Andy paid the cab driver after he lifted her suitcase out of the trunk of the taxi. “Thanks,” she said distantly, barely noticing the car drive away as she pulled her luggage to the top of the stoop. Snow fell from the sky as though welcoming her back with a shower of white. It barely felt cold to Andy, since thoughts of Miranda warmed her through and through.
She knocked on the heavy wood, hesitant to ring the bell for some reason.
Moments later, the door swung open, and Miranda greeted her with a steady look. “Come in,” she said. “Let me help you.” She took the strap of the backpack as Andy hefted her rolling suitcase over the threshold. She was careful not to scuff the entryway.
“Hi,” Andy said finally, brushing the snow from her shoulders. She said it again as Miranda came close, her eyes warm and inviting. “Hi.”
Then they were in each other’s arms. Andy burrowed close, feeling at home, and happy. Miranda’s arms around her shoulders made her feel as though nothing could touch her; not bad dreams, or real dangers, or fear of either. She felt love, and was loved.
She knew that now. It might have been hanging over her from years before, all this affection and attachment, but it had finally bloomed. Andy had lots of experience loving other people, but it had been a while. It would take some getting used to.
“Welcome back,” Miranda said, and the words slid down Andy’s spine like honey. Suddenly she felt more than just attachment. Attraction, thick and deep, sprung up unexpectedly and trickled through her body. When Miranda’s hand brushed her shoulder blade, Andy shivered.
“Thanks,” she said, wondering if Miranda felt that same shock of heat. When she moved to look at Miranda’s face, she thought there was some reflection of longing there, but it was veiled. So much of Miranda was a mystery. Andy supposed she’d have to ask straight out, but not yet. “Are we—um—” she glanced around, looking for twins, or cooks, or housekeepers who might be watching.
“The girls are upstairs. We’re alone,” Miranda said. A glimmer of the lust Andy was so hoping for leapt out, and Miranda licked her lips.
“Well,” Andy said, trying not to let it show that she was suddenly breathing a little more heavily. “Is there any mistletoe around here or what?”
“In the den. This is close enough,” Miranda said, moving in and finding Andy’s mouth. It was just as she remembered; exploratory and somewhat hesitant, which made Andy want more all at once. When Miranda’s tongue reached out, Andy flicked at it, grabbing at the back of Miranda’s head and angling her own to the right. They both “mmed,” and Andy snuck her cold fingers up the back of Miranda’s sweater. There was a gasp, and as Miranda’s lips opened wider, Andy took full advantage. She stepped back, pulling Miranda with her until they fell against the front door in a full-on make out. It was only when Miranda’s leg slipped between hers that Andy recalled where they were, and who else was in the house. She held back a moan, trembling with delight and a tinge of regret.
“You should, ah, stop that now if you don’t mind. I’m supposed to be reasonably coherent when I meet your kids again, aren’t I?” Andy said, trying desperately not to breathe her “my most recent meal was fast food in an airport” breath in Miranda’s face. Mints had covered the worst of it, but she was still self-conscious.
“Oh,” Miranda said, her gaze darting all around the townhouse in a hurry. “Right.” She put a hand atop her head, just cross-eyed enough to make Andy feel smug. “I need a minute, I think.”
“Me too,” Andy said, dropping her voice low and smiling conspiratorially. “Want to sit?”
“Of course.” Miranda’s hand rested against Andy’s lower back as she led her into a formal sitting room that Andy had spent no time in at all. It was somewhat cold, but it would do. They sat on a sofa that was expensive, pretty, and uncomfortable. Instead of leaning back, Andy nudged herself forward, knees touching Miranda’s. She reached out to hold her hand.
Miranda stroked the sensitive skin of Andy’s palm. “How was the flight?”
She shrugged. “Quick but bumpy. The wind was rough, so I’m glad I made it in before the snow gets going.”
Miranda blanched. “Snow?”
Andy nodded. “We’re supposed to get a few inches tonight.” Briefly she wondered if Miranda was panicked that Andy might get stuck there longer than just overnight. “But I’m sure it won’t even stick. It’s not that cold. I’ll be able to head home in the morning.”
Her face relaxing, Miranda’s eyebrow lifted. “That’s not what I was concerned about. It’s only that the girls are scheduled to leave for their father’s the day after tomorrow for New Year’s. If the weather is bad in Connecticut they might get their wish after all.”
“What wish is that?”
“To stay in town. They’re not big fans of spending three days in Hartford, playing board games and Wii with their step-siblings. Plus, the Elias-Clarke New Year’s Eve party is usually quite something.”
Elias-Clarke party. The words echoed in Andy’s mind. She found herself torn, wanting both to be invited and to stay home on New Year’s, a night she never really enjoyed.
Miranda continued. “I wasn’t looking forward to the event myself. I rarely do. But I’ll go.” She blinked, as though waking up from a dream. “Might you consider… coming along?”
Andy inhaled carefully, attempting to play it cool. “Sure. That could be fun.”
“I offer no guarantees, but I’d appreciate the company.”
“And you’re not… uncomfortable at the idea of people seeing us together?”
Miranda ran a hand through her hair. “May as well ring in the new year not with a whimper but a bang, I always say.”
Laughing, Andy nuzzled Miranda’s hand. “I’d like to be there for that.” She nodded once more. “Then yes, for sure. I’ll go. Might need a hand picking something out to wear.”
A roll of the eyes was the exact response Andy had been aiming for, and she got it. “Of course I’ll help you. You can drop in the office tomorrow, or any day this week if you like. We’ll find something. In fact, there’s one thing—something from a new designer—I think it may be perfect for you. It’s crimson, and—yes,” Miranda said, tilting her head and trailing her eye down Andy’s body. “Crimson may be ideal. There’s one in jade as well, but with your skin tone—”
Andy waved her hand in Miranda’s face. “Hey, how about you dress me up in your head later, okay?” Miranda looked up, not chagrined exactly, but contrite. “I’d rather hear how your holiday was.”
“Oh, fine,” Miranda said. “Lots of presents, and the girls played music all day and forced me to watch them play video games for two hours. I thought after they went to college all of that would be over, but I was unfortunately wrong.”
“You’re never too old for gaming, I guess.”
“We had a lovely dinner, and they helped me cook. Caroline has been taking classes. She bought a pasta maker, so we had an Italian Christmas day.”
