappointment for you. And it is entirely unlike you to put off what must be done, let alone a task as ritualized as your reviewing of the Book, but put it off for morning you do. Tomorrow is a Saturday, so your morning's later departure for the office will allow you this small reprieve tonight. All that's left is now is to fill the waking hours until you're tired enough to retire to bed.

It's a task that becomes monumental once you stand in your kitchen, bare feet against the tile, and wonder if it's too depressing to drink a bottle of wine alone.

You've just settled in the family room with a book and a cup of tea when your doorbell rings.

"I have wine," Andréa announces, as she strolls into your home uninvited and announced. You attempt to come up with some crumb of agitation within yourself, but all you find is a staggering sense of relief.

"I believe you're becoming an alcoholic," you observe wryly, as you follow Andréa into your kitchen. Watch as she sits the wine bottle down and goes about gathering glasses and the hopelessly cheap bottle opener she left in your drawer two weeks ago.

"A worthy goal," she rejoins with a smirk. "Too bad neither of us have the time to achieve it. Unless one can be a part-time alcoholic?"

"You know," you begin, attempting sternness. "I have a very efficient German wine opener right over on that counter. There's no earthly reason for you to use that... thing."

"Your definition of 'efficient' seems to differ from mine when it comes to kitchen appliances," Andréa eyes you. Opens the bottle with little effort and zero flourish. "A person shouldn't need a degree in mechanical engineering to work a wine opener, and anyway this thing, as you so kindly called it, cost me twelve dollars at IKEA six years ago and has served me faithfully ever since."

She punctuates her little speech with a flip of her thick hair, a motion you find somehow charming rather than ridiculous.

"I'm not in need of babysitting," you tell her now. You worry you may have went on and on about the girls' trip the other day, perhaps revealed too much of the inner workings of your mind. Allowed your loneliness to bleed out in your voice.

But you do not need Andréa's pity, and you wholeheartedly refuse all actions rooted in its sentiment. 

"Hannah left yesterday for the dance intensive at Oberlin," Andréa says to you here. And it's a logistic that you are peripherally aware of, the topic having recurred in recent conversation. But you have been so consumed with the girls and your own thoughts, the fact that Andréa is also alone, however temporarily, hadn't quite occurred to you. "Maybe I'm the one in need for babysitting, hm?"

She pours the wine and something about her manner deflates, as if the bravado and cheek she strutted in with were all for show and beneath it she, too, is in poor humor.

"How long is she gone?" you ask, though you already know the answer. You are trying harder these days to ask questions about other people (well, about Andréa) even if you aren't the most adept at coming up with what to say.

"Two weeks," she sighs and looks down at your kitchen counter. "I knew I'd miss her, but I thought maybe I'd just be - oh, not relieved exactly. More able to focus on work, maybe?"

"Instead you came home to an empty house that feels wrong," you supply knowingly.

"With Hannah there it feels like a home. A home with complicated feelings and some painful memories, yeah, but still the place we cook dinner and watch movies." She swirls her glass of wine but still doesn't drink from it. Refuses to make eye contact with you as she says, "without Hannah, all I see in that house is Peter and it's horrible. I hate it."

You realize later, when your conversation resumes after a lengthy pause, that it is here that you should have hugged her. You think about it at length when Andréa begins speaking of work - miss half of what she is saying about a new co-worker because you're too busy replaying the moment in your mind.

Andréa is tactile person, is always touching people's arms when she speaks, frequently hugging Nigel and your daughters even though she sees them all the time. Despite this inclination, Andréa favors you with the most sparing of touches in your interactions. You posit that perhaps Andréa would not have appreciated a hug in that moment. Discard the hypothesis almost as soon as if you've considered it, as clearly her reservation to treat you as she does Nigel is because you are you. Prim, cold, and closed off, even to those people you deign (on such rare occasion) to allow into your private life.

Regret and guilt tug at your attention, though the degree of both is surely disproportionate to the oversight that initially started this self-reflection.

"And then he asked me out," Andréa says, clearly the ending to a story she's been telling your for several minutes, though you have not heard a sentence of if it until this last statement.

"He what?" you demand, because something in your mind grinds to a halt when it repeats to itself the sentence Andréa has just uttered.

"Well I said no, of course," she squints at you. "Not like I'm going to go on a date someone I have to see every week at work."

"Of course not," you say warily. Try to replay what Andréa has been saying as you were busy, apparently psychoanalyzing yourself.

Luke. Is what she called him? What kind of man even goes by such a childish name? Surely his name must be Lucas. Not that said name appeases you in the least. 

"But it was weird, ya know. To realize that I could. What with Hannah being gone and all. Still, the whole idea still held no appeal."

"No appeal," you repeat faintly.

"I've date a lot of strong personalities," she shrugs at you. "None of them stay the course." Her face takes on a hardness here that you have not seen since Peter's illness, a veil of cynicism that appears more and more at home on her young face. "If they're all going to leave when things get difficult, I don't see the point to begin with."

"They're weaker creatures than we are," you say here, and Andréa snorts. Assumes that you say this in jest because apparently the two glasses of wine she'd had have blunted her usual ability to carefully discern tone. "No," you say, and touch her arm for emphasis. Meet her curious gaze until her amusement has subsided and she is truly listening to your words. "I truly believe that they cannot withstand the things that we can."

Because this is the thesis you've arrived at after three marriages to three very different men. This is the summation of your own painful experiences, spanning across decades, with men who floundered and flailed while you remained resolute.

"I think you're right," she says. Slouches unbecomingly into your couch. "But on that cheery note, I think we need more wine."

You open another bottle, but do not finish it because you have work tomorrow and Andréa is clearly soused after her third glass.

You wouldn't have pegged her for such a light weight, but suppose in all the time you've spent together you've rarely seen her partake of more than one glass. 

"Sleep in the guest room," you find yourself saying, though Andréa is not nearly so drunk that she can't be trusted to safely walk across to her own home.

"I don't need to be babysat," she parrots back to you. And it's only in small part snide and self-righteous, so you aren't unamused. "I know I said it doesn't feel a home to me, but that doesn't mean I should avoid it."

Strangely, you weren't even think of any of that when you told Andréa to stay. It simply seemed like a preferable idea for her stay here, close to you.

"The girls claims that my housekeeper makes the best pancakes they've ever tasted," you tell her. It's a claim you cannot confirm, as you've never eaten them yourself and haven't had a single pancake for twenty years. "And she's here on Saturday mornings."

