While in the back of the cab for the ride home, Andrea disliked leaving Miranda and the twins. Fen, however, adjusted without a wrinkle. She softly sang the French song Frère Jacques while tilting Lou the sloth from side to side. Andrea looked out the window and sighed. The lists of things she needed to do, from putting Fen down for a nap before dinner to calling Doug back filled her head. Hopefully there was something in the freezer she could thaw out or else it was delivery for dinner.
When the cabbie pulled up in front of her building, Andrea paid him, gathered her things and took Fen’s hand. The sidewalk was crowded but she managed to maintain her grip on her daughter’s hand. The bitter cold wind whisked into the small foyer after them then abruptly ceased as the door closed.
“Mommy, I have to use the potty.”
“Okay, honey. Can you hold it just a few more minutes?”
Fen squirmed. “How many is that?”
“Obviously too many. Come on. Let’s find a restroom.”
Andrea pulled their luggage behind her as they passed the watchman’s desk, calling out a greeting to the security guard. Thankfully, the public restroom had just been cleaned. She got the toilet seat ready for Fen then unbundled her winter gear.
“Alright.” she said, gently setting her daughter down on the covered seat.
When Fen finished, Andrea pulled out a wet-nap for her to use.
“Mommy, Sid said I’m going to school with them.”
“Well, you’ll be at the same school but not in the same classes.”
“I want to be with Sid and Ro.”
Before Fen dug in, Andrea scooped her up, flung her bag over her shoulder then grabbed the luggage handle. “Hold onto Lou, sweetie. You don’t want to drop him.”
“I lubbie Lou.”
“Can you say ‘I love Lou’ for me?”
“No, the way I say it, Fen.”
Fen’s faced flushed as she shook her head then crumpled against Andrea’s chest. Determined to revisit her daughter’s multitude of mispronunciations and made-up words, Andrea let her be for the moment. Overly tired and fussy, Fen wouldn’t be receptive. Andrea rubbed her daughter’s back as the elevator climbed. She made comforting sounds, swaying a little which often lulled Fen.
At the door, she dropped her keys and groaned. Her arms ached, feet hurt and the strap of her bag cut into her shoulder. All Andrea wanted was to sit down or soak in the tub. The door unexpectedly opened as she bent low to grab her keys.
“Oh, thank-shit.” Andrea’s mouth dropped open.
“Here, give me my grandchild.” Vivi said, arms already stretched out. “Is that any way to welcome your mother?”
Looking around, she spotted Demetria coming out of the kitchen. “Surprise!”
Andrea glared at her mother but addressed Demetria. “Yes, it was.”
“DeeDee!” Fen yawned then looked at Vivi who eagerly waited for her to jump into her arms. Glancing up at her mother, Fen asked, “Who that?”
Demetria took Fen’s bag but Andrea stopped her. “That’s your mom-mom, sweetie. And you...” She smiled at the nanny. “...are off the clock. I’m surprised you’re home.”
“My plans fell through.” Demetria shrugged.
“Well, someone had to be here to let me in, Andrea.” Vivi cut in, the injured air a classic response.
Andrea put Fen down. “Sweetie, why don’t you...”
“Hey, would you mind if I take Fen out to visit my sister? My nephew just turned six.” Her gaze dropped. “I’m sure you guys have tings to talk about and I’ll bring her back in a few hours ready to wear her mom-mom out.”
The young woman was a godsend. “Thank you. I’ll pay you, of course.”
“I don’t see why...”
Andrea impeded the rest of her mother’s words with a commanding glare.
“I’ll make sure she gets a nap, Andrea.” Demetria murmured then took Fen’s hand. “Come on. I can’t wait for you to meet my sister and nephew. He has lots of toys, too.”
“Okay.” Fen said. “What kind of toys?”
“Let me get my things and we’ll go see.”
Andrea watched Demetria lead her daughter to her room. Mindful the door didn’t close behind them, she raised her hand when her mother was about to speak. The initial shock of her mother’s drop-in faded, slowly replaced with an icy resentment. Vivi’s bulldoze tactics, while familiar, nevertheless prickled the hair on the back of Andrea’s neck. Refusing to look at her for fear an argument would ensue, Andrea focused on the hallway. When Fen burst through, tugging Demetria behind her, it was all Andrea could do not to snatch up her child and take her to safety herself.
“Mommy, bye!” Fen called out, blowing Andrea a kiss.
“I’ll text you when we’re on the way back, Andrea. Nice to mee you, Mrs. Sachs.” Demetria said then left the apartment holding on to Fen’s mittened hand.
“May I speak now?” Vivi asked as she took a seat on the couch.
Andrea took off her gloves and coat, tossing them on the chair followed by her purse. She stood on the other side of the coffee table, directly opposite her mother and folded her arms.
