Title: The Best at What They Do
Rating: PG-13. I am something of a prude, so no further!
Summary: AU, big-time. The twins' piano teacher goes on sabbatical, and her replacement might be much more than the Priestly women bargained for.
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em. I'm also not all that familiar with Juilliard (I did walk the halls once and take a lesson, but that was a long time ago) or the workings of their contractual agreements with high-profile faculty, so I hope you'll forgive me for making it up.
Author's Note: So I haven't done the fanfic thing in a long, long time. In fact, I think the last one I wrote was an ER Kerry/Kim story. Like when that storyline was actually on television. I am a bona fide lurker of the dwp community, and since I think I might have read .Miranda/Andy story on here, I figured I should probably make some kind of contribution.
Author's Note II: Based on the characters in the movie, sorta, but pretty much AU. Stephen's gone, and Andy is a professional pianist new to the faculty at Juilliard School of Music. For the rest, you'll just have to read on!
The Best at What They Do
"Mom! Mom!" Caroline Priestly's breath rushed out of her as she slid on her socks to a stop outside the entry to her mother's study.
"Yes, Bobbsey?" Miranda Priestly didn't look up from the Book, but Caroline knew she had her mother's attention when she heard the nib of the antique fountain pen slow its scratching against the Post-It she was marking up. Caroline's twin sister, Cassidy, also slid down the hall on her socks a second later, coming to a stop when her shoulder not-so-gently bumped Caroline's, knocking her off-balance. Caroline saw her mother's eyes flick up above the rims of her glasses, an admonishment surely on the tip of her tongue, but when the two girls broke into giggles at Cassidy's antics, the crease between their mother's brows smoothed back out. Crisis averted.
"Mom," Cassidy continued, righting her sister as she spoke, "Professor Layton is going on sabbatical, and some new assistant professor is taking over her students!"
Cassidy handed her mother the letter that had arrived in the mail, the Juilliard logo in the upper left of the envelope having emboldened her to open it despite the fact that it was addressed to Miranda.
Miranda's eyes scanned the words, which explained that the girls' piano teacher had accepted a last-minute gig to fill in for an up-and-coming young gentleman - a former student, in fact - who had injured his arm and wouldn't be able to complete the remaining six months of his tour. Covering her non-credit student lessons in her place, the letter continued, would be one Andrea Sachs, of whom Miranda had never, ever heard.
"She went to a state school for college, and I haven't even heard of the concerto competitions she's won!" Caroline cried.
The crease between Miranda's brows was back as she looked over the memo's explanation of the woman's qualifications. The University of Michigan was not your typical state school, but to Caroline's point, it certainly wasn't Juilliard. She had called in a few favors to send the girls there to study piano with Patricia Layton, who typically only took on the top undergrad and graduate students admitted into Juilliard's piano program. After all of her efforts, the girls were being transferred to some nobody whose most recognizable accomplishment was touring with Sting? I think not.
"I'm sure there must be some kind of mistake, girls," Miranda answered with a dismissive wave of her hand, setting the Book aside and reaching for her cell phone. She scrolled through her address book until she reached the Ls and raised the phone to her ear. The crease in her forehead became an all-out furrow, however, and the girls' mood became somber as they saw their mother's face grow dark.
"Hello, you've reached Patricia Layton's cell phone. I will be away from the Juilliard School on sabbatical for the next six months with limited access to voicemail and e-mail due to my heavy touring schedule. Please leave a messag-"
The clap of their mother's cell phone closing broke the silence in the room, and the twins saw Miranda's face become placid again as she seemed to come to a decision.
"I'll stop by the Lincoln Center tomorrow and just have them transfer you to Emanuel instead."
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but Professor Ax isn't availab- wait, you can't go back there!"
Her Burberry trench billowing around her, Miranda strode past the petite, mousy woman manning the front desk as if she owned the place, glaring at the woman's garish, worn houndstooth blazer and clunky loafers en route. Actually, the editor had probably donated enough money to the program that the should own the place, but no matter.
Miranda's heels clacked sharply on the hardwood floor of the hallway of offices belonging to the school's piano faculty, which were actually acoustically superior music studios furnished with Steinway grand pianos in addition to the more traditional professorial office furniture of big wooden desks, bookshelves and couches for the more senior faculty. The receptionist's squawking died down as the phone began to ring, and Miranda heard strains of music she vaguely recognized as a Rachmaninoff piano concerto pulling her closer. That is quite good, must be Emanuel, she thought. She tried to quiet her Manolos out of respect for the man, noted by most to be the finest pianist alive.
She slowed as she neared the studio, gasping slightly when she stopped in the entryway to see the performer's powerful, straight back, strong, lithe fingers and... long, brown hair. Miranda's lips pursed at the unwelcome surprise, but her head cocked thoughtfully when the girl reached a particularly bombastic passage, her bottom nearly coming off of the piano bench as she all but attacked the keyboard to achieve the correct volume and articulation. The pianist's tension ebbed as she moved into a more lyrical section, and during what Miranda recognized as a short orchestral interlude in the piece, the girl hummed the French horn part before her hands moved again to the keyboard, smoothly coaxing the melody back out of the instrument. She slowed her hands when she reached a particularly poignant part near the end of the movement, and Miranda's breath caught when the girl turned her head to the side, eyes closed, thick eyelashes brushing her cheeks and head bowed against what looked like the most bittersweet heartache.
Runway's editor-in-chief, whom many would claim had no heart to ache, felt hers squeeze in sympathy. She stood transfixed as the girl's hands sped back up, racing toward the end of the piece.
As the final notes echoed throughout the room, Miranda shook her head slightly to clear it, and as she did so, her eyes caught the nameplate next to the door: Andrea Sachs. The ridiculous urge to clap in appreciation of the woman's fine performance - clap, of all things! - evaporated, and Miranda's eyes narrowed.
So this young... person was the girls' new teacher. Miranda sniffed at the thought, and the quiet sound seemed to snap the girl out of her trance. Disoriented brown eyes raced around the room for the source of the sound, and when they settled on Miranda, she stood in a graceful motion and clasped her hands in front of her, waiting for the older woman to speak.
"Third?" Miranda asked, affecting her usual bored tone, her question referring to which Rachmaninoff piano concerto the woman had just played so beautifully.
"Second," Andrea answered confidently, not skipping a beat. She tried to school her features to prevent showing her amusement at the woman's obvious efforts to appear disinterested but still cultured. "First movement."
"Ah. Well, I'm partial to more modern piano works," Miranda continued haughtily, irritated that her guess had been wrong. "Phillip Glass is a personal friend."
Andrea coughed just for the opportunity to bring her hand up to cover her smile. Okay, if you want to play this game...
"Oh, please give him my best next time you talk to him. It was an honor to work with him on Against All Odds last year," Andrea responded sincerely.
Miranda paused for a moment, trying to place the reference, then recalled a well-budgeted art film about a young concert pianist diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and her subsequent struggles keeping her career on track. Her irritation increased - she had been trying to compensate for not recognizing the piece by mentioning her acquaintance with Phillip. Surely that would point out to this Andrea person that they clearly ran in different circles (Miranda's being higher up in the stratosphere, of course), yet that seemed to backfire as well.
"I remember the film," Miranda said, choosing not to acknowledge the woman's request in favor of trying to regain control of the conversation. "The script was lackluster and the acting mediocre at best. The music was superb, of course, but I simply couldn't believe that Phillip would associate himself with such a film."
An exaggeration, to be sure, but it could have been the best film in the world and Miranda would have hated it for one simple reason: the actress hadn't even tried to learn the basics of playing the piano, a fact that was obvious despite the film editor's best attempts to make the transitions to her double appear fairly seamless. The actress' clunky movements and soft, weak hands were appalling when compared with the sculpted, yet still feminine hands of her double as her fingers danced across the keys. She was so transfixed by those hands, actually, that she had barely heard the music. Those were Andrea's, Miranda realized with a start.
Andrea followed the woman's gaze down to her hands, again clasped in front of her, and between that gaze and the unfair criticism of the film, she began to feel self-conscious. And she didn't get where she was today by being self-conscious - in fact, she didn't care who this woman was. She was trying to work, here.
"So, now that we're done with a little name-dropping and a rousing game of 'Name that Tune,' was there a reason you interrupted my rehearsal?" Andrea asked lightly but not without a little indignation. "You might introduce yourself as well, that's typically considered good form when barging into someone's office without an invitation."
Miranda straightened her posture and felt a snake-like smile cross her features. She poised to move in for the kill, beautiful hands be damned. Oh, Andrea Sachs, that little trick won't work on me. I eat more formidable opponents than you for breakfast.
Before she could strike, the squawking began again and she felt the ill-advised houndstooth of the receptionist's blazer scratch against her trench as the woman brushed by her into the room. "Andy, I'm so sorry, I told Ms. Priestly to stop but then a phone call came in that I had to take-" the receptionist leveled her gaze on Miranda as her explanation trailed off.
The situation suddenly clicked into place for Andy upon hearing the woman's last name. Patsy had warned her about this one, as well as her twin girls. She waved off the receptionist, who, despite her bold entrance, now seemed to be withering under Ms. Priestly's glare.
"It's okay, Marilyn, Ms. Priestly and I were just about to discuss how to ensure her children's continued progress during Professor Layton's absence," Andy said, smirking as her guest rounded on her.
"Oh, Ms. Sachs, I assure you, there is nothing to discuss," Miranda responded in her most saccharine voice, snake-like smile still firmly in place. "My children won't be studying with you." She directed her next statement to the receptionist, who seemed to flinch at the attention. "I'll be making the necessary calls to Emanuel's people to have them transferred to his tutelage."
With that, she turned on her five-inch heels to begin her confident stride back down the hallway, but Andy's voice stopped her.
"Marilyn, give us a minute. I need to explain to Ms. Priestly why that decision isn't in the best interests of her children," Andy called after her boldly. Glad to escape, the receptionist made her way back down the hall.
Miranda glanced at Andy over her shoulder, struggling between her need to maintain the upper hand and doing what was best for the twins. The latter won out.
As if she were a noblewoman headed into her parlor to be served a cup of tea by a faithful handmaiden, Miranda strode over to a chair next to the piano and primly sat before regarding Andy as if the young musician had two heads. "Why, pray tell, would securing the services of the most accomplished, most highly regarded pianist in recent history not be in my girls' best interests?"
Andy sat down on the piano bench and faced her guest. "Because he's never here," she responded simply, causing one of Miranda's eyebrows to elevate. "Your girls need weekly lessons at the very least to continue their progress. Emanuel is on staff here, but his contract is much different than mine or Professor Layton's - he performs in faculty concerts and works with students on a semi-regular basis, but he has his own touring and recording schedule on top of that and certainly doesn't walk these halls as often as your children need him."
Miranda mentally conceded the woman's point, but her face remained stoic and her voice became mocking. "And you think they'd be better off studying weekly with you than another, more accomplished member of the faculty here? Come to think of it, Juilliard is but one school - there are dozens of world-renowned music schools in our fair city, Andrea, each with a full complement of piano faculty boasting more respectable credentials than 'movie extra.'"
Andy smiled at the way the woman pronounced her name. An-dray-ah. She kind of liked it, despite the condescending tone.
Even a few years ago, the woman's words would have hurt her deeply. But not now... Now, she knew her worth, and she didn't feel the need to defend herself against someone who was used to buying anything she wanted.
"I think you know Phillip has better standards than that," Andy replied brightly without an ounce of defensiveness. "In fact, you probably also know that he usually performs his film scores himself, but in this case, the hands playing the music obviously had to be a woman's hands since the camera filmed the music as it was being played."
Andy watched with curiosity as the woman's eyes drifted down her arms to her hands again as she absently massaged the muscles in her fingers. She felt herself blush a little under the scrutiny and quickly continued on with her thoughts to distract herself.
"I don't have the typical background of a Juilliard hire, to be sure, but that's by choice - I can play the typical concert pianist stuff, you just heard it," Andy said without a trace of arrogance, though she noted absently that her guest winced at the word 'stuff.' "I've toured with Grammy-winners, taken lessons with some of the best pianists known outside of the classical world, been recorded for movie scores and did my graduate thesis on the musicology of rap music. But do you want to know something? That's why Juilliard hired me. If classical music is to survive as a genre, it has to be accessible to today's audiences. It has to be willing to be repurposed, retooled and even reconceptualized, much in the way many 19th century operas are sung on sets and in costumes depicting a 21st century world."
