“Mmmm...” Andy relaxed back against the tub and wrapped her arms around the woman in front of her. The warm water swirled around them gently. It didn't take much, a tiny turn of her head, to kiss the side of Miranda's neck. She hated to break the moment, but they were both about as relaxed as they were going to get. “So...” Andy whispered in the older woman's ear. “What is it you have been meaning to tell me...”
Miranda sighed, partially in contentment, partially because she knew it was time for Andrea to know who she had agreed to marry. She just wasn't sure where to begin and said so. “I want to tell you about myself, but it will require some background. I'm not sure where to begin,” She sighed, “It's quite a long story I'm afraid.”
“Miranda...” Andy knew the woman was getting better about not calling herself old, but every once in a while the concern crept into the woman's thoughts and comments.
“No darling, I didn't mean because of my age. It's just a long story, and I want you to understand...” Miranda admitted, “...understand who you've agreed to marry.”
This again... “Miranda,” She shifted slightly, feeling the older woman's exquisite body slide against her, and suggested, “Why don't you start at the beginning?” She waited as Miranda was silent for some moments. She actually began to wonder if Miranda was going to speak, when she heard the woman's soft voice, barely above the sound of swirling water, ask.
“Do you know why I hired you?”
“Yes, you told me... because of my impressive resume and my speech about my 'so-called' work ethic...”
“Mmmm...” Leaning against the younger woman, Miranda let her head fall back to rest on Andrea's shoulder. “That's not...exactly, true.”
“What?” Andy was fascinated with the pulse point now exposed. She leaned in to feel the rhythm with her lips, mumbling. “Why then?”
Miranda's eyes fluttered closed. “Oh, God, Andrea... I can't do this with you...doing that... it's too distracting.”
“Mmmm...” Andy slowly stopped her explorations and pulled away. “I'm sorry.” She nuzzled Miranda's ear and whispered, “You just taste so good.”
Leaning into another kiss from Andrea, Miranda sighed one of her half-contentment, half-resigned that they have to stop sighs. “We need to talk.”
Andy nodded. “Okay then,” It was difficult, but Andy allowed Miranda out of her arms and out of the tub. She followed quickly and soon they were both sitting on the sofa, wrapped in soft fluffy robes.
Aware that Miranda hadn't wanted distracting touches, Andy sat nearly an arms length away, they faced each other but only touched where their arms along the back of the sofa overlapped their hands.
“I am a very petty person, Andrea. You need to realize that up front.”
“No, don't interrupt me,” sad blue eyes pleaded, “I need to say this.”
Andy licked her lips, then nodded and pressed them together, determined not to cut in again.
“I hired you because of your 'impressive resume' that is somewhat true. But before I go into that, I need to give you some background, about me.” Tangling her fingers with Andrea's, Miranda took a deep breath.
“We were poor when I was growing up.” Miranda took comfort from the fingers in hers tightening. “Not, poor like you would imagine. Not American middle-class poor, we were English poor... My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle poor, Natalie and I actually sold flowers in the theater district on weekends.” She almost fondly remembered those times, with Samuel standing watch over them, making sure that flowers were the only thing the theater patrons tried to buy. Studiously avoiding Andrea's eyes, Miranda continued. “Anyway, when I was thirteen I got an after school job sweeping the storeroom for a dressmaker.” Now she smiled at the memory. “The woman I worked for was very kind and when I was fourteen, I dropped out of school in order to work in her dress shop as a clerk. I got a small salary plus commissions on what I sold.” A glance at Andrea's wide dark eyes was all she could stand before she continued.
“Samuel was angry at me, he wanted me to finish school.” Miranda shook her head. “But he had dropped out when he was fifteen as well, taking a job at a factory to support us.” Licking her lips, Miranda admitted. “Our father left when Natalie and I were five. Samuel is ten years older than we are and when our father left, he stepped up to try and provide for us.” She sighed. “Mother worked as well, although she wasn't really trained for anything. She took in laundry, and managed a few odd jobs.” Shaking herself out of the memories, Miranda continued. “Anyway, when I was old enough, I dropped out of school and began to work to support myself.”
“That's amazing.” Andy's eyes went wide. “Sorry... go ahead.”
