After yesterday’s day-long trek, this drive seemed to take hardly any time at all. The moment they pulled into the campsite, wheels crunching against the makeshift gravel drive, Andréa and the girls bolted out of the car in search of a restroom. Miranda stayed put, deciding instead to unpack. Eager to get the worst over with-- and seeking a distraction from her still whirling thoughts-- she rounded the car and opened the trunk.
Three times bigger than anything else they had brought, the box holding the tent wasn’t too difficult to find amongst the others. Lugging the monstrosity out, Miranda was able to carry it for approximately three feet before it dropped unceremoniously to the ground with a thud. She opted to push it instead.
Stopping at the end of their little gravel drive—arms folded and eyes narrowed—she surveyed their campsite. It consisted of an unremarkable little plot of dirt, surrounded by trees on three sides. A pole sticking from the ground with an outlet attached to the end provided their only source of electricity, neighbored by a picnic table and some sort of primitive looking grill.
She sighed. So, this was where she would be stranded for the next two and a half days.
She opened the box, and sitting just inside was an instruction manual that was nearly two inches thick. She flipped through the first few pages, giving them only a cursory glance before deciding it would be best to just begin.
Pulling out an assortment of poles, strings, zippers, and more nylon than she ever cared to see again, she laid the pieces out neatly on the rickety picnic table before her. Deciding to start with the main entrance first, she began to follow the steps as closely as she could—really, it wasn’t too difficult. It was mostly just a matter of putting the right parts in the right places. Andréa’s father had insisted that they wait for his help, but Miranda couldn’t see why. She was perfectly capable.
It had been only a few minutes of fitting various pieces of the tent together, and already it was beginning to vaguely resemble the picture on the box. She gave a triumphant little smirk, bending one of the ornerier poles into place. Her plan had been only to get a head start, but if she kept going at this rate, perhaps she could finish before Andréa and the girls—
Miranda’s thoughts screeched to a halt as she felt a stinging pain on her neck. Cursing, she dropped what she was working on and rubbed the side of her neck where she had been assaulted. The pole she had been attempting to bend had rebounded and smacked her.
“You alright?” Andréa called, returning decidedly alone.
“Fantastic,” she grunted. “Where are the girls?”
“Dad distracted them with snacks. It’s his really transparent way of trying to suck up after how Mom acted at breakfast,” she shrugged, eyeing Miranda suspiciously.
“Well. Best to luck of him, then,” Miranda said, reluctantly releasing her neck as she returned to the task at hand.
Andréa’s eyes went wide. “Shit, what did you do ?” she reached forward and brushed her fingers gently across Miranda’s throat before resting them there, eyeing the injury. Miranda shivered as she felt goosebumps erupt beneath Andréa’s fingertips.
“One of the poles slipped.” she glowered, feeling herself blush. “It’s nothing. Now, will you help me?”
“That’s a whole lot of ‘nothing’, Miranda,” retorted Andréa, either oblivious to Miranda’s reaction or polite enough to ignore it. “I’m getting you some ice.” With that she turned and walked toward the cooler, and Miranda had no choice but to roll her eyes and wait.
Returning with a frozen water bottle wrapped in a wash cloth, Andréa insisted that Miranda sit at the picnic table and ice her injury while she herself continued setting up.
“So, you’ve never put together a tent before?” Andréa gave her a quizzical look as she began hammering stakes into the ground. Apparently, this was a step Miranda had missed. It was for the best, however—there was no way she would have subjected her Julepér trousers to kneeling in the dirt.
“Of course not. I’ve lived in cities all my life. And while Berkeley had a wide range of course offerings in the seventies, I can assure you that tent-making was not one of them.” Miranda cringed internally at her own words. Andréa wasn’t even alive yet.
“We’re just putting it together, not making it,” Andréa corrected her. “And it doesn’t matter whether you were in a city, what about when you went—” her eyes widened with understanding, “…oh. This is your first time camping?”
“I’m not sure why you’re surprised.”
Andréa shrugged. “I just assumed that it was something everyone had done at least once.”
“Well, now I have.” Miranda gave a little shrug of her own, gesturing to the forest around them. “And what a joy it is.”
“You’re welcome,” she said jovially. “You’ve really never been invited on a camping trip before?”
“I distinctly remember being asked by more than one of my exes.” Miranda shifted, leaning back as gracefully as was possible while still holding a water bottle against her neck. “I think they believed it would be some sort of grand, romantic gesture—getting me to find myself in the woods, or something,” she scoffed.
A sly grin played on Andréa’s lips. “So, no one was able to talk you into going until me?”
“Oh, yes. You’re quite the smooth talker,” Miranda said, “None of the others thought threaten my visa, I’ll give you that.”
Andréa chuckled, unbothered. “You did a pretty good job, you know.” She gestured toward the tent as she hammered in the final stake, “Especially for someone who’s never tried it before.”
