Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
The new girl is delivering the book tonight. I don't need to see her to discern which assistant she is: the tentative footsteps, the annoying amount of time it takes for her to put the dry cleaning away leave no doubt.
I had been in the kitchen, waiting. I thought it an innocuous enough place for a conversation. Unthreatening. But Andrea didn't come.
In her stead, the junior assistant, with her dirty blonde hair and sallow complexion. She trembles when I speak to her and can hardly utter my name without the fear of retribution ringing across her face. Confronted with my disappointment, she apologizes, and says that Andrea asked her to deliver the book.
This is unfortunate, I tell her.
Her eyes become wide as saucers. She stammers that it wasn't her idea, that she believes 'Andy' was busy tonight, going out for drinks with co-workers, a Friday habit.
I don't explain to her that a habit is marked by recurrences, and therefore this bar-hopping cannot be a habit, because Andrea delivers the book every night. I don't explain this to the new girl, because she won't last another month, and any instruction I give her will be wasted breath.
It's a wonder I get anything done each day, with only Andrea's help.
After some prodding, the new girl fumbles with her phone to identify the place where she believes the staff has gone for the evening. Her hair hangs down her back limply; she cannot meet my eyes. Finally, she gives me the name of a Mexican restaurant, mumbles that it's located near the office, and scuttles her hasty exit.
Not a pub crawl, then, so much as a respite. A late meal and a drink. The fact that Andrea doesn't answer her cell can only mean that she doesn't hear me over the noise of the restaurant. It's ridiculous to wait for her, to have this conversation another day, when tonight has been perfectly arranged: my calendar is empty, Stephen's gone, and the girls are at their grandparents for the weekend.
I decide to summon her by other means. I pick up the phone in the foyer once more and call Roy, the most loyal driver I've ever known, give him what little information I have, and request that he retrieve her. He doesn't ask questions or make excuses or otherwise shirk responsibility; he simply accepts the assignment.
I'll be an unpopular person at her table tonight, the butt of jokes, possibly the cause of tears. She won't want to come back to work. But this isn't work. Indeed, this is a celebration.
Will she understand, if I say nothing? If I open the door and press a glass of bubbly into her hand?
It's an amusing idea. Yet there's the possibility that this détente is something she neither knows nor cares about. She wasn't married to Stephen. She cannot imagine the potency of my relief. But champagne would be such fun.
Unless she thinks I deserve him.
It's generally believed that I do. The number of times I've overheard sympathy for him - from our friends, no less - is countless ( 'Poor Stephen - look at her, ignoring him. No wonder he drinks.'; 'I heard he drinks so much he lost his job'; 'Wouldn't you be drunk all the time if you were married to Miranda?' ).
And even though Andrea has encountered Stephen often enough to know how ugly he can be, it's possible that she's one of the majority who considers him a nice enough fellow when I'm not around ('Did you hear he has a girlfriend?' 'They say he has a lover and he's sober whenever he's with her.'; 'Wouldn't you have a girlfriend on the side if you were married to Miranda?' ).
The townhouse rises around me, serene tranquility. It was meant to be a home with a family, but that dream seems as unattainable as Virginia Woolf's lighthouse. And with the children away tonight, its loveliness has given way to stillness, a held breath, an emptiness that art doesn't fill.
No wonder he drinks.
Perhaps, instead of champagne, I'll have a pitcher of margaritas awaiting Andrea. I pick up the phone again to call my chef. She's in the midst of a soiree for her daughter's return from college, but when she hears my needs, she says she knows just the person.
A short while later, Jacob, a young, blue-haired man, is on my doorstep, backpack on his shoulder, bag in his hand, blushing from ear to ear. Blushing, despite his nose ring and eyebrow ring and lip ring. Blushing, despite his rumpled streetwise clothing. He has worked with Therese for about the same length of time Andrea has worked for me, and he's been in the townhouse several times. He heads to the kitchen to whip up a pitcher of margaritas and a simple meal.
I settle at the desk in my office and pull my checkbook from a drawer. Jacob must be paid, and Roy will have earned a tip by the time he finds Andrea and brings her to me. It occurs to me that Roy may fail - she may have gone home or taken her Friday night merriment elsewhere by the time he arrives at the restaurant - but if that's the case, I'll simply continue calling her until she's in a quiet enough location that she can respond.
It's unclear to me when Andrea became so important. She's bewitching in the way that only a young woman can be. Lately, when she catches me looking at her, she stares right back with eyes so full of longing that I find it difficult to maintain eye contact. But it's no longer necessary to look away.
I don't know when Andrea became essential to me; I only know she was supposed to deliver the book tonight, but she did not. I try focusing on it - the mockup of Runway. It's here, in my hands, and the house is quiet, with Therese's young man making remote noises in the kitchen. I have everything I need to work, but it seems that even my assistant's pending presence is distracting. It's a wonder I get anything done each day, with only Andrea's help.
Jacob is beginning to infuse the townhouse with ordinary scents of a home-cooked meal - onions and peppers - when the doorbell rings. I drop the book on the table where the girl left it, where I should have left it to begin with, for as much work as I've accomplished.
Roy, however, has been intensely focused on his goal. It's been an hour since I called him, but he's quicker than I thought, given Friday night traffic and road construction mid-route. Another thing I admire about the man: his efficiency.
He's at the door with Andrea, double-parked, engine running, glancing back at the street, at someone blaring their horn. I press an envelope into his hand for his extra trouble. "No trouble at all, Miranda," he says, which is what he always says. Roy receives disproportionately large Christmas bonuses from me each year. Not only carting around my assistants, clients and the occasional frock, but also my daughters, from time to time. Precious cargo.
Andrea frowns, glassy-eyed, but she doesn't seem to be upset, merely trying to focus. "Is everything okay?" she inquires, her voice kind.
I open the door wider and let her in. She's wearing a wonderfully vivid makeshift dress - a scenic wraparound screen print tunic from H&M or its ilk - barely long enough to be a respectable mini. It's a throwback to the 1970s, the image like a gaudy motivational poster: the sky at sunset, two silhouettes on a bridge. Andrea has it cinched, has her three-quarter sleeves cuffed with wide bangles. I found myself staring at it all day; it's cheap, charming and thoughtful. This from the girl who doesn't care about fashion. "You didn't deliver the book," I tell her.
"Did she bring it?" she asks, suddenly sounding alert. She's striding over to the table in her tall yellow sandals - nothing cheap about them, confiscated from Runway's closet - but it's there. She opens the hall closet to check the dry cleaning and then closes it. "Oh good. Gah, you worried me." And she smiles, her relief apparent.
"I didn't want her to deliver the book. If I did, I'd have instructed you that we were making new arrangements. Did I?"
She shakes her head, apprehensive again.
"I don't let just anyone come into my home," I remind her.
"Um, Miranda?" We are interrupted by Therese's assistant. He saunters out of the kitchen, backpack over his shoulder. "You're all set. The drinks are in the fridge, and I put dinner on the island. If you're gonna be a while, I'll put it in the warmer."
"That won't be necessary, Jacob," I let him know, and walk him to the door, ignoring Andrea's silly grin. Her mirthful gaze lights on his iridescent hair, his many piercings. The young man is asking if he can set the dining room table for me even as I hand him the envelope containing his payment and usher him out. I thank him for the short notice. His dinner won't be on the same par as Therese's, but I hope it's at least as good as it smells.
Andrea's standing with a hand on her hip now. "You let him come into your home," she says, and I smell the alcohol on her breath. Her glassy eyes should have given it away earlier, but they look the same when she's especially tired, and it's been a long week. I wonder how much of her dinner involved eating.
"He doesn't have a key."
She nods slowly. "Okay… No key for Lexi."