Andy was impressed. “Handmade pasta? Wow. I never thought of you as the type to cook from scratch.”
“Well, consider yourself surprised.” Miranda put a hand to her throat. “I find it very rewarding to cook for family and friends, when I have time.”
“I’ve never made pasta before. Maybe I can try it sometime.”
Miranda nodded. “Yes.”
“Take any walks while I was gone?”
“Nocturnal? No. One though, on Christmas Eve, up the road where we went before.”
“That’s a nice walk,” Andy said, thinking about the quiet moments they shared then. Perhaps Miranda was saying she’d thought of Andy in her absence, but didn’t have the words.
Silence crept between them, and unlike before, it wasn’t so relaxing. Now Andy felt nervous, wanting to reach out but uncertain how, or what it might mean. Fortunately it didn’t last, because Miranda asked softly, “How was it with your parents?”
Andy glanced up at the ceiling, in search of the perfect word. “It was… bizarre. They didn’t ask a lot of questions about how I’m doing after that—” she paused, remembering how her therapist had encouraged her to start saying the words— “the shooting. We talked around it. I think they were afraid of what I’d say. We talk on the phone once a week or so, but it tends to be pretty generic.”
“They want me to be happy, and normal. They don’t want an adult child with depression and PTSD. I mean, they get it, but my mom seemed upset that I take medication. She’s more into the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ school of thought.” Andy shrugged her shoulders. “It wasn’t a big deal, though. They were glad to see me, and I was glad to see them.”
As Miranda lifted a hand to stroke Andy’s cheek, her expression melted into something so tender that Andy wanted to weep. Instead, she pressed her forehead to Miranda’s and breathed, all the while wondering what the hell she was doing falling in love.
In Andrea’s absence, Miranda started wondering what the future would hold, both personally and professionally, if Andrea chose to return to her globe-trotting ways. Would she would stay in New York or disappear to some other part of the world, far away from the Upper East Side? With Andrea gone to Cincinnati, it reminded Miranda of what life had been like without her, just a few weeks before. It sapped some of the hope stirring in her belly to know that their time together may end in the not too distant future. She didn’t want to think about that, and instead focused on what was right in front of her. Especially with Andrea here, so beautiful and caring.
Now, Miranda watched as Andrea talked to her girls, who had politely waited for them upstairs until Miranda was ready to make introductions. As they all chatted, Andrea answered the twins’ questions thoughtfully, her occasional kooky laugh making Miranda smile too. But there was a twinge of sadness beneath it all, one that Miranda couldn’t completely ignore.
After half an hour, Miranda stood and wheeled Andrea’s bag up another flight of steps to her room. She dressed for bed in silk pajama pants and a camisole, covering up with her robe before heading down to say goodnight.
Andrea was reclining on the couch, listening intently as Caroline talked about her classes. “Your kids turned out smart, Miranda. Despite their best efforts to the contrary,” she quipped.
Cassidy chuckled. “Yeah, we tried pretty hard, didn’t we.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “I let them get away with murder until they hit 13, but things changed. A few assistants after you, Andrea, they did all their own school work.”
“It sucked, but it worked out,” Cassidy said. “It wasn’t like we couldn’t do it, after all—we just didn’t want to.”
“And now you’re both doing well?” Andrea asked.
“I’ll make the Dean’s list, and I think so will Cass,” Caroline said. “Even though she always waits till the last minute to write her papers.”
“Well, that’s not so unusual,” Cassidy countered. “I finish on time. That’s more than I can say for a lot of people.”
They bantered for a few minutes, arguing about past incidents of near disastrous school projects that always managed to end successfully, and when Miranda glanced at Andrea, she seemed perfectly at peace. Her expression said she was in no hurry to go anywhere.
Neither was Miranda.
So they all stayed together for another hour, until Cassidy yawned one too many times. “Considering you got up at 10am, I’m surprised you’re tired,” Miranda said.
“I’m still a teenager. We need a lot of sleep,” she said. “I guess I’ll hit it. Coming, Care?”
“Yeah. I’ve got some reading to do anyway.” Caroline crossed to kiss Miranda good night. “See you in the morning,” she said.
“See you in the morning,” Miranda echoed. Cassidy kissed her too, and they both waved to Andy.
“Bye Andy. You like eggs?” Cassidy asked.
“Sure,” Andrea answered.
“Great. You’re cooking tomorrow—I like mine over easy,” Cassidy joked, bolting from the room before Miranda could give her a piece of her mind.
Miranda watched Andrea as she laughed, enjoying the lines that framed her mouth. She truly had grown lovelier as she’d left her youth behind. Briefly it made Miranda self-conscious to think of her body and its changes, but there was nothing to be done about it now.
“Ready to go upstairs?” Andrea asked.
“Yes,” Miranda answered, and she stood, beckoning for Andrea to follow. When she turned the lights off, she said softly, “You don’t have to stay in my room if you don’t want to.”
But Andrea put her hand on Miranda’s lower back and replied, “I want to.” A cloud of warmth expanded out from where Andrea touched her, spreading through her limbs. It made her slow to move, but Andrea pushed her along gently, urging her toward the room they would share. When they arrived, Miranda turned to ask if she wanted to use the bathroom first, but Andrea didn’t want to hear it. She pulled Miranda into her arms right away, into a kiss languid and long.
“Do you want—” Miranda managed as Andrea’s lips trailed down her neck, “to put on your pajamas?”
Andrea paused, her breath hot between Miranda’s collarbones. “I hadn’t planned to, but I can.”
Uncertainty swelled up in Miranda—where was all this self-consciousness coming from? She wanted Andrea, very badly, or at least she thought she did. The longing was there, and her body was reacting as though it was interested, but it had been some time since she’d shared a bed with anyone at all. Things were not the same for her as they had been. Smelling Andrea’s rich scent, feeling her lush, firm body made Miranda feel a thousand years old.
Andrea lifted her head, touched her cheek. “Be honest,” she said. “We owe each other that. We don’t have to do anything if you’re not certain.” Fingers caressed Miranda’s ear, sending a chill down her spine.
“I don’t know how to say—” Miranda closed her eyes and took a breath. “I’ve been through menopause.”
Andrea blinked. “Okay.”
Might as well get things out on the table. “Things, including my libido, don’t quite work the same way they used to.”
