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TDWP: On a Tractor

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On a Tractor pt. 1

Andy went home. After a year and a half at the Mirror, she'd realized that journalism did not hold the same attraction it had when she was in college. Well, that's what she told herself, but really, it was more a case of the Mirror was not where she longed to be; which was a vast surprise no matter how she thought about it. Either way, when she'd finally earned enough vacation time to matter, Andy took it and flew back to Ohio to see if it would give her some perspective.

She was just in time for a funeral; her Uncle Jack's. The reading of the will left her flabbergasted, but it was her mother's words, which left her in shock. "I know it puts a crimp in your plans, honey, but please consider doing it. The Will is so specific, the property has been in the family for years, and he left it all to you. You know how valuable farmland is these days and Ohio's been losing it left and right to new construction. Please consider staying; at least for a year or two. Then, if it's not for you, well by then we might be able to hire someone or," and now her mother sobbed, "We'll be ready to let it go."

Andy reached out and touched her Mom's shoulder. "I can't make a promise like that. I'm... going to have to see it first."

The property was larger, more expansive, but just as pretty as Andy remembered. Everything was so pastoral; rolling hills, with flat, green valleys, trees and tall grass, animals that moved with surprising grace, a clear deep creek that meandered through. There were storage sheds and two barns; one for equipment and one for the creatures that called the property home. The tall, broad house was white, but the fences were wood and wire, depending on where they were located.

Andy had grown up on a smaller farm. It was a matter of scale. She looked around, considering. New York had become home, but she had grown up where it was green and spread out and it wasn't the city that she missed, nor was it really that far. If she wanted to go back to visit with Lily or Doug, or to sneak a peek at old haunts, it was a road trip and an overnight. "I can do this," she said out loud, with laughing surprise. "I could really do this."

Time passed, speeding through solstices. Summer was green and then a little brown. Fall glowed. Winter was white and thick. Spring was like being in a sea of flowers. Two calves, and a passel of bunnies were born and traded for a gangly colt of unknown parentage. The vegetable patch was expanded and the Farmer's Market became a habit. She updated, bringing in satellite and investing in some green power. Despite most farmers' bleak fiscal outlook, her Uncle had not been poor, merely frugal. He had invested in other things besides farming. So she had enough to hire help when she needed, but she mostly had it in hand; mainly because she kept it simple and some because she and the neighbors, who lived a ways up the road, got along. She decided to take a course or two in agriculture and conservation, to shore up what knowledge she didn't have.

It turned out there were loads of classes, some short, some long; all of them actually interesting. It did help her make a decision about whether or not to go for a huge cash crop and she realized that wasn't the type of thing she wanted to do with the property; not with the urgent need for more wildlands. So she went for smaller crops and more natural grasses.

The more she learned, the more interesting it was to her, and the more she wanted to share the experience. Andy took pictures and wrote about what she was doing when she wasn't bailing hay, taking care of the animals, shoring up wildlife food plots and buffer zones, mending something or doing whatever else needed doing. She went by Andy S. or A. S. and posted and published in farm friendly zones. It was peaceful and she felt like she was contributing, and aside from once mentioning the type of overalls she wore, it was as far from fashion as she could possibly get.

More time passed. She visited New York once or thrice; spent time with her friends and lurked at a familiar Starbucks for awhile and paused on the way to the subway on the other side of the street from Elias-Clark. No one she knew came out; not that she expected them to or that they would have recognized her. The memories were something she valued, but it ached her to be in the city, so she was glad to go home. Her mother forgot to ask if she needed help or wanted to leave at the end of the second year. Andy forgot to say something about it at all.

Nigel learned long ago that despite all the brainstorming meetings in the world, real inspiration came from other sources; objects or people of beauty, great articles, food, wine, walking. He didn't necessarily expect to find it in a doctor's office, however. Then again, as he waited, he was always amazed at the sheer variety of old magazines to be found and those could be a rich vein, even if they were not fashion related. He knew they were usually donated, simply because some of them still had part of the original sent-to labels on them, with names and addresses haphazardly blacked. Because he was yet another anonymous face at a medical center, he rarely felt as obligated to be as condescending as elsewhere. Then again, sneering was also not out of place. He could just absorb and respond naturally. Personally, in some ways, he found waiting for a medical appointment liberating. The time was a mini-vacation in a life that was filled with things to do. He scooped up a random handful and settled in for some perusal.

How a conservation magazine from Ohio ended up in a waiting room, he would never know, but the glossy cover with a simple bright image of wildlife caught his eye. He set the other magazines to his side and opened it, not sure what to expect; but looking forward to it anyway.

Miranda's time was heavily booked, but she had learned from certain mistakes to make time for those who were important to her; especially when she was abruptly confronted with the fact that she could count her real friends on the fingertips of one hand. So when Nigel invited her to his housewarming, she accepted graciously and had her assistant enter it in as a fixed appointment. She had also arrived bearing a gift she had chosen herself, one she knew he would appreciate. She and Nigel had worked hard after Paris to repair the damage, and, like a bone that had healed from a break, their friendship had grown stronger.

Before arriving she put on her party face and she kept it there, until she had circulated through the intimate crowd once and then through the dinner. Once finished, though she knew she would be leaving earlier than most, she realized she also wanted a closer look at Nigel's abode. After all, it was why she had been invited. So, she wandered and peeked at rooms and eventually found an exquisitely decorated space; one that drew her in, like an inviting fire at a hearth.

It was a room of warmth and comfort, with more browns than she would have expected of her friend, but also rich greens and golds. The sofa, she suspected, also served duty as a guest bed, but it was thick and inviting. A desk and a drawing table were aligned at the far wall and one wall was actually a long bookshelf and held more texts than she realized Nigel had owned. The other wall, held large, framed images, all very carefully arranged; photos that were richly vibrant and pristine in their composition. Their nature's theme, drew the whole of the room together and she instantly saw the pattern and wondered if Nigel had decorated to the images or if they had come after.

But she had to pause then, and where on another day she might have looked at the books, she was captured by beauty.

"I can't tell you what I do not know, Miranda," Nigel said gently. He offered her a flute of wine, which she took. "All I can tell you is that the editor of the magazine was kind enough to get the pictures for me, for a price. They wouldn't tell me who took the photos, other than the initials, which had been with the images to begin with; Policy."

"Policy." Sometimes the bane of her existence. Still, there were ways around most, if one took the right measures. She took a sip and then said, "I can't help, but notice you avoided saying the actual name of the magazine."

"Hmm. Yes. I have. Even I must have my secrets." He smiled pleasantly and drifted away.

Miranda's gaze narrowed and she pondered whether terrifying her friend would be worth the effort. It was too bad he wasn't her employee anymore. Then a smile crossed her eyes as she spotted Nigel's friend. Fortunately, she always had other ways to get what she needed.

Miranda looked at the worn glossy in her hands and then returned her stare to Nigel's friend. "Ohio Wildlife?" she said with disbelief.

He shrugged, "Surprising, isn't it? He said that he takes inspiration wherever it comes from. I suppose I see his point." She started to hand the magazine back and he waved it off. "I'm pretty sure you can keep it. He has those now." He pointed at the pictures on the wall. "And if he says something, I can blame the housekeeper."

Miranda smirked. "I think I like you."

The morning early summer sun had already warmed the day considerably by nine a.m. It hinted at even higher temperatures in the afternoon. The green John Deere tractor grumbled powerfully at its max speed as she drove it down the road, heading back toward her house. It was really just a short ways and the paved road was a smoother ride than the gravel, though that wasn't a problem for her tractor either.

Andy was glad she'd chosen to work early that day and wasn't wearing all that much in honor of the season. Her overalls were cut-offs, and she wore a simple white wife-beater. Her hat was a traditional straw, beat-up affair. It covered her eyes, kept her hair up, and protected her scalp from the sun, and that was all she really needed. Her farmer's tan happened to go a long ways down, past the traditional neck and sleeves. The all around tan was actually more due to skinny-dips at the creek in the summer afternoons than to working in the buff. She was smarter than that, knowing that tough work clothes made the difference between random scratches and protected from other sundry annoyances from happening. She wore steel toed boots and the right kind of stockings for them and workgloves when she needed them. She'd grown muscular and lean. Her body was firm and flexible from all the lifting and carrying and fixing and working. And, according to her mom, it seemed like she'd hit a final growth spurt, but Andy suspected that she was just standing taller these days. The years of slouching were quite over.

The road she was on was a double lane, one side going one direction and the other side going the opposite. On straight shoots, it had the alternating stripes that let drivers who might find themselves behind farming vehicles, which were always much slower, pass; so long as they were paying attention to what might be coming down the line. Every now and then, traffic might get slowed some, when one side's had more vehicles running on it than the other.

That was the case at that moment. It wasn't that it was a hugely busy day. It was just one of those random events. Andy did have a rear-view mirror in her cab, and she could see that there were a couple of vehicles behind her, but there was not much she could do except try to slide to the side when traffic opened up a bit; until she found her road home that is.

She had her headphones on, small buds that were pushed into her ears. With the windows open, it helped muffled the lion's roar of the tractor, while at the same time delivering the tunes she enjoyed. Her hands were on the steering wheel, but her body moved to the rhythm of the African samba that was playing. The international flare only added to her enjoyment of the ride.

She felt a vibration against her chest, heard the ringtone vaguely. Not for the first time, she inwardly praised the outdoor setting. Pulling the buds out of her ear, she then pulled the phone from her front pocket, the one over her chest, and put the phone to her ear. "Yep?"

"You driving and talkin'?"

"Am right now. Can't pull over. Hi Tim."

"Hiya. Well, I'd make you hang up, but I got a hurry on this one. Got someone looking for A. S. and wanting badly to speak to them or see them or … you get my drift."

"You know my policy, Tim."

"Well, I get ya. I do, but this is an unusual request. They want access to some of the sites you've taken photos at, something about settings. As I know nothing about it, I told them they'd have to talk to you; if you were available."

"Look, can I call you back? I'm coming up on my turn and want to have both hands on the wheel. People are desperate for me to get out of the way."

He laughed and said, "Yeah. Alright, but do call back."

What were the odds, really? Andy stared at the number Tim had given her and even blinking her eyes dozens of times hadn't made it go away or change. So now she sat in the cab of her tractor, contemplating the prospect of a discussion she'd never thought she might have.

The only saving grace was that it was an art department number, which meant, given the turnover rate, she had at least a fifty percent chance of not talking to anyone she actually knew.

That is, if she made the return call. Then again, she knew how things were. If she didn't call back, it put someone in jeopardy.

She might have to say no, but she couldn't not call.

She didn't look at the number when she dialed. She didn't need it.

Miranda gazed over the rim of her reading glasses at the nervous art editor. Inwardly she sighed, once againmissing Nigel and also wondering why they hadn't sent Serena, who had the knack for letting things roll off her back. The beautiful woman was one of the few who could stand up to Miranda in her den without quaking. Unlike this new person, who shivered under her baleful stare. "Well?"

The art editor cleared their throat. "I spoke with A. S. You know, that photographer you were interested in."

"Ah. Progress. How fortunate for you." Miranda turned more fully now, hoping for, if not expecting, good news.

"They politely declined." Miranda's brows went up slightly, and the other editor hastened their explanation. "I explained what the project was and what our magazine was. She said we could go to any farm for that kind of shoot, or even just set up a stage for what I was describing, get any number of photographers to shoot it and do it better, and then she said, thanks for the offer and hung up before I could even get a word in."

Miranda slid her glasses off and laid them on her desk and kept her voice very even. "Anything else?"

"Well, yes." The editor extended a hand forward and white sheet of paper dropped onto Miranda's desk. "I know how important this shoot is. I took the liberty of calling other farms in the state, to see if anyone would be interested or the options interesting. I have the most willing prospects emailing me pictures of their farms."

Miranda's lips flattened, but did not purse, as she gathered the paper in to examine the list of potentials. The art editor had just saved his job. "That's all."

Some time later, the editor-in-chief, examined the carefully compiled folders of information, flipping through image after image, in search of a particular look or feel. Some of the images were fine, some even very nice, some were horrendous. None of them, however, were right. They weren't what she was looking for, not what she wanted, nor what she needed.

Those qualities, which she sought, were contained in the growing portfolio she had her assistants gather of the mysterious A. S.; who was remaining obstinately uncooperative and furtive. And while Miranda wielded a great deal of power in the publishing industry, there just wasn't much she could do to an author and photographer who was being published by farming and conservation magazines; many of which were government subsidized.

She exhaled and dropped the potentials back on her desk in frustration, turning her chair toward the window so she could contemplate options. She could drop the shoot, as there was still time, but then the whole theme of the edition would have to be rethought and green fashion was something quite important, though it was needing a fresh angle. She could choose the best of the pile and attempt to compensate, but the knowledge that it wasn't the "real" place would nag at her until long after the edition was published. She already knew that about herself. The photographer, well, that was a loss, but she respected artistic integrity; understood it and had other photographers that could do the job if the place and the scene were right.

Artistic integrity, which was what Runway was always about, was a banner that she waved constantly, so she couldn't begrudge the artist. But there had to be a way to get the site.

She thought of the beginnings of her quest, the nature of the magazine itself, and then, as if a lightbulb flicked on, realized what she had to do. It was so simple she wondered why she had not thought of it in the first place; except there was always progression in the steps one took to accomplish one's goals and one hoped one's lackeys could accomplish the simpler missions.

Not that getting her way in this particular matter had turned out to be simple; until now. She reminded herself of two things; when all else fails, take it to the top and money talks.