"You are to deliver the book, no one else. Why didn't you deliver it tonight?" I lead her to the kitchen. Andrea doesn't answer, and I look at her carefully under the stronger lights at the island. "She said you were with other Runway employees."
For once, Andrea's eyes dart from my gaze. "I went out with Em and Serena and the others. I needed… I needed it after this week," she says.
I'm not sure what kind of week Andrea had, but, until tonight, mine wasn't good. Mine was rife with budget meetings, disappointing designers, and an assistant who was increasingly distracted and who seemed upset. It's unclear precisely what happened, but two days ago, Andrea took a call, proceeded to walk out the door, and came back an hour later, eyes red and swollen. The new girl was at her side immediately, hammering her with questions: was she okay, what could she do to help, what happened?
Not one to become involved with employees - preferring that their personal lives be left at home - I'm nevertheless affected as anyone else to see someone I work with so obviously upset. Andrea's face, in particular, is merely a window; she's that transparent. But I felt my interference would only upset her further. I did look up to find her watching me at some point, teary eyed. Though if she wanted to talk to me, she never did.
I've never known a way to bridge this gap between us; it's only there because of work. We have nothing in common, only the office in which we both appear each day. For me, it's my life. For her, a paycheck. I find this disparity increasingly difficult to abide.
Jacob had left plates, utensils and napkins neatly stacked on the island. I pick and choose from his offering, preparing a small helping of grilled steak and vegetables, rejecting the tortillas, salsa, rice, sour cream, chips and guacamole. I'm not terribly bothered by the uninspired meal. This may very well be the kind of food Andrea prefers. "I suspect I interrupted your dinner."
Andrea glances around. "Are you here alone?"
When I nod, she seems to relax. She smiles again. "You're never alone," she says.
"Join me if you haven't eaten," I suggest.
She doesn't even hesitate, which is unremarkable - I've found that Andrea snatches up any invitation from me, these days. Not like it was with Paris, when I had to remind her that if she was serious about her job, she'd accompany me. These days, she escorts me everywhere. I suspect I could ask her to the Met's gala next week as my date, and she wouldn't bat an eyelash.
But I don't know her reasons for assuming a place at my side for the previews, interviews, run-throughs and shows. Does it spring from a sense of duty or desire? I only know that when I require both assistants in attendance, Andrea situates herself so that we flank her, like she's a buffer or a bodyguard.
I always assume it's me that she's trying to protect, but I'm not one to become involved with employees, and I find this disparity also increasingly difficult to abide.
She takes the other plate, then remarks on the food. "That's so funny. I was at a Mexican restaurant when Roy picked me up." She prepares a fajita with rice, chips and salsa on the side, and sets her plate opposite mine at the breakfast table. She's pulling the pitcher of margaritas from the refrigerator when it hits her. She freezes, holding the pitcher, turning towards me. "You knew."
I glance at her and go back to my meal. I'm famished, not having had time for lunch today. And there's the profound relief of Stephen's absence and Andrea's presence that's making the stress of the week seep away, further fueling my appetite. I may join her for a margarita. Que la fête commence.
She strides over to me, holding the pitcher. "You knew," she says again. "You knew where I was and everything. You had Roy pick me up. You knew where I was."
"Everyone knew where you were; the entire office goes to this establishment on Fridays, apparently. Does it not?"
She doesn't answer, but looks at me steadily, one of her I can see right through you, Miranda Priestly looks. I've grown rather fond of them, particularly as she's known me long enough for the looks to now hold weight. They were slightly preposterous and a bit unnerving back when she started working for me.
"Will you join me for a drink?" she asks, unblinking.
I give a short nod.
"Okay, then." She blinds me with a promising smile and pours for us, hand trembling. And that pull between us, tight most days, is palpable; it's a wire pulled taut.
She leaves the pitcher on the table and eats with one hand on her glass, sipping daintily at first, then she begins to drink deeply. Jacob had thoughtfully chilled two salt-rimmed glasses, limes and lemons. Andrea turns the glass each time she drinks from it, so as to get a hit of the salt. "I really can't picture you eating fajitas," she chatters, licking the rim.
I take a forkful of meat and grilled peppers and proceed to chew ostentatiously. I've never known a way to bridge this gap between us. It's only there because of work.
She grins at my display but merely pokes at her plate, seeming to have more interest in the alcohol. "Did you bring me here just because of the book?"
The margarita is quite good. Tart and smooth and brimming with tequila. The salt, I could do without. "I'd like to know why you walked out of the office Wednesday." A little frisson of something had blinked through me when she'd done that. Like Paris, when she walked off. I hadn't expected her to return then, either.
Her eyes flash up to me, then away once more. She refills her glass, and glances at mine before setting the pitcher down again. She knows me well enough to realize I'll grow tired of my margarita before I finish it, alcohol never being my preferred drink when there are things to attend to.
"I made up any time I missed."
"I didn't question your work ethic."
She stares into her glass. "This is good," she says quietly, taking time to taste it.
I wait her out.
"I had a bad day," she finally admits. It's weak, though, even to her own ears, and she sighs. "My boyfriend broke up with me."
I wasn't aware that she had one, and this gaping hole in my knowledge sets me back for a moment. She had a lover.
She works such long hours, and I tend to call on her with more frequency than the other girl or even my colleagues' assistants - I call Andrea instead of Nigel's assistant when I need to know something about his layout; Andrea instead of Eva's assistant if I want to know something about the beauty products in the issue; Andrea instead of Irv's assistant when I need a pivot chart of Runway's figures this month versus last month. I always call Andrea. When has she had time for anything but work?
But she had a boyfriend. And now he is gone.
"It's difficult to maintain a relationship when one is dedicated to her career," I say quietly. I should say:'There are many more where he came from.' I could say: 'You'll recover quickly.' I want to say: 'Good; I'm glad he left. Focus on me.'
Her expression is one of gratitude, and the words rush out now. "He left while I was in Paris with you last year, and when I came back he had this whole spiel about Boston and how great it was going to be for his career. I swear to god, I was so supportive of him, when he's been bashing me for months over how much time I'm away from home." She takes a breath and gulps her margarita.
Her face is animated. I wonder if it's because she needed to get it off her chest - but I rather doubt it. A cheerful, kind girl, Andrea has a busload of friends, I'm certain. Which makes me then wonder if she's relieved, for some reason, to be relating all of this to me in particular.
"So he took the job, and we've been seeing each other on weekends. But… he's been so condescending, still. Still, when he moved to another freaking state for his career, and all I've ever done is work late." She rubs condensation from her glass with her fingertip and becomes lost in thought.
"Yet it upset you that he broke things off on Wednesday?"
Her quick gaze is emotional. She latches onto whatever she sees when she looks at me, and she stares, her heart on her face. "He gave me an ultimatum," she says, her voice dipping as it does when she's upset. I became very familiar with this tone of voice in Paris last year. Her disappointment in me.
Andrea's illusions of publishing had already been ruined, not just by Runway, but by Christian Thompson. But that week her perception of me was also spoiled, and I fell off the little pedestal she held me on. I almost felt like apologizing for letting her down, but it was important that she see how women are treated in business. It's a merciless world, not meant for the naïve.
I bet I know the ultimatum her boyfriend gave her. "Did he ask you move with him, to Boston? Or just to leave Runway?"
Her eyes seek mine again, and they're shiny with gathering tears. She swallows and blinks them away rapidly, as if afraid to cry in front of me. She's done it before, and I'm sure she doesn't want to relive the experience. I don't take well to tears, especially at work. "Not just Runway ," she says huskily. "You."
I mull this over, but really, it's not surprising. Am I not the figurehead on the ship?
