DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Xander, my always willing beta, who reads anything I throw her way, no matter how random. Special thanks to the incredible writers who brought me into the fold with their excellent work.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
That night, Andy stayed for another two hours, listening to Miranda's latest trials at Runway. Over the course of the year, James Holt had struggled with Jacqueline Follet, and Miranda had gently encouraged her to return to Europe. Irv remained unhappy with Miranda's machinations, but Nigel was overjoyed. Andy was dying to speak to him about the whole thing, and she resolved to call him this week. He hadn't been pleased, according to Miranda, that she'd abandoned her post in Paris. Oh well.
As Andy walked to the front door to leave, Miranda followed close behind. The girls were still upstairs, and Andy could hear the television blaring. But the tension in the air made Andy vibrate with anticipation. What should she do? A hug? No. A kiss on the cheek. Perhaps.
Miranda put her hand on the doorjamb, and Andy took her opportunity. She leaned in and pressed her dry lips to Miranda's cheek. It was smooth and fine, and Andy took a quick breath, tasting perfume and wine. Quickly she leaned back as Miranda looked at her piercingly. But Andy pretended nothing had changed, as if she kissed Miranda's cheek every day.
"Bye," she said, hoping the quiver in her voice wasn't too obvious.
Miranda's throat moved as she swallowed. "Sunday. Two o'clock. Roy will pick you up."
"Okay," Andy exhaled. She stepped out onto the stoop and hardly felt the chill in the air as the door closed behind her. Roy was waiting for her, but Andy shook her head. "I'm walking, Roy. Go home."
"Ms. Priestly won't be happy. She worries about your safety."
"Ms. Priestly will be fine, and so will I," she said, glancing over her shoulder. She didn't see Miranda's face in the window, but felt her watching just the same. "Good night." She gave him a little wave and set off, energized.
Sunday couldn't come fast enough.
But when Sunday came, things didn't work out as planned.
The game was rained out. Andy got the call from Emily, of all people.
"Who are you to attend her children's soccer game?" she accused. "It's ridiculous."
At least Miranda isn't afraid of people finding out we're friendly, Andy thought. "I promised Caroline and Cassidy I'd be there. They're actually very sweet once you get to know them."
"Sweet. Hah. In any case, the car's not coming. Miranda scheduled an afternoon meeting because of a botched layout Friday, so she's busy." Emily took a breath. "She sends her regrets."
Andy sighed, disappointment clouding her mood. She'd known the game would be cancelled, but hoped that she could see Miranda anyway. "Thanks, Em. I appreciate the call."
Emily clearly wanted to say something else, but she was silent.
"What?" Andy finally asked.
"What are you doing?" Emily said. She was almost pleading.
"It's just a soccer game, Emily." Andy kept her voice firm.
"I'm on my way in to the paper, Em. Thanks again. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
Emily hung up.
Andy looked out the window at the rain pouring down. "Might as well go in after all," she said to herself. So she got dressed and trudged through the puddles to the paper. The newsroom's lights were on since Dixon and few others were in too. It was better that way, kept her motivated. Finally she got started on the follow-up to the protest she'd been too distracted to begin on Friday.
Her phone did not ring for the rest of the day, nor did she make any calls. But she wanted to.
On Monday, Andy rang up Nigel.
"Well, if it isn't the prodigal daughter, come back to haunt us all."
"Nice to speak to you too, Nigel. What does that mean?" Andy asked.
"Emily told me you've been spending time with Miranda these days. Have you saved humanity from itself already?"
So much for being the one to ask the questions, Andy thought. "Geez, word gets around even beyond the halls of Runway, huh."
"Are you kidding? Emily wasn't even out the townhouse door last week when she called me. She demanded to know if I knew you were still skulking about. Which I didn't, of course."
"I haven't been skulking. I've been working very hard. And I've barely seen Miranda."
"Oh, really," Nigel said.
"Why don't you believe me?"
Nigel sighed. "I don't know Andy. It's a little bizarre. You disappear from Paris, possibly because of the fact that Miranda gave my job to Jacqueline, and more than a year goes by. Now you're back. Doing what?"
"Listen, it's simple. I got this award, and I saw Miranda. She gave me a tip on a story, and I wanted to thank her. That's it."
"And you're attending soccer games."
"Christ, we didn't even go, it got cancelled!"
"But you were planning to go."
"Well, yes." Andy's irritation got the better of her. "Nigel, I called to say hello, and to give you congratulations on your job. I didn't call to get interrogated on something that's none of your business. So, congrats. Catch you later, okay?" Andy prepared to hang up, until she heard Nigel's voice babbling on the other end.
"Okay, okay, sorry, sorry. I was just surprised that you were back in the picture. Miranda was a beast after you left, so I'm still a little bitter."
"A beast?" This was new information.
"She went through six assistants in the first eight weeks after Paris."
"Shit. I didn't know."
"And why would you? You were getting your dream job at a crappy paper, while the rest of us had to pick up the pieces after your meltdown."
Andy waited for more. When none came, she said, "If it's any consolation, I'm sorry about that."
"It's not, but I accept. I'm not one to hold a grudge."
Andy laughed. "Yeah, right."
"Hey, I'm the one who stuck around after getting shafted."
"And look what happened. You got your dream job."
"True, very true," he said, and Andy could picture him polishing his nails on his suit coat. "Now that you have time for a social life, did you patch things up with that gorgeous young man you were seeing?"
"Nate? No. We gave it a shot, but he moved to Boston. It didn't work out."
"Sorry. Any new 'friends' on the horizon?"
Andy gulped. "Not a one. How about you?"
"Please. I have less time for romance now than I had at Runway. But James is nice to look at, so there are perks."
"Do I sense a little romantic tension in the office?"
"Well, no. But maybe," Nigel said, his voice softening.
"He's a nice guy, Nigel. I hope he's good enough for you."
He snickered. "At this point, my standards aren't exactly through the roof. It's lonely at the top, you know."
"So I'm told," she replied. "Hey, do you want to get a drink sometime? I know you're busy and all, but--"
"James is having a little soiree tomorrow. We can combine work and pleasure. Or rather I will. It's the best I can do right now."
He sounded so apologetic that Andy was happy to oblige. "I'd love it. Where and when?"
He gave her the details and she was already wondering what to wear when he said, "I'm glad you're all right, kid. You were a keeper."
Her heart warmed. "So were you, Nige. I'll see you tomorrow."
Andy only agonized for 45 minutes over her outfit before throwing caution to the wind and going with a basic Audrey Hepburn get-up, minus the white socks. It was only Nigel and James, after all; they wouldn't be impressed no matter what she wore, since the place would be teeming with models and designers. A black cape with red lining added a little drama, and that would have to do. She did go heavy on the eyeliner, and stuck with her red lipstick. Hair pulled back in a high ponytail completed the outfit.
She hoped it wasn't too reminiscent of those GAP ads from a few years back, but any Audrey was classic Audrey.
A quick trip on the C train to 8th Ave and 14th put Andy only a few blocks away from James' place. It was as she remembered it; very posh, and very gay. The thought made Andy grin. Perhaps she belonged here a little more than she used to.
She did the obligatory single knock before stepping inside. The music was loud, but she didn't have to ask anyone who James was this time, so she searched until she spotted him near the bar. When he saw her, he shook his head and chuckled. "As I live and breathe. Welcome back, Andy."
"Hi James. Thanks for having me."
"It's a pleasure. And might I say, you look dazzling." He looked her over. "Let's see that cape. I like it. Where'd you find it?"
"You don't want to know," she said, truthfully. The garment had come from a touristy consignment shop on Broadway, and Doug had helped her add the lining herself.
"Have a drink, and maybe I can convince you to tell me."
"Probably not, but I'm glad you like it."
"Let me find Nigel for you " He searched the crowd, and tugged her along as guests happily made way. "There we go. Hey," he said, interrupting another conversation between Nigel and a few gangly models.
"Jesus, there she is." He paused to look at her, struck by something. "What the hell happened to you?"
Andy's face fell. "What is it?"
"You're more gorgeous now than when you left Runway. That's obscene." He kissed both her cheeks and looked closely. "Seriously. What happened?"