A slow grin of brilliant expectation warmed her expression briefly, then she wiped it from her face, turned around and called in her assistant. "Contact my accountant. I wish to make a donation."

Really. What were the odds?

Miranda traced the initials on the portfolio, which, through one phone call, had been illuminated with an associated name at last; though the person who had finally given her the information she sought, after an effusive and long winded expression of gratitude, had insisted on calling the artist in question "him" or even "he." Miranda had not corrected the misconception.

Now she had answers, which included the valuable locations, but also cleared the mystery to some questions she had not even been aware that she had held. Or rather, she'd known she'd had them. She simply chose to ignore them in favor of keeping sanity and dignity.

For instance, when Andrea's small by-line had disappeared from the Mirror, Miranda had refused to let herself ask the question of why. Nor had she, when the young woman had finally ceased the near constant weekly appearances outside of Elias-Clarke, allowed herself to mindfully pursue anything about possible reasons or meanings. She had refused to allow herself to indulge contemplations of fate or folly in regards to one Andrea Sachs. She had deliberately separated herself from any and all thoughts regarding "the Assistant who Left."

But now... now she had new conundrums. She had to make a decision about what was important - distance from Andrea Sachs, which should have been more blissful than it actually was, or access to the site that would enhance Runway.

Worse, she had to consider the fact that "A. S." already refused phone calls; and was, apparently, quite adept at telling Miranda Priestly, "No." At least, when not face to face.

Which made the answer to her dilemma patently clear; if she chose to pursue it.

Maddening. That was what Andrea Sachs was and had been; efficiently and beautifully so.

Weeks later, on an even hotter morning and with a scorcher of an afternoon ahead, Andy was now down to her hat, worn blue overall-cut offs with her gloves tucked into a back pocket, a wide, brown, loaded tool-belt, nothing for a shirt, and her socks and boots. One arm strap was completely undone and went unheeded while she hammered at the porch she'd rebuilt. The new planks gave the porch an unfinished look, but they were solid and she'd be painting them soon enough to match. Now, at least, she no longer had to worry about falling through loose floorboard.

The hammering covered the sound of a vehicle approaching and Andy only heard the tail end, as she finished securing the last piece and as gravel crunched under tires brought to heel.

She paused to wonder if she'd been expecting anyone and couldn't recall any calls made recently. As the sound had come from behind her, she rolled up from the crouch to her knees, drawing the tool to her side, and planting it like a tiny Thor's hammer - head to the ground. She pivoted at the waist and looked behind her, cocking her head slightly. She had, for just that moment, quite forgotten that she was only partially dressed. Not even the soft heated breeze reminded her that half of the top portion of her overalls was undone, leaving honeyed breast and a good portion of her tawny, muscular body exposed during the shift.

She contemplated the very sleek, very modern, silver sport vehicle, which was now parked behind her black four-wheel drive truck. She couldn't quite see the driver, though she realized they might have a good view of her. That was when she remembered she wasn't dressed for company.

On the other hand, the driver wasn't exactly rushing out to chastise her about it either.

Andy rolled up to her feet then, turning more fully as she did so. She dropped her hammer into its loop and then reached back casually to grasp her overall's strap and hook it back up so she offered a little less of a free show. Then, adjusting her hat slightly, for the sun, she began walking toward the stranger's car, taking her time to do so.

Andy paused, leaving a respectful distance between herself and the car. Whoever it was, she thought, could meet her halfway.

The door to the vehicle swung out and open.

A well manicured hand grasped the top edge of the door. Then, like a goddess rising from hidden depths, the driver rose. Andy observed first, the halo of hair, soft and bright as silver moonlight, and then the side view of a well known face, eyes hidden by sunglasses, and the rest of her; glorious in form and fashion.

The young woman forced herself not to whisper the name, not to hint at even a wisp of interest beyond curiosity, even as she felt a frisson of elemental awareness of presence. She stayed where she was, watching as the other woman took stock and shut the door to the car. She wondered briefly if Miranda had at least worn sensible shoes, and then discarded the notion almost instantly, as she watched the editor turn toward her.

Closing her eyes very briefly against what she knew she was going to do, she let go of trying to control outcomes in favor of insuring that the other woman did not break her legs or some other valuable part of herself.

She strode forward, at ease in her own skin, if not her mind, until she was in front of Miranda. Then, wordlessly, because, frankly, she couldn't think of any words to say and even 'Hi,' seemed brutally complicated, she extended her hand, palm up. She was unconscious of how imperious she looked, how grimly determined.

She was aware of Miranda looking at her and then her hand, and then back again. She waited. Then, like a small miracle, Miranda reached out, taking her hand in a strong clasp. The act of trust was almost as thrilling as the touch itself.

Andrea moved closer then, drawing Miranda's hand up until it was secured by her elbow. In careful steps, she led the other woman to the house and up the stairs to the shaded porch. Once there, she let her grip go, instantly missing the contact, but needing the distance even more intensely.

She opened the screen door, held it wide, and then opened the inner door. Moving her free hand as an act of invitation, she made the silent offer. Miranda accepted, stepping as regally as a queen into Andrea's home.

Chapter Text

TDWP: On a Tractor pt. 2

A few minutes later, MIranda found herself sitting at a small, thick, worn oak kitchen table. None of the chairs really matched, but they were all the same height, solid and stable; and seemed to blend together in that homey kind of way that time provided and so many tried to accomplish, but did not always manage. She watched as Andrea puttered, while they waited for coffee to percolate.

She was glad for the chance, feeling as if she still needed to catch her breath after having a series of what felt like visions. In some ways, she wasn't even entirely sure that she had not fallen into some alternate universe, one where Andrea Sachs had grown six feet tall and become a goddess. Watching the younger woman do mundane tasks was settling, calming in the face of sea change.

A few minutes of quiet domesticity and then the coffee was set before her, perfectly blended, in one of the largest coffee cups she'd ever seen. It wasn't bucket-sized, but if she put both hands around it, only her fingertips would touch. She looked over and noted that Andrea's was several sizes smaller. The younger woman merely cocked a brow, scooted a chair back and sat in it. Miranda could not help the amusement that glimmered in her chest and colored her expression. A part of her wondered if the cup had been purchased just for her, and for how long Andrea had owned it.

In some ways, that thought sobered her, because it implied an expectation of a visit; but when had the expectation begun? She realized she would be sorely displeased if Andrea had manipulated things so she had to travel all the way to...

She looked back at Andrea, whose expression was only slightly less grim than it had been when earlier, and the incipient inner-tantrum came to a crashing inner-halt. That was not exactly the face of glorious welcome and accommodation and it was far too honest an expression to be a feint.

Miranda lifted the giant mug to her lips, needing the time to think, and then could not help but close her eyes as she made contact with perfection. My god she had missed this; this very thing. This simple, amazing moment of bliss; the absence of which she could now no longer deny. The very briefest urge to set the cup down and retreat was driven away by sheer beauty and flavor. Even if Andrea denied her every option, every favor, this single moment made the whole trip to Ohio worth it; and she would travel it again, if given the opportunity.

After several more quiet sips, and when she could open her eyes again, she saw Andrea's expression had changed. She might have expected amusement, through which she was willing perhaps to suffer, but the gentled expression - as if the younger woman had not been able to hold her sternness in the face of something exquisite - set Miranda aback.

They broke eye contact at the same time, unable at that moment to hold the intensity; each taking a separate route of retreat. Andrea had looked toward a window. Miranda had looked out, past Andrea's shoulder and was reminded again, just how little the younger woman was wearing.

She had to deliberately remind herself that she saw near-naked women on a near constant basis; however, and this she could own without hesitation, none of them looked like they had traded up for the sleek power of a mountain cat, nor were they so utterly, compellingly curvaceous about it. She had the impression, that if Andrea wanted, she could lift Miranda up with a single grasp and without any effort at all. It was a thrilling and dismaying thought, one which settled like warm sun-dripped honey into places that had been long frozen and bitter.

They drank their coffee in a silence that was only broken by the quiet noise of the house, when the air-conditioner kicked in. Miranda had expected a demand for explanations or a lecture upon the younger woman's independence or even just a hello. None of that was forthcoming, nor, oddly, was there any pressure for it to be. She rested in the rare quiescence, as if it were a gift that Andrea were giving her.

When the coffee was finished and before the silence could become irking, Andy gathered the cups, washed them, and then dried them. Then, finally, she turned around, leaned against the counter and folded her arms while looked at Miranda again. She pondered what to say, if she should say anything. She knew that the woman had a reason for being there, could guess what it was. She was also felt a niggling agony over what it couldn't possibly be and that made her feel uncharacteristically surly and uncommunicative. Sometimes, in the presence of Miranda, there were spaces between need and reality that were so deep she felt as if she were constantly falling.

She considered, yet again, Miranda's outfit. It was a nice traveling suit, but the shoes were unsuited to the environment. And all it meant, really, was that the woman hadn't intended to stay; only get her way through some means.

The land-line rang, startling them both with its insistence.

Andrea shook her head, grimaced, and then paced to an ancient black and silver dial phone which hung on the wall by one of the kitchen's three doors; the one leading outside to yet another porch. She lifted the phone and said, "Yep?"

Then, "Nope."

Then, "Wasn't plannin' on it."

Then, finally. "I have a reason. I have..." She turned and looked at Miranda, "... a guest."

She pulled the phone from her ear, and the excitement carried over the line. She listened a bit and finally said, "Hold on. I don't even know if she's staying that long," and put the headset against her chest. The sense of being required to ask carried over in her tone. "Care for Bar-B-Que this afternoon? Mom's asking. She wants to bring it here, because of the fair. My place is closer. It means a crowded house, kith and kin." She looked at Miranda's feet and then at the woman herself, "You'll need different shoes."

Andy was frankly shocked that Miranda agreed to stay for the Bar-B-Que and she was a little leery of the reasons why. On the other hand, she felt no obligation to outright make a decision for a question that hadn't been asked yet. She could guess what the requests might be, and knew that the woman was probably plotting ways to insure the wanted outcome, but the reasons for Miranda herself arriving, that was a little more difficult to parse.

It was, she thought, going to be a revelatory experience; one way or the other.

"Well, let's go, while we still can. We've got shopping to do."

"Shopping."

"Got to get groceries, among other things. Unless you have something else planned?"

Miranda did not quite purse her lips, but Andy could see the plotting behind her eyes. The younger woman kept her expression open, but her arms crossed, and waited. If Miranda's schedule wasn't cleared for this little jaunt, she'd eat her hat.

"No. Nothing else."

"Excellent." Andy started forward and offered her arm again. "We'll take my truck."

The truck was higher up off the ground than Miranda was used to, and Andy hid a smile as the other woman tried to logic and possibly levitate her way into the seat. "Let me." She offered her arm again and this time Miranda used the step and levered herself into the truck. Andy stood up on the step, which caused the other woman to look at her.

"There's a trick to it." She grasped the buckle and reached over the sitting woman, carefully buckling Miranda into the truck's shotgun bucket seat. When she was finished, she was highly aware of the positioning and looked up and back at the editor, who was looking down at her. She remembered then, that she needed to put a shirt on before heading out. A very brief flicker of humor crossed her expression and she pulled away, now aware that she had totally been scoped. The sunglasses kept her from seeing Miranda's eyes, but she knew the other woman wasn't so impervious either; other attributes had given her away when Andy's arm had brushed against them.

"I'll be right back. Keep the door open for the breeze. I won't let you linger in the heat."

Miranda didn't reply. Andy ran back to the house, graceful as a gazelle. It made Miranda think of cowboy Amazons and she made a mental note for the shoot. Ideas, after all, were ideas.

As promised the young woman returned quickly. The overalls were gone, but now she wore jean cut-offs and a worn t-shirt, with an illegible rock emblem that was barely still recognizable. Decently attired, depending on one's perspective, Andy returned to the door. "You alright?"

"Yes."

Apparently that was all the answer needed. Andy closed the door and went around to the driver's side. She grinned as she climbed in. "You're in for a treat." Then she laughed.

"What is this place?" Miranda asked as they parked among what seemed to be a million cars in a lot that was surprisingly full for a small town.

"This is the cornucopia of the Midwest, although it's expanded north, west, east and south, so I guess we can't keep saying that." Andy chuckled slightly. Then she pointed at the giant box store. It was red and tan, with bright signs at the top. "This is All-mart, where farmers and the local high and mighty congregate to purchase goods and groceries for the purpose of clothing and providing for their family. According to some, this is the destroyer of small business and breaker of unions. According to others, it's the great equalizer. According to the statistics, this particular All-Mart is one of the busiest in the country, because it serves several townships, including this one. You will note that the sign says it is open 24/7. That is almost true. It closes for Thanksgiving Evening, Christmas and Easter. You see over there," and now Andrea pointed in the distance where a line of RVs were parked, "That is the informal campground of many a traveler. I guarantee those particular folks are here for the fair. It's a little more crowded than usual." She pointed at smaller buildings distributed around the outskirts of the parking lot. "Where All-Mart grows, it also brings in other businesses, often syndicated, but also some mom and pop stores. The K12 shop is very popular with moms, crafters and teachers. The Taco Ring is very popular with the high schoolers. Avoid it between three pm and five pm. They outnumber us then." She gave Miranda sideways glance and asked, "Are you ready?"

Miranda was not quite staring, as she had learned the art of composure a long time ago, but that did not mean she wasn't absorbing everything that Andy was saying; including how she was saying it. The young woman had been descriptive, but she was not being sarcastic.

