"For…for how long?" Andy's eyes widened. "You said--when I stayed in your house the first time?"
"No," Miranda said, and Andy blinked. "Not then. I don't know, Andrea, I didn't exactly check my watch or mark it on a calendar."
You wake up from the nightmare again, clammy and shaking.
You're sick and tired of it. You have it at least every few days now, among others. Oh, you know why--it isn't difficult to figure out. But why so often? And why so viciously, so viscerally?
The worst is, it's based in reality. In the past. The twins were three years old. You and Greg--on the rocks and within a year of divorce--had taken them for a family outing to Cape Cod in the winter. You stopped by some roadside shack to get hot cider when they begged. You all got out of the car; Greg got the cider, you sat with the girls at a nearby picnic table. Then Greg returned, and you all drank, enjoying the warmth of the cider in the chilly air.
The girls wandered off to play--within sight, of course; playing one of their hand-pat games, talking to each other in that strange language they'd developed that was half-English, half-twin. You and Greg made some kind of halting effort at small talk, which was pretty pathetic for two grown people who'd been married for nearly six years--except that, by the end, you both felt like you'd never known each other at all. And yet you were also bored to death with each other. A match made in heaven, clearly.
You only took your eyes off them for a second.
But all it took was for Greg to look up, for his eyes to go wide, and for him to say, "Wait, where did they go?" That was all it took for you to feel instantly and immediately drenched in cold terror the likes of which you had never known before, as you turned around and saw that Cassidy and Caroline were nowhere in sight. Or in hearing. You rose to your feet at once, trying to sound calm as you called out, "Girls?"
Nothing. Not a sound. Not a movement.
Greg was already moving, looking around wildly, while you felt frozen in place. Then you thought about how near you were to water, and you were moving then, oh yes, you were, practically plunging towards the edge of the trees, to where the girls did not magically appear on the beach beyond.
"There was that guy," Greg panted, grabbing your arm, "that guy by himself, with the blue car--shit!"
"Don't panic," you said, prying his fingers from your arm and wondering if anybody in the history of time was as unfit to be parents as the two of you, because you couldn't even keep your eyes on two tiny children and if anything happened-- "Go look around the shack. Ask that woman inside if she saw anything." Because surely, if she had, she wouldn't have let some man in a blue car drive off with your little girls, not without saying anything, the very thought is preposterous. "I'll keep looking over here. Girls!" You raised your voice again as Greg hurried to the shack. "Playtime is over. It's time to go." But no girls answered or appeared.
They call you unfeeling. Everyone does. They call you cold: the Snow Queen. They weren't inside your head at that moment, though. They don't know what it was like to be you when you thought something had happened to your children.
You found the girls, of course. Well, you didn't. The woman in the shack came out and helped Greg look, and it took all of five minutes to find the girls hiding and giggling in a little hole in the ground. The woman was very calm, very reassuring, and yet you got the feeling she was exasperated by both you and Greg: by the two hysterical, overprotective, wealthy parents who lived in such a rarefied atmosphere that they didn't even know how to handle a simple game of hide-and-seek with their children. Who knows, maybe she was right.
That was how it really happened. But in your nightmare, you don't find the twins. You look and you look and you look, and the beach keeps going on forever, and the sea, grey and unforgiving, stretches out into a limitless horizon where storm clouds are rolling in. And you know your girls are gone. They're gone. You stopped paying attention for just a second and you lost them. They're gone.
Waking is a relief, an unutterable relief, even though you need all the sleep you can get. You're so exhausted lately. You have been since Paris, and no wonder. But you'd rather be awake, would rather stumble through the days half-dead, than suffer through that dream every night.
At least it's over now. And just like you always do, you get out of bed on shaking legs; you get the usual drink of water; and then you pad down the hallway to the girls' bedrooms, checking first on Caroline (first door on the right) and then Cassidy (first door on the left). All is well. Of course all is well. You learned your lesson that day, didn't you? You'll never let anything happen to them again. And you've long since managed to let go of your paranoia, you've gotten to where you can easily get through the day without fear. You've found people, good and competent people, to watch over the girls in your absence. You haven't failed them. You've made sure they'll be safe.
