It's the Only Life You've Got… Arc I
…so you better just live it

Author: raiderL
Pairing: Miranda/Andrea
Rating: M (or 18 or NC-17, take your pick)
Summary: One year after leaving Runway Andy and Miranda meet up again and realize that there is an undeniable attraction between them. That they both know that the bond between them is more than merely physical doesn't mean there aren't roadblocks, namely Miranda's trust issues and her daughters' acceptance.
I do not own the characters in created in either the book or the movie The Devil Wears Prada and I make no money off of this work of fan fiction. I am merely having fun, thinking "What if?" after the movie's end. Oh, there are a few characters in here that you may not recognize, they were created by me; please be kind and allow them to remain in their own little fantasy world.
Author's Note: I have taken liberties with some of the supporting character histories, names and characterizations so that they serve my own purposes, some of them (like Miranda's ex-husband) are names used in other fan-fictions so I tip my hat to whoever may have used it first.
Author's Note:
Thank you to bearblue for her awesome beta work and encouragement!
Archiving: Only with permission of the author.

Chapter Fourteen

It was now the second night since Andrea had come to dinner and Caroline could barely look her in the eye. Dinner tonight had been as the night before, the girl barely touched her food and asking to be excused in a formal manner. The editor was frustrated; her days had been scheduled with absolutely no room for anything, barely a bathroom break, yet still she arranged to be home for dinner at six. The compromise was once dinner was over she would then have to retire to her office for overseas business calls to the west coast or the Pacific Rim that would take anywhere from one to two hours of her time and then she still had to review The Book.

Adding to her edginess was the fact that she had spoken to Andrea exactly once and when she did she was unfortunately abrupt and distracted but nearly too exhausted to care; she just had to hope that the younger woman understood.

So she found herself once again in her study, The Book in hand, making minimal progress due to the overwhelming incompetence of some in her art department. She decided that that new graphic designer must be color-blind and was marking a post-it note with just that observation when she heard hesitant footsteps make their way down the hall and stop just at the threshold to the room.

When she looked up it was to see Caroline leaning against the doorjamb, watching her intently. "Hello Caroline." She kept her voice free of intonation, wanting to give her daughter whatever room she needed.

"Cassidy said I'm being an ass."

"Did she now?" It was on her tongue to reprimand the mild swear word, but that was not the important thing right now.

"Yeah. She said I just needed to get over myself and let you live your life."

"Hmm, that does sound like our Cassidy doesn't it?" She stood from her desk and walked over to the sofa. "Would you come in and sit with me please?"

Judging by body language she could tell her daughter was hesitant and it made her feel very sad. She vowed to try to ignore her own feelings at the moment and try to help her daughter sort through her own. They sat in silence for several moments and when nothing more was forthcoming she prompted gently. "Do you think you would be able to express how you've been feeling?"

The girl looked away for a moment. "I'm really angry mom. I mean seriously? She's a woman and she's like what? Half your age? Everyone is going to laugh. I'm so sick of people saying shit to us about you and now? This is going to be horrible!"

The older woman tried to interrupt but Caroline was on a roll. She jumped up, flailing her arms in the air. "I mean mom, does this mean you're a dyke! I know why you were so late the other night, you had to go over and fu…"

"Caroline Anne Priestly, don't you dare say what was going to come out of your mouth!" The older woman practically shouted and it caught the ranting girl by surprise; their mother never yelled at them, ever. Of course she realized she had never acted like this either and had the good sense to feel embarrassed.

Miranda, even in her anger noted the embarrassed flush to her daughter's cheeks. Good, she should feel bad. "I don't know what has gotten into you, but if I ever hear this kind of talk coming from your mouth again I will ground you with absolutely no electronics or computers for a month, do you understand? I know you're upset with me but that does not give you the right to treat me with such little respect. I am not a dyke; or maybe I am a dyke, in the end that label is not for you to decide nor is it your right to wield it like a weapon. I have raised you better than to be a bigot!" Caroline flushed further and the editor forcibly willed herself to pull it together as she felt she was beginning to lose it again. She closed her eyes and counted, something she had not had to do with her daughters for some time now.

Caroline saw the action and recalled the last time her mother had been forced to calm herself, she had gotten into a fight with someone after the last divorce when they had called her mother some hateful things. And here she was, no better. She felt horrible and began to cry.

"I'm sorry mom! I don't hate you! I just don't understand! And I hate when I get made fun of and this is going to be so embarrassing, I just know it!"

Her mother moved forward and embraced her, pulling the now distraught girl into her arms and kissing the top of her head. "Baby, I know, I know this is going to be hard. But I'm not doing it to hurt you." She rubbed the girl's back and rocked them both gently, feeling as her own tears, which had been present since the outburst, finally broke free. "Shh, your mother has you, I love you…" Her voice broke slightly. "…that's not going to change."

She heard Caroline mumbled something against her chest and she pulled back. "What's that darling? I didn't hear."

"Why mom?" The young girl was looking up with watery eyes and a red nose.

"Why what?" She smoothed away the tears with her thumbs even as she noted the wonder in her daughter's eyes.

"Why are you seeing her and why are you crying?"

Miranda left her daughter's embrace and retrieved a hand full of tissues from a box sitting next to her desk. She handed several to Caroline then sat down on the couch and dabbed at her eyes. "I'm crying because I'm very sad right now. I'm sad that I've hurt you, even though I have not intended for you to be hurt. I'm upset because of your anger, it hurts me. I'm confused because I love you girls like nothing else in life but there is this other person who, in retrospect, has been very important to me for the past two years and I'm afraid that by accepting her in my life I'll be jeopardizing my relationship with you. I'm worried you'll not forgive me for continuing to see her because I don't know that I can stop seeing her." Caroline had stopped crying and calmed down enough to sit next to her on the couch. Miranda struggled with how much to reveal, she was only twelve, but old enough to understand.

"As for why I'm seeing her; it's like I cannot not see her. I feel so many things when I'm with her, so many things I've not felt before. It's almost a type of madness…" When it looked like Caroline was going to interrupt she explained. "…wait, I hate to say this to you but when you are older, you will understand. You will meet people in your life who will affect you on such a deep level that you will be forever changed. If you are really lucky you will meet that someone who you can't stay away from, that the attraction will be so strong that it is like a physical binding. Someone who knows you almost better than you know yourself. Someone who only wants for you to be happy and will do everything in their power to make it so. Someone who will wrap themselves around your heart like a blanket and soothe away all the pains you've accumulated in your life.

"You will meet many people in your life who will satisfy one of those things but it is a very rare and precious gift to find someone that embodies all of those things and more. When you find that, if you're lucky enough to realize you've found it, Caroline, it's not something I would ever want for you to ignore, no matter the package in which it comes. Male, female, black, Hispanic, whatever it won't matter to me when you find that because I love you and want you to be happy."

She reached out and brushed back strands of red blond hair, tucking it tenderly behind an ear. "This thing with Andrea is still early and there are going to be issues that arise, it is a very improbable match for me I know this, but sweetie, I have to try. I want to try and it would help so much if you and your sister would support me, or at least not hate me, for needing to do it."

"I'll try mom. But, I don't know, I just don't want to be made fun of."

"Oh sweetheart, I know." Miranda's heart ached; she remembered what it felt like to have her own peers be so cruel. She had sworn she would protect her daughters and here she was her own decisions creating just that possibility. But what could she do? Eventually it would come out, someone, somewhere would see something and then it would be out. And yet, the alternative, to not allow this to continue, when imagined nearly broke her. She sat staring into space long after Caroline had retired for bed.

l l l l l l l

Andy was starting to worry. And when she worried her concentration started to slip; she was in the office on a Saturday morning because she couldn't finish her deadline the day before. She had not heard from Miranda since Thursday, the two voicemails she had left and several texts, all unanswered. She knew the editor's life was ridiculously busy, more so because of her duties as chair of Elias-Clarke, but this felt like something different. She knew something was wrong; and had spent the last forty-eight hours combing through every conversation in their short re-acquaintance, every nuance within those conversations all in an effort to get to the root of why Miranda would not be in contact. It all came back to her daughters and that thought depressed her more than any other because they would be the one reason that her editor would reconsider.

She could barely make herself form the thought; that this miracle in her life would somehow walk away and leave her to a life that would be forever dull without the formidable woman.

Fuck! She returned her eyes to the screen, reviewing the story she had somehow managed to cobble together. It wasn't horrible, but certainly not her best; but it would be accepted so she hit send and decided she needed to get the hell out of there as the walls were starting to close in on her.

When she passed through the heavy wooden doors and out into the harsh cold sun she had no destination in mind; so picked a direction and began to walk. For twenty minutes she walked at a relentlessly steady pace, unseeing of those she passed and unmindful of the urban landscape, so was surprised when her stride began to slow and she looked up to find she was near to Miranda's townhome. Perfect. No, not really perfect at all; she was not after all a stalker.

But she was far enough away that she could still turn around and find the nearest subway entrance, it would be a little warmer down there. At least the wind, which she just noticed had increased substantially, wouldn't be stinging her cheeks like sand on a beach. Of course if she went home it would solve nothing, if she showed up unannounced perhaps she would at least get some answers. If Miranda were home. If she would speak to her.

Why she doubted that the woman would see her she couldn't exactly say; it was just that damn feeling again. A heavy sinking loss in the pit of her stomach that gnawed at her; perhaps she should call one of her friends instead but without more information it would be an effort in futility, mulling over what ifs.

She paced for a few moments, hoping the movement would somehow keep the sinking cold at bay. No, there was only one real source of warmth for Andrea Sachs now and she couldn't very well get it if she didn't at least try.

Squaring her shoulders and reminding herself that she was an equal partner in this, whatever it was, she turned her body in the proper direction and increased her pace. She would have an answer, one way or the other and then something to work with.

What she did not prepare for was that when the door opened and she was invited in to the blessed warmth that she would find herself fifteen minutes later sipping hot cocoa in the kitchen with two twelve year olds as Miranda was at Runway and Cara grocery shopping.

It was really very awkward. The girls kept looking at her and she kept looking back at them, each trying to figure out what to say. Andy, since she was the adult, decided to at least attempt to get something going so tried for the most innocuous thing she could think of.

"So, did you guys finish your holiday shopping yet?" She mentally slapped herself for sounding like an idiot and knew the fact of it when they both rolled their eyes.

"Okay, sheesh, cut me a break here guys, this isn't easy!"

Twin heads whipped in her direction and Caroline shot back. "Easy? What about us? You're mom's girlfriend! And how old are you? Twenty?"

Andy was caught completely off-guard, mouth gaping like a landed bass. Some part of her brain registered that she at least had her answer to what was going on even if the rest of her seemed frozen. She would think later that the only reason she snapped back without any thought at all was because her filter had frozen along with everything else. "I'm twenty eight, dammit! And yes, the last time I checked", she actually pulled the collar of her turtleneck out and peeked at her chest, "I was still a girl!"

Cassidy giggled at this but yelped as Caroline gave her a harsh kick.

"Do you always physically abuse your sister Caroline?"

"Only when she's not helping." Caroline crossed her arms and pouted.

"What's she supposed to be helping with?" Andy was starting to get her equilibrium back and saw this as an opportunity to maybe help the girls feel better about the situation.