Andy shook her head. "Nothing."
He grasped her chin between thumb and forefinger and turned it back and forth. "Have you had plastic surgery? Are you taller?"
She chuckled. "I hope not."
"Well, whatever it is suits you. I didn't even notice that you're not dressed up. But I do like the cape."
"Thanks, Nigel. You look wonderful. Nice suit."
"Handmade, just for me," he preened, turning around so she could get the full effect. Andy saw James grin. "Sometimes it pays to work for the designer."
"With the designer. We're partners," James insisted, and Andy wondered if there was more to Nigel's story than he was letting on. From the look of him, he was infatuated, and James might be too. She wouldn't have pegged them as a pair, but love was strange. Obviously.
James left them alone to catch up. Andy talked about the paper, her recent arrest, and her award. Nigel talked about Runway, Miranda, and work, all of which were far more interesting to Andy than her own stories. She found out that Miranda had been out socially with a handful of well-to-do men since the divorce, but that she'd been careful to stay out of the press. She also found out that three of the six assistants that Miranda had fired this year had been dead ringers for Andy.
Andy found that idea both thrilling and creepy.
"We all knew she was looking for another you, but they never lived up to the legend. It was sad, really. They were far more suited to Runway than you ever were."
"Hey, I did all right," Andy insisted.
"After a while," he reasoned. "But these girls wanted to be there. You were just passing through."
"Regardless, Emily finally found a good replacement, and they've done well." He glanced over Andy's shoulder. "And speak of the devil, there she is."
"Who, Emily?" Andy asked.
Andy whipped her head around, and the rest of her followed after a moment, since her feet weren't working properly. Andy smiled hugely, feeling as though her head would split open if she got any happier. A luminous Miranda glided toward them, and as Andy took in her ensemble, her eyes grew wide.
She was wearing an outfit that matched Andy's almost exactly. More tailored and expensive, of course, but it looked planned.
"Goodness," Nigel breathed, dumbstruck. "Great minds, and all that."
"I'll say," she mumbled.
Miranda kissed him twice. "Hello, dearest," she said, her voice betraying far more affection than Andy expected.
"I didn't think you'd be here. Emily sent your regrets."
"Oh, I made some time, for you," she added. "I've missed you terribly." Finally, Miranda turned to Andy. "Hello, Andrea," she said. Andy waited, and was rewarded when Miranda leaned forward to kiss her cheek. It wasn't an air kiss, despite Miranda's fresh coat of lipstick.
This was it, Andy thought. Her head was definitely going to split open. "Hi." The sensation of those soft lips lingered on Andy's skin; she wondered if there was a visible imprint of a perfect mouth left behind.
For a few minutes, Andy only half-listened to their conversation, about the new spring lines, and the upcoming holiday issue. She looked around, and felt smug when she noticed how many eyeballs were fastened on Miranda, in awe. Or terror, she supposed, but the claws were sheathed tonight. They watched Andy too, whispering to each other. She wished she knew what they were saying.
Nigel offered to retrieve some champagne for them, which Miranda graciously accepted. When they were alone, Andy, to her utter misery, could find absolutely nothing to say. A full minute passed.
"The soccer game has been rescheduled for this Sunday," Miranda said without looking at her.
"Oh?" Andy squeaked.
"Perhaps you could attend."
Andy glanced in her direction. "Sure," she said. Unaccountably tense, she dug her nails into her curled palms and searched for a topic of conversation. Would she ever relax around this woman? "I love your, uh, shoes," she finally said.
Miranda's lips turned down, yet it was still a smile. "Are you overworked, Andrea? Your conversation skills have taken a marked downturn."
Andy swallowed. Nigel was maneuvering through the party guests on his way to the bar. Against her better judgment, she said, "Sometimes you make me nervous."
"Mm," Miranda hummed. "Things never change. I do tend to inspire anxiety in those around me." She heaved a great sigh. "I don't know why."
At that, Andy laughed. The tension dissipated in a heartbeat, replaced by contentment being in Miranda's presence, inside her circle. "Yeah, right. It's not anxiety, though."
"No?" Miranda said, glancing at her.
"No," Andy replied. Though she'd intended to continue, explaining some half-formed idea about Miranda's energy, and how it automatically put everyone on alert, Andy promptly forgot what she was going to say. In this light, with the candles and Japanese lanterns dancing around them, Miranda was astonishingly lovely. Her pale skin glowed, and her eyes seemed an unearthly, electric blue. Andy knew she was staring, but couldn't turn away. "Wow," she breathed.
"What?" The word was like a gunshot. "Have I spouted horns?"
Horrified at her slip, she froze. Miranda's expression grew irritated, and that softness she'd been admiring vanished. "You're just--" she began.
She had to come up with something. Keep it simple. "You look nice," she said, cringing. Afraid she'd start to babble, she clamped her lips shut. But her mind continued. You're beautiful. Gorgeous. Sexy. Stunning.
Miranda blinked once, then repeatedly, her eyelashes fluttering.
"Here we are." Nigel's voice broke their connection, and Andy was able to breathe again. She grabbed the champagne from his hand and dumped half of it down her throat. "My," he exclaimed. "You haven't become one of those sad, drunken reporters, have you? Because that would be a tragedy indeed," he joked.
"No," she croaked, looking anywhere but at Miranda. "Just thirsty."
He turned toward Miranda. "So, James has expressed an interest in developing a menswear line, and I'd like to discuss it with you more formally, at the office when you have time. You know I trust you implicitly," he said, and though he continued, Andy tuned him out.
Nice. She looks 'nice.' You're supposed to be a writer, and you couldn't come up with anything better? Pathetic. She's going to tell you not to come over ever again, and not to dare show up at the soccer game.
Andy drowned herself in the champagne, finishing it quickly, and wondering how terrible it would be if she left. But only a few minutes later, Miranda apologetically told Nigel that she was so pleased to see him, but that she really had to get home to tuck the girls in. He thanked her profusely for coming, and waited as she turned to Andy. "Andrea," she said, and something in her voice made Andy blush. "Sunday. I'll expect you."
Andy shivered. "Okay," she said. There was no kiss goodbye this time, which was a relief. Too much adrenaline might give her a heart attack. Miranda strode off, and Andy couldn't help but watch her elegant form as the crowd parted for her like the red sea.
When she turned back to Nigel, he was staring at her. "Heh," she managed. "So, that was fun."
His eyes widened. "Andy, you can't be serious."
"Serious?" She was so busted. "I'm never serious."
"I mean it." He moved closer, lowering his voice. "Everyone gets a crush on Miranda. Emily would lick her shoes on a daily basis if Miranda would allow it. The entire Runway staff would, probably including me, I'm sorry to say. But it's not going to go anywhere. Ever."
It was a splash of cold water over her head. "It's not a crush," she whined. "It's friendly affection." Andy cringed again.
"Bull. Don't fall for her, kid. She'll squash you into the ground if she gets a whiff of anything untoward. What are you doing Sunday?"
Nigel sniffed. "I don't know what she's up to. Maybe your attention is flattering her, and god knows she loves that. But Andy," he took her hand and looked intently into her eyes. "She is not a loving person. Remember that. She'll float around you, and draw you in, but her flame is ice cold. It will burn you alive."
It's too late, Andy thought. I'm already on fire.
On Wednesday, the winds changed, and winter set in. Snow fell on the streets, far earlier in the season than expected, and Andy trudged miserably to work in her ugly hiking boots. For the rest of the week, her coffee was never hot enough in the mornings, and it made her bitter. Three times she snapped at Mark for innocuous comments, and her apologies were weak. He didn't deserve to suffer for her unhappiness.
But Nigel's comments had cut her deeply. He was right, she knew. It was a sad end to a beautiful dream she'd fallen into. The dream that Miranda would see inside her, and say she was unique, and extraordinary, and beautiful. Loved.
What a joke. Miranda was the same as she'd always been. Andy had awoken to the truth of that, and it was devastating. She felt lower than she had even on her worst day at Runway. She didn't want to see Miranda on Sunday. An excuse formed in her mind, and on Friday morning, she scrawled out a note on Mirror stationery. The lovely ivory paper had gone in the trash in a moment of despair, and though Andy had rummaged for it hours later, it had already been removed.
