Summary: A/U - Miranda is a choral director and Andy is a journalist who enjoys singing. Miranda has a painful past and Andy has to learn to believe in herself. Miranda is 47, Andy is 26 in this story.
Disclaimer: I don't own The Devil Wears Prada.
A/N: I am not a great singer and I've never sung in a choir, but I love choral music and listen to a lot of classical music that utilises vocalists. I'm writing this story from the perspective of a listener, and not the performer. I hope it all still comes across. ^_^ Oh and the title is taken from a piece of choral music written by Rachmaninov, a piece without actual lyrics. It's about vocalising the meaning through only the melody.
PrologueHer hands wrapped tightly around the large cardboard cup of coffee, the heat seeping soothingly into her chilled palms. She had chosen a solitary chair by the window, overlooking the busy New York street, from where she could watch how the windy November afternoon was chasing office workers down the sidewalk. They were on their way home to their families and loved ones, holding on to their hats and briefcases as the breeze picked up and whirled flocks of leaves around their ankles.
She took a large sip, welcoming the scalding hot liquid as it burned on her tongue and down her throat. It made her feel in control and calmed her nerves. A few minutes from now she was expected to step in front of a choir again, as a leader, as the centre of every one's attention. Giving a piece of herself in order to guide the beauty of music through a diverse ensemble of voices.
Was she really ready? No. She wasn't. Panic sprang from her stomach and a wave of nausea welled up from her abdomen and through her chest. Why had she agreed to this? Sure, Nigel was her friend and he was right that she needed to get her life back in order, but the prospect of going back to do the thing she loved so much before... well before, was very intimidating. She had no idea how she would deal with it. It had been nearly five years since her entire life had broken into pieces and left her a physical and emotional wreck. She took another sip from her latte, and closed her eyes. The images came rushing back, still haunting her after half a decade.
She had turned in early for the night when the doorbell had roused her from sleep. The blue flashing light had illuminated the hallway as she had padded down the stairs in her nightgown, the sound of the patrol radio reaching out to her with ice-cold tendrils of premonition. Before the officer at the doorstep had removed his hat she had already spotted the two familiar stuffed toys in his arms and the terror that had immediately clutched her heart, had thrown her into a deep chasm of dark and desperate oblivion.
Her chest constricted at the memory and she gulped down more of the hot beverage to quell her emotions. Everything had changed since then. Her life was different, and so was she.
Dusk, which had slowly descended on the city, superimposed her ghostly reflection over the busy afternoon bustle outside. She sighed as she took in her hair. Heartbreak had turned her strawberry blond locks a premature white and although she hated it, depicting her time of weakness, she refused to have it dyed. It would always act as a reminder of her loss and the brutal changes in her life.
Focusing on her reflection she tried to steel her resolve. She had been given a chance at a fresh start. Choral director of an amateur adult group in a community centre was not anything like the star quality she was used to in her past, however she saw it as the path to begin getting her life on track again. Not that she actually needed a job for the money, but she could no longer stay a hermit in her apartment, letting the world pass by as she wallowed in her depression.
She finished off the last bit of coffee and, with a deep sigh, grabbed her purse and got up from the chair. Pulling her charcoal fur coat tighter around her body, she squared her shoulders and stepped out into the early evening.
Andy Sachs skipped down the steps of The New York Mirror onto the sidewalk, haphazardly wrapping the scarf around her neck and swinging her brown leather messenger bag across her shoulders. She had just finished writing and checking her final articles for the day and could now look forward to a pleasantly lazy weekend. Every Friday she met her friends at the community centre for a few choir sessions, only to then hit their favourite pizzeria and finish off with a few drunk karaoke sessions at their local bar. It was a well-deserved routine for a hardworking New York office slave such as herself.
Burrowing her hands deeply in the pockets of her jacket, she grinned and strode down the street with long, assertive steps. Life was good. She was twenty-six, had a secure job, fun friends and her own little apartment. The only thing missing, of course, was someone to share all that with.
Andy looked up at the darkening sky and wind-chased clouds. She sometimes felt lonely, but she had quickly found out that casual dating just wasn't her thing, and she had always felt that romance would need to come from a basis of friendship. So far cupid had missed his shots at her, and so she had made a deal with herself to simply see where life would lead, and not stress about it.
