Lena Kundera lacking her usual fire, being so… human forced Maggie to make an unhappy realization, made her remember things that still left her pained and bewildered, their connection not through Bianca but Miranda.
She honestly didn't know how she felt about Lena.
Maggie knew how she felt as Bianca's friend, knew how she felt as the woman jealous of the fact that Bianca loved her, but she didn't know how she felt about Lena when she was just plain old Maggie Stone. She thought of a lanky Polish woman dancing the Macarena while the world outside the apartment was violent and horrible, a woman that looked as absolutely overwhelmed by a kick against her hand as Maggie had been.
From there, like always, she thought of a crying woman in a hospital, the two of them devastated over Miranda, over Bianca's baby. She thought of an awkward conversation in a hospital room, her helpless babbling to fill the silence, the brittle strength in Lena's voice as she comforted Maggie, as her palms spread a bit too desperately across Maggie's back, the tremble in her frame leaving no doubt how close she was to coming undone herself.
It was all jumbled now, had been badly shaken when Lena popped back into her life and now was just confusing.
Because this woman was missing her spark, her heat, the way she would laugh and make everybody glance her way. It was wrong, somehow, that someone like Lena should walk around so clearly not herself without everybody around her noticing, trying to fix it. She'd noticed it awkwardly before in their fumbling meeting in the Cambias building and that night with Miranda, but it only sank in after an awkward phone conversation.
Lena loved Miranda, was blatantly gluing herself to Bianca just to see the little girl.
She'd been grieving for her mother and Miranda, and they'd gotten Miranda back and she'd gotten… nothing.
"I'm a green-eyed conniving bitch monster from hell," she decided just past dawn the next morning, words mumbled around her toothbrush as she paused and met her eyes in the mirror, a confused woman with her wet hair wrapped in a towel. "She was there, too, during the pregnancy," she continued as she spit, leaned back to grimace at her reflection. "I should have called her as soon as I found out, just because she had a right to know, I should have."
If her reflection had anything to say, it didn't speak up.
"I mean, she was the girlfriend, I was just the… best friend." She swallowed. "You know, after Babe."
There was silence, only her slightly elevated heart rate breaking the stillness.
She wondered how Lena felt about Babe, and then felt like an idiot.
It was insane, to hate someone so much when they weren't even in your life anymore.
She was far away from Pine Valley, from the betrayals, from Saint Babe the martyr and her pet poodles.
Babe didn't even mean anything anymore, couldn't hurt her.
But still… how did Lena feel about her?
Was she as wonderful and forgiving as Bianca?
"Babe is not worth obsessing over. I won't give her power over me."
She stared at her reflection, her mirror image, and swallowed again, reaching up to touch the glass.
It was just glass, just an image; there was no sister there.
"Get over it," she told herself firmly and turned away, walking fast out of the bathroom only to hesitate, glancing at the bed before she could stop herself. Bianca's side had been cool when she'd reached over but she moved close and slid a palm across the bed, feeling nothing but cooled sheets and a few wrinkles.
She stood for a moment more, furious pounding in her chest leaving her feeling bruised inside.
"Get over it," she repeated thickly, and marched away to get dressed for the day.
Lena didn't kid herself.
Officially, she was a glorified secretary.
Unofficially, however, she was what Bianca needed— a predatory presence that the younger woman could rely on.
Bianca had a spark, yes, but she was curiously lacking when it came to the hardness that had made her mother such a figure, doubted nearly every decision she made in a way that left her open to whoever could slip past her defenses. At her heart, and even after her traumas, Lena had decided, she was forever terrified of being a monster.
Lena knew Bianca's more emotional weaknesses better than anyone else did, had exploited them once.
At least this was familiar.
"I think you're being harsh."
"I know men," Lena said firmly, and got a look of amusement in return.
It was adorable.
Albeit slightly frustrating.
"He's a cheater at heart," Lena informed her ex coolly. "He's only involved because his father is pressuring him and his father, Bianca, has only a few weeks left." She set the lunch on the desk and shrugged blandly, sure of herself, her instincts. "When the father dies, the son will take the company where he wants it to go and we will be forced to deal with a passive-aggressive child who wants to take his ball home. More trouble than it is worth, trust me."
