A/N: I want to take this moment to thank all of you who have stuck by me through the past four years. It is your continued support that helped me find the motivation to continue and finish this story. I love you all so much!
Sometimes I just sit down and read back through all the lovely reviews and comments you have left for me, and I feel so humbled by the positivity. It really does feed me and causes a sense of responsibility in me that spurs me on to continue writing for you, and inadvertently, for myself. I'm so very sorry that the updates for this story have stretched over such a long period, and it amazes me how many of you kept asking for more, making sure I would not forget. :)
So much has changed in my life. I've gotten divorced, had to leave my home and my family, and had to deal with the result of over a decade worth of emotional abuse. Along the way I have learned so much about feminism, human and animal rights, and most importantly about being my own person. I have grown a lot, and I worry that the old and new "me" might not mesh so well when it comes to my writing. If that is the case, and these last pages feel a bit messy, I hope you can forgive me. :P
This story turned out to be a reflection of my own life, in which I am both Andy and Miranda, hurting, healing and learning to love and forgive myself for not leaving sooner, as well as understanding that admitting defeat does not mean you give up, or that you are weak. These two characters, and how they have evolved in this story are very important to me, and to have you all take part in this journey through my writing means so, so much.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You people are amazing! Don't ever underestimate the impact your words of support have on a writer! I love you all!
A/N #2: A big giant thank you goes out to XVnot15 for beta-reading these last two chapters! My dear, you are supercalifragilistikexpialidocialiscous! You helped me so much, and you are such a wonderful English teacher! Thank you!
A/N #3: Small note - this story, and the DWP movie, take place in 2006, in which Sally Ride was still alive and closeted.
A/N #4: Trigger warnings for: very brief suicide and depression mention.
The air was so still that if Miranda held her breath she could almost pretend it was summer. Not a cloud to be seen, the sky a deep venetian blue, and a bright sun painting long shadows behind evergreen trees. But then she inhaled the icy air and her lungs burned, causing her to shudder where she sat on the veranda. Her notebook lay opened on her lap, a pen resting atop, and she warmed her hands on a steaming cup of coffee.
The days she had spent in this beautiful place had left her with many pleasant memories, and despite her eagerness to see her daughters again and to start setting her future plans in motion, there was a part of her that was disappointed she'd soon have to return to New York.
Two seagulls competitively dove towards the ocean below, and as Miranda watched them play she recalled the previous week with Andrea. Happiness and lingering arousal spread through her freezing limbs, and she giddily hid an indulgent grin behind the porcelain rim of her cup.
It had been a journey of rediscovery for Miranda. Andrea and her were excitingly compatible in more ways than just beneath the sheets, and with love and desire guiding them the differences in their experience had proved to be altogether negligible. The sex was extremely satisfactory, but above all else Miranda had found herself cherishing the small, tender moments they shared in between.
She set down the coffee and gazed at her sketches: a pair of douglas firs, the knots and bumps shaping their trunks like frail, feminine bodies, with needled foliage lining bony human shoulders, and spiky twig hair that covered the hint of a familiar face. Eyes, carved from a rocky cliff staring out over the ocean, and the slopes of cresting waves appearing so similar to the dip of an arched back. As her fingers traced the ink, Miranda tried to remember how many years ago she had last drawn this freely.
Fondly, she turned the pages and perused her drawings of Andrea. Most of them were of fleeting, subconscious moments, simple lines and shadows, captured in fast, messy strokes, and yet Miranda recognised the younger woman in all of them. The very first one that she had made a week ago was a study of her sleeping lover, which she had drawn the morning after their first intimate night together. Compelled, perhaps, by a renewed taste for life, Miranda had woken with an urge to create.
When she had picked up that ballpoint pen and taken to a lined notebook meant for writing, she had been unsure of how much of her former skill remained. Andrea's reaction at seeing herself through Miranda's eyes, however, aided by the intensity of the resulting lovemaking, had easily convinced Miranda to fully dive back into her old favourite past-time.
No longer having a team of professionals at her beck and call and therefore being forced to plot and draft her ideas by herself, she had gladly welcomed the sudden surge of creativity into her life and had made an impressive amount of progress with what Andrea now referred to as the 'Project'.
She sniffled against the cold and absentmindedly wiped at her nose.
Her plans were slowly taking shape, and the way things looked, she'd have the support of quite a few big industry names after all. Being proactive over the past couple of days had smoothed over the remaining sense of loss in her heart, and although she realised it would take time for her to fully adjust to a life without Runway, she felt confident about her continued influence in the world of fashion.
"Nobody can do what I do."
Indeed. And with Andrea by her side nothing seemed impossible.
Another grin stole its way onto her lips and she realised she'd have to somehow keep this new frequency of smiling in check, or else her reputation as the Snow Queen might suffer. Even her body betrayed her, shivering once more against the cold midday as her mind tempted her with warm thoughts of Andrea in front of the fire. Promptly, she finished her coffee, closed the notebook and stood.
When she opened the veranda door to return inside, she caught Andrea's hushed voice.
"Sh… I gotta go. Speak to you later."