Nodding faintly, Andrea asked, “We can try, if you want to. I don’t exactly have any preconceived notions about sex with you, other than my, uh, fantasies. And they include wanting to make you feel good.” She swallowed, and Miranda saw the desire clearly on her face. “Really good. Better than good.”
“And I’d like to remind you of my age,” Miranda added, and regretted the words the instant they came out of her mouth.
But Andrea just smiled. “Consider me reminded. And since we’re talking about the important things, I’ve been tested recently, and everything’s a-okay.”
That surprised Miranda, who hadn’t been tested recently, but then again she’d had no reason to be. “I’ve—well, yes. I don’t have anything either.” Unless she’d caught something from her vibrator.
“Excellent. So,” she said lightly, and Miranda suspected she was trying to hold back her eagerness. “We give it a shot?”
“Yes,” Miranda said, before she could change her mind. If it wasn’t wonderful, she would just have to figure it out afterwards.
“Kiss me,” Andrea said, and Miranda did. That slow burn fired inside her, and it flared up at Andrea’s low moan. Arms clutched at her waist as Andrea moved them back toward the bed. Miranda felt overwhelmed, because when Andrea turned it on, she held nothing back. Pulling at the robe, she bit at Miranda’s shoulders, raking her teeth all the way across. Her breath was a frenzy and her hands cupped and squeezed everywhere they touched. When she reached Miranda’s breast, she just pulled the chemise down artlessly, sucking the nipple straight into her mouth.
Miranda’s knees dipped, and her brain lit up. For the first time, she thought that perhaps she’d been wrong, believing that the sex would be less thrilling now than it had been before. By the time she could focus again, Andrea had thrown the robe and chemise on the floor and was working the knot of her pants. “Shit, I made it tighter. Help!”
So Miranda did, feeling silly at her half-naked state, but then Andrea actually tore her own shirt open, sending buttons across the room. Andrea’s bra was gorgeous, but her breasts were magnificent. Then her trousers fell, and of course the panties matched, and when Andrea straightened up, Miranda was still standing there, unable to work her fingers because this glorious creature had her completely gob-smacked. Andrea knocked her hands aside and knelt, clearly trying to be calm as she fussed with the tiny knot. “Can’t believe this,” she muttered. “Here—” she yanked at Miranda’s pants, which truly had betrayed the both of them by refusing to budge.
“Wait,” Miranda said, and lunged for the dressing table, where she kept a tiny scissors for stray threads. “I’ve got it.” She snipped once. The string came apart, and Andrea grabbed her around the waist, kneeling to kiss her belly as she pulled the pajamas down and off.
“Got you,” Andrea moaned, “I’ve got you.” She licked at Miranda’s pelvic bone, hands cupping her ass.
“The bed,” Miranda said, worrying that she wouldn’t be able to stand much longer. Andrea loosened her grip and Miranda backed up a few feet and found herself sitting on the mattress. Before she could decide what to do next, Andrea was there, still kneeling, urging Miranda to sit up long enough to get her underwear off. She pushed Miranda’s legs open and stared, brushing at the trimmed, nearly colorless hair with her thumb.
“Can’t wait to do this,” she said. “Ready?”
Miranda’s eyebrows went up. They were starting with that? “Um—”
But Andrea was already there, lifting the tufts of hair and kissing lightly. Miranda fell backwards onto her elbows. It was exciting, but she was distracted. “I’m sorry—” she muttered, and Andrea’s head came up.
“What?” she panted.
Swallowing her pride, she said. “I want this, I do, but I don’t get as wet as I used to—”
Andrea’s grin was lecherous. “I think I can help with that.” She licked her lips, and the gesture was wildly sexual. “It’s not a problem.” She put her head back down between Miranda’s legs and licked, her tongue agile as it slipped around her folds.
“Oh fuck,” Miranda said, arching because it felt so good. She felt Andrea’s chuckle and laughed herself. Closing her eyes, she forgot about how old she was, and how young Andrea was, instead concentrating on how good everything felt. Andrea’s hands played at her nipples while her wet tongue slid inside, and Miranda groaned.
She pushed her hips up toward Andrea’s mouth, opening wider. Again she was anxious for a moment; it might take her a while, but Andrea seemed to be in no hurry. In fact, she appeared to be enjoying herself quite a lot. Andrea brought one hand down, rubbing and stroking Miranda, but she never tried to go inside. Soon, sooner than Miranda expected, she felt the stirrings of an impending climax. “There, oh yes, there, there,” she hissed, and Andrea’s tongue got quicker, more focused. “Oh yes, yes—” A few more strokes, despite all her earlier worries, she came. And it was huge. Pleasure throbbed through her, exploding out through her nerve-endings. She hoped that the girls hadn’t heard her moans. But it had been phenomenal, and she’d deserved to enjoy it. “Oh my god. Oh my god.”
Andrea kissed her thigh open-mouthed before crawling up on the bed to straddle Miranda. “You’re wonderful, wonderful,” she repeated, leaving kisses all the way up her body. “Oh, Miranda.”
Miranda reached up with both hands to hold Andrea’s breasts briefly before unfastening her bra. When she sat up, once more Miranda was struck mute by her beauty; her skin was so light, breasts tipped with pale nipples drawn tight. She barely knew where to begin. “How do you—”
Before she could finish, Andrea dipped forward and pressed their bodies together, legs twining. “Just want to be close to you.” She rubbed against Miranda’s hip, and even through her panties Miranda could feel the heat and wetness. Her eyes were closed in pleasure and she hummed as she moved. But Miranda wanted to do more than just hold her; she slid her hand between them into Andrea’s underwear. Andrea jerked, cursing under her breath and whining. Miranda inched down to get a better angle, sliding two fingers inside. Andrea’s eyes flew open, her expression filled with a fierce affection, and it made Miranda’s heart open. Hips thrust down fast and hard until Andrea lurched forward, grabbing Miranda’s hand and holding it to her as she pulsed tightly, climaxing. Her eyes nearly closed as she whimpered her way through it.
“Ohh,” Miranda sighed as Andrea relaxed, slumping half onto the bed, half onto Miranda.
Miranda wrapped her free arm around one shoulder and held her, wondering if Andrea could hear the blood rushing through her heart.