Still aiming her eyes at the heavens Andy collided with the person who had just stepped out of Starbucks.
"Can you not watch were you're going?" the blur of black and white softness hissed at her icily.
The journalist stepped back, apologetically bowing her head. "I'm really sorry, Ma'am!"
When she looked back up she met furious blue eyes. Apparently the 'Ma'am' had been a wrong choice of words. Despite the white locks gently framing her face, the woman couldn't be more than forty. Her pale skin was nearly flawless, showing only tiny lines where she now pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.
"I mean... I... I'm really sorry. I wasn't watching were I was going..."
"Obviously you weren't," and with that the white-haired lady turned on her high heels and walked off.
Andy stood and followed the black fur coat with her eyes until it had disappeared in the crowd. Really! The nerve of some people, Andy thought as she straightened her jacket and resumed her short journey to choir practice. It's not like I did it on purpose! Her happy weekend mood had certainly just suffered a dent.
She glumly crossed the street and entered the community centre building, spotting her friend Lily already waiting by the elevator.
"What's got you all down? It's weekend! Time to par-tay!"
Andy ruffled her bangs and sighed. "Oh, nothing. Just New Yorkers still getting to me."
Her friend raised an eyebrow. "Andy, you've lived here for more than three years. You should be used to it by now."
"Yeah I know... I guess you can't ever fully drive the little Ohio-girl out of me, huh?"
They both chuckled and stepped into the elevator car. Lily pushed the button for their destination floor and then turned back to Andy.
"Oh, by the way, the boys found this new Japan-style karaoke bar where you can rent separate rooms. We'll try it out tonight, maybe it'll help with your stage fright. You won't have to get anxious about singing in front of all the harmless drunks then." She mocked her brunette friend.
"Ha-ha, you're very amusing, Lily," Andy stuck out her tongue. "But you're right, it might help. Less people to witness my failure," she said with another chuckle.
"Girl, you need to stop being so down on yourself." Lily wrapped an arm around Andy's shoulders and squeezed tightly. "You sing really well."
The elevator dinged open and they stepped into the hallway.
"Oh look who it is, Dumb and dumber," a skinny red-head spat at them with a profound English accent as she brushed by with her nose turned upward.
"Shut up Emily," Andy hissed at the young woman, who had become sort of her arch enemy over the past years, their mutual dislike for one another colouring their weekly interactions.
Lily pulled her friend back by the elbow. "Andy, just ignore her. Don't let her spoil your evening. Not. Worth. It."
Andy sighed, but then nodded. The rivalry between her and Emily was rather pointless and sucked too much energy from her, every single Friday. The red-head was the choir's main singer, a soprano, and a real teacher's pet. She'd always get the solo parts and always have a lot of say in the choice of songs they'd be rehearsing. For some reason, from day one, she had started to pick on Andy and although most people in the choir seemed to be annoyed by Emily, it still made the journalist feel uncomfortable. She loathed quarrels and confrontations and was especially bothered when others seemed to hate her for inexplicable reasons.
They continued down the hall and entered through the wooden double doors into the auditorium. About twenty people were already lounging in the first two rows of chairs and chatted with their pianist.
"Hey guys!" their friends Douglas and Nate waved from the first row. "Come here! Nigel has some news about Judith."
Andy frowned. Judith, their choral director and conductor, was a friendly old lady in her seventies, who had been leading choirs for most of her life.
"What's up?" Lily asked while tossing her bag on the stage and jumping up to sit next to it.
Nigel scratched his bald head and sighed. "Well, Judith was kind of... fired last week."
Everyone tensed at the news, their faces a collage of outrage and concern.
Andy glanced at her shocked friends. "But... but how can that be? She's been with the centre for more than twenty years? They can't just fire her! What will we do without her?"
Nigel crossed his arms and looked at her thoughtfully. "Actually... Irv was going to shut down the entire choir."
A group of shocked faces pinned him down and he removed his spectacles to nervously wipe them with the corner of his vest.