“By all means.”
“Why do you have such an attitude?”
Andrea sat down on the other chair. So, they were going the long way around. Awesome. “Because you’re going to harp on me.”
Vivi rolled her eyes. “Is it so wrong to want what’s best for my daughter?”
“You don’t know what that is anymore.” she snapped, instantly contrite when a look of pain crossed her mother’s features, but Andrea would be damned before she voiced it. “I’m an adult with a child. Your job of raising me is finished.”
“It’s never finished. There’s no ‘done’ when you’re a mother. You should know that.”
“You can love me, worry about me, and hope for me. Support and respect my decisions. But you don’t get to raise me because I’m already grown.”
“So, what, am I supposed to allow you to ruin your life? And your daughter’s life? She needs her father, Andrea.” Vivi sprang up from the couch and walked around the coffee table.
“He cheated. Do you understand that? Then he left with Lily to Boston and she’s knocked up. It’s been over a week since he’s seen or talked to his daughter. You don’t know anything.”
Vivi receded, the fingertips of one hand covering her lips as she shook her head.
Andrea inhaled like a runner after a marathon. She felt dizzy and raw.
“But he...Nate said...” Vivi paused, collecting herself.
Andrea braced for the impact.
“Nate wants to come home. To you and Fen. He told me he made a mistake.”
“He made thousands and I don’t want him.” Body trembling, she raked a hand through her hair. “What in the hell did he say that made you fly to New York?”
“That he would do anything for your forgiveness.”
“Okay, he’s forgiven. Happy? Because Nate’s infidelity opened the doors to my happiness. I’ve found someone else.”
Vivi reached behind her and lowered herself onto the corner of the coffee table.
If it were possible, Andrea would have snatched the reckless admission from her mother’s ears. Instead, amid the uncomfortable silence, she took a seat.
“Who?” Vivi finally asked, fisting her hands in her lap. ”It’s only been a few months.”
“He’s been cheating with Lily for the last year.”
“I don’t understand.”
Andrea sighed, rubbing her forehead. “When I was pregnant with Fen, he cheated on me with a waitress from the restaurant he worked in. He said I wasn’t taking care of his needs but I felt like shit and I was working all the time.”
“I don’t think I want to listen to anymore, Andrea.”
That got her attention. Andrea stared at her mother. The crushing weight of resentment bore down on her. Try as she might, she couldn’t get up from underneath it. The best she managed was standing up and telling her mother to get out.
“What?” Vivi asked, standing as well. “Excuse me for needing a moment to process how my daughter’s life is broken.”
“What do you want from me?” Andrea’s voice cracked. “How can you say that, mom? For the first time, my life makes complete sense.”
“Really, Andrea, spare me the romanticism. What could you possibly know about this new man? Or did you cheat on Nate, too?”
“She.” All the heat in her body flooded her face. She cleared her throat then repeated more firmly, “She. I’m in love with a woman.”
“Oh, dear god.” Vivi jumped up then grabbed her daughter’s shoulders. “You are out of your mind. You cannot be serious, Andrea.”
Looking into her mother’s eyes, breath suspended in her chest, what she hoped to find wasn’t there. Abruptly she wrenched out of Vivi’s grasp and stalked over to the coat stand by the door.
“I don’t want you here.”
“Don’t be absurd.” Vivi yelled, marching up to Andrea and continuing more calmly, “You’re not being rational. Just calm down.”
Andrea cocked her head as she crossed her arms. “I’m a lesbian.”
“You’re married to a man.”
“I’m getting divorced.”
“It’s just an experiment. You’ve always pushed the boundaries.” Vivi smiled but it looked demolished.
The desperate plea in her mother’s voice, how her eyes welled with tears and lips trembled weren’t enough to sway Andrea toward deceit. If she simply said what Vivi wanted to hear, they could continue as before but Andrea slowly took a step back and held out her mother’s coat.
“I don’t understand, Andrea.” But Vivi took the proffered coat and purse. “I’ve got a room at the Belvedere. I’ll be in town for the next few days. I’d like to see Fen before I go back.”
“Tell me everything,”
On the phone with Miranda, Andrea related what happened with her mother, vacillating between tears and rage. The cool, even tone of Miranda’s voice started to penetrate, however, deescalating Andrea’s rant so completely, it didn’t register she’d been talked down from an emotional cliff.
“What are the chances of her telling Nate?”
Andrea bit back a sob then inhaled wetly. “Guaranteed.”
“What will he do?”
“Out us. I can’t keep him from Fen if he wants to see her. She’s bound to say something about you or the twins and, since he’ll be looking for it, putting the pieces together won’t be too difficult.”
“Call your mother tomorrow. I want you to lie to her.”
“What?” Andrea gasped then gritted out, “No.”
