Authors notes: When I wrote "Into the Fire", I never intended on posting it. It was just a rough little thing that I did to get a flash of a scene out of my head and a way to hopefully break the writer's block of not writing anything at all on the stories I was currently working on. I thought writing something was better than nothing at all. Of course, when I sent it to Quiethearted she encouraged me to post it. And so with the help of several beta's and a little bit of 'fine QH here I'm posting it are you happy?' attitude it went up on my LJ.
I would suggest you read that one first because;
1. this 'sequel' was also never meant to be posted. I was simply using this 'verse as a way to shake loose from some blocks I was having. Whenever I found myself unable to write on one of my current stories, I would add a scene to this one. Therefore, it's slightly different than my normal style, the scenes often skipping quite a bit of time. This is the result and again, Quiethearted, encouraged (this means she said "Post this!") me to post this one as well. And since we were chatting about the Advent Calendar, I decided to post it here/there first... lol and
2. I tweaked that story slightly as well. So even if you've read it before there are some slight changes to it now.
Anyway... * clears throat * I do not own anything even close to resembling the Devil Wears Prada, yet. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes and I have not made a dime off of it, nor will I, ever.
Thank you ever so much to my lovely beta readers, Quiethearted, Kam, Jazwriter, and Shesgottaread... I think I got all those spelled correctly. I did tweak the story a bit more, after they'd had a look at it though, so don't blame any of them for all the glaring errors you'll find. They do their best to make sure I don't look too much like a monkey pounding on the keyboard. :)
This is a Mirandy story, which means that Miranda and Andy, both female, will at some point be in a romantic relationship. If this is not something you are interested in... sorry for you and what the heck are you doing reading on this site anyway? ;)
Now, enough chatter... time to go...
Deeper Into the Fire
Andy looked over at the hospital room door as the twins barreled through it, "Hey!" She welcomed them with open arms, "Tic and Tac..." Although the girls were a daily breath of fresh air in her hospitalized existence, the names actually referred to a children's book she'd seen during one of her first physical therapy walks through the pediatrics waiting room. It had two playful kittens on the cover and the next time she'd seen the girls they'd been dubbed, 'Tic' and 'Tac'. Andy hugged them close as they piled on the narrow bed. "How are ya?"
They snuggled down at the brunette's side and sighed, "We're good!"
"Thanks to you." Miranda watched the scene unfolding, much as it had nearly every day since Andrea had risked her life to save the children from the fire that consumed the townhouse. The girls insisted on seeing Andy at least once a day and didn't sleep well if they didn't get a few moments with their hero. Truth be told, Miranda didn't sleep very well without seeing the young woman on a daily basis either. Miranda thought, My hero. "And how are you today?"
"The grafts are doing well, no more infection." She'd have gone home two weeks ago if the stupid infection hadn't set in. "I'm walking somewhat better and they say I should be going home soon. Thank goodness, a month in this place is far too long!" Andy tried to smile at that news. She needed to talk to Lily soon about possibly staying with her for a while.
"We got a new house!" Cassidy's eyes twinkled, but she still seemed a bit worried by her next statement. "We're going to sleep there tonight."
"You get to move out of the hotel." Andy gave the girl a one-armed squeeze and chuckled, "Good for you." With a smile and a kiss on each child's head, Andy proclaimed, "I'm sure you'll sleep just fine there." They had told her about the nightmares they'd had, since the fire, but lately it seemed that the memories causing the bad dreams were fading. She was amazed at the resiliency of the children. The trauma of being in a fire and losing all their stuff was quite specific and she'd seen many grown people become very messed up after that particular experience. Even some firemen had to go through psychological therapy to deal with the issues associated with fires. Her roommate in college had actually specialized in the field.
Cassidy grinned up at her hero, "You're gonna like the new house."
"Cassidy," Miranda's sharpened voice interrupted the child then softened. "Remember what we discussed?"
"Oh... right." Apparently that was some kind of cue and both girls reluctantly, but quickly, climbed off of the bed. "We're gonna go check out the vending machines."
Caroline added over her shoulder as they rushed toward the door, "And look at the big aquarium in the waiting room."
Miranda watched her children flee the room then turned to the chuckling woman lying on the bed. "Something funny?"
Her grin widened and Andy's dark eyes glittered in the dimly lit room. "They aren't exactly subtle." She settled herself on the bed only wincing slightly as she shifted her feet. "I take it you want to talk to me." She was off the pain meds now, but the nearly daily visits the Priestly women had treated her to had made Andy bolder than she would normally be when she was around Miranda. With very little thought about the consequences, Andy looked at Miranda with large puppy dog eyes and patted the empty space next to her. She tried to control her heart when Miranda actually took the invitation and settled on the edge of the bed. At this moment Andy was very glad that she wasn't hooked up to the heart monitors anymore. Every doctor and nurse on this floor would have come running.
"I have not yet raised the subject," Miranda began to examine the thread count on the hospital sheets; uncharacteristically hesitant, "But now I would like to speak to you, of rewards."
"Miranda," Andy stopped the woman's obviously well thought out speech. "I didn't do it for rewards."
"Why did you?" Miranda swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. "You risked your life to save my children. Why would you do that when you so obviously hate me?"
"I don't hate you, Miranda." Andy watched her boss closely, "I never hated you."
"Most do." Liquid blue eyes lifted from their study of the sheets and Miranda admitted, "I would have rather died in the fire than live without my girls."
Nodding, Andy smiled sadly, "I know." Reaching up, Andy brushed her fingertips across Miranda's soft cheek, just where the streak of soot had been on that night. "That's why I did it." The silky texture under her fingertips fascinated Andy and she spent a moment savoring it. When Miranda's eyes closed and the older woman moved into the touch, a jolt of heat shot through Andy, settling just below her navel. Deep blue eyes opened and locked with hers for a long moment until Andy realized what she was doing and lowered her hand. A few seconds later Cassidy and Caroline returned.
"Did you ask her?" Cassidy took her position back on the bed next to Andy. Caroline had to stand because Miranda was occupying the space she had given up to leave. That didn't stop her from asking, "Are you going to come live with us?"
"What?" Startled, Andy looked from one girl's hopeful face to the other then to Miranda, "What are they talking about?"
"Mom! You didn't ask her yet?" Caroline rolled her eyes, "There's a place in the new house, for you... will you come live with us?"
"I..." Again, Andy looked to Miranda for clarification.
"Your apartment is entirely unsuitable for your recovery." Miranda continued logically in her no-nonsense voice. "The doctors have said you are to stay off your feet as much as possible for several more weeks and then there will be only limited mobility."
Andy nodded, "Yeah... they told me that..." She was still waiting for the part where it was a good idea to move in with Miranda.
"Your apartment is a three-story walk up, Andrea. Entirely unacceptable in regards to your orders from the physicians." Miranda explained further, "The new house has what they deem a 'Mother-in-law' suite. It is on the first floor and only connected to the house via one door, lockable from your side. It consists of three rooms, a bedroom, a bathroom and a large living space with a kitchenette. It has its own outside entrance and you would be able to come and go as your recovery permits."
"Miranda, I..." Andy swallowed hard, this offer couldn't have come at a better time. The lease Nate had transferred to her was almost up and the landlord had informed her that rent control wouldn't apply to a new lease in her name, so the rent would go up, up so high Andy knew there was no chance she'd be able to afford to live there on her own. Since it was a one bedroom apartment, she didn't even want to think about having a roommate. She had planned on asking Lily about staying with her for a while. Then Andy realized what Miranda had said and her eyes widened, "You were at my apartment?"
Cassidy spoke up helpfully, "When we thought you were going to be released the first time, before all the infection stuff, we went to make sure everything was okay... clean out the fridge, change the sheets, stuff like that..." She shook her head sadly, "You didn't have anything in the fridge except some milk, juice bottles and water." Wrinkling her nose at the memory, the girl informed her hero, "We threw out the milk."
"Yeah, I hadn't gone to the store in a while." Andy shrugged, "I usually stop and get something on my way home or just eat cereal. I don't like to keep a lot of fresh stuff around, it tends to ruin before I can eat it."
Miranda stood and was quickly replaced by Caroline sliding onto the bed next to Andrea. Miranda watched, from the end of the bed, the blissful look on her daughter's face, and for a moment envied the child. The emotion shook her to the core. Those kinds of feelings were not appropriate toward Andrea. The woman was far too young for her and despite the current injury, was still employed as her assistant at Elias-Clarke. She would simply have to put aside those feelings, whenever they emerged. Miranda paid her debts and she knew that she owed a huge one to this beautiful young woman. Beautiful? Miranda swallowed hard at the thought. Where did that come from? It had leaped unbidden to her mind but, now there, couldn't be denied as she looked down at the trio on the bed. Andrea is very beautiful. Miranda felt her cheek tingling where Andrea's long fingers had brushed against it. Resisting the urge to rub her cheek, Miranda asked softly, "Will you come and live with us, Andrea?"
"It will be so cool!" Cassidy laid her cheek against Andy's shoulder, "We can come and see you every day..."
"Cassidy," Miranda warned, "If Andrea does decide to stay with us, you are never to go into her rooms without her express permission. You will always knock on the door and wait for her acknowledgment before you enter."
Andy grinned at the stereo, "Yes, Mom." response. She looked at Miranda. "We'll have to discuss rent..."
Raising her hand, Miranda interrupted, "I'm sure we can come to an equitable arrangement when you are settled in the space." Realizing her assumption, Miranda hesitated, "if you agree."
Andy's eyes twinkled at the rare uncertainty Miranda was showing. "I agree."
Andy chuckled as she felt the girls in her arms practically vibrating in their effort to contain their excitement. "Yes, Miranda." Andy grinned as the girls cheered. Locking eyes with Miranda as much as possible while being jostled by two exuberant children, Andy asked, "Really Miranda, when was the last time I refused you anything?"
Miranda's lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile that she refused to show. The corners of her eyes crinkled slightly. No answer was required but Miranda nodded slowly. Inhaling deeply, as she watched her daughters happily cuddling with Andrea, she looked forward to the day when the young woman would join them in their home. Miranda suddenly had the feeling that when that day came, their family would, finally, be complete. It was a shocking thought, but at that moment Miranda knew that she needed Andrea in her life, any way she could get her.
The hospital room door swung open slowly. "Knock, knock...You decent?"
"Decent enough," Andy grinned at the tall beefy man. "How's it going, Chief?"
"Same old..." His eyes traveled down the length of her body, resting for a moment on her covered feet, "I hear you're getting out tomorrow."
"Yep," Andy shrugged, "They've got me all patched up. The grafts are holding and there's no more infection so they're booting me out..."
The fireman chuckled, "Funny you should put it like that..." The rest of his statement was lost as the door to the room opened again to admit two very exuberant girls.
"Andy!" Cassidy and Caroline ran into the room only slowing for a moment when they saw the tall fireman then barreling on toward the bed. Taking their normal places next to Andy, both girls spoke so fast Andy thought her head was going to break off looking back and forth at them so quickly.
"Whoa!" Andy shifted so that her elbows bent around the girls necks and her hands covered their mouths lightly, "One at a time." Releasing them, she glanced at the familiar freckle pattern on Caroline's cheek and smiled. "Tac, you first."
"We've got everything set up for you at the house." Caroline grinned as she spoke, "Your bed's all made and the TV's set up and the stereo..." Stopping when Andy motioned her to, Caroline closed her mouth as her sister took up the description.
"And we stocked the kitchen. There's juice and water, and milk... and we even got boxes of your favorite cereal." Cassidy wrapped her arm around Andy's waist. "Maybe we can come and eat breakfast with you sometimes?"
"Cassidy!" Miranda's voice floated softly through the room. "You will not invite yourself into Andrea's life. If she wants you there, she will ask." Miranda continued walking into the room, evaluating the man standing next to Andrea's bed. "Good afternoon, Captain."
"Hello, Ms. Priestly." He smiled, "I'm glad you're all here. This way I can tell you all at once."
"Tell us what?" Miranda moved to stand next to the head of Andrea's bed, her hand dropping to rub Caroline's back, brushing Andrea's shoulder as well.
"Now that Andy here is recovered enough to be released, the mayor wants to give her the key to the city..." He grinned at the young woman's widening eyes, "and the Carnegie people are waiting to give you their medal too."
"Carnegie?" Andy blinked at that announcement, then looked up at Miranda. "Did you have something to do with this?"