"Do you ever scare yourself?"
"All the time," and Lena worked hard to smile, worked hard to make it sound like a joke.
She had nothing to worry about, found Bianca poking at her salad and frowning to herself, clearly lost in thought.
Lena was forgotten.
Hating the sting it caused, she turned away, fingers twitching in a need to smooth her dress down self-consciously.
"You still like men?" Bianca blurted out suddenly.
"Are you still… attracted to men?"
It was an odd question, came from nowhere, Bianca's fine brow marred with her unexpected focus.
"Of course," Lena replied when she was sure it was a serious question. They had talked about it a few times when they had been together and after a few minor bouts of tense bickering, they had finally decided that the awkwardness of the conversation wasn't worth it. "I prefer women, always have, but men are nice."
"Maggie goes around calling herself a lesbian now."
Lena had no idea what Bianca was trying to say, left frustrated by her own inability to read Bianca after her previous success with the businessman.
Understanding Bianca had never been a problem before.
Another thing lost and never found again.
"But she looks at men."
"Ah…" At least now she had some idea of what was going on. "Just men?" she prodded carefully.
"And women," Bianca admitted mutely, slim fingers fiddling with her fork.
"You used to look at other women when we together, if I remember correctly."
"But…" The fork was put down, slim fingers compulsively adjusting it on the desk. "Never mind, it's fine."
"If you'd like to talk—"
"It's fine," Bianca repeated firmly, picking her fork back up and stabbing at her salad, flashing an absolutely dazzling smile up at Lena. "I over think things… mountains out of molehills, that kind of thing, you know how I am."
They weren't involved anymore, they weren't even close, weren't friends.
She only worked for Bianca now.
Bianca's personal life with Maggie wasn't her business.
Returning the smile as well as she could, she left Bianca to her meal and went back to her work.
If the planets ever aligned, Kendall Hart-Lavery and Greenlee Smythe could effectively create a cure for cancer and find a solution to world hunger before joining during their lunch break to make the whole world sing. If given enough time before their pedicure appointment, they would also answer the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
Unfortunately, the planets had yet to align.
No, there were good days (all too rare) and the 'handbags at ten paces, bitch!' days (a common occurrence).
Kendall Hart-Lavery was currently stuck within a week of the latter, and found to her great annoyance that she had no one to bitch at to deal with her frustration. Her mother was busy with the show, Jack was busy with Reggie's big move into college life, and she was handling the kids for the day because Bianca…
Bianca was out with Babe.
Babe, the best friend that hadn't left her side since Bianca had showed up in Pine Valley teary-eyed.
There was only person equipped to handle Kendall at her worst.
Unfortunately, JR was busy with the same blonde problem.
So the job fell to her husband.
Watching Miranda lay out plastic food on the play grill a few feet away, shaggy bangs in her face and face tense with concentration, he kept a steady grip on the wriggling shape in his lap that was currently drooling over Ryan's arms in the way that only a small teething child possibly could.
"Dumb as a box of rocks," Kendall muttered as she burst into the office, face flushed as she dropped files to her desk and gestured at something beyond the door. She noticed the bag then, perked up immediately as she yanked it open and began to pull out the take-out she had requested when he had told her he was coming.
Then she stopped, frowned. "Half of my fries are gone."
"Ben wanted some."
Kendall glanced at their son, now squirming and reaching out for the fake cookie Miranda was fiddling with.
After a moment, she glanced at Ryan.
When he didn't blink, she narrowed her eyes.
He fidgeted just a little.
He sighed in defeat, catching Ben when he went to lunge for the fake cookie again.
Rolling her chair around to perch near Ryan, she allowed Ben to settle into her lap, the boy grinning broadly and a bit smugly at his father at being the one to have Kendall's undivided attention as she murmured easy words into his cheek.
"She's got a room at the Inn," she grumbled as she smoothed a palm across dark hair and crammed a few fries into her mouth. "And Maggie's staying at David's while she stalks Binks, it's unbelievable."
"Duh," she grunted, adding under her breath with a nervous glance at Miranda, "She's as big a skank as Babe."