Andy hadn’t had sex with anyone for a while—it had to have been over a year. She’d had a one night stand with an American soldier in Pakistan, and he’d been sweet but uninterested in attachment. Andy wasn’t interested either, and their night had been little more than two rounds on a cot under a scratchy blanket in terrible heat. She’d had a good enough time. They’d both had a lot to drink, but not so much that she hadn’t insisted on a condom, or been paranoid about being interrupted by another soldier busting into the tent.
Tonight was very unlike that encounter.
For one thing, Miranda was beautiful. For another, she was surprisingly shy. Andy knew a bit about what happened when a woman went through menopause, so she’d deliberately not pressed her luck with her fingers. Not that it made a difference to her—the point was to make Miranda come. It’s not as though she was unfulfilled by lack of penetration, but from the way Miranda was acting she’d probably have to reiterate that. Andy was pretty happy with how things shook out, personally. Miranda tasted wonderful, and not just between her legs; her skin was salty and fresh and clean, but most of all real. It felt so nice to be close to her, and she couldn’t move very well since her orgasm had sapped the energy right out of her body. She shifted to her side so she wouldn’t crush Miranda, and rested her head in the crook of her shoulder.
Her eyes closed, and she drifted. She laughed once as she fell asleep, because her dream Miranda had said something hilarious as they walked down the street.
To Andy’s great disappointment, she woke at 3am. When she lifted her head from Miranda’s shoulder, Miranda inhaled audibly, and her eyes opened. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Andy replied. “Just woke up.”
Miranda glanced at the clock at the bedside. “Hmm. Right on time.”
So much for Miranda curing my insomnia. “I guess. I thought I’d get through the night.”
Miranda chuckled. “Considering how fast you fell asleep, I thought you would too.”
Andy rolled her eyes, but had to grin. “Just like a man, huh.”
A hand stroked through Andy’s hair. “Not even remotely. But it was amusing, nonetheless.”
“Couldn’t help it,” Andy sighed, inhaling Miranda’s warm, sleepy smell. “After the flight and my family and everything, I was tired. And you know, really good sex can do that to a person.”
There was a short pause. “Was it?” Miranda asked lightly. “Good?”
Ah, Andy thought. They could talk about it now, get it out of the way. “Yep.” She glanced up and wished there was a light on so she could see Miranda’s face better. “I thought it was fabulous. How about you?”
Miranda’s chest lifted as she breathed in. “Well, yes, I agree. I simply hoped that you weren’t disappointed.”
A few charming quips came to mind, but at the moment, they probably wouldn’t go over well. Time to be very, very straightforward. “So, I’m going to say this, okay, and don’t interrupt me till I’m done.” Miranda opened her mouth, and Andy barreled on. “I don’t have a penis, in case you didn’t notice. I mean, I’d be happy to be inside you, but if you don’t want that, I don’t either. Ever. It’s not something I’ll miss. I’ve been with a woman before, Miranda, but I don’t have any proclivities that aren’t getting satisfied here, okay?”
After a few seconds, Miranda nodded silently.
“Good.” It was time for a few questions of her own. “Does it hurt if you try?”
Miranda shrugged. “I haven’t, not for a long time. There’s just not as much happening down there—”
She wanted to crack up at Miranda’s use of “down there” as a euphemism, but wisely she kept it to herself. Instead she interjected, “Oh, how I beg to differ,” and pictured Miranda rolling her eyes.
Miranda scoffed, which was just as good a reaction. “Please. Everything takes longer, and you know about the rest. But I suppose you’re right. I haven’t planned to take hormones, but I may look into other options that could help if it makes sense.” Andy waited, and this time the silence lasted much longer than before. “Assuming this is something you’d like to do again.”
Andy closed her eyes, and laid her head back down on Miranda’s shoulder. “It is, Miranda. Definitely. Count on it.”
Truly, she didn’t know how it would all evolve, but she knew two things: she wanted to be able to work again, and she wanted Miranda. It might take a while to figure it out, but between the two of them, Andy thought they could achieve anything.
Softly, she caressed Miranda’s shoulder. She listened carefully until Miranda’s breathing evened out, and applauded herself for helping her lover back to sleep. Slowly she eased from the bed and found Miranda’s robe.
Downstairs, she crept into the library where Miranda did most of her work, and found a novel she remembered hearing about years ago but never had a chance to read. She had the time now. She had loads of time, and for once, it felt like a luxury.
In the morning, Miranda held back a blush when she ate breakfast with Andrea and the girls. No one said anything suspicious, and that was a huge relief. Cassidy was the one she was most concerned about—her mouth had often gotten her into trouble with both herself and her father, and of course half the instructors at Dalton. She wondered if the same thing was happening at Brown, but somehow she doubted it. Her daughter had matured over the past three months. Miranda was a little disappointed by that. Watching the young woman her child had become filled her with pride, but she missed the hellraiser too. The one who had drowned her pancakes in syrup and butter, the one who would rather break a dish than wash it. She seemed almost serene, and wiser than her years. Miranda held a hand out and brushed it through Cassidy’s hair, surprised to find tears in her eyes.
“Mom?” she asked, already alert.
Miranda just waved her hand and stood up, although her plate was not yet empty of fruit. “Nothing,” she said, and sat back down again.
“Are you sure?” Cassidy said, touching Miranda on the shoulder, and it made Miranda feel miserable to miss her daughters while they were actually in the room with her. They would leave soon, though, and the bittersweetness welled up in her and spilled over. Later she would blame Andrea’s presence for pulling so much emotion to the surface, but now, she just wanted to hold her girls and tell them she loved them. So she did.
When Cassidy hugged her, with Caroline hovering nearby, she sniffled. “I just love you and I’m glad you’re home.” At that, Cassidy’s arms tightened, and Caroline moved behind Miranda’s chair and held her too. Andrea was silent as a sphinx, watching them with soft eyes, coffee cup steady in her hand. Miranda felt no shame at this burst of feeling. It was a pleasure to be so close to the girls, and the tears soon slowed to nothing, and she kissed the cheeks of both of them. “Don’t mind your mother, girls. It’s a bit of empty nest syndrome.”
Caroline moved back to her chair, but still scooted closer. “Well you won’t be rid of us as fast as you expected anyway. There’s no way we’re going to Hartford.”
Miranda nodded, glancing out onto the small, snow-covered backyard. “I think it’s still coming down,” she said. “I’ll call your father and let him know.”
