Living with the Shepards was mostly an oddly pleasant experience, but at times Miranda couldn't help the small pangs of envy. She didn't begrudge Jane her happiness, but she wished she'd had even a little of that. Watching Jane and her mom interact made her feel at a loss on occasion, if only because it made her realize what she might have had, under different circumstances.
"You look lost in thought."
Miranda raised her head and smiled half-heartedly at Hannah. She was still trying to figure out how to talk to her, though it had started to feel less awkward recently.
"I was just thinking that I owe you a lot already. I've been asking around for jobs at a couple of shops, I think I might have a good chance of being hired. It wouldn't be much, but it might cover food and..."
"Don't worry so much about that." Hannah patted her shoulder. "You're not the burden you think you are."
"I'm still costing you money." She ran her fingers through her hair. "I just hate being in this situation. Feeling so useless."
"You're welcome here, dear. You've been through enough, don't fret about this. We'll make it work."
Hannah hugged her briefly, and Miranda felt a lump in her throat.
"Thank you so much for everything."
. . . . .
Miranda looked up from her notes, to find Jane smiling down at her.
"Hey, Jane. Is it that late already? Just a second, then I'll be done."
"Take your time."
She packed her bag – Jane's old bag, actually – and they walked out of the library to Jane's car.
"Is something the matter?" Miranda asked after a few minutes of driving in silence.
Jane raised her eyebrows.
"You're not usually that quiet."
Jane turned to look at her briefly, before facing the road again.
"I've just been wondering if you'd heard anything from Jack lately, is all."
"And what if I had?"
"Did you talk to her?"
"What's there to talk about? She sent me a message, a few days ago. Asking if she could see me. I deleted it. I don't know what she wants, and I don't care."
Jane didn't say anything, but Miranda saw her grimace. She was silent for a moment, then muttered:
"I don't want to hear justify anything. There's nothing she could say to make things better."
Still Jane didn't reply. Miranda pursed her lips.
"Okay, what do you know?"
"You should give her a chance. To talk."
"You talked to her, didn't you? What about?"
"I kinda promised not to say anything."
Miranda turned to her abruptly.
"Has that ever stopped you? Honestly, this is not a good time to start respecting other people's boundaries."
"She needs to tell you something important, okay?"
"Ugh, you are so frustrating!"
Jane smiled a little.
"I know. Bear with me?"
Miranda rolled her eyes.
"I don't have much of a choice." She sighed and added quickly: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way."
Jane stopped the car in front of the building, then turned to her.
"It's okay. Look, I understand that you don't want to talk to her, but maybe talking to her will make things easier. For you. Even if it's only closure. I don't know, I really don't know, but I think it's important for both of you that she tells you what she has to tell you. I know I've been pushy and meddlesome... well, I am. But I hate to see both of you hurting."
"You're awful." Miranda gave her a small smile nevertheless, before she opened the door and stepped out of the car.
"Yeah, I get that a lot."
. . . . .
She'd been nervous all day; she didn't know what to expect. She hadn't seen Miranda in over two weeks, no more than the occasional glimpse in a hallway, anyway. In which case Jack would usually turn on the spot and walk the other way.
For a while she just stood in front of the building, reluctant to ring, to face her. She'd been sleeping badly the last days, she felt like she'd messed up big time. Part of her wanted nothing more than to explain to Miranda, but another part of her just wanted to bolt.
She rang eventually, though, the door buzzing open without anyone answering the intercom. Jack climbed the stairs apprehensively, to find Miranda glowering at her from the top of them. The shadows beneath her eyes made Jack cringe with guilt and worry, even though she realized she probably wasn't even close to being the biggest problem that kept Miranda awake at night. Still it was in good part her fault.
Miranda didn't say a word, just turned and walked into the apartment, Jack following her into the dim hallway, facing her.
"Is anyone else around?" she asked lowly.
"We're alone." Miranda replied coldly, crossing her arms in front of herself. "So? What it is that you have to tell me?" She sounded tired, too.
Jack took a deep breath, then said haltingly:
"I don't know what your dad told you, but I didn't accept his money." She shrugged. "I'm as broke as ever."
Miranda frowned, looked utterly confused for a moment, then shook her head.
"Are you serious?" she said tonelessly.
"He offered, but I didn't take it! I'm not... I can't be bought like that!"
They stood there in silence for a while, looking at each other.
"So why did you end it?"
Jack gnawed on her lower lip.