Miranda sat and observed for only a few minutes before she was up again, adjusting her shawl to better hide her apparently garish injury. The tent had been specially ordered from France and, predictably, its instruction manual was written only in French. Andréa barely spoke enough French to make her way around during Paris Fashion Week, and was quickly forced to hand the task of reading off to Miranda.
Fluent in both English and French, this shouldn’t have been a problem for her. However, the manual was littered with technical jargon that left Miranda as confused as someone who had never spoken a word of French in their life.
Eventually, Andréa’s brother and father made their way over to help. Or… try to, anyway. They had made some progress, but not much. After watching Benjamin and Mark’s fourth failed attempt at attaching one of the two adjoining bedrooms to the main section of the tent, Miranda called over Cassidy and Caroline.
She thrust the instruction manual into their hands. “See if you can make any sense out of this.” Neither of her daughters were fluent quite as she was, but they knew enough. More than Andréa, anyway.
Between the Priestly’s knowledge of French and the Sachs’ knowledge of the foreign language that was camping, eventually their tent was complete. It took nearly two hours, but it was complete.
With a makeshift front porch, two bedrooms, and a common area between them, the tent barely fit into the space allotted for it. Foliage brushed up against every side, and its roof collided with the branches above… yet, somehow, they had managed to make it work.
Miranda contemplated where to hang her hammock as she made her way toward the car, where Andréa was supposed to be collecting the last few items to be hauled into the tent. Instead, however, she stood perfectly still, chewing on a fingernail as she gazed into the trunk.
“Is something wrong?”
At Miranda’s words she turned, eyebrows furrowed. “Were you specific when you told Dani what kind of beds to buy?”
“Yes,” said Miranda, puzzled. “I told her to buy air mattresses.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Andréa sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I meant what size , Miranda. You know. Twin, queen, full… did you happen to mention a size to her?”
Miranda’s eyes widened with sudden understanding. “…oh.” She peeked over Andréa’s shoulder to see three packages of air mattresses sitting in the otherwise empty trunk: two twins, and one full.
She felt Andréa’s eyes studying her-- waiting for a reaction. Seeing if this news would prompt another argument.
Truth be told, though, Miranda had no idea how to feel. On the one hand, last night was the best sleep she had gotten in years-- allergies or no. On the other, however… sharing a bed certainly made keeping her distance more difficult, both literally and metaphorically.
But Andréa didn’t need to know any of that. “I imagine your family would have become suspicious if we slept in separate beds, anyway,” she said carefully.
Shoulders relaxed as Andréa nodded.
Considering how long it took to make the tent, filling it seemed to take no time at all. That was fine by Miranda, who was fantasizing about her hammock once more.
Eventually she settled upon a spot between two oaks, nestled out of sight in the shade. Blanket draped over her legs to stave off the chill, she had just managed to get comfortable when Cassidy waltzed over, expectant smile on her face. “C’mon, mom! Andy’s taking us fishing.”
The idea of abandoning her cocoon of comfort to go play with fish was so ridiculous that she let out a little snort of amusement. “I don’t think so, Bobbsey.”
Miranda shook her head. If she was going to be forced to take this little vacation, then she was going to enjoy at least a moment of it. Leaning back, she opened her book to where she had stopped nearly three months ago. “You three enjoy yourselves. Don’t go near the water.”
Cassidy pouted. “But this will be your first time fishing.”
“I’ve had plenty of ‘firsts’ this morning, thank you.” Miranda barely glanced up from her novel.
“This will be fun, though,” she insisted, “Andy’s family will be there to help, and—”
“How about this,” Miranda interrupted, hearing the growing desperation in her daughter’s voice. Laying her book face down upon her lap, she took one of Cassidy’s hands and held it in both of her own. “The next time you go, I promise to come.”
Cassidy studied her carefully before nodding. At least that's one promise I can keep. She gave her hand a squeeze before picking back up her book.
“I was serious about the water,” she called as Cassidy ran to catch up with her sister, “You’ll catch the plague.”
Miranda was granted eighty-four minutes. Eighty-four glorious minutes of peace, before she heard the sound of a zipper from across the way—which she studiously ignored. But the zipper was quickly followed by a loud, inconsolable wailing—which was considerably more difficult to tune out. She glanced up to see Rachel bouncing Jacob in her arms as he cried, attempting unsuccessfully to soothe him.
Determined to relax, Miranda attempted to return her focus to her novel. This was the first time she’d read a book that wasn’t The Book in months, and she had barely managed to make it through three chapters-- which was unacceptable.
But the infant’s cries only grew louder, and before long Miranda shut her book with a huff of frustration. Perhaps if she found some headphones, or hid inside the tent… No. No amount of flimsy nylon was going to drown out the screeches now echoing around the campsite. As with most of her problems, Miranda’s only solution was to face it head on.