"For what?" Miranda

"Your baptism into the House of Redneck; also some shoes for you; boots, I think. Something with steel at the toe."

Now Miranda offered a look that might have made a lesser woman, or an employee, squirm uncomfortably. Andy just smiled, unclicked her seatbelt and then Miranda's, opened the door and slid out of the truck. "I'll come open your door. Be right there."

The revelation started at the door, where a tired woman smiled and nodded as they entered. Andy grabbed a cart on the fly, and Miranda, being from New York, managed to look at things without appearing as if she were curious at all. Andy slid up beside her, "Want to push the cart?"

That earned her a scathing glance, which caused her to laugh. "Okay, here's the trick to All-Mart, if you haven't brought a list, you plan a circle - starting with the non-food goods and circling back to the groceries and then to the front where the cashier closest to your exit is. Since Mom is bringing family along, and I know they want to hit the fair tonight and possibly tomorrow, I think it'll do us well to plan for a stay-over. Which means air mattresses and maybe a couple of back-up sleeping bags. That'll be in the camping and sports goods. When we're done with that, the return route will swing us past the clothes and shoes. And we'll take a look at the books real quick, because I want to show you something, which you might find entertaining or at least interesting. And then we'll get the real supplies; food for the masses."

"How big is this place?" Miranda asked the question, striding with confidence and resisting the urge to look up at the vast unfinished ceiling. She thought she saw birds in the rafters, but knew she had to be mistaken.

"Well, it's big enough that exercise groups use it to walk laps. I've seen some winded people pass me in the early mornings."

"You're serious."

"Yep."

In a way, it did not surprise Andy that, once they were between rows of goods and out of the main thoroughfare, Miranda's interest expanded. All-Mart was popular for a reason. It had so much variety, that it was hard for any inveterate shopper to resist. Once things were slightly more private, Miranda began really examining the content on the shelves, even going so far as to take an item off the shelf to peruse it closely. Andy realized, as she observed the woman, that the editor rarely had this kind of opportunity, so rather than hurry through, like she originally planned, she allowed the pace to settle into a shopper's meander.

To get to the sporting goods, they had to pass by household goods and that slowed Miranda considerably. First she was amazed that All-Mart had color-coordinated anything. Then she was amazed that they were selling rolled up mattresses in boxes. "Why not get one of these?"

"Because once they unroll, it's heck getting them back in the box. I don't really need new beds. I need temporary ones."

Miranda blinked at her. "Do you not have a guest room?"

"I have two. But I wanted to make sure that one was left for you, if you wanted it, and one for Mom and Dad, and the rest can make do. Uncle Buck and Aunt Raylene will probably bring their RV, so won't have to worry about them. Uncle Travis and Aunt Dorene will probably bring a camp out set and park that somewhere behind the house. They have big family tents, including one of those pavilion affairs. My other relatives, including my sister and her husband, and most of the kids will most likely want to hang out there, because that's where everyone will probably be. But there are a few who are heat sensitive, and so we'll want to make sure they have a place indoors."

"Are you inviting me to stay the night?"

Andy managed not to pause at all, and amazed herself. "Yes. I think I am. Though I know your assistant already has the closest thing to a four star hotel lined up somewhere."

Miranda turned then, stared again at the mattress in a box, and shook her head. "Do the guest beds have one of those on them?"

"No. And if you don't like the way they feel, you can use my bed, which is broken in, but very comfy. I have many, many layers of eggshells and space-foam on it. No bed bugs, guaranteed."

Miranda's lips twitched in amusement and then she started forward in her investigations again.

"They have the changing rooms in the center of the displays."

"Yes."

"And the walls don't go all the way up."

"Nope."

"Anyone could peek in. Anyone."

"Well, if they're very tall."

"Don't think I haven't missed the security cameras."

"There is that," Andrea acknowledged. "But All-Mart has a … very flexible return policy."

Miranda's hands continued to slide clothes along the racks, examining them even as she obviously found things lacking. "I see." The older woman paused and placed her hand on one hip. "The standard of dress for this afternoon is likely to be shorts and shirt?"

"And possibly a bathing suit and a t-shirt. The kids like to visit the creek. I'd recommend at least flip-flops, but boaters would be better, because you don't want to walk in a creek in bare feet."

"Why would I want to go into a creek?"

"Because water on a hot summer day is bliss and a deep creek like mine doubles the effect. It's like a moving swimming pool." Then, as if sugaring the incentive, she said, "I'll buy. And you'll never have to tell anyone."

"Fine."

Andy kept glancing down at the bathing suit, a two piece affair, which just happened to be the last item of "clothing" as Miranda had air-quoted, in the cart. Her mind, which to that point had been fine, had just been dropped kicked into a strange, lustful haze. It was taking everything she had not to call the shopping done, rush back home, and see if she could get Miranda into it.

"Did you hear me?"

Andrea blinked and looked at the other woman blankly. Miranda arched a brow, "We are in the..." She waved her hand at the rows of shoes behind her.

Andrea's gaze followed the redirection and then she snapped out of it. "Oh. Shoes. Right. Boots and shoes. And..." She was blushing and knew she was blushing. But the she was also having a very hard time escaping the image of Miranda in that skimpy two piece.

"Are you alright?"

"Mmhmm. Yep. Fine. Fine." Andy redirected the cart, tried to keep her mind on business. "Mind if we measure your foot first? I know your basic size, but I want to make sure we get the right fit."

Miranda rolled her eyes. "As you wish."

Miranda gazed down at her foot, which was on Andrea's knee. She watched as the young woman, who was still wearing that battered hat, but had it tipped back, expertly laced the boot. The total care she'd put into assessing and finding the right fit had warmed and oddly reassured the editor.

They'd found a handsome boot, sturdy and of a good make. When Miranda had expressed quiet surprise, the younger woman had said, "They have inexpensive shoes here, true, but All-Mart does not mess around with the work boots. The inexpensive shoes are the string cheese, and people buy them because they fill the bill and can soothe, but the work boots are multi-grain bread and butter good for you." She sat back a little and smiled, still looking down, but Miranda could see the tiger's hunger in it; which set a flame in her belly. "You're going to kick ass and take names in these."

She lifted and set Miranda's booted foot down and rolled back, preparing to stand. She glanced up, still smiling.

Then, the editor watched as the smile did a slow fade and the happy light in Andy's eyes changed. It nearly set her aback, until she realized that the younger woman was not looking at her at all.

Andy stood up quickly then, her expression stiff, even as her body was limber. Miranda realized then that the writer had not been unhappy to see her that morning, merely unrevealing. She now knew the difference. She was witnessing unhappy right this moment. Naturally she had to turn and look.

She saw a woman, tall, auburn haired, and relatively pretty, if trashily dressed, who was walking toward them. She was technically smiling, though it did not reach the eyes. In an instant, Miranda realized that this person was not a friend to Andrea, but wanted to stake a claim somehow. She knew the look.

"Andy!" The word was strung out, said loudly enough to garner the attention of passersby, and as unavoidable as a bus on a rampage.

"Brenda." Andy's reply was cool, distancing. She added no pleasantries, but took an instinctively protective position in an attempt to block Miranda from oncoming disaster.

"Well, imagine meeting you here," the other woman oozed.

Andy folded her arms, tempted not to reply at all, but she knew she had to get this person on her way. "Had shopping to do. Still have some."

"Maybe we could..."

"No." Andy nipped the thought before it could take air and fly.

"But..."

"No."

"Really, I don't see why you can't be a little pleasant. After all, we did have that night."

Miranda's brows shot up and she turned more fully, and stood in one fluid, near instantaneous motion. Naturally, that drew attention.

"Who is this?" Brenda asked and this time her voice was set at chill.

"It wasn't a night. It wasn't even fifteen minutes." Andy refuted. Then she said, "Someone you don't know or need to know." Miranda realized she'd never heard that tone in the younger woman's voice before. She half expected the other woman to flinch back, blooded from the dagger in it.

But she was apparently oblivious.

"Oh. I get it." Brenda decided to target someone she didn't know or need to know. "Andy's mine. I don't know where you're from," and she gave Miranda a once over that was supposed to be scathing, but that the editor found slightly hysterical, "but you can go back there and forget taking her. I'm all the woman she needs."

"Oh. My. God." Andy barely resisted putting her head in her hands. "We don't have a thing, Brenda." Andy turned to Miranda and said, very emphatically, "We never had a thing."

She started forward and once again Andy moved. This time standing directly in front of Miranda; who peeked around in fascination. She'd thought this sort of event happened only in parties, after much drinking. Apparently All-Mart was a center for drama too. How invigorating.

"Andy!" Brenda protested. "How can you say that?"

Miranda watched as several expressions crossed the writer's face, and then it was as if the young woman had an epiphany. Her shoulder's settled, that self-assurance that Miranda was becoming acquainted with returned, and she smiled; almost gently. "Brenda," Andy said, her tone mild, "I have something to tell you."

Brenda's attention flipped back to Andy. "Yes?"

"I … I have got to break your heart today."

"What?"

"Well, see, here's the thing. You are a lovely person." Andy stepped closer to Brenda and took her hands. "And you have many fine qualities." The other woman's eyelids fluttered. "But, you are not my type."

"But... but... I'm everyone's type."

Miranda suspected that might be half the problem, but she managed not to say that out loud.

"But not mine." Andy exhaled, and looked back at Miranda. "Can you forgive me?" Then she turned her attention to Brenda and squeezed her hands once. "I'm looking for something else, now."

The redhead blinked and then pulled her hands away. She cast another glance at Miranda and then lifted her chin. "I can see that." Then she leaned and said, "But if you change your mind..."

Andy forced a smile, "You'd be the first to know, but you deserve someone better than me."

"Well," Brenda shrugged. "Your loss."

"Oh. And I feel it." Andy brought her hand up to her chest. "Yes. I do."

"Hmph. I suppose I'll go then." She tisked. "Have fun... shopping."

"Will do. You too."

Brenda wandered away, looking slightly bereft and lost. Andy's back was still terribly straight and stiff, like a cat whose hair was still riding up their spine. She pivoted on one heel, turning back to the editor. "I am … I don't even have the words, Miranda."

Miranda peered around and then back at the younger woman. "No words necessary." She looked down at her feet. "I think I like these boots. Though, they don't go with this suit."

"Well. Yeah. It's like everything. You need the right outfit for the shoes."

As declared, they visited the books, of which there were a profuse number; some in hardback and many in paperback. The main rack boasted best sellers. The others held books separated by genre, of which Romance was the largest. However, Miranda soon learned that it wasn't really the books that Andy was interested in showing her.

The magazine display was taller than she was, brightly lit, and extended quite a ways. Andy walked slowly, letting Miranda absorb the sight. They walked past agricultural interests, muscle magazines, tattoo art, hobby magazines of dizzying diversity, decor and gardens, popular and gossip, news and tv, and then, the glamor. "Take a good look," Andy said. "You'll see it."

Miranda glanced at the writer and then back at the rack. Then, despite herself a genuine smile and a laugh escaped. She turned and looked at Andy, who raised her hand. "It wasn't me. It's been that way since before I got here. Someone does this every month." She leaned in and gently whispered. "You have a fan. And apparently a very devoted one. In Ohio. I just thought you'd get a kick out of knowing that."

Miranda glanced back at the rack, where Runway magazine had been most prominently displayed, right over the top of Vogue, and her smile expanded.

By the time they left, with a cart full of groceries and sundries, an hour and a half had passed and Miranda did feel like her eyes had been opened, though perhaps not entirely in the direction that Andy had been pointing. In fact, in some ways, she thought the value lay, not in the destination, which might serve as inspiration at another time, but rather in her time spent with the writer.

When they arrived back at the truck, Andy once again offered the first courtesies; opening the door, assisting Miranda into the vehicle. This time she did not immediately buckle her in, but, leaving the door open, she began storing the goods in a compartment in the back that was apparently made for such things. She moved with quick agility, while Miranda turned and watched in silence. Then once the goods were out of the cart, she said, "I'll be right back. Just going over there."

"Over there," was a not too distant rack of carts. Miranda nodded her assent and did not have to wait long before Andy was back. The young woman stepped up and said, "Ready?"

"I suppose."

Once again, Andy leaned over her. Though the view was perhaps not as exciting, there was still power in the motion. She thought, perhaps she shouldn't be the only one discombobulated. As Andy retreated, Miranda said, "So. Brenda."

The younger woman's expression was priceless. Wordlessly she lifted a finger, then dropped it. Then she stepped down, hopped rather, and shut the door; perhaps a little more firmly than necessary.

Miranda kept the sly smile from forming and as Andy opened the other door, apparently now ready to ripost, added before she could say anything, "Are you interested in women like Brenda?"

Andy reared a bit, but then heaved into her seat with grim determination. She slammed the buckle into its holster, and then finally replied. "Not like Brenda. No."

"Which implies women are in your palette, though I recall you had a man in your life."

"Nate's married now. I'm into the person more than the gender. Are you sure you want to have this conversation?" Andy started the engine.

And, since the challenge was thrown and Miranda liked to tease, the editor added, "Perhaps Emily is more to your taste."

The flummoxed expression was delicious and brought a wicked gleam to azure eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Chapter Text

TDWP: On a Tractor pt. 3

Andy was half afraid that some of her family might already have arrived, but the property was quiet and the drive uncrowded. She pulled up beside the silver car. The drive back had not actually been silent, Miranda, in typical fashion, had multi-tasked, making phone calls of terror to trusted and not so trusted employees and calling her girls, who were at their father's, to check on them and tell them they were her world. Listening to the familiar cadence of Miranda's voice warmed something deep in Andy and calmed her on the drive. By the time they were home, she was in a friendlier mood, even going so far as to offer a quick smile before clicking herself and Miranda free from the seatbelts.

