Andy could hardly believe it. She was in the backseat of a town car with Miranda. Two years after her not-very-professional exit, she was back, in a sense.
"Thank you," she said, knowing all too well that she was repeating herself, which of course Miranda hated, but she was trying to jumpstart her voice and find her bearings.
"It's on the way." Miranda spoke noncommittally.
"Not really." Andy had to smile. Talk about exaggerating. They were going in the opposite direction of Miranda's townhouse.
Miranda didn't comment at first. She merely looked out the window as if the passing streetlights were of a particular interest. Her white hair gleamed expensively with each one, so in a way, Andy could relate. How many times had she dreamed of running her fingers through that beautiful hair, or even when it was limp and Miranda sat makeup-less on a couch in Paris, clutching divorce papers that her drunken now ex-husband Stephen had overnighted to her. Perhaps Andy had felt the closeness especially then, when Miranda had seemed, well, real. That didn't take away how sexy and stunning she looked when she was in full dragon mode. But was she that now? Andy didn't think so. Outwardly, Miranda was immaculate, but she seemed pensive and, something more, distant in a way, perhaps?
"Have you forgiven me, Andrea?" Miranda turned her focus to Andy unexpectedly.
Andy flinched. "W-what? For what?"
"For Paris. For Nigel. For being me, I suppose?" Miranda was rigid but seemed to truly want to know.
"I could ask the same thing. I mean, if you've forgiven me." Andy wasn't ready to even try to answer Miranda's question.
"For leaving?" Miranda frowned. "Cause and effect. I'm used to that. I mean, people leave me all the time." She swallowed and averted her eyes. "I could tell you were shocked at my version of 'office policy'. Nigel was hurt, but he understood. It took a while, but I did make it up to him in the end."
"He said you would. Within five seconds, he said so." Andy didn't recount how unsure Nigel still had been, despite his brave words.
"He did?" Miranda chuckled mirthlessly. "He's always been such a loyal friend. As his friend, I was certain I would do right by him, but as his boss—" Miranda shrugged.
"I was furious. When you compared us, it—it actually frightened me. I didn't want to see myself that way."
Miranda jerked as if Andy had slapped her. "Like me."
"No. Well, not quite. Like someone who could do that when their back was against the wall. I know. I was naïve. God knows what we can resort to if we're pressured enough." Andy sighed and tilted her head back. "I had a lot going on then, privately, and I felt so guilty already since I was in Paris and Emily wasn't. It was her dream. Not mine. And then when you—" Andy broke off, unable to continue. If she did, Miranda would know too much, and she wasn't ready for that.
"When I what?" Miranda's voice was stark now, so unlike the soft, silky murmur that was her usual way of talking. Her vowels sounded harder and her consonants more pronounced.
"Let's just say, I was confused and messed up in general and those days in Paris put everything under a microscope. I had to leave, but I wish I would have been more mature about it and given proper notice. I shouldn't have left you in the middle of everything like that. I'm sorry." There. Some of what had plagued Andy's mind was out in the open.
"You are forgiven. Regardless of my reputation, I don't hold grudges."
Andy blinked and raised her head. "Just like that?"
"No. Not really, just like that." Miranda played with her phone, turning it over and over between her hands. "It's been two years. I had no hope of ever seeing you again and now that you're here…" Turning her face toward the streetlights again, Miranda quieted.
Andy's mind whirled and she tried to stop the words that kept spinning faster and faster. What could Miranda mean by 'no hope'. As in she would have wanted to talk to Andy? But why? Andy had been so certain that Miranda despised her after her stunt in Paris, but the way Miranda acted now, and the way she looked, told a different story.
"Now that we've reconnected, perhaps this is a good chance to level with each other?" Andy heard herself ask. "Unless two years is too long. I mean, if you rather just leave things be." Angry at herself for sounding so incoherent, she turned within the confines of the seatbelt and placed a hand carefully on Miranda's.
Turning her head slowly, Miranda regarded her with wide eyes. "What are you saying, Andrea?"
"That we're both holding back, or, at least I am. Perhaps it would be better if we were upfront and not so—guarded." Or maybe this was the worst idea that she'd ever had. Any time now, Miranda was going to tell Roy to stop and Andy would have to hail a cab after all.
"Why?" Miranda was not going to make things easy, that much was clear.
