Lily dropped Fen off at Runway on Thursday as promised. Nate waited in the building’s lobby. Andrea had taken her work home with her, deciding to leave a little earlier than normal. In a little over a week they were leaving for Paris and she needed to get things in gear. Miranda had discreetly given her the number of a lawyer and she had an appointment on Monday of next week.
The interview with the nanny, Demetria, had gone well Thursday night after Fen went to bed. Andrea called the agency and said she was a good fit. Mentally crossing her fingers, she held her breath until Rosemary told her how much then she inelegantly let go of an obscenity. Much to Rosemary’s credit, she stifled a laugh then cleared her throat. Employing a nanny was within her budget. She couldn’t believe it and immediately grew suspicious. Nigel had told her to give the agency a call but where did he get the referral?
Fen’s fourth birthday was in two days on Saturday and she still hadn’t called her parents to tell them about the divorce, Nate’s infidelity, Lily’s treachery and subsequent pregnancy. Yeah, that was a call she didn’t want to make any time soon. Presents started arriving on Thursday and Friday from the in-laws, Andrea’s parents, Doug and Nate.
Every time she crossed off something from the Paris Trip list, she thought of another to add. It was aggravating. Fen’s list was easy. The hardest part had been done two years ago when Andrea insisted Fen get a passport. Nate had balked, then rolled his eyes and shrugged. He didn’t understand why she wanted Fen to have a global view, not just an American one. She didn’t want her daughter’s dreams to be limited or for her to settle for the status quo because no one showed her she could have more, that there was more out there.
On Saturday morning, Fen tried to climb up the bed to be with Andrea who had silenced the alarm.
“Mummers, ups! Ups!”
Rolling over to the edge, she leaned down and gently lifted her demanding child. Half-awake, she cuddled Fen against her chest.
“Where’re your bottoms, sweetie?”
Instead of using her limited vocabulary, Fen rubbed her head against Andrea’s collarbone. One of her little hands snatched a fistful of her mother’s hair. For whatever reason, Fen had decided to go bare-assed this morning which promptly caused Andrea to think Fen might have had an accident during the night. It could wait a bit longer.
The early hour and warmth of her baby safe in her arms lulled Andrea into a happy drowsiness.
“I wanting brekfest. Da gonna have the baby. I need to teach it.” Suddenly Fen started squealing with laughter.
Andrea winced for the shrill sound and for Nate telling their daughter about the baby. They hadn’t discussed it, of course, but neither had shied away from telling their daughter the truth, as much as a toddler needed to know. Lily wasn’t going away and Nate wasn’t coming back, at least not in the way Fen had learned to trust. Fen didn’t really understand the situation but there was no need to scare her with scenes, details, and too much information. She needed to have a discussion with Nate before leaving for Paris.
Fen babbled some more, at times enunciating each word, but, mostly, her daughter just loved the sounds she made. Andrea did her best to keep the volume at a minimum but it wasn’t every day her daughter turned four years old.
“Happy birthday.” Andrea said then started semi-singing the song with Fen chiming in on the melody if not the words.
Astride Andrea’s stomach, Fen bounced while Andrea held her hands.
“Da make pancakes?”
Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Nate was so good with Fen. She couldn’t help but wonder how many memories she was stealing from her daughter by divorcing her father. Andrea felt left out of the family dynamic. Nate had Lily and possibly another child on the way but Andrea just had Fen. For now anyway, she thought and hoisted up her offspring then airplaned her out of the room. She wouldn’t be single forever.
After breakfast, Andrea left the dishes in the sink to give Fen a bath. Fen’s discarded diaper and panties were on the floor next to her bed but she hadn’t wet it nor had an accident in weeks. Maybe it was time to take the next step in her potty training. When she pulled Fen’s squirming, wet body from the tub, she blew kisses against Fen’s neck while Fen giggled.
“How old are you today?”
Fen leaned back in her mother’s arms, close to being upside down, and held up three fingers.
Andrea righted her then gently moved Fen’s fingers and thumb. “You’re four today, sweetie.”
Fen sang out the numbers as she counted to ten then asked, “Mummers, is Da comes to birfday?”
“No, sweetie but he’s going to see you on the phone later. Won’t that be fun?” When Fen’s eyebrows flushed, drawing downward, Andrea said, “C’mon, we have to hurry. It’s time to go to the park.”
“Where else are we gonna swing?”
Naked and laughing, Fen took off in the direction of her bedroom.
Fen arranged her plastic tea cups on the coffee table while Andrea made two sandwiches and boiled some water. She kept an eye on her as Fen instructed the Barbie and Beanie Baby bear to sit up ‘right’ and be ‘good’.
