Nine Months Later.
"Mom, are you ever coming down?" said a voice through the door.
Miranda opened her eyes, remembering where she was a few moments later. The scent of white ginger wafted in from the open window, and she let her head fall back onto the pillow. To her left lay Andrea, her back uncovered by the sheet she'd pushed down during the night. Shoulder-length hair spread across the pillow, and despite her desire, Miranda resisted the urge to reach out and stroke soft skin.
She rolled out of the bed and reached for the robe slung across the chair next to the bed. Wrapping it around herself quickly, she went to the door.
Cassidy stood in front of it, already in her wet suit. "We're leaving in a few minutes."
"All right. Did you eat?"
"Yeah, a while ago. Sam cooked."
"Excellent. I'll be right there."
"'Kay. Did Andy sleep?"
Miranda touched Cassidy's cheek. "Yes, but I'm going to let her rest a little while longer. You can see her when you're back from class. Maybe we'll come down to the beach and watch."
Her daughter scampered down the hall and shot down the stairs. Miranda walked to the French doors and touched the slatted blinds that kept out some of the sun. They'd left a few windows open so Miranda could feel the breeze and listen to the ocean during the night. Not that Andrea heard any of it. Blue earplugs were still tucked firmly in her ears, which explained why she slept on even with all the noise.
Miranda stepped outside, sun in her eyes. One floor below, pale sand led directly out to water so blue Miranda still had trouble believing it was real. Palm trees swayed, and two enormous pink plumeria trees stood sentry at the sides of the property. Only a few days into their stay, Andrea picked blooms from the trees and made the four of them leis. Two of the garlands now hung on the wall of their bedroom, perfuming the air even days later.
The weather cooperated today, unlike yesterday. December in Kauai was unpredictable; so far they'd only had two days of rain. But even then it seemed heaven compared to a New York winter of teeming sleet and snow. This was a gentle, humid bath, and even Miranda had been drawn out into it once, soon after their arrival.
Miranda's stomach growled. She knew the coffee was made and waiting. With an anticipatory smile, she went back inside and quietly made her way downstairs.
The kitchen was already cleaned; Sam was a godsend. A fascinating combination of nanny, cook, housekeeper and surf instructor, he was the ideal companion for the girls and great company for herself and Andrea. He'd even brought them to meet his family, which seemed so extended and multi-racial that Miranda wondered exactly how many members were blood-related. Sam's handsome boyfriend Kai was also a surf instructor, as well as a serious student of hula. When Sam brought the girls to Kai's Halau to watch a class, Caroline decided then and there she would find a school in New York to learn.
Whatever made her happy, Miranda thought.
When she entered the kitchen, Sam greeted her with a friendly smile. "Komo mai, Miranda. You ready for coffee?"
"Please." He poured her a cup from the pot, added milk and handed it over. She inhaled that delicious smell and sipped gratefully. "Ohh," she groaned. "Perfect."
He laughed. "Mahalo. But you say that every day."
"It's perfect every day. Cassidy tells me you’ve eaten?"
"Sure. I’ll make some eggs."
"No, no, I'll do it. You all go on. We may join you shortly."
"Really, Mom?" Caroline asked.
"Mm," Miranda hummed. "I know you both got up on your boards yesterday, and I want to see for myself."
"It was so cool!" Caroline said, enthused. "I can't wait to go out again. Sam says the waves are great this morning."
"But not too big," Miranda warned, eyeing Sam.
"Of course. Small swells, da kine for the girls. It's good."
After another sip of her precious brew, Miranda nodded. "All right. You're not far?"
"We're on the public beach, two blocks north. You'll see the lifeguard shack."
"All right." She kissed Cassidy and Caroline, and smiled at Sam. "Have fun."
"We will," the girls called. "See you!"
"Aloha," Sam called, and he followed them out the back door.
