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More of a Fair Fight

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Miranda took a picture of Fen standing between the twins while holding their hands. Caroline announced she and her sister would look after the younger girl as they got into the elevator. She sent it to Andrea then frowned. Yet another thing to stop doing. Miranda shoved aside the sharp sting at the thought. Ridiculous. That particular road had been travelled and she harbored no inclination to trod down it again. So what if she enjoyed the sight of Andrea in those indecently snug jeans. (No, no, not the jeans, Miranda, it was that delectable ass in those jeans you enjoyed.) Although it was the truth, that delectable ass didn’t have any control over its cowardly owner. Therefore, she reasoned, she would enjoy the hell out of that ass whenever presented to her.

 Roy had pulled out a car seat from the trunk and secured it in the back seat by the time they sprung from of the building and into the car. Miranda road up front with him which was a bit awkward.

“We’re due at FIAF at ten thirty.”

“We’ll be there in eight minutes, Miranda. Traffic should be light.”

She didn’t feel like small talk and felt a little let down. Expecting Andrea to insist going along, Miranda had readied herself but it had been for naught, obviously. Miranda stared out the window, half-listening to the girls trying to teach Fen how to say fart in French. Andrea’s behavior had reverted back to when they first met, not a top five reaction Miranda had anticipated. Begging, anger, seduction, manipulation, and coercion all had a tailored response which Miranda designed to effectively stop Andrea from getting under her skin.

Andrea’s pleasant detachment irritated Miranda beyond belief and then it occurred to her she’d mustered her defenses against a frontal assault. She underestimated the sly wench who had flanked her instead. Miranda grinned with a touch of melancholy. Well, time to introduce her to Le Priestly, then, whether the cub could hold her own.

  Bo Yon ‘Bruce’ Chen met them at the employees’ entrance in the back of the building.

“Miranda, An-Li elle a dit qu’elle t’a rencontré au Dalton il y a quelques mois.

They shook hands then entered the building and she continued speaking French as per the unspoken rule. The girls kept singing Frère Jacques until Miranda wanted to stab herself in the head. Thankfully Bruce took over when they entered a class room. Off to the side, perched on a stool, Miranda took off her coat and set it aside on the counter. Caroline helped Fen with her outerwear as Cassidy stumbled through a conversation with Bruce. Curiously, Fen didn’t act shy or tried to hide behind one of the girls. Bruce’s soft voice and easygoing manner, the gentle way he smiled with encouragement had a positive effect upon Andrea’s offspring. Perhaps the twins helped as well.

Bruce set about evaluating Fen from how she interacted with the much older girls to learning new words while playing a learning game. Of course, Miranda had been through this before with the twins. Caroline retained a bit more than Cassidy and Miranda was pleased something stuck but Fen was a sponge. The mother in Miranda took out her phone and recorded a brief video of Fen reciting the French translation for cue cards with pictures Bruce taught her earlier.  Red ball, kitten, and puppy became ‘balle rouge, chaton, chiot’ without the slightest hesitation although her pronunciation needed some more practice. A few minutes after she sent the brief clip to Andrea, she replied.

omg!! so proud of her!! thank u so much for encouraging my baby

Miranda curtailed the bubbling sensation in her chest.

Andrea was fickle. Andrea was a childish ass. Andrea scared off easily.

She repeated it inside her head, over and over, but it lacked staying power.

It was a good thing Miranda did not. Whatever squishy emotion she held for the woman she planned to channel into being an absolute bitch toward her. Within reason, of course. They had a professional future, one which already was set into motion. It wouldn’t do to completely alienate nor corner Andrea. She had options other than Runway. But, oh yes,  she would punish the cub just enough to remind her who was the queen of the pride.

  •  

Le Petit Doux in north Brooklyn was a small pâtisseries and un café shop Miranda adored but infrequently visited. Run by a licensed maître pâtissier, it adhered to French tradition but accommodated the American palate in regard to their coffee. The pastries were individual works of art, carefully constructed and presented, and swoon-worthy. It was the coffee, however, that kept Miranda coming back. Over-extracted and bitter, the classic cup of French coffee flooded her system with pure joy. That, and the sugar cubes Miranda dipped in it and ate after they turned brown. Hence, the reason she stayed away. Consuming  coffee-soaked sugar on a regular basis would turn her ass into a behemoth that knocked down people whenever she turned a corner.