The younger woman hurriedly snapped her phone shut and turned to Miranda with a tremulous smile.
"Oh hi, Miranda! Done sketching already?"
It wasn't the first time she felt like she had walked in on Andrea being secretive on the phone during the past week, and she really did not like the suspicion it elicited in the pit of her stomach. Was Andrea hiding something? Did Miranda have the right to question her?
"Who was that?" She tried to sound nonchalant, but the way Andrea's smile morphed into a grimace only fed her misgivings.
"Oh, you know, no one important."
Andrea was such a bad liar.
Miranda narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, but as she watched the younger woman squirm under her gaze she realised that in this relationship she no more had the right to bully Andrea than Andrea had the right to lie.
So instead she opted to soften her features, dropped her notebook onto the dining table and walked across the room to Andrea.
"Darling," she said, trying hard to keep the accusation from her tone. "I don't want us to keep things from one another."
She slid her arms around Andrea's waist and pulled her close.
"Whatever it is, it won't weigh against the damage keeping a secret might cause."
"Miranda, I can't..." Andrea was struggling, and despite having manipulated people into telling her what she wanted to hear all through her career, Miranda felt uncomfortable pressing on.
"Andrea, whatever the reason you believe you can't confide in me, whether you are scared of my reaction or you simply wish to protect me, I promise you that it is your honesty I will always value above all else."
There was a visible moment of indecision, and Miranda patiently watched Andrea's beautiful face until it finally relaxed in surrender.
"Okay," Andrea softly conceded.
Her gaze was downcast and Miranda wondered why she sounded as if she was letting someone down by sharing the truth.
"Here," Andrea said as she led her to the opened laptop on the couch. "I think I'd better show you."
They sat down side-by-side and Andrea pulled up her personal email inbox. Miranda briefly wondered if someone had sent Andrea a particularly unpleasant news article, which the younger woman had meant to spare Miranda the sight of, but then Andrea opened a message and upon seeing the sender name, Miranda instantly knew.
"I wasn't supposed to tell you," Andrea sighed.
"TOP SECRIT ANDREYA," it said in the subject line, and Miranda's hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes as well as her heart began to burn as she quietly read the rest of the text.
"Andreya, this is Caroline. Can you help us? This is top secrit mom can't know. Cass and I want to come see mom and surprise her for x-mas. Dad says it's ok. You should talk with dad about the plan. C+C"
Andrea was silent and so nervous while awaiting Miranda's reaction that her restless leg shook the entire couch. Miranda placed a calm hand on her thigh and met her worried eyes.
"They're coming... here?" She asked incredulously. "My babies?"
"Yes," Andrea nodded. "Please don't be angry."
"I'm not angry," Miranda replied truthfully, but her chest was nonetheless swelling with emotions that were hard to contain.
Suddenly a laugh broke free, and she threw herself at Andrea, who barely had time to prevent the laptop from falling, and kissed her long and hard on the lips.
"I'm… ecstatic!" She spoke against the cheek of the still rigid younger woman beneath her. "When will they be here?"
Andrea finally exhaled the breath she'd been holding and snaked her arms around Miranda. "We can pick them up tomorrow at one. I was going to lure you out on a quick drive after lunch…," she said as she squeezed Miranda and kissed the tip of her nose. "Their dad is bringing them all the way, and they should land at that small airfield just north of here, so no long drive across the island for them either."
Pleased by the amount of thought that had apparently gone into all the planning, Miranda took the laptop from Andrea's grasp and set it on the floor. She then grabbed the younger woman's knees and parted them to slide her own body in between, before pushing Andrea fully back into the cushions where she hugged her tightly.
"I stand by what I said about keeping secrets," she spoke against Andrea's throat, feeling the warmth of her own breath on her lips.
"I do not want us to keep things from one another. Even if it involves well-meant surprises by my mischievous little angels." She smiled and snuggled closer. "That said… I want to thank you for taking care of things, and... for allowing them to come here."
Andrea tenderly stroked through her hair, scratching her scalp ever so lightly in exactly the way Miranda loved best.
"Of course they are allowed to come here, Miranda," she replied. "I wanted you to see them again as soon as possible."
"You are a gift," was all Miranda managed to murmur in her current state of bliss. One more day and her daughters would be in her arms again-on Christmas Eve of all days. And she still couldn't quite fathom what she had done in life that made her deserve the love of someone as kind as Andrea, but she knew she would relish in it forever.
At one in the afternoon on the following day, Miranda found herself nervously pacing in front of their car at the parking lot of what looked more like a derelict old farm than an airport. They stood near the runway and were surrounded by only two other cars, as well as a few scattered barns that, according to Andrea, were apparently hangars. There wasn't a plane in sight, and not another person either, and had it not been for Miranda implicitly trusting Andrea, she'd have believed they were in the wrong place altogether.
"Hey," Andrea stepped up beside her, rubbing her gloved hands together. "Don't you want to wait in the car? It would be slightly warmer."
"Hmmm," Miranda shook her head, but slipped an arm around the younger woman to briefly rub her back through her coat. "I'm too nervous. I need to keep moving."
"They're fine, Miranda. They'll be here in a few minutes," Andrea tried to reassure her.