Taking a calming breath, Miranda plastered on her best I-don’t-want-to-kill-you smile before jaunting across the road toward Andréa’s sister and nephew.
Rachel gave her an apologetic look as she approached. “I’m sorry. He’s sleepy and bored, but refusing to sleep.” She sighed, “He gets this way once in awhile.”
Miranda shook her head. “Don’t be. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, not really. I mean...” Rachel paused, looking Miranda over with uncertainty. “...well, there is one thing. I'm sure you wouldn't want to, though. Really, it's fine--”
“Don't be ridiculous, I'll do anything to help,” Miranda smiled stiffly. As long as it means peace and quiet , she thought.
“Walks usually put him out pretty quickly.” She glanced toward the tent, “Maddie’s still napping, though, and I can't leave her. Would you mind…?”
“Of course not.”
“Oh, thank you so much. It shouldn't take too long, really--”
After a quick trip back across the road to grab her novel and a chair, Miranda was settled in once more.
Not thirty minutes later, though, the Reed’s tent began rustling with quiet movement. Miranda was content to ignore the noise—perhaps the child would fall back asleep? —but resigned herself to her fate when she began to hear small, distressed cries. The tent flap jerked sporadically as little hands tried to unzip it with little success, the cries growing louder with every failed attempt.
Miranda was already begrudgingly on her feet when she heard the first squeaky cry of “Help!”
“It’s alright,” Miranda replied, kneeling now before the tent’s entrance. “I’ll get you out. You have to stop tugging if you want me to unzip it.”
Madison gasped. “Who’re you?”
“I’m Miranda,” she said gently. “Will you let me open the flap?”
“Nuh-uh,” she said, small voice suddenly firm. “I don’t know no one named Miranda.”
“You do,” Miranda reminded her. “Don’t you remember this morning? We met before leaving the house. I’m André—er, I’m Andy’s… Miranda.”
There was a pause as Madison digested this information. “You’re Cassie and Caro’s mommy?”
Cassie and Caro—? Miranda shook her head. “I—yes. I’m Cassidy and Caroline’s mother. Are you going to let me help you, now?”
“Where’s my mommy? And Jakey?”
“Your mother took Jacob on a walk to help him sleep. She asked me to stay here with you.”
Miranda sighed quietly. She had almost forgotten how long-winded conversations with a preschooler could be. “Because she didn’t want you to wake up alone, I imagine. A good thing, too— otherwise you’d be stuck in this tent.” She paused as an idea occurred to her. “Of course… you’re still stuck. Until you let go of the zipper. Do you prefer being inside the tent? Perhaps I should go.”
At that, Madison quickly released her hold. With a great zip , Miranda opened the flap to the see the child staring up at her—clad in a blindingly pink top, with leggings to match. “Wanna color?”
Miranda raised her eyebrows. She most certainly did not want to color. “Wouldn’t you rather I take you to your father?” Cameron had gone with the rest of the family to-- well, now that she thought about it, she had no idea where they went.
Madison shook her head. “I don’t like fish. Will you color with me?” Her eyes lit up with sudden excitement. “I have a new Tiana book!” She ran back into the tent.
“Ah—well—" For all the countless times a day she said it at Runway , Miranda had never been much good at saying ‘no’ to children.
And so Miranda found herself seated at a nearby picnic table, coloring pictures of a frog princess while Madison sat in front of her, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she worked to stay in the lines. Searching for a lighter shade of green amongst the box of crayons laying between them, Miranda was just beginning to think that perhaps her afternoon could still be halfway relaxing when Madison piped up, “Are you my auntie now?”
Miranda froze. Before she could muster up a response, however, the child continued, “Cassie and Caro said that they’re my cousins, but they didn't say what you are.” Propping herself up on her elbows, now, Madison leaned closer across the table. “My other cousin’s mommies are my aunties,” she reasoned.
Miranda tilted her head, at a loss for how to respond. “Do you want me to be your aunt?” she asked cautiously. Truthfully, she hadn't given the matter any thought. Madison squinted as she looked Miranda over, and Miranda found herself in the rather peculiar position of hoping for the acceptance of a four-year-old.
Finally, she nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Well that settles it, then.” Miranda shrugged, “I’m your aunt.” It occurred to Miranda that she had never been anyone’s aunt before, and she felt the corners of her lips twitching in spite of herself.
Madison’s face broke out into a toothy grin as she stood atop her bench, giving a little squeal of delight as she leaped off and rounded the table toward Miranda.
She yanked at her sleeve. “C’mon, Auntie Mira. Let’s go to the park.” Miranda felt her eyes widen, her stomach clenching unpleasantly in surprise at being addressed as Mira -- her childhood nickname-- for the first time in more than thirty years. Not even the precious few people she still spoke to from her past life called her Mira. It was a name dubbed her by Margaret, and therefore too painful to hear after her death.
Madison frowned, “You don’t wanna go?”
