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MORNING.
 
The office is quiet all around Andy, but she is in a frenzy at her desk. Emily has abandoned her post now that Miranda’s out of the building, and without help Andy is failing miserably at her many tasks. She needs to hunt down a lamp that Miranda wants from “that place where I dined with Giorgio—it would be perfect for the new study,” plus there are still four meetings to reschedule since Miranda took off for upstate New York today. It’s not like Miranda to abandon ship like this, but Andy doesn’t question her, nor does she even think to question. She doesn’t have time.
 
Only a few hours ago she packed the last of Miranda’s things in the trunk of the sleek Porsche, just as the sun was rising. The light was strangely gray that morning, heavy with fog and humidity. It felt kind of nice to see Miranda so early, and so unofficially. They hadn’t spoken of Runway, or of anything in particular. But Miranda had been softer than usual, and she’d smiled in a strange, tender way when Andy told her to be careful.
 
“I mean it, there are crazy drivers on the road, Miranda,” Andy had said.
 
Miranda just waved her off. “I’ll be fine. I’ll contact you tomorrow if I need anything.”
 
Andy grinned. “I’ll be waiting.”
 
Quickly she dials Derek Lim’s office to reschedule, and as she’s finishing, her cell starts to buzz. Emily isn’t here to back her up. She wraps up the call and grabs her phone, sighing in relief that it hasn’t gone to voicemail.
 
“Hello.”
 
“Hello, ma’am. I’m looking for someone who knows Miranda Priestly.”
 
“Well, you’ve called the right number. How can I help you?”
 
There’s a pause on the other end of the line, as a man clears his throat. “Ah, we have some news about Ms. Priestly, ma’am. Can you tell me who I’m speaking with?”
 
“Who’s calling please?” Andy says, her voice sharp, sharper than it should be, but the tone of this caller has her immediately on edge.
 
“This is Sergeant Jeffries of Broome County Highway Patrol. There was an accident this morning, I’m afraid. We found this number as the one most recently called in her phone. In fact it’s the only number she’s called for a few days, so I’m really hoping you can help.”
 
Andy feels the odd, muddled sensation of marshmallow around her head, and the dark tunnel opens up in front of her. She is about to faint, which is something she used to do now and then in high school. Her mother would say she was a great big faker, but it really happened, especially in gym class. She’s learned how to not do it, and she hasn’t fainted for six years now, but she is really close, and she absolutely can not faint. Not right now. She takes a huge breath and the tunnel fades slightly. Blood rushes to her head and she dizzily manages to fall into her chair.
 
“Can you tell me what happened?” she manages to say. She sounds like a normal person, instead of someone who just had all the air sucked out of the room.
 
“I’m sorry to say Ms. Priestly was killed this morning in an accident on Route 11 in Broome County, near Castle Creek.”
 
If Andy was stunned before, nothing compares to this very moment, when her whole world cracks open. She can barely speak. This isn’t happening. This is not happening. “I’m sorry, I just saw Miranda this morning--”
 
“Was Ms. Priestly traveling alone, Miss? And can I get your name? Sorry about this—we’re just trying to straighten out the facts.”
 
“Wait a second, wait. Ms. Priestly, Miranda, isn’t dead. She was just at her townhouse this morning. I just saw her. When was this accident?”
 
The man’s voice is soft, understanding. “We believe not more than half an hour ago, Miss. What’s your name?”
 
Andy tries to get up and go to Miranda’s office, but her knees don’t support her. She falls out of the chair, catching herself on one arm as she stares at the marble floor. “I’m sorry, this is just ridiculous.” Her voice is shaking, but she swallows down the sob that is screaming to get out.
 
There’s a long pause. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss. Are you all right?” the man says. Sergeant Jeffries, his name is Sergeant Jeffries.
 
“Are you sure it’s her?” Andy squeaks. “Are you sure?”
 
“We’re trying to reach her next of kin, Miss. Can you help me?”
 
The repeated request for help nudges something in Andy’s brain to action. “Next of kin,” she repeats, and crawls to Miranda’s office. She doesn’t care about the scene she’s making; no one is around, and Miranda’s not there to scold her, so it doesn’t matter that she’s on her hands and knees? “Um, I might have to call you back. Talk to HR for the details. I’ll check the files here, we usually have back up copies of everything on hand.”
 
“I’ll wait, Miss. I’ll stay on the line with you. Tell me your name, so we’re all okay here.”
 
“It’s Andy,” Andy cries, “But she always calls me Andrea.” The tears come then. She falls apart for a full two minutes, holding the phone against her ear, unable to move in any direction. The man on the phone, Sergeant Jeffries, waits patiently. She can hear him breathing on the other end of the line. “Sorry,” she whines, “sorry, I just… Um.” She breathes deeply, wiping the tears and mascara from under her eyes. “Hold on.”
 
Andy sets the phone down and ignores the fact that her hands are shaking. She unlocks Miranda’s bottom file drawer with a small key Miranda keeps in the “junk” portion of the top drawer. At the very back there is a folder labeled “INSURANCE,” and Andy snags it. Inside is the list of her emergency contacts, and paperwork about her beneficiaries for the standard Runway life insurance policy. The rest of Miranda’s paperwork is at home in a fireproof safe, with details of her extensive will and trust, as well as another life insurance policy that benefits the twins.
 
For now, she looks at a list of four names on the emergency contact list. Two are the names of her children, with their cell phones included. One is for Leslie, her lawyer. But the name listed at the top is Andrea Sachs, with Andy’s current work phone, personal cell phone and new address. There is no listing for a sister, brother, mother, father, or husband.
 
Miranda must have filled this form out herself, because Andy’s never seen it.
 
“I’m listed as her emergency contact, Sergeant,” Andy croaks. “But she has two kids, and there’s someone else listed here too.”
 
“Two kids,” the sergeant says with a sigh. “We’ll need that other name for notification, but with kids--”
 
Andy zones out and puts her head into her hands. Suddenly she has the realization that this whole thing could be a sham, that the guy on the phone could be some asshole from the Post, or an even seedier publication, and Andy’s just told him details that he shouldn’t know. “Listen, I need your name and the department you work for. I need to call you—Ms. Priestly values her privacy deeply and it’s important that I can confirm your identity. Is that all right?”

 

“Of course, Andy. It’s Sergeant Wilton Jeffries, of Broome County Sheriff’s Department, Highway Patrol. Here’s my number, but you do what you need to and call me right back, all right?”
 
The sergeant gives his number, which Andy dutifully writes down. She has to walk back to her own desk to use a computer, since Miranda’s laptop is gone. It was with her in the car that Andy helped pack that morning. She moves as if through molasses toward her desk and collapses into her seat. After sitting motionless for a minute or two, she hunts down everything she can find on Broome County, and finds the phone number for the local PD. The area code is correct, and so are the first three numbers. She dials, asks for Sergeant Wilton Jeffries, and only has to hold a moment before he picks up.
 
“Jeffries.”
 
Andy’s heart sinks. It falls all 18 stories to the ground, through the pavement and into the earth. Tears stream down her face now, but her voice is normal when she says, “Hi Sergeant. Sorry, this is Andy Sachs.”
 
“Okay then, Andy. It’s all right. You don’t worry about that now, let’s just go from here.”
 
---
 
Some time later, Andy rushes to the bathroom and washes her face. She wants no one to see that anything is wrong. She doesn’t want to tell anyone or alert the press or explain. That is Leslie’s job. Andy isn’t even going to tell Nigel or Emily; her first thought is of Cassidy and Caroline. She wants to be with them when Jeremy tells them. He’s in Connecticut, and Andy isn’t sure how they’re going to work it out, but she’ll be with them, whatever happens.
 
She tries not think about what the sergeant told her, which is that Miranda’s car was going over 100 miles an hour that morning, and that it smashed into a tree and burst into flames. And that someone else was driving, which is the detail that makes this whole thing completely unreal.
 
Apparently Miranda’s little trip upstate was to meet someone. A man who Andy had absolutely no knowledge of. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, but it was an unwelcome surprise.
 
Fury cuts through the misery for a few moments as Andy thinks of the man who drove so recklessly as to kill Miranda. To kill the most important person in Andy’s life, and in the lives of her two children. It’s a rage unlike anything she’s ever known. And somehow, a piece of that rage is directed toward Miranda, who let some guy drive her Porsche, a car that she adored, into a tree just for shits and giggles.
 
The police will need someone to travel up toward Binghamton over the weekend, to fill out paperwork and release the body to a mortuary. Andy will probably be this person. She does not have to identify the body, which has been exposed to intense heat and fire; Andy does not think about that either. They will have to use dental records for a final confirmation, but all her things were in the car with her. Her purse and phone were ejected from the wreckage, along with some of her vintage Vuitton luggage. That’s how they first identified her, although the man with her is still a John Doe.
 
Miranda is dead, Andy repeats to herself. Miranda is dead.  
 
She has to get out before anyone else discovers what’s happened; she expects that Leslie is on the phone with Irv by now. Jeremy was Leslie’s first call; she conferenced Andy in after she gave him the news. They both sounded truly upset, which was a small comfort. At least Leslie will be doing the things Andy wouldn’t have the first idea of how to tackle, like the press and the public dispersal of the news. They have to move fast, because the press will catch wind of it in no time. The police have agreed not to spread the word, but Andy knows that won’t last. Someone will talk, even though Andy wonders if any of the people in the Broome County Sheriff’s department read Runway, or have heard of Miranda Priestly.
 
Leslie’s next call was to Stephen, which Andy let her deal with alone. The whole thing probably took less than a minute, since Stephen won’t care. He’s remarried now, to a woman he knew in high school. If Andy was more generous, she’d find the story of how they reconnected online romantic and sweet. But she is not generous, and Stephen can go fuck himself. He had Miranda for three years, and then he threw her away.
 
Andy bites her tongue and squeezes her eyes shut, willing away bitter tears. Andy never had Miranda, not even for a single second. And now she never will. Even in her grief, less than an hour old, she can see her next weeks spread out before her—dealing with press, helping Nigel, taking care of the hundreds of business calls that will need to be made, sending out thank you notes for condolences. Ushering out the next issue of the magazine, and helping with whatever tribute Irv and his cronies come up with now that his arch-enemy is gone forever.
 
Then she’ll have no job, because she has no one to work for. The center of her life is gone. Andy is alone.
 
This is the worst day of her life.
 
---
 
Later, Andy is in Miranda’s home, with two girls who have been taken out of school and told their mother is dead. Jeremy gives them the news over the phone, while Andy sits with them in the tv room. It’s surreal, and Andy can barely figure out what to say, so mostly she doesn’t say anything. She holds the girls, who cry and look to Andy for some kind of explanation. Andy can offer none. “I don’t know,” she keeps saying. “I don’t know.”
 
Andy doesn’t let herself cry; she stays focused on helping Caroline and Cassidy survive the day. It’s her only way to do anything for Miranda, even though it won’t mean much in the long run. But it gives Andy a focus, so when the girls ask if they’ll get to see their mother’s body, Andy does her best to put them off. Jeremy is on his way down from Connecticut, and Andy will stay on to help. She’s not sure what she’ll be doing, but she’ll be here, and she won’t be going to Runway.
 
An hour or so in, Andy’s phone rings. It’s Nigel, and though she doesn’t want to pick up, she does.
 
“Hi,” she says, and her voice shakes in that single syllable.
 
“Andy,” Nigel says, and the mourning in the word makes Andy’s eyes sting. “Where are you?”
 
“With the kids. They know. Jeremy’s coming right now.”
 
There is a shuddering breath on the other end of the line. “Hell, Six, I’m—I don’t even know…”
 
“Yeah,” Andy replies. She can’t have this conversation. Not now, when she has to hold it together.
 
Nigel is crying. “What are we going to do?”
 
“I gotta go,” Andy says, spying Caroline coming back into the study, where Andy sits. “Caroline’s here.”
 
“Who’s that?” Caroline asks.
 
“It’s Nigel.” There is no need to lie.
 
“Tell him ‘hey,’” Caroline says as she flops down on to the couch, pressing her face into Andy’s stomach. Her thin arms wrap around Andy, who drops a hand onto her head.
 
“Caroline says ‘hey,’” Andy whispers. There’s a protracted silence, so Andy just says, “Call me later,” and hangs up.
 
“When’s Dad coming?” Caroline asks.
 
Andy sets her phone on the table and snuggles in, nudging Caroline up so they can hold each other. “Soon, I think. He was in the car when I spoke to him last, and it doesn’t take that long to get here. A couple of hours.”
 
They lie together for a while, as Andy strokes Caroline’s head and tries not to think about how it would have been so much better if Miranda had just decided not to leave today. She could have said to Andy, let’s play hooky and go to the movies. Or maybe get an early dinner and see a show. If Miranda had only left tomorrow, the way she’d intended to, Andy could have had a perfectly normal morning. Normal day, normal night, breezing through life like nothing at all was wrong, or could ever go wrong.
 
“We don’t go to church, or temple,” Caroline says. “Mom doesn’t like it.”
 
Andy stares up at the ceiling, tangling Caroline’s hair in her fingers. “Oh.”
 
“What do you think happens when you die?”
 
She’s been waiting for that question. She’s been asking it of herself, wondering what she’d say when one of the girls asked. “I’m not sure. I don’t think about it a lot. Do you have any ideas?”
 
“I think your soul leaves your body and floats above the earth for a while. Then it goes up to heaven or something. I guess it’s heaven. Or God. I don’t know. Mom wasn’t really into God.” She grabs at Andy then. “This sucks so bad.” Her tears are hot as they soak Andy’s blouse.
 
“Heaven sounds nice. Where you’re with your family. I like that.”
 
“I don’t want my mom to be gone,” Caroline whispers.
 
“Me neither, honey.”
 
Cassidy’s face is angry when it appears in the doorway. She is frowning, gritting her teeth. “What are you doing in here?” she barks.
 
“Just talking,” Andy answers. “Come on in.”
 