And rationally Miranda knew this. She had gone over the travel details with Jeremy the previous evening, and he had even messaged her a little over an hour ago that they had made their connection in Vancouver. It was only a sixty-minute flight and there wasn't any snow or ice. Subconsciously chewing on her bottom lip, Miranda mused that her apprehension was probably also due to the fact that she would be seeing her daughters again after having parted on such painful terms two weeks ago.
"When we came here I wanted us to fly in too," Andrea suddenly spoke, "but no flights were going because of the storm. It would have been faster."
"No-no, it was quite alright," Miranda smiled at her. "In hindsight, that first drive was very beautiful. I think it was what I needed,... a slow-paced departure from civilisation towards a place of peace."
Andrea grinned back, and Miranda leaned in for a kiss.
Suddenly she heard the humming of engines in the distance, and she looked up to see a small plane headed their way.
"They're here," she breathed, eyes wide and hands grabbing Andrea's arms. "They're here!"
She watched the smooth landing, but only once the plane had fully touched down, then slowed and was taxiing toward them did she feel that she could freely breathe again.
The aircraft stopped rolling just a few yards away and the cabin door opened. An older couple climbed out first, but then-and oh how Miranda's heart jumped at the sight-familiar red hair appeared and she watched Caroline climb down onto the tarmac. The girl briefly scanned her surroundings, and, as her sister descended the steps behind her, quickly locked onto Miranda. The excited wave that followed instantly brought tears to Miranda's eyes, and before she knew it she was running.
And then she was kneeling on the ground and her arms were filled with her two little darlings. She held them so very tightly, inhaled the smell of their hair, and revelled in the feeling of their little faces pressed to hers.
"Mommy," Caroline shrieked in delight, while Cassidy just quietly clung to Miranda.
"Bobbseys," Miranda sniffled, her heart soaring.
"Why are you crying, mom?" Cassidy asked as they pulled away to all look at each other.
"I'm just so happy to see you, my darlings." She gave them a wide, watery smile and tenderly cupped their cheeks.
They both looked a bit tired, excitement about the journey no doubt having kept them from proper sleep. But they were healthy and they were right here, looking back at her not with the heartbroken gaze of disappointed children, but with wide happy grins and eyes full of love. Miranda drew them into her arms again, squeezing them so much they giggled and squirmed.
"Mom," the sound of Caroline's laugh was absolute music to Miranda's ears. "You're squishing me."
"Ahem," someone next to them cleared their throat, and Miranda looked up to see that it was the girls' father.
She stood and nodded at her ex-husband. "Hello, Jeremy."
They hadn't seen each other since the summer when Miranda had last picked the girls up from his Hampton's home. And although they had never been as close friends as her and Stephen in the past, Miranda nevertheless appreciated Jeremy's leniency regarding the girls' visitation rights. She knew he could have been difficult, had he so chosen. And taking her own behaviour of the last few years into account, she wasn't sure she could have entirely blamed him.
He heaved two small suitcases from the plane and handed them to the twins.
"Thank you, for coming with them," Miranda thanked him. "And for allowing the girls to spend the Holidays with me."
"Well, there was no stopping them, to be honest," he scratched the back of his head and gave a wry grin.
"As soon as they decided they would use your… uhm... assistant," he looked past Miranda to where Andrea was waiting by the car, "to come here and surprise you, there was no talking them out of it."
"Andrea is no longer my assistant," Miranda corrected him, while her daughters used her as a shield to sceptically glance behind her and inspect the younger woman.
"Right," Jeremy nodded. Although she hadn't spoken to him about Andrea's new role in her life, he seemed to be putting two and two together.
Miranda hesitated for a moment, but then asked, "do you have time for a coffee?"
"Nah, I think we have to fly back right away. The pilot said the weather's gonna turn."
"Ah, alright," Miranda replied, but she was slightly distracted by the uncharacteristically shy behaviour of her girls who were still merely eyeing Andrea from a safe distance.
They had met Andrea many times before, because, among other things, she had quite often helped with their various school projects as part of her duties as Miranda's assistant. Ever since that fateful day in August the twins had even started calling her "the Harry Potter Assistant" for getting them the unpublished book manuscript long before its release, and Miranda didn't know why they were suddenly acting so bashful.
It amused as much as it puzzled her, so she called out to the younger woman, "Andrea, come here."
Andrea's steps were perhaps a tad more cautious than usual, but she walked up to them with a wide smile on her beautiful face. Miranda wasn't quite sure whom she was more proud of, the twins or Andrea, but she sensed that having the three of them get along would make her life complete.
She gave her daughters a gentle nudge in the back and said, "girls, say hi to Andrea."
"Hello," Caroline was the first to speak; Cassidy held up a hand in greeting.
"Hey," Andrea replied warmly, looking between the girls, before focusing on Caroline. "We spoke on the phone, right?"
"Yeah." Caroline's eyes sought out her sister's. "Thanks for letting us come here."
Then Cassidy added, her voice low, "even if you can't keep a secret."
"Girls," Miranda warned, but Andrea reassured her with a brief look, before squatting down in front of the twins.