"I was so angry and - and -" She licks salt from the rim of her glass. "I had encouraged him to follow his dreams and why couldn't he do that for me? Isn't that what you're supposed to do for somebody you love?" She lifts the glass and drinks until it's empty.
"But Runway isn't your dream," I say. Oh, if it were. If it were, I could have many plans for her. I know just where I'd put her - with Nigel for a while to learn - and then on to her true love. I could give her blank pages every month and let her write to her heart's content. But this isn't her dream - fashion. She thinks it a little pathetic, I believe. She thinks me a little pathetic. So caught up in what she views as mere clothing. Not art, but apparel, as if Runway is a catalog.
She blinks her long lashes at me, seeming confused. Granules of salt cluster in the corner of her mouth, and with no thought to what I'm doing, I reach over and brush them away with my thumb. Her lashes flutter at my touch, and everything stops at the sight. My thumb stops; my heart stops for a moment. With her plump lips and tousled hair, her pale skin and dark eyes, her expression open as a palm, she's bewitching in the way that only a young woman can be: resilient but tender, willing to shatter for love.
Andrea looks at me, guilelessly sultry, so sensual that I might cross a line tonight. Judging from her response to my touch, I might have already crossed a line. I brush her lips again, and then her cheek, and forcibly remove my hand.
"You're wrong," she sighs, lustrous hair falling in her face.
I can't, for the life of me, remember what I'm wrong about. I'm wondering how it came to be that this woman whom I brought to my home tonight is somehow luring me, steadfastly.
She reaches across the table and traces her fingertip over the side of my ring, black silver twisted into filigree patterns, mimicking lace. She stares at the face of it - a bit of lava rock, carved into a cameo of Thetis - like she would a crystal ball. It's not a ring of significance, just an ornament, which triggers my failing memory. "Your dream isn't to work for Runway," I protest.
She continues rubbing my ring and says slowly and deliberately, "I think my dream is working for you." She punctuates her statement with a casual but intentional lifting of her eyes so that she looks into mine.
Andrea could charm anyone, I realize. I could be anyone sitting here, falling under her spell. She's a heterosexual girl who just broke up with her boyfriend, and she's experiencing a crush on her boss. What's happening right now is as preposterous as her looks were that very first week she stepped into my life; those looks that said: You can't fool me, Miranda Priestly; I've got your number.
"No one's dream is working for me," I tell her. "Not once they've tried it."
A wary expression flickers in her eyes, then she gives a sidelong smile. "You're tough," she admits, tapping the cameo. "But I swear, I learned more from you in four months than I did in four years of college. I feel like I've got my graduate degree now." Her eyes wink seductively. "Specialized doctorate in Runway magazine."
"You don't care about fashion," I remind her.
A frown gently crinkles her face. "Is that what you think? I mean… still? After I… I've tried to show you. Huh. I guess I don't have a talent for it." She bites her lip and looks dismayed.
I seem to be steering things in an altogether wrong direction. I'd rather entice her to a more comfortable place and sink down into whatever she pulls me into tonight. She, who can drown businesswomen with the casual fluttering of eyelashes.
I want to tell her about Stephen - that he's gone. I want to tell her that I didn't have to cave to any of his wishes; I wore him down, finally. He, who made a habit of embarrassing me, even amongst our friends. Wouldn't you be drunk all the time if you were married to Miranda?
Blindsiding me with his demand for a divorce during fashion week last year was the most grandiose of the many humiliations I endured in the name of my family. Was it something to toss aside so nonchalantly? Is a family not worth working for?
All I asked was that Stephen make an effort before he go to such drastic measures. Is that more than anyone asks when faced with divorce? Is that not what marriage counselors suggest? That we all try?
Stephen did not try very hard. The drinking continued, and then the women. When I didn't readily grant him the divorce he wanted, he chose revenge - living in my home in appearance only. Drinking and carousing until he lost his job. I suppose hitting rock bottom was the wakeup call he truly needed - as if divorce wasn't that alarm. And suddenly he was sober, and living with another woman, coming home only occasionally, to pick up mail, or clothes, or to see the girls.
And then our friends had more to talk about, hadn't they? His cause for drinking was readily apparent - whenever we spent more than a few minutes together, he pulled out the scotch and a glass. I always could tell how long he would be staying with us by the quality of scotch he drank. Dinner with Cassidy, Caroline and me, and he'd bring out bottles he paid several hundred dollars for - Dalmore, an old Glenlivet. But if he was staying longer, it would be Chivas or Johnny Walker.
If demanding divorce during the pinnacle of my year was the most grandiose of Stephen's embarrassments, then the ever-present bottle of Johnny Walker was his crowning feat in my complete humiliation: my dream of a home and family was the very thing that drove him away.
Or perhaps it was just me.
His decision to finally move out today should have been the ultimate disgrace. Instead, the relief was so profound I was almost giddy. I didn't know how to celebrate. And then I thought of this one, staring at me now with eyes full of longing. Staring at me like this, when she sees me all day, often short-tempered and always too busy for her.
She's not eating, and I'm ready to move on with the evening, so I rise from the table, wishing to take this upstairs. But one glance at her discouraged face and I realize there's more discussion in store. "Finished?" I ask her.
She looks at me absently, her mind still on what I've said rather than what I've asked, and I begin putting the remainder of our meal away. Juanita will clean in the morning, but I cannot bear food left to spoil, though I'm not one for leftovers, nor are my daughters. Juanita often gladly takes what we don't care for.
Andrea is by my side in the blink of an eye, quietly persisting her internal debate. She assists me in clearing away the food, and then stands uncertainly as the last dish is placed in the refrigerator. Between the minidress and her Louboutins, her pale legs look especially long tonight. She catches me looking at them, and then she says, "Thanks for dinner," with finality, as if she's leaving.
I grab her wrist. "Stay. Let's continue our discussion. You're trying to convince me that you're really interested in fashion, I believe, when I was certain you had loftier plans for yourself." I keep my tone light and self-mocking - kitchens should be innocuous enough places for conversation, unthreatening.
She looks at me steadily, one of her penetrating gazes, and twists her wrist under my grip, so that her hand catches mine. Her hold is firm. "I don't remember you ever wanting to talk to me about me," she says. Her shoes have such high heels that she peers down into my eyes. "Except in Paris."
Paris, when Stephen decided divorce was an option easier to live with than me. Paris, when Irv decided Jacqueline was an option easier to live with than me. Paris, when Andrea decided anything, anyone, anywhere was an option easier to live with than me. How I talked her into staying, I'm not sure. I just dialed her number, and she answered.
"Let's go upstairs," I suggest.
"This is starting to feel like a date," she quips.
There's nothing I can say to that which won't lead to trouble, so I pull from her grip and leave the room, taking the back stairway up.
"Are there more to come?" Andrea asks behind me. "Can we have date night every Friday?" Her voice has a smile in it. "I promise to dress better next time."
I turn so quickly she stops short. "This," I tell her, touching the sleeve of her shirt dress. "Is perfectly acceptable."
Her lips part and her eyes dip down to my fingers and take their time traveling up to my face, catching as they do, on my cardigan, twisted into a knot at the waist - not my doing, but the designer's. "For date night?" she asks.
"Don't mock me."
She smiles in a wistful way. Her voice is soft. "I'm not. I wouldn't."
The back stairway is narrow and windowless and although we've been alone all this time, we now seem secluded. My fingers, holding her shirt dress, close into a fist, and brush against her arm. "Did your boyfriend not find it worth his while to take the train?" I refrain from touching her further, but she's leaning toward me, as if she'd let me, as if she wants me to.
"Boston is full of girls," she says quietly.
"What will you do when he realizes that none of them are you and he wants you back?"
She leans in and says into my ear: "Tell him I'm still devoted to you."