"You cheat," Andréa accuses. Holds her face close enough to yours when she says it that you can feel her breath on your face, smell the 2006 Bordeaux you've both been drinking.

"Yes," you say, though your throat feels dry now. You finish the rest of your own wine in one efficient motion.

You direct Andréa to the guest room. Provide her with toiletries and a gray silk nightgown from your own dresser, though it's one you haven't worn for years.

You feel at odds within your own skin, the way you usually do when it’s been a week of too many lattes and not enough sleep. But you haven't had any caffeine for hours, and you lay awake in your own bed thinking of the woman two rooms down.

"Miranda," you hear outside your own door. Her voice is soft, almost a whisper, but it makes you shoot upright in bed.

"Yes?" you call. At which point your door slowly swings open, admittedly both a beam of light and Andréa, clad in silk.

"Oh good, you're awake," she says, as you look at the graceful slope of her calves. A strange thing to find captivating because you've seen them before, though never in conjunction with her hair wavy from a shower and your own nightgown pressed tight across her breasts. "Do you have some makeup remover I can barrow?" she asks sheepishly. Perhaps because you are staring at her - at her elegantly muscled shoulders and the way the gray nightgown stretches across a chest too ample for a garment that was cut for your own body.

Dear Heavens.

"Bathroom," you tell her. Sound snappish and angry when in fact you are terrified. Of what you have just discovered about yourself, and of Andréa's reaction were she to see into your thoughts now, as she so often does.

"Sorry if I woke you," she says, sounding ill ease. You wait, breath suspended in your lungs, as she enters your bathroom and exits a moment later holding a small bottle. "Sleep well," she tells you as she makes her way out. Doesn't look your way again as she likely mistakes you for angry. Which suits you just as well, as you prefer not be in the same room with her again. Tonight, or perhaps ever.

. . .

 

When you hear Andréa stirring upstairs at half past eight, you consider quitting your seat in the kitchen. Perhaps hiding away in your study or else the ground floor guest bedroom.

You have been awake the entire night, having watched the sunrise as you finished your edits to the Book. You have now had hours to process your confusion, and revulsion, and anger. And though those feelings are all still very much with you, so now is a new determination.

Whatever pathetic loneliness has caused you have these singularly odd... inclinations, you will not cater to them. You refuse.

You will no longer foster this unhealthy codependence in yourself, as it a weakness, a stunning failure, that has apparently led you to think of Andréa at every turn and juncture. Which is simply crazed.

You must clearly put a cold, abrupt end to this childish rapport. This ridiculous friendship, which allows Andréa to pop into your home - into your very bedroom - without direct invitation.

It is foolishness. Unbecomingly jouvenile. And when you consider the difference in your respective ages and status, you question why you ever allowed any kind of association to take seed in the first place. But rip it out now you must, like the weed it so obviously is.

So, no. You will not hide away. Not in your own home, nor anywhere else. Instead you will be thoroughly yourself. Distant and cutting and cruel, and every ounce the woman your ex-employees and ex-husbands rightly claim you to be.

"Miranda?" Andréa calls, as she rounds the corner that opens to your kitchen. And you say nothing, sipping your coffee with cultivated disinterest as you remain seated, the muscles in your back now drawn taut. "Oh, there you are," she says upon spotting you. Goes about fetching herself a cup of coffee as you avert your eyes from her bare feet and long, pale legs.

She's procured a pair of Caroline's denim shorts to wear, along with a black cotton tank top that you would guess to be Cassidy's. The image of this woman wrapped up in the material trappings of your teenage children is exactly the juxtaposition your mind needs in order to complete its self-immolation.

"I'm sorry to borrow clothes from the girls but I didn't want to wake you up," Andréa says after she's gulped down half her coffee. Black coffee these days, you note as though to file the information away. But then you catch yourself, immediately replacing that interest with detachment. "I'm really sorry that I woke you up last night," she continues now. Stares at you with a soft, thoughtful expression rather than fear. "I know how much trouble you have falling asleep, so it was an asshole thing to do."

You should cut her to the quick here. You should, with a few sparing words, reduce her to tears, the way you did when she was your employee. You are positive that she will not come running back if you do. History has shown that she has too much self-respect, an overabundance of character, to simply take whatever you meter out.

It will not be difficult to render this connection to shreds, you remind yourself. Stare into dark, patient eyes and tell yourself to make the cut now. Make it deep.

"I was already awake," you say instead. Hear the words coming out of your mouth but apparently cannot stem your affectionate tone.

"Bad dream?" she asks. Sits down beside you, the kitchen filled only with the sound of a scraping chair and Andréa's gentle concern.

End it now, the lone rational part of your mind warns you.

But Miranda, we'll never be friends.

"A most disturbing dream," you say, and press one hand to your temple. Fight against the sting that now blooms behind your eyes.

"I'm sorry," she says, and sounds so painfully sincere. Your vision blurs with unshed tears.

Andréa begins to rub gentle circles in your back, and something within you shatters.

"Hey now," she whispers, now embracing you. And you realize, to your horror, that you're actually crying. Something that you have refrained from doing in front of another human being since the day your girls were born. "Hey now," she says again, her breath warm in your ear. "It's over. Whatever it was, it's over now."

Over.

You turn the single word over in your mind as Andréa continues to hold you.  Touches your back with careful, delicate fingers, as if you're something fragile and priceless. An irreplaceable piece of couture.

"Of course," you say and manage to sound almost normal. "How very silly of me."

. . .

 

Chapter Text

 


Hold your tongue
bury the rope
hammers and nails

- The Bones of J.R. Jones, "Hammers and Nails"


 

 

 

The girls both email you from their vacation in South Africa. The missives turn up in your personal email, apparently sent five hours apart and separated in your inbox by a lone message: a forward from Andréa about a gallery show of an artist you've mentioned only in passing.

You are at work, six meetings and one disastrous phone call to Calvin Klein to get through before your day ends, so you leave the messages unread. Choose to save your daughters' words for later, at home, when you'll have time to devote your full attention to them. They are likely asleep now given the time change, and even if they aren't, it is highly doubtful either eighteen-year-old is sitting on pins and needles, awaiting a reply from the likes of you. 