Miranda's gaze reluctantly left Andy's hands to study the glossy curves of the piano as she considered the young woman's words. Indeed, the best classic operas and plays she had seen lately had been modernized.
"I don't read your magazine, and in fact, had Patsy not told me who you were, I wouldn't have had a clue about you," Andy continued off-handedly, and Miranda had to prevent her jaw from dropping ever-so-slightly. "But what I do know about you is this: you wouldn't have a job if you did the same thing everybody else is doing. You wouldn't be regarded as the very top in your field if you didn't reinvent the fashion industry every single day."
Well, the girl has a point, Miranda thought, repressing the urge to preen at the compliment. She rested her elbow on the chair's armrest and buried her fingertips in the short hairs at the nape of her neck, finally focusing her attention 100 percent on the young musician. Andrea's take on things was certainly intriguing, to say the least - Miranda wouldn't still be sitting there if it weren't.
Andy's mouth became dry at the intensity of the blue gaze that was suddenly focused on her, and she paused to take a breath and collect herself before making the final point of her monologue. She was surprised Miranda had let her speak so long without interrupting her, and the fact that she hadn't meant she was listening. Good.
"Frankly, I don't care if your children study with me or not. I'm not a teacher, I'm an artist. And my art is different than everyone else's. I'm the best at what I do, Ms. Priestly," Andy said matter-of-factly. "It's your choice whether you want your girls to experience that, or if you want to send them off to be trained like every other piano student in this city."
Andy watched as Miranda stood and turned away from her in thought, regarding the generic art print that was cheaply framed on the wall over her desk with a slight frown. After a moment and without so much as a glance at Andy, Miranda strode out of the office, tossing quietly over her shoulder on her way, "Very well. And if you must address me, call me Miranda. That's all."
Andy stared after her, dumbfounded. For a moment, she wondered whether the entire episode had actually even happened, but the lingering scent of Miranda's perfume and the heat that still colored Andy's cheeks left no doubt that it did. She grinned goofily then, sliding back toward the keyboard to work on the concerto's second movement and feeling like she had just emerged victorious from one of the most challenging competitions of her career. She didn't ask herself why she was looking so closely at her hands as she played, or why it seemed so difficult to keep her fingers from tangling - that was for another day.
That utterly ridiculous girl, Miranda thought as she settled into the leather seat of the town car. Woman, she corrected herself quickly, not denying the familiar, if long-absent, pull of the musician and not wanting to make herself feel even older and more foolish by characterizing the brown-eyed beauty as someone younger than she already was.
Being attracted to women was nothing new - if Miranda refrained from acting on it, what was it really, if nothing more than a silly crush? People had them all the time. She had at least a dozen gay male acquaintances who had crushes on her without the slightest intention of acting on them, for example, though they didn't know she knew, and she was quite sure they would be mortified if they did. At any rate, crushes on women did not aid her in advancing her ambitions, making them unworthy outlets for her time and attention. End of story.
Of course, it was that same line of thinking that had made Stephen a "worthy" outlet for such things, but... no sense in going down that road, she thought to herself without regret. Good riddance.
She would have to be careful around Andrea, though. The young woman was talented, fiercely brilliant and beautiful. God, those hands, Miranda thought indulgently, but she reined herself in quickly when her mind flashed through what those hands might be capable of doing away from the glossy black and white piano keys.
What's more, though, was Andrea's apparent lack of fear when it came to taking on the monstrosity of "high culture" and turning it on its overpriced, overinflated head. Musicology of rap music, indeed! Miranda scoffed, yet she felt oddly impressed with the artist's refreshing way of juxtaposing popular culture and her not-unimpressive professional training.
"Where to, Ms. Priestly?" asked her driver, Roy, interrupting Miranda's musings. She had left the office at four in the afternoon to arrive at the music school before classes were out for the day, much to the shock of her staff. It was now seven in the evening, and while she didn't exactly look forward to sharing with the girls that they would be taking lessons from Andrea after all, she had never been one to delay the inevitable.
"Home," she responded, smirking at how laconic she seemed to be today. The thought reminded her how surprised she was by the pianist's eloquence - something she certainly wished for the twins to pick up as well. And Cassidy in particular, well, there was simply no denying that piano lessons did not hold the same allure for the child as they once did. Miranda hated the idea of allowing her to quit taking them... maybe Andrea's unorthodox style would reignite the enthusiasm the youngest Priestly once had for the art form.
She grabbed her purse as Roy eased the car to a stop in front of the townhouse and nodded to him in parting as he held the door open.
"Good night, Ms. Priestly," the driver said politely to her retreating back.
"Good night, Roy," she responded absently, steeling herself for what would likely be an unwelcome confrontation.
"What?" Caroline exclaimed, clearly surprised and less than thrilled that their mother had changed her mind. "What are we supposed to tell our friends at school now? We told them we would be studying with Emanuel Ax!"
"Emanuel is otherwise engaged for the next six months," Miranda lied (or perhaps not) smoothly. The girls continued to gape at her in disbelief, however, so she changed tactics.
"If your progress slows or you don't appreciate Professor Sachs'... approach... we can reopen the discussion. But not until after Paris," she finished in a tone the twins didn't hear very often - one that indicated she would not entertain any further argument.
Both girls sulked, picking through their dinner and eyeing the glasses of milk in front of them as if the liquid had personally offended them. Without even looking at one another, each twin knew what the other was thinking, and it was Cassidy who finally set down her fork and took one for the team.
"Mom, may we be excused?"
Miranda saw the tattered remains of their meals and sighed at the prospect of finishing her own meal alone. "Very well, but no TV until your homework is done."
The girls rolled their eyes in unison, but only Caroline responded. "Yes, Mother."
Mother it is, Miranda thought. She hoped fiercely that she wasn't wrong about Andrea.
"She what?" Doug asked, nearly choking on his wine.
"She said she was going to have Emanuel teach her daughters instead," Andy responded, smiling at her friend brightly.
Her dining companion and roommate snorted. "Yeah, like Emanuel Ax is going to waste his time on a couple of spoiled 13-year-olds. Um, so you said you're still going to take them on as students - how'd that all work out if she came into your office with guns blazing like that?"
Andy just shrugged, not wanting to reveal everything, even to Doug. She was still trying to make sense of the conversation she had with Miranda earlier that day and didn't entirely understand why it had felt so... intimate, yet so disconnected at the same time. She had no idea what was going on in the woman's mind, yet the intensity of Miranda's gaze when she finally focused on Andy near the end of their conversation was unlike anything she had ever experienced. And the way she kept looking at my hands...Andy dispensed with that thought as fast as it had come to her, knowing full well that Doug could read her like a book.
"I told her that Emanuel travels so much and the girls really needed someone working with them at least once a week," she explained. "As for why she decided to still let them study with me, well, I guess you'd have to ask her that."
Doug hung onto Andy's every word, a bit star-struck. "I still can't believe Miranda Priestly was in your studio. THE Miranda Priestly!" He shook his head.
Andy snickered and tossed her napkin at him. "It's not like we haven't had more famous people walk the halls of Juilliard, Dougie."
Now it was Doug's turn to shrug. "She is pretty amazing. What was she wearing?"
Andy tried not to blush at a question, taking it more suggestively than he may have meant it. "Not a clue. I hardly know what I'm wearing half the time," she remarked, looking down at her jeans and a faded, long-sleeved t-shirt from her time at Interlochen nearly a decade ago.
"Oh, and here I thought you hadn't realized," her friend said teasingly.
Andy lightly smacked him on the forearm, but her brain went elsewhere. She couldn't name designers, of course, but the steel gray trench seemed to accentuate Miranda's every curve rather than hiding them, the black jacket and skirt of her power suit and low-cut neckline of her blouse did the same, and the skyscraper-high blood-red pumps sculpted her calves in a way that made Andy's mouth water as she recalled Miranda crossing one silk-stockinged leg over the other as she sat. Last but not least, her stunning, white coiffure and perfect skin gave her a glow Andy was pretty sure was reserved for bona fide goddesses only.
"She looked amazing, whatever it was," Andy said dreamily, unaware she spoke out loud until she noticed Doug had gotten very quiet.
"Crushin' hard, huh?" Doug asked finally, jokingly but not unkindly. He regarded his friend carefully and realized that no, this was no crush. While much more low-key about it than Doug had ever been about his own sexuality, Andy had confided in him about her attraction to women before they graduated high school. The two parted ways when Andy left for Ann Arbor and he for the Eastman School to study cello performance, but they stayed close all throughout undergrad. Andy had stayed in Ann Arbor to follow her undergrad degree in piano performance up with an M.F.A. in musicology, and Doug had stuck around to play in the Rochester Philharmonic, but they reunited not long after to try to make it in New York.
"Yeah," was all Andy said, bringing Doug's thoughts back to the present. He stood and walked around the table to gather her into his arms, feeling her relax after her small confession.
"You and me both, kid, she's a beaut." He grinned at his uncouth term for such a dignified woman, trying to keep things light for his friend's sake. She would talk when she was ready.
Andy just sighed in response, burrowing into her best friend even further.
Caroline huffed as the town car neared Lincoln Center Plaza. She couldn't believe her mother had told them they would be taking lessons with Emanuel Ax of all people, only to send them to some rookie instead. She'd be the laughing stock of Dalton's music program when everyone found out they were taking lessons with some assistant professor who wasn't even touring the major orchestras.
Cassidy sat beside her sister, wanting to be supportive, but at the same time dreading their lesson all together. She wouldn't dare tell her mother she didn't like them, however. Besides, their mom always did her best to make their recitals, and that almost made it worth the grueling 60 minutes every week.
"Okay, girls, see you in an hour," Roy said with manufactured exuberance, trying to bring the girls' spirits up before their lesson. They grunted non-commitally as they hopped out of the car and walked up the steps leading to the piano faculty's offices.
They followed their directions toward Professor Sachs' office and found her outside, chatting amiably with another young woman, her hair springy and high on her head and her skin smooth and darker than Andy's. Andy turned toward the girls, noting fondly that they had the same eyes as their mother. They also donned the same caustic expression their mother had worn during her trip to Andy's office, but she refused to be intimidated by a pair of teenagers.
"You must be Cassidy and Caroline," Andy said warmly. "I'm Andy Sachs, and while I think I'm supposed to tell you to call me Professor Sachs, you can just call me Andy."
The girls rolled their eyes at this, not to be won over so easily. Andy didn't falter, however, and motioned toward her friend. "This is Lily Thomas, my colleague in the voice department."
Lily nodded hesitantly at the girls, who nodded back stiffly. They were difficult and spoiled, but it couldn't be said that they weren't trained in the fine art of social niceties.
Lily and Andy said their goodbyes as Andy welcomed the twins into her studio. "So, Professor Layton tells me that the two of you take your lessons together."
The girls simply nodded, but Andy wasn't deterred from her original plan, particularly seeing the differences in attitude between the two. One affected a competitive air, clearly feeling that Andy was below the standards she demanded in a teacher, while the other just didn't seem to want to be there, period.
"Caroline," Andy said to the first girl, who was shocked that this woman could tell her apart from her sister without even having been formally introduced. Gotcha,Andy thought. "Why don't you head to the office next door and practice a little bit while I work with your sister?"
The other girl, Cassidy, seemed panicked. "We just told you we take our lesson together!"
"I know," Andy responded brightly. "But just because you're twins doesn't mean you like the same stuff, right? I want to make sure that what we're working on together is music you like and want to practice at home."
Caroline appeared upset at the prospect of being separated from her sister and, maybe more to the point, having to go second, but Cassidy walked cautiously over to the piano and seated herself behind it. Andy felt a wave of relief that she got something right with at least half of the difficult pair. She still had some damage control to do with Caroline, however, whose eyes burned murderously into Andy's.