But none of that had anything to do with the child before her. Miranda stood up. “Of course I do,” she said warmly. Grin returning to her face, Madison grabbed her hand and took the lead.
As it turned out, the nearest playground was on the way to the lake where the rest of Andréa’s family had ran off to go fishing. Miranda learned this when, some time later, Andréa returned with the girls-- Rachel pushing along a sleeping Jacob behind them.
Andréa watched as Miranda continued pushing Madison on the swing set, a look on her face that Miranda had never seen before as their eyes met.
Madison chose that moment to leap from the swing-- tumbling onto her bottom before brushing herself off and running toward Andréa. “Annie!” She trilled, shoving her hand into her pocket and pulling out some folded bits of paper. “Look what Auntie Mira and I made you.”
Following not far behind, Miranda felt her face heat up with embarrassment. If she had known Madison was going to give it to Andréa, Miranda wouldn't have chosen to color the page with “True Love’s Kiss” scrolled across the top in garish flowing script, depicting the princess wedding her prince. In fact, she wouldn't have chosen anything at all.
Andréa only smiled, thanking Madison before turning to Miranda. “I didn't know you were an artist.” Expecting to be teased, Miranda was surprised when Andréa’s voice was instead full of wonder.
Thrown off, Miranda only shrugged. “I would hope that the editor-in-chief of Runway had a working knowledge of color coordination.” Madison had returned to her mother's side, and they began to stroll toward the campsite once more.
Andréa shook her head. “No, I meant this.” She held up the sketch that Miranda had been working on while coloring with Madison. Hewn in sloppy brown crayon upon the back of her picture was an idea that had come to Miranda while shading in the cartoonish wedding dress.
“Is that--” Andréa hesitated, “Is that me?”
“...I didn't realize that Madison had pocketed them,” Miranda replied evasively. “They're just scribbles.”
Andréa ran a reverent finger over the image. “I’ve never seen scribbles look like that.”
Miranda had, in fact, drawn a sketch of Andréa. There was little use in denying it. She had been inspired to design for the first time in nearly twenty years by the thought of the younger woman's wedding dress, and-- refusing to let the idea to go to waste-- Miranda had quickly jotted it down. Always very secretive with her work, she had meant to bring it with her.
The thrilled look upon Andréa’s face as she studied the drawing made it difficult to mind, however. “Is it…?” her voice trailed off, finally looking up from the paper to meet Miranda's eyes.
“Just an idea,” Miranda assured her. The gown was very different from what Miranda usually preferred-- a modified mermaid cut, with a Queen Anne bodice, it was certainly a different combination… but one that she knew would suit Andréa well. If she liked it, that is. “What you wear is up to you, of course. Well--” She remembered suddenly who she was speaking to, “Within reason,” she amended.
“I wasn't even--” Andréa looked over her shoulder, ensuring the girls weren’t within earshot. “I wasn't even sure if you wanted an official ceremony, to be honest,” she said quietly.
Miranda smirked. “You obviously don't know me as well as you thought you did, then. I never do anything halfway.”
Andréa grinned hugely, bumping shoulders with her lightly. “You keep on surprising me.”
Miranda felt herself smile as they continued walking. "So I do."
“Hey Andy,” came Danielle’s voice over the line, “Are you busy?”
Andy, standing in the tent’s front porch, looked over her shoulder to see Miranda ushering the twins in the direction of the bathrooms, massive tote-bag full of toiletries in hand. “Nope,” she said genially, “You picked a perfect time to call, actually."
“Good, because we have a problem.” Dani wasn’t one to mince words—probably one of the reasons she’d lasted so long under Miranda.
Not wanting to be overheard, Andy stepped into the tent, zipping up the flap behind her. “Because we don’t have enough already.” She sat down at the table in the middle of the common area, resting her head in one hand.
“You’ve got no idea.” Dani sounded exhausted. “I’ve been reading through our emails ever since what Sheryl told me yesterday, and I can’t find anything. I don’t—”
“Wait—what are you talking about? And who the hell is Sheryl?”
“What do you mean what am I talking about? I told Miranda this morning—about Harrison and Gruman.”
“That’s Miranda, not me. You know better than that.” Normally, the two of them had a system-- which mostly consisted of never assuming that Miranda had kept anyone else up-to-date. “What happened?”
“Oh. I just figured, since you were… you know…” Dani’s gave an awkward little cough. “Whatever. I didn’t tell her all of it, anyway.”
“Well you haven’t told me any of it,” Andy said impatiently, “so spill.”
“Okay. I’ve been trying to get ahold of Troy since Wednesday-- I’m telling you, Andy—between emails and voicemails, I’ve left this man at least a hundred messages,” said Dani, “But he never got back to me. Not even once. So, this morning I talked Emily into watching the desk for a few hours and went to see the slippery bastard for myself. I waited outside his office for an hour and a half before they opened.”