"He said that we cost him too much money and have nothing to show for it. The choir hasn't given any big concerts or won a competition in over a decade."
A murmur of exasperation went through the singers.
"Well it still is just completely unacceptable," Emily spoke, hands on her hips.
"I know, I know." Nigel sighed and shoved the glasses back onto his nose. "Irv wants to rent out the auditorium, full-time. He said it will bring in more money."
A solemn silence befell the choir members and Andy tilted her head to look up at the high ceiling. This was the place she had spent every Friday night at, for the past three years, doing something she loved. It wasn't the prettiest of buildings, nothing fancy or historic, just regular, straightforward 1980s architecture. However the acoustics we're great and it had become sort of a second home to her. The thought of losing it, and the choir, made her sad.
"Wait a minute," she looked back at her friends when she suddenly realized something. "Nigel, you said that Irv was going to shut down the choir. Does that mean that now he's not?"
The pianist nodded with something akin to a hopeful grin playing on his lips. "Yes, I gave him an alternative and bought us some time."
Lily jumped down from her position on the stage and hugged the man. "Awesome, Nigel!"
"Yes, thanks Nigel," Douglas grinned at him.
Emily sceptically crossed her arms. "Do you mind telling us what that alternative is, and how, exactly, you bought us time?"
The choir members all drew closer as Nigel conspiratorially stroked his chin.
"Well, I got an old friend of mine to lead the choir, free of charge. If she can turn us around before the new year arrives, which I believe she is more than capable of achieving, Irv will rethink closing us down."
Cheerful yells and thunderous clapping rolled up the high ceiling and echoed off the wood panelled walls.
"Awesome, man." Nate gave him a high-five and a happy smirk.
"Don't thank me yet. This will mean a lot of hard work," the pianist said in mock-seriousness.
Andy reached over to hug him and whispered, "Thank you, Nigel. We owe you one! We won't disappoint!" and Lily punched into the air and gave a shout, "Alright! Bring it on!"
A sudden voice, steady and low, but forceful, startled them out of their cheerful banter.
"Nigel, if I had known I was to work at a day care, then I would have certainly reconsidered your offer."
The familiarity of the timbre forced Andy's head to jerk around and she gaped at the woman who was now slowly walking down the middle aisle between the seats.
Oh crap! Andy thought as she watched the way her rude Starbucks Lady's eyes first pinned down every choir member before finally finding her. She certainly did not imagine that the ice-blue gaze lingered on her a little longer and the thoroughly ridiculous idea of cowering behind Nigel seemed suddenly very appealing.
The stern, white-haired lady stopped in front of the pianist and to every one's surprise the man reached out and enveloped her in a big hug.
"Miranda dear, I'm so happy to see you. Thank you so much for doing this!" Nigel beamed as he pulled away. "Guys and gals, meet your new choral director, Miranda Priestly."
The choir members studied their new conductor, taking in her regal posture, the expensive clothes and the determined and challenging look on her face. The first to speak was Emily, who stepped forward to shake Miranda's hand.
"Mrs. Priestly, welcome to our little choir." The red-head gave an eager smile. "My name is Emily and I'm the solo soprano."
Miranda narrowed her eyes and withdrew her hand as if she had just touched something utterly revolting. Andy remembered the poison in the older woman's face when she had accidentally called her 'Ma'am'. If she didn't hate Emily so much, she'd feel sorry for the look the young woman was now receiving.
"You will call me by my given name." Miranda said calmly, but with an underlying current of pure vice that sent chills up everybody's spine. "No more pleasantries, I'm here to work. So... go and set up." She flicked her fingers in the direction of the stage but nobody seemed to be moving.
"Now would be a good time," she added quietly, her eyes burning into every single person standing before her.
Andy, having been confronted by this woman before, was the first who was able to move. "Come on, guys." She climbed the steps onto the stage and took her position on the right. Sheepishly the remaining singers joined her, stealing glances back at the white-haired woman who watched them intently, before shrugging out of her coat and draping it delicately across a nearby chair.
"Nigel?" She raised an eyebrow at him and indicated the grand piano.
"Oh, right," the bald man hurried up the steps and took his seat behind the black and white keys.