“No fair.” She stalks over and throws herself onto the sofa, jamming a knee into Andy’s thigh painfully as she parks herself between the couch and Andy and Caroline.
 
“Sorry,” Andy says, throwing an arm around Cassidy.
 
“When is Dad getting here?” Cassidy snaps.
 
“Soon,” Andy soothes, “I promise.”
 
“Mom should have taken us with her,” Cassidy says firmly. “This wouldn’t have happened.”
 
Andy can’t think of a single thing to say.
 
---
 
The day goes on forever. She and Cassidy and Caroline huddle together until Jeremy arrives later than expected. Before that Cassidy asks obsessively to talk to him until Andy hands over the phone, and they stay on the line until he walks through the door. Later, Jeremy asks if Andy can stay the night, because the girls want to have her around, and he likes the extra company. He has a shellshocked look on his face that probably mirrors Andy’s.
 
He left his wife and two other children up in Connecticut, but they’ll come this weekend. Andy’s never met them, but they’re nice, according to Caroline. Andy will stay long enough to meet them tomorrow morning, and then she’ll go to the office for a few hours to be with Nigel, even though it’s a Saturday. She hasn’t spoken to anyone else from work besides Nigel, nor does she want to. She supposes she should call her mom and let her know what’s happening, but she just… can’t. She doesn’t want to speak to anyone at all except the kids. And Miranda.
 
After Cassidy and Caroline settle in with Jeremy, Andy creeps upstairs to Miranda’s room, where she knows the safe is located. She has found the combination in Miranda’s office, as Miranda instructed her months ago (in case of emergency, she’d said), and now she has to go into the bedroom to retrieve the paperwork. Jeremy will need it when he calls Leslie.
 
She stands at the bedroom door for a long time before she goes inside.
 
The bed is made, of course, and Chanel No. 5 hangs in the air. Classic, timeless. Like Miranda. The closet is enormous, neat and organized, filled with pieces that Miranda wears regularly, as well as gowns she might have worn at some point. Her jewelry is kept at a little vanity with a mirror, a piece of furniture far more precious than what Andy expected. Her earrings are in perfect order, and the necklaces aren’t tangled and knotted as they are in Andy’s small collection. Andy runs her fingers along the earrings, wanting desperately to take a pair and keep them. Instead, she dabs Miranda’s perfume behind her ears and swipes at tears that slip from the corners of her eyes.
 
There’s a black and white photo of the girls on the vanity, from the same shoot that resulted in the more formal portrait that hangs downstairs. But this photo shows two laughing kids hugging each other while seated on a sofa. They are nearly falling over, and for a moment Andy can imagine the sound of their giggles while Miranda watches over them.
 
This room is breaking her heart.
 
She leaves and heads for the other closet, where the safe is kept. She presses the nearly invisible panel along the wall until it clicks ajar, types in the code and the door pops open. She goes through the stacks of paper and finds what she needs before slamming the door shut. She does not snoop, mainly because she doesn’t care what is in Miranda’s will or trust. She will get nothing, and she wants nothing. What she wants is gone.
 
---
 
The girls eat scrambled eggs and toast for dinner. Andy cooks. Strong coffee is her only supper, while Jeremy has three glasses of scotch. What’s remarkable is that even after glass number three Jeremy seems completely sober. The scotch doesn’t appear to make him feel better, nor does the coffee help Andy. She hasn’t eaten since breakfast, but food does not appeal at the moment.
 
Jeremy and Miranda have been divorced for seven years, but they managed to be civil for most of that time. Andy actually likes him. She figures he’s already worried about taking the girls out of Dalton, about uprooting their lives so completely after the trauma of losing a parent. They can’t live in the townhouse alone, but at least they’ve only been back at school for a few weeks this year. They’ll stay for now, with Andy or whoever comes into town for the funeral or memorial services they’ll have, and then their things will be packed and shipped to Connecticut. Miranda left the house in trust for the girls, with taxes and upkeep to be paid out of a fund set up specifically for that purpose. As usual, Miranda was nothing if not prepared, even if Andy never believed that anything could kill a life force as powerful as hers. Everything is in perfect order.
 
Lots of Miranda’s friends and acquaintances, plus a few cousins, are in her will, which Jeremy talks about a little. A portion of Miranda’s trust will go to the Met Foundation, as well as to Parsons for annual scholarships. She also left a percentage of her cash holdings to charities like AmFar, and Susan G. Komen. A million dollars will go to Citymeals on Wheels. When Andy hears that, she digs her fingernails into her palms to keep from weeping. She successfully upholds her vow not to cry. She tells him that she doesn’t need to know more details, and he gets a strange look on his face, but stops talking anyway.
 
Jeremy spends a couple of hours on the phone with Leslie, in private. That gives Andy more time to spend with the girls, who don’t talk much. They play a few rounds of cards, which none of them enjoy. But it’s something to do. Andy expects they’ll play a lot more over the next few days.
 
The press hovers outside the townhouse door at a vaguely respectful distance. Andy knows that they are all over the story; the unexpected, violent nature of Miranda’s death makes for an explosive lede. She has stayed away from television and the internet today, mainly because she wants to hear nothing about the gruesome details of the wreckage. She is still feeling hateful toward Miranda’s male companion, but that has faded a bit, since his family will be missing him by now. From what Jeremy said, no one has identified him, and whatever papers he had on him burned or melted in the fire.
 
After their silent dinner, Andy puts on the first Harry Potter movie, at Cassidy’s request. Of course, the first Harry Potter movie starts out all about Harry as lonely orphan. Caroline punches Cassidy in the arm five minutes in, and Andy takes out the disc and puts in the Wizard of Oz. She is clearly not engaging her brain, since Dorothy Gale has no parents either, raised instead by Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Neither of the twins mentions this, though, and they make it through the first hour without interruption. When Andy eventually feels her phone buzz in her pocket, she does not answer.
 
For the entire day, in fact, Andy has not picked up her cell phone. When she glances at the screen, she learns she has 37 messages, and 45 missed calls. She scrolls through the list of numbers, and spots her parents’ listing. She tells the kids she has to go to the bathroom, which she does. After she pees, she flushes, washes her hands, then sits on the sink and calls her mother.
 
“Honey, I’ve been so worried!” are the first words out of her mother’s mouth.
 
Andy starts to sob, and turns on the bathroom fan to drown out the sound. It is horrible; her mother coos on the other end of the line, comforting words like it will be okay and you’ll get through this. Andy’s dad joins on the phone extension, and they both wait for her to calm. She pulls herself back together after a couple of minutes, otherwise Cassidy will probably barge through the door to make sure she hasn’t fallen in the toilet.
 
“I’m all right,” Andy tells them. She wants to confess her broken heart, but she doesn’t. She tries to imagine their response to the words I think I was in love with Miranda. Instead, she says, “I’m just kind of… lost.”
 
“Sure, honey, we understand,” her dad says. “Are you at work? Have you been with everyone there?”
 
“No, I’m at the townhouse, with Miranda’s kids. Her ex-husband is here too. I’ll go to Runway tomorrow, I guess, but the girls seem to want me to stick around. I don’t really have anywhere else to be, so, yeah.”
 
“We saw what happened on the news,” her mother says. “It’s so terrible--”
 
“Mom, don’t tell me, okay? I can’t really think about it right now. I can’t.” Tears spring from her eyes again, and she uses what’s left of the toilet paper to wipe her nose.
 
“Okay, okay, honey. When you’re ready to talk, you can. And if you… need to come home for a while, you know, after things get sorted out, we’re here for you.”
 
“What do you mean?” Andy asks, and then she realizes it. Her parents have assumed that with the loss of a boss, Andy has lost her job. They’re probably right. Somehow that inflames Andy’s ire. It’s not their fault that they think this; they are only looking out for her best interests. And as far as they know Miranda drove Andy completely nuts. Which she does. Or did. In every way known to man, both good and bad.
 
“We’re just saying we’re here for you, Andy. Whatever you need,” her father says, very gently.
 
“Okay, Dad,” she replies, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “Thanks. Listen, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, maybe. I have a lot of errands to run.”
 
“Errands?” he asks.
 
Andy does not tell them that after she visits Nigel at work she’ll be driving to Broome County to meet with police. She’s going with Leslie, and honestly, she wishes she could get out of it. But she owes Miranda, so she’ll deliver Miranda’s medical and dental records to the police as requested, and will do whatever else they need to get this whole thing over with.
 
She can barely fathom what she’s going to talk to Leslie about in the car on their two hour drive.
 
“There are just some things I have to take care of here,” she hedges. “And I’ll go to the office too.”
 
“Okay, honey,” her mom says. “You take care, and make sure you eat something. I know how you get.”
 
Andy rolls her eyes. “Thanks, Mom. I love you. Love you too, Dad.” She chokes up.
 
They both say I love you, and Andy ends the call. She looks in the mirror at her swollen eyes, and spends two minutes holding a cold washcloth over them. It doesn’t do much, but at least they’re a little less red. She rejoins the twins, who are still zoned out zombies on the sofa. They don’t ask what took Andy so long; maybe they don’t even realize she was gone.
 

Chapter Text

By nine thirty, Andy is exhausted and wired. The twins are in Cassidy’s room, in one bed, probably still awake. But Andy is out of ideas to keep them occupied, and none of them wants to be entertained anyway, so they make no fuss when Andy helps them get ready for bed.
 
Jeremy has another scotch in his hand when Andy comes downstairs. “Dessert,” he says, holding up the glass. “Want one?”
 
Andy says no, and thanks him. “I think I’ll just make up a bed and try to rest.”
 
He nods. “I’m going out for a few minutes to meet some friends I haven’t seen for a while. They’re at a pub a few blocks away. I can be back in a few minutes if anything happens, or if the girls need me. I just… I need to see people. I can’t just sit here all night, you know?” His mouth turns down at the corners. His eyes plead for mercy. Andy tries not to consider that she doesn’t count as people; she is the hired help, and nothing more.
 
“That’s fine. I’ll text you if I need to.”
 
“Thanks, Andy. I can’t tell you what a blessing it’s been to have you here. I don’t know what the girls would have done without you.” He looks relieved, and Andy really doesn’t mind. She is starting to feel weird, being alone with a man who probably once loved Miranda as much as she still does.
 
She takes a few minutes to get a bed ready for herself, in a guest room down the hall from Cassidy. The mattress is plush, the sheets soft. She finds a new toothbrush in the cabinet and uses it. After ten minutes of sitting on the bed in her underwear, she pulls her dress back on and goes downstairs to the study. Miranda’s study. She feels Miranda all around her; it’s certainly the most familiar room in the townhouse for Andy. It’s not as though she’s spent much time here, but now and then she’d sat across from Miranda on a small sofa, making notes as Miranda rattled off instructions.
 
The room is the opposite of the white, clean lines of Miranda’s work office. It’s warm and comfortable, with stacks of books lining the walls on dark shelves. The light here is soft, almost gentle on Andy’s face when she turns on the desk lamp. She’d been in here earlier in the day, to change Miranda’s old-school answering machine message. She has no idea why Miranda, voracious fiend for all things tech, has an answering machine that’s at least ten years old, but there it is. In a fit of sentimentality, Andy removed the original tape with Miranda’s voice on it, and used a new tape for the outgoing message. She couldn’t bear to record over Miranda, even though there are countless other places where Andy will be able to watch interviews and remember her. But this… this just felt too personal. Andy touches the machine, and is startled when the phone rings for probably the fiftieth time that day.
 
Andy doesn’t pick up, and instead lets the machine click on. Her own recorded voice is loud in the office, and it sounds unpleasant to Andy’s ears. She just prays it’s not someone from the press calling to make rude remarks, because she won’t be held responsible for her actions if it is.
 
“H-Hello,” a woman’s voice says. “This is Miranda. Someone please pick up. I’m—my god, will someone pick up the goddamned phone? I need to talk to someone there—anyone!”
 
Andy stares at the machine, her eyes wide. “Jesus,” she whispers. The voice sounds like Miranda. “Jesus.”
 
“Hello!” the woman shouts again. She sounds frantic, almost angry. She still sounds exactly like Miranda. Miranda, who is dead. Isn’t she?
 
Andy reaches over with a shaking hand, and picks up the phone. “Hello?”
 
---
 
EARLIER.
 
Miranda makes excellent time, since she leaves at 6am. It helps that Andrea was present to help her pack the car. Andrea didn’t complain about the early hour, nor does she ever complain about anything Miranda asks of her. Miranda feels slightly guilty about dragging the poor thing out of bed just because she wanted to leave before rush hour, but she simply couldn’t resist. She never can when it comes to Andrea. She is playing a game, allowing herself to believe that the girl has feelings beyond those of hateful assistant toward powerful boss. It’s hard not to believe, considering how cheerfully Andrea does everything. She is a wonderful assistant. A wonderful person. Funny how it took so long for Miranda to realize this fact. She never lets on though; she doesn’t want to scare Andrea away or let anyone in on her softening attitude. She is not one to reveal her affections easily, and in this case, she’s not sure she ever will.
 
Miranda laughs to herself and focuses on the road. After the winding, complicated clutch of arteries getting out of the city, it’s easy driving now toward her proverbial cabin in the woods. The place is a throwback to Miranda’s childhood, built and owned by her father, handed down to her when he died far too young. Rustic and small, it sports a single bathroom, two bedrooms and not much else. But as with everything else in the state of New York, it has three things going for it: location, location, location. It’s by a reservoir with fantastic fishing, and it’s peaceful in its isolation. Miranda likes to go there alone to recharge. Sometimes the girls come with her, but they tend to get bored even though the cabin is wired with internet and cable. She does not have friends over to stay; the place doesn’t fit in with her persona, so she keeps it to herself.
 
This weekend her daughters will head to Connecticut to be with their father; Andrea will deliver them personally to the train station this afternoon. Miranda trusts Andrea implicitly with tasks such as these. She has thoughts of one day asking if Andrea would like to visit the cabin, where they could sit quietly and talk about nothing. She wonders if she’ll ever find the bravery to do such a thing. Probably not. It wouldn’t work, of course, so why bother?
 
