Note: I figure it's well past time to dust another chapter off and hand it over—so here. Enjoy. I would apologize for the wait and gathering of dust but I really cannot bring myself to say the 'S' word these days. For those of you that stick by me-I can say THANK YOU without a single problem and consider this posting dedicated to FFnet member 825.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Andy never thought there'd be a day tougher to get through than what was almost her last with Miranda back in Paris. But today is (and will continue to be) tougher and nothing about Runway seems to care. The phones still ring a million times; the emails keep right on coming; the schedule still has to be changed in a hundred different ways, and Andy is back to running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Worst yet, Miranda is driving everyone to impossible limits because she's not in a foul mood—she's preoccupied which is never a good thing for anybody to experience from Miranda.

It doesn't help that in spite of talking herself into acceptance a handful of hours ago, Andy's about to go nuts with preoccupation herself. A bunch of Ping-Pong balls are bouncing around inside her head and for once, none of them are labeled Star Wars or Harry Potter. They're labeled: Caroline and Cassidy. Two little girls that make her care less and less about Runway with every second that passes and by two o'clock, Andy's not just preoccupied or going nuts. She's about to lose her damn mind.

As for Miranda—well, she might be driving everyone mad, even pushing herself harder than usual, but she still has plenty time to look at her cellphone every few minutes, carrying it with her everywhere she goes. She's still got plenty of time to stare out of her office window and fiddle around with her earrings and necklace like she always does when she's nervous. She's still got plenty of time to sit on the couch in the corner of her office (a couch she never sits on) to flip through the latest bit of junk from her divorce attorney.

That's definitely something Andy could do without: remembering, during this mess of a day, that Miranda is still, technically, a married woman. Somehow she'd kind of forgotten about that so, of course, in the middle of worrying herself to death about whatever it is the twins might be doing and answering yet another email from Irv, Andy starts to wonder what Miranda and Stephen's marriage was like. She avoids thinking about the bedroom end of it but, really, in general, it's an intriguing thing to try and picture.

What would Stephen have done on Sunday? Not to boast, but Andy can't put him in her place. She can't begin to picture him in bed with Miranda and the twins, reciting spells alphabetically until Caroline and Cassidy were too tired to keep their eyes open. That just doesn't seem right. And okay, even though she doesn't really want to think about this, Andy can't picture Miranda in his arms, wasting the morning away, cuddling, talking, or anything else. Just talking…simply trying to picture that is a no-go. Nothing between Stephen and Miranda fits right inside her head.

But what about Greg? It makes her feel sick to admit it but at some point Miranda had to have loved him. Whatever her reasons were for marrying Stephen, Andy knows deep down that Miranda would not have married anyone, the first time around, for anything but love. She was much younger back then, no doubt a romantic, idealistic and hopeful. The walls, that always threatening persona, had probably not fully taken root yet. Love was easy back then. Greg was safe.

So when had he stopped being safe? When and how did Miranda figure out being romantic, idealistic and hopeful were nothing but dangerous? Because surely that's how she sees it these days. Just plain dangerous. And not that that's the only reason Miranda is a complete bitch to everybody that darkens her path, but it had to have been the jumping off point. After that kind of let-down, everything was more or less about keeping people at a distance. Especially after Greg started burying her under insult after insult, verbally beating it into her head that she was nothing at all. And then he cheated on her. In her office. Probably knowing he'd get caught…

"That sorry, son of a bitch." Andy mumbles under her breath, hurrying down the hall with the usual two o'clock coffee.

Just before she can really get into figuring out how it is that she's been able to get past all the things Greg did to Miranda in order to make her open up even just a little bit, Andy comes to a screeching halt, staring into the doorway of what she's come to think of as Miranda's little sanctuary. In fact, this is probably as close to a quiet spot like Anna's (but totally different looking) that she could probably have.

It's nothing more than a tiny, extraordinarily bright room where hundreds of pictures are pined to boards for her consideration. Most of this is just a click or two away at any given moment, and yeah, there's always the Book every night, but the purpose here is more of a 'big picture' kind of thing.

She knows she ought to just put the cup in Miranda's hand and walk out but can't do it. Her feet won't move. This is as close as they've been all day.

The transfer of the coffee takes a beat too long; Miranda's eyes stay fixed on her. Being that perfect distraction this morning, comes to mind, causing Andy's face to burn. Miranda quirks an eyebrow, then turns to face the wall again where ten different versions of the next cover are front and center.