Something's come up--I have to work Sunday. Give the girls my regrets. Maybe I'll see them another time.
She summoned a courier and paid him out of her own pocket. She asked him not to wait for a reply.
The rest of the day passed without incident, and Andy was preparing to leave just before eight when the doors to the newsroom were thrown open.
Miranda barreled toward her, silver hair flying as if blown by a great wind, and Andy was instantly, utterly terrified. Emily scurried in behind her, looking as confused as Andy felt. The reporters still working at their desks gaped openly at the vision Miranda presented.
"Andrea," Miranda said as she came to a stop in front of her desk.
Andy tried hard to hide her fear. "Hi."
"I need to speak with you. Is there a room with a door in this god-forsaken establishment?"
"Um, yeah," but Andy didn't want to go there. She felt dread in the pit of her stomach. If they were alone, Miranda would eviscerate her. But perhaps it would be better to finish it now. Things would end, and Andy could get over it. Get over her. "This way."
"Emily, wait here." Emily nodded, and when she looked at Andy, her incensed expression was comical. What did you do? she mouthed.
Andy headed toward the small conference room at the end of the maze of desks. It was private enough, windowless except for one long pane of glass that displayed a view of the shoddy gray building next door. She opened the door and shut it behind the two of them. Miranda threw her bag on the conference table, and it landed with a familiar clunk.
"What is this?" Miranda said, holding up the letter she'd sent. "I spent half the day delivering the girls to Connecticut, and I get back to the office and find this sitting on my desk. I was supposed to be at dinner with Donatella tonight, which obviously I did not want to attend, but instead I'm here. I want to know why you're disappointing my girls, Andrea. I do not issue these sorts of invitations to just anyone."
Andy wanted to cry. She wanted to throw herself into Miranda's arms. Instead, she said, "I have to work."
"Do not lie to me," she said, accusingly. "What happened?"
"Nothing. I don't work for you, Miranda. You can't just summon me to do your bidding anytime you want. If I can't make it, I can't fucking make it!" Her voice broke, anger rising up at being denied everything she wanted.
Miranda was stunned. Apropos of nothing, she demanded, "Where is the stationery I sent you?"
"I threw it away!" Andy shouted.
Miranda flinched. The fury seemed to drain out of her, and for a moment, she looked lost. "Why?"
Andy couldn't hold in a sob of frustration. She covered her mouth, mortified at the show of emotion. "I can't do this, Miranda. I can't."
"Am I really so horrible?" Miranda asked softly. "I have treated you with nothing but generosity and respect. And I get this in return," she said, shaking the letter at her once more. "I deserve an explanation."
The tears finally spilled from Andy's eyes. She turned away, looking out at what small portion of skyline she could see. "You'll break me, Miranda," she whispered.
The room was silent. Andy let the tears fall, wondering when Miranda would take the hint and leave. But she didn't. "Break you," Miranda finally repeated. "What--"
Andy turned back toward her, enraged. "My heart. Break my heart, get it? So just go home to your kids, and your career, and whatever dinner you're invited to, and leave me alone."
Miranda went white. Her mouth opened, and closed. A typically invisible wrinkle formed between Miranda's eyebrows. "Your heart." She swallowed. "I didn't believe I had that power," Miranda said, so softly Andy had to strain to hear it.
"Well, you do. So you can go off and tell everyone your old assistant was stupid enough to care about you in a way that probably disgusts you. Have fun. I have better things to do." Andy wanted to put an end to it, and made a beeline for the door.
Miranda grabbed her arm with a strength that Andy did not expect. "Don't you walk away from me again," she growled.
"Or what?" Andy demanded.
And then Miranda's hand was in her hair, yanking her close. A shock of pain blazed through her scalp, but it was cancelled out when she realized Miranda was kissing her, kissing her with something that could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was.
Miranda's tongue pushed inside her mouth, and Andy gasped as heat flared up in her like a spark ignited. She crashed back against the door and Miranda followed her, shoving a thigh between her legs and holding Andy up when her body went slack. Andy couldn't move, or even embrace Miranda, because all her focus was on her lips, and the delicious way Miranda was moving against her. Andy's tears still fell as she sobbed into the kiss, a moan coming up from deep within.
A hand caressed her cheek, trailing down her jaw, her throat. Miranda gripped the collar of her shirt, moving her mouth to her ear, breathing fast and hot against the shell of it. "Goddamn you," she said.
Something throbbed between Andy's legs, and her head dropped back against the door. Breathless, she groaned again when Miranda's thigh shifted, the silk of her stocking raking against Andy's dark nylons.
Andy lifted her head, and Miranda was transformed. Her usually pale cheeks were flushed, and blue eyes were dark and intense. It made Andy wonder if she could come from just a look.
"You will not walk away from me, Andrea," Miranda said firmly.
Andy finally found the strength to move. She lifted one hand to touch the sweep of hair that had fallen across Miranda's forehead. With a nod, she said, "Okay."
The wildness left Miranda's eyes. She took a breath and hesitated before kissing Andy again, more softly. Andy was able to savor the taste of her lips this time, to learn the shape of them. She touched Miranda's waist, moving her fingers to the curve of her spine.
Finally Miranda pulled away, but she looked regretful. "I have to go."
With a shiver, Andy replied, "All right."
"We're going to do this again," Miranda said, and Andy wondered which one of them Miranda was trying to assure.
Andy grinned, and finally allowed all the desire she felt for Miranda to show through. "That's good."
Miranda cleared her throat, moving in briefly before coming to her senses and stepping back. She smoothed her skirt and straightened her jacket, while Andy walked around her and picked up her bag from the table. She handed it over, and Miranda's face had returned to its former blank expression. But now there was more to it, Andy saw. It had been there for a while, but she hadn't realized what it was.
It was want. And maybe something else. But Andy didn't care. Want was enough.
She opened the door and Miranda walked through it, and kept going straight out of the newsroom. Emily's panic was evident, but Andy just shrugged and hoped it wasn't too obvious she'd just been ravished against a door. Emily wouldn't notice though, and she raced after Miranda.
Andy giggled, and touched the sore patch on her head. Things were looking up.
Sunday afternoon, Andy was ready two hours early, and the wait was agony. She tried to read. She tried to watch television. She called her parents and left out most of what was going on in her life. One obstacle at a time, she thought. And as much as she wanted to talk to Doug, she didn't want to tell him anything yet. Andy was certain that whatever dalliance they might start would have to remain a secret to everyone in both their lives. It would be a challenge, but Andy didn't care. She didn't care about anything except kissing Miranda again, and getting her hands on her body.
Andy's eyelids fluttered shut again at the thought. She's spent the night before touching herself, thinking about that kiss, and what it might have been like to tear off Miranda's clothes right there in that poorly lit conference room and fuck her till she screamed. Andy had come repeatedly, discomfited at her response. But she awoke Sunday with a smile on her face after some scorching wet dreams, so she couldn't complain.
But today was for soccer, she reminded herself. There would likely be no kissing on the field. She would be patient.
At 1:50 she went downstairs to wait, happy when the sun shone down on her face. It was very cold, but there was no way the game would be rained out. Nine minutes later, Roy drove up, and Andy had the passenger door open before he could even stop the car.
The backseat was empty. "Hi?" she said.
"Ms. Priestly is picking up her ex-husband and the girls at the train station. She'll meet you at the field."
Oh shit. "Is, uh, he coming to the game?"
Sadly, all thoughts of kissing vanished from Andy's mind.
Traffic was heavy, but Roy delivered her to the Randall's Island soccer field with plenty of time to spare. Miranda was nowhere in sight, so Andy milled around, smiling uncomfortably at the parents and kids. There were bleachers set up, and Andy took a seat a few rows from the bottom.
Finally, Andy spotted Caroline and Cassidy racing toward a group of similarly dressed girls, hauling a bag between them. They were immediately enveloped in hugs all around, and the chattering grew in volume with their arrival. A good hundred paces behind them, Miranda walked unsteadily in the grass, and Andy wondered if her heels were sinking in the damp earth. She prayed that was not the case. Those shoes did not deserve such punishment.