Miranda glances at the empty coffee cups in the holders at her side. She went through both quickly, before they cooled too much. Andrea brought them to her, and they were as always, perfect. But two hours into the trip, she is feeling the effects of the caffeine and liquid, and she needs to make a stop. There’s a rest area ahead, not far from where she is now; she’ll be quick about it and still get to the cabin by 9. She already feels lighter having left the city and so many of her responsibilities behind. She has the Book with her, and she will work on it today, but Andrea has orders to only contact her in case of emergency, so she should be fine. For once they are well ahead of schedule, and Miranda plans to take full advantage.
 
She sees the exit off route 17 and takes it, parking in the nearly empty lot. There is a rundown truck at the far end, but otherwise, the place is deserted. A frisson of anxiety strikes Miranda, but she ignores it. She is an adult, and there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a bathroom, for god’s sake. And she needs a bathroom, very badly.
 
Purse in hand, she strides toward the tiny building. She experiences only mild discomfort at the smell, which is of disinfectant rather than anything more offensive. It’s why she always chooses this stop; it’s clean, and there is a machine out front that dispenses passable coffee.
 
Miranda relieves herself and is washing her hands when the woman appears behind her, in the mirror. She is smiling. “Nice car out there,” she says to Miranda.
 
Miranda raises an eyebrow. She makes a non-committal noise. She doesn’t feel like engaging in idle chat with anyone, much less a random woman in a bathroom in the middle of nowhere. She finishes washing her hands and is reaching for a paper towel when the first blow comes; the pain blinds her and sends her to her knees. She grabs the sink when it happens again, and she is driven into near unconsciousness. Hands grab her, dragging her out of the small space and she tastes copper liquid in her mouth. She tries to speak, tries to open her eyes, but the light is so bright that she can’t.
 
“Hmm,” she says, trying to groan.
 
“Yeah, it’s a nice car,” a man’s voice says. “Thanks.”
 
Something else happens, and Miranda is not being dragged anymore. She rolls over. The ground is hard. It smells of pine needles and cut grass and earth. Everything hurts, and her eyes roll in her head. Now seems like a good time to go to sleep, so she does.
 
---
 
There is a point later when Miranda wakes, but she can’t move. When she lifts her head, the pain is so unbearable that her stomach heaves. Seconds pass before she goes out again. It’s easier that way.
 
---
 
Miranda lifts her head, slowly.
 
She has no idea where she is, or what day it is. She has very few thoughts at all, other than the realization that it is freezing, and that she needs to move. The ground on which she is resting is wet, and she touches her face. It’s damp, and when she looks at her hand, it’s smeared with red and brown. She recognizes nothing around her at all.
 
When she’s able to turn her head, she understands she is lying between a red brick building and a row of bushes. This fact tells her nothing. Movement causes Miranda’s stomach to roll, although nothing comes up. There is a pain so sharp behind her eyes that she nearly blacks out, but something inside tells her that this is a bad idea. Instead she grits her teeth and hums, pleased when she actually hears the sound. This means that her hearing isn’t gone. That’s a plus.
 
It takes her a long time to drag herself out from behind the bushes, and she feels a branch dig a long scratch into her side. On all fours, she emerges into a green field, where the sun is gentle and warm on her face. It smells like fall, and the scent comforts her. Dried leaves crunch under her hands.
 
She spies a sidewalk that goes around the building and leads to a large dumpster. That sidewalk is where she wants to go—it must end someplace. Minutes go by as she inches close to it, and at some point she decides to try and stand. Carefully she balances on her knees and gets up gradually, not touching her head and the place that hurts so badly.
 
One foot in front of the other. She feels a thousand years old. After a few yards, she hears voices close by. She tries to make a noise, but it comes out like “hhhnn.” She keeps moving, closer and closer, until she gets around the corner of the building. There, in front of her, are two children chasing each other, throwing grass and howling, “You’re it! No, you’re it!”
 
Miranda holds out a hand in supplication. The girl sees her, stops with wide eyes, and screams so loudly that it hurts.
 
“Shh,” Miranda says, “Shh, please.” The word comes out garbled; Miranda isn’t speaking clearly.
 
“Honey!” A woman shouts, racing toward the two children who are gaping at her as if she is a monster. The woman sees Miranda then and pulls her children into a protective hug, covering them both with her arms. “Oh my god!”
 
“Help,” Miranda says, and decides she has traveled far enough. She bends down and ignores the pain as she gets back onto her knees, shivering with cold. “Help,” she says again.
 
“Call an ambulance!!” the woman shrieks, and Miranda covers one ear. “Oh my god, oh my god, are you all right?”
 
“Nnnn,” Miranda says.
 
“It’s okay, kids, go with your dad,” the woman says, pushing the children toward a man who is running toward them. To Miranda, she says, “We’re going to get you some help, okay?”
 
“Quick,” Miranda says. The word is clear and sharp, which she regrets; she should be grateful. “Sorry,” she says. It sounds like “Srry.”
 
“They’re coming,” a man says, coming to stand beside the woman. They both stare at Miranda as though she is a caged, dangerous animal.
 
“Good,” Miranda says. And although she doesn’t want to sleep, she can’t help it. She closes her eyes and pitches forward toward the pavement, but to her surprise, two hands catch her and keep her from smashing into the ground. Her last thought is that Andrea must be there, holding her up, keeping her safe.
 
---
 
When Miranda opens her eyes again, she is in an ambulance. There are two men talking over her, describing her injuries, and she can make out a few things that don’t sound good: shock, blunt force trauma, blood loss. But the pain is less now, and she waves a hand until one of the men notices that she is awake.
 
“Ma’am, can you tell me your name?”
 
Miranda tries to speak, but her mouth is numb. She opens her lips and all that emerges is her own breath.
 
“Ma’am? Can you hear me?”
 
She closes her eyes and focuses all her energy on saying it. Miranda. Miranda. Then a wave of intense relief sweeps over her; the remaining pain is a retreating wave. Drugs. They’ve given her really, really good drugs. It seems less important to speak now, and she forgets what she was going to do. Instead she floats for a while as the men move above her, doing things that should probably hurt, but don’t. She feels warm again, and goes back to sleep.
 
---
 
Later, Miranda awakens in a bed. It’s deathly quiet in the room, and she is alone. She realizes there is a button under her hand. She remembers what it does from when she was in the hospital with Caroline and Cassidy, her two perfect daughters, whom she needs to see right away. The longing to see their faces is so intense it’s a physical pain. Without hesitation, she presses the button beneath her fingers.
 
She hears racing footsteps outside her door, and a nurse comes running in. She is smiling broadly. “Oh my goodness, it’s wonderful to see you awake, young lady.” The nurse is young, far younger than Miranda, with dark red hair and freckles that dust her pale skin. She has striking blue eyes as she gazes into Miranda’s face. “You gave us a right good scare.” The woman has an accent, faded now, as though she moved from the UK as a child. “How’re you feeling?”
 
“Not good,” Miranda says. “I need to call my children. Where am I?” Her speech is a little slower than usual, but she manages to get the words out well enough.
 
“You’re in the hospital, in Liberty, New York. Do you know where that is?”
 
Miranda tries to nod, until she feels the pain rear up again. “What happened?”
 
“We were hoping you could tell us. You were found at a rest stop just off route 17. You’d been assaulted.”
 
Miranda freezes. “Assaulted--” The word has dark connotations. She moves her legs, wondering—
 
“Hit in the head, I mean. A few times. Nothing else that we could find. Does that sound right?”
 
Miranda has no memory of it. The last thing she recalls is saying goodnight to Andrea the day before, when they left the office. But even that is hazy. She can picture very clearly Andrea’s lovely smile though, and Miranda gets lost in the thought of it for a moment.
 
“What’s your name, honey? We want to contact your family. I’m sure they’re worried about you.”
 
“What day is this?” Miranda asks, still trying to sort out the series of events that led her to this strange place.
 
“It’s Friday night, about 10.”
 
“Friday,” Miranda says. Friday at 6am, Miranda recalls saying to Andrea the day before, and it comes to her in a flash, all at once. It’s too much, and Miranda gasps as the memory nearly drowns her. She’s going to be sick—Andrea waving goodbye, the coffee, the rest stop, the woman’s face in the mirror smiling at her—and the nurse sets a basin under Miranda’s mouth. She has very little in her stomach, but what’s there comes up. When she’s done, she lies back onto the bed. Her head is splitting. “I was attacked by someone at the rest stop. I think they wanted my car. Oh my god.” Miranda touches her forehead and encounters bandages. “My head is killing me. Am I going to live?”
 
“Settle down, now, darlin’, you’re going to be fine. You’ve got a helluva concussion and a few staples in your head. And we um, had to give you a little haircut, but it will be all right once you get it cleaned up.”
 
Miranda blanches. “My hair?”
 
“It’s the prettiest color. How’d you get it that way?”
 
Miranda reaches behind her head and finds more bandage. Her hair is still long in front, but the back… “Good genes,” Miranda says, distracted. “Staples?”
 
“It’s quicker than stitches. They’ll stay in for about two weeks. But you’ll have to stay here for some of that time—we need to keep an eye on that concussion. But darlin’, can you tell me your name? Now that you’re awake, we need to talk to the police and see if we can figure out what happened.”
 
Miranda swallows. “It’s Miranda. Miranda Priestly.”
 
The nurse squints at her. “Miranda. That sounds familiar. Are you an author?”
 
Miranda doesn’t want to talk about Runway at the moment. She says, “No,” and does not elaborate.
 
“Huh. Right. Well, let’s get you a phone so you can call home. How’s that sound?”
 
“Fine. And water, I’d like some water.”
 
The woman pours her a paper cup full and hands it over. “I’ll be back then. I’m going to give my friend Harris over at the police station a call, and he’ll come right over to talk to you, okay?”
 
Miranda gives a small nod. She figures no one realizes that anything has happened to her; she disconnects from communication for the most part when she goes to the cabin. The only person who might be concerned is Andrea, who wouldn’t expect a call until at least tomorrow. That is a comfort, at least. She’ll call Jeremy first, since the girls must be in Connecticut by now. She can’t remember what time the train was scheduled to leave. Everything is fuzzy, but she is sure that they should be with him.
 
Miranda closes her eyes and thinks about the day, trying to remember exactly what happened. She can recall the woman in the mirror very clearly, but nothing at all after seeing her. She also remembers her drive, how pleasant it was in the early hours of the morning. She remembers Andrea.
 
Andrea. Miranda wishes she was here. If Andrea was here, everything would be fine. She would be safe. She is safe now, but when she thinks of the woman from the bathroom, Miranda’s heart thunders. The woman took her car, Miranda is sure, and everything in it, including the Book, and her Mac, with hundreds of contacts and other private information on it. At least that is password protected. Andrea will help her sort it all out.

At that thought, Miranda relaxes, and waits for the nurse to return.
 
She comes back a few minutes later, with a strange look on her face. “Darlin’, did you say your name was Miranda Priestly?”
 
Miranda raises an eyebrow. “I did.”
 
The woman takes a deep breath and let it out. “Well, goodness. Looks like a few things went on while you were asleep today. I’ve been here working all day, but my chum Harris recognized your name from the police chatter, and he’s been on the internet too. And Miranda, everybody thinks you’re dead.”
 
Miranda blinks. “Pardon?”
 
“That’s what I said. Looks like the folks who stole your car crashed this morning. Right into a tree. Burned everything to a crisp—the bodies were practically ash. So… you’re dead, according to the news.”
 
“My Porsche!” Miranda cries, because she loves her car with a passion reserved for very few material things in her life.
 
The nurse looks surprised that Miranda is concerned about her car, but Miranda brushes her off. “Bring me a phone.” Her typical tone of command returns; the woman snags a push-pad telephone from the nightstand at Miranda’s side. Quickly she dials Jeremy’s home number, since the girls should be with him in Connecticut by now. It rings, and rings again, so many times that Miranda gives up. She wonders why it doesn’t go to voicemail. She can’t recall his cell number, and moves on to Cassidy’s cell, which she knows by heart. She knows Caroline’s too, and she dials both numbers, one after another, and gets no answer on either of them. The phones are off, because Miranda is sent straight to voicemail. She is starting to sweat.
 
Andrea. She will call Andrea. She knows the number as well as she knows her own. She dials as quick as she can as the nurse sits with her, wringing her hands. There is no answer. “Goddammit,” Miranda mutters. “Pick up.” She is going to leave a reply until she hears Andrea’s cellphone message: “This is Andy Sachs. I’m not available. Please call back later.” This is a new message, and Andrea’s voice is hollow. Grief-stricken. Miranda is more agitated now. “Jesus Christ, someone pick up the phone,” she growls, and hangs up.
 
Nigel. She dials his cell, and thank goodness he hasn’t changed his number in the last ten years, otherwise she’d be screwed. Of course, he does not pick up either. “Hello, this is Nigel Kipling. All inquiries regarding Miranda Priestly should be directed toward Leslie Davidson, care of Davidson, Kent and Hall. You may reach Leslie at 212…” Miranda listens to the message and stares at the phone.
 
“My god,” she says, and hangs up. She meets the eyes of the nurse whose name she has yet to learn. “They really think I’m dead.”
 
“You can’t reach anyone?”
 
Miranda shakes her head gently. “Home, I’ll call home. Someone’s got to be there. Won’t they?” She dials her home phone number, and tears spring to her eyes when no one answers. Andrea’s voice is the one on the message, instead of Miranda’s own. “Hello, you’ve reached the home of Miranda Priestly. No one is here to take your call. If this is a personal call for Miranda’s family, please leave a message. All other inquiries should be directed toward Leslie…” Miranda listens to the same message as the one Nigel had on his voicemail.
 
The machine clicks on; it’s old-fashioned, but Miranda has never felt the need to replace it. No one calls her at home anyway. Now, she hopes like hell someone is in the study to hear her voice. “H-Hello,” she says, surprised by the catch in her voice, “Hello. This is Miranda. Someone please pick up. I’m—my god, will someone pick up the goddamned phone? I need to talk to someone there—anyone!” She sounds hysterical. She is hysterical. “Hello!”
 
