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A Priestly Child

Chapter Text

I'm dreaming. Someone insists that I lift a hand or a leg. Or was it the hip? They are too far away to make out their voice clearly. I lift something anyway and fall asleep inside my dream.

People are talking again. "...liquids. Juice, saline. Okay?" A safe, whispering voice.

"Uh sure. When can she eat real food?" This is a voice I recognize. I want to talk, but my eyes won't open.

"Tomorrow. She can go home in the morning if there's no fever before then. I'll check on her later today."

"Okay." This voice, Andy's voice, starts going away. "Don't go." I say and it comes out all dry and croaky. "Stay here."

"Hey!" Andy squeaks. "I'm here. H--how are you?"

I open my eyes. It's a hospital. I think I knew that before I woke up. Andy and the quiet voiced doctor are standing next to my bed.

"How is Cass?" I say.

"Cass is going to be okay." The doctor lady looks older than mother. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," I lie. My head aches. "Is Cass going to die?"

Andy's eyes become huge. The doctor lady smiles. "Cass is absolutely fine. She had a few scratches, just like you did, but there is nothing to worry about. You are both going to be perfectly okay." She pushes the hair out of my eyes and looks at Andy. "You'll stay here until her mother comes?"

Andy nods and sits on my bed.

"Andy is going to stay here with you for a while. Your mom will be here soon. I'll come back tonight and see how you are doing, okay?"

We watch the doctor lady leave.

"Where is Cass?" I call to her.

"In another room. You can see her tomorrow." She waves and goes out.

Andy is all white, like she is going to be sick. "Are you okay?" I say to her.

"I-- Of course I'm okay," she says.

"Why are you here?"

"Your mother and I came here together. She's gone home to pack some things for you and Cass."

She looks a little better now. I feel like they are all hiding something from me. "I wish I could see Cass," I mumble.

"You think the doctor is lying, don't you?"

I nod and look around the room. The other patient bed is empty. Andy whips out her iPhone and moves closer as if she is going to take a selfie with me and her. "Hi Cass! Caroline here is really worried about you." She looks at me. "It's recording. Say something."

"Oh! Is Cass seeing this?"

"Not yet but I'm going to take this to her room."

"Oh like video chat? That's so cool! Hi Cass! I just woke up. I can't remember everything from the car. It's kinda scary. Are you hurt?"

"Are you?" Andy looks at me.

"Well, my head aches and my mouth tastes funny and this bed isn't comfortable at all," I say, truthfully this time.

Andy laughs. She stops the recording and adjusts my pillow. "You can go and show it to her," I say.

She hands me a sliced apple from a plastic bag on the bedside table. "Be right back."

It takes her fifteen minutes. "Here," she says when she's back. "Have a look." I take the phone from her and she sits next to me.

Cass's head is bandaged. She looks sleepy.

"Hi Caro. My head hurts too. We're going to miss the piano rehearsal. I tried to tell mum but she wouldn't listen. I think she was upset with Ron. A nurse told me he has a big surgery tomorrow. I'm going to sleep now. Andy, here, you put it off."

I feel like crying, but just then the phone vibrates. I look down and see 'Miranda' flashing. I slide the green button.

"Oi!" Andy says. I ignore her.

"Andrea, is everything alright there?"

"Hi mum." I say. "It's Caro."

"Oh." She doesn't say anything for a few seconds. It's always best to wait for mother to speak than rush in with what you've got, so I wait. "Caro. How are you, bobbsey?" It is even more scary to hear mother sounding scared.

"I'm okay. When are you coming here?"

"I'll be there in half an hour. What did the doctor say? Is there something you want from here, baby?"

She hasn't called me baby in ages. She only stopped after I begged and begged, and now it has started all over again.

"Umm. I dunno. Andy can get it later if I remember, can't she?"

"Oh, is Andrea there? Why did you answer her phone?"

Duh. "I had it in my hands."

"Well, give it back to her. You mustn't take other people's things without permission."

I hand over the phone silently. Andy has been watching me talk the whole time. She takes the phone and walks away from me.

"Hi Miranda." The smile in her voice sounds weird in the hospital. It echoes.

