She sat in the sitting room for a while, staring blankly. Andrea had given her a lot to think about, and most of it she didn't want to think about. She wasn't one who stayed in her head a lot; she was a woman of action and she set her course and that was that, but Andrea was correct about the unhappiness. There was no point in it. She had formed relationships as if she were forming business partnerships, with little thought to love and passion, and certainly no thought for the sexual thrill that Andrea sparked. Relationships were formed with thought toward alliances and alignments, interests and connections, cooperation and the fulfillment of mutual goals. There was no reason for her to marry William. And if his involvement in her life meant that Andrea would leave her again, then William must be the one to go.
When she came to this realization, she checked on Andrea, who was still in the bathroom, behind closed doors, and went upstairs to prepare for bed. But she couldn't go to bed with the possibility of Andrea trying to leave in the middle of the night. Until the girl was sober, she shouldn't try the stairs. So Miranda donned something comfortable and removed her lipstick and was about to remove her remaining makeup when she realized how old she appeared without it, and she didn't want Andrea to see her like that. She'd seen her without makeup once, but … not now. Miranda needed everything on her side now, didn't she? After the way the evening had gone, her ill-chosen words. She went downstairs again with clothes for Andrea, and water and aspirin, but now the bedroom door was closed, so she set everything down outside it in hopes that it would be found if needed, and she prepared a makeshift bed for herself on the sofa where they had sat, so that she could hear Andrea if she tried the stairs, and she stared at the ceiling for a long time even though she was exhausted.
Miranda didn't realize she had fallen asleep until she woke at her usual time. Andrea's face was pressed into her hands, which were cold. The girl was kneeling on the floor, naked, with a sheet wrapped loosely around her. Her hair was damp. She seemed to be asleep. Miranda gently extracted her hands from beneath Andrea's cheeks and pulled her hair away from her face, touched her back. She was freezing. "Andrea," she said softly.
"Hey," she said, not moving.
"What are you doing? You're freezing."
"I love you," Andrea said. "You need to go to bed."
Miranda inhaled. She loved her; this day was already better than the previous. "What are you doing?"
"I can't sleep. Well," she sighed, her voice somewhat muffled in the sofa. "I blacked out in the bathroom earlier after all the alcohol decided to exit my body. But I've been awake a while. And it's going on 5 and you need to go to bed."
Miranda rubbed her own face. "Where are your clothes?"
"Took a shower, nothing to wear but the dress and I think I may have thrown up on it. Underwear is soaked because you're stupidly sexy. No clothes. Your clever scheme to trap me here has worked."
Miranda smiled. "I left you an outfit by your door. And water, and aspirin, which I assume you didn't find."
"Although you'll need something warmer. I imagine I have a few things I can dress you in."
Andrea's eyes remained closed. "Are any of them comfortable?"
"Look at me."
Andrea tilted her face so that it was no longer buried in the sofa and opened one eye. She angled her chin so she could see Miranda. She was grinning.
"How do you feel?"
"Well, I have a pounding headache, but you know, kneeling at the altar of La Priestly is so much more divine than kneeling at the altar of La Toilet that I cannot complain." Her grin widened.
Miranda touched her face and leaned in and kissed her forehead. "I didn't handle things very well last night."
Andrea furrowed her brow. "Um, I remember screaming at you, so no wonder. I can't believe I did that. I'm so sorry."
Miranda half smiled. "You don't remember much, then?"
Andrea's eyes closed. "I remember kissing you. Oh my God. That was amazing." She frowned again. "Everything else was a mess, though, wasn't it? I talked too much."
Miranda's hand tangled in her hair. "Not too much, no." She sighed. "I don't know how it is that you babble incessantly, and by your own admission need a filter for your mouth, but everything you say affects me exactly as you intend. Yet I choose my words very carefully and they always seem to hit you wrong." She touched her face again. She was exhausted, but exhilarated by this calm, sober, clear Andrea. "I upset you several times last night."
Andrea blinked. "Well the worst part's over, isn't it? I told you, and you didn't kick me out, and you didn't laugh or anything, and I survived it. Somehow. Alcohol. And I got a kiss out of it somehow. Alcohol." She looked at her closely. "Um, you didn't laugh, did you?" And though she was speaking flippantly, her eyes seemed worried.