And then, a miracle happens. Someone says, “Hello?”
 
“Hello!” Miranda repeats. “Hello?”
 
There is a long, agonizing pause. “Who is this?” comes a small voice. Miranda barely recognizes it.
 
“Andrea?” she says.
 
“Who the fuck is this?” Andrea shouts angrily. “Who the fuck is this? What kind of cruel bastard would do--”
 
“Andrea, listen to me very carefully,” Miranda says. “Are you listening?”
 
Andrea doesn’t reply, but Miranda has her attention.
 
“I am in a hospital in—where am I again?” she asks the nurse.
 
“Liberty Medical Center, in Delaware County,” the nurse provides.
 
“Liberty Medical Center, in Delaware County,” Miranda repeats. “That’s a town on the way to my cabin, where I was going this morning when I was assaulted. Someone stole my car, Andrea. Someone stole my car and crashed it, but I am right here. I am alive. Is that clear?”
 
Andrea doesn’t respond for longer than Miranda is comfortable with. “Andrea, are you there?”
 
“Where’s the cabin you’re talking about?” Andrea demands. She still sounds angry.
 
“Near the Pepacton Resevoir, east of Binghamton. My father left it to me when he died. Which you know, Andrea.” Miranda has to convince her. “When I left this morning I told you I’d call you tomorrow. I was unconscious for most of the day, Andrea, but I saw you this morning. You came to my home at 5:30 in the morning to help me pack. And you brought me coffee, like you always do.”
 
 “I brought you coffee,” Andrea says. There are tears in her voice. “I did.”
 
“You brought me two Venti lattes. Center of the sun hot,” Miranda repeats, as Andrea had said that morning.
 
“Yes!” Andrea gasps, and Miranda knows that she’s broken through.
 
“Can you come here, right now? With my girls, Andrea? I need to see them. I need you to come and bring the girls with you.”
 
“Yes,” Andrea breathes again. “I will, Miranda. I’m coming. Coming right now.”
 
“Turn on your cell phone. I’ll call you again if I need to reach you.”
 
“What’s the number there?” Andrea asks, her voice shaking.
 
Miranda sees the number, hand-written under the dial pad, and reads it to her. She is trembling now; her blood sugar is low, and her head is throbbing. Her vision begins to blur.
 
“I’m coming now, Miranda, I promise. I’ll be there soon as I can.”
 
“Be careful, now,” Miranda says. “Please. Don’t get yourself killed.”
 
Andrea laughs, and the sound is high-pitched and a bit frightening. “I won’t. God, I won’t. See you. See you soon, Miranda. My god, I can’t wait to see you,” she says, her voice rich and sweet like honey.
 
Miranda says, “All right,” and listens for Andrea to hang up. She does, and Miranda drops the handset into the cradle. When she glances up at the nurse again, there are tears running down the woman’s cheeks. Miranda’s surprised by this. She licks her lips and leans back on the bed, exhausted. Her head throbs, and she is ready to sleep.
 
“Harris will be here shortly,” the nurse says, wiping her cheeks. “Anyone else you need to talk to?”
 
Miranda doesn’t answer. She closes her eyes and wills the nurse to go away. In moments, she is asleep, already dreaming of being in Andrea’s arms.

Chapter Text

NOW.
 
Stunned into immobility, Andy has a whole conversation with Miranda, or someone who sounds like Miranda. She never realizes she is crying. Her heart is a sunburst inside her chest, and she is afraid her head will explode with all the energy coursing through her body. After she hangs up, she runs at full speed upstairs, straight into Cassidy’s room. She throws the door open so hard that the doorjamb smashes into the wall and leaves a dent.
 
“What!” Cassidy, or maybe Caroline shouts. Andy can’t tell, because they are both sitting up in bed, illuminated by a sliver of light and staring at her with terrified faces.
 
Andy turns on the bedroom light. “Listen. I want you both to pack a bag with clothes for tomorrow, and a toothbrush and whatever you’d need for a short car trip. Computer, phones, chargers. Right now.”
 
“Andy, are you going crazy?” one of the girls says.
 
Andy laughs and covers her mouth. “I might be, but I need you to do this. Right away. We’re going somewhere. I’ll leave a note for your dad.”
 
The one on the left, who Andy now believes is Caroline, says, “Is this about Mom?” She is starting to catch Andy’s fever, judging by the look in her eyes.
 
“Yes.”
 
The girls look at each other, and back at Andy. Cassidy asks, “Is it good?”
 
“It might be,” Andy hedges. She can’t be sure until she sees Miranda in the glorious, wonderful flesh. “It really might be.”
 
“Come on,” Cassidy says, and the two roll out of bed like a shot.
 
Andy bolts for Miranda’s room. She has no spare clothing of her own, but she figures Miranda won’t mind if she borrows a few things. She’ll also bring some items in case the Miranda from the phone really is Miranda. She spends less than five minutes grabbing clothes from Miranda’s closet, as well as some toiletries from the en suite bathroom. Once back in the hallway, she meets the twins, who are breathing heavily. They are still dressed in their pajamas, but they each have backpacks slung over their shoulders. Cassidy carries two pillows, while Caroline holds a teddy bear.
 
“Ready?” Andy asks.
 
“Yep,” they answer in unison.
 
Downstairs they race, and Andy heads for the kitchen to leave a note for Jeremy. She should call him, but he’s drunk by now and shouldn’t drive. Nor does Andy want him in the car with the kids—too much of a distraction. Instead she scrawls a note:
 
Got a weird phone call. Things are up in the air about the accident. The girls are with me, call when you see this. Talk to you soon, sorry for this—
Andy
 
She leaves her phone number at the bottom of the page. Spotting a collection of keys hanging innocently on the rack at the back door by the garden, Andy leaves the note on the kitchen table and grabs the key ring for the Audi. “Okay, so we can’t go out the front. Back up plan?”
 
“There’s a fire escape over the garden wall,” Caroline says. She’s already thought it through. “We should climb.”
 
The three of them make a break for it. In the dark, escaping silently with a bag of someone else’s things over her shoulder, someone else’s keys in hand, someone else’s kids with her, Andy feels like a thief. Without making a sound, Andy goes first, up the metal ladder to the top of the wall. When she gets there, Andy extends the half of it that reaches down into the street. She goes over easily, adrenaline pushing her on, and the kids scamper after her like they’ve done it every day of their lives. With effort she shoves the extendable half of the ladder back up so no one can use it to get into the garden. The garage is just across the alley, and in minutes, they are peeling around the corner in the A8 that Miranda favors when traveling with the kids. It’s fast, but it’s safe, and she listens closely as the GPS spits out directions. 3rd Avenue has never felt so long, but Andy is patient and joyful when she finally reaches the George Washington Bridge.
 
Behind her, the girls are quiet until Andy makes it to Route 17, when the GPS stops talking and Andy is on an open road. Her heart is still racing, but she is calm, because she needs to arrive in one piece to see Miranda again. She is dying to believe that it is really her—how could she have known all those details otherwise? Andy has no idea how this whole clusterfuck could have happened, but her main goal is to deliver the two girls in the backseat to Miranda as fast as possible.
 
“Andy, is my mom alive?” one of the girls asks timidly. It must be Caroline.
 
Andy hates to get their hopes up, but she can’t hold it back. “I think she might be, honey. I am really, really hoping so.”
 
“What happened?” That was definitely Cassidy, judging by tone.
 
Andy describes the phone call, and both girls listen carefully. “No one else knew I helped your mom pack the car this morning. You two didn’t even know I was at your house this morning, did you,” Andy says.
 
“No,” they reply together. “Joanna stayed over last night to help us get ready for school today. I didn’t see either of you,” says Cassidy.
 
“Right. And the voice on the phone sounded a lot like her. I mean, I may be crazy. I feel kind of crazy. I’ve felt crazy since I heard from the police this morning, but if your mom is alive, I owe it to her to be there for her. And I owe it to you two. So, we’re going. We’re almost there, in fact.”
 
Neither of the twins has anything else to say, so Andy turns on the radio to a classical station. When they get closer to the hospital, she never even considers pulling over to use the rest stop at County Road 38, where all their troubles began.
 
Liberty is a tiny, charming town. After only a few turns off the interstate Andy screeches into the medical center’s parking lot and the Audi jerks as they come to a stop in a spot. Cassidy and Caroline are laughing, and Andy’s out the door as fast as they are. It’s almost one in the morning, so the place is deserted, but anyone who gets in her way is going to be ignored or run down. 
 
They burst into the small medical center all at once, startling the nurse at the front desk. “I’m looking for Miranda,” Andy says. “Miranda Priestly.” The woman gapes at her—they must present quite the sight. “I don’t care about visiting hours—we’re going to see her right now. Where is she?”
 
“Hello!” Another woman down a long hallway calls, waving her hand. She is dressed in scrubs and one of those flowery nurse smocks. “Are you Andrea?”
 
“Go!” Andy says, and the girls race forward.
 
“This way,” the woman says, and Andy follows, more slowly. She’s a little out of breath, and a lot afraid that she’s just made the biggest mistake of her life. She turns the corner and sees the girls running into a room with the nurse, and pauses. She’s unable to make another step until she hears the cries of joy--”Mom! Mom!”
 
Andy knows now, and she slumps against the wall, overcome. She hears the girls’ voices, only about twenty yards away, and she can barely move. She sees a tall, brawny police officer leave the room, and he’s smiling, shaking his head. Andy pushes away from the painted concrete and catches the man’s eye. “Hello,” she says.
 
He bobs his head and walks toward her. “Hi there. Are you Andrea?” He says it the way Miranda does.
 
“Yes. And you?”  She holds out a hand to shake his, and he takes it.
 
“Officer Harris Welk. Nice to meet you.”
 
“So you were… talking to her? Miranda?”
 
With a smile, he answers drolly, “She’s a corker, that one. Even concussed out of her mind with a dozen staples in her head.”
 
Andy’s stomach clenches. “Staples? Oh my god. What happened?”
 
Officer Harris glances over his shoulder, as though realizing that he might be talking out of turn. He shrugs. “What I’ve been able to piece together with my colleagues in Broome is that your friend was at a rest stop when she was assaulted by two individuals. While I wouldn’t say they were ‘lying in wait,’ since they didn’t know she’d be there, it was definitely a crime of opportunity. They saw her car, saw her alone, assaulted her and dragged her behind the rest stop. It’s why they were able to clean up quickly—she lost most of the blood in the dirt.”
 
Andy feels a little faint. She takes a breath. “Blood?”
 
“Head wounds do it every time. Anyway, she was out for much of the morning and afternoon. No one goes behind the rest stop other than to take out the trash, and she was behind some thick bushes. She woke up, crawled out, scared the shit out of some kids and an ambulance brought her right here. The doc said she was worried for a while but she’s on the uptick now.”
 
“Have you been able to identify the people who stole her car?” And died, Andy thinks.
 
“They’ve got some ideas, but you shouldn’t concern yourself about that. Go see your friend. She’s been waiting.”
 
“Okay, thanks.” Andy shakes the man’s hand again. “Guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”
 
Harris looks at his watch with a sigh. “Yep, and it’s already 1. The wife’s going to give me a dirty look when I get home. Try to get some rest yourself. You look like the walking dead, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
 
Andy chuckles. This man has a nice way about him; she doesn’t take it as an insult. “Good night, Officer.” The man lumbers away, and Andy looks back at the open door at the end of the hall. She finally starts to move toward it, eager to see Miranda, alive and whole for the most part. Considering how fast she moved to get here, she can’t explain her reticence, but it’s there and she needs to get the hell over it. She walks calmly and quietly down the empty corridor and doesn’t hesitate to step into the room.
 
To her amazement, Miranda really is there. She’s all Andy sees for a good fifteen seconds, and then the rest of the room comes into focus. The walls are cream and bare. There’s an old tv screwed into the wall on mute, and Andy recognizes the CNN logo in the corner. There are no flowers, nothing beautiful, nothing at all Andy would normally associate with Miranda. Only the beloved face that stares out at her with wide, gloriously open eyes.
 
“H-hi,” Andy says, trying to keep the ball of happiness in her belly from being too obvious.
 
Miranda has a twin under each arm, but she holds out her hand. “Andrea,” Miranda says, and the sound is so completely familiar and unexpected that Andy feels the tears start as her face crumples. She makes some kind of noise and the twins look alarmed, but Miranda soothes them and waves Andy closer. “Come here, now,” and Andy listens, as she always does. She goes right up to Miranda, and there’s room to lean forward, not really over the girls, but onto Miranda’s shoulder. She rests her head there as her body quakes, and the sobs spill out against her will. “Andrea,” Miranda says again, and Andy puts her hand to Miranda’s cheek, feeling how soft and warm it is. She smells her skin, the curve of her neck, the shell of her ear, although there is a bandage in the way of part of it. She does not smell like herself, but Andy doesn’t care, because it really is Miranda.
 
Andy can barely catch her breath; she has snotted up Miranda’s thin hospital gown, but she can’t stop crying. She lays her head on Miranda’s shoulder for a minute, just getting the feel of her once more. A small hand starts to pat Andy’s arm awkwardly—it’s Caroline, only a few inches away from Andy, still holding tightly to her mother.
 
It’s then that Andy realizes what she’s done, and her head jerks up. She covers her face with an arm to wipe her nose, and whispers, “Sorry, sorry. I just--”
 
“Don’t,” Miranda says, very firmly. She reaches out and draws Andy back toward her, tucking Andy’s head into the crook of her neck. “Don’t go.”
 
Andy melts then; her sobs quiet but the tears still fall, and she holds Miranda, and her two children along with her.
 
---
 
When Miranda watches Andrea walk into her hospital room after a protracted wait, she can hardly believe it. She can believe it even less when Andrea’s face contorts into an expression of such agony that it hurts her. Andrea emits a wounded cry, a primal sound, and stumbles forward to stand before her, head falling against Miranda’s shoulder. The girls shift to make room for her in their circle.
 