I'm hardly cognizant of her pulling away and gliding past me up the stairs. I'm still in that moment of warm breath tickling my skin, marveling at how this young woman, whom I invited into my home for a simple celebration, has lured me instead, like a siren.
"Gotta pee," she tosses behind her, and, apparently intimately knowledgeable with the townhouse, heads down the hall to the closest washroom.
I pour myself a tumbler of water at the bar in the upper living room, and take the sofa. When the clack of her heels resounds, I'm quite lost in thought - all about her - and realize eventually that it's grown quiet. I glance up to see her in the doorway. There's a look on her face, a combined shyness and awareness that's heady. She's bewitching in the way that young women can be: disillusioned but hopeful, wanting love to be a white hot flame.
The space between us is searing when her gaze locks with mine. I realize my mistake; she had expected me to take us up another flight of stairs, to my bedroom. She was thinking in sexual terms when she suggested we were on a date. And I assumed she needed further seduction. But then, she's been a nymph all evening. I merely had a haphazard plan.
She's self-conscious as she walks to the wet bar, picking up a glass and reaching for the tequila. I caution her. "Is this what you do after work - drink?"
Andrea turns to me, full body, her stance seductive, expression petulant, taking in my frown. She makes a point of placing the glass back on the bar where she found it and stalking over to me, pulling my glass from my hand and sniffing its contents. She then takes a swallow. I can't help but chuckle at her blatant display. "Disappointed?" I ask.
She hands it back to me, and doesn't sit, but stands beside the coffee table. I'm right in the middle of the small sofa, two pillows on either side, but there's plenty of room for her small frame.
Andrea moves closer, and I see what has captured her attention. The neoclassical built-in bookcases in the upper living room hold more than eight hundred books. Her eyes scan the spines - many of them are related to art and design, architecture and fashion. Most of what I assume she'd be interested in - my literary collection - is downstairs, in the library.
"You always surprise me," she says after a minute of silence. She turns and looks at the sole bookcase on the other wall, flanked by the fireplace and Kitaj painting on one side and balcony doors on the other. She merely glances at the Alexander Calder stabile as she passes it; my art is remarkable, but she only has eyes for the books.
This bookcase is one that people seldom puzzle through, at a glance. Its contents seem arbitrary, I suppose, but those who know me well should catch on if they put their minds to it. This bookcase houses - almost entirely - books written by friends and colleagues. The shelves can hold about twenty books each; there are seven shelves, and the bookcase is full. Some books are even stacked on their sides, because I've run out of room.
I've considered removing the anomalies - the books written by family members - in order to make more space. Several collections of my father's and grandfather's essays, two volumes of my brother's poetry, and about a dozen books of lyrics written by the girls' father clutter the shelves. His books were self-published and given as gifts to the girls when they were too young to enjoy them. I think perhaps, they're still too young, though they pull them down and read them from time to time.
"Oh my god," Andrea says. She had been touching the spines of these very volumes and now has cracked one open. I put my water down and cross the room to join her. "These are all people you know," she says, glancing at me and then up at all the shelves. "Donald Trump, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Annie Leibovitz, your husband."
She puts the book back and picks another, opening the cover to see whether or not it has been personalized. When she ascertains that it has, she doesn't pry long enough to read the inscription, merely picks another, and does the same. Then her eyes return to the family shelf, and light on my brother's poetry. "So cool," she says quietly. She pulls one of his books, handling it as if it's ancient and brittle. She doesn't look for an inscription, but turns the pages, instead, to the middle, and reads his short, stark verse.
I feel lightheaded, and consider opening the balcony door, but the evening is warm and I don't want to let in the noise from the street. It's as if she has sauntered into my closet, and is now investigating my lingerie drawer, taking special care with the garments she finds. But no, this is more dear than that. I need air, but instead of the street noise, I prefer to hear her careful turn of the next page, her little sigh and uttered 'wow'. I'd rather sink down into whatever she pulls me into tonight. She, who can drown businesswomen.
"Where's your book?" she asks, putting my brother's away.
"I haven't written one, which if you'd done any research when you were hired…"
She cuts me off with a look. "I was being facetious," she admits. "You need to write one." With her dark eyes and penetrating gaze, she's bewitching in the way that a young woman can be: quick and discerning - sizing up the world around her in a glance, making judgments in a Facebook nanosecond. Deciding what's important and sinking her claws into it, while letting everything else slip past. "When's that gonna happen?" she asks, her eyes piercing me.
The pitcher of margaritas in the refrigerator downstairs seems very inviting right now. It's not that Andrea is more than I expected, it's that the intensity between us is more. I had wanted an explanation about her Wednesday walk-off. I wanted to know if I had caused it, and if so, the reason that she returned. I wanted to do that; I planned to do that. But my imagination ran amuck as soon as I sent Roy after her. I envisioned seducing her into an evening of light banter and mindless sex to celebrate. Just one night. But it hasn't been light, the sex won't be mindless, and she's done the seduction. I feel almost weak, and certainly like I'm being directed. Exactly what I had wished but not what I had foreseen. It won't be an enjoyable frolic, not something we can share and leave easily in the past.
"Perhaps one day," I tell her.
"Huh. Perhaps." She rolls her eyes. "You need to write one." She's eyeing the books again, and her gaze catches on the same thing mine does.
"I see Cassidy has been careless." Most likely not Caroline, at any rate, who loathes reading. Cassidy has left a rare book on this bookcase, when it should be shelved in the library. I pull down the custom made archival box that houses it and hand it to Andrea.
She stares at the title on the box. It was handcrafted to hold one thing - a first edition of Mrs. Dalloway. I don't like keeping it hidden away; I prefer art to be accessible. Of course, this is partially why I find fashion so appealing - there's the exhilaration of experiencing art that I find often elevates me to a greater realm: it's hard to be bored when a one-of-a-kind creation is on one's back, threads still loose in spots.
I don't like keeping Mrs. Dalloway locked up, but nor do I want the cover to fade or the pages to become brittle. Unlike my art, I don't have enough rare books to warrant contracting a professional to routinely inspect and maintain them. "You may open it, if you'd like," I tell her.
She looks at me, face awash in awe; cradling the box in her hands, she opens the lid, and remains transfixed.
"I believe Woolf wanted people to hold it, and possibly turn the pages," I say to her quietly, with fondness.
She slowly takes the book from the box and opens the cover. She's as gentle as if she's holding a baby bird. After staring at the title page, she closes the book once more. "She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone," she murmurs, reciting from memory. She replaces the book in the box, the box on the shelf. "Have you ever read it?"
I guess she thinks me merely a collector of fine things. Irritation flashes through me. How can she think that, when just this morning she handed me my Prada handbag so that I could remove from it my vintage Versace reading glasses? Handmade, these items, not from a factory. I stalk back to the sofa and sit. My art is what I wear, it's what I utilize, it's where I live, what I read, and yes, what I look at. I don't want to answer her - I don't need to answer her - though I feel compelled to.
She follows and stands, biting her lip, and then she sits opposite me, right on the coffee table, as if it's a chair. She's dangerously close to the glass of water, the vase of flowers, the hand-blown Chihuly basket with its vibrant glass seaforms. There are more books here, atop the coffee table, and beneath. Would I have all of these books if I didn't read them?
"Of course you have," she says.
I can quote entire sections of it as she can. I know the complete passage on loneliness that she'd begun, and I prove it to her by continuing it. "She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day."
I've been staring at my lap, but I can see her smile in my peripheral vision. Her entire body relaxes. When I look up, I find her eyes are dancing. "You amaze me," she says, looking right at my angry face, acknowledging it and smiling at it gently. No need to be upset, her smile says. I think you're perfect and beautiful, like the book, her eyes seem to say.