"No," Miranda said. "Come." She rose and pulled Andrea's hand and led her upstairs to her bedroom, where Andrea stopped short as Miranda went on toward the bathroom.
Miranda turned and looked at her, and good God, she was barely wrapped in that white sheet. With her long tangled hair and alabaster skin, she looked like some sort of goddess.
Andrea raised her eyebrows. "I'm not saying anything. I talked enough last night, didn't I? I'm keeping my mouth shut and letting you lead the way," she said. Her eyes were merry. "Whether that be to your closet or your bed… Decisions, decisions." She smiled. "But you know that kiss was hot. And we were drunk. So I'm thinking it'll be unbelievable if we kissed while, you know, we're sober."
"It was going to be my bathroom; you need aspirin," Miranda said absently. "And we kissed more than once, so I'm not sure which one you think was especially hot." The sheet around Andrea was open a bit at the thigh. She stared at the pale skin of her legs, let her eyes travel up to the swell of breasts, the flushed cheeks, the tousled hair.
"What is that look on your face?" Andrea seemed self-conscious suddenly. She looked down at her body. "What are you thinking?"
Miranda was thinking - Halston: 1973, Valentino: 1967, Marchesa: last Spring. She was thinking of how stunning Andrea looked, in this light, in that sheet, with her pale skin and dark hair. She was thinking of a Runway cover, of a shoot that could work perhaps for a Spring or Summer edition, not with togas, exactly, because that whim had flashed and was gone, but a shoot with a pale-skinned beauty, with minimal makeup and minimal, natural clothing, standing in a doorway – mimicking, almost, the French Runway edition from Spring 2004 that Miranda had always favored, mimicking, almost, Andrea standing in her bedroom.
She was thinking of how much time she'd spent working, and how much time she'd spent with women, and how she'd never noticed what gorgeous, fragile creatures they were. She was thinking of Andrea's astute observation: 'How can you see what's beautiful when you're searching for fault?'
She was thinking of Andrea's vision of her, the words Andrea candidly uttered last night - that beautiful spread of words that could have been wasted on any of the people that the girl slept with - how she had bestowed them on Miranda like gifts, describing her more exquisitely than anyone ever had. The tents were ablaze.
She was thinking that Andrea was born to be a writer, but perhaps not a journalist, if being a journalist was causing such unhappiness. She was thinking that Andrea may prefer to write for Harper's or The New Yorker or The Atlantic, or anywhere that kept her away from the cruel streets and drinking to stay sane. Miranda was thinking of her own way with words, and how it wasn't beautiful, but it was powerful, and she was thinking that she could get Andrea away from CNN today and have her anywhere she wanted to be tomorrow.
She was thinking about the weekend, stretched out before her, and the silence in the house, which had evaporated. She was thinking about the young woman in her bedroom, the one who wanted to run yet hadn't let go of her hand, who couldn't escape her, no matter how many years she put between them, or how many people she slept with, or how loudly she yelled in anger.
She was thinking about time, and love, and the choices they both had made. She was thinking about Andrea, who had tried to stop loving her but couldn't. Who had tried to hate her, but couldn't. She was thinking about the future, and how it had changed before her eyes last night, how it was changing before her eyes this very minute.
"Do I look fat?" Andrea asked, appearing dramatically horrified. "I'm a four! I've never had anyone complain about my size except you prissy people at Runway, I'll have you know. I get hit-on all the time, so I must be doing something right." She huffed in mock indignation.
"I've fallen in love with you," Miranda said.
Andrea's animated face stilled.
They stared at each other, and the thread between them, which had been apparent from that very first day with the exchange of a look, was clearly many threads - a cord, a cable, a chain, even. Something that couldn't be snipped off mistakenly, or shorn in anger or despair, because they hadn't formed it; it had always been there. Oh, but they had added to it, hadn't they? Miranda felt the ripple; she felt it tugging at her.
"Um, just now?"
"No," Miranda said.
Andrea smiled and bit her lip. "Last night?"
"No," Miranda said.