Ryan sighed— only to regret it when Kendall shot him a look. "I didn't mean anything—"
"You're unbelievable," she snapped, shifting Ben in her lap when he tried to wriggle down, eyes firmly glued to Miranda's toys and clearly formulating plans to get his little hands on them. "She cheated on my sister, Ryan. With my sister's ex. You do remember Lena's track record, right?"
"Maybe she had reason to." He caught her look and quickly backtracked, adding in a rush, "That came out wrong."
"Oh, you had better hope you don't let my mother hear this."
He closed his eyes for a moment, rubbing fingers against his forehead.
Ryan was a runner by nature, always had been—he'd run from his childhood and he'd kept running because it was the best way he had to survive. The knack he had for lying was useful, another habit formed to survive, but he would always choose flight over fight when the chips truly fell and the moment came to make that decision.
Kendall wasn't a runner, she was a brawler with her heart on her sleeve.
And no one, he had found, inspired dirty fighting in her the way Bianca did.
Right now, Kendall was in full 'fight to the death for Bianca' mode.
A part of him, the part that had finally figured things out and created the family he'd always wanted in the Kanes, the part of him that had stopped running and stood his ground and decided to try Kendall's method, agreed with his wife.
The rest of him, though, knew too well how it felt being on the other side of this debate.
"I'm just saying, you Kane women are—"
"No," he corrected, voice entirely too soothing. "Intense."
"That's another word for crazy."
"You're intimidating," he insisted, reaching out absently to rip open a few ketchup packets and squeeze their contents onto the flattened bag for her to dip her fries, a move she noticed with a quick flicker in her gaze. "You come into our lives and rip open all our defenses and you just barrel right through and you don't even realize how much damage you do."
"I'm just saying… you know… I'd like to hear what Maggie says about this."
"You agree with her."
"No, but she's been through a lot and I think she might have her reasons—"
"You don't have reasons to cheat on someone."
Talking to Kendall in bulldog mode was like talking to a brick wall, one of those moving ones from old horror movies that ended up squishing you before you could even get the words out.
It was probably a bad sign that it was what Ryan loved most about Kendall, her drive to protect.
A part of him was still waiting for the day she kicked into bulldog mode over him with such passion.
"My sister—" Kendall started, and his control slipped, just a little.
She didn't understand.
She wasn't a runner, never wanted to run away from someone she loved so much it terrified her.
She'd never felt like it was the only way to breathe when that person wasn't listening to a word you were telling her.
"Is frolicking around with Babe while we take care of her daughter," he told her flatly, something twisting in his chest at the way Kendall faltered, emotion filling her eyes before she looked away, stared hard at Miranda playing.
"Hey," he started softly, touching her arm, but she pulled away, shoulders hunching and mouth tight.
Ryan dropped it with a private grimace, going back to his ketchup collecting feeling thoroughly crushed.
She was having a crisis of faith over Lena Kundera.
It was unbelievable.
Maggie spent her day zoning out in classes, doodling vague shapes and chewing her thumbnails, a habit she had rid herself of years before that had started to pop up over the last few weeks. When she checked her phone pointlessly every hour for calls for Bianca, Miranda grinned back at her, a quick image snapped by Maggie in the middle of playtime, the little girl paused in the middle of her castle building.
By the time she slunk back home, she was exhausted.
But Miranda was waiting for her, hair in a neat little ponytail as she latched herself to Maggie, climbed up into her arms and plastered herself against Maggie like a little monkey. Holding onto her tightly, listening to the babbling in French and English as Miranda laid out her day from wake-up to now, she headed towards the kitchen hopefully.
Bianca was already there, doing something at the stove with a phone pinched between ear and shoulder.
When she noticed Maggie, she beamed over, waved a little.
But she didn't end her phone call.
It was a little like getting jabbed in the chest with one of those Christmas pins that Maggie's mother had collected over the years in her attempt to feel like a mother, sharp and sudden even though you knew there was a chance it was coming.
Get over it, she told herself, turning away to check that everything was laid out on the table.
She tried to put Miranda down but the girl tightened her hold and she let it go, shifting a hip and fiddling with a fork.
