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This Must be the Place

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FIVE MONTHS LATER

From the driver’s seat, Miranda waited impatiently for the trunk to be shut, indicating that Cassidy had loaded the last of her belongings into the car. When it finally happened, she fastened her seatbelt and waited for her daughter to join Andrea in the back seat.

“Oh my God, Cass, you’re taking forever. Hurry up!” Caroline cried. “We still have three more hours to go and I’d like to get home this millennium.”

Miranda rolled her eyes as Andrea snickered behind her. “You sound just like your mother,” Andrea quipped. Miranda looked in the rearview mirror and narrowed her eyes threateningly. Andrea just laughed harder.

“You’re lucky you’re back there,” Miranda murmured, grateful when Cassidy joined them and closed the wing-shaped door.

“I’ve unplugged, we should be ready,” Cassidy said. “All charged up.”

“Good. Let’s go.” Miranda started the car and set out on the final leg of their road trip, glad to be behind the wheel. Andrea was a fine driver, but there was something to be said for being in control once in awhile. She was driven around so much of the time that she forgot how pleasant it was to take charge on the open road.

Traffic had been on their side, since they’d left New York very early to pick up Caroline at Vassar. This was the first time they’d all been together since Christmas. Caroline had visited Melissa’s family in Boston for spring break while Cassidy had come home, and both girls had been at the townhouse over the long Presidents’ Day weekend when Andrea had been in Washington, D.C.

This was also their first road trip with Andrea’s new friend, Baxter, who was resting in a soft crate in the center back seat.

“Can’t you take him out?” Cassidy begged. “I barely got to meet him! He’s so cute?”

Miranda cleared her throat. Baxter was not the finest specimen of canine magnificence; he had an underbite, and his fur always looked unkempt despite the fact that Andrea brushed him every day.

“I can, but he has to have his safety harness on. Here,” Andrea said, and unzipped the crate to let the dog out.

“Oh, he is just the cutest!” Cassidy said, lifting him close as he tried to lick her face. “He’s so soft!”

“I see you up there making faces, Miranda,” Andrea crowed, “And the girls are going to know when we get home that Baxter sleeps on your feet in bed.”

Miranda scoffed. “He does not. He has a perfectly serviceable crate.”

The crate, however, was almost never used. Baxter was Andrea’s dog, without a doubt; he was a rescue she’d decided to get after wrapping the first season of podcasts about vets and post traumatic stress. While he was far from a service animal, his calm, affectionate nature made him a perfect match for her. She was weaning herself from Prozac, and apparently doggie kisses were helping fight mood swings and the returned insomnia. She’d finally settled into a reasonable sleep pattern starting around March, but her decision to slow, then stop her meds had brought her sleep issues back to the forefront. The dog usually stayed with Andrea when she awakened, and she had stopped roaming the streets in the middle of the night in favor of reading down in the study.

That didn’t keep Baxter from regularly sleeping on Miranda’s feet. After the first three nights of the animal staring balefully at them all night long from inside his crate, Miranda had (while sighing with exasperation) allowed the dog to sleep at the foot of the bed, on a blanket of his own. She had clandestinely done the same thing with Patricia after Stephen had vacated the premises, enacting the rule that she always stay on her own side of the bed. These days Miranda could handle a terrier mix cuddling up against her shins, but a St Bernard was a different thing altogether.

She eyed Baxter, and hid the affection she felt for the little mongrel. He was sweet, and he’d been extremely good for Andrea. That alone made him a hero in her eyes.

“Mom, you don’t have to pretend you don’t like dogs,” Caroline reasoned as she turned back to watch her sister pet the lone male of their household. “We know Patricia slept on your bed, too. I don’t know why you used to act like she slept on that dumb dog bed in the corner.”

Andy’s voice was sugar sweet when she said, “Probably the same reason we keep Baxter’s crate in the room with us. For appearance’s sake.”

“Honestly, must you tell them everything?” Miranda asked, checking her rearview mirror as they merged onto the highway. She reached for the thermos of coffee and sipped it; it was still scorching, to her relief.

“Well, if you can spare him, he can sleep in my bed while I’m home,” Cassidy said, already in love. “I wonder if the dorms allow animals,” she said, almost to herself.

“They don’t,” Miranda said sharply, and added, “You’re not ready for the responsibility. Imagine the constant care of a child with limited learning capacity, who will never grow up and learn to feed himself. Stick to your studies for now, darling.”

“I could get a dog walker!” Cassidy declared. “Plus I could bring him to classes—”

“You’ll have plenty of time to take care of Bax this summer, kiddo,” Andrea reasoned. “He loves a good walk around the park. But he’s probably pretty old, so we don’t overdo it. He just wants food, kisses, and cuddles in a warm bed at the end of the day.”

“Don’t we all,” Miranda murmured as she settled the car into the fast lane.

The girls led much of the conversation, and Miranda stayed quiet, having already heard most of their stories about final papers and packing up at the end of the semester. She’d spent a fair amount of hours on Facetime with each of them in the evenings over the last month and change. She’d had more time for them, because recently, Miranda had made a concerted effort to delegate more at Runway. It was a process she’d been working her way into for a few years, but with the sudden acquisition of love, it went into a higher gear. The days passed so quickly, and the nights felt too short when she spent twelve hours at work. One day, she simply decided she would go in at 9 and leave at 6 every evening, at the latest.