She removed her lipstick earlier, I realize, when she was in the bathroom. She had come in with it on, and now her lips are bare. I reach out once more, no salt for an excuse to brush them now, and I rub my thumb over them. Her lashes close, dark on her pale skin, and she leans into my touch.
Withdrawing my hand, I wish I had something to hold, so that I'll keep from touching her until I can do so when I have some semblance of control. "I do read, you know. Even though I'm simply the editor of a fashion magazine, something you seem to hold in contempt."
Her lips quirk. "You know I don't." When she sees the look on my face, she begins her case. "I admire fashion. Really. Your dress is…" She gestures. "Well, I don't know the words, but it looks unbelievable on you."
It's a Jason Wu, so vividly pink it looks like a hothouse flower. The sparkling cerise strips crisscrossing over the bodice keep it modern and crisp. It's form-fitting and sleeveless, and falls just above my knee. The top of it is concealed by a burgundy Nina Ricci sweater, one of Peter Copping's creations. It's thin, crewneck - and I've got it buttoned all the way - with tight arms and that unusual twist at the waist. Gladiator sandals on my feet designed by Sandra Choi over at Jimmy Choo. A very date-night outfit, but for the cardigan - my life preserver, should she decide that sleeping with someone twice her age a bit of a joke.
There's much to say about my outfit, but she rubs her lips together and gazes at it carefully. "It looks like summer. We match. Well, not match," she says, glancing down at her short tunic, at the silhouettes of lovers on a bridge and the intense pink sunset behind them. "But we go together." She looks up and beams at me as if she's said something profound.
But she's right. Our outfits each harken to summer, in different ways. Hers has smaller splashes of deep color, while mine is intense from hem to hem. Hers is playful while mine is bold.
I touch the hem of her blouse-dress. "A nice, sardonic statement. All the more satirical with your snappy heels and bangles."
She grins. "You get it. Oh - well, of course you get it - I just mean… I mean, I didn't know if I pulled it off. See? I told you I was trying."
"Fashion isn't important to you, Andrea. You haven't convinced me. You can't even find the words to describe my own very simple outfit."
She becomes serious now, leaning forward, palms on the coffee table. She's entirely focused on her answer, and after a minute, it comes. "I mean… You did what you always do with what you wear… you're enticing. You entice people. You wear something really revealing or sexy and then hide it with a bit of this or -" she gestures to the cardigan. "A bit of that."
"That doesn't tell me a thing about what I'm wearing."
"I don't know," she sighs. "You look inaccessible, like you always do. Not out in the garden with the rest of the flowers, but behind glass, inaccessible."
"You're in my home, sitting on my coffee table. I'm hardly inaccessible." She smiles, but I frown. "Flowers?"
"Ooh," she shivers. "Déjà vu. You wanna hear something funny? I dreamt one time that we were married." Her voice is soft and she stares at me intently, as if very curious to my reaction.
"Oh, a nightmare."
A quicksilver smile. "It was not."
"Really? You mean I didn't show up late for dinner or miss our children's recitals or other important events?" I arch my eyebrow.
She chuckles and shakes her head.
"You weren't hanging up on me, yelling at me in the office, storming out of the house, threatening divorce?"
"Didn't I leave you feeling unappreciated, under-valued, like a lesser human being? Did you not turn to alcohol or drugs or other women to ease your profound pain?"
Andrea laughs for a minute, bending, shaking her head, eyes squinting closed. Her hair falls like a veil around her face.
"Oh." I watch her, and the things I've just said reverberate in the room as she calms, brushing the hair away, wiping away tears that had leaked from her eyes when she was laughing. Our children. Our. Us. Me and Andrea - this very young woman with whom I foolishly decided to frolic in shallow waters, but who has lured me, like a siren, into the deep.
A few years ago Nigel and I had an eye-opening conversation in which he insisted that I need a wife. A young woman to fuss over you and take care of you at home. Someone to be there waiting for you. Raise your children. Someone you can dress up.
At the time, I could only imagine wafer thin models, backbiting colleagues, insipid society matrons.
The siren blinks her wet lashes at me. "We were coming home from dinner. I followed you inside-" she gestures. "But you disappeared. I kept looking for you, and every room I walked into seemed to be the same room, with a small table and a vase of flowers. It was frustrating and then I woke up." Her look is gentle. "I tried to go back to sleep so I could find you."
"But you never did."
She shakes her head.
"You see me every day. I'm hardly elusive."
"You're so elusive, Miranda. You know you are."
The way she says my name, the mild reprimand to her tone, sends chills up my arms. "I'm right here," I challenge her.
Those are the magic words. She leans in to kiss me, finally, but it doesn't last long. It's erotic and soft and chaste, making my legs weak, but she pulls away after only a moment. She's breathless, yet recovers extraordinarily quickly. I'm still finding my footing. I stare at her bare lips, so plump and sensual. "If I'd known this was a date, I'd have dressed for it," she says. "Like you did." She waggles her eyebrows at me.
"You keep referring to it as a date, Andrea, when I don't believe-"
"It's so a date," she says happily. "You interrupted my dinner and brought me all the way here just to wine and dine me. But… I don't date married people." She kisses my cheek. "Not even you."
She seems quite pleased with herself, her smile flippant, her tone jovial. I look away, pressing my lips together before I say the first thing that runs across my mind, which is something along the lines of "cock tease".
"Don't be upset, Miranda." She peers into my eyes. "When my boyfriend left the first time, it was because of you. Then that still wasn't good enough. He still felt like you were coming between us, and he wanted me to choose between you and him. I chose you. I'd rather be your employee, I guess, than his girlfriend." She bites her lip. "Than anyone's girlfriend."
I grab for her and we kiss again, this time passionately. I don't realize I'm clawing at her shoulders until she squirms in my grasp. "Surely, you're kidding," I tell her. She must feel the charge between us. She has to. "Stephen's gone. It's done."
A Cheshire smile crawls across her face. "Am I really supposed to believe that?" She lifts her eyebrows. "Kind of convenient timing, telling me when you're trying to seduce me."
"Yes, it's quite convenient. Now, if we could have a moment of silence…" I lean and kiss her, languorously deep, pulling her into my lap.
The last time I kissed a young person's lips, I was a young person myself. Hers are achingly soft, and she kisses emotively, with gentle direction, as if I'm a student and she the teacher; she kisses, too, with slight admonishment, as if I'm a wayward student at that, who needs scolding.
Her lips are cloud-soft, her kisses like puffs, as she pulls away. "I think this is what you brought me here for, isn't it?" she says, reproaching me for being so wicked as to seduce her. She thinks me the immoral, married woman.
When I don't respond - because I've decided that anything that doesn't lead to further seduction is wasted breath - she taps her lips once and then draws her finger across them in a gesture that looks intimately familiar. And she had looked me right in the eye when she said she never mocks me. "You have this history of picking people entirely wrong for you. And I'm entirely right for you. You realize that, right?" She brushes her lips across my cheekbone. "So, if you're really divorced, you've got a wrench thrown in there somewhere." She nuzzles my ear. "What's the catch?"
"No catch. Let's celebrate our mutual liberation," I offer. Not wanting to scare her away, I add: "Just tonight."
She pulls back, all the way back to the coffee table, knocking the Chihuly, which rights itself, though she doesn't notice. Her frown isn't about the tinkle of art which could have shattered. Her frown is aimed at me. "Just tonight?" A kaleidoscope of emotions crosses her face. "Oh. I'm the celebration fuck. And then it's back to business as usual." She swallows. "I see." She tentatively touches my dress, at the hem, and rubs it between her finger and thumb. She looks at it, when she speaks. "I don't think..." Her smile is tremulous. "Sorry. Can't do that. Even if it's you."