"If you have to ask that, I mean, for real, then perhaps that says it all." Andy knew she was recoiling, but she was close to sharing a lot about herself—and if it was going to be one-sided, she had to know.
"Giving up so soon?" Miranda smiled and at least it wasn't her alligator smile that showed she was ready to sprinkle you with parsley and eat you for lunch.
A slow burning anger erupted in Andy's chest. "I'm not interested in playing games. I am, however, ready to hear you out if you're ready to be honest."
"Excellent." Miranda leaned forward and pressed the button that lowered the privacy screen. "Roy. Drive directly to the townhouse." She raised the screen back up.
"Wow." Andy could only look at Miranda who now studied her phone with great interest—or as a way of keeping it together. Andy had been known to do the same.
"You did mean what you said, didn't you?" Miranda murmured without looking up.
"I did. I just didn't realize it would happen instantly."
This made Miranda snort softly. After that they sat in silence as Roy drove them through the busy Manhattan streets to Miranda's house where just about anything could happen.
Miranda held out her hand for Andrea's leather coat and then hung it in the foyer closet. Motioning for her guest to come with her to the den that was located just inside the kitchen, she pointed at the side table holding an assortment of decanters. "Pour me a whisky and get whatever you want, please." She continued into the kitchen and crossed over to the icemaker. Filling a bucket, she stealthily took an ice cube and pressed against the inside of her left wrist and then a second cube and pressed it to the right one. Her heart was beating too fast and she was too hot. Perhaps she should change? The ridiculous idea of slipping into something comfortable before entertaining her former second assistant nearly made her laugh out loud. How cliché. How trite.
Returning to Andrea with the ice bucket, she found a glass of whisky waiting for her and Andrea was sipping a glass of port. "Good." Dropping two ice cubes in her whisky, Miranda took a sip and the smooth single malt slid down her throat like coarse velvet, if there was such a thing.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable." Andrea was still standing and now shifted back and forth, clearly not entirely comfortable either.
"I'm not. Nervous, perhaps, but that's to be expected. Please. Sit down." Miranda lowered herself onto the couch. To her surprise, Andrea sat down next to her. She had expected her to choose the arm chair—at a safe distance.
"How so, expected?" Andrea asked. She took another sip and then placed the crystal glass delicately on a coaster at the center of the marble coffee table. Miranda hid a smile. Knowing the way Andrea feared her own clumsiness two years ago, she could tell not a lot had changed in that regard. No doubt Andrea thought Miranda would strangle her if she broke a glass.
"My track record in communicating emotions are not stellar, as you may realize. And this, leveling with each other, to quote you, can backfire. Yes, yes. You can argue that things would not be worse than before, but that wouldn't be true. Not for me. Hence my apprehension." Miranda mimicked Andrea and placed her glass on the coffee table as well.
"What would be different this time?" Andrea leaned sideways against the backrest, her voice so warm and kind, it made Miranda want to do the same, but she remained ramrod straight where she sat.
"Failure now would mean a missed opportunity that, if I had gotten it right, could have given me another chance." Too much, too soon? Not judging from the light in Andrea's eyes. Perhaps this was it. Not hedging so much, not second-guess, or play it safe. She never did that when it came to Runway, but it was her method of operation when it came to personal relationships. The difference was that with Runway, the risks were quantifiable, to a degree. When it came to the people she cared about, the risk of losing them made everything inside her come to a screeching halt. And yes, of course she cared about this girl.
"It's okay to screw up. I mean, as long as there's a will to work things out." Andrea studied her for a moment. "And I'm prepared to do that, Miranda. I wouldn't be here, in your home, if I wasn't. By the way, where are the girls?"
"On a school trip to Toronto." Miranda answered automatically as she used most of her brain to try and decipher Andrea's words. "They'll be home on Sunday evening."
"Okay." Andrea flipped her long hair over her shoulder in an automatic gesture. "So, we have some time."
"We do." Miranda's breath caught. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you're in my den."
"Me too. Last time I was here, I brought you the Book and stuttered every other syllable." Smiling, Andrea covered her eyes for a moment. "You have no idea what a victim of mixed emotions I was back then."
"Which emotions did the mix consist of?" Slowly, Miranda forced her body to lean against the backrest. She pressed a pillow behind her aching back.