"I really don't know how this is going to work," Miranda says in a low voice.

"You've still got a couple of weeks," Andy dumbly points out, thinking Miranda is talking about all these choices on the wall.

"How on earth can I have a couple of weeks when you said I didn't have a choice at all just this morning?"

Say what?

"Oh," Miranda lets it out slowly. "You thought I meant this?" She looks at Andy and nods her head toward the wall.

Andy swallows hard and nods in confirmation. What is Miranda talking about? How is what supposed to work?

"I meant us." Miranda whispers. "Here."

"Oh…" And here's where her head starts to spin in a way that isn't good. Andy can't do this right now. She's tense enough as it is. Talking about how work is supposed to work… No. She can't do it. There are more important things…

"Well, you're full of help this afternoon."

"Sorry," Andy cringes at the sarcastic tone. "I really haven't let myself think about it."

A bit of laughter is choked back and it sure as hell didn't come from Andy. Whipping her head around, she knows the look she's giving Miranda isn't nice but she can't help it. This isn't funny. She really hasn't thought about it. Much… Well, she thought about it in relation to the hours after work, but not during. Either way, this situation still isn't funny. And maybe Andy can talk about this because now she's pissed off.

"I apologize for laughing." Miranda says, with hardly a straight face.

"It's not funny. I don't know how it's supposed to work either, but thinking about that right now isn't on my list, okay?"

"Fine then. Later?"

"Yeah, later. And besides, if you don't know, then neither do I. I don't even care, to be honest."

"You should probably start caring, Andrea."

"No," Andy says firmly. "I really shouldn't. I don't care how it works, so long as you don't try to get rid of me today."

"There's no need to go there," Miranda says dryly. "I already tried that. It didn't work."

"Yeah, I've got a bite mark on my shoulder as proof. And other stuff…"

"My… You're in a mood."

"I'm not," Andy nearly stomps her foot and throws a fit just like she wanted to earlier this morning on the sidewalk. "What made you laugh, anyway?"

"It just reminded me of something you said earlier. Not allowing yourself to entertain certain…thoughts."

Andy looks at Miranda again. She's six shades of red and staring Andy right out of her clothes. "And you were thinking I'm the one who's going to have a problem at work?" She asks, because she's got to know. Was Miranda planning on giving her some big 'we have to be appropriate' speech?

"I hadn't decided."

"I just decided for you. You look like you're about to die. Mystery solved."

"For someone that's about to die," Miranda quips and steps closer. "Right now, I feel better than I have in ages."

Andy takes a step back. "Get away from me before I have to file sexual harassment charges against you."

"Drastic, don't you think?" Miranda takes a step back.

"Well… It's all I could think of on short notice."

Miranda sighs then nods. "So long as you keep making threats like that, I supposed we'll be alright. As for everything else-"

"There is absolutely no way in hell," Andy cuts her off. "That I'm allowing this place to get in our way, Miranda. Having to make stupid threats of sexual harassment charges, or having to put up with whatever… Nothing is going to take me away from you."

Where this has come from, in this serious tone that leaves no room for argument, Andy hasn't a clue, but Miranda doesn't look surprised. In fact, she looks relieved. She looks really, really relieved.

"That's all you wanted to hear, isn't it?" Andy asks her, stepping closer, disregarding her own sexual harassment threat from five seconds ago. "You just need to know that nothing can chase me away? Even if you don't try?"

"Perhaps. If things here become too difficult to manage, then I…" Miranda lowers her eyes to the floor.

"Don't do that, Miranda."

"What?" Miranda looks up at her.

"Look down like that. Like you're afraid. Just look at me, please."

"Fine." Miranda jerks her head up. "If it becomes difficult, we will simply talk about it," she says, looking more confident and relieved again instead of pissed off that Andy has just pointed out a weakness. "That's not my strongest quality, but it's the only way. You're determined, obviously. And so am I."

Andy can only shake her head as a light bulb goes off.

When Andy sounds even the slightest bit hesitant about anything, anything at all, then Miranda sees everything as already over. When Andy sounds sure, firm, and completely unyielding, Miranda sees everything as not only possible—but like half the battle has already been fought and won.

