This isn't the longest chapter by any stretch but I wanted it to finally get out there.
Miranda put a generous portion of ice in both glasses but frowned when she thought about mixing the scotch with it; a fairly decent label, it would be a crime to have it be diluted before she'd even get the pleasure of more than a couple sips.
So once again she fixed vodka and Pellegrino, adding another slice of lime to each, cut thinner this time because there were only two left and she had a feeling they were going to be stuck in this house long past the time that the storm had moved on.
When she turned around Andréa's eyes were fixated on her and Miranda had a momentary lapse into self-conscious unease, the sarong and tank top barely covering the parts of her body of which she was most self-conscious. However it was a reflex and one that had no place here so she pushed it away as she walked over to the bed.
Trading the drink for the phone held in Andréa's hand she sat cross-legged with her back against several pillows and the headboard. She read the text from her daughters that sounded somewhat frantic and noted that they'd sent two prior at thirty minute intervals. Castigating herself for making them worry, she quickly fired off an assurance of their continued well-being but frowned as the send signal continued to rotate with no resolution culminating after a bit longer with a "Message Failed".
Andy rolled over and peered at the display to see what had sparked Miranda's exhaled expletive and dark look, taking in the no signal indicator. Without a word she retrieved her phone from the nightstand and turned it on; one bar of service but nearly no battery.
"What's the number for Caroline and Cassidy?" Miranda had to look at the address book as she'd been communicating with Elizabeth's phone and Andy quickly sent a text noting their continued existence along with her parent's number and a request for Elizabeth to contact them. The message hung torturously for several seconds before finally indicating success and they both exhaled in relief. They sipped their drinks in silence, Andy, still partially lying on her back, staring at the ceiling as Miranda contemplated the pale light of a lone lantern swaying with the nearly melted cubes in her drink.
Andy yawned, "I can barely keep my eyes open."
Miranda murmured a quiet "Hmmm"; her own eyelids drooping. "There was something I wanted to ask you…"
Andy took a sip of her drink and pursed her lips while squinting at it as she placed it on the nightstand. "I think I've had enough of that."
Miranda smirked as she polished off the last of the bitter drink. "Yes, well it's not something I regularly indulge in but today, I'm making a few allowances in both taste and quantity."
Andy twisted her body so her torso was mostly on its side with her tender shins still facing the ceiling and propped her head up with her hand, giving Miranda a soft smile. "I know."
At Miranda's questioning look Andy continued; "I know you don't really drink all that much."
Miranda shifted so she was lying on her side as well, head propped up on her right hand. "Yes, well, it's something I've always been careful of considering… " Her voice trailed off.
Andy kept silent and waited.
Miranda shifted a bit, uncomfortable with disclosure. "I don't usually talk much about my family. My grandfather, my mother's father, was… a drinker. After her death it got considerably worse, and he was quite mean as well which only got worse when he was in his cups. It got to the point that my father would no longer allow us to see them."
Andy took a deep breath, her earlier lethargy replaced with a keen awareness of the trust Miranda was showing her by discussing this very personal topic.
"How old were you when your mother died?"
"Eight." Miranda looked into her empty glass and contemplated a refill for only a millisecond before rolling back and placing it on the nightstand.
"May I ask what happened?" Andy felt the sadness and wanted to reach out but held still afraid that any sudden move would cut off the rare display of openness.
Distractedly Miranda murmured, "You could google it you know." Her gaze was far away, reliving that horrible moment when her entire life seemed to crash down in front of her.
"Google it?" Andy's face transmitted her confusion.
"Yes, Ronan Point." She nearly gagged on the words. "A total structural failure." Miranda swallowed convulsively; she felt as though a bile-ridden pit was opening in her stomach. "I… I don't know that I can really talk about this." She reached behind her and grabbed a bottle of water off the nightstand and worried at the lid for several seconds before ripping it off and taking several gulps of the tepid water.
A warm hand briefly touched her arm then withdrew. "Look, you don't have to. But, were you injured?"
Miranda tilted her head, she didn't expect that question. It was never about her or what had happened or almost happened to her. In her memories it was always that stinging moment when she'd lost the warmth and love of her mother.
Tears gathered and glistened in the low light of the lantern. "No. Not physically... " She stifled a sniffle as her voice grew hoarse. "..not physically."
Several moments passed. Could I do this now? Why would I now? Miranda stared at the lantern's reflection in the expanse of glass lining the far wall, noting how it wavered slightly with the movement of the house. Caught in the hypnotic fluttering of the light, almost like a flame, she struggled to pull herself back to the present. Perhaps there was a lesson here, in this house. Battered on the outside it bent with the elements but did not break; working with nature, not against it and against all odds it seemed as if it would survive.
