A/N: This story is in two parts. It's the same story, but the first part is from Miranda's POV, and the second one from Andy's.
A MirAndy fanfic for July FicAthon 2021
Today is the day. To preserve what's left of my mind, my sanity, I have to let Andrea go. She's become the best assistant I've ever worked with, but that's beside the point. If I'm going to survive with my heart intact, albeit seriously cracked, I can't see her every day.
I stride out of the elevator, determined to never let on that I have any sort of human emotions, or that I care how my employees scatter like hysterical chickens when I walk these halls. These halls that I love, my home away from home. Hell, before the divorce from Stephen, Runway was my only true home. If I could have tucked the twins into one of the offices I never would have left. At least the townhouse is more of a sanctuary now, with just the girls and I, and as calm as it can get with two precocious twelve-year-olds stampeding through it.
Passing Nigel's office, I glance inside and see him poring over photos. He's always early, always prepared before anyone else—except Andrea. She's in just as early and cracks the whip over the second assistant. My office is always set how I like it, down to the smallest detail, and Andrea's always there to receive me, notepad and pencil in hand.
Except for today. Instead, my second assistant is standing by, also with notepad and pencil in slightly unsteady hands, smiling nervously. I toss my coat on her desk and opt to bring my purse with me into the inner office.
"Where's Andrea?" My words are short, and my voice cropped. Andrea has to be here, or I won't be able to deliver the precisely worded explanation of why she has to move on. In the back of my mind or is it in the deep recess of my chest, a small ember of fear of whatever reason for Andrea's absence erupts into a flame. My intellectual self chastises the emotional part of my brain for overreacting.
"I'm sorry. I don't know, Miranda. I just got a text at six pm saying I should get your office ready." Second assistant, what is her name again…Lucy? I can't remember.
"All right. Man the phones until she gets here." I don't wait to be acknowledged, I never do, and flick my fingers. "That's all."
Perhaps-Lucy scurries back into the outer office. I pull my cell phone out and press the shortcut for Andrea's work phone. After four signals, her voice mail goes on. I growl and disconnect. Hesitatingly only for a fraction of a moment, I find Andrea's personal cell phone number among my contacts and tap it. It also goes directly to voice mail. I disconnect again.
Sitting down at my desk, I pull up my email software and scroll through the messages, hoping there will be an explanation why Andrea hasn't come in. It takes me a while to get through all the inquiries, invitations, submissions, and so on, and I finally give up and do a search for Andrea's name. Only old messages.
I try dialing her a few more times, but when I still just reach her two voice mails, I sigh and toss the cell on my desk. Two seconds later I pick it back up and tap the symbol for text messaging.
Where are you?
I realize staring at the cell won't help expedite an answer, and I try to work on sorting through the multitude of emails. About eighty percent of them go directly to the digital bin, but there are a few that need addressing.
I suddenly remember that I haven't had my latte yet. "Lucy?" I don't care if it's the girl's name at this point, but perhaps it is as she appears so fast, I wonder if she hid behind my desk all along.
"Where's my latte?" I look at her above my reading glasses. She swallows hard but squares her shoulders. Good for her.
"As I had to ready your office alone and man the phones, something had to give." Lucy doesn't apologize, which oddly makes me relax some.
"All right." I'm debating whether to actually man the phone myself and send her to get the coffee when a mug of steaming hot latte is placed before me. I snap my head to the figure on Lucy's left, expecting with equal parts dread and relief to see Andrea, only to gaze into Serena's kind eyes.
"Serena?" I raise my eyebrows, a deliberate move that I've perfected over the years as it has a direct effect on people, depending on the situation. This time, it has no effect at all. Serena smiles and seems unphased.
"I know Andy's not in yet, and that Lucia might have too much to do, to manage a coffee run. I bought some for everyone." Serena hands another mug to Lucy—no, Lucia. "Here you go. Well done for covering the office."
