It's the Only Life You've Got… Arc I
…so you better just live it

Author: raiderL
Pairing: Miranda/Andrea
Rating: M (or 18 or NC-17, take your pick)
Summary: One year after leaving Runway Andy and Miranda meet up again and realize that there is an undeniable attraction between them. That they both know that the bond between them is more than merely physical doesn't mean there aren't roadblocks, namely Miranda's trust issues and her daughters' acceptance.
I do not own the characters in created in either the book or the movie The Devil Wears Prada and I make no money off of this work of fan fiction. I am merely having fun, thinking "What if?" after the movie's end. Oh, there are a few characters in here that you may not recognize, they were created by me; please be kind and allow them to remain in their own little fantasy world.
Author's Note: I have taken liberties with some of the supporting character histories, names and characterizations so that they serve my own purposes, some of them (like Miranda's ex-husband) are names used in other fan-fictions so I tip my hat to whoever may have used it first.
Author's Note:
Thank you to bearblue for her awesome beta work and encouragement!
Archiving: Only with permission of the author.


'Oh my god, what is it about that woman?' Andrea (Andy to most of the world, except for HER) Sachs, yearling reporter for the New York Daily Mirror, cursed herself for the fifteenmillionth time. How, after nearly twelve months of no contact, other than glimpses in the press and, she admitted, the occasional not-so-accidental near misses in front of the Elias-Clarke building, could the terror of the fashion stratosphere cause the now considerably less naïve woman to quiver.

'Quiver?' Her mind was aghast, pissed, disconsolate, curious, interested, hopelessly hopeful; a miasma of conflicting and confusing thoughts brought upon by a simple involuntary response.

Miranda Priestley, hell-spawn herself, made Andrea Sachs wet and further denial was pointless. That the young woman could finally call to the light of day what had only until that point lurked in the deep recesses of her mind pointed to her growing maturity and self-awareness. She'd learned a lot in the year since she left Miranda, 'Dammit! Runway, not Miranda; I left Runway!'

Okay, she wasn't perfect; apparently much enlightenment was still to be had.

But she had left Miranda and she threw down the New York Times in disgust. Surely that publication would have been safe from mention of the Dragon herself. When she had shivered into the mid-November chill to pick up the paper with her usual Sunday morning chocolate croissant she had relaxed with the assumption that she could get lost in perusal of the one daily for whom she most wanted to work; not be smacked in the groin with a particularly striking image of The Queen as she held court in the boardroom.

It seems that one Irv Ravitz, chairman of the board of Elias-Clarke Publications was out and, at least in the interim, one grand dame of fashion was in.

"Wow". It was barely uttered; the only word that could escape as she barely made it to the coffee table when she distractedly set down her mug, blindly fixated on the disarray of newsprint where it had fallen on the floor. She stared for several minutes, not seeing anything of her immediate surroundings; instead a parade of Mirandas took up her vision. Gliding elegantly at the benefit in that exquisite Valentino gown; hips swaying, unselfconsciously provocative, in the Bill Blass pants; that brown sweater dipping innocently over uninterrupted skin, fascinating even in the dawning horror of what Emily would see as her betrayal. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, aware of her heart rate increasing with each memory. The woman was all grace and power; an understated beauty cloaked in a mantle of control that had unknowingly captured the younger woman and had never let her free.

Andy recalled the moment the battle had been lost. Miranda in that white Donna Karan trench framing the black "V" of The Suit, offset by the casual pale jeweled Egyptian charm necklace and capped by her ubiquitous sunglasses and the iconic hairdo at its most severe. Sure the low cut silk Valentino blouse beneath the trench was sexier, but that day when she was invited to join her in the elevator at James Holt studios will forever remain as the trip-trigger on the livewire that not only jumpstarted Andy's clit but, more significantly, her life.

The reporter slumped back into the smooth comfort of her new couch and rubbed her eyes with both hands. Who was she kidding? If it was just her libido that was ignited, she wouldn't really be having a problem as she could easily find (and in fact had found on a couple of occasions) another beautiful someone to scratch that itch. No, this was exponentially worse; the dragon had charged in and took her heart without so much as a nod or even a purse of the lips. Andy Sachs was no longer able to deny that she was in love with Miranda Priestley.

l l l l l l l

It was another long, tiring day, a week after watching the back of Irv Ravitz exit in a defeat so stunning that it surprised even me. I am finding that even though I have had great pleasure in seeing that little troll of a man finally get his just desserts that there is still an emptiness that pervades my very being.

Miranda Priestley, Editor in Chief of Runway magazine and current board chair of Elias Clarke publications lifted her Montblanc Boheme Paso Doble red lacquer fountain pen from the fine vellum writing surface and lightly pressed the non-business end to her bottom lip. She sighed, sight landing on the wall clock of her comfortable study. Twelve thirty in the morning. She unconsciously ran the pads of her perfectly manicured fingertips over the sensuously textured surface of a smallish bone colored envelope used as her bookmark, and continued.

I have always had little tolerance for those who wallow in uncertainty and prevarication in their lives; after all, sitting in one place does not move a body forward. To question oneself as to motive and desire is to invite doubt. Doubt kills the creative energy and the will to succeed.

Another pause, another unconscious caress of the envelope that housed a letter so dear. 'And yet.'

And yet. That is exactly what I find myself doing this night. Questioning, wondering. Fifty-one years have I walked this earth and I have reached heights for which few would dare aspire let alone attain. And here I sit in my comfortable home with more money than I, or my children, will ever need and I wonder. Where did my creative fire go? Where is my spark, my joie de vivre?

Miranda's gaze lifted and again the pen paused, as she stared into the collective vision of several key life moments and also of select family members. She snorted delicately.

Considering the longevity of those in my genetic ancestry, I perhaps am only a little over half-way through my lifespan. I could ride this wave of achievement for decades as there are few who would now challenge me. And yet. A nagging question is pushing its will forward; it's been lurking for weeks if not months, perhaps longer. I have been struggling to hold it in, to control its blasphemous audacity. But does the refusal to name something make it any less real? That way, denial, is for fools. I am not a fool. So now I will ask it of myself and then I shall think on it for some while until it once again compels me to highjack precious moments of my time in rumination of its merits.

The editor paused, pen poised to inscribe the words that she knows, once acknowledged will herald only chaos and change.

Is this all there is?

Chapter One

Andy's daily weekday routine was pretty much set, up at 6:15, shower, dress in comfortable clothes, albeit still with an eye for fashion and appropriate to her work environment, out the door at 7:00, stop at the corner coffeehouse (not Starbucks!) for a large Americano and then into the tunnels of the New York transit system's Broadway line. Once settled on the train she would check over her iPad planner, making notes for the day while sipping her coffee and munching on a power bar. The train ride from 110 St. to 50th St. could take from fifteen to thirty minutes during rush hour and then it was a 10 to 15 minute walk, depending upon whether or not she felt like braving the Elias-Clarke, walk by. Most mornings found her settled behind her desk by 7:55.

On this particular Monday morning, mindful of her Sunday morning revelations, the young reporter decided to risk a sighting and took 50th street all the way to 6th avenue. However, as she passed the towering metal and glass structure of the publishing conglomerate, it was not the queen of fashion she happened upon, but instead her ever faithful right hand.

"Six!" A well groomed bald man stepped from a cab and waved casually to the young woman on the sidewalk. At his hail, her smile split across her face and she shifted her bag to her right arm in order to engage him in a hug.

"Good morning Nigel. You look really great!" He was wearing a particularly well cut double breasted suit in dove gray; his starched, high collared white shirt highlighted with one of the newest Ralph Lauren ties, complete with diamond tie pin.

He made an exaggerated show of ogling her top to bottom and while he "tsked" at her basic black Doc Martens his head still bobbed up and down with approval. "Very nice dear, you make young, urban chic work very well, but you still hold onto some classics. Is that Chanel?" He fingered the draping cowl necked black woven blouse that tucked loosely into True Religion black jeans; beneath her leather bomber jacket it was a striking contrast.