You rest your hand on your abdomen, where you can feel the barest lift, the barest stretch. And haven't you made the same decision for the new one? You're not getting an abortion. And you stopped half-assing it, too, stopped hoping that biology would take it out of your hands. You've started taking better care of yourself. Didn't you leave the museum today, didn't you seek out your doctor at the first sign that something might be wrong? Aren't you trying? Aren't you doing as much as anybody would, or could?
This is the part where you usually go back to bed and hope the dream doesn't come back. But tonight you're too jazzed up. Maybe it's because of your earlier scare, combined with the nightmare. You aren't sure. But you can't go back to sleep, not now. You can't face that empty bed.
Instead you wrap your robe more tightly around yourself and wander towards the staircase, thinking maybe you'll just sit in the living room and try to enjoy the peace and quiet. Read a little. Perhaps even watch television. Some mindless entertainment: why not? You deserve to kill a few brain cells like every other upstanding American, don't you? So maybe you'll channel-surf. Maybe you'll even find out why men find it so appealing. Heaven knows you don't seem to understand anything else about them. You pat your stomach again. Exhibit A.
That's the other nightmare.
(Stephen's above you, pressing between your legs, huffing and grunting, and in your dreams you know, you know what he's doing--he's screwing somebody else, screwing God only knows who, as if your body is something he can pick up for one last hurrah and then discard, and how dare he, how fucking dare he--you want to push him away, you want to shove him off you--no, no, you want to reach up and choke him, strangle him, wring his neck, but your arms are too heavy to lift and you can only lie there, trying so hard to move, but knowing you are helpless--and the bed is catching fire beneath you, so are the walls around you, everything around you is burning down and you can't escape, and, and, and--)
You gasp out loud, and shake your head. No. That's not how it really happened. That's not what happened at all. But damned if your subconscious isn't out to eat you alive at every turn.
You didn't have that dream tonight, thank God. You couldn't have handled both nightmares, not at the same time. Especially since you can't decide which one's worse.
So there's no point in dwelling. No point in fixating. You can't change anything, at least, nothing that's already happened. You specialize in changing the now. In acting in the present, in taking charge, and you'd better do that right now, because even if it's--you squint at the hallway clock--almost four-thirty in the morning, you don't have the luxury of falling apart. Not you, not now, not ever. Television. Go watch television.
As you approach the staircase, you peer down the darkened hallway and see that Andrea's door stands slightly ajar. That's odd. Is the room poorly ventilated? Is she afraid of the dark? You doubt it. You doubt that, when you get right down to it, Andrea is afraid of much at all. She, too, can hold it together. She's like you in that. In other ways, too. She's still just discovering it for herself, of course, still just coming into her full potential, admitting to herself who and what she really is.
You've enjoyed watching that. You've enjoyed pushing her along, pressing her past her limits, showing her what she can do. You've actually enjoyed it quite a lot.
Andrea and Caroline are going somewhere together tomorrow morning. You don't know where yet. You doubt Caroline's decided, and you don't feel up to asking. Her anger frightens and exhausts you. You hope Andrea is up to managing it, to dealing with it for just one morning. She can certainly deal with you. Better, perhaps, than she knows. She's something special, that girl. Whip-smart, driven, capable of ruthlessness. And not without charm. She's…you're glad she's here.
You head down the stairs, towards the living room. There is light: has somebody left a lamp on? Then, as you approach closer, you see a lump in your favorite armchair. A person-shaped lump, in pajamas and huddled beneath a throw. Andrea, of course, fast asleep. She's got a book in her lap. And a notebook. A pen lies on the floor, fallen from her limp, dangling fingertips.
She's been reading a pregnancy book, highlighting passages, making notes. She's not up with a book or a magazine, she's not watching TV; she's doing something for you. Looking out for you, as best she can and in her very limited capacity. Nobody else is doing this. Nobody but her.
She is competent, driven, even ruthless, just like you, yes. And astonishingly, mind-bogglingly loyal, in a way you have never been. She's kept your secrets, your confidence. She's gone above and beyond the call of duty. She has been right beside you every step of the way, when she would have had more to gain by looking out for herself. She knows your position at Runway, in the whole world of publishing, is more vulnerable than ever--or will be, once the news of your pregnancy breaks. And yet she stays.
You remember, always with surprise, that surge of relief you felt when she arrived at the luncheon a couple of days ago, fresh off the plane and ready to stand next to you. You felt propped up. You felt the welcome presence of, not your assistant or subordinate, but a companion, arriving after too long an absence. Arriving just in the nick of time. The cavalry over the hill. And now, seeing her here, those last remnants of your dreams vanish, leaving you almost light-headed with relief.