"Dread, for fear of screwing up. For potentially hurting Emily. Anger, for being put on the spot by you." Andrea kicked off her shoes and pulled one leg up under her. "And desire," she said, whispering.
Miranda thought her heart might just have skipped enough beats to qualify for a cardiac event. Then it picked up speed and infused every capillary in her cheeks. "Desire?" she murmured.
"Yes. By then, that last time in your den, that part was pretty well established." Andrea swallowed visibly. "This is a good opportunity for you to reassure me that you're not going to freak out."
Miranda responded without thinking. Grabbing Andrea's left hand in her right, she squeezed it tight. "I'm not freaking out."
Andrea clung to Miranda's hand, looking up at the ceiling, blinking hard. "Thank you."
"I too have memories of that last den moment." Miranda cleared her throat. "I could tell I'd just thrown you such a curve ball. It was in part deliberate as I was always evaluating you and Emily. Then, it was partly because I really thought you were the best for the job." Not sure how to continue, Miranda tried to stave off panic by offering the truth. "And because I desperately needed you with me."
Andy could hardly take the words in. "How do you mean, desperate?" She was still holding onto Mirandas impossibly smooth and youthful hand.
"I knew my marriage was ending. It had ben going in that direction for quite some time, and yet, all I could think of was you." Miranda laced her fingers together with Andy's.
"Oh, God." Andy nearly forgot to breathe.
"Was I that obvious?" Andy had to ask.
Miranda frowned and tugged Andy closer by lowering her hand between them. "Obvious about the desire? How can you ask that? I don't even find it obvious now that you've told me. I'm still not sure what you mean, exactly." Sounding more frustrated than annoyed, Miranda glare at her.
"Please." Andy had to make Miranda dial down some of the pent-up frustration. She slid closer and moved her free hand to Miranda's cheek. "I wanted you then—and I want you now." Andy knew she was placing her heart on a chopping block and handing Miranda a chef's knife.
Miranda stared at her for painfully long seconds. Then she tugged at Andy's hand and pulled her in for a tight embrace. "Don't you dare take that back," she growled against Andy's ear. "You can't say something like that and then take it back."
Who had done that to this amazing woman? Stephen? James, the first husband? Someone in between those two jerks? Or was Miranda's words born from something Andy had said two years ago?
"It's the truth." Andy turned her head and pressed her lips against Miranda's velvety cheek. Overwhelmed by Miranda's scent and the way her skin felt under Andy's lips, she tried to explain. "It's how I felt then and nothing much has changed."
Miranda trembled and Andy tightened her arms around her. Miranda had been the one pulling her in, but Andy was the one prolonging the hug. This was something that had filled her daydreams for years. No matter who she went out with in a desperate attempt at erasing the heartache of missing Miranda, this was what she needed to feel something real. When she admitted to herself that she thought of Miranda when allowing others to kiss her, or even when she had sex, she simply stopped doing either ten months ago. Ten months without being physically close to anyone. No wonder she was unwilling to let go of Miranda now that the woman she had never been able to get out of her system no matter how she tried.
"Andrea." Miranda turned her head and then their lips met.
Andy whimpered and then the last of her self-control evaporated. She tilted her head to the side and parted her lips just enough to taste Miranda's breath. Pushing her fingers carefully into Miranda's hair, she kept her in place, mindful of every nuance between them. How could Miranda's hair feel so silky despite all the hairspray? And how was it Miranda allowed her to mess up the meticulously styled locks to begin with? These questions buzzed in the back of Andy's mind, but the main part of her brain could only process the fact that Miranda was kissing her back.
And Miranda hummed. She pressed her lips against Andy's with far less trepidation and the soft, vibrating sound she made traveled through Andy's lips and permeated her entire system. By now void of lipstick, Miranda's lips felt amazing. She tasted a little bit of the expensive whisky and a lot of herself and Andy wanted nothing but to slip her tongue in between the lips that could utter such scathing words. Right now, thought, Miranda flung her arms around Andrea's neck and held her closer. She nipped at Andy's lower lip with her teeth, tugging at it gently, but insistently. "Allow me in, Andrea?" she whispered after letting go, her words and her breath hot against Andy's mouth.
"Oh, god." Andy ran her tongue along Miranda's lips and was granted access immediately. The moment she felt the tip of Miranda's tongue against her own she began to shake. How could kissing this woman make her feel more than any sex she'd ever had? This was worrisome and wonderful at the same time. Andy could easily drown in Miranda, lose herself willingly.