When she comes back, she is grinning. Andy grins like a boy all the time. She has no grace, no whatever-it-is-that-mother-has-in-tons. Cass and I have no idea why mother agreed to do the interview thing with her.

"Hey!" Andy chirps. "You wanna see something cool while I go check on Cass?"

"What?" I say suspiciously. It's probably an iPhone game. For some mysterious reason, all grown-ups think iPhone games are the wonder of the earth. Mother doesn't, of course, but Stephen--

Andy fishes out a wood-textured box from her handbag. It is the size of a matchbox. She holds it theatrically aloft and pries open a tiny drawer from within. She pushes the drawer inside and hands the box to me. "You open it," she says.

I try to slide the drawer open, but it wouldn't open. It's as if the drawer doesn't exist. I tap the box.

"Give it to me," Andy says. I move away from her outstretched hand and try to force the box open. She laughs and tries to snatch the box away. I struggle, we wrestle a bit, both of us giggling. She tickles me and I drop the box.

"You cheated," I say indignantly.

"Whatever." She opens the box again and shuts it with a grin. "This is magic, see?" She's such a boy! "I'll give you the next magical thing I've got if you open this before I come back."

I hardly notice her leave.

When she comes back, several minutes later, the box lies open on top of my covers. I picture the look that mother gives when she has just proved a point. It's easier to do in the mirror, but I think I make it.

"Cass is asleep." Andy says.

"I opened it!" I say, keeping the smugness out of my voice. Mother never gloats. That's why she is so good at it. "You said you had another one?"

"Damn. Oh well. We'll see how this one goes."

We are giggling far too loudly when mother walks in. Andy doesn't see the quick glance that she gets before mother turns to me and smiles her special smile. It's only for Cass and me. Even father never got it.

"Andrea," she says, walking to my bed. She looks tired, more so than usual. In fact, she looks like she might faint any moment.

"Miranda," Andy says, getting up from my bed, making space for mother.

"How is my baby doing?" mother croons, kissing my forehead. Andy stares at her disbelievingly. She has been at the house every saturday evening for what seems like forever, but she has not seen mother embarrass us like this before. The interviews happen in mother's study. Cass and I watch TV or youtube or play games, several rooms and a floor away. Initially Cass wanted to listen in, so we eavesdropped from Stephen's old room. It was directly above the study. We heard most of what Andy said, but mother's voice only carries when she wants it to. She didn't, this time.

"I'm totally okay, mom. When can we go home?"

"You can go tomorrow. Cassidy has to stay a bit longer. Did the doctor check on you?"

"Yeah."

Mother looks anxious for a second before turning to Andy. "Thanks for staying," she says. "Roy is waiting outside. He'll drop you at your office. I'll walk you out."

I speak before Andy says anything. "Can't she stay till evening? Please, mom?" I look at Andy.

"I--uh-- Of course. I'd love to." Andy looks afraid. Mother frightens everyone.

"Caro, Andrea has to go to work. She might come and visit you later. Over the weekend perhaps. Now, I'd like to see the doc. I should be back in a few minutes. Andrea?"

"Actually, Miranda, I don't mind staying," Andy says. "I can take the afternoon off."

"Don't be silly, Andrea," mother says. "You've done quite a lot already."

"No, really," Andy says, fingering the corner of a playing card. "Maybe we could take turns with Caroline and Cassidy. Unless you'd rather that I visit later, of course."

Mother hesitates. "Come on, mom!" I say.

"Very well," she says. "I-- I'll go and see the doctor."

The playing cards are where we left them. I look at Andy, who is looking at mother, who is stubbornly looking at the door. "Andy, can we continue?"

It's three days before Cass can come home. Andy and I eat dinner at home on the first two days. I didn't mean for Andy to spend so much time with us when I asked her to say, but I hope that she likes us and will continue to come for dinner after Cass comes home. Mother can be so horrid at times.

On the third day, she comes home just after we finished eating. "Andrea," she says. She says the name differently now. She sounds doubtful, like you are when you are in the naming stages of a puppy. It's as if she's worried Andy might not respond to that name and wants to make sure. Andy and I are in the middle of putting our plates in the dishwasher. "We're in the kitchen," Andy calls out.