Andy grabbed a book of Chopin ballades and took a deep breath. "Caroline, I know this is out of the norm of how things worked with Professor Layton, but I have a feeling you'll enjoy your time even more when you have your instructor all to yourself. Take a look at Ballade No. 1 in G minor and see if you can work through Part A for me."
"Whatever," Caroline muttered as she grabbed the book from Andy and headed to the adjacent office.
Andy walked back into her studio and sat down in the same chair the twins' mother had sat in during her visit, regarding Cassidy thoughtfully.
"You're not a big fan of piano lessons, are you?" Andy asked, careful to keep any trace of judgement out of her voice. The girl simply shrugged. "What kind of music do you like?" The girl shrugged again, looking away from Andy to examine the keyboard of the instrument.
Andy took a deep breath and walked over to her stereo. "I took a few lessons with Matt Bellamy from the band Muse a few years ago - are you familiar with their music?"
Cassidy didn't respond, but her demeanor changed enough to let Andy know she had the girl's attention. Andy smiled encouragingly as she scrolled through her iPod, looking for "Butterflies and Hurricanes." She hit "play," and the low, intense pulsing that floated out of her speakers was, she knew, a far cry from the typical music resounding in the corridors of that particular building.
"Matt started playing piano when he was six and picked up guitar when he was about your age. He and his band mates met in community college in England, and they often work parts into their music that are classically inspired," she explained as the music built.
The pair listened to the song in silence for a few minutes, then the music died away except for a slow trill in the upper registers of the piano. "This is the best part," Andy grinned.
A lush piano cadenza fit for Rachmaninoff himself filled the air, and Andy saw Cassidy's eyes twinkle in wonder, though it was obvious the girl was trying to mask her reaction. An orchestra, thick in string texture, played beneath Bellamy's impressive interlude, then died away as the cadenza came to its end. The pulsing started back up, now supported by the orchestra.
"It's not easy, but that's just a bunch of arpeggios, you know?" Andy said.
Cassidy nodded, glad despite herself that Andy was talking to her as an equal.
"If you like Muse, we can learn to play some of Matt's other stuff and work our way up to this one," Andy continued.
Cassidy looked at her suspiciously. "I don't think Mom would like that."
Andy took a breath, thinking of how to respond to that. "Maybe not. But life's about compromises, right? And you're not enjoying your lessons as much as you could, so maybe we compromise - you learn a few pieces from the traditional piano repertoire, maybe do a duet with your sister, and the rest of the time, we can focus on music you like."
Cassidy didn't respond verbally, but the way she ran her fingers gently across the piano keys clued Andy in that she may just have won this particular battle, at least for now. She cued up the band's song "Bliss," watching Cassidy's face change when the synthesizer kicked things off. A strong bass line entered shortly after, reminding Andy of Doug, who played bass guitar in his free time and gushed over Muse's Chris Wolstenholme every chance he got.
To her great surprise, Cassidy picked out the roots of the main three chords of the verse and played them on the piano, then the chords themselves.
"Cassidy, that's fantastic," Andy breathed, aptly impressed.
The two spent the remainder of the half an hour, which regrettably wasn't long, seated together on the bench working out the proper arpeggios, with Andy playing the bass line to keep time. Before she swapped one twin for another, Andy promised Cassidy she would try to track down some Muse song books for her, and while she may have imagined it, she could have sworn the girl smiled at her as she left to summon her sister.
"I don't have to listen to you," Caroline said without preamble, sitting down rather heavily on the piano bench for someone so small. "Six months will be up before you know it, and if you don't let us do what we want, you won't even last that long if my mom has anything to say about it."
Andy's euphoria at making such quick progress with Cassidy dissipated immediately, but aside from nodding, she ignored the girl's comment. Maybe flattery with this one, she thought. "So, how's that ballade coming? I know it must have been pretty easy for you, sorry about that, but it's all I could think of on such short notice."
Caroline sniffed, slightly mollified. "Well, yes, it was rather easy. I could play it anyway for you though, since Mom is paying for this and everything."
It was all Andy could do to keep a straight face. "Yes, that does seem like the right thing for us to do, at least considering the circumstances."
Caroline began to play the song all the way through, unable to stifle her triumphant expression when Andy began to stand toward the end of Part A, only to sit back down when Caroline continued.
"Wow, Caroline, that was lovely!" Andy beamed despite herself. While the girl had lacked the artistry Andy knew would come with time and practice as the girl matured as a musician, she played the piece all the way through and had hit most of the right notes. After just half an hour of practice, that was pretty respectable.
Instead of choosing to work with the girl on phrasing, dynamics or anything else that might be interpreted as "critiquing," Andy asked Caroline to play the pieces from her most recent recital, hoping to gain the girl's confidence by first reassuring her that she respected her talent.
At the end of the twins' hour, she saw the girls to the door and watched them descend the steps, Caroline chatting excitedly with her sister and climbing into the black town car without looking back. Cassidy glanced back at Andy shyly, offering her a little wave before realizing what she was doing and dashing toward the car, looking to make sure her sister hadn't seen it.
Andy sagged against the wall of the vestibule as the town car pulled away, feeling again like she had emerged from a competition - maybe not victoriously this time, but at least relatively unscathed.
Miranda hung her coat in the foyer closet, picked up the Book from where Emily had left it on the table and strode in the direction of the kitchen for a glass of water. Corinne, her housekeeper, had surely gone home by now, as had Cara, the girls' nanny, who hopefully put the twins to sleep more than an hour before, knowing Miranda was out late at a dinner with a few members of the Elias-Clark Board of Directors.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching and the holidays to follow not long after, Miranda was relieved that the twins had settled down about their piano lessons for the most part. She had made the promise to re-evaluate things after Paris, but with Fall Fashion Week taking place the first week of March and Professor Layton scheduled to return from her tour in mid-April, even the girls seemed to agree that the point was a bit moot.
Caroline still complained over dinner that Andrea's assignments were far too easy for her, but listening to her struggle while practicing at home told Miranda a different story - the complaints were largely for show, it would seem. Cassidy, on the other hand, was almost eager to attend her lessons, a fact Miranda wanted to investigate further next time she spoke with Andrea.
When that meeting would occur, however, was yet to be determined. Certainly by the twins' holiday recital, she thought. Pity, she had rather enjoyed her conversation with the passionate, confident young musician, and she looked forward to their next meeting, when the mood would surely be less contentious. In the meantime, she relished the animated conversations the girls were typically engaged in as they returned home after their lessons, a new development she attributed to what was likely Andrea's ability to inject her own brand of enthusiasm into her dealings with the twins.
Walking into the kitchen, Miranda was surprised to see Corinne seated at the kitchen table, consulting a well-worn cookbook and writing on a separate notepad.
The woman looked up upon hearing Miranda enter the room and was on her feet immediately. "Ms. Priestly, what can I get for you?"
Miranda waved her off, reaching for a glass herself and filling it from the dispenser built into the refrigerator. "Nothing at all, Corinne, I've just come to get a glass of water. I'm surprised to see you here so late, the girls didn't give you any trouble, did they?"
"Of course they didn't, ma'am," the woman said, somewhat tense. "I'm just planning the menu for Thanksgiving weekend. Will it still be just you and the children?"
"Yes, Corinne, Runway has spoken for nearly every other holiday of my year," Miranda responded, unable to keep the edge out of her voice. She was as fiercely committed to Runway as anything in her life, but balancing the responsibilities brought by the magazine with the demands of being the kind of mother she wanted to be for her children was exhausting at times. "The girls deserve that much."
Corinne merely nodded in agreement, not sure what else to say.
Miranda was often amused by the assumptions people made about her as a mother. The press saw her as career-obsessed and incapable of hanging onto relationships for very long, and she had to admit that they had a point. When it came to her girls, however, the media's impression of her couldn't be further from the truth. She would give up everything for them, even Runway, without a second thought. It had been a hard pill to swallow the first time they questioned her dedication to the twins, and while her skin had thickened in the time since that first hollow accusation, that was the one barb that still stung.
At the end of the day, however, she was sure that the girls knew to their cores what she felt for them, and that was all that mattered. It was why she could hold a civil conversation with their father, despite his ceaseless philandering, and why she maintained a respectful, if distant, relationship with their grandmother, who had blamed the end of their marriage on Miranda's "unhealthy" career ambitions.
She mentally shook the thoughts away and turned her attention back to her housekeeper, who had resumed thumbing through the cookbook, though now the woman was fidgeting, and Miranda hatedfidgeting.
"Surely you needn't be planning meals late into the night and more than a week in advance, Corinne?" Miranda asked, the tone of dismissal clear in her voice. Her staff understood that she paid them to be on call for her at any hour, but unless she needed them for something, she found their presence distracting, and they knew it.
Corinne looked up at her employer and gathered her courage. "Ms. Priestly, you see, my mother... well..."
Miranda's lips pursed at the woman's stuttering, but she held her rebuke out of consideration for the fact that the woman was typically very efficient and had never presented any problems. Good help was indeed hard to find, as the saying went.
Corinne got the hint anyway. "My mother has taken ill, and I would like to go to Virginia to see her for Thanksgiving," the words tumbled over one another as the woman rushed them out of herself in a single breath. "I will have the entire weekend's meals prepared in advance and do my utmost to minimize the impact of my absence upon you and the children, of course." After her request finally made it out into the open, Corinne held perfectly still as she waited for Miranda's response.
Miranda was quiet for a moment, but not for lack of something to say. Instead, and to her great displeasure, she was distracted by the memory of Andrea's interaction with that awful receptionist. It was a scene that had played out in her thoughts often since that day... the young musician gently dismissing the receptionist before turning to Miranda herself and taking on the full brunt of her dissatisfaction. It really was for the best, if she thought about it - Andrea was far better prepared to address concerns about the twins' musical education anyway.
However, Andrea's way of handling the situation had added to her irritation, she remembered, and while she couldn't put her finger on it at the time, she ultimately realized the additional annoyance was rooted in the idea that the pianist felt the need to coddle her staff. It was most certainly a "rookie mistake," if she allowed herself to borrow one of her daughters' more colloquial expressions. Hardly a good habit for someone as bright and full of potential as Andrea to adopt this early in her career.
Miranda knew how people perceived her, but she refused to make apologies. If she were a man, after all, her dealings with her subordinates would only elevate her in the eyes of others in the business world, not that she needed their validation. Her staff gave her excellence because she made it clear she would accept nothing less, and those that couldn't perform at that level weren't fit to work at Runway. It was just that simple.
She had to admit, though - the younger woman had handled the situation skillfully, and Miranda couldn't find much fault in the outcome. Andrea had retained her business, the twins were making progress in their lessons, and there was no question that Cassidy in particular was happier. Maybe there was something to Andrea's interesting treatment of staff that enabled them to do their jobs well while exempting them from situations they clearly had no hope of making any better.
Perhaps it might be interesting to experiment with the girl's strategy, Miranda mused. The housekeeper was unlikely to be of much use to her if she was worrying about her mother, after all. A part of her, too - perhaps the unfortunate part that found the pianist's sincere, gracious demeanor so horribly endearing - may have also felt a little sympathy for the woman's situation. One could call it concern, possibly.
It occurred to Miranda also that Roy and Cara took vacations over Thanksgiving weekend... but then again, that was different. She was home with the girls all weekend and perfectly capable of driving for any needs that might arise, not that they typically did over the one holiday she set aside exclusively for family. Corinne, on the other hand, was responsible for making one of the cornerstone meals of the girls' entire year. Hardly a good time for her to take time off. Nevertheless...
"That would be acceptable," Miranda finally responded. "But you will return first thing Monday morning, no later, and you will confer with the twins before you leave to ensure that everything they could possibly want over the holiday weekend will be available to them. You will also find yourself a replacement to be at the house for an hour each afternoon - I will not have my house looking unkempt. That's all."
Corinne thanked her quietly, and Miranda had never seen the woman move so quickly as she gathered her belongings and left the house, much to the editor's satisfaction. After draining her water glass and enjoying how peaceful her home suddenly seemed, she conceded that Andrea's approach may have its uses.
Andy ruffled Cassidy's hair playfully and laughed at the horrified expression Caroline gave in response as she guided the twins away from her office and towards the building's exit. Their lessons were truly coming along - Caroline finally accepted that Andy might be in a position to have a positive impact upon her playing, while Cassidy thoroughly enjoyed learning about the many creative people in the music industry who were able to reach great heights thanks to their background in piano.