A tall, slim man strode next to her, dressed in a heavy trench and dress pants. Jeremy. Figures he'd be as well put together as Miranda, Andy thought. He was handsome, his light brown hair flecked with gray. It was thinning, but as it often happened, he managed to look distinguished rather than unfortunate.
If Andy didn't know better, she'd think they were a very happy couple. A spike of jealousy stabbed her in the gut.
They were barely civil to each other a year ago. They're probably just now learning to tolerate one another, Andy told herself. She gritted her teeth, and imagined what kind of sex life they once had.
God, she had sex on the brain. She silently cursed Miranda for upping her libido so dramatically.
She watched Miranda come closer, and some of the jealousy receded when she noticed her scanning the mass of people. Andy sat up straight, unsure if she should wave. But she didn't have to wait long, because Miranda's gaze traveled at light speed over the rest of the crowd to fasten directly on her.
Warmth exploded in her belly. She was glad her cheeks were already ruddy from the cold. She smiled, and Miranda motioned with her head just enough to know Andy was supposed to come over. That was interesting. She climbed down from the bleachers, apologizing to the people she had to go around. A few moments later, she approached.
"Hi," she said, a little breathless.
"Jeremy, this is Andrea. She once worked for me at Runway, some time ago."
"Ah, one of the many former Emilys, I take it," he said, and to Andy's surprise, his smile was warm. "Glad you lived to fight another day."
"Thanks," Andy said uncertainly, hoping Miranda wasn't insulted. She held out a hand, and they shook. His grip was firm but not overwhelming, and at that instant, she decided to like him. "Great to meet you. I'm happy you could make it. I'm sure Cassidy and Caroline are thrilled to have you both here."
Miranda made a face Andy couldn't interpret, and Jeremy bobbed his head. "That's nice of you to say, Andrea. This, I will tell you, is a first."
"Do you want to sit? I have some space up on the bleachers." The whistle blew, and a swarm of girls scrambled onto the field in a group around the referees.
"I'm staying on the sidelines. You go ahead." Miranda stalked off to stand at the white line surrounding the field, amongst a handful of other parents.
Andy turned to Jeremy. "Sure, let's sit," he said.
Miranda wasn't looking at either of them; apparently the action on the field was taking all her attention. Andy assumed this was okay, so she led Jeremy back to the seats she'd claimed earlier. Once they were seated, Jeremy rubbed his hands together and blew on them. "It's cold now. I hoped the fall would last a little longer, but no luck."
Ah, the safest topic of them all. "I know. I walk to work, and it's been a tough adjustment this week."
He nodded. "Miranda said you were a journalist?"
"Yep, for the New York Mirror."
"Award-winning, according to her."
Andy shrugged. "I've done all right."
"And humble, too." He chuckled. "What the heck are you doing spending time with Miranda?"
Nervously, Andy glanced out on the field. It was a joke, she knew, but she wanted to tread carefully. "Don't know, really. It just sort of worked out that way."
He followed Andy's gaze to watch his daughters chase the ball when the second whistle blew. "It takes a special kind of person to be Miranda's friend, I'm sure you know," Jeremy said. "She doesn't suffer fools."
"Yeah," Andy agreed.
"You must be special then," he said.
"Nah," she replied. "We just get along. I think she's fascinating. Unique."
His lips formed a sad little half-smile, and Andy sensed real loss in his manner. "I used to think she was the most fascinating person on earth," he said, and his eyebrows went up. Andy thought maybe he was surprised he'd said the words. "I still do," he added. "There's certainly nobody else like her, not that I've ever met." He turned to Andy. "Too bad we drove each other certifiably crazy."
Andy laughed this time. "I can see how that might be a problem."
He sighed. "I don't know why I'm talking to you about this. It was just so odd that you'd be here. I knew in the first minute I saw you that you're not like anyone else in Miranda's circle," he told her. "You seem real. Like a person. Not plastic."
"I am real. I think, at least."
"She's lucky then. She tends to scare most real people away. Fast."
"Yeah," Andy said. "She scared me for a long time."
"But not anymore." There was the hint of a question.
"I wouldn't go that far. But not as much," she said with a grin.
"You might be a good influence on her, Andrea," and Andy was taken aback at the way he said her name.
"You can call me Andy," she said.
He nodded. "Andy, then."
Andrea was reserved for one person only.
Andy tried hard, but it was a Herculean effort to hold back her laughter as Miranda harassed the referees on the field while Caroline begged her mother to keep quiet. "Mom, you're embarrassing me!" she yelled.
"She's not seeing half of what's going on out there. You were nearly killed!" Miranda shouted back. Andy thought it was the first time she'd ever heard Miranda raise her voice, but it was a necessity. The level of noise was intense, what with all the squawking parents making their feelings known to various refs and kids on the field.
"Go sit with Dad and Andy!" Caroline begged, and ran back down the field after Cassidy, who ignored them both.
Miranda crossed her arms, refusing to budge. She looked strange out there, so regal in her Escada skirt and jacket. The other parents around her were well dressed, but none of them had Miranda's panache. And all of them were wearing flat shoes.
Finally, Miranda relented. The game continued, tied 3 to 3 in the final third. Looking more awkward than ever, Andy watched her climb the metal bleachers to take a seat between them. Andy handed over the trench coat she'd shed not long after the game started. Miranda threw it over her shoulders in a huff. "The ineptitude of these officials stuns me. Are they blind?"
Jeremy looked at Andy over Miranda's head and made a face. Andy looked away before she could utter a sound. There would be no forgiveness if she laughed at Miranda, especially in concert with her ex. Instead, Andy moved a little closer to her, sure that no one would notice two people sitting very near each other in 40 degree weather.
"It's a good game though. They're both great players."
That satisfied Miranda for a moment.
"They're doing well, Miranda," Jeremy said, nudging her. "I know I have you to thank for that."
Andy tried not to eavesdrop, but her proximity made it virtually impossible. She shifted away, keeping her eyes fastened on the game.
"I want them to be happy," Miranda said.
"They are. They talked about you all weekend. And would you believe it, they weren't complaining?"
"The new therapist has been excellent."
"I think it's you," Jeremy said, and his voice was low. She liked the guy, but the sound of it made Andy want to throw up. "You've changed."
Andy tried to watch Miranda out of the corner of her eye.
"I haven't," she assured him.
"I think you have. I can't remember the last time we survived ten minutes together, much less two hours. You seem softer." His voice dropped further, and this time, Andy didn't hear what he said. She bit her lip.
A moment later, Miranda said, "No."
"Come on, Mira," Jeremy said.
"Jeremy, please do not ruin this day," Miranda said, exasperated. "And don't call me that."
"You used to like it."
"Not anymore," Miranda said. "We've had a lovely afternoon. You're going back to Connecticut. I'll see you in a month again when I drop off the girls."
"Maybe we could--"
Miranda sat up swiftly. "I won't have this conversation. You spent six years hating me, nay, detesting me, and now you want to have dinner. Don't be ridiculous."
Jeremy snorted. "I guess it's been so long since we've been civilized with one another that I thought I don't know what I thought. I'm sorry. I won't push my luck."
"Thank you. And Jeremy," Miranda said, her voice raising just a touch. "We will not escalate our friendship. This is how it will remain. I just want to be clear."
Andy took a breath and let it out slowly. Thank you, god. She looked at the elegant hands resting on Miranda's thighs. She wanted to hold them in her own. They looked so cold and lonely there against the dove grey of the skirt. No rings adorned Miranda's fingers, and Andy traced their length with her eyes, following the veins that stood out in sharp relief. They were the hands of a woman far older than herself, and she could absolutely not wait to have them on her skin. She flushed and looked away.
She missed the rest of the conversation, and hoped whatever was said was polite enough.
"The referee was an imbecile," Miranda said. Her tone brooked no argument, but Cassidy disagreed.
"Mom, she was fine. You overreacted. I didn't even fall!"
"That Sommers girl shoved you. She deserved a yellow card."
Andy loved that Miranda was learning the rules of soccer.