Mother comes to the kitchen and plants an absent-minded kiss on my forehead. I get a kiss all the time now. It's really cool.

"I'm sorry we couldn't do that last interview today," mother says. "I hope we can wrap it up by tomorrow?"

I see in Andy's face that there's something nasty about the words. Andy turns away and studies the dishwasher settings as if she has never seen them before. "Sure," she says. "Tomorrow would be great."

I want to hug her and tell her this is just how mother is. I don't know what 'this' is, of course, but I think it wouldn't matter.

"Fine," mother says. "I'm going back to the hospital in a few minutes." She opens the refrigerator.

"Can Andy stay with me tonight?" I say. I'm certain that her days in the house are numbered and want to make the most of it.

"Caroline! What did I--"

"Can I?" Andy says.

"Oh." Mother says, surprised. "Of course. I'll show you the guest room before I go."

"Great. Hey Caro! You wanna finish that puzzle we were working on?"

"Yeah!" I say and we rush to my room.

Half an hour later, mother walks in. She has changed her clothes. "Andrea, shall I show you the guest room now?"

"Yeah." Andy says. "I'll be back," she says to me and follows mother out of the room.

They come back twenty minutes later. Who needs twenty minutes to show a room? Mother kisses me goodnight and leaves to the hospital. Andy seems jittery. She keeps patting her hair.

That night, she also kisses me goodnight.

Chapter Text

The series of interviews are published in The Mirror three months after they end. Caroline's fears are not immediately materialized and Andy still comes to dinner every weekend. The twins see her on the odd-numbered weekends and visit their father on the even-numbered weekends.

They watch movies and play board games after dinner, a highly unusual practice in the Priestly household. Initially this poses a problem, but they settle that Cass and Andy would chose the movies, and Miranda and Caroline would choose the board games. Cass and Andy love old movies and the only game Miranda would play is Monopoly, so they can generally come to an agreement.

This excellent arrangement works very well, until one day when Andy chooses an Indian musical to watch. Caroline and Andy have to be woken up when it ends, but the real consequence of the movie is that Cass discovers a new game called Carrom. She and Andy order a Carrom Board from Amazon and install it the old nursery. Cass watches countless youtube videos and practises all week at the board. She becomes very good at knocking the coins into the four holes, although she bends the rules just a little while doing this.

Miranda refuses to participate when she discovers that playing this game involves new rules, careful aiming, and getting white powder on your fingers, and insists on working on The Book in the nursery, tut-tuting whenever the others squeal.

After an hour, she puts The Book away and comes over to watch. Then she joins in, and since she is terrible at it, Cass teams up with her. Andy and Caroline start losing. Miranda keeps the coins that Cass and she have won in a tower of alternating black and white (with the extra whites topping off the tower), and 'accidentally' knocks it down, scattering the coins noisily just when Andy is aiming the striker. Andy calls it cheating. They don't go back to Monopoly.

Once, after the twins have said their goodnights and gone to sleep following a rare Caroline-and-Andy-win, Caroline wanders out for a midnight snack. She takes an apple from the kitchen and is about to look for some peanut butter when she hears the sound of typing. She peeks into the nursery and finds Miranda and Andy on the couch, their legs stretched out next to each other's, typing away at their laptops, the white carrom powder smudged all over Miranda's fastidious laptop keyboard. She creeps away before they see her and falls asleep before she finishes eating the apple.

Another time, Andy brings kites. Not the big balloony ones that Cass wants, of course, but small baby-kites that you could fly from the terrace. This fact does not stop Cass from crying when her elephant-patterned kite gets stuck in a building. Andy shows them how to send 'letters' to the kites. Miranda cuts her finger on the string and refuses to fly any more of those simple-minded things. Andy puts a band-aid on the cut.

Being a Priestly child means that nothing comes in normal portion size. You get everything in abundance. Books, toys, lessons. Happiness and misery. Caroline has always known this, so when one thing is happening, she always prepares herself for the other. She tries to prepare Cass too, but Cass never learns the trick and is perpetually caught surprised.