"Thanks." Lucia sends me a slightly panicked look but doesn't let go of her mug.
"That's all, Lucia." I wait until the girl scurries away. "If you know why Andrea isn't at her desk and hasn't even called to explain, I suggest you tell me." I mean to sound lethal, but even I can hear the pleading tone in my voice.
"She'll be in after lunch. It's not my place to offer explanations." Serena stands her ground, but her voice is also infinitely kind. This irks me more than anything and I walk over to the window.
"I don't appreciate being kept in the dark," I say, my voice just above a whisper. Those who know me are clever to run for the hills when I sound like this. Serena, who has worked for Runway for five years has always been one of the very few who seem to see right through me.
"I know. No one does, Miranda. Andy will be in shortly." Serena smiles gently. "I'll go finish the planning for the makeup routine spread for the September issue." And she leaves me clinging to my latte.
The hours go by slowly and I keep glancing over to the outer office, barely noticing that Lucia is handling everything quite well. I make every phone call as brief as possible, simply because I cannot focus, and still, I'm talking to Donatella when I see Andrea enter the outer office. I can hear Donatella continue her anecdote, but don't understand a word my friend is saying. When she draws breath, I merely tell her that I have to go, that's something's come up. It's not untrue. Andrea's here and before I get down to business, I'm damn well going to get an explanation.
"Andrea." I see Andrea hesitate before she puts away her Prada backpack-style purse. She grabs her notepad and pencil and enters my office.
"Close the door. And go sit over there." I point to the small settee in the corner that's out of sight from anyone in the office. I'm secure in the knowledge that the building would have to be on fire before anyone dares to open my door if it's closed. I get up and join her on the settee. It's a bit too small, I notice, as our knees nearly touch when I turn to face her. I bought it mainly for my twins to use when they're with me at the office. "What's going on?"
Andrea slowly places the notepad and pencil on the small brass tray table in front of us. "I'm sorry I'm late," she ways, folding her hands on her lap.
"Why are you late?" Normally I'd just eviscerate anyone who's this late, perhaps even fire them, but certainly, I'd rarely care about the reasons for anyone's tardiness. Studying Andrea now, I can tell she's wearing more makeup than usual, especially when it comes to concealer.
"As I'm in trouble, either way, I might as well tell you the truth," Andrea says, lacing her fingers tightly. "I had too much to drink last night and woke up with the worst hangover." She raises her chin. Is she challenging me? Little does she know how relieved I am. For a few terrifying moments, I feared the increased use of concealer might hide bruises.
"I've never known you to drink in the middle of a work way, at least not enough to miss work because of a hangover. What's going on?" I sit straight, unable to relax enough to lean against the backrest. It is as if my entire body is on standby, or alert, expecting disaster to hit. What is it my therapist calls it, fight or flight mode, I believe? Right now, I'm fighting—for what, I'm not sure.
"I never drink like I did last night. Serena and Emily tried to tell me I'd suffer for it, but at the moment, dulling, well, everything, seemed to work. Next morning seemed far away." Andrea meets my eyes and barely even blinks. "I know what's coming."
I do blink. Several times and fast. "What do you mean?"
"I've seen the signs so many times. You're about to fire someone and I know this time, it's me." Andrea laughs weakly. "You have two ways to get rid of people. For the ones you barely recognize, it's from one moment to the next. For the ones who you've invested in, mentored, relied on, you plan. You look at them a certain way. Like you've looked at me for some time." Andrea rubs her left temple. "I have been waiting for the ax to fall for equally long and last night…last night I let it get to me."
I'm stunned. That never happens, but this time, I am. It's bad enough that I've made myself that transparent to Andrea, but, it seems, for a lot longer than I could ever imagine. "You blame me for your decision to get yourself in s drunken stupor?" Not sure what to say, I resort to a knee-jerk reaction. When in doubt, attack.
"You're not listening. You asked me why I'm late. I'm explaining. I said I let it get to me. Doing endless tequila shots was my mistake." Andrea winces and rubs her temple again.