After a moment of consideration, Miranda went to the nearby sitting room, which served as a sort of office for herself and Andrea. Not that she used it much, but they kept their laptops and wireless router there. She fired up the computer and sent Nigel a four word message. He had a three minute window to respond, and despite Miranda’s hopes, he replied within two.
She turned the webcam at the top of the monitor on and brushed her hair behind her ear. Shortly thereafter, Nigel’s frantic face filled the screen. “Oh, thank god!” he exclaimed. “Karl’s having an absolute fit! He insists that you oversee the April shoot.”
Miranda rolled her eyes, and wished she had a Bloody Mary in her hand. “Nigel, you’re an adult. You’ve been dealing with Lagerfeld for fifteen years. What exactly have you forgotten in the past ten days?”
“Nothing! But Miranda, you didn’t exactly warn him you’d be gone. Or any of us. What did you expect?”
That irritated her. She sat up straight in the uncomfortable office chair. “I expected you to handle the magazine appropriately in my absence. We’re not curing cancer, for god’s sake. Bring a few bottles of Veuve Cliquot to the shoot and don’t wear too much cologne. You’ll be fine.”
“I am not, repeat, not, returning to New York to handle this mess, Nigel. Deal with it.” She inhaled, and deliberately reminded herself to relax. As she’d told him, it wasn’t life or death. “Someday you won’t have me to bother with all your problems. It will be your responsibility entirely. I suggest you get used to managing without me.”
There was a gasp in the background, and Miranda thought Emily might be hovering somewhere just out of sight. Nigel gaped. “What?”
She hadn’t intended on hinting that she might take a break from Runway, but now was as good a time as any. “I’m considering… a sabbatical.”
Nigel was utterly frozen, and Emily nudged into the chair next to him. “What?” she croaked. “You can’t!”
“I can,” Miranda said, eyebrow lifting in defiance. “In July. For at least a few months.” Or longer. She hadn’t decided yet.
“Miranda, the longer you’re gone, the harder it will be for you to come back. Irv,” Nigel said, clearing his throat uncertainly, “Irv will try to keep you out.”
“Undoubtedly.” Miranda didn’t mind that. She could do as she wished, no matter what Irv Ravitz wanted. Her status as a fashion icon and public figure had grown exponentially this past year. But months of intensely microscopic attention on her relationship with Andrea taught Miranda that there was a level of fame even she had no interest in achieving.
“Miranda, I can’t believe you’d throw twenty five years away…” Nigel said, trailing off and leaving words unspoken.
For a girl half your age , Miranda knew he was thinking. And he liked Andrea. But even after all this time, he didn’t understand. Neither did Emily, or anyone at Runway. They reacted with disbelief when Miranda began delegating more responsibility to various department heads, directing them to make final calls Miranda had once micromanaged. Runway’s internal structure resembled that of other magazines more closely now, which gave Miranda time at home. But no one could figure out why. They thought she was going through a phase. Experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s. Having a mid-life crisis.
Perhaps she was. But it was a crisis that Miranda was determined to make last. She wanted to be with Andrea for the rest of her days, and when she looked into Andrea’s eyes, she saw an identical wish.
Andrea’s friends had taken a little more kindly to the relationship; Doug and Lily saw the depth of Miranda’s affection very quickly, and responded in kind. The three were not exactly pals, but Miranda found herself enjoying their company far more than that of her own so-called “friends” of late. Runway’s employees were no exception.
“Nigel, if you believe that spending a few months enjoying my family is throwing my life away, I’ve done you a great disservice. Someday I’ll apologize. But not today. Deal with Lagerfeld. And don’t call me. I’ll be on the beach, watching my daughters surf. Andrea’s parents arrive tomorrow for the holiday, so don’t expect to hear from me until the 26th. All right?”
Nigel blinked. “Miranda, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Spend Christmas with people from Ohio?” Miranda said, deliberately avoiding the point.
He huffed in exasperation. “You know what I mean. Leaving Runway…”
“Nigel, I know you’re worried because you care, and for that I’m grateful. We can discuss in depth when I’m back. For now, focus on the job. This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Are you really going to waste it out of concern for me, of all people?”