So Caroline is not surprised when suddenly, five months after the interviews were published, without warning, Andy stops visiting them, and Miranda starts shutting herself in the study, coming out only to eat dinner and kiss Caroline and Cass good night. Cass is baffled as usual, but the twins continue to play the Wii games and watch the movies. The Carrom Board is abandoned.

"Mum, can we call Andy for dinner again?" Cass asks over dinner, a month after Andy's last visit.

"I did," Miranda says. "She has been busy lately."

They don't mention it again, but the damage is already done. Miranda starts bringing Bruno home. Bruno is a fashion designer visiting New York for a few months. The twins agree that his best feature is his fascinating accent, but they disagree on the worst. Cass hates his inane but inevitable 'how was school?', while Caroline thinks it is the way their mother tries hard not to snap at him. Caroline can see that Miranda is determined to ignore what is clear to the twins as soon as they see Bruno, that he is not Andy, but there is nothing she can do. She learns from Cass that Miranda mentioned Monopoly to him one evening. Luckily, nothing comes off it, although they go out to dinner with him that night. The pictures show up on Page Six the next day. Surprisingly, Miranda has nothing scathing to say.

New York fashion week comes and goes. Bruno is Miranda's date to every one of the events. The twins hated New York fashion week when Stephen was living with them. The trouble is, Miranda, in a crowded room, is a sight. Heads turn, cameras flash, limelight spills wherever she goes. Stephen attended every one of these events. Caroline was never sure why he didn't simply skip them. Usually, on his own, he has an air of importance, decisions and stock prices, but somehow in the events, he always managed to look like a butler instead of Miranda's date. It made him more annoying than usual, and there was often a fight at home following those days.

Bruno is different. On his own, he looks like a beautiful actor. Slender, long limbed, perpetually smiling, somewhat decorative. Miranda lends him substance. At her side, he looks like an aristocrat. The press naturally goes crazy, but what mystifies Caroline is Miranda's own enthusiasm. Nobody knows her distaste for the press better than her children do, and yet here she is, practically posing with Bruno's arm around her waist, leaning to whisper into his ear, sparkling with mirth. At least she never brings him home after these events.

Bruno goes back to Italy soon after fashion week, and Cass promises Caroline to never ask about Andy again. But it is Miranda herself who mentions Andy the day after Bruno leaves for Italy.

"Did you know Andrea is in Africa now?" she says, casually. It is immediately clear to Caroline that she has been trying to bring it up for days now.

"No way!" Cass says. "What's she doing there?"

"Some assignment or the other. She called me last week to, ah, keep us in the loop." Miranda looks momentarily confused. "Caro, didn't you say you wanted me to look at your essay on Ancient Greece?"

"Have you got her phone number?" Caroline says.

"Whose number?"

"Andy's. I'd like to ask her about Africa."

"No, of course, I don't have her number, dear."

"Mom!" Cass says. "Can we order kites off Amazon?"

"Yes, darling. Why don't you pick some and send me the links? I'll let Janet know. Caro, do you want me to look at the essay today or can it wait till the weekend?"

"Weekend is fine," Caroline mumbles.

---

Three months later, just after New Year, Caroline opens the front door, tired to the bone from a heavy soccer practice session, her teeth chattering because she hasn't bothered to button up the coat before leaving the car, her nose numb from the icy wind, to find Andy kissing her mother. Miranda is pinned to the wall. One of her hands is in Andy's hair, and the other is around Andy.

Caroline doesn't flinch. She simply tip-toes back and opens the door again with all the noise she can make. Once inside, she drops her phone on the table just to be sure. Then she takes a long time removing her coat, and walks in with her eyes on the phone, reading old texts.

"Caro!" Miranda says. She is pink, but her hair is back in place, her clothes don't have the slightest wrinkle to them, and she looks for all in the world like she was working. Andy on the other hand is staring at Caroline in something like shock, her hair standing up.

"Andy!" Caroline says, faking surprise. "Hi mom. I-- Cass said she'll take time so I asked Roy to drop me first. How are you, Andy?"

"I'm great," Andy says, recovering. "How are you? And C--Cass?"