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and just as Andy began to bid the girls a happy holiday, the words fled at her shock to find Miranda in the lobby. The twins, obviously thrilled to see their mother waiting for them, ran up to her, and a bit of Andy's heart melted as the editor gathered them into her arms. It was plain that nothing else in the world could have captured Miranda's attention in that moment.
Andy hadn't seen the older woman since their initial meeting, and her slightly more casual appearance made her no less beautiful. Black dress slacks accentuated her slim but feminine figure, and a graphite, loose-draping cashmere sweater showcased alabaster skin that tantalized Andy as it dipped above Miranda's collarbones and stretched taut over the tendons of her neck and shoulders. The woman casually held the coat that completed her ensemble - a tasteful black shearling jacket lined and trimmed in silver fur - over her arm.
Andy unconsciously licked her lips just as Miranda looked up at her approach. To Andy's surprise, the editor's gaze flicked to her mouth, a predatory gleam in her eyes.
"So, I understand you've been giving my girls half-hour lessons instead of the hour lessons I pay for," Miranda began, eager to see the younger woman squirm at her implied disappointment.
The editor observed the pianist's bootcut jeans, Doc Martens and worn flannel shirt, and while such an ensemble would typically have given her a migraine, on Andrea it was perfection. The jeans cupped her bottom and encased strong thighs exquisitely, the extra buttons undone on the soft shirt revealed just enough to be provocative, and the rolled-up sleeves gave way to lightly muscled forearms and, of course, the hands that had mesmerized Miranda from the start. She felt her head elevate in a nod before she even realized what she was doing and thanked whatever deity that might be listening that her staff hadn't been there to witness such a thing.
Andy took in Miranda's gaze curiously before remembering the woman's greeting, if one could call it that. Even if it was nothing more than gentle teasing, she refused to back down. "You're paying for the same amount of my time. I just ask that you trust me to invest it in the wisest manner possible," she finished, barely containing her smirk. She had a feeling Miranda liked her stubborn.
Miranda raised her chin again, this time in agreement. "Indeed," was her only response. At some point, the editor mused, she supposed she should share with the pianist her approval at the strides her children were making.But not today.
"Hey Andy," Cassidy started, bringing the adults back to reality abruptly. Miranda, who hadn't been that distracted, directed a pointed glare at her daughter, who quickly rectified her misstep. "Er, Professor Sachs?"
Andy grinned - as long as the girl was in her studio, it would be "Andy "and nothing else, but she supposed she could allow Miranda to dictate the terms of her relationship with the girls outside of her office. "Yeah, Cass, what's up?"
"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" came the question, catching both Andy and Miranda off-guard.
"Uh, well, I usually spend it with Doug, but he's off to visit his folks for the long weekend, so I was planning on kicking back with some Chinese food, to tell you the truth."
Miranda became the prime target of Cassidy's most pitiful look, the girl all but begging her to catch up. Ah, she thought as the pieces clicked into place. Well, she had certainly entertained far worse guests in her home, and she couldn't deny wanting to spend more time with the enigmatic young musician. Caroline, who evidently clued in as well, turned her own pleading expression in Miranda's direction.
"What sort of manner is that to spend Thanksgiving? Honestly, Andrea," the older woman remarked with feigned exasperation. "You'll join us at the town house, of course."
The girls grinned at each other, already basking in their victory.
Andy's eyes widened at the unexpected invitation. "Oh, no, Miranda, I couldn't," she nearly pleaded, the situation pushing her well outside of her comfort zone given the tangle of emotions she was still trying to sort through with regard to a certain fashion maven. "I mean, I'm sure you'd like to keep it among family," she continued weakly.
When Andy saw the girls' faces fall in response to what they assumed was a rejection, however, she knew she had to accept. "Well, if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition," she finished, a bright smile gracing her features when the girls' expressions did a 180-degree turn.
"So it's settled," Miranda said decisively, thinking that the obvious joy expressed on her daughters' faces at that very moment was certainly worth an extra place setting, more wine and more, well, just more."I'm afraid I've given Roy the weekend off, which is why I'm here today in his place, but I'll e-mail you with our address if you wouldn't mind taking a cab."
"Oh," Andy faltered, thinking she wouldn't in a million years expect a ride from Roy on Thanksgiving, of all days. "Of course, no problem."
Miranda corralled the girls and moved towards the exit, tossing back over her shoulder, "We'll pull the turkey out of the oven around two, I would imagine, but feel free to arrive any time after noon."
"Okay," Andy croaked as the glass doors thudded softly back into place. She suddenly felt rather dizzy.
Miranda dabbed at the beginnings of perspiration collecting near her hairline with a tissue, and, for the 62nd time that morning, cursed the fleeting lapse in judgment that had resulted in her preparing Thanksgiving supper single-handedly with no Corinne. What irritated her even more was the fact that she had effortlessly roasted countless turkeys in her days before paying someone else to do it, yet the morning had been a disaster, and she couldn't fathom the reasons behind her absent-mindedness.
After sleeping through her alarm, she descended to the kitchen groggily only to find Patricia standing on her hind legs, paws bracing herself above a sink full of thawing turkey, her giant head descending in slow motion as she blissfully nosed the plastic wrapping encasing the bird. The quiet scolding Miranda gave the dog ended similarly to most of the behavioral corrections she leveled at the gentle giant: with Patricia leaning possessively into Miranda's side, grinning as the most powerful woman in fashion scratched between her floppy ears, seemingly oblivious to the string of drool dangling precariously close to her silk pajama bottoms. Her inability to scold Patricia was a secret they kept between them, thankfully.
After checking Corinne's instructions no less than a dozen times and nearly ripping the bird's skin apart trying to loosen it enough for her to rub butter and herbs into the flesh underneath, she managed to dress the turkey and get it into the oven, only to set the fire alarm off an hour later - she had forgotten to add stock to the bottom of the roasting pan, and the drippings from the succulent poultry burned badly enough to produce a healthy amount of smoke. At least the rest of the meal - including extra gravy, which would have otherwise been a disappointment given the roasting pan debacle - was prepared and would only require reheating, and the shrill shrieking of the alarm saved her the trouble of waking the girls. Still, she wasn't at the top of her game, that much was clear.
If her staff exhibited even a fraction of the incompetence she had displayed in just a few hours, she would have no one working for her. She took a healthy gulp of the Beaujolais she pulled from the wine cellar for the meal, trying to identify the cause of her temporary attention deficit disorder and not quite caring that she'd pulled the cork well before noon. With the unlikely exception of early-onset dementia, there was absolutely no reason she could possibly fathom that would cause her to...
The regal chimes of the doorbell echoed off the walls of the townhouse, bringing her out of her reverie.
Oh, she realized with a start, the sound announcing Andrea's arrival dissipating as gracefully as if the young woman had played the notes herself.Well, there's that.
She dried her hands on a dish towel and made her way towards the foyer, mentally cringing at the thunder of the twins' footsteps as they bounded down the stairs to answer the door. The cacophony set her teeth on edge, but an uncharacteristic bout of nervousness prompted her to send a reluctant nod of thanks in their direction as they jockeyed for the position that would make them first in line to greet Andrea. She quickly stepped into a powder room off the hallway to collect herself, focusing on the sounds of the door swinging open and her children's joyful chatter as they welcomed their guest.
"Andy!" the twins greeted the young musician in unison, each grabbing a mitten-clad hand and nearly dragging the woman inside.
"Hey guys!" Andy responded with enthusiasm, relieved to feel so welcome. She had spent an hour and a half on the phone with Doug that morning, waking him at the god-awful hour of 6 a.m. to freak out about Miranda's invitation, what she should bring, what time she should arrive, what she should wear, whether Miranda invited her only because the girls put her on the spot, whether the twins would even still want her there, and the five million other considerations that had kept her up most of the night.
She took in the architectural masterpiece that was Miranda's townhouse while the girls gathered her coat, hat, scarf and mittens and hung them in the closet. For a second, she hallucinated that she was Cinderella, and instead of a pair of redheaded teenagers, she was being waited on by mice in funny hats instead. She shook off the daydream and tried to pay attention to her young hostesses, but the sudden sound of heels moving in their direction consumed her. She squelched the vision of a prince approaching on horseback, the strikes of the steed's hooves almost real.
Miranda strode confidently into the foyer, looking every bit the editor-in-chief of the world's top fashion magazine despite her apron and the delicately pushed-up sleeves of her cardigan. Her loose-fitting slacks looked expensive but comfortable, and her heels were just an inch or so elevated.
"Hello, Andrea, it's so wonderful you could join us," Miranda said graciously as she took Andy's elbows lightly and air-kissed each side of the young woman's face.
"Thank you so much for the invitation, Miranda, your house is incredibly lovely," Andy replied, gesturing at what she could see of the townhouse in an attempt to divert Miranda's attention away from her suddenly flaming cheeks.
"Yes, the girls and I are indeed very fortunate to have a home that suits us so well," Miranda replied absently, more interested in taking in her guest's appearance than in the obligatory greetings.
Andrea's hair was slightly tousled from what the editor assumed was a stocking cap to protect against the cold, and her deep brown eyes shone brightly against her flushed skin, which, though she could be wrong, Miranda couldn't attribute to the cold because the same skin was delectably pale prior to their chaste embrace.
"Ah," Miranda continued, finally noticing Andy's white silk blouse, light gray wool skirt, black pumps and red beaded necklace. "I'm afraid you're quite overdressed; my apologies for failing to notify you that Thanksgiving at the Priestly household is something of a casual affair," she smirked as she gestured at the twins, who were still in their pajamas. Andrea's clothes were all obviously off-the-rack and dated by a season or two, but she still managed to put together a decent enough ensemble. For just a moment, Miranda let herself indulge in the possibility that the typically casual pianist had dressed this way for her.
Andy smoothed her hair down self-consciously. "Oh," she started, feeling a bit crestfallen. Did Miranda not like her outfit? "Well, I wasn't sure and just wanted to be on the safe side," she finished lamely.
Regretfully noting the change in her guest's demeanor, Miranda allowed herself a warm smile and said simply, "You look enchanting, Andrea."
Andy looked into Miranda's eyes earnestly, searching for proof that the woman wasn't patronizing her. She returned the editor's smile when she found that proof, basking in her praise.
"So, Andy, are you coming?" Caroline asked impatiently, recapturing Andy's attention abruptly. Cassidy looked between Andy and her mother hopefully, an inscrutable expression upon her face.
"Coming?" Andy said unevenly, shaking her head and trying not to appear as if she hadn't heard a word the young girls had said after they pulled her into their home.
"Yeah, to play Guitar Hero!" Cassidy replied, nearly bouncing up and down on her thick woolen socks. "You can even be Matt Bellamy if you want! We beat that level, so now you can choose him as your character."
Andy beamed so hard at Cassidy's statement it was almost painful. She was thrilled to have connected with the girl regarding something so dear to her own heart. She turned her gaze to Miranda, torn between wanting to spend time alone with the enigmatic editor and wanting to enjoy music with the twins. Politeness tipped the scales in favor of the former.
"Actually, I was thinking maybe I would help your mom out in the kitchen for a while. Maybe we can play after we eat? If that's okay with you, Miranda, of course," she tacked on hastily.
Miranda was sorely tempted to take Andy up on her offer, but the morning's culinary efforts made her yearn for a change of clothes. "Actually, I think most of the preparations have been completed, but thank you, Andrea. I'm going to run upstairs to freshen up, and then I'll call the three of you down when supper is ready."
The twins screeched in excitement and began to herd Andy upstairs toward the entertainment room. Miranda followed behind as she made her way up to her bedroom, reveling in her girls' unabashed glee.
Miranda took her time dressing for Andrea, buttoning a silky champagne-colored blouse by Donna Karan over a dusky rose BCBG camisole that accentuated her décolletage rather nicely. She tucked both into chocolate-hued Bill Blass slacks that stretched luxuriously over her slight curves and widened down her leg to her feet, which she cheekily encased in wool socks the color of her camisole to match the twins' sleepwear-inspired couture. She buckled a shiny brown snakeskin belt around her waist and donned a necklace made of a thin, antiqued bronze chain and rose quartz, leaving her hands and ears bare of jewelry.