She said, "yeah, I'm sorry about that. But I don't want to lie to your mom."
"You ruined the surprise," Cassidy accused, looking at the ground.
Miranda squeezed her daughter's shoulder. "No she didn't, Bobbsey." She pressed her hand to Cassidy's cheek and continued, "I am so glad you are here. When I found out you two were coming I was so excited I could not contain my happiness."
"Really? So you were surprised?" Caroline asked, eyes wide.
Smiling at her babies, Miranda nodded. "Yes, I was very surprised, and I'm very proud of you. Your plan was a success."
She looked at the younger woman. "And Andrea told me about it, because I asked her to. When you trust someone you want them to be honest with you, don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess," Caroline conceded.
Cassidy remained quiet, but eyed Andrea intently in a way not much different from how Miranda herself typically perused those she found potentially worthy of her interest.
"Now," Miranda then spoke, offering a hand and smirk to Andrea to help her stand up.
"Let's get out of the cold."
When Miranda walked into the small supermarket twenty minutes later, a clingy daughter on each arm, she didn't even flinch at the unexpected crowd that met them. The rush of last-minute Holiday grocery shopping surrounding them couldn't faze her one bit, because her girls were back, and the world was right again. Andrea followed them with a cart, sending Miranda a warm, understanding smile every time the older woman found herself glancing back apologetically for focusing so much on the twins.
Caroline had taken the lead, pulling them from one shelf to the next and taking advantage of Miranda's splendid mood to add to the ever growing pile of junk food in the shopping cart. Miranda knew she wouldn't let her daughters make a habit out of it, but for now she gladly indulged them.
"Mom, can we have pizza tonight?"
They stood in front of the freezer section where Andrea was thoughtfully weighing a large frozen turkey in her hands.
"We have dinner guests tonight, Caroline, and they will bring half of the meal we already agreed on," Miranda explained, watching her daughter scrunch her nose in disappointment. "But how about instead of a Christmas Turkey tomorrow we make a pizza? You and your sister can help and create your very own." She looked at Andrea who raised her eyebrows. "And it would save Andrea a lot of time in the kitchen."
The younger woman quite eagerly put the dead bird back into the freezer.
"Who's coming for dinner?" Cassidy asked as they continued onwards.
"The nextdoor neighbours," Miranda explained. The twins didn't seem particularly impressed by the prospect of having to sit through a meal with adults they didn't know, so Miranda added, "they are bringing their dog."
The magic word to the rescue, she smirked to herself at the excited response she received.
When they had found everything they needed they moved to the checkout line, where the girls fought over who could help place all the items on the counter. Miranda watched them with a lazy smile; she had missed them so much that even their squabbling couldn't destroy her good mood.
"Hey, Miranda, look," Andrea suddenly spoke beside her, handing her a magazine.
It was the just-released January issue of Runway, and Miranda reached for it with a hand that trembled ever so slightly.
There it was. Finality.
Not exactly shocked that even this small town supermarket at the edge of the world would carry Runway, she stroked her thumb across the glossy cover. What gave her pause was that she wasn't experiencing the lingering sadness she had expected. She wasn't certain what it was she was feeling, but one thing she knew for sure. She had no regrets.
Andrea gently touched her arm. "You okay?"
And it was the truth. She was more than okay. It was time to put Runway behind her.
"Put it back." She smiled at the startled look on Andrea's face as she handed her the magazine.
"We don't need it."
"But…" Andrea pouted, "maybe I want it."
Miranda hadn't considered that. So busy with moving on from the loss of the magazine herself, she hadn't thought about the fact that Andrea, too, had lost a job that had been pretty much her life.
"Of course. I'm sorry, darling," she caressed Andrea's hand while the younger woman cradled the January issue to her chest with the other.
"It's just… you know… this is us," Andrea now whispered so the twins couldn't hear. "This is where we happened."
She fondly stroked the cover, and Miranda had to fight the urge to grab Andrea and kiss her right there.
Returning to the cabin with Andrea and the girls felt unsurprisingly natural, as if she had done it a hundred times before. Andrea and her were so in tune, so used to their little domestic routines that it was difficult to remember they had only shared their lives this intimately for the past two weeks. But it spoke volumes about their future and how smoothly they would be able to transition back to life in Manhattan.
Miranda helped carry some of the grocery bags into the kitchen, and when the twins followed behind, curiously taking in their surroundings, she smirked and told them to go explore.
"Your room is up the stairs and to the left."
Suitcases were haphazardly dropped near the entrance and eager little feet trampled up the stairs. Andrea snorted as she opened the fridge to stow away the food.
"So much for peace and quiet."
Miranda stepped behind her and slithered her arms around the younger woman's waist.
"You better get used to it, darling," she whispered into her hair, before nuzzling the spot just behind her ear.
"Oh I do like them," Andrea said as she leaned into the caress. "And it's not like they can trick me into getting fired anymore, can they?" She suddenly became thoughtful, body slackening in Miranda's embrace. "I mean, if they don't like... or accept me,..." her voice was so soft, "I would understand if you didn't want me in your life anymore..."