"The one where you go away and not come back." Caroline stood up so fast the stool teetered and nearly toppled over, it was only Andy's quick reflexes that kept it from knocking the extremely angry pre-teen to the floor.

"Hey, careful, you could have hurt yourself." Andy lowered the volume of her voice, trying desperately to not let the outburst hurt as bad as it did.

"What do you care? All you want is mom's money! That's why you're with her isn't it?"

"What? Why would you even think that?"

"That's what all of dad's girlfriends want, someone to buy them things and make it so they never have to do anything. We see it all the time don't we Cass?"

"Uhm, yeah?"

Andy blinked over at Cassidy's response and she could see that maybe Cassidy really wasn't having as big a problem with all this as her sister.

Caroline stomped her foot again and snorted. "Oh sure, don't help! What is wrong with you? Do you want us to be the laughingstock of our school?" She practically shrieked causing both Andy and Cassidy to physically shrink back.

"Jesus, Caro! Drama! What about Mandy's two moms or Angeline's two dads? No one cares!"

"They're not famous! Page 6 didn't write about them, they didn't care!"

Andy realized that this was going nowhere extremely quickly, as the girl was becoming increasingly distraught.

"Caroline, please, you don't know that it's going to be like that. And we're not planning on taking an ad out in the Post anytime soon. Would you please come back and sit down?"

The girl quieted, but stomped over to the kitchen counter and leaned sullenly against it.

"Okay, you put some really serious accusations out there that I would like the opportunity to dispute. Would you listen please to what I have to say?" Andy worked on keeping her face as open as possible and her words soft and respectful.

When nothing more was forthcoming the reporter took that as her cue to continue.

"You accused me of being with your mother for money or whatever other thing you think it is I want from her. I can tell you right now there is only one thing I want from her and that's her heart. I love your mother."

"Oh please…"

Andy cut her off. "No, I listened to you; I am asking that you give me the same courtesy."

"Why should I?"

"You love your mother and want what's best for her don't you?"

The angry girl rolled her eyes, but still managed a slight nod.

"Okay then, I'm telling you the truth. Your mother is the most amazing woman and I've been in love with her for probably about two years now, but I never thought it could be returned. When we saw each other again it was…" Andy smiled and her eyes misted. "…like the entire world was suddenly possible." Her voice trailed off and the smile receded.

"And now, now that I've not heard from her since Thursday, it's like all of my world has crashed in on itself and it's very dark. That's why I came here today; I was hoping to talk to her. She hasn't returned my calls and I don't know why. I keep trying to figure out what I did wrong. This has nothing to do with money, or with having a free ride. I'm building my own career, I have a comfortable apartment in a decent neighborhood, I have friends, I have family but without your mom and this fear that I might lose her, I feel like I have no joy." Andy really tried to not let the tears fall, but a few did anyway. Oh god, why did I go there with them? They're only twelve! She looked up in time to see Caroline's face right before she ran out the room; she looked traumatized or something. Great! Good job Sachs! She looked over at Cassidy who still hadn't moved, but had a really strange look on her face.

"Uhm, I'm sorry. You all didn't need that, I just, uhm. Is she going to be alright?"

"Caro will get over it; at least I hope she does. I like you."

"You do?" Andy was stunned.

"Yeah; you don't talk to us like we're stupid and you were honest. That's different. It's all different." She frowned and Andy stood beside her and gave her a brief hug. "I know sweetie, it's different for all of us, but I think the only way we can get through this if we work together. Although maybe I've just been wasting your time; maybe your mother has decided she doesn't want to be with me. In which case, this has been a total waste and I apologize for putting you guys through it."

Andy started to put her coat on and Cassidy looked confused. "Are you leaving?"

The older woman paused for a moment to dig out her gloves. "Well, yeah, I basically came in here uninvited."

Cassidy glared at her.

"What?" Andy was trying to figure out what she said wrong this time.

"We invited you in."

"Well yeah, but your mom would probably not appreciate me being here without her."

"Are you going to tell her you were here?"

"Of course, lying wouldn't be right."

"Wow, this is going to be different."

"What do you mean?"

"Stephen used to try to bribe us to not tell mom stuff."

Andy snorted. "Stephen was an asshole."

Cassidy laughed. "Yeah, he was." The girl looked suddenly serious.

"Andy? Mom wants to be with you."

The tears returned to Andy's eyes. "Yeah? You think so?"

"I know so. Just be patient, alright?"

Oh my god, I have a twelve year old telling me to be patient! She chuckled at the surrealness of it all and for a moment pondered whether or not that was even a word, then decided it didn't matter. "I can do patience. Your mom's worth it." She smiled. "Thanks sweetie."

And then she was back out into the cold, only this time it didn't seem to be as bad and when she entered her empty apartment, the fear was still there, but at the moment, manageable. She had a better picture of the situation and she would just have to wait; Miranda was worth everything.

l l l l l l l

Miranda arrived home about fifteen minutes after Andy left to find Cassidy in the kitchen helping Cara put groceries away. She walked over to the girl and gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head. "Hello Bobbsey did you have a good morning?"

Cassidy shrugged her shoulders and affected nonchalance. "It was fine."

"Hmm, was it now?" She eyed her daughter who had yet to make eye-contact with her. "Cara? How was your morning?"

"Busy, I really hate to do the shopping on the weekend but with my mother being ill..."

"Yes, how is she doing?"

"Better, they've moved her out of ICU and she's now in her own room, making progress. She should be able to go back to her own apartment in a few days." Cara's mother had a serious bout with pneumonia the week before which had required Cara to be out of the Priestly household frequently. Fortunately, she had several siblings in town that were also available.

Miranda watched her daughter's manner as she conversed with the housekeeper. "Well if you need more time, just let me know. I take it you know that you will not be required on Tuesday or Wednesday?"

Cara smiled, "Thank you, you've been a lifesaver this past week."

Miranda merely nodded and turned to Cassidy who was half way through the study.


The girl stopped and waited as her mother entered the room.

"Is everything alright?"

The girl's shoulders drooped and she replied sheepishly. "Andy was here."

At the younger woman's name the editor's heart began to beat faster and she gently lowered herself into the sofa cushions. "She was?"

"Yeah, she came to talk to you."

"Did she now?" Miranda knew she was treating the reporter unfairly but just couldn't bring herself to act differently. She had been experiencing a very uncharacteristic bout of indecisiveness where the woman had been concerned and it seemed to only compound with each passing day.

"Yeah. We asked her in and made hot chocolate, she looked really cold."

The older woman marveled at the kindness of her girls, despite their obvious misgivings about the whole affair. She remained silent and waited for daughter to continue.

"Mom, why haven't you called her?"

Miranda closed her eyes. "It's complicated."

"She's upset."

"What did she say?" She sounded more defeated than Cassidy had ever heard before.

"That she was worried she messed something up and wanted to know what was going on." She watched her mother's face as she delivered the next part. "And that she loves you."

Miranda was slack jawed. "How on earth did you girls get to talking about something so serious?"

Cassidy hemmed and hawed for a few moments. "Well Caroline got angry and accused her of only being with you for your money and then said some other stuff."

Miranda's face had gone still as a rock, Cassidy gulped, never a good sign. "Stuff, Cassidy? Really, have I not taught you better than that?"

"She got really mad and went off, screamed at Andy that she was too young and wanted you to take care of her and that she didn't care we'd be all over Page 6."

Miranda was reminded again that the minds of twelve-year olds didn't always behave in consistent or rational manners. "What did Andrea do?"

"She was really cool mom. She didn't get all freaked or anything, just tried to talk to her. That's when she explained that she wasn't interested in what you could give her, she only wanted you. Well, she did say she wanted something."

Miranda felt like she had been dropped down the rabbit hole. "Yes?"

"Your heart. That's when she said she loved you."

Miranda leaned back in the cushion and put the heels of both hands over her forehead. If she hadn't been wearing mascara she would have scrubbed at her eyes which were now burning with unshed tears. She felt the cushion dip next to her and two hands placed softly on her thigh.

"Mom? Why haven't you called her? Is it because of Caro and me?"

Miranda was too distracted to correct the young girl's English and looked at her daughter. "I said before, it's complicated."

"I like Andy, mom. It's okay with me."

"And what of your sister?"

"She got really upset and ran upstairs."

"What made her so upset? Did Andrea say something?" Miranda felt her hackles rise; no matter how she felt about the younger woman, no one was allowed to speak harshly to her children.

Cassidy noticed the edge in her voice and soothed her. "No mom, not anything bad. She asked Caro if she loved you and wanted what was best for you and then she told us how sad she'd been since you hadn't called or anything. Then she cried."

"Caroline cried?"

"No mom, Andy did and then Caro ran out of the room and I haven't seen her since."

"You didn't go and see if she was alright?"

"No mom, she pissed me off."

"Cassidy, language!"

The girl rolled her eyes. "She can be such a drama queen sometimes! And she screamed at both Andy and me, when I wouldn't gang up on Andy. Mom, are you going to call her?"

"I don't know darling, there are so many things to consider."

"But you love her and she loves you!"

"Yes, and I told you before, love isn't always enough."

Cassidy let out an exaggerated sigh. "Adults make everything so hard!"

Miranda stood. "Life is sometimes hard. I'm going to go find your sister."

"You're not going to yell at her are you?"

Miranda smiled slightly. "I thought you were mad at her?"

"Well, yeah, but I don't think, I don't know."

Miranda gave her daughter a hug. "You're a sweet girl. I love you."

"I love you too, mom."

l l l l l l l

Caroline's door was closed and she didn't answer with her light knock so Miranda pushed it open and peeked in. The room was somewhat dark but she could see a small figure huddled on the bed.

"Caroline darling, may I come in?"

The only response was a slight sniffle so the she entered the room and settled next to her on the bed. "Caro?" She brushed away the hair that had fallen over her face and then the tears that had mostly dried.

"I'm sorry mom." She sniffled again and then the tears restarted.

"Oh baby, come here." The concerned mother gathered her child up and held her while she cried.

Once the tears slowed again the girl hiccupped and pulled out a wet tissue and blew her nose. "Did Cass tell you?"

"She told me that Andrea was here and saw you both." She continued to keep an arm around her child, needing to feel the connection.

"I know I said I'd try, but then I said some mean things and I'm sorry."

"Can you tell me what happened, why you said what you did? We're you trying to hurt her on purpose?"

The girl gave pretty much the same accounting as did her sister but added. "When she asked me if I loved you and wanted what was best for you, I realized that I was being really selfish and that I was hurting you. You hadn't talked to her since we talked on Thursday and it's my fault! I made her cry and you've been sad and I'm sorry." She said this last part in a sniffling whisper and continued.

"I was mean and she didn't yell or say anything nasty. She just talked to me like she would talk to one of her friends. She said she loved you and she looked so sad. You need to talk to her mom."

Miranda was caught flat-footed and was reminded, for the hundredth time since they'd entered their pre-teen years, just how complicated growing girls could be. "I do? You think I should talk to her?"

"I know I said I wanted her to go away, but I don't know now. I'm really confused, but I think I do; she makes you happy, right?"

And there it is, the heart of it, leave it to her daughters to see so clearly; and happy? Well, she was realizing that the young woman really did make her happy if the absence of her led her to feel so much of the opposite. "Yes dear, but I don't want to be happy if it would be at you or your sister's expense."