Miranda expected a bright smile, perhaps a friendly, marginally distant hug. She expected disbelief and excitement at this mess that’s taken place. Anything but this grief, as if Andrea is deep in mourning and has not shown it until this moment. Caroline and Cassidy each curl in more tightly, and Miranda is reminded of the pain they must have gone through today. Miranda remembers her own father’s death with perfect clarity, despite the passing of almost forty years. She is angry that her girls have had to experience this, but grateful to be able to grant them the relief of her presence now.
 
Andrea sobs, and reaches up blindly to touch Miranda’s face. Miranda had cried when the girls ran to her and hugged her; she cries again now as Andrea caresses her skin with breathtaking tenderness. She feels Andrea’s tears seep through her gown, feels her damp lips ghost along her throat. She is more surrounded by love in this moment than she has been in her whole life, and she has never been more grateful to be alive.
 
When Andrea pulls away, Miranda draws her back, because she needs this. Andrea returns and embraces her and Cassidy and Caroline sweetly. Miranda covets the feel of her, the scent of her. She’s wearing Chanel No. 5, which tugs at Miranda’s brain with its familiarity. It’s like being home, and Miranda closes her eyes.
 
She’s not sure how long they stay wrapped up together, but it’s a while. When Andrea finally steps back, her face is blotchy and wet. There is mascara smeared under her eyes. She is lovely, even weeping. “Hi, Miranda. I’m glad to see you.”
 
Miranda smiles very slightly. “And I you.”
 
Andy glances at the bandage that winds around Miranda’s whole head. “You’re all right?”
 
“I suppose,” Miranda says, not making a move to touch her head, which still feels too big for her skull. She has swelling and pain, but this is nothing compared to what she felt earlier in the day when she first woke. “I’ve been worse. Better too, but in the scheme of things, I’m excellent.”
 
Andrea gasps at the words. “Oh shit, that’s right. You’re supposed to be dead, and I didn’t tell anyone you called. I wanted to get here before the press, and we just took off. I left a note for Jeremy. I hope he’s not freaking out.” She rummages in the large bag she has over one shoulder. “No messages. I should call. Better me than you, I think. And then I guess I’ll start with Leslie. And Nigel.”
 
Andrea dials, and Jeremy picks up right away--Miranda can hear his voice booming through the tiny speaker from five feet away. “Jeremy, listen, sit down.” Andrea covers the microphone and whispers, “He’s had a lot of scotch.” Miranda rolls her eyes. “Listen, the girls are with me, and I just drove up north to a town called Liberty. Listen, are you ready?” She pauses. “No, listen. Miranda is alive. I’m looking right at her. I needed to come here and confirm it before I started spreading the word.” There’s a stretch of silence when Jeremy shouts some more, and Miranda holds her hand out for the phone.
 
“Jeremy,” she says.
 
That stops his tirade. “Hello?”
 
“Hello, Jeremy. I’m alive. I was assaulted and my car stolen. You can confirm the details here with the police, but for now, I’m in the hospital. Andrea brought the girls here at my request, and I apologize for not reaching you earlier. I tried your home, but I couldn’t recall your cell number. My phone was destroyed in the accident today.”
 
He starts to cry, and again, Miranda finds herself tearful. He tells her how devastated he was to lose her, how much he regrets so many things, how he still loves her deep down and always will. These are words he wouldn’t be saying if he was sober, but still, it’s nice to hear the outpouring of affection. “I love you, Jeremy. But you should really rest. You sound…” She glances at Cassidy, who mouths the word loaded. “Like you need to get some sleep. Come up tomorrow. I’ll be here. We all will.”
 
“Okay, Miranda,” he says, slurring. “I’ll get details from Andy tomorrow.” He stops briefly, and asks, “Is this real?”
 
“Yes, Jeremy. It’s real. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
 
“Okay, love you, ‘Randa.”
 
“Yes, yes, goodbye.”
 
She hangs up. “Leslie next.” Andrea dials, and to her surprise, Leslie picks up right away as well. Andrea gives her the speech, sit down, there is news, Miranda is alive, and Leslie’s response is far less melancholy than Jeremy’s, and much happier. It’s a pleasant change. She’s actually cheerful and excited to drive up to Liberty in the morning, and when she speaks to Miranda, she is very sweet.
 
“You know, kid, I didn’t think anything could take you down,” Leslie tells her. “I’m glad to know I was right.”
 
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Miranda says, touching her bandage. “But I survived.”
 
Nigel is next. Andrea dials and leaves a message to call her back immediately. She hesitates to leave the news over the phone, and Miranda agrees, mouthing for her to hang up. She does, and a moment later the phone rings in her hand. “It’s him.” She glances at the door anxiously, at the same time Miranda recalls the “no cell phones in the hospital rule.” They will keep it quick.
 
Andrea begins carefully. “I’m just going to say this fast and put you out of your misery, Nige—Miranda is alive.” Andrea listens for a moment, and replies, “No, I swear to god. You know I wouldn’t joke about this. Never. I’m with her now. She got assaulted and some asshole,” she grimaces, glancing at the girls, “smashed up the car. She’s in a medical center up north. I just got here and the twins are with me. I called Leslie and I’m going to let her handle everything, but Nigel, you should really—well, here.” Andrea hands the phone over.
 
Miranda holds it to her ear. “Hello, Nigel.”
 
“Goddamn, Miranda. Goddamn.” He doesn’t say anything for a solid minute, but she can hear the sounds coming over the line. She hasn’t cried this much for decades, but when one is mistaken for dead, one should be given a little leeway. “I’m glad as fucking hell you’re alive,” he manages.
 
“Me too, darling,” she says, sniffling.
 
“When can I see you? This day has been for shit, everything just blew up. And I don’t mean professionally, Miranda. We haven’t always agreed on everything over the years but you’re my best friend and I missed you like crazy even for just a single day.”
 
Miranda’s heart feels light, and she smiles at Andrea, who gazes back beatifically. “Soon as you can. We’ve disregarded the notion of visiting hours.”
 
“We’ll come early. In a few hours. Emily’s asleep on my sofa, let me get her.”
 
“Yes, of course.”
 
Miranda waits, and is rewarded by the sound of a groggy Emily saying, “Who the bloody hell is this, calling in the middle of the night on the worst bloody day of my sodding life?”
 
“Emily, this is Miranda.”
 
There is no reply, followed by a noisy squawk; Andrea did have the right idea of warning people first. Poor Emily. She shouts a succession of Oh my gods before she manages to form coherent, albeit brief sentences. “You’re alive! And you’re all right?”
 
“I’m in the hospital, Nigel will explain. But I’m here. And I’ve no intention of going anywhere, so you won’t be able to orchestrate the coup I’m sure you’ve planned to become the second youngest Editor in Chief Runway has ever seen.”
 
Emily sighs. “Oh Miranda. I am so happy. I—don’t know what to say. Welcome back.”
 
Miranda smiles at this. “Come with Nigel. And leave work at home, will you? Have Nigel deal with everything.”
 
“Of course, Miranda. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
“Goodbye.”
 
“Bye.” Before Miranda hangs up, she hears a whoop of joy on the other end of the line. It’s the two of them, and they are as happy as Emily said she was. Andrea hears it too, and she grins.
 
“Is that enough for now?” she asks.
 
“Yes, I think so. Tomorrow we’ll have to figure out what’s next, but I’m tired, and the girls are too, aren’t you Bobbseys?” They nod. “And you…” Andrea looks terrible, pale and fatigued. “You need rest.”
 
Andrea nods, to Miranda’s surprise. “I do. Let me go see the nurse about some cots for the girls.” And she’s gone, although a few seconds later, she pokes her head back into the room. “Just checking.”
 
---
 
Andy spends five minutes helping the nurse, whose name is Moira, get cots out of storage for the kids. There are only two available; Moira promises that they’ll move Miranda’s still sleeping roommate out the following morning and leave an empty bed there for anyone who needs rest. They dress the cots with clean sheets and orderlies haul them to either side of Miranda’s bed. Andy has decided to take the chair in the corner, and she’s quite sure that she will fall asleep exactly thirty seconds after she sits.
 
She helps the girls get changed and settled under the covers. She glances back at Miranda, who asks, “Did you bring some clothes to sleep in?”
 
Andy glances at her bag, which is packed with a large selection of Miranda’s incredibly soft loungewear; pants, undershirts, thin thermals, t-shirts, warm socks. “I did, but I’m going to be here, so I’d rather be dressed.” She points to the chair.
 
Miranda turns her head as if to shake it “no,” when she winces. “Mm,” she grunts, and Andy steps forward nervously. “I’m all right. Just have to remember not to do that. I was going to say, no, you’ll sleep here.” She gestures to the space next to her, in the bed.
 
Andy swallows. “Oh, that’s so nice, Miranda, but I’m fine.”
 
Miranda takes a breath. “Andrea, I think we both know how we feel. It’s silly to pretend, especially after all this. Unless I’m wrong about your feelings, which I doubt I am but I’ll accept if I need to. But if not, we’ll share this bed tonight, so I’ll know where you are every moment, and I’ll have you near me, which is what I need most in the world.” She reaches for Andy’s hand and takes it firmly.
 
Andy stares at Miranda in amazement. She wants so desperately to believe; her first doubt is around Miranda’s concussion. Maybe she should go ask Moira if head injuries cause weird personality changes. The next doubt is that she’s misinterpreting Miranda’s words. Maybe she just means that she feels that Andy is like a daughter to her—
 
“Andrea,” Miranda says. “Please.”
 
The word causes Andy to cave instantly. “Okay,” she says, still unsure about it all. Glancing at the girls, neither of them are looking at her or Miranda, which is a small comfort. She releases Miranda’s fingers and pulls some clothes from her bag. “Would you like to change too?”
 
“Yes, a thousand times. But I’ll need help.”
 
Andy is unaccountably nervous. She hands over the softest, nicest things she brought and backs away. “I’ll get Moira to help you.” Quickly she nabs the bag and rushes from the room, her heart pounding in a staccato, uneven cadence. The nurse was around the corner, at the main desk. “Moira?” Andy calls, and the woman turns to her.
 
“Hi, dearie. Whatcha need?”
 
“Will you help Miranda change? I brought her own clothes.”
 
“Oh of course.”
 
“And one other thing,” Andy starts. “Do concussions often bring out… um, personality changes? Reduce inhibitions or anything?”
 
Moira frowns. “Is she acting in an unusual way?”
 
Andy shrugs. “I’m just curious, really. About things to look out for,” she hedges.
 
“It’s certainly possible. Concussion can bring on depression, tantrums, violent over-reactions. It’s hard to predict. It can also cause sensitivity to light, bad headaches, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, trouble with words--”
 
“Okay, okay,” Andy says, her anxiety rising at the thought of all those after-effects. “I was more worried about, well…”
 
“Come on, dear, tell me. It’s important if there’s potential that Miranda’s health is at risk.”
 
“Is this part of doctor/patient confidentiality? Even if you’re a nurse?”
 
“Of course,” Moira assures her. “On my granny’s grave.”
 
Andy decides to go for it. “Have you heard of people confessing their love out of nowhere?”
 
Moira’s mouth opens slightly for a moment, then closes. “Well, no, I haven’t. I have heard of inappropriate sexual behavior—if that’s happened, we’ll need to tell the doc. She didn’t make a pass at someone in front of her kids, did she?”
 
Andy shakes her head frantically. “No, no, it was nothing like that. Not inappropriate. Or even unwelcome,” she says, noting the way Moira’s eyebrow perks up. “Just a surprise. And the way she said it wasn’t even really out of character.” It was very matter of fact, a statement rather than a clichéd declaration of affection.   
 
“So she confessed her love. For you, I take it,” Moira says.
 
Andy nods. It’s strange to tell someone she’s only known for an hour or so.
 
“I don’t think it’s a symptom, dear. Miranda’s suffered a terrible trauma, but survived. You both have. Isn’t it possible that Miranda just wants to embrace life for once?”
 
Andy considers it. It’s difficult to believe, but she wants so badly for it to be the truth. “Maybe. But anyway, you should go help her, and I’ll change in the rest room. Can you point it out to me?”
 
“Sure, it’s just across the hall, here,” she points. “Take your time too—if you’re going to sleep I’ll want to do a quick check on Miranda. It’s been a while and we need to look on her every two to three hours for the rest of the night. Sorry if we disturb you.”
 
“Not a problem.”
 
Andy disappears into the empty bathroom and shuts the door. Like a flash, she strips and pulls the pajamas on, unable to stop herself running her hands over the luxurious material. Then she leans against the counter, and thinks.
 
She tries to understand what’s happening, why Miranda is acting this way, why she is hesitant to embrace her in return.
 
When she gets right down to it, she’s afraid. Afraid Miranda will change her mind, or that Miranda doesn’t mean it, or that she’s brain damaged and she’ll forget this all happened tomorrow.
 
But… Andy loves her. She really loves her. And the thought of lying in that bed with her, holding her, keeping her safe is, as Miranda said earlier, what she needs most in the world.
 
Once she makes the decision, she can hardly wait to get back. But Miranda’s door is closed, and although she wants desperately to just stroll in, she waits, checking her phone for texts and looking at the news. Nothing has yet filtered out about Miranda’s miraculous story, which Andy’s pleased about. They might be able to get a few hours of sleep yet.
 
When Moira emerges, she gives Andy a wink. “All yours,” she quips.
 
Andy rolls her eyes. She prays she hasn’t made a mistake. But she forgets about that now, and joins the group. Miranda has made room on the mattress, and she looks up hopefully. Andy is still so happy to see her alive that chills flood her whole body. “Hi,” she says, shy but eager.
 
“Come along,” Miranda says, and Andy leaves her things next to Caroline’s cot, closest to the door.
 
“G’night, honey,” Andy says, kissing the girl. Her arms wrap around Andy’s neck and cling.
 