Miranda clears her throat a few seconds later and motions toward the door. "We should go…"

So they go. Andy's 100% neither of them want to, but if they don't get back to work (or at least pretend to work), the preoccupation of Miranda Priestly, Editor and Chief of Runway, will just get worse.

"I wish they would call," Miranda says, changing the subject as they turn the last corner. "And let me know what they're up to. They never do, of course, and that's fine. It's their way. But this… This is different. At least I might be able to concentrate if they would just…"

Andy looks nervously at her watch. It's two-thirty; Dalton lets out at three.

"They probably won't call until closer to four," Andy whispers. "You have a meeting at three. The prep for the next board meeting. Which is tomorrow…"

"I'm well aware of when it is." Miranda turns and glares at her; Andy knows exactly why. Miranda hates board meetings. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Andy smarts back and throws in a hint of a smile.

Miranda's three o'clock meeting is a disaster. For starters, she makes Andy go and Andy never goes to those things. She does all the work, but Emily is the one that goes to the meetings and takes all the credit. So yeah, Andy gets daggers thrown at her back as she walks down the hall.

Once they get there, the real disaster occurs: Miranda pays zero attention to what anyone has to say. Zero. In fact, the zero fucks given are so extensive that Andy ends up running the meeting and the whole thing raises more than a few eyebrows. Everyone has seen Miranda distracted before but not like this. Not to the point of doodles being drawn on her legal pad that look an awful lot like Hogwarts with the Enterprise flying overhead, firing torpedoes at… Is that the Millennium Falcon? Seriously?

"Okay, that's a really shitting thing to draw." Andy says as soon as the last person leaves, deciding that it's pointless to try and keep either of them focused anyway, so why not indulge?

Like she knew this was coming, Miranda doesn't miss a beat. "I wouldn't go that far," she says, tilting her head this way and that, inspecting her handiwork. "After all, I've done your little ship a favor, darling. If this were real, the Enterprise would never chase the Millennium Falcon. No, there would be no chase. We would simply…run right over it."

Andy takes a deep breath.

Little ship?

No chase?

Run right over it?

No. Fucking. Way.

"I think this would look quite nice in your Man Cave." Miranda tears the page off and holds it up, teasingly. "On the refrigerator, perhaps. Don't you agree?"

"In the garbage disposal, maybe." Andy frowns. "Along with some Star Trek action figures that I'm sure you've got hidden some place. They could all live 'happily ever-after' down the drain."

Miranda returns her frown. "I don't have any," she says and Andy can tell that she's not lying and just might regret the lack thereof. "But even if I did, that's not very nice."

"Stop saying I live in a Man Cave."

"There's not a chance of that in heaven or hell," Miranda says flatly. "It's too much fun to see you get so…riled up over such an inconsequential thing."

"It's not inconsequential."

Miranda drops the drawing on the table and shrugs. "No. I suppose it isn't. Tell me… What are your plans for retribution?"

See? They're not getting anything done today. Between the twins and them, not a single thing of real importance is happening at Runway except little conversations like these.

It takes Andy a second or two to really see the blush on Miranda's face, but it's there. "Sexual harassment," Andy says with the straightest face possible while pushing her chair back, pointing at Miranda.

That does the trick. "You really are something, Andrea. Truly remarkable." Miranda stands quickly and starts to gather up all her junk. Including her little drawing. Folding it carefully, she puts it in the pocket of her slacks and Andy doesn't doubt that she'll eventually find it in her apartment, on her refrigerator when she least expects it. Before Andy can figure out some sort of smartass remark to come back with, Miranda renders her speechless. "I've never met anyone else like you," she says in a way that catches Andy's attention and makes her hold her breath. "Sometimes it feels like you force me to trust you. I'm not sure how you've managed it, but you've even forced me to fall in love with you. I fought it, and hated you for it, of course." Miranda chews on the bottom of her lip for a moment then brushes her hair out of her face, "That really cannot be denied. But there is something about you that is fiercely unyielding…and strong. When I don't have faith or direction or even good sense, you do. It made me fall in love with you, Andrea, and I suspect I am not done falling yet."

Andy exhales slowly and balls her hands up into fists so tight her knuckles crack as her heart starts to feel like a chunk of lead. Of all the times for them to be here. But even if they weren't here, even if they were a thousand miles from here, Andy wouldn't know what to say; which makes her remember that she is not good at this. In spite of what her mother thinks, Andy isn't good at love. She's not good with the words that should come along with it and even if she were, Andy's pretty sure she would never have the right words to explain why or how much she loves Miranda anyway. They probably don't exist.