Surprisingly, there had been quite a few toddlers running around the park’s playground at ten in the morning. Fen had abandoned her mother without a care. Andrea had remained with the parents seated on the benches while a few mothers directed the children down the slides or kept an eye on them running amok. Andrea sat away from the group of adults although she smiled and nodded in greeting. Content to watch her daughter interact and play, she had taken a few pictures and dutifully watched when Fen called out “Mummers! Look! Look!”
When the buzzer sounded, Andrea frowned and made sure the knife was well out of reach of little curious hands then hurried to the console near the door.
A slight panic overtook her. She looked at the mess in the living room, remembered the dirty dishes in the sink, and hated that she was wearing old jeans and a sweatshirt with patches of bath water.
“Do take your time. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
She pressed the button and let Miranda Priestly into the building.
Too old to dive for cover or hide in the closet, Andrea resigned herself to her fate. She pulled her hair out of the ponytail and hurriedly finger-combed it. By the time she got over the shock, there was a knock at the door and Andrea hadn’t even thought to change clothes.
Two little redheads, one of either side of Miranda, gazed up at her with the same eyes as their mother.
One of the little girls walked in as she primly pulled off a pair of leather gloves but the other poked her head around Andrea, more interested in what was going on behind her.
“Here, let me take your coats.”
The girl with the wool-lined denim jacket and Doc Martens grinned as she shrugged out of it. “I’m Cassidy.”
“I’m Caroline.” said the other, carefully removing her puffer jacket.
“Hello. My name’s Andrea and...”
“M, ups, ups, please.” Fen called out as she ran toward Miranda with her hands raised.
Without missing a beat, Miranda scooped her up then kissed her forehead. “Hello, Fen. Happy Birthday.”
Cassidy and Caroline chimed in as well, one producing a wrapped present and the other a card. Andrea quickly hung up everyone’s coats in the closet by the door.
While Fen ‘conversed’ with Miranda, Andrea took the present and card from the girls then set them down on the kitchen table.
“We were just going to have tea. How would you guys like to join Fen?”
Caroline nodded then walked over to her mother. “Mom, we’re going to have tea with Fen.”
Miranda set Fen down. “You two watch her while Andrea and I get things ready, please.”
“Hey, do you got any toys?” Cassidy asked.
That’s all it took. Fen excitedly led them to her room.
“Your girls are beautiful, even more so in person. They have your eyes, too.” Andrea murmured as she fumbled through the cabinet for the tea.
Miranda started cutting the sandwiches into triangles. “I do hope you have a more adult choice of sandwich.”
Smiling with her mouth closed, Andrea took out the leftover salad and baked chicken. “I have a really decent aged balsamic and Parmigiano Reggiano, too.”
“That will do nicely.” Miranda said, arranging the petite sandwiches on the plate Andrea had left on the counter. “Although, I think another sandwich may be needed.”
“Would you mind making one while I put together our salads? Stuff’s in the fridge.”
Miranda moved about Andrea’s kitchen with a natural confidence. The way she wielded a knife and how she rearranged the triangles in a clever pattern were enough to convince her that Miranda spent a lot of time in a kitchen.
“Nigel mentioned Fen’s birthday...I hope I haven’t overstepped, Andrea.”
On her way to taking their food to the coffee table, she said over her shoulder, “You haven’t. I’m very glad you and the girls decided to stop by.”
Miranda followed her then put down the sandwich platter. “I’ll get them.” she offered, already headed down the hall.
Andrea watched her until she disappeared from view. Jesus, the woman knew how to dress. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to do, Miranda rounded up the girls, carrying Fen on her hip and holding Caroline’s hand. Cassidy brought up the rear. While framed in the archway to the living room, the image of Miranda surrounded by laughing children, their faces turned up and eager, sank into Andrea. For a second, there was so much yearning in her heart, she thought something was physically wrong.
Miranda let Fen down and laughed when she ran into Cassidy’s arms.
“Your daughter is an absolute delight, Andrea.”
For some reason, her face heated up and she couldn’t look directly at Miranda. “Thank you.”
“Mummers, tea and trumpets time!”
The twins immediately started laughing. Cassidy high-fived Fen who was being squeezed in a bear hug by Caroline. Andrea glanced at Miranda and everything went still inside her. Those blue eyes were tender as they regarded Andrea, the smile on Miranda’s lips a bit puzzled.
Andrea slowly sat down on the couch. Starting to get back up to get the tea and hot water, Miranda waved her off.
“I’ll get it.”