The day drags. Your employees would be surprised to learn that you are not wholly immune from Monday malaise, but then today feels worse than normal. Perhaps because you spent the last two days turning yourself inside out with regard to your friendship with Andréa; the origin of these decidedly uncharacteristic and unbecoming inclinations, and toward a woman whose trust and personal respect you've managed to retain despite all she knows of you.

How you abhor introspection. Tedious as it is, and so often fruitless. A habit that needlessly wastes time, you've always thought. But engage in it you have, all weekend, working and milling about your quiet home.

How is it a single friendship can make a person so contented, you wonder as your car carries you home hours later. Because you have been able to admit this much to yourself by now: your rapport with Andréa eases the unpleasantness of your darker days and otherwise brings you moments of jubilance that you haven't felt since you were decades younger. And yes, if you truly forced yourself, you could end it. You could be cruel and cutting, and send Andréa fleeing from your side at such speed that she wouldn't look back. But at what cost to your own happiness? And what in heaven would your girls (your beloved daughters, so perceptive and keen to pick up on things unspoken) think of you when they inevitably came to know of your cruelty to someone whom they've clearly come to hold in such fond regard?

No. No, your friendship with Andréa shall continue on, this much has been decided. But what occupies you now, what has occupied unceasingly for the last two days, is the question of precisely when these other feelings - this peculiar sexual attraction - came into existence. To that end, you have been dissecting your memories from last few years, trying to find the point in time from whence it first sprouted. Because you are sure (vehement even) that you did not harbor such attraction seven years ago, when Andréa was in your employ. For one, she was an employee and at the start an underwhelming one at that, and second, she was practically a child - only a few years older than your girls are now.

You admit to yourself that you had perhaps favored Andréa then, likely because you saw her intellect and ambition, wrongly assuming she would follow your own professional trajectory. If you noted her striking features despite that her beauty failed to conform to the Runway standard, such recognition was mere factual analysis and surely not physical attraction.

But if not when you first met her, then when? You ask yourself the question of when over and over again, because why is different, more frightening question, one you are not remotely prepared to consider addressing yet.

You arrive at the townhouse before dark but only just. And it will be an hour, possibly two, before the Book arrives, so you help yourself to the dinner your housekeeper has left you. Methodically eat your salad and drink your sparkling water while ignoring the silence of the house, save Patricia's snuffling in the next room.

You will get used to this silence, you tell yourself again. You must.

You allow yourself to sit down in the den and open the girls' emails once you've eaten all you care to. You have a moment of indecision as to which message to open first, deciding to begin with Cassidy's if only because it arrived first.

Her sentences are long and winding, her descriptions of animals and landscapes managing to convey excitement, if always with a certain lack of precision. But she writes as she speaks and as you read her words you can hear her breathless voice as clearly as if she were sitting next to you. You relax deeper into the couch as she speaks of her sister's odd fascination with a blue crane that apparently refused to be startled away. You scroll to the end of email where Cassidy's embedded several pictures, including one of the aforementioned bird.

Caroline's message is predictably shorter, with clipped sentences that still manage remarkably evocative language. There's hints at tension with her father (not a surprise, that), but at the end is a short passage that catches you completely off guard.

"It's not the grandest bird, so it was odd to see it and think of you. But it refused to moved even when dad flailed his arms like an idiot. Refused even when Cass offered it bits of food. I named it Miranda. Forgive me, mother. But know that I miss you."

It's a rare admission from the daughter who has been too apt a pupil of her mother's reluctance to show more tender emotions. The words bouy you, even when you resume your work once the Book arrives. Remain in your chest, bright and warm, when you crawl into your bed hours later.

 

. . .

 

You promise Andréa that you will attend a Balenciaga soiree even though you know it will be a tedious event.

"I haven't seen you in more than a week," she whines into the phone line, and you are more moved by the complaint than you rightfully should be. Yes, you have both had hectic work weeks with entirely conflicting schedules, but much of that conflict was deliberately engineered by you in order to give yourself some time and distance. You need space in which to process... whatever it is that you apparently feel, and how must act going forward.

It is also possible that you are still uncomfortable with the idea of facing Andréa, following the unbecoming emotional display that transpired in your kitchen the Friday before last, you reluctantly admit after several days of dodging direct physical interaction with her.

But trek to Soho you still do, and donning the only interesting dress that Balenciaga managed to offer in this year's summer line. They should count themselves lucky that it's a shade of green you've always judged flattering for your skin tone, as you came dangerously close to wearing Prada tonight, etiquette be damned.

The space, as expected, is far too crowded and the music unnecessarily loud. You acquire a drink immediately, if only in self-defense.

As always, unimportant people accost you with tiresome conversation, some quicker to flee your disinterested expressions than others. You have made half a rotation, agonizing inch by inch, before you spot Andréa on a couch, deep in apparent conversation with Emily Charlton.

People understandably think you pay your staff little attention, a belief you are most happy to cultivate. But you are nothing if not keen observer of people, their mannerisms and motivations. It it clear to you, distant though you are from where they sit, that your ex-assistant is ranting away to Andréa. To her, not at her. An important distinction, and a rare one given Emily's personality. You draw closer, someone from Balenciaga mindlessly chattering into your ear, and you can see that both women are holding champagne glasses in their laps, Andréa's cheeks flushed in the way the sparkling wine usually affects in her. She says something, clearly interrupting Emily's diatribe, and whatever it is sends them both off into peels of laughter.

They look happy, and young, and in that moment you feel indescribably old. Utterly removed from Andréa and everything that defines her.

You should leave, you decide immediately, and favor your chaperone with a cool phrase that he fails to register as the dismissal it clearly is. Now, if only to summon your car before-

"Miranda!" Andréa calls to you, and the resist the urge to keep walking here because there will be no good explanation for your exit now. No possibly way you can claim that you somehow missed her. "I was worried you weren't going to show," she says now, and when you turn gaze back to her she is radiant with happiness, so obviously pleased to see you that you almost forget how wretched you felt a few moments earlier.

She kisses your cheek, makes contact with lips just below your cheekbone, and you find yourself returning the gesture, your hand braced against her arm for one second, two, three.

"Emily," you acknowledge, as the other woman does her best to hide being gobsmacked. You remind yourself not to look amused at her expense, if only because doing so may upset Andréa.

"I didn't realize you were coming," Emily says, clearing her throat. Casts a sidelong glance at Andréa that is likely an accusation.

