Miranda cuts another precise piece from the steak on her plate and places it in her mouth. She commends herself for having steady hands and how she is able to maintain her usual cool demeanor, when all she can think of is the photo on Andrea's cell phone. She pushes the thought from her mind with immense willpower, but knows it will be back with a vengeance at any given moment.
"It's going to be fun to give all the clothes and things to goodwill," Caroline says and grins at her sister before turning to her mother. "Samantha in my class said she would sell everything on eBay so she could by more things. Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"
Her heart warming at Caroline's question, Miranda nods. "I'd say so. There are many boys and girls who would never be able to afford any of the items you've sorted through, be it toys or clothes. If they end up on an eBay auction, yes, your friend Samantha can make a lot of money, but that also means that only people who has a certain income can bid on them."
"Unless Samantha can be persuaded to give that money to some other charity. Make a wish foundation, or something like that." Andrea speaks softly and Miranda meets her gaze for the first time since they sat down to eat. Andrea's cheeks hold a rosy glow and she bites into her full lower lip after she finishes talking.
"Now that's a great idea," Cassidy says, waving her fork at her sister. "We should suggest that."
"Oh." Andrea drops her knife and it clatters down onto the plate. "I was just thinking out loud. I have no idea about Samantha's motivation for going the eBay route." She looks helplessly at Miranda.
"Yes, girls." Miranda makes sure the girls listens intently before she continues. "If you intend to ask Samantha about it, you mustn't force your opinion on her. We shouldn't assume we know everything."
Andrea's eyes grow even wider and Miranda can guess how her last sentence might sound completely out of character. At Runway, Miranda always has the last word and she is expected to know everything. Surely Andrea realizes that this doesn't translate to her private life? God knows what she and her girls have had to live with since her separation from Stephen, her now ex-husband. The press, especially the despicable people behind some of the columns on Page 6, has been merciless. Twice, Miranda's lawyers have had to threaten the newspaper with lawsuits as they have photographed her children.
"All right, mom. We'll do it all stealthy like." Caroline spears a mushroom and chews it thoughtfully. "Samantha is a cool girl and we don't want her to get upset. When she gets upset, it usually lasts for days."
"I see." Miranda really doesn't, because her girls, as opinionated and spoiled as they are, and she is to blame for a lot of that, do not hold grudges for very long. Certainly not days. Cassidy is the mercurial one—her first husband has more than once compared mother and daughter when it comes to the youngest twin. Caroline is softer, milder, and she is the one who best can reason with Cassidy, if she gets an idea that's too wild.
Miranda returns her focus on Andrea who is busy finishing off her plate. Opting for chicken, much like the girls, rather than steak, she still hasn't eaten much. Knowing full well what a healthy appetite Andrea enjoys, normally, Miranda wonders if it is her own presence that affects it now. Her thoughts go full circle and returns to forty-five minutes ago when she was sitting on her bed and Andrea was pulling at the drawer holding the belts and scarves.
Looking at the piles Andrea had already put together and not seeing anything she would rather keep, Miranda's eyes had fallen on Andrea's cell phone that was half hidden by the two robes she had discarded. Only intending to move it out of the way, Miranda had taken it and only then realized Andrea was still logged in. It was embarrassing to admit that she had been curious enough to cast a glance on the screen, but she did. And lost her breath.
A slightly out of focus photo of Andrea, dressed in only a bra and dark slacks, barely covered by a gray robe—Miranda's brain had stalled for a few seconds. She could vaguely hear how Andrea yanked at the stubborn drawer over by the cabinet. Andrea was wearing a gray robe and with nothing underneath but her bra. And the background was that of Miranda's bedroom windows. So, it had to be Miranda's gray silk robe. She looked down at the piles of discarded clothes. No gray silk robe. Andrea must have hung it back into the cabinet. After another breathless look at the photo that showed one of Andrea's naked shoulders, her stomach, and her full breasts in the lace bra. Before she had time to think about it, she had sent the photo to her own phone.
"Mom?" Cassidy's voice sounds puzzled.
"Yes, dear?" Miranda puts her utensils down. She has managed half her steak, but there is no chance she can eat any more.
"We have to proofread our English essays before bedtime. Can we—" Cassidy interrupts herself and gives a beatific smile. "May we take some ice cream up to our rooms if we promise to bring the bowls back before we go to bed?"
Miranda dreads being alone with Andrea, which of course is ridiculous, but nonetheless a fact. "You may." She watches her girls carry their plates, utensils and glass wear out of the dining room. They started doing things like that after Stephen moved out, for some reason, and Miranda has to admit it is a blessing to see that she hasn't destroyed them.
"They're amazing girls," Andrea says softly, interrupting Miranda's thoughts.