"Andrea," Miranda gently turned the younger woman around, quite aware that Andrea's words weren't meant in the altruistic way they appeared, but were, in fact, more of a frightened call for reassurance.
"My sweet, wonderful Andrea," she took her lover's face into her hands and pressed their foreheads together. "I won't let anything, or anyone come between us. I love you and my daughters equally."
Her hands stroked down over Andrea's spine before coming to rest at the small of her back.
"After being lost for so long, living my life chasing after this elusive, short-lived sense of gratification that comes with power and success, I finally understand that my true happiness lies with you and the girls. I can survive anything-even very public dethroning," she snorted, "as long as I have the three of you by my side." She briefly kissed Andrea's lips, before adding, "and I know that we will make this work."
Andrea smiled, her teary eyes sparkling, and Miranda leaned in for a longer, deeper kiss, that was filled to the brim with love and promises.
"Mom, what are you doing?"
Caroline's sudden voice startled them apart, and Miranda looked up at the landing above the stairs.
"I was kissing Andrea, Bobbsey," she replied carefully, arms nonetheless remaining around the younger woman as she turned to fully face her daughters.
The girls were quiet, their hands holding onto the banister.
"Why?" It was Cassidy who had asked.
After a subtle pat to Andrea's backside, Miranda let go of her and walked into the living space, stopping near the bottom of the stairs.
"Come," Miranda said, holding out her arms to her daughters. "I will explain everything and answer any questions you may have."
Caroline walked down first, her gaze flicking between Miranda and Andrea, while Cassidy followed closely behind. They didn't seem too perturbed, but this was the first time they had seen their mother kiss another adult on the lips, and although Miranda had planned to tell them about Andrea's place in her heart as soon as possible, she still grew a little apprehensive.
"Here, let's sit down." She walked to the couch, took a seat in the middle, and patted the two cushions to either side of her. The girls sat down and Miranda took their hands, unsure how to begin.
"Is Andreya your girlfriend?" Cassidy asked quite suddenly, and Miranda was startled by her directness.
"Uhm." Miranda blinked and looked at Andrea who still stood frozen behind the kitchen island. "Yes, Andrea is my girlfriend."
"Does that mean you're gay?" Caroline wanted to know, and Miranda really couldn't judge whether or not the girls were upset.
"Well, having a girlfriend wouldn't in itself make me gay," she explained, gazing at where she held her daughters' hands in her lap.
"But yes, I… I'm a lesbian. "
She allowed for a short silence, before she dared to ask, "are you girls okay with that?"
"I guess so." Caroline shrugged. "Batwoman is a lesbian. And she's really cool."
"Sally Ride is too." Cassidy said.
"She is?" Andrea chimed in, sounding intrigued, as she walked over and sat down in one of the arm chairs.
Miranda, who was glad that Andrea had chosen to be a part of this talk, couldn't quite place the name, although she was sure she had heard it before. "Sally who?"
"Sally Ride, Miranda. How on Earth is it possible that you don't know about America's first woman in space?!" Andrea rolled her eyes, mocking Miranda, if in a playful manner, but it caused Cassidy to giggle so heartily that Miranda instantly forgave her.
"Well, you see, Andrea, I am not the NASA specialist in this family," she patted her beaming daughter's head. "Cassidy is."
"May I ask how you know that Sally Ride is gay, Cassidy?" Andrea had slid to the edge of her seat, apparently rather excited about the subject matter.
"There wasn't anything official the last time I checked," she continued. "And I did do a lot of research, because I wrote an extensive article about her for the Daily Northwestern. I even won a prize for it." She smirked and eyed Miranda. "It was in my resume."
Perhaps that was why the name rang a bell. Miranda had taken the time to actually read Andrea's sample articles a few months back, once she had found herself becoming increasingly interested in the younger woman.
"A girl from Spacecamp said so," Cassidy mumbled, now sounding doubtful.
"Hey, don't get me wrong, Cass, I also think she's gay." If Cassidy had any objections to her name being shortened by Andrea, she gave no indication. "But you know, one should always be careful with rumours until there is something official out there."
With a pointed look at Miranda, the younger woman continued. "The press can be vultures. You know how they get with your mom."
"Andrea is very protective of me," Miranda told the girls. "However, I have no desire to hide Andrea from the public, so there will be speculations and rumours about us." She hugged her daughters. "When that happens, it could become unpleasant again."
"It's okay," Caroline said as she hugged her mother back. "Andreya is pretty, so we will be more popular in school."
"How so?" Miranda asked, hard-pressed not to laugh at the prominent blush on Andrea's face.
"The dad of a girl in our class had an affair with that young actress from that show we like," Cassidy explained. "When it was in the papers, everybody in school wanted to be that girl's friend."
"Bobbseys," Miranda stroked their hair, making sure they both listened. "What Andrea and I have is not an affair. I signed the divorce papers on Monday and had them couriered to New York, so the divorce with Stephen should be final next week." She looked first at Caroline, then Cassidy, hoping they understood Andrea's importance. "And Andrea and I… well, we liked each other before," she grinned at the younger woman, "for quite a while, actually, but we didn't become involved until..."
