DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Suddenly She Sees.
In Place of the Mother
She is the girl who has everything
Talent, and beauty, sublime ...!
Caroline sang, eyes closed, channeling Christine Ebersole, her voice swelling from her lungs.
The crowds and the clamour
Aroused by her glamour
Will fade, like the echo of a chime ...
The lone audience member watched silently and rapturously, hands clasped in front of her.
She's the girl who has everything ... but time!
Her mother clapping enthusiastically as Caroline hit the final high note, sustaining it for a few seconds before ending with a flourish and a bow. "Marvelous! Since when have you had such a beautiful voice?"
"I've always had it, Mother darling," Caroline smiled, brushing a white lock of hair from her mother's face. "You just never noticed."
"How could I have failed to notice?"
"You preferred that we focused our efforts on the piano, remember?"
"And so I did," Miranda declared. "How is that going for you?"
"I haven't touched a piano in ages, Mother," Caroline said patiently. She'd lost track of how many times she'd said it over the years.
"Oh, that's a pity," Miranda responded. "Why not?"
Sometimes Caroline would blame it on schoolwork. Other times she would say she discovered the cello instead. On several occasions, she'd allegedly sustained a career-ending injury while playing field hockey. At times, she felt the urge to give in and tell the truth, that it was all because of her mother, but she could never bring herself to be cruel to her mother's face.
"I took up singing," Caroline said today. "My old music teacher discovered I was a natural soprano and had perfect pitch, so she began giving me voice lessons."
"Is that so? Well, you better start working harder because you were a little shaky on 'sublime'." Miranda suddenly looked doubtful. "Your old music teacher?"
"From high school."
"Right, of course, but aren't you still in --" Miranda blinked. "It's strange, darling, but suddenly you look a little old to still be high school."
"That's because I am."
Her mother stared at her, as if seeing her for the first time. Caroline waited for her mother's eyes to glaze over and refocus.
"Hello, Mother," she said, for perhaps the twentieth time that day, kneeling beside her mother's wheelchair and taking her mother's thin, limp hands in her own.
Her mother looked up at her. "Who are you?"
"It's me. Caroline."
Miranda squinted. "How old are you?"
"Turned twenty-five this year."
"Heavens. Caroline?" As usual, her mother reacted with flabbergasted shock. "When did you grow up so fast?"
"Time just passes by in a blink of an eye, doesn't it?"
"Was I in an accident? Did I just wake up?"
"Don't worry about all of that. It's all going to be okay. I'm right here for you." Caroline cradled her mother in her arms until the confusion faded from her eyes. "I'm right here."
"Let me take a look at you," Miranda pushed herself back. "I nearly didn't recognise you with your hair like that."
"What do you think?" Caroline gave it a quick toss. "I dyed it a while back."
"Thank you," Caroline smiled. "I knew you'd like it."
"It feels like yesterday since I last saw you," Miranda murmured, "and yet it seems like it's been so long."
"About six months, in fact."
"Is that how long I've been out?"
"A little longer than that," said Caroline carefully. "Listen. We should celebrate! What do you want me to do for you?"
"Oh, well now, I don't know." Miranda smiled in such a childlike manner that Caroline almost wept. "Why don't you play something on the piano for me?"
"I haven't touched a piano in ages, Mother."
"Is that so?" Miranda said. She cupped her daughter's cheeks gently. "Twenty-five, huh? I feel like I don't even know you anymore."
"You do," Caroline said. "You just forget sometimes." She stood. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Some water would be lovely."
While Caroline was halfway through the motion of pouring water into a glass, the door opened and someone screamed. "Jesus Christ!"
Caroline nearly dropped the pitcher and glanced over at Andy Sachs, standing rigidly at the doorway, looking as though she'd seen a ghost.
"It's just me," Caroline said lightly, "but I understand why you'd get confused."
Andy stalked into the room. She'd aged since Caroline had seen her last: her short, dark hair was streaked prematurely with white, and there were saggy bags under her eyes. Miranda's gaze darted between the two of them, her expression clouding over.
"It's November, so of course you'd be dressed like a prostitute," Andy said. Caroline rolled her eyes. "Next time you feel the urge to drop by unannounced, can you at least let me know?
"It's the day before Thanksgiving. Where else would I be?"
"Cassidy's not coming home," Andy tossed her bag and coat onto the couch.
Caroline shrugged. "Just because she's not here doesn't mean I can't be."
Andy looked around. "Where's Rosetta?"
"I told her to go home for the day." Caroline moved to give Miranda the water, but Andy blocked her path.
"Why on earth would you do that? Who's going to take care of your mother?"
