Carrying her briefcase and a Starbucks coffee tray with two mugs of steaming latte, Andy climbed the steps to Miranda's townhouse. Her mind was still reeling with the exchange of late-night texts, and she had no idea what this day would bring when it came to personal interactions between her and Miranda.
Andy rang the doorbell, and it only took seconds before she heard muted footsteps on the other side. Inhaling deeply, she felt the air gush out of her at the sight of Miranda in cream leisure wear, perfect makeup, and not a hair out of place. Andy felt rather windswept as a cool breeze had toyed with her hair during the short walk from Starbucks.
"I come bearing gifts," Andy said and held out the coffee tray, hoping she didn't sound too chirpy. It was not hard to guess that Miranda didn't do chirpy.
"How considerate. Thank you." Miranda accepted the tray and placed it on a side table between two doors. She looked behind Andy. "No overnight bag. I see."
Shit. Andy didn't like the flat tone in Miranda's voice. She merely stood, there, not sure what to say, as nothing she could come up with would have a good fallout.
Andy quickly shrugged out of it and was not surprised at the speed Miranda yanked it out of her hands and let it disappear into a closet. She was getting used to how Miranda moved with lightning speed through menial tasks. It was as if she was perpetually pressed for time and eager to use most of it to perfect her magazine.
As a demonstration of this, Miranda took the coffee tray and headed for the stairs. "My study is on the first floor," she said and moved quickly up the stairs.
Looking down at her boots and then on the cream rugs, Andrea pushed them off and tucked them to the side, not wanting to assume it was okay to open Miranda's closets even if her jacket hung in there. She hurried up the stairs but when she reached the first floor, Miranda was already out of sight.
"Uhm. Miranda?" Andy called out.
"In here." Miranda's voice carried from a door opening to her left.
Miranda's study was similarly decorated as what Andy had seen of the townhouse, except for the gold accents. Miranda wasn't at her desk. Instead, she had placed the coffee on a small, glass coffee table sitting in front of a plush loveseat. Andy swallowed. Was she supposed to work with Miranda, sitting on that thing? That was hardly fair.
Miranda motioned for Andy to do just that and then she sat down next to her, bringing her laptop with her. "I just sent you the drawings from the art department. I have yet to sign off on them, but it'll give us an idea of how to plan the shoot."
Andy knew Miranda expected a snappy response, but all she registered right now was Miranda's signature scent of fruits and musk. Images of her pushing her face in against Miranda's neck, inhaling greedily, flooded her mind. She pinched her own leg out of sight of Miranda. "That sounds like a good plan." Andy plucked her own laptop from her briefcase and booted it. After opening Miranda's email and then the attached documents, she used her innate ability to flip a mental switch and focus solely on the task at hand. This gift, which she had harnessed over the last few years, was useful and kept her mind from going into unwanted rabbit holes.
They worked side by side for a couple of hours and it wasn't until Miranda slid closer, to point something out on Andy's laptop, that her tried and true method of focusing failed her. Perhaps it was the warmth of Miranda's body that increased her scent, or how her left thigh pressed against Andy's, but she couldn't remember what to say.
"Andrea?" Miranda raised her eyebrows.
"Yes?" Andy had no clue what Miranda just said, or what she expected of her.
"I can see that you're in need of sustenance." Pushing her laptop over onto the coffee table, Miranda rose and looked impatiently at Andy. "Well, com on."
How could Miranda look so regal dressed in—sure, designer, but still—leisure wear? Average height, she still seemed tall, even in…Andy lowered her gaze…espadrilles. "Yes. Food. Good idea." Andrea checked the clock on her laptop. 12.23. She put her computer next to Miranda's and stood. "Take away? Or do you want to pop out for something?" She was already grabbing her cell phone when Miranda put a hand on her bare lower arm. This gave Andy goosebumps, and she pressed the phone against her chest.
"Our local bistro always has a table for me. It's just a short walk." It was Miranda's turn to appear distracted as she looked down at her hand and Andy's arm. It didn't appear she intended to let go very quickly and Andy wasn't going to rush her.