Miranda sighed. “Please, hear me out, darling.”
“I’ll give up Runway. That’s the only way and you know it, Miranda.”
“Absolutely not. We will get through this, Andrea. I can’t-I won’t allow you to throw away all your hard work. You deserve Runway and you will have it. Let’s not jump off any bridges just yet.”
“I’m choosing you.”
“You have me, Andrea. Make no mistake. I’m not going anywhere. But we need to nip this in the bud before it spirals beyond our control. I have plans in the works to expedite your divorce.”
“How is that even possible?” Andrea objected. “Please tell me you aren’t going to blackmail or bribe someone.”
“Of course not.” Miranda purred, then laughed lightly. “Not this time anyway.”
“Oh, jesus, it’s so, so wrong to find your devious streak sexy.”
“My source says it’s possible, with the right nudge, to finalize your divorce by June.”
Andrea rubbed her temple. “Mm, okay, the less I know the better. What do I need to do?”
“Reconcile with your mother and allay her suspicions. Start going out with your beard. We can double but sparingly.”
“Okay, but there’s more. I can hear it in your voice, Miranda.”
Miranda hesitated. “Set up a custody agreement with Nate before allowing visitation. If he...if he decides to take Fen, it will be hard to get her back.”
“He hasn’t shown any interest in Fen for...”
“If your mother tells him about you being with a woman, what will he do?”
Andrea grimaced. “I’m not sure. My mother said he wants my forgiveness but, of course, he didn’t tell her about Lily or the baby. Lately he’s been distant. Maybe that could work in our favor. Fen asks about him sometimes but...she’s only four so I’m not sure how aware she really is.”
“Has her demeanor drastically shifted?”
“Well...” Andrea debated with herself, then shrugged. “Let me ask you this...how is she when you and the girls engage with her in French?”
“I think she may be developing a speech impediment? I just don’t know. Some days her pronunciation is off or she reverts to making up words.”
“Well it wouldn’t hurt to take her to a speech therapist for an evaluation.”
“I guess not but part of me wonders if it’s just something four year old’s do, you know?”
“I don’t remember if the girls went through it or not but, then...” Miranda sighed. “I wasn’t home that often.”
They spoke of other things. When Andrea mentioned Nigel was seeing Jean Paul Gaultier, Miranda laughed then proceeded recounting the story of how Miranda caught them shagging in Bianca Jagger’s loft at a party. Andrea countered with the time she walked in on her parents, the memory of her mother on her knees still traumatizing.
“Thank you. I needed a laugh.” Andrea said softly. “And thank you for being there for me.”
“Andrea, you needn’t thank me. It’s us against the world, remember?”
“I do.” she replied, dropping her voice to a tender level. “We’re very lucky to have you and the girls in our corner. I hope you know...”
“I do, darling. I do.”
Andrea exhaled. “I should let you go and return some phone calls.”
“I’m taking the girls out for dinner. Uncle Tam’s on Thirty-second. They’re eating their way through the menu.”
“Is that right? Somehow I don’t see Cassidy eating seaweed salad.”
Miranda laughed. “She’s saving all the ones she’s squeamish about for last unlike Caroline who now gets to savor her favorites. Of course, some dishes I’ve banned like the sea urchin.”
“Well, you guys have fun.” Andrea sucked in her upper lip then released it with a drawn out breath. “Guess I’ll hit up Warren, my beard, and see when he’s available.”
“Hmm. Tell him to watch where he puts his hands.”
“Will do, Priestly.”
“Hey, is this a bad time?”
“Uh, I’ve got a few. So, how goes it?”
Andrea twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “We’re going radio silence, dep-con five and all that.”
“It’s defcon and five is actually the lowest state of readiness. One is nuclear war.”
“Oh, wow, how’d you know that?”
“I had an arrangement with an army sergeant in high school. We used to give each other brojobs whenever he could swing it. He actually got me a pair of fatigues and boots.”
“Okay, but the defcon thing?”
“Oh, like when I’d start, you know, he’d count it off. ‘Permission to go to defcon four, sir.’”
Andrea winced. “I don’t want to know but I do. So defcon one was...”
“Nuclear blast off.”
“Huh, well, then.”
“C’mon, Andrea, I know you had to give a few in your lifetime.”
“I sucked at it.”
Laughing, Doug said, “We haven’t talked in a while.”
“I know.” Andrea replied quietly. “I’m sorry about that but it’s been...hectic and wonderful.”
Very quickly, she caught him up then stressed not to mention it to anyone as things were a bit delicate at the moment.
“I’ve never told a secret of yours.”
“That’s true. I’m just very...protective of our relationship, Doug. It’s her or no one.”
He whistled softly. “Wow. Oh, um, I, uh, spoke with Lily.”
“I know you guys are friends. It’s okay Actually, I should thank her for taking Nate off my hands.”