"Sure is! I've found the best 2nd hand boutique, so although it may be last season; I'm at least still able to afford a few really nice pieces. Glad you approve." She bumped him with her shoulder and prepared to ask him how he was doing when her eyes travelled behind him to the street as a familiar black Mercedes pulled towards the curb.

"Whoops, I'd love to stay and chat but I really need to run." She feinted a glance to her watch and tried to control her nervous stutter. "C-call me okay? It'sbeentoolongBye!"

Nigel stood there with his back to the street trying to figure out what happened until a low voice broke him from his reverie. "Honestly Nigel, have you nothing better to do this morning than provide a roadblock for the teeming hordes?"

He shook his head and stepped out of the path of a determined office worker barreling past in an ill-fitting tan trench that covered a flowered polyester dress, opaque nude colored hose, tube socks and tennis shoes. He shuddered in horror. "My hero, saving me from near certain catastrophe!"

The silver-haired woman merely snorted, but then inquired. "What had you so rooted that you were nearly trampled by that plodding unfortunate?" She watched him carefully, waiting to see his response.

"Oh?" He looked for nonchalance and actually achieved it. "I just ran into an old friend and was contemplating our conversation." They arrived at the elevators.

Miranda wouldn't let it drop. "Anyone I know?" Just as he was about to reply the doors of a car opened and Miranda stepped inside. Giving himself a mental high five at his luck, he immediately deflated when she glared at him and dipped her head. Apparently today was the day that the Dragon wished accompaniment for her ride up to the Runway offices.

Resigned to his fate he decided to answer honestly. "Actually Miranda, yes, it was someone you know. Andy Sachs."

Miranda leveled her gaze and forced her own equanimity to be maintained. "Oh and what priceless nugget was our erstwhile employee imparting today? Tell me; is she still out saving the world?"

Nigel mentally rolled his eyes, willing the damn elevator to hurry the hell up. "She looked really good. I didn't have the opportunity for much conversation as apparently our girl was in quite the rush." He couldn't resist placing the emphasis on "our", just to tweak the woman. Something in his bones told him that the flash and fire Miranda offered every time her former assistant's name was mentioned was all an elaborate act. 'And acting like she doesn't care? Ha!' But Nigel kept his eyes forward and managed to suppress a sigh of relief when the metal doors slid open to reveal the sleek reception area of Runway Magazine. He did not hesitate to exit quickly and with a harried, "I've a meeting in five" he made all haste away from his complicated boss and towards the sanctuary of his office.

Miranda for her part was left quite discombobulated by the prior five minutes. That's all it took. Actually, not even five minutes, rather one glance. One fleeting eye sweep of the sidewalk outside the window of her Mercedes to spy a smiling Andrea Sachs as she interacted with her fashion editor/art director pulled the breath from her lungs and left her dizzy. She recalled the sudden uncomfortable urge to remain seated until the woman wandered away, but had then straightened in her seat. 'I shrink from no one!'

However that slight hesitation was all it took for Andrea to sight her car, oh yes, she saw the moment the young woman realized who was pulling to the curb, those expressive eyes widening in fleeting panic, and then making all haste away from any contact. She supposed she was relieved that the girl knew enough to get out of her way, although instead of self-satisfaction she felt instead only an aching void.

Unwilling to contemplate too long, she turned her sights on sport. Nigel was the convenient target and certainly provided her with several moments of amusement, a successful diversion. She smirked remembering Nigel's discomfort in their ascent to the office; certainly he would be bound and determined to avoid running into her in the morning for several weeks to come. With this thought she adjusted her dragon mask and set it with the first quiet "Emily…" of the day.

l l l l l l l

Later that same day Andrea noted an email from Nigel in her inbox; while they had gotten together occasionally since her leaving it was still a rare occasion for them to correspond.

"Six, it was delightful to see you today! I'm having a holiday gathering in three weeks, a Saturday, and am hoping that this is early enough notice for you to be able to attend. 7:00PM. My loft. Ciao!"

Andy smiled and replied with a definite yes. It wasn't like her social calendar was packed with exciting invitations and obligations. Aside from a weekly gathering of some of her fellow reporters at a bar around the corner from the Mirror and the occasional lunch, dinner or drinks with Lily and, sometimes, Doug, she really didn't go out all that much. Doug would sometimes try to talk her into clubbing with him on the weekends, but it was rare recently that she would take him up on it. Ever since that last night out about six weeks before, when she ended up drinking more than she should. Honestly, didn't she know better by now? But the day before, Andy had caught a glimpse of her former boss as she was interviewed entering some fundraising gala, and she couldn't get the image of her out of her mind. She left the bar with someone who definitely was attractive and did turn her on, but who definitely didn't interest her, and then woke up in an unfamiliar bed next to the blond haired (cut short and so blond it was nearly white), blue-eyed beauty. That it was unfortunate the woman seemed intent on reading more into the experience was an understatement; the ensuing avoidance of the woman's calls (how had she gotten her work number anyway?) and her presence at the club was wearing and it left Andy feeling very uninspired to repeat the error.

Andrea's mental meanderings focused back on her friends. It had been a slow process since Nate left, but they were finally finding a way, if not back, to a place that was better. Andy had finally stood up for herself and declared that they either needed to accept her in her new complexity or move on. Her heart to heart with Lily resulted in the childhood friends being tighter than ever. Their schedules didn't allow them to socialize often, but they texted, emailed and talked at least once a week. Once Doug realized he didn't have to choose sides and then discovering that there was a kindred spirit in Andy in terms of each of them finally realizing that they were more interested in members of their own sex; they were set.

If only it had been as easy with her family. They had been disappointed in her breakup with Nate, but weren't all that surprised, particularly her mother who said she really didn't think they were that well suited to one another anyway. No, the coming out to her parents had not gone all that smoothly. Once again her mother had pleasantly surprised her, just said that she had had a feeling and although she voiced that she had really been hoping that she was wrong, mainly because she knew it would be a harder road for her child, she accepted Andy's revelation with love and support.

Her dad, well, he was still trying to adjust. Or actually, it didn't appear that adjustment was anywhere on the horizon for him. When he wasn't trying to figure out what he had done to make his little girl not like men, he was praying that her soul wouldn't go to hell. Andy mentally shivered and then shrugged it off; heading home to visit her family for Thanksgiving was going to be the first time they had seen her since the big announcement six months prior. She was hoping that the three days and two nights spent in each other's company would somehow help everyone adjust just a little bit better. She was thankful that her older sister, Amanda, not only said that she had known all along, but was really happy for her having finally figured it out. Amanda, her husband Michael and their two kids Janey and Jeremy, would also be flying "home" for the weekend and she had promised to help run interference as much as possible.

That was only a little over a week away and, in between, she had a lot of work to get done. Having been recently upgraded beyond writing about parking meter disputes and trash collection she was working on a story regarding the city transit department's newest campaign to combat terrorism on its many transportation venues. Not hard-hitting investigative reporting by any means, but it was a positive step in the right direction and it did mean that she got to go behind the scenes of the city's subway.

The underground world and its pulsing arteries had always fascinated her, not only because it allowed her to observe the many unique individuals that made up the highly diversified landscape of New York humanity, but because of the very feel of the experience itself.

She loved to stand on the subway platform, anticipation full within her as she awaited the subtle pressure shift that indicated a train was approaching. If it was later at night or if it was a less used station she would often watch the rats as they traversed the rails looking for food dropped from the platform above, impressed that even their tiny brains were able to absorb that the one larger rail was to be avoided. They would begin to scatter with that pressure change and none would dare linger once the rush of the wind pushed forward from the tunnel into the station. Once on the train she would often step between the cars and watch as the beams and rock and concrete flashed by. Riding in the first car was equally fascinating as the beam of the train headlight would illuminate the catacombs, sparking her imagination of civilizations formed underground and mutant beings lingering just beyond the light.

So the opportunity to actually accompany a transit cop on their beat and then to have a guided walking tour of one of the tunnels just beyond the station satisfied her even as she was still disappointed in the level of journalism involved. That was scheduled for tomorrow. Today she had to finish her article on the various holiday venues offering entertainment to both tourists and city dwellers. Sigh.

l l l l l l l

I saw Andrea today. Only a glimpse, for as soon as the girl laid sight upon me she ran as fast as she could in the other direction. Of course, I would inspire such fits of flight so I was not surprised. No, no; not by that. I was caught completely unawares by the emotions sparked within me at the moment I recognized that shining black hair and those deep chocolate eyes. I am beyond disgusted with myself for even feeling it, so much so that I have not even decided if I am going to describe it here.