To her amazement, it worked.

She took advantage of email, Dropbox, Slack, Join.me, and Skype. She opened jpegs during intermissions at the theatre, and sent back notes as the lights went down for the second act. She stole away to the powder room at benefits to check revisions, made model selections in the car on the way to dinners, and reviewed the living, virtual copy of the Book while traveling with Andrea. She ran the magazine more efficiently than ever, which allowed to her to fit more life into her waking hours.

She also made herself available to Andrea in a way that she had not, in the past, with her husbands. They had never understood Miranda as Andrea did, nor had they supported her work and career in the same fashion. She, in turn, saw the profound value in Andrea’s profession up close, through the individuals she spoke to, wrote about, and represented in the media. Miranda was able to add her own advice and recommendations as Andrea worked toward the completion of each podcast episode. Occasionally, as Miranda would listen to the finished product, she would recognize the fruits of one conversation or another, from late night chats, early mornings in bed, or texts they would exchange during the workday.

Miranda only realized the widespread acclaim of Andrea’s podcast “Fallout” when she visited the New York Times website. On the homepage of the Arts section, she found a glowing thousand word review, and discovered that the ongoing series had been downloaded over 12 million times. It was not slowing down, either.

Five months of solid work had resulted in something remarkable. In March, Andrea found the strength to reunite with Congressman Saticoy around the anniversary of the shooting, and it had been healing, perhaps for both of them. The congressman had recovered almost a hundred percent physically, but his own trauma remained, and their emotional conversation had evolved into the sixth and final episode of the project. It would go live this weekend, so Miranda was relieved that the girls would be home to both distract and support Andrea.

Only when she heard Cassidy’s voice rise in volume did she focus on the conversation behind her. “I thought you already lived there!” she exclaimed.

Andrea laughed. “I mostly do. But you know, we didn’t want to move too fast. We’d only been seeing each other since December. I didn’t want to assume, and neither did your mom.” She searched for Miranda’s eyes in the rearview mirror, and smiled. “Moving in is a big step.”

“It’s a good thing you’re doing it now,” Cassidy said in reply. “Baxter needs his two mommies to live in one house, don’t you, baby?” she crooned, and her voice was muffled, as though she was burying her face in the dog’s fur.

“Good lord, darling, you’ll get fleas if you keep doing that,” Miranda said sternly.

“As if you’d let something with fleas set foot inside your house, much less this zillion dollar car,” Caroline said. “Anyhow, way to go, Mom. You’ve officially bagged a hottie.”

There was an eruption of laughter as Miranda barked Caroline’s name in irritation.

They made it home by late afternoon, and Miranda let her daughters haul their own things in from the car. She was tired, and relieved to have made the trip in one go. Andrea insisted on helping them, so Miranda climbed the stairs to their bedroom and lay down on the bed, fully clothed. With her eyes shut, she spent a few minutes just listening to the sounds of her children and her lover as they argued and giggled and shouted their way through the townhouse.

It was lovely.

She was dozing when she heard the tap-tap-tap of paws climbing the miniature staircase that led from her bedroom’s floor to the mattress, and Baxter collapsed with his two paws and head across Miranda’s ankles. He watched her with eager eyes, still panting from the effort of chasing the girls around as they unpacked. Despite his multitude of imperfections, he looked quite regal from this angle. She chuckled to herself, and blinked lazily when Andrea entered the bedroom.

Leaning against the doorframe, Andrea exhaled. “You look cozy.”

“Mm,” Miranda replied. “Join me?”

“Definitely.” Andrea got down beside her and arranged her long body to press up against Miranda’s, close as she could. Her lips nuzzled the crook of Miranda’s neck. “‘M tired too,” she murmured.

That was no surprise. She had not slept much the night before. That was another reason Miranda had done nearly all of the driving today. “Are you ready for this weekend?” Miranda asked, softly.

“Yeah,” Andrea said, throwing an arm across Miranda’s midsection. “It’s fine. Besides, I can help you with work. I know you’ll have a lot to do because of taking today off.”

Miranda threaded her fingers through Andrea’s hair and closed her eyes. “I’m sure they’re doing quite all right without me.” She had already sent a text to Adhira confirming the book’s hard copy delivery at 7 by her new replacement, and there were no fires that needed tending at the moment. “There’s plenty of time.”

“That’s good,” Andrea mumbled. “I’m happy the girls are home. We’re gonna have fun this summer,” she mumbled, still shifting her legs in an effort to get perfectly comfortable.

“I’ve no doubt,” Miranda said, and waited, ever hopeful. The room was silent, and the floors below had grown quiet too. She imagined her girls in their own rooms, unpacking their belongings, hanging their clothes in closets, arranging photos on bedside tables. Miranda experienced a special sort of contentment to have her daughters under her roof once more. It was new, this feeling, still tinged with bittersweetness, knowing that in just a few months, they would depart again. But this time, she would not be alone when it happened. Andrea would be by her side, and they would hold hands and wave as her girls went off on their own to discover the world.

Her thoughts drifted as she recalled the day’s simple pleasures, until the breathing against her collarbone fell into a familiar, even cadence. Only then did Miranda let her eyes close, as she followed Andrea into slumber.

~the end