DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: AU — What might occur in an alternative universe where Miranda Priestly's assistant is one Nate Cooper and Andrea Sachs is an aspiring chef.  This is the second "course" in a series called "Life is a Banquet" — which may extend to 12 courses, if all goes well. You could read this story without reading the first one, but really: Why deprive yourself of that pleasure – and the insight it will provide into this one? My thanks to Marge Kennedy, whose paraphrased comment about soup is the theme for this installment: "Family is a lot like soup. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To medoramacd[at]yahoo.com

Life is a Banquet: Soup
By Medora MacD



Andy saw Cassidy give a shrug. "It's not like we pushed her off a cliff or something. So she had to spend an extra hour or two sunning in the back yard. Big deal. And she didn't get dinner. Boo hoo. Mindy said she could stand to lose some weight anyway. She probably looks better now than she has in days."

Andy cleared her throat. "I wouldn't be too sure about that if I were you."

It was a pretty good line, if Andy did say so herself, though the delivery was not as smooth as she wished; her earlier crying jag had left her voice hoarse.

In any case, upon hearing it, the twins' heads snapped to where Andy was sitting propped up against the garden door. The looks on their faces when they spotted her confirmed what she suspected. She looked every bit as shitty as she felt.

After an involuntary step backward, Caroline raced toward her, Cassidy a few steps behind — though out of concern for her sister, thought Andy, rather than any for her.

"Oh my god, Andy! Are you all right?" Caroline halted a few steps away, her eyes wide and hands shaking. "Cass! She's bleeding! Call 911!"

"No need for that!" Andy said quickly. "I'm not dead yet. Not even close. Only banged up. Just call Salma."

The twins exchanged a guilty glance.

"She's not here," Caroline confessed. "Her mom got sick and Esperanza drove her to the hospital she's at in the Bronx."

"They left you here alone?!"

"We kind of told them…"

Cassidy interrupted. "She means I told them that I asked you and you agreed to look after us. Caroline has nothing to do with this. It was my idea."

Andy might have mistaken the expression on the girl's face as one of defiant pride if Cassidy hadn't followed her declaration by gnawing nervously on her upper lip. Jesus! She had to give the kid credit for fessing up and not letting her sister take the fall too, but what a clusterfuck!

She closed her eyes, tried to focus. During her breakdown she had cried away most of her anger. While waiting, she had, in fact, tired of the pity party she was throwing for herself and decided to chalk the whole thing up to experience. A prank that would have been fairly harmless if she had had her phone with her or if she hadn't had the brilliant idea to get out of the chair to try to unlock the garden door.

It would be better, all things considered, if she and the girls worked out their problems on their own. No need to involve their mother.

In fact, doing so might even be counterproductive. I mean — how embarrassing would it be to have to explain to the Queen of Control how things had gone so completely haywire? She'd think Andy was a complete doofus. Not that Miranda ever used plebeian words like that.

So, what now? They could wait until Rachel arrived at 9, but something in Andy was rebelling now at having someone rescue her. This wasn't rocket science. They'd have to take some precautions because of the blood, but if the girls would do as she said …

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

"Okay, here's what we're going to do. Caro, go to my bathroom and get the box of purple gloves there." As she scampered off, Andy turned to Cassidy. "Move the chair to where I can sit in it once we get me up."

Caroline returned as Cass finished setting the brakes.

"Okay, now put the gloves on, both of you. You know you always have to be careful when you're dealing with blood, right? Even with people you think are safe. Those will help protect you."

After the girls had gloved themselves, she had them stand on either side of her. "What we have to do is get me on my feet. Or rather on my foot. I'm going to push my back against the door and shove up with my right leg, but it's not strong enough to get me up from the ground all by itself. You're going to have to help. Grab my elbows and …"

"Shit!" She wrenched her right arm violently out of Cassidy's grasp. The girl had managed to put her hand squarely on top of the scratches the damn trellis had inflicted.

The twins looked at her with frightened eyes. She took a deep breath, pushing back the pain. They're eleven-year-old kids, she reminded herself. Seeing a grown woman in this condition, bloody, muddy, cheeks streaked by tears and snot, had to be very disturbing.

"Sorry about that. There are some scratches there. Nothing serious and nothing we can't handle. Just move your hand down, Cass. That's better. You ready? On the count of three, I'll push and you lift. Okay?"

The twins nodded, eyes wide, their freckles stark against their pale skins. Andy gritted her teeth and made sure her right heel had a firm purchase on the concrete of the patio.

"Okay. One. Two. Three." She leaned back into the door for leverage, shoved with all her might, gained a few inches, then a few more. "Lift!" The girls heaved, she pushed, and her body slid up the door a foot, then another and another, until she was fully upright.