Miranda pushed her soft, eager hands in under Andy's shirt and flattened against her back. Andy pulled back, broke the kiss despite the pain it ignited. Looking into Miranda's narrowed eyes, she gasped for air when she saw the vulnerability mixed with desire. Was Miranda just as afraid of this going south as Andy was?
"Too fast?" Miranda said, her voice husky and completely without its usual preciseness and diction. Instead she almost slurred the words and her hands kept moving up and down Andy's back.
"No…and yes." Andy slid her hands out of Miranda's hair and framed her face. "If this was just about lust and sex, and nothing's wrong with that, I'd be tearing your clothes off right now. But for me, it's more. I've dreamed about this for so long and it may sound sappy, but I refuse to mess this up. This. You and I on this couch, is eerily close enough to my dreams and…damn it…" Wiping at some tears that dislodged from her eyelashes, Andy groaned. "I didn't want to cry."
Miranda pulled her hands free and wiped at Andy's tears with her thumbs. "I've seen you cry on my account before." She placed two kisses on each of Andy's cheeks. "I loathe that I was ever responsible."
Andy nuzzled her face against Miranda's neck. "And I hated to see you cry in Paris. I wanted to be there for you, to comfort you, but I never, in million years, thought you'd want me to. I was so close to moving to your side of the table and hug you."
"And I sent you away." Her hands were back under Andy's shirt. "I had to, of course, but it pained me. A lot during that fashion week seems to have been about pain, for both of us."
"Yes." Andy's skin was on fire and she kissed Miranda's lips again. The base of her skull was on fire and she trembled as she unfastened the top button in Miranda's blouse. Pulling back, Andy saw the wild pulsations on Miranda's neck where her carotid hammered under her pale skin. "Damn…Miranda…this might be going too fast. It's like—I feel I have to do all at once, seize the moment while I have the chance since I never know if I'll ever see you again, and if I don't take the chance now…"
Andy put a hand over her trembling lips. She was not making sense. Miranda must think she was losing it. "And it's not right. You deserve something more than frenzied groping on a couch—"
"Andrea." Miranda moved her hands to Andy's upper arms and shook her lightly, oddly enough smiling faintly. "This is not the last time you see me. If you harbor any ideas that I'm going to declare you persona non grata because of, what did you call it, a frenzied groping session? Then you are mistaken. You just came back. I just have you here, in my life, after two miserable years of regrets and futile thoughts of 'what if'. No matter what happens tonight, believe me, you won't get rid of me that easily." She pressed her lips to Andy's hard enough to nearly bruise them, but Andy welcomed the assertiveness. It broke through her near-panic.
"I can't imagine going back to not seeing you," Andy said after clearing her throat. She relaxed into Miranda's arms and ran her left arm up and down Miranda's. "As soon as I saw you today, I figured I was in for a world of hurt. Now that I'm not, I'm honestly not sure how to maneuver. It's like I'm floating, with no ability to choose a direction."
Miranda sat in silence for a few moments, kissing the top of Andy's head every now and then. "I agree that it's too soon for some things. We've both got a lot to share with each other to reach a deeper understanding about how we feel. Can we just reassure each other that we're both free to pursue these feelings? I need to know we have an honest foundation for whatever comes next."
Andy tipped her head back. "There is nobody else for me. There hasn't been for a long time."
Miranda's expression softened and then she smiled broadly. "Likewise. I'm free to act on my feelings. What bliss." She held Andy close and kissed her gently. "Can I persuade you to stay the night? I have guest rooms, or you can sleep in my bed, if you're all right with it. I just don't want us to be apart." Her smile died as she looked cautiously at Andy.
For Andy, it was unfathomable that Miranda would put so much power into Andy's hands. This was virtually Miranda opening herself up for possible rejection and if nothing else had convinced Andy of Miranda's true intentions, this did.
"I'll be happy to stay, in any room, or any bed." Andy drew a trembling breath. "And as much as I think we should move slowly—"
"Being this close will test our resolve." Chuckling quietly, Miranda nudged Andy's forehead with her own.