Andy nodded. “And what did he say?”
“Nothing. He didn’t say anything. That’s what’s so infuriating. Days of waiting—right in the middle of the crisis of the century—and I had to talk to his secretary ,” Dani fumed. “What the hell is Miranda paying him for, if he’s just gonna fall off the face of the Earth as soon as she needs him? I mean—”
“—I agree Dani, I do.” Andy cut her off, running a nervous hand through her hair. “But what did the receptionist say?”
“If you’d stop interrupting me then maybe I could tell you,” Dani said tightly.
“Right,” she sighed. “Sorry.”
“Sheryl told me that Troy wouldn’t be able to see me—that he was booked full all day. But she was kind enough to let me know that their office had tried to contact us about Miranda’s missing paperwork dozens of times over the last three months.”
“Bullshit,” Andy spat. “There’s no way we’d have missed that.”
“That’s exactly what I said,” Dani said, “But then she showed me the proof. They had everything, Andy. Screenshots, phone records… lord, they even had returned mail. Postmarked and everything.”
Andy was speechless. How could they have fucked up this monumentally without even realizing it?
“And so I’ve spent the last four hours sorting through all of our physical mail-- after spending twice as long combing through our emails,” Dani continued, “ Twice . All of them, from the last year and a half. There’s nothing, Andy.”
“...so, what do we do?” she asked finally.
“I don't know if there's anything else we can do,” Dani replied. “That's why I'm calling you.”
“I'm not sure what you expect me to do from Ohio, Dani.”
“Aren't your parents some big shot lawyers?” she asked hopefully, “Maybe you could ask for their advice, since Troy’s obviously up to no good.”
“No!” Andy snapped immediately. That was the absolute last thing they needed right now. “I mean-- no. They're, uh… bogged down with their own casework already. They don't need the extra stress,” she said lamely. “Especially around the holidays.”
“...Right.” Dani sounded skeptical. “Just… talk to Miranda, okay? Figure something out, because there's not much more I can do.”
“Okay,” Andy sighed. “Thanks, Dani. Get some sleep.” Dani snorted at the very idea before hanging up.
Pocketing her phone, Andy wasn't sure what to do with herself. Not in the mood to sit and stew on her many thoughts, she walked in the direction of her brother’s campsite, just next door.
She arrived to see Ben and Rachel sitting in front of the fire, immersed in their conversation. Content to sit and listen, Andy sat on a log across from them and opened a bottle of beer when Ben turned to her.
“Andy, how's the castle so far?” he joked. “Has it kept Her Highness sufficiently comfortable?”
“Be nice,” Andy snorted, tossing a bottle cap at his head. It whizzed limply through the air, barely managing to brush his kneecaps before falling sadly to the dirt. “This is her first time camping.” She thought for a moment, taking a swig of her drink before adding, “Actually... I think it's her first time in any sort of natural setting. Unless you count Central Park.”
“Awe, really? That's so sweet,” Rachel lit up with excitement. “Even Jake’s been camping before. Why didn't you tell us? There's so many things to show her. I bet Dad--”
“--aaaand this is why no one tells you anything,” Ben interjected. “You're gonna embarrass the poor woman. When did you become such a mom?”
Andy cackled loudly, which earned her a scowl from Rachel. “Well excuse me for trying to make your fiancé's first camping trip worthwhile.”
“Just please don't make it obvious that I told you when you do… whatever it is you're gonna do,” Andy said, only slightly exasperated. She knew her sister would give Miranda an embarrassingly Midwestern welcome no matter what she said. “She’ll kill me.”
“I make no promises,” Rachel grinned. Andy just groaned.
Slowly but surely, the rest of the family gravitated toward the fire as the evening went on. The kids had finally gone to sleep, and the adults sat around the fire—roasting the occasional marshmallow, but mostly just drinking their various alcoholic beverages.
“You know, you haven’t told us your story yet,” Gammy said. She gave Andy’s shoulder a little poke from where she sat, in a rickety folding chair to Andy’s left.
Andy shifted uncomfortably on the log she shared with Miranda. “Uh. My story?”
“How you two got engaged!” Dad explained, a little too boisterously. “How a person proposes says a lot about them, you know.” He winked.
Mom nodded next to him. “It’s true. Who proposed to who?” Shit . Andy hadn’t even considered an engagement story.
“I did,” she blurted, only to hear Miranda saying the exact same thing next to her. Double shit . They turned to each other, wide-eyed. Miranda quirked an eyebrow, and Andy gave a tiny nod. Considering she’d just downed Miranda’s beer—after having two of her own—it was probably better if she didn’t do the talking.
Miranda didn’t miss a beat, giving a fake little laugh—the pleasant, tinkling kind she was always using at parties. “It’s actually quite funny—I’m surprised that Andréa hasn’t mentioned it yet. Well. I’m sure you know that this isn’t my first engagement.” She looked around the fire at her now rapt audience, eyes daring them to voice their judgment. “Nor my second.”