Still in her chair, she looks up at Miranda, who is very busy fiddling with the legal pad and papers in her hands. "The other night, when I said I wasn't good at trust," Andy reaches out and frees Miranda of her pad and all those papers, "I should have said this…verbal expression." With nothing in her way now, Andy takes advantage of the fact there are no glass walls surrounding this particular conference room and continues to hold onto Miranda's hands. "I'm not used to this," she says. "Explaining why. Or how… You'll probably always be better at that than I am."

"I had always believed, if given the chance," Miranda finally looks at Andy's face. "That it would be the other way around."

"Well, it isn't. You surpass all expectations. Not that I have any…"

"I don't either," Miranda says quickly and Andy knows she's talking about settling for less again.

"And I think that is totally crazy, Miranda." Andy figures out how to stand up at this point and they're finally face to face.

"Expectations often lead to disappointment."

"Maybe in the past," Andy squeezes her hands and throws everything to wind, kissing Miranda softly on the mouth.

One soft kiss turns into much more. Andy should have known better. Well, she did know better; she just didn't care.

Before Andy fully realizes what is happening, Miranda has her sitting right there on the table and when her hands find their way under Andy's skirt for the second time this morning, resting them on her thighs, she moans into Miranda's mouth. It's a wonder she doesn't fall backwards onto the cold surface and can't say that she'd mind it much if she did.

And yes, Miranda is too good at this. Surely Andy should be able to…what? Make-out with Miranda? Without wanting to skip right on by that and move into being completely naked with no self-control at all? Well, that's the problem. Andy doesn't have any self-control. None whatsoever and neither does Miranda. Which is kind of scary when you think about it. Miranda Priestly and the concept of no self-control just don't go together. She is the Editor, after all.

"Oh, fuck," Andy breaths in sharply when Miranda bites at her neck and starts to push her skirt up. Nope. No self-control. Which means Andy's got to get a grip and fast. "Sexual harassment," Andy repeats several times, pushing against Miranda's hips with her hands. When Miranda moves away from her neck, the look she gets in return isn't a pretty one.

"You would say that now." Miranda's tone is flippant and it's clear she still doesn't give a shit. "I'll give you my lawyer's number. In fact, I'll simply call him for you once I've had you right here on this table. Would you like that, Andrea?"

Since that's one of the nicest presents Andy's ever been offered, she shrugs and stops giving a damn all over again.

They are hopeless.

Just before Miranda starts to not push her skirt up further, but rip if off completely, something happens that's probably going to get old pretty fast: the phone rings.

It's not a ringtone Andy's ever heard come from Miranda's cell, and it's not Caroline or Cassidy. Andy knows their ringtones. Caroline's is whimsical and always reminds Andy of Tinkerbelle for some goofy reason. Cassidy's is less whimsical, of course, and more on the techno side. But this ringtone doesn't have a thing in the world to do with Tinkerbelle or weird techno music. This ringtone is nothing but a siren that sounds distant at first, then closer and closer.

"Yes," Miranda says as she answers. There is no real greeting. "Where are you?"

Andy jumps off the table, obviously, and smooths out her skirt as the voice on the other end of Miranda's phone seems to speak a hundred words at once. The next thing Andy knows, Miranda is flying down the hall and there's little else to do but chase after her; Andy's heart goes straight into her throat. Ringtones be damned—this is about the girls anyway.

Miranda's first stop is the closet where her coat and bag are kept. At first, Emily tries to retrieve them for her but is basically pushed aside by Miranda, who doesn't even want her coat and bag. Not really. All she wants is the money inside.

It takes everything in Andy to keep her mouth shut and not beg or plead to know exactly what is going on, but when Miranda races back out their office door, she follows. To hell with the weird looks coming from Emily. None of that matters right now.

This whole time, that voice has still been speed talking and Miranda's been silently listening, not saying a word. As soon as the elevator door closes, though, she finds her voice.

"I'm not exactly happy with the seating arrangement, but either way you have got to slow down, Bee. You have my children in the car. In the trunk!"