I remember a young woman knocking on my hotel room door who smelled of sex and Christian Thompson's unfortunate cologne. At the time, I thought she was unattached. She's made exceptions in the past. Is her rejection because I'm a woman or her boss?
"Miranda," she begins in her husky voice. "I know…" She looks at me, and during the time that our eyes lock, something in her gaze changes. She touches my face then looks down once more. "Can I see your dress?" The sweet fall and rise of lashes as she looks from the skirt of my dress to the knot of my cardigan. "I mean, I know you covered it up for a reason."
I'm not about to undress for her. She can continue leading if she wants. "Yes."
She waits for a moment, watching my face, then tentatively puts her hands to the twist at the bottom of my cardigan. The twist adds visual interest, when my dress is obviously screaming for attention beneath - so pink it's flaming. She looks at the knot as she figures out how to untie it, and she carefully proceeds, pulling the ends open, then moving upward, unbuttoning. Her hands tremble slightly but that's the only thing that gives away her nerves. She's steady otherwise, pressing against my legs, though she doesn't wink at me seductively while she unbuttons the cardigan; she attentively focuses on what she's doing.
Once it's undone, she holds it open, and I see that she's unprepared for the sight - a dress with no cleavage, simply a rounded neckline. "Frustrated?" I ask her, smirking, thinking of her dream.
She smiles. "No. Surprised, though. I thought you were covering up."
"I was," I tell her.
She looks me in the eye, puzzled.
"If you have any interest in fashion, you'll figure it out."
She doesn't seem to hear me, looking instead, like a woman in an Audrey Hepburn movie who has been ruined by horrible news. "I know you're not divorced, Miranda."
When I don't speak, she continues, trying to assess whatever I'm thinking. "Don't you think I'd know? I mean, almost as soon as you? I see all your mail, take all your calls… Stephen wanted a divorce last year, and you've been stalling ever since."
I tilt her chin. "I don't believe I said the divorce was finalized."
It's as if someone has played a joke on her, for the look on her face: just when Audrey Hepburn thought it was bad, it got worse. "You're right."
I had merely brought her here this evening to answer questions. And then a little dalliance. It was working out better than I had hoped, or so I had thought. But now I'm back at square one, and find myself undertaking a new project: wooing her. Seemingly easy, considering that she's willing to give up her sex life in order to at least see me every day, in some capacity, this sexual girl. Seemingly easy, considering how she looks at me in utter adoration. Perhaps not easy at all, considering she's my employee, and I don't take well to tears, especially at work.
"He officially moved out today," I tell her.
She nods slowly, her gaze elsewhere. She swallows repeatedly, like she's trying to keep from crying. Her eyes are shiny. "I should be grateful, take the opportunity, right? It'll never happen again." She won't meet my gaze. "I mean, it's obvious I'm crazy about you, I'm sure you know. Everybody knows. It's no big secret."
Something warm blossoms in my chest. She's bewitching in the way that a young woman can be: tremulous but fierce, both a lamb and a lion.
"But, I can't. Sorry." She kisses me quickly on the cheek. "Even if he moved out. He'll come back. Who wouldn't come back to you?"
Who wouldn't come back to me?It occurs to me for the first time that I've surrounded myself with the wrong people. My friends shouldn't include wafer thin models, backbiting colleagues, insipid society matrons.
Wouldn't you have a girlfriend on the side if you were married to Miranda? Poor Stephen - look at her, ignoring him. No wonder he drinks.
I cannot imagine Andrea uttering these things. Or - Emily. Emily has always looked at me with such admiration, and at Stephen with such disdain. I remember Andrea distracting Irv from Stephen's drunken display at a gala. I recall Serena - never my assistant, but always an attentive girl - fetching my coat at a charity benefit when Stephen abruptly left in our car. She quietly informed me that my assistant had called Roy, who was on his way.
Not one to become involved with employees - preferring that their personal lives be left at home - I find this disparity difficult to abide.
But I've never known a way to bridge this gap between us. "In my experience, Andrea, lovers are a dime a dozen, but a good assistant is hard to find. One night and then back to business, as you said."
"I don't… a dime a dozen?"
"Hmm…" I wag a finger at her. "Lovers come and go."
"I'm not like that. No. No wait, listen," she says at my tut-tutting finger. "I may not be Ms. Society Girl and you may not think I have anything to offer a relationship, but I'm loyal and honest, and I give everything I have to the people I love. I don't come and go. I'm a good person; I'm nice; I'll be there for you when you're sick. I'd never embarrass you in public. I'd never do what Stephen did."
I'm struck by the anger that crosses her face when she mentions his name. And by the other thing - that she gives everything she has to the people she loves. "You're persuasive," I tell her quietly. "I did hire you, after all, after a speech reminiscent to that one. I can hear you now, telling me how hard you would work for me, how smart and resourceful you were." I tap my lips. "I hired you despite your disdain for the fashion industry."
"I'll never have the passion for it that you do… I'll never be as good at it as Emily, but I've changed. I mean, you can tell that, right? I won't ever be you, but I'll never be who I was when you met me, either. Working at Runway changed me."
"For the better?" I ask her.
She stares at me pensively. "Yeah," she says. "If I hadn't met you, Miranda… I … I don't know. I can't imagine my life without you in it. I can't imagine what it would be like." Her face is filled with remorse. "I'm so gonna hate myself in the morning." She gives a half smile. "Hate myself now; catch-22. If you were divorced, I'd work so hard at turning this one-night stand into a whole bunch of nights, but you're not… Stephen's gonna want you back and -"
"Very well." I flick my fingers, dismissing her.
She stands, confused. "Nate and I broke up over my working relationship with you, Miranda. We had been together since high school. Just so you know."
I almost feel like apologizing for letting her down, but it's a merciless world, not meant for the naïve. "Bring my purse before you leave. It's in my bedroom."
She frowns, taken aback, and actually begins marching up the stairs, intimately familiar with my home.
I follow surreptitiously.
She spots the purse where I'd tossed it, on the bed, when I changed earlier, and just as she's picking it up, I close the door, and she turns to me. A half smile twitches on her face and she hands me the purse. "I'm really flattered, Miranda, more than you know" she says quietly. "But I can't. I really…" She looks down and shakes her head, swallowing. "This is more to me than…"
I drop the purse back on the bed. I've got my cell phone out and I'm dialing.
"Oh, great." She looks at me incredulously. "Right. Well, thanks for the date night that wasn't. If you ever get divorced, give me a call," she says. "Before, you know, you find another guy."
"What do you want?" Stephen growls on the other end of the line.
I place him on speakerphone and grab Andrea by the arm as she's stomping past me. "Stephen, you were right. Let's divorce."
Andrea jerks to a stop. I hold the phone with one hand and cup her cheek with the other. She pales under my fingertips.
He splutters. "You want to divorce now?" There's noise on the other end - someone is in the room with him, a woman, and he shushes her. "I asked you a year ago."
"Is it too late?" I enquire lightly.
Andrea has begun trembling. I hold the phone away from us and press a kiss to her cheek. "You wanted this power," I say very quietly in her ear.
There's silence on Stephen's end. When he speaks again, his voice is as light as mine. "Blond or brunette?"
"This is going to cost you."
"Doubtful. I'm not the one who cheated. We had the pre-nup. I…" But my litany is cut off by a popping, as if of a cork from a bottle of champagne on the other line, and the joyful giggling of the woman in the background.
"Cheers, Miranda," Stephen says, and he hangs up.
"Cheers?" Andrea asks after a moment of open-mouthed gaping, her voice raspy.