“It's not amazing Andrea, it's horrible. Children shouldn't have to do that... but it was my life. Samuel hated it. He didn't want me to work. He wanted to keep me under his thumb, his rule, his control... but I wasn't having any of it. So after I saved as much as I thought I needed, I.... left.”
She saw Andrea's confused look. “I moved out...” Miranda rolled her eyes at how naive she'd been back then. “Anyway, the relevant part of my past is that I never finished school. Daniella, the woman I worked for, taught me everything she knew about dressmaking, and she taught me French.”
“You're self-taught about fashion?” Andy gaped. “Miranda, that's amazing...”
“No, not amazing, it was self-preservation. I learned because I had to, the more I learned the better I was at my job.” She sighed. “But that is the reason, when I saw you, with your 'impressive resume', your college degree, standing there practically begging me for a job... something in me wanted to hire you, to crush you, to prove to you, and myself I suppose, that having a college degree didn't mean anything.”
“So you set out to crush me.” Andy blinked and mumbled. “It damn near worked.”
“I know... God, I know.. and I'm so sorry about it...” Miranda lowered her eyes to study the fabric of the sofa between them. “I'm not proud of the fact, but I'm extremely glad you didn't let me...” Fingers under her chin gently tilted her face up to meet dark, loving eyes.
“Miranda, is this what has been bothering you?” Andy shifted closer, “because all this story has done is show me how amazing you are.” She pulled the older woman into her lap, the white hair brushing her shoulder where the robe had fallen open slightly. “You worked your way up from nothing to the very top of your field. You're an incredible woman. I count myself lucky every day that you love me. How we met, why you did what you did then, isn't nearly as important as how you feel now.”
“I love you Andrea. I'll love you every second from now on...”
Smiling at that, Andy brought their lips together. “You see? No reason to look back... only forward, Miranda. You and me... always.” Andy's hand found its way inside the gaping robe. “Was that all you wanted to tell me?”
Arching into the touch, Miranda hissed. “We'll need to talk more, there are several things we need to discuss before the wedding.” Andrea's hand found the flesh she sought and Miranda moaned. “The rest can wait...”
“Mmmm...” Andy shifted again, “I was hoping you'd say that.” Laying Miranda back on the sofa, Andy nudged the robe aside and began her quest to prove just exactly how much she loved and adored Miranda. She didn't intend on stopping until every inch of her fiancee was completely convinced. “I love you, Miranda.”
Miranda was already lost in the sensation of Andrea's weight on her. She wanted to answer, she wanted to tell the woman how incredible she was, how beautiful, how amazing, but all she could do was hold on, as Andrea seemed to tell her all that and more, without even saying a word.
Light in her eyes and a shifting on the bed woke Miranda slowly. “Mmm... time?”
“Oh, sorry to wake you.” Andy leaned over to kiss the sleepy woman. “I was going to let you sleep while I went on my run.” She indicated the note on the pillow next to Miranda. “You were sleeping so peacefully, I couldn't bring myself to wake you.”
Miranda blinked. “But you weren't.” It was a statement of fact, Andrea would often wake before she did, but if it had been a good night the woman would remain in bed. The only reason Andrea ever got up as soon as she woke was all too familiar to both of them. “Another nightmare?”
Andy smiled a little sadly and nodded. “At least I didn't wake you this time.” She was beginning to get annoyed at the night time ramblings of her brain. “I wish I could remember something, anything, about them.” She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, “Two seconds after I wake up I can't remember a thing except that weird vague unease... that sense of loss.”
Miranda sat up and held Andrea close. “I wish there was something I could do...”
“I know.” Andy smiled as she kissed Miranda's neck and breathed in the woman's scent. It was a whisper of the editor's signature perfume, mixed with traces of last night's activity. “I'll be okay.” With a final kiss, Andy moved off the bed. “I'm going to go meet Michael and run. He usually only does the circuit twice, but I may take a third lap today...”
She always takes longer runs to clear her head. Miranda smiled at the young woman. “Do what you want, I'll be here when you return.”
Andy smiled back at the prone woman. “I love you.”
Miranda laughed. “And I you.” With a wink, the older woman began to move as well, reaching for the robe Andrea had divested her of last night. “Have a nice run.”
Nodding, Andy assured her partner, “I won't be gone too long.” She closed the door firmly behind her and went to meet the hotel manager.