It occurred to Andrea that the woman was always in motion.
“Can I call you Andy?” Cassidy asked, eying the plate of sandwich triangles with apparent hunger.
“Absolutely.” she answered, not thinking twice about it.
“Caroline, we can call her Andy.”
Fen squatted down on the floor between Caroline’s legs, facing the same way as Caroline carefully brushed Fen’s hair. Oh, my poor baby, she thought with amusement and shook her head. Fen had no idea she had just become Caroline’s living doll.
Miranda entered the living room carrying a tray ladened with a plastic tea pot. From the second she placed the ‘service’ on the table, she owned the rest of the tea party. The twins fell in line, as did Fen and Andrea. Everyone listened to the correct way partake of afternoon tea, including the infamous extended pinky while lightly holding the tiny handle.
Cassidy had a knack for accents, carrying off a passable British one, much like her mother, which wasn’t a surprise given Miranda Priestly had been born and raised in England. Caroline had the dainty mechanics down, surreptitiously looking at her mother for cues. While Andrea and Miranda forked their salads, Caroline and Fen slowly picked up a tiny sandwich and nibbled. Cassidy, the rebel, bit into it with gusto, demolishing it in two bites. Cheeks bulging as she tried not to laugh at the disgusted face her sister made, Cassidy captured Andrea’s heart. Caroline, Miranda’s mini-me, had Andrea the second she primly took off her leather gloves as she strode into the apartment as if she owned it.
What to do with it all was the problem. Beyond the children, there was Miranda with her deep blue eyes and seductive smile. The way she walked, sauntered, and how she chose clothes that enhanced every attribute, from toes to head she was perfect. Had it just been those things, Andrea could have dismissed it, but, Miranda’s actions spoke something more. She offered friendship despite all the odds against it.
Andrea looked around and noticed the girls had abandoned the tea set for Handy Manny’s Transforming Tool Truck. Cassidy was having a blast, listening to Fen’s instructions. Caroline was more reserved, trying to act as if such a childish toy didn’t interest her.
“Not...really.” Andrea looked at Miranda. “I was just thinking how well the girls are getting along. Sometimes she can be a bit...”
“Rambunctious?” They shared a smile. “She reminds me a little of Cassidy at that age actually.”
“Caroline takes after you. Before you brought in the tea, she had Fen sitting down in front of her and started brushing her hair. It took her a half of second to tame my daughter while almost every morning I have to bribe, beg, and scold her to let me do it.”
“She does have a certain way about her.” Miranda murmured, her face in profile as she looked affectionately toward her offspring.
“I’d say all the Priestly females have a way about them.” Andrea whispered.
Slowly Miranda turned, eyebrows raised, a half grin on her lips.
Andrea, suddenly warm, toyed with the small thready hole on the thigh of her jeans. Miranda’s gaze dropped, maybe drawn to the movement of Andrea’s fingers, then snapped up. The faintest pink tinged her cheeks.
“I should go. I mean, the girls and I have plans before I need to get ready for the benefit tonight.”
The benefit where Jonathan was her escort. Andrea nodded then looked up at Miranda, jamming her hands into her back pockets.
“Oh, yeah, I-we wouldn’t want to be the cause for you being late. I know you don’t want to keep Mr. Weber waiting.”
Miranda bit her lower lip, the edge of white teeth against red skin catching Andrea’s attention.
“Do you know Jonathan?”
“By reputation only.” Andrea shrugged. “We don’t exactly travel the same social circle.”
“I suppose not.”
“I’ll get your coats.”
As she opened the closet door, she heard Miranda call out to the twins then her own daughter started to protest.
Arms full, she turned and her heart dropped a little. Fen, standing next to a sitting Caroline, had her arm around the girl’s shoulders while frowning up at Miranda. Cassidy, oblivious or ignoring everything, finished off the last sandwich.
“We were gonna play fashion show. Can’t I just stay here and play with Fen? Please?”
Miranda squatted in front of them.
“M, I wanna do...” she stopped, screwed her face up then tilted her head to look at Caroline, obviously at a loss about how to finish the sentence.
Caroline whispered in her ear.
Grinning, Fen barked, “Fatten show!”
“Fashion show.” Caroline corrected, the look of horror on her face too comical for Andrea to resist laughing.
Cassidy snorted then started prancing around shaking her butt and singing, “We’re going to the fatten show.”
Sidetracked by the other redhead’s antics, Fen joined in, clapping and singing right along.
Miranda bent her head, slightly shaking it, then looked back up, catching Cassidy and Fen strutting across the living room. She finally cracked, emitting light laughter.