“Night, Andy. Thanks for taking care of us.”
 
“Sure, honey,” Andy replies, trying not to cry. She hugs Cassidy next, who hugs her as well, even more tightly than Caroline did. She is silent otherwise.
 
And then there is Miranda, who is pale and bruised, weak and exhausted. But she holds up the sheet as Andy slides beneath it. Andy reaches over and dims the light, on a fader so it’s not pitch black in the room. Andy can feel Miranda’s legs near her own; she can hardly bear the tension. Putting her fear aside, she snuggles up against Miranda’s body, shivering with pleasure. Then Miranda’s hand is at her cheek, thumb smoothing over her lips. Andy’s mouth opens while her eyes close; lips press to her forehead and Andy’s tears slide down her face as Miranda’s mouth moves across her temple, her cheeks, her nose. Andy grasps Miranda’s sleeve and the words quietly slip out: “I need you so much, Miranda. I—this morning, I never felt anything like that before—like my heart was torn out.”
 
“I’m here,” Miranda whispers, “I’m here.” Their lips touch, and heat streaks through Andy at the brief touch. They kiss again, and it’s perfect.
 
“Don’t leave me again.” Andy’s words are so soft that she can hardly hear them herself.
 
“I won’t,” Miranda replies with another kiss to the corner of her mouth. Andy settles back on the bed, trying to rest comfortably on her side without disturbing Miranda’s bandages or IV. As Miranda adjusts her position, Andy realizes they are a good fit, and she wraps an arm around Miranda’s waist.
 
She waits until Miranda’s breaths grow even. When she is asleep, Andy closes her eyes, and finally rests.

---

Chapter Text

Sometime In the middle of the night, Miranda is awakened by an unfamiliar nurse.
 
“Just need to check you out. I’ll be quick.”
 
It’s because of the concussion. The woman checks Miranda’s pupils, asks her name, what day it is, and the names of the people in the room. Miranda answers everything correctly, and they chat about how she’s feeling, which is not good, but not terrible. The pain is throughout her whole skull, a low throb, even though she’s medicated. She is also fatigued, but relieved that her symptoms aren’t worse. Her hospital stay will be lengthy with an injury like hers, since it’s necessary to watch her in case she worsens. Miranda has briefly considered asking to be moved back to the city, but at this point she doesn’t want to be easily accessible. While she’d like to see some friends, the press is going to descend at any moment. Staying here at least makes them work for the story.
 
Once the nurse leaves, Miranda glances down. Andy is sprawled next to her, mouth open, completely exhausted. There are dark smears of color beneath her eyes. With her face free of makeup, Miranda realizes that her skin really is a flawless ivory. It reminds her of her own more advanced age, but only for a second does she feel a twinge of anything resembling uncertainty. Apparently it took someone bashing her on the head to come to her senses.
 
She doubts Andrea would laugh at that joke. Miranda doesn’t think it’s funny either; during the hours she’s slept, she’s dreamed those moments in the parking lot and bathroom on a loop. She sees the shiny white sink in close up as she falls past it; she remembers the smell of her blood when she woke behind the building. She sees the face of the woman standing behind her, but not the man who hit her. Only his voice echoes in her mind. Perhaps that’s a blessing, but it doesn’t matter now. He’s dead.
 
Miranda checks on her girls, who are now sleeping in one bed, and dims the light. She tucks her knees against Andrea’s middle and gets comfortable. It doesn’t take long to drop off to sleep.
 
When she opens her eyes again, the room is light. It must be morning. Andrea’s head rests on her breast, an arm and leg thrown across her body. It’s enormously comforting to listen to her soft snores; Miranda knows it must be love.
 
Wondering what time it is, she glances up. Nigel and Emily are standing in the middle of the room, watching her. “Miranda,” Emily says. She looks confused.
 
“Is that Andy?” Nigel asks with a smile.
 
“Yes,” Miranda says. “Nice to see you too.”
 
“Oh,” Emily says, jumping. She thrusts an enormous arrangement of flowers forward. “We brought these. My god, Miranda, we’re so happy you’re alive.”
 
“We are,” Nigel echoes, coming forward to kiss Miranda on both cheeks. “Very much. And it looks like Andy is too.”
 
“She is,” Miranda replies, “And she is very, very tired. Please keep your voices down.”
 
Andrea hasn’t moved, and she is still snoring.
 
“Leslie’s on her way,” Nigel continues, staying quiet as Miranda directed. “She held a press conference at 8 this morning. The press was expecting sordid details of the wreck, or the other person in the car. I think some heads exploded when she said you were alive.”
 
Miranda enjoys imagining that. “I’d like to see that sometime.”
 
“It’s already on youtube,” Emily adds. “I’ll show you on the computer if you like.”
 
“Later,” Miranda says. She expects Andrea would like to see it as well, so she will wait.
 
“The press should be here any moment, and the police are out front. They’re not going to let them in the building, but we’ll have to be extra vigilant, since you never know. If you see anyone in scrubs who looks suspicious, scream bloody murder.” Nigel folds the empty cot in the center of the room and moves it to the corner. He drags a couple of chairs over closer to her bed, and the noise causes Andrea to stir.
 
She hums and pulls Miranda closer, lips moving against her throat. It’s not a kiss, but it’s clear that Andrea is a snuggler. Normally Miranda would enjoy the sensation, but right now she’s a little uncomfortable.
 
“Andrea,” she murmurs. “Wake up.”
 
Andrea blinks slowly, her eyes glorious and dark. Her mouth curves into a smile. “Miranda,” she whispers. It sounds different than the way she’s said Miranda’s name ever before, and she can’t help but smile in return.
 
“We have company,” she says. “Nigel and Emily are here.”
 
Andrea gasps and turns over, falling out of the bed so quickly that Nigel can barely catch her. But he does, looping his arms under her flailing ones as her feet slam against the floor.
 
“Whoops,” Andrea says as he helps her to her feet. “Hi. I mean, hi. Um. Morning.” She puts a hand to her head, and before anyone can say another word, she slumps against him. He laughs, but Miranda knows immediately that she’s out like a light. She hits the call button repeatedly, and after a moment, Nigel stops laughing. Emily helps him haul Andrea into a chair.
 
The familiar nurse enters the room and immediately zooms in on Andy. “Uh oh. What happened?”
 
“She got up fast,” Nigel says, “and went down right away.”
 
“Okay,” the nurse says. “I’d like to get her to a room and check her out--”
 
Andrea opens her eyes and takes a breath. “Hi,” she says. “I couldn’t stop it,” she exhales shakily. “It’s happened before.”
 
“Okay, fine, that’s fine Andy. You think you can get up and walk for me?”
 
“Sure, yeah.” Nigel helps her up, and she turns to Miranda. “Don’t worry. Be right back.” Gingerly she walks out of the room with Nigel at her elbow, arms hovering in case she falls.
 
Emily’s eyes follow them until they turn back to Miranda. “That was unexpected,” she says, frowning.
 
“Which part? Andrea fainting or finding her in my bed?”
 
Emily tilts her head and takes a seat. “Both, I suppose. Is it what I think it is?”
 
Miranda almost nods, until she remembers her injury this time. Instead she simply says, “Yes. But don’t assume anything’s been going on under your nose. Between the two of us, yesterday’s events brought things to the surface. It was rather cliché.”
 
“Glad to hear it. If you two had been carrying on and I didn’t know about it I’d seriously be doubting my skills right now,” she remarks drolly.
 
Miranda smirks. “No, your skills remain. And I may be in need of them, temporarily, if you’re willing.” Miranda does not demand this; she asks. She hopes Emily will agree. “Andrea is going to leave the job, although she doesn’t know it yet. We… can’t work together now. I believe she will agree, but we’ll have to talk. In any case, she’ll put in her two weeks, and after she does, you will too. I want you in editorial. As for who you hire for both positions, I don’t care who it is as long as he or she can do the job.”
 
Emily’s face opens up. Her eyes sparkle. “I’d be happy to, Miranda. Whatever you need.”
 
“I believe I’ll need a lot over the next few weeks, so watch what you offer.”
 
“I mean it, Miranda. Anything. I can’t tell you--” Emily’s voice breaks; her eyes fill with tears. “Yesterday was terrible.” Tears slide down her cheeks, and she wipes them away quickly. “Sorry, I’m sorry. Don’t know what’s come over me.”
 
Miranda reaches out, and Emily takes her hand. Miranda never expected this outpouring, but she will accept it. What else can she do?
 
They sit together, holding hands, until the girls stir behind her. Cassidy barely says good morning before she declares, “I’m hungry.”
 
Emily seems pleased to have a task at hand; she sets out to find them some breakfast. Miranda reclines and takes deep breaths as the girls rise and unearth their clothes for the day. She isn’t tired, but she can tell that it will be some time before she feels back to fighting form. She gives herself a break, since she almost died barely 24 hours ago.
 
When the girls emerge from the bathroom, they join her on the bed for hugs. “Where’s Andy?” Caroline asks, brushing out her hair with her fingers.
 
“She’s with the nurse, darling. She’s not feeling well.”
 
Cassidy rolls her eyes. “At least she got sick in the right place.”
 
“Shut up,” Caroline snaps. “Andy totally helped you yesterday. Be nice.”
 
“Yes, be nice,” Miranda adds. “You must be nice to Andrea from now on. She is very special to me. I—I hope you don’t mind about that.”
 
Both girls are quiet for a minute. “I guess not,” Cassidy finally replies.
 
“Me neither,” Caroline adds, far more eager. “She took care of us, Mom. When Dad told us about you, um, dying, she was there. And she never cried at all until last night, when she saw you. For a while I thought she wasn’t even upset. But later I could tell, because her eyes were red, and she looked so funny.”
 
Miranda is curious. “Funny?”
 
Cassidy rests her head on Miranda’s shoulder as Caroline answers. “Yeah. Kind of hunched over. And her face was weird. It was scary.”
 
“I looked weird too, yesterday,” Cassidy says. “I saw myself in the mirror and I looked like someone else,” Cassidy says.
 
Miranda’s heart skips, and she holds her daughters more tightly.
 
“I’m normal again today, though,” Cassidy continues. “Like myself. Caroline too.”
 
Traitorous tears gather in Miranda’s eyes, but this time they don’t fall. “You are both so precious to me, and I love you very much. You must always know that, no matter what happens. If something happens to me, for real next time, just know that I spent every day of your lives loving you.”
 
“Us too, Mom,” Caroline says, stroking her ribcage with a small hand. “But try not to die, okay?”
 
Miranda laughs gently. “All right.”
 
---
 
The nurse is gentle with Andy, and doesn’t chastise her for forgetting to eat. But Nigel does, until Moira tells him to hush. Someone gives Andy a glass of orange juice, which eases her shaking. Her head clears a little, and the cotton in her ears fades away until she feels almost normal again.
 
Moira is firm with her instructions. “I want you to eat a good breakfast. Our food isn’t bad but you might want to go next door and get something a little heartier from Aunt Janie’s. You can bring it in.”
 
Nigel nods. “I’ll do it. What can I get you, Six?”
 
Andy shrugs. Nothing seems very appetizing, so she says, “Surprise me.”
 
“Got it. Does Miranda have restrictions? She’d kill me if I don’t bring her some eggs and good coffee.”
 
Moira winces. “Only decaf, I’m sorry to say. No French toast, or anything high in fat.”
 
“So eggs are okay?” Nigel almost looks afraid.
 
“Sure.”
 
“Okay. Can I bring you anything, Moira? You’ve been lovely, and I can tell you that once Miranda finds out she’s stuck with decaf, you’ll need some sustenance to keep from running out of the room screaming.”
 
“Normally, I’d say no. But sure. Blueberry pancakes,” Moira replies with a grin. “I’m working a double so it would be absolutely divine.”
 
“No problem.” Nigel pats Andy on the arm. “No more fainting. Be back as soon as I can.”
 
Moira leads Andy back to the room and gives Miranda her check up. This time, Andy is not relegated to the hallway during the exam. Neither are the girls, who are dressed in clothes they brought with them. Andy realizes that she’ll have to wear Miranda’s things today, which will be odd and a little exciting. She retrieves a wrap dress that will hang above her knees, but it’s comfortable and fits well enough. As Moira finishes with Miranda, Andy slips into the bathroom to get dressed and clean up. She tries not to worry that she hasn’t changed her underwear, because wearing Miranda’s underwear was just going too far. Maybe she can nip out to a store soon and get some Hanes to hold her over.
 
When she looks in the mirror, she barely recognizes herself. Her pallor is almost grey, and the hospital lighting doesn’t help. Her eyes are puffy and her cheeks seem sunken; it’s a wonder Miranda can love someone who looks like her. She turns away from her reflection and washes up the best way she can in the sink before pulling on the dress. On her taller frame, it’s surprisingly flattering. She slides on black ballet flats, because heels are just not going to work in a hospital and she’s damned if she’ll slip and kill herself on these floors before she even gets to kiss Miranda properly.
 
The thought distracts her; kissing Miranda. When can she? When should she? When can they… do more than kiss? She’s been granted her greatest desire, or at least she thinks she has, but it’s all been so confusing. So far they’ve kissed twice, hugged, and cuddled all night long. Her dreams were unsettling, and far from sexy. Yesterday still weighs heavily on her mind.
 
Aside from the fact that she is so unsettled, Miranda has a head injury. The timing will be interesting, to say the least. She doubts she will have the guts to ask Moira about recovery time as it relates to sex, so she’ll have to clandestinely search on the internet when she has a chance.
 
When she steps out of the bathroom, Miranda looks over and smiles warmly. The girls are missing, and Miranda correctly interprets the question in her eyes.
 
“They went on an exploratory mission. I told them not to bother any doctors or get lost, so I’m sure we’ll get a frantic call in a few minutes telling me they’ve interrupted open heart surgery.”
 
“Ah,” Andy says. When Miranda waves her close, Andy sits at her bedside. “You look good this morning.”
 