Suddenly Cassidy reached out, and her small hands unexpectedly flew up and cupped Miranda's cheeks. Stunned, Miranda allowed her daughter to carefully map her face and pull at her skin as she traced the lines around her eyes and mouth.
"Darling, what are you doing?" Miranda whispered, fascinated.
"I'm checking if it's really you," Cassidy replied, and she tilted her head to the side and squinted in that contemplative way that Miranda knew she herself was prone to doing.
"Because… mom," Cassidy dropped her hands and looked at her sister for support. "You're suddenly smiling, like... all the time."
"Oh," Miranda blinked. Looking back over the past few days, she supposed the girls' assessment wasn't wrong. "And you feel that's a bad thing?"
"No, not really," Caroline answered. "It's just… strange, I guess." Gazing down, she began to fidget with the hem of her mother's sweater. "You were always so… sad and… angry with us back home."
"Oh, my babies," Miranda sniffled against her tears, kissed both girls on the hair and held them close. "I was never angry with you. "
"I was angry with myself, and… I was lonely and yes…. sad," she gazed at Andrea whose eyes were sparkling with compassion and love. "But that was never your fault, Bobbseys. I'm so sorry that I made you feel like I was angry with you. I love you both so, so much. "
"We love you, too, mom," Caroline mumbled, burying her face against Miranda's stomach, her little arms squeezing with all their might while Cassidy clung to Miranda's other side.
Andrea wiped the tears from her own face and walked around the couch to place a gentle hand to Miranda's neck. Quietly, as to not disturb the emotional heap of Priestlys before her she stroked her fingers through Miranda's hair and asked, "anyone up for some hot cocoa?"
Three sniffly yeses were all Andrea needed to hear to magic away into the kitchen. Just a few minutes later the four of them sat huddled together in front of the fireplace, drinking abhorrently sweet hot chocolate while having light, giggly conversations, and Miranda knew this was the happiest she had ever felt in all her life.
It was past nine, and after a pleasant dinner Marie and Frank had invited them all to join them by their outdoor stone firepit for some roasted marshmallows. The women were sitting on a log, cradling their hot, spiced punch and warming their faces and feet at the fire.
"Miranda, your girls remind me a lot of Andy at that age," Marie said as they watched Frank teach the twins how to play fetch with Boomer a few yards away. "They're just as lively and... adventurous. "
"Well, at least there was only one of me back then," Andrea snorted.
The fire and spiced punch had coloured her nose and cheeks a delicate pink, and not for the first time that evening Miranda had to clench her fists in restraint to not tackle the younger woman to the ground and make sweet love to her right then and there.
"I think Erica would have loved two versions of you just the same," Marie replied a little wistfully, gazing into the flames. "She had a special bond with you, Andy. You were the only Sachs who never treated her any differently."
"Well, I loved her." Andrea shifted against Miranda, thoughtful at the memory of her aunt. "She was my favourite."
"Mine too," Marie sniffled, before wiping her face with the back of her gloved hand. "Mine too."
Miranda hadn't expected to be hit so hard by that revelation, and despite the other woman still somewhat counting as a stranger, Miranda reached out to gently touch her arm.
"In the years after your summers here," Marie continued, subdued, "Erica and I… we spent a lot of time together. Frank was always up north at the oil rigs for weeks at a time, and so it was just the two of us."
As she watched Frank teach another dog trick to the twins, Miranda wondered how much he knew, and how a genuine marriage-if that was the case here-could survive something like that. Her own two marriages had only been for show, and when Miranda had been involved with her previous lovers, not a thought had been lost on her husbands, who had equally found their fulfillment elsewhere.
Judging by the sudden stillness in Andrea, the younger woman had also caught on to the meaning of Marie's words, and wanting to comfort her, Miranda hugged Andrea to her side and rested her head against her shoulder.
"She spoke of you often," Marie continued, and she gave Andrea a teary smile. "And you should know she never blamed you for any of the things that happened."
"Thank you," Andrea replied quietly, voice cracking, "for telling me all this."
"No," Marie said as she dried her tears. "Thank you for bringing life, and... happiness back here. I think Erica would have enjoyed," she gestured at the giggling twins, "all this laughter at her cabin."
She then looked at Andrea. "I'm so happy you didn't sell. It wouldn't be the same if some stranger had made a bed and breakfast for surfing tourists out of it."
"Don't worry," the younger woman reassured Marie. "I have no intention of selling, and I think," she eyed Miranda, "we will come visit often. With the girls?"
Miranda nodded, endeared that Andrea was already planning a future with her daughters in it. Thanks to the information they had just learned, Marie's presence did not stop Miranda from tenderly kissing the corner of Andrea's mouth. And although the younger woman seemed a bit self-conscious at first, she fully turned her head towards Miranda for a proper kiss.
"I just realised we forgot the gram crackers," Marie said as she stood rather quickly and walked towards her house. "Let me get those real quick, and then the girls can make s'mores."
"Okay, thank you, Marie," a slightly flustered Andrea said, while Miranda took her hand and grinned to herself.
"Andrea," she spoke after a few moments of just sitting together and staring into the flames. "I never asked how your aunt passed away. She wasn't much older than me, was she?"