In the spirit of their visit to the institute, Miranda coaxed the girls into ordering in French as she softly prompted Fen. When it was time for her to order, she sang out ‘un chocolat et deux bouffons de crème s’il vous plait.’ The woman behind the counter bit her lip then looked over her shoulder. Promptly an older gentleman in a crisp white apron and chef’s hat moved from behind a display to the right. In French, he asked how he could be of assistance. Kissing Fen’s cheek, she explained la petite fille had recently gotten back from a trip to Paris and was eager to practice what she learned.

He was nice, kind, and patient with the girls and very complimentary toward her. Miranda simply enjoyed it but when he followed them to their table, she coolly dismissed him. Had she wanted him there, Miranda had no problem issuing an invite. Toward the end of their stay, the man returned, complimenting the girls, then discreetly giving Miranda a business card.

She left it on the table and texted Andrea to let her know she was going to drop Fen off in about forty minutes.

sounds gud

Miranda rolled her eyes.

The drive didn’t take as long as she expected. Roy pulled up the Andrea’s building within a half-hour. Miranda instructed the girls to stay in the car with Roy while she ran in with Fen. Of course the twins protested but she sternly told them to say their goodbyes.

Fen cried out, “Au revoir, Au revoir!”

While in the elevator, Miranda held Fen’s hand.

“M.” she said, scratching the side of her nose as she squinted up at the adult.

“Yes, mon chou.”

“Sidi and Ro’s has a daddy?”

“Yes. Caroline and Cassidy take a train to see him.”

Fen’s eyes grew round. “A train? I wanna see, M.”

“Perhaps someday. We shall talk to your mother about it.”

“Okay.”

The elevator stopped before Andrea’s floor and two women entered. Miranda hoisted Fen onto her hip.

“Oh, she’s beautiful.” The older of the two said.

Miranda noticed her Burberry coat. She whispered something into Fen’s ear.

Promptly, she parroted, “Merci beaucoup.”

As expected the Burberry coat wearer uttered more compliments but her companion, who, incidentally, carried an Oscar de la Renta handbag from five seasons ago, looked upon Fen as if she were something unpleasant.

“Is there a problem?” Miranda asked her quietly.

“Yeah, here in America we speak English.”

“Gabby.” admonished the Burberry coat wearer and offered Miranda an apologetic look.

Slowly Miranda’s eyebrows rose. “T’es une raclure de bidet.” She looked down at Fen and said, “Do not repeat that, mon chou.”

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Miranda swept through, ignoring the woman’s grumbling insults.

“Hey, there, sweetie.” Andrea cooed as soon as she opened the door after Miranda knocked and greedily held her arms out.

Fen laughed and reached for her mother.

“You’re back earlier than I expected. Everything go okay?”

“Mummers, I needs potty.”

“Okay, do you want me to help?” Andrea asked, setting her down.

“I can do it myself.”

Andrea sighed ruefully as her daughter did a good imitation of stomping off.

“Before we arrived at Le Petit Doux I asked her if she needed to potty.” Miranda mock-shivered. “I’ve never been dressed down by a four year old before.”

“Yeah, she’s something else.” Andrea murmured as she tilted her head to the side. “I know you can’t stay but...”

“The girls are downstairs.” Miranda interrupted, more tempted than she should have been by Andrea’s implied invitation. “There is one thing, however, that I’d like to run past you. Just think about it before you decide, but Bruce, the instructor at the institute, was very impressed with Fen and offered to take her on twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursday from two to three o’clock. She’ll be interacting with other children in her age group that have a little more experience than she, but Bruce believes Fen will easily catch up. Here’s his card.”

Andrea gently accepted it then looked down, rubbing a fingertip against the card’s top corner. After a few seconds she lifted her gaze which shimmered with unshed tears.

“That’s...that’s very nice of you, Miranda. Thank you.”

“Don’t...” Miranda stopped herself and lamely finished with, “...It was nothing.”

“Thank you for taking such good care of my daughter.”

The moment stretched out between them. Miranda was besieged by a longing to prolong her time in Andrea’s company.

“Of course. I’ll see myself out.” she said and didn’t wait, departed as if being chased.

  •  

Miranda did a load of the girl’s laundry then went into the closet by the front door and took up the dry cleaning one of the assistants dropped off the previous day. Contrary to mythical lore, Cara usually handled the dry-cleaning on the days she went to the market. She cleaned the breakfast dishes then took the trash out even though it wasn’t full because she loathed even the faintest odor of rotting food. The twins were playing a video game or something in the playroom prompting Miranda to go upstairs to see if the mini-fridge was stocked.