After what felt like minutes, but was reasonably only a matter of seconds, Miranda yanked her hand back. "All right. Let's go." She took walked past Andy and descended down the stairs.
Andy hurried after her, since she remembered that not keeping this woman waiting was another 'rule'. She did excuse herself and used the guest bathroom, and when she returned, Miranda had her coat on and was holding Andy's jacket.
The sun had come out and the warmth it spread made Andy take a deep breath. Soon enough, fall would be here and even if New York could be lovely when the maples in the parks displayed every fiery color imaginable, it could also rain for weeks, and be bitterly cold. By then, her job for Runway would be long over and there would be very little chance for her to see Miranda again. At once both stunned and confused at how her brain went down that path, Andy pushed her hands into her pockets and focused on keeping Miranda's pace. Despite having changed into four-inch-high-heeled boots, Miranda moved along the sidewalk as an icebreaker. The people they met parted before them in a biblical way, giving the formidable woman the right of way. As they neared an intersection and the pedestrian showed they shouldn't cross, Andy found herself holding her breath, afraid that Miranda would keep full steam ahead.
Thankfully she stopped and even if she impatiently tapped the toe of her left boot, she wasn't suicidal in traffic. The lights switched and Miranda immediately stepped off the curb. A flash of something bright yellow out of the corner of Andy's eyes made her swivel her head to her left. A person on a bicycle came at them, at Miranda, at breakneck speed. Andy didn't have time to think, only act. She slung her right arm around Miranda's waist and pulled her back while reaching for the signal post next to them for support.
Miranda fell into Andy, fumbling in the air around her. People yelled out and the bicyclist cursed vehemently. All Andy could do was cling to the post and hold on tight to Miranda.
"Oh, shit, oh shit." Andy pushed herself into standing straight, but it was impossible to let go of Miranda who was still not steady on her feet. "Are you all, right? Are you injured?"
"I'm…I'm fine." Miranda managed to stand up, turning slowly to look at Andy, her eyes dark and huge. "He—he came out of nowhere. I…I'm never this distracted. I know Manhattan. I know some people ignore the lights. Bikes especially. Are you all, right?"
"If my heart can just calm down, I'll be okay." Andy pressed a hand to her chest where her heart was beating so hard, it made her ribs sing. Then she noticed she was still holding Miranda. And there was a crowd around them…and some had their phones up. Fuck.
Miranda followed her gaze and scowled. "Let's go before the light switches again."
They hurried across the street with only a second to spare. The bistro was located on the next block, which was a blessing, as Andy's legs had joined her heart by trembling. As Miranda had said, the staff seated them instantly, at the far end of the restaurant, away from prying eyes. It was a small booth, and Andy pictured Miranda sitting there with her children.
"You're shaking." Miranda raised her hand and the waiter appeared as if sprouted from the floor. "Two glasses of that red wine I like."
"Of course, Madame." The man hurried off and returned with the wine and two glasses of iced water. He placed the menus before them and bowed before disappearing again.
"Like a damn magic trick," Andy muttered and clasped her hands around the stem of the wine glass.
"Excuse me?" Miranda raised an eyebrow, which oddly settled something inside Andy.
"The waiter. He's fast."
"He is indeed." Miranda sipped her wine. "Now, that was a little too exciting for my taste. Thank you for acting so swiftly, Andrea. You saved me from injury or worse."
Andy nodded slowly. "I reacted on pure instinct. I saw him in his…oh, thank God he wore yellow. If he hadn't, I might not have seen him."
"It was a particularly garish color," Miranda said, crinkling her nose. "Good from a visibility point of view, of course."
"The more garish, the better, when it comes to that," Andy said, snorting softly. "What if he'd been a hipster? They often wear muted colors. He'd clipped us both, as I was half a step behind you."