"They are." Miranda finds it quite telling how she would have bristled, even at such praise, if anyone had the audacity to claim they knew anything about her girls, good or bad, only a year ago. This last year has been hell, but it's always been liberating and now she can't tear her gaze away from Andrea. "I'm done," Miranda says and gets up. She takes her plate and goes into the kitchen. Placing the piece of stake in Priscilla's, her St. Bernard dog, bowl for later, she puts the plate into the dishwasher. Turning around to fetch Andrea's plate, she stands face to face with her assistant.
"I can do it." Andrea fills up the dishwasher with her own plate as well as a few things sitting on the counter and the kitchen island. "There." She fiddles with the hem of her shirt. "Time for me to walk to the subway—"
"Subway?" Miranda blinks. "You—you have to take a cab, at least."
"Too expensive." Andy tugs at her sleeves and clears her throat.
"I'll pay." The words are out before Miranda can stop them.
"Very generous and I appreciate it, but I use the subway all the time. And it's not even that late, compared to when I deliver the book." She looks up through her bangs and smiles.
"Still…won't you humor me?" Miranda isn't sure why she persists.
Andrea tilts her head and her eyes are thoughtful as they lock onto Miranda's. Miranda finds herself wondering if this girl can perhaps read minds, which is naturally, a ridiculous thought to begin with. That said, she shivers and makes her spine go tense, to not let it show. All these tricks she's learned over the years to keep her snow queen reputation intact, she relies on them now not to let any of her soaring emotions show.
"All right." Andrea takes a step closer. "I'll take a cab. This time."
This is unexpected and Andrea's words make Miranda's focus falter. She gasps as she suddenly feels dizzy. Only then does she realize she's been holding her breath for too long.
"Good. I'll call the company I use." Miranda turns to reach for her cell phone that sits on the kitchen island, when Andrea gently takes her upper arm and stops her from moving. Miranda snaps her head around, her jaw dropping at the touch. "Andrea?" Why was she still breathless?
"I can call the cab." Andrea's hand is still on Miranda's arm, trembling. "I just have a question first."
"Oh?" Miranda inhales Andrea's scent, suddenly overwhelmed by the familiar blend of vanilla and bergamot. It's warm, rather pedestrian, but combined with what must be uniquely Andrea's own scent, it scorches Miranda's sense.
"Why did you send the photo I took to your phone?" Andrea whispers. Her eyes are huge and Miranda wonders if she's hallucinating as Andrea's lips seems fuller than usual. Then, the impact of the question hits and Miranda wants to take a step back, preferably leave the kitchen and have Andrea disappear into the dark evening—and out of her system. Realizing the preposterousness of such thoughts, Miranda remains where she is, still held in place by Andrea's light grip.
"I—I don't know." Miranda wets her lips.
"Liar," Andrea says softly. "Why didn't you call me out on it right away? Or even fire me?"
"Fire you? Now, why would I do that?" Miranda places a steadying hand on the kitchen counter. "For a photo?"
"For trying on your robe." The rosy color on Andrea's cheek deepens. "And, perhaps, for not placing it in one of the bags."
Not following, Miranda frowns. "What do you mean?"
Andrea lets her hand fall from Miranda's arm, staring at it as if she only now realized that she'd touched her boss. "I should perhaps get ahold of that cab company—"
"No. You started this." Miranda purses her lips, getting very little satisfaction when that makes Andrea wince. "I'll go make sure the girls are getting ready for bed. Go wait in my study." She turns to walk, but then glances over her shoulder. "Please."
Andrea merely nods and walks out of the kitchen. Miranda spends some time with the girls, double checking on their homework and that they're ready for bed. "On hour," she says. You can watch a show or play a videogame, but then I want you to shower and get into bed. All right?"
"Sure thing, mom." Cassidy salutes Miranda and then kisses her cheek. Caroline takes more time, slowly standing up and walking up to her mother.
"Is Andy still here?" She squints, something she normally does if she's trying to figure something out, or judge someone's character. Miranda gets the feeling this time it might be both.
"She is. We're going to sit down in the study for a little while, before she goes home."
"I wish she wasn't going," Caroline says quietly. "I really like Andy, mom."
Already feeling unsettled, Miranda can't wrap her brain around Caroline's words. "Andrea is a lovely girl, Bobbsey."
"That's just it. She's great, but soon she'll be gone, and we'll never see her again. You have to do something about it, mom." Cassidy tugs at Miranda's arm. "Caro is right. She fits in with us."
'Us' as in the girls, or 'us' as in their little family? Miranda isn't going to ask for clarification. "I hear you, girls. I do." Does she? Perhaps when she has cleared the air with Andrea, she can figure out what her children means by their impossible words.
"Go to Andy, mom," Caroline says and kisses Miranda's cheek. "We'll see ourselves to bed, okay?"