“Cassidy, how can you see what you’re doing sitting on the couch like that?”

“I dunno.” she said then whined, “Caroline, you squashed my tomato!! Uncool.”

Miranda walked to the faux cabinet door and opened it and snapped, “What is that?”

“Oops.” Cassidy squeaked then scrambled upright and tried to get her sister’s attention.

“Will you stop it? I’m winning.”

Calmly Miranda stepped over Caroline who was laying on the floor then walked over to the game console and turned it off.

Mom!”

“One of you better explain what that...that thing is in the refrigerator. Right now.”

“Cassidy found it.”

“But Caroline brought it home.”

“See, I told you we’d get into trouble.” Cassidy muttered.

You’re the one who said we could save it.”

“Enough.” Miranda said sternly. “How long has it been there?”

Caroline stood then shrugged. Cassidy looked at the ceiling.

“I’m not going to ask again. Make your choices wisely.”

“We found it Thursday.” Caroline supplied.

Cassidy scratched the back of her neck. “When Cara took us to the park.”

“I distracted her while...”

Miranda closed her eyes then said, “Please tell me you didn’t touch it.”

“Well, how else was I supposed to put it in my pocket, Mom?” Cassidy asked, genuinely perplexed.

“Put the game away. Video games are off-limits for a week.”

Both girls rushed her to object but instantly faded back at her look.

“Cassidy, go get the kitchen gloves under the sink. Caroline, get a trash bag.” When neither moved, she barked, “Now.”

She was going to have a stroke. A dead bird was in the mini-fridge next to her children’s snacks and drinks was finally going to send her over the edge. She didn’t care everything was packaged. The very first thing she intended to do after disposing of the corpse was to throw away everything else.  Better yet, she was going to haul the damn thing to the curb and allow someone else to deal with the burial. How was she ever going to be able to put another damn thing in there when there was a dead bird in it for two and a half days? What if it had maggots? Miranda pressed her hand into her stomach as she fought down a dry-heave.

The girls ran into the room. Cassidy wore the yellow rubber gloves and held a pair of tongs. Caroline stuffed tissues up her nostrils and flapped open the trash bag.

“Cassidy Marie, don’t you even think about using my kitchen utensil. Give it to me right this minute.”

Her daughter shrugged but handed them over. “At least I didn’t use the turkey baster.”

Miranda’s eyes narrowed. “Whatever for?”

“CPR. You know, like on that tv show...”

CPR with a turkey baster? On a dead bird?” Miranda gave up, partly horrified and a bit proud. “Why did you put it in the fridge?”

Cassidy pushed up her sleeve. “I couldn’t put it in the freezer.”

“You couldn’t...” Miranda trailed off as she lightly shook her head. “I can’t ask you any more questions, Cassidy.”

She turned to her other daughter. “Did you take anything from the fridge after Cassidy turned it into a makeshift morgue?”

“Um, every day. To get a water.”

“Did the refrigerator emit an odor when you got your water?”

“I wanted to be prepared, mom.” she replied,  as she pointed to her plugged nostrils.

Miranda sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “So help me...Fine, let’s get this over with. Cassidy...” She gestured toward the fridge.

Of course Cassidy’s eyes lit up like a Fourth of July extravaganza. “Oh, wow, this so cool.”

Caroline hung back a little and Miranda held her breath.

Cassidy carefully scooped up the bird and turned toward her sister who held out the bag.

“Take the gloves off and put them in the bag.”

“Oh, mom, we can just wash...”

Put them in the bag.”

Cassidy did as she was told then took the bag from her sister, held it opened and sniffed.

Alarmed, Miranda screeched, “Have you lost your mind.”

“It’s fine, mom. I can’t really smell anything except the bag, I guess.” Brow wrinkling, she said, “What do dead birds smell like?”

Through clenched teeth, Miranda ordered, “Just give me the bag. Go wash your hands. Both of you.”

“Cassidy, come on, let’s go.” Caroline wisely intervened and led her sister away.

Miranda knotted the bag twice before holding it out in front of her and hurrying down the stairs and out the back door.

  •  

At one o’clock in the morning Miranda kicked off the top sheet, the duvet sacrificed to the bottom of the bed hours ago. She wished she never met Andrea Sachs. She wished she had fucked her in that damn car, Roy be damned. Mostly, she wished Andrea had trusted her. Miranda reached over and turned on the lamp on her bedside table.