"But then I would be maybe happy and then you would be sad. That's stupid."

"No, it's not stupid. You girls mean everything to me."

"Well then I think I could learn to be happy with Andy around. She was okay today."

"Okay?" The yo-yo of emotion that had tethered Miranda's heart started to level out and the maddening indecisiveness felt as though it was lessening. She chuckled lightly. "I guess okay is pretty good?"

Caroline rolled so her head rested in her mom's lap and she looked up. "Yeah mom. Will you call her?"

"I'll think about it."

"She could come over for dinner tonight."

Miranda stared at the mercurial girl incredulously.


"Would you really be alright if she were to come over tonight?"

"Yeah mom." Then sheepishly added. "Besides, I need to apologize."

l l l l l l l

Andy plopped down in one the comfy overstuffed chairs in her living room, surveying the now pristine surroundings. Unable to remain in one place she had vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed and just about sanitized her entire space and allowed herself some small satisfaction that it looked even better than when she had first moved in. Small comfort. Too bad the intense physical activity didn't diminish her worry over what her erstwhile lover's next actions would be.

She bent forward and unwrapped the hair shammy from her wet head and set about dragging the excess moisture out. She had showered, in the sparkling clean tub, and was now thinking about dinner. Alone. Her friends were occupied as she had kept this night open to spend with the editor. She had some frozen dinners stashed for emergencies or she could hit the corner bistro for carry out. But nothing appealed.

She flung the towel over her shoulder and headed to the kitchen, deciding that another glass of wine would do nicely. The bottle was considerably lighter than when she had started her cleaning routine, indeed only a few sips splashed into her glass which she promptly finished off with one toss.

She was disgruntled to see it was her last bottle so searched for other refreshment, knowing that getting drunk wouldn't solve anything but she wasn't going to solve anything sober either so shrugged and pulled the bottle of Ketel One from her freezer. A few ice cubes and a splash of club soda did the trick and she headed into her bedroom to change and then dry her hair.

She was on her second glass, feeling even more disconsolate, staring at the pizza carryout menu when a soft knock, barely heard over the strains of Chopin's Nocturne No.2 in E-flat major, broke her from her trance.

Why does this damn thing have to move so slowly? The editor was loathe to admit it but she was nervous. What if the other woman had decided that she'd had enough? That a fifty-one year old mother with twin mood-swings was just a little too much to deal with? She tapped her foot and pursed her lips, but after a few moments decided that wasn't the proper frame of mind so attempted to adjust herself. When the doors finally parted she exited with relief only to find her steps falter. Maybe she should have called; maybe showing up out of the blue wasn't such a good idea. Deciding that it was ridiculous to second-guess her gut instincts she walked the short, dimly lit hall and knocked on the white painted door.

It took a few moments for Andy to realize that since there was knocking she needed to actually remove herself from her seat and answer. What she couldn't figure out was whether or not she had actually called for a pizza delivery and how, if she did, they managed to get in. Both the alcohol and the curiosity of it all spurred her to answer without checking the peephole. Just as her hand was closing on the doorknob a louder pounding made her jump and she flung the door open with a pissed off, "Jesus Christ! Alright, already!" When she looked up to glare at the offender she found herself ensnared by the chilling steely blue of eyes she had missed so desperately.

The older woman had waited uncomfortably after her first knock. She could hear the strains of a piano concerto through the door so realized perhaps her efforts were unheard and tried again, this time with a bit more force. She started when the door flew open with a loud reprimand which brought her hackles up immediately.

The two women stood in startled surprise, staring for some minutes until finally Andy shrugged and turned away from the open door, indicating without formal invitation for her to follow. Andy plopped back onto the sofa, hearing the door close. She picked up her drink and stared at its remnants for a moment before motioning for the other woman, who stood still in the doorway into the living area, to come in and have a seat.

Miranda had a sudden flashback to the last time she crossed this threshold and shivered to think she had actually been contemplating letting this slip through her fingers. She settled on the couch, leaving enough space so they could converse comfortably unsure of why this all was suddenly so hard. She watched as Andrea finally looked at her, but was disturbed that she could not read the usually so open countenance.

The silence stretched between the two like a chasm, the music settling like fog with Andy swirling the ice and taking an occasional sip. She looked up after polishing off the drink.

"I was hoping you'd like to come back with me and have dinner at the house." The older woman hesitated.

Andy looked at the woman as if she'd suddenly turned green and sprouted horns. She picked up the remote and clicked the MP3 player off. The sudden silence was nearly as jolting as Andy's tone. "Miranda, what's going on?"

Pursed lips were her response and Andy groaned.

"Okay, look, here's what I know so far. I come to dinner earlier this week and the girls end up not being happy about our new arrangement then you come here that night and we have the most amazing sex I've ever experienced. I tell you I love you, with, by the way, no expectation that you had to return the sentiment; then, just about nothing. I hear from you exactly once and you were distant and then you didn't return any of my calls or texts; when I finally can't take the not knowing anymore I go to your house and one of your daughters goes supernova on me and runs out then you show up here unannounced. Oh, before I forget, I've been drinking so…"

Between the inscrutable looks and the sudden expulsion of speech, it was on the tip of the editor's tongue to lash out at the young woman, but she chanced one more glance and saw all of the hurt, uncertainty, fear and yes, even hope, mirrored right back at her. So she paused and held the unwavering gaze then, for the second time in two weeks, uttered a phrase few but her daughters had ever heard.

"I'm sorry."

Andy bit her lip, betrayed by its trembling, and reached out as if to cup the other woman's face but let her hand drop at the last moment. There really was only one response to a declaration such as this from the woman who apologized to no one. Acceptance. Yes, she needed some clarity, but considering everything was a bit muddled right now she wasn't sure she was in the proper frame of mind to ask for it coherently. So, what else was there to do? She wasn't about to let this woman walk out of her life.

She swallowed and said simply "I forgive you."

Miranda felt as though the press of a million weights had been lifted from her and she folded into welcoming arms, wrapped in an embrace that spoke of love and care. She hadn't realized how badly she needed this, the warmth melting away this newest wall of reserve she had constructed around her heart.

They sat quietly absorbing the comfort, each inhaling the scent of the other, allowing racing hearts and fears to settle. "I was very close to ending this." When she felt the woman wrapped around her flinch she stroked her hand along the sleeve of a cotton jersey and snuggled in deeper. "I've been very conflicted; one of my babies was hurting and I was the cause. You remember what I said about being the subject of ridicule by my peers because of my father? I had a moment of absolute clarity that I was doing the same thing. And yet I couldn't bring myself to do it. I couldn't tell you that I needed to make it better for my girls, so I just said nothing." She closed her eyes and let out a sigh then a slightly bitter chuckle. "Not one of my finer moments."

Andy kissed the silver hair, sobriety had begun its return when she had wrapped her arms around the woman in her embrace. "I know we've only just started this and I know you have so little time in your life, but something in me could feel that there was something different, something wrong. That's why I went to your house today. I just needed to know."

She looked down and the other woman shifted so she could meet Andy's eyes. "I didn't even plan it, I had been at work, but needed to get out so started walking and just ended up there. I didn't even know you weren't home until I was sitting in the kitchen and Cassidy was putting water on to warm me up." The reporter paused for a moment, gathering her courage. "So, you've decided, I take it?"

Andy's words were deceptively simple, but Miranda could feel the tenseness. "I don't think I had ever really decided otherwise than to continue this, but my daughters compelled me to take action. I am here to ask you to come to dinner tonight, so, are you available?" She said the latter with a soft smile which Andy returned.

"Considering I thought you were the pizza delivery guy…"

"Ah, yes, so eloquently welcomed into your home…"

Andy laughed, "Yeah, well, I didn't think I'd actually called an order in, but…" She looked sheepish, "I had kinda set my sights on a liquid pity party of one and some greasy carbs as my entertainment and sustenance for the evening, so…" She shrugged.

"So, would you be so kind as to allow me to escort you to a meal and the company of three Priestly women?"

Andy leaned in and kissed the woman's forehead, affecting a rather horrible upper tier accent. "Madam, I'd be delighted."

l l l l l l l

The drive to the townhouse was fairly quiet; Andy still feeling the lingering effects of the alcohol and Miranda the relief that she hadn't managed to completely screw it all up.

"So you're sure they're going to be okay with me being there?"

"Andrea, honestly? I am sure of nothing right now. Cassidy, yes. But Caroline? She's been all over the place. I know it's partly my fault, when Stephen and I divorced she had a difficult time dealing with the fallout from the media and some of her classmates. She is very sensitive to what others say and I've been at a loss as to how to make it better for her."

"It's a tough age. All you want to do is fit in, not be different; I know how difficult it was for me back then. I sensed that I was different, that I liked girls more than I liked boys, but I was really afraid of what everyone would think about me so I let it rule who my friends were and who I dated."

"So you believe you are gay?"

Andy laughed a full bodied laugh. "You mean I'm not just gay for you?"

The older woman took her hand from the gear shift and swatted her companion. "Be serious! I know you'd said that you had started dating women, but, well, we have yet to talk about how this fits."

"Yeah, I'm pretty much a lesbian. Nate and the other men in my life were more the aberration, me trying to fit in. Thank you by the way."

"For what?"

"For that Bill Blass suit. Hmmm. When I followed you into James' studio for that viewing, rode the elevator up with you, that was the day I realized I was pretending that women didn't affect me. It was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Nate and the beginning of my own personal coming out."

"Well." Miranda really couldn't think of anything to say, so continued to make her way towards the Upper East Side.

"Well indeed." Andy murmured and rested her hand benignly on the other woman's thigh, soaking in the warmth through the thin fabric of Miranda's trouser. She thought back on some of the websites she had perused a few nights before wanting to talk about what she had found but noted they were almost to the townhouse. Another time. She shifted a bit in the leather seat and her hand unconsciously tightened lightly on the flexing muscle beneath her. She didn't really know how to talk about it anyway.

They entered Miranda's home to the smell of fresh baked bread and something else that smelled heavenly. Andrea's stomach growled and she shrugged at the older woman's look. "I really haven't eaten much today."

Miranda suspected, from the thinner look about the young woman's face that perhaps she hadn't eaten much for a few days; she shook off the sudden guilt for putting her through the emotional wringer and gently grasped her hand. "Come, Cara made 'Boeuf Bourguignon' it should be ready."

As they made their way through the study they could hear voices and the light clatter of china. Miranda let Andy's hand drop as they passed into the kitchen and made her way over to her daughters who were setting the kitchen table.

"Hi mom! Hi Andy! You're just in time! Cara just finished everything; her mom called so she's talking to her but she showed us how to put it all together!" Cassidy adjusted the last of the silverware and then headed over to the stove.

Caroline, who had been putting steaming bread slices into a basket, kept her back to the room but managed a slightly strangled. "Hey."

Andy was very mindful of the tension and focused on letting it flow around her instead of settling within. The fact that she had barely eaten for three days helped, she was starving and the wonderful smells were singling her focus, regardless of the undertones.

Once they were all settled around the table the girls each passed their plates to their mother who ladled appropriate portions for both. Andy busied herself with some of the hard-crusted whole wheat baguette and then passed it around. When finally she was able to sample the main course her eyes rolled back into her head and she moaned.