"Yes!" She hugged the girls to her. "Way to go, ladies!" She held them tight, savoring the contact until she felt Cassidy squirm and was reminded how this whole sorry thing had started.

Right. Gods, what a mess. She shifted her hands to their shoulders, balancing herself. They needed to talk, decide on some consequences. For the time being, though, it was best to keep things matter of fact — for herself as well as for them.

"Let's get me into the chair, eh? Before I fall down again?" The girls steadied her as she pivoted and hopped to the left. Putting her hands on the armrests, she dropped into the seat. She rubbed the trembling muscles of her right leg. "Well. That sucked big ones." She looked at the line of dried blood trailing from the scrapes on her arm. "Help me get inside, will you? I need to get cleaned up."

Caroline grabbed the chair's handles and pushed her to the back door, which Cassidy held open, and then to the bathroom. Jesus Effing Christ! She pulled a leaf from her hair, scratched a smear of dirt off her shirt … She looked like she'd just gone three rounds in the cage with the Jolly Green Giant's pissed off older brother! She wet a washcloth and ran it over her face, removing soil, smears of snot, and tear tracks.

When she opened the bathroom door, she found the twins sitting shoulder to shoulder on the stairs, looking pale and shaken.

"You can take off the gloves now and throw them away," she said, keeping her voice as casual as she could. "Wash your hands at the kitchen sink." When they finished, she motioned them back to the stairs.

"I don't know what to say. I know you didn't plan what happened, but it really, really scared me when I fell." Her lips trembled despite herself. She turned her head, getting her emotions under control. She looked back at the girls. "It really sucked to be so helpless," she confessed. "You know what sucked even more? That you guys were involved in any way. Because you're both special to me and it made me really sad to think …" She stopped, unsure how to finish the sentence.

"Are you going to tell Mom?" Cassidy asked, a mixture of dread and defiance on her face.

"I don't know yet. I have to think about it when I'm not so upset. Come down after your mom leaves in the morning and we'll talk about it ..."

She might have said more, but just then they heard the front door open upstairs and the click-clack of high heels through the house and into the kitchen above them. Speak of the devil …

"Girls?" Miranda called up the stairs. "Mummy's home. I'll be up in a minute to say good night."

Andy and the twins stared at each other in dismay.

"We're down here, Mum," Caroline called up the stairwell, startling Andy and Cassidy. "We'll be right up. We were just saying good night to Andy." She grabbed her sister's hand and pulled her to her feet. "C'mon. Quick. Before Mom comes to find us." She turned back to Andy. "You have every right to be mad at us, Andy. But give us a chance to make things right. Please?"

The girls ran up to the kitchen and then walked up another flight with Miranda, sharing snippets of their school day with her and carefully avoiding more recent events. After a few minutes, Andy heard heavier steps come down again. She held her breath as they hesitated at the top of the stairs leading down to where she was sitting … and then continued to the back of the house and the deck overlooking the garden. Seconds later, her cell phone rang.


"Good evening, Andréa."

"Oh, Miranda. Hi."

"Forgive the formality of the phone call, but I didn't want to intrude any more than the girls already have. I wanted to thank you for agreeing to keep the girls company so that Salma could be with her mother at the hospital." She paused, then, "Should something like this occur in future, however, I must insist that they be upstairs in their room no later than 8:30." Andy snuck a look at her watch; it was only 8:44, for gods sake! "Things go better all the way around when we stick to the schedule."

I'll keep that in mind, Miranda. If I don't decide to wring their scrawny little necks and toss them in the East River first.

"Certainly, Miranda." She decided some pushback was merited. "Of course, that will be much easier for me to manage once the elevator is repaired and the inspector clears it for use. That's scheduled for tomorrow, I believe?"

"Ah. Yes. I'd … forgotten that your movement in the house is still restricted. I trust everything else is ... going well, however?"

"Everything is falling into place, yes." She winced. Literally, in some cases.

"Well, then, I shall bid you good night."

"Good night."

Whew! Andy rubbed her aching forehead. Thank you, Jesus! And Buddha, Devi, Gaia, Mohammed, and Yahweh. You, too, Flying Spaghetti Monster. Dodged that bullet anyway.

She didn't fare as well when Rachel showed up fifteen minutes later. She had managed by then to get much of the grime off her face and hands, but she couldn't hide the scratches on her arm. Or the six-inch one on her gut, which she was trying to clean when the aide arrived.

Rachel nearly went ballistic when she saw the wounds and heard how she'd received them.

"You're lucky you're not back in the hospital with another concussion or a broken arm! As it is, you should have someone check you out when you go to the hospital tomorrow, make sure you didn't muck up your leg when you fell … And get a tetanus shot, while you're at it so you don't get lockjaw."