She padded down the hallway toward the entertainment room, suppressing a grin at her socks' lack of friction – no wonder the twins so thoroughly enjoyed sliding over the hardwood floors on their socks. She stopped at the threshold of the room, relaxing into the comfortable energy passing between the three game participants. Cassidy huffed good-naturedly as she struggled with the guitar part while Caroline confidently sang the vocal part, if a bit off-key. Andy skillfully tapped out the bass part, not missing a beat as she offered ample words of encouragement to both girls.
Cassidy finally noticed Miranda in the doorway and paused the game, beaming at her mother. "Mom, Andy's amazing at this game!" she gushed, much to Andy's embarrassment. Being able to beat Guitar Hero on "expert" was hardly something a gainfully employed adult should brag about. Nevertheless, Miranda shot her an impressed look, kindling an odd sense of pride within her.
"Andy loves Matt Bellamy, and I thought she'd want to pick him as her character, but she picked your rocker instead, Mom!" Cassidy continued, explaining the presence of Miranda's likeness stilled on the TV screen. The tips of Andy's ears became tinged with pink, but she had no reaction otherwise.
"I see. And who is this Matthew person that Andrea is so smitten with?" she asked lightly, feeling rather ridiculous as she fought to extinguish the embers of jealousy suddenly smoldering in her abdomen.
"Some rocker guy. Cassidy wants to be him when she grows up," Caroline answered. "She can barely keep up with me in our Mozart duet, but she can sure bang out that creepy theater organ part to 'Endlessly,'" she finished sarcastically, oblivious to the horrified expression that washed across Cassidy's face at her sister's divulgence.
Miranda's lips pursed and a flash of anger quickly overtook any pangs of jealousy she felt at the artist's assumed crush. The idea that Andrea would eschew the classical piano repertoire during Cassidy's lessons in favor of whatever meaningless drivel happened to be popular at the moment was unconscionable.
She knew, of course, that Andrea's approach was rather unconventional, and she figured it was likely the source of Cassidy's newfound interest in the instrument. But to be aware of it actually happening – at the expense of Mozart, no less! That was a different scenario entirely, as far as Miranda was concerned. She narrowed her eyes at the musician, who was preoccupied with untangling herself from the guitar controller and setting it against the wall.
Andy felt the temperature in the room plummet, and a knot the size of the turkey in the oven downstairs formed in her stomach. Having faced the devil herself and survived already, however, she bravely squared her shoulders and looked Miranda directly in the eye.
Miranda forced herself to train her iciest gaze on the young pianist even as her heart sped up at the intensity of the girl's expression. She was thoroughly irritated with the woman, but given how taken the girls were with her, it was unlikely she would fire her. Best to at least move the conversation away from the twins, then,she thought. "Andrea, won't you come downstairs and help me set the dining room table?"
"Of course, Miranda," Andy replied, steeling herself as she followed the editor out of the room. Despite her anxiety, she still found it difficult to avert her gaze from the sway of Miranda's hips – in fact, particularly considering that she might be summarily dismissed anyway, she dispensed with discretion in favor of gluing her eyeballs to the woman's shapely backside.
Miranda's silence might just be infinitely worse than her scathing remarks, Andy decided. The two had wordlessly set the table, and their efforts to place the china, silver and fine linens could have easily been mistaken for a choreographed dance. Miranda stood back to give the finished product a once-over with her expert eye before nodding in satisfaction. She motioned for Andy to light the candles – the finishing touch. How the silver-haired editor had given the feisty young pianist the proper direction to come to the ideal end result without so much as a grunt was anybody's guess.
Andy stood and grasped the back of the chair in front of her, and while she was confused when her host turned on her heel and strode out of the room, she was unwilling to be the first to speak. Miranda finally returned with two glasses and an open bottle of wine, motioning for the younger woman to sit as she did the same.
What Andy failed to notice during their labor was the change in the woman's demeanor. Upon leaving the entertainment room, it was clear from the fire in her eyes that Miranda was upset about the way Cassidy's lessons were being conducted. Now, she still projected an air of the utmost seriousness, but the anger had faded to just a wisp of a flame. Andy felt her chest loosen at the realization.
Miranda took a sip of her wine and regarded Andy carefully. Her anger had ebbed, but she still had a point to make. "The girls – Cassidy especially – revere you. There is no mistaking it, and it's a fact I would be naïve to think is unrelated to the unusual way you think about music."
Miranda watched the play of emotions across Andy's face. Triumphant surprise at the positive feedback, but still wary, as the editor agreed she should well be. "It is my goal to give my children a musical education that not only teaches them perseverance and discipline, but also provides a cultural awareness to which so many young people today are sadly ignorant. Put simply, it's unacceptable that Cassidy should struggle with Mozart but excel at 'banging away' to some rock tune," Miranda finished unapologetically.
Andy absorbed Miranda's words, then asked, "When did Cassidy stop liking piano lessons?"
The question took Miranda aback, not only because it was somewhat audacious, but also because she didn't really know. "I'm not sure she ever liked them," Miranda responded honestly after a long pause.
Andy's leaned in towards Miranda over the table, her expression intent but kind. "Do you think she likes them now?"
Despite herself, Miranda's heart swelled to think of Cassidy's excitement every time she returned home from her lessons. A million excuses and justifications sat on the tip of Miranda's tongue to explain why her intentions for Cassidy were more important than what Cassidy actually wanted for herself, but she swallowed every one of them as she recalled Cassidy's joy. "Yes," she answered reluctantly.
Miranda's fingers worried at the edge of a napkin as she waited for Andy to relish in her rhetoric victory, but it never came. Instead, the artist's air became sympathetic, and one of the hands that had always fascinated Miranda so completely covered hers, stilling the fingers that fussed with the expensive scrap of cloth.
"I talk a lot about the unrealized value in today's music and art, Miranda, but my appreciation for it is rooted in a very thorough understanding of how we got here," Andy said sincerely, ducking her head as she tried to make eye contact with her host. "I promise I won't let Cassidy turn into one of those ignorant kids you mentioned – just the opposite, in fact. No one understands the path from Mozart to Muse better than I do, and please trust me when I say that it's that path that is the key to getting Cassidy to acceptthe type of musical education you're so generously offering her."
Miranda soaked in her guest's thoughtful soliloquy and finally lifted her gaze to meet Andy's, which became achingly tender and affectionate. The pressure on her hand increased with a squeeze; then it was gone as Andy removed her hand.
"You know that Muse song Caroline mentioned? Endlessly? Renee Fleming covered it on her album, 'Dark Hope,'" Andy remarked, consciously rolling back the intensity of their conversation. "I may never forgive her for it – the entire CD was just wrong – but she and I are very similar in our approach to bridging classical and popular music," she continued with a grin.
Feeling her equilibrium balance back out, she nodded at Andy's comment about opera's reigning super-soprano before changing the subject, her voice now teasing. "Speaking of Muse, I have no doubt you've met this boy with whom you and Cassidy are so enthralled – Matthew, was it?"
Andy smiled, sighing as the remaining tension left her body. "Matt Bellamy. I took some lessons with him – he's a genius, really. Actually, you may be interested to know that he and Kate Hudson just had a baby boy and are engaged to be married," she finished, proud that she was able to connect the conversation to an actress who was well-known in fashion circles.
Miranda was indeed interested to know, but not because of Kate Hudson. Rather, she was glad to note that any affection Andrea held for her favorite band's talented lead singer was purely professional, and even if it weren't, the girl didn't seem the "home wrecker" type. Miranda smiled as the embers of jealousy died, if only for now.
Their meal was uneventful, and the girls were pleased to see that their mother and Andy had apparently smoothed over whatever awkwardness had come out of Caroline's earlier outburst. Cassidy had nearly smacked her sister for that - not only had Caroline almost taken all the fun out of Cassidy's lessons, but she very nearly ruined what they both had hoped would be a memorable day with their mother and one of their favorite new people.
The twins finished their meals far in advance of Andy and Miranda, the latter of whom sighed heavily at their request to be excused back to the entertainment room but relented nevertheless. Andy merely hid her smile in her wine glass when Miranda promised she'd call them back down when it came time to clean up, which earned a groan from the girls.
Unlike most of her threats, however, Miranda's vow to put the twins to work turned hollow almost an hour later when Andy, who was not one to leave a mess untended, deftly collected a stack of dirty plates midway into a story, forcing Miranda to follow suit if she wanted to hear the story's continuation.
The tale in question was the story of how Andy, who had been fighting the realization that she was gay since age 16, finally came out to her parents when she visited them for Thanksgiving her junior year of college. Miranda listened with a heavy heart as Andy related her parents' rejection of her "lifestyle choice."
"They couldn't figure out why I couldn't just date Doug - like two gays make a straight or something," she laughed mirthlessly, "My dad said that my 'liberal' college education had brainwashed me and turned me into this angry, vindictive lesbian who resented my family and was ungrateful for all he had given me. If he only knew how much I loved them," she said, voice faltering as a tear finally slipped down her cheek.
"I think at some point it sunk in how off-base his perception of me was, and it made me realize that he didn't see me, he saw who he needed to see. In order to deal with things, he needed to project onto me this awful, hateful persona - someone who is so far from who I know I am. And the more I resisted him, the worse it got and the harder he tried to hurt me as deeply as he possibly could, like he would sooner break me than accept me."
Miranda slowed in placing the leftovers in the refrigerator, feeling Andy's pain acutely as she neared the end of her tale.
"There was a silver lining, actually," she said, a burden seeming to lift from her shoulders visibly. "It suddenly seemed so ludicrous to need his approval, and it was such a liberating feeling."
Her expression became dark again, but not quite as dark as before. "I was just about finished packing my car back up to go back to Ann Arbor when he came out into the driveway and told me he loved me unconditionally, but it was this really eerie, arrogant thing, like he expected that to make me change my mind, like they were the magic words he needed to say to 'fix' everything and change me back into the person he thought I'd been before I told him.
"I kissed my mom before I left, and she told me how sorry she was, but that was all she said. I haven't spoken with either of them since, and holidays have all been either spent with Doug's family, other transplants in town or by myself," she finished sadly.
Miranda was quiet for nearly a minute, regarding Andy without pity, only sad fondness. "I can't imagine a parent doing such a thing to their child," she said finally, heart aching for the other woman. No matter what the girls threw at her, she would sooner die than attack them the way this man apparently had attacked Andy. She fought back a fierce wave of protectiveness for the young musician, remarking instead, "it takes great strength and self-awareness to recognize what you did about your dad - that his assault on your character was about him, not you. I'm glad you know what a wonderful human being you are."
Andy brightened at Miranda's sincerity. "Thank you. I love my life, really," she said, and Miranda believed her without question. "I can't live a lie, not even for him. I want to fall in love," she continued with a faraway look in her eye. "I want a family, even if it's just getting a dog," she laughed. "At least it will be a dog who loves his gay mommy."
"Yes," Miranda mused, heart fluttering at Andy's change in demeanor and hopeful at the turn in their conversation. "You have so much to offer, Andrea. I can't help but think that the woman who ultimately wins your affections is very lucky, indeed."
Andy smiled broadly in thanks, feeling a little self-conscious at the other woman's warm sincerity.
"So," Andy said with finality, changing the subject. "Tell me about the Book this month."
Miranda got the hint and launched into a irritation-laced tirade about the incompetence of her staff, save for Nigel, whom Andy decided she was very eager to meet. Anyone who could burrow so far down into the editor's good graces had to be someone worth knowing.
Things between the two women easily shifted back to normal as they finished cleaning - if "normal" meant stolen glances and not-quite-accidental brushes of hands, shoulders and hips as they handed plates back and forth and passed each other in their travels between the dining room and kitchen. Finally finished, Andy dried her hands on a dish towel as Miranda closed the dishwasher, and the two turned towards each other before quite realizing how close together they were. Once they were face-to-face, they were both nearly undone by the proximity.