Miranda waited several heartbeats to make sure Andrea wasn't going to return until her run was finished. Certain she was alone, Miranda began her own morning ritual. Last nights exertion had left her a bit stiff and sore, this workout seemed to help loosen her tight muscles in addition to the toning benefits. She wished it was this easy to eliminate Andrea's concerns and stop the nightmares that plagued her partner.
Andy took her phone from her pocket and quickly dialed as she rode the elevator down to the lobby. She knew it was late back home, but at this point she didn't care if she got Nigel out of bed or not. Finally the connection was made and the voice that answered sounded tired.
“Nigel!” Andy sounded panicked. “Thank God... are you okay?”
“Andy?” The man sounded confused. “What's wrong? Why are you calling me?”
“Well I don't know Nigel, I thought you might be sick or in the hospital or something.”
“What? Andy what are you talking about?” Nigel sighed. He so wasn't in the mood for this. “It's been an extremely long day...”
“You think?” Andy laughed. “I was hoping you weren't just ignoring Miranda's voice message for no reason.” Dead silence from the American end of the connection. Andy grinned and waved at her running buddy while she waited for Nigel to say something. Suddenly there was the sound of the phone being transferred and a new voice sounded in her ear.
“Andy?” The Brazilian woman questioned. “What did you do to Nigel?”
“What?” Laughing, Andy bowed slightly to Michael who held the door for her as they exited the hotel. Suddenly she had a hundred camera's going off in her face. Rolling her eyes she mouthed. 'sorry' to the hotel manager then returned to her conversation with Serena. The woman was explaining her question.
“I was walking past Nigel's office and saw him standing here, his mouth moving much like a fish out of water...”
“Ah,” Andy moved through the crowd of photographers, oddly enough very much like moving through water, leaving frustrated photographers in her wake. “Okay, tell him... tell him that Miranda is not angry, and to call her. And tell him that I'm impressed he didn't fall over, and that I owe him a drink when we get back.”
“I think perhaps you owe us all a drink...” Serena's laugh flowed through the connection. “...we work very long days when Miranda is gone.”
Andy suppressed a gasp, she'd moved her run with Michael up but it would still be one in the morning in New York and both Nigel and Serena were still at the office. “I'll see what I can do.”
“Have a nice day.”
“Have a good night,” Andy chuckled, “what's left of it.”
Disconnecting the call, she pocketed her phone and spoke to her running mate. “Sorry.”
He waved off the apology. “Ready?”
“Yep.” She had stretched in the room and the walk over had warmed her up somewhat. Falling into step next to him, she relished the mindlessness of it, one foot in front of the other no real need to think about anything except staying on the path.
Miranda was just finishing her routine when her phone rang. A glance at the screen made her smirk, Nigel. She let it ring, toying with the idea of simply letting it go to voicemail. She detested voicemail though, and sighed as she pushed the button to answer.
“Miranda,” Nigel couldn't keep the apologetic tone out of his voice because he was in fact apologizing. “Sorry I didn't return your call sooner...”
“Bore someone else with your sad sad story, just tell me what you are doing to my magazine.” She smirked at the brief silence that followed. Then Nigel began to tell her everything that had happened that day, well, yesterday... whatever. “Nigel! I don't need the details, I'm not there to handle them anyway. That is your job. Three out of these four things are what I need to know.... are the shoots going well, has anyone died, is the building standing, is the magazine still on schedule.”
Nigel sighed, the only reason he knew Miranda wasn't actually upset with him was because Andy had assured him she wasn't. He answered the three he thought he should. “The shoots are going fine, Patrick personally took over the Calvin Klein layout, the building is still here, and we are still on schedule. I'm assuming you don't care if anyone is dead... but there isn't, just in case you wanted to know.”
“Why would I want to know, Nigel? That would be HR's problem.”
“Right.” He ran his hand over his shiny bald head. “So how's your trip going?”
“Mmmm... that bad, eh?” He tsked into the phone. “Take the opportunity...talk to the girl.”
“She's a woman, Nigel.” Miranda exhaled slowly, “And the problem is we have been talking... this trip has somewhat opened our eyes to each other. I'm not sure what any more revelations will bring.”
There was a tone in Miranda's voice that was almost sad. Nigel tried to cheer her up. “Well, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Andy loves you, you could tell her you were secretly a short order fry cook and she'd probably just order a burger or something.” He laughed, not realizing that Miranda wasn't laughing with him. “Have you seen much of London?”