"Cara is an artist! I've never had Beef Burgundy that tasted so good."

Miranda stopped mid-chew at the moan and had to remind her body that her girls were present. She flashed back to their dinner at the club the week before and should have prepared herself better. Andrea and food were a dangerous combination.

Caroline looked up from her plate the first time all meal and asked quietly. "Why'd you call it beef burgundy? I thought it was bourguignon?"

Andy smiled warmly at her. "That's just what it translates to in English and what I grew up calling it; I suppose the French way of saying it is more correct but…" She shrugged. "old habits die hard."

Caroline relaxed a bit at the calm explanation and the warmth directed at her. "Where'd you grow up?"

Miranda smiled at her daughter, relieved she was starting to come out of her shell, and listened as Andy described her childhood.

Cassidy interrupted at one point. "So, you didn't have cows or chickens?" She sounded disappointed.

Andy laughed and chewed her last bit before responding. "You know there are several large cities in Ohio and Cincinnati is one of the big three. I admit you didn't have to drive far from our neighborhood to get out into the country, but nope, just a big house and a lot of yard."

Andy's phone rang at that moment and when she looked down at the caller ID she frowned. "I'm sorry guys, do you mind if I take this?"

"Andy?" Bethany's voice sounded small and tearful.

"Hey baby girl, what's wrong?" Andy stood from the table and walked across the kitchen to stand by the sink.

"Uhm, I just needed to talk for a minute. Do you have time?" Andy glanced at Miranda and indicated she needed a moment, receiving a slight nod in return.

"Of course I have time for you." Andy could hear a lot of voices in the background, laughing and shouting. "Where are you?"

"I'm at a party at Gina's house."

Andy recognized the name of one of Bethany's best friends. "So what's happening?"

"I, uh..."

Andy was growing worried and her voice rose slightly. "Are you safe? Her parents are there right?"

Miranda's head lifted slightly and made eye contact with the younger woman, a question in her eyes. Andrea shrugged her shoulders and refocused on trying to hear the girl.

"No. They're out of town."

Andy was having flashbacks to some of the non-chaperoned parties she had attended in high school and cringed. "Talk to me sweetie."

"Uh well, you know how I was telling you about seeing that guy Jason?" Her voice lowered so Andy could barely hear her.

"Honey, I can hardly hear you. Can you move to a quieter room?" It took several moments and she could hear the phone as it moved with the girl, shuffling, muffled voices and then a door closing. When next the girl spoke it had a slightly echoing sound and she chuckled. "Kick someone out of the bathroom did you? Okay sweetie, you said something about Jason, right?" She moved toward the study and away from the kitchen clean-up activities.

"We're on a date and we've been here about an hour, uh, I've been drinking some punch."

Andy rolled her eyes. "I take it with alcohol in it?"


Bethany's voice trailed off. "Beth, hey, come back here girl, you kind of drifted there."

"Sorry. I had some punch and we were making out and he wants me to have sex with him." She blurted out suddenly.

Andy sat down on the couch and closed her eyes, she knew her cousin was still a virgin, they had discussed that she was unsure of Jason and hadn't decided if he was the one. I can do this. When next she spoke she tried to keep her voice from carrying. "Sweetie, do you want to?"

Bethany sounded very unsure and her voice wavered. "I don't know Andy! I just know all my friends have and I feel funny that I haven't yet."

"Oh honey, you don't have to do anything, it's your body. Your friends don't live your life. It's a big step to let someone else into your body. Do you think you're ready for that?"

Bethany sniffled. "He said he was tired of waiting and I want to know what all the fuss is about."

Andy leaned over and propped her head on her arm, she suddenly jumped as she felt a hand begin to smooth some of the tension in her neck. "Okay, it sounds like you may have decided, but then why did you call me?"

"I don't know, I wanted to make sure I'd be alright I guess, if I did it."

"Bethany, does he have condoms? Can you at least be safe? Because I can't tell you what to decide. It will be different, but it won't fix your relationship. Jason should just back off and let you decide at your own pace. But if you're going to go through with it please do it safely. Promise me if you have sex with him you'll have safe sex, will you?"

"Yes Andy, I promise."

Relieved she allowed her head to rest against the thigh of the woman standing next to her. She could hear pounding on the door and a muffled, "Hurry up I have to pee!" over the phone line.

"Uh Andy, I have to go."

"I know baby, but before you do, remember that I love you no matter what you decide, okay? You are a wonderful young woman and Jason has no idea how much so. Remember, it's your body and it's your right to decide what you do with it. Take care of yourself and call me if you need to talk to me again, I'm here for you okay? Doesn't matter what time."

"Thanks Andy, I love you too."

Andy hung up the phone and slumped back into the sofa, she had tears in her eyes.

"Are you alright?" Miranda settled next to her and pulled her in for a hug.

"Yeah, that was just a little too close to home you know?"

The older woman simply held her and waited.

"That was my cousin Bethany who is seventeen, eighteen next month, a senior in high school."

"Yes, your father's brother's daughter, right? The one with whom you are very close."

"Yeah, her mom died about five years ago and I'm sort of like a big sister and mother all rolled into one for her." She explained the conversation.

"I'm not sure how I feel about all this, I mean, I keep remembering my own first time. It was pretty similar actually, only I was trying to prove I could be with a guy. It was alright, nothing traumatic. But it wasn't special."

Miranda snorted. "It rarely is the first time."

"I know, I was just hoping for better for her than drunk at a party, doing it because of peer pressure. But what can I do?"

"You could have told her not to." Miranda watched her lover closely.

"Right, like that would be a good idea. No, no, she called me because she trusted me and needed someone to tell her she would still be loved no matter what. I couldn't change the outcome no matter what." She sighed.

Miranda felt a wave of tenderness wash over her, this woman was so incredibly loving and compassionate. She realized then, that she had been looking at her own situation with her daughters all wrong. Thinking only of the negatives, what she would be taking away from her daughters with involvement with Andrea, never seeing what a relationship with this woman could potentially bring to them.

She brushed the hair away from Andrea's face and sat back; turning so she could look into her eyes. "You were very good with her. She's very lucky to have you in her life."

"She's a good kid and I feel really lucky to have her in mine. I am sorry about the interruption though. It wasn't the best of timing; I just had a feeling it was important."

"Never apologize for being compassionate and loving, darling."

Andy looked up at her through her lashes and stroked a hand along the flawless pale skin of the older woman's face. "I need to kiss you. Where are your girls?"

"They went up the back stairs to the second floor media room. They're picking out a movie for us."

Andy grinned. "Is that so? Lucky me then."

Their lips moved against one another languidly, each tasting and savoring the other. It lasted several long minutes, until they both sensed that they'd kept the twins waiting long enough. Miranda stood first, offering her hand and pulled the other woman up with surprising strength.

Andy grinned and gently squeezed Miranda's upper arm. "Ooh, I love a woman with muscles."

"Come on you, time to meet our fate. God only knows what those two have in store for us."

They ascended the steps hand in hand and this time, when they entered the room, Miranda didn't let go.

"Hey Andy! Is everything alright?" Cassidy looked at Andy in concern, they could tell from what little they heard that whoever was on the other end of the line worried her a great deal.

"Thanks for asking Cassidy, yeah, it will be, eventually. It was my cousin, she's seventeen, she was having a rough time there."

"But you helped her right?" This from Caroline.

"I hope so. She's a good kid, just in a situation that was kind of intimidating for her. But don't worry, she'll be alright." Andy was trying to tell herself that more so than the young girl in front of her, knowing that whatever happened she'd be there for her. "So, what do you all have planned for us?"

Caroline brightened and then suddenly grew serious, she looked at her sister and then at the floor. "Uh Andy? I'm sorry about earlier today. I really don't think those things I said about you."

Andy took a place near the center of the couch and looked closely at the girl; she seemed sincere. "Thank you Caroline; I accept. Are you feeling better now?"

The girl nodded. "Yeah, I think so. It's still weird, but you're not that bad and you could've been really mean, but you weren't."

"Well I don't want you to feel weird, so whatever I can do to help you not feel that way, just let me know, okay? I'll do my best." She smiled one of her full smiles and the girl blushed and looked away.

Miranda settled near to Andy and then motioned for her discombobulated daughter to come sit next to her. Caroline snuggled into her mom, who kissed the top of her head, while Cassidy took the other side of the couch and tucked herself into the corner with a bowl of popcorn and the remote.

Andy eyed the bowl. Time to lighten the mood. "I hope you're planning on sharing that missy."

Cassidy laughed. "Maybe."

"You better Cass!" Caroline sounded more like her normal self and the women began to relax; both thinking along the same lines. Maybe this can work after all.

l l l l l l l

"They look kinda cute together don't they?"

"Oooo Cass, cute? Mom would kill you if she heard you call her cute."

"Shh, you'll wake them up!"

"You, shush. It's not my big mouth talking."

"Do you think we should wake them up? That doesn't look like a really comfortable position that Andy's in."

"I don't know, maybe…"

Andy felt like she was immersed in a vat of gelatin, trying desperately to reach the surface. It was the sing-song of child-like voices that finally pulled her from the depths and her dark eyelashes began to flutter, opening her sleepy brown eyes to the sight of twin girls watching her. She tried to move but found she was pinned by the solid weight of another; silver head resting below her chin. She tightened her arms around the woman so soundly asleep and forgetting her audience for a moment, kissed the smooth locks tenderly. This drew a gasp from one of her watchers and she sighed.

"Hey girls, what time is it?"

"Almost midnight."

Andy could feel the body next to hers begin to wake, a fact that was confirmed when a slightly hoarse voice queried "And why are you girls still up?"

"Mom, it is a Saturday night." Caroline stared at the women, willing herself to accept the scene before her. This was her life now and she knew, for her mother's sake, she'd need to get over it.

Miranda sat up slightly and reclined back into the comfortable cushions. "Hmm, sorry I couldn't stay awake for the end of the last movie, did you girls enjoy it?"

"Yeah mom, it was cool."

"Is Andy going to stay over?" Cassidy knew her mother wasn't going to drive anywhere and she didn't want the younger woman to take the subway home alone.

"Would that be okay? She can stay in one of the guestrooms."

"Mom." Cassidy glanced at her sister and Caroline, despite her discomfort, nodded. "Is that where you want her to stay?"

Andy laid there, making herself and unobtrusive as possible, letting the strange negotiation wash over her.

"I want whatever will make you girls feel comfortable."

Caroline finally just huffed. "She can sleep wherever you want, but that means we get omelets in the morning. Okay?"

Miranda smiled at both girls. "I promise; omelets. Now say goodnight, it's time for all of us to get some sleep."

l l l l l l l

"Okay, that was a little bit weird."

"Oh, how so dear?" Miranda closed the bedroom door and headed towards the bathroom.

"Your girls, they, well, it's just going to take some getting used to navigating the ups and downs with them." Andy looked around at the large, welcoming master bedroom and marveled at its sybaritic comfort.

"Yes, I know, they are remarkable girls, but girls just the same. They don't know what they want or feel from one moment to the next. I expect it will be like this for awhile. I should have asked, are you comfortable sleeping in here with me?"

Andy came up behind the other woman at the sink, wrapping her arms around her middle and placed at kiss at the base of her neck. "Hmm, I'll get used to it. The fringe benefits…" She nibbled a bit at the warm skin. "…really help with the adjustment."