"Yes. That." Andy settled in and held Miranda close, allowing her body to calm down, to a degree, while she went over the day in her mind. Going from feeling lost, angry, and nervous before the interview at HR, to stunned and panicked at the bar, and end up in Miranda's arms with them navigating toward a tentative future together because it was what they wanted. "This is amazing." Andy closed her eyes and inhaled Miranda's signature scent.
"I agree." Miranda kissed Andy's temple.
As they sat there on the couch, Miranda pressed a few buttons on a remote, dimming the lights, and igniting a fire in the gas fueled fireplace. Andy supposed they'd order something to eat, or even cook themselves, later, but for now, she was in the arms of the woman she had loved for years. Speaking of such depth of emotion was too soon, but she knew it wouldn't take long for the words to burst out of her. The way Miranda kept touching her, running her fingers through her hair or up and down her arm, spoke more of her emotions than all the heated kisses before. Andy smiled. Tenderness and desire—the best of both worlds.
"What are you thinking about?" Miranda murmured against Andy's temple.
Andy turned her head and kissed Miranda's jawline. "You."
"Andrea…" Miranda tilted her head to the side, allowing more access. "You're already proven to be irresistible. I believe you cast a spell on me already two years ago."
"If I did, so did you, on me." Andy kissed a hot trail down Miranda's neck. "Guess we're both doomed."
Miranda's gasp at the kisses morphed into a chuckled. "We are."
How odd that it would be the person she once feared and found impossible to please that made Andy feel safe in this moment. Whereas Andy had felt like she was freefalling only a few hours ago; here, on Miranda's couch, she had touched down and was anchored by Miranda's arms.
Miranda listened to the voices coming from the tv-room where Andrea was watching a movie with the twins. Miranda had joined them for a while, but then excused herself. Andrea had shot her a glance, but Miranda merely made a gesture for her to remain with the girls.
Caroline and Cassidy had been surprised and thrilled to find Andrea visiting them. It had taken her girls about half an hour to update Andrea on what had happened in their lives these last two years. Andrea had patiently listened to her children, asked questions, and laughed at their jokes until she had to wipe tears from her cheeks.
And Miranda kept falling deeper and deeper in love with Andrea with each passing moment. This was part of the reason why she was now in her office upstairs. She sat down at her laptop and pulled up her contacts. Browsing through them, she took her cell phone and dialed.'
"Elsa Barrow," a well-modulated female voice said. "Miranda?"
"Hello, Elsa. I'm dreadfully sorry for disturbing you on a Sunday evening, but this will only take a moment." Miranda leaned back in her office chair.
"I always have time for you, dear," the older woman said. "How can I help you?"
"I want to direct your attention to a developing situation at the Mirror," Miranda said. "In this day and age, you can't be to careful and I have on good authority that your new editor-in-chief doesn't have his hand on the ball when it comes to workplace politics."
"Oh?" Elsa was too seasoned to let on if Miranda's words startled her.
"Yes. I would never presume to tell you how to conduct business, but as chairman of the board of your publishing house, I imagine you at least want to be aware of the situation before it becomes public knowledge. I know you've already lost a force to be reckoned with when your editor-in-chief abused their talent and work ethic. It would be a shame if it happened again."
There was a prolonged pause, but Miranda waited patiently for the coin to drop at the other end.
"I see. Well, I'm grateful for the heads up. You and I both know what it was like to break into a man's world. I assume the force to be reckoned with is a woman?"
"You will find out for yourself, I'm sure, Elsa. As a trailblazer in your own right, I know you'll handle the situation at the Mirror." Miranda allowed her voice to soften. "I'll owe you one."
Elsa Barrow chuckled. "Now, that's money in the bank."
After a few polite words, they hung up. Miranda rose and walked back toward the TV room. She stopped in the doorway and watched her very own microcosm personified by the three people in there. Just then, Andrea looked up and raised her eyebrows in a clear question.
Miranda merely smiled. "Any room for me on that couch or are you going to make me sit on the floor?"
The girls giggled and Andrea scooted to the side where she sat between the twins, making Caroline move one seat to the left. "Right here, please," Andrea said.
As Miranda sat down, Cassidy leaned her head against her shoulder. Andrea gently brushed her hand against Miranda's, while Caroline snuggled closer from her end.
Miranda pretended to watch the movie. In her mind, she dared to hope that this was how her future might be like. Ordinary, mundane family life.
If so—what bliss.