“Don’t let him talk you into it, Mom,” Cassidy said. “I know the train would get us there but I really, really don’t want to go. I can fake a cold, anyway. He wouldn’t want his precious twinsies to be exposed to any germs. Or Jillian won’t.”
Andrea glanced at Cassidy. “Twinsies?”
“He ended up with another set. Haley and Stevie. They’re eight. They’re sweet, don’t get me wrong, but I really don’t feel like learning to crochet with Jillian, or sitting in on her holiday book club, or whatever weird activities she’s got planned.”
“Totes,” Caroline agreed. “She asked about that scarf she made me start knitting last year, and I told her I finished it and gave it to someone.” She grimaced. “Whoops.”
“Don’t worry, girls, I’ll take care of it.” She doubted Jeffrey would mind much; he was very occupied with his young wife and children. But something occurred to her that gave her a start, and she sat up in her seat.
“Miranda?” Andrea asked. “You have the funniest look on your face.”
“Well, I—” She was almost chagrined, but not quite. “Well, Jillian is Jeffrey’s third wife, and I’ve often teased him about… her youth.”
Both twins’ eyes got very wide, and Cassidy’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, wow. I never thought about that.”
“How old is she?” Andy asked.
Miranda pressed her lips together, hoping not to laugh when she said it. “43.”
Andrea’s eyebrows flew up, and she clapped a hand to her mouth. She laughed then, the most evil-sounding laugh Miranda had ever heard from her. She slapped a hand to her thigh and the twins joined in, giving Andrea high-fives across the table. “Well, you’ve got that beat,” Andrea said. “Think he’ll let you have it?”
Miranda could only imagine. “Oh, undoubtedly.” She glanced at Andrea, and laughed. This was one issue about which she would not mind being teased. Not when she had this prize all to herself.
Andy spent the morning with Miranda at Runway, not paying any attention to the odd looks she got from various clackers. Some faces were familiar, since a few had survived the occasional layoffs as the business shifted. Lots of people she didn’t know recognized her from her reporting, and one young woman introduced herself in the Closet and started to say how huge a fan she was, at least until Miranda appeared holding the crimson dress of earlier conversation. At that, the woman froze and scurried away as if terrified.
“Good to know you haven’t lost your touch,” Andy had quipped. Miranda only smirked.
Now that she’d been fitted with a dress that was being hemmed and adjusted to fit her frame like a glove, she could sit around and do nothing in the townhouse. That afternoon she stopped at home to pick up a few things to wear, and to grab a bottle of nice wine she’d stashed for just such an occasion. Most of the day she spent reading in Miranda’s library, remembering how nice it was to be still, to get lost in another world. Not to say it wasn’t a challenge to stay focused; her attention span was far shorter than it should have been. But she tried, and burned through a hundred pages of a novel until Cassidy interrupted a little before dinner time.
“Do you think Mom already talked to my dad? About us staying here?”
Andy nodded. “She left a message this morning. I’m sure they’ve already spoken.”
Cassidy flopped down in the plush armchair across from the sofa where Andy reclined. “I like hanging out with them, don’t get me wrong. I’d just rather go to the Elias-Clarke party. And two sets of twins in one house can get a little complicated,” she said, her eyebrows waggling.
“I’m sure,” Andy replied. “Do you get along with the kids?”
With a nod, Cassidy inspected her manicure. “Pretty much. They’re sort of horrible though. They looove to play tricks on anyone and everyone.”
“Hmm. I guess it came from your dad’s side of the family.”
“What?” Cassidy asked.
“Uh, like you don’t know.”
A few seconds passed. “Oh.” Cassidy had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well, we were younger then. And bored. Besides, Mom’s assistants were always good targets. She never fired them for anything we did, by the way.”
With a laugh, Andy said, “She almost fired me. Believe me, I remember very, very clearly.”
“Oh yeah? I guess you would. You were like, barely a blip on the radar for us though. How long were you at Runway?”
“Not quite a year.”
Cassidy peered closely at Andy, and Andy felt a little uncomfortable. The gaze reminded her of her mother, as if she were assessing and finding her wanting. “Couldn’t hack it, huh?”
“Decided not to hack it,” Andy corrected. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Fair enough. Mom seems to like you now though. Were you guys, you know, together back then?”
“No way. I doubt we had much in common other than Runway.” Andy knew there had been more between them then, or at least there was a complexity to her own feelings toward Miranda at that time, but that was not for Cassidy to hear.
“Do you have more in common now?”
Andy thought about it. “Maybe. I feel much differently about her, and about myself too. I was so young, barely older than you are now. I thought I knew it all.” She chuckled. “I found out I don’t know anything, and every year I seem to know a little less.”
Cassidy rolled her eyes. “Don’t make it sound like you’re so old. You’re not even 35. But you do seem kind of down…” Cassidy tilted her head, as though some burst of understanding had just come over her. “Listen, a friend of mine at school, well, she’s depressed. In a major way. Or she was, anyway. She got help. Maybe you need somebody to talk to?”
Andy watched her, impressed by her insight. She smiled gratefully. It was refreshing to have someone ask so clearly. “I’m getting help. And depression’s a factor, but it’s just a part of a lot of stuff that’s happened.”
Cassidy nodded. “You saw something awful.”
Andy bobbed her head. “I did. But I’m lucky. I survived, and I get to see your mom, and you two. It’s just tough to—not forget, exactly—but to keep my memories from controlling me.”
“I’m glad you’re seeing a shrink. I was in therapy for a while, me and Caroline both. Between the divorces and always being in the papers and you know, general hormonal insanity, we had a rough patch. Plus I went out with that guy—” Andy knew the one she meant, “—and he turned out to be a real douchebag.” She sat back and stared into nothingness, and Andy wondered what was on her mind. “Sometimes,” Cassidy said softly, “I think about what life might have been like if Mom wasn’t who she is. If we were just a regular family that nobody knew about. If maybe then she and my dad would never have split, if mom was just a housewife in New Jersey or whatever.”
Andy let that simmer for a moment before asking, “What do you believe?”
Cassidy chuckled. “If mom was a nobody, she and Dad wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be here. So it doesn’t really make any difference.”
Andy shook her head at Cassidy’s slightly bitter expression. “You are who you are, Cassidy. You can’t change where you come from but you can look at your life with a critical eye and decide where you’re going. Where you want to be.”