"That means," Andrea said, and tears touched her eyes. "That means…"
Miranda took her in her arms and kissed her, and it was a joy to find that Andrea was correct: this sober kissing was unbelievable. It felt inevitable - both thrilling and slightly démodé. She'd had more than three years to grow accustomed to the shock of lusting for someone so young, and now it didn't feel completely immoral or especially vile to desire this twenty-six year-old as it had to desire the twenty-three year-old. Instead, it felt intensely pleasurable, somewhat scandalous, and entirely too good to be wrong.
Andrea kissed her back tenderly and unguardedly, as if she were talking to her again. As if she were telling her all of those things about loving her and how beautiful she was and how brilliant and quirky, and how sorry she was that her job was stressful, and how she wished she could make it better. But mostly, she seemed to tell her about how she looked in Paris, at the Valentino after-party, taking light from one tent to the next, and despite the state of Andrea's undress, Miranda was the first to cry out from an orgasm, Andrea hovering over her, still somehow wrapped in that sheet.
After, Andrea gently helped her out of her clothing and helped her to another orgasm, and looked up at her from between her legs, but the look on her moist face wasn't gentle at all, it was piercing and predatory and demanding, and Miranda pulled her up, until Andrea was lying on top of her, her sheet tied at her breasts and open like a cape around her. Andrea began kissing her so deeply and touching her so possessively that Miranda came again, almost immediately, and she realized, wrapping her legs around the girl's torso, that she hadn't relished sex like this in her life. "You're gifted at this," she gasped. "Is it because you fuck a lot of people?"
"Hmm. I think I'm gifted at you."
Miranda touched her face, traced her fingernail down its contour. "You read me well, most of the time. You completely misinterpreted Paris, however."
Andrea frowned. "Really? 'Do your job.' That's hard to misinterpret."
"I needed you to handle things, Andrea. You knew that, even in your love stupor."
Andrea seemed only mildly offended at Miranda's phrasing. A look crossed her face, a question. "Why-?" But she bit the question back, shook her head. It still hurt her, whatever it was - it was apparent on her face.
"Say it," Miranda said.
Andrea sat back on her heels, tucked the covers around Miranda. She was still between her legs. Miranda pressed her thighs to Andrea's sides, urging her to speak. Andrea shook her head again. She blinked away tears.
Miranda sighed. "If it's not about my supposed rejection of your imaginary offer of physical comfort," she stared at her hard. Andrea looked pensive. "It's about you trying to save me from Irv and Jacqueline and one of those people that you fucked, isn't it?" It came out much colder than she intended.
Andrea looked away, but it was plain that this was it. She nodded, obviously trying to get her emotions in check.
"You were so angry last night, so focused on your role in my life then, how you were my assistant. Andrea…" She pressed her lips together, thought her words through, because she didn't have a good record with the girl, did she? "You really had no idea. Why this? Why are you not upset over the Harry Potter book? The flight I needed from Miami when the hurricane hit? Why this?"
Andrea cleared her throat. "I didn't do it as your assistant," she said. "It wasn't a task you had given me."
She was still very young. "It's as you said last night: you did it all for me, not Runway, not for yourself, not for the promise of what I would give you later; I knew that. It was obvious, because you were clear as a stream, and I could see right into you. Whether or not it's something I requested or you anticipated… You're so caught up on labeling us. You were my assistant. Things were as they were. Let's move beyond that."
Andrea took her hands and held them in her own. She nodded, looking down, feeling, no doubt, reprimanded.
Miranda sighed. "Like you telling me why you left - there is a quick way to say this, which is somewhat humiliating, and a more lengthy explanation. There was another woman, once. A woman very much like you. She even resembled you, though her looks were merely…perky and pretty, not beautiful. She was a go-getter, had been with Elias-Clarke for only a few months, and I wanted her at Runway. She was too trendy and chic to be elsewhere."
Andrea shifted. She put her arms around Miranda's knees, which were still cradling her.
"She, like Emily, was an immigrant. Both came here to work for me. Did you know that? Little Emily saved all her money to leave her family behind so she could be my assistant, and two years ago, I rewarded her very nicely for that. But Jacqueline…"
Miranda looked at her. "Oh yes, Jacqueline Follet. Whereas Emily came to New York with the express purpose of becoming my assistant and told me so up front, which is why I hired her, Jacqueline rather deliberately pretended it was all an accident, that she'd left France to make it big in New York, and she happened upon Elias-Clarke, and then stumbled upon me. Like you stumbled upon me."