All eyes stayed on Miranda as she elegantly walked on stage, the clacking of her high heels echoing through the vastness of the room. Andy's gaze was drawn to the older woman's hips as a manicured thumb and index finger tugged at the stylish belt the conductor was wearing over her aubergine, knee-high dress.
"We will begin with an evaluation of your vocal ranges. Sing a 5th scale on each note that is played. We will first move up two octaves and then back and down the other end," she said while pointedly looking at each and every singer. "Try to keep up even if it feels outside your normal range, but do not strain your voice. This isn't a competition, it's merely an exercise for me to hear what I have to work with."
She turned to the pianist. "Nigel, middle 'C'."
The choir timidly began singing scales and Miranda moved from her position and paced in front of them as they moved up toward the 'C5'.
"Okay, stop," the conductor interrupted with an exasperated wave of her hands. "That was dreadful. Are you here to whisper, or are you here to sing?"
The singers looked at each other dumbstruck. They were not used to being spoken to like this. Judith had never said anything negative to them in the many years as their conductor.
"Start again. This time, more volume and articulation. Nigel?"
This time the choir sang a little better. Andy kept her eyes on Miranda, who resumed her walk through their ranks, not giving any more indication as to her positive or negative opinion. They trailed up two octaves and then down three, the low notes only being sung by the older men and Nate, who had a nice bass voice.
When they were done the conductor regarded them with one hand on her hip and an index finger tapping against her lips.
"You," she briefly raised her chin in Andy's direction. "Why do you stand with the altos?"
Andy uncomfortably shifted her eyes. "Well... uhm, I have an alto voice."
Miranda crossed her arms, tilted back her head and stared at the brunette through lowered lashes. "No you don't. Go stand with the sopranos," the conductor said while jerking her chin toward the other side of the stage.
The growl from Emily was impossible to ignore when Andy walked over and stood next to the red-head. Miranda remained still for a while and appeared to be contemplating the rest of the singers before her and Andy was struck by the intelligence she saw in those intense eyes. Seemingly having made up her mind, the older woman spun on her heel and moved a hand back on her hips.
"I will need an assistant to take care of sheet music and all those things." The white-haired woman narrowed her gaze at where the sopranos stood. "Any volunteers?"
Immediately Emily's hand shot up and Andy rolled her eyes. She could practically hear the Brit's internal chanting of 'Pick me! Pick meeee!'
The conductor merely indicated the red-head to follow her down the steps and retrieved some papers from her bag. "Here. Make enough copies." She held out the sheets and Emily eagerly grabbed them and dashed for the door.
As Miranda reached for her coat, she spoke without turning back to the choir. "One day a week of rehearsal is not enough. I will see you back here Sunday afternoon, three p.m. sharp." And with that she swung the black fur around her shoulders, grabbed her purse, and briskly strode toward the door and out of the auditorium, leaving behind a very stunned choir.
"Holy crap!" Lily exclaimed. "What the hell just happened?"
Some people were giggling and Nate let out a whistle. "Nigel, in which dark and scary place did you dig her up?"
The pianist spun around on his stool and raised his eyebrows at the group.
"Come on, she's really not that bad. Yes, maybe a bit strict, but she knows what she's doing. She's one of the best. And if anyone can save this choir, which all of you love so much," he emphasized the words, "... it's her."
Douglas walked over to stand beside the piano. "If you say so, Nigel, but she'll take some getting used to. She's certainly nothing like Judith."
Everybody nodded and murmured in agreement. Comparing their warm and friendly previous conductor to the mind-numbing presence that was Miranda, seemed utterly comical.
"So, soprano-girl," Lily stood beside her friend and gently thumped her in the shoulder, "How about some strong drinks and a chance to put your money where your high-C mouth is?" Andy giggled and swatted back at the other woman. "You're on!"
A few hours and a few margaritas later Andy found herself blaring away to ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' while Lily, Douglas and Nate cheered her on. The journalist felt a lot safer, singing only among the four of them and the alcohol flowing in her veins certainly helped their part. Despite her love for music she still felt intimidated by singing solo in front of others and for the past three years she had always been content with hiding between the other singers in the choir.