Miranda sat back in her desk chair, letting her favorite fountain pen rest upon the blotter. Once again her fingers gently caressed the fine paper of her place marker. After a few moments passed she let out a sharp bark of disgust.

Surely I am insane! But I think it's even more insane to lie to oneself. If I cannot fully express myself in my journal then what is the use in it? I was excited when I realized who was talking to Nigel and then that dropped immediately upon her realization that I was near; a spiraling dive into sadness and longing.

That girl has always been special to me; a special project is what I believe I told myself when she was still in my employ. But even then it was a lie, her unselfconscious beauty, her desire to succeed, her intelligence all combined to form a very appealing presence. Of course I was required to ignore it and of course now, nothing has changed. I have no recourse except to catch glimpses at random or to read her work at that struggling paper at which she is still employed. There is no other possibility and therefore my continued thought on the matter needs to stop.

If only I could control my dreams so easily.


Miranda lifted her head to look at her youngest by several minutes, Cassidy, standing before her in her pajamas. Her eyes cut to the clock and a frown formed.

"What is it darling? Didn't I tuck you in some hours ago?"

"I don't feel good, I just threw up and now I feel cold." The red head moved over to where her mother was sitting and crawled into her lap. It took a bit of maneuvering but Miranda managed to close the leather cover on her journal and gather her child in. She was really too big to do this anymore but as she felt the burning forehead she understood the need for Cassidy to have her mother close.

"Honey, you are very warm. We need to take your temperature and then get you some Tylenol and water. Do you think you would be able to keep that down sweetie?" The gentleness in her tone would be foreign to anyone outside of her home. Her children suffered many times because of the demands of her position, but she would never make them question the love and tenderness she had for them, nor shake their belief that she would do anything for them.

It was a full hour later until the editor was able to return to her desk all the while knowing she needed to be in bed; oddly compelled to somehow finish what she had started. But as she re-read what she had written she realized that there were no further words to be said on the matter. It was what it was.

She, a middle-aged woman, had an attachment to a woman half her age. It was ridiculous! She felt ridiculous. She slammed the cover closed and locked it back into the desk drawer, as if imprisoning her words would somehow contain the emotions.

As she attempted to sleep all she could do was ask over and over. "What is wrong with me?"

l l l l l l l

Andy was working half a day before her flight out to Ohio.

Today the topic for the article she finishing was at least interesting to her. The article was about power of attorney and medical power attorney for unmarried couples. Andy, although unpaired, also saw the relevancy to her own life. She thought about what would happen if she had an accident or a catastrophic medical emergency like a stroke. Who would be making the decisions?

She trusted that her mother would want to make the right decision for her, but recognized that her father could very well make life difficult, if not down-right impossible, and if she was in such a state she didn't want her mom to have to go through that. His rabid right-to-life stance would have her hooked up to a machine for eternity; she shuddered at the thought.

So she had decided to research her article by creating a medical power of attorney, a power of attorney for other decisions and a hospital visitation authorization declaring who should be allowed in her hospital room if ever the need should arise. She had a lawyer friend of Doug's help her out with the paperwork, which wasn't entirely necessary, but she wanted to be sure that there was no way her father would ever make decisions for her. She also filed the medical related items with both her doctor and a statewide database that would make the information accessible.

It was weird thinking about these things; being so young she couldn't really visualize her using them, but the stories she had heard from several people and the hardships they had endured because they had not clearly stated their wishes made her realize that she could not, not do it. Knowledge was definitely power and Andy understood now that knowledge without action only kept her up at night.

So she filed her story; once again, no earth-shattering investigative journalism, but she did the best she could and hoped that maybe it would help someone.

Chapter Two

Andy settled herself into the front seat of her sister's rental car and slumped tiredly against the door.

"Thank god! I thought I'd never get here!"

Amanda reached across the seat and squeezed her sister's hand. "It's good to see you baby girl." Amanda was eight years Andrea's senior. Andy had been born when her mother was thirty-two, a welcome surprise, but a surprise none-the-less. The Sachs' had planned on only one child but adjusted to the new addition in a number of creative ways, not the least of which was Andy accompanying her mother to her law office every day until she was weaned and out of diapers.

"It feels like it's been forever since we've seen you!" And it really nearly had been; almost a year.

"I know, I feel bad but just starting a new job means no vacation. I was lucky to get the 3 days off last Christmas since I told them when I started that I already had my plane ticket; this year no such luck. I get to work Christmas Eve, updating the website, until 8:00. And then it's on me to be on the desk watching the phones from 8:00 to 1:00 on Christmas Day." She let out a huge sigh; Amanda looked over to her and saw that her sister was smiling that closed mouth smile she had when she was satisfied with something.

"But actually sis, I don't really mind. I'm looking forward to being in the city, everything is so beautiful and I will be heading over to Lily's after work for dinner with her and Doug, so it's not like I'll be alone or anything."

"No Mass then little sister?" Amanda's tone was full of mirth.

"Uh that would be a big N-O dear! You know I haven't been to church in over ten years, why would I suddenly decide to go now?" Andy shifted so she could take in her sister as she maneuvered the all-wheel drive vehicle through the snow gathering on the freeway surface.

"Weeeellll, you know how dad can be…"

Andy scowled and cut her off abruptly. "Well dad can go f…" She pursed her lips. "…learn to let it go. Why he has such a hard time understanding that I see the world in a very different way than he, I just don't know."

She palmed her forehead and then waved the hand outwards. "I mean come on, that conversation is so old and tired it barely caused a rise out of both of us the last time he and Uncle Robert brought it up two years ago,"

Amanda shot a quick side glance over and then back to the road. "Need I remind you that you weren't going to hell then because you prefer girls?"

"Maybe coming home isn't such a good idea right now Mandy. Is it too late to turn around and head back to the airport?"

"'Fraid so baby girl. We just crossed the Ohio river and our exit's coming up."

Andy looked out into the darkness at the swirling white dancing in front of their headlights to the exit marker. She sighed for what felt like the hundredth time. "Tell me again why I thought this was such a good idea?"

Amanda chuckled. "Hang in there. It really won't be that bad." The elder Sachs sibling scowled at the road they now found themselves on, up into the hills on the eastern side of the Cincinnati area. It was one of the wealthier suburbs but even their snow removal efforts couldn't keep up with the building snowstorm. "Just keep sight of who you are. I'm really proud of you in case you didn't know it. You've come into yourself, mom sees that and while it may take him awhile, dad will eventually too."

"I hope you're right. I just hope that in the short term it won't be too unpleasant because it's not like any of us will be able to make it out of the driveway tonight or tomorrow. This is supposed to keep up all night, right?"

"Yeah, you're lucky you made it in. Did I hear right that they were getting ready to close the airport?"

Andy nodded absently as her childhood neighborhood slowly came into view. Something seemed off and she absently replied, "My flight was the last one in." It dawned on her a moment later, "Uh Mandy? Have you noticed there's no power?"


"Yeah. Shit. This just gets better and better."

But much to both sisters surprise their parents' home had light, one on the porch and in one of the windows. As Amanda switched off the car the front door opened and two men ventured towards them.

"Hey dad!" Andy waved as she struggled to get the back tailgate up.

Her dad gave her a quick hug and then took over. "Here, let Michael and I get those. You and Amanda go on in and get warm."

She gave her brother in law a hug as he passed; as Andy and her sister tried not to slide on the newly shoveled sidewalk they became aware of the sound of a motor coming from the back of the house. Amanda shrugged, "Wonder when he got that?"

The next moment found Andy standing in the welcoming warmth of the entryway; purse and laptop still slung over her shoulder, as her mom, Louise Brownly-Sachs, pulled her into a long, firm hug and two children aged seven and ten circled around them jumping up and down. "I'm so glad you're here. We were worried with this weather that you wouldn't be able to land, and then the roads…"

Amanda butted in, "Mom! It wasn't that bad, it was only the last couple of miles that were a little tense."