“Not yet, I'm waiting for Andrea to get back from her run and then I will show her some of the sights. She's expressed an interest in taking a flight on the Eye.”
“Ah, yes... well, I'm going to close down here for the night. Hopefully I can get some sleep, before I have to be back in...” he paused to look at his watch, “...seven hours.”
“Of course.” Miranda sat on the sofa, leaning against the arm. “Just make sure that Jean-Paul is ready for the showing on Thursday, and don't forget to get the permits for the shoot at the memorial... also, I had some photos of some other police officers, in addition to Detective Jo sent to my office, look through them. Pick eight or so of the top ones, I'll narrow it down from there.” She paused for half a second, “That's all.” Cutting the connection she leaned back on the sofa for a long moment, then stood. She headed toward the bathroom to get cleaned up and start her day.
Andy leaned toward the transparent barrier of their private car on the London Eye. She thought their 'guide' was going to bust a blood vessel when Miranda told him he wouldn't be necessary. And in fact he hadn't been, Miranda had given her a verbal history of the city before they were even a quarter of the way through their 'flight'. Now she just looked out over the city and marveled at the sight. The morning mist cast an almost surreal look to the landscape. “It's beautiful.”
“Quite nice.” Miranda took a deep breath, “Very peaceful.”
“Ugh... you weren't kidding about the English paparazzi.” Andy rolled her eyes. “What is the deal with that anyway?”
“They are rather persistent little vultures aren't they?” Miranda thought about it, “We might want to pick up a few of the more outrageous rags, just to see what they are saying about us.” She phoned back to the hotel, when the desk clerk answered she passed on her thought. “Yes, this is Miranda Priestly, have someone pick up some of the papers today. The Sun, The News of the World, The Mirror, The Express... all those gossipy type rags. There have been photographers following us since yesterday and I would like to know if any of them have managed to sell their wares.” She looked at Andrea as the clerk responded courteously to her near-order and with only a slight twitch in her right eye said, “Thank you,” before she disconnected the call.
Andy laughed, “Now was that so difficult?”
“Yes...” Miranda grumped, “so don't get used to it. I won't suddenly be 'asking' my employees to do their jobs, they will do it or they will be fired. My request to the hotel clerk was not a regular part of his job, therefore I assumed a 'thank you' was in order for his ready compliance.”
Laughing again, Andy moved to where Miranda was sitting, “My Dragon Lady...”
“Mmmm...” Miranda sighed, “Indeed. I am yours, and I am the Dragon Lady.” Pulling Andrea down next to her, she linked their arms together and leaned over to rest her head on the young woman's shoulder. “When we are finished here, I will tell you, show you, the reason for that moniker.”
“Um... okay.” Andy could tell that this was another thing that Miranda seemed to think would change her opinion about her, make her rethink their relationship... make Miranda, unsuitable, to marry. It occurred to Andy that Miranda was working awfully hard to come up with reasons not to marry her. She promised herself to ask the older woman about that, after the wedding. Right now, she decided, they would sit like this for the rest of the 'flight' and just enjoy the view.
Andy stood, holding Miranda's hand, looking down at the grave marker. She wanted to say, something, anything, but instead simply stood holding Miranda's hand, waiting. She heard Miranda take a deep breath and knew she wouldn't have to wait much longer.
“That's when.” Miranda focused on the date engraved on the marker. “The day my mother died, the Dragon Lady was born.”
Andy remained silent, knowing Miranda wasn't finished.
“I worked for Daniella in her shop, for three years. The first year was hard, fighting with my family, making very little... not enough to live actually but I was too proud to go back. I took a second job to make ends meet. The longer I worked at the dress shop though, the better I got. I'm not going to brag but I know I was good, the increased commissions proved it, although she never told me she thought so, never told me I should move on... If she had I would have refused to leave, refused to leave... her.” Miranda's voice dropped to an even quieter whisper, so low Andy wasn't sure if she was meant to hear or not. “Then, she left me.”
Shifting to wrap her arm around Miranda's shoulder, Andy kissed her temple lightly.
