“I’m going to need a bottle of wine to listen to this.” Anna sighed as she swanned into the townhouse from the garage and took off her coat. “I loathe driving in the city. And I have a headache coming on so chop-chop with the libations, darling.”
Miranda rolled her eyes and ignored the proffered coat. She eyed Anna from top to bottom then pursed her lips. “You look like a garden gnome in that outfit and I’m starting to think you’ve developed a drinking problem.”
Anna scowled as she walked past Miranda and into the kitchen. She draped her coat over the back of a chair. “I’m wearing Gucci, for god’s sake.” Yanking off her glasses, every inch the Vogue editor, Anna hissed, “It’s like you two have nothing better to do than gossip about me. And I damn well can handle my booze, thank you.”
“You must keep psychiatrists busy for months on end.” Miranda slid the full glass of wine on the kitchen isle toward Anna. “Your ego’s so big you need more than one, dear.”
A cackle escaped Anna’s mouth before she swallowed some wine. “Where are the girls?” She looked around hopefully. “Oh, this is good. I have a bottle of this at home.”
“With their father for the weekend. I have a case of this which promises to be legendary once it matures.”
“Pomerol Bordeaux wasn’t the only success this year. I also bought a case of sweet white from the Sauternes-Barsac region.”
Miranda raised her glass then slightly tipped it at Anna. “You are married to the French after all.”
“Shelby is from Houston which is in Texas.”
Smiling, Miranda cooed, “Oh, look who’s been studying geography.”
“You pompous ass.” Anna took another sip of wine and closed her eyes. “I only tolerate you because the sommelier you employ has such exquisite taste.”
“By sommelier you mean me, gnome.”
The gentle clink when Anna set down her glass resounded like a gavel bringing order to the court.
“How serious is it?”
Miranda leaned her elbows on the counter and looked straight at her.
Slowly Anna’s eyes widened and her lips parted. She blinked a few times then reached for her glass and guzzled down the wine.
Reaching for the bottle, Miranda looked away to pour. Seconds ticked by and all the while she felt Anna’s eyes on her. As she propped up her chin, Miranda sighed and drummed her fingers.
“When Andrea interviewed for my assistant’s position she had a copy of Runway sticking out of her purse.” Anna said, swirling the contents of her glass. “I almost didn’t hire her.”
“You would have missed out. She’s exceptional.” She straightened then took a seat at the table. “Bring the bottle.”
“It’s empty.” Anna pouted. “I’ll go get another in the cellar. Is the combination the same?”
“Yes. Cara prepared something. You’ll need food to soak up all the alcohol you’re intent on consuming.”
Busy with rummaging through the refrigerator, Miranda’s worries gnawed at the back of her head. Anna’s friendship spanned over decades and it wasn’t going to implode over her sexual preferences. They had, after all, gone to their share of discreet parties back in the day. Still, it was one thing to have fun and quite another to live openly with one’s younger female lover.
“What are you smiling about?” Anna asked as she walked into the kitchen, bottle in hand, and dug through a drawer.
The clatter of utensils almost obliterated Anna’s response. “I still get neon flashbacks.”
“If you’re looking for the wine opener, it’s on the counter between the refrigerator and sink.”
“Oh, dear god.” she muttered, frowning at Miranda while she pointed to the electric appliance. “I cannot believe you bought that contraption. Bee gave me one for Christmas and it’s still in the original packaging.”
“How you can be so fearless championing Velcro in eveningwear but balk at modern kitchen gadgets is beyond me.”
Anna filled her glass then Miranda’s and took them over to the kitchen table where Miranda sat in front of a sectional crudités platter filled with chopped raw vegetables.
“I’m fascinating.” Anna shrugged then pointed to the small ceramic dish nestled in the middle. “Is that hummus?”
“Yes, and the other is Cara’s take on tzatziki sauce. It’s rather good.”
“The wine is going to clash.”
Miranda pushed a small plate at Anna. “I remember when you thought Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill was ‘divine’.”
Laughing, Anna selected a few thinly cut celery and carrot sticks and shaved radishes. “If you ever let that out, I may have to show Page Six the picture of you channeling Ziggy Stardust. The glitter was horrendous but that mullet...” Anna shivered.
“Says the woman who declared laced-up pants would transform fashion.” Miranda mocked then popped a cherry tomato into her mouth.
“We are the keepers of each other’s secrets, darling. And speaking of which...” Anna looked pointedly at her. “You won’t be able to hide your relationship with Andrea much longer. I daresay it took me a while to figure it out but it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world picks up on it. You’re going to fire her, aren’t you?”