After the ‘bird incident’ her appetite was questionable but the girls were hungry. At first, she didn’t catch on when she asked what they wanted for dinner. Cassidy was in the mood for ‘fried chicken from Yard Bird’. Caroline proposed ‘chicken wings from Feathers’. Miranda told them they were having pizza delivered which made them happier than teasing their mother. Almost. She calmed down enough after dinner to hose down the mini-fridge with a bleach cleaner, ordering the girls not to open it until she wiped it out in the morning.

Being busy was the key. She couldn’t afford to have a minute to herself because then she would think and miss a certain brunette after which the feelings would take hold. Miranda was too old to pine for someone.

Perhaps a bit of good old fashion elbow grease would tire her out. With that thought in mind, Miranda swung her legs over the edge of the mattress and stood. She put on a pair of old shorts and t-shirt which no one, except her daughters, knew were in her dresser drawer. They came in handy when she scrubbed down the bathrooms or kitchen or planted flowers in the spring. Whenever she put them on, which wasn’t often, it always coincided with a bout of insomnia, fury, or trying to figure something out.

After the mini-fridge, Miranda tackled her bathroom, then went through the pantry and tossed out everything that was out-of-date which happened to be one can of refried beans. Still restless, she checked the oven (clean), the top of the cabinets for dust (clean), the half-bath by the back door (not even a lone red hair), then, in desperation, the hall closet on the third floor where the things Miranda couldn’t decide if she wanted or not resided. Well, damnit, she still couldn’t decide after thirty-four minutes.

She took a quick shower at four fifteen in the morning and slipped into bed naked. For a brief second she thought about working on the magazine, but she didn’t think she could focus long enough to do any good. As it happened, her eyes drooped and she snuggled deeper into the pillow.

“Mom, wake up.”

Miranda groaned and rolled away from the little person that she gave birth to.

“We’re hungry.”

“What time is...it?”

“I dunno.”

Huffing, she flopped on her back and rubbed her face with her palms as she yawned.

“Uh, mom, are you naked?”

“Shit.” Miranda gasped and yanked up the covers.

Cassidy brushed back the hair from her eyes. “Chocolate covered cherries are off-limits for the swears.”

“You’ve got to be joking.”

“You told us if we ever caught you swearing, we could decide the punishment cause it was gonna be a cold day in Helsinki if you ever did it.”

“Is your sister up?” Miranda grouched.

“She’s in the library seein’ if there’s a book on bird funerals.”

Biting back a groan, she pointed to the bathroom and asked, “Could you get mommy her robe please?”

Cassidy acted overly put upon, grumbling the entire way then dragging the robe behind her.

“For that little display of disrespect, you get to clean your bathroom and pick up your room.” Miranda said in a stern voice.

“That’s not fair.” her daughter pouted, holding up the robe. “I did what you said.”

“For every decision you make, Cassidy, there is a consequence. We both know when I asked for my rob, I did not mean for you to drag it across the floor. The choice really is yours.”

Cassidy gently placed the robe on the bed near her mother.

“Now, go downstairs and get your sister and meet me in the kitchen, please.”

“Yes, mom.” Cassidy turned and started walking away. Once she reached the door, she turned around and said, “I’m sorry. I’ll start on my...consequences... after breakfast if that’s okay?”

“It is.”

Miranda watched her disappear then slipped on her robe and went to the bathroom. Never quite sure she was doing the right thing for her girls, she went back and forth in her thoughts.  She worried about privilege, entitlement, shallowness, and a million other things because of the money she made. Character was earned, not given, and Miranda prayed she didn’t rob her daughters of the lessons they needed to build it.

Of course, her thoughts wandered to Fen and she had to admit Andrea was doing a wonderful job raising her child. She wondered if Andrea was going to enroll Fen into FIAF. Did she agonize over every little decision? Stay up late worried she’d been too much of one thing and not enough of the other? The twin’s father hadn’t concerned himself with their early upbringing. He spoiled them, winded them up on sugar highs only to hand them over when they crashed. What type of father would Nate be now that he started a new life, complete with impregnated girlfriend, in another city? How would Andrea handle it?

Miranda washed her hands and changed into the nightclothes she should have worn last night. It’s not as if Cassidy or Caroline hadn’t seen their mother in various states of undress. They barged into rooms or crawled into her bed after a nightmare or asked her questions while she was in the shower. Yet, donning the appropriate clothing helped to focus Miranda’s mind. Before going downstairs, Miranda looked at her phone and was surprised to see a text from Andrea.

brunch at The Carriage House w/girls as thank you?

Miranda didn’t bother to reply.