"It's not that bad, Rach…"

"It could have been. What if they hadn't come to look for you? I might have looked out back when I didn't find you inside, but you would have been out there another hour or more…"

Andy persuaded Rachel finally to focus on first aid instead of tarring and feathering the twins. But she couldn't persuade her to ignore the incident altogether.

"Those girls may be a priority for you, Andy, but not for us. We're not here for them. We're here to take care of you. We see those scratches, we need to know where they came from and how best to treat them."

She raised a hand to stem Andy's protests.

"I won't put anything in the daily log about the girls specifically, in the event that it ends up in Miranda's hands, but I am going to put in that you fell and got scratched up. And that you are a big, fat idiot for not having a way to call for help. I'm going to have to insist that you wear an alert wristband that will link you to our dispatcher 24/7."

"Don't I have any choice in the matter?"

"Of course you do," Rachel said. She reached in her backpack and pulled out two packages. "You want a navy one or one that's white?"

Andy wanted to proclaim her ability to take care of herself, but she knew she didn't have a leg to stand on. So to speak. It was actually kind of comforting to know that help would only be the push of a button away. She nodded contritely. "Navy."

Rachel opened the package, strapped the wristband onto her arm, and started instructing her on how and when it should be used.



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Miranda must be the only one who got any sleep last night, Andy thought. The girls standing in front of her holding hands, waiting for the axe to fall, looked decidedly worse for wear. She herself had tossed and turned for an hour or more before she'd been able to begin focusing on how to deal with the situation. Not that that had produced any answers …

She studied the tense faces in front of her. No point in prolonging the agony, she thought.

"The first thing I want you to know is that I am okay. I'm still very sad and upset about what happened, but my body is okay. Or it will be."

She looked at Caroline and then at Cassidy. "The second thing is that even though I think you need to take responsibility for what you did, I think this is something we can work out between us. There's no reason to involve your mom or dad." She watched them exchange a look of profound relief before adding, "At least not yet."

She cleared her throat. "Just so you know … I'm torn about doing that. Because I know this is the kind of thing that parents like yours would want to know. So they can help their kids grow up to be good people. I also know that it would upset your mom to hear something like this, and she doesn't need that right now." The girls exchanged another glance and nodded.

"So ... we'll talk more when you get home this afternoon. In the meantime, think about what happened and why. And what should happen next. But don't worry. Really. We'll figure out something that is fair."

A horn honked out front, signaling that Roy was back from delivering Miranda to Runway and ready to drive the girls to day camp. "Off with you then..."

"I'll make sure they get there safely," Christina said. She grabbed Cassidy and Caroline's hands and tugged them toward the front door. Andy had stopped her from confronting the twins after she weaseled out of her how she'd received the scratches mentioned in the log, but she was clearly intent now on sharing her two-cents' worth with them before they went off for the day. Andy decided not to intervene this time. It wouldn't hurt them to hear what someone else had to say about the matter.

"We'll figure out something that's fair."

Right. Like it's that easy to determine what "fair" is when a prank goes wrong. And when you don't want someone's mom to find out they're being punished and why.

Andy gnawed on these problems before, during, and after physical therapy — which Loren canceled as soon as he heard about her fall. He arranged instead for her leg to be X-rayed to make sure it hadn't been reinjured and for a resident to give her a tetanus booster and a prescription salve for her scratches.

As they returned to the house after filling the prescription at the hospital pharmacy, Andy reminded Christina that the issue was between her and the girls and not to be discussed in front of Consuelo or anyone else who might feel compelled to inform Miranda.

"That woman need to know what they did!"


"Why you think! So she can punish them."

"Forbid them to leave the house? Take away their toys for a few days? Is that going to teach them to weigh the consequences of their actions? Make them more considerate of others?"

"You got a better idea?"

"Not yet. I just know that this is something I need to handle by myself."

The pieces began to fall into place during lunch.

Salma's mother had had a small stroke, Consuelo informed them over soup and sandwiches. She'd recover but would need extra help for the next few months. Salma, the oldest child in the family at 19, was trying to make arrangements for that and for the supervision over the summer of three younger siblings, ages 8, 11, and 15.

"Miranda is willing to give her a leave of absence until fall so she can care for them herself, but where would we find someone to replace her? All the experienced nannies are spoken for by now."

"What qualifications they need?" Christina asked. "I might know someone."

"Miranda won't trust the girls to just anyone, of course," said Consuelo. "They not only have to have a thorough background check, they also have to know something about girls this age, be capable of handling emergencies, and be discreet."