Miranda rolls her eyes. “We both look terrible, I’m sure. Even though I like your dress. I mean my dress,” she quips. “You need to eat—you look like you’re going to fall over again.” Although the bandage impedes her slightly, Miranda still manages to lift an eyebrow. “Does that happen often?”
 
“Rarely, now,” Andy says. “I just… forgot to eat. My tank was empty last night, and this morning I got up too fast.”
 
“You didn’t eat?” Miranda asks.
 
Andy just shrugs. “Yesterday kind of sucked. I wasn’t really in the mood.”
 
Miranda looks into her eyes, and Andy can’t help it—she cries, again. As she wipes her tears, she mutters, “Low blood sugar.”
 
“Come here,” says Miranda, and Andy does. One hand strokes Andy’s damp cheek, and Andy has to shut her eyes against the sensation. She sighs and Miranda pulls her in. The kiss is slow and steady, sending warm chills through Andy’s body, just as it did last night. But now Miranda uses her tongue, easing in for a taste, which makes Andy moan. Then they’re really kissing, and Andy feels the ache of desire in her belly. She touches Miranda’s shoulder delicately, afraid to do more. She strokes her collarbone and Miranda breaks away, arching her throat in Andy’s direction. Softly Andy brushes her mouth against the silky skin. She longs so much to do more, but what she longs for more is to tell Miranda what she really feels. She looks up into Miranda’s half-lidded eyes and inhales.
 
“I love you,” she says, very intently. “I just want you to know that. This isn’t about some kind of hero worship, or hell, I don’t know, me using you to get ahead. I don’t even think it’s a good idea to work for you anymore. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll have to move on.” When Miranda opens her mouth, Andy puts her hand up in defense. “Don’t be mad—I just can’t look at you now and pretend. And all anyone will have to do is look at me to know how I feel. But we don’t have to tell people or anything.” Miranda blinks at this, but doesn’t interrupt. “I don’t mind. I’ll just give notice, and that’s it. Start looking.” She glances over Miranda’s shoulder at the wall, distracted by the idea of job hunting. “I have a lot of contacts now. I’ll put out some feelers. And I mean, the rest of it we’ll just have to figure out. The girls seem to think I’m okay, but it will take time, of course, and I’ll visit you when you’re free, maybe late at night or whatever so no one will get the wrong idea--”
 
“Oh my god, stop talking,” Miranda says, but there’s no bite to her words. “Before you go completely off the rails, let me have my say, will you?”
 
Andy grins. “Sorry. Got carried away.”
 
“I see that. I’ll start somewhere near the beginning. I agree, you should move on. As for jobs, you will have whatever opportunity you like, whether with Elias-Clarke or not. Think about where you want to go, and I’ll help you.”
 
“I don’t think--” Andy begins.
 
“I do,” Miranda says, firmly. “You’ve put in your time, and I promised that after a year any door you wanted would open. This is the case for any assistant who lasts that long, and you will be no exception. Most stay at Runway, like Emily will, but others have gone on to competing publications. So don’t consider this special treatment. It will be a step or two above entry level, but something that suits your many talents.”
 
Andy considers this. Andy has put in more than a year, so theoretically, her reward of a new position is late. This is mainly because she was in no hurry to leave Miranda’s side. “Well, okay.”
 
“As for everyone knowing, I don’t care a whit. I have no intention of hiding. You mentioned not wanting to pretend, and I am of the same mind. So perhaps you should warn your family and friends, because the news will make quite a splash.”
 
Andy laughs. “It probably won’t be as exciting as the concept of you coming back from the dead.”
 
Miranda’s lips tilt in an almost-smile. “I was never actually dead, you know, darling--” The word darling gives Andy a shiver--“but it will certainly distract from our being together. Which also reminds me, stop worrying about coming to the townhouse in the middle of the night. You’ll come and go as you please. Finally, you’re correct, the girls are ‘okay’ with you. Caroline in particular. She seems quite the fan.”
 
“That’s nice to hear,” Andy replies, smiling. “I like them both.” She’s felt differently about the twins since yesterday—going through their trauma together seems to have bonded her to them. Whether they feel the same doesn’t matter. When she pictures their faces, she sees the love they have for their mother, rather than two sneaky kids out to cause as much trouble as possible.
 
“As for you,” Miranda says, her voice low and smooth, “I love you too.”
 
Andy bites her lip, and goosebumps leap across her skin. It’s thrilling to hear the words.
 
“Now come back here,” Miranda says, but Andy pulls back.
 
“We should find out if this is okay,” Andy says, her hands held out like a damsel defending herself from a marauder.
 
Miranda shakes her head slowly. “One more kiss won’t kill me.”
 
Andy exhales, her eyes sliding shut once, twice, before she relents and melts into Miranda’s embrace.
 
It’s more than one kiss, and Andy feels Miranda’s hand slipping closer to her breast when someone interrupts them. Andy leaps off the bed like her parents have just busted her for making out in her childhood bedroom. Moira laughs. “Sorry. But you’ve got company.” She turns around and motions with her arm. “Come on, you two.”
 
Cassidy and Caroline slink in, looking guilty. “It wasn’t my fault!” Cassidy exclaims.
 
Miranda sighs. Andy figures she’d better get used to this. To her surprise, she doesn’t mind a bit. Seems like a small price to pay for having Miranda in her life. And these two, she’ll take them in the bargain.
 
---
 
Miranda is nearly finished chastising her girls for stealing (and donning) hospital scrubs from the storage closet when Nigel and Emily return with huge bags on each arm. “Food!” Nigel announces cheerily. “And coffee. But Moira said decaf for you, Miranda, so no complaints, got it?”
 
Miranda is tempted to give him some grief, but she resists the impulse. This may be because she has just enjoyed excellent kisses from Andrea, who is still blushing after their interruption. Her head also hurts, probably from caffeine withdrawal complemented by the staples currently holding her head together. It’s going to be a disgusting scar, but once her hair grows back, no one will know.
 
As Nigel unpacks the many food containers, he says, “The press is here. A handful of trucks and a bunch of reporters. Some of them are already broadcasting from the parking lot, although who knows what they’re saying. Moira said the doctors all know not to go into any details, and they enjoy their privacy up here so I don’t expect anyone’s going to be leaking much of anything about your condition.”
 
“Well at least it’s not particularly interesting as conditions go,” Miranda quips. “A concussion isn’t going to be much of a story.”
 
“Mom, I bet we could tell some good stories and get on tv if you wanted. I bet we could send them on a wild goose chase,” Cassidy suggests, as Caroline nods. Miranda sees the matching glint in their eyes, and she is tempted. But her daughters shouldn’t appear on television telling tall tales; they have enough trouble as it is.
 
“No, darlings, you stay here with me. I don’t want either of you talking to anyone, and that’s all I have to say on the subject.” Nigel hands Miranda a container, which she opens to see eggs, toast and fruit. It looks delicious, and at once Miranda’s stomach realizes it hasn’t had real food in far too long. She actually feels as though she might be sick, and she snags a fork and immediately scoops up a bite. It’s a relief to swallow, and just the feel of it sliding down her throat is comforting. Toast is next, and it’s well buttered. Everything is as tasty as it appears to be, and she catches Andrea watching her as she chews. Miranda points with her fork to Andrea’s own container. “You, eat.”
 
Andrea grins. “Yes, Miranda.” The cadence is familiar; they might as well be in Miranda’s office as Andrea stands at attention with her notepad. But the look on Andrea’s face is all new; relaxed, affectionate, unafraid.
 
“Pancakes!” Cassidy shouts. “Are those chocolate chips?”
 
“They are,” Emily sniffs.
 
“What are you having, Emily?” Andrea asks as she takes a bite of her eggs.
 
“Fruit,” Emily mumbles, rifling through their many bags for a fork. She cracks open a small cup of fruit.
 
“Boring,” Andy says around her eggs. “Didn’t you get anything good for yourself?”
 
With the usual perturbed sigh, Emily retorts, “Not all of us can get away with carbs every da—“
 
Miranda interrupts. “Oh Emily, just enjoy something that makes you appreciate being alive, for once,” she says sharply. “You never know when your time is up.”
 
Emily blushes a little, and after a pause, she shrugs. She leans over one of the bags to find another container. Her eyes glitter as she opens it. “I suppose I can make an exception for a special occasion,” Emily says, slicing into a pile of pancakes. She is not conservative with the syrup, and Miranda tries not to laugh. Emily’s head actually falls back as she chews; it’s clearly a taste of heaven. A moment later, Emily’s eyes focus on the nightstand clock. She blinks and sets her fork down. “God. Almost twenty four hours ago I thought you were dead.”
 
Andrea looks at the clock as well. She swallows, and Miranda can see the emotion on her face. She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before glancing at Miranda.
 
Miranda considers where she was the day before at this time—bleeding, unconscious, lying in the dirt behind a bathroom in the middle of nowhere. It suddenly strikes her as incredible that she actually survived. If the man had hit her one more time, or brought her with him in the car, or if she hadn’t woken when she did—all of those scenarios could easily have resulted in her death. The enormity of what she’s experienced flows over her, and she feels gratitude for her friends, her children, her soon-to-be lover. Something as simple as enjoying breakfast together seems like something to be thankful for. Her nose starts to sting as tears gather in her eyes, and she’s pleased when Cassidy and Caroline begin to chatter about their escapades in the hospital. Only Andrea notices Miranda’s tears, as always. She wants to reach out, to hold her hand or something equally silly, but Andrea is too far away. Andrea reads her mind, placing her breakfast at the foot of Miranda’s bed before approaching and threading their fingers together.
 
“You lived,” Andrea says, looking deeply into Miranda’s eyes. In this moment, nothing else matters.
 
“I lived,” Miranda replies. “I lived.”

Chapter Text

LATER

They leave early, before the sun rises, to beat the holiday traffic. On the journey, the girls are sleepy and quiet as classical music plays softly over the speakers. They are careful to time their departure so as to not have to make a stop on the way. Andy feels tense behind the wheel of the Audi as they travel on Route 17 toward the cabin, but Miranda doesn’t seem particularly anxious even when they pass County Road 38. Instead, Miranda reaches out to rub Andy’s shoulder once before settling back in the comfortable seat.
 
Once they arrive, Andy is pleased to find that the cabin is small but sweet. Andy leaves their bags in the room she will share with Miranda. She tries not to stare at the queen sized bed positioned beneath an enormous picture window. She parts the heavy curtains above it and throws the window open to help air the place out. Miranda has not been here since well before the “incident,” as they now call it. She’s been working, of course, but only part time, after three solid weeks off. And she needed every moment of that time to recover.
 
So far Miranda’s symptoms have been minor; she’s had some vertigo, and her sleep is often interrupted by nightmares or anxious dreams. For a while Andy handled most of the heavy lifting both at work and at home, since she moved in to the townhouse. At first she said it was just because she was helping Miranda, then she just admitted that it made sense for the both of them. She sleeps in Miranda’s room, but they have not made love, mostly because of Andy’s paranoia. She wants Miranda very badly, but she wants Miranda whole and healthy first. The doctor said that sex was all right after a few weeks, which Andy didn’t believe. During Miranda’s last check up apparently she asked specifically about it, and the doctor assured that it was fine. He actually encouraged her.
 
“Endorphins,” Miranda had said to Andy in the car on their way home that day. “He says the endorphins will be good for me. So now you have no excuse.”
 
Andy licks her lips. The waiting has made her incredibly nervous. Although they’ve kissed and cuddled and made out, every time Andy has pulled back. Tonight, she won’t. Glancing at the wall that separates this bedroom from the other one, she hopes that they can stay quiet. Andy is relieved when she notices a lock on the bedroom door. Furtively she tests it out, and sighs when it works. That’s all she’d need—two kids bursting into the bedroom while Andy goes down on their mother for the first time.
 
Andy shivers at the thought.
 
She snags a few of the candles out of her luggage and places them on two nightstands. It won’t be totally romantic, but it will be good no matter what happens. Andy has decided this in advance. Every kiss she shares with Miranda is good. In fact, everything seems good these days; during the first weeks after the incident, she experienced life in a kind of sharp relief. It was as if she’d had her own near-death experience; food tasted incredible, the air always smelled sweet, waking each morning had felt like a gift. Those feelings are still with her, but less so now. Although she regrets this, she knows it’s inevitable to return to normal existence, so she doesn’t mind too much.
 
In the main room, she finds Cassidy and Caroline arguing over who will mash the potatoes they’ll have with Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Miranda does not intervene as she unpacks the supplies they’ve brought in the cooler. Andy joins her and hoists the turkey onto the top rack in the fridge. She’ll put the bird in the oven in the morning so it will be ready by three, which is when her own family has dinner. This year her mother is disappointed that she won’t be joining them, but she understands. Although she and Andy’s father don’t get what’s so great about Miranda, they recognize that Andy is immovable when it comes to the relationship. Her dad is particularly perplexed, but mostly he just doesn’t talk about it, instead focusing on the Bengals and the World Series and Andy’s new job as a copy editor at The Atlantic.
 
“You can both mash,” Andy finally says, tired of listening to the racket. “I have the perfect recipe, and I’ll tell you exactly what to do.”
 
“I am not peeling all of those by myself,” Cassidy declares, pointing at the bag of russets on the counter.
 
Andy rolls her eyes. “There are only four of us, honey, we won’t need more than ten for dinner and leftovers for the weekend. That’s about five minutes of work.”
 
“For you, maybe,” Cassidy sniffs. “I’m terrible at peeling.”
 
“You’re just lazy,” Caroline interrupts, and Andy finally snaps.
 
“Both of you, go unpack your things and get out the twinkly lights. I’ll help you string them around the window, okay?”
 
The girls stare at her as if they know she just wants to get rid of them, but the lure of twinkly lights is too strong for them to argue. They both skitter into their room and slam the door. Andy exhales, and Miranda just chuckles.
 
“Ah, parenthood,” Miranda drawls. “It really is the noblest of callings.”
 