Miranda shook her head. "No, someone else nominated you." Blue eyes darted to the two children flanking the prone woman.
Andy gasped and looked at the girls, "You two?"
Caroline nodded and Cassidy explained, "You can nominate people on their website." She looked at the fireman, "They would have let us die in the fire." Caroline spoke to Andy solemnly.
"You saved us."
Andy saw the man flinch at the true accusation and defended him somewhat, "They looked for you, they really did."
"How did you find us?" Cassidy asked, she'd wondered before but hadn't brought it up yet.
"Well, one reason I found you so quickly was because the fireman told me they had already looked everywhere upstairs. They are very good at their jobs, so when they saw that there were kids' bedrooms they looked and looked..." She smiled at the man as he relaxed the tension in his shoulders slightly, "But I knew you guys, and I remembered that fire safety assignment I did...er... helped you with for school. So I hoped you remembered it too and had come downstairs." She tapped Caroline's nose, "I was very glad to see you wrapped in wet blankets."
"But how did you find us?" Caroline had wanted to know too.
"One night when I was really tired and running late I stumbled in the hall, while I delivered the Book... I fell against the panel that concealed the cupboard under the stairs and it opened. So I knew it was there. When I was looking for you in the fire, I remembered that you liked Harry Potter and that when Harry lived with his Muggle family, they didn't give him a room, but they made him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs... so I thought you might be there. Especially since the firefighters had looked everywhere else."
"Your knowledge of the girls and my house would have been of no use had you not stayed calm enough to use it properly," Miranda praised Andrea. "You deserve every reward bestowed upon you and none of them will ever be enough."
Looking up at Miranda, Andy smiled softly. "All the reward I need is seeing you guys safe and together." Dark eyes twinkled as she savored the feel of Miranda's hand fully on her shoulder, caressing it gently until the older women realized what she was doing and pulled the hand away.
"Yes, well." Fiddling with the wide belt on her outfit, Miranda cleared her throat. "Nevertheless, you will have more rewards and you will not refuse them."
Rolling her eyes, Andy grinned at the girls and answered Miranda's comment the only way possible. "Yes, Miranda." She winked at Cassidy, "So, Tic... how about as a reward, you and Tac come and have breakfast with me, whenever you want."
"Yay!" The girls cheered and Andy laughed at the stereo response, then turned her head to look at Miranda. "How about you Miranda?"
"Hmmm?" Miranda seemed puzzled. "Me what?"
"Come and have breakfast with us." Andy's eyes darkened slightly, "You're welcome to, anytime."
"Thank you, Andrea." Miranda swallowed hard at the thought of having breakfast with Andrea. "That sounds, lovely."
A soft knock sounded on the door that connected Andy's rooms with Miranda's house. It wasn't unusual and Andy didn't think twice about calling out to answer it. "Come in." In the month she'd lived here, she had never locked that door. The girls could come in whenever they wanted and usually did after a cursory knock. When the door opened, Andy was surprised to see Miranda standing there, "Oh, Miranda." Andy struggled to unwrap her legs from the blanket surrounding them and get to her feet, "For a minute I thought you were Tic or Tac..."
"No..." Miranda held up her hands as she entered the room motioning Andrea to remain seated, "Don't get up."
"The girls at their Dad's this weekend, right? They weren't here for breakfast..." Andy swallowed hard as Miranda kicked off her shoes and settled on the couch next to her. "Um... Do you want some lunch?"
"I would like to talk to you about this arrangement." Miranda began.
"Oh..." Andy nodded sadly, "Yeah... I'm pretty much recovered now... only a few more weeks before the doc gives me a green light to go back to work. So I can start looking for a new place... with the money from the Carnegie award and the payments for the freelance articles I've done while I've been laid up, I'll have a good down payment for a decent place."
Miranda tried not to sound as hurt as she felt, "You would leave us?"
"Well... I thought this was just until I recovered...wasn't it?" Andy wasn't sure what Miranda was getting at, but suddenly her mind kicked in and she realized what Miranda said, Wait... us? Miranda too? Could it be? Andy dared to hope.
"That was how I initially convinced you to come here." Miranda agreed. "However, in this last month things have gone so smoothly...the girls adore having you here and...I..." Looking anywhere but at Andrea, Miranda admitted, "I've grown accustomed to seeing you at the table."
Breakfast hadn't been the only meal they shared. A very short time after Andrea had moved in, Miranda had often found herself sitting at the small kitchen table in Andrea's rooms for the evening meal, and on weekends, for lunch as well. They had always gone to Andrea's rooms to eat, even if the meal itself was prepared in the main kitchen. Miranda was aware that Andrea still needed to be off her feet as much as possible.
Andy thought about Miranda's sudden lone appearance. It had happened before. When she was still in the hospital. The girls had gone to their father's for the weekend and Miranda had shown up for their regular visit anyway. The older woman had claimed it was so she could report to the girls on Andy's condition, but now Andy suspected otherwise. She craned her neck to catch Miranda's gaze with her own, "Miranda? Are you telling me..." With a smile that rivaled the sun, Andy asked, "Miranda, did you miss me this morning?"
With a deep breath and great reluctance, Miranda nodded, "Yes." She admitted, "It was very lonely sitting at my table with no one to talk to. I missed your...companionship."
Well it's a start, Andy though and she watched the older woman closely, "Am I your Companion, Miranda?" Grinning a little, Andy asked, "I don't suppose you've ever seen a show called Firefly?"
"Nevermind," Waving off the question, Andy smiled and moved very slowly, as one would with a frightened child, sliding her hand into Miranda's. "Would you like to have lunch with me? I think I have some cans of soup in the cabinet."
"Lunch sounds lovely," Miranda never took her eyes off their connected hands. She knew that Andrea was recovering. The young woman had reported that her physical therapy was going well, and Miranda hoped to lure Andrea out of these rooms for a while. "But not here, I have the ingredients for a fine soup in my kitchen." She glanced at the clock, "If you aren't too hungry and can wait a short time..."
"I can wait." Andy wished Miranda would look her in the eye, but tried to convey the double meaning of her words with inflection alone. "I can wait as long as you need." They stood and using her feet as an excuse, Andy leaned on Miranda, hanging on to her hand while also curling her other arm around Miranda's. She was not about to admit the reason for her balance problems to Miranda, at least, not yet. Laughing in a self-mocking way, Andy sighed, "I'm not terribly good at balance yet."
"From what I recall," Miranda looked over at the young woman on her arm, loving the feel of her there, "you were never very good at it to begin with."
Laughing at that, Andy agreed, "True, but that was in heels. I'm only wearing socks now."
Miranda covered the hand Andrea had on her arm with her own free hand, "Careful then. The hardwood has just been waxed."
Andy hugged Miranda's arm a little tighter, "I will." It wasn't necessary though because the thick socks she was wearing had grippers on the bottoms of them. Andy just liked the feel of Miranda in her arms. "I'm glad you stopped by," Andy grinned as they walked down the hall from the door that connected her rooms to the rest of the house, into the main kitchen. "I wanted to talk to you about the article I wrote, for USA Today. The one about the effects of industry on the economy."
"What about it?" Miranda guided Andrea to a seat at the small kitchen table and helped situate her with a second chair to prop her feet up on. "It was very good."
A bit of pride seeped into Andy's heart. Knowing that Miranda had read her work and liked it was enough to bring a smile to her face. "Thank you, I got a lot of complimentary comments on it." Andy watched Miranda closely and asked, "Would you like something similar for Runway? Possibly one about the effects on the economy of a specific industry... the fashion industry?"
Miranda gathered the ingredients for the soup and thought about it for a moment. "Yes, that would fit perfectly with this month's issue, but the print deadline is close. How fast could you have it done for me to look over?"
Smiling, Andy traced the pattern on the tablecloth with her index finger, "Yesterday."
"You never cease to anticipate my needs, do you?"
"Not if I can help it." Andy watched Miranda moving around the kitchen preparing their meal. "I can anticipate a lot of things." She watched the almost imperceptible pause in Miranda's actions and smiled to herself. Oh yes, Miranda, anticipation has its own rewards.
There was a short knock at the door and Andy looked up from her laptop screen, "Come..." The girls were joining her on the couch before she finished. "...in." They didn't even bother to close the door behind them and Patricia padded into the room. The dog was a relatively new addition to the routine. Miranda had been vehement about the large animal going into Andrea's rooms while she was still recovering. Patricia was too enthusiastic at times and Miranda was concerned that Andrea would trip over the furry creature, or be knocked to the ground with an exuberant pounce. In the last week or so, however, Patricia had been accompanying the girls into the room and now the dog settled in her customary place under the bridge Andy's legs made from the couch to the coffee table. Andy laughed as the girls bounced in their seats, "What's up?"
"We have a recital..." Caroline breathed, "...at school next week."
Cassidy asked hopefully, "Will you come?"
"Um... Isn't your Mom gonna be there?" Andy knew for a fact the only thing that kept Miranda from attending any of the girls' recitals was a force of nature.
"Sure Mom'll be there. She's always there." Cassidy waved off that question. "We want you there too."
"Will you come?" Caroline pleaded.
"If it's okay with Miranda, sure, I'll be there." Andy grinned at the girls. "You guys up for an afterschool snack?" Her eyes twinkled from withholding her secret. "I went to the store after PT today. There's all kinds of healthy snacks in the fridge."
"You walked around the store?" Cassidy hugged Andy's arm, "That's great."
"Yeah," Caroline swallowed hard, "I guess your physical therapy is working and you're gonna be back to normal soon."
"Yep," Andy flexed her feet slowly, feeling the stiffness there, but very little pain. "Pretty soon I'll be good as new."
"What happens then?" Caroline sounded frightened and Andy reassured her.
"Then I'll be able to walk better... I asked the therapist if I could start taking walks. She said maybe next week we can try some short ones." She looked at the girls with raised eyebrows, "You think you wanna walk around the block with me?"
"Sure!" Cassidy was all for it. Spending more time with Andy was incentive enough, but if it helped her get better too that was a bonus.
"But what happens after your feet are all better?" Caroline was very practical about most things. "Will you move out?"
"No," Andy smiled and reassured the children, "I will stay here for as long as Miranda lets me." She hugged them close and informed them with great sincerity, "I love you guys, and if I have any choice on the matter, I won't leave you."
"Really?" Cassidy's eyes widened. She'd never heard anyone besides her mom or dad tell her that they loved her.
"Yes, really." Andy kissed Cassidy on the forehead. "I won't leave unless Miranda makes me."
"She won't." Caroline was confident on that point, "Mom likes having you here." The girl grinned and confided a secret to their hero, "She looked and looked for a house with a place for you too. That's why we stayed in the hotel for so long. She couldn't find a place that suited her, couldn't find a place with rooms that she liked for you."
"Really..." How interesting... Andy kissed Caroline on the forehead as well. "Thank you for telling me."
"Telling you what?" Miranda leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed.
Andy felt Caroline stiffen and the reporter grinned at the older woman, "The girls have a recital next week. They've invited me to attend." Dark eyes glittered past dark bangs, "Is it okay with you if I go?"
"Of course," Miranda gestured to the girls, "You two have homework to do." She smiled as they reluctantly left Andrea's side. "Take Patricia outside then go and start your homework. I'll be up in a moment to check on you." She watched them coaxing Patricia down the hall, then turned her attention back to Andrea, "They adore you." And so do I. Ruthlessly clamping down on those kinds of thoughts, Miranda admonished the young woman. "Roy tells me you went to the grocery store after your therapy session today."
"Roy talks too much." Andy groused. "I'm a grown woman. I should be allowed to buy some groceries without a chaperone."
"Roy is under orders from me, his employer, to watch out for you." Miranda found herself seated next to Andrea on the couch, "You musn't push yourself so hard, Andrea. Recovery takes time."
"You don't know how frustrating it is, Miranda..." Andy ran her fingers through her hair and rested her head on the back of the couch, "to want something so badly and have it just within your reach... then be told to slow down."
Miranda swallowed hard against her dry throat and couldn't take her eyes off the line of Andrea's neck, the elegant curve of her jaw, the fullness of her lips. "Oh," Miranda nodded and cleared her throat, "I believe I do." Licking her lips, Miranda stood, "I need to go check on the girls." She made it all the way to the door before she turned to look back at Andy. "Will you join us for dinner tonight?"
"I would love to." Andy smiled as Miranda nodded and left the rooms quickly. So... you looked and looked for this place eh? And you know frustration? Andy's smile became slightly devious as she gazed at the now empty doorway. Oh Miranda, you don't know frustration, yet.