“But I wanted this time to be different—it is different, after all.” Her smile was radiant—if Andy didn’t know better, she would think it was real—as she slid closer to Andy. Where before there had been a healthy few inches separating them, now Andy could feel Miranda’s thigh pressed against her own.
As if that wasn’t distracting enough, she felt her head begin to spin as Miranda wrapped her arm around Andy’s waist, hand coming to rest somewhere just above her hip. “This time, I wanted it to be my decision.” Andy closed her eyes, trying to steady her breath and failing. “I knew exactly how I was going to propose, and when—Andréa obviously had other plans, however.”
“Of course, she did,” Rachel laughed loudly. How many beers had she had now? Obviously having the same thought, Cameron carefully pried the bottle from her hands.
“More than once, I had to head off Andréa’s attempts at proposing,” Miranda continued. “While sweet, they were a bit—ah— overdone. So, I played dumb. I pretended not to notice the ring sitting at the bottom of my champagne glass, or—I don’t know—sat on the rose petals spelling ‘Marry Me’,” She gave a small shrug, “You get the idea.”
“Hey,” Andy interrupted, feeling vaguely offended despite her haze of pleasure. “I’m a great proposer. You’re just… persnickety.”
Miranda only smirked. “You see? She has no idea.” Everyone laughed at that, and Andy gave a halfhearted scowl. “Anyway—the plans were made. Ideally, I wanted to wait until the day we met… but March was entirely too far away. Andréa was getting impatient and, frankly, so was I. Instead, I was going to wait instead until the day I finally realized that I was in love. But—”
“When was that?” Ben interjected.
Miranda paused, lips pursed. Andy felt suddenly chilled as Miranda removed her arm from Andy’s waist. For a moment, Andy wondered if she was going to ignore the interruption entirely. Miranda cleared her throat. “November seventh. Of last year.”
November seventh? Andy thought, Where the hell did she come up with—
“Last November.” Mom said, head tilted in thought, “Isn’t that when Andy had her appendix removed?”
Oh. Right . How could Andy have forgotten the time she almost died?
Mom nodded. “I almost forgot that you were the one who told us. I was so worried, I didn’t stop to think—you stayed with her that whole time, didn’t you? The doctors mentioned something like that, after. A woman who refused to leave until Andy was stable.”
What? Andy furrowed her brow, looking at Miranda in confusion. “You stayed?” Miranda didn’t look at her. She had removed one of her bracelets, fiddling with it absentmindedly as she stared into the fire. “Why don’t I remember any of this?”
“I expect because you were unconscious,” Miranda murmured. “I stayed until you woke up. There was still quite a bit of anesthesia in your system—I would be surprised if you remembered anything at all.”
Apparently abandoning her tale, Miranda sat quietly. No one dared object. For a few moments the only sounds were the crackling of the fire, combined with the quiet sounds of nature around them.
Andy cleared her throat awkwardly, feeling the need to break the silence. “Anyway-- uh--” she stumbled, pulling everyone from their thoughts. “I was worried that she wanted to leave me. Since she ignored all of my proposals, you know. Even though they were perfectly good proposals.” Ben snorted at that, and she shot him a dirty look.
“So I confronted her one day, after work. We were in the kitchen cooking dinner, and I asked her if she still loved me, and she said ‘Of course I love you, Ahn-drey-ah, don’t be ridiculous’ ,” Andy tried not to panic as she felt herself beginning to ramble. “And I said ‘Well then why are you acting like this?’, and then she said--”
“And then I said that maybe if she had more patience, she could have had the perfect proposal,” Miranda interruppted. “Instead, I proposed to her during an argument, standing in the middle of the kitchen on a Tuesday.”
“Weren’t you kneeling?” Andy asked innocently, trying not to laugh. “I could’ve sworn you were kneeling.”
Miranda’s only answer was to roll her eyes, shaking her head.
“So… where’s the ring?” asked Rachel suddenly, “Or-- rings?”
Uh oh. Yet another detail that Andy had completely forgotten about. “I—um—”
“I’ve been holding onto them,” Miranda interjected, unzipping her coat and reaching into her breast pocket before pulling out a little box—saving the day once again. She opened it, and Andy’s jaw dropped.
One of Andy’s final conditions had been a pretty ring. With everything else going on, it had completely slipped Andy’s mind—but Miranda had obviously taken this demand to heart. Inside the box were two rings that, while different, were obviously made to be a pair. Both white gold, one of the rings was a band inlaid with small diamonds in a row across its face.
The other had a large, oval cut diamond in the center, encircled by smaller diamonds that were twin to the ones in its mate. It was this second ring that Miranda removed, setting the box in Andy’s right hand before gently taking her left. Andy could hear her heart pounding in her ears as Miranda slid the ring into place.
