Andy's first thought when they walked into the tiny building was, Oh my god, she was right, I love this place. It was perfect, obviously mostly a carry-out, Andy corrected her thought, take-away business, but there were just a few tables and a short wall to separate the tiny eating/ordering section from the cooking area. The man working behind the counter spoke without looking at the new customers.
“With you in a bit.”
“Um...” Andy spoke quietly trying not to disturb the busy man behind the wall as he dropped several baskets into the hot oil vats, “a diner?”
Miranda shook her head and chuckled affectionately, “Americans,” Her eyes glittered as she took in the space, “This is not a diner, Andrea...” Her voice remained soft, but her English accent firmly reasserted itself. “This is a good and proper East End Chippy.”
Andy blinked as Miranda stepped up to the wall.
With barely a glance at Andrea, Miranda felt herself transported back in time. It was the aroma that did it, she knew; that hot oil scent that she had lived with all those years ago. She studied the bald older man industriously pouring potatoes from a large sack into the hopper of the chipping machine. She could see tickets for orders hanging from a small metal stand next to the til. Since no one else was inside the establishment the tickets were obviously orders to be picked up. After a long moment, a small smile appeared. She spoke as if she had actually kept in touch with this man for the last thirty years instead of the long twenty year absence then a handful of short visits in the last decade. Her normally soft carefully cultured voice was completely replaced by her former much rougher tones, “Add two Cod and Chips to the queue, Gus.”
A slight pause of the potatoes dropping into the hopper was the only thing that indicated he might have been thrown by the voice at all. Turning to look over his shoulder, a definite sparkle appeared in his eye when he saw Miranda. Indicating a garment hanging from a peg on the wall behind the divider, he grunted. His voice was low, and gruff, but also held a great deal of wistful amusement, “Make it yourself, you ungrateful wench.”
Andy gasped and looked at Miranda with wide eyes only to find the older woman smiling wider. She barely leaned into the quick kiss Miranda gave her on the cheek and only automatically caught the jacket Miranda had quickly shrugged out of.
Miranda rolled up her sleeves as she moved, “Have a seat, darling. This won't take long.”
Frozen in shock, Andy sat and watched Miranda slip behind the counter. The older woman quickly took the garment from the peg and threw it over her head, covering her dark Donna Karan pantsuit with the dubiously clean layer of cloth. Andy was first amazed that Miranda didn't even have one hair out of place after pulling the thing over her head. She wondered why her head wasn't exploding as she watched the Editor-in-Chief of Elias-Clarke's flagship magazine, prepare two orders of fish and chips. Maybe it has exploded, she thought idly, this is some sort of hallucination... She wasn't sure exactly how to handle this particular development. It was amazing, and wonderful and too surreal for words. Andy could only stare as Miranda bumped her hip against the man's.
“Shove over you lug... I'm workin' here.”
He laughed and bumped her shoulder with affection as she dumped the batches of chips he'd started into the holding area. “You've gone white...”
Blue eyes rolled at the characteristic taunt then looked up to take in his shiny head. She smirked as she loaded the metal baskets with the equivalent of two orders and dropped them into the hot oil. “You haven't.”
Laughing louder he shook his head and finished bagging the take-away requests he'd been working on when they came in. Setting them in a row on the counter he had nothing to do but wait for more customers to place more orders. He leaned against the counter and watched the woman work. He waited until she was nearly finished before he asked. “What brings you around, Miriam?”
With a look of disdain for the styrofoam containers held above the cooking area, Miranda took two squares of blank newsprint paper, from the small stack next to them.
Andy watched, fascinated, as Miranda took the paper and twisted it into large cones, filling each with a portion of fish and chips, finishing them with a final flourish of sticking a small fork into one of the top chips. Taking the results of her labor to the corner table, Miranda almost slammed the cones onto the surface, scrunching the narrow ends, causing the whole packets to remain standing upright on the table. Miranda turned to face the man. “Do I need a reason?”