“The shop closed, Daniella was gone, I had pretty much stopped my other job after my second year at the dress shop, only working there a few hours a week, so I basically had no job and very little savings...” Miranda leaned into Andrea's embrace. “But she left me a letter of recommendation, I took it to one of the little shops I loved on Carnaby Street and they hired me on the spot.”
“What did the letter say?”
Miranda chuckled. “It said that of all the sales clerks she'd ever had, I was her biggest disappointment and that if they didn't hire me, they were idiots.”
Andy pressed her lips together tightly, she felt tears gathering in her eyes. That moment during her interview with Greg at the Mirror came back to her. The astonishment, that Miranda had given her a recommendation like that. The relief that Miranda had allowed her to move on with her career instead of blocking her disloyal assistant's efforts was incredible. But now, knowing where it came from, knowing that was something directly from Miranda's past was more than incredible, it was indescribable.
“It was a great job, it paid more, and the patrons bought more, so my commissions were more. I had never really quit my other job though, I still went in occasionally to help out...until,” Miranda swallowed hard at the memory. “One of my regular customers at the new store was, in fact, the fashion coordinator at English Runway.” Grinning at Andrea's widening eyes, Miranda nodded. “She offered me a job as her assistant...” The memory made her blue eyes shine. “So after five years of selling clothes to individual customers, I changed jobs and began to sell clothes to a hundred thousand people at once.”
“That's where you learned about magazine publishing...”
“Mmmm...” Miranda nodded, “I'd read the magazines for years, keeping up with the latest designs was important to help sell the clothing, but seeing the behind the scenes of it all was quite enlightening.”
“How old were you then?” Andy had done the math, she knew the answer, but couldn't really wrap her mind around it.
“Nineteen.” The older woman answered absently.
Running her tongue over her teeth, Andy nodded. “Do you know what I was doing when I was nineteen?”
Blinking, Miranda looked over at her partner and waited.
“I was at home, terrified of moving away to college.” Andy raised her hand and gently threaded her fingers in Miranda's hair, stroking the woman's cheek with her thumb. “You're amazing.”
Patting the hand on her cheek, Miranda smiled. “No, not amazing. I was just, surviving.”
Andy didn't argue, she knew that tone all too well. This was a point Miranda wasn't going to budge on, but neither was Andy. Miranda is amazing, Andy thought and nothing anyone said, even Miranda, would change her mind about that.
“Anyway, again, more money but the hours were such that even 'helping out' at my former second job was impossible. So I had to give up that little bit of security.” But not the friend I made there... Miranda sighed. “I moved closer to the Runway offices, farther from my family. I still argued with them, Mother and Samuel, over a lot of things. I worked longer hours, immersed myself in the mechanics of publishing, learned everything I could about the industry.” She rolled her eyes. “Much to my Boss' chagrin after a year working for her, I was promoted into her job.”
“What happened to her?”
“She was transferred to French Runway, as fashion coordinator... a lateral move but she was happy with it, I suppose.” Miranda shrugged. “After a year in that position I was promoted to Fashion editor...and then, I found myself as Editor-in-Chief of British Runway... it seemed so sudden, but for two years I was the big boss at the magazine.”
“Wow, Editor-in-Chief at twenty-two?”
Miranda nodded, “Yes, I couldn't believe it either, and there were many naysayers, but I proved them wrong. I worked very hard and in two years the magazine was better than ever. I still hadn't really gotten my reputation yet, many people called it beginner's luck. Then I was transferred to French Runway, and I knew I had to do the same for French Runway that I did for British Runway... I had to, or everything I'd been working for would just be laughed away and my career would be over.” She smiled as Andrea nodded understanding. “So I moved to Paris and got to work.”
Andy remembered what Miranda had told her about her mother's death and gasped. “How long was it before...” Her eyes slid to the grave marker.
“I was in the middle of my third issue when Natalie rang to tell me that Mother had passed away.” Miranda licked her lips. “I, sent my regards, but didn't attend the funeral.”
“What?” She couldn't imagine not attending, even if the unthinkable happened tomorrow and her father was gone, no matter what differences they had, she would be there, for her mother, for Chad.
“I couldn't go, Andrea. I was the Editor-in-Chief of French Runway...” Miranda closed her eyes, “and it was Fashion Week.”