Breaths came more quickly than usual, and they stared for several moments before Miranda broke the silence. "I don't believe I've ever met anyone like you," she breathed, spellbound and unable to put distance between them. "I've always been able to ignore the occasional attraction to women. I suppose I thought it was an occupational hazard that comes with being so focused on the female form... it seems natural that my passion for clothes could easily transition itself to that upon which they're draped, but they've never been more than fleeting fancies. Never like this," she confessed as she searched Andy's face for a reaction, finding a certain yearning there that gave her the courage to continue despite her better judgment. "I'm not sure I can disregard this so easily."
Andy wasn't quite sure she believed her ears, feeling her chest expand almost painfully and a tug low in her abdomen at Miranda's words. "I'm not sure I want you to," she finally confessed huskily, affected by the editor's admission. She was completely unprepared for the change her throaty response produced in Miranda - the woman's bearing shifted with incredible speed from cautiously optimistic to a state of nearly unconstrained burning, her eyes blazing a hungry trail across Andy's features to finally settle upon her lips.
Andy blushed at Miranda's heated perusal, her eyelashes fluttering shut when the editor raised a hand to caress her cheek. She leaned into the woman unconsciously, and thinking only of the perfection of the moment, brushed her lips delicately across the corner of Miranda's mouth, not quite a kiss, but not quite anything else, either. A tiny, surprised puff of breath hit her cheek at the act, and then a hand moved to wrap around the back of her neck, gently drawing her in.
It was a beautifully chaotic first kiss, their noses colliding in a way that felt heady and real instead of awkward, teeth scraping at lips when one or the other broke contact briefly to gasp for air before diving back in. Their choreography ebbed and flowed from insatiable to blissfully quenched, raw to innocent and bruising to fleeting within the span of just a few moments. The pair came crashing back to Earth, however, with the pounding of steps on the hardwood floors above them.
"Mooo-ooommmm! Andy! Come watch a movie!" one of the twins called down the stairs. Andy pulled away reluctantly, the spell broken. She craned her neck to check that whichever girl had summoned them had retreated back into the entertainment room and out of sight, then watched as Miranda smoothed her clothing, trying to get her breathing under control.
"We're not finished, Andrea, even if we have to pick our conversation up at a later date," Miranda vowed.
Andy nodded and reached to wipe away the damage she did to Miranda's lipstick with her thumb. The editor took a deep, shuddering breath and grasped Andy's hand before it retreated, lustily taking the digit between her teeth and giving the ridged pad a swipe with her tongue before pulling away. Andy merely gaped as Miranda left the kitchen silently as if nothing had happened, then finally managed to follow her up the stairs when she regained use of her legs.
Andy's slow progression back to the surface of consciousness began with the sounds of quietly muffled sobs, which, when juxtaposed with the way her body hummed against the soft heat pressed into her side, was a bit disorienting. She struggled against the urge to remain on that comfortable tactile plane in favor of investigating the forlorn weeping.
Her eyes slid open a crack, and on the gigantic flat television screen, Remus Lupin held Harry Potter back from chasing Bellatrix Lestrange, who had just murdered his godfather along with a number of very sweet dreams of finally having a family. The twins, sprawled on the floor in front of her, peeked through the fluffy sleeves of their pajama tops, distraught at Sirius' death and Harry's devastation.
"Oh, my poor Bobbseys," a soothing voice resonated next to her. "No matter how many times you see this movie, you're always so hopeful for a different outcome, aren't you?"
Andy's body woke up fully when things shifted back into place at the sound of Miranda's voice. The girls had insisted they watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and she remembered snuggling up as much as she could against Miranda's side while still being discreet in front of the girls (so all that meant, really, was that their sides were pressed together from shoulder to knee) and promptly succumbed to tryptophan's call.
She was still trying to figure out how they were going to play things in front of the girls, and Miranda wasn't dropping any obvious clues. Andy felt the editor take a deep breath beside her and shift to face her.
Keeping her voice down out of respect for the girls, who were now engrossed in the impressive battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort, Miranda smirked and said, "glad you could join us."
Andy smiled sheepishly. "Guess I was tired."
Miranda watched as Andy turned back toward the screen. The editor had always loved Ralph Fiennes, and while she couldn't say the movies would have topped her viewing list if it weren't for the girls, the accomplished actor certainly did the role justice. She watched Andy's face change in thought, and suddenly the young musician turned back toward her.
"Do you get to London very often?" Andy asked.
"Of course, Runway has an office there and we'll be in town for London Fashion Week in February," Miranda responded curiously.
Andy bit her lip in concentration. "Do you ever bring the girls with you?"
"Not typically, but it's certainly possible... what's brewing in that mind of yours?"
Andy smiled mysteriously. "Not sure yet, need to talk to Nicholas," was all she said.
Miranda narrowed her eyes at Andy at her reticence to provide any further detail, but there was no malice behind the expression. Andy's face fell when the credits started to roll. Miranda noted the credit for the film's composer, Nicholas Hooper, before it faded from the screen, and wondered if there was a connection, but she let it go.
"I should probably go," Andy said, not without some disappointment.
Miranda wanted to ask her to stay, but she couldn't think of a reason to urge the other woman to remain without admitting a certain weakness for her far too early in this... thing they were doing.
The space next to her became cold almost immediately when Andy stood, holding out her hands to help Miranda to her feet. The girls whined at Andy, also disappointed that she was leaving.
What are we doing, anyway? And what of the girls?Miranda asked herself. She couldn't think of any reason to hide their feelings from the girls other than the typical ones that transcended gender - they didn't need to get attached if things weren't going to work out. But this was different, she reminded herself. They are already attached to her, and Miranda was surprised to feel herself slipping into denial that "things not working out" might be a possibility - she found herself already living on hope.
The girls had already begun watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (they were in for a reverse marathon, evidently), so they hugged Andy and let their mother walk the young artist out. When they reached the front door, Andy smiled disarmingly, but Miranda knew it was for show. Things weren't awkward, exactly, but the other woman was certainly being cautious. Miranda wordlessly lifted an eyebrow, encouraging the typically eloquent young artist to say what was on her mind.
Andy bit her lip. "I like you, Miranda," she said finally, prompting a snort from the editor at the simplicity of her words. Not phased, however, she continued. "I want to see more of you, and I want to see more of the girls, and without getting too far ahead of ourselves, I guess I want to make sure you want the same things."
"I do," Miranda responded simply, an amused twinkle in her eyes.
"Oh," Andy responded, a little deflated that that's all she got.
Miranda took pity. "I have no intention of sneaking around when it comes to the girls - this is 2007, after all, Andrea," she said, heart swelling at Andy's visible relief at her words. "I want to play things a little more carefully when it comes to the public, for the girls' sake, but also at Runway for now," she finished carefully.
Andy nodded in understanding and smiled, clearly not expecting any additional explanation, and let it rest. "I had a lovely time today, Miranda, thank you so much for inviting me."
Andy's eyes drifted shut as Miranda's hand began caressing up and down her arm. When she opened them again, Miranda's lips were brushing hers softly, and she responded, reveling in the soft, pliable mouth against hers but taking care not to draw in or be drawn. This was a goodbye kiss, and the reason it was goodbye is because if she didn't leave now, she wasn't sure they would be able to kick her out if they wanted to.
The women drew back, and Andy turned down Miranda's offer to call a cab with a gentle hand to her cheek. "I need the cold air - it will do me good, trust me."
Miranda nodded, obviously allowing that against her better judgment, but she couldn't seem to do anything about it. "Things will be somewhat busy at Runway, and it's unlikely we'll see each other before the girls' recital," she shared with regret.
Andy's smile didn't waver, however. "The girls have been working so hard - I can't wait for them to play for you," she said enthusiastically before giving Miranda a final peck.
Miranda nodded at her, grateful already for the lack of pressure and watched Andy head out into the wintry air, not closing the door until the young woman was out of sight.
Andy smoothed her hands down the front of her dress nervously, trying valiantly to ensure that the smiles she gave to her handful of students standing backstage at the Walter Reade Theater were somewhat reassuring. The theater was among the most intimate on campus and was typically meant for movie screenings, though it also hosted some smaller recitals like the one about to commence.
Doug had helped her pick out her ensemble - a black, knee-length crepe sheath by Dolce & Gabbana. "Oh girl, this was made for you," her friend had gushed. "You needed an upgrade in the 'little black dress' department anyway. And those shoes!" he finished in awe as she slipped her feet into a pair of black suede Alexander McQueen pumps with an appliqued crystal pattern starting heavily at the heel and fading down the sides like a sky full of stars. Andy had merely nodded at the modelesque attendant assisting them at the boutique, indicating that they would take the dress and shoes.
At the time, she was certain Miranda would approve of her choice, but now she was second-guessing herself. Just when she was going to step into her dressing room to check her hair and makeup for the 10thtime, a trio of heels resounded through the hallway, finally revealing the small family she had quickly come to adore.
The girls beamed when they saw Andy, running ahead of their mother in beautiful tea-length holiday dresses to greet her warmly. Miranda was on her phone, apparently tending to a Runway-related issue. When she caught sight of Andy, Miranda stopped both speaking and walking mid-sentence, her eyes twinkling with pleasure as they blazed a slow trail down and back up Andy's figure. Her eyes finished their perusal and connected approvingly with Andy's relieved gaze, her mouth quirked in an amused smile.
"You will just have to figure it out, then, won't you? That's all." Miranda said in a deathly soft voice before hanging up on the poor individual on the other end of the line. The next thing Andy knew, she was enveloped in the smell of Miranda's signature scent and the headiness of her presence, their cheeks brushing deliciously as Miranda stepped well into her personal space for a pair of air kisses. "Andrea, the girls have been bursting with anticipation. Apparently the surprises you have in store require such discretion that they refuse to tell me a thing."
Miranda had been curious - Andy had invited the girls to her studio three times that week to practice, and aside from the girls' excitement at the fact that Andy had needed to ask the facilities team at Juilliard for a second piano for her studio, she was left completely unaware.
"They're going to be fantastic," Andy replied, gamely taking the girls' lead of keeping the other woman in the dark. She took in Miranda's ensemble greedily, a heavy wool skirt suit with black stockings and a rich, beautiful silver fur wrap that Andy loved so much it made her feel a little guilty... Maybe it's fake, Andy thought hopefully, only just barely stopping herself from snorting at that unlikely prospect.
A stage tech all in black approached Andy and told her quietly that they were ready to begin. Miranda hugged each of her girls in turn and wished them luck, then leaned in close to Andy and discreetly ran a fingernail down her side from rib to hip bone, wishing her luck as well before excusing herself to take her seat in the audience. Andy fought to continue breathing normally as she hastily glanced around for any sign that the other woman's risky move was spotted, but no one seemed to have noticed.
After watching Miranda saunter away, Andy cleared her throat and clapped softly to attract her students' attention before running through the program order with them one more time. She high-fived the young boy who would be playing first, told him to wait for her signal and stepped out on the stage to welcome the crowd and officially get things underway.
Miranda smirked as she discreetly read a text message from the woman up on stage currently congratulating the last of her students before Caroline and Cassidy were scheduled to play. Tease, it said. You know what they say about payback...
The recital had not been as grueling as she had thought it would be. The students typically did fairly well at these - they were taking lessons at Juilliard, after all - but they were still children, and they made mistakes and even occasionally forgot the music they were able to play in their sleep before the harsh lights of the stage were upon them. After considering it for a moment, however, she wasn't surprised by the notion that Andy would have carefully selected pieces that each of her students would be able to perform beautifully.
She tapped back a short response and pocketed her phone quickly, watching with interest as the tech they saw earlier rolled a second piano out onto the stage. Caroline followed him out and cheekily curtsied to the crowd before she sat down at one of the pianos, Andy already seated at the other.
Miranda checked the program again. She had perused it quickly at the start of the recital and had curiously noted the name of the duet Caroline and Andy were to play - "Overcome." This time, however, she noticed the name of the composer and drew in a surprised breath: "A. Sachs."
Before she could give it any more thought, Andy's arms began to move, her fingers' soft touch on the keys producing sound in the low register so quiet that it was more of a change in the atmosphere than something actually audible.