Once again, she helped Miranda out and walked her to the house. "I need to get the things in, feel free to explore, if you'd like. There's a bathroom down the hall. Or if you prefer, the guest bedrooms have their own, upstairs. You can pick one. Um. That is if..."

Miranda offered Andy a set of keys from her pocket. Andy, without missing a beat, grabbed them and said, "And I'll bring your stuff on up."

"And the new outfits." The older woman offered a cocked eyebrow.

"Absolutely."

"Thank you, Andrea."

Once again Miranda was amused to see the younger woman spin away with a stunned expression on her face.

Andy was like the whirlwind, carrying things in and putting them away with dispatch. She had found Miranda in the guest room closest to her bedroom, which, she supposed she should have expected. It was a comforting space, somewhat traditional; a wide, thick bed with lots of pillows and a throw cover, a trunk at the foot of the bed, but also drawers and a closet, and a small desk and some comfortable chairs. It was a nice room, one that Andy had spent time in insuring it. Then again, the same could be said for the whole house.

Miranda hadn't said anything specific about the way her home looked, which Andy took as a good sign. In a way, she was glad that the fashion maven had never seen her apartment. She might have had plenty to say then. After Nate had moved, her place had looked unfinished and bare; Andy just hadn't the heart to fill in the space. But here, oddly, she'd found a groove. It had taken her awhile to figure out the why.

The brunette delivered the cases and the other belongings, but did not linger to put them away; except to lay the keys to the car on the desk. Miranda watched the flurry of efficiency, for a moment, then turned away. Unpacking, however, was no longer Andy's job and she had cold stuff waiting. So she was in and out of the room, with nothing said, no delays and no surprises.

Andy had next spent some time carefully rearranging the goods in the refrigerator, to make room for the food and treats she knew her family was likely to bring. She'd also used the back-up 'fridge, storing meat Miranda and she had selected in there. The back-up was actually in a store room, just off the kitchen. The store room held shelves of goods, as well as a stand alone freezer. In lean times or blizzard, there was always food. Some more pleasant to contemplate than others. Andy wasn't a fan of okra, but her family insisted on offering her a can or two every year. She kept giving them away. They kept giving her more. It was a horrifying cycle of supply and lack of demand.

Andy stepped into the kitchen, intending to grab more of the dry goods.

She did not quite stumble, but her steps slowed and her heart seemed to beat loud enough to be heard across the room. Miranda's back was turned toward her, as she was looking out the screen door at the green space that was Andy's backyard. It wasn't the fact that she was standing there, which might have been enough to slow her on any number of days anyhow, but it was the outfit; the navy shorts which revealed strong, beautiful legs and hugged her hips, but not too tightly, and the plum shirt, which caused her skin and hair to glow. She wore the short boots, which fit together with the whole. She looked both as good as Andy has suspected she might and at the same time, a thousand times hotter.

The younger woman randomly grabbed a box, without looking at it. Miranda turned. Andy waved with her one free hand, feeling slightly caught out and ridiculous for staring. The older woman's expression remained mild, but her brow cocked. Andy's skin felt warmer for some reason. She grabbed another item and turned and did not quite run to the storage room.

Andy's stern lecture to herself did nothing to really abate the dilemma, which was the slow fire heat in her veins, but she did manage to collect herself enough to return to the kitchen with a semblance of aplomb. When she looked toward the door, where Miranda had been, the space was empty. But she saw the editor walking in the yard, some of which was shaded by old-growth trees, as if taking measurements. Which, likely she was.

Andy was not completely oblivious. She knew that Miranda had to have come down to negotiate the use of spaces for some shoot; one specific enough in her head, that she must have wanted to see the property and pressing enough that she'd come herself to do the convincing. It almost made Andy feel guilty for being so hard headed about it, but at the same time, she could not regret her stubborn resistance. She had not intended to goad Miranda into coming, but since she arrived, Andy had felt a quickening in her pulse and pace.

It felt good to have her near.

It felt right.

And the woman knew, ironies aside, that Miranda was most definitely her type; and most likely her all.

The painful awareness combined with knowledge that time was limited, that once Miranda had what she wanted, once she'd felt she won her prize, she was going to go away, was a giant thorn in her metaphorical paw, but Andy was determined to limp with it; all her life if necessary. She would make the most of it, make memories for herself and hopefully for Miranda too, and then carry on. After all, she already had been.

She leaned against the frame, a moment longer, watching and appreciating. Then she heard the first roar and tumble of a vehicle coming up her drive. She saw Miranda turn toward the sound and pushed the screen door open. "I think they're here. Or least some of them are. Ready to meet some family?"

Without comment the editor made her way back to the porch, looking sleek and fit and carrying herself like a queen. "How do you do it?" mumbled Andy admiringly, not really intending to be heard.

Miranda brushed past her, and tilted her head a little with a sly glance. "With experience."

It was vastly apparent that Andy inherited her father's height and coloring. Richard was tall, had wavy brown hair, which was greying at the temples, and the warm brown eyes that were a shade lighter than his daughter's. Cecilia, on the other hand, was much shorter and blonder than both her husband and her daughter. Cecilia had green eyes that sparkled with intelligence and a quick wit. Later, Miranda would learn that Andy's sister took after her.

Andy hadn't really thought about how she would introduce her guest. In fact, given that she hadn't expected anyone that day, things had really been quite skewed as far as personal plans went. However, she had always been a straightforward young lady and was not one to prevaricate.

Before introductions, however, she unabashedly hugged both her parents, who were obviously glad to see her. "Thanks for letting us do this, hon," her mom began. "We appreciate it."

"No problem." Andy said and she backed away and then, without really thinking about it, put her hand at the editor's back. "Mom, Dad, this is Miranda. Miranda, this is my mom and dad, Cecilia and Richard."

Richard stiffened briefly as if he'd been poked in the solar plexus, but Cecilia was instantly all smiles and started forward with hands outstretched. "Well, isn't this a surprise. We've heard so many things about you, but it's so nice to put the name to a face." She was saying this as she grasped Miranda's hands briefly in her own and dragged her in for a hug that was just a shade more than formal, but nominally less than a "you're family now," hug. Before the editor could get a word in, or protest the physical contact, Cecilia was spinning the other woman around and guiding her away, "Andy, help your father. Miranda and I are going to go get acquainted. I'm sure we have lots to talk about."

Andy experienced a moment of sheer stupefaction that bordered on terror. She just wasn't sure for whom. Her father came to stand beside her.

"I don't know what your mom's plotting, but it can't be too bad. She was smiling, after all," he said with a narrowed gaze at his wife. "I take it that is the Miranda?"

Andy couldn't even speak. Dread and shock muted her. "Mm."

"Well, looks like she got out of Florida alright. Any particular reason she's here?"

"Mm."

He clapped a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Let's get the goods in and the grills set up. I suspect they're going to be a bit." He grinned at her, "Maybe then I'll be able to get a word in edgewise with all your yammering."

The Sach's school of thought when it came to Bar-B-Que was that all options were good as long as the food was right, but that certain flavors required certain conditions. Gas was nice, but charcoal and woodchips had their own magic. Thus it was, that when the family gathered it was not unusual to see more than one type of grill set and fired up. It was a bit like having their own tail-gating event. In fact, it was highly like unto, as many enjoyed that kind of thing too.

Andy owned a gas grill. She liked the simplicity. That was on the long, shaded kitchen porch, where it belonged. However, there was also the fire-pit, which was really more of ancient divoted hearth in the ground with thick charred rocks of size around it. That was a decent length away from the house, and where the tents, when family came to visit, were traditionally set. The other grills would end up on one side or the other, depending on who brought what and where they wanted it.

Picnic tables would be set to each end, with a large wide space for congregating, gaming, lazing about on lawn chairs and sitting under the shade trees. The picnic tables would, when the time came, be loaded with pitchers of various flavored drinks and platters of food, some of which might be claimed to be good for one, but most of which were there simply because they were delicious.

Miranda watched through the screen door as Andy, with astonishing ease, carried a heavy looking load of briquettes and sundries. Once again she found her eyes traveling the form, admiring the woman who carried herself with a grace she had grown into. Once they'd actually made it indoors, Cecelia had let her go and then said she would be right back.

She heard the pop of a cork from behind and then the sound of something being poured. She let go a breath she did not know she was holding.

"She's beautiful isn't she? She was a gorgeous baby, was a pretty girl, then hit a hard patch in her teens when it seemed like she'd never stop growing. She couldn't seem to get used to her legs, not for the longest time. And then she went to New York. When she came back, I hardly recognized her. She may have been unhappy, but she walked like a goddess."

Miranda forced her expression to stay even and turned to look at the blonde, who held out a small glass of dark ruby liquid. "It's blackberry wine. It's nearly famous; at least in family and among friends. She makes it, when it's time, and people ask for as many bottles as she'll let go. I think it's because you can taste the love in it, but she'll tell you it's nothing. That's her way."

Miranda took the glass, held up and saw how the wine glowed in the light. She drew it to her nose, sniffed it. And could not help the exhale of appreciation. Cecelia laid a hand on Miranda's arm. "Sip it. It's got a mighty kick."

The editor did not mention that she had not intended to gulp. She was working very hard to be pleasant to Andy's mother, after all, she had a goal in mind. But it was a stretch and her usual social weapons and armor and niceties were oddly failing her as Cecelia seemed oblivious or impervious to them; much, now that she considered it, like a certain brunette she knew. Miranda decided to skip an attempt at hinting and chose to be more straightforward, since she wanted to move things along, and escape from this strange spell that Andy's mother seemed to be weaving, "I can't help think that there is something you'd like to say, that you feel would be easier, if …." She swirled the wine, sipped and felt the sweetness as much as tasted it. She could appreciate the warning now, the warmth of the drink was almost a match for the buzz that she had when just looking at Andrea.

Cecelia opened the screen door, "Let's go sit in the shade while they do the work. I"ll be standing in the kitchen here soon enough. Might as well enjoy the respite. They won't bother us."

Miranda once again found herself in the yard, but now settled into an adirondack, while Cecilia took the companion. A small outdoor table was set between them. Neither of them let go of their drinks, but they both looked out, watching as Andy and her father marched back and forth like sherpas on a quest.

"The first year Andy was back, I was just grateful she was here. We weren't thrilled when she said she was going to New York. To write. God help us. I had visions of her destitute on street. Fortunately, at the time, she had a boyfriend willing to move with her and some college friends who wanted to try to make it there, as if that old cliche song was just somehow an inevitable choice. When she got the job as an assistant at a magazine, a prestigious one at that, I was ecstatic. Thrilled, because I knew my daughter would not starve, would not be chasing down some wild pipe dream in a state of poverty. Oh, I knew it probably paid a workman's wage, but it wasn't nothing. I knew that much." Cecelia took a sip.

"When she called it was like riding an emotional rollercoaster. One week travesty. Another week ecstasy. And it was always busy, busy, busy, regardless of joy or sorrow. Her friends found it difficult. Her father, bless him, found it trying. He thought she was working too hard, but...," Cecelia exhaled, "...I knew our Andy. She enjoys a good challenge, something that thrills her mind and gets her blood up. It's why she stays, why she writes and creates.

"When the second year passed, I worried I might have to intervene. I worried that she'd given up dreams to accommodate necessity. Then I picked up a magazine, you know, just to have something to read while the oil was changed in the pick up. I saw the byline, A. S. And I just knew. I read that article, could hear her voice in my head, and looked at the pictures, and was amazed at them, and I was so relieved; so relieved that I hadn't broken my little girl, by begging her stay, and that … New York... hadn't broken her either. And after that, it just seemed she started getting better. Well, into year three, and she's doing so well, I think we're over the hard part. Then suddenly she's getting phone calls and waking me up at odd hours because she needs to talk, but won't ever exactly tell me why."

Cecelia's glass was finished. She put it on the small table and then laid her hands on the armrests of her chair. "I don't know which article you saw, or which pictures, but I'm guessing you saw what I did. Not the exact thing, of course, but...the sheer cussed beauty of whichever one it was. I'm guessing, based on what little I learned from what Andy's told me, that you told yourself you were coming to get her to agree to let you do some work here, to try to get the right light and feel for some pretty thing; a nice backdrop, you might have said." Cecelia glanced over and noted that Miranda's glass was still half full. She was looking straight ahead and Andy's mother's eyes held amusement.

"I'd ask you what you intended toward my daughter, but I'm not sure you realized you had an intention until I just now mentioned it."

Miranda turned to look at Cecelia at last, her expression just on the shade of stricken. The blonde cocked her head and then nodded. "I could go into reasons why not, but I think you've already played that song, bought the album. It's one I'm familiar with. My suggestion is, don't linger on it. Certainly not on account of Richard and I. Did I mention that her Dad is seventeen years older than me? Doesn't look it does he?" Cecelia's smile was rueful, "Yeah. He was arrogant, knew everything, and people found him hard to warm up to. My sister called him Mr. Freeze." The blonde stood up then. "But once we were married she changed her tune. Andy gets her warmth from him, I think."

Miranda cleared her throat. "I might have to contest that."

Cecelia grinned and picked up her empty glass to take it back to the house, "Well, I won't argue."

It was as if finishing the wine was the pistol shot summoning the rest of the family. As soon as Miranda set the empty glass down, the sound of multiple vehicles arriving and happy, excited voices filled the air.