Miranda keeps on talking but Andy's more focused on the name she's just heard. Bee… Well, holy shit. She's about to meet Anna Wintour's daughter. Who happens to have children in her trunk? Caroline and Cassidy are in the trunk of a car? Yeah… Andy's head starts to spin and hurt and her vision is hardly the best at the moment.

From here on, Miranda doesn't shut up until the elevator opens into the parking garage. Of course. Duh. The parking garage. Knowing that she has got to get herself together, Andy takes a deep breath and follows after Miranda, only one step behind until they come face-to-face with the attendant who looks puzzled until Miranda shoves cash into his hand and nods her head toward the direction they've just come from.

By the way he smiles, tips his little hat and walks away; Andy knows he's been through this before. Bee Shafer (who Andy figures by what tabloids she's seen, is either nineteen or just a little older and certainly recognizable) has been in this parking garage with Caroline and Cassidy before. Hopefully not via the trunk, but in any case, they've been here together and Miranda pays people to disappear without knowing why.

"What's going on," Andy finally asks while Miranda paces in one particular spot that is out of security camera range. "You've got to tell me"

Miranda whirls around. "We've been…lied to, it seems. Or misinformed. I don't know…" She throws her hands up then begins to pace again. "I don't know why I didn't think of it before." For a moment, Miranda goes silent and Andy is dying to beg for clarification but knows it will come soon enough. In fact, in the very next second, with the sound of squealing tires, all the answers arrive. "Alec is being beaten, Andrea," Miranda says as she rushes toward the car. "And he's been taking it out on anything he can get his little hands on. The girls figured it out."

With those words and the quick movement of Bee getting out of the car, Andy chooses to shut off half her brain. Emotions will do her no good right now. Or that's what she thinks until not only the twins climb out...but Alec also. They've kidnapped Alec Robson and stuffed him into the trunk of a car…and he's got to be the tiniest eleven year old boy Andy has ever seen. The Dalton sweater that's two sizes too big for him and unruly blond hair that falls in his face cannot cover the anger vibrating through him. Or the pain.

Everybody is talking at once. Bee is trying (for probably the second or third time) to explain that it was either the trunk or nothing, and Miranda ought to know that because hello, they've done this before and cannot be seen together by anyone. Period. Ever. No matter what. And forget about tinted windows. They don't trust them to work well enough since everybody in New York City knows what they look like.

Deciding to tune everybody out for a while, Andy picks Alec up without permission and places him on the closed trunk.

"It's not his fault." Cassidy says, watching Andy's every move, looking suspicious and fearful. "None of this is his fault."

For a split second, Andy hears the words, "None of this is your fault" instead, and what she still, to this day, considers to be her fault, brings every single emotion Andy holds at arm's length, to the surface. In order to hide from it, she holds onto Alec and surprisingly, he holds onto her. While Miranda, Bee and Caroline continue to go around and around (because neither of them are giving Miranda real, concrete answers to any of her other questions), he cries and in her ear Alec apologizes for things he has no business apologizing for. For the way he is at school. For the way he picks on everybody…and their class pets. For making mistakes. For dropping things…

No.

Something snaps inside her head. Or breaks. It's the sound of a bowl breaking so clearly that it's got to be real. It's not though, Andy reminds herself, and from then on she refuses to really process the words coming out of Alec's mouth. This is as far as she can go; she will not allow herself to feel the Dementors sucking the life right out of her. She will not become small or fragile or anything else. Those things are completely unacceptable.

"You're perfect the way you are, Alec," Andy says, brushing the hair off of his damp forehead. She might not want to process his words but Andy can't just let him sit here and cry, either. "Cassidy's right. None of this is your fault."

Before she can continue, there is the sound of another car coming close. Andy glances quickly at Miranda to see if they should move or hide or what, but there's no indication of that. In fact, Miranda is walking toward the car that is now stopped. Detective Henley steps out and so does someone else.

It is Alec's mother; just as thin and vibrating with the same anger and pain. They look exactly the same.

The little boy practically leaps off the car and out of Andy's arms. He runs right to his mother, apologizing immediately for telling anybody. Because you see he was never supposed to tell. No one was ever supposed to know. Neither of them were ever supposed to go 'off script' and neglect the stories and lies put in place to explain everything away.