Andy slowly entered the dark recital hall and looked around. There was a group of small children singing on stage and there were people sitting in every seat. Many, proud parents presumably, lined the walls holding video cameras at the ready. Great, she thought, standing room only. A flash of white in the front row aisle caught her attention and Andy moved carefully, so as not to bump her feet into anything, as she made her way through the crowd. Arriving, finally, at Miranda's seat, Andy reached down to touch Miranda's shoulder. Andy found the editor's ear and whispered, "Hey, sorry I'm late. The therapist was running behind."
Reaching up, Miranda patted the hand on her shoulder. "The program has only just started. Cassidy and Caroline have yet to perform." Miranda looked around the dark, packed room and stood, speaking quietly, "Sit." Seeing the young woman bristle at the near order, Miranda softened her eyes and lowered her voice to barely a whisper, "Please."
Taking Miranda's hand, Andy squeezed it for a moment and nodded, "Okay," Removing her jacket, Andy draped it over the back of the chair and sat. She looked up at Miranda and smiled, "Thank you."
Miranda blinked down at the young woman in her seat and valiantly tried to control the tremors running through her. The V-neck shirt Andrea was wearing revealed much more than Miranda had ever recalled seeing in recent months, although the neckline of Andrea's tops had been slowly lowering for at least a week now. Dragging her eyes away from the ample cleavage, Miranda nodded and whispered as the lights in the hall lowered even more to accommodate the next act, "You're welcome."
Andy watched with very little interest as several children performed their pieces. What she was interested in was Miranda's almost constant attention to her. Several times during the performances Miranda had placed her hand on Andy's shoulder to lean down and comment on the children's rendition of whichever song they were playing. Andy grinned because after the last comment, the hand wasn't removed and Miranda was standing closer than ever. Andy grinned wider when the hand on her shoulder shifted slightly and Miranda's fingertips came into contact with the skin exposed by the wide neckline of her shirt.
Miranda sighed to herself and again diverted her eyes from Andrea's breasts. Don't be ridiculous, she told herself, She is far too young for you and you know it. You must control yourself Miranda. Despite her self chastisement, Miranda couldn't quite make herself remove her hand from the soft skin on Andrea's shoulder. Her self-control was a moot point when Cassidy and Caroline took the stage. Their appearance required applause.
Andy clapped for the girls and smiled at them even though she was extremely disappointed that Miranda's hand was now gone from her shoulder. It was totally worth it though, because after the applause, the girls began to play and Miranda's hand returned.
This is entirely inappropriate! Miranda was disgusted with her lack of self-control. After she had finished clapping for the girls, her hand had returned to Andrea. Only this time her fingers seemed to have a mind of their own and threaded themselves through the hair covering the back of Andrea's neck.
Savoring the feeling of Miranda gently scratching the back of her neck, Andy watched the girls playing their piece. She knew Miranda's caress would only last until the end of the girls' performance. Then it would be time for more applause. That was okay though, because she wasn't sure how much more of Miranda's touch she could stand. She doubted Miranda would appreciate being slammed against the wall here in front of all the parents at her children's school for a kiss that Andy desperately wanted to give her.
Miranda watched as her daughters performed their piano selection but a large portion of her considerable concentration was focused on the young woman sitting at her side. She was almost shaking as she slid her fingers through Andrea's hair. It was so soft and Miranda wondered how it would feel brushing against her bare shoulders, her breasts, her thighs. Stop it! Miranda knew that this was madness. There is no way Andrea would ever be romantically, physically, interested in you. Her fingers tingled as she gently scratched Andrea's neck. The romantic music playing wasn't any help in controlling the urge to grasp the hair in her hand, tilt Andrea's head back by force and take the kiss she so desperately wanted.
Cassidy and Caroline finished playing. They stood on the stage and held hands as they took their bows. Both smiled widely when they spotted their Mom standing very close to the front row seat she always had at these things. They smiled wider when they saw Andy sitting in that very seat. Both women were applauding and Andy even put her fingers to her lips to whistle loudly. Cassidy laughed as Caroline mirrored her mother's disapproving glance for such a common display.
There were only two more performances scheduled before the end of the program, so Andy stayed seated. After the next child finished, the seat next to Andy became available, apparently the mother needed to go back to work, leaving the father to collect the child and take him home.
Miranda watched as the woman sitting next to Andrea stood and noticed Andrea wince as she carefully moved her feet for the woman to pass. Taking great care not to bump Andrea's feet, Miranda took the seat. She leaned over and placed her hand on Andrea's arm, whispering, "Do you need to leave?"
"No," Andy linked her arm with Miranda's. It was already a bit less crowded now than it was when she arrived, but as slow as she was going to need to move, Andy didn't want to hold up anyone that might be behind her. "I may need to sit here though, until the crowd thins out."
"Of course," Miranda nodded and squeezed the arm linked in hers, "Anything you need."
I need a lot of things Miranda, Andy thought, but just smiled and patted the woman's arm. "Thank you." So they waited for the program to be over, and even though she expected it, Andy was disappointed when Miranda disengaged their arms just before the lights came up in the room. The children joined their parents from backstage and people began filing out of the hall. Cassidy and Caroline pushed through the crowd to get to Miranda and Andy's seats.
"Did you like it?" Cassidy asked.
Caroline complained, "I messed up the dynamics."
"Well I thought it sounded great." Andy tweaked Caroline's sleeve, "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself."
Miranda agreed, "You can work on the dynamic problem, but the piece was truly wonderful as it was."
Nodding, Caroline hung her head, "Yeah, sure."
Andy grinned, "Your Mom's right. Don't dwell on what you can't change." With a grimace, Andy stood, steadying herself with the back of her chair, "We all have things we'd like to change."
Snorting at that, Caroline watched Andy struggling to stand and spoke quietly, "I'll bet you wish you'd never gone into the fire."
Blinking at that, Andy sat back down and looked at Caroline intently, "Is that what you think?" Caroline didn't respond, but Andy grasped her shoulders and finally caught the girl's eyes, "I will never, ever, regret doing that."
"What do you regret then?" Cassidy was at least as curious as the rest of them were about that. Andy was still very much a mystery to them, even though the woman lived in the same house as they did.
"I have a lot of regrets. Most of them I can't do anything about. Some of them I'm trying to change." Andy hugged Caroline and Cassidy close, "But I will never, ever regret doing what I did for you, for your Mom."
"Because you love us." It was a statement not a question. Caroline remembered what Andy had told them before. Andy answered the comment anyway.
Glancing at Miranda, Andy turned back to the girls and smiled, "Yes, because I love you."
"Are you ready to go?" Miranda's voice sounded strange, even to herself. Clearing her throat, Miranda spoke in her usual imperious tone, "I believe Andrea should get home and put her feet up."
Both girls were ready and volunteered to be living crutches as Andy stood again. Draping her arms around each girl's shoulders, Andy smiled at them, then at Miranda. "Do you think we could make a stop before we go home?"
"A stop?" Miranda recovered Andrea's jacket from the back of the chair and walked next to the trio as they slowly made their way up the wide aisle; now cleared of people. "Where?"
"I know this great little ice cream shop..."
"Yay!" Both girls' eyes lit up at the prospect of ice cream.
"Really Andrea..." Miranda sniffed in disapproval, "Ice cream?"
"Oh yes, Miranda." Andy turned her best puppy dog look on the older woman. Licking her lips, Andy pouted, her lower lip protruding slightly as she said the magic word, "Please?"
Miranda sighed, I am never going to be able to resist that...
They got the ice cream, small cones for each of the girls, a cup of triple chocolate fudge for Andy, and a small portion of lemon ice for Miranda, who didn't finish the entire thing. They were in Andy's living room and had polished off the ice cream in record time when Miranda reminded them that it was a school night. "Off to bed, both of you."
Dutifully tossing the paper that had been wrapped around their cones into the trash, each girl kissed Andy's cheek and said good night.
"I'll be up in a minute to tuck you in." Miranda watched them go then turned to Andrea. "Thank you, for attending the recital. I know they were happy for you to be there."
"Of course, I was happy to be there." Andy licked her lips and asked innocently, "Are you going to order me to bed too?"
"You're a grown woman, Andrea." Miranda chided and began walking toward the door, "You can go to bed whenever you want."
Raising her eyebrows, Andy grinned. "Nice to know you noticed." Dark eyes twinkled as Miranda stumbled slightly and she called after the older woman, "Good night, Miranda. Sweet dreams."
Turning to look at the young woman on the couch, Miranda actually smiled. "Good night, Andrea."
Andy watched the door close and grinned, "Soon... Miranda... soon it will be the best night ever."
Andy looked up at the knock on the frame of the door that connected her rooms to the rest of the Priestly home. In the months she'd lived here, Andy had never locked that door and in the last few weeks it had started to remain open more often than not. The girls could come and go as they pleased and often did, except when Miranda was home. The polite knock made Andy smile because she knew it meant Miranda was not far behind the girls. Sure enough before each child had settled on either side of her, Patricia padded in to flop down in her customary spot and then Miranda walked through the door as well.
"Hey guys!" Andy gave each girl a one-armed hug, "Ready for our walk?" Both girls nodded and Andy turned to Miranda, "Will you be joining us, Miranda?"
With a single dip of her head, Miranda answered, "Yes, I believe I will today."
"We don't go far Mom." Cassidy stood. "Just around the block once."
"Yeah," Caroline also stood and clipped the leash she held onto Patricia's collar, "You don't have to come..."
Andy accepted the girls' help rising from the couch but moved to stand in front of Miranda. She reached down and took the older woman's hands in her own before ducking slightly to catch Miranda's down-turned eyes, "You are more than welcome to join us."
"Are you certain?"
"Definitely." Andy's encouraging smile was infectious and the corners of Miranda's lips twitched in response.
"Very well." Miranda swallowed hard as Andrea released her hands and returned to the girls, draping one lanky arm around each child's shoulders.
"Why don't we try a different route today?" Andy grinned at the girls, "I think I might be able to make it a few blocks this time. We can go to the park. I think Patricia would like to play there."
"Yay!" The girls jumped up and down with excitement.
Miranda was not as enthusiastic at that suggestion. Moving closer, she found herself brushing some wavy dark hair off of Andrea's shoulder, taking hold of the cleared space to capture the young woman's attention. "Are you certain you should be walking that far, Andrea? You shouldn't push too fast."
"Absolutely," Andy's eyes twinkled at the concerned woman for a moment then she jostled the girls in her arms slightly, "You guys ready?" She laughed, "Let's go!"
It was a pleasant day and they walked at a fairly decent pace without any problems, until they were about a half a block away from the park. The tree-lined sidewalks were pleasant, but they had been growing there long enough now that some of the roots were beginning to warp the sidewalk. Andy had been saying something to Cassidy and not watching her footing as closely as she should have on an unfamiliar path when she stumbled over one of the raised sections of concrete.
"Andrea!" Miranda was at the young woman's side immediately, wrapping her arm around Andrea's waist to support her, "Do you need to go home?"
"No!" Andy automatically wrapped her arm around Miranda's waist and limped on the foot she'd just stubbed. "It's closer to the park than it is to go back home."
"Are you okay, Andy?" Cassidy was obviously worried, "I'm sorry... I shouldn't have distracted you..."
"Shhh..." Andy smoothed the worry lines on the little girl's forehead, "It wasn't your fault." She smiled and lied to the child's face, "It's already starting to fade." She managed a few steps that seemed fairly normal, "See?"
Cassidy nodded and linked arms with her sister as they, with Patricia, led the way to the park.
Miranda, on the other hand, knew better. The steps Andrea had taken seemed normal, but Miranda felt the additional pressure Andrea had needed to make it seem so. She lowered her voice so that the girls wouldn't hear, "Andrea, should I call the car?"
"No." Andy's voice was low, for Miranda's ears only, but hard and firm. She grunted slightly with each step she took, "I will walk to the park and walk home like normal. Cassidy doesn't need that kind of guilt." Meeting Miranda's eyes, Andy sighed, "Please, Miranda... I need to do this."
"For Cassidy..." Miranda hated it, hated that this beautiful young woman was in pain, was suffering, for the benefit of her child but in that moment, loved Andrea for it. More than ever. "...thank you."
Andy turned a wince into a smile and nodded, "You're welcome, Miranda, always."