With a shrug, Cassidy assented. “I guess. I always got the impression that Mom wanted us to go into the industry, maybe even work at the magazine. But we’re not interested.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’ll probably end up doing English, with a concentration on writing. Maybe teach somewhere, or just keep going and get a Masters. Caroline is trying art and design. She wants to work on websites. We’d rather do stuff unrelated to fashion.”
Andy chose not to mention either that Runway’s pages were filled with articles written by some of the most respected authors and essayists of the 21st century, or that Caroline’s interest in design had undoubtedly been influenced by an aesthetic considered the best in the business. They’d figure it out eventually, and they’d learn to appreciate everything their mother’s work had taught them, even by osmosis. “Sounds good,” she said simply.
Cassidy stood and scanned some of the library shelves for a few minutes. She pulled something down and flipped through it before saying, “I’m going to get a snack. Want anything?”
Andy replied, “No, I’m good. Thanks for the chat, though.”
“Sure,” Cassidy said, leaving the room in silence. As conversations with teenagers went, that one was pretty good. Andy smiled, and went back to reading.
When Miranda arrived home, the house was quiet, but it was a different kind of quiet than the usual. She knew that upstairs, her daughters were enjoying their vacation doing heaven knew what, and that somewhere, Andy was waiting for her. She roamed the first floor and came up empty, but there was a pot on the stove with the fire on low. She lifted the lid and smiled—stew, with vegetables, potatoes and meat. Perfect for tonight. Miranda shivered over the hot broth.
“Hey, that’s supposed to be a surprise,” Andrea said, not quite sneaking up on her. “Geez, even your coat is cold. Take this off.” She slid the heavy wool from Miranda’s shoulders and tossed it on a kitchen chair. “Hi honey, welcome home. I made dinner.”
“Very domestic.” Miranda replaced the pot’s lid and took Andrea in her arms. “Where’d you learn to cook?”
Andrea smirked. “An old boyfriend.” At Miranda’s look of suspicion, Andrea chuckled. “This is my mom’s recipe. Just the basics. I know you probably won’t eat it but there’s fresh bread too.”
“You made bread?”
Andrea nodded. “I found a bread maker in a cupboard and I couldn’t resist.”
“I’ll have some of everything.”
“Good. And who gave you a bread maker? Didn’t they know about your aversion to carbs?”
“Some of us enjoy baking as much as we enjoy eating, darling,” Miranda said. She meant it.
“You bake bread?”
“Mm. I find the process, and the smells, very comforting. And for the record, I do eat bread. Just not every second of the day, like some people,” she teased, glancing sideways in Andrea’s direction.
“Hey, bread is one of the finer things in life. I’d rather be a six than a four if it means I get to enjoy the delights of a crusty baguette. Not to mention ice cream now and then.”
Miranda smiled gently, not bothering to add that she was starting to come around to that particular point of view. “When can we eat?”
“Now. I’ll see if Cass and Caroline are up for it.”
A few minutes later, they gathered around the small table in the kitchen. The smells were divine, and Miranda’s mouth actually watered as Andrea ladled out a full bowl of stew. The bread was still warm, with a little butter melting into the softness. A salad of greens, walnuts and ribbons of parmesan was a crisp counterpoint, as was the glass of light syrah from a bottle that Andy had opened an hour or so before. The soup warmed her, the meat melting in her mouth as she chewed. “My god,” she mumbled. “It’s wonderful.”
“Thanks,” Andrea replied, looking very pleased with herself.
“Bet you could get used to this,” Cassidy said, winking at Caroline so quickly Miranda almost missed it.
“Indeed I could,” Miranda said, ignoring the thought that she should not, in fact, get used to this, because Andrea may soon be on her way once she returned to her career, and that would be the end of it.
“I’m glad you like it,” Andrea said, and something in her tone made Miranda look up. Her expression was enigmatic; open, and not sad in the least, but not particularly happy either. It made Miranda want to enjoy the moment, and not think of the future in all its uncertainties.
She reached across the table and took Andrea’s hand for a moment. “Thank you,” she said.
“Yeah, thanks, Andy,” Caroline said, and the heaviness loosened between them. “You know I bake bread too. Mom taught me. I can even make it without the machine. There’s this amazing recipe from the New York Times using a dutch oven...”
Caroline prattled on about bread for a while, and Miranda was able to listen with most of her attention. She forgave herself for being maudlin about the future that would come after their dalliance. Still, she couldn’t find it in her heart to regret their coupling. May-December romances were made to be brief, and she knew that. It was only a shame that she had to feel the pain of departure before it had even happened.
That night, Andy dressed in light flannel pajamas her mother had given her for Christmas, and laughed at Miranda’s critical expression.
“It is winter, Miranda,” Andy said. “These are for cold weather.”
“I’ve installed a rather advanced radiant heating system in my home. I don’t see any reason to pretend you’re on the arctic tundra.”
Andy just licked her lips. “I hear body heat’s the best way to stay warm anyway. Maybe I should—” She began to unbutton her top, and Miranda’s eyes glazed over. So much for Miranda’s post-menopausal status. She’d thought maybe Miranda’s sex drive would be a little less revved up than Andy’s, but she was wrong. They rolled around for awhile on top of the covers, kissing and petting until Andy’s underwear was pretty much done for. It was a return to her teenage years, when she had done a lot of everything but sex, no matter how much she’d wanted to. But this time she knew it would lead to somewhere wonderful, even if it didn’t end in orgasm. She would share Miranda’s bed, and they would wake up together.
Of course it did end in orgasm for the both of them, and for Andy it happened twice since Miranda went down on her with enormous enthusiasm. She felt entirely exposed, since Miranda kept the lights on and examined her intently, keeping her eyes open with every lick and kiss and caress. It didn’t take long for Andy, who jammed the back of her wrist against her mouth to keep from crying out. That seemed to do something for Miranda, who crawled up and straddled Andy, kissing her desperately. Andy touched her, surprised at the amount of wetness she found. She was gentle and careful and didn’t go inside, and Miranda moaned and whined quietly as if she enjoyed the process of making love far more than she had the previous night. This time it really was about something other than just the result. When she came, Andy watched her face from very close up, and could feel the wondrous flutter beneath her fingers. Miranda exhaled in a sob, Andy felt utterly grateful, and so in love it nearly hurt.
Miranda used the bathroom before settling down to bed, and she rolled her eyes when Andy pulled her pajama top back on. “I like being comfortable,” Andy said. “I spent enough nights miserable when I was overseas.”