"I'm sorry I dragged you to this," Andréa says to you, and sounds genuinely apologetic. "This whole thing really is..."

"A celebration of poor aesthetic decisions," you finish for her, and sound as aggravated as you feel. "Yes," you sniff. "Still, here I am."

"So let us taking refuge in this passable champagne," Andréa says, and motions for you to sit down.

"Since it's one of the few tasteful choices they've made all year," Emily murmurs, and then appears to pale a moment later when she considers the amount of cheek behind that statement.

"You were wise to pick something from two years ago," you say, examining Emily's cocktail dress. It would normally be a mistake to wear something so hopelessly out of date to an event like this, but something out of season is preferable to something hideous.

"Emily was just telling about the new designer British Runway is about to feature," Andréa says. Attempts to coax along conversation with painful obviousness.

"It's a bit depressing to come off of something so inspired and walk into... this," Emily admits, gesturing vaguely around.

"That," you pronounce solemnly, "will be the inevitable pattern of your entire career."

Emily makes a halfhearted noise of distress on the other side of Andréa, and Andréa leans a little farther into your own space, her elbow and shoulder now solidly pressed into your own.

The rest of the conversation is less stilted and painful than you would have thought. Perhaps the champagne gives Emily Charlton courage, or perhaps sitting beside Andréa does, but either way Emily replies to your questions with long, thoughtful sentences that do not bespeak the panic she undoubtedly feels at being within your striking distance again.

"How's Hannah doing in the wretched home state of yours?" Emily asks Andréa, and Andréa makes a dramatic display of being offended.

"Quite well, thank you very much," Andréa says. "My parents took her to dinner over the weekend and apparently Hannah couldn't stop raving about everything at Oberlin, which jives with what her texts to me say. But still. Nice to get third-party confirmation."

 "Perhaps it's also easier for her, being away from this city," Emily ventures.

"I've considered that thesis myself," Andréa allows, sounding a bit pained here. "And though she still has a whole year left at Dalton, after that who knows..."

You are collecting your own thoughts, weighing whether to say any them here, in public, and in front of Emily, but by the time you've made a decision, the topic of conversation has changed and your input is no longer relevant.

"You are late," Emily declares a few minutes later, when Nigel finds all of you.

"I was being held hostage," Nigel grimaces, throwing a glance at the same yammering idiot you had your ear until Andréa spotted you in the crowd.  "And as lovely as it is to see all three of you, I much prefer to being seeing you in a bar. Preferably one far away from this party."

"Oh, I second that," Emily says, already grabbing her handbag.

It hasn't been entirely objectionable to speak with Emily, and you do enjoy Nigel, but the idea of all of them chattering away in a bar is bit too much for you to stomach, let alone on a week day.

"I'm afraid I actually have to get going," Andréa says, before you voice the same sentiment. "But you kids have fun."

"And I too will be refraining," you tack on, before either of them can cajole Andréa. "Andréa, would you care for a ride?"

"Love one," she says, and wedges your arm in hers as she begins moving toward the door. "Call you tomorrow about dinner, Em."

It isn't until you're both in your car, Roy merging back into the relatively light traffic, that Andréa lets out a long breath.

"Thanks for saving me," she says to you, apropos of nothing. "The last time I went to a bar with both of them, I woke up in Nigel's guest room with no wallet and no keys, sporting some eye makeup that was very reminiscent of Emily during her Westwood period."

As this was not at all an image you you were expecting to be handed, you are hard pressed to swallow your snicker.

"Laugh all you want," Andréa says. "But never again. The two of them are like demons when they get together."

"Happy to save a damsel in distress," you decide to say, despite your own discomfort with the joke.

She pats your arm with a warm hand, and it feels as if the champagne you drank has continued to bubble within the depths of your stomach. Which is impossible, obviously, and when she eventually removes her hand you feel relieved and bereft in equal measure.

"Do you have time for a cup of tea?" Andréa asks, when the car comes to a stop in front of her home.

You do, though you are afraid to be alone with her. Afraid that you do not yet have a hold of whatever it is that is wrong with you, and therefore may act in a way unbefitting a friendship.

"Not a long one," you say instead of the 'no' you should have articulated.

"I'll order the tea to steep fast then," she chuckles, and climbs the stairs to the door without further hesitation.

You've spent enough time in this house recently that you no longer see Peter's ghost in every room. Oh, he is there, waiting to remind you of both the long friendship you enjoyed and his painful absence now. But more and more, you see the parts of Andréa's life you still know so little about. On one bookcase there are family photos, including one grouping that all contain a woman who must be the older sister Andréa occasionally mentions. You've yet to meet her and Andréa never mentions plans to visit her in Chicago where she resides. Were they never close, or is this rift some kind of outgrowth of the ongoing disagreement she's mentioned with her parents?

"I cannot believe you kept this," you say to Andréa as you both pass by a vase Nigel gave her as some sort of joke.

"It's so ugly," she shrugs. "How could I not? It was the perfect response to my telling him to bring me back something pretty from Barcelona."

‘Hideous’ is the word you used when your first saw it, and when Nigel found out, he'd beamed as if momentarily becoming mentally unstable. "Isn't it just?" he'd said to you, polishing his glasses, and then you'd both moved onto the business before you.

"Chamomile or mint?" Andréa asks you now, both of you standing barefoot in the kitchen.

"Mint I think," you decide, and stretch out the muscles in each foot. Heels are bothering you more and more these days, an insult of aging that you refuse to acknowledge out loud, let alone cater to.

"You could start a new trend," Andréa says, eyes trained on the teapot in front of her. "Ballet flats could come back again."

"Never," you hiss immediately, "and I have no idea what would even make you think of such a horrible thing."

"Of course not," she smiles indulgently, and you feel far less irritation here than her smugness rightly deserves.

She pours the tea at the first sign of it being strong enough to taste like anything. It's weaker than you would like, but this is in fact your own doing as Andréa is merely attending to your allegedly rationed time.

You sip in silence, waiting nervously as first. When the silence persists, you realize that Andréa will not be the one to bring up the emotional theatrics that transpired in your own kitchen, and likely never intends to do so.

"I apologize for my outburst the other weekend," you say, but are unable to look anywhere but your porcelain teacup. "That isn't... something to which I am prone. Nor is it something I would have wished for you to witness."