Andy feels a warmth settle in her stomach at the idea of parenthood. Cassidy and Caroline are more than a handful, but they’re also loyal, caring, and fiercely protective of Andy when it comes to the outside world. Andy and Miranda both got hammered by the press when word of their affair (which seems like a funny term for it, considering the lack of sex) got out. She’s surprised that Irv didn’t try and find a way to oust Miranda from the magazine, but Miranda explained that it was very much counter to his interests to force out the subject of Runway’s best publicity run in at least 15 years. People couldn’t stop talking about Miranda; her brush with death, her younger female lover, her recovery that appeared far quicker than it really was. Almost no one noticed the minor changes in her hairstyle, or the dark circles from sleepless nights, or the occasional bouts with missing words or dizziness. Nigel did, of course, as well as those closest to Miranda at work, but they’d also become incredibly protective of their boss. Andy is grateful for that, now that she’s gone.
 
It had been a hard transition for both of them, but she’s gotten used to life at The Atlantic, and she loves her boss. No one asks her about Miranda at work, which was one of the requirements of her accepting the job. She talks about her now and then, but only with her boss, Stewart, and her closest co-worker, Jenny. Other than that, she keeps her mouth shut, but she’s less anxious about it now that she’s been there for a little while.
 
“Do you need to call your parents?” Miranda asks, placing a warm hand on the small of Andy’s back.
 
“Maybe in a few minutes, just to let them know we made it.”
 
“All right. Tell them I say hello.”
 
Andy smiles at her, and kisses her softly. “Okay.”
 
The girls come bustling back into the room, and they step away from each other, but Andy feels the tension sizzle between them anyway.
 
----
 
Dinner is simple but delicious minestrone soup Andrea made at home and brought with them. She is a wonderful cook, which surprised Miranda at first. But then she realized that Andrea is good at everything she tries, whether it’s cooking, or playing silly video games with her children, or sports, or Scrabble. And especially, she is good at making Miranda happy. All she has to do is be in the room, and Miranda is content. Miranda is almost ashamed at how much she loves her, because she realizes how little she knew about love before now. She hopes her ex-husbands never felt this way about her, because she’d have a hard time forgiving herself for breaking their hearts the way hers would break if Andrea ever walked away.
 
After supper, the girls demand to watch a movie, which disappoints Miranda, even though she didn’t expect them to disappear into their rooms at 7:30pm. While they rummage through their collection of DVDs, Andrea washes the dishes, and Miranda dries. As they stand together in the kitchen, Miranda can feel the heat between them. Andrea deliberately doesn’t look at her, but Miranda knows what she’s thinking. It’s going to be a long night before they are able to be alone.
 
Once the dishes are done and everything is prepared for tomorrow, Miranda settles next to Andy on the sofa. The kooky red pepper lights shine down on them from the window, casting a pleasant glow on the room. Miranda can hardly bear the feeling of pleasure it brings to have Andrea here, in her childhood home, but from the way Andrea’s hand clutches hers, she feels the same.
 
Finally, finally, the girls yawn a few times, and once the movie ends, they reluctantly shuffle off to their room. Andrea helps them get ready as she so often does now, promising once again to help them peel the potatoes the next morning. It makes Miranda smile to think that this is their greatest worry about tomorrow; there are no concerns about drunken husbands, or raging fights over the dinner table, or awkward conversations with unwelcome guests who had to be invited just for show. Tomorrow will be for them, with delicious food, and good company, and games and movies and whatever else strikes them. Maybe they’ll take a walk by the lake, gathering pine cones, or perhaps Miranda will show them how to fly-fish even though it’s cold. Andrea is eager to learn too, and Miranda has no doubt that she will become an expert by the time they leave on Sunday.
 
She cleans up the few things left around the main room, picking up socks and shoes and leaving them in the girls’ room before she kisses her daughters goodnight. They each hug her tightly; Miranda wonders if they think about what it would have been like this holiday if she really had died that day not so long ago. Miranda has thought of little else since they left New York this morning; the journey north was so familiar and unsettling that she didn’t want to discuss it. But once they arrived, the memories eased, and now she simply feels good, and healthy, as though she is almost back to normal. The scars at the back of her head don’t hurt to the touch, and her vision is fine, as is her hearing. She would like it if she had fewer bad dreams, but they occur less often now. Her therapist, Dr. Schiff, may be the person she can thank for that. Dr. Schiff is not someone she likes very much, but that’s probably because during every visit, Miranda cries for almost the entire hour. Talking about “the incident” is not pleasant, but she has to do it, for the sake of herself, and her children, and Andrea.
 
Tonight, there is no Dr. Schiff. Tonight, it’s just Andrea and Cassidy and Caroline, who take care of her, and love her more than anyone else in her life. And in a few minutes, it will only be Andrea, and they’ll be together for the first time. The build up has been so long that Miranda has abandoned expectation; she knows that whatever happens will be wonderful.
 
Andrea joins her in the bedroom with a shy smile. Briefly Miranda considers pretending that she wants to get ready for bed, and that nothing special is about to happen. Instead, she meets Andrea near the door and presses her against it, holding Andrea’s head between her hands as she kisses her. It’s a decadent kiss, filled with intention, and Andrea responds in kind. She gets lost in it until she feels Andrea’s hands grip her ass, feels her tongue flick against her upper lip. Reaching down to lock the door, Miranda finds that Andrea has already done so, and their eyes meet in understanding.
 
Just as Miranda is about to pull the warm cardigan from Andrea’s shoulders, she slips away toward the bed, pulling matches from her pocket. Quickly she lights candles Miranda doesn’t recognize from her own collection, and puts on soft music from an mp3 player hooked up to portable speakers. It’s not loud enough to disturb the girls, or to mask noise, but it adds to the ambiance, especially when Andrea shuts off the bedside light. She’s illuminated only by the two candles, while a sultry voice from the speakers lures her closer.
 
“I’m nervous,” Andrea says, hands clasped tightly. “As I’m sure you know.”
 
“I am too,” Miranda admits. “I blame you for making us wait.”
 
Andrea cracks a smile, laughing softly. “I know. I just wanted to be sure.”
 
“We won’t be sure until we do it. If I get a headache, I promise to tell you, but I’m not going to the hospital. The doctor said it might happen. I’ll live.” All this is true. And no little headache is going to drag her away from this bed tonight. Her brain will have to explode to cause anything more than a shrug. “So come along, darling. I want this, all right?” She’s dying for it, really. She hasn’t had sex with another person since Stephen; there was rarely time, or inclination, or even opportunity. Orgasms she’s handled on her own, but intimacy has been sorely absent. There could have been men here and there, but fashion is an awfully gay industry, so the chances were few. This makes her laugh, considering she’s staring into the eyes of the absolutely gorgeous woman she’s about to make love to.
 
“What’s so funny?” Andrea asks.
 
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”  She stalks toward Andrea and doesn’t hesitate to pull her into her arms. They’re kissing again, and Miranda pulls Andrea’s shirt up and over her head, taking the cardigan with it. Her bra is delicate, lacy, and Miranda longs to kiss the soft skin of her breasts, but there are so many clothes to consider—
 
But now Andrea is in a hurry to get her own clothes off. She rips open her jeans and shoves them down, forgetting her sneakers, and she ends up on the bed wrestling them all off at once. Miranda’s trousers are far less difficult, and Miranda simply unhooks them and they fall to the floor. Her sweater lands next to them and then she is with Andrea on the bed, skin to skin. Andrea looks breathless; Miranda believes anxiety tempers her desire, and that has to stop. At once she unhooks the front close of Andrea’s bra and takes a tight nipple between her teeth, and Andrea arches. “Fuck,” she whispers. “Gotta be quiet, but oh my god, Miranda, that’s so good.”
 
Miranda settles in then, as Andrea avoids grabbing her hair or her head, instead clutching her shoulders and panting through her nose. Andrea’s long legs spread around her, and though Miranda can’t get her underwear all the way down in this position, she doesn’t really care. She nudges a hand between their bodies and beneath Andrea’s panties, which are soaked through. Andrea nearly bucks her off, and through laughter Miranda hangs on and rubs until Andrea joins her rhythm. Her hips move at the pace Miranda sets until she dips her fingers in just a little, then a little more, until Andrea grits her teeth and pleads, “Inside.”
 
Miranda follows directions and slides two fingers in, giving all her attention to Andrea’s thousand expressions as she climbs higher. Her amber eyes open to meet Miranda’s, and she bites her lip while Miranda uses her thumb to find her clit. Andrea’s legs spread wider and her mouth goes slack; she’s nodding, so Miranda keeps going until her whole body stills except the muscles around Miranda’s fingers, which clench over and over. She trembles, jaw clamped shut until she finally breathes out in a whimpery sigh, collapsing on the bed.
 
Licking her lips, Miranda slips her hand free, trailing wetness up Andrea’s belly, across her breast. She leans down for a taste, humming deliciously. She can feel the thud of Andrea’s pounding heart between her ribs; it’s a thrilling, visceral reminder of their shared pleasure.
 
“Come here,” Andrea says, her voice gravelly.
 
Miranda glances up. “Where?” She appreciates the smile of her lover, now satisfied and glowing.
 
“Here,” Andrea says, pointing to her generous mouth.
 
“Which part of me?” Miranda jokes.
 
“All of you,” Andrea says, dragging her up bodily until they’re kissing again, voraciously, and Andrea turns them over. “Want you,” she mumbles against Miranda’s lips, and before a moment goes by, she wriggles down the bed and yanks Miranda’s underwear off. She skips the bra and goes straight between Miranda’s legs, kissing her there without warning. Miranda might have hit the ceiling if Andrea wasn’t there to anchor her to the bed. She is wet, while Andrea’s mouth is soft and hot and relentless. She pushes Miranda’s knees open farther; Miranda can only stare as Andrea’s tongue lashes her clit, sucks it, caresses it until Miranda comes in a long, drawn out orgasm. There is no headache to go along with it, and though she would never admit it, Miranda’s relief is as intense as her bliss. Her breathing is loud and fast as she comes down, and Andrea crawls up to straddle her belly. She rubs against Miranda as they kiss, and Miranda tastes herself, and Andrea, in a seductive combination. Andrea seems more than ready again, so Miranda reaches down to touch her. Andrea rears up with her two hands at the side of Miranda’s head, and she’s going again, riding Miranda’s hand as though she can’t control it. “All of you, Miranda, I want all of you, I love you so much,” she murmurs, leaning down and kissing Miranda for all she’s worth.
 
---
 
Andy can’t believe it; she’s coming again already, with Miranda’s hand driving into her from below. She feels wild as Miranda stares up open-mouthed at her, in something like awe. It’s as good the second time, maybe better, because she knows in advance that it will be amazing. She has no idea what she was worried about. Miranda didn’t pass out, or have a heart attack or stroke during sex—she’s breathing and alive and beautiful as she’s ever been. Andy laughs as she falls into Miranda’s arms, the promised “endorphins” flooding her system.
 
Miranda kicks one of her legs free to wrap around Andy’s; her foot slides down the back of Andy’s smooth calf. “I should’ve expected you to be greedy,” Miranda says softly. “I can already tell I’m not going to sleep a wink tonight.”
 
“Nope,” Andy says, lifting her head with a sneaky grin. “Isn’t that just too bad?”
 
Miranda’s arms drop to the bed, and she stares up at the ceiling as if in surrender. “All right. If you must.”
 
“Oh, I absolutely must.”
 
Andy gets right down to business.
 
A couple of hours later, she glances at the clock, which reads midnight. They really should get some sleep. They’re both dehydrated, and she’s pulled a couple of muscles, but Miranda tastes good and smells good, and she’s waited so long to be with her that it’s tough to stop. Fortunately for both of them, Miranda is exhausted too, so Andy pulls on a robe and sneaks out to get some water from the kitchen. She makes it back to the bedroom without running into a twin and closes the bedroom door as silently as possible. She leaves it unlocked, so if anyone needs them, they’ll be available.
 
Miranda is already pulling her nightgown on, probably thinking the same thing. The room is fragrant and too-warm, smelling of sex and sweat and cinnamon candles. She cracks a window for some fresh air, and as she pulls on her turkey pajama pants and brown tank, Miranda snorts. “Very stylish.”
 
“I know,” Andy replies. Once she discovered that Miranda loved her, she made a conscious choice not to neglect her inner-dork just to keep Miranda happy. Oddly, Miranda seems to have embraced that side of her, the one that loves comfy sweatshirts and grilled cheese and college football and late-night ice cream runs. Andy hasn’t gotten Miranda any seasonal PJs yet, but she might be able to convince Donna Karan to make her something fun but chic. That is, if she can get the guts up to ask. Donna would agree, Andy’s sure; they had dinner with her and her much younger boyfriend last week and had a ball.
 
Miranda joins her in the bathroom, and together they brush their teeth, watching each other in the mirror. Andy feels smug and happy, even when Miranda says, through a mouthful of toothpaste, “I told you so.”
 
Andy just nods in reply.
 
Once they’re in bed, she asks Miranda seriously, “So you’re really okay?”
 
“No headaches. Obviously.” She glares at Andy out of the corner of her eye. “You’re only asking now?”
 
Andy grins. “Well you didn’t seem too worse for wear in the middle of things.”
 
Miranda takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. “I was not.” She finds Andy’s hand under the covers. “I adore you, darling. Now please blow out the candles and go to sleep. My daughters will probably tear the door off the hinges at six am, begging you to help them with the potatoes.”
 
“Yes, dear,” Andy says, hopping out of bed to lock the window too. The room is cooler now, and Andy shivers when she slides back under the covers. “Goodnight, Miranda. And Happy Thanksgiving.”
 
Even in the darkness, Andy feels Miranda’s eyes on her. A hand reaches out and caresses her cheek. “You make me extraordinarily happy, Andrea. For that, I am thankful.”
 
Andy puts her arms around Miranda and kisses her. Miranda’s knees bump against her side as they get into their usual position to sleep. “I’m thankful for you.” Thankful you lived, Andy doesn’t add, but she’s sure Miranda is thinking the same thing. “I’m so, so thankful.”