Of course, she's far from perfect. She's no knight in shining armor. She's still unformed, still childish in many ways, still clinging to her ideas of what she should be. And for all her patience and loyalty, she's still frightened of you. But looking down at her now, at your faithful little friend, all you feel is warmth, and gratitude, and something surprisingly like tenderness. This girl has no reason to fear you. Not her. Not you.
You wonder, you really wonder, how far her devotion is capable of stretching. If she'd go to these lengths for her boss, who has (you admit it) not always treated her well, if she'd do that for you, what might she do for someone else? For a husband of her own, a partner, someone she genuinely treasured? You realize that you know the answer: there's nothing she wouldn't do. For someone she loved, she'd find the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. That partner, that "someone," would be very lucky indeed.
It would really be something, to be loved and treasured by Andrea Sachs.
She curls up tighter under the blanket and makes a snuffling noise, her hair tangled up, her cheeks flushed with sleep. You can't take your eyes off her. Your heart is beating with surprising force. You can't stop standing in front of the chair and just being so damned glad she's here, glad that she came when you called--glad that you called her, period. You just didn't feel right, felt sort of half-finished and alone, when she wasn't here. And now her presence drives your nightmares away. How bizarre.
You chuckle wryly before you can stop yourself. Stephen never made you feel like this. Nor Michael, nor Greg. Clearly, you think, you should have married her instead.
And then something stalls in your brain, screeches to a halt, refuses to move past that one, single, supposedly-facetious thought: I should have married this girl.
And then, far worse, more profoundly shocking: There's still time.
Your jaw drops open, and you're glad she can't see it. You're glad she can't see the look on your face, which must be utterly ridiculous. Well, what else should you look like? You're standing in your living room wearing your bathrobe at four-thirty in the morning, stunned with the realization that this twenty-something girl in your easy chair--this wide-eyed idealist from Ohio who arrived at your office armed with shapeless clothes and an attitude problem the size of her ass--is the only one for you. Going slack-jawed is really the only appropriate response.
She opens her eyes and sees you standing there.
You're grateful for her moment of confusion, for the way she flails around, trying to wake up. Ready to be useful to you once more. You take the time to get yourself under control. You even sit down with her, although your mind refuses to let go of That Thought, like a terrier with a bone. Sometimes your mind gets like that, latches onto things. It's an instinct that has never failed you yet: the sure knowledge of when you're on to a good thing. It never showed up when you got married. Perhaps you should have noticed that.
Of course, you're not attracted to Andrea. Not in any sexual way. You're attracted to men, insofar as you're attracted to anyone, you suppose. And she's only half your age, and she works for you, and has absolutely no intention of chaining herself to her older boss with two--three--children. No matter how kind and obliging she is, you're fairly certain she won't react well if you attempt to explain your amazing discovery, your abrupt certainty that you're meant for each other. That she's just right for you, exactly right, and that surely it has to work the other way around because that's just how these things are supposed to happen. No, she's probably not ready to hear that yet.
And you're not ready to say it. What idiocy. What insanity that would be. What can you possibly be thinking? Sleep. You need sleep. And time. You need time to think about this. It's happened at a very inconvenient moment, after all. And of course there is your career to consider. There is the magazine. To say nothing of your girls and their feelings, which have to come before your own. Isn't that what you'd vowed to yourself only a few moments ago: to protect them, to shelter them? Certainly not to upend their lives yet again. What has possessed you?
You are very glad to get your mind back, to be able to speak to her calmly and rationally, to enjoy her company for a little while. Madness aside, there is something to be said for the simple delights of companionship, which you've known in precious small amounts. So nice just to talk to someone. Just to feel, for a few moments, a little less alone in the world. You have a hunch that when you go back to bed, the nightmares will not return tonight.
Yes. Forget the other. It's not the right time, not anywhere near. You can wait. It will have to keep. Why should you want more than this? Too often your reach has exceeded your grasp--in your personal life, anyway. Andrea is here with you of, as she says, her own free will. That's enough, enough to hold on to while you puzzle your way through this, while you decide what to do, and when. For now, you have all you need.
Wait a second. What did she just say?