“Are you already drunk?” Miranda drew back, glaring at her friend. “Of course I’m not.”
Anna tut-tutted and set down her wine. “You’re giving up Runway? I don’t believe it.”
“Your lack of imagination is really quite remarkable.”
Narrowing her eyes, Anna refrained from retaliation but arched an eyebrow.
“Fine.” Miranda huffed dragging a cucumber slice through Cara’s dip. “I’ll tell you but don’t make that appalling high pitched noise whenever you get excited. I don’t know how Shelby bears it let alone all the dolphins and bats.”
“There you go again, darling, trying to be witty. I swear ten gray hairs just sprouted waiting on the laughter.”
“Time for a new colorist, I suppose.” she said automatically while deciding how much to tell her friend and rival. “Andrea will be the new editor of Runway by the end of the year.”
“So you are giving up so you can play house...”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Miranda cut in, eying Anna coldly. “I love her. She’s not a midlife crisis. Andrea Sachs will be better than both of us put together. She will transform the industry. Nothing less would make me step aside, as it were.”
“Oh, hell, that smile on your face. You’re going to eat someone’s newborn, aren’t you?”
Plucking a carrot stick from the platter, she adopted a blasé demeanor. “Mmm, of course I am.”
“Well, I know better than to push when it comes to your evil plans.” Anna finished her wine then slyly looked at Miranda. “Now let’s talk about your personal ones, shall we? With Andrea.”
The twins were due to return in an hour. For the first time in a while she didn’t have anything to actually do. Perhaps Anna’s visit and the two bottles of wine precipitated the lack of activity rather than missing Andrea. Usually the quiet soothed her. There was always something to do and somewhere to be but, for the life of her, Miranda aimlessly wandered around her home instead.
It was impossible to not think of Andrea and Fen. Although she projected a poised front, Miranda sometimes felt as if she was seconds away from clawing out of her own skin. To have Andrea and Fen living under her roof was the long-term goal but her patience already began to wane. Determined to correct her malaise, Miranda marched into the library and sat down on the leather lounger. She could read. The antique lamp end table gleamed in the soft light. She looked around the room, comforted by the shelves filled with books, the polished wood floor and Turkish rugs, and the brick accent wall where a large picture window allowed a view of the small backyard. Miranda let out a long, suffering sigh. She didn’t want to read.
They weren’t getting any younger. There was still space left in the townhouse if they had another child or two. For a moment, Miranda envisioned Fen and the girls playing in the yard as Andrea cradled a new born on one of the teak Adirondack chairs. Abruptly she ran a careless hand through her hair then pressed her fingers against her closed mouth, shaking her head slightly. She didn’t even know whether or not Andrea desired to carry another child. Miranda stood and put away the fantasy. She was insane, daydreaming like a school girl. But she grinned anyway.
“I just got off the phone with my father.”
Miranda, in the middle of her nighttime routine, spoke a little louder than normal while using the speaker function. “What did he have to say?”
Half-expecting bad news, Miranda was puzzled when she didn’t hear the telltale quiver in Andrea’s voice.
“He said not to worry about my mother.”
Rubbing lotion into her neck, she frowned. “She’s given up interfering?”
“He said they’ve come to an...agreement but he wouldn’t say anything more.”
Miranda wiped her hands on a towel then picked up the phone.
“Is that...normal for them?”
“Yeah. I mean, he’s interceded before when things got heated between my mom and I. You know, when I was younger. It’s not like they’ve ever explained shit to me though.”
“Not even when you were an adult?”
“Nope. They’d talk alone about whatever then tell me their decision or opinion.”
“Well, I suppose we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth then, darling.”
“I guess I’m just worried. I’ve never seen my mother so pissed, not even when I shaved half of my hair off and died the other half fire engine red in tenth grade.”
“Such a rebel.” Miranda whispered seductively as she stood, turning off the mirror lights. She waited a moment, working out her confession.
“Tell me you’re naked.”
“I’m not. Listen...” Miranda dragged her teeth over her upper lip. “I had your parents investigated.”
“I asked Q to run a background check, specifically their financials and any dirt I might be able to use as leverage.”
“You want to blackmail my parents? Have you lost your mind?”
Miranda pulled the phone from her ear and glared at it before pressing it back. “I needed to know what I’m up against in case...if your mother goes to the press.”
“Please tell me you know how fucked up that is.”
“Your mother not only wants to keep us apart, she wants you back with that man-child that plays with food. So, no, I’m not going to apologize for protecting you.”
“That’s...weirdly sweet but I’m still mad at you.” Andrea sighed. “What’s the verdict then?”