"Well tell that to Michael. Your husband just about wore a hole in our entertainment room carpet!" The three women laughed as said husband made a snow covered appearance along with Andy's father. There was only one suitcase and her dad trundled past the group and took it up to her old bedroom.

Andy looked sheepishly at her mom. "How's he doing?"

Her mom, shorter by about four inches looked up at her daughter and waggled her hand. "Eh, he has his moments, but don't worry, just be yourself sweetie. It'll be alright. We love you, you know."

"I know mom, I love you too."

l l l l l l l

The next day was Thanksgiving and Andy's parents' house was center stage. The snow had stopped in the early hours of the day and dinner was late enough to allow for the road crews to get caught up. Thankfully Richard Sachs had invested in a whole house generator after one too many power failures so not only was all of the food saved but dinner was served on time. It wasn't a huge gathering, just her mom's sisters, her dad's brother and their families which ended up with about twenty-six adults, teens and Amanda and Michael's kids seated around the table. Conversation was pleasant and focused upon family gossip, football (deconstruction of yet another dismal Cincinnati Bengals season and a thorough pillorying of their stubborn owner Mike Brown) and Andy's and Amanda's lives.

Since the sisters were the eldest of the cousins and thus the first to leave the nest everyone wanted to know what it was like to live in the big cities of either coast. Amanda and Michael had moved to Seattle only three months before so they were first on the inquisition list. Humorous stories were told and before Andy knew it she was in the kitchen helping her cousin Bethany, her dad's brother's only child, a senior in high school and Andy's favorite cousin, scrape plates and load dishes into the dishwasher.

"Andy?" Bethany asked timidly and instantly Andy tensed. She looked at the seventeen year old who shared her long dark hair and height trying to guess at the sudden mood shift.

"Uhm, can I ask you a question?" At Andy's nod the younger girl continued. "Well, I heard my dad and your dad talking last week and well, isittrueyou'rereallygay?"

Andy felt her heart rate pick up immediately and the room suddenly seemed warmer. Huh. Others knew, that would explain her uncle's weird behavior. However, she contemplated, no one else treated her any differently, so either not everyone knew or they didn't care. Could she be so lucky? She glanced at the nervous teen who had practically scraped the glaze off of the china plate she was holding.

"Hey, relax. It's okay to ask." Both girls heard heavy footsteps approaching the kitchen and as their owner crossed the threshold Bethany seemed to grow even more nervous. Andy lowered her voice, "Are you alright?" Bethany only shook her head slightly and grabbed another plate as Andrea's uncle walked into the room.

"Bethany, your aunt is asking about your plans after graduation, why don't you go out there and chat with her. I'll help in here." Bethany nodded timidly, shooting one last glance at her cousin.

Andy was on alert now, the tone in her uncle's voice wasn't quite right. Robert Sachs was of the same height and build as her father only with more of a receding hairline and just a bit more weight. He was a lay deacon at Immaculate Heart of Mary church and was considerably stricter than her own father had been. She continued the clearing of plates and remained silent, waiting for her uncle to show his hand.

"Andy, your father and I discussed something that really distresses me. He said that you told them that you were now claiming to be homosexual and that they needed to accept it." He puffed up into what she recalled was his most authoritative stance, the one he would use when they were kids and the baseball went through the living room window or the hose was somehow turned on next to one of the basement window wells; he was trying to intimidate her! She continued to listen in silence maintaining an inscrutable look upon her face.

"I think you need to understand that your family does not have to accept anything, that it is you that needs to accept that the lifestyle you are choosing to lead is anything, but acceptable, and that you are at risk of putting a black mark on your soul, not to mention your own family's name, if you continue with this."

Andy was absolutely floored; so much so that she was left completely unprepared for his next words. "If you choose to continue with this damning behavior I'm going to have to ask you to stay away from my daughter. She is a decent young woman who is very impressionable and I won't have her being influenced by anyone like yourself or who thinks your kind of behavior is normal."

Finally Andy's brain engaged and her outrage right along with it. But instead of the outburst of a child that perhaps her uncle was expecting, Andy channeled the demeanor of the master and pinned him with an unwavering gaze. "Uncle Robert." Then she amended because at moment she did not feel one tender familial twinge towards the man. "Robert; I am only going to say this once. While you are entitled to your opinion I respectfully request that in the future you keep it to yourself. You have no right to question my life and I will be more than satisfied to forever steer clear of yours. But you have no right to dictate with whom I will associate; your daughter is an intelligent girl, she can decide for herself what she wants to do and who she wants to have 'influence' her."

Andy straightened even more if it was possible, stepped in just a bit closer and lowered her voice so he nearly had to strain to hear her and continued firmly. "But know this, no one influenced me to be gay, I've always been gay, I just didn't understand it until recently. So, just like no one was able to force me to be gay, nothing anyone will say or do will suddenly make me 'un-gay'. Get it? So, respectfully? Butt out." Andy maintained her equanimity and they stared at one another until a throat was heard clearing itself in the doorway; from the corner of her eye she could see it was her mother.

Louise stood there with several half empty serving bowls in her hands and asked mildly. "Am I interrupting something here?"

Andy stood her ground and her uncle finally relented but not without an attempt at the last word. "Remember what I told you, I expect you to do it."

"And remember what I told you Robert." She said to his back. "I will not be dictated to."

Once he left the room Andy slumped back against the counter while her mother unloaded her burden. "How much did you hear mom?" Andy's voice sounded very tired and a lot older than her nearly twenty-eight years.

Louise had arrived long before she had announced herself and had witnessed not only her brother-in-laws pompous directives, but Andy's response. "Enough to know that, despite your quite eloquent defense, you are probably pretty upset right now." She turned to look at her baby and could see that in spite of her mastery of the conversation, she was greatly affected by it.

"Come here sweetheart." Andy promptly threw herself into her arms and held on for several minutes; reveling in the mom hug.

"Mom, you don't know how good this feels."

"What do you mean sweetie?"

"It means more than you'll ever know that I know you're here for me. Thank you so much for not judging me." Andy pulled back from her mother's arms and leaned back against the counter, feeling much stronger since the hug.

"It's not for us as humans to judge Andy, unless, of course, in a court of law." They both chuckled at that. "Seriously, I love you with all my heart and nothing will ever change that. Your father loves you too and that won't change. Although he may be more difficult in the short run, after all, he does have his older brother as a strong influence in his life.

"How do you stand it mom? They're both so rigid."

"Sometimes it's a real challenge honey, but I love your dad and thankfully I don't have to see Robert all that frequently. Richard knows how I feel about him and doesn't push it. I can't tell you how many times I've had conversations like the one you just had with that man, which, by the way, you handled yourself very well with him. I'm very proud of you."

Andy beamed. "Thanks mom, coming from you that's a true compliment."

"Where did you learn that look though? You had him completely skewered."

Andy chortled, "I borrowed that from Miranda." At her mother's quizzical look she amended, "Miranda Priestly, my former boss."

"Ah, the 'Dragon Lady'."

"Yes mom, the 'Bitch in Heels', 'Ice Queen' or just simply 'The Queen.' Although, I've been more inclined to say that 'Goddess of Fashion' is my favorite."

Louise watched her daughter as she became more animated with each hyperbolic label. Interesting, what's that about? She busied herself with pulling out some food storage containers.

"Well I'm glad to see you picked up at least one useful thing from your internment at that place."

Andy didn't disappoint her. "Mother, you know I learned far more at Runway. It was perhaps one of the most important experiences of my life. It taught me many things; things I didn't know about myself. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Her mom looked up at her sharply but Andy was looking too far into herself to notice. Louise knew that when her daughter had that look in her eye, that she could sometimes slip questions in that Andy would answer without thought. She gentled her voice from its normal speaking tone and asked, "So Miranda is more than just a selfish, arrogant bitch that thought of no one, but herself?"