“Of course not, Pet.”
Andy blinked at the endearment then blinked again as the man opened his arms wide and Miranda, with only the slightest hesitation, moved into them. The stunned brunette watched as the woman she loved basked in this huge man's embrace and returned it. She finally found her voice.
Patting the man's chest, Miranda moved away as Gus released her. Miranda took off the protective garment, hanging it back on its peg behind the wall.
As Andy watched, Miranda moved back to the eating/ordering area, shedding the persona she'd fallen into when they'd walked in. Miranda seemed so happy while she was cooking. The thought was disturbing, because the corollary meant Miranda wasn't happy now, with her. A soft hand on her cheek pulled her out of her worries.
“None of that,” Miranda smiled as dark eyes met hers, “I cannot live in the past, and don't want to, but visiting every once in a while is quite enjoyable.”
“You gonna introduce me to your friend, Miriam?” Rolling his eyes, he corrected himself, “Miranda.” He held up a hand stalling her response as the door flew open. A harried looking young man rushed in, spared a slight glance at the women standing in the dining space, grabbed all the bags on the counter and rushed out. Gus chuckled, rolled his eyes and explained, “Delivery... it's a new thing. Taps me into the office worker business, in the City.” His thumb gestured in the general direction of London's financial district only a mile or so away. Dismissing the employee from his mind, the man focused on the tall brunette. “This one of your models then?”
Andy laughed. She was so not a model. Miranda's answer stunned her.
“She could be, but no,” Miranda turned, wrapping her arms around the young woman's waist, “Gus, this is my Andrea.”
“Is she now...” The man took in the position and grinned as the brunette's arms circled Miriam's shoulders, her dark eyes met his in clear challenge. Mine. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and chuckled, “I guess she is.”
“Andrea,” Miranda indicated the man in question,“This is Gus. He saved my life, in more ways than one.”
Nodding, Andy was still wary of the man. “Nice to meet you.”
His smile widened, “So polite...” Waving off any further niceties, he gestured them toward the table with food on it. The phone rang and he moved to answer it.
“Since when do you take phone-in orders?” Miranda didn't recall any place ever doing that.
“Since the delivery thing started.” He laughed, “no sense in delivering it if they have to come here to order it anyway.” He gestured to the table again. “Eat... before it gets cold.”
“He's right,” Miranda urged Andrea to resume her seat. “This so-called food isn't edible if it's cold. No matter how well it's prepared.”
“Oy!” Gus, grinned then shrugged and glanced at Andy. “She's right.” Picking up the phone, and a ticket book, he dutifully asked the caller what they wanted, nodding and writing as they listed off their choices.
Andy took a bite of the fish and widened her eyes. She spoke, in low tones, to her fiancee. “Miranda, this is wonderful.”
“Mmm...” She drizzled a little malt vinegar over her food and bit into a chip, her eyes fluttered. “Yes, it always was quite good.” Miranda smiled as their legs interlaced under the small table, she wound hers around one of Andrea's.
“So this was your 'other' job huh?” Andy grinned as she tore a bit of the crunchy batter off the fish and popped it in her mouth.
“Yes.” Miranda smiled and she knew what Andrea wanted, the whole story. So, as they ate, she spoke quietly about that time, about finding this job, not only for the extra money but the free meals, about Gus and what a good friend he had turned out to be over the years.
Andy just ate, and listened, this story was different than the one Miranda had told her at the graveyard. Miranda was relaxed here, comfortable and Andy realized that she was too. This was, Andy thought, like when she and Jo went out, two friends having a bite to eat and talking. Except Miranda wasn't just her friend, Miranda was her best friend.
“Why are you grinning like that, Andrea?” Miranda couldn't help returning the expression. “This story isn't actually that funny.”
“Do you know that you're my best friend?”
A charmed look crossed Miranda's face and after a moment she nodded. “I'm glad you think so. Do you know that you are mine as well?”