I click the phone off and toss it on the bed. "He said I'd come around when I found someone new to persecute." I roll my eyes. "His word, not mine." He had been fairly sitting on the champagne, hadn't he? Had the woman squealed "Told you?" or had I imagined it? Had they plotted this, together?
"Blonde or brunette?" Andrea's eyes are large.
I feel my face warm. "Stephen has heard me speak of you."
"Who's the blonde?"
"A young man you don't know."
"Who is he?" Her eyes are sharp, and she's getting her color back. The reporter instinct in her grabs this one thing, but she doesn't see all the rest.
Sighing. "No one you know. He's married with a baby on the way. One of two people, yourself included, whom Stephen realized I had an interest in. In the young man's case, a platonic interest. He's no one, Andrea."
"So, you just… You're going to divorce him, just like that."
"I wasn't going to cheat on him. Really. You know me better than that."
She tackles me, then, with an "oh my god" as jubilant as Stephen's girl had sounded. This makes me as giddy as she is, and our kissing is sloppy and wet, with me fumbling with her belted blouse-dress, unable to get it undone because Andrea keeps running interference with her hands all over me, not even in a sexual way, but almost manically, as if she's wanting to touch me and see if I'm flesh and blood beneath the clothes she always looks at.
Her manic caresses are careless, and suddenly, my dress rips beneath her fingers, and everything comes to a screeching halt. She meets my gaze with desire so intense that it's clear we must slow down. We must slow down or someone will get hurt. That's fine; we can unhurriedly take our pleasure in each other. We can unhurriedly -
Andrea takes my head in her hands and kisses me deeply. Gone are the powder puff kisses that left me a little dizzy with desire. This is firewalking. This is a fiery hot stroll across burning embers. This is an emotive young woman, trying very hard to tell me something very specific with her lips and tongue. She almost succeeds. I give everything I have to the people I love. I would guess that she loves me, even if not for her earlier assertion, because of this kiss. But I'm not one to speculate, preferring the poker hot truth to the cool comfort of approximation.
She kisses me until I'm ablaze, until my lips are swollen and tender, and she looks at me unguardedly. The day I met her, I knew something more would come from it, though I'm not one to become involved with employees. I unbutton her blouse-dress. "There's the matter of your employment."
"No," she says softly. "You're not firing me."
"Must you always think the worst?" I pull the blouse over her head, with her help, and stare at her lovely body. "I was planning on placing you somewhere." Anywhere.
"No," she says.
I drag my eyes from her breasts - barely covered in a nicely fitting polka dot demi-cup bra - to meet her gaze.
She's bewildered. "I'm not going to leave Runway," she says. "I… that would be ridiculous."
"We can't do this and work together." I look at her breasts again and imagine her sitting outside my office, answering the phone. I'd never get any work done, with only Andrea's help.
"I can't leave you," she says. "Miranda, we work together ten or twelve hours a day."
Neither her direct gaze nor her words are getting her meaning across, because I don't understand. We work together or we sleep together; there is no 'both'. It's unethical and impractical. I'm not one to become involved with employees.
"I'll - how often would we even see each other?" She seems to be asking the question of herself, as softly as it's uttered. Moving as if in a daze, she sits down hard on the bed. "Would you even see me, when the twins are home? And you have all those… events. A couple of hours a night? A couple of nights a week at the most?" She's bewitching in the way that only a young woman can be: strong yet fragile; aware, suddenly, of the world, pressing down on her shoulders.
She's laid it out in black-and-white, oversimplified, but in essence, she's correct. I wanted a one night fling with her, but this is too intense for that. I'll want more, as she obviously does. We would see more of each other at work, at least initially. A good assistant is so very hard to find. But if this attempt at a romance fails… well, lovers come and go.
She seems to be drawing that conclusion as well, because her large eyes look up at me. "I can't lose you," she says quietly, gathering her minidress from the floor. "Please don't fire me." Her eyes are moist.
This woman whom I brought to my home tonight has somehow lured me instead, like a siren, into the deep end of the ocean. I'll do whatever it takes to keep from drowning.
Her hand is on my cheek, and she sees it in my eyes. "You will," she says flatly. "You're going to fire me."
"I don't recall saying that," I tell her.
Her eyes rake across my face.
"Would you consider an early promotion? Or would that raise the hackles on the backside of your principles?"
"I had thought editorial." Emily will have to go. I can put her elsewhere in the company if there's an opening, but if not…
Andrea is a principled woman. She wears them proudly, as the young tend to. I'm an ethical woman, making choices that are more a code of conduct than they are a conscious statement, as hers are. My shifting or firing Emily is a business decision, and there's nothing unethical about it, but it will rankle Andrea's concept of impartiality. "As I was saying, I had thought editorial, but there isn't an opening at the moment."
Andrea waits me out.
"I could put you with Nigel. You'd work as his assistant for a few months before really getting your feet wet. More of a lateral move, at first." More of a downwardly mobile move. In an ideal world, she would train with Nigel for a few months and move to editorial. But editorial is, ironically, one of Runway's strongest departments. There won't be an opening for a while unless I create one. I'm certain Andrea's principles will have none of that.
She looks away. "You've pointed out all evening that I don't have a sense of fashion, Miranda."
I pull her minidress from her hands. "No... I pointed out that it's not your dream." I hold the dress up. "This was meant to be worn over jeans or - god forbid - leggings. But you chose to wear it alone, showcasing your long legs and ringing in summer, which is right around the corner. I thought perhaps Nigel had dressed you, because it has that same sarcastic zeal he's so well known for."
"What do you prefer I do?"
I prefer that this conversation end. "I just told my husband that I'm divorcing him. What do you think I prefer?"
She wraps her arms around my neck. "Will I get to see you, if I work for Nigel?"
"Stop talking." I kiss her mouth.
"I just," she wrenches away. "I don't want this to be like -"
"Take it or I'll fire you."
Andrea looks at me indignantly. One of her I can see right through you, Miranda Priestly looks. It then turns appraising. When she realizes I'm not bluffing, she lunges for my lips, and it's frantic again in that dress-ripping way. I unsnap her bra in a frenzy and pull it off, and her hands grab at the hem of my skirt.
"Lie down," I tell her.
I want to see her without clothes, and so I put my fingers to her panties, planning to remove them, but can't help, with her moaning and twisting under my touch, but slide them between her legs. And when I find how wet and hot she is, it's like electro-acupuncture, with needles of shock arcing through my body. "On the bed," I tell her again.
She drops down to the bed, and I pull at her panties until they're off, and Andrea is nothing but Louboutins yellow as sunshine and lips red from kissing.
I remove my cardigan and toss it on her playfully, though there's nothing playful in her gaze or mine. She stares at me, eyelids heavy, both shyly and with an appealing awareness. She's bewitching in the way that a young woman can be: passionate and sincere, like a virgin, so serious about it all.
She puts my cardigan to her nose and inhales, and her smile is heavenly.
I sit on the bed to remove my heels and roll down my thigh-highs. Unlike Andrea, I've been dressed and undressed too many times for it to faze me any longer. And my body, while much older than hers, is a source of pride, having been well cared for. "Unzip me."
She pounces on my back and kisses the nape of my neck before pulling the zipper down slowly and carefully. The opening of my dress lends to whispered curses and kisses along my spine. "Fuck," she hisses. "Fuck."
I remove my jewelry while she's preoccupied with my bra, and I'm unlatching my bracelet when she conquers it. She immediately reaches a hand inside, sliding it to the front, and cups my breast, the bra riding up over her hand.
I had imagined she'd be passive and sweet. She's always deferred to me at the office, even at times when she's correct or I'm difficult, but while agreeable, she's never been submissive. Still, I hadn't counted on a woman so dominant that she'd pursue me in this way.