Andy, who apparently was finished with lugging around goods, stopped by Miranda, to fall bonelessly into the chair where her mother had sat moments ago. "Well, here comes the flood. I keep thinking I should warn you, but I already feel like I missed the boat on that. I realize you didn't come here intending to have to survive all this. I don't know what Mom said, but I am pretty sure I can't make up for it." She exhaled dramatically. "When do you want to bring your models and photographers up?"

"I had planned for tomorrow."

"Seriously?" Andy cast a glance up at the blue sky and thought of Miranda's eyes. "Am I so predictable?"

"We had alternate plans. In case."

"Okay. I feel a little better then. I was thinking, if you'd like, say in twenty minutes, we'd go take a little tour of the rest of the property. Just so you could see it."

"Fine."

True to her word, and after exuberant greetings and random filial introductions, Andy collected Miranda; guiding her through the jovial maelstrom. Children roved and played in small, happy packs while their parents meandered or helped set up. They stopped, briefly, where Richard was holding court at his grill. "Dad, we're going for a ride. Back later."

He glanced at Miranda, above his glasses, and she was surprised to realize she recognized that look. It wasn't one she was used to receiving. But all he said was, "Steak in an hour."

He might as well have said 'that's all,' because he turned his back on them both.

Andy shook her head and then leaned to Miranda, and said, sotto-voice, "He gets very focused when he cooks." It wasn't an apology. It was an explanation.

Miranda leaned back and looked at Andy, considering. Her gaze narrowed, as if she were seeing the younger woman in a new light. "I see."

The editor stared up at the vehicle with thick, giant tires. It was not a truck and most certainly was not a sports car of any kind. It was boxy, not at all aerodynamic. It was a workhorse. The younger woman climbed up and opened the passenger side, and when she bent at the waist, to adjust the seat, Miranda caught her breath as cutoff's rose and pressed. Suddenly she was beginning to understand the appeal.

"It's a beast, I know," Andy said. "Uncle Jack had it special made by John Deere. He once told me it got him dates. I think he was joking." Andy turned, still on the step and slightly hanging off the door to the cab. "Okay, come on and I'll help you." She extended a hand.

Miranda realized that, from a certain point of view, her ex-assistant had always been in the habit of helping. Right until Paris. That memory translated as a glower, which she tossed at Andrea, even as she accepted the assistance.

The tractor started with a roar. The seats bounced a little with the motion. Andy's expression had turned grim after Miranda's sour glance, but as soon as the engine fired, a slow, cocky smile had crossed her face. She made adjustments and the tractor growled and spat like an animal in the process of being tamed.

Miranda's eyes widened in alarm, but then the tractor moved forward, out of the gate and the dark of the equipment barn, and lumbering in slow grace like an elephant. They rounded a corner and straightened out, driving past much sleeker vehicles, including the car that the editor had arrived in. A flock of children soared out of the front door of the house, racing toward them.

"Oops," Andy remarked, "Should have thought of that." They slowed, but did not stop. "They think we're heading toward the creek."

"Are we?"

"Eventually, but not now and only if you want."

"Are you going to run over that child?"

"Dang it. They know better." The tractor slowed to a stop and the brunette parked it. Then Andy popped the door open, and slid out to the ground; dropping on both feet like a hero from the movies. Children surrounded her, begging to go.

Andy was an immovable object, shrugged off their demands like water, but was still kind in the delivery of rejection.

Miranda was impressed despite herself and thought immediately of the twins.

Until she saw a child climbing up on her side. Then she rolled down the window, and offered a firm, but not her most terrifying, glare, lifting her sunglasses so they could see her eyes. "Absolutely not."

The tow headed child gulped, and slid back down to the ground, running back around the tractor. "Andy! Andy!" Miranda let her sunglasses drop back into place and turned to see what would happen next.

The brunette, who had already redirected the other children, who were scattering back toward the house, merely extended her arm in that direction; pointing firmly.

The child stopped. Slumped. Pocketed his hands. Kicked the dirt.

Andy's eyes rolled heavenward, as if in prayer for patience. For a moment Miranda thought she would give in. Then she watched as the young woman turned away from the child and climbed back onto the tractor. She paused before she actually got fully in and said, "We'll be back Ray. You can wait here if you want, but I heard Uncle Buck talking about a whip cream fight and ..." She didn't even have to finish the sentence. The child rocketed away.

She climbed into the cab.

"Is there really going to be..."

"Oh yeah. That's why we're leaving. We won't be back until they've had a chance to clean up."

Miranda compressed her lips against the chortle that threatened and looked out the side of her window.

They followed well worn grooves, a dirt road that had formed over time. Because the tractor was slow, and the ground was dry, it was not as uncomfortable a ride as Miranda might have expected. They road in silence, as Andy let the editor absorb what she was seeing. In some ways, it felt old fashioned, as if they should have been on a horse and buggy carriage. They passed fields of grass, still very green, but also grown tall and drove through shady wooded areas. Miranda, at first suspected that Andy, was taking the scenic route, but she gradually realized that the property was expansive, large, not small.

They slowed at a fence and stopped. "Be right back."

Andy got out, opened the fence, returned and drove through it. Then stopped again. "Be right back."

Miranda was seeing the pattern.

Once the gate was locked, they drove on again, this time it seemed like they were circling around, though by all accounts Miranda would have been supremely lost. She pulled out her cell phone and was relieved to see a signal. Deciding that, as she had one, she might as well use it, she made a call.

By the time she was done, the tractor was rolling to a stop, this time in a field where the grass was short and spotted with large round bails of hay. Andy turned off the vehicle, and turned toward the editor. "Would you like to take a closer look?"

Miranda opened her own door, turned and carefully using hand supports, stepped down and out.

Andy joined her. The sun made everything warm and bright. The brunette offered her arm and Miranda took it. They walked into the meadow and the grass bent softly under their feet.

They visited several likely spots, though not all. Andy did not want Miranda to miss her steak.

They did speak, with Miranda asking for a few details. Andrea provided them willingly.

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Miranda to invite her people down to the Bar-B-Que too, as she knew there would be plenty of food and welcome; at least on her family's side. But every time it would come to mind, she would experience either a vision of the other woman in that two - piece or of laying her on her back, somewhere soft or maybe just really convenient, and unbuttoning the plum shirt and ...

Miranda caught her in one of those staring moments at their last stop, which caused Andy to blush furiously and become ridiculously tongue-tied.

They "sped" back afterwards, in a silence that reeked of physical awareness; at least on Andy's part. Miranda appeared to be the calm above the water, but a smile played at the edges of her lips the whole way.

Evidence of the whip cream fight still remained in terms of random white streams in the grass and on leaves and smears on children. The adults seemed mostly unscathed and unbothered. Again Miranda thought of her daughters, wondered briefly what they might have made of the situation. And knew, almost immediately, they would have enjoyed themselves.

She missed them instantly.

"Do you," Andy paused still not quite back to her equilibrium. "Would you like me to get your steak for you. We can eat inside if you'd like."

Miranda took off her sunglasses, holding them gently in her palm. Her expression was serious. "You do not have to protect me from your family, Andrea. Or are you trying to protect them from me" She let her teeth show. "It may not be a ball, but I do know how to behave cordially in most social circumstances."

"I just thought you might like to eat where its air conditioned." Andy turned away, not quite angry, but maybe a little frustrated; with herself, the world, things as they are.

"You told your father how I liked my steak."

"Yes. Before I came to get you." Andy checked her watch, glancing at her arm. Miranda noted that the skin was lighter under its silver and black edges. "It'll be ready."

"I will wait for it inside. You may make other selections that you think I might find interesting. I don't often attend..." She waved the hand that held the glasses, "... one of these."

Andy offered a pensive smile. "Right."

Chapter Text

TDWP: On a Tractor pt. 4

The steak was beyond perfect. It was ecstasy. Miranda actually moaned in bliss, with her eyes closed.

Andy dropped her hamburger; fortunately on the plate. But it slipped through her fingers, landing whole, bun slightly slipped; absolutely forgotten.

Cecelia walked into the room, carrying a pitcher of lemonade, intending to refill glasses. She thought the moment reminded her of a painting, lacking only chiaroscuro. It was too light for that, too deep. She held her breath, even as she kept her steps even and deliberately poured the drink into Andy's glass, though it was still partly filled.

She touched her daughter, on the shoulder, and Andy dropped her hands as Miranda opened her eyes and it was as if everyone could breathe again. The editor said, eyes shining in wonder, "This is lovely."

Cecelia said, her smile gentle and as if a final decision had been made, "Call me Cece." She held up the pitcher. "Lemonade?"

"So. How long have you two known each other?" Andy's sister asked Miranda blithely. The older woman felt no obligation to answer and apparently did not really need to, as the conversational void was soon filled. They were watching an impromptu game of volleyball. Andy had stepped away for a small errand. Rachel had a child on her hip, holding the babe with practiced ease. "She'll talk jobs and sometimes people, but, you know, we didn't find out about the break up with Nate until a half a year later. Even then, she never said a word. We found out through Lily."

"Lily?" Miranda's gaze narrowed, even though she was still slightly shocked at how many of the writer's relatives remained uninformed, past simple introductions, as to who she was. She was beginning, however, to understand it. She'd no idea how reticent Andrea really was; she'd always considered her to be chatty, but looking back, she realized the young woman had not talked about romantic interests or even her friends at all within the office. Or at Paris, when apparently, as CeCe had informed during one of their brief, always elucidative, encounters, the ex-boyfriend in question had abandoned Andrea.

Like a domino tipping the pile, that one bit of information had put so many things into context.

"Oh, I know! Yeah, best friends since elementary school, and they don't talk for like years because of some tiff over a job. They're doing a little better now, but I don't think it'll ever be the same. It's good Andy has you then. She's needed someone." Rachel clucked. "I'm glad you could come up."

And like that, another piece of the puzzle.

Rachel shouted encouragement and then leaned in closer and said, "I'm about to head in and get changed. Usually they like to swim after a good game."

The football jersey was large enough that it ended about halfway at the thigh. It was not the shirt that was bought at the All-Mart, but one that the brunette has owned for some time. It looked spectacular on the editor. Andy tried to remember if she'd left it in the guest room Miranda had chosen, but found she couldn't call up that particular bit of information. She also knew it did not matter. She'd been trying to tame the hungry burn that she knew had to be constantly in her eyes now, and was painfully aware it was not working at all. She realized, however, as she watched the other woman seem to float down the stairs, that ball gown or jersey, Miranda was the most beautiful person she'd ever known.

Miranda paused at the last step, where Andy leaned against the banister, and gazed down. In the past, there was a time when the younger woman might have blurted out something inappropriate, which would have let her retreat. But this person, whose gaze did not leave her once she spotted her, simply extended her hand.

Miranda took it, feeling the underlying strength of the clasp; the support. Andrea, she recalled, had never touched her during her employment, though she had always been reaching out. She noted that the younger woman was still in cutoffs, though her shoes had changed. They were scuffed canvas, one with a hole in the top, exposing a line between her toes. It was strangely evocative, and caused her to have a moment of prurience, but the shoes were inexcusable. Miranda could not help the look.

The brunette grinned. "I know. But this way if I lose them, I won't cry."

"Really Andrea." MIranda wondered briefly if the younger woman had cried over the Chanel Boots, over the clothes that had to be returned to Runway. She no longer wondered if the writer had cried over Paris.

This time the tractor was farther afield from its normal resting place, parked in the front alongside the line of trucks and cars. Hitched to it was a kind of fenced trailer on wheels, with rectangular hay bails stacked end to end, covered by blankets, along the inside. The tractor and one of the larger trucks, a four-wheel drive, if size were any indication, were surrounded by family members; not all of them, but a good portion. Children and teens were leaping on and off the trailer, vying for perfect spots. One individual, not Ray, had claimed shotgun on the tractor. Or so they thought.

Andy opened the door and flipped a thumb. "Not today! That's Miranda's seat. Out!"

The girl, dark hair in braids, and teeth in braces, and who was obviously going to be tall when she was finished growing, was an approximation of graceful acquiescence. Except for the near tumble, which Andy caught and assisted with, with a empathetic smile. "Thanks, Haley" the writer said.

"It's okay," the girl said. She offered a wave to the editor and said, "Hi." Then ran around to try and find another prime location.

Andy moved away, ready to assist, but the earlier trip had given Miranda a new level of expertise. She managed quite well. But it didn't stop her from looking expectantly at Andy, who, so far, after assuring her comfort, had closed the door every time. The younger woman smiled, "It's gonna be fun."

"We shall see."

The tiny caravan, which consisted of the tractor and trailer, and the truck, both with a load of passengers and one with a load of supplies, followed by those more energetic few who wanted to walk, or in the case of two, ride Andy's horse bareback trundled toward the creek. Everyone arrived in moderately good condition and varying states of appreciation for the fact.

Before they got out of the cab of the tractor, Andy said, "Welcome to the swimming hole." They were parked near a shady grove by the creek, which was wide and deep and warmed by the afternoon sun. There was a tiny dock and stairs, and a tree with heavy rope swing some distance out. It felt, as a space, natural with just enough sun and water and shade.

By the time Miranda was stepping out and down, the children were already whooping and shouting, grabbing inflated inner-tubes that had been liberated from giant tractor tires past, and other swimming paraphernalia, and rushing into the water. Some took the stairs, some leaped off the dock and a few Tarzan-yelled as they swung out on the rope and let go. The adults, while mindful of the chaos, were setting up lawn-chairs and a couple of coolers. There were already picnic tables. Miranda thought they'd passed an outhouse, which she'd already vowed would never be used by her person. But it did remind her to make a phone call about facilities, later.