Andy nodded. “Yeah.” I'm gonna marry her.
Miranda chuckled, “You know what this means, of course.” At Andy's confused expression, Miranda continued with a twinkle in her eye and a smirk. “Your reputation for dating short order cooks, is still intact.”
Laughing loudly at that, Andy grinned. “Yeah, I guess it is.” She popped a chip in her mouth and chewed slowly, savoring the “one time only” prospect of eating fried food that Miranda had prepared herself. Then she remembered Miranda's total aversion to places that deep fried food. “So what's with the attitude about bars serving deep fried snackies?”
With another smirk and as much haughtiness she could muster, Miranda informed her in no uncertain terms, “They wouldn't do it correctly.”
She had to agree that she'd never had fried food as good as this, but she knew that probably had as much to do with who prepared it as much as it did how it was prepared.
Gus brought two drinks to the table and pulled another seat over. He looked at the nearly empty cones standing on the table. “No one does that anymore, you know? I don't think they can.”
Miranda smiled, “That's a shame.” She gestured to an empty chair, inviting him to join them.
Sitting, he began regaling the young brunette with stories of Miriam and some of the more colorful patrons they used to serve.
Andy enjoyed the afternoon immensely, partially due to the fact that Miranda did too.
It was only when the after work orders and customers began to roll in that they took their leave, much to Gus' dismay. His after school help hadn't arrived yet and he wanted Miranda to stay and help him fill the orders. Andy couldn't blame him, she knew how hard it was to say goodbye to Miranda. It was something she hoped she never had to do for very long.
They said their goodbyes and decided to go back to the hotel to rest until it was time to meet the family at the restaurant.
They had been happy to find that their pictures in the gossip rags were fairly benign and thought that Andrea running through Hyde Park would probably show up in tomorrow's editions. After their leisurely sightseeing tour earlier and their flight on the Eye, most of the photographers had given up trailing them, opting for a chance at more interesting celebrity's. Now however the desk clerks had informed them that the paparazzi had returned. Miranda sighed as she concluded, “Determined to get a picture of us going out for a night on the town, no doubt.”
“Well then,” Andy grinned and, casually, reached into the closet pulling out one of the slinkier selections Abigail had sent from the British Runway Closet. “Why don't we oblige them?”
Miranda's eyes twinkled in anticipation of seeing the dress on her fiancee, “Why not indeed?” Perusing her own selections, Miranda picked a not-so-conservative dress of her own.
Andy licked her lips. Just the thought of Miranda wearing the dress she was now holding, made Andy totally not want to go out. It must have shown in her eyes.
Miranda chuckled and moved forward, close enough to stroke the young woman's cheek with the backs of her fingers. “Control, my darling. There will be time... after dinner.”
“Why put it off 'til then?” Andy grinned and grabbed the hand caressing her. She kissed the palm and then the wrist.
Miranda pulled her hand away, only barely controlling her own urge to give in to Andrea's request. “We will be late.”
“The reservations aren't until seven...” Andy moved closer, tossing her dress, and the one Miranda had selected aside. “... it's not quite even six yet...” She grinned wickedly and moved slowly away as she spoke innocently, “I need a shower...” Stopping at the door to the bathroom, Andy turned to look over her shoulder. “Coming?”
Miranda laughed as she also moved toward the bathroom, “Not yet...”
They weren't Miranda's usual fifteen minutes early to the restaurant, they were, however, there a good five minutes before seven, their paparazzi friends following them all the way.
Miranda looked over at her companion with a little gleam in her eye. “That dress really does look stunning on you.” The fashion maven again turned her critical eye to the garment. She laughed as Andrea wriggled a little under the scrutiny and a bit more cleavage was revealed.
Andy adjusted the dress slightly. “I didn't realize it was going to be this revealing.”