“Yes, yes,” Miranda replied, and dragged the sheet over the two of them. “Do your feet get cold?” she asked.
“Um,” Andy said, lifting her shoulders. “Sometimes.”
Miranda pulled the duvet as far as their shins, and Andy enjoyed the weight of the heavy comforter against her feet.
“Thanks,” she whispered, pulling Miranda against her body, who squirmed in vague discomfort. She had the suspicion that Miranda did not always like to be held as she fell asleep, so she backed off and aligned herself a few inches away. She rested a hand against Miranda’s hip, and when she heard a sigh of contentment, she knew she’d done the right thing.
Miranda was startled when she heard something that woke her from a deep sleep. She’d been dreaming of the Runway halls, with Nigel back at her side, telling her that she should have been complaining about Jocelyn’s accessory choices, even though Joss had been promoted to design director long ago.
But all that was forgotten when she heard a crying sound next to her; Miranda wasn’t sure what was happening. It was dark, but suddenly she felt the vibration of the body at her side. Something was kicking the mattress.
“Andrea,” Miranda said, and reached out.
Something launched itself out of the bed, and the body Miranda had reached for was gone. There was a scream, and the scream continued, growing louder until it cut off into total silence. Miranda scrambled to the side of the bed and flicked the light on, realizing that Andrea was still trapped in a semi-sleep state, jerking in what she’d called a night terror. Her eyes were half open, and her face was damp with sweat.
Miranda was terrified; should she try to wake her? Leave her there on the floor? Where on earth was her phone? Surely she could find the answers quickly if she had access to the internet.
In a moment, she had her phone in hand, and sought instruction with shaking fingers. In the 60 seconds she searched, she found conflicting responses—it was okay to wake the person, hug the person, leave the person alone—so she simply got off the bed and placed a hand on Andrea’s back. She rubbed gently, and watched as Andrea turned over. Her eyes were open, but her pupils were huge and dark.
“Will you come back to bed?” Miranda asked. Andrea blinked and sat up, placing one hand on Miranda’s shoulder to lift herself off the floor and back into the bed. She simply flopped onto the mattress and turned over onto one side. When that happened, Miranda decided to press her front to Andrea’s back, hearing the soft “nngh” sound that Andrea made.
Miranda was not tired now in the least. Her heart pounded, her head ached, and her hands were clammy. She waited for a while, wondering if she would have some indication that Andrea was truly asleep, resting, and not going to start screaming again. She hoped her girls hadn’t been frightened by the sound.
Because Miranda was frightened. She’d never heard Andrea make that noise, and wondered how many of these night terrors she’d experienced with no one there to comfort her, or help her back into bed.
Miranda’s thoughts raced for a long while, until she heard that odd intake of breath that meant Andrea had awakened. She glanced at the dim bedside clock; it read 3:36am. Carefully, Andrea started to extricate herself from Miranda’s grip, but Miranda held onto her to indicate that she was up too.
“Whoops, didn’t mean to wake you,” Andrea said. “I’m just going to go down to the library and read.”
She was talking as though nothing unusual had happened between the time they’d fallen asleep and this very moment. “You’re what?”
“I’m gonna go read. You’ve got some great stuff downstairs.” It was only then that she noticed Miranda’s surprise. “Is that not okay?”
“You had a night terror,” Miranda finally said, very softly, because although she wanted to speak the truth, she didn’t want to upset Andrea. “You screamed bloody murder sometime ago, and threw yourself off the bed.”
Andrea blinked a single time, clearly stunned. “I did?”
“I’m so sorry,” Andrea replied, lurching down to throw herself into Miranda’s arms. “I must have scared you to death,” she breathed.
“Not quite death,” Miranda murmured, stroking her back gently. “But it was unexpected.”
“It’s been a while,” Andrea said, “at least I think it has. I guess I don’t always remember.”
“No,” Miranda said, and closed her eyes.
Tonight, she followed Andrea down to the library and retrieved a slim volume of poetry that she’d hadn’t taken up for many, many years. She made herself comfortable on the long couch, pleased when Andrea set a pillow in her lap and maneuvered between her thighs. They read together for a little while, until Miranda set the book down on the side table, rested one hand in Andrea’s hair, and closed her eyes.
Andy woke to a great blast of sunlight on her face, one that had probably been there for some time. She was very cozy, covered in a blanket and flanked by Miranda’s legs on either side of her body. The library couch turned out to be a very nice place to catch a few z’s after a night terror. She turned her head to regard her human pillow, who breathed deeply and evenly above her.
Over her shoulder, Andy observed the grandfather clock that stood as a silent sentry in the room. It was almost 7:30, which meant she’d had a fair amount of good, if interrupted, sleep. Miranda probably had as well. Her stomach didn’t growl, but she felt peckish, and wondered if Miranda had to get up and go to Runway. As much as she wanted to let her sleep, she knew it wasn’t the best idea.
“Miranda,” Andy said softly, running one hand along her thigh. “Miranda.”
Miranda opened her eyes, and winced at the light. “God,” she breathed, and turned away. “I guess we slept.”
“We did. It’s half past 7. I’m sorry I didn’t wake you sooner.”
With a deep sigh, Miranda stretched without disturbing Andy’s position. Her smile was crooked. “It’s fine. They’ll probably think I’m dead or something when I’m not there before everyone else.”
“Or they’ll think you’re enjoying a nice leisurely holiday with your family. And your, um,” Andy searched her brain for an appropriate word. “Romantic companion,” she finally settled on, even though it sounded silly.
Miranda snorted. “I doubt anyone at the office thinks I’ll ever have a romantic companion again. They’ll be very curious when you show up on my arm at the party this weekend.”
“Let ‘em be curious. I’m not ashamed.” Andy blinked, and took her time deciding whether or not she actually wanted to say her next words aloud. She went for it. “Are you?”
Miranda put one hand against Andy’s head and ran her fingers through her hair. Andy groaned in pleasure. “Not in the least.”
As Miranda got ready for work, Andy poured very hot half-caf with a healthy dollop of milk into a fancy to-go mug that seemed like it would hold the heat properly. She tested it and it was so hot Andy couldn’t even drink it; that would do. She sent Miranda on her way with a little container of oatmeal and blueberries with cinnamon and a dash of sugar, patting her on the ass as she went through the door. “Bye, honey,” she teased, and Miranda huffed in exasperation before she kissed her.