"I'm here, aren't I?" Caroline retorted. "And at the risk of repeating myself -- it's the day before Thanksgiving. You know what people usually do? They go home and spend it with their families. Even nurses have families. Or are you growing senile in your old age, too? Spending too much time alone with Mom?"
"I'm too tired for this," Andy said, snatching the glass from Caroline's hands. She leaned down, holding gently it to Miranda's lips.
Miranda pushed the glass away, declaring that she wasn't thirsty, so Andy set it down and kissed Miranda's jaw. Caroline watched as her mother's face bunched up in confusion, then cleared in delight. She wondered briefly what it was like for her mother to feel the joy of greeting Andy for the first time that day, over and over again.
"How are you feeling, Miranda?" Andy murmured.
"A little disoriented, but otherwise fine," Miranda responded, wrapping her hands around Andy's neck. "But you look like hell warmed over."
"And you look as beautiful as ever."
"Where are we?"
"What are we doing in Salzburg?"
"You wanted to see the Mozart festival, remember? We've just been going to concerts one after another this week. And we're about to see another one tonight."
"Is that so?"
Caroline stormed out of the room and into the study next door, making a beeline for the alcohol cabinet. She pulled out a bottle of whiskey, poured herself a glass, and chugged it down; as she poured another one, she decided it was easier to just drink it straight out of the bottle. Quite a satisfying amount of alcohol had disappeared down her gut when Andy entered the room with her arms crossed.
"I should have known you were here for the booze," Andy said disapprovingly.
"Why do you keep lying to her?" Caroline said. "Does it give you some sick satisfaction to fuck with her like that, planting false memories in her head, giving her hope for something that'll never happen?"
"At least she's happy for the short amount of time she's aware," Andy said, walking up to her and jerking the whiskey out of her hands. "How about you try not being completely pissed out of your mind for a change?"
"How about you go fuck yourself?" Caroline replied, grabbing it back.
"Caroline -- you know what? Enough of this. I am sick and tired of going through this every time you drop by." Andy walked to the desk and sat down behind it, shuffling some papers around. "Get out of my office. I have work to do."
"It's the day before Thanksgiving. What could you possibly have to do?"
"Newspapers don't write themselves, Caroline. Not everyone has the free time you do."
"That's cold, Andy. Really cold. I don't see you in half a year, and this is how you greet me?"
"Who's fault is that?" Andy asked. "I live and work in New York City. You live and -- do whatever it is you do -- in New York City. You can stop by any time, you know where to find me, and I'm here all year round. I'd come to find you, if I could ever figure out wherever the hell you are and and whatever the hell you're up to."
"I've been busy."
"Like what? Getting drunk off your ass? Partying with Apple and Sean Preston and Zahara every night?"
"They're a little too young for me," Caroline sniffed. "And you, of all people, should know better that to believe what you read in the papers."
"If the accompanying pictures are doctored, you're welcome to sue them any time. It's a free country."
"So I go out and have a bit of fun sometimes. Big deal. It's just once in a while."
"A bit of fun, huh. You know, I do my best from keeping your pictures from being published, but I'm only editor for one newspaper in New York. I can't control them all."
"I have grad school and a job," Caroline snapped, taking another swig of whiskey to punctuate her point. "Journalism degrees don't grow on trees, and working for Runway hasn't gotten any easier since your time there. I just need to take a break sometimes, okay?"
"I know the people who work at Runway, and they tell me you don't spend very much time there as it is. Where are you spending all your time, hm? AA meetings?"
"Look, I've made time to see you and Mom on Thanksgiving, okay? The least you could do is be civil."
"It's generous of you to grace us with your presence, but I don't particularly care to spend my time in the company of an alcoholic."
"At least I'm not the one in drug rehab all the time."
"You have no right to talk about your sister like that," Andy glared. "She's been clean for ages, which is more than I can say for you. I mean, what the hell have you done with your hair this time? Every time I see you, you're a different colour."
"Like it? I got this done for Halloween." Caroline's lips curved into an unpleasant smile. "Guess who I went as."
Andy finally looked up from her work, stunned.
"I was the talk of the party. Everyone said I looked just like her. Don't you think so, Andy?"
"Oh, God, Caroline," Andy jumped to her feet, disgusted. "Don't even --"
"I saw it in your eyes," Caroline smiled cruelly. "You thought I was her, didn't you? When you first saw me standing there, pouring that glass of water, you let yourself hope, for a split second, my God, Miranda's back."
"You're NOTHING like your mother."
"Your mouth says that, but every other part of you says otherwise." Caroline let a hysterical laugh escape her lips. "You think I'm blind, Andy? You think we don't see how you look at us?"
She flung wildly in Andy's direction. The whiskey bottle smashed the front of the desk, while the glass missed Andy by inches and shattered against the wall behind her.