"Really?" said Christina. "I suppose they also need to be someone Miranda feels good about?" She cocked her head at Consuelo. "And someone the girls are comfortable with?" She let her gaze track over to Andy, who saw Consuelo's eyes brighten.

"What?" They couldn't possibly be thinking that I could …

 "Getting around doesn't need to be an issue, does it?" said Consuelo. "Not if she lives somewhere convenient." She smiled at Christina. "Esperanza's husband works evenings so she can't stay later, but she could come early, pick up the girls at school every day and bring them home. Si. This could work."

"Are you guys bonkers?" Andy asked. "How many nannies do you see whipping around in wheelchairs? There's a reason for that, don't you think? Even when they take the plaster off I won't be very mobile."

"So," said Christina, "I guess that means the girls would have to stay close to home for several weeks, maybe help you out with some things until you get your walking cast? I suppose they might see that as a kind of punishment." She stressed the last few words, raising an eyebrow at Andy. "But isn't it just a way to pay you back? And to help out Salma and her family, of course? And weren't you saying that you wanted to spend more time with them? Get to know them better? So, this is all a good thing, right?"

"You see," said Consuelo, grinning broadly, "it's perfect. You're hired. I'll call Miranda and tell her it is handled. She doesn't have to worry any more."

"Hold on one minute! I haven't said I'll do this — but if I did I wouldn't do it for pay but as a volunteer. For one thing, Miranda is already providing me with room, board, and health care and making my student loan payments while I'm laid up. For another, people who get hired can get fired. If this does not work for some reason, I need to be able to end it without Miranda handing me my ass."

She realized belatedly that she was speaking in the present tense. So did Consuelo.

"It's a deal, then?" said the housekeeper, holding out her hand.

"Pending Miranda's approval …" Andy thought about it for a moment. It just might work. "Yeah, I guess. Until she finds someone better or Salma comes back." She shook Consuelo's hand. What was that she had been saying a couple of days ago, "So much change in so little time"? It looked like another tsunami of the stuff was headed her way …

The first "wave" appeared on the horizon about 2:30 — when Miranda called.

"This is true, Andréa? You are willing to be the girls' nanny this summer?"

"Only as a volunteer. And if you think I'm able. And if the girls agree."

"Of course they will. Why wouldn't they?"

"I couldn't say." I'd prefer not to, in any case. "But I'd like to give them the option. We won't be able to get around much until the cast comes off, which is going to limit where they go and who they hang out with…"

"Another decided advantage," she heard Miranda murmur, then, "I've arranged for Esperanza to care for the girls tonight, but I'll ask Roy to bring the girls to you after he picks them up at school today. If they have no objections, we will proceed. You and I can discuss details at greater length this weekend. (Come in, Nigel. I'll be ready momentarily.) I must go, Andréa, but …" — she lowered her voice as if concerned she would be overheard — "thank you." The words, almost whispered, were followed by a much more robust, "That is all." She hung up without further notice.

The next two waves appeared at 3:25. She was waiting for them in the kitchen.

"Wash your hands." They were confused. "No point in discussing tough stuff on an empty stomach, right? So, wash the germs and grime off, we'll make a snack and work out what we're going to do."

When they finished, she handed each a plate and a table knife and pointed to containers on the table. "Peanut butter, celery, bananas, slices of green apple, caramel dipping sauce, vanilla yogurt … sit down, serve yourself, try something new, mix it up."

After they filled their plates, she began. "Before we talk about what we're going to do — and I do mean we because I want your input on this — I need to understand what happened and why. Can you explain that to me, Cassidy?"

"It was just a stupid prank," the girl said, refusing to look at her. "Nobody died. Get over it."

"Somebody could have," Andy said. "Died, that is. Or gotten badly hurt. Specifically me. If I'd fallen in a different way, for instance, or gotten stuck out there overnight or in bad weather. So ... explain it to me. I hacked you off by yelling at you after you and your friends tromped into my room while I was napping? I embarrassed you in front of everyone? Was that the problem?"

"We wanted everyone to meet you," Caroline began.

"Thank you, honey, but I need to hear about this from Cassidy." She turned back to the other girl. "So what happened when Salma got the phone call about her mother?"

"We called Mom and she said it would be okay for Esperanza to drive Salma to the hospital if you would watch us."

"And then…?"

"I told Salma I'd ask you about that while she and Esperanza got their stuff together. When I came downstairs, I saw you were outside and …"


"And I remembered about the privacy thing and I got mad again and I flipped the lock. Then I went back and said you agreed. Salma called Mom with the news, told us to go down to your room, and then they left for the hospital."

"Did you think about what might happen to Salma and Esperanza if your mom found out that I didn't know I was supposed to be watching you? That they'd left you on your own?"

