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Love Potions

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"It'll help you find your true love, honey, and no lie," the old woman said. "You don't want no department-store designer perfumes for that. No. For this, you need me." She tapped the bottle. "And this is the brew, for sure. I make it just for you."

Andy regarded the bottle skeptically, feeling rather as if she ought to be in a darkened tent in Romania instead of at a street festival in New York City. But the old woman--who called herself Madame Something-or-Other--seemed very certain. And she had, indeed, whipped up a tiny sample bottle of perfume for Andy on the spot, drawing from various small phials and bottles of essential oils and other things Andy didn't recognize.

The old woman had taken one look into Andy's eyes and, without a further word of greeting, had turned around and seized four different bottles, distilling a few drops of each and adding them to a small purple phial less than an inch long. And now she gave the bottle to Andy. "Ten dollars only," she said. "For most people, fifteen. But you'll be back for more than a sample, I can tell. This is the most perfect scent for you in the world."

Andy sniffed the bottle dubiously. It smelled okay, she guessed, if a little strong. She'd never been big on perfume one way or the other, although she knew it always smelled stronger in the bottle than it did on the skin. "What's in it?" she asked. "Like, flowers or spices or herbs or what?"

"Proprietary," the old woman said at once. "Trade secret. Trust me. This is the oldest form of magic. No spells--but this is your perfume, and it'll draw your true love to you." She cackled, and showed that she was missing a few teeth. "Like a fly to honey, honey."

Well, what the hell, it was only ten bucks. And it was a heck of a sales pitch. Andy forked over her cash. "My card," the old woman said, and in turn forked over an extremely professional-looking business card, complete with phone, fax, and email contact information. Andy accepted the card, thanked her, and turned around just in time to see Lily hurrying forward with a plastic bag.

"I got some great beads," she said happily. "I'm going to get started making a necklace this afternoon. What did you buy?" For answer, Andy held up the little bottle, and Lily took a sniff. "Huh. That's neat. I like it." She sniffed again. "I really like it."

"Maybe you're my true love," Andy said with a grin.

"I admit nothing," Lily said. Then she added, "I'm glad you could come with me this morning. We don't hang out nearly enough anymore."

"Yeah," Andy said, "well," and deliberately did not look down at her designer top, jeans, boots, and everything else that indicated she'd acclimated to life at Runway. Lily didn't like that at all. "It's great to get out again and do something not related to work."

"Hmm." Lily sniffed the bottle yet again. "Is Nate a big perfume guy?"

"We'll see, I guess," Andy said, and grinned again.

Just for fun, Andy dabbed the perfume at her pulse points before Nate got back from the restaurant that night. He leaned in to kiss her, and got a sniff; then he pulled away with raised eyebrows.

"Wow," he said, and she laughed at the gleam in his eyes. "What designer scent is that?"

"No designer," Andy said. "I bought it from a voodoo woman for ten bucks. You are now under my spell."

"Sounds like fun," he said, and nuzzled around beneath her ear. She laughed again, not least because she was ticklish. "Wow," he repeated. "I really do like this. Wear it all the time."

Maybe the old woman had been right after all, Andy decided happily as Nate led her to the bedroom.

Nate wasn't the only one impressed by her new scent. Emily's nostrils twitched the moment Andy came within a foot of her. "Dior?" she asked.

"Central Park," Andy said, and Emily sneered, but her nostrils twitched again.

Even Nigel approved of it. "It's almost enough to make you sexy," he said. "Bearing in mind that I'm gay, of course."

To Andy's astonishment, almost everyone who got near her that day complimented her on the scent. Roy told her she "smelled real nice." Lucia even said, "You know, I normally hate perfume, but I love this." They all wanted to know where she'd gotten it, and while most of them were turned off by the perfume's humble origins, a few surreptitiously jotted down the information on the old woman's business card when Andy offered it to them. She had to re-apply after running in to Starbucks, of course, but somehow the smoky scent of coffee only blended with it and made it more interesting.

Judging by everyone's reactions, Andy thought with some amusement, she had about a zillion true loves hanging around. Oh well. She'd definitely be going back for the full-sized bottle.