"Mmm, yes. But tonight I think all I can really do is sleep, it's been an exhausting few days and I feel a bit self-conscious with them down the hall and it being so new for them." She turned in the embrace, worried that the other woman would be put off. "Is that alright with you?"

Andy saw the trepidation and smiled gently. "It's more than alright, all I want to do is know that you're next to me and that we're together. It doesn't always have to be about sex."

Miranda studied her for several seconds longer and relieved, kissed her gently. "Thank you."

"For what?" Andy's eyes were full of mirth.

"For being so very understanding and patient. I don't know what I've done to deserve you."

"No." She said seriously. "I don't understand what I've done to deserve you. Come on, let's get ready, I want to hold you all night." She started to remove her blouse but stopped. "Uhm, I didn't bring anything to wear."

"I'm sure I can find something for you. What do you usually wear to sleep in?"

Andy grinned a sly smile. "Nothing."

Miranda's heart rate picked up at the image of it but… "I don't think that will do right now, how about a silk nightshirt? Do you think you'd be comfortable in that?"

Andy trailed the fashion queen over to a door and watched as she keyed in a code in a pad next to it. The door clicked and she found herself stepping into another world, Miranda's hallowed domain, her closet. She stopped dead in her tracks as a switch was thrown, illuminating the space.

Miranda smiled and then laughed at the shocked expression. "I know you didn't expect that a tiny little cubbyhole would be sufficient for my needs now did you dear?"

"It's bigger than my bedroom!" All around were built-in shelves and drawers, recessed spaces with clothes hanging, many in garment bags, the appropriate shoes, in vertical racks, also recessed, situated next to each hanging space. "Wow! It's so, so…" She thought for a moment. "Organized." She finished lamely.

"Yes, well, I have sections devoted to each type of clothing, casual, evening, business and so forth. It cuts down on the time it takes to put things together. And then of course there are the formal items, designed specifically for a certain event, those things I only wear once." They walked to the back where Andy noted a full length tri-paneled mirror, and the woman slid open one of many pocket doors, revealing an astounding collection of fabrics and colors.

Andy gaped, now understanding the need for the security system. "You could purchase a small country with all this you know."

"But where would be the fun in that?" the older woman laughed again; highly amused by her lover's reaction.

Andy noted a blank wall a little larger than what would fit a doorway and puzzled at it. Miranda noted her questioning look. "What are you thinking dear?"

"That this blank spot makes no sense."

"Oh, why is that?"

"Every inch of space here has a function, this is a total waste of space; it doesn't fit."

"Hmm, perhaps I need to work on that, I never really thought about it that way."

"What do you mean?"

"Miranda pulled at one of the sections of the mirror and revealed another control panel. Keying in another set of numbers Andy heard the hiss of a locking mechanism release and then the wall swung outward.

"Wow! What is that?" She peered into a dark space that seemed rather small. A flip of a switch revealed a staircase heading down. "Seriously? A secret staircase!"

Miranda smirked and turned out the light and closed the panel. "It's late and frankly, it's a bit too," A chill ran through her body. "…uncomfortable to do at night, but it leads down to the basement and a special safe room. I'll show it to you tomorrow if you'd like."

Andy just shook her head and tried to wrap her brain around the amount of wealth required to create and maintain all she'd seen. She'd known the woman was in a much higher income bracket, but this was insane. She looked up at the woman who was studying her and nodded. "Yeah, sure, I'm really curious what one of those looks like in real life."

"Yes, well. Come, we need to get you something to wear." The woman went to a section nearer the front of the closet and pulled open a drawer; she considered for a moment and withdrew a long deep merlot colored, long sleeved silk button up shirt.

"Will this do?"

Andy fingered the material and hummed. "If I can't be naked, this might be the next best thing!" She looked at the other woman for a moment, considering. "Can I be honest? I got a little freaked out for a moment there, I started thinking about how much money it would take to create something like this, and then a safe room too? It just kind of hit me how little I do have compared to you. I mean, well, how will I ever be able to contribute?"

Miranda shook her head, she knew something had disturbed the younger woman and her hunch was right; but she was so tired and not in the mood for a discussion such as this would be. "I'm glad you feel like you could tell me. But Andrea, can we discuss this another time? I'm really not in the mood to give this topic the care it needs. Alright?"

Andy yawned. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Besides, I can't take another serious conversation; all I want to do is lay down with you and hold you."

They both changed and slid under the covers. Miranda switched off the bedside lamp then rolled over and into the younger woman's embrace; within moments both were asleep.

l l l l l l l

Andy's eyes blinked open slowly; unsure of what had awakened her. She looked around at the heavily shadowed room and could tell that it was barely morning. Then she felt it again, a slow tracing of her stomach muscles, down the outside of her thigh and then back again. She allowed her body to slide further back into the figure behind her and when the lazy caresses dipped under the hemline of her shirt and slid back up, skin against skin, she could not help the low moan that escaped.

The hand suddenly stilled and a raspy voice whispered in her ear. "You're awake at last." The hand resumed its sensual searching, this time seeking out the more hidden territory. "Mmm, and you're wet."

A lazy swipe of a tongue against her neck was followed by lips nibbling along her collarbone; her hips started to push back of their own accord seeking further contact. "Baby, please."

But her lover would not be hurried and the hand began a slow rocking that did not satisfy, merely touched her in a way that was meant to further arouse, not finish.

"Please what?" Another tickling whisper. Another lick.

"Please don't tease me." Andy all but whimpered.

Removal of hands and lips were the response followed by movement and a rustling of the sheets; she jumped when a warm moist tongue connected with the small of her back.

"I'm thinking an early breakfast in bed; darling would you like that?"

The warm, searching hands returned and pushed her onto her back. Andy allowed her legs to fall open and she groaned as the hands pushed her thighs farther apart, fingertips brushing everywhere but where she most needed them. The groan she let slip this time was louder.

Miranda was licking her way up a tense muscular thigh but stopped long enough to remind her increasingly frantic lover of their location. "Do try to be somewhat quiet dear, I don't think either of us are quite ready for tender ears to bear witness to our business." Then she hmmmmed, much like was her habit, directly against the overly sensitized bundle of nerves beneath her eliciting what would have been a rather enthusiastic scream if not for the pillow pressed against the younger woman's mouth. "That's it darling, mmmm, you love that don't you?"

The smiling editor gently slid two fingers inside her writhing companion, slowly increasing the frequency and intensity of both appendages and tongue as grasping fingers sifted through her hair. One particularly enthusiastic sucking resulted in her hair being painfully grasped as the woman below her arched and keened; releasing her only when she came back to herself, with a soft rubbing of her scalp designed to soothe the ache.

"Shit, I didn't hurt you did I?" The young woman still breathed heavily, but as Miranda crawled up the long sleek form she met eyes filled with concern.

"Nothing that can't be cured with an orgasm darling." Miranda panted and straddled the other woman's leg and dove in for a bruising kiss. She was so close and all it would take would be… "There, lift your knee, I just need…" She slid her body frantically for several moments against the solid form below her and exploded, releasing her bliss into the younger woman's mouth with another deep kiss.

They remained in their tangled and now sweaty heap, trading gentle caresses both women slipping back into a deep sleep.

l l l l l l l

When next Andy awoke it was full daylight and she noted the space beside her was empty and cold. A note on the pillow caught her eye.

We are in the kitchen. The shower is yours, enjoy and then join us. M

She made her way into the sprawling shower, the head dumping water on her like a falls, side nozzles pounding into her with thrumming efficiency. The shower was a delight and she spared moments as she lathered and rinsed thinking on how they might be used in other, more prurient, ways. She ended the experience much too soon, but her rumbling stomach and desire to see her love spurred her to cut her routine to its barest essentials.

She slipped into her clothes from the day before and, leaving her hair to dry naturally, went in search of the women of the house.

A scene of industrious domesticity greeted her, a pan sizzling, smells tantalizing and she stood in the doorway, absorbing the moment, feeling luckier than any lottery winner to be invited to share this space.

Caroline noticed her first and spared a slight wave. "Hey Andy! Good timing! We were just getting ready to make our omelets!" She stood at the counter whipping eggs in a ceramic bowl while her sister ground pepper from a mill into the mix.

Miranda turned her head from the sauté pan and smiled lightly, a spark in her eye when she took in Andy's presence. "Hey guys, good morning. It smells great in here!" The two women held eye contact a moment longer until the older woman indicated with a nod the direction of the coffee maker.

"Help yourself it's a fresh pot."

And so the morning progressed, all present settling into a relaxed interaction that did much to quiet any lingering questions or nerves.

They were just finishing their meals when Cassidy squirmed in excitement. "Mom told us she was going to show you 'the cave'!"

Andy had to think for a minute and she noted that the other woman looked on with amusement. "Oh! You mean the safe room?"

Caroline picked up the ball. "I guess you could call it that but we call it the cave 'cause it's hidden in a dark place."

Andy chuckled, "So, not the 'bat' cave?"

Both girls looked affronted. "Oooo, yuck, bats! No way. Maybe a dragon's cave."

Andy noted that Miranda nearly choked on her coffee and giggled with the girls. "I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole, nuh-uh." She thought she heard the editor mumble something that sounded like "smart girl" but wasn't sure.

"Can we go now?" Both girls chimed in tandem.

The foursome descended a set of sturdy wooden steps into the basement from the kitchen. Cassidy pointed out the wine cellar while Caroline explained about how it used to be a coal storage room; they passed what appeared to be a dumb-waiter and then stopped before the passage narrowed to enter another room.

This time Caroline took the lead and pulled the string attached to a single light bulb, it's dull yellow light throwing weak shadows around their forms. Next she pressed on a wooden beam from which a section popped free revealing a small keypad illuminated with green light; she entered a code and a soft hissing was heard before the wall behind her popped ajar, strong yellow light spilling into the space.

"My turn!" Cassidy hurriedly opened the door farther and slid in, "Come on!"

Andy unconsciously reached for Miranda's hand and she allowed herself to be lead through a low-ceilinged, short hallway. Expecting some dingy cement block walls, utilitarian lights and perhaps some folding chairs the young reporter stopped in her tracks; Miranda's closet had nothing on this. "Are you fucking kidding me?" She realized her slip immediately. "Oh shit, I mean dang, I meant…" She stammered at three outraged glares. She shrugged. "Sorry?"

Then she returned to her surroundings. Forget 1950's drab, she stood in what could be the set for one of her favorite television shows growing up; Section One's headquarters from La Femme Nikita. Modern, glass, wood, metal. A bank of monitors and a large control board were situated near the entrance; on the opposite side was a glass door, obviously locked that protected…gas masks and guns? "Jesus Miranda, is there anything you'd like to tell me, like what agency are you super spy for?"

The older woman merely rolled her eyes. "I am so sorry to disappoint, I am nothing quite so interesting; no this is the handiwork of the girls' father. He was always concerned, considering his family wealth and political standing, about kidnapping or home invasion. It's over the top I would agree but I admit, just knowing it's here makes me feel somewhat more secure."

Andy suddenly grew contemplative, for the other woman to show her something so key to her family's security was another sign of her trust. "Thank you."

Miranda held her gaze for a long moment, searching for something that Andy wasn't sure of, but she just met the look and projected all of her acceptance and gratitude. Then the woman nodded once, "You're welcome."