Andy looked at the date on the marker again and gasped, “Oh, Miranda.” Andy felt the tear rolling down her cheek. That must have been an impossible choice for her. Just thinking that word brought Miranda's words back to her. You can see beyond what people want, and need, and choose for yourself... if you want this life, those choices are necessary.
“That's when it started, the reputation, the iron tough, immovable Dragon Lady, the Snow Queen with ice for a heart. The woman who doesn't even care if her own mother is dead, she just keeps working...” With a small sob, Miranda sank to her knees, Andrea following suit, keeping her arm around the older woman's shoulder. “I did care, Andrea, I swear I did... I just... I couldn't... be there.” Miranda hid her face in her hands but didn't try to stop the tears, “I couldn't spare the hour it took to fly home... it's an hour Andrea... it would have taken an afternoon, one lousy afternoon.... and at any other time I would have, I swear I would have... but, it was Fashion Week... and I just...”
“Couldn't.” Andy wrapped her other arm around her partner and held her tightly. “I know.” They sat like that for a long time, until Miranda got herself under control and began to speak again.
“I had been sending Mother some money, every month, for her rent, and bills. She claimed the others were helping her as well, but I found out later that they hadn't been.” With a little effort, Miranda stood, bringing Andrea up with her. “She was buried here because this is where poor people are buried, the synagogue paid for the funeral from a fund they have for just that purpose.”
“I didn't know. If I had, I would have taken care of it myself.” Miranda sighed and stood, again looking down at the marker, grateful for Andrea's arms around her. “No one told me anything about it. Once I said I couldn't come to the funeral, I was not spoken to again for quite some time.”
“Twenty years.” Miranda shook her head at Andrea's horrified expression. “It's only been in the last decade that I have tried to reconnect with my family, for the girls' sake. They should know their relatives.”
“I wish I could have been there for you.” Andy swallowed hard at the terrible events that Miranda had gone through, alone. But then, she was assuming. “Did you... have someone, to be with you?” She wasn't sure which answer would be more heartbreaking, that Miranda didn't have anyone, or that she did. Jealousy is a terrible thing, she thought.
“No.” Miranda shrugged, “Not then.” She smiled sadly at the look in Andrea's eyes. “Dragon Lady, remember? I was the Snow Queen, the one with the heart of ice, no one even dared to try to melt.”
“How long did that last?”
“I was editor of French Runway for five years.” Miranda patted the arms around her for release. She reached into her clutch purse and withdrew a small stone.
Andy thought she recognized the pebble in Miranda's hand as one from the landscaping in their backyard. That mixture of stones had been special ordered, to complement the color of the flowers in that particular bed.
The older woman took a step forward and placed the tiny rock on the grave marker then they began walking back toward the car. “I didn't meet James until I took the job at American Runway.”
“The youngest Editor-in-Chief, in American Runway history.” Andy knew that much. Emily had verbally beaten that fact into her brain. She wondered if Emily's facts extended to French and British Runway.
“Yes.” Nodding, Miranda slid into the car. “I had just turned thirty, literally, my first day at the Runway offices in New York was my birthday.” She laughed, “They wanted to throw me a party, but I would have none of it. I didn't want a party from them, strangers. They took it to mean that I didn't like birthdays for some reason and never tried again.”
Well that's going to change. Andy thought and smiled at her partner. “So things got blown out of proportion, like they always do.” This afternoon had been amazing. The things she'd learned about the woman she was going to marry would make most people just admire the editor more, but Andy knew that Miranda wouldn't want anyone else to know about this part of her life. The woman was only sharing with her because Miranda loved her and wanted her to know. “I love you, Miranda.”
“Even now, now that you know what a horrible person I am? How I chose my job over my family...” Her self recrimination was stopped by Andrea's soft lips moving against hers for several heartbeats.
“I love you, Miranda, always.” She smiled, her dark eyes drowning in Miranda-blue. She wanted to say more, to assure the older woman that there was nothing she could reveal about her past that would ever stop the love she felt. Unfortunately her stomach chose that moment to remind them that they had skipped breakfast.
Miranda smiled at her partner's charming humanity. “C'mon, I know the perfect place to get something to eat quickly.”
“Yeah?” Andy climbed into the car, realizing that she was actually quite hungry.
“Oh yes,” Miranda chuckled as her eye took on a mischievous gleam and she informed her companion.
“You're going to love it.”
To be continued