Andy's voice was equally as soft. "Yeah mom, she really is. She is a woman at the top of her game, maintaining her position, in a world dominated by men who want to take it away. She has to be driven. She has to be selfish at times. But she also cares deeply for her daughters. She would do anything for them and hence would have her assistants bring the world to them. I know it seems weird from the way that you all raised me, but it doesn't make it count less either."

"Andy. You really sound as though you've had a change of heart about her."

"Not really mom. I always respected her, even when I was crying about how she treated me so badly. It's just since leaving I've realized…" Andy paused for a moment, she had almost revealed more than she had wanted to her mother; she knew she probably could, but she just wasn't ready to go there. "I've realized that I keep using all of these different 'things' I learned just from observing how she conducted herself. Like with Uncle Robert just now, Miranda takes shit from no one and one of the ways she accomplishes that is by not letting anyone see that they rattle her."

"But how did you know that she really just didn't care?"

"I just knew mom, I could tell. She would get this really minor twitch in her eye and then her lips would purse ever so slightly. That was if she was trying to appear unaffected. If she didn't care that the other party knew she was displeased, she was far more vocal about it, trust me." Andy laughed here.

"Andy, you seem like you spent a considerable amount of time in study of your boss." Louise was careful with her words. Her daughter talked like the sun rose and set on the very same woman who she ranted and raved about in countless phone conversations only a year before. Louise couldn't quite identify why that troubled her now.

"Of course I did mother. My very survival depended upon knowing the signs." Andy had realized that she had said probably more than she should have on the subject.

Louise saw the shift in her daughter and knew this topic was now closed. "Well, that's all water under the bridge now. You are out from under her grasp" She noted the slight flinch at her word choice but ignored it. "… and have a great career ahead of you. That piece that was in this morning's Mirror, on power of attorney, was really well researched and well done."

"Thanks mom! It's not much of a step up, but it beats the obits."

After they were finished in the kitchen Andy emerged to see that Bethany and her father had left. She hoped that there wasn't an unpleasant scene for the girl, but knowing her uncle poor Beth probably had to endure a long lecture on the evils of "the homosexual" and the necessity of steering well clear of them. Her intuition told her that Bethany really wanted to talk but she wasn't going to be the one to make first contact; no need to create even more of a problem for the girl. If she wanted to talk then the teen would find a way to do it.

So it was with a small amount of surprise when Andy heard the chime of an incoming text just as she was getting ready for bed and that it was a request to meet for lunch the following day. Andy was supposed to go to the art museum with her sister and Michael while the kids had grandma and grandpa time, but she figured she could work it in earlier. She suggested a time and place and barely a minute had passed when an ecstatic "YES!" was sent back. Andrea slipped into sleep happy she had done the right thing.

l l l l l l l

Skyline Chili was the only place to eat Cincinnati chili as far as Andy was concerned and that's where she and Bethany ended up.

Andy smiled at the waitress. "I'll have a 3-way, extra juicy."

Bethany chuckled, then asked for a 4-way with beans and extra cheese. The two sat in silence for a moment, popping oyster crackers with hot sauce dripped on them into their mouths. Both conscious that the food would be up in only a few minutes, they talked about how Bethany's senior year was going.

Soon a steaming plate of spaghetti noodles layered next with an aromatic ground beef-tomato based sauce and topped with a heaping layer of finely shredded cheddar cheese was placed in front of her. Andy's mouth watered as she liberally poured hot sauce over the entire thing and then dug in with a tremendous smile. "I don't miss a whole lot about Cincinnati food, but this, this taste you can't get anywhere else."

After they were about half way through the meal Andy realized that Bethany wasn't going to be the one initiate the conversation. "So, you wanted to ask me something, right?"

Bethany looked down at her food and wouldn't make eye-contact. "Yeah, my dad was a real ass towards you yesterday, wasn't he?"

"That's one way to put it. Let's just say he doesn't approve of the way I "choose" to live my life."

"So it's true, you're gay?"

Andy put her fork down and said, "Hey, it's okay. Look at me." She waited for the teen to look her in the eye and she held it. "Yes. I am." She let that sink in for a moment and then decided to just be direct, although her voice was kind. "Aside from your father's obvious issues, is that going to be a problem you think?"

Bethany's large gray-green eyes got bigger if that was actually possible. "No!"

Andy laughed and picked her fork back up, waiting to see if her cousin would say anything else. She watched as the teen fiddled with her straw and pushed the lemon seeds in the bottom of her iced tea around. "Sooo, did your father say anything to you last night?"

Bethany hesitated, her dad had been very clear and very disparaging of her favorite cousin and she didn't want to hurt her feelings.

"Beth, look, I can imagine he said some fairly nasty things about me. Harsh and judgmental – also told you to stay away from me." She watched as the girl looked at her in surprise. "Am I right?"

Bethany nodded. "How did you know?"

Andy laughed without mirth. "Two reasons. One was based on the words he had for me last night where he told me to stay away from you and two because your father fits a certain personality type; controlling, ego-centric and convinced that his god is on his side. When human beings, usually men, have all of that 'going' for them, well they are very predictable in their behavior. Plus we've talked about his restrictions in the past, you've told me of the arguments you've had over your friends, curfews, church attendance and even what is acceptable for you to study in college."

"I wish my mom was here." Bethany had tears in her eyes, but they didn't fall. It had been five years since her mother died of ovarian cancer and she had adapted, but sometimes she missed her so desperately she didn't have words.

"I know baby girl, I know you do."

"I know if she were still alive he wouldn't be so bad."

"Bethany…" She hesitated, not certain how to phrase the question. "He doesn't ever physically hurt you, does he?"

The younger girl shook her head. "No Andy, I would have told someone if that were the case, honestly. No, he just yells and picks at everything I do and nothing is ever good enough, but he hasn't ever raised a hand to me."

"I'm glad. You do realize though that what you've described to me is still abuse; that it's his thing, not a reflection of who you truly are, right?" Andy really wasn't sure how to navigate the conversation; she wanted to somehow counteract all of the negatives the girl received from the most important person in her life. "You know you can call me at any time, day or night, if you need something or just want to talk. I think you are amazingly smart, beautiful and gifted in many ways. I know that whatever you do in life that you will be able to do it. I feel it in here." Andy tapped her chest over her heart. "If I ever have a daughter, and just because I'm gay doesn't mean I won't." She smiled softly. "I would really hope that daughter would turn out to be just like you."

The tears that Bethany had been holding back finally dropped and it took several minutes and many more of the membrane-thin napkins, before she was able to continue with the conversation. Andy looked around, glad that it was the day after a major eating holiday and the place was fairly empty; plus they were in a back corner booth.

They ate in silence for several minutes and then Bethany blurted out. "How did you know?"

Andy just stared at her for a moment at the non-sequitur, searching through the conversational threads. "How did I know I was gay?"

"Yeah, I mean you dated guys. You lived with Nate. You don't hate guys do you?" The girl was blushing now.

Andy laughed again. "Hate guys? Why does everyone assume I don't like men just because I'm attracted to women?" She shook her head and after pushing her empty plate away, continued.

"No, I don't hate men. It's just that I've realized that being with a woman speaks to a part of me that no man ever has. It's just different, and I'm not just talking about sex." Bethany's blush was even more pronounced now than it was when the conversation began.

"As for when I knew? It was a gradual kind of thing. I had sex with two guys before Nate and then I was with Nate for about four years." And we'll just not mention that momentary lapse in Paris. "During that entire time I enjoyed myself and it was cool, but I don't know, it just always felt like I was missing something. I seemed to have an affinity towards some women but I never thought of it as anything. There was a professor of mine in college that, now that I think back on it, I had a major crush on." Her gaze turned inward for a moment. Dr. Kate Janeson, haven't thought about her in years.

"She was gorgeous with slightly graying copper hair, a great body and an air of elegance and grace that totally captivated me. I'd sit in her class and just admire her as she lectured. I found myself doing extra studying and taking extra care with the essays. I really wanted her approval. At the time I didn't know why it was so important that she notice me, but now it all makes sense." She paused for a sip of water and checked that she wasn't boring her lunch companion; finding a rapt audience she continued.