Andy silently bent over the ground and began to pick at the shards of glass. "I was wondering how long it would take before you started causing property damage."
"There's a million art schools Cass could have gone to in the States, but no, she moves all the way to England. Why do you think that is, huh?" Caroline shouted. "Why the fuck do you think she doped herself unconscious every time she saw you? Why do you think I never come back to this mad house?"
"Years of counseling have failed to find the answer, unfortunately."
"You look at straight at us, pretending you're seeing us, but all you ever see is her! Wake up, Andy. It was over the day that blood vessel burst in her brain. Mom's gone. She's not coming back."
"All right, that's it," Andy rounded the table and advanced threateningly towards Caroline. "Get out of this house, right now."
"You can't throw me out," Caroline said. "Technically, my mother owns this property, so she's the only one who can dictate who comes and who goes. Your little -- whatever it is with my mother -- isn't legally recognised in this country, and might I remind you that she never did get around to writing that will up. So, being next of kin, I get everything when she dies, including the house, so if you're waiting for that, you're shit out of luck."
"God, you're despicable. That's not why I stay, and you know it." Andy grabbed Caroline's arm roughly and jerked her towards the door.
"I know why you stay, Andy," Caroline hissed, resisting with all her might. "You can't let go of her, so you watch her die a little every day, when everyone with half a brain knows she belongs in a nursing home."
"Miranda will NEVER go a nursing home, not as long as I live," Andy thundered furiously.
"Look at this place, Andy!" Caroline shouted, pulling her arm away and waving it at the room. "This house hasn't changed in the past ten years, ever since my mother -- ever since it all started. You're so afraid that Mom will go nuts, if she sees something she doesn't recognise, that you've trapped her in the same moment forever. You know what? Let her go nuts once in a while! She won't remember it!"
"If I can spare her from even one moment of sorrow, I will," Andy muttered. "Why cause her unnecessary pain?"
"She doesn't feel pain anymore, and even if she did, she wouldn't remember it! Which is hell of a lot better off than any of the rest of us."
"It's so sad that you never exhibit the slightest amount of concern for your mother."
"I do care about her."
"Only when it suits you."
"This isn't just about her, this is about you. Andy, you can't keep living like this -- you're burying yourself alive."
"Are you trying to give me advice? Really?" Andy snapped. "I've watched you grow up and screw up for the past fifteen years, and you are the LEAST qualified person to tell me how to live my life."
"Let her go, for fuck's sake! We all mourned when we lost her, but Cass and I, we got over it, and got on with our lives -- you're the only one who keeps living in the past --"
"Jesus, Caroline," Andy turned away, covering her eyes, "you talk like she's already dead!"
"She IS, Andy," Caroline screamed. "You're the only one too deluded not to see it! Sometimes I wished she'd just die so you could wake up!"
Andy slapped Caroline so hard that Caroline staggered into the wall. "Don't you EVER talk like that again," Andy hissed. "She's still in there, and you'd know that if you actually spent more more than two hours a year with her."
"Was that meant for me, Andy? You really meant to hit me?"
"You goddamn bet I did," Andy snarled.
"Sure it wasn't for my mother?"
"Come on, Andy," Caroline straightened. "Just for one night, I'll be her for you. Take your best shot. Hit me right here. I won't fight back."
"You can do anything to me, Andy, A-NY-THING and I'll take it, mouth shut. I'll do anything you ask me to, even."
"Leave. Right now."
"You don't want that." Caroline stepped forward, bringing herself nose-to-nose with Andy; they were close enough that Caroline could feel Andy's short, angry breaths on her face. "I'm right here, the spitting image of Miranda Priestly thirty years ago. Not the face you knew, but close enough. You sure you don't want this, Andy?"
Andy took a step back, shaking. "I'm warning you --"
"I can SMELL it on you, Andy. I smell how much you want us, every time you look at us. I can feel your eyes through my clothes. I've seen it for years. It's wrong, Andy, completely, utterly wrong, and you need help, but I won't judge you. Go on. Touch me."
"Your mother is in the next room," Andy choked with rage. "How DARE you even suggest --"
"We could do it right now, make all the noise we want; let her hear us. She wouldn't remember a thing in five minutes anyway."
This time, when Andy swung at her, she broke Caroline's lip; Caroline could taste the blood in her mouth. In her entire life she had never seen anyone look at her with so much loathing, and she knew that in that moment Andy would not hesitate to hurt her very, very badly.
"Why?" Caroline mumbled.
"You're always making excuses for Cass, you always forgave her. But I was never good enough for you. Everything I did -- why? Why do you hate me so?"
There was a moment of silence.
"The difference between you and Cassidy is that she hasn't spent the last ten years of her life trying to be someone she's not," Andy hissed finally. "You're not your mother, Caroline, and you never will be, so you might as well stop trying."