Uncle Travis carried two hefty watermelons, walking past the dock and following the slope to a sandier space. He put the watermelons under a shady spot, in the water. Cans of varying soft drinks and some not so soft drinks found their way by melons, for later.

Some of the adults carried their lawn chairs to the sandy part of the shore and some even out into the water, where they also sat in the shallower, but shady spots. Some of the littlest ones toddled into the water close by, monitored by their parents or an older sibling. Miranda instantly appreciated the strategy and before she could wonder, Andy came up by her, carrying two chairs. "Any particular place you'd like to be?"

"Several," Miranda said. She watched as another child yodeled and dived. "I should have brought a photographer. So many ideas. I need to get them down."

"I have a camera in the tractor and a notebook. I always..." Andy snapped her mouth shut as Miranda turned and looked at her sharply. Then she shrugged. "Where do you want the chairs?"

Miranda pointed at a shady spot that wasn't too far from the water, nor too close to the picnic tables. "The camera?"

"There's a box under the passenger seat. The notebook and pens are there too."

Miranda's expression was a mix of disbelief and peevishness for having not been told this sooner. She snapped out, "Digital?"

"All my cameras are," Andy said, not quite sure why Miranda was glaring at her as if she'd failed to communicate some important detail.

"All your... Of course."

Andy felt as if she should offer some sort of explanation and had the feeling it was the wrong one, but said it anyway. "Well, you know, some are better than others and I have them stashed away here and there. But that one has a fresh stick in it, so, you can take as many pictures as you want. Or I could..." Andy's words slowed and energy simmered in the air.

Miranda had turned to watch the latest cannonball attempt by the younger set, her jaw tight. As she watched the child, her expression lightened briefly, yet at the same time held a kind of solemn weight. Andy picked up on it. "You wish your girls were here?"

Miranda crossed her arms, protectively. A less blazing glare, one not directed at Andy right that second, colored her expression. The silver-haired woman didn't quite shake her head in the negative and somehow the brunette realized it wasn't a denial.

Andy exhaled slowly and decided to offer a possibility. After all, what were two more kids in a house filled with them? "Well, the Fair's here for the whole weekend. It doesn't even open until six tonight. It's only Thursday and the airport's not that far, which you already know. I know you are going to have people here, tomorrow, but my family was going to probably hang out anyway for a day or two, and I was just going to have them stay out of your way, which, you know the girls could hang out and we could take them with us, I mean everyone, tomorrow while the shoot's on and make room or get an air mattress or ... whatever... later..." Andy couldn't quite read the look on Miranda's face, but had the sense that maybe a little space might be needed right that moment. "I'll just go..." She made a body motion toward where Miranda indicated and then kind of side stepped in that general direction, taking herself and the chairs that way.

"Did you bring a cell phone. Mine is at the house." The tone was cooler than it had been even a few minutes ago, but somehow Andy was still glad the other woman was talking to her. Though, at the moment, she wasn't sure why she should feel that way. Andy finished laying their towels on the back of the seats before replying.

"Sure, it's," she turned and the other woman was right there, so close they were nearly touching. Her voice faltered, but the message was concluded, "...in the cab by the driver's seat."

If the editor's voice was cool, her body was pleasantly warm. It took everything Andy had not to reach and pull Miranda closer. She realized her gaze had dropped and she was staring at the other woman's lips. She dragged her attention back, only to get lost in blue. "I'll. I'll." She licked her lips, and her gaze dropped again to look at Miranda's. "... go get it."

The silver-haired woman's voice was suddenly huskier and much warmer. "Thank you."

"Mmhmm." Andy nodded and stumbled back, not quite at a falling pace and then jogged, very fast, to the tractor.

Andy arrived, carrying a box and the phone. She set the box on one of the chairs, and immediately handed the phone to Miranda. The older woman was reminded of her ex-assistant's general efficiency.

"Would you be willing to jot down a few notes for me, please?" the editor asked, her expression carefully neutral.

Andy, managed not to do a double-take at the courtesy. She simply nodded, opened the box and gathered the materials needed; including the camera, which she slung over her neck via a strap.

Meanwhile, Miranda turned to face away from Andy, checked for a signal, then dialed a number from memory and waited for her chance to speak.

Andy stood beside her in silence, thinking about the heat of the day, the strangeness of it. She smiled as she saw one of the Uncles lumber across the dock, calling out for the kids to, "Watch out! Here I come!" Children scattered out and away from each other, only to come racing back to the middle where the man had successfully splash-landed.

She heard Miranda speaking, tuned into the dulcet tones out of habit, and realized she was talking to the girls' father, asking him, but not begging, if he'd be willing to let them come up. Andy had a thought and brazenly touched the other woman's shoulder, not too hard, but enough that Miranda turned with that half-glare over glasses. The younger woman mouthed, without vocalizing, "Invite him too, if it helps!"

Miranda cocked her head at Andy, as if she were viewing a very strange outfit, then she nodded and turned away again. The younger woman stepped back, and realized the camera strap was binding with her top.

By the time the other woman was turning around again, clicking the phone shut, she had the top off, but the camera back on. Miranda paused, and while Andy was fairly sure she was being appraised, there was nothing else to give it away. The pause was long enough that Andy had to fight back a fidget. She thought the swimming top, which was black, lined with red the color of rubies, did the job adequately. Maybe she'd been mistaken. Miranda drew her hand to her chest, holding the phone away from a possible offer of retrieval. "They will be calling back with arrangements. Greg declined." She exhaled and then dropped her hand by her side. "He wasn't too heartbroken. He loves our daughters, but he has a new relationship on the horizon."

"Ah. Well. Good for him."

"Mm. I suppose. She's very..." For a brief flash, Andy thought Miranda was going to say, 'Young,' and a little something in her deflated. "... Blonde."

It revived. "Oh." She lifted the notepad in her hand and a pen, which she'd already made sure worked. "So. Notes?"

Miranda tilted her head in a short form of yes, drew up and close to Andy and turned to face out. Then, in a very familiar rapid fire, began lining out the ideas in her head, and a few other things.

If any of the family thought it strange to see Miranda and Andy walking, with the older woman making emphatic gestures and the younger woman scribbling madly or pausing to take a quick shot, no one mentioned it. In fact, some posed; smiling goofy family smiles or dragging in a a swimming buddy for a shoulder hug, or grouping together for what they thought must be snapshots. They accepted direction from Miranda as if it were the most natural thing in the world, but no one held huge expectations of it being anything more than fun and so it was. By the time the two women were done, a lot of photos had been taken, but only enough to convey the ideas Miranda thought necessary and some, perhaps, to put in an album somewhere. It took maybe fifteen minutes and then it was over.

CeCe approached Miranda while Andy went away to put the notebook and stash the camera again. "That was brilliant and sneaky," she said with admiration. "Andy never brings 'em out when family are around. Well done."

Miranda's lips twitched and a brow arched. She thought about correcting the impression, then shrugged as if it has been her idea all along. "My girls are coming." She exhaled, and let the smile emerge. "Tonight."

CeCe's smile warmed even more. "Ah. Then she might as well get used to it then." They glanced at each other and then away, with some amusement. "You know, I've always found it fascinating how thick the walls of Andy's house are. Especially upstairs. Uncle Jack had very particular views about privacy and construction. The guest rooms are very nice, but Andy's is a marvel. Did you see the bubblejet tub in her bathroom?" She waved at Andy, who had been intercepted by one of the children on her way back.

"I did. It was … surprising."

"Yeah. That closet is a revelation too, isn't it? I sometimes wonder if Uncle Jack was intending for it to be something else first and then just thought, heck, I'll just put a rod up. It's sad to see it so empty, with all that space." CeCe shook her head, saw her other daughter waving. "I better go see what Rachel wants."

"So, you want to try the water?"

Miranda compressed her lips in thought. "It seems crowded."

"I know a few secluded nooks, if you'd rather. They're still sufficiently deep to enjoy and not too far from here. We'd just have to walk down the sandbar for a bit."

"And if I just wanted to sit here?"

"That would be fine, but it's a hot day. I was looking forward to swimming. It's... soothing."

Miranda cast a glance at the cavorting persons in the water, and then back at Andy. Soothing wasn't exactly a word she might have chosen. She contemplated telling the young woman to go on and enjoy herself. Certainly the brunette did not need her permission.

Then she remembered that Andy lived alone and that while she'd noted a tan line under the watch, she had yet to observe one elsewhere. Why that should strike her as important, she hadn't quite touched on, but she was closer to gelling together what it meant, what she was trying to tell herself.

"I am open to the idea."

The smile was as brilliant as the sun and the younger woman, stepped back, and shucked out of her shorts. The bikini fit closely, but revealed enough that Miranda knew that the only tan line the young woman had was the watch, which must be waterproof. She was very beautiful, but Miranda had been quite aware of that since early in the day. She chose to let the effect, simmer and percolate, but she was paying attention; yes. Her mind kept going back to the fact that Andrea lived alone.

Then, the picture was clear. Finally. She connected with the awareness that Andrea needed a time piece on her person, so she could keep track; and that she had so few regular visitors that clothing was optional, at least, apparently, in the summer. Plus, there was a sense of wildness that carried in her walk, her manner; as if she were forcing herself to remember how to be tame in the presence of others; especially in the presence of Miranda. Yet, there remained that genuine undercurrent of caring, which expressed itself in family loyalty, and careful courtesy; except, apparently on the phone. It was as if Andrea were a castaway, recently rediscovered. Miranda felt her heart clench at the thought. Then she felt a twinge of humor, when she thought of the exception encountered in All-Mart. Well, there were always those who pushed boundaries and Andrea was not, apparently, always alone.

The older woman stood, and with much less haste, but a great deal of grace, removed the shirt. She heard the younger woman's intake of breath and, after she set her shirt on the seat, looked up to see admiration written plainly on the brunette's face. "Wow." It was an exhale, barely voluble. Then, as if realizing she was being observed, again, the young woman blushed, again.

She had such lovely skin, Miranda thought.

"Well?" Miranda cocked her head, waiting.

"What?" Then shaking off what had her captured, Andy recalled herself. "Oh. Right." She stepped forward and offered her arm. "I think you'll like this." With her free hand, she grabbed a towel; not hers, but Miranda's.

Miranda in a bikini was a revelation. She was fit, toned, smooth, with a glide to her walk. Before she could stop herself, but fortunately after they were out of general range of others hearing them, Andy blurted, "I kept imagining what you might look like in that, but it's so much better than I ever thought."

Then she promptly felt her own skin heat. "I just... I just said that out loud, didn't I?"

"Yes." Miranda said. She made herself not look at the younger woman, forced her attention on the environment. Behind them, she could hear laughter and splashing, before them, she saw crystal water shimmering and flowing past the sandbar they were walking on. "It is quite beautiful here," she commented.

"Mm." Andy managed, grateful for the change in the topic. "I keep finding new things to appreciate."

Somehow, that did not seem like a new topic at all. It sounded like a come-on. She turned, "Miranda, I'm so ..."

"I thought you wanted to enjoy the water."

Andy blinked, and then nodded. "Yes. Right."

Silence drifted between them, a gentle buffer as Andy led her to the quieter space, where the actual sound of the water moving could be heard quite clearly. She dropped the towel to the dry ground, and then she led Miranda in by the hand.

The first step was chill, but, as Andy promised, soothing. The heat, combined with the cool felt delicious, and so they entered it together, until they were in the deeper portion. Miranda felt small nudges on her legs and looked down. Before she could startle at the sight, she felt a squeeze on her hand, "They get curious. I mean, the fishes. They'll kiss and then go. Or maybe not. Sometimes, they'll hang out."

Miranda looked into brown eyes softened by a gentle wisdom and compassionate humor. There was a knowing there, a maturity that had come at price and time.

Andrea let go, let their hands separate, and then crouched down and leaned back, until her hair was in the water and most of her body. She floated, eyes always on Miranda, and the current started to carry her away.

The older woman bent, until she was also more covered by water than not, and caught her, by the foot. "You haven't kissed me yet."

Did she say that out loud?

The younger woman's eyes widened and Miranda let her go. Andy dipped, until she was fully under, and then rose like a goddess from the sea or the newly baptised, very close to Miranda. They were at eye-height and light and something else caused a new depth in their vision. Andy licked her lips, and reached, placing her hands on Miranda's waist and drawing her close.

She leaned in and then up a touch, laying her lips softly on the editor's forehead. Then on her cheeks, butterfly soft. Then the sides of Miranda's mouth, which caused them both to sigh and anticipate what they knew would come next.

"Andeee!" Someone called, far too close-by. "Andeee! We need you!"

Andy shivered, but not from cold. Miranda spotted the glint of tears at the side of her eyes. She touched the younger woman's face and kissed the opposite cheek. "We're not done," she whispered.

It wasn't really a hospital emergency, more like a young person ate too much emergency, but it did mean that some of the revelers had to head back home. The tractor went on the move again, growling back down the pasture. Miranda opted to go back too, feeling the need to take the opportunity to rest and prepare for later that evening. The writer had liberated the box with the notes and the camera from its hiding place, and placed it carefully into the editor's hands. So she held that, while they traveled back.

Andy had yet to smile again. Miranda found that she missed it sharply, but didn't feel it was her place to demand or cajole its return. After all, she shared in the frustration.