"Well, shit happens, Mom."
Miranda's eyes narrowed, and for a moment, Andy wished there was a way for her to open the window to the limo and jump out.
"Cassidy, I don't believe I heard you correctly," she said, so softly that Andy knew they were in for it if Cassidy didn't say just the right thing.
"Stuff happens," Cassidy said quickly.
Miranda inhaled through her nose. "No television tonight."
Cassidy sulked. When she glanced up at Andy, something went across her face that panicked Andy. The girl opened her mouth, and Andy made a slicing motion across her own throat. Don't even, she mouthed. Cassidy went back to sulking.
"Dad sure was in a good mood," Caroline said, probably as a distraction. Andy had noticed she was the one to diffuse the tension in the house; Cassidy was the rabble-rouser, Caroline the problem-solver. It was curious, considering they shared the same DNA. "He was pretty nice this weekend. Even though Delphine dumped him."
"Ah," Miranda said, as though that explained everything. "When was that?"
"A couple weeks ago."
Miranda just shook her head. "So predictable," she murmured, crossing her legs. Andy looked quickly at the girls before stealing a glance at Miranda's ankles, her eyes sliding up one calf and thigh without permission. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and gazed out the window.
This was going to be harder than she thought.
The car pulled up to the townhouse, and the girls climbed out, followed by Miranda. Andy was careful not to pay too close attention to Miranda's ass as she exited. Damn that skirt. Andy had promised to stay for supper, but that was it. She had to work the early shift, and if she got Miranda alone, she couldn't say what might happen. Even with the girls in the house.
Once inside, she felt a little aimless. The twins disappeared upstairs for showers, so Andy followed Miranda into the study. She had her laptop with her, and when Miranda seated herself at the desk, Andy asked, "Can I set up here?"
Miranda looked at her over her glasses. "Of course. If you need the wireless password, Caroline has it."
"No, I'm okay for now."
So Andy started up and worked on her latest article, only a scant five feet from Miranda. It was a challenge, but once she got into the groove, she got lost in her words. When the sound of the pages flipping distracted her, she pulled out her earbuds and fired up iTunes. Miranda raised an eyebrow once she cranked the music, but she just smirked.
When dinner was served, it included a reenactment of the soccer game, with all the parts performed by the two girls. The whole evening was rather homey, a word she'd never associated with Miranda. And sweet. Another non-Miranda word. Andy knew Miranda was happy to have her daughters home after two days away, and she showed it, despite Cassidy's "no tv" punishment for her earlier infraction.
In all, Andy enjoyed herself thoroughly. And if she spent a great deal of time admiring the curve of Miranda's throat, and the dark vee of cleavage that hinted at pleasures previously unknown to her, no one noticed.
Cassidy and Caroline did not disappear into their rooms after dinner as they had once before, so Andy had no time alone with Miranda. She cursed herself for letting the hour before their meal go by without making a single move. Another day, she promised herself.
When Andy said she was leaving, two identical voices groaned their discontent, while Miranda simply tilted her head thoughtfully. "I have to go. I've got to be up really early."
"Not earlier than we do," Cassidy insisted.
"Try 5am," Andy said.
"Oh," Caroline replied. "Gross. Why?"
"I'm the lucky one who gets to update the website tomorrow, since the internet never sleeps."
"That's lame," Cassidy said.
"Truer words have ne'er been spoken," Andy agreed, getting up from the table. "But, it's part of the job. So, thanks for the awesome game," she said as she hugged Caroline, "and the awesome company," she said as she embraced Cassidy. "I'll see you soon, okay?"
"When?" Cassidy demanded.
Andy snorted. This girl was trouble, and she knew it, judging by the gleam in her eye. "Soon."
"When Andrea is able, I'm sure she will return," Miranda said smoothly. "Let me help you get your things."
Miranda followed her into the study, and Andy's breath got a little faster. Without turning around, she closed her laptop and slid it into the bag, pausing only when she heard the snick of the lock turning. When she looked over her shoulder, Miranda loomed near, her expression dark. "You've forgotten something, Andrea," she said.
Andy's heartbeat went into overdrive. "What's that?"
"I think you know." And then Miranda was kneeling on the floor next to Andy, who recklessly dropped her laptop bag. It fell to the floor, the computer and wires spilling out, but Andy's arms were full of Miranda, and she didn't really give two shits about whether she lost everything on the machine, forever.
It was so hard to stay quiet, hearing Miranda pant through her nose as they kissed and kissed. When a small sound came from Miranda's throat, Andy tore her mouth away and raked her teeth down the tendon that led to her collarbone, which she proceeded to bite. Miranda convulsed, grabbing Andy's sweater and hauling it up and over her head. "We can't," Andy whispered, shaking, turned on beyond belief. "The girls--"
"Are not here," Miranda said firmly. "Help me," she said, wrestling with the zipper at the side of her skirt.
Holy shit. I'm going to have sex with Miranda. Right now, in her study. Is this a good idea?
But then Miranda shoved her skirt down, revealing the sexiest thigh highs Andy had ever seen. So it's not all hearts and flowers. Maybe we'll get to that later. Miranda barely had her shirt half unbuttoned when she landed in Andy's lap, distracted by Andy's breasts, clad in the La Perla bra. Hands came up possessively, squeezing just enough to cause Andy to moan. "I bought this for you," Miranda murmured. Her manicured nails trailed over the lace, flicking hard at Andy's nipples. "I wanted this, even then. And before." Though Andy wanted to hear more of that story, was dying to, really, she lost her train of thought when those deadly hands slipped under the lace altogether and cupped her breasts, pinching and pulling with precision.
She bucked under Miranda's weight, her clit throbbing when it pushed against the seam of her jeans. "Oh god, is this happening?" she breathed. Thrusting upward, she grabbed Miranda's hips and gave herself a rhythm. Miranda sucked at her neck, writhing like a demon, and moved down until she caught one of Andy's nipples in her mouth.
"Ah," Andy cried, biting her lip. Under her hands, she felt the silk of Miranda's underwear, and she tore at it. But she couldn't reach what she really wanted; Miranda was too busy chewing at her breast greedily, and the angle was all wrong. But then Andy thought it didn't matter so much after a minute, because Miranda's hands ripped her button fly open, and disappeared between her legs. "Oh my fucking, oh yes," Andy whispered when the hands she'd been fantasizing about found their goal. Two fingers rubbed at her fast and hard, and with her head tipped back and Miranda's mouth scraping her throat, she came with a wordless cry. It was strong, so strong that Miranda could tell immediately, and she paused. "Don't stop," Andy pleaded, and Miranda complied, and Andy came again, arching so sharply she thought her back might break. "Miranda, oh, god, Miranda," she whimpered, throbbing and sweating and wanting to die that very minute, it was so good.
When she lifted her head, she was dizzy, and she thought maybe she'd lost the hearing in her left ear. Miranda looked drunk, her face slack with lust, and Andy had enough of her wits left to realize that this was her chance. She pushed against Miranda's chest, tipping her backwards. Miranda was surprised, especially when her hands came out of Andy's pants slick with wetness. But Andy ignored her shock, shoving her onto the floor and climbing on top. She kissed her lover, thinking, Yes, Miranda is my lover now, but only for a moment. Miranda's shirt was only halfway undone, but Andy could see the delicate bra that held her breasts in place. As much as she longed to spend ages ravishing them with the attention they deserved, Andy was in a hurry. She went straight south, and pulled Miranda's underwear down her thighs just far enough to part them. Miranda sat up a little as if to complain, but Andy was intent on shutting her up as fast as possible. Mouth open, she tongued directly between Miranda's legs, which twitched and trembled in reply. "Oh," Miranda said.
She kept making that "Oh" sound as Andy kissed and licked, though she had no real idea what she was doing. Once, she pushed her tongue inside, and Miranda's legs locked around her ears, so Andy did some more of that. But from the way Miranda's body was jerking, things wouldn't last long despite Andy's inexperience. Andy moved higher, to where Miranda's clit was, and fastened her mouth around the whole area so she wouldn't miss it.