"I made him tell me." Cassidy pulls on Andy's arm, distracting her from the scene. Her expression is one of shame; it's obvious that Cassidy is not exactly proud of how this was all accomplished. "We tried before," she continues. "To do something… But he wouldn't tell anybody the truth and his dad makes a lot of money…more than Mom. It's like the perfect picture at his house. No one believed us."

So they told someone before. They told someone, probably a teacher, someone that's supposed to fix things and make them right. Someone they trusted… And along the way, nothing turned out right. It's all too common. Carefully planned stories, excuses, and threats can cover up just about anything. Especially when everything seems to be a fairytale at home. Sometimes it's enough to make people choose not to believe what is right in front of them.

But Caroline, Cassidy and even Erin are much too smart for that. The boy they knew last year, a boy that Cassidy 'really, really liked a lot', turned into somebody they didn't know, and there had to be a reason for it. There just had to be.

Luna dying was the last straw. Alec used to be fascinated with her but when you're in a cage yourself, the things you love are the things you start to hate and the life he lived, when demonstrated through Luna, was too much for his friends. Erin had had enough and knew that no matter what, Alec had to be set free today. They couldn't afford to wait on Alec to stand up any longer. He needed help and since no one listened to them last time, they put themselves in charge, leaving Miranda and Andy in the dark with not even half the truth delivered at breakfast.

There is still a lot to be explained. Like how Bee and the detective became involved; but at this particular moment, that didn't matter quite so much because Cassidy's got a problem that is eating at her a hundred times worse than whatever it is she had to do to make Alec tell her the truth finally.

The thing she never wanted to have happen has happened: Carol is hurt. Even though she is in jean, it's easy to see that for whatever reason, her right knee is a bloody mess.

"Who told you this was your fault?" Andy asks. "Who told you that Caroline was always your responsibility? Mistakes happen, you know."

"Nana," she says, pressing against Andy's side. "Nana said I couldn't let anything hurt her. Ever. I'm tougher than her. Nana said so…so it's my job."

Well, fuck. This isn't good. What if she really meant that all the responsibly for Caroline did in fact rest in Cassidy? Andy figures that cannot be true and decides almost instantly that she's going to play it off that way. There really isn't another choice. Cassidy cannot do this for the rest of her life. Andy won't allow it.

"I bet if you gave her a chance, Caroline could be pretty good at taking care of herself."

"She wasn't today." Cassidy sighs, giving no further explanation and Andy figures it's a safe bet that they'll never get one.

"A hurt knee is a minor thing, though, Cassidy. That happens to everybody. You can't take everything in as your own."

Cassidy sighs again. Actually it's closer to pouting and likely that at some point, in the next few hours, they all might get to witness a good, old fashion meltdown from her. She's tired, a little dirty, yet wired so yeah… A meltdown is probably approaching.

The sight of Henley putting Alec and his mother into her car gets Andy's attention. Cassidy has seen it too and races to catch Alec before his door closes. She gives him a hug and Andy is sure that the picture it creates will forever be burnt into her head.

Once they're on their way (Henley is taking them to the police station, then her own house), it's just the five of them and Andy is finally getting her first up close and personal look at Anna's daughter. What she finds, tells her that Bee will be a bigger problem for her than Cara ever will.

"So this is Andy." Bee says this like the words are poison.

Miranda groans in disgust before Andy can properly introduce herself. "Bee, really, must you?"

"No. I guess not." Bee rolls her eyes. "Hello."

Andy smiles and steps forward to shake her hand. "Hi, it's nice to meet you," she says, unwilling to be intimidated by this girl. Fuck that.

Bee shakes her hand rather limply and barely returns the verbal gesture. She continues to stare, though, and so does Andy. It's like some sort of duel.

"I never met Stephen," she says with an eyebrow raised that had to have been learned from Miranda.

Stating the fact that she isn't Stephen and never will be, is right on the tip of her tongue, but somebody else takes care of that for Andy and Bee gets dismissed in the process.

"She's not Stephen, you stupid idiot." Caroline says. "Thanks for the ride. Bye."

"You're welcome." Bee smiles and gives both the girls high-fives. "Any time you need a get-away car, you know who to call."

"Totally," Cassidy says and waves as Bee gets into her car.

"We'll discuss your idiocy later, darling." Miranda looks as if she's definitely had enough for one day and possibly longer. "And don't speed. You're the only person capable of getting a speeding ticket in bumper-to-bumper traffic."