As they slowed to a stop and parked by the house, the cell phone rang. Andy's hand dropped to the side, and slid the phone with expert ease from the pocket container on the side of the seat. "Yep."

Miranda shook her head, remembering a time when Andrea actually greeted people on the phone with more than one word, and at least a real hello. She missed that too, she realized.

"Sure."

Andy extended the phone toward Miranda, and offered, at last, a small smile. "For you."

The phone call finished just as Andy opened the door on the passenger side and climbed up. She gently liberated the box from Miranda. "Are we picking them up?"

"Yes. Seven?"

"Fine. Your car?"

"I... Yes. You drive."

Miranda, in gradual increments had turned, until she was facing the younger woman, ready to exit.

"I'm going to kiss you. I just thought I should give you fair warning," Andy said.

She leaned, moving slow and keeping her eyes open. Miranda held very still. Their lips touched, softly. At first. Then Andy moaned, or it may have been Miranda, and the kiss shifted and opened, gently.

Andy slid her free arm around Miranda, drew her closer. The kiss became many, covered a small territory in delicate and delicious efficiency; top lip, bottom lip, sides of the lips, very light dance of the tongues. Miranda wasn't swallowed whole, she was being slowly sipped, appreciated like that blackberry wine. Except, it was much more heady than the drink, much more powerful. Her whole self responded, shivered in a surprising trembling bliss.

"Oh."

Andy pulled back, her gaze slightly glazed, but also filled with tender amazement. "Are you... Did …"

Miranda declined to answer, even as tiny, pleasant aftershocks told her that she most absolutely did. From a kiss. Instead she grasped the younger woman's t-shirt by the fist and dragged her back in, wanting just a little more; which the young woman gave freely.

It was still wonderful.

The snap of the front screen door brought them both back. The kiss ended without abruptness. When it was over, Andy's serious expression had nothing to do with unhappiness.

Chapter Text

TDWP: On a Tractor pt. 5

Andy had driven back, spent time at the creek with her family, and then when the majority was ready to go, had brought them home. She was tired, needed to shower and dress so she could go with Miranda to get her children. She hadn't expected to hear the sound of a keyboard when she entered the room. She glanced toward the sound, toward a small desk, where Miranda now sat, working on her laptop.

"I thought you were going to rest."

Miranda's hands paused, "I did rest. I thought you would be back sooner."

"I did too." Andy shrugged and stepped further into the room. "You're. Here."

"I assumed when you offered me your bed, that meant access to the room. My bags are in the closet if you want to remove them."

Andy lifted her hand. "Not necessary. I'm just catching up. So. Then you want the girls in the other ..."

"That would be satisfactory."

"Okay."

Miranda turned to look back at her screen, "And don't try any nonsense about laying on the floor or the couch."

Well.

Andy wondered which of them was blushing more, then decided it had to be herself. Miranda was way too composed. She cleared her throat. "I'm, um, gonna go shower now."

It wasn't until she stepped out, feeling much refreshed, and began drying off, that Andy realized her dilemma; one based on long habit.

She had no robe; not even a tiny one. She also, in that weird frame of mind, had not thought to gather clothes to wear. She'd come right in to her bathroom, strode past the enormous bathtub and into a shower that, when she first experienced it, had dispensed with her curiosity about whether her Uncle Jake had been a secret sybarite.

She knew he was.

Now she was one too, but that was not really much of a secret.

Before she could really contemplate dithering, she heard a knock at the door. "Yes?"

"Have you chosen your outfit?" The words came through the door.

Andy glanced at the towel in her hand. "Not yet. Haven't even dried my hair." 'Hadn't brought my clothes in either,' thought Andy, once again.

"May I come in?"

Andy pressed the towel against her front, which was kind of a useless modesty. "Sure."

The door opened and the silver-haired woman stepped in, carrying clothes in a stack and on hangers. She set carefully folded jeans and underwear on the counter and then took a hanger in each hand, and stepped toward Andy. She held up one, a short sleeved burgundy button down, and cocked her head. Then she dropped that down and held up the other, also short sleeved, but a shimmery teal v-neck. "The colors are good, but the available choices are deplorably lacking."

"I didn't have anyone I wanted to display myself ...for... That came out way wrong …" Andy slowed as Miranda's attention riveted back on her. "Nevermind."

The other woman gave only the slightest shake of her head, but her eyes held amusement. "No. I believe you were very close to saying an exact truth." She lifted the teal and handed it to Andy. "This one for tonight." Andy took the hanger without question, then was blessedly shocked and warmed as Miranda cupped her face with the free hand. The older woman stroked her cheek with her thumb. "We'll talk when we're on the road."

"Okay."

"I won't be moving to Ohio any time soon." Miranda did not look at Andy when she laid that information down. The younger woman was reminded how very assertive, and plainspoken the other woman could be.

"I would not expect you to," Andy said evenly and without any tremble at all and kept her eye on the road. It was something she'd already known. But she wanted now, whatever it brought, because she had it. She realized, then, she had to say it. She had to be as brave, as plainspoken, as the woman she wanted to be her lover. "I didn't expect you to come here, either. But I'm glad you did. I just, I guess I want to focus on the now. Because, looking at the future, is terrifying to me."

Miranda turned, enough to look at Andy. She wanted to reach out, but waited. "It is no less frightening for me."

Andy cast a quick glance and then put her eyes forward again. "I... I would say I found that hard to believe, except, that I do. Believe you, I mean. I can't imagine you thought to yourself that you'd come out here and we'd kiss and it would be... so... very …what it was. I know I didn't. And I've been in …," Andy caught herself. It was a phrase she hadn't even let herself think, let alone utter. She wouldn't say it. Not so soon. "I thought I could do New York. I thought I had a good handle on how things were. I'd walk by Elias-Clarke, you know, and remind myself that I was the one who..."

"... left. And then you left again."

"Yeah. Well, I used the word "chose." But then, later, I realized I'd just needed to go. It wasn't even, really, a choice. You know, after P... after that first time," Even saying the name of the city remained difficult for her. Miranda definitely noticed, but kept her own council. "I'd watch the news or pick up a paper and you'd look glorious for those events, like you always do. And your ex was doing what exes do, but you always had someone by your side; handsome or beautiful, debonair or sexy. And one day, I realized I'd given up even the chance, that I'd let one stupid thing push me away and that was it. That's when I knew I needed some time, some quality time. Away. Because, frankly, New York was just too close to you. And then Uncle Jack died. And it just... I realized there was no reason to go back. I left the first time, because being around you hurt. I left the second time, because not being around you hurt and you were inescapable. Even here. God, that first time I went to All-Mart... I left a full cart of groceries in the magazine aisle. It was like... it was like you were following me."

It was silent in the car for a few minutes. "And now that I'm here. Does it still... hurt?"

Andy's grip tightened on the steering wheel. Then she exhaled and her shoulders dropped. "Only in a good way."

Miranda shifted in her seat and extended her hand, laid it on Andy's thigh. The young woman gasped at the warmth, the thrill of the touch. She reached down, allowing herself to temporarily drive one handed, and grasped the other woman's hand, squeezed it gently, before letting it go; letting it stay to burn there.

The girls were a swirl of energy; curious about why they were in Ohio, but not really caring that they were there, because it was with their mom. Andy was amazed at how much taller they were, but it had been some time since she last saw them. She pegged them at the cusps, twelve going on thirteen, not quite at the mood swings, but definitely in their tweens.

And they were still that happy to see their mom. They hugged her and she hugged back; touched with the naturalness that affection bestowed, as family.

Miranda was doing something right. Or maybe, Andy was simply seeing the other side, one hinted at in short bursts while she'd been working for the woman, but now it was growing evident in leaps and bounds during this visit.

Belongings were gathered and stored in the trunk of the car. Miranda and her girls chatted, catching up, while Andy drove in silence. The adults had decided, or rather, Miranda had decided, on the way up, that they would stop for a bite to eat and then head back. Depending on how energetic the girls were, they might consider directions; the fair would still be open and there were, while they were still in the city, other late night venues that the girls might find interesting. Then again, there was always straight home.

The restaurant was a recommendation and easy to find by GPS, but not one that Andy had ever been to. However, if parking were an indication, the food had to be marvelous. She was glad that Miranda had an assistant to call ahead about these things.

They were greeted, almost immediately, by a person who apparently was well aware of who Miranda was. The only thing they did not do was bow, but that was a near thing. Miranda, who had been softening around the edges, was suddenly, without any obvious transition, back to her usual imperiousness and her girls were too. Andy found it amusing, endearing and a little terrifying. But she had her own persona, one that also seemed to snap into place, as a cowboy saunter and cockiness spilled into her walk and expression, lending its own aura of authority. If an intention had been there to ignore her in favor of the famous, that intention wafted away.

They were led to a very nice booth, one with comfortable seating and a table that had would move. Andy personally hated the booths where the tables were attached to the wall. Her estimation of the place, which was already notched up, went higher. Menus were distributed and drinks ordered.

Andy scoped the menu and chuckled.

"What?"

Andy glanced up and noticed the girls were looking at her too, but her answer was directed at Miranda. "I just thought, 'well, of course, they're going to send you where the steaks are good.'"

Miranda's expression lightened a touch, "Not as good as your father's."

"No way in...he...ck."

"You can say hell," The girl who had identified herself earlier as Caroline said evenly. "We won't be offended."

"I didn't change it to protect you," Andy said, just as evenly, and returned her eyes to the menu. She felt a light touch on her arm, a grasp, and looked back up to Miranda. Thus, she missed the startled look on both girl's faces.

"I won't be offended either."

Andy said, "Well, I'll try and save those kinds of words for the important occasions, like when I smash my thumb with the hammer or have... a real need... for a particular set."

Miranda's laugh held no sound, was barely a breath, but she let go of Andy's arm. The girls were glancing back and forth at them both. "Have you made your selection?" their mother queried.

"This is bigger than I expected," Miranda said as they walked down a spacious walking aisle surrounded by glaring lights and sounds and people. Once again her arm was looped through the younger woman's. Not that she really needed it, as the ground between carnival displays and rides was paved and her heels were not out of place. She kept an eye on her daughters, who were flitting around like butterflies, or bounding about like jack rabbits, depending on how enthusiasm took them. What was it about fairs, that, no matter if you've seen better or brighter, seemed to bring about that kind of thrill in a child, and sometimes, even in an adult?

She supposed it didn't really matter, she enjoyed it when her children were happy.

"State fairs tend to be that way, and it seems like they just grow every year," Andy replied, keeping her pace at a stroll, yet somehow managing to keep them within mere yards of the girls. No one was getting lost on her watch. "Just think, they're going to be just as happy with it tomorrow as today. I heard them plotting an itinerary that includes the concert."

They slowed to a stop, standing some distance away from one of the games where stuffed animals were the lure. It involved baseballs and posts with bottles on them. Both girls, in competition, were trying and missing. "Want one?"

"Only if you plan on providing me the largest and the best."

Andy promptly blushed at the tone, could feel the heat of it all the way in her toes, which she knew had to be impossible. Miranda's voice had held both disbelieving challenge and an erotic undercurrent that sucked her under its tidal wave in an instant. Her pulse throbbed. Everywhere. Andy glanced at Miranda and then gently disconnected their arms. "As you wish."

They both turned as the girl claiming to be Cassidy crowed in success and held up a stuffed penguin like it was a trophy. The other twin grimaced and then grinned, showing good sportsmanship. "Next time! Next time!"

"Sure."

Andy stepped up to the bar and plunked down some green. The man who monitored the space, looked at the money, then at her and barely shook his head. She laid more down, tilted hers and raised her brow in challenge. He said, "Come on. Please?"

"Afraid I'll miss and hit ya?" Andy's grin was daring. Her gaze knowing.

His lips compressed and he promptly lay five baseballs in front of her. She wrapped her hand around one, hefted it and re-centered it in her palm, flexing her wrist. Then she took a few steps back, away from the bar. The next thing anyone knew there was a sound and then a shattering crack, and one of the bottles on the posts was gone; not just knocked over, but broken and down.

"Ready for the next one?"

"God." He put a hands on his forehead and backed up, until he was against the tent wall. Then he dropped his hands and waved at her. "Yeah. Go."

Again, Andy took a ball, stepped back, and threw, in a way that showed pure motion and form. The sound of another bottle shattering, broke through other noises. Or maybe it was the shout behind her. She did not look back. She just did it again. Three more impossible times.

Later, after she pointed at the one she wanted, he was shaking his head as he handed her the giant bear. It was with obvious effort that he lifted it over the counter. "Nice seeing you."

"You too. Hope you do good business."

Now he smiled. "Oh. We will. Always do plenty after you. It's the clean up I hate."

She laughed, then turned to see the twins and Miranda staring at her, surrounded by some of her family and plenty of strangers.

She strode forward, accepting congratulations from the impromptu audience, who drifted away after they said their piece. "Hi Mom." She kissed her mother's cheek. "Aunt Dorene."

Her aunt chuckled, "We knew it had to be you as soon as we heard the bottle break. Why do you insist on terrorizing that man?"

"We all have our talents and sometimes a person just needs a giant bear."

"And who are you giving it to this time?"

Andy resisted sliding her eyes to Miranda, and instead she gazed back at her aunt beatifically until the other woman just shook her head; whether in resignation or admiration was open to interpretation. "So. Introductions, while we're here? Aunt Dorene, Mom, this is Cassidy." She said, placing her hand on the shoulder of the twin who'd been claiming the name of Caroline all day. Next to her, Miranda's satisfied smirk widened. Then she placed a hand on the other redhead's shoulder. "And this is Caroline."