Miranda's hips came up so hard Andy almost lost her grip, and it seemed as though her body might shake apart. She yanked Andy's hair, making a choking sound that would undoubtedly have been a scream in any other circumstance. Andy hummed in pleasure and Miranda only shook harder, jerking again, pulsing beneath her tongue.
It was fantastic.
She stayed where she was, breathing through her nose as Miranda came down. It looked like a good one, hopefully as good as Andy's. She gave a last kiss, inhaling the scent, human and musky, and not anything like perfume, for which Andy was grateful.
Miranda lay flat on the floor, breathing hard. "Jesus," she said, and threw one arm over her eyes. "Jesus."
Andy wiped her chin and cheeks, unrepentantly smearing her hand on the expensive rug. When she licked the inside of one thigh, Miranda flinched, looking up. Andy waggled her eyebrows. "Hey," she said, grinning madly.
To Andy's surprise, Miranda laughed, falling back to the floor. She shook her head. "Oh god. I wish I knew what I was doing."
Her comment was refreshing; it felt right that Miranda flailed in this as much in this as she, despite the all-powerful air she typically wore. "You sure seemed like you knew what you were doing," Andy joked, wanting to keep the mood light.
Miranda pursed her lips. "As did you."
Andy wondered if that was a question. "Well, it was all luck. That was my first adventure in, uh, cunnilingus."
Blue eyes snapped wide open, and Andy wasn't sure if it was because of the word "cunnilingus," which wasn't exactly romantic, or the meaning behind it. Miranda let out something close to a snort. Sitting up, she wiggled away from Andy and closed her legs primly. "Ahem. Well, that's nice to know."
"Was it good?" Andy asked, sitting up herself. She wanted to hear it from Miranda, even if she had to drag it out of her.
Eyebrow raised, Miranda said, "As if you couldn't tell."
Andy shimmied close. "Well, maybe I want you to tell me."
Miranda's eyes softened. "Yes," she replied, "it was good."
"It was good for me too," Andy said, and kissed her. "It was amazing."
They kissed again, and Andy wanted to lose herself in Miranda's taste, and her smell, and her soft, soft skin. Especially when Miranda wrapped her up tight, caressing the back of her head so sweetly. When they parted, Andy said, "I wish I could stay."
Miranda nodded, and kissed her cheek. "Another time," she breathed, and Andy hoped it was the true.
Once they separated, Andy had less damage control to perform, since she was still half-dressed. But glancing at her computer, she crossed her fingers that it was still in working order. Whatever. I'd do it again in a second, she thought. Miranda pulled herself together like the expert she was, brushing her hair back from her face. But she couldn't hide that kiss-swollen mouth, or the satisfied look in her eyes. Unable to help herself, Andy kissed her again.
After a moment, a pat on Andy's rear told her it was time. "When will I see you?" she asked.
Miranda sighed. "Thursday? I know I'll be late Monday, and Tuesday--"
Andy stopped her mouth with one finger. "You don't have to explain yourself, Miranda. I know how your life is. I won't ask for more than you're able to give. Thursday is okay, if you're free. Cancel if you have to, even last minute. I'll take whatever part of you I can," she said, meaning every word.
Miranda's mouth opened, but nothing came out. She slipped a hand into Andy's hair once more, caressing the side of her face. "Andrea, I'm beginning to think you don't quite sense your importance to me."
Andy waited, breathless.
"There are moments I'm with you that I wish A lot of things," she said, trailing off. "That my life was different. That I had more time. That I was easier to be with."
"It is easy to be with you," Andy insisted.
"You and I both know that's not true," Miranda said. "But I've come to care for you, very deeply, against both my better judgment and my will. It was a difficult adjustment," she said, clearing her throat. "Feeling the way I do." She let out a rueful laugh. "I never make things simple for anyone, including myself."
Andy touched Miranda's lower lip, tracing the edge of it with her nail. Miranda's eyes fell shut, and Andy knew that whatever pain and trouble this caused, it was okay. Because what she felt for Miranda at this moment was bigger than anything she'd known in her life. "I'm worth the effort," she teased, with a tiny grin.
Miranda's mouth shaped into a smile, and Andy could only stare at the wonder of it. "Oh, I know, Andrea. I always have."
Andy reported to work the next day at 5:30 in the morning, feeling obscenely chipper. Her co-workers scowled at her, but Andy paid no attention. Even Dixon noticed the change.
"Go to bed early, Sachs?" he asked.
"I did." She'd hit the sheets as soon as she'd gotten home from Miranda's, not even showering beforehand. She smelled Miranda on herself all night, and had more good dreams.
"Well, stop smiling so much. It's annoying."
That afternoon, a messenger arrived. He delivered a new box of stationery, embossed with her monogram. The accompanying note read, Don't lose this.
Andy was moved. She replied on a fresh sheet of paper. I won't, I promise. And though the messenger had discreetly turned away, Andy pretended to drop her pen on the floor when she kissed the page and left a perfect, red imprint of her lips behind. It was pure schmaltz, and maybe Miranda would laugh, but she refused to deny herself a little romance.
Thirty minutes later, Andy's phone rang.
"Andrea," Miranda said.
"Hi," Andy replied, feeling shy all of a sudden.
"You take my breath away." Andy inhaled sharply, stunned into silence. Speaking away from the mouthpiece, Miranda said, "Emily, get me Dominick." And then, "We'll talk soon." She hung up.
Andy held the phone in her hand for a while after that.
Andy started, nearly dropping the handset. "Yeah?"
"Did you get Jake that edit on the council budget cuts? He's waiting to push it."
She shoved the stationery and her Mont Blanc pen into the bottom drawer of her desk, and went back to work.
Doug called Thursday and wanted to go out for drinks, but Andy begged off. Lily was going to be there, and they were still kind of on the outs after she and Nate broke it off. Besides, she had every intention of getting to Miranda's by 8. She'd traded for the early shift with Mark that day to see her and the girls, even though she knew she'd pay for it the next day in exhaustion.
But things went haywire just before lunch, when she got a call from her source at Child Protective Services. She flew out of the office and bolted across town, shutting off her phone to be able to focus properly. Once back at her desk, she typed in a fury, chewing her lip when she felt tears sting her eyes. She held them back, and filed the article with Dixon.
Once in his office, she flopped into a chair. "I'm leaving for the day." Her voice was shaky. "I need a break. Mark has the details if you need more background."
He skimmed what she'd sent, his face falling as he caught the particulars of the story. "Goddamn, Andy. This is a tough one." Glancing up at her, he asked, "You have some place to go?"
Andy wanted to see Miranda, but it was too early. "Home," she said.
"Don't go home. Go out. See people." He took a deep breath, and let it out in a whoosh. "There's nothing I can say that will help. Sometimes we can't save the world, no matter how hard we try," he said.
Andy nodded. "Yeah."
She left the newsroom and went to Starbucks, the one near Elias-Clarke. The smiley barista recognized her, even a year later, and handed her two extra-hot no foam lattes without taking her order. Though Andy didn't want the second one, she bought it anyway. The liquid burned her tongue going down, and she finally relented and got out her phone.
Miranda picked up on the first ring. "Yes," she said, an edge to her tone. "Hello?"
Andy could hardly find her voice, and tears sprang to her eyes. "Um, Miranda?" she said unevenly. "Hi."
Miranda didn't say anything.
"Did you hang up?" Andy asked, perhaps to no one.
"Hold on," Miranda said. A few seconds later, she was back. "What is it?"
"See, I was going to come over tonight at 8, but I got this story, and uh, it was kind of bad--" Andy's voice shook to the point of breaking, and she had to swallow to continue. "So I left work and I went to Starbucks, and the girl gave me an extra coffee, and now I have this cup, and I thought I might come up and give it to you, if you want it. But don't worry, I'll just drink it, or give it to someone, since I'm sure you have lots of meetings this afternoon, so--"
"Andrea, stop babbling and bring me the coffee. Five minutes."
Andy felt a relief so intense she swayed in her seat. "Okay," she said, but Miranda was already gone.
The guards at Elias-Clarke nodded as she walked through, as though not a day had gone by since she'd been there. Andy rode up the elevator feeling removed from her body, distant and bewildered. No one questioned her as she walked through the halls to Miranda's office, but she got a few curious looks from faces she half-recognized.