“Mmmm...” Miranda laughed lightly. “I simply thought you were trying to kill my brother.” The older woman winked. “Even when he was a young man, when Asher would see a woman of exceptional beauty he would place his hand on his heart as if he were having an attack. Now, at his age, I'm afraid it may actually happen.”
Andy laughed. “Well then, get ready because when he sees you he's going to have a double attack.” The black dress Miranda was wearing wasn't quite as revealing as Andy's, but there was a good amount of skin showing in the front and back.
The door opened and the driver offered his hand for Andy to step out onto the curb. Andy accepted with a smile and turned to offer Miranda the same courtesy.
Miranda informed him, “We will call you when we're ready to leave.”
He nodded politely and was on his way.
The flashbulbs were having a strobe effect on the front of the building, but neither woman paid any attention to them as Andy held the door open for Miranda to enter.
Andy was surprised to find that everyone else was already there, waiting in the lobby. She was also disturbed by Natalie's first words.
“They don't have a reservation for us.”
“What?” Andy shook her head. “No, I booked it online yesterday,” she looked around at the group, “you saw me.”
“Witness' or not, I'm sorry, Madam... but as insistent as you might be there is no reservation for Princhek here...” The Maitre D' only looked slightly condescending.
“Ah... no, there wouldn't be.” Andy smiled at the man, calming herself down slightly. “Try looking for Miranda Priestly, party of ten. I requested a private room.”
“Mir...” The man's eyes widened and he didn't have to glance down at his book. He knew there was one for Miranda Priestly. He'd been thrilled when he saw her name on the bookings when he arrived at work today and had immediately reconfigured the private room for ten guests instead of the thirty it could accommodate. “Oh! Of course,” Now he looked past the newcomer brunette and saw an immaculately dressed white haired woman, “This way, please...”
“Andrea,” Miranda spoke, loudly enough for the restaurant employee to know he was actually the recipient of the comment, “I'm not happy with the way my family was treated before our arrival.”
“No, Miranda.” Andy felt sorry for the man, this was the Miranda Priestly he was dealing with.
“When we are finished tonight, you will write a review and send it to all the critics we know.”
Andy looked at the floor to hide the grin she couldn't quite suppress. “Yes, Miranda.”
Miranda took her courteously-held seat at the large round table.
The now most-congenial host swallowed nervously. “Your server, Amelia will be right with you.”
With a curt nod, Miranda summarily dismissed him. “That's all.”
Andy smiled as the now shaking man started to hold the seat next to Miranda for her, but was beaten to it by Asher so he simply left the room. She scooted into the table and looked up at her soon to be brother-in-law. “Thank you, Asher.”
He placed his hand on his heart as he looked down, past her eyes. “My total pleasure.”
“Asher,” Miranda's blue eyes drilled into him. “Have a seat.”
“While you still can.” Andy laughed as he remembered her warning from last night and sat quickly. She took Miranda's hand. It was her left hand in Miranda's right. She winked when she felt the woman's fingers brush against the ring there.
Miranda waited for the others to settle into their places before she turned her attention back to Asher, not bothering with the menu that already lay in front of her. “Last night it seemed that you had been here before, what food do you recommend?”
“I...” Asher shook his head, “I haven't been here in quite a while. They get great reviews though.”
Miranda looked at Andrea with an unreadable expression, “I told you, he's impossible.”
Andy laughed and lifting the woman's hand to her lips, grinned. “Brothers are like that sometimes.” She looked around the table, there was Asher, Daniel and Josie, Natalie, Dinah and the twins, and Tante Louise but, “Speaking of which...”
Daniel spoke up, knowing which brother was missing, “Samuel and his wife won't be here.” He inclined his head in a sort of sitting bow. “This restaurant isn't kosher.”
“Ah...” Andy worried. “We could have gone somewhere else...” Miranda's hand squeezing hers stopped the suggestion.