She could tell by their stricken faces that they hadn't.

"What did you think would happen to me?"

"I guess I thought you'd have to call for help or something."

"Beg, don't you mean? And end up looking like a real loser?" She got another reluctant nod in response. She sat back in her chair. "Wow, all that because I yelled at you for doing something you knew you weren't supposed to do in the first place."

She paused to let that sink in.

"You didn't know I didn't have my phone. You didn't know I'd stand up, fall, and get hurt. Those were accidents. The other stuff ... not so much. You locked me out. You lied to Salma and Esperanza. And essentially lied to your mother. You did those things on purpose." She took a deep breath.

"Here's the thing. I screwed up too. I shouldn't have sworn at you the way I did. I'm a grown up and I should have been able to control my temper even though I'd been having a shit … crap … a really bad day. And I should have had my phone with me. We made some bad decisions." She looked pointedly at Caroline. "All of us."

"Me? What did I do?" Caroline squeaked.

"Nothing. That's the point. Someone once said, 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' When everyone barged into my room and started messing with me and my stuff, you knew it was wrong. You could have told them to stop. Or you could have told Salma what was happening and asked her to help. And when Cassidy told you yesterday that she'd locked me out, you could have come down and opened the door. You could have come out to check on me and make sure I was okay. You didn't do any of those things. Why not?"

"I didn't want to look like a dork or a snitch. And I didn't want Cassidy to be mad at me," said Caroline in a very quiet voice. "She's not just my sister, she's my best friend."

"It's a bad idea, Caro, to get in the habit of looking the other way when somebody does things that hurt other people. Pretty soon you start ignoring the big things as well as the little ones. Not just someone calling someone else a bad name, but telling them they can't have a certain job or live in a certain neighborhood.

"Or that they don't deserve to live at all. Because they're Jewish or Muslim or gay or handicapped or poor. Being a good person is not just about not doing things that are wrong, Caroline. It's also about doing things that are right."

Silence greeted her statement. She'd made her point, she hoped.

"Time to move on. Figure out what happens next. Which is a different question than we thought it was going to be. Because it turns out Salma needs to stay home and take care of her mom for a while. I've volunteered to be your nanny for the summer instead of her … but only if the two of you say it's okay."

The twins exchanged confused glances.

"Here's the thing: Until I get sprung from this chair in three weeks, you'll have to hang out here, at home, rather than at your friends' houses. So it'll be kind of like being grounded, which is what I had been thinking might be a fair punishment though I didn't know how we were going to do that without your mom finding out."

"What if we don't agree?" Cassidy asked belligerently.

"Your mom will have to find a different nanny. A stranger who's not nearly as awesome as I am. Or as forgiving." Caroline smiled at her attempt at humor, to Andy's relief. Cassidy, it was clear, was less enthusiastic about the situation. Much less.

"What else?" Cassidy demanded.

"What do you mean?"

"We have to be here every day after school until you get your cast off. Fine. What else? Do we have to scrub the basement floor with toothbrushes? Wait on you hand and foot? Are we going to be in solitary confinement or can our friends come over?"

"I haven't had time to think it through, but those are some great ideas, especially the toothbrush thing." Andy laughed at the horrified look on Cass's face. "I'm kidding. Really. We should have some rules, though — like no phones or texting maybe …"

"That's not fair!"

"Was it fair when I got stuck outside without a way to call for help?"

Cassidy had no response to that.

"I promise you … I am not volunteering to be your nanny so I can torture you for hours on end. We're talking about two separate, but slightly overlapping things here: 1) you guys making amends for what happened yesterday, something that will last for a limited amount of time, after which bygones will be bygones, and 2) me being your nanny, something that is going to last the rest of the summer and that I'd like to use as an opportunity to get to know you better. To have fun with you. I think both of those things might be easier to accomplish if you don't have friends over for a couple of weeks, but I'm open to your suggestions."

And with that she picked up a chunk of banana, slathered it with peanut butter, dipped an end in the caramel sauce, and stuck it in her mouth. And waited. It took a while, but eventually they started doing the talking. She offered a tweak or two, but what they proposed on the punishment side was pretty fair in the end: "house arrest" until Andy's cast came off, no phones or texting until after dinner, and no visitors for a week. An "arrangement" that only the three of them would be privy to.

As for the nannying side of things, they wanted Andy's assurance that she would continue to help with homework, would not get in the way when their friends were able to come over (except for making snacks for everyone), would not embarrass them when she went with them to their friends' houses, and would let them continue to listen to whatever music they wanted and watch any movies they wanted to. Something in Cassidy's tone when she added the last two — and the way Caroline's eyes dropped to the floor as she did so — prompted Andy to make her acceptance conditional.