And then she could see into Miranda's office, the white walls and bright light soothing her even at a distance. Miranda stood near the desk, holding a phone to her ear, and Andy wiped her eyes awkwardly with the sleeve of her sweater. It was only then that she realized she'd left her coat at the newsroom.
"You," Emily said, bolting upright from her chair and stalking toward her. "This is your fault. I've just had to reschedule Link Theory to tomorrow, and they were absolutely hysterical--"
"Emily," Miranda said from the hall, her calm voice cutting through Emily's like an ice pick. "You will stop speaking, or you may leave now and not return." The second assistant seated at Andy's old desk dropped a pen. "Andrea, please come in."
Andy walked around Emily, dazed. She handed the tray of coffees to Miranda, and stood stock still in front of the desk. "I'm so sorry I screwed up--"
"Sit," Miranda directed, pulling one of the guest chairs close to the window. Confused, Andy did as she was told. "Tell me."
Andy didn't know where to start, until she remembered that Miranda had read her original CPS series. "One of the boys I wrote about, for my article on Child Protective Services. Damon. His father beat him to death last night with an iron."
Miranda breathed in deeply through her nose. She didn't blink. "Go on."
"The dad took a court-ordered parenting class last month, so the social worker released Damon to his custody, even knowing their history, because the foster parents couldn't deal with his behavioral problems anymore. The foster mother said he was more trouble than he was worth. That was two days ago." Andy's whole body started to tremble. "He was only eight," she whispered, and the flood of tears began. She leaned over, head to her knees, and Miranda placed a hand on her shoulder, rubbing in wide circles. Another hand, cool and smooth, fell on the back of Andy's neck. She wanted to cover her head and disappear. "I met him, Miranda," she said through her tears. "I bought him a Happy Meal for dinner. He was so excited. A fucking two dollar, stupid Happy Meal. And now he's dead!" She squeezed her eyes shut.
But only a minute passed till she sat up and looked around, panicked. "Oh god, Miranda, I'm so sorry. I--" she glanced behind her at the clear glass of the office wall. "I never should have come."
Miranda's face was serene, and a little sad. It made no sense. "Andrea," she said, "If I didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here." She stroked her fingers down Andy's damp cheek. "I told you to come, and I'm not sorry. Am I being clear?"
Andy had no choice but to nod.
"Will you wait for me, or would you prefer that Roy take you home? Caroline and Cassidy are there by now."
"Yes, to the townhouse."
Miranda's home. An errant tear slid down her cheek. The choice was obvious, once Andy pulled her thoughts together. "Home," she said.
"Yes," Miranda said. "Good." She stood and opened her door. "Emily, Roy is to pick up Andrea downstairs in five minutes. And go get her something warm to wear from the Closet."
"Of course," Emily said simply, no questions asked. It was a nice change.
Miranda walked around her to retrieve something from the narrow drawers behind the desk, and only then did Andy notice the pink orchid. "That's my Lady M," Andy said, somehow surprised. "The orchid."
"Lady M," Miranda murmured. "Yes, it is." She handed Andy a few tissues.
Unable to look away from the flower, Andy wiped her nose. "It looks pretty."
"It does." Miranda retook her seat and leaned forward. "I want you to rest when you get home. I'm going to tell the girls--"
"No, don't. You don't have to tell them anything. It's fine." Miranda looked uncertain. "I swear. I'll just go there and wait for you." Andy sniffled. "It will be nice to be with them, I think."
"All right. I'm going to shift my schedule here, but I should be home by 8."
"Okay," Andy said.
Miranda sighed, leaning back in her chair. "Your heart is so easily wounded, Andrea. I worry."
"Somebody has to mourn him," Andy said. "It might as well be me."
For a moment, Andy thought she saw tears in Miranda's eyes, but she told herself it was just a trick of the light.
The halls of Runway were silent when Miranda led Andy to the elevators, one hand on her back. Andy was so drained, she didn't have enough energy to care what anyone thought, even when Miranda rode down the lift with her, and walked her to the car. In the back of the sedan, Andy snuggled into the short black jacket Emily handed her as they'd left. She hadn't known how cold she'd been till she put it on.
At the townhouse, Andy knew instantly that Miranda had talked to the girls. But they asked for no details, only took her hand and pulled her inside, up to what Andy used to think of as "the lair." It was a playroom when they were younger, but now it served many purposes; game room, study space, movie theatre. Cassidy deposited Andy on a plush couch and pushed her down into a prone position, while Caroline threw a blanket over her. "Mom said you're sick. You need to sleep. Tell us if you want anything," Cassidy said.
"Bossy," Andy mumbled, but she didn't mean it.
"Yeah, we learned from the best," Cassidy said. She patted Andy's head. "Go to sleep."
For a while, Andy lay on the sofa and gazed at the crown molding on the high ceiling. But the low rumble of the television in the background, accompanying two sets of Mac keyboards that were busy clacking away did, in fact, make Andy want to close her eyes. So she did.
When she opened them, the room was darker, and Caroline was standing over her. "Mom's home."
"'Kay," Andy said, sitting up. Her head ached, and her eyes felt that strange way they got after she cried. But to her relief, she felt better. Not as lost, or angry. She thought about Damon, and his ready smile. At least it wouldn't get any worse for him. But Andy knew there was more story to be told, and she wanted to be up for the challenge.
When Andy looked up, Miranda was watching the three of them from the doorway. Andy couldn't see her face because of the light, so she waved a hand and hoped she was seen. It worked. Miranda came in, and the girls got up from the mass of pillows on the floor to hug her. Caroline was first out of the room, at least Andy thought it was Caroline, but Cassidy whispered something to her mother. Miranda smiled and laid her palm on her daughter's face. She nodded, and pulled Cassidy closer, kissing the top of her head. When Cassidy scurried off, Miranda went to the side table and turned on the lamp. It was pink and frilly, with beads hanging down from the shade. Andy wondered how hard Caroline had to beg to get Miranda to buy it.
Miranda seated herself between the arm of the sofa and Andy, wiggling to find room. Andy watched her, trying to discern what to do. But when Miranda's arm went around Andy's shoulders, she pushed her face into the crook of Miranda's neck and inhaled. They stayed that way for a while, until Andy pulled back.
"I'm better now," she said.
Miranda nodded, her elegant, imperfect profile outlined by the soft light.
Andy traced a finger down Miranda's nose, lingering on the tiny bump below the bridge. Miranda tried to shake it off, but Andy wouldn't be denied. She continued down to a soft cheek, and touched the lines at Miranda's mouth. It was a great privilege, to be so close, and she kissed the barely visible crinkles near her eyes.
"Are you attempting to remind me of the difference in our ages?" Miranda asked dryly.
Andy chuckled. "No. I just like your face."
Miranda looked at her. "I am a great deal older."
"And a great deal more beautiful."
Miranda's eyes widened. "Don't be ridiculous," she said.
"I'm not." Andy touched her lips, reminded of the night they'd been together, and the way that mouth had worshiped her body.
A flurry of emotions seemed to cross Miranda's face. "I think you really mean that."
"I wouldn't lie," Andy said. "Not about this."
"So the age difference doesn't bother you?"
Andy shrugged. "A little. I'd be a fool to say I didn't consider it. But hey, historically, it's worked out for some people. You can be Bogie to my Bacall."
Blue eyes narrowed threateningly. "I am the Humphrey Bogart in this equation."
Equation. Andy liked the sound of that. "Yep. And I get to be the pretty young thing who strolls into town one day and blows the hero's life all to hell."
"I repeat. I am Humphrey Bogart."
Laughing, Andy sat up and straddled Miranda. "He was always the smartest guy in the room, the guy who knew all the angles. Till she walked in and changed the game."
Miranda's hands slid up Andy's sides, and Andy sighed in contentment. "Inadvertently, no doubt."
"Mm-hmm," Andy asserted. She certainly hadn't meant to fall for Miranda, but she had. And though she wasn't ready to say the real words, she didn't think Miranda was ready to hear them either. But they were there, and they would keep.