The girls were still sleeping, and probably would be for a while, so Andy settled back down on the library couch to read some more. She felt spoiled and thrilled to have absolutely nothing to do at all, except make a few phone calls and write in her journal.
Once Cass and Caroline were up, Andy decided she’d make them breakfast too, even though it was more of a brunch. A veggie omelette seemed like a good option; it was easy and healthy with a quick clean up, best of all.
When Caroline was almost finished, she put her fork down and stared at her plate. “I heard you screaming last night. I’m going to assume they weren’t sex screams, because it sounded like you legitimately thought you were going to die.”
Andy felt her face flush absolutely scarlet, and covered her eyes. She laughed, just a little, because she had to. “I had a night terror. I’m really sorry I woke you.”
“Is that like a nightmare?” Cassidy asked. It looked like this was the first she was hearing of this, which was some small comfort to Andy.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t remember. Your mom said I fell off the bed and got pretty upset, but I guess I went back to sleep. I woke up all the way after that and she told me what happened. ”
There was a very long pause, so long that Andy was searching her brain on how to explain her PTSD symptoms, when Cassidy said, “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than sex screams.”
Andy’s eyebrows nearly launched into the sky, and Caroline laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair. Andy joined her a moment later, holding her stomach. “We can never, ever mention this to your mother,” she wheezed.
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Caroline said. “I definitely won’t.”
Andy let the girls lure them into their game room, and they introduced her to Skyrim, because “she could do that one without having to be real gamer, at least to start.” Andy was compelled enough to give it a go. She worried she was boring the twins as she worked her way into the game, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as Andy was, so she went along with it.
A couple of hours later, Miranda texted; she’d be home at 7. The Priestly housekeeper was off for the week, as was the private chef who came in on demand when the girls were home. When it was just Miranda, Andy discovered, Miranda either ate out at restaurants or brought dinner in. But Andy was interested to learn that Miranda often cooked when she had dinner parties. She would leave a kitchen full of dirty dishes for the housekeeper (of course,) but she was apparently not shy about trying her hand in the kitchen when the spirit moved her.
That inspired Andy to make another meal, this time with fresh chicken she found in the drawer of the refrigerator. She made pesto from scratch (thanking Giada Di Laurentis for her easy recipe) after a visit to the market down the block and put the pasta on when Miranda texted that she was leaving the office. When the door opened, Andy greeted her at the door, and Miranda kissed her before it was even shut.
“Smells good,” Miranda said.
Andy grinned. “Dinner’s ready, honey. Shall I fix you a martini?”
Miranda held back a grin. “I know that’s a fifties housewife joke, but it doesn’t sound terrible.”
“I’ll make it extra dirty,” Andy replied.
The twins served up Miranda’s portion of pasta and they all sat together in the dining room. When Andy set her drink down, Miranda looked up at her in wonder.
“I’m not sure what I did to deserve this, but it’s very nice indeed.”
Andy sat down and got herself some salad. “I like cooking now and then, and since I didn’t do one productive thing today, I thought it would be nice to show my appreciation for the beautiful accommodations and good company. Your kids taught me how to play a game today, and the rest of the day I just whiled away on my own.”
“We are so glad we’re not in Hartford, by the way, Mom. Thanks for letting us stay home.”
“Your father will expect a visit from you after the New Year, darlings, so don’t get too comfortable.”
“Yeah, but it will only be a few days, and the holidays will be over, so it’s just… easier. And we’re totally coming to the Elias-Clarke thing, right?”
Miranda sighed, as if put upon. “I suppose. But you must be on your best behavior. No champagne, no flirting, and no disappearing acts. Understood?”
“Okay, Mom. You won’t have to worry this time.”
“I should think not,” Miranda said, waving a fork in the air. “Andrea and I will undoubtedly attract a fair amount of attention, so I’ll have enough to think about.”
Caroline’s face changed at that. “Are you worried about coming out to, you know, the whole world?”
Andy pondered this herself, and had been considering it now and then ever since Miranda had asked her to attend the soiree. She waited for Miranda to answer first, and she was not disappointed.
“No,” Miranda said, very simply. “I’m past the point of concerning myself over the safety of my position at Runway, darlings. I’ve done everything in my power to make the magazine, and beyond that, the entire Elias-Clarke family, survive and thrive. However, I don’t consider myself incapable of adaptation. Or rather, evolution.” Miranda’s eyes gleamed, and Andy was dying to know what she was thinking about. “But if I were to say, find myself interested in doing something else, I would not shy away from it. I’m 59 years old. I can remake myself into something entirely new, should the spirit move me. We are part of a very fortunate, very privileged sect of Americans who can afford to abandon their careers in favor of something else, without fear of financial repercussions.”
Andy stared at Miranda, shocked beyond belief. Something told her Cassidy and Caroline were having the same reaction. “You’d leave Runway?” Cassidy demanded to know, almost angrily.
“If I were forced out,” Miranda replied smoothly, sipping her drink. “I would fight back, naturally, but I also know that I have many other skills to offer the world outside fashion.”
“But what would you do?” Cassidy insisted on knowing.
Miranda’s expression grew calm, but focused. “I have decades of expertise in advertising, design, art and photography, marketing and distribution, finance, editorial, human resources, event planning, digital media, recruitment and executive management, among other things. I have personal and professional relationships with every high-level entertainment CEO or CFO in the entire country; I have instant name recognition that reaches far beyond my given focus; and more importantly, I have drive. You’ll note that I didn’t mention fashion in that list, darling. Fashion is in my blood; it’s the thing that urges me to create a perfect product, every time I approve the Book before it goes to print. But you can rest assured that were I asked to leave, or should I choose to leave Runway, I would not be hard pressed to find another position that suited some aspect of my vast skillset.”
Andy had never heard Miranda talk about herself so directly before; she’d known that Miranda believed strongly in her abilities, since the very beginning. But every word she’d spoken was true. She knew a lot about so many things that it left Andy breathless. She thought she might be drooling, just a little bit. She chewed the inside of her lip, and tried not to squirm in her seat. I’m going to have sex with the most fabulous woman in the universe tonight, Andy thought, and smiled.
Miranda caught her eye, and when she saw the look on Andy’s face, she licked her lips.