"I can't agree to the last part of that until I talk with your mom this weekend." Cassidy's face fell. "I'm guessing that it isn't going to happen. But the rest of that, sure. In the meantime, you need to talk with each other and decide if the punishment's a fair deal and you're willing to abide by it and if you want me to take Salma's place for the summer. You can tell me your decision at supper. Which will be down here since the elevator's not fixed yet.

"One last thing: whatever you decide, I owe you an apology. I'm sorry I was so rude on Tuesday. I was upset, and for good reason, but the language I used was not appropriate. I know that how I acted scared you and embarrassed you. I can't promise to never do something like that again — but I can promise to try really hard not to. And I will."

"We're sorry, too …" Caroline stopped at an angry nudge from her sister. "What? Oh, what you said last night?" She turned back to Andy. "I am sorry — Cass says I have to stop speaking for her all the time. I need to learn to speak up when things don't feel right. Like yesterday. And I will. Try that is."

"Thank you, Caroline. I appreciate that." Andy shifted her gaze to Cassidy. Who remained stubbornly silent, arms crossed defiantly across her chest. "That's enough for now, I think. Go off and chat, do your homework. I'll see you at six."

She didn't, as it turned out, although she did get a text from Cassidy saying that they accepted her terms. Followed by the announcement that they had decided to order pizza and watch a movie in the family room upstairs. Too bad she couldn't join them there, but they'd have Esperanza bring something down to her.

"Oh, brother!" Andy shook her head. "Well, what did you expect, Sachs? 'Happily ever after'? Let's hope, though, that this is the last gasp of the Cold War — and not the opening salvo of World War III."

Resigning herself to another solo meal, she grabbed her MacBook, launched Firefox, and googled "What is a nanny?" Time to start doing her own homework.

"A nanny is more than a babysitter," she read. "Nannies are expected to participate in the social, emotional, and intellectual development of their charges and work with the child(ren) on such areas as language development, potty training (No thank you!), social manners (Ya think!?), homework, and …"

"Good gods, what the hell have I gotten myself into?"



Friday, June 13, 2008

Andy spent the better part of Friday doing homework for her new role, including reviewing with Consuelo what the girls' schedules were, what Salma's responsibilities had been, and what Miranda's rules were. Unsurprisingly, she learned that the girls being permitted to watch or listen to "anything they wanted to" was not one of them.

One thing she did not do was visit the upper levels of the house. The elevator was repaired while she was at P.T., but Miranda didn't want anyone to use it until it was inspected and officially certified. Which would be no later than 6 p.m. According to Consuelo, who had heard it from Emily, the inspector who had sworn he couldn't get to it until Monday had had a change of heart after a call from his boss's boss's boss, the commissioner of New York City's Department of Buildings. Who had had a 20-second, very one-sided call from Miranda several minutes before that.

The other thing Andy did not do was connect with the twins. She heard them clatter down the stairs to go to school, heard them return a little after 1, but they made no attempt to stop in. She wasn't surprised, really, but it did make her sad. And more than a little nervous.

Around 2, there was a honk out front. Not the usual, big city, "get out of my way, you effing bastard" honk, but a distinctive "shave and a haircut, two bits" honk. Rolling to her front window, she saw a red Volvo SUV at the curb. Behind the wheel was Gregory Cockburn, the girls' father. The girls were going to spend the Fathers' Day weekend in the Hamptons with him. The folk/rock guitarist-turned-music-executive was a handsome man … and a fairly attentive father by all accounts. As attentive as one could be who spent half the year traveling the world in search of new talent, anyway. She'd met him at the hospital when he stopped in to thank her for saving Caroline's life. He seemed like a decent guy.

The front door slammed. Greg got out of the car and opened the tailgate in preparation for stowing the girls' suitcases.

"Hey there, Bob-Bob-Bobberannes! Ready to ramble? How was your week? What's it like having Andrea around?"

Cass rushed into her father's arms. Waiting for her turn to give him a hug, Caroline looked around and saw Andy at the window. The wistful smile and furtive wave she gave her warmed Andy's heart. Which seized up when she heard how Cass answered her father's last question.

"I'm out of my fu…fracking mind," Andy said to herself.

"That's the word on the street," said a voice behind her, startling her. "What tipped you off?" It was Rosalind, just in to get her settled for the night.

"I dunno," said Andy. "Maybe it was hearing Cassidy tell her father as they were leaving this afternoon that she's worried about 'my erratic behavior.' Which suggests to her either that I'm not fully recovered from my concussion or that I've become addicted to prescription painkillers. Quite possibly both."

"Oooh, nice one! Watch out, Karl Rove! What else?"