"Oh, for heaven's sake. Have you had any painkillers?"
"This morning and—"
I stand and walk over to my desk. Pouring a glass of Pellegrino, I pull a bottle of paracetamol from her desk drawer. Handing both to Andrea, I wait impatiently until she's swallowed two pills and gulped down half the glass of mineral water.
"Good." I study her pale face. Andrea's brown eyes are darker than usual and red around the rims. From the hangover? From…crying? "Why didn't you ask me about this sooner?"
"What do you mean sooner? I'm not really asking you about it now!" Wincing again, most likely at her own raised voice, Andrea slumps sideways against the backrest. "God. I should just go to HR and get everything over with."
I can't take my eyes off Andrea, the softness of her full lips, the sadness paired with exasperation in her expressive eyes, and the long, chestnut hair that runs over her shoulder like a chocolate river. She may be hungover still, but it is quite possible that she's never been this beautiful.
"I have thought of your future with Runway," I murmur and feel Andrea grow tense. "You've by far reached a level that makes you over-qualified for your work as my assistance. It's not even what you came to New York to do. Your sense of style has improved, but your heart's not in it." It's my turn to rub my temple as a sharp twitch makes it ache.
"I love working with…for you." Andrea sighs. "I'm not going to embarrass either of us by begging to stay. I know you well enough to realize once your mind is made up, very few things can change it. I just want to know…what did I do wrong?"
"Nothing. Not a thing." I'm being truthful. To me, she is perfection. Not in a silly, put-on-a-pedestal kind of way, but in a very Andrea kind of way. "I'm trying to repay you for all you've done forever since that time in Paris and after the divorce. You'll get a glowing letter of recommendation and I know Nigel will provide one too."
"Let me get this straight," Andrea says slowly and sips more water. "You're firing me and calling it a favor?" She scowls, but that seems to hurt as well, and she relaxes her features.
"Yes, that, and…for reasons of self-preservation." I'm being too honest, too forward now, but I've been on a slippery slope emotionally around Andrea for the last year. No wonder I'm hurtling down it now, clearly losing my footing.
"Wait…what? Self-preservation?" Andrea's face has gone blank. "What does that even mean?" Her tone is gentle again.
"It means that this is the only solution. You will get the chance to follow the career path you were meant for, and I can move on." Oh, God. Too much honesty. Well, it might serve a purpose in a way. I'll be making her cringe and so uncomfortable, she'll accept without any further argument.
Not sure what I was thinking, because Andrea neither cringes nor seems to accept a damn thing. "Move on from what, exactly?" she asks, her voice low. "What do you mean by that, Miranda?"
The way she says my name, so different from the way she usually says it during office hours. I've heard her speak my name this time on a few occasions before, soft, like a caress, and as if she thinks it's a beautiful name. In the office, everyone, including Nigel, says Miranda with a staccato cadence.
"I don't think I can be that brave," I say, adjusting the four rings on my fingers. "Take my word for it."
"No." Andrea is firm. I jerk and snap my head up, staring at her.
"I'm not calling you a liar, but no, I can't just take your words for it. In return I promise to elaborate on why being fired from Runway sent me into, what did you call it, a drunken stupor."
This gives me pause. As much as I loathe to expose myself further, knowing there's more to Andrea's reaction to potentially being fired than she's told so far makes me think I can be honest after all.
"I simply can't be unbiased when it comes to you anymore," I say, and my back is now so rigid, I can feel my vertebrae grinding against each other. "Before it becomes a complete embarrassment or a legal issue, I have to remove you." I know I sound horrible, stuck up and superior, but it's all I can do to keep from uttering the forbidden words. The words that will, if spoken aloud, destroy me, or, worse, repel her.
"Miranda?" Even softer, ever slower. I shiver and it's as if she knows. She slowly raises her left hand and cups my cheek. "You're shaking."