The younger woman took a deep breath and squeezed Miranda's hand. "She drowned herself."
Miranda's eyes closed at the mental blow.
"According to the letter I received from her lawyer, she had been battling with depression for a long time. One morning she just swam into the ocean... and didn't return."
"Oh god. Andrea, I'm so sorry." She slipped both arms around Andrea's waist and just held her for a while.
Briefly, Miranda recalled how hollow and defeated she had felt when they had come to the island, and although she couldn't quite imagine getting to a point completely devoid of hope, she knew it absolutely wasn't her place to judge. She thought of how Andrea must have felt learning that news at a time in her life when she didn't have any support from her friends and family, and her stomach clenched. She nuzzled Andrea's cheek and whispered words of love and comfort, and Andrea snuggled close.
"Thank you, Miranda. I'm okay." She smiled and Miranda gently wiped the tears from her adorably rosy cheeks. "You're the one who has, in these past weeks, taught me to forgive and to move forward. I can do that now." She exhaled one more time and then straightened her spine. "My aunt will always be in my heart." She eyed the fast approaching twins. "And we will make plenty more happy memories here."
"Mom!" Miranda released Andrea just in time to catch an excited Caroline on her lap. "Mom, did you see? We made Boomer sit! Frank said we can try to teach Patricia, too, once we're back home."
Cassidy arrived by Andrea's side, and, without hesitation, plopped herself down in front of the younger woman. "Andy, have you ever had a dog?"
At some point during dinner, when they had talked extensively about women astronauts and comic book superheroes, Cassidy had taken to calling Andrea by the shortened version of her name. And although it annoyed Miranda, she knew it meant her daughter had accepted Andrea in her life, at the very least as a friend.
"Yeah, we had a beagle."
Marie had returned and was rustling with the cracker wrappers while Frank handed everyone a long skewer for the marshmallows.
"Which ones are those? 'Beagles'?" Caroline asked from where she had slipped down on the ground next to her sister, her back leaning against Miranda's legs.
"Snoopy is a beagle," Miranda joined the conversation as she handed her daughter a bag of rainbow marshmallows.
"Who is Snoopy?" Caroline wanted to know. "You mean Snoop Dog?"
"No, your mom meant the dog from the Peanuts," Andrea explained with a laugh.
"I'm allergic to peanuts," Cassidy said, while sliding four marshmallows onto the skewer.
"I knew that," Andrea beamed smugly.
And while the twins proceeded to burn their sugary shish kabobs to a crisp, and an amused Frank and Marie sang old, swinging Christmas tunes, Miranda held Andrea's hand behind their backs and silently counted down the minutes until bedtime.
When Miranda woke on Christmas morning she wasn't quite sure if there had been an explosion or an earthquake, but the bed was shaking and there was a high-pitched noise that brutally pulled her from her pleasant dreams.
A knee landed in her side and somewhere between all the screaming she heard Andrea utter a startled curse word or two beside her.
"Bobbseys, what on earth?!" Miranda slowly pried her eyes open.
"Mom, look outside!" Caroline screeched, entirely too loudly for Miranda's head which was still recovering from one cup of spiced punch too many.
Cassidy threw herself next to Andrea and shook the younger woman by the knee that was propped up under the duvet.
Luckily Miranda had planned ahead, and her and Andrea had showered and put on nightgowns before falling asleep. She sat up and groggily leaned against the headboard. The girls were bouncing up and down on the mattress, and Miranda regretted not stopping them from eating so much sugar the night before.
"Can we go play outside?"
"Yeah, can we?"
"Yes," Miranda relented. "You may."
As quickly as it had appeared, the storm of two little redheads departed again, their excited "whee!" and the sound of small, naked feet on the wooden floor echoing from beyond the still ajar door.
"Girls!" Miranda shouted, sensing Andrea cringe beside her. "Get dressed first!"
"Oh my god," the younger woman rolled over and curled around Miranda with a groan. "What the hell just happened?"
"Welcome to the family, darling," Miranda drawled, and she felt Andrea's body shake against her in exhausted laughter.
Worried about what the girls might get up to unsupervised, they got dressed quickly and hurried downstairs. Andrea made coffee and Miranda stood by the veranda door and kept an eye on the twins who were already entirely covered in snow.
"Mom, are you coming?" Caroline yelled from outside.
Unwilling to shout any more than necessary, Miranda opened the door far enough to poke her head through and answer, "let mommy finish her coffee. We will come in a bit."
A snowball zoomed past her, narrowly missing her head, and it hit the veranda ceiling and caused bits of snow to rain down. Miranda pretended to be unfazed, and she closed the door and shook out her hair just as Andrea walked over with two steaming cups.
"Who raised those demons?"
Andrea smiled and pressed a finger to Miranda's chest. "You did. They really do take after their mother."
Miranda narrowed her eyes at her cheeky lover, but she couldn't fault her for speaking the truth. Playfulness was a wonderful trait, even if one had to cultivate it into finer shades as life progressed away from childhood.
She was about to whisper a dirty comeback in Andrea's ear when the younger woman's cellphone rang.