That seemed to throw him slightly off balance. “Well,” he began.
“Don’t disappoint me, Nigel. You too, Emily.” She sighed, and put on her fiercest look. “I’m going to make breakfast. Is there anything else?”
“You’re cooking?” Emily squawked.
“Oh, god,” Miranda said with a roll of her eyes. “Email me if there’s a disaster, and maybe I’ll respond. Otherwise, I’ll speak to you Monday. Same time.”
“If you say so. Have a good holiday,” Nigel said.
“You too. And Emily, check the second drawer of my desk, the file folder in front. You might find a few things of interest.” When neither of them moved, she said simply, “Goodbye,” and turned off the connection. They’d damned well better appreciate their bonuses this year. Miranda had rewarded them very well, perhaps better than they deserved, given the fact that Nigel couldn’t even deal with a pussycat like Lagerfeld. What’s done was done. She was on to more interesting things.
Like breakfast. The fruit was already cut, and she put some toast in the toaster before whisking egg whites in a bowl. As she scrambled the eggs, she thought about the effort it had taken to get her to this calm, lovely place.
Endless months of cameras in her face. Dealing with a distracted staff every day. Snide looks and comments from those in her circle.
And worse. Andrea’s anxiety. Her inability to sleep more than a few hours, then at all. Her initial refusal to see a therapist or accept medication. Her belief that she didn’t need to rehash something she’d already talked about a thousand times.
The final straw was a phone call Miranda received from Andrea in the midst of a panic attack. Her altered perception terrified Miranda. When Andrea said she thought she was having a heart attack, Miranda had torn out of the office and found her lover a few blocks away, leaning against a lamppost in the pouring rain.
The next day, Andrea went to a therapist for the first time. Things improved incrementally. She began carrying medication around with her, not to take, but to have. Just the idea of it helped more than anything. She slept, not well, but a little. Her hypervigilant behavior began to ease. She agreed to wear earplugs to sleep, though she still spooked when loud noise made its way through the foam.
All the while, she continued to work. Most of the time, she stayed behind a desk, conducting her interviews over the phone, or online, or in person at the office. All of that was fine with Miranda. And as her anxiety began to lessen, Andrea ventured out into the field once more, always being careful, always calling Miranda before her arrival at a location and after her departure. This was also fine with Miranda. She wanted to know that everything was all right. Andrea’s therapist thought they might be moving toward co-dependency, but neither of them cared. It helped them get through the day, and that was what mattered.
Months passed. Andrea’s moods swung less, and she could sleep through the night again. And just when everything was looking up, Andrea stepped out of a train in Penn Station, fresh off a fantastic interview in Trenton, and walked right into a bomb threat. Instead of melting down, she took her medication and trudged through filthy snow and slush from 34th street to the Elias-Clarke building. She strolled unannounced into Miranda’s office and said very firmly, “I need a break. Can we go out of town?”
Three weeks later, they left on American Airlines for Kauai. The girls finished their final exams a few days early, and would get to celebrate Hanukah and Christmas on the beach. Andrea’s parents gratefully agreed to join them. Miranda had rented a house, and one of her new friends from the Diversity Committee at Dalton recommended Sam as a babysitter. The whole thing unfolded beautifully, as if it were meant to be.
So far, Miranda thought it was the best decision she could have made.
She scooped eggs onto two plates, added fruit and toast, and of course, coffee. Carefully she hoisted a tray and carried it up the stairs. Andrea had not moved from her position on the bed, so Miranda quietly set the tray on the floor and slid atop the sheet. With a gentle hand, she stroked Andrea’s back repeatedly until Andrea rolled over and smiled.
She pulled the earplugs from her ears. “Hi.”
“Mm, like a dream. I love this bed.”
“Maybe we can bring it home.”
Andrea laughed. “Can we bring the view with it?”
“Hmm,” Miranda said. “That would be nice,” she said, tilting her head. “Would you like breakfast?”