A very unexpected, "No shit," comes out of Caroline's mouth as Bee drives away and then it's just the four of them again, and hard to remember that anything else matters.

Well, there is one thing…

"You lied to us," Miranda says as they make their way to the elevator. No help comes for the smile that spreads across Andy's face at the word 'us'.

"We didn't lie, Mom." Caroline slows down to basically get away from Miranda and takes Andy's hand.

"You did." Miranda says over her shoulder, not to be overruled.

"We just didn't elaborate," Cassidy interjects then hangs back a step to take Andy's other hand. "And that's…you know…not as bad."

Miranda turns on a dime once they're in the elevator. "Not as bad? What is that supposed to mean?"

No answer is given. Right when Caroline starts to take another turn, she hisses in pain and Miranda stops caring about elaboration, and so does Andy. It doesn't even matter now anyway. They did what they did, and it's done and over with it, leaving no doubt that they'll do it all over again if they feel like it, regardless of what Miranda thinks—so what does it matter?

Andy scoops Caroline up into her arms since it's apparent she can barely stand up. Her adrenaline rush is wearing off, being replaced by pain.

"We'll get you both cleaned up, and then the two of you can sit on my couch for a while," Miranda says, stepping closer to kiss Caroline's cheek. "I have a run-through in thirty minutes. Don't I?"

"I have no idea, Miranda." Andy answers her, totally ignorant of the time. At this point it could be ten o'clock for all she knows, but has a feeling that they weren't even in the parking garage for twenty minutes. Everything happened so fast.

"That's a first," Miranda smarts back and Caroline giggles.

Cassidy leans against Miranda's side. "Andy's tired, Mom. You own forty different watches. Pick one and wear it. You can tell time, right?"

None of them (not even Miranda) can help but laugh. And really, she might have owned forty watches a few days ago, but Miranda doesn't now. Someone else has all her jewelry. Someone else has the painting that even in this hectic day isn't but an inch from Andy's thoughts.

"You have to put her down," Cassidy says all of the sudden, catching Andy completely off guard once they've quieted.

Caroline, Andy and even Miranda look down at her. None of them understands.

"Nobody can know." Cassidy becomes slightly red in the face and looks around the elevator like it's a novelty she's never experienced. "You like us, Andy," she continues again slowly. "People aren't supposed to like us."

Andy sucks in a breath and so does Miranda.

Turning her head to look up at her mother, the girl that's smarter than her sister gives her credit for, finishes. "If people see you with Caroline like that, they'll figure it out. So you can't yet… You can't like us yet. You can't like each other yet. You know? Out in the open."

So they know? They know… And they also know that it's got to be a secret for no telling how long. Nobody can know. Cassidy is right. They're not supposed to be liked. Just look at Page Six. None of them are likable and certainly not lovable according to that piece of filth.

Neither she nor Miranda can do anything about it, though. It's the truth. It fucking sucks, but it's truth no matter how you spin it. Miranda is still married and Stephen wants way too much for the privilege he wasted; Caroline and Cassidy's father is just a straight-up maniac and Andy is Miranda's assistant. They are all standing on a very thin sheet of ice—meaning that when the elevator door opens in a few seconds, Andy's got to walk a couple steps behind them all and act like they mean absolutely nothing to her. After this complete mess of a day, it's got to be business as usual. She has to stand alone.

But maybe not.

When the elevator opens wide, thrusting reality into their faces, the girls march down the hall like they own the place and definitely like neither of them is injured in the slightest way. Miranda never bothers to catch up and take the lead. With a smile on her face, she makes the conscious choice (in spite of what Cassidy thinks can or cannot happen right now) to hang back those few steps so that Andy is not alone after all.

It is unquestionably one of the best feelings in the world.

TO BE CONTINUED

Note: I count myself very fortunate to have grown up in a small school. Thirty-two people in one class for basically eighteen years is pretty remarkable. We spent a lot of time hating each other though because that's just what kids do. But we also knew how to take care of each other and those younger than us. You can say that an 'adult' should handle every fucked up situation that comes along…and that's nice—but unrealistic. Nothing we did to gain a tiny bit of peace and justice for our friends was ever misguided or worthy of regret. The world is far from perfect and where adults are complete failures, children hold more power in their tiny hands than you think. And they sure as hell have better eyes and ears.