Miranda smiled, rubbing her thumb gently over Andy’s knuckles before giving a small squeeze and letting go. “Lovely,” she murmured, “Perfectly lovely.” Reaching now for the box, Miranda plucked out her ring to put it on, as well.
But Andy swatted her hand away before she could, grabbing the ring for herself. “Let me,” she said, pulling Miranda’s hand toward her lap. Despite the chill in the air, it was warm.
Carefully, so carefully, Andy slid the ring onto her third finger. The way the firelight now twinkled off its jewels was almost as beautiful as the way it was twinkling in Miranda’s eyes as she watched. Andy was entranced. Not stopping to think, she pulled Miranda’s hand close, brushing her lips against it softly.
There was a sharp intake of breath, but Miranda didn’t pull away. Andy looked up, searching her face for any sign of discomfort and finding none.
“Aw, just look at them,” cooed Gammy, “Look how in love they are. Kiss the bride, Andy!”
Oops. She’d completely forgotten about their little audience. “Um—”
“Mother. Leave them alone,” Mom said tightly, “There’s no reason make them uncomfortable.” That’s rich coming from you , Andy thought bitterly—but felt a rush of affection toward her mom, regardless.
“Go on, Dandy! Kiss her!” Rachel hollered, elbowing Ben next to her as she took a healthy gulp of the beer that she had snatched back from Cameron. He gave Andy an apologetic look.
“Yeah! Why not?” Ben laughed, apparently deciding to play along in her torture, “Kiss her! It’ll be like practice for the big day.”
“Do it!” Rachel cackled evilly. Andy scowled. It was like being ten years old again, but infinitely worse.
She was approximately three seconds away from telling them both to go to hell when she heard Miranda sigh next to her. “Oh, for god’s sake,” she muttered, scooting impossibly closer. Andy was rendered mute as she felt her hair being brushed softly behind her ear—and when she felt the warm pressure of Miranda’s lips against her cheek, she wondered if she’d ever be able to speak again.
Cheek burning where it had been kissed, Andy turned to look at Miranda. But she moved much too quickly—and suddenly, they were nose-to-nose. Andy barely suppressed a gasp—she wasn’t sure they had never been this close before.
From this angle, she could see clearly the grey that ran along the edges of blue irises, fencing the color in. She could see each eyelash and laugh line, could count every freckle if she desired—but instead her eyes travelled still further down, distracted as she watched Miranda’s tongue dart out to wet her lips.
Andy bit her lip at the sight, eyes travelling back up to meet Miranda’s—but they were closed, now. There was no mistaking her uneven breathing—even if Andy couldn’t see her chest’s rapid movement, she could feel each little puff of air as it escaped Miranda’s lips.
It would be so easy— Andy’s mind raced with disjointed thoughts as she leaned still closer, Terrible idea— What if she— Maybe I could—
Miranda closed the distance between them, brushing her lips against Andy’s gently. The world around them disappeared as Andy felt the warm pressure of Miranda’s mouth against her own, somehow even softer and more inviting than she had imagined.
She felt Miranda inhale sharply as Andy replied with a kiss of her own—firmer this time, but only just. She lingered longer than Miranda had, feeling her hands drift up to cradle Miranda’s face between them. Her lips tasted like peppermint and something else, something very distinctly Miranda . Wanting a better taste, Andy swiped her tongue over Miranda’s bottom lip, her touch feather light.
Miranda shivered at the contact, and suddenly, all coherent thought was lost for Andy as her brain began chanting more, more, more —but then she felt Miranda’s hands resting atop her own, felt her pulling gently away. Andy resisted the urge to whine in frustration.
Her eyes fluttered open to the sight of Miranda staring back at her, cheeks flushed and eyes shining, her face saying the same thing that Andy was thinking—
“Wow,” Andy breathed.
“Oh, I’m so happy for you two!” Gammy exclaimed, voice suddenly much closer than before. Miranda’s eyes widened in horror as they were both yanked against Gammy’s chest in a teary embrace. “So, so happy!”
Miranda wriggled out of her arms as fast as she could. “Yes, we’re all very happy,” she said shakily, running a hand through her now very ruffled hair. “I think it’s well past time for bed, don’t you?” she looked at Andy desperately. Andy nodded in agreement, pretty sure that she would agree to just about anything Miranda said at the moment.
The journey back to the tent was quiet, both too embarrassed to say much of anything. Walking through the common area and entering the room to its right, Andy was surprised to feel how incredibly chilly it still was. “I could have sworn I left the heater on,” she said, hugging herself tightly.
Miranda knelt before the large, boxy space heater, pushing several buttons at random before giving up with a huff of irritation. “You did,” she said, turning toward her once more. “It’s broken.” She scooped up a pair of pajamas and a little hygiene bag, heading back to the room’s entrance.
“I’m going to check on the girls,” she said, zipping up the door behind her. “I’ll change while I’m there—I suggest you do the same.”