"Oh god." She kisses my neck again, and the sensation of her breasts on my bare back is exquisite. I press my hand, on top of my dress, over hers, where she's teasing my nipple beneath the fabric. She moans into my neck. Her other hand slips beneath my dress and cups my other breast. Her mouth moves to my ear. "Miranda," she utters. "Miranda."
I reach behind me to grab her thigh, and she tries to slide down onto my fingers. My breath catches at her boldness. Not making contact, she lifts again, rubbing against my back. Her whimpers drive me to the brink; I want to get my clothes off so that I can have her.
But she's proceeding on her own terms, pressing her pelvis to me. "Miranda," she cries, and arches against me. She's wet; her skin is hot, and she begins bumping against me as I reach back for her thighs again.
My touch causes her to become completely still for a moment, and then she rubs herself on me - the wet flesh of her sex on my back - and she cries my name once more, as she shudders in climax.
I think my heart might break through my chest at this display of eroticism, when she pulls me backward, on top of her. I release her thighs as she strokes her thumbs over my nipples. "Andrea." I pull my dress down to my waist, and my bra off.
"Mmm," she says lazily.
I sit up and remove everything else, and stare at her on the bed. She looks at me like I'm the siren now, and she the sailor, helpless under my spell. That's the look I'm accustomed to from her, and I pull off her Louboutins, letting one drop to the floor, then the other, before crawling over her, settling, breast to breast.
The contact of our naked bodies has her arching and moaning, and I don't remain on top for long. She may very well be the most sensual lover I've had, and I've only just sampled her. Her kisses are searching and exploring, and she celebrates the pleasure of our mouths connecting. She revels in touching me - tenderly at first, until she elicits a reaction - and tasting me, tracing her tongue over my nipple again and again. She kisses her way down my body, taking her time to look at me before burying her face between my legs and using her tongue as emotively here. I twist my hands through her silky hair and she wrenches herself from what she's doing so lovingly in order to meet my gaze. With her face like a window, her heart on it, so readable, she's bewitching in the way that a young woman can be: ephemeral and evanescent as a calla lily on a scorching day.
I think of Paris and Andrea's abrupt departure. I think of Wednesday.
"What's wrong?" she asks, her voice hoarse.
When I don't respond, she nuzzles me, and then seeks out my clitoris again and lovingly teases it between her lips. She continues such gentle ministrations until I climax under her tongue. I can tell she's smiling between my legs. It seems my orgasm has made her feel lighter than it makes me. I'm heavy and inconsolable. Andrea is young and lovers come and go.
She crawls up to kiss my lips and looks at me keenly.
I try to kiss her as she has kissed me this evening - emotively and expressively. But she doesn't seem adept at translation and pulls away after a minute. Or perhaps we're simply alike when it comes to communication - preferring the poker hot truth to the cool comfort of approximation. "What's wrong?" she asks quietly, rubbing her nose over my cheek.
"I'll find you a position at another publication."
She shakes her head.
I sigh. "This won't work."
She stares at me for a long moment before flopping down onto her back, beside me. She frowns at the ceiling. "You're just like me," she mutters. "You've gotta figure it all out first." She gives me a sidelong look. "I'd rather be your assistant than Nigel's - I want to be your assistant. I can separate personal stuff from professional. I promise."
She looks at me, startled and then intrigued. "Really?" A wide smile crosses her face. "Would you want me? Would it be tempting?" She leans over me and nibbles my ear. "Would you make passes at me?" She's so close I can't see her face, but I feel it getting hot, turning red. "Would you fuck me on your desk?" she whispers.
I push her off me and onto her back. "This isn't a game."
She tries not to smile, pressing her lips together, but her eyes are full of mischief.
"This is how it will be, Andrea," I tell her, and reach between her legs and brush her clitoris. I have her attention, and suddenly very serious, she cranes forward, her body straining for the touch. I take her nipple into my mouth and rub it against my teeth. I hold her breast and lick and suck and nibble before releasing. "Or you can be my assistant. Your choice." I combine the two things, hand between her legs, mouth on her breast, and she arches up to me.
I push my fingers inside, needing to be deep. "Will you be my lover?"
She looks at me from under thick lashes, and moans my name, which sends me into an almost frenzy, pressing in, pulling out, in, out, in. I pull out. "Or my assistant?"
She moans in protest.
"This?" I ask, after I've achieved a rhythm of sorts - fingers thrusting, open palm slapping her.
I push as deeply as I can, and feel her clenching around me. "Or work?" I ask her quietly, pulling out. I try mirroring one of her soul-searching gazes right back at her and then grind the heel of my hand to her clitoris.
"Miranda," she cries, and holds my hand in place. She begins rocking beneath my touch, our eyes locked. "I want both." She bites her lip. But then another shockwave of pleasure sends her babbling into more confessions. "I want to see you all the time. I don't want anyone else to be your assistant. I don't want anyone else to be your lover."
"I don't want to think about doing this to you every time I see you in Runway's corridors." Lovers come and go and a good assistant is hard to find. A new dream flashes with promise: an assistant/lover. An assistant in the evenings.
A young woman to fuss over you and take care of you at home. Someone to be there waiting for you. Raise your children. Someone you can dress up.
I close my eyes at the visions. Andrea, in my foyer. Andrea, at my table. Andrea, in my bed. I refuse to do that again, impose my dreams on someone else. "But I'll consider a compromise."
My fingers are deep inside her, and she has me in a vise-like grip. Her hips undulate slowly. "I love you," she murmurs.
I've never known a way to bridge this gap between us, but Andrea does. It's more than my fingers inside her body, more than my lips on her breast. "I love you as well," I tell her.
"Do you really?" she asks, stilling.
"I never say things I don't mean."
"Yes, you do. You lied to try and get me in bed."
Well, it sounds absurd when she puts it like that. "I absolutely did not. Perhaps I exaggerated with… vagueness. You misunderstood. You were wishfully thinking."
She studies me, and then begins slowly grinding against my hand again. "Are you wishfully thinking you love me? Or exaggerating?"
Andrea has lured me into the deep. Me, the businesswoman, holding fast to my plan of punishing Stephen for always embarrassing me. Wouldn't you be drunk all the time if you were married to Miranda?
All she had to do was bat her lashes to get me to agree to the divorce. I suppose she'll talk me into whatever she wants in the way of work as well. I only hope she plans carefully. I believe she will. I'd rather be your employee… than anyone's girlfriend.
She grips my fingers tightly within her and I push deeper. The silence between us is heavy enough to sink into, but by no means sad or depressing. She latches onto whatever she sees when she looks at me, even though I haven't given an answer. She knows the answer. She, who thought me too shallow to read Woolf, who knows I will give her whatever job she wants, may have asked the question rhetorically.
With her lithe body, slender like a dancer's, her gleaming hair, her shining eyes, she's bewitching in the way that a young woman can be: vivid and incandescent, so dynamic that even when holding still, she seems ready to rush forward into the next moment.
I realize that I've been mired in one spot, with Stephen like an albatross around my neck, when the choice to let go has been mine all along. Uncharacteristic of me, who's anxious to always keep pushing forward. The dream of the home and family, I suppose. Unattainable as Woolf's lighthouse.
But perhaps that's where I erred: have I not attained my family? Do I not have my daughters? I've been sinking when I should have been swimming.
Another dream awaits me in the next moment. A bewitching siren beckoning me with sultry eyes. "I'm not exaggerating or wishfully thinking, Andrea. I'm confessing."
A smile breaks across her face. She rises as I push into her again and again, and when she reaches up to pull me down, I press kisses to her brow. "I'm gonna work so hard for Nigel," she whispers, biting my earlobe.
"I'll see to it that you do."
Am I not the figurehead on the ship?