“It wouldn't have mattered, Samuel wouldn't come to any place we chose.” Miranda licked her lips and sighed. “We will simply have to muddle through without him.”
They all turned to see a very sweet looking waitress entering the room.
“My name is Amelia and I'll be taking care of you this evening.”
Miranda slid her hand out of Andrea's and picked up the menu in front of her. “Amelia, wonderful, we will need two bottles of your finest red... while we look over the selections.”
The waitress' eyes locked on Miranda and the girl smiled as her wavy brown hair bobbed around her face. “Yes ma'am, I'll be right back.”
Andy narrowed her eyes slightly at Miranda, then picked up her menu as well. The others all followed suit, not sure exactly what was going on. None of them recognized the woman they were eating with, it was their sister, but, not.
“There aren't any prices on this menu.” Tante turned the page, “How do we know what we're going to pay?”
Miranda reached over and patted the older woman's arm. “It doesn't matter Tante, just order what you want.”
Andy smiled at the older woman's protest, it was disconcerting at first, knowing Miranda was spending exorbitant amounts of money on something that doesn't seem worth it. She'd learned quickly that if Miranda thought it was worth it, then it was. Andy didn't even want to think about how much the private car on the London Eye had cost.
Miranda smiled at the group and gestured to the menu's in their hands. “Order what you want. The price is not important, tonight is on me.”
Natalie realized what was happening first. “You really aren't Miriam anymore, are you?” She knew, as Andy had correctly identified earlier, this was indeed the Miranda Priestly.
“Of course she is...” Tante Louise looked at the beloved niece sitting next to her and blinked. “...aren't you?”
“I'm afraid not, Tante.” Miranda smiled, a little sadly, “The child you knew, even the young woman you remember, has been gone for quite some time. It was quite enjoyable visiting you, as her, last night.” She laid the menu down and looked at them all in turn, “However, it's not who I am now. So, if you are willing, I would like for you to get to know the person I am today. You're still my family,” She leveled a somewhat amused look at Asher, “whether I like it or not.”
Dinah spoke up as she jostled one of the babies on her shoulder, “I think it would be great to get to know you better, Aunt Miranda.” Her eyes sparkled as she turned her gaze on Andy, “and you too, Aunt Andy.”
Andy blinked. “Uh...” She licked her lips as Dinah grinned at her, “I...”
Miranda murmured for Andy's ears alone. “If I can have a Mother-in-law younger than me, you can have a niece the same age as you.”
Josie laughed at the expression on Andy's face, “I wouldn't mind getting to know my sisters-in-law better either.” The dark haired woman grinned at Miranda and Andy.
Amelia returned with the wine and poured for them all after Miranda approved the vintage. “Are you ready to order?”
“I can't decide.” Miranda smiled at the woman. “What do you recommend?”
“Well, do you like things sweet,” the young woman returned the smile, “or spicy?”
“That just depends on my mood, Amelia...” A tiny wicked grin touched her lips, “Tonight will be a spicy night, I think.”
Swallowing hard, the waitress never took her eyes off Miranda's as she took a step closer to the charismatic woman. “We have a very nice dish with giant prawn, scallops in a garlic, chili, lime sauce...”
“Hmmm...” Miranda shook her head, “No.”
“We also have...” Amelia's voice took on a breathless quality as she leaned closer, reaching past Miranda to open the menu in front of her. Her arm brushed against Miranda's in the process. “This is a lovely spicy dish, with Tuscan sausage.”
Bright blue eyes looked out from under the one wayward lock of white hair. “I'm not all that fond of sausage.”
Andy laughed and told the a-little-too-helpful-for-her-tastes waitress. “Just bring her a filet of beef, medium rare.”
Miranda nodded, “And you may bring Andrea, an order of Chicken Marsala.”
“I'm not sure we have that...”
“You do now,” Miranda insisted. “Unless I need to call Carlo and inquire why the chef at one of his establishments cannot manage this, simple dish. A dish, I may add that, any, chef in New York is only too glad to prepare, at my request.”