"Okay!" Bianca announced brightly behind her, favoring Maggie with an even more brilliant grin when she glanced back at her. "I've cleared stuff out for this weekend so we can go out, just the three of us." The phone got hooked back to her hip, a move that made Maggie grimace inwardly, stepping back as Bianca carried the first large bowl to the table. "Noodles," she chirped with a small smile at Miranda. "And I made that sauce from the other day."
"Looks good," Maggie assured her as she stared at the perfect sauce that she had ruined when she had tried to make it.
If Bianca heard the tone, she didn't respond.
Maggie ducked her head and focused on getting Miranda into the high chair, blinking a few times.
She felt guilty over Lena Kundera.
It was insane.
Maggie couldn't think as she took a seat and watched Bianca mutter to herself, shifting the serving bowls until she grinned and nodded, looking a little like an evil genius as she flashed a triumphant look at Maggie. "Good?"
Bianca had made spinach, a bowl of dark green that made Maggie swallow slightly.
She'd hated spinach since she was five.
Even so, she noticed Miranda's dirty glance at the bowl, swept a little onto her fork and made a big deal out of enjoying that bite even though it didn't work— the little girl looked at her as if she was insane and Bianca chuckled under her breath. Maggie had an urge to slide under the table and disappear, dropping the fork to her plate and her hands into her lap.
"Carrots for my girl," Bianca continued as she uncovered another bowl and held one up, grinning at the instant way the little girl perked up in her seat, started fiddling with her little pink Princess plate. "And spinach for the big girls."
Maggie had never told Bianca that she hated spinach.
It didn't mean anything.
She sat silent as Bianca served up Miranda, cut the noodles and drizzled a little sauce.
When Bianca took her own seat, Maggie finally reached for the tongs, laying out noodles on her plate and then reaching for the spoon and getting herself some sauce, noticing with an annoyed pang that it looked like the recipe card.
After a moment of tense consideration, she got herself a nice big scoop of spinach.
Her girlfriend and her daughter were already eating, Bianca looking lovely with her hair pulled back, the hot, efficient businesswoman who worked all day and came home stunning, who came home and cooked a meal that looked perfect.
Maggie was still wearing her school clothes, and she thought she saw dirt under her fingernails.
She wondered what Lena was doing right now.
Then she wondered what Lena had been doing when she'd found out Miranda was alive.
Feeling terribly uncertain by that thought, she looked over at Miranda, took her in with a twist of pressure inside.
Grimacing, she looked over at Bianca, took her girlfriend in as that pressure increased just a little bit more.
Bianca wanted her and Lena to be civil together, wanted them to get along.
Maggie thought about what Bianca had been through, first Michael and then Babe.
And then Bianca had been there for her during the ordeal with Jonathon.
Who was she to decide who could and couldn't spend time with Miranda?
She hadn't given birth to Miranda, had she?
Didn't Bianca deserve to have some peace?
If Maggie got to spend so much time with Miranda, why couldn't Lena?
"I think you're right about Lena."
Bianca stopped, looked up at her, frozen in the middle of gathering more food up.
"Lena and Miranda, some visit time for them," she explained after an awkward moment, poking determinedly at her spinach and making sure it wasn't touching her little pile of spun pasta. "Maybe she can have a few hours with her every few weeks, go out to one of the parks maybe— you know, if one of us goes with her."
Bianca looked surprised, almost doubtful that Maggie was serious. "Really?"
Sitting between the two of them, Miranda glanced back and forth intently.
"Yeah…" and she was surprised, startled, by how much she meant it.
Lena should be able to see Miranda, spoil her, act like an idiot over her because she'd been there, too.
She'd cried, too, after the storm.
Maggie looked up again, found Bianca smiling broadly, felt that pressure loosen just a bit.
"I think it's a great idea," the younger woman continued as that broad smile became an outright grin, her entire mood perking up as she nodded and brushed hair from Miranda's forehead. "Lena's off this weekend, too, so we can make a day of it, some female bonding to make up for the work I've been doing."
Yeah, they could make a day of it—
But Bianca's attention was focused on Miranda now, and she looked ecstatic.
As if Maggie had just given Bianca her Christmas presents early.