"I'm pretty sure the apologies are mine to make," Andréa says, startling out of the depths of your own embarrassment. "I mean, I know how little privacy you're afforded and I still intruded. Intruded on a time when you probably would have rather been alone to think about the girls being away. It wasn't..." She shakes her head, clearly frustrated with something. If her words are to believed, then possibly herself. "It was a really selfish thing to do, barging in like that and I'm really sorry, Miranda."

Her bangs are apparently in need of a trim because she must push them out of her eyes as she speaks here. It's a thing that would bother you to distraction if you noticed it about someone else, and yet all can do is look at the woman in front of you and think that she is extraordinary.

Andréa is extraordinary, and everything inside of you compels you tell her.

"I am historically ill suited to maintaining emotionally close relationships," you admit instead. "Please don't let my own limitations leave you with impression that your company is unwanted or your friendship unappreciated." She smiles at you here, and that bubbling in depths of your stomach returns, now tenfold. "I feel singularly fortunate to have made your acquaintance again."

"Well I'm glad to hear it," she begins, and then pauses to drain the last of her own tea. "Because I don't plan on going anywhere."

No one ever does, you think with a sudden and acute wave of sadness. Certainly not any of your husbands, or else your erstwhile colleagues, all fleeing your side or else left in your wake, ruined and discarded.

"And before you even given me any of that crap about being difficult," Andréa barrels on, "please remember how many years I've known you and all the things I've personally witnessed you do or say that would have made other people run screaming into the night."

"I can't decide if that's reassuring or offensive," you feign. But you can already feel your fear abating (slightly) and a smile tugging at your mouth.

"Offensive I'm sure," Andréa deadpans. "Better hurry up and blacklist me before word of this insult spreads through all of Elias-Clarke."

"Cheeky," you tsk. Place both of your cups carefully into the sink in order to busy yourself.

"Unrepentantly so," she agrees. She punctuates the statement with a quick kiss to your cheek, and although it is second time she has done so tonight, this time all rational thought apparently departs you.

"Your shoes," she stops you in the foyer. Hands you the black Prada pumps that you were about to leave behind, and what? Walk across to your own home barefoot?

"Of course," you say, feeling ridiculous. You feel your face heating up with what is most assuredly an unbecoming blush. "I- Well, yes, goodnight," you manage. Force yourself to give Andréa a stiff wave as you depart, slowing your pace only so that you don't appear a criminal fleeing from a crime scene. Though this is precisely how you feel as you zero in on the safety of your own front door.

"Ridiculous," you tell yourself, when you've closed your door behind. Regard yourself in large mirror hanging on the adjacent well and see the color flushing your usually pale cheeks and the wide, unflattering smile still apparently plastered there. 

Ridiculous, you remind yourself again. Slip off your shoes once more and try to banish the memory of warm lips and mint tinged breath.

 

. . .

 

"You were the one who insisted on coming," you hear Caroline hiss at Cassidy. And as you sink further into your airplane seat, you feel yourself succumbing to the migraine you've felt stalking you for the last two days.

"I wanted to be here for you. Like, support your college experience or whatever. But I never would have come if I'd known you were just going to be a miserable b-"

"Do not," you interrupt, favoring Cassidy with a lethal glare, "even consider finishing that sentence."

"Sorry, mom," Cassidy says immediately, because she knows better than to use that word in front of you. Knows better than to pick up that trite weapon, which will be wielded against both of them (by men who don't get what they want, by coworkers and underlings, most likely by the press) and hurl it against her own sister, let alone with you sitting two feet away from both of them in this small, private jet.

"I have a headache," you tell them both, "please try to behave like adults." At least until after takeoff, when you can go and lie down, away from the sounds of Caroline being particularly moody and Cassidy continuing to goad her into still more barbs.

"Fine," Caroline says, and promptly hides her face behind a magazine. You cannot tell which one it is that she is reading, as the lines of the typeface dance and blur. 

"Flying time to San Francisco should be six hours and eleven minutes," the pilot informs you, and you say a silent prayer that most of that time be spent with you unconscious, or at least ensconced in merciful silence.

Of course, you do not just drift off to sleep because first the blinding pain comes and then the nausea. You swallowed your migraine medicine two hours ago, thus avoiding the worst of it, but the altered air pressure and morning light streaming in from both sides do little to aid your cause. You recline with discomfort, a thick satin sleep mask tightly affixed to your face.

Upon waking, it takes several minutes for you to realize that you've drifted off for more than a mere moment. The position of the sun is only slightly different than you remember when you remove your mask, but the girls have changed seats, Caroline now curled up and napping and Cassidy having apparently long since finished or abandoned the movie she'd just begun when you laid down to rest.

"Feeling any better?" she asks, concern palpable. You almost always work on flights, and not doing so this time will absolutely put you behind.

"A bit," you say, squinting in the light.

"Can we draw these shades?" Cassidy asks the flight attendant, and the young woman in a slate gray uniform immediately goes about blocking out sunlight, window by window.

"Thank you," you say, though to your daughter. To the attendant, "some mint tea. Very hot."

It takes two minutes longer to get you your tea than you think necessary, and you're sure that it will only prove tepid, but at last you're presented with a mug that at least has steaming rising from it.

"Very hot," she repeats to you, an unnecessary warning, and as you take the cup you notice the pearl ring she wears on her left hand.

It's old silver. Likely a a family heirloom, unless her fiancé or husband is simply cheap, having conned her into believing vintage to be 'more romantic'. Its twin pearls bookend two smaller diamonds, and you're certain they must have endured multiple repairs; that kind of setting is hopelessly prone to failing, especially when holding something as big as a pearl.

The mere sight of it gives you a sense of nostalgia however, as one of your high school English teachers had a very similar ring, and you remember hours of watching it as she would comb her fingers through her thick waves of dark hair. She wore that pearl engagement ring and a bias-cut tartan skirt that you still remember in detail because you so admired the fabric. Cattano was the teacher's last name, if you recall correctly, and she had this delicate, tinkling laugh that -

The memory, the exact emotional texture of the memory, hits you with such force here that you spill your scalding tea onto your hand, making yourself yelp and the affected fingers to turn an angry red.

"Careful," Cassidy says, no trace of irony in her tone. "That's hot."

You ignore the urge to throw the offending cup across the seat, though it strikes you with overwhelming violence. The flight attendant, clearly about to offer assistance, is apparently dissuaded by whatever look you give her. Instead she pales, abruptly turning on her heel when the pilot announces a bit of turbulence.