"And then I started working at Runway and I met someone who blew everyone else out of the water. The moment I met her, even though she was in no way nice to me and was actually one of the biggest bitches I'd ever met, everything changed. It took months until I finally connected all the dots, it was just before Nate ended things and left for Boston, he actually had a hand in helping me figure it out. He didn't realize it, but it was something he said, and once he said it, it was as though a light bulb went off. This person's opinion meant more to me than just a work association should. More than what a friend even would. It meant the world to me and I realized that I had been trying for months to gain her attention and favor because I really just wanted her to like me."

At this Andy grew quiet and her cousin could see that there was a sadness about her. When her favorite cousin still hadn't said anything after several minutes the teen couldn't stay silent. She cleared her throat. "What happened? Did you ask her out?"

Bethany received an indignant snort. "Ask her out? Oh, no. She was waaaay out of my league. No. Oh no. I took the coward's way out; I quit my job."

Bethany was confused. "Why would you quit your job? It was someone you worked with right? Couldn't you have just avoided them? I mean really the only person…" Her voice trailed off when she realized just who Andy had worked for and it all made sense. "OH MY GOD!" The teen practically squealed. "Andy, your boss? The Fashion Goddess herself? Did you fall for Miranda Priestly?" Unlike her older cousin, Bethany was well aware of the world of fashion, and therefore its reigning queen.

Andy's head shot up and she looked desperately at the tables around them. As no one had moved into their immediate space, her relief was palpable. "Will you please keep it down? Jesus Beth, I don't want the entire world to know my business, especially since no one else knows this. You have to promise me that you will not breathe a word of this to anyone. Anyone, do you understand?"

The teen's head was bobbing up and down so fast Andy thought it might topple off and roll onto the table. "I'm serious kiddo, if this were to make it to certain circles, and you would be surprised at the people interested in anything involving the editor of that magazine, even in the back waters of Ohio, all hell could literally break loose. Please, please, please give me your word that you will mention this conversation to no one. Not even your BFFs. With the press always looking for a hook into her, you just never know."

"Andy, I promise. No one. Wow! No one knows, but me? Cool! Really, I won't ever say anything at all about this." She crossed her heart and looked so sincere that Andy actually had hope that she would keep that promise.

With a startling bit of insight for one so young, Bethany realized that there was more to the story. "So, you still think about her don't you; you miss her?"

Andy gave a short nod. "Bethany you have no idea. But sometimes in life we just have to learn to accept that we really can't always get what we want, no matter how badly. And…" She held up her hand before the mini inquisitor could continue. "that is all." Great word choice there Andy. "That is all I want to say about it right now, alright? C'mon, let's get going, if we're going to meet up with Amanda and Michael at the museum we need to get out of here."

l l l l l l l

Andy was packing her suitcase that night after having laid out her outfit for the following day. Her flight left early the next morning and her father would be driving her to the airport. Too bad that her mother had to take a deposition from a client first thing and her sister and Michael were having breakfast with Michael's family. She contemplated taking a cab but knew she'd never get away with it. Her father had been almost his usual self the entire visit, but still she sensed as if he wanted to say something to her on more than one occasion, especially after her "discussion" with her uncle. Realizing she was worrying about something she could not change, she set about a meditation she had recently been practicing that would allow her to release some of the fear and trepidation. After about twenty minutes she was in a much better state of mind and able to settle into her old bed and, shortly thereafter, sleep.

"Andrea, Andrea, please." Her name caressed and elongated as only the fashion goddess could, Andy watched as Miranda lay back on the lounger that looked to be in the study of her townhouse. The signature white hair was slightly disheveled and the tie of the white Valentino blouse was loosened, granting an even greater expanse of smooth, ivory skin for her pleasure. Blue eyes pinned her where she stood in the middle of the room, challenging her to make her move as the silken voice continued to plead. But Andy remained rooted in her inaction, even as Miranda's hands, hands that normally wielded a pen as if it were a sword, deliberately caressed the arcs and valleys barely hidden from view. Andy's eyes burned as she watched those lovely hands stop momentarily at the button of the black Bill Blass pants before slowly disengaging it from its loop. Next, the zipper, oh so slowly, was eased down. Andy could feel her tongue as it licked her lips, could feel her teeth as they trapped her bottom lip, yet she continued to be frozen in place, unable to move. She was practically crying in frustration, the older woman was calling for her, summoning her to her task. A task she would be all too happy to fulfill if she could only somehow overcome this overwhelming gravity that weighted her, making movement impossible. She stared as the older woman slid further down the lounger and then pulled herself back, the friction causing the fabric of those pants, those wonderful pants that hugged her ass so deliciously, to remain behind, exposing to Andy's hungry sight a strip of silk so delicate and sheer that it left absolutely nothing to her imagination. When those hands slid beneath the barely there barrier and began a rhythm made even more fluid by the obvious arousal of the beautiful editor Andy could feel her own body clench; aching to suck those soaked fingers into her mouth; aching for her own fingers to enter and push and feel the silky walls spasm around her over and over until the other woman begged her to stop.

The beeping of her cell phone's alarm tones nearly caused Andy to weep as she surfaced into the gray dawn. She lay there panting, grasping at the images that were slowly fading back into their nocturnal hiding place. Aware of the inconvenient evidence of the dream she rolled out of bed and into the bathroom that separated her room from that of her sister's. Fortunately no one else was yet awake so she had the time to center herself back into her reality. A quick shower that tended towards the cold had her moving faster than perhaps she had wanted but it did manage to successfully push the image of a semi-dressed, highly turned on fashion editor begging for "her Andrea's" touch back where it belonged.

Within a half hour of waking, Andy was dressed, make up applied, packing finished and she was ready to head down for coffee. She was looking forward to returning to her life. She did enjoy visiting with her family, but as the years passed she realized how the apartment she was subleasing on the Upper West Side of New York felt more like her home than did this one. Here she was now a visitor, with special privileges perhaps, but a visitor none the less. All that stood between her now and the three and a half hour plane ride back to her real life was a middle-aged man struggling to understand the independent young woman who happened to be his daughter.

l l l l l l l

Whereas the trek to her parents' house only three scant nights before was shrouded with billowing snow and enveloping darkness, this morning was resplendent in dazzling sunlight reflected off of a blanket of drifted, but now melting, snow. They were just crossing over the Ohio River into Kentucky and Andy was idly watching the progression of a tug pushing eight barges heavily weighted with coal as it churned the waters moving downstream.

The car ride to that point had been mostly silent with the occasional comment about the landscape around them so she didn't realize at first that her father had spoken and had to tear her eyes away from her nearly hypnotic observation of the waves undulating outwards from the tug's wake.

"I'm sorry dad, what did you say?" She turned towards her father as the sound of the road returned to normal after crossing the large span.

"I was wondering if you perhaps had talked to Nate at all." Her father kept his eyes forward and she could tell that his grip on the steering wheel was a bit firmer than perhaps necessary.

"Why would I have talked to Nate? You know I haven't seen or spoken to him since he left for Boston." Andy suppressed a sigh, she had hoped…

"Well, I had hoped that maybe something had changed since we last spoke. What about anyone else? What about that guy you mentioned from work, that sports editor?"

"Dad…" This time she didn't hold back the sigh and she could see his hands tighten even more on the wheel. "Look, dad." She ran a hand through her long hair and tried to figure out the best way to say it. No help for it apparently, she was going to have to be blunt. "As I told you a while ago, I've figured out what's been missing in my life and that it's a woman who will eventually be the key to finding happiness. That's not going to change and I'm not going to apologize to you for it."

"Andy I just don't believe that. This isn't you. This is just a phase you're going through, you're in that city with all those freaks, I mean people…" He corrected himself at the last moment, but put the emphasis on the word so that there was no mistaking his opinion. "…who have put this nonsense into your head. You just don't see how you've been manipulated and lead astray. You really need to get away from there."

Realizing he needed to calm himself if he was to get her to listen, Richard switched to a more placating tone. "I've talked to a friend who knows the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He's willing to give you an interview. They have a spot open in their "Local" section. All you have to do is show up and you probably have the job." He turned a proud smile towards her. "He was very impressed with your resume, you know."

That did it, all hope of maintaining her equanimity vaporized. "DAD! Jesus Christ! Are you serious? What part of 'I'm happy with my life' have you not been understanding?"