“Sure. I can go make us something--”
“Don’t move,” Miranda commanded. She scooted off the bed and presented the tray of food, supremely satisfied at the joy she saw in dark eyes. Andrea appreciated every small thing Miranda ever did for her, which made the giving that much more rewarding.
“You cooked? Oh, honey, it looks fantastic.”
“It’s eggs. It took five minutes.”
“Well I love it. Thank you.” She leaned over the tray, offering a kiss to Miranda, who accepted it. “The girls gone already?”
“Yes. Would you like to go watch them on the beach when we’re through here?”
“Mm, sounds good,” Andrea replied before taking her first bite. “Yum,” she mumbled between forkfuls.
They ate silently, enjoying the sound of the waves, and the occasional gull. When Miranda was done, Andrea devoured the final piece of pineapple from her plate, so she lifted the tray and placed it back on the floor. Finally she was able to reclaim her spot in the bed, and Andrea took advantage of it right away, easing her robe open.
She traced Miranda’s nipple lightly, smiling when it puckered without much coaxing. “Hmm,” she said. “What do you think that means?”
“Are you teasing me?” Miranda said, a little breathless. It had been more than a week since they’d had sex, distracted by vacation plans and twins and leaving work behind.
“It’s only a tease if I don’t follow through.”
“Oh.” Miranda swallowed, already tingling between her legs. “I promised the girls--”
“We’ll go see them. In a while. We have lots of time.”
Miranda realized Andrea was right, in so many ways. But no matter how much time they had, Miranda would make every moment count. She pulled Andrea in for a scorching kiss, rolling over on top of her lover’s body and kicking the sheet off the bed. “Why not let me do all the work?” Miranda murmured, nipping at a firm breast. “You just lie back and think of England.”
Andrea laughed, and arched her back in pleasure.
More than an hour later, they strolled down the beach, freshly showered and exuding afterglow. Andrea wore a big hat and an adorable sundress with a bikini underneath. She layered on the sunscreen each day, but Hawaii weather immediately put an end to the ghostly shade of pale New York winters brought upon her. Miranda was in the same boat, protecting her skin, but unable to resist a little color for a change.
“There they are,” Andrea said, pointing down the beach. “About ten yards out. See?”
Miranda saw. The girls were in the water, waiting for a wave, with Sam floating on a board between them. Cassidy spotted them first, throwing her arm in the air frantically. “Mom!” she shouted. “Andy!”
Andrea waved, shouting in reply, while Miranda wrapped her hand more tightly above Andrea’s elbow. Lightly she stroked her left arm, sliding her fingers along a few faded white scars. One was longer and thicker than the rest. Touching it was a habit now, one she would not break.
Soon they were at the water’s edge, waiting, and after a few minutes Miranda spotted a wave gathering itself up behind the girls. Andrea stepped forward, emitting a tiny gasp. “It’s so big,” she whispered. “Be careful! Don’t fall!” she called out.
But Miranda simply stroked her arm again. “They’re all right,” Miranda said, trusting. Hoping.
Sam encouraged them to take the wave, and to Miranda’s utter delight, both girls struggled up on their boards and stood. Their laughter rang out over the sound of the water. Cassidy was graceful, already an expert, and though Caroline was less poised, she was steady enough. They made it all the way in, hopping off the boards and skipping into sand to run at the both of them. Cassidy fell into Miranda’s arms, her wet body and hair soaking her cover-up. “Did you see Mom? We did it!”
Miranda pressed her nose into Cassidy’s delicious, salty hair and laughed. “I saw, darling. You did it.” She glanced next to her, where Caroline clung to Andy tightly.
Caroline was nearly breathless with excitement. “See, Andy? We were fine! We didn’t fall.”
Andrea blinked, and met Miranda’s eyes. She rocked Caroline back and forth in her arms, and said, “You’re right, sweetie. There was nothing to be scared of.”
For the first time in many, many months, Miranda believed her.