It grew louder, but just barely, so it could still be heard when Caroline began to play. Her notes were in the middle registers of the instrument, and Miranda heard a melody that would have most likely been at home in the repertoire of Debussy - ephemeral and moving without any melodrama. Caroline's execution was sweet and sure, and though both pianists were at an angle to the audience and it was difficult to see their faces, they turned toward each other often, the wide grin on Caroline's face making Miranda's heart swell.
Caroline's part moved into the upper registers as Andy took over, embellishing the melody the young redhead had established at the beginning of the piece and taking a more mature and thoughtful tone with it. Caroline's part thinned out then, and both moved into a lilting minor key. Despite its beauty, the music pouring from Andy's hands became almost painful, and Miranda noted the change in the way the brunette held herself, from confident and poised to a bit withdrawn and reluctant. The editor's breath caught, and she wondered what caused the young musician to compose such a passage.
The piece moved back into the main melody, which Caroline reclaimed with a less polished but still charming air, bringing the piece to its close. The moment the final notes rang through the auditorium, Miranda was on her feet before she realized what she was doing. Everyone around her seemed to be in awe and joined her in her ovation, much to Caroline's glee as the two musicians held hands and bowed for the audience.
Andy led Caroline back stage, the younger girl clinging to Andy's arm and chattering excitedly at their performance. The brunette squeezed Caroline against her before releasing her and holding out her hand, which Cassidy then took. Andy quickly introduced the young girl and signaled something to the back of the auditorium, and before anyone realized what was happening, the lights dimmed and the screen of the theater lit up.
Andy's part began with a low rumbling as ominous clouds filled the movie screen, and as a shape began materializing among the clouds, Cassidy played a music box-like melody in the upper register that took Miranda a moment to place but that had the young siblings in the audience squealing. Of course, she thought, as the shape on the screen revealed itself to be the iconic logo of the Harry Potter movies.
The montage of the first five movies was beautifully done and matched the arrangement played by the two musicians. Miranda had seen the movies with the girls, of course, but had never been as moved by them as now - through the music, she felt Harry's wonder during his first year at Hogwarts, his fear-laced bravery as he confronted the terrifying basilisk of the second movie, his elation at meeting his godfather in the third movie and the charming waltz from the fourth movie, when the Goblet of Fire champions opened the Yule Ball with a dance. The piece ended with scenes of Harry, Hermione and Ron from the fifth movie, the music a loving depiction of strong friendships filled with loyalty and love. The second it was over, Cassidy jumped up from the keyboard and threw her arms around Andy, who tossed her head back and laughed. Rather than the three friends in the movie, Miranda thought, it seemed the last moments of the arrangement were a better theme song for the two friends currently on stage.
The applause seemed to go on endlessly, and Miranda was pleasantly surprised at the ovation her children had received from the other parents. It wasn't until Andy approached the front of the stage and thanked everyone for coming that the cheering finally died down, and Miranda followed the rest of the crowd out of the auditorium as it began to clear out, seeking out the flower vendor she had spotted earlier.
Caroline and Cassidy gripped the lush, extravagant bouquets from their mother and preened at what could be considered especially effusive praise from the typically reserved editor. Miranda had hugged them each tightly and dropped a kiss onto the tops of their heads with soft words telling them specifically what her favorite parts of their performances. Andy, clutching her own bouquet, looked on, touched by the exchanges.
Finally, the three Priestly women turned to Andy with smiles. "Andy, that was awesome!" Cassidy said, Caroline nodding in agreement.
Miranda offered the brunette a soft smile. "Thank you, Andrea," was all she said, but the depth of the meaning behind her statement was apparent in her expression. "This has been an incredibly special evening."
Andy let the praise wash over her, taken by Miranda's sincerity. Before she could provide a response, however, Caroline, who was apparently bit clueless about the moment happening between the two women, took Andy's hand and began moving with her down the hallway.
Miranda shrugged at Cassidy, who rolled her eyes after her sister before taking her mother's hand to follow the other two. "Hey Mom, can we get ice cream?" the girl asked sweetly.
"I suppose," Miranda said after a moment of thought. "Andrea, would you care to join us?"
"Are you kidding? I am the last person in the world to pass up ice cream," Andy replied with a grin, producing cheers from the girls. "Let me just get my things."
She led them into her dressing room and set about balancing the beautiful bouquet with her purse, coat and sheet music. She noted the notification light blinking on her phone and unlocked it to check the incoming text message.
bring it. -M, was all it said. Andy choked back laughter and glanced at Miranda, who was valiantly trying to suppress a sly smile. She had every intention of cashing in on that little challenge.
The corner of Miranda's mouth quirked at the laughter and spirited conversation riding atop the jazz tune making its way down the hallway. Quieting her steps, the editor stopped in the entryway of Andy's office, observing unnoticed as the woman she came to visit pounded away at the keyboard. A pencil precariously holding together a messy bun atop her head threatened to dislodge with every chord struck, but it went unnoticed as she heckled a young man - Doug, Miranda surmised - who was struggling to pluck a quickly running "bass" line on a cello in time with Andy's effortless embellishments. The two friends accompanied a pretty vocalist, who sang through a wide grin at her friends' antics.
"Come on, Doug, it's like you never even heard this song - No, Dougie, F-sharp minor!" Andy teased.
Doug's face scrunched in concentration, and he stuttered unintelligibly as he fought an apparent inability to talk and play at the same time. He finally dropped out of the song, spinning the instrument around nimbly on its end pin with a frustrated groan.
"Too much pressure for you, cello-boy?" the vocalist asked sweetly between verses before resuming her part.
Doug took a deep, calming breath, leveling a playful glare at the singer. "In case you forgot, a cello is strung differently than a bass," he remarked loftily, bringing his hands back into position. "F-sharp miiiinnnooor," he mimicked Andy teasingly.
"Whatever, dude, three of the strings are exactly the same!" Andy responded, drawing a snort out of Miranda at her use of the word "dude."
Surprised by the sound, the three friends ceased their playing and turned toward the doorway.
"Miranda," Andy said in surprise, her face brightening at the editor's presence. She was oblivious as Doug and Lily exchanged knowing glances, hiding their grins at their friend's transparency.
"You're early, we were just messing around until the girls' lessons..." Andy's voice trailed off when she didn't see the twins in the hall behind their mother.
"I'm afraid the girls won't be able to join you today, Andrea," Miranda informed her, her expression darkening. "Their father arranged an impromptu skiing trip for the holiday - he collected them a few hours ago. My apologies for not informing you earlier, but it seems the plans were fairly last-minute."
"Oh!" Andy exclaimed in response to the woman's explanation, disappointment clouding her features. The uncharacteristically lost expression on Miranda's face made Andy choose her next words carefully. "Well, I know they've worked really hard at school this semester and probably need the break, though I'm sure they miss you terribly already."
Miranda hummed in response, recalling that both girls had indeed sent her a text message the moment the plane landed in Colorado with that very sentiment, not that it was much consolation.
Andy was reaching for something else to say when the squeak of Doug's chair broke the moment. She had forgotten he and Lily were even in the room.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry," she said as she moved aside and gestured to her friends, sheepishly acknowledging her failure to make the introductions. "Miranda, these are my friends, Doug Carpenter and Lily Thomas. Guys, this is Miranda Priestly."
Doug stood to greet the distinguished fashion editor. "I've heard so many wonderful things about you and your daughters, Miranda. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise, Douglas," Miranda responded, grudgingly succumbing to the young man's easy charm. Despite knowing the (purely platonic) history between Doug and Andrea, she had still enviously noted the effortless rapport and obvious affection the two exhibited during their music making just moments before. "What was that song you were playing?"
Lily answered the question smoothly as Miranda turned to shake her hand as well. "'Love' by Rosey. It's nice to meet you, Miranda."
The editor nodded her thanks at the girl's response, returning the singer's polite, if wary, smile. "Such a sweet song, and the three of you perform it so well. But I apologize for interrupting your session with your friends, Andrea. I don't mean to keep you," Miranda stated, nodding to the three musicians as she prepared to make her exit. Her eyes drifted down to a small bag in her gloved hand as she moved toward the door, drawing Andy's attention to it for the first time.
Doug zipped the soft case around his cello soundly and stood, halting Miranda's exit with the action. "Actually, I think we were just wrapping things up - I know I will be late for rehearsal if we don't, at any rate."
Lily nodded in agreement. "I've got a hot date with a glass of wine and the latest arrivals from my Netflix queue," she shared, grabbing her coat.
The pair hugged Andy goodbye, Doug's conspiratorial wink earning him an eye-roll from the brunette as she shooed him out the door. Miranda stood stiffly, not having received an official invitation to stay, but her discomfort quickly receded when the younger woman waved her into the chair next to the piano.
"I'm sorry about the girls," Andy began sympathetically, taking the editor's hand as she sat down on the piano bench.
Miranda feigned a nonchalant air, responding, "Oh, I'm sure they'll enjoy the extra time with their father, I just wasn't expecting their departure to come so soon. He wasn't scheduled to have them until Christmas Eve."
"Certainly you have a custody agreement in place to prevent such things?" Andy asked confusedly.
Miranda sighed. "The custody agreement has certainly served its purpose in refereeing disagreements between Jeremy and me over the years, but the girls have gone through enough. They shouldn't also be required to bend to the will of a document typed up a decade ago by some paralegal they've never met," the editor stated logically, squeezing Andy's hand before letting go so she could sit back fully in her chair. "They're getting old enough now to decide for themselves - I was up most of the night trying to think of a reason to deny them, and I couldn't think of a single one that wasn't self-serving," she finished, her voice catching on the last word of her utterance. Embarrassed, she turned her head away from Andy as she tried to school her emotions.
"I wouldn't call cherishing your time with your daughters 'self-serving,' Miranda," Andy replied quietly. Wary of pushing the woman any further, she allowed Miranda to regroup without additional comment.
"Well," Miranda said, finally under control. "In any event, they made me promise to bring you the gifts they selected for you," she finished casually, as if the girls often ordered their mother to make deliveries on their behalf while they took to the slopes of Breckenridge.
Andy's face was overtaken with a hopeful smile. "Really?"
Miranda scoffed. "What kind of a woman do you take me for that I would lie about such a thing? Really, Andrea," she teased.
Andy laughed at herself endearingly, taking the gift bag from Miranda's outstretched hand. "Of course not, but how incredibly thoughtful of them," she remarked, removing a flat rectangular package that Andy assumed was a book given its weightiness, and a thin, square parcel that Andy guessed was a CD of some kind. Andy hesitated, not sure if she was meant to open them without the girls present.
"By all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me," Miranda drawled, eliciting a snicker from the pianist. "The girls made it very clear that they expect a full report before they retire tonight detailing your reactions upon opening their gifts, so best you get started."
"But I don't have anything for you," Andy said softly, stricken by her thoughtlessness. "I had planned on bringing something for you and the girls when I got back from Doug's," she said.
"Please, Andrea, the recital was gift enough," Miranda responded sincerely, reaching over and squeezing Andy's hand before drawing back again.
Andy nodded and carefully removed the wrapping paper from the heavy rectangle, revealing a book of blank music staffs, bound in a tasteful distressed brown leather cover. "This is beautiful," Andy breathed in appreciation of the volume as she caressed the fine grain of the leather cover. Opening to the front of the small tome, she noted an inscription written in the young redhead's scrawl, which seemed to be a variation on her mother's, Andy noted fondly. For your next masterpiece, it read.
"Caroline hoped it might help things along for your next duet," Miranda explained, then cocked her head at the young musician in wonder. "I have the benefit of understanding Caroline better than most because she and I are very much alike," the editor said, watching Andy thumb through the book with a fond smile before setting it aside and focusing all of her attention on Miranda. "Playing that piece with you moved her in a way I've never seen from her before. She was incredibly honored, Andrea."
Andy swallowed thickly, pleased at making inroads with the more skeptical of the two twins. "She was fantastic," she managed.
Miranda nodded, noting Andy's slight discomfort and motioned at the second gift to quell the intensity in the studio. From Cassidy, then, Andy figured, and she made quick work of removing the paper from the slim parcel. Observing the colorful design of the CD liner evident through the clear plastic of the jewel case, Andy's heart melted - her young protégé had burned a CD for her.