Feeling her cheeks warm, Miranda kisses her girls goodnight and walks down one flight of stairs to the study. Andrea sits slightly sideways on the couch, one arm stretched out along the backrest. Miranda glances at the closest armchair, then decides that she is perhaps obtuse, but never a coward. She sits down about twenty inches from Andrea and pulls up one leg under her after kicking off her pumps.
"Yes?" Andrea prompts and leans her head into her hand.
"I saw the photo on your phone and recognized my gray silk robe right away." Miranda plucks at the cuffs of her blouse. "No, I'm lying. I did notice the robe, but only after seeing the photo of you in that, um, state of undress." Miranda raises her chin. "You are very beautiful." Now that sounds like an excuse, or like the defense of a fool.
"I'm no model." Andy looks down at her right hand where it reaches out and takes Miranda's right. "I'm the smart, fat girl, remember?"
"Your weight, no matter what it is, has no bearing on your beauty. You're stunning and that has very much to do with your soul and persona. It was wrong of me to ever speak to you like that." Miranda grips Andrea's hand tight. "I apologize for invading your privacy."
"I could say the same. I was meant to sort through your clothes, not try them on like some fucking stalker…oh. Sorry." Andrea closes her eyes hard for a moment.
Miranda smiles. "Calm down. I'm not going to fire you for cursing."
"No? Good." Andrea slides closer. "So, you found a picture on my phone and thought I looked beautiful, but why did you send it to my phone? You must know that it'd end up in my sent folder."
"I knew nothing of the sort." Miranda cringes at how little she cares about how technology and software work, as long as they do. Yes, of course she realizes that there are traces when you send an email or a text, but not that it would be so readily visible. A small voice in her head insists that she would have sent that enticing photo to herself, regardless if she thought of the repercussions or not.
"That's the way it is, anyway." Andrea raises their joined hands and, after a brief hesitation, kisses Miranda's knuckles. "I apologize for crossing the line regarding the robe."
"You can have it, you know. It was meant to go." Miranda stares at Andrea's full lips and then at her hand. How odd. She can't see any scorch mark where Andrea pressed her lips.
"That wouldn't be the same." Andrea's cheeks color. "I only tried it on to feel closer to you." Her voice is lowered into a mere whisper. "Your scent."
Miranda' heart is racing so fast now, she's fully prepared for it to break free from the ribcage. How could Andrea suddenly be so bold, so ready to put everything on the line. "And did it do that for you? Did you feel closer?" Miranda studies Andrea through her eyelashes, eager, and afraid, at the implication.
"Oh, yes. I sure did." Tipping her head back, Andrea chuckles, a thoroughly husky, sexy sound. "When I heard you on the stairs, I panicked. You can imagine trying to get the robe off, the shirt back on, at the same time. I had no idea my phone took another photo."
"Another photo?" Miranda sits up straighter.
Andrea winces. "Ah. Yes. There are two more."
"Perhaps you'll feel comfortable enough to share them at one point." Miranda relaxes again, slowly. She finds it brings her closer to Andrea, who in turn tugs gently at Miranda's hand.
"I will." Andrea lowers her gaze and Miranda can feel it against her lips, as if Andrea is already touching them. "If you want to see them, they're yours."
Whimpering, and not sure how she can possibly resist Andrea on any level after tonight, Miranda raises her free hand, curls her index finger and places it under Andrea's chin, tipping it up at the perfect angle. Andrea's full lips are damp, half open, and her breath comes out as something between a whimper and a moan.
"May I kiss you?" Miranda whispers.
"Wha—oh, god…" Andrea nods. "Yes." Surprisingly her eyes well up with tears, and Miranda is momentarily panic-stricken. Before she can ask what is wrong or pull back to save Andrea from having to be the one rejecting her, Andrea moves even closer. Her lips are a mere breath away, but she waits now. "Yes," she says, her voice louder, but still trembling.
Yes, what? Miranda slides her hand up from Andrea's chin and frames the right side of her face. Andrea's cheek is warm, and Miranda's fingers caress it gently. Tucking Andrea's long hair behind her ear, she kisses those full lips, so gently, it is barely a touch. If it hadn't been for Andrea's muted whimper, the kiss could have passed them by.
Andrea lets go of Miranda's hand and runs it up her arm, to her shoulders. There it rests for a moment, burning Miranda through the thin fabric of her blouse, before it moves down and circles her waist. "Closer?" Andrea murmurs, a breath away from Miranda's lips.
"Much." Miranda moves her hand from the back of Andrea's neck and wraps her arm around her, pulling her tight. Now her lips want more, she wants more. Another kiss, their second, starts as the first, like a butterfly wing against a flower petal, but almost immediately turn to more.
Andrea parts her lips against Miranda's mouth, but doesn't deepen the kiss. She hums against Miranda and this sends the sweetest of aches through her body and she tightens her grip. "Mm…so sweet," Andrea murmurs. "So hot."