No one else’s laughter ever affected Andrea in the way Miranda Priestly’s just did. It was absolutely the worst time to have developed a thing for her boss. Until a few seconds ago, she identified as straight, but, after that laugh and those sparkling eyes, Andrea simply wanted to what exactly? Crawl into bed with her and ask for a bedtime story?
“Okay, you’ve had your fun, girls. Let’s get ready to leave, shall we?”
Caroline asked with a touch of defiance, “Why can’t I stay here, Mom? The art store is Cassidy’s thing.”
“Caroline.” Miranda said, tone brooking no further arguments.
Fen tugged on Andrea’s jeans and asked, “Can I go, mummers?”
Kneeling, she asked, “What about Da? He wants to tell you happy birthday and watch you open his presents. I bet he’s been waiting all day just to see you over the phone.”
Fen twisted and looked up at Miranda who was nearby buttoning up her coat.
“Go say goodbye and thank them for visiting.” Andrea instructed in a low voice.
While the girls hugged, Andrea stood. Miranda took a step closer, smiling.
“Can you wait a few more minutes?”
Miranda nodded, looking a little curious.
Andrea went to the table and picked up the gift and card the twins gave her.
“Fen, come here and open one of your presents.”
Cassidy and Caroline crowded around Fen.
“I helped pick it out.” Cassidy said.
Caroline frowned. “I did, too.”
Fen tried to tear into the card but experienced a bit of trouble.
“Here. I’ll show you.” Caroline offered, gently taking the card from the smaller girl.
Andrea glanced at Miranda.
“See, here. Just pull out the flap. We didn’t lick it. It’s easier to open, see?”
Cassidy offered, “I can read it to you, if you want.”
Fen huffed, “I can do it.” She started sounding out the words but had trouble with the longer ones. When she looked up, everyone wore supportive smiles, none, however, quite as big as Andrea’s.
Caroline handed over the small box and immediately started fidgeting. Fen struggled with the tightly wrapped present.
Fen handed it to Caroline, whining, “Do it, Ro.”
With nimble fingers she took off the wrapping then handed it back to Fen who nodded and gasped a thank you.
“Oooh, look, Fen, it’s a necklace with your name on it.” Andrea cooed, unclasping it. “Okay, pull your hair up, sweetie.”
With a little help from the twins, she managed to place the necklace around Fen’s neck and fasten it. The girls excitedly ran to the bathroom so Fen could see it in the mirror.
“They were dead set on it.” Miranda said, looking toward the hallway. “Something about charm bracelets at camp.”
Andrea tugged on Miranda’s arm until she looked at her. “You are...amazing, Miranda Priestly.” A strangled laugh eased out of her throat and Andrea clamped her hand over her mouth as if to wipe it away. “I don’t know how to repay you.”
Miranda stepped closer. “Impress me in Paris.”
The low vibration of her voice, the way her eyes burned with icy challenge, and those fucking red lips curved in a bitch smile that roused Andrea’s competitive nature. Nothing got her rev’ed quite like a provocation issued by Miranda.
“When I do, how will you reward me?”
“Get me an exclusive with Vargineau. A three-page spread of his Fall collection. No less than three paragraphs of quotes from him.”
It would be almost impossible but Andrea thrived on serving it up on a platter. “Then what, Miranda?”
She leaned in and spoke into Andrea’s ear. “There’s not much I wouldn’t do for that, Andrea.”
Andrea lifted her chin and pulled back slightly. Their mouths were so close she felt Miranda’s breaths fall on her lips.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Andrea’s eyes slid down, latching onto Miranda’s mouth that dared her to... When the rest of the thought hummed in Andrea’s head, she abruptly increased the space between them. Seriously, she needed to get a grip.
“Mom! We didn’t sing the birthday song!” Caroline cried out, hands on her cheeks.
Everyone dutifully sang the song. Fen giggled madly throughout, bouncing on her toes. Andrea took a few photos. Cassidy begged for one with Fen and her sister. Promising to send it to her mother, Andrea accepted hugs from the twins.
“Thank you.” They said in unison.
At the door, Miranda turned and placed her hand on Andrea’s shoulder.
“We had a lovely time. Thank you.”
Andrea’s heartbeat sped up and her entire body tingled. Helplessly she stared into Miranda’s eyes. Fen squeezed in between them, her little fists holding onto the fabric of Miranda’s coat.
Miranda cupped Fen’s chin then crouched low and kissed her forehead. “Good-bye, birthday girl.”
Andrea took a step back, hand still on the doorknob and waited until Miranda joined the girls in the hallway before saying, “See you Monday.”