"Oh, little things. Like hearing from Esperanza that she's never seen the girls do anything that vaguely resembles a chore except for occasionally putting their dishes in the dishwasher after a meal. That they are spoiled brats who think she's running a restaurant where everyone gets to order what she wants and that they leave video games all over the floor like money grows on trees and then blame other people when they get stepped on."

"Sounds like she's had some major run-ins with them. It also sounds like they need someone to take them more in hand than Salma has been allowed to or been able to do. And that Cassidy is very much afraid that you are just the woman to do it."

"Me? To paraphrase one Leonard McCoy, I'm a chef, Roz, not a magician! How am I supposed to do that?"

"Lucille and I have a few tricks we can share. Our kids have turned out well, if I do say so myself, and don't forget: Lucille deals with fifth graders all the time. In 17 years of teaching she's pretty much seen everything. She's sure to have ideas on things you can do with the twins. And things to avoid."

By the time bedtime rolled around, Andy still wasn't convinced that she was going to be able to pull the nanny thing off with any degree of success. On the other hand, she was no longer certain she was doing the stupidest thing since that ship designer decided the Titanic didn't need all those unsightly lifeboats because really, what could happen?



Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Is there something you need to tell me, Andréa?"

Andy looked up from the table where she and Doug had been taking a break from their cooking contest to find Miranda Priestly in full Dragon Lady mode at the bottom of the stairs, glaring at them.

"Um … No?"

Andy took a quick look at Doug. He looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Though what he had to feel guilty about, she couldn't begin to guess. Well, other than having spattered his otherwise pristine chef's jacket and part of the kitchen with beet juice when the blender popped open a while ago. She looked around. Damn. It did look a little like the set of a slasher movie, but … Jeeze. They were going to clean it up. You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Or borscht without blending some beets.

Then she realized that the icy glare on Miranda's face was not directed at the mess they were making, but at her specifically. What the hell had she done to prompt this?

"Nothing to say? How very odd. Mindy TerHorst just called to ask me to remind her father about something when he comes to pick me up." Miranda's tone, already frosty, shifted to flash freeze. "And to say that the girls had told her you were going to be their nanny for the rest of the summer and she thought it was so great of me to overlook 'the horrible way' you had treated all of them on Tuesday."

Andy's stomach sank to her toes. Oh, that

"She said that if one of their servants had spoken to her that way her father would have not only fired her, but had her blacklisted for life."

Servant! That conniving little … witch!

"Would you care to explain what she's talking about?"

Andy closed her eyes, offered up a quick prayer, and opened them. "No, thank you."

Clearly, that was not the answer Miranda wanted. Or that she expected, judging from the way her mouth fell open in disbelief. Andy saw it snap shut. Saw Miranda sniff. Saw her turn to leave. And realized she only had seconds to salvage things.

"Wait. Just. One. Gorram. Minute!"

Andy's double-decibel outburst succeeded in stopping Miranda in her tracks. Looking at the rigidity of the couture-clad back in front of her, she wasn't sure that was a good thing.

Knowing that what was to follow would go down better without a witness, Andy turned to her shell-shocked companion and said, "Doug, Starbucks. Now! Have a cappuccino … a venti." Shit! Miranda was beginning to turn around. "Go!"

By the time the editor completed a very deliberate, very haughty pivot, Doug was out the door and it was slamming shut behind him. Hoping to get the upper hand, Andy hit Miranda with the only weapon at her disposal, righteous indignation.

"What IS it with the Priestly women barging in here any time they feel like it anyway? Or is privacy something only they are entitled to?"

"I believe I have respected your privacy exactly as much as you have respected my role as Caroline and Cassidy's mother."


Miranda was absofuckinglutely right, Andy admitted to herself. She had acknowledged as much to the girls when they talked two days ago. And what's more, she now realized, she had kept Miranda out of the loop as much for her own benefit as for theirs. Maybe more. In order to avoid just this moment.

Andy looked at Miranda repentantly. "I'm sorry. I haven't lived up to my side of the Deal, not fully. But there's a good reason. At least I think it's a good one. I'm hoping you'll decide it falls under the 'being able to discipline the girls' clause we discussed in the hospital. If you'll sit down, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version."

Miranda put her purse on the table and took the seat Doug had vacated, stifled rage ready to erupt at the first poorly chosen word.

"Bottom line, the girls and I had a run-in Tuesday after school. We're working on moving past it."

And past what happened the day after that, which I pray to the gods you will NOT ask about.

"I won't go into detail except to say that boundaries were crossed and I acted almost as childishly as they did. As for whether I deserve to be tossed out on my ear for it …"

She paused, marshaled her thoughts, and then ... "Has either Cassidy or Caroline said anything to you about what went down?"