“Yeah, about that...”
“No, no, no, Doug. She took him and she has to keep him.”
Andrea plopped down on the couch. “Yeah, I kinda figured that since he’s been hitting up my mom. Regardless, he has to find his own way. I’m going to tell my lawyer to send a custody agreement to him to sign.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the thing. They’re fighting about Fen. Nate wants joint custody but Lily thinks it’d be better for them if you have sole custody. At least until they get married or break up, I guess.”
“God, he’s such a tool.” Andrea switched the phone to her other ear. “Well, Lily isn’t stupid.”
“She does have her own baby to think about.”
“I don’t blame her for that. She did a shitty thing to me but it freed me up to fall in love with Miranda, so, well, while I don’t hate Lily, I don’t love her either.”
“Well, that’s not a bad deal considering. I hate to say it, but I’ve gotta go.”
“No worries. Take care and don’t get into any trouble.”
Doug snorted. “I’m going out with a guy that plays trumpet in an Afro-Cuban jazz band. Well, not actually going out. More like fanboying over.”
“Talk to you soon, Doug.”
Just as she tossed the phone onto the coffee table, the front door opened and Fen raced into the apartment as Demetria locked the door behind them.
“Mummers! I had the best time. For reals.”
Andrea laughed then lost her breath when her daughter barreled into her.
“Well, hello, sweetie. I’m so glad you’re home.” Andrea stroked her daughter’s soft, rumpled hair.
“Can I talk to Da?”
Andrea looked at her daughter. “Let’s call him.” Before picking up the phone she looked over the back of the couch and caught Demetria’s eye. “Hey, thanks. Expect a little something extra in your check.”
Demetria looked uncertain then nodded. “Well, okay. I didn’t mean to...”
“I’m thankful for what you did, Demetria.”
Her smile lit up her face, eyebrows no longer a straight line. “I’m gonna put this in the kitchen then go to my room.”
She texted Nate, relaying Fen wanted to FaceTime him.
“Are you hungry?”
“Nope.” Fen sighed as she slumped against Andrea’s arm.
“My sister was making her famous jambalaya.” Demetria said, holding up a Tupperware container and shrugging. “She sent me home with enough to feed an army. Feel free to have some, if you want.”
“Thanks. I’ll have some later. God, it’s been a while since I’ve had decent Louisiana-style home cooking.”
“Cher, she had an envie for some jambalaya an’ had a fais do do, you know, to pass a good time.”
Andrea grinned. “You’re Cajun?”
Demetria shook her head. “No, but my sister married a Cajun and, well, I’ve picked up the accent and some of the lingo, I guess.”
“Do you pick up languages quickly, too?”
“I don’t think so. I spend a lot of time with my sister and Augustin, her husband, so I guess I come by it naturally.”
“You guys are close, I take it?” Andrea smiled, feeling a mite wistful. “I’m an only child.”
“Delores is like a mother to me, especially since mom died a few years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss, Demetria.”
At long last, Nate called back a few hours after Fen took a short nap and Andrea gorged on jambalaya.
“Hey, sorry I couldn’t call earlier but I had to prep for tomorrow’s brunch service. So...how are you?”
“Besides the fact you spoke with my mom...what was that about, Nate?”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t give me much choice.”
Andrea slowed her breathing and stood up from her bed to pace. “I’ve answered the phone every time you called.”
“Okay, that didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, Andy. I just...can’t we talk? We used to be...”
“Don’t call me that and don’t bring up the past. We are getting a divorce. You have a new partner and a baby on the way. Your daughter wants to talk to you, Nate.” Andrea tried to keep the plea out of her voice. “Do you have a minute to FaceTime her?”
They hung up, then she called Fen to her bedroom with the lure of seeing her daddy. She watched Fen closely looking for signs in the smallest details but her daughter didn’t seem stressed or worried at all. When Nate’s call came in, she accepted then turned the phone toward Fen in order that they may interact. While Andrea remained silent, she couldn’t help but overhear the conversation, such as it was between a daughter and her father. Even so, Fen happily chirped, dotting her conversation with French words or phrases. Andrea wished she could have seen Nate’s expression. Pride filled her, for Fen who soaked up the world, inspiring Andrea.
“Fen, would you like Da to come back home to live with you and mommy?”
Andrea snatched the phone away from her clapping and laughing child and glared into the screen.
“What is wrong with you?” she hissed, turning away from her daughter, not wanting Fen to see the anger Andrea couldn’t mask.
Nate cared enough about his life not to smile or otherwise push Andrea over the edge but he couldn’t entirely keep the smug look off his face.
“Sweetie, mommy needs to talk to daddy, okay?” Andrea softly directed with a smile then she looked back at the phone. “I’ll call you back and you better answer.”