"Andy, don't take the Lord's name in vain!" His voice rose with the roll of her eyes. "Try to see reason here. I'm trying to help you. You've lost your way and as your father it's my duty to ensure you find the way back. Why do you have to be so damn stubborn?"

"Me stubborn? Please! I'm just trying to live the best life I can live and I will do so with or without your support. I'd much rather have your support than not, but you need to let this go and trust that I know myself and that I'm being true to me." She punctuated her words by punching the fingers of her right hand into the palm of her left hand. "No one has led me down this path. This is my own self being MY self. It's right for me. I can feel it in my bones. That's all I can say."

The car was silent for a couple of miles. Andy watched as the Cincinnati skyline became visible on the northern horizon, over the distance of the Licking River Valley. She had crossed her arms protectively around her midsection, gathering her thoughts. When she spoke it was in a softer tone, "Please dad, I need you to just let me be. Do what you feel you need to do to adjust to this, but I respectfully ask that you no longer arrange interviews or suggest locales for my relocation. I would also appreciate if you refrained from the need to explain to me how messed up you think I am. New York is my home now and I am really happy to be there." She uncrossed her arms and tried to relax her limbs, noting with a glance out the window that the airport exit was fast approaching; she decided that no more need be said.

Richard had come to the same conclusion, so the rest of the ride was made in silence and as they pulled into the airport area Andy requested that he drop her at the terminal instead of parking and coming in. Richard eased over to the curbside check-in area and after pulling her suitcase from the trunk and, soon after giving her a short hug, Andy was watching as her father merged with the other traffic winding its way back towards the airport exit.

After checking her bag, she shrugged her laptop and purse higher onto her shoulder and went in search of a Starbucks. She suddenly felt the need for a venti-no-foam-extra-hot latte and perhaps a couple of Motrin to stave off the sudden headache. As she sat sipping her drink and awaiting the boarding call, she fired off a text to her mother, inquiring whether or not she had any idea that her father was going to pull the stunt he had. Her mother expressed surprise and apologized. The last text before she had to shut her phone off was her mother's reminder that she loved her just the way she was. If anyone noticed that the beautiful young woman boarding the plane was wiping at tears as she found her seat and stowed her bags they did not call attention to it.

Chapter Three

The Sunday morning after Thanksgiving found the Priestly household gathered in the kitchen. Outside it was overcast, so much so that the burgeoning daylight barely penetrated the windows lining the back walls. Miranda had opted to use only the spot canister lighting and the light over the range so a warm glow suffused the space. The smell of coffee and sautéed vegetables contributed to the cozy scene of domesticity, but it was the woman standing at the stove, with the rapt attention of two twelve year old girls focused on her every move, that was at the core of the scene.

"Okay girls, watch my wrist as I carefully move the sauté pan. Once the eggs have been placed in the pan it is essential that you swirl them just so; otherwise they'll end up in a lumpy pile and you will have scrambled eggs." Both girls giggled at that but they kept their eyes focused as their mother gently folded a perfectly formed omelet onto the plate.

"Who wants to go first?" Miranda smiled as both of her daughters hastened forward to be the first to try, but Cassidy, who was fully recovered from her bout with the stomach flu, managed to get there first. Gently Miranda's hands guided the smaller ones of her second-born child.

"That's it Bobbsey, keep the pan moving and take the spatula now." As the girl managed to slide a reasonably shaped egg mass onto her plate Miranda smiled in delight. "Beautiful job! Go ahead and place your fillings and enjoy. Caroline?"

The process was repeated and Caroline's efforts were rewarded just as her sister's before her. By the time the girls were trotting upstairs an hour had passed. Miranda remained behind, sipping her coffee at the back table next to the windows facing the shared green space of their "backyard". Moments like this with her daughters, while not as frequent as she'd like, still occurred more regularly than ever before. Since Stephen left she had been much more intentional about making sure her daughters had access to her. She was home for dinner at least three nights a week, had reduced her Saturday work schedule by half and kept her Sundays completely clear. At least that had been the way of things for the past year, but since she was installed as the interim director of the Elias-Clarke board of directors, the time with her girls suffered greatly.

Indeed it was all she could do to arrange this day with Caroline and Cassidy, but she decided that it didn't matter how many extra hours it meant in the next few days; she was going to keep her word to accompany them to the Guggenheim for a fairly new exhibit they both were interested in seeing. They then had reservations to dine at a new bistro, where it was rumored that the girls' favorite pop idol of the month was known to frequent. The older woman grimaced; hopefully the food would at least be passable. But today was about her daughters, she would try to at least look like she was having a good time.

Miranda acknowledged that it was getting increasingly more difficult for her to maintain the façade of happiness in her life. The journaling that she had started so long ago when her girls were in her womb had slowed down considerably in the interim years, it was only in the past two that she felt compelled to express herself in such a manner. No need to dig too deeply to find the catalyst for that one now, do we, Miranda dear? Her inner voice chose that moment to tweak her mental ruminations, a voice that had grown increasingly loud and sarcastic; harking back to the considerably less civilized days of her youth and young adulthood. Goddamn, but it irritated her to no end that no matter how long she lived in this country, her inner voice still maintained some of the flavor of East London.

The accomplished editor turned her attention back to her growing ennui. She was considering her options; there were so many paths spread out before her, it was just a matter of choosing the one that most pulled to her. She had started sketching more frequently as images of textures and colors and materials had begun to coalesce into forms begging to be captured. That the visions so long lost had chosen to return at this point in her life was not something she was contemplating too closely, rather she was accepting of their presence and glad of their company. Never mind that there was a certain form around which many of the designs would drape, sensually caressing a generously curved body and well-formed legs that seemed to continue for days.

An image of her dream the night before surfaced. Those endless legs encased in Chanel leather boots. In the dream the boots ended only a few inches below a pair of black leather button-up boy shorts.

Her former assistant had strolled confidently into her office without neither a care in the world nor a word of any sort, peeling away a barely there billowing black blouse that had concealed little; letting it slide to the floor. The ends of raven tresses barely brushed at the hardening peaks of firm breasts as the young woman stalked towards the editor, deep red lips moist and lightly parted. She had stood when the interruption had burst into her office, but once the stalking panther had reached her destination she placed a palm at the center of the editor's chest, lightly shoved her back into her chair and then proceeded to seat herself on the curiously empty desk before her. The two women held eye contact for only a moment when the younger grabbed the elder's hands and slid them up the leather to the heated skin of her inner thighs. Wordlessly instructing those hands to remain in place with a gentle squeeze the younger woman began to work the buttons that kept the leather short in place. Agonizingly slowly the buttons separated until the material lay slack and ready to be discarded as the seductress arched her back creating an ivory arc of taut muscle and mouthwatering beauty. Sometime during the display the editor had managed to move her chair forward to such a degree that she could see the glistening folds and smell the delightfully delicate scent of the other woman's arousal. Her hands pulled at the leather providing the final barrier and she kissed the inside of the soft thigh, lightly licking the soft, silky skin as she pushed the material completely free.

"Mom! Mom! Hey! We're ready!" Twin voices catapulted her back into the present with a nearly heart-stopping jolt. She noted that her hands were shaking slightly as she set down her now empty cup. When she rose to place it in the sink, she had to pause to give her legs a moment to regain their strength. With much displeasure she realized that she would need to stop in the bathroom before she could leave the house.

Once again she admonished herself, I am truly going insane.

l l l l l l l

It was the morning of Nigel's party and Andy found herself at her desk at the Mirror finishing up an article comparing the merits and drawbacks of the American Ginkgo tree versus the Bradford Pear when used in city plantings. She failed to understand why a topic such as that would be relevant as the winter solstice was fast approaching but apparently tree planting could be undertaken as long as the ground wasn't frozen solid. To say she was struggling would be an understatement.

The city transit security piece had run the week prior and while she had gotten really good feedback from both her colleagues and her boss, she was still getting assignments such as this that reflected her junior status. She knew she could do so much more and was really getting frustrated, even while she understood the necessity of having to start somewhere.