"Mom, Andy! Dinner!" a voice shrieked from downstairs.
Andy was deeply disappointed at the interruption, and she thought Miranda was too from the kiss she received a moment later. It was tender and slow, and it made Andy's insides melt.
Miranda pulled back reluctantly. "Later," she said. The roughness in her voice sent a shiver through Andy's body.
Miranda adroitly kept the dinner conversation focused on the girls and away from Andy's difficult day. As Andy looked around the table, she wondered at how quickly she'd become entwined with this family. The girls had grown on her, especially because Miranda seemed so entirely human around them. Those few glimpses of vulnerability Andy got near the end of her tenure at Runway had only whetted her appetite, and she was grateful to be given a second chance. Or any chance at all.
When their meal was over, Andy trailed after Miranda into the study. The moment she saw the Chinese rug, which looked for all the world like an innocent little floor covering, she blushed. Miranda cast a knowing glance over her shoulder, and before she could sit down, Andy walked right into her arms and kissed her. Just when it was getting good, and Andy had slipped one hand down the back of Miranda's trousers, Miranda stiffened. She tilted her head, listening.
"Emily's here with the Book."
"Oh," Andy said sadly.
"I need one hour." Miranda rubbed her thumb over Andy's mouth. "Will you stay the night?"
Andy's eyebrows flew up. "What about the twins? Won't they, uh--"
"They already know."
"Cassidy made it very clear yesterday that they believed you to be a suitable 'friend' for me."
"But do you think they, um, heard anything on Sunday--"
"No," Miranda said firmly, as if to convince herself. Andy hid a smile. "At least I don't care to consider the idea. According to Cassidy, they've known for quite some time, and were surprised to hear that I didn't know they knew. Apparently they've been 'encouraging' us for weeks."
"Huh. I was clueless."
"As was I. I shouldn't complain. They like you, and they think you're good for me."
Andy held her breath. "And do you think I'm good for you?"
Miranda brushed invisible lint off Andy's shoulder. "It's possible."
"But you're not certain."
At that, Miranda met her eyes. "This," Miranda waved her hand in the air between them, "will impact both our lives in ways neither of us have considered yet. But I am willing to try."
"Me too." Andy remembered something she'd meant to ask about earlier. "What did Emily say, by the way, after my, um, breakdown? I really am sorry about that."
Miranda wore her most mysterious smile, as though she were about to spill a delicious secret. "She asked if I was grooming you to take over for Jocelyn," she said.
She nodded. "Apparently she believes you've been 'visiting' me for the past few months to discuss the future of the magazine, since before Jocelyn went on leave. All the messengers we've sent back and forth have involved our plans. You've been elected my protégé."
Andy burst out laughing. "Wow. I would never have come up with that one. What did you say?"
"I told her that any future position you might have with Runway was none of her concern."
"In other words, she's convinced she was right."
"A little misdirection was appropriate, at least for now."
"I can live with that," Andy said. "At least I won't need to hide out if she catches me over here. I'll come up with some ambiguous explanations just in case."
"I knew your creative instincts would come in handy," Miranda purred. "Now, off you go."
Andy squeezed Miranda's ass. "Five more minutes?"
"We both know where that will lead. Out."
Upstairs with the girls, she watched television, catching the first episode of "The Office" she'd seen in almost a year. During the commercials, she checked her email, and looked over the paper's website. Her story on Damon's death was live on the homepage, and Mark had contributed a short follow-up on the father's arrest and the ensuing investigation. That was something. Tomorrow, she'd begin again, but tonight, she would recharge. She owed it to herself, and to Miranda.
She was dozing when the television clicked off. Andy blinked in the sudden darkness, and Caroline whispered, "Are you sleeping over?"
Andy swallowed. "Yeah. Do you mind?"
"No. It's cool."
"Can we get donuts in the morning?" Cassidy asked.
I've created a monster. Two monsters. "Ask your mother."
"She'll never say yes. But if you get them, she'll cave."
Lord, am I ever in for it. "Maybe this weekend."
"Awesome. G'night, Andy." The girls swooped in for a dual hug and left her alone in the dark room.
Miranda was scribbling notes when Andy knocked on the open study door. "That was more than an hour," she said.
"I know. I'm trying to avert disaster, which is a challenge when surrounded by incompetence."
Andy smiled at the familiar turn of phrase. "I, uh, don't know where I'm sleeping tonight."
Miranda looked up.
"And I have nothing to wear."
"You play dirty," Miranda said, closing the Book.
"I never said I was nice."
"Thank goodness for small favors."
The bedroom was just as Andy would have imagined it, had she been able to move beyond fantasies of sex with Miranda in locations other than the workplace, the car, and the foyer of the townhouse. Pristine and stylish, it was a tranquil space that Andy wouldn't mind spending a good deal of time in. The attached master bathroom was enormous, equipped with a bathtub built for three and a shower large enough to throw a party in. The lack of showerhead drew Andy's attention, until she realized the spout was part of the ceiling.
"Is this one of those showers that rains on you?" Andy asked.
"Yes," Miranda called from her dressing room.
I could get used to this. The bathroom was subsequently added to the fantasy roster.
She brushed her teeth with a new toothbrush set out beside the sink, and found Miranda choosing her outfit for the morning. Her closet was the size of Andy's kitchen. But she didn't pay much attention, because Miranda was wearing a pale blue silky nightgown. As badly as she wanted to interrupt the selection process, she instead stripped down to her underwear and slid under the covers.
The sheets were soft, and Andy instantly claimed a pillow like the one she'd slept on weeks ago, after her night in jail. Only a few minutes later, Miranda climbed into the bed and stared down at her, head resting on her hand.
"Is this okay?" Andy inquired.
Miranda glanced around the room. "It may take some adjustment. It's been a while since I've shared a bed with anyone."
"And never with another woman," Miranda admitted gently.
Andy paused. That was a piece of information she'd been very curious to know. "Me too."
"Come here," Miranda finally said, and Andy rolled close, enjoying their first full-body embrace. A gentle kiss landed on Andy's temple, and Miranda didn't push further. For a moment, Andy listened to the quickening heartbeat under her ear. When she reached up for a kiss, Miranda said, "We don't have to."
Tangling their legs together, Andy asked, "What if I want to?"
"Are you s-sure?" Miranda stuttered when Andy's hand brushed one breast.
Another kiss answered the question.
In the morning, Andy got to mark her bathroom sex fantasy off the list, but decided she would revisit it frequently. The memory of Miranda's face as she came, water streaming down her body like rain, was something Andy would recall when she felt low, surely. And the attachment hidden in the wall made the escapade far more interesting.
"We're going to have to get up earlier," Andy said, pulling on her pants as Miranda brushed out her hair. "I still have to go home and change."
"If you were less libidinous it wouldn't be so difficult," Miranda sniffed.
"I'd laugh my head off if that weren't a complete and utter fabrication. You started the whole shower thing."
Miranda ignored her.
Carina smiled broadly when Andy stumbled into the kitchen in search of coffee. The girls were shoveling cereal into their mouths, and Andy gave them each half hugs before gratefully accepting a travel mug of caffeine from Carina. "See you soon, okay?" she told the girls.
"Tonight?" Caroline asked.
Andy shrugged, but grinned. "Depends on your mom."
"Tonight, then," Cassidy said with assurance.
Andy raced up the stairs to meet Miranda on the landing. "I'm heading out." For a moment, she was nervous about asking when they could see each other again. "When, um--"
"Tomorrow evening I have an event," Miranda interrupted. "But tonight, I'm free. If you are."
Andy heard the note of uncertainty in Miranda's voice, and breathed easier. "I am. It's pizza night, right?"
Miranda seemed touched. "Yes." She fastened an earring before straightening her blouse. "Be here when you can."
"I'll run," Andy said, her heart thumping happily in her chest.
Since Miranda had yet to apply her lipstick, Andy kissed her tenderly, lingering. "See you tonight," she said, unable to resist a final peck on the cheek.
Outside, the cold had eased, and the sun shone down out of an extraordinarily blue sky. Everything looked different, and Andy wondered if this was the way her life would be from now on.
She hoped so.
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