"We are fine, thanks. We thought you were in Africa. Mom, I'm starving." Caroline says and goes to the kitchen.

"Yeah, I'm visiting New York for four days." Caroline hears Andy's reply and chooses to ignore it.

"Cara said there's some pie in the fridge, dear," Miranda says. "Andrea, would you like to stay for dinner?"

"Um. No, I-- I have to go. Actually I came by to give you this. It-- It has my article."

"Oh. Well. Are you sure you can't have dinner?"

"Yeah. I have to go. I'll, uh, call you."

"Yes."

Caroline and Cass do not see her again for a year.

---

"Girls, Andrea will be coming for dinner tomorrow," Miranda announces.

"What?" Caroline says.

"You heard me."

"Why is she coming now?"

"She invited herself. Besides, I thought you'd like to see her again."

"Are you going to fight with her again?"

Cassidy kicks her sister under the table. Miranda doesn't object.

"We never fought, dear. We just lost touch." Her voice is carefully absent-minded.

"Yeah right!"

"Caroline, if you have nothing meaningful to contribute to this conversation, be silent."

Caroline glowers at Miranda. Miranda is amused to see her own icy blue glare directed at her.

"Is she back in New York for good?" Cassidy says.

"I wouldn't know, dear. You can ask her yourself tomorrow."

"Maybe she's staying for another four days," Caroline says.

Miranda feels the blood rush to her face. She keeps her eyes on her plate as she says, her voice indifferent, "Maybe". She isn't sure, even now, just how much Caroline knows.

---

"I just got married."

The girls instinctively look at their mother. It is as if their evening never was. Miranda and Andy stare at each other. Miranda's face is pale, utterly expressionless, except for the slightly wide eyes. The silence suffocates Caroline. Cass drops her spoon and bends down to pick it up. Caroline continues eating, pretending not to look at anyone, although Andy is in her peripheral vision. Miranda looks away first. She takes a sip of water. There is a barely noticeable tremor in her hands as she puts the glass down.

"What a surprise! Congratulations," she says at last, her voice perfectly calm.

"Thank you, Miranda," Andy says.

"Congratulations, Andy!" Cass says. Caroline feels her leg nudged under the table.

"Yeah, that's really great! Congrats! Who is he?" she gushes. She probably sounds hysterical.

"Thanks guys!" Andy smiles at them, but there is something in her eyes that wasn't there when she smiled at Caroline in the hospital, two years ago. "His name is Jonathan. He's a human rights activist. We had a really quiet wedding. Jon used to work for the Carter foundation and, umm, I met him while working for--" Andy rambles on, as if she can't stop herself.

"Excuse me a second," Miranda says, gets up and walks away.

"Do you want dessert Andy?" Cass says, a few minutes into the fresh silence.

"Umm sure. What have you got?"

The apple pie is mostly finished by the time Miranda returns to the table. Andy picks up her plate and goes to the dishwasher. The twins look at Miranda in astonishment when she starts clearing the rest of the table. Andy and Miranda arrange the dishes in the dishwasher together while Caroline and Cass sip their juice as slowly as they plausibly can.

"Thanks for the dinner," Andy says quietly.

"You are welcome, I'm sure," Miranda says. Thankfully, her face has lost some of that deathly paleness.

Andy's phone rings and she rushes to her handbag.

"Hey Jon," she says into the phone, her voice bright. "Oh yeah. Yeah, Kellog's is fine. I'll--"

"Caroline, Cass, haven't you got homework?"

"--No, I'll pick you up. Um. Should be there in twenty minutes. Yes. Love you, bye."

"Oh yeah," Caroline says lightly, as if she didn't hear the sharpness in Miranda's voice, the sharpness that's rarely directed at her daughters. "Good night, Andy."

"Good night guys," Andy says, sliding the phone into her purse. "Miranda, I have to go. Got to pick up Jon on the way."

The twins run up the stairs.

When they look down, leaning into the railing, Andy is a foot away from Miranda, who seems frozen on the spot. Andy leans in and kisses her cheek. "Good night," she says.

Caroline has to strain to catch Miranda's whispered reply. Andy turns and rushes to the door, nearly tripping over in her hurry.