As it turned out they had to walk slightly farther into the park than Andy would have liked to find a bench and Miranda made her sit at the first one they saw. Miranda spoke a variation of the same thing she'd been saying since the stumble.
"I will be happy to call Roy to pick us up."
"No," Andy stretched her legs out in front of her, wishing there was a way to put her feet up for just a little while. "It's only a few blocks. Just let me rest for a while and I can walk back myself."
Miranda shifted and patted her lap, "Put them up?" She smiled as Andrea leaned against the short arm of the bench and put her injured feet up on the offered lap. "Should we take your shoe off and examine the injury?"
"NO!" Andy sat up straight, barely conquering the urge to swing her legs off of Miranda's lap. Controlling her initial panic, Andy again leaned back against the arm of the bench. She closed her eyes and calmed herself, "No... that won't be necessary."
"No, Miranda..." Andy swallowed hard, "You don't want to see my feet."
"I..." Miranda took a deep breath. She had seen the initial damage on the night of the fire, but since then Andrea's feet had always either been bandaged or surrounded by the thick socks Andrea seemed to prefer. Miranda realized that she had never once seen Andrea's feet since the night of the fire. The look in Andrea's eyes now was full of embarrassment and Miranda threw caution to the wind, reaching out to grasp Andrea's chin between her index finger and thumb, forcing Andrea's eyes to meet her own. "I hope one day you will trust me enough to allow me to see them."
She isn't going to push this... Andy relaxed, "Thank you, Miranda." She was amazed at the tenderness Miranda was showing her and her heart did a double thump when Miranda smiled.
"You're welcome, Andrea," Miranda laid her hand gently on Andrea's legs careful to keep her touch above the ankles and below the knees then turned to the open grass in front of them. She sat watching the girls play with Patricia and added, very softly, "Always."
Andy gasped when her cell phone rang, a distinctive ringtone that she scrambled to answer. She glanced at the twins, knowing the girls recognized Roy Orbison singing Pretty Woman, and wondered what their reaction would be when she identified the caller, "Hello, Miranda. How did things go in Chicago?"
"Are my children there?"
Raising her eyebrows slightly, Andy looked across the coffee table that her feet were currently propped up on, into two sets of inquisitive eyes. "Yes. We're all doing our homework. Would you like to speak to them?"
"Yes. Put Caroline on..."
"Sure." Andy offered the phone to the girl in question, "She wants to talk to you."
Caroline took the phone and tentatively putting it to her ear, asked quietly, "Mom?" She listened for a moment and stood quickly, "Oh... um... yeah, I'll go see..."
Andy and Cassidy watched as Caroline sped out of the room. It only took a moment for Cassidy to break the awkward silence between them. "Andy?"
"Hmmm?" Andy could feel her cheeks burning as she set aside her laptop.
"Um..." Cassidy blinked, "Mom's ringtone on your phone... do you, do you really think that? That Mom is pretty?"
Busted. Unwilling to lie to the girl, Andy nodded, "Yes..." ...most definitely. Grimacing, Andy asked, "Is that too weird for you?" She waited for a moment while Cassidy thought about it and let out the breath she'd been holding when Cassidy spoke.
"No, it's not too weird." The girl licked her lips and whispered, "Mom likes you too..."
Andy thought her heart stopped for a few beats. "You think so?"
"I see her, sometimes..." Cassidy moved to sit next to Andy on the couch, "...she stands in front of your door, like she wants to knock..."
"Oh?" Suddenly feeling very warm, Andy reached for her drink. She downed the contents of her glass. "I wonder why she doesn't?"
Cassidy shrugged, "I dunno, but she always looks a little, I dunno... sad, when she walks away."
Draping her arm over Cassidy's shoulder, Andy asked quietly, "The next time you see her standing in front of my door, call me?"
Smiling at that, Cassidy nodded. "I will."
Caroline returned and handed Andy her phone back. "Mom said she's bringing dinner. She sent Maria home early."
"Ah," Andy grinned as she took her phone back. She liked Miranda's maid slash cook. "What's Miranda bringing?"
"Uh... she didn't say." Caroline laughed, "I didn't ask." Snuggling down on the other side of Andy for a moment, Caroline smiled as she informed her companions, "She was on the plane though and said she would be landing soon."
"Hmmm..." Andy jostled the girls next to her. "I guess we better get our work done then, eh?"
"Yeah," Both girls scrambled back to their books.
Andy resettled her laptop across her thighs and tried to concentrate on the article she had been working on before Miranda had called. They had all finished their tasks and Andy had told Caroline to leave the connecting door open because they were engaged in a heated tournament of Mario Kart. The game was totally forgotten though when Miranda arrived home, with supper. Andy's eyes widened in surprise her hands going slack on the game controller, "Miranda? That's... Uh..." The girls enthusiastically finished the thought.
"It's more than that." Andy kept her eyes on the box in Miranda's hands, "It's Giordano's pizza." Daring a glance into Miranda's eyes, Andy marveled, "You brought pizza from Chicago?"
"You seemed so enamored with it when we were watching that Travel Channel show the other evening." Miranda looked anywhere but at Andrea, "I decided this was the perfect opportunity to introduce the girls to it."
Andy licked her lips and nodded, "Of course." She removed her feet from the coffee table and gestured everyone to the small table placed in front of her kitchenette. "I'll get the plates." She asked Cassidy, "Will you get the knives and forks?"
"For pizza?" The girl was dubious but, at Andy's nod, dutifully retrieved the silverware.
Miranda watched as Andy moved around the rooms, barely hindered by her injured feet. "You don't seem to have as much trouble walking..."
Turning to face Miranda, Andy smiled and nodded as she put the plates on the table. "The physical therapy and short daily walks help, especially when the path is smooth." Dark eyes twinkled at the slightest hint of pink dusting Miranda's cheeks. I knew it. The day after their fateful trip to the park, a Sunday no less, a crew of workers had come in, replaced the tree with a smaller one and re-poured the sidewalk so that there were no sections protruding. She had yet to call Miranda on the gesture, and probably wouldn't now. It was enough that she knew, and that Miranda knew she knew.
They all sat at their usual seats at the table, Cassidy across from Andy, Caroline across from Miranda. Andy liked it that way because it put her next to Miranda. She served them each a huge slice of pizza as she spoke. "I practically lived on these in college."
"Well, that explains a lot." Miranda mumbled as she cut a small bite from her portion.
"Oy!" Andy grinned, "I'll have you know one of these would last me at least three days..."
"They are good." Caroline admitted.
Andy heard the "but" in there and winked at the girl, "Just not the kind of pizza you're used to?"
"Yeah," Caroline took another bite and spoke around the morsel in her mouth, "It is good though."
"Caroline!" Miranda reprimanded the girl, "Do not speak with your mouth full."
With her mouth still full, Caroline apologized, "Sorry, Mom."
Rolling her eyes at that, Miranda took another bite of her own.
Andy chuckled and they continued the meal. The girls weren't able to finish theirs and Miranda also left a significant portion on her plate. Andy ate every bit of her slice. Patting her tummy, Andy sighed, "That was great!" Reaching over, Andy took Miranda's hand in her own and squeezed it slightly. "Thank you." She smiled softly when Miranda returned the pressure lightly and maintained the contact.
"Can we finish the game now?" Caroline asked as she studiously avoided looking at the older women's joined hands. "I still need to beat Cass."
"Ha!" Cassidy scoffed, "You'll never beat me. Rainbow Road is next and you suck at that track."
"Cassidy! Language!" Miranda stood as Andrea did, but didn't release her grip on the young woman's hand. "Finish your game. Then you should go take your baths and prepare for bed."
Andy was elated that Miranda's hand remained in hers and they settled on the couch to watch the rest of the game. Only when Cassidy's prophetic words of victory came true did Miranda release her hold and stand, speaking to the children. "Very well then, upstairs to bed with you."
Miranda began to follow the children out the door when Andy caught up with her, again catching the older woman's hand, "Miranda?" Smiling, Andy could feel the tremors in Miranda's hand and spoke softly, "You know, usually delivery people get a tip for jobs well done..." Moving closer, Andy released the hand in hers, trailing her fingertips up Miranda's arm. "I wouldn't know what to tip a delivery all the way from Chicago." She could feel the heat between their bodies and dared to look into Miranda's eyes, "But thank you. It was a wonderful surprise." Gently cradling Miranda's cheek in the palm of her hand, Andy leaned in and kissed the corner of Miranda's mouth lightly, quickly. "Good night." Stepping back she kept her eyes locked with Miranda's and spoke softly, "Sweet dreams."
"Y..." Miranda cleared her throat, "You too, Andrea." Miranda wondered if her legs would even work long enough to carry her up the stairs. A glance at the closed door to Andrea's rooms made her wonder if what she thought just happened had happened. Reaching up with a trembling hand, Miranda touched the spot Andrea had kissed.
Once the girls were asleep, Miranda also retired to bed but found sleep elusive. Instead, she continually replayed the kiss Andrea had given her, in her head. It took several hours, but she managed to convince herself that the gesture was nothing more than a thank you for the pizza, as Andrea had said. Of course she doesn't want you, that way, you old fool. She's just a sweet young woman.
With a sigh, Miranda closed her eyes, drifting to sleep with a smile. As her brain shut down most of its functions, Miranda again felt the soft lips pressing against her, but this time Andrea wasn't allowed to pull away. This time she returned the kiss with severe intensity, pressing Andrea back against the wall, trying with everything in her to show the woman how much she was wanted, needed, loved. Miranda could feel those luscious curves under her as they were somehow now on a bed and the delicious warmth of skin on skin drove her to a frenzied pace. Andrea felt so good, Miranda needed to touch and taste every part of her without delay, forever. Then the dream-Andrea touched her and that was all it took to wake Miranda, gasping from the residual throbbing the orgasm left her with. Stretching out fully on the bed, Miranda lay on her back and tried to control her breathing, "Sweet dreams, indeed."
Miranda heard soft music as she walked down the hall but was not prepared for what she saw as she reached the open door to Andrea's rooms. The coffee table had been moved aside and the twins were on the couch watching avidly as Andrea and some unknown woman danced in front of them. Watching Andrea dance with someone! "What's going on here?"
"Oh!" Andy stopped dancing, but kept her hold on the short blonde woman in her arms, "Miranda!"
Caroline jumped up to kill the music.
Gesturing to her dance partner, Andy smiled, "Have you ever met my friend, Julie?"
Stepping on into the room, Miranda drew herself up to her full height and tilted her head back slightly, "I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure." She evaluated the woman in Andrea's arms sighing internally when she identified the designer dress that the woman wore so well. Julie was young and beautiful. No matter how well she was dressed though, Andrea was far more beautiful, even in her sweat pants and form fitting white t-shirt.
"Julie and I were roommates in college." Andy smiled as Julie laid her head on, well, not quite her shoulder it was really her chest, just above her breast and spoke dramatically.
"Andy is my first love."
Laughing at that, Andy bent her neck slightly and kissed the top of Julie's head, "Lucky me."
Miranda glared at Andrea. "And what is the point of this display in front of my children?"
"They were teaching us how to dance, Mom." Cassidy got off the couch and grabbed Caroline then the twins began to move around the room, much like Andy and her dance partner had been doing when Miranda arrived. "See?" The demonstration was ruined when they stepped on each other's feet. "Hey!" Shoving her sister away, Cassidy dropped to the couch and rubbed her feet, "Ow." Caroline hopped around on one foot for a moment growling at Cassidy.
Andy laughed, "And now you see why Julie is my dance partner," she grinned at the girls, "and that we have a ways to go in the lessons."
"Yeah..." Chuckling at that, Julie squeezed Andy's waist, "But I need to be going."
"Okay." Andy smiled down at her guest as she walked Julie to the door, the outside exit, not the one that led into Miranda's house, "Have fun tonight."
"Yeah, right." Rolling her eyes at that, Julie shrugged on her full length leather coat and grinned. "I won't be late. I'll bring back ice cream."
"Yum." Andy bent slightly at the waist and placed a quick, chaste, kiss on Julie's mouth, "Can't wait."
Reaching up, Julie wiped a bit of her lipstick off Andy's lips and laughed, "You're so bad."
Andy mouthed, "Oops" at Julie. Bumping their foreheads together, Andy sighed then winked and smiled, "G'wan... I'll see ya later."
Miranda watched Andrea say goodbye to the woman. Her heart sank as Andrea placed a kiss directly on Julie's lips and bestowed a smile on the smaller woman that Miranda would have killed to have directed at her. Then the conversation the women had had sunk in, "She is returning tonight?"