Andrea shook her head. Denying she was anything like Jacqueline. Well, of course, their similarities were superficial.
"Jacqueline was in merchandising, ill-suited for it, but it was all that was available when I brought her to Runway, and she worked like a dog for it, twelve hour days on the weekends, fifteen and even twenty sometimes during the week. I was concerned about her. I would find myself checking in on her. I was, I think, a much more caring person back then. I must have been; my assistants were devoted to me; they never left. They loved me, Andrea. I had lunch with them, had them over for dinner in my home. Can you imagine?"
Miranda expected Andrea to be shocked, but the girl didn't look surprised at all. She, instead, looked sad that a younger, more trusting and caring Miranda had experienced something so painful that these qualities had been snuffed out of her like little lights.
"One night I stopped to check in on Jacqueline; I was drawn to her, as I was drawn to you. It was just the two of us, and she kissed me. I was…floored. And completely taken by it, by her, by that one kiss. She had me with it."
Andrea began looking at her warily now, wondering what lay ahead. But she said not a word, just looked at her as she always had when Miranda was imparting something of importance – like it was the two of them in a bubble, and Miranda was the only person in the world.
"I was married at the time, but it didn't stop me from having an affair. And then Jacqueline began making demands; they didn't sound like demands. I'm so thankful, Andrea, that you make yourself clear. Jacqueline constantly had me guessing. A very passive aggressive girl, unwilling to state what she wanted outright, but rather go behind, sneak around to it. Ultimately, she blackmailed me. She had videos of us together. I didn't know they existed. I suppose she hid a camera away in her bedroom. I didn't care what people thought of me, but I loved my husband, and I loved my job, so I made choices I didn't think I was capable of making. I protected those two things that I loved, and let Jacqueline have what she wanted. And thus, she went from merchandising to Editor in Chief at French Runway so quickly it would make your head spin. Because of my profound lack of judgment in becoming involved with her." She looked at the pale skin of Andrea's neck, her slender shoulders.
"Miranda, I'm so sorry-"
"This is …" Miranda tried to remember. "I don't know, the fourth? The fourth time she's tried to ruin me. I can't remember, they all run together, she always comes back for more, and she will again. She won't be happy where she is, and her partnership with James Holt won't last because James buckles under pressure, and Jacqueline keeps him in the fire at all times. I'm shocked they've lasted this long. I fully expect her to round on me any day now. It's time again."
There was a heavy silence.
Miranda said after a minute, "Freesias were Jacqueline's favorite flower. I bought them for her in abundance when I thought she loved me. I'm sure had Emily accompanied me to Paris, she would have asked for there to be no freesias. Anyone can get rid of freesias, as you said. But you…" Miranda swallowed. "I knew that you would make absolutely certain there were no freesias. Even if you didn't know why you needed to do this, you would do it. And I would feel entirely safe. You always protected me, even if you didn't know what you were protecting me from."
She cut her off with a look. "Some things that seem trivial are not. Some tasks that seem menial are the most important tasks of all. When I told you to handle the freesias, I was asking you to save me."
There was another silence. Andrea looked pained. Finally, Andrea met her eyes and said, "You're right, I misinterpreted things. All I saw was what I didn't have. I knew it when I came back and you were… nowhere. You were everywhere before, and I came back and everything was empty." She squeezed Miranda's hands and bent and kissed her gently on the lips. "It's hard for me to look ahead; I'm not a forward thinker like you, anyway. You're going to have to be patient. I dwell on things." She sat back on her heels again. "My life for the past three years has been all about me leaving you. Now I'm in your bed. I'm trying to process."
"You're young; I'm sure it will only take a few more minutes." Miranda smiled hopefully, which caused the girl to grin. She took hold of the sheet at Andrea's breasts and began untying it. "And now that you're enlightened," she said. "We'll do the things that I wish to do. Hmm?"
Andrea chuckled. "As if having a couple of orgasms bright and early isn't a great way to start the day."