"Oh, it's my mom."
"Go on, it's alright." Miranda nodded. "Talk to her while we drink our coffee."
They sat down in the armchairs, and Andrea placed her phone on the table between them, indicating to Miranda that she'd turned on the speaker.
"Hey mom, Merry Christmas."
"Hi, Andy. Merry Christmas to you, too," Mrs. Sachs spoke on the other end of the line.
"So, how is everyone?" Andrea asked while drawing patterns on the table surface with her finger.
"Everyone's great. Jill and the boys flew in yesterday, and we all just really miss you."
"Does that 'we' include dad?"
"Honey,..." Andrea's mother was about to find excuses for her husband, when a loud splat against the cabin window startled Miranda upright. The twins outside shrieked with delight at her reaction, and Mrs. Sachs on the phone voiced her confusion.
"What's going on, Andy? Why do I hear children in the background? Where are you?"
"Miranda's kids are throwing snowballs at the windows," Andrea said, and she smirked and shook her head at the girls who had already run off again and were now making shapes in the deep snow.
"Miranda's daughters? Why would her daughters be there with you? Why is she there, really?" Mrs. Sachs sounded frustrated, and part of Miranda could empathise with the maternal fear that her children would one day not want to share things anymore.
"Andy, what aren't you telling me?" Mrs. Sachs pleaded.
Gently grabbing Andrea's hands, Miranda nodded for her to go ahead.
"We're together, mom," Andrea said with a shaky breath. "Miranda and I. We're a couple."
There was a pause, but before it could unsettle Andrea, her mother sighed and spoke, "yes, that's pretty much what I've suspected."
Andrea frowned. "You have? How?"
"You've never spoken about a boy the way you've spoken about that woman in these past months." Hearing this caused a small amount of smugness to claim its place in the pit of Miranda's belly. "And then bringing her to Erica's cabin,..."
"Mom, does dad know? Have you told him?" The prospect seemed to greatly worry Andrea.
"No, but Jill knows, and she shared my suspicion. Oh honey, all those long nights you spent at the office..."
"Mom, we weren't together when I worked for her. It just sort of happened here, while we genuinely got to know and took care of each other."
Miranda smiled at that and used her thumbs to lightly stroke her lover's palms.
"Andy, are you sure about this? She's so old," Andrea's eyes widened, and she quickly looked at Miranda and pointedly shook her head. "And isn't it possible she's just using you?"
Andrea wanted to answer, but Miranda held up her hand and mouthed, let me.
"Mrs. Sachs? This is Miranda."
"Oh." Andrea's mother immediately sounded anxious. "Uhm, hello, Miranda."
"From one mother to another, I want to say that I understand your concerns about your daughter's well-being. That said, let me reassure you that my intentions are noble, and that I am neither taking advantage of Andrea right now, nor have I ever, in our professional time together, approached her in a personal manner."
Andrea beamed at her.
"I love and respect Andrea, and I suggest that in the new year we could perhaps meet face-to-face, so that you can make your own assessment of our situation."
Mrs. Sachs remained quiet, and Andrea took the opportunity to speak up again. "Mom, I'm safe and happy. Please trust me in this. I love Miranda, and I want to be with her. We're good for each other, so please don't worry. I promise I'll see you soon, and then we'll talk properly, alright?"
"Oh well, I guess I'll have to take your word for it, Andy." Mrs. Sachs finally relented, and Miranda saw the tension fall from Andrea's shoulders.
The twins could be heard laughing again, and Miranda, who had finished her coffee, decided it was time to join her daughters, so she stood from her armchair.
"Okay, mom," Andrea followed suit. "I need to go. There is a snowball fight to be had, and you know how I love those."
That lured a small laugh from Mrs. Sachs. "Okay, well, go get 'em, honey."
"I will." Her eyes sparkled at Miranda.
After saying their goodbyes, Miranda and the younger woman pulled on their boots and zipped up their coats by the veranda door.
"You should know I'm very good at snowball fights," Andrea grinned as she clapped her gloved hands together.
"Is that so?" Miranda replied, and she leaned closer to whisper, "well, you better run, darling. There is a reason why they call me the 'Snow Queen'. I've got the toughest balls."
Throwing her head back in a delightful laugh, Andrea yanked the door open and hurried outside. She yelled for the girls to run and hide, and the three of them proceeded to tumble around in the snow in a mixture of giggles and exhausted panting against the cold. Miranda got in a few good shots that hit their targets square on the face, eliciting more happy shrieking and some empty, half-hearted threats of revenge.
She was ready to throw another perfectly rounded snowball that was pressed together just firmly enough to fly well, yet not hurt its victim, when suddenly three white blurs came simultaneously at her. Two of the snowballs hit her on her chest and one spattered apart on her cheek, sending snow down her collar.
The surprising impact had sent her stumbling, and before she could regain her balance she fell backwards. A thick layer of snow gently caught her, but she had no time to scramble back to her feet, because three laughing, snow-covered beasts jumped her and pressed her deeper into the snow in a jumble of hugs and kisses.
And Miranda happily thought to herself, 'The Fall of the Queen', indeed.