Quick as Andy could, she hopped into her warmest flannel pajamas. She rushed through a very addended version of her nightly routine—washing her face turned into scrubbing it with a makeup removal wipe, brushing her teeth turned into swishing a bit of mouthwash and hoping that Miranda didn’t come close enough to smell her awful morning breath come tomorrow.
She gave the heater another check, only to see that Miranda was right—it was dead. Andy rolled her eyes. Having been the one to pick them up, she knew that Miranda spent at least $200 each on these things. So much for getting what you pay for . This had been one luxury that Andy wouldn’t have minded in the least.
As she crawled into her sleeping bag, snuggling up beneath the blankets overtop of it, Miranda returned. “Well, the girls’ heater is working just fine.” Climbing into her sleeping bag, she rolled to face Andy. She gave a small smile, propping her head up on one hand. “It’s downright toasty in their room. I almost didn’t come back for you.”
“It’s good that you did,” Andy said seriously, “We’re gonna need all of the extra body heat we can get without it.” She eyed Miranda’s silk pajamas suspiciously, “Especially you. You know fabrics better than anybody, Miranda. There’s no way you thought those would actually keep you warm.”
“I had assumed I wouldn’t need to worry about it,” Miranda shrugged before narrowing her eyes, watching as Andy unzipped her own sleeping bag. “What are you doing?”
“I told you,” she explained, avoiding her gaze, “We need the shared body heat. The best way to do that is to combine our sleeping bags.” Oh god , Andy groaned internally. I sound like a cheesy opening for a porno .
Miranda stared at her incredulously, making no move to unzip her own bag.
“Look, I’m not thrilled about it either.” Andy could feel the color rising in her cheeks, and wondered if maybe death by hypothermia wouldn’t be so bad after all. “But it’s supposed to get below freezing tonight. This isn’t my first time camping in cold weather. If we don’t do this, we’re both gonna be miserable.”
Miranda rolled her eyes, turning to face the other way. “I’ll take my chances,” she said. There was a click as she turned off the solar powered lantern, and the tent was blanketed in darkness.
One hour passed, and then two—but sleep refused to come. Even covered in flannel, lying beneath two blankets and inside her body heat-capturing sleeping bag, Andy was still chilly. Used to cold-weather camping, though, that wasn’t what kept her awake. No, what was keeping Andy awake was Miranda.
They lay in opposite directions, both teetering near the edge to give one another as much room as possible on the air mattress. But even their best efforts didn’t change the bed’s size—there couldn’t have been more than a foot between them. They were close enough that, every time Andy finally felt herself reaching the fuzzy edges of consciousness, she was awoken by Miranda shivering beside her.
One hour turned to two and finally she heard an exasperated sigh. “ Fine ,” Miranda said, defeated.
And so their sleeping bags were hastily zipped together. Once again, they gave one another as much space as possible—which was now barely a few inches. Inevitably, one of Miranda’s hands brushed against Andy’s shoulder.
“Jesus Christ—” she swore, flinching away reflexively, “—your hands are freezing .”
“You don’t say,” Miranda deadpanned, rubbing them together for warmth.
Hesitantly, Andy held her hands out in offering. Miranda eyed them skeptically in the near-complete darkness, but only for a moment. Her need for warmth overpowering any sense of pride, she extended her hands as well.
Andy enveloped them with her own, rubbing heat into them bit by bit. After only a few minutes of this, Miranda’s stiff form began to relax. She sighed contentedly, and Andy tried not to think about how incredibly close they were, or how soft Miranda’s hands felt in her own.
They lay this way for a long time, one moment blending with the next in their haze of sleepy warmth. Aware that Miranda’s hands were now a perfectly reasonable temperature, Andy didn’t want to let go. Searching with her fingertips, she found the engagement ring she had placed there only a few hours before.
“They’re beautiful,” Andy murmured, stroking now at the narrow ridges that held the jewels in place.
“I’m glad you like it,” Miranda’s voice was low, “I knew the oval cut would compliment you nicely.” Her thumb ran absentmindedly across Andy’s fingers as she continued. “And I’ve only ever seen you wear silver. I like gold, though. I hoped you wouldn’t mind the—” she took back one of her hands to cover a yawn “—I hoped you wouldn’t mind the compromise.”
Andy was grateful for the darkness that hid the surprise surely written on her face. She had assumed that Dani had been the one to pick out their rings, just like everything else for this trip. Never would she have guessed that Miranda had chosen them herself. Maybe I should have, though, she thought, remembering the gorgeous wedding gown that Miranda had “scribbled” earlier that day.
Andy felt her chest fill with warmth at the memory, and found she was at a loss for words.
There was no need to respond, though. Next to her, Miranda’s breathing was even and slow. Andy smiled, wrapping her hands around Miranda’s own once more as she finally succumbed to sleep.