You hear the girls making conversation once Caroline wakes up, their chatter now managing the civility it’s lacked the entire morning. But you feel nauseous again now, and your hand burns, and all you can see in your mind's eye is a pearl ring on a long, tapered finger and waves of brunette hair.

 

. . .

 

Caroline's orientation at Stanford is apparently meant to facilitate a transition for the parents as much as it is for the students. The idea of this strikes you as so ridiculous, you fail to pay attention to anything that's being said once you and the other parents are segregated away into groups.

How's it going? Andréa texts you halfway through the first session. You are working on your laptop, scrutinizing changes your flailing Art Director has suggested for the October Thom Brown spread when your phone vibrates in your lap. You pause your work, typing away at a reply to Andréa without a second's thought.

Apparently, you begin in annoyance, this institution thinks I need to be coddled, despite that I'll be writing them a check for fifty thousand dollars every August, for the next four years.

Five years, if she changes her major, she points out immediately. And the fact that you can clearly see her smile here, even in absentia, causes you to purse your lips.  Or if she studies abroad, she adds, before you can even fire off a witty riposte.

You are so very helpful, you tell her. But all she sends you back is little yellow face that appears to be blowing a kiss.

You leave as soon the first hour-long session concludes, having decided that your attempt to humor these people was clearly a lapse in judgment. You've done your fair share of dragging yourself through monumental wastes of time for the sake of alleged 'normalcy', but Cassidy is the one who cares the most about such things anyway and Caroline will hardly take note of whether you showed up for this at all.

"An hour and a half," Cassidy says, upon your return to the hotel. She's in the living area of your suite of rooms, legs splayed out inelegantly on a couch and a laptop blaring away on her lap.  "Wow. That's twice as long as I'd thought you'd make it."

"Does that little joke mean that you'll understand when I skip these particular festivities at Columbia?" You remove your scarf, hanging it next to the cardigan Cassidy will likely leave behind if you don't remind her of it when you both repack.

"Ha. Not a chance."

"Of course," you sigh.

You are surprised she isn't out, exploring the area. She lobbied for this particular hotel specifically because of its location, citing its 'walkability'.

"Do you have work to do?" she asks and closes her laptop.

"Some," you say, though in fact you have a great deal.

"Well," she begins, and shrugs here in that way of hers that makes her look small and ten-years old again, that way that usually makes you agree to almost anything. "I was hoping we could try the restaurant downstairs and then maybe walk around together."

"Perhaps the other way around," you reply, "as I doubt the dining room opens for dinner before six."

"As if that matters when it's you," she feigns innocence. Which means she's already starving.

Nobu is Nobu, even if in Palo Alto. You send a text to your second assistant, directing her to make the call.

"Thank you," Cassidy says to you later, once you've been promptly seated in the otherwise empty restaurant.

"It was only a matter of it opening an hour earlier," you dismiss.

"No," she pronounces slowly. "Thank you for taking the afternoon with me. Thank you for doing this instead of working on whatever it is that Runway needs."

She bestows upon you a smile that your daughters so rarely favor you with, as it is the one that means you are in this moment (and however temporarily) faultless as a mother. 

"I can't think of a single place I'd rather be, my darling," you tell her just as the server reappears. And for once, you actually mean it.

 

. . .

 

You have trouble falling asleep, as you always do in hotels. You are too bleary eyed to work, and Cassidy is already asleep in her own room. You entertain the possibility of calling or texting Andréa, then promptly discard it given the time difference.

Well.

You try not to think of Andréa anymore here, but think of her you still do. You think back to the first time you saw her again, on the arm of Christian Thompson and wearing that horrid green dress. Such a pity that, but even then, poorly dressed and with that twit of a man, she thought to defend your name, didn't she?  

How lovely she looked at that Balenciaga event last week. She was wearing a piece from their pre-Spring collection, layered white silk cascading around her in a tiered effect you would hardly call an inventive silhouette. Strange that you found such an overused, pedestrian design to be so flattering on her, you decide as you recall here the pale, exposed skin of Andréa's neck and arms. Remember the way she willingly pressed her lips to your face, there in public, and then again, in the quiet of her home.

You realize you've begun touching yourself through the silk of your pajamas, and the unconsciousness of the action is jarring. You think to stop, to restrain yourself even here in the privacy of a bed that isn't yours, but the feel of warm flesh muted by silk dovetails too perfectly with the image of Andréa in your mind. Of layers of white silk being pushed up and away there in the middle of her kitchen, or in your own bedroom, or in your Mercedes, with the privacy screen up because you were so unable to restrain yourself from touching her.

That last set of images proves far too furtive and a moment later you're coming, soaked silk now plastered to your sex and your chest heaving for breath.

You lay prone with terror and confusion, as you have never, never been so quick to orgasm before, let alone without the aid of vibration.

You remain absolutely still for several minutes, the rhythm of your breathing slowly evening out. But then you picture Andréa in that old night dress you lent her the other weekend, and remember the way the thin bodice clung so snugly to her breasts. You wonder would it be like to make her face flush the way it does from champagne, and slowly, deliberately, you touch yourself again.

. . .

Chapter Text

 


Oh glory, I'm a believer
Oh Lord, I'm holding tight

- Bishop Briggs, "Wild Horses"


 

 

 

Your September issue is delivered, in all of its shining mediocrity.

You have already braced yourself for this permanent stain on Runway's reputation, having previously deemed this black mark on your own record to be worth the time you spent with your daughters over the summer. And yet, seeing this final lackluster product is difficult and painful; you already know how dismal the numbers will be compared to the previous year and recognize the vulnerability of your position.

It will take months for you to climb out of this hole of your own creation, but climb out of it you will, and you set yourself to task the moment both girls have quit your family home for their respective semesters.

You stay late night after night, your second assistant your initial hostage. But she ultimately proves incompetent just as so many of them do, and before you can summon your energy to fire the insufferable creature, you exit your office to find that your first assistant has taken the other one's place.

"Would you like to put through the call to Zuhair Murad now?" Heather asks you. Keeps a remarkable poker face given that she has countermanded your orders for the other one to remain.

"In ten minutes," you tell her. Stare at her long enough to make her shift in her seat but decide to file this act of subterfuge away, if only for the time being.