Closing the door behind her, Andy leaned back against the solid metal panel, "Yep, she's staying with me while she's in town." Dark eyes watched Miranda closely, "Is that a problem? I thought you said this would be my place..."
"Yes, of course, I just..." Miranda swallowed her jealousy and nodded, "... it is surprising because to my knowledge you've never had guests."
"Not here, no." Andy walked to the couch and took her usual place, stretching her cotton covered legs out in front of her and crossing her sock covered feet at the ankles, "She used to stay with me in my old apartment from time to time though. Whenever she's in town."
"I see." Miranda pictured Andrea's old apartment, knowing that place too only had one bedroom. The girls' voices drew her from her thoughts.
Cassidy groaned, "Andy, we still need to learn to dance!"
Caroline sighed, "We're never going to learn in time."
"In time for what?" Miranda felt like she was missing something.
"The dance at school! It's tomorrow!" Caroline rolled her eyes at Miranda's blank stare, "We told you about it ages ago..."
A vague recollection of the girls mentioning a school dance flitted through Miranda's mind. Oh.. that's right, the Anna Sui shoot was that night and I had to leave the meal early... She tried to remember what they had said, "The Fall Formal..."
"Yes!" Cassidy flopped down on the couch next to Andy, "We're gonna be totally humiliated!"
"What are you wearing?" Miranda was appalled that the event was nearly upon them and she hadn't been consulted on the outfits that her children would be wearing.
"I have it covered, Miranda." Andy grinned at the incredulous look on the fashionista's face. "Even though I haven't stepped foot inside the Elias-Clarke building for months, I am still...technically, your assistant. So I just called Nanette Lepore and requested two dresses in the girls' size."
"We love them!" Cassidy informed her mother, "They're upstairs. Do you want to see them?"
"Yeah!" Caroline answered before Miranda could, "Wait here." She gestured for Cassidy to follow her. They were both out the door and heading up the stairs before Miranda could utter a word.
"You took it upon yourself to arrange for my children's dresses?" Miranda was not even remotely amused at this concept.
Andy's eyes twinkled, "You were busy."
Miranda's voice was low and dangerous, "I am never too busy for my children."
"Of course not," Andy smiled. "But if I had been at work, and the girls had told you about the dance, you would have told me to call for the dresses anyway. They saw the cover of Teen Runway and loved the dress featured there. You would have told me to request designs for the girls... so I just did it."
Before Miranda could respond to that, the girls returned, dresses in hand.
"Look Mom," Cassidy offered the hanger to Miranda, "Aren't they great?"
Miranda turned her attention to the designs, hard blue eyes scanning each stitch and contour. She reluctantly admitted that the dresses were actually perfect for the girls and the event they were going to be attending. "Very nice." She was so focused on the dresses that she didn't realize Andrea had moved up behind her until the woman's voice, close to her ear, sent a shiver down her spine.
"Am I forgiven?"
With a nod to the girls, Miranda watched them leave to take the dresses back upstairs. She did not turn to face Andrea, knowing that turning would put their lips far too close to resist. "Yes, you are forgiven for the dresses." Andrea's low chuckle vibrated through Miranda, and the deeply amused, mock innocent, voice forced her eyes closed.
"But Miranda, what else have I done that needs forgiveness?" Andy grinned at Miranda's silence and moved away quietly.
What else indeed... Miranda tried to keep the vision of Andrea dancing with her guest, of Andrea kissing her guest, from appearing behind her eyes. She felt the absence of heat behind her and soft music began playing. The heat returned and a gentle touch on her elbow trailed down her arm to hold her hand. Miranda turned at the sensation, opening her eyes to find herself caught in Andrea's gaze.
"Dance with me." Andy smiled at Miranda, feeling the woman's hand shaking in hers. "Please Miranda," Andy pulled the older woman into the space that had been cleared and moved closer, wrapping one arm around Miranda's waist, keeping hold of Miranda's hand. "We can show the girls how it's done."
Miranda tried to pull away, "I don't want to step on your feet."
Holding tighter, Andy pressed her cheek against Miranda's and whispered, "I trust you."
"Andrea," Miranda swallowed hard as Andrea's soft form pressed against her and they began to sway together, "The girls aren't even here right now."
"They'll be back soon enough." Andy shifted her hold to press tighter against Miranda's body moving to the music. She loved the feel of Miranda in her arms.
"Andrea..." Miranda's heart was pounding so hard there was no way Andrea couldn't feel it. She knew she was on the verge of doing something they both would regret, "Andrea, stop!" Wrenching herself away from the young woman, Miranda only barely stopped herself from running out of the room. "We cannot do this."
"What are we doing, Miranda?" Andy was suddenly unsure of herself. "Why can't we dance?"
"It's inappropriate." Gaining her bearings, Miranda took another step away. She didn't get any farther than that though because the girls returned.
"Ohhh..." Cassidy pretended to dance around the room with an imaginary partner, "I like this song."
Caroline agreed and also began to practice dancing with a nonexistent companion. "It's nice and romantic."
Now with some distance between herself and Andrea, Miranda listened to the lyrics.
If you're lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you I'll be waiting
Time after time...
"It's one of my favorites." Andy glanced at Miranda then addressed the girls. "Okay... Tic, you first."
"Huh?" Dropping her arms to her sides, Cassidy blinked at Andy, "Me what?"
Gesturing to Miranda, Andy instructed, "Dance with your Mom."
"Oh," Cassidy dutifully took her place in front of her Mom, "I'll try not to step on your feet too much, Mom."
"I'm sure you'll do fine." With a deep breath, Miranda placed her hand on Cassidy's small shoulder as Cassidy's hand tentatively landed on Miranda's hip. Their free hands joined and Miranda nodded, "Follow me now." They began to move around the room in time with the music.
Caroline watched and cheered, "Awesome Cass!"
"Your turn, Tac." Andy started the song over as Caroline took Cassidy's place following Miranda's lead.
Cassidy whispered to her hero, "You should dance with Mom."
Andy looked down at Cassidy and just shook her head sadly, "Not tonight, Tic..."
"No...I tried... " Andy watched Caroline dancing in Miranda's arms, "Your Mom doesn't want to dance with me."
"Oh." Disappointment was evident in Cassidy's voice. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Andy exhaled softly, "I'm sure."
The dance lesson continued until Miranda realized the time. She smiled at the girls, "You've made great progress, but it's time for bed." She ushered the girls out of the room, "I'll be up in a moment."
"Miranda..." Andy bit her lips together when Miranda held up her hand for silence.
"First," Miranda spoke quietly, "thank you for making sure the girls were properly attired for their event."
"Oh.. of course..." Quickly clamping down on her lips again, Andy waited for Miranda to continue speaking.
"Second," Miranda took a deep breath, "I apologize for any inappropriate behavior on my part this evening."
"Miranda, we did nothing wrong!" With her fists clenched at her sides, Andy ground her teeth together, trying very hard not to interrupt Miranda again.
"Third," Miranda's nostrils flared, "I would request that when you have guests, you would not entertain my children at the same time."
Andy visibly wilted and she answered the only way she could, "Yes, Miranda."
"The girls adore spending time with you," Miranda could feel the words she was uttering ripping her heart to shreds, "So I will not forbid it, but..."
"Miranda..." Andy took a step forward, knowing what Miranda was going to say, pleading with her not to say it. "Please... don't..."
"but..." Miranda stepped back, maintaining her distance, "I don't believe it's possible for me to join you in those interactions any longer."
"No..." Andy now felt the tears begin to roll down her face, "Please, Miranda... don't stay away.."
All Miranda wanted to do was take the young woman in her arms and kiss away her tears, but she couldn't, shouldn't. Her voice barely carried the distance between them, "I must."
The outside door opened and Julie walked in waving a pint of Ben and Jerry's, "Honey, I'm home." Stopping short at the scene in front of her, Julie's eyes widened. "Oh... um.. sorry. I'll just.. um..."
With a final glance at Andrea, Miranda licked her lips and tilted her head, "And that is...all." With another step back, Miranda walked across the threshold of the inner door. Flickering her glance to Julie, Miranda smiled a sad sort of smile. "Good night, Andrea." Closing the door between them, Miranda only stood for a moment leaning with her forehead against the wooden panel, wishing things were different.
Andy was also leaning against the door. Had the wood not been between them, her forehead would have touched Miranda's. Gentle hands on her shoulders pulled Andy back toward the couch.
"C'mon, Sweetie..." Julie sat Andy down and wiped away the tears. "I guess I totally messed things up... I should have stayed in a hotel." She handed Andy a spoon and tore the lid off the ice cream.
"No," Andy took a small bite of ice cream. "I love having you here. You know that." Resting her head back on the couch, Andy sighed, "I danced with her, for a minute..."
"Oh?" Julie scooped herself a bite from the container, "And how was that?"
"According to me, or her?"
"Both." Julie watched her friend closely.
"It was wonderful, Jules... God she felt so..." Andy hugged herself and smiled at the memory, "wonderful."
Julie nodded and took another bite of ice cream, waiting for the rest.
"And according to her..." Andy sighed, "It was 'inappropriate'."
"Oh!" Smiling at that, Julie playfully punched Andy's shoulder, "That's great!"
"Uh... it is?" It didn't feel great to her. Miranda had basically said that she didn't want to have anything to do with Andy anymore. "What's great about it?"
"It means she felt something too!" Julie tapped the end of Andy's nose with the back of her spoon. "Don't you see? If she didn't feel anything... dancing with you would have been no big deal. The only reason it would be inappropriate would be..."
"If she felt something too!" A huge smile crossed Andy's face, "She did! I knew it!"
"She's totally jealous of us, Sweetie."
"Yeah?" Andy was dubious about that.
"Hon, if that woman had her way, I'd be pinned to the wall with the daggers she was shooting at me." Julie grinned at her friend. "She seems like a tough nut to crack, but... with a little more pressure, I think you can do it."
"I hope so..." Andy looked up at the ceiling and over just slightly, knowing that was where Miranda's room was located in the house, "Living without her isn't an option anymore." At one time she had thought that was what she wanted. She had come so close to leaving Miranda in Paris it wasn't even funny. The urge to run had been so strong back then, thinking that just getting away from Miranda would be enough to free her from the feelings she'd developed for the woman. But now, having gotten to know Miranda and the girls, Andy knew that was an impossible dream. Nothing could stop her feelings, not time, not distance, not even Miranda's reluctance to become closer. Andy knew one thing above all else, she was completely in love with Miranda Priestly and admitted to her friend, "I need her, Jules."
"She feels the same way," Julie nodded, "Trust me."
"Well... you are the psychologist." Andy shifted to put her head on Julie's shoulder, "How did the conference go anyway?"
"Dull and boring as usual." Laughing, Julie licked the treat off her spoon, "That's why Marshall didn't come with me. He knows how boring these things are."
"You know I haven't seen him since your wedding." Andy sighed. "He should have been here to keep me from doing something stupid."
"I kind of glad he didn't come with me. I would have never been able to evaluate Miranda's reactions with my husband here." Julie nodded, "She was shocked when she first saw us dancing. She's so used to having you all to herself, you and her girls. But when you kissed me goodbye, that was pure jealousy..."
"I didn't even think about it. We always kiss goodbye." Andy put her spoon down. "Now I'm back to square one. Miranda said she's going to stay away from me now."
"Don't be so sure." Julie set the ice cream aside, "Intensity like that... She can't hold it in forever."
Andy sighed. This was Miranda Priestly they were talking about. More than that, this was the Miranda she remembered, the Miranda that she fell in love with. Not the nice docile one who ate meals with her, or the nice sweet one that took walks with her. That one was great too, but Andy had missed the Dragon, more than she had realized until the glare she remembered so well had been turned on her once again. The memory of that expression sent a shiver skittering down Andy's spine. God, she's beautiful when she's angry. Unfortunately, Andy had no doubt that the woman's iron will could overwhelm any other emotion Miranda had. "Wanna bet?"
"Hon," Julie wrapped her arms around Andy's shoulders, "In this case, I bet on you."
Laughing quietly at that, Andy smiled, "Thanks, Jules."
"You're welcome, Andy," Julie sighed, placing her head on Andy's shoulder. She hadn't been kidding when she told Miranda that Andy was her first love. Almost automatically, the word that Andy had always used when speaking to someone she loved, passed through Julie's mind. Always.