Not sure how to interpret that, Miranda merely listens to Andrea's tone of voice, rather than the words, which are swallowed up by both of them as the kiss goes on and on. Eventually, Miranda can't wait any long. She tastes Andrea against her tongue and that is all it takes. Still so careful, so tender, the kiss deepens and Miranda groans as Andrea's hands hold her so close, it feels as if Andrea doesn't ever want to let her go.
'She'll go and we'll never see her again.' … 'Andy fits with us, mom.'
The twin's words from only moments ago, makes Miranda tremble and she pulls back, breaking the kiss. The girls are right. Andrea will work at Runway for a limited time period and then move on to bigger and better things. What if she'll never see Andrea again? The girl could decide to move on to any other major cities in the US…and why shouldn't she? She has terrific credentials and of course Miranda will write her a—
"Miranda? Where did you go just now?" Andrea asks, her warm breath against Miranda's cheek.
"What? Oh. No—nowhere." It's a lie and Miranda can tell Andrea knows that. Still she doesn't pressure Miranda for any further explanation. That is a rare thing. Any of her former husband would have huffed and puffed over Miranda being not-so-very forthcoming and stormed off after making a scene. Andrea…she merely stays with her, holds her close still, and waits.
"I worry about you…quitting." Miranda knows she's horrible at putting words to feelings.
"Quitting what? Runway?" Andrea tilts her head and a cascade of dark brown hair lands on Miranda's arm. "Or you?"
Flinching, Miranda leans her forehead against Andrea's shoulder. "Both."
"Runway…well, that's another six months, at least. Maybe a year, right?" Andrea is shaking. "You…" She swallows audibly. "I don't see how I ever could. I'm prepared to do it, if…if my feelings aren't wanted, and trust me, for least than a few hours go, I was dead certain they weren't. Now, after those kisses, I'm…at a loss."
Miranda lifts her head up and tips it back enough to study Andrea's expression. "No need to be at a loss. My reaction to our kisses should tell you enough…for now."
"What does that mean—for now?"
Miranda pulls Andrea even closer. "It means that we have a lot to figure out, but surely you know me well enough to realize that I would never…I mean, if I didn't…you know?" Feeling utterly ridiculous for losing her words like this, Miranda runs her thumb across Andrea's damp lower lip.
Trembling, Andrea presses a gentle kiss against Miranda's thumb and when Miranda moves it out of the way, she shifts to Miranda's mouth. One kiss shifts seamlessly into the next. They are soft and demanding at the same time. Perhaps it is because Miranda fears she might shatter if Andrea lets go, or a fear of what she might say to Miranda, that makes Miranda so insatiable.
Eventually Andrea pulls back some, but only creating enough space between them to make room for words. "I know you well enough to realize you would never kiss me if you didn't mean it or want it."
Relieved beyond words, Miranda merely nods before she pulls Andrea with her to lean against the backrest. There, she simply holds Andrea and runs her fingers through the silky tresses of her hair. "Am I to understand that you feel the same way?"
"You are." Nuzzling the side of Miranda's neck, Andrea sighed. "I should be going home, but I'm so happy right where I am just now."
This makes Miranda smile. "Then stay a while longer. Please."
"All right." Andrea presses her lips against Miranda's neck as she pulls out her cell phone from her back pocket. "Want to see them now?" She dips her head and kisses Miranda long enough for her to lose track of her thoughts.
"See what?" Miranda blinks and tries to grasp what Andrea's talking about. The cell phone in Andrea's hand makes her chuckle. "Oh."
"Remember, I'm no model." Andrea pulls up the first photo.
Miranda swallows. "No, you are something far more important. You're Andrea."
Andrea's expression softens and she gives Miranda the phone. After looking at the gorgeous girl in the last two photos, Miranda hugs her close. "So stunning. That robe is yours, no matter where you want to wear it. Perhaps here, at the house?"
Andrea gapes for a few, slow seconds. "Here."
"Mm." Miranda caresses Andrea's cheek with the back of her curled fingers.
The smile forming on Andrea's lips cannot be described as anything but blinding. "All right. From now on, the gray silk robe, is mine."
Andy sits in the taxi and even if traffic is slow tonight, she's already halfway home. She has refused to go over tonight's magical moments with Miranda so far, not wanting to reminisce in the back of a New York City cab. When she gets home, she'll pull up all her memories of touches, kisses, and amazing and unfathomable words, with Miranda.
Her phone pings and she can tell from the series of beeps that it's a text from Miranda. Despite her newfound happiness, part of Andy easily turns to fear that she might screw up, or that Miranda will profoundly regret everything that was said and done. She taps her screen and then on the message.
Call me when you're home. Don't forget.
I will. I promise.
The cab was a mistake, I should have offered you the guest room.
Andrea clutches her phone tight and takes a deep breath.