You work continuously. You attend all the soirées you would have skipped only a month ago. You fire your second Art Director since Nigel left, not caring that such rapid-fire exits, coming in the span of only year, may signal further trouble to others. The price of tolerating stale ideas and stillborn inspirations is simply too dear for you to consider, and so you do what you have always done - you make the necessary changes, you obey the constraints of your own vision, and forever forward you trudge.

"I know you've been occupied this past month," Nigel comments to you in an elevator one evening. "But your best friend just put out two very impressive articles in a three-part series. I'm sure she'd like some feedback from you, whenever you can make the time."

The two of you are leaving a small reception held by de la Renta for their incoming creative director, Peter Copping. The gathering has been a somber one, those in attendance noticeably saddened by the lack of amelioration in Oscar de la Renta's failing health. Admittedly, your own mental processing time is also slowed by lack of sleep.  It takes a few moments to realize that Nigel is speaking of Andréa, the label he assigns to her here now worsening the throb at the very base of your skull.

"I'm sure Andréa is quite comfortable in the knowledge of her own merit," you grimace, and are relieved when the elevator doors slide open in time for the two of you to part ways in the building's lobby.

But of course, first thing the next morning, you relieve yourself of your bag and tell your idiot second assistant to fetch you the last two issues of Pace.

"Give those to me," you hear Heather hiss at her, a disgraceful amount of time later, and in the ensuing minute of silence you hear the sound of magazine pages being rapidly turned.

"Here you are," Heather says, and when you take the magazines from her you see that she's tabbed Andréa's features with tiny yellow post-its.

A current of fear strikes through you here, which is followed by waves of guilt and then, invariably, rage. But as you turn to eviscerate Heather, you remember Nigel's words from earlier. Your best friend.

Your friendship is common knowledge now, is it not? And Heather knows your social calendar and has even seen Andréa in your own home, yes? Perhaps it's only logical that she's predicted that you would want to read Andréa's work. You calculate here that an overreaction to this does not serve your interests.

"That's all," you say, and Heather scampers away unscathed.

You open the first magazine at the requisite tab, scanning the text quickly. You decide immediately that the series' setup isn't one you would call remarkable; interviews with people about the changing economy of fashion are a dime a dozen these days, and so many of them have been done that they all bleed together in your memory.

But this interview is different, this narrative is singular, because within a few lines Andréa has delivered quotes from Nicole Miller and Grace Coddington that are unpolished, bitingly honest, and exactly the sort of thing that their associated PR would never have approved in advance. And unsurprisingly, Andréa's own remarks are thoughtful, pleasingly written, and ring true to her own voice. It’s the kind of article you would never run in Runway as it pulls back the curtain too much for your taste, so much of your enterprise resting on the continued cultivation of certain illusions. But Nigel's own magazine is of a more general scope than yours, and his judgment has proven markedly different on such matters. Rereading a particularly interesting sentence in Andréa's second piece, you almost envy Nigel's willingness to gamble so.

Your force yourself to put Andréa's work aside, as you have a full day of your own projects to accomplish. You wonder idly if Andréa will join Nigel in Paris next month, but promptly force that thought to the back of your mind, as it will not do to dwell upon it. The mere thought of Andréa has produced a now familiar pain just below your breastbone, and it pulses like a second heartbeat even as you focus on the Packham layout that might yet prove promising with a half dozen changes.

You work until well after nine and in fact plan to press on, but your eyes refuse to cooperate any longer. They prove unable to accurately track the lines of text you have been trying to read for the last ten minutes, and when you turn your attention to proofs of the Thomas Browne shoot, you find yourself at a loss when attempting to isolate relevant details.

You give up for the night, exiting your office in time to see the Book being delivered into Heather's waiting hands.

"Have my driver handle the dry cleaning," you direct, and slide the Book into the bag she's just fetched for you. "Go home."  She looks as much concerned as she does relieved, an act of loyalty that chafes you here. "And burn that blouse," you add, wrapping your scarf once more around your neck. "That yellow makes you look ill."

You exit the building feeling more drained than you rightfully should. The streets are still slick with the rain that fell hours earlier, the lights of Elias-Clarke reflecting in various pools of filthy water. The pace of your usual stride is thrown off by your name being shouted at close distance behind you.

"Miranda," you hear Andréa say. And as you jerk to look in that direction, your heel slides across the wet sidewalk, throwing you dangerously off balance. "Miranda," she says again, but this time a firm hand is gripping your left bicep and another is wrapped around your waist. "Jesus, are you alright? I'm so sorry I scared you."

"I thought you were one of those crazed PETA people," you deflect with an air of annoyance. But in fact, you are deeply shaken.

"Nope," she sighs. "Pretty sure I'm guilty by association in their eyes, so I doubt they'd even recruit me as a double agent."

She walks you to your car, her hand now placed at the small of your back, a gentle pressure that guides you to the point at which your driver opens your door and Andréa momentarily disappears.

It seems only natural that a moment after your car door closes, the other opens, Andréa getting in beside you.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asks now, and you dare not look at her face because her voice sounds so tender in its concern.

"Just a bit tired," you say. Rub fruitlessly at the stabbing pain that's formed in the center of your forehead.

You are acutely aware of your driver listening and watching here. Witnessing the moment that you potentially fall apart. You do not.

The rest of the car ride is passed in silence, and when your car pulls in front of Andréa's home, she flicks open your seat belt along with her own.

"Roy, would you be kind enough to take care of the dry cleaning?" Andréa asks with practiced politeness, and without so much as a nod he practically sprints from your car. "Alright, you," she says as she turns to you, your driver already hauling your garment bags across the glistening street. "You're coming with me."

"I don't have time for tea and gossip," you hear yourself hissing, "I have things to accomplish tonight."

"Well that makes two of us," she volleys back, "and we're both going to do them. Right after we eat some food like civilized people who do not have a death wish."

Her voice takes on the stern tone you once heard her use on an inattentive Cassidy; the one you surmised to be borrowed from her own mother. And you want to fight her here, you do. But you are also hungry, and worn down, and you fear too that you may actually burst into tears if you goad Andréa into raising her voice at you.

"Off," she orders, grabbing hold of your jacket as soon as you've passed into her foyer. You let it fall from your shoulders as she simultaneously tugs, and thereafter find that warm, guiding pressure returning to the small of your back.

"Finally," you hear someone say, and turn in time to see Hannah staring at you from the bottom of the staircase. You are unsure as to what manner of unmitigated narcissism this marks, but in your trance-like state you seem to have forgotten that Andréa shares this home with a teenager for whom she bears sole responsibility.