"We did a spread on hipster fashion for women a year ago. Went over very well with that particular demographic. Something about 'finally being seen', or something. Either way. It should e in the biker's interest to be visible in traffic. Garish colors…sports clothes…hm…" Miranda pulled up her cell and typed for a few moments, before tucking it away. "Seems I am in your debt…again. First you save our shoot after your boss is unavailable. Then you drag me from the jaws of death, as it were. I might have to steal you from Krantz." She gave a faint smile. It was enough for Andy's heart to skip several beats.
"You have in-house photographers already. And I'm a bit of a rolling stone when it comes to my work. Right now, it suits me to be gainfully employed, but sooner or later, I'll go back to freelancing." Andy opened the menu, but she couldn't focus on the text. She was still trembling, and her brain was desperately trying to find something to latch onto. Her PTSD was normally under control, but occasionally it could make itself known—and today was such a time, even if her trauma in Afghanistan had nothing to do with bicycles or traffic.
"Andrea?" Miranda's voice had altered completely. When Andy looked up from the dancing text in the menu, she saw that Miranda had extended her hand, palm up, toward her. "Take my hand," she said quietly.
Not sure what was going on, Andy took Miranda's hand. Her grip was firm, yet soft.
"We're both fine." Miranda rubbed her thumb on the back of Andy's hand. "We're going to sit and just sip our wine and talk—or not talk—and when we're ready, we're going to order."
Andy felt she should object since she was keeping Miranda from getting her lunch, but it dawned on her that perhaps Miranda also needed to find her bearings. "Thank you." Andy lifted her glass with her free hand and tried the wine 'that Miranda liked'. It was just the right sweetness and slightly spicy, and very smooth.
"Do you have a favorite dish here?" Andy asked after a few minutes spent in unusually comfortable silence.
"I normally have the steak and my girls enjoy Chicken Alfredo."
Andy nodded. "Then I'll have what your daughters enjoy. I'm not much into steak."
Miranda looked over her shoulder, and now even she jumped when the waiter materialized. "My usual and Chicken Alfredo for my…friend." Miranda seemed taken aback at her own words for a moment.
"Very good, Madame," the waiter said and scooped up the menus before he left. Andy half expected him to disappear into a cloud of multicolored smoke.
Miranda let go of Andy's hand, and only then did Andy realize that they had been holding hands in the waiter's presence. Glancing over at Miranda, Andy wasn't sure in the muted light of the bistro but thought Miranda might be blushing. Had she too forgotten that their hands had been laced together? At least they were in a local bistro where Miranda was a regular patron. Andy sent furtive glances around them. No obvious security cameras, but who knew?
The food turned out to be fantastic, which was hardly a surprise. They ate in companionable silence, every now and then asking questions of each other that weren't far too prying. Only when Andy placed her napkin on the table next to her plate and finished her last sip of wine, did Miranda up the game. "I know you must think it far too forward of me to suggest you stay at the townhouse until you find an apartment. You don't know me, and—until today—I knew very little of you. I hope you will think about it some more, and perhaps reconsider."
This was the last Andy had expected Miranda to say. She had not thought Miranda would bring it up at all, after pointing out Andy's lack of luggage.
"Why?" Andy feared she might sound rude.
"Why you should reconsider, or why do I want you to stay at the townhouse?" Miranda asked.
"Both, I suppose." Andy could tell that Miranda wasn't thrilled about being questioned or second-guessed.
"Practical reasons. You'd save money. Hotels in Manhattan are expensive." Miranda gave a little shrug. "Then there's the work. We could be more efficient."
"Hm. Sort of true." Andy leaned her chin into her palm, resting her elbow on the table. "So practical from a financial and logistical perspective."
"Yes. Well, not just that. You make it sound very cut and dry." Miranda rearranged her utensils and they made a jarring clattering sound against her plate. "And I thought if you stayed at the house, my girls would have a real live role model to answer their questions when it comes to their future—workwise."
"But they're thirteen, right? Enrolled at Daltons?" Andy was now beyond stunned.
"They are. And they are on the honor list for the second year in a row."
And somehow Miranda had the thought her daughters could benefit from knowing Andy—despite their privileged life.
Andy opened her mouth to decline in her most polite manner, but what came out was, "All right. Thank you."