Again the twins offered her a stunned look, which she politely ignored.

Andy was having a difficult time catching up. Holding the bear was reminiscent of juggling bags of couture, just because of its bulk. Miranda looked back and said, coldly, not quite as a snarl, "Has Brenda ever received a giant bear?"

"You're jealous?" Andy boggled, tried to track what the other woman's thinking might be.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"No?" Andy exhaled, sped up a little, so she was a little nearer to the fashion maven. Then she said, keeping her voice as low as possible, while probably being louder than necessary. "This is the first time I've ever taken the prize. I never really had anyone to give it to. Aunt Dorene was teasing us."

Miranda slowed her pace until Andy caught up, and then hooked her arm with the younger woman's. "She has an unusual sense of humor."

"Always has."

Andy drove again. Night had settled in full power and the roads were dark, lit only by passing vehicles and their car's illumination. The bear, in the middle of the back seat, was being used by the twins as an impromptu pillow. They snoozed or actually slept, heads against the stuffed shoulders. Miranda's expression was amazingly serene. Her hand, once again, was on Andy's thigh, as if she just needed to have it there.

In many ways, right that moment, Andy certainly did. She was trying to remember what it was like to drive without that constant touch; failing. If her mind drifted to what it might be like, later, not to have it, she shied from that thought, absolutely. Better not to think on it, as she knew the time would come far too soon.

It was late, definitely past the girls bedtime and then some, when they arrived. But the lights were on at the house and there were people sitting on the porch, chatting. The girls woke up and got out quietly, not necessarily unhappy, just not awake enough to support conversation. Miranda said as she gathered her daughters, to lead them in, "The bear can stay in the car."

"I'll get the luggage," Andy said easily. "They probably have a game going or s'mores out back, if they wake enough for it." Miranda raised her brows. "Or whatever. Sleep is always good."

The last thing on Andy's mind was sleep, even though, by every technicality, she had to be up early, early. But she lingered outside her door, which was closed and resisted the urge to pace. Her hands were sweaty enough that she wiped them against her jeans.

The door opened, startling her. "Oh!"

Miranda's gaze took in everything at once and then she shook her head slightly in disbelief. "Come inside, Andrea." She reached and grasped the younger woman's hand and led her gently in; closed the door behind them both. She held the clasp and asked, "Nerves?"

"Yes."

Blue eyes glinted with humor. "What if I said I just wanted to sleep."

Andy did not exactly speed to reply, but she did manage a weak, "Okay." She tried very hard not to be or sound disappointed.

Miranda led the brunette to the edge of the bed, let go of her hand, then pushed her gently, until really, she had no choice. "Sit." Andy did. "A little further back."

"Okay." She scooted.

"Stop there."

Andy stopped, went very still. Especially when Miranda stepped forward, and placed one knee up and to the side of her thighs and her hands on Andy's shoulders. "Oh." Andy propped her hands, for balance. Miranda straddled her lap.

"I want to negotiate a new thing, Andrea."

The younger woman swallowed and made herself look into serious blue eyes that were very close. "Yes." She said the word, not as a reply to an impulse, but as an answer to an unspoken question, as a given.

Their lips, met, hot and sweet, with an urgency that stung them both.

Chapter Text

TDWP: On a Tractor pt. 6

Withdrawing from the kiss was as much of a surrender as engaging in it, yet they still made the choice and pulled back. Miranda gripped the sides of Andy's blouse and tugged it up. The writer lifted her arms, and it slid over her skin and was gone. Fingers brushed against the lacy white cloth that remained, stroked the peaks that tightened even further.

Andy's hands snapped buttons out of their loops and she tried not to be hasty, because the blouse was worth more than her TV, but it was very hard. Very hard. She hissed in pleasure, when Miranda leaned in and drew her tongue along the column of her neck. Somehow Andy managed the last button, and then they were both working to remove that blouse. It landed on the floor, dropped by Miranda's hand, forgotten.

The younger woman's hands slid up Miranda's back, practically absorbing her skin through the palms. Then she encountered the strap that held the key. Miranda was kissing her again, fiery sweet, lingering touches of the lips and now and then tongue or teeth. The bites were not to wound, but to claim and tug and open.

Not that, at that point, Andy had a problem with opening. She wanted to. She wanted to both lay back and spread her legs or lay down and spread Miranda. It was a dilemma of delicious proportions and she had no idea what they would do, except that she knew they must do more of what they were. The strap finally released and the noise of triumph was only buried because her lips were busy.

Miranda's hands had also been busy and soon they were both divested of impediment from the torso up.

Andy pulled back and looked down. Her voice was as rapturous as her gaze. "I knew they would be. I knew it." Before Miranda could demand clarification, she was refocused. She claimed a coral-pink nipple with her mouth, drew in that tightened point to lave it with tongue and suck. Her tongue traced over the crinkled, tightened lines that she knew had to ache. Her own were certainly in sympathy, only soothed by the pull and tug of Miranda's hand, and even then she knew the need for more.

She loved the way Miranda's skin felt under her hands, smooth and supple. She used fingertips and palms to stroke and caress, following the line of the editor's back and sculpting her waist, sliding her hands up to caress her shoulders. Her fingertips brushed against the back of Miranda's neck, her silky hair. "You feel so good."

She pivoted, bringing Miranda with her to lay her down on the bed. Andy nibbled and kissed and licked the available territory with a tender focus. The other woman refused to be passive, but positioning was sometimes an important detail. She touched where she could reach, reciprocated when the kisses drifted back up.

At some point, when Andy slid up her body again, she grasped the younger woman by the loops in her jeans. "This must come off, Andrea." The words were rough with need.

"Okay." Andy husked. "Okay." She backed off, crouching, reaching for the first button. Miranda's hands were there first.

The older woman's smile was sultry and devastating to what remaining mental faculties Andy still had. "Let me."

Andy's body responded viscerally, immediately. She caught Miranda in a kiss, thrilled as nimble fingers released the clasp. Then pulled back, enough to gaze down. "Far too many accessories, Miranda."

The other woman's chuckle was low and hungry, and she lifted her hips as the younger woman grasped her belt and began undoing it. In short order, Andy's complaint was remedied and then some, as they both were nude before one another. She crouched over the other woman, just gazing, her expression rapt. "Beautiful. So very..."

If Miranda's lips had been free, in the moments after, she might have been able to say something of equal worth, but Andy had them busy. It was glorious distraction, as the younger woman's touch gently spread its way down and down, whispered through soft, trimmed silvered curls and tantalized.

Miranda shifted, opened for her exploration. Andy re-centered herself, one leg between the editor's. They drew closer and they fit. They fit so perfectly, sliding up against one another with an erotic ease. Hips rolled, needing and flexing.

Andy's fingers slipped delicately, danced. Miranda's expression was raw, focused. Needful. It excited her beyond words; as did the editor's similar reciprocation.

Miranda found the younger woman's hidden depth and plunged in, causing Andy to cry out, toss her head back, to buck ferociously. Her smile became ferocious and she pressed, letting palm and thumb slide. Then her smile became a wild grin, as Andy found her, delved and claimed.

They became all touch and motion, breathy sound and pulsing desire. They were caught together in a gathering force, an inevitable transition.

Andy dared, the words spilled out despite herself, "I love you. I love you. Miranda."

The other woman wrapped her free arm around Andy, dragging her close enough to whisper. "Andrea." She might as well have said the words, there was a wealth of adoration in it and it sparked in them, lit the flame that caught them both and lifted them in ecstatic, cascading Eros.

Andy woke up, as she always did, a few minutes before her alarm would ring. It was a deeply ingrained habit, one established before college. She lay nestled against Miranda, feeling not necessarily sleepy, but languid. They had loved each other well and profoundly. Sleep had eventually claimed them, but neither of them would have much of it.

She did not want to get up, did not want to break the delicate magic that seemed to surround them. She wanted to stay by the warmth of Miranda's fire, listen to her heartbeat a little longer, see the rise and fall of her breathing. She knew, however, that if she did, then the alarm, would do the job for her with its shattering noise and either way, they would be brought back to the reality of the day; which was currently at the dark curve of the morning.

She moved very carefully, sliding quietly, as delicately as she knew how. She'd almost made it off the bed, when her hand was grabbed.

"Going somewhere?" The words were a purr, a gratifyingly sensual query which sent shivers of desire through Andy. She realized then, with an almost frightening awareness, she might be sated, but it was not possible for her to get enough of Miranda.

She leaned back, just enough so she could softly kiss her lover, who had turned on her side and opened her eyes. "Hi," Andy whispered.

"Good morning."

"It is," Andy agreed.

"Also early."

"Yes. My alarm is going to go off. I was going to make sure it didn't. I didn't want to wake you."

Miranda stretched and Andy watched, feeling a warm thrill fire through her. "Mm. Well, I probably need to rise, regardless. Many things to do today."

Awareness, or rather, that understanding which she had been putting off, opened. She had not asked, had not wanted to and now realized the necessity; not because she wanted it to pass, but she wanted to be able to count - the hours, the minutes... she needed to treasure them, hoard them. If she could. "Can you stay the weekend?" That wasn't what she was going to ask, but the words were out. It was too early in the morning.

Miranda sat up and the sheet slid down, revealing. She leaned forward and cupped her lover's face. "Today. Tomorrow. But then I must go home."

"Yeah." It was a husky, aching whisper. "I know." She leaned into the touch anyhow, and closed her eyes, unwilling to let Miranda see more.

"I..."

Andy straightened, withdrawing only so she could cross the small distance and kiss her lover. "I know," she said more firmly, still gently. "It's okay. It will be."

"Will it?"

"Yes." Andy put forth all the conviction she could muster. She even managed a smile that wasn't too compressed or even bore false witness. "I made the choice."

Miranda offered a breathy laugh. "Yes. As did I. Even knowing."

"Especially knowing." Andy exhaled. Then grinned, feeling an inexpressible warmth, "So then, you'd be okay if I visited you."

"Visit."

"Well, as often as possible; eventually for as long as possible." To the point where it no longer counted as visits. "I'll have to have someone watch the place, for weekend visits, and get a place built so I can lure someone to manage the property for me while I'm gone for longer ones. They can't have my house. I happen to really like it."

"As do I. Though I am surprised to be saying that about any place in Ohio. I suppose I may have to come back now and then."

"Well, we are a surprising people. They like you."

"They haven't seen my work face yet."

"So, wear the family one around them and the work face around work. Treat them with respect and they'll back that and you'll reap untold benefits. Just remember that steak." Miranda's expression revealed deep pleasure in the memory, which caused her lover to smile. Then Andy retrieved the thread, "Pick a weekend in the winter. That will guarantee quality time when we get snowed in. We have some great blizzards. I have back up power and two fireplaces. We can stay extra warm by staying in bed."

"I've noticed. The same might be said of New York. I have one fireplace, as you may recall. However, they scrape our roads. I am sure the same can not be said about here."

"That's why skiis were invented."

"We could go to Colorado for that."

"Could be fun. Yes. But I always have the tractor." Andy's eyes gleamed. She had to remind herself that it was too soon for her to propose.

"You make that tractor look good. Where do you plan on staying, when you visit, Andrea?"

"I love when you say my name." Her expression turned impish, "I was thinking those posh streets, but if that won't do, I'll slum at a hotel. Or stay with someone"

"Someone. I suppose you expect me to support this whole visiting thing, as if I didn't have anything better to do?"

"I take it you don't have a guest room?"

"I have plenty of guest rooms. At least two. But you won't be staying in either of those. Those are for guests."

"Well, since you put it that way, I guess I'll just have to make do somehow. Do you have a couch? One that's soft, I hope."

"Andrea, this is a ridiculous conversation to be having before coffee."

"I can't argue that."

"The discussion of where you will stay is making me feel petulant."

"Only because you and I both know we want more, but it's too soon to say anything, really. And then there are the girls to consider and my farm and sundry responsibilities and issues like famousness and magazines. Details, I know. But... so much easier to talk visiting when all I want to do is love you and be near you. For as long as you will let me. Forever would be nice."

"I love you, Andrea." This time it was Miranda who kissed her, and the sparks lingered and refused to fade; even when the alarm went off and the sun rose.

Several months later...

Miranda watched as her lover flitted about their bedroom in the townhouse, dressing. Nervous energy lent speed, but did away with some grace. "You've been to these things before. It's hardly the first time."

"I've been, but never with you. Or rather, not as your partner." Andy paused the flurry and straightened. A grin crossed her face. "I love saying that."

"I enjoy hearing it. When you are done tearing through the room, would you mind joining me?"

The brunette lifted a high heeled shoe and pointed at her lover. "I will be right with you."

Moments later Andy stood in front of the other woman, tall and bright, "Hi."

Miranda dispensed with an unnecessary greeting by touching her lips, barely, to Andy's, leaving no smudge at all. "Open this." She handed the younger woman an unadorned white board box.

Andy glanced at it, then with careful motions, lifted the lid. A slow, radiant and amused smile grew into being. "Miranda," she exhaled. "It's genius."

"I know." The editor gently lifted the gold jewelry off its pillow. It was small, but not unnoticeable. The blue topaz sparkled as much as the gold. Gentle hands affixed the jewelry to Andy's gown, in just the right place.

Andy caressed it with her fingertips, and then caressed Miranda. "Thank you."

Miranda smiled and touched the adornment, a tiny impression of a John Deere tractor, her expression warm and affectionate, "You do make them look good."

End

Inspiration:

She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy - Kenny Chesney