"Sorry I'm so late," Andréa tells her, and slips off her own shoes. "It was a really shitty day."

You watch Hannah's face here, her gaze obviously sizing you up in manner for which you are wholly unprepared. Before you can offer any words to stave off her inspection, the girl simply shrugs at Andréa with air of indifference. "That sucks," she says, and then nods toward the kitchen. "I left some Thai food warming for you in the oven."

"Bless you my child," Andréa replies without a trace of irony. She coaxes you out of your own shoes after the girl disappears back up the stairs.

 She doesn’t bother to offer you wine, pulling out a chilled bottle of Pellegrino instead. She withdraws from the oven a clear pan that contains some form of pad thai, as well a chicken and vegetable stir fry that smells strongly of ginger.

You have previously noted that ginger is a culinary favorite of Andréa’s, so it’s likely that this is her favored dish from whichever restaurant Hannah ordered. And yet when she dishes your plate, she gives you the lion’s share of the stir fry, undoubtedly knowing that you will not eat the pad thai. It is this last, small act of kindness that dissolves your remaining protestations. You eat together in relative silence, save a murmured 'thank you' when she refills your half-empty glass of water. 

“Your last two articles for Nigel were astute,” you manage eventually, when Andréa turns her attention to the dirty dishes.

”Thank you,” she says, after a considerable pause. “And I do want to hear your thoughts on my work. But not tonight, hm?”

You nod, only realizing after a moment that Andréa cannot see it as she has her back to you.

”Agreed,” you say, as Andréa dries her hands with a blue striped towel and turns back around to face you. 

"I'm sorry to hear about Oscar de la Renta's failing health. I know there's a long history between the two of you."

"Not tonight, hm?" you echo, feeling very tired. Watch as Andréa slowly nods her own agreement.

“I’m not going to hold you hostage,” she announces suddenly, which takes you by surprise. “But you’re welcome to stay while you go over the Book. We can sit together in shared but separate professional misery.”

It’s only now take in how deflated she seems. Beleaguered. That isn’t a word you’d ever associate with her, and yet that is exactly how she appears now, standing in front of you with slouched shoulders and dark circles under her eyes. 

"It's inadvisable to inflict my mood on anyone who isn't in my employ," she begin, and watch as her face falls further. "Selfishly, I'm going to accept your offer anyway."

You do not work in her little office on the first floor. It would doubtless be too small for both of you, but you still find yourself disappointed when she leads you in the opposite direction, toward the den.

She opens a drawer of a wooden end table, and from it she produces two pens, both of the exact style and color you use when going over the Book. She lowers herself onto the couch with an unbecoming groan, patting the empty cushion beside her in silent invitation.

She holds true to her word; the two of you work in silence for the first hour. And though the sofa is small, leading to an occasional brushing of shoulders or elbows, the pressure that blooms below your breastbone is now somehow comforting. It occurs to you at some point that this foreign feeling might be one of safety. But this a thesis you cannot be permitted to analyze at the present moment because you do not have the mental capacity. You choose instead to temporarily succumb to it as Andréa's pen works in counterpoint to your own, your concentration periodically broken by the humming of a melody you have heard before but cannot now place.

"What is that?" you ask, when she hums it for the fourth or fifth time, and by the bewildered look she gives you, you gather she has no idea what it is you mean. "The melody you keep humming."

"You know," she says, and here she smiles for the first time this evening. "I don't know."

You laugh, and so does she, and for a moment the immediate future looks a bit less bleak.

"I used to work this way with Peter sometimes," Andréa admits later, when you are packing up your own work. And though she says this with a palpable fondness, the comparison jars you out of whatever peace you have found, sitting beside her the last few hours.

You recall her too thin, smoking a cigarette outside of Nigel's brownstone and looking distraught.  You remember the coldness of her countenance at public functions all those months, when she was keeping your friend's secrets; stoically bearing a load Peter selfishly heaped upon her, out of fear.

"Thank you for the company," you force yourself to say. But you feel guilty now rather grateful. Ashamed that you are allowing this woman, of half your age and a fraction of your resources, to care for you because you are too hideously selfish to do otherwise.

"Good night," she wishes you, and presses a now customary kiss to your cheek. You accept it gracefully but do not return it. Exit Andréa's home once again feeling like a transgressor; an insidious monster she's mistaken for a friend.

. . .

 

The waiting room you sit in decorated in an uninspiring palette of of creams and muted blues. The chairs have been changed since the last time you were here but they remain as aesthetically displeasing as the ones they replaced, no doubt purchased from some ungodly emporium of uncomfortable, bureaucratic furnishings. 

"Miranda?" she calls you in. You find the implied question mark ridiculous because you are the only person in the entire lobby, as required in your agreement. "It's been a while," she says, when you have settled into a chair across from hers, and at this you purse your lips.

"Yes," you say, as if at gunpoint. "Six years."

"That wasn't an accusation," she tells you.She adjusts the notebook and pencil in her lap as she gives you a brief smile, followed by an open but discerning stare.

It's why you kept coming here, even after so many others had previously proven useless, or stupid, or simply unable to understand the constraints imposed by your position. This one had proven (finally) functionally intelligent. She, at least, didn't seem hostile in principle to the very essence of who you are and what you do.

"Can you tell me what brings you back to therapy now?'

"I'm in love," you say. And in the ensuing pause, Dr. Steiger waits. Listens with a familiar, impassive expreassion as your uncomfortable silence blooms larger and larger.  "I'm in love with a woman, a friend, who is caring. And giving. And everything I am not... And I am - I am terrified that I'm going to destroy everything. Drag her down because I want too much, and because all I have ever done in personal relationships is take until the other person has nothing left to give."

"Well that's a lot to unpack," Dr. Steiger pronounces. "So let's start at the beginning."

"You mean, begin with my apparent homosexuality," you prickle. Because the idea of talking about that aspect of your mental life is terrifying, so newly discovered to you that you cannot imagine dissecting it aloud, with someone else.

"No," she dismisses, having the gall to sound uninterested in the topic you just acknowledged. "In the image you still have of yourself as someone toxic and incapable of giving."

"Oh," you manage.

She favors you with an encouraging smile, and you settle a bit deeper into your chair.

You have an entire hour ahead of you. 

. ..