They walked further into the space, illuminated by warm recessed canister lighting throughout, stepping down five wide, wooden, open back steps with curving stainless steel railings that flared out as if an entrance to a ballroom. This lower level hosted a stainless vented cooking area, a glass fronted refrigerator that appeared to be stocked with many basics and a large table with six chairs for taking meals. Floor to ceiling cabinets, modern hardware flush to the highly polished cherry wood, dominated the entire wall in this section.

"How do you keep the food fresh?"

"Cara has a revolving schedule, no produce or perishables are kept but certain longer lived items like eggs and some packaged meats are first brought here and then moved upstairs. Behind these cabinets are dry and canned goods that get rotated out before their expiration and sent to a food pantry in Brooklyn."

"You could live down here if you have to, this is more than just a simple retreat in case of a break in." She idly observed as she moved farther into the space.

"You are correct, this space is equipped to be completely self-sufficient. It is bomb and fireproof, has its own electrical, heating, a/c, water and venting system and has enough food to last three months. There is also a satellite phone and the ability to tap into just about any communication system in the world." She didn't mention the other separate entrances leading to other areas in the house, nor the two separate exits that lead to tunnels allowing escape out into the city; she thought that would maybe be just a little too much at the moment.

"Miranda, this is…"

The other woman smirked. "Paranoid, over-the-top, the height of obsessive-compulsive? Yes, that does describe Jeremy rather well I would say."

"How much…" Tacky Andy. But she couldn't help it.

"More than the property above it is worth."

Andrea grew contemplative again, running her hand along the table edge. "Hmm, do you ever use the space other than for restocking or maintenance?"

Miranda looked at her with narrowed eyes. "What is in that pretty little head of yours?"

She lowered her voice, eyes seeking out their younger companions and not seeing them anywhere, drew closer to the other woman. "It's completely sound proofed isn't it?" She observed at the cabling above that served as a barrier between the levels, the solid table and a few other interesting looking features.

"Andrea…" The other woman nearly growled out a warning to which the woman in question merely smiled and affected her most innocent look.

"I'm just sayin'." She moved in close and then purposefully slid her hand over the fine curve of the other woman's ass, eliciting a loud gasp. "Possibilities Miranda, possibilities." She stepped back just as quickly and added, "Besides, don't you hate wasted space? You got it, ya might as well use it!" Then she giggled and went off in search of the girls leaving a very flustered woman to gaze at her surroundings in new light.

Chapter Fifteen

"Oh Nigel, one more thing," They had just finished a lengthy wrap up of the issue due to go to press that night and he had just risen from his chair. "…are you available to have dinner at the townhouse tonight?"

"Hmm, Cara's cooking or carry-out? That's not particularly difficult. What time do you want me there?"

"Plan on riding with me, would you be finished by 5:30?"

"I'll meet you at the elevator."

The rest of the day was spent tying up loose ends before the holiday hiatus. Miranda and her girls, on the alternating years she would have them for Christmas, would usually take the time to escape the city, heading to mountains for skiing or an island somewhere for a beach but this year, due to her extra duties as Elias-Clarke chair, she was unable to rest. She would take two days, Christmas Eve and day but then had several meetings and dinners planned and an endless mountain of end of the year financial and performance reports to review; the thought of which exhausted her. She needed an extended break desperately but there was nothing to be done about it, at least in the short run. This dinner tonight would be the beginning of her liberation; she figured it would take two years, not an optimal time frame, but to ensure her legacy, it was the best she could do.

l l l l l l l

"Tell me Nigel, do you believe a man can successfully be the editor of a woman's fashion magazine?"

They had settled into Miranda's study after a pleasant meal of roast chicken. Nigel had just taken a sip of his scotch and had to stifle a sneeze when he nearly inhaled the volatile liquid.

Once he had himself in order he thought about it, putting aside his questions as to which fashion magazine and which man. "Men are fashion designers; they have guided the look of entire generations by their artistry."

"True." Miranda conceded the point and waited.

"But a magazine is a different animal. It filters and refines, interprets and guides much as would a special consultant or as perhaps a friend, a monthly conversation which is a far more intimate relationship." He rubbed behind his ear and took another sip. "I think it comes down to who does a woman wish most to speak with about fashion? A man may create; he may select what is seen in a magazine, such as what I do, but to really participate in that conversation? Ultimately, no, I don't think he would be as successful."

He set his drink on the coaster next to him and leaned forward grasping his hands. "Is this your way of telling me that I'll never be editor of Runway Miranda? Because really, I have to hand it to you," he chuckled mirthlessly, "it's fucking brilliant."

The editor regarded the insightful man before her; part right hand, part best friend, greatly impressed by his logic. "My brilliance really is not the point here. I would have to say that you have made a very elegant argument; one which closely parallels much of the thinking I've been doing on the subject. I've approached it from every angle as the conclusion is not one I've wished to reach; I've always wanted for you to be my successor in the event that I retire. However the reality is such that in order for Runway to continue at its highest level I believe that it needs to be a woman who pushes it forward; a woman who, as you most eloquently stated, continues the intimate conversation."

Nigel spent several moments in quiet dejection, tucking a dream that perhaps he knew was never really his to own, into the deep recesses of his psyche. Once that was accomplished, at least for the duration of this meeting, he was able to step back and question. He found he was at a loss.

"Miranda, why are we having this conversation?"

The editor smiled a genuine smile. "Because dear friend it's time for things to change and you are going to be the lynchpin of that change."

He stared at her for several heartbeats, aware that perhaps he'd skipped a few, because there really only was one conclusion to be derived from the last ten minutes but still, that couldn't be it. "I don't believe I'm tracking this conversation very well, could you perhaps be a bit less circumspect?"

Aware that she was about to further contribute to his discombobulation by purposefully being incongruous, she continued. "As I have found myself in the position of chair and CEO of this wonderful publishing conglomerate I have considerable power. Power to shape and create all sorts of wonderful new initiatives, directives, and yes, even new publications." She paused for a moment, seemingly lost in the swirl of the liquid in her glass.

"I had long ago identified that a vacuum exists in the market, but have never been in position to do anything about it. Now, well, even though my term is said to be temporary, there are certain board members who are speaking out about their discomfort with the complacency of the leadership of the last decade. They are creating a space that will allow for an exploration of new ventures." She settled back a bit and smiled at her friend.

"This brings us to that vacuum; the modern male is currently served by a plethora of substandard or mediocre endeavors that pander to the seamier side instead of elevating the genre to what it could be. I'm not naïve enough to think that sex isn't needed to sell to men, instead I believe that one can sell sex in a more elegant and sophisticated manner."

She paused once again, sipping her drink, this time watching closely as the man before her filtered, sifted and finally comprehended. "Yes, you see now where I am going?"

Nigel picked up his drink and swallowed the rest of its contents and then nearly flopped back; he hadn't seen that one coming. "Men's Runway?" It had been a concept that had been bandied about for years, never finding ground, considered to be a risk too great. "You are going to do it?"

"Tell me Nigel; could a woman be a successful editor of a men's fashion magazine?"

She watched as the truth soaked in and broke free with his sudden grin that only grew with her words. "That's right Nigel, not me. You are going to do it."

And suddenly, where the conversation had kicked his figurative teeth in at the start, now he was filled with a euphoric sense of things being made right. He barely heard the "But" through his excitement, but somehow managed to pull his thoughts in order. "But?" He queried.

"But, it won't be today, it won't be tomorrow at least not officially and it's nothing you may speak of. There is much planning to be done and then there is the matter of training my successor."

He once again stared, this time counting the heartbeats, wanting to know for sure the number missed, before he could get his mouth to work. He adjusted his glasses. "You're leaving Runway." It wasn't even a question, but blankly stated.

She raised her glass, but then waved it gently in the air in a dismissive gesture. "Don't have the party yet. It's not like it's going to be tomorrow."

He sputtered and remained silent. She had completely managed to render him speechless. Nigel couldn't even begin to track the number of times his brain had twisted and turned within the framework of the last twenty odd minutes. He repeated numbly. "Your successor?"

The editor closed her eyes and inhaled deeply; speaking it now was making it all suddenly so real. It was terrifying; it was exhilarating. The path upon which the next part of her life would travel was becoming clearer with each step and it no longer was limited to publishing. "Yes Nigel. In two years I wish to be able to hand over the reins of Runway to my successor, someone intimately acquainted with the daily workings of the magazine, someone who has seen what it takes and who I believe will be able to guide it to the next level. But she's not yet ready and we need to make sure that she gets ready."

He uttered a single word, and again, not as a question. "Emily."

"Yes. In the past year I've been slowly expanding the scope of her duties, watching, challenging her, measuring her creative potential. I believe she has it, buried under all those garish clothes, which, you may have noticed, have been a bit less so of late. With her confidence is coming an emergence of a unique style, a blending of those harsh lines and colors from her first years with us into something refreshing. She speaks a language that will guarantee connection with a new generation of readers. Not that I couldn't continue for a decade or two more and still be able to maintain the excellence or the readership, but that is not where I find my interests are heading."

"Where do your interests lay, if I may ask?"

"You may ask, but I don't believe I am ready to tell you as yet. But you will be one of the first to know, I will give you that much." She let loose one of her trademark shark-like grins.

"Miranda, I don't even know where to begin, this is, this is like someone just told me that the president pushed the button and in the next half hour half the world will be annihilated. I'm absolutely speechless."

"Well, while you're trying to recover your power to form words, simply listen a little while longer as I would like to discuss with you my short term plans and how you may help."

l l l l l l l

Andrea kicked shut the street level locked door of her apartment building and shook the snow from her coat; one to three inches had been predicted but already it looked like four; she smiled at the prospect of a white holiday even if it did mean a little extra time spent the next day navigating the sidewalks.

Once in the warmth of her apartment she opened the bag of Chinese, setting the boxes on the dining table along with her laptop. It may have been the holiday, but she was behind. Fortunately, she had found that with the reassurance from Miranda, her concentration had returned in full force and she had had a very productive day in the office. Now she just needed another half hour or so and she could put it aside and relax.

As she finished her Kung Pao chicken she contemplated her conversation with Bethany two nights prior. She hadn't heard from her and had decided to give her a day so she wouldn't feel hounded, but found she didn't want to wait any longer. The phone went to voicemail and she left a brief message and hung up, worrying. Deciding upon a different tactic she opened her email and was surprised to see that she had received something from the girl the hour before.

Hey Andy, I feel kind of weird after our talk the other night. I'm really glad you were there for me, but I'm embarrassed, I don't want to seem like some stupid baby or something. I know you're probably wondering what happened, well, I'm okay and I ended up not doing anything. I was going to, but he started acting like a jerk when I wanted him to use a condom and we got into a fight and I told him to get lost. My friend Gina was pretty cool. She kicked him out of the house – called him a selfish prick! LOL.

I think I should feel worse than I do, but really, I don't. Just sad that now I'll have to go back to wondering if anyone will ask me to dances and stuff. But my friends are helping; Gina's been really great especially. So that's it. Thanks for being there for me, it really, really made a difference. I love you!


Andy beamed.

Beth, I am so proud of you! You stood up for yourself, and there is nothing babyish about needing to confide in someone and to seek advice when you're unsure. I'm greatly honored that you chose to confide in me, it makes me feel very special. Thank you!