Or so she thought until three in the afternoon, when Miranda swept into the office for the first time that day after a series of morning meetings. She stopped by Andy's desk, took a sniff, and made a face as if Andy had forgotten to shower or something. Then she looked down at Andy with a curled lip.

Andy drooped, realizing that she wouldn't be getting her full-sized bottle after all.

"What," Miranda said, "is that?"

"Nothing, Miranda," Andy mumbled. "I was going to go--"

"Wash it off at once," Miranda said, and went to her desk.

Emily actually gave Andy a look that resembled sympathy as Andy headed for the bathroom and dolefully rubbed at her pulse points with a wet paper towel. It didn't completely get rid of the smell, but apparently it muted it enough for Miranda's tastes, since she didn't comment on it again.

Other people did, though. Nigel looked disappointed when he heard what Miranda had done, Lucia looked puzzled, and Roy said, as he was driving Andy to the townhouse that evening, "What happened to that pretty scent you were wearing?"

"Miranda did," Andy said, and sighed.

To her surprise, when she let herself into the townhouse, Miranda was waiting by the table with the flowers. She stood silently while Andy hung up the dry cleaning, and then took the book from Andy's shaking hand.

"Where did you get that foul-smelling stuff?" she said.

"F-from a woman," Andy said, trying not to tremble visibly. "I mean, just at a street fair…it wasn't anybody…I…"

"Give me the bottle," Miranda said.

Andy stared at her. "What?"

Instead of repeating herself, Miranda held out her hand, palm-up, piercing Andy to the core with her cold, unflinching gaze.

Andy gulped and fumbled in her purse until she found the tiny sample bottle. "Here," she said. "I mean, it's not really…" She held out the bottle. "Sorry. I, I won't wear it at the office again." At least she could put it on for Nate in bed.

"Indeed you won't," Miranda said, and took the bottle without even looking at it. Her hand seemed to shake for just a moment as she clenched her fingers tightly around it.

Which was when Andy realized that her property was actually being confiscated. She opened her mouth to object--what right did Miranda have to take her things, willy-nilly?--but thought better of it instantly, snapping her jaw shut once more. She said stiffly, "Is there anyth--"

"That's all," Miranda said, picked up the book, and headed up the stairs without another look at Andy, still holding the perfume bottle.

Andy ground her teeth on the way out the door. Was there a bigger bitch in all Manhattan? In all New York? In all the world? She doubted it.

The next day, she called Madame Something-or-Other, determining to get a bottle of the perfume for her own personal use outside of Runway. Miranda wasn't going to boss her around that much. But to her surprise, a recorded voice told her that there was no such number; when she sent an email, it bounced back. In desperation, she even sent a fax during lunch, but that didn't go through either. It was like the old woman had never even existed.

Well, that sucked. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, Andy guessed, but it still sucked. And one thing was for sure: she wouldn't be wearing any more perfume, of any kind. Once you'd worn the perfect scent, there was no sense in settling for anything less.

That was what Runway was about, wasn't it? Never settling. Always demanding the best. And, if you happened to be Miranda Priestly, getting it. But Andy wasn't Miranda, and frankly, she didn't want to be.

After Andrea Sachs walks out in Paris, her perfume is all that Miranda has left of her.

She has conserved it very carefully, using only a few spritzes here and there to anoint certain items that never leave her bedroom, that will never be smelled by anyone else, not even her husband. An old silk scarf she no longer wears. Her favorite books. Even a pillow. Drop by vanishing drop. And after Andrea leaves (and Miranda's husband too), the tiny bottle is still three-quarters full.

Except for that one day when Andrea, all-unknowing, spread it all over the office, this scent is for Miranda alone. No one else will smell it on Andrea's skin or hair; no one else will be stunned, dizzied, overwhelmed, and heartbroken by it, all in the space of a few seconds. Miranda does not know where Andrea got the perfume, and she does not care. She accepts that when the bottle is empty, it's empty, and there will be no more. That's the way life goes.

Miranda has no idea, of course, about what the old woman said of true love, and perfect scents, and she'd only be irritated if she did. It's probably for the best that she doesn't know. A fly trapped in honey, she keeps the perfume in a locked drawer, conserving it as best she can, dreading the day she reaches the end of the bottle, when she knows there will be nothing left of Andrea at all.