Miranda stepped into the kitchen and stopped short. "Girls? This is a pleasant surprise." Continuing to the coffee maker, Miranda questioned their presence, "I assumed you would be at Andrea's." It was a very rare event indeed when her children deigned to share the morning meal with her. "Is she ill?"
"She said you told us not to." Caroline glumly spooned her cereal.
"What?" Miranda shook her head about to deny that when Cassidy spoke up.
"Remember? You told Andy we couldn't be there when she has guests." Cassidy glared past her bite of toast. They hadn't been allowed to eat breakfast with Andy and Julie the day after that proclamation, but had joined their hero every day since.
"Andrea has a guest?" Miranda kept her back to the girls as she prepared her coffee, unwilling to show them how much that thought hurt.
"Yeah..." Cassidy delighted in the news, "Julie and her husband stayed over last night. They have a flight out to the Bahamas later. Andy said it was their anniversary."
Miranda tried to process that information. "Husband? Anniversary?"
Caroline mumbled, "Yeah, some people actually celebrate the day they got married."
"Ro!" Cassidy smacked her sister on the arm, "Not cool."
With a sigh, Caroline looked at their mom apologetically, "Sorry, Mom."
"No." Miranda turned to face her children, "Caroline is correct. I regret that I haven't been able to provide you with a good example of a healthy relationship."
Cassidy tried to cheer her mom up. "Maybe next time?"
"Alas," Miranda took a sip of her coffee and tried to smile, "I fear there will not be a next time for me."
"Why not?" Caroline glanced down the hall toward Andy's door as Cassidy spoke.
"Yeah... what about Andy?"
Miranda choked a little on her coffee, "What?"
"Andy..." Cassidy insisted, "You guys would make a great couple."
"It would be highly inappropriate for me to become romantically involved with Andrea." Miranda swallowed hard, trying to calm her racing heart. The very thought of anything romantic associated with Andrea caused an excessive amount of heat to begin flowing through her veins. "Why would you even suggest such a thing?"
"Are you a homophobe, Mom?"
"Caroline! Of course not..." Miranda licked her lips and patted her chest, trying desperately to make her heart stop its frantic beat. She tried to explain with logic, "Andrea is far too young for me, and she is an employee..." Both girls seemed disappointed with that explanation.
Managing to slow her heart to acceptable pace, she questioned the girls' outlandishly wonderful idea, "Why would you suggest that I become involved with Andrea?" Two miniature Snow Queen glares turned on her.
"She's only the coolest person in the world." Caroline rolled her eyes. "Why wouldn't you want to be with her?"
Cassidy agreed, "In six years I'll be eighteen, then I can go out with her!"
"Andrea is far too old for you." Miranda clenched her teeth together. "At that point she would be thirty-two."
"At that point, we would both be of consenting age and it doesn't matter what the difference is." Cassidy scoffed as she stood. "I'm not going to let something like a few years keep me from being happy." Depositing her plate in the dishwasher, Cassidy motioned to her sister, "C'mon Ro, we'll be late."
Taking a few more bites as she carried her cereal bowl to the sink, Caroline dumped the rest down the garbage disposal and placed the dish in its proper spot in the dishwasher. "Right, behind ya, Sis."
Miranda watched them go, shaking her head to dislodge the thoughts the girls' comments had seeded there. Of course the idea of Andrea as a romantic partner was not new. She had frequently thought about that very thing, often at the most inopportune of times. For the girls to suggest it so flippantly though, without knowing what that kind of relationship would entail, what kind of trouble it would cause both parties involved, was just too much. They have no idea, Miranda thought sadly, even as the picture of Andrea's dazzling smile appeared in her mind.
Andy had finished her last assignment and was now mindlessly watching television. Not exactly watching really, just flipping through the channels. With a sigh, she rose from the couch and went to her little kitchenette. She really needed to go to the store again soon. Since Miranda had decided to stay away, the girls had only been eating breakfast with her here, lunch at school and supper with Miranda in their kitchen. So, not bothering with lunch, Andy had been lonely for her evening meal, for almost a month. She'd used most of her remaining supplies this morning to feed Julie and Marshall before they left to catch their plane and wasn't really up to the challenge of turning what little she had left into any sort of recognizable food. Grabbing the last half-pint of Ben and Jerry's from the freezer, Andy found a clean spoon and returned to the couch.
She had taken several bites and was about to take another when the phone in her sweatpants pocket vibrated, making her jump. "Whoa!" Setting aside the treat, Andy glanced at the caller ID and answered quickly, "Hello, Cass?" The girl's hushed voice surprised Andy.
"What? She's..." Andy blinked and then remembered Cassidy telling her that Miranda would stand in front of the door that connected the rooms Andy lived in with the rest of the Priestly home. "Oh!... um... really?"
"Yes!" Cassidy whispered, "She won't stay long... the last three times I haven't even had a chance to call you before she walked away."
"Okay." Andy smiled into the phone, "Thanks for telling me, Cass."
Tossing her phone on the table, next to the ice cream, Andy stood but had only taken one step toward the door when, surprisingly, a knock sounded on the wooden panel. Completing the journey, Andy opened the door and smiled. "Hello, Miranda."
"Andrea..." Without being asked, Miranda walked into the room, brushing past the stunned younger woman.
"Uh... won't you come in?" Andy completed the conversation with herself as she shut the door, "Why thank you Andrea. That would be lovely."
Miranda looked around the room suspiciously, "Your guests have gone?"
"Yes, they left before lunch for the airport. They're probably on some island beach sipping fruity drinks with paper umbrellas by now." Andy smiled at the thought as she settled back into her customary spot on the couch and patted the cushion next to her, "Would you like to sit?"
Sitting primly on the edge of the couch, Miranda folded her hands in front of her, resting them on her lap.
Andy gestured to the door as she put her feet up on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankles, "Why do you just stand outside my door, but never knock?"
"I.." Miranda began to shake, the white lock that always fell down the middle of her forehead gave her away. "How do you know that?"
"Cassidy told me." Andy shifted, tucking one of her legs under her so she could sit sideways to face Miranda. Locking eyes with the older woman, Andy informed Miranda. "She's seen you there several times before."
"I..." Shaking her head, Miranda reluctantly relaxed back into her seat. "I didn't realize she'd seen..."
"They're very smart children," Andy smiled at Miranda, "With you as their Mom, how could they not be?"
"Andrea," Miranda's nostrils flared, "I should not be here."
Andy grabbed Miranda's hand when the woman began to rise from the couch, "Wait... please." Dark eyes glittered as Miranda remained seated, "I've missed you."
"I've been busy."
"Bullshit," Andy almost grinned as Miranda's eyes widened at the epithet. "You've had dinner with the girls every night this week and you haven't joined us for breakfast since..." They both knew the event that had stopped Miranda's morning attendance in Andy's room. Tilting her head in question, Andy watched Miranda closely, "So why have you turned up at my door tonight?"
"I wished to speak to you this evening in regards to Cassidy."
"Oh?" Andy leaned toward Miranda, "Is she okay?"
Holding up her hand, Miranda nodded, "Yes, she's perfectly healthy." Licking her lips as Andrea visibly relaxed, Miranda continued, "She said something this morning that struck me as something we should probably discuss."
"Mmm..." Miranda watched Andrea carefully, "She mentioned the wish to date you," Suppressing a smile at the shock on her companion's face, Miranda added, "When she turns eighteen."
"Oh!" Andy chuckled, "Whew, you had me scared there for a minute." She smiled, "Six years away, Miranda. She'll change her mind by then."
Nodding, Miranda was relieved at Andrea's reaction to the idea and hesitantly brought up the other scenario her daughters had mentioned, wishing to know Andrea's reaction to that as well, "The girls also put forth another suggestion."
"They brought up the notion of..." Miranda hesitated for a heartbeat, "of, you and I being romantically involved."
"Ah," Sighing at that, Andy licked her lips and forced herself to speak, "I assume you assured them that would never happen?"
"You think not?" Miranda looked down at the fabric they were sitting on. It struck her how thinking something wouldn't happen and hearing it out loud were two different things.
"Miranda," Andy sighed and tipped her head back to rest it on the back of the couch. "You're the one who stayed away."
"I..." Miranda looked up, her breath catching as her eyes trained on the length of Andrea's exposed throat, "I didn't want to."
"No?" Turning her head, Andy focused on Miranda, "Then why did you?" Dark eyes hardened, "Oh, that's right because us dancing together to show your daughters how it's done was 'inappropriate'."
"That wasn't inappropriate, Andrea." Miranda found herself moving closer to the young woman, compelled by dark, liquid, eyes. "It was what I felt while we were dancing that was inappropriate."
"What did you feel, Miranda?"
Miranda shook her head, unable to understand the emotional swirl in her heart, or the jumbled thoughts in her head. Standing quickly, Miranda walked toward the door, "I need to go." Stopping just short of the threshold, Miranda turned to find Andrea mere inches away, "I'm glad we see eye to eye on the Cassidy, issue. Good night, Andrea." Her turn was stopped by Andrea's hand on her cheek. The warm fingers guided her gaze back to Andrea's face.
"Good night, Miranda. Don't stay away so long next time." Leaning in, Andy brushed her lips lightly against Miranda's then with a little more pressure as Miranda reciprocated.
Miranda found herself returning the kiss, her lips moving against Andrea's with increasing pressure until she realized what she was doing. Pulling away, before the kiss could deepen, Miranda quickly stepped backward, into the hallway, stunned by the gentle exchange. "Yes, well... good night, Andrea."
Holding on to the door, Andy never took her eyes off of Miranda's face, "Sweet dreams." Closing the door between them with a quiet snick of the latch, Andy slumped against her side of the door for a long moment before a brilliant smile lit her face, "Wow."
As the door closed between them, Miranda found herself wanting to re-create that kiss, but was instead left staring at the wooden panel for a long moment. Reaching up, she brushed shaking fingertips softly across her lips and just managed not to sigh, but she did mumble as she moved toward the stairs, "Sweet dreams to you too, Andrea."
Andy finished rereading the story she was working on then, satisfied with the end product, put down her dumbbell and saved the file. She had gotten into the habit of absently lifting the small weights while she read through her stories, scrolling through the text and making whatever edits needed with her free hand. She glanced at the clock. Midnight. Freelance writing played havoc with her schedule. Following the threads of thought to their conclusion often made for late nights. On the advantage side of the coin, freelancing also meant that she could get into her pajamas early in the evening to be comfortable while she worked. Plus she didn't have to actually be awake at any certain time, even in the middle of the week. She was just about to turn off the lights and head to bed when a tentative knock sounded on the door that connected her rooms to the rest of Miranda's house. "Come in?"
The door swung open to reveal Cassidy and Caroline. Andy took one look at the girls and melted, "Bad dreams?" At their solemn nods, Andy opened her arms wide and smiled as both children rushed toward her. This was the first time in a long while that they'd showed up at her door this late. She curled her arms around them and patted the backs of their heads, "It's okay now, it was just a dream..." She guided them to her little kitchenette table and ruffled their hair. "How about some hot chocolate?" She smiled as they nodded again and she busied herself making the warm drinks for them all.
"It was bad this time." Cassidy spoke quietly, "I was burning up."
Andy set gently steaming mugs in front of the girls and ruffled Cassidy's hair again, "It's okay, Tic. It was just a dream." She smiled as Cassidy nodded and blew on her drink. Turning to Caroline, she asked, "Tac? How 'bout you?" Tears sprang to her eyes as Caroline remained silent, but nodded slowly in agreement with her sister. From Caroline's reluctance to talk, Andy knew this had been a bad one for Caroline too.
Pressing her lips tightly together, Andy took a moment to compose herself before she also sat at the table. Cradling her own warm mug of cocoa, she asked the question she dreaded. "Where's your mom?" She hadn't seen Miranda in a week or so, not since that night when the older woman had confronted her about Cassidy's suggestion that she and Miranda date. She had kissed Miranda that night, and Miranda had kissed her back; then disappeared.
"She's..." Cassidy glanced at her sister then admitted to Andy, "...out."
"Oh." Andy knew it shouldn't hurt this badly. "I see."
"I don't." Caroline spoke for the first time since arriving. "Why is she out with someone else when you're right here?" Almost shyly, Caroline asked, "Do you want to...date Mom?"
"Yes, I do." Andy sighed, "Very much so."
"It's not only up to me." Andy warned the girls against getting too used to the idea and tried to explain Miranda's thinking to them, "Miranda has it in her head that I'm too young for her... or she's too old for me... whichever, it amounts to the same thing. She doesn't want to date me."