I do need to say though, even if you would have chosen the other direction I would have supported you, as I said, it's your body, it's your decision when you're ready it will happen and hopefully your first time will be better than mine. That's really all I want for you, to be happy and feel good about yourself and the choices you make.

I just tried calling you but don't feel as though you need to call back now, although maybe we can talk on Christmas day? It's going to be weird not going home, but this year, well, I've found someone special with whom to spend it so after I'm done working I'll be having dinner with her. And her daughters.

Not a word to anyone you. No one knows back home yet that I'm seeing someone, I want to wait a while longer because I'm just not quite ready to deal with dad and his 'stuff'. Or your father and his 'stuff' for that matter. And in case you're wondering, it all happened after I came back from Thanksgiving, I wasn't lying to you about not seeing anyone then. We met again at a party the week after.

Yeah, it's someone I used to know. Someone you and I may have discussed over 3-ways...



Oh My God! I could hear your squeeeee all the way here! Calm down before you bust something. And remember, NOT A WORD. Don't even mention names in emails alright? Can't risk the media getting wind; that would just suck for all involved, especially her kids who she would do anything for.

Just know that I am stupid-bad happy and totally in love.

See, miracles happen, even if churches say I don't deserve them!

I love you baby girl, talk to you soon.


She hit send and then sat back and thought about the impending holiday and what to do about presents. She was on a pretty tight budget, but wanted to give the girls and Miranda each something special. The twins were easiest, tailoring something to their individual tastes by allowing them to choose their gifts. But the editor was a different story all together. She had quite a few levels of anxiety to sift through concerning giving the woman anything.

On the surface, the money thing was huge. She understood that the 'Dragon Cave' wasn't something that Miranda had within her means to accomplish, but she knew the woman's wealth far exceeded what some might think. The editor was a shrewd investor and the research that she had done when she first started working for her had revealed a net worth in the tens of millions. It was mind-boggling and so what do you get the woman who can buy anything? All Andy really had was her heart so she kept coming back to writing something for her. She didn't often do poetry but she sat down and decided to give it a try. She centered herself and allowed all of the emotions to surface, everything, censoring nothing; all of the love, wonder, confusion, power and weakness that this woman invoked in her and then channeled it into a free verse.

When she was done she contemplated it, not Emily Dickenson or Marge Piercy by any stretch but she thought maybe it somehow communicated the upheaval, change and wonder she was experiencing because of their involvement. And her own evolvement of course, with which she was more actively trying to understand. She had used some of what she had found in her research in the poem, hoping that maybe it would act as a catalyst for them to enter into discussion of her feelings, and the simultaneous desires within.

It had never been like this before and she needed to be able to somehow discuss it. It was hard. They had sort of in fits and starts but really, tripping into a conversation in the midst of passionate exchanges and actively planning to talk about it were two different animals and she felt self-conscious.

She adjusted a few words and then satisfied, began the painstaking process of transcribing it to good paper with a narrow pointed quill pen she had for calligraphy. Hopefully it would be good enough.

l l l l l l l

"Merry Christmas, guys!" Andy gave a hug to both Lily and Doug as she crossed the threshold into Lily's one bedroom apartment. It was past 9:00 in the evening now on Christmas Eve as it took a while for her to get from the paper to Brooklyn but she was staying over so she could get back into the office early the next day. She swung her overnight bag off of her shoulder and gave each a hug.

"Mmm, it smells good in here, watcha' got cooking?"

"Ham, mac and cheese and greens; just like my mother used to make!"

Andy's eyes rolled back in anticipation. "I'm starving and that sounds great! You know how I love your mom's greens!" She dug around in her bag and pulled two wrapped packages out, placing them under the small, red tinsel tree that was set up on a table in the corner. Lights were strung along the walls and a small container with pine and cinnamon potpourri contributed to the festive atmosphere.

Lily handed the reporter a glass of red wine. "I'm really glad you could make it, I know we were supposed to do this tomorrow, but with the new exhibit starting this weekend, I'm going to have to put in a full day tomorrow."

"No, it actually worked out really well. Miranda has invited me to have dinner with her and the girls tomorrow."

"Wow, really? Sounds like things are going well then." Lily looked at her friend, seeing the happiness in her eyes. "Unbelievable, I never in a million years…"

Doug chimed in. "Oh, I don't know, you should see them next to one another, they are a stunning couple." He thought of the holiday party and grinned. "Girl, if you wouldn't have been there at Nigel's I might have been tempted to give it a try, that outfit she wore, I'm still thinking about it!"

"You gay dog! Go bark up your own tree!" Andy slapped him in the back of the head as she passed by him to settle on the couch.

"So why aren't you there tonight?" Lily wondered.

"Two reasons, one, I didn't want to be one of those people who ditches their friends when a new romance starts and two, we thought it best she spend tonight with just her daughters. She hasn't had a lot of alone time with them so they're going to Rockefeller Center."

"Do they know about you guys yet?" Doug played with the skewer that held his olives in his martini glass.

"Yeah, they do. It's been a bit of a rough week but I think it's going to be okay." She explained about the twins' reactions and Miranda's withdrawal.

"Wow, she's really serious about you isn't she?" Neither questioned Andy's feelings, she had already told them the week before that this was it for her.

Andy looked past Doug into some faraway place with a dreamy look upon her face and didn't answer for several minutes then realized her friends were waiting for her. "I know I am, but she's yet to actually say it, although her actions speak rather clearly I think. Isn't that what's important?"

l l l l l l l

"Bethany! Merry Christmas!"

Andy was getting ready to close up shop and head to the editor's for the holiday meal. "Anddddeeeee! I can't believe it! You and Miranda Priestly?"

The reporter was forced to hold the phone away from her ear for a moment and chuckled, glad no one else was around to overhear; and the child wasn't even on speaker phone.

"Well hello to you too! So nice of you to call, yes I'm fine." Andy couldn't stop her mad grinning.

"Stop it Andy, you know I'm just excited for you. Oh my god, what's she like? Did you sleep with her yet?"

"Bethany! What happened to that shy little girl I spoke with the day after Thanksgiving?"

"She's too excited right now to be embarrassed. I'm so happy for you!"

Andy could feel her cousin's excitement like a physical thing, her phone practically vibrated from the happiness she was receiving over her revelation. "Thanks baby girl, never in my wildest dreams. Never. I'm so happy right now and she is the most amazing woman."

"You said she has kids?"

"Yeah, twelve-year-old twin daughters, Cassidy and Caroline."

"Have you met them yet?"

"Yeah, and I kind of already knew them from before, when I worked for their mother."

"Really? Uh Andy, can I ask a question?" She paused and took a breath. "How old is Miranda?"

Andy sighed, people were always going to ask weren't they? "Fifty-one."

"Wow. Sort of like how my mom and dad were you know?"

The reporter paused, she'd never thought of that. Bethany's mother would have been forty-three this year if she'd lived. There was a seventeen year difference between her and her uncle who had just turned sixty. She was reminded that there really were no guarantees in this world. "Yeah kiddo, you're right. Wow. Thanks for that, both Doug and Lily have given me a little bit of grief over the age thing. You get it though, don't you?"

"Yup my dad might be an ass a lot of times, but mom really loved him and he really loved her."

They sat in silence for several moments, each remembering the kind and gentle woman who was Beth's mother until Andy shifted topics with a slightly hoarser tone to her voice. "So how's your dad been with you?"

"He started insisting that I go to church again, every Sunday since Thanksgiving we've had the same argument and it still ends up the same way; we end up screaming at each other and he storms off and I stay home. It's really stupid! I don't know why he can't just let me be!"

Andy rolled her eyes but held her tongue. "He loves you, you know. He totally believes what he believes and he's afraid you're going to go astray. Not that I agree with him, you shouldn't try to force someone to believe a certain way, but he's definitely old school."

"I can't wait until I graduate. Can I move to New York and come stay with you?" The girl sounded so hopeful.

"You know we've talked about this, you need to go to college first and foremost and you need to pick the best one for you. If one happens to be in New York…un uh, don't interrupt, I know you've got several applications to New York schools ready to be sent, but if you should get accepted and if you can get financial aid and IF it is the best school for you, then, we will talk. Okay? But you want to be a doctor right? Is New York the best place to be to go to college? There are so many distractions here; I just want you to think about what it is you really want, okay?"

"Alright Andy. I know you just don't want me around; I get it." Beth tried to keep from laughing but couldn't pull it off.

"Bethany Ann Sachs you know better." She put her mock stern voice on.

"Yes Andrea. Whatever you say Andrea. Okay An…"

"Shuddup kiddo! And Merry Christmas again. It's time for me to finish one more thing and fly out of here, I've got a date! I love you."

"Love you too, Andy. I'll talk to you soon."

l l l l l l l

Andy once again found herself slogging through a couple of inches of snow as she made her way from the subway station to the townhouse, thankful once again for her practical Doc Marten's although this time she had opted for her other pair, the pewter metallic Flash boots, her one pair of black True Religion jeans tucked in, wanting to dress it up for the holiday. The snow started to fall heavier and the wind picked up just a bit as she drew closer causing her to pull her fluffy black knit skull cap tighter down around her ears. Still, it was a beautiful afternoon, magical almost. Andy smiled thinking about the magic that awaited her, now only a few doors down, and a giggle bubbled up, growing into an outright explosion of joy and she had to stop suddenly to simply feel it. She tilted her head up towards the sky, blinking against the heavy flakes, aware of their demise upon the heat of her exposed cheeks, and hugged herself, twisting back and forth then, feeling particularly silly, darted the remaining distance as if the hounds of hell were on her tail.

Miranda, waiting not so patiently for Andy's arrival, was standing at the window of the front room, idly watching the large, fluffy flakes drift towards earth. Her daughters and she had shared a quiet morning of gift giving and breakfast making; this time she taught them how to make pancakes. They were both eager to learn and she thought fondly of their focus and concentration on doing it just right. Of course Cara would have to really get in there and do a deep clean around the burners as apparently the most difficult part of pancake making was being patient enough to wait to flip them. She chuckled at the memory of Cassidy's consternation when she had to go change her shirt.

Glancing at her watch for the hundredth time she reprimanded herself, speaking of patience, it had only been twenty minutes since Andrea's text telling her she was heading into the subway; she needed to practice what she preached. But she couldn't, she felt giddy, excited, like how a child would feel she supposed, having never experienced it herself, on Christmas morning. The middle-aged woman in her attempted to censor the joy but the voice of the spirit inside that knew no age had been getting stronger and more vocal; today it outright refused to be made irrelevant.

And so it was with this frame of mind that the silver haired woman watched as the form of her Andrea emerged from the swirling snowflakes only to stop suddenly. Her spirit leapt outwards at the expression of joy and she could no longer remain rooted to her spot; wanting with all her heart to share in that moment.

The door flew open before the girl even had a chance to press the bell and she was unceremoniously grabbed and dragged into the small vestibule between the inner and outer doors, shoved against the wall and kissed with an enthusiasm and intensity that drove all of the air from her lungs. When it ended they parted and merely looked at one another with smiling eyes for many heartbeats.