I look down and, indeed, my hands are trembling.
"I spent the last weekend in a state of panic since I knew something was up. Not sure what, but I could tell the signs that you were going to make changes and as you appeared to be focusing on me more than anyone else, I knew I was going to lose my job and, hence the panic, my only access to you. When Serena and Emily came over to watch a tv-show with me, as we do on Wednesdays, they found me already hugging a bottle of tequila."
What? My heart beats hard and fast when I try to piece her words together and understand what she's talking about. "What do you mean, access to me?"
"Let me put it this way," Andrea says. "Will you miss me when I'm gone?"
"Desperately," I whisper without realizing this word was about to cross my lips.
Andrea's eyes are filled with tears, but they cling to her dense eyelashes and don't fall. "Same goes." She smiles and now one fat tear falls down her cheek. I wipe it away with my thumb. "Not seeing you, being with you, even if it is just at work, or occasionally for a moment when delivering the Book, is unbearable."
"I found it a particularly devious way of torturing me when you took back that task from Lucia." I don't know where I find the courage to run my fingers along her jaw and then my thumb over her lower lip. I lose my breath when she pressed her lips against my thumb in a kiss. "Don't keep me guessing, Andrea. Am I wrong when I interpret your words to mean that you care for me?"
"I care. More than I can say." Andrea startles me when she throws her arms around me and holds me tight.
"Oh, God." I wrap my arms around her in return and I feel her hide her face against my neck. She smells fresh and sweet, and only with the faintest hint of tequila, which makes me smile. In my chest, my heart hammers harder and faster yet. "We can't do this here. You're still my assistant, Andrea."
"I know. Just a moment longer. I've…I've been so miserable." Andrea strengthens her grip and I allow it. It's just us in here and I too need the reassurance.
"So have I," I confess. "I never even dared to dream, to think you might see me the way I see you. In fact, I saw it as impossible."
"Yeah. Exactly that. Impossible."
I bask in the moment for a minute more, but then gently withdraw. Andrea sits back and I'm amazed at the transformation of her expression. Her eye makeup is a little smudged, and I wonder if some of her berry red lipstick has transferred to the skin of my neck. The biggest difference is the strong emotions radiating from her eyes. Where they were dark and opaque before, they've now changed into a sparkling, amber hue.
"Why don't makes sure you deliver the book tonight?" I ask lightly. "In the meantime, I'll start the process with HR, and you can begin sending out resumés. You have several weeks of paid vacation to use, which might come in handy."
Andrea nods, smiling broadly. "Sounds like a good plan."
I mean to get up from the settee, but I can't move. I'm entranced by her face and the look in her eyes. When I force my gaze away from them, it falls upon her slightly parted lips instead. This becomes my downfall. Growling deep in my throat, I take Andrea by the shoulders and pull her toward me, covering her lips with mine. And now there's no hesitation left as Andrea's lips part and her tongue comes to find mine. This kiss is everything. It shows how much pent-up desire and emotions flow between us. I know I'm risking a lot as we are in my office, but I still devour her. Andrea moans and holds me closer again, tilting her head just so, making the kissing even more perfect.
We start to slow down the kisses after a while. I have no idea how much time has passed. In the back of my mind, I wonder what we'll be together when we don't risk getting caught in a compromising position. I shiver at the visions of our limps tangled among bedsheets, of her mouth all over me, and mine all over her.
Only moments ago, I agonized over having to tell Andrea goodbye. Instead, I was able to tell Andrea hello and invite her into my heart. I kiss her gently and stand, extending a hand to pull her up. When we've made sure to erase any signs of the kisses, I'm glad I can still feel them against my lips.
"I'll go relieve Lucia. She'll make a good first assistant for you." Andrea smiles as she walks to the door.
"Good." I watch as Andrea assumes her duties and after half a minute, so do I.
This time, I do so with a smile.
Part 2 is the same story but from Andy's POV.