She carefully removed the liner and read the disc contents - "Miss Sarajevo," a collaboration between U2 and the late operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, a piano cover of Paramore's "Misery Business," the Vitamin String Quartet's rendition of Muse's "Stockholm Syndrome" and Alison Moyet's recording of "Dido's Lament" from George Frederic Handel's opera, Dido and Aenaeas, were all among the tracks Cassidy had selected for her.
She smiled at the girl's precociousness - each choice broke down the barriers between classical and contemporary music, whether it came in the form of an unlikely collaboration between rock stars and opera singers, a pop or rock song performed on classical instruments or a centuries-old piece sung by a modern artist. "This is amazing," Andy said, completely taken aback.
Miranda allowed the young woman a moment, waiting until shining brown eyes finally met hers before concluding with a gentle smile, "The twins will be so pleased that you appreciated their gifts." After another pause, this one borne from uncertainly, Miranda gathered her courage and reached into the deep pocket of her dress coat to extract a long, slim box that was also wrapped with care. Taking a deep breath, she took Andy's hand, giving it a gentle caress before pressing the box into soft skin, directing her to open it with a nod. "From me."
Andy's brows furrowed as she removed the paper, and she was rendered speechless by the black box, completely nondescript save for the understated silver lettering spelling out the maker of the prize inside: Mont Blanc.
Overwhelmed but spurred on by Miranda's close observation of her actions, Andy lifted a second black box out of the protective nest of the first, lifting the lid smoothly on its hinges. She gasped at the contents - nestled on a bed of white silk was the most exquisite writing instrument she had ever laid her eyes on.
Miranda watched the young pianist avidly, feeling Andy's gasp as if the air had entered into her own lungs and searching for even the most minute sign that her choice had been the right one.
Andy lifted the piece from its case reverently, her slender fingers caressing the concentric circles carved into the gold cap and continuing onto the soft, pewter-like cylinder the color of a pale, dusky blue. The word "Bohème" was etched into the gold ring segmenting the cylinder from the business end of the writing instrument, and she realized with a start that this wasn't a pen - "It's a pencil," Andy stated, unable to hide her wonder.
Miranda cleared her throat against the highly charged emotion coming off of the brunette in waves. "Of course," she attempted blithely. "Isn't pencil the instrument of choice for musicians who wish to make notations on their sheet music?" Andy nodded. "Since the first time I occupied this very chair, I've always found it such a shame that a musician of your caliber would demand the finest piano available, yet willingly settle for a writing instrument as pedestrian and uninspiring as a No. 2 pencil," Miranda conveyed, punctuating her statement with a gentle pull at the pencil pinning Andy's hair. Her intent was to illustrate her point, but the thick brunette waves unleashed by the pencil's removal and the mental image of just how exactly how those perfectly aligned teeth marks came to score the yellow-coated wood promptly derailed her thought process.
While admittedly new to whatever it was she and Miranda were doing, it wasn't that hard for Andy to pick up on the cues betraying the heat roiling just beneath the editor's cool exterior - the darkening blue of her eyes, her lowered lashes, the tinge of pink blossoming from her collar, the teeth sinking gently into her lower lip... Andy stood from the piano bench and stepped bodily into the older woman's personal space, kissing her soundly. Her open mouth drew back to murmur, "thank you," before descending again for the same, drawing back again to restate her appreciation, and continuing to alternate back and forth between kiss and thanks until throaty laughter rumbled up from deep within Miranda at her young love's absurd behavior.
"Silly girl, how you warm my heart," Miranda confided and stood to cradle Andy's face in her hands, her heart squeezing at the play of emotion across the pianist's face at her words.
The moment Miranda saw the stunning writing instrument, she knew it belonged in Andrea's hand, and the fact that it came from Mont Blanc's "Bohème" line reassured her in her choice, if a bit unnecessarily. The French word for "bohemian" suited the artist perfectly. Not in the literal sense, of course, but certainly in spirit - there was really no better way to describe the young woman's unconventional take on life and art, her tireless pursuit of new and interesting ways of bridging high art and popular culture and her passion for lighting a creative spark within each person she encountered.
"My beautiful bohème," she sighed, relishing Andy's closeness as the brunette embraced her fully, her head resting on Miranda's shoulder.
The two eventually parted, Miranda in danger of being even later than usual to a holiday gala demanding her presence that evening. After confirming their plans to spend time together upon Andy's return from her holidays with Doug and his family, Andy dotingly arranged Miranda's scarf around the editor's neck and buttoned her coat all the way up before sending her back out into the cold night air.
Andy shut the cab door and stood hesitantly at the curb in front of the Priestly townhome. Coming straight from the airport had seemed like a good idea when she arrived at JFK and turned on her phone to find a racy text from Miranda burning up at her from the screen, but now she wasn't so sure. She pulled at her yoga pants self-consciously to get them to lay better over her thighs and sighed at the frayed elastic bands of her well-worn Michigan sweatshirt peeking out from the sleeves of her peacoat. That's classy, she thought ruefully before grabbing the handle of her suitcase and heading up the walk. I'm dressed in sweats for my first booty-call with the Queen of Fashion. At least she wasn't wearing Hanes underneath, she reasoned gamely.
The town house door swung open before her foot hit the first step, and smoldering blue eyes met her own before traveling down her body and back up, a purse beginning to form on her lips. Andy hoped the grin on her face looked more convincing than it felt.
"Andrea, it's far too cold to be traveling about in such a fashion, come in immediately," Miranda greeted her sternly, but the twinkle in her gaze belied her humor. Andy relinquished her suitcase, which Miranda rolled into a corner before taking the younger woman's coat. The editor made no effort to hide her perusal of Andy's backside on her way to hang her jacket up in the closet.
Soaking in Miranda's obvious pleasure to have her there, Andy felt herself relax. "See something you like?" she asked teasingly.
Miranda hummed her agreement, evidently unable to tear her eyes away from Andy's figure. "I would ask Nigel about having our next shoot at an ashram, but I don't think the models could fill out a pair of yoga pants quite as deliciously as you," she replied demurely, pulling the brunette to her by said backside and brushing Andy's full lips with her own sweetly.
The kiss deepened, and a moan rumbled from Andy's chest when the tip of Miranda's tongue ran over her lower lip. The kiss was over almost as soon as it started, however, and Andy's brain strained to catch up as she watched Miranda stride off in the direction of the kitchen, tossing an airy, "come along, Andrea, you must be famished," over her shoulder.
She caught up with her host as she was pulling a pitcher of water out of the refrigerator, and just when she began to wonder how the editor remained so unaffected when she herself had nearly ceased to function, she noticed a tell-tale shake in the hand offering her a glass. Something is wrong, Andy realized sharply, looking up to find Miranda avoiding eye contact. She removed the glass from the other woman's hand and replaced it with her cheek, noting absently how the chill of the water-cooled hand seeped into her skin. "What's the matter?"
The editor swallowed and was quiet for so long Andy began to worry she wouldn't receive an answer. "I'm nervous," Miranda said finally, the admission seeming to come at a great cost to her. "I am typically the woo-ee, and in the midst of enjoying the role-reversal so thoroughly, I'm afraid I may have forgotten to account for the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing."
Andy had to smother a giggle at the ridiculousness of the admission. Their courtship had been nothing less than magical thanks to the editor's attentions and effort, but she knew Miranda well enough to know that the woman wasn't one to fish for reassurances - this was her entrée into "the talk."
The artist considered her next words with care for a few moments, enjoying the headiness of the memories that rushed back to her: the heat of their first encounter, the look on Miranda's face when she was about to explode with pride in her daughters after the recital, the thoughtfulness behind the beautiful Mont Blanc pencil, the fond gaze Miranda seemed to reserve for her alone... Her heart swelled almost painfully with each remembrance, and with an unwavering confidence, Andy finally stepped out onto the scariest limb of them all. "No one really knows what they're doing when they fall in love, Miranda, that's the beauty of it."
Miranda's eyes widened in shock before she was able to school her features. "It is love, then?" she asked uncertainly.
Andy nodded. "It is on my end," she replied quietly, surprised at the calm feeling that washed over her despite the fact that her admission hadn't yet been reciprocated. The strength of her feelings and the liberation she felt having gotten them out into the open seemed to ground her.
Miranda's eyes closed and her lips softened into a small, blissful smile as she nodded, seemingly relieved. When her eyes reopened, Andy saw tranquility reflected back at her before the editor wrapped her hand around the back of her neck and gently pulled the pianist's forehead to her lips. "I share your feelings, my love," Miranda murmured quietly against her skin before placing a kiss there.
Andy pulled the other woman against her tightly, suddenly desperate to be as close as possible. She felt Miranda relent save for the amount of space it took to bring their lips together in a slow kiss, and Andy's head spun - they'd never shared a kiss so deep or so intense. She lost herself in it and was surprised to find her body suddenly painfully aroused moments later as she registered the feeling of Miranda's hands smoothing over her shoulders, down her back, over her rear and back up her sides. She noted absently how the woman's thumbs seemed to inch closer to her breasts on each pass, setting the area alight.
Her own hands itched, and she indulged them with far less subtlety than her partner, opting to slide them up from the woman's waist to cradle each breast gently, rubbing her thumbs over sensitive nubs and grinning in response to the hard peaks evident even through several layers of fabric.
Miranda hissed in surprise, and Andy let out a squeak when the other woman's teeth bit down on her bottom lip sharply. "Cheeky," the editor admonished breathlessly, taking Andy's action for the invitation it was and finally sliding her hands down Andy's front as she backed her up against the edge of the counter top.
Andy clawed at the hem of her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head roughly, anxious to have Miranda's hands directly on her skin. The editor helped her remove the t-shirt and bra underneath and hummed against Andy's lips when hands finally made contact with skin. Miranda used Andy's distraction to begin moving her out of the kitchen and toward the stairs, trailing kisses over the newly exposed skin.
"I'm suffering from an extreme bout of impatience, but I think the comfort of the bedroom may increase endurance this evening, hmm?" Miranda said hotly against Andy's neck. Andy grumbled but acquiesced, grabbing the other woman's hand and all but dragging her up the stairs.
"You know, I never did get to eat," Andy said as she drew lazy circles on Miranda's ribcage, her head resting on the woman's hip. "Well, not food, anyway," she snickered.
Miranda scoffed teasingly. "I didn't hear you complaining."
Andy, anticipating her reaction, was already grinning. "No, you sure didn't." Her tone became serious, then. "I do love you," she reaffirmed, the newness of it making her feel as if she needed to hear the words float on the air between them as often as possible.
"And I you," Miranda responded as if it were the most natural thing in the world, reaching for Andy's hand and bringing the knuckles to her lips while she waited for the brunette to continue.
"And... I think, well..."
"What is it, darling?" Miranda encouraged.
"I know the girls like me and everything," she began, smiling briefly at Miranda's snort in agreement before sobering again. "But liking me is different than accepting my presence in your life - different than asking them to share you," she finished shyly.
Miranda threaded the fingers of her free hand through Andy's hair and gently tugged, guiding the brunette's head up to come to rest on her shoulder and winding their bodies together securely before answering. "Andrea," she began thickly, and Andy realized that Miranda had created a delay in order to get her emotions back under control. "The girls have shared me with many suitors, and they have not taken to any of them - with the exception of their father, of course. I think they may know better than I do just how good you are, not just for me, but for all three of us. They adore you far more than I ever expected them to care for a significant other."
Andy heard a plea in Miranda's words, and she clearly recognized it as the editor imploring her to understand the magnitude of what she was saying. The musician felt a finger on her chin, lifting her gaze to connect with Miranda's. "In fact," Miranda continued slowly. "I wonder if it's not unfair to ask you to share me as you must."
Andy shook her head, unable to hold back a guileless smile as she thought of the girls who had captured her heart as surely as their mother had. "Quite the opposite," she responded. "I"m very taken with them - they're stuck with me whether they like it or not, I'm afraid."
The editor squeezed their bodies together again tightly. "We're all stuck with each other, in that case."
Andy yawned, suddenly very tired. "I'm very glad," she responded sweetly, drifting off to sleep safe in her lover's arms shortly thereafter.