The smell of wet wool, the chill of unheated air and still frosted cheeks and nose, and dampness of melting snow through the silk of her blouse were all things the older woman sought to add to her memory of this moment. But most of all, pale filtered light illuminated the rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes of a woman who lit up merely at the sight of her; never had she experienced a joy so simple and in a highly uncharacteristic move she tightened her arms around Andy's middle and lifted and turned the younger woman, dropping her unceremoniously with a "Come on you" filled with mirth and lightness.

l l l l l l l

When they sat at the dining table Andy marveled at the eclectic selections, which, Caroline explained, were a combination of the favorite foods of the three Priestly females; roast duck (Miranda), Boeuf Bourguignon (Caroline) and pizza (Cassidy). In a nod to the holiday Cassidy's pizza was a turkey and cranberry concoction with a béchamel sauce instead of tomato sauce or cheese and ever mindful of nutrition, a whole wheat crust. Caroline's dinner was leftover from Saturday and Miranda had roasted the duck herself complete with an apple and pecan stuffing. Sautéed green beans and a salad of mixed baby greens rounded out the selections.

The head of the table looked at their guest and smiled, "I was unaware of your favorite so I am hoping that there is something here that will appeal, perhaps next…" She trailed off, not daring to truly hope that Andrea would be present for more holidays in the future.

Andy picked up and smiled at her lover's discomfort. "Hmm, I don't know, I think I'm going to have to force myself to try a little bit of each just to be sure." Her eyes lit up even more if that was possible as she eyed Caroline's selection. "Is that the Beef Burgundy Cara made?"

Miranda chuckled and forced herself to not dwell on her near slip focusing instead on the happiness she felt at having everyone she loved most gathered in one place.

"What holiday meal did you grow up with Andy?" Cassidy asked as she selected a second piece of her non-traditional pizza.

"The middle American basics, turkey, stuffing, ham, escalloped potatoes plus salad and maybe a jello salad. Oh and lots of cookies. Tons of cookies, it always seemed like we'd have enough cookies between what we baked and the boxes we'd bring home after visiting relatives to last until Easter, but somehow they were all gone by New Years'."

The girls laughed and Andy continued. "Christmas eve we would go to my mom's side of the family for dinner and then Midnight Mass, back then they still had it at midnight."

"So you were raised Catholic? Do you go to church now?" Caroline asked.

"Yes, I was raised Catholic, but I don't," She paused, trying to figure out how to word it so they'd understand, "I stopped going in high school, let's just say I didn't fit there, they are too narrow-minded and there were a lot of hypocrites. I could never understand how everyone could be so "love thy neighbor" when they were sitting in the pews, but then cursing one another out and trying to cut each other off when trying to get out of the parking lot!"

"We don't have a religion either!" Cassidy chimed in.

"Well how do you know I didn't choose something else?" Andy asked kindly.

Cassidy looked down at her empty plate and considered. "I guess I don't. Did you?"

"No, I didn't; but you shouldn't assume, I could have converted to Judaism!" both girls laughed but Miranda blanched slightly. Oops, sore topic; damn, smooth move. "So you didn't have to go to church growing up huh? Lucky you!"

"We went to see a bunch of religions when we were younger, even went to a midnight mass once, that's how I knew it was Catholic." Caroline preened.

Andrea was beginning to guess that perhaps the girls weren't completely privy to their ancestral origins so kept it light. "Oh yeah? That's pretty cool, you can see what everyone else is doing but without all that guilt that is usually heaped on." She considered her words for a moment. "Sorry, Catholics are big on guilt and I think I'm just a little bit bitter about it." She shrugged. "It works for some people." Time to change the subject. "So, do you all have any Christmas cookies lurking anywhere by chance?"

l l l l l l l

Once the dishes were cleared and dessert, a wonderfully light apple torte, consumed they climbed the stairs to the second floor den where a ten foot tall tree stood in all its splendor.

"Wow, guys, it's beautiful! Did you decorate it yourselves?"

"Some, mom had someone come in and do the lights and some of the ornaments but we put our own on there last night." Cassidy moved to point out the one's she'd made and then Caroline did the same.

"Hey Andy," Cassidy drew her attention after they had all sat down. "…there are a couple of things under the tree with your name on them." Caroline rummaged around under the tree and pulled out two beautifully wrapped packages, handing them to the young woman.

"Wow guys, thank you!" She looked over at Miranda, eyes smiling, to see the woman sitting serenely, watching.

Andy picked up her ever present laptop bag and pulled out two envelopes. "Uh, I really didn't have time to shop and I really didn't know what you girls would like, but I wanted to get you something, so, here." She blushed.

She handed the girls the envelopes and watched as they opened them at the same time. She had created two certificates, identical for both girls, entitling each to an event of their choice in Andy's company. "Uhm, you can decide if you want to go together or separately, it's up to you."

"I want to see 'Wicked'!" that from Cassidy.

"I want to see Miley Cyrus!" and that from Caroline. "She's going to be here in January!"

The girls chimed together, "Thanks Andy! Open ours!"

Andy picked up a fairly good sized box marked from both girls and shook it slightly. "Hey, no fair!" She grinned and tore the paper off to reveal a box with a very familiar label. "Wow! What did you guys do?" She opened the box to reveal a pair of red leather 14 eye Doc Marten's. "You really didn't have to do this. Thank you!"

"We know you had the black ones but…" Cassidy explained and then Caroline continued. "we hoped you didn't have any like these. We almost got you the ones you had on today, I'm glad we changed our minds, right Cass?"

Andy looked at both girls. "I love them; is it okay if I give you a hug?"

Cassidy giggled and wrapped herself around the reporter and then, after rolling her eyes, Caroline allowed herself a brief clasp then bounced away and spoke for her sister. "Do you guys mind if we go play with our new PlayStation games?"

"No Bobbseys, but before you do, come here." The woman gave each of her girls a hug and a kiss on the head. "Thank you." She murmured, her eyes a bit damp.

Both girls shook their heads, "No prob mom. See you later!"

Once the twin whirlwinds exited the two women looked at one another.

"They're very sweet, do you think they really like my gifts alright? I didn't have time to save money so…"

"Andrea, you don't have to worry about how much something costs, it's the fact that you are thinking of them and wanted to give them something they would like that's important. You cared. That's what counts for me."

"Well good, because I couldn't figure out what to buy the woman who has everything and I'm kinda broke right now, so." She shrugged again.

Miranda stood. "Come here darling."

Andy walked over to the woman and felt herself enveloped in a firm hug. "Would you believe me, if I told you that I have everything that I want from you right now in my arms? Because it's the truth, you've given me more than you can ever know."

Their lips met in a warm, loving kiss that lasted for several minutes.

"But I do have something for you." The silver haired woman bent down and scooped the other package from the floor. "Here."

Andy took the small square gift and quickly removed it from its paper, revealing a very distinctive red box. Her eyes widened. "Miranda…" she whispered. She opened the box and pulled out a black cotton cord with gold interlocking rings attached at each end. "It's a Trinity bracelet, I saw it and thought it would work with just about anything in your wardrobe, I…"

"It's beautiful, I love it." She slipped it over her hand and looked at it. "Perfect." Then moved into the woman's space and gathered her into a crushing hug. "I'm not even going to think about how much it cost, I know we're going to need to talk about that sometime, but right now, just thank you. I've never had anything like it."

She turned and pulled another envelope from her bag, the shape and texture of which Miranda recognized immediately. She gasped.

"I still have it you know."

Andy looked at her quizzically.

"Your letter explaining your 'resignation'. It's in my journal, marks my place." Her words were quiet, contemplative.

Andy was speechless. Wow. "I picked that paper out with you in mind, I wanted you to have something that was worthy after the shitty way I left."

Miranda sat slowly rubbing her fingers over the texture of the heavy paper. "It was all I ever thought I'd have of you."

Andy swallowed and kneeled in front of the now sitting woman, rubbing her hands soothingly up and down the outside of her thighs. "I'm sorry…"

Miranda reached up and caressed her Andrea's face. "Don't be; it brought us to this point, who is to say that if you had stayed we would have been able to get to where we are right now. We can't go back, only forward." She pressed a kiss to Andrea's forehead and then lifted the flap and removed the single folded paper inside. Before she could look at it Andy stilled her hand with her own.

"It's something I wrote, for you, for us. I don't usually do poetry, but, well, I needed to express to you how I felt when we're together, there is so much I'm just beginning to understand and I was hoping we would be able to talk about it, not necessarily today but…" She trailed off, lost suddenly in the steel blue eyes that captured her very soul. Then she was standing and giving the woman space, pacing over to the window, looking out at the dimming sky.

Miranda's heartbeat thrummed in her chest, no one had ever taken the time to create something for her; presents were always purchased, usually extravagantly expensive. She shakily unfolded the paper and read the elegantly curved script.

None know me as I know myself
Even that knowledge evolving
Power rises and ebbs, flows into another
You draw closer
More than any before

A dance of discovery
Limits and pleasure

Twin rises to heights never imagined
Bowing to you, my joy then turning
A flip of a switch
Your pleasure at my command

Andy stood rigid at the window, never had she given someone a piece of herself as the woman behind her and she worried that it would be too much or maybe not enough. That perhaps she had made an error; that the woman cared and wanted, but not necessarily in that way. She fretted over her style; perhaps it was too clumsy, too juvenile. Suddenly she felt very young and inexperienced and she shrunk, thinking perhaps she had just proved to her lover how improbable she really was as a match. So deep was her self-reprimanding that she did not hear the woman move across the room, so startled when she was enveloped in a sudden warmth that stretched nearly from head to toe.

"You are a marvel to me Andrea. Thank you." Miranda felt her words as completely inadequate so relied upon touch to convey her feeling. "Look at me darling." She turned the younger woman around and allowed then the tears that had formed in her eyes to fall. "You trust me so very much, I have no idea what I have done to engender such in you but I will try to honor it, I promise. I will never think less of you for expressing yourself; and that you did it so beautifully and yet so simply is a wonder. So." She kissed her on one side of her mouth, in the corner; "Andrea" then again on the other side "Thank you." Then once more fully, driving into her with a passion that spoke of the heat they could summon between them so seemingly effortlessly when fucking.

Sooner rather than later the kiss began to soften, neither wishing to overwhelm the twins with a heated display should they happen to wander back, and they parted slightly, arms still wrapped around waist and neck.

"Wow, just wow." Andrea murmured, gusting chills down the other woman's neck and back.

"Mmm, yes, wow." The silver haired woman pulled back, staring intently.

Andy felt the look as both caress and measure. "What?" She whispered, full lips were moistened as she waited, inviting another nibble which the older woman indulged.

Miranda pried herself away from the aching softness, but remained in the embrace. With startling clarity she realized that she would never want for anyone else but this exquisite woman to hold her and she stiffened; the fear once again rising within, but instead of backing away she tightened her hold of the brunette in her arms. She may not yet be able to verbalize the emotions that clamored around her heart, those that spoke of love and forever, but that didn't mean she couldn't begin to accept them inside and allow for a tenderness to grow around them, lessening the grip of the fear that she had used for so long to balance what she saw as an inconvenient heart. It was something new, something she had never before been motivated to try, until this unknowing creature dropped into her life, changing her forever.

She smiled as she reached in and stole her Andrea's breath yet one more time; maybe with the new year she will finally be able to let go completely. Until that time, she would just have to practice. Her inner self smirked.

Oh yes.



End Arc I