"It's not bad," Miranda said, struggling with the knot. "But it could use some improvement. Less talking, for instance." Success. The sheet pulled away in her hands and she tossed it aside, and this was how she wanted to start the day: doing the things she'd wanted to do for years.
Andrea allowed Miranda to flip her over, push her down, push her legs apart, and push her fingers inside. That was first, before anything else. That was while she stared at Andrea, silently staring back up at her. The girl grimaced when Miranda was less than careful entering her, but it was difficult to show restraint when Andrea was so wet, when she'd waited so long for this. Studying her face, Miranda added another finger, pumped them, in and out, and then they found a rhythm, and as they gazed at each other, everything changed. Andrea rising to meet her as she pushed into her over and over, the girl's expressive eyes, her teeth biting her lips, the moans coming from her mouth, and then her head turning to the side, her fingers gripping the sheets, her thrusts becoming wilder, and looking up at Miranda and saying her name in that voice before closing her eyes and bucking and rippling in orgasm.
It took Miranda as long to come down from it as it did Andrea. She completely understood, now, the possessive expression on Andrea's face when she had been kneeling between Miranda's legs, the flicker of something predatory. She looked at Andrea's breasts then, and took one in her mouth, and felt the girl leap beneath her.
"Oh," she cried, putting her hand on the back of Miranda's head and arching towards her. "Miranda." Her body strained upward for contact, her breath came in gasps, and she whimpered Miranda's name over and over.
This was something entirely different. It wasn't anything a man had ever stirred in her, and Jacqueline, for all of the feelings she had aroused in Miranda, had never responded to her like this, had never whined her name like Andrea was doing now, had never elicited such overpowering desire. It was that thread, Miranda thought, that chain. She slid her hand down to Andrea's hip, bit down on her nipple, and felt the girl go off like a rocket beneath her. They kissed for a long time afterward, until Miranda impatiently slid between Andrea's thighs and began loving ministrations with her tongue.
It was some time later, she had her palm on Andrea's belly and her lips at the juncture between hip and thigh, trying to keep her mouth from the extremely sensitive areas, because Andrea had just come down from an orgasm. "Do you think you'll want variety?" Miranda asked. "Will you miss fucking a lot of people if I ask you not to?"
She was disconcerted when Andrea didn't reply immediately. She rested her head on the girl's thigh. "Why am I playing nice? Surely you don't expect it of me. I won't ask, Andrea. No one else is to touch you. No texting friends to pick you up. No dates, no fucking strangers, no one else. I will provide whatever you need, whether it's a chauffeur or a date or an orgasm. Is that clear?"
Andrea pushed Miranda's head down between her legs and she came abruptly, powerfully once Miranda's tongue touched her.
"Oh God," Andrea panted.
Miranda looked up at her. "Was that an answer?"
Andrea smiled shakily. "You're unbelievable," she said quietly. "You're better than my fantasies of you, which isn't possible." She held out her hand. "Come up here. Yes, it's clear, Your Eminence."
Miranda stole up Andrea's body and held her down and whispered "Fantasies?" in her ear, and then kissed her deeply. Andrea's legs wrapped around her and she rocked into another mini orgasm, an aftershock.
The sheet, which Andrea had wrapped around her earlier like a toga, was now brought up by the girl, who was shivering beneath her, and unfurled, and as it began settling over them like a tent, Andrea's eyes shone, "there you go, lighting tents again," she whispered, and the tears Miranda had kept at bay sprung to her eyes, shimmering until they finally trickled down.
She released emotions that were new as well as those she'd held for so long – things like wasted time, mistrust, Jacqueline's abuse, Andrea leaving her in Paris, Andrea having an orgasm, Andrea yelling at her, Andrea telling her she was in love with her.
Miranda quietly cried for things she thought she'd long forgotten, like how she'd told Andrea she was fat, things she'd forgiven of herself and others, like her harshness with her assistants and their mistakes, and for things she knew she would do that would cause pain and conflict in this new relationship. Miranda cried because she was tired, she cried because she was far older than this young woman, and she cried because she was helplessly in love with her. Andrea held her, like she'd wanted to for three years.
They slept, Miranda pressing down on her, so that she couldn't run away.