"He got to me," she admitted lowly. "Said I'd ruin your life. I didn't want to be... I thought it would be easier for you if you didn't have to deal with..."
"Don't I get a say in this at all?" Miranda burst out angrily. "Why is it that everyone gets a shot at deciding what's best for me, except for me?"
Jack hung her head.
"I'm not a little girl who needs protection because she's too delicate to deal with her problems! You could have talked to me!"
"I freaked, okay? I'm a coward."
"You're an idiot," Miranda muttered.
"I just... I didn't want to be... the thing you're going to regret most in your life."
"Dammit, then you're not good at that. Right now, that's exactly what you're doing." Miranda rubbed her eyes tiredly, then huffed. "Okay, come on in. I don't want to shout out here anymore."
Jack took off her boots after a moment's hesitation, and followed Miranda into the living room. Miranda slumped onto the couch, a pile of bedding stacked next to her.
"How are you?" Jack asked lowly as she sat down, too, leaving more space than she actually wanted between them.
"I'm just great," Miranda muttered, making her grimace.
"I'm fine. Honestly, it could be a lot worse, all things considered. Jane and her mother have been more than supportive."
"So you're not going back home?"
"It's the last thing I'd ever want to do. Hannah – Jane's mother – says it's okay if I stay here for my sophomore year. Jane will be going to college, her room will be empty, and I can earn a little money to cover my expenses. I'll be fine."
Silence. Jack tapped her fingers against her knees nervously.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," she burst out after a moment.
"I can't believe you thought this would help me. Dammit." She ran her hand through her hair. "You understand that where my father is concerned, none of what happened is your fault, though, do you? If it hadn't been you, it would eventually have been someone else. He was never going to let me make my own decisions. It's not about what's best for me. It's about control, it has always been about control. Absolute control."
Miranda sighed deeply, leaning back into the cushions.
"I thought we'd both hurt more, in the long run, with your dad and... and this is scary. I didn't feel ready for all this. Like it's not just me anymore I have to worry about, or answer to." Jack looked down at her knees, heart beating hard, then she added quickly: "I love you, and it scares the shit out of me. So I was almost relieved to have found a reason to end it. A good reason. I felt so fucking noble. But being away from you hurt so fucking much. I'm an idiot. I've fucked up so badly, it must sound like a bad joke to you if I ask you for another chance."
Miranda was quiet for a long time, Jack's eyes still fixed on her knees, hoping for forgiveness. She looked up, startled, when Miranda's hand covered hers.
"Are you sure you want that?"
"I know that all this is complicated." She looked at Jack, searching, brow furrowed. "And I love you, too. Even after all this, I still do. But if we're to try this, you have to stop doubting me. I want you to understand that this is what I want. You. Us. I can't go back and forth on this any longer, it hurts too much. And I don't need some sort of misguided protection. I want you to talk to me, not run away."
Jack nodded slowly, fingers closing around Miranda's.
"I'm trying. I'm sorry I suck at communicating."
"We'll have to learn how to do this properly, Jane's not going to be around to mediate between us much longer."
Jack snorted at that, feeling stupidly relieved.
"It's kinda pathetic that we needed that, though."
"It is, isn't it? Sorry."
"I expect you to make it up to me somehow." Miranda winked and reached out with her other hand, cupping Jack's cheek, thumb slowly brushing over her skin. Then she leaned forward, her nose rubbing against Jack's, their lips touching lightly, and Jack pulled her close, holding on to her as tightly as she could.
. . . . .
Jane kicked off her shoes and made her way into the kitchen, where her mom was leaving through a magazine.
She put a finger to her lips, shushing her. Jane raised an eyebrow, but whispered:
"What's going on?"
Her mom got up and lead her over to the living room door, opening it quietly. Jane peered inside, confused for a moment, then beamed at the sight of Jack and Miranda curled together on the couch, fast asleep.
They went quietly back into the kitchen, where Jane turned her attention to the contents of the fridge, still smiling to herself.
"I just hope I won't have to deal with all the drama when you're gone," her mom said after a moment.
"Just tell them to talk to each other every now and then, you'll be fine." She closed the fridge and added: "Have I ever told you that you're the world's best mom?"
"You got me a cup that says so," her mom replied, eyebrows raised, but smiling.
"Good! Because you are." Jane beamed at her. "Now excuse me, someone's been waiting to hear from me all day, and I have happy news!"
~ The END ~