Shaking her head she looked at the patient compassion with which Andréa regarded her. Maybe I can be like this house, strong because I yield. Maybe it's not weakness to share. Maybe I don't have to be alone.
"My mother, father and younger sister and brother lived in East London, a place called Newham. Both my parents worked and they did alright, we'd just moved into a new apartment complex and always had food to eat and clean clothes. Many were handmade as my mother was a seamstress, but she was skilled and you couldn't really tell."
Miranda allowed a tiny smile as an image materialized. "I watched her from the time I could sit up in a chair on my own, fascinated by the movement of her hands as she measured, cut and stitched the cloth. The colors fascinated me and by the time I was four she was teaching me. I would work on the scraps, gaining an understanding of the different fabrics, what they felt like, how they could be joined… ". Sadness trickled in the form of liquid down the back of her throat and she had to take a moment before she could clear it away with a few more swallows. Rolling onto her back she glanced briefly at the still silent woman and then up at the ceiling.
"It was May sixteenth nineteen sixty eight, early morning. The sky was only starting to lighten and mother was in the kitchen, I could smell cinnamon, she was baking the rolls I so loved. Everything she did was filled with love and it was… it was all so normal. I was the first up, Cissy and Alvin were still asleep and father due home from the overnight shift at the mill in the next half hour. I had just reached the doorway into the kitchen and mother was turning, a smile on her face. "Good morning, luv."
Miranda turned her head to look over Andy. "Those words were the last she ever said." She swept trembling fingers through silver-white hair and winced, massaging her head to assuage the beginnings of a headache.
Andy lay there, fascinated; Miranda was a compelling storyteller and she could almost place herself in the scene. But when she noted the furrowed brow and how Miranda was pinching the bridge of her nose she could no longer keep her hands to herself.
"Here, sit up for a sec."
Miranda startled briefly but did as asked comforted when Andréa slid gingerly behind her then had her lean back. A gentle massaging of her neck and scalp released some of the tension that was causing her head to throb and she let out a quiet sigh.
"I know this is taking a lot out of you." Andy murmured in Miranda's ear and continued the massage.
Miranda gasped out the next words. "I've never told anyone of this. Only my father knows a little of what I experienced but…" She shook her head and shifted, the heat generated between their bodies was starting to become uncomfortable but the steady presence of the fingers as they loosened tense muscles kept her in place.
"I don't know how to say it because it is still, even forty years later, like a dream. A horrible, impossible dream. I was just about to cross into the kitchen and the world exploded and then disappeared."
Andy felt a shiver ripple through Miranda's body and when she continued her voice, while a bit stronger, was somewhat detached.
"They told us later that a gas explosion in someone's stove severely damaged a load-bearing wall causing a total loss of structural integrity in one entire corner of the building. Twenty-two floors in our corner disappeared in a blink of my eyes. We were on the tenth. One moment our home and our lives were intact, the next, in a deafening roar of crumbling concrete and twisting metal all that was left was this choking cloud of dust. I remember just standing there, on the very edge, looking out at nothing and it didn't make any sense. I was crying. My hands gripping the doorjamb and I was numb. I…" One tear slipped from the corner of her eye. "I couldn't understand where she'd went. I couldn't believe she could just disappear."
Andy trailed her hands down the slick-from-sweat shoulders and arms until she reached her waist then gathered Miranda in and gently squeezed then held her, rocking slightly.
"Yes, yes. I'm alright. Really." She patted Andy's hand and leaned forward, separating their sweat-fused body with minimal pulling of cloth and skin.
"My god but it's very uncomfortable in here." Miranda scooted about a foot away and then turned her body back towards Andy.
"Yeah it is and this isn't helping." Andy looked down at her damp clothing, pulled her tank over her head and shimmied out of her shorts; plopping back down when she was finished. A watery half-smile was all she could manage due to the discomfort in her shins, the heat, Miranda's sobering story and her exhaustion.
Miranda took it all in and cupped Andy's face leaning in for a light kiss. "I think I needed to finally tell that story."
When Andy smiled a few tears broke free. "Thank you for sharing it. For trusting me."
They held eye contact for a few seconds longer and Andy followed up with a whispered, "I love you Miranda."
Miranda sighed in exhaustion then leaned her forehead to Andy's. "And I you."
The beeping of the low-battery alert on Andy's phone followed closely by the chime of a responding text did little to rouse the two women as two days' worth of stress and the lack of restful sleep coupled with the emotional roller coaster experienced by both, finally caught up with them. While the storm continued to ravage their section of the gulf coast the two women caught in its hold finally rested.