"Yes she does." Cassidy focused on the liquid in her cup. "She has for a long time. I don't know why she's being so stubborn about it."
"She's being practical. Thinking about something, wanting it, is often very different than actually doing or having it... " Andy ran her fingers through her hair, "Being, involved, with me would cause her a lot of problems with the press."
"Like she cares what the press says." Caroline glumly sipped her cocoa.
"I don't want to make her public life any more difficult." Andy sipped her cocoa. "She's in the papers enough as it is. She's been on Page Six three times this week already." Each time having dinner with a different guy. Andy watched as the girls finished their drinks, then they all dropped their mugs in the dishwasher and moved to the couch. Andy asked them, "Feeling a little better now?" She smiled when both girls snuggled in and nodded. "Good."
They all heard the rattle of the key in the front door even through the closed door that connected Andy's rooms to the rest of the house.
Cassidy whispered urgently, "Can I use your laptop?"
Andy nodded and gestured to the device in question. She closed her eyes, resting her head on the back of the couch, wishing she could close her ears so as not to hear the muffled voices in the hall.
"I need your password." Cassidy's voice was low but intense. "Please, Andy, your password."
With her brain focused on what might be happening outside her door, Andy answered absently, "Pretty Woman."
It took all she had to keep herself from running over and pressing her ear against the door to hear Miranda's good night conversation with her date. Suddenly she could hear the conversation clearly. Andy's eyes flew open but she didn't look at the door. Her attention was drawn to the computer screen Cassidy and Caroline's eyes were now riveted on. "What on Earth?" Andy shifted to the edge of her seat, also mesmerized, by the small black-and-white picture that showed the scene that was unfolding just outside her door. "How did you do that?"
Keeping her eyes on her mother, Cassidy explained, "It's the security cameras. They're basically webcams."
Caroline nodded, "Cass figured out how to tap into them. Even when they aren't broadcasting to the monitoring station."
"Huh?" Andy had not even realized the cameras were there.
"They're always on," Cassidy made a sweeping gesture to the air around her, "but they only send a signal to the monitoring station when the alarm goes off. This is how I know when Mom is standing in front of your door."
Andy wasn't listening. Her dark eyes were glued to the scene playing itself out on her computer screen. Miranda thanked the man for a lovely evening but frowned slightly as he caught her hand and brought it to his lips. Andy could have dealt with that, but then he pulled Miranda closer and held her there, his arms around her waist, suggesting they not end the evening yet. It killed her to know what was going to happen next, that Miranda wanted to kiss the guy, would lead him upstairs, but then she realized where Miranda's hands were; not on the man's back to pull him closer, but firmly on his chest. Miranda was protesting and pushing him away, at least trying to but he wasn't letting her go. That was enough for Andy, "Oh, Hell, no." Andy stood and issued an order to the girls, "Stay here." Before she could think about it anymore, Andy was through the door.
Miranda sighed to herself as she walked up her sidewalk arm in arm with her companion for the evening. Her mind instantly corrected that moniker, He's your date, Miranda, Get it right. Your handsome, intelligent, ever so boring, date. She wanted nothing more at this moment than to have this excruciatingly dull evening be over. His insistence on rehashing their former relationship had quickly become tedious at best. Their previous interactions had been built on superficial things, mutual interests that had changed over the years. He was very similar to the man she remembered, but she was not the same person she was when she lived in Paris and worked at French Runway. She had grown up. He had not. Without warning her brain chided her, Andrea would have been much better company this evening. Thoughts of Andrea always pulled up the memory of their last meeting, of when the young woman had kissed her, You kissed her back, she scoffed at herself, and then you ran, like a coward. Fumbling to unlock the door, Miranda wasn't fast enough to block him from entering the foyer. "David, thank you for a lovely meal. Again I apologize for making it so late, but you know my work has always taken priority over my personal life."
"Of course," David's light French accent thickened, "You are worth the wait."
"A charmer to the end..." Miranda chuckled at the man's tenacity. He had been playfully flirting with her all evening as she had suspected he would. Unfortunately even his best lines had no effect on her, other than to remind her how much she did not want to be there with him. There had been whispers though, filtering through the grapevine, of the young woman Miranda was housing and the press needed to be appeased. Photos of her out with some handsome, charming man who was at least close to her own age went a long way to silence even the worst gossips. David's forwardness at taking her hand pulled Miranda from her thoughts and she focused on his words.
"Why does it have to be the end?" Kissing the back of her hand, David suddenly pulled her to him and held her there. "Perhaps we could relive some of the old times we've been discussing?"
"Oh. No," Miranda was not prepared for this sudden aggressive behavior and only had time to put her hands up against his chest. "I think you should go now."
"Come now, Miranda. You would deny me a good night kiss? For old time's sake?" He leaned in as Miranda turned her face away from him, pushing hard against his chest. The sound of a door opening startled them both but their reactions were different. David released his hold, but Miranda pushed harder, propelling herself backward directly into Andrea's arms.
"Whoa!" Andy smiled as she wrapped her arms tightly around the older woman. "Easy there, I gotcha."
Miranda relaxed immediately and the feel of Andrea's strong arms around her rendered her speechless for a long moment. She dropped her own arms to the ones encircling her, clutching them firmly to her, not wanting Andrea to let go. The young woman's vibrant voice murmured in her ear.
Nodding in response, Miranda swallowed hard, shaken by David's unexpected aggressiveness. She took comfort from the arms around her and spoke in her usual confident manner. "David was just leaving."
Andy's dark eyes raked over the man even as she kept her arms wrapped tightly around Miranda, "Do you need help finding the door?"
David was visibly shocked to see someone else in Miranda's home. "Who are you?"
"Me?" Andy chuckled, "No one important. Just the nanny and part-time bodyguard."
Miranda closed her eyes as Andrea's chuckle vibrated through her. Even with David standing five feet away, this feels so right. Miranda marveled at the sensation of Andrea's warm solid body behind her and wanted to turn around, wanted to slide her arms around Andrea's muscular torso, wanted to feel the soft mounds of Andrea's breasts pressing against her chest, not her back. Most of all she wanted to feel Andrea's lips on hers again, "Just go David, our evening has concluded."
When David hesitated, Andy asked again, quietly, dangerously, "Do you need help finding the door?"
"No." David answered Andy then smiled and bowed to Miranda, "I enjoyed the evening. Perhaps we can do it again, the next time I'm in town?"
Miranda forced herself not to grimace at that thought, "I'll call you." She watched him slip out the door and closed her eyes as the lock clicked behind him. It was time, Miranda knew, Andrea was going to let go of her now. After standing there, for several heartbeats, Miranda became aware of the arms around her shaking. "Andrea?" She patted the smooth skin on the younger woman's trembling forearms, "You can let go of me now."
"No," Andy's voice sounded as shaky as her arms were, "I don't think I can."
"Andrea, release me." Miranda smiled as the arms around her loosened, then she frowned as they dropped away completely. The warmth behind her vanished as Andrea took a step backward. Turning to face the young woman, Miranda was confused at the terrified look on Andrea's face.
"I'm sorry, Miranda.. I... I didn't m...mean to..."
"Shhh..." Moving forward, Miranda slid her arms around Andrea's waist, and smiled as the young woman's strong arms again wrapped around her. Pulling away slightly, so that she could look Andrea in the eye, Miranda licked her lips and spoke quietly, "Thank you." She briefly tightened her hold, adding, "My hero." Focusing on Andrea's lips, Miranda began to lean in only to find Andrea again moving, backward.
"Um..." Andy bit her lower lip and gestured through the open door to her rooms. "You can come out now."
Miranda blinked when both her children appeared in the foyer, "Bobbseys?" She glanced at Andrea, "What are you doing in Andrea's rooms at this hour?"
Andy stepped between the children, placing one hand on each of the girl's shoulders, "They had nightmares." She spoke quickly, "I made them cocoa and they were about to go back to bed when you and..."
"Ah." Miranda gently brushed each girl's cheek with the back of her fingers and smiled softly at them, "Okay then, back to bed. I'll be up momentarily to tuck you in." She watched them walk slowly up the stairs then turned to Andrea, "Nanny, indeed."
Andy walked back into her living room, partially because she needed to sit down and partially to keep her distance from Miranda. Her arms ached to resume their hold on the woman and Andy knew she couldn't do that, or she'd never let go. "They're still having nightmares about the fire."
Miranda followed Andrea into her suite, "Yes, the therapist said that there would be flashbacks from time to time. It's normal after that kind of experience." Normal for all of us, she thought. Miranda sighed, she had thought the girls had moved past this particular phase of coping with that night. They had often experienced night terrors in the hotel but when they had moved into this house the bad dreams had reduced in frequency and then ceased, or so she thought.
"I wish I could spare them that." Andy took her usual seat on the couch. "I'm sorry they have to go through it."
"Andrea," Miranda sat on the couch next to the remorseful woman. "They are alive to dream, good and bad, because of you." Taking hold of Andrea's hands, Miranda stood and pulled the young woman to her feet. "Come with me."
Andy followed Miranda up the stairs, "Miranda.. I..."
"Shhhh..." Knocking lightly on Caroline's bedroom door, Miranda pushed it open tugging Andrea through the door behind her. Miranda spoke cheerily to her daughter, "All settled in?"
"Yes, Mom." Caroline's eyes glittered, "Hi, Andy."
"Hey, Tac." Andy smiled.
Caroline accepted a kiss on the cheek from her mom, "Good night, Mom."
Miranda nodded to her daughter then pulled Andrea forward by their still joined hands, and watched as Caroline also accepted a kiss on the cheek from her hero. She heard Andrea murmur, "Sweet dreams." They repeated the good night ritual in Cassidy's room before Miranda assisted Andrea back downstairs.
"Thank you, Miranda." Andy took a deep breath as she settled into her customary spot on her couch, "For allowing me say good night to them."
"They adore you," Miranda replied also settling into her customary seat on the couch. Stretching her arm along the back of the sofa, Miranda absently played with a few stray strands of Andrea's dark hair. "I'm sure they would love it if you would do it more often."
"I love them," Andy turned to face Miranda, "and I love..." Pausing for a moment, Andy looked into Miranda's eyes and finished her comment, "...that idea."
"Good." Before Miranda thought about it, her hand was moving a bit of hair away from Andrea's face. Her fingertips brushed the soft skin on Andrea's cheek and Miranda was fascinated by the texture. Tracing down along the young woman's jawline, Miranda only realized what she was doing when her fingers passed over the rapidly fluttering pulse point and Andrea whimpered softly. Reluctantly stopping her exploration, Miranda sighed. "I guess we need to talk."
Andy pressed her lips together and nodded. Her eyes closed as she rested her head on the back of the couch and her voice shook when she spoke. "Yeah, I guess we do."
Miranda watched her companion closely and thought Andy looked like a puppy preparing itself to be kicked.
"Miranda?" Andy's voice wavered, "Do we need to talk tonight? I'm... um... kinda tired."
Smiling softly, Miranda shook her head. "No, we don't need to speak tonight. It is late and I am tired as well." Standing slowly, Miranda walked to the door, aware of Andrea following fairly closely behind her. Opening the door, Miranda stood just inside the threshold and turned to face Andrea. "Thank you again, for helping the girls and for helping me with David."
"You're welcome, Miranda." Andy took a step forward, putting herself well within Miranda's personal space, "Always."
Miranda watched as Andrea seemed to melt a bit and then melted a bit herself when the young woman whispered softly.
"May I kiss you goodnight?"
Unable to speak, Miranda merely nodded and blinked as Andrea's lips moved forward to press lightly against her forehead. Miranda could feel herself trembling as Andrea's cheek brushed her temple and she could feel Andrea's breath against her skin as the young woman's mouth moved slowly across her cheek leaving a trail of heat in its wake. A tiny kiss at the corner of her mouth was too much for Miranda to take and she moved to meet Andrea's lips with blinding intensity. The softness was what first registered on Miranda's overloaded brain, the complete and utter softness of Andrea's mouth on hers was so different from any other kiss she'd ever experienced and oh so much better. More, her body demanded. More!