Amelia's eyes widened as she nodded and repeated. “Chicken Marsala.”
Going around the table starting with Tante ending up with Asher, the rest of the group ordered quickly. No one spoke for quite some time after the waitress left until Tante cleared her throat.
“Do you know who you just reminded me of?” The corners of her mouth curled upward as she looked at her wayward niece.
Miranda thought for a second and closed her eyes. With a grunt, her lips formed a wry grin. “Mother.”
“Oh my God,” Natalie nodded. “You did! That is just how she used to go off on us...”
“So you come by it honestly.” Andy grinned at her partner. She saw that the talk of her mother was making Miranda uncomfortable though and changed the subject. “Excuse me a moment would you?”
Asher stood immediately as Andy stood and as she walked away from the table he sat slowly, watching her go.
“Asher...” Miranda shook her head at her lecherous brother, her low tone conveying her displeasure at his continued attention toward Andrea.
He sighed. “I know, I know... she's yours... but...” he gestured toward the door where Andy had disappeared, “...can you blame me??”
“No,” Miranda admitted. “Honestly, I can't blame anyone for that.”
They were all quiet for a moment and before anyone could say anything else, Andy returned.
Waving her hands slightly to dry the antibacterial gel she'd smeared on her hands, after she'd washed them, Andy grinned, “While we're waiting on our food to arrive...” Instead of returning to her place next to Miranda, she walked to where Dinah was sitting and gestured to the baby in her little carrier/seat. “... Gimme.”
Josie agreed and motioned for the other child to be passed to her. “Mine are all too old to enjoy like this...and it will be a while before I get any grandchildren, I hope.”
Andy moved back to her seat, carrying the little bundle against her chest. “Isn't she precious, Miranda?”
Once again the vision of Andrea's softened expression as she held the infant child caught Miranda's heart in her throat. She couldn't speak, but nodded in agreement to Andrea's question. Picking up her wine glass, she took a sip then glared over the edge as Asher spoke.
“Do you want children of your own?”
“Asher!” Natalie, Josie and Tante Louise all reprimanded the man simultaneously.
“What? I can't ask a question?” He gestured for them to look at the young woman. “It suits her...”
“It's kinda, personal,” Dinah shook her head at her uncle's bluntness.
“It's none of your business, Asher!” Miranda no longer looked at her brother with anything close to tolerant amusement.
“Miranda's right,” Andy smiled at the man, “My desire for children is something that Miranda and I should discuss, in private.”
Miranda closed her eyes, it was not a discussion she was looking forward to. This could be a deal breaker... It scared her beyond reason that Andrea was going to call off this relationship that they enjoyed so much. She'd been totally honest with the young woman during this trip, to make sure that nothing in her past would drive Andrea to make that decision at some later date. It would hurt badly if something from her past caused their relationship to end now, but if the reason for that termination was because of something that Miranda couldn't provide the woman, Miranda knew. That will kill me. With some effort, Miranda shook herself out of her maudlin thoughts and tried to enjoy the moment. She watched Andrea, and conceded that Asher was correct, Andrea, with a baby in her arms, was very beautiful. Of course, she's beautiful any time. Changing the subject, Miranda turned to Dinah.
“Natalie informs me that your husband just got a promotion at work.” She smiled at her niece as the girl nodded.
“Yes! Thank goodness,” The young woman indicated the babies. “It means he's away more and I have to deal with these two on my own more than I would have...” She smiled across the table at the women holding her children. “...but he makes more money and that is a huge help now since everything costs double what it normally would!”
Nodding, Miranda murmured something about understanding, but honestly, she didn't. When her twins were born she'd already been an Editor-in-Chief for several years and James was rather well off when she'd met him. Money had not been an issue. However, her question had touched off several rounds of easy small talk among them and the time passed pleasantly while they waited for their food to arrive.
To be continued