After rearranging the paper clips and then the pens in her desk organizer she sat back and looked over what she had written. "Shit, it's even boring me." Not good Andy. On a whim she decided to see what would happen if she wrote the piece from a humorous point of view. After thirty minutes of solid typing and several chuckles that had a few of her co-workers eyeing her questionably, she had something that at least was entertaining. She crossed her fingers and shot it over to her boss. Looking at the time, she decided to mentally review her closet and begin planning her attire for that evening's soiree at Nigel's.

She had just decided upon a skirt when she heard her boss' voice. "Sachs! Get in here!"

"Eeep. So much for getting out of here early." She muttered to herself.

"Yeah, Greg?" She stood in front of his desk and willed herself not to fidget.

He stared at her for a minute and then asked "What's this?"

Hmmm, play dumb? "It's the piece on the gingko and pear trees." Okay, dumb it is.

He shook his head, obviously aggravated. "I can read Andy. What I want to know is whether or not it's some kind of joke."

Andy impressed herself with not even a flinch at either his tone or challenge. Long ago she had realized that there was only one person in the world scarier than the boogieman and she had already worked for her. "No sir, not a joke at all." Well it had started as a joke, but he didn't need to know that. It actually had turned out to be quite nicely done. "I wanted to take a fresh approach to presenting subject matter that was actually pretty dry. I think I managed to keep a balance between delivery of well researched facts and a more lighthearted writing style." She forced herself to stop there and maintained eye contact with the man.

It felt like several minutes had passed and Andy's nose was really starting to itch, but she resisted the temptation to scratch. She could wait this man out.

Her patience was rewarded as he looked back at the screen and then back to her and gave her a nod. "Okay then. You heading out for the weekend?"

With a nonchalance that was hardly natural she nodded back and grinned. "Yeah, I'm hanging with the fashion crowd tonight, I've got hours of preparation ahead of me." They were both chuckling as she turned to take leave of his office. Just as she was crossing the threshold he called out.

"Oh and Andy? Good job." He shot her a brief smile and she couldn't help, but beam back at him. She practically skipped back to her desk where she gathered her things and headed for home.

l l l l l l l

Andy regarded her image in front of the mirror for several moments, unsure as to whether or not she wanted to wear her hair up or down. Dressed all in black she had started with a La Perla camisole over which she had thrown one of her second hand store purchases, a Chanel jacket tailored in a tuxedo fashion. A short leather mini, black stockings and the thigh-high Chanel boots, one of the few items she had kept from her Runway days, completed the look. Doug was to be her escort to the party and he had convinced her to go out clubbing afterwards. Coming up with an outfit appropriate for both settings hadn't been easy as she didn't want to look too over the top for the party. She opted to keep her hair loose, but brought along several ties and pins in case she ended up on the dance floor for longer than a minute.

The chime of an incoming text alerted her that Doug was outside and she gathered up a small clutch and locked her door. Once she hit the street she was glad that it was one of those temperate late autumn days and she wouldn't have to keep track of a coat later. They strolled leisurely, catching up on each other's lives, to the Cathedral Parkway subway station emerging some 20 minutes later in Chelsea.

As they approached the last block that would take them to Nigel's, Doug asked the question that had been on his mind. "So, do you think she'll be here tonight?" Andy had never said anything to him, but Doug had his suspicions about exactly why she had left in Paris and why, to this day, every time her name, or even just an allusion to her name, came up it so disturbed his very dear friend.

He was not disappointed as he had taken five steps before realizing she was no longer next to him. He looked back at his friend standing stock still as if frozen. The street light only accentuated the sensual beauty tonight's outfit inspired. Man if I wasn't gay… "Andy?"

"Jesus, Doug! Don't do that!" She started forward and when she was by his side she looked up at him. He could see she appeared a bit paler than when they had left the station.

"Andy, come on, you know there's a good chance she'll make an appearance tonight. Don't tell me you hadn't considered the possibility?"

And Andy hadn't really, well maybe she had, but she hadn't. Every time even the beginnings of an anxious thought about running into her former boss attempted to surface, she distracted herself until it was forgotten. It was the only way she knew she'd be able to actually attend the party and she wasn't about to dive out because she was scared spitless.

"You know she can't hurt you, right?" Doug attempted to soothe his distraught friend, but in her discombobulated state she managed to completely startle him.

"Hurt me? Oh Doug, I'm more worried about me doing something really, really stupid like..." She abruptly clamped her lips together, mortified by her near slip; but it was too late. The bait had been dangled and there was no way Doug was going to let it go.

"Ah, ah, my dear. You need to finish that sentence. Or perhaps you'll allow me?" In sight of the entrance to Nigel's building, they stepped to the side and leaned on the metal railing protecting pedestrians from stairs leading to a basement apartment. Doug was truly revving up for some serious fun, all the while hoping that his friend would finally confide what he long suspected.

Andy reached into her clutch with trembling fingers and fished a cigarette from a stale, half-smoked pack. Mind racing, she took her time lighting, inhaling and blowing out a stream of smoke, hoping that her next words would be believed. "Really Doug, you need to not be such a drama queen. I meant that I can just see myself standing there without a word in my head, shaking in my boots like my first day under her laser glare." She sighed dramatically and added a quiver to her voice, "I would be so embarrassed."

For a half second Douglas almost bought it, but then he spied it, that tiny tell unique to Andy, just a minute eye-shift that if one wasn't looking one would miss. He gave her a minute to congratulate herself on the success of her redirect and then went in for the kill.

"Ennnnnnhhh." Doug mimicked the sound of a buzzer that caused Andy to jump back and nearly topple over the railing. With his hand on her arm to steady her, he forged ahead. "My turn! Here's what I think you were going to say." He altered his voice to a falsetto worthy of any number of great actresses and steamed full speed ahead. "'Oh Doug, I'm more worried about me doing something really, really stupid, like backing her into a wall and kissing the living daylights outta her." He laughed as his friend gaped at him. "Or better yet, 'I'm worried about pushing her into an empty guest room, throwing her on the bed and fucking her within an inch of her life!'"

"Goddamn it, Douglas. This isn't funny!" Andy attempted to chin up to having one of her deepest fantasies revealed in so careless a manner.

Doug had the good sense to stop the teasing, he wasn't trying to hurt his friend, rather he just wanted her to be prepared and the best defense was to not approach the field of battle in denial. "You're right sweetie. It's not funny at all. I'm right though aren't I? I think you've been thinking about Miranda for a long time now." He paused for a moment realization settling in.

"Now that I think about it, every woman you've shown an interest in has had a certain look. Just a little shorter than you, but nearly your equal in build, short hair and they are always blonde, the lighter blonde the better." He gentled his tone. "Oh baby, you've got it bad don't you?"

For her part Andy was feeling suddenly very vulnerable; all pretense now forgotten. "Doug." Her voice was a near whisper and the cigarette dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers. "What am I going to do if she does show up? You're right. I can't get her out of my head. I dream about her. I thought it would go away after I quit, but it hasn't. She's always there, always in my thoughts; a woman nearly twice my age, with two pre-teen daughters and more money and power than I'll ever come close to having. There is absolutely no way she would ever look at me with anything other than disdain. I'm so pathetic and it just totally sucks."

Doug placed an arm around his friend and held her for a moment. "Look, don't sell yourself short here, alright? You, my girl, are beautiful, smart, warm, funny and a wonder to be around. Yeah, the chances of Miranda ever returning your affections are probably right up there with being struck by lightning or winning the Powerball, but for tonight, that doesn't matter."

He released her from the hug and held her at arm's length, looking her straight in the eyes. "What does your mother always tell you? 'Remember who you are'. So tonight, if La Priestly should happen to make her way into your presence, that is exactly what you are going to do. You have become a woman that anyone would be glad to have in their acquaintance, just be yourself. You have nothing to lose sweetie. Can you do that?"

Andy allowed his words to soothe her and she felt some of her confidence and natural optimism return. "Yeah, I think I can at least make a credible attempt. Thanks Doug." She gave him a quick hug. "You're the best!"

He grabbed her hand and moved them back onto the sidewalk, "Okay then let's go enjoy your friend's bar and whatever the night brings trust that you'll handle it."