Deepening the kiss, Miranda moaned as the softness became wet heat, tongues caressing each other with a gentleness Miranda had never known. Another layer of sensation assaulted Miranda, She tastes like chocolate! It was fitting, perfect really, since both chocolate and Andrea were on Miranda's list of "Things Miranda Shouldn't Have". Miranda swallowed Andrea's groan and reveled in the feeling of long fingers reaching up to tangle themselves in her hair, loving the feeling of Andrea's hands cupping the back of her head, holding them securely together. This was not to be mistaken for a thank you kiss, nor could it be misconstrued as a simple good night kiss either. This was a declaration of love and it was good, right. No one but Andrea could make her feel so, complete. She hoped Andrea could feel it too, she wanted, needed, Andrea to feel it too. Miranda spent several moments trying to convey all she was feeling back to the young woman.
It took all of Miranda's considerable willpower and a growing lack of oxygen to pull herself away from the loving contact. Miranda was almost gasping for air as she reached up to touch Andrea's full lips longingly and surprised herself with a whisper, "It's late."
Resting her forehead against Miranda's, Andy nodded, as she also tried to control her breathing, "Yeah." Placing another gentle kiss on Miranda's forehead, Andy moved back a step and nodded, "Good night, Miranda." She licked her lips, swallowed hard and smiled. "Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams, Andrea."
"I don't know Jules..." Andy held the phone up to her ear with one hand and popped an M&M into her mouth with the other. "... I haven't seen her since." the kiss. She sucked on the tiny candy, allowing it to melt in her mouth slowly. "It's been three days..."
"You need to talk to her."
"Yeah.. I know that, and you know that. Hell... Miranda knows that..." Andy sighed, "But what do I say?"
"Tell her how you feel."
"Jules..." Andy sighed and laid another candy on her tongue, "What if I tell her how I feel, lay it all on the line, and she shoots me down? At least this way I can think I have a chance." A long silence prompted Andy to ask, "Jules? What if she shoots me down?" There was a sigh on the other end of the connection that echoed in her heart.
"Then you'll know."
"Oh God, Jules..." Andy could feel the terror building in her chest, "I'm not sure I'm ready to know."
"You need to know, Andy."
"Yeah, I do." Chewing slowly on the bit of mushy chocolate in her mouth, Andy leaned back, resting her head on the back of the couch, staring at the ceiling. "But I'm scared." She admitted quietly, "I love her, Jules."
"I know, Hon."
Andy was about to say something else when there was a light knock on the inner door to her rooms. Her heart nearly stopped because there was only one person that would be at that door. The girls were at their father's this weekend. "Gotta go, Jules. I'll call you later." Disconnecting the call, Andy laid the phone on the coffee table as she removed her feet from the surface and walked as fast as she could to the door. Opening it quickly, Andy held on to the edge to keep herself from taking Miranda in her arms. "Hello, Miranda."
"Andrea." Looking past the young woman's shoulder, Miranda asked quietly, "May I come in?"
Nodding, Andy smiled, "Of course." Gesturing her visitor inside, Andy waited for Miranda to take her usual seat on the couch before asking, "Would you like something to drink? A glass of wine?"
"That would be lovely. Thank you." Miranda watched as Andrea moved into the kitchen. "You're walking much better now..."
"Yes," Andy returned to the living room with two glasses and the bottle. "The physical therapy has done wonders." She sat in her usual spot on the couch and poured the wine, handing Miranda a glass.
"What do you do in the therapy?" Miranda sipped the wine and raised her eyebrows at the flavor. "Delicious."
Pouring herself half a glass, Andy set it aside as she thought about her response. Pressing her lips together for a moment, she began. "Exercises to stretch the scarred tissue, and..." Andy swallowed hard. She'd known this day would come, when she would have to fess up to the extent of her injuries. "...and relearning how to balance, with my feet as they are now. That's really what took so long for me to get back on my feet, the balance issue. It's not a problem anymore, now that I'm used to it." Taking a deep breath, Andy tried to smile, "You don't realize how important your little toes are, until they're gone." She flinched at the horrified look that instantly rose in Miranda's eyes.
"Mmmm... the burns were too extensive. They saved the rest of my toes, but my little ones... had to go." Andy shrugged and looked down at her sock covered feet, knowing that Miranda's eyes were also focused there. Since the girls were at their father's, Andy had not bothered to put on the thick socks she normally wore, or the bits of bandages that she used to simulate her little toes. The slightly deformed outlines of her feet were clearly visible under the thin fabric.
"Oh, Andrea... I'm..."
"No," Andy sighed and closed her eyes against the pity. "Please, don't say you're sorry," Opening her eyes, Andy looked directly into Miranda's liquid blue eyes, "because I'm not. I would gladly give up more than a couple of toes if it meant that the girls were safe."
"Andrea..." Miranda shook her head clearly changing her mind about voicing whatever it was she had been about to say. Setting her wine glass aside, Miranda stood, holding her hand out to the younger woman, "Dance with me." It was almost a command, but with just enough plea in the tone to make it irresistible.
Taking the offered hand, Andy stood, moving closer to Miranda, "There isn't any music."
Pulling Andrea into her arms, Miranda chuckled, sighing as their bodies fit together, "Of course there is." She rested her head on Andrea's shoulder as they began to sway, "Can't you hear it?"
"Oh," Andy rested her cheek against Miranda's soft hair, following Miranda's lead, "That music..."
They stood, swaying in each others arms until Miranda shifted and her lips found the pulse point on the younger woman's neck. With a frustrated groan, Andy pushed Miranda away.
"Don't." Andy kept her grip on Miranda's shoulder as she looked into the older woman's eyes, "Please don't, unless you mean it."
"Andrea," Miranda shook the hands off her shoulders and moved closer, "I mean it."
"You do?" Hope flared in Andy's belly.
Gently brushing the backs of her trembling fingers against Andrea's cheek, Miranda quietly assured her, "I most certainly do." Miranda smiled as Andrea's eyes closed and she moved into the touch. "I tried to deny it, but then you kissed me."
"And you kissed me."
Smiling, Miranda agreed, "And I kissed you..." She continued to softly caress Andrea's cheek, "Denial was no longer an option at that point. Not after what I felt for you during that kiss and after... " Miranda's eyes followed her fingertips as they trailed down the side of Andrea's neck, "You burned for me, Andrea," Lifting her gaze to meet Andrea's eyes, Miranda whispered, "And now, I burn for you."
Threading her fingers through the soft silver hair, Andy pulled Miranda's lips to hers. It was just like before, so soft. She licked delicately at Miranda's parted lips, tasting the trace of wine that lingered there. Deepening the contact, Andy explored Miranda's mouth with abandon, amazed that she'd been given the right to do so, fearful that this honor, this privilege, would be revoked at any moment. Andy pulled Miranda closer, wanting, needing, loving the feel of the petite woman in her arms. Breaking contact with Miranda's lips, Andy trailed kisses along the porcelain cheek and down Miranda's neck, delighting in the moans coming from the older woman.
"Andrea..." Miranda pushed away, slightly, "I need to sit..."
"Oh!" Guiding Miranda back to the couch, Andy leaned in again softly moving their lips together. She whimpered as Miranda pulled away. "Miranda?"
"I..." Shaking her head, Miranda reached for the hem of Andrea's shirt, "I need to... feel you."
Breaking eye contact long enough to pull the t-shirt over her head, Andy tossed it aside and moved closer as Miranda began to explore the newly revealed area. Andy's hands reached for the buttons on Miranda's blouse but she did not undo them. Instead she paused and searched Miranda's face intently before asking quietly, "May I?"
Andy had always hated her long gawky arms and awkwardly sized hands. She cursed them internally now as Miranda nodded and she fumbled with the buttons on the silk blouse. But then the fabric was parting and nothing else mattered as the whole of Miranda's creamy white skin presented itself to her. With a long, awed, exhale Andy moved in trailing kisses along the pale, smooth skin only just stopping herself from sucking the heat to the surface, unwilling to mar the pristine expanse.
"Andrea..." Miranda sighed, moving back slightly to look into the young woman's eyes. "Mark me."
Andy's heart was racing out of her chest. Unable to believe what she'd just heard, she whispered, "What?"
"Mark me, Andrea..." Miranda's tone was not to be denied. "Make me yours."
Much as a vampire would attack its prey, Andy moved in, locking her lips at the juncture where Miranda's neck met her shoulder. Andy closed her eyes at the sensation of heat building against her tongue. Mine.
Releasing the bruised flesh, Andy saw the mark and couldn't quite believe what she'd just done. One thing was completely clear in her head though. One thought made itself known above all others. Pulling Miranda to her as tightly as possible, Andy found Miranda's ear and breathlessly, unthinkingly, voiced the truth, "I love you, Miranda."
Her breathe caught in her throat as Miranda stiffened in her arms and as Miranda pulled away from her, a wailing cry began in the back of Andy's mind. Oh no!
"I love you, Miranda."
Miranda automatically tensed at those words. No one ever told her that without some ulterior motive. Pulling away slightly, Miranda melted at the mixture of terror and love she witnessed playing along Andrea's features.
"Miranda, I mean it." Andy spoke quickly, "And I don't expect you to feel that way for me, or say it back or anything... I just..." Andy reached up and gently outlined Miranda's face, "I just... needed to tell you." She sighed, "I just wanted you to know how I felt." Dropping her hand to her lap, Andy studied her fingers waiting for the worst.
"Why is it that when you're waiting for me to speak, you look like a puppy preparing itself to be kicked?" Cupping the young woman's jaw in her palm, Miranda gently lifted Andrea's gaze to meet her own, "I apologize for my initial reaction. It has never been my experience for those words to actually mean what they're supposed to mean."
Seeing Andrea's confusion, Miranda explained. "Only the girls can tell me that they love me and not have any other motive." A wry grin crossed her face, "Unless a gift giving holiday is approaching." Miranda took a deep breath, "Everyone else tries to use those words to manipulate me, to get what they want."
Andy's eyes darted to the darkened blotch on Miranda's neck, "I already have what I want."
"Do you?" Dubious about that, Miranda asked, "Is this enough?"
"I love you, Miranda." Andy sighed and put some distance between them. "You've already given me more than I dreamed you would."
"You realize there will be problems... your age...my age..." Miranda shook her head at the daunting span of years between them.
"I can't do anything about my age, or yours, Miranda." Andy reached out, lacing her fingers with Miranda's. "I only know that I'll love you, forever."
Ahh... a declaration made by the young. Miranda knew that love was rather amorphous, often changing as quickly as the clock ticked. "The fact that you are my assistant will most likely not escape attention..."
"What?" Miranda pulled her hand away from Andrea's, "You would leave me?"
"No," Andy shifted closer, resuming the hand contact, "Never you. But I will stop working at Elias-Clarke. In all honesty, I don't believe I can do the job you need me to, not with my feet..." Andy gazed into troubled blue eyes, "You need someone who can actually do the job required. Freelance writing suits me, and I make just as much doing that as I did as your assistant." Licking her lips, Andy focused on Miranda's lips and leaned in. "Any other protests?"
"Not at the moment," Miranda breathed as Andrea moved closer. "I'm sure I'll think of something later."
Grinning at that, Andy nodded and spoke just before their lips met again, "I'm sure you will."
Losing herself for a long moment in the kiss, Miranda thought, She always tastes like chocolate. Turning her head to break the kiss, Miranda asked, "What about Cassidy?"
"Miranda," Andy stood and offered her hand to assist Miranda up as well. "By the time Cassidy is eighteen, we will be celebrating our sixth anniversary..."
"Aren't we confident..." Miranda shivered as a thrill traveled down her spine at the thought. None of her relationships had ever lasted that long, but somehow she knew. This one will.
"Mmmm..." Andy began to lead Miranda toward the bedroom.
"Stop," Miranda tugged on their joined hand, pulling Andrea's attention away from the bedroom door, "Just where do you think you're taking me?"
Dark smoldering eyes met Miranda's and Andy smiled, "I'm taking you to my bed, Miranda."
Suddenly the room seemed far too warm, and when Miranda tried to fan herself with the fabric of her blouse she remembered that Andrea had removed it. Her skin felt fevered and for a moment she worried that she was becoming ill.
"Miranda, I burned for you and you said that you burn for me..." Pulling Miranda into her arms, Andy asked, "Don't you think it's time for us to burn together?" Looking directly into Miranda's eyes, Andy spoke quietly, "Burn with me, Miranda."
Miranda melted into the embrace, molding herself against the solid form. "I love you, Andrea."
With a smile that rivaled the sun, Andy kissed the silvery hair on Miranda's head. "Thank you for saying so."
"You're welcome, Andrea," Miranda continued to speak quietly as Andrea led her through the bedroom door, "Always."