“Q is coming to Runway tomorrow with a dossier.”
“A ‘dossier’? Oh, my god, you gotta be kidding me. What time?”
Miranda ignored the sarcastic grumbling about top secret missions and intelligence gathering. “Ten. In my town car. Roy will drive us around with the privacy window up.”
“And you think I’m melodramatic. My parents aren’t criminals or end-of-the-world evil masterminds, Miranda.”
“Now you’re just pissing me off.”
Andrea laughed, the sound husky and teasing. “Careful, you’re South Shields is showing.”
Ignoring the reference to the town she grew up in, Miranda sniped, “Do you wonder why no one ever sees it coming when I pounce?”
“Oh, uh, well...”
“Yes, ‘oh, uh, well’. Good night, Andrea.”
Miranda held back a waspish reply. The girls, of course, fanned out into every room of the town house, a reconnaissance mission into their own territory as they hunted for anything new or different. In a sugar induced mania, they chattered non-stop, darting all over the place. It took an hour to calm them down and, not for the first time, Miranda lamented ever co-parenting with their father.
At sixty-one, he retained his reed-like build and scraggly shoulder-length hair and impulsive ways. Cassidy once remarked, either in kindergarten or first grade, that she wanted a stuffed ferret she saw at a store and Rod, the bastard, bought her a real one without Miranda’s consent. Two weeks later Cara informed her that ‘Simon’ escaped his cage. After an exhaustive search she found him in her closet sleeping in a mink hand muff. Upon further investigation, once Simon was safely returned to his cage, Miranda discovered the varmint shit in her one-of-a-kind royal purple Louboutin’s. Needless to say she relocated Simon to Dalton, specifically with one of the science teachers. From then on pets in the Priestly household were banned, a fortuitous rule given what happened with the bird in the refrigerator not too long ago.
“When you modulate your tone...”
“What’s ‘modulate’ mean?” Cassidy asked, head cocked to the side as she scratched the side of her nose.
“In this case it means lower the tone of your voice.”
“Okay.” she whispered, the twinkle in her blue gaze tugging at her mother’s heart.
“What can I do for you, bobbsies?”
“Umm, is Andrea your best friend?”
The innocent question, posed after spending the weekend with their tactless father, roused Miranda’s suspicion. She released the tension in her jaw and smile to seem relaxed.
“She’s mommy’s bestest friend.”
Caroline walked into her sister’s bedroom, took one look at Cassidy and Miranda, then began picking up the stuffed animals on the floor.
“Daddy says he wants to meet her.” Caroline commented, sighing when her arms were full.
Miranda stopped breathing for a handful of seconds then inhaled sharply. Caroline frowned then scanned the room.
“Just put them in the chair, Ro.” Cassidy instructed, bugging her eyes out her sister.
Kneeling, she motioned for the girls to gather around her. “Tell me about your visit.”
Cassidy plopped down but Caroline slowly lowered herself to the floor and stretched out her legs, crossing them demurely at the ankles.
“He took us to laser-tag.” Caroline reported, promptly grimacing.
“But our stuff didn’t fit too good.”
Miranda looked at Cassidy who ducked her head and tried again. “The vests were too big.”
Caroline elaborated, “The lady at the desk had some tape to keep it on us but mine kept slipping. I didn’t care for it.”
“I had fun!” Cassidy gushed as she made a ‘gun’ with her fingers and shooting noises. “I killed Daddy like four times!”
“Oh, well, how nice. What else did you do?”
Caroline leaned back on her palms. Her thin shoulders and delicate neck reminded Miranda just how vulnerable and innocent her mini-me truly was. A flash of protectiveness burned through her.
“We had dinner at this place that had a slide and video games and stuff. It was pretty cool.”
Making a face, Caroline said, “We met his new girlfriend.”
“She was nice!”
“She kept calling us ‘kiddo’.” Caroline huffed. “I told her to call me by my name.”
Miranda turned her face aside so her children wouldn’t see the smile the flew across her face.
Cassidy crossed her arms, glaring at her sister. “You were just being mean.”
“Is that true, Caroline?”
Shrugging and avoiding Miranda’s gaze, her daughter’s guilt was plain to see. “I don’t see why I have to like her. She won’t be around long.”
“Cynthia stayed for three years, Ro!”
“Only cause she tried really hard.” Caroline’s face turned pink as the tears spiked her lashes. “That’s what she said, remember? Before she left.”
Miranda extended her hand toward Caroline, wiggling her fingers. “Come here, my tiny terror.”