Caroline stared at Andy in disbelief, mouth working, but unable to form words.
"First the journalism degree, then the job at Runway -- I would have thought you were trying to be me, but no, you went and applied for the Magazine Writing program at NYU. And now, you're impersonating her -- I don't know why the fuck you've been chasing after her shadow for so long, but maybe I wouldn't keep creeping you out if you didn't keep trying to act like her."
"It's my fault you're lusting after someone who's practically been a child to you for the past fifteen years?" Caroline shouted. "That logic is beyond demented! You're supposed to be the adult here."
"If you haven't noticed, you're an adult yourself now, Caroline," Andy spat. "It's time you stopped playing these stupid games."
"Game? You think this is a game to me?" Caroline was on the verge of tears. "I could have done my undergrad on the West Coast like Cass; I could have chosen a grad school in Europe. Instead I've stayed here, in New York, all these years. Have you ever even stopped to wonder why, Andy?"
"Do you realise this is the most you've said to me in years?" Andy said, almost resentfully. "Why now? Why so talkative, all of a sudden?"
"I'm leaving, Andy," Caroline said. "They're flying me out to French Runway in January."
"What about your degree?"
"I took a ton of credits this semester so I could graduate by December. I told you I was busy."
"Good for you, Caroline," said Andy, looking away. "So who'd you sleep with to get that job?"
"Fuck you." Caroline wiped her eyes and pulled an unopened bottle of vodka from the alcohol cabinet. "Have a Happy Thanksgiving, bitch." She lurched out of the room, and Andy heard her footsteps echo unevenly on the stairs.
Andy climbed to her feet unsteadily, then made her way to where Miranda was.
"I heard shouting," said Miranda. "What on earth is going on?"
Andy staggered towards Miranda, burying her face in Miranda's lap. "I fucked up. I fucked up big time, and I don't know how to fix it." And she burst into tears.
"Nonsense, there's nothing you can't fix," said Miranda briskly. "Andrea, honestly! You are too old to be carrying on like this."
"I know," Andy sobbed. "Tell me what to do."
"I can't help you if you don't tell me what it is."
"I miss you so much."
"Did I go somewhere? Huh. Where have I been?"
"I love you. Do you know that?" Andy wept. "I love you so, so much, and I can't stop, no matter how hard I try."
"You're awfully melodramatic today. What's gotten into you?"
"God, don't go. Stay for a while, please."
Miranda said, "Don't be silly, Andrea. I'm not going anywhere."
Many hours later, after Andy had fed Miranda and helped her lie down on the small cot, she let her fall asleep there, not feeling up to taking her upstairs in the elevator that night. When she entered the bedroom she and Miranda used to share, she found Caroline sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark, the bottle of vodka unopened next to her.
"I won't go to Paris if you tell me not to," said Caroline, eyes round and wet.
"You shouldn't stay here," Andy said wearily, sinking on the bed next to her and staring at the ceiling. "Live your own life."
"I'll do that when you start living yours."
"I'm all fucked up," Andy admitted. "The moment your mother got fucked up in the head, I did too."
"We all did," Caroline said.
"I tried to become her. At work. In the office. I don't know why. Maybe just to keep a part of her with me. My employees all hate me."
"I tried to become her too. You were always so sad and lost without her."
"I fucked you up. I was supposed to be strong and raise you right, but I failed you instead."
"So we're both fucked up." Caroline stroked Andy's cheek.
"No, Caroline," Andy pulled away.
"Just for a night," Caroline whispered. "Please. Andrea."
"You don't need to do this. Please don't do this," Andy shuddered. "Why are you doing this? You don't love me."
"Not in the same way you love Mom," Caroline agreed, "but I do love you, in a weird, fucked up way. Enough to want to be my mother for you. Is that so wrong?"
"When you say it aloud like that, yes. Completely and utterly wrong." Andy sighed. "As wrong as me wanting to sleep with you because you remind me of her. God, I feel so unclean."
"I've felt that way for years."
"Is it too late for me to apologise?" She grabbed Caroline's hand and squeezed. "I don't want to lose you again. You be Caroline, and I'll be Andy. And when Cassidy comes home, we'll figure it out from there."
"Sounds fair." Caroline looked at Andy's eyes shimmering in the darkness. "Are you putting Mom in a nursing home?"
"Then I'm not going to Paris. I'll stay here, move back home and help you take care of Mom."
"That's really not necessary. I'll be fine."
"No, it is. My apartment lease terminates at the end of the year and they're not renewing it."
"Caroline," Andy sighed.
"We'll be okay, right?"
"... Yeah. We will."
Caroline snuggled up to Andy, and Andy draped an arm around her. They fell asleep shortly afterwards.
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