She had known she could sing higher than an average alto and she would frequently sing pieces written for mezzo-soprano or even soprano in the safety of her own little apartment. However when it came to the choir, and the fact of possibly having to take solo parts, she would always chicken out. Andy simply did not believe she was good enough.
Swinging her hips to the last couple of beats of the song she moved back to the large sofa where her friends sat.
"Bravo!" Doug clapped his hands together. "That was great, girl!"
Nate jumped up and put his hands on his hips and jutted his chin forward. "Don't you mean... dreadful?"
Douglas giggled in response and Lily nearly choked on her drink.
"Damn! Nate you nearly killed me!" she wiped her mouth.
The young man sat back down and grinned. "I bet nothing is ever good enough for the Ice Queen."
"Snow Queen," Andy said before she could stop herself. Her friends gave her quizzical looks.
"She's more like snow. Not ice," Andy tried to elaborate, unsure whether her foggy mind could still muster the appropriate words. "It's as if, as soon as she enters the room, she envelopes you in a thick blanket of snow. It's beautiful at first, and you're drawn in, so you don't notice how it slowly weighs you down, and pins you to the floor. The cold slowly seeps into your body and sucks the warmth from you, one cutting remark at a time." Andy ran her fingertips along the sugar-crusted rim of her glass.
"Girl, I'm not drunk enough yet, for you to go all philosophical on us," Lily joked and patted her friend's shoulder. Doug just gazed at her thoughtfully and Nate gave a lopsided grin and shook his dark curls.
"Well, whatever she is, I'm sure as hell not going to show up on Sunday," he said before taking another gulp from his beer.
"Me either," Lily chimed, reaching across the table to high-five Nate.
"I have to work this Sunday," Doug said with a sober-sounding sigh.
Andy just shrugged at her friends. The sheet music Emily had distributed earlier had definitely piqued a semi-excited interest and she had actually been looking forward to more frequent rehearsal sessions. She was not entirely sure how she should feel about the new conductor, but there was something intriguing about the older woman, as rude as she may appear.
Something in those blue eyes had hinted at a vast depth and Andy felt like she wanted to know more. She replayed their earlier collision outside of Starbucks and the memory of brushing against the soft fur coat and smelling the subtle perfume somehow caused her pulse to quicken. The journalist decided to not inform her friends about her previous run-in with their new conductor. For some reason keeping it a secret made it less embarrassing and a bit more special.
"So how about the teacher's pet nearly ripping out her arm to become assistant?" Lily said after she had noticed Andy's contemplative state.
"Oh don't get me started!" Andy giggled and took a sip from her drink while Douglas got up for his turn at the karaoke machine.
Miranda hung her coat in the hallway closet and walked into the living room of her empty apartment with a long sigh.
Well, that could have certainly gone better, she thought as she placed her purse on an end-table and then elegantly took a seat on her cream-coloured sofa. She slipped her feet from the high heels and curled up against the soft armrest.
The choir was pretty hopeless, their voices nowhere near as strong as would be needed for concerts or a chance at placing in a regional competition. There was the mediocre, over-eager red-head whose name Miranda had already forgotten, then there was the well-dressed young man with a decent tenor voice and of course the doe-eyed brunette who had been hiding her soprano range between the uninspired altos. The young woman certainly lacked confidence and was a bit of a dreamer. That had already become clear when she had almost knocked Miranda over, earlier that evening, on the street outside the coffee house.
The conductor sighed again and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Yes, it would certainly take a lot of time and effort to get that group of misfits to sound anywhere near decent.
The ringing phone pulled her from her thoughts and she reached past the table lamp to pick up the receiver.
"Yes? … good evening, Father. I just got in... yes, I've sort of taken up the offer to begin working again. Yes... I know." She absentmindedly twirled her fingers around a few strands of her hair. "How was the hospital? Uhh-hmm... that sounds good. Yes I'll be there for Thanksgiving... Alright... Give my love to the others. Yes..." she sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. "I know, Father... goodnight."
She rested the receiver on her shoulder and glanced at the stuccoed ceiling while rubbing her temples before she replaced the phone back on the side table.
Why was this still so hard?
To be continued...