With her chin held a bit defiantly, Caroline obeyed then slumped against her mother’s body as she pressed her face into the small hollow below Miranda’s clavicle. Not to be excluded, Cassidy pushed into Miranda’s back, looping her thin arms around Miranda’s neck.
Quietly she soothed her children.
After a minute or so, Miranda declared in a soft tone, “I know it hurts that Cynthia’s gone and your father is with someone else. It’s alright to miss her.” Caroline started to cry but when Cassidy slid around Miranda’s torso and sniffled, Miranda bit her lip. “Come on now. Dry your tears, bobbsies.”
Cassidy, the sympathy-crier, naturally stopped crying first. She moved away while Miranda coaxed Caroline to stand.
“That’s better, my love.” Miranda spoke softly, drying her daughter’s eyes then holding her still by her tiny waist. “Why don’t you both unpack and put your things away?”
Caroline hiccupped while playing with the neckline of her mother’s blouse. She patted Miranda’s shoulder then said, “Mom, I want to ask you something.”
Standing, Miranda massaged her knees then straightened her back by reaching for the ceiling. “Of course, Caroline.”
“Are you mad at Andy? Is that why we haven’t seen them since vacation?”
Cassidy dangled her head over the edge of her bed and sang out, “Let’s go see ‘em.”
Miranda threaded her fingers lightly through Caroline’s hair. “Of course I’m not mad. It’s been a very busy week at Runway.” She narrowed her eyes at Cassidy who groaned then rolled off the bed to stand in front of her. “Perhaps next week we can schedule something.”
Caroline tilted her head and stared at Miranda. “Fen is like our little sister.”
“She doesn’t wet the bed and likes to play with my hair. It makes her fall asleep. Me, too.” Cassidy continued as she shucked her tennis shoes. “And she’s really smart! She speaks French loads better than me and I went to more classes than she did.”
Honestly, Miranda hadn’t thought through her bobbsies’ reactions to the temporary hiatus between them and the Sachs family. Of course, she should have.
“Dad asked if Andy came over a lot.” Caroline shared casually but her gaze never left her mother’s face. “He asked about our trip. To Florida.”
“Yeah, he said it sounded like we had fun. We told him about teaching Andy how to boogie-board and Fen playin’ in the water and...”
“I get the idea, darling.” Miranda intervened otherwise Cassidy would likely continue the litany until morning. “I’m sure your father was very happy you enjoyed the trip, bobbsies. Now, let’s...”
“Are you single again?” Cassidy asked as she tossed her balled up socks in the hamper’s vicinity.
“Put those where they belong.”
Cassidy huffed and stomped but picked up the socks and put them in the hamper.
Caroline glared at her sister.
Miranda looked at one then the other daughter, neither of whom met her eyes. Miranda crossed her arms and pursed her lips.
“What’s going on?” she demanded in a whisper-soft voice.
Immediately Cassidy gazed at the ceiling as she shrugged her shoulders.
Caroline, not quite as obvious, answered, “Nothing.”
“If you want to know something, all you have to do is ask me.”
“Is Andy your girlfriend?” Cassidy blurted out, standing beside her sister.
Twin nine-year-olds stared up at her. Miranda took a seat on the bed and the girls clambered up on her right side. The question arrived sooner than anticipated. Her children weren’t oblivious all the time. They had friends with same-sex parents. Dalton’s curriculum was progressive. Miranda taught them to be open-minded and accepting. Her worry stemmed from an entirely different place.
“We are in a romantic relationship.” She kept her posture straight and her expression neutral.
Cassidy struggled with her composure. “I Googled your girlfriend.”
Miranda’s lips twitched. “And what do you think, Cassidy? Caroline?”
“Acceptable!” Cassidy sang out then dissolved into laughter.
Rolling her eyes, Miranda reached over and tickled her for a second. “You think you’re so funny.”
“Stop, mommy! Please. I give. I give, for reals.”
Slowly Miranda gazed at Caroline, aware of her daughter’s pensive nature. Giving her time, Miranda turned her attention to quieting Cassidy. They lied down and stared at the ceiling as Cassidy relayed more about her visit with her father.
A minute or more later Caroline moved around them and settled herself on Miranda’s other side. She didn’t snuggle her mother like Cassidy, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed but Caroline’s fledgling independence was a trait Miranda wanted to nurture even though at times it tested her sanity.
The waiting was uncomfortable but over the years she had a lot of practice steeling her nerves. After a few seconds Miranda felt a light flutter against her skin. Small fingers threaded through her own and squeezed.
“Mom?” Caroline whispered.
Training her eyes on the ceiling, Miranda answered, “Yes?”
“I like Andy and Fen.”