Maggie felt like an idiot as she sat there in front of the stupid spinach that was bleeding into her meal, trying to fit together how her good deed had just stabbed her in the heart, watching Miranda munch away and Bianca enjoy her perfect, just-like-the-recipe-card meal, pressure back and worse than ever.
She didn't know how it happened.
Then Maggie thought about that for a moment— she thought about her flight to Paris months before and realized that it wasn't a new feeling, that she didn't even know how she and Bianca had…
Maggie took a deep breath, let it out and then she ate the stupid spinach.
Bianca had made it just for them.
She got take-out, like usual.
She came home to an empty place, like usual.
She ate alone, like usual.
Lena was used to it all, but it stung tonight more than it should have.
Tired after a tense day of awkward moments with Bianca, as confused as she always was now, she worked her way through her meal while watching the news. She got up from the couch after she was done to dig a bag out of the freezer and search through it, finally deciding on a handful of Hershey's kisses before going back to her television.
European chocolate was far better.
But she wanted this.
She worked through her dessert with the same meticulousness as her dinner, pulling the paper ribbons out and wrapping them in the little foil wrappers, setting the little sphere of foil that was left on her coffee table before popping the piece of chocolate into her mouth.
She wasn't sure when she had started doing this but she had.
Tonight, though, it bothered her.
She cast a hard look at the line of foil balls as she popped the last kiss into her mouth, scowled helplessly.
If her mother were alive, she'd be horrified.
But her mother was dead.
She was a grown adult and felt like an orphan.
Lena Kundera hadn't even known such a thing was possible.
"I am pathetic."
If her home disagreed with her assessment, it didn't speak its opinion aloud.
Shuddering at her own mental state, unwilling to go out and find company, she lay back on the couch, pulling a cushion over her face and waiting for something other than the chocolate she was hiding in her freezer to get her attention.
Her phone buzzed and she ignored it until it stopped.
Her phone buzzed again.
This time she reached out for it, sliding the pillow down to her middle as she answered without checking the number.
"Lena, this is Maggie." A beat of silence. "You know that already."
"I did recognize the voice," Lena admitted, corner of her mouth twisting at the embarrassed tone she heard.
"Cute." Another tight beat of silence. "Sorry."
"No, it's good to know I am still attractive."
"I meant 'cute' sarcastically."
This time the silence lasted more than a beat, seconds ticking into a full minute before Maggie's voice returned.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Maggie—"
"Please shut up so I can get this over with."
Lena shut her mouth obediently, smiling at the exhausted huff that she heard.
"Good, thank you." A noise that suggested Maggie was switching the phone from one hand to another before her voice came back stronger than before, hard edge to the words. "The three of us, we're going out this weekend. A little shopping, dinner… lots of watching Miranda run around like the Energizer Bunny." A tense heartbeat before— "We wanted to know if you wanted to join us."
"It's an invitation," Maggie told her flatly, "just trying to be nice—"
"I didn't mean it like that," Maggie continued in a slightly high-pitched rush, and Lena suspected that wherever she was, she was pacing like some kind of cornered animal. "I just think that you should spend some time with Miranda and— and it's weird, okay?"
"Strange," Lena interrupted carefully, firmly, feeling sure about this, at least.
"My relationship with Bianca ended messily— it's natural for you to feel awkward."
"I feel like a bitch."
"You called me to tell me that you are okay with me coming to see your daughter with Bianca. You are the farthest thing from a bitch." When Maggie said nothing, clearly unsure, she kept going, uneasy about the thought of the other woman having such notions. "You've been nothing but civil towards me since I came back into your life."
"For Bianca—Shit, I have to stop talking."
"I was the romantic rival, Maggie, it's all natural."
"I didn't hide it well?"
Maggie sighed, sounding miserable, and Lena winced.
"So… this weekend, you'll… be there?"
"It sounds wonderful."
"Okay. Okay, good, that's… that's good."
"I'll come by your place in the morning, would that be okay?"
"Good." Lena bit her lip, considered. "Thank you for calling."
"It was nothing."
"No, it wasn't." The words came out odd, and she finished with a hasty, "Goodbye, Maggie."
"Bye," and a click met her, so sharp she couldn't help but jump a little.
At least they were talking like adults.
It was something to be grateful for, especially with Miranda involved.