Miranda's lips twitched ever so slightly. I'll take that as a "no."

"Do you have any doubt that you would have heard from them if they felt I had treated them at all unfairly? Or from Salma if she thought I had done anything to hurt them?"

Miranda was obviously taken aback by the query. She ducked her head, dropping a distinctive wave of white hair in front of her eyes and obscuring them from view. She was trying, Andy thought, to decide who to believe … and what. Latching on to an object on the table, the editor started spinning it, slowly at first and then faster and faster.

This was big. Miranda Priestly did not fidget. (At least no one had ever seen her do so, according to Nate. Then again, they probably hadn't been discussing anything that was as important to her as the wellbeing of her children.) Andy watched as her beautifully manicured digits gave another flick to the tube of salve …

Crap! Andy reached over hurriedly, placing her hand atop Miranda's, stilling her fingers and the object she had been twirling. She half expected her to pull away angrily. (That was another of the unwritten rules, according to Nate: Miranda was not to be touched. Ever.) The hand beneath hers gave a tiny, involuntary jerk, then relaxed.

"It will be okay, Miranda. I promise. I'll take care of them as if they were my very own."

Miranda nodded, her head still bowed, her eyes blankly regarding Andy's hand on hers. Andy tensed, preparing to remove it, and then paused, watching Miranda's gaze move up her arm, toward her face … and then sharply back down again.

What…? The right arm of the long-sleeved shirt she was wearing had ridden up to reveal ... She saw Miranda stiffen in reaction. Fuck!

Miranda pulled her hand from under Andy's and with it the object she had been spinning — a tube whose label proclaimed it to be an ointment "designed to act as a protective covering for wounds." And whose pharmacy tag noted that it had been prescribed for one Andrea Sachs.

"There is more, isn't there?"

Miranda grasped Andy's arm lightly. With careful, but trembling hands, she pushed the sleeve back far enough to see the full extent of the angry red marks near her elbow.

"You've been injured." Miranda said it flatly. Not as if she didn't care. As if she had gone down this road before and was devastated to be traveling it again. "Cassidy?"

"Not directly," said Andy. She owed the kid that much. "Let's just say there was a perfect storm of poor decisions, theirs and mine. She made the first of them. No real damage was done, though, except to our relationship and, like I said, we're working on that."

Something in Miranda's expression told Andy she knew this had been a much bigger deal than Andy was letting on. Maybe even bigger than Andy herself realized. The question was, Would she let her get away with it?

Miranda sat back in her chair and studied Andy hard and for a very long time. This was not the kind of scrutiny she gave the Book, Andy guessed. That was business. This was something much more important than the right combination of designer gowns and jewelry. The probing look she was giving Andy was … soul searching.

After a few moments, she picked up the tube of ointment, unscrewed its cap, and squeezed a ribbon of salve onto her index finger. Holding Andy's arm steady with one hand, she began to smooth it gently over the marks there with the other.

The tenderness of that touch nearly overloaded Andy's senses, leaving her deeply grateful that Miranda had not also learned about the scratch on her abdomen. Gods! The thought of Miranda's fingers there …

"Too hard?" Miranda must have felt her flinch.

"Ticklish," Andy replied, hoping the heat racing through her body wasn't visible on her face.

"My apologies." Miranda kept her eyes focused on the scratches. "You are not hoping to become their buddy, I hope? Because that will not work."

Andy cast about for words to express what she was feeling.

"Buddy, no. If that were the case, I would let this slide. But their friend? Yeah, maybe."

Miranda released her arm and screwed the top back on the tube, not yet meeting Andy's eyes.

"Or maybe like that older cousin we talked about at the hospital," Andy continued. "You know … Someone they can trust to do right by them, even when it's tough. Because she cares about them. And I do, Miranda. I don't know why, but I have almost from the time I met them."

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into. You can't. Cassidy has anger … issues. Serious ones." Miranda looked everywhere but at Andy, barely constrained fear and what looked like … shame? … warring on her face. "If she can't work through them … if she starts hurting herself as well as lashing out at others … Or if Caroline descends back into bulimia …" She closed her eyes, shook her head helplessly, unable to say more without losing control.

"They're going to be fine, Miranda. We'll make sure of that. They're good kids. And they're going to be terrific young women."

"With a little help from kindly old Cousin Andréa?" Miranda didn't seem put off by the proposition, Andy was glad to see.

"If I can," she answered. "And if I may." She clasped her hands in her lap, waiting for Miranda's verdict. After a short pause, she got it.

"It won't work … not without more information … which I can give you if …" She made up her mind. "One shot, Andréa, that's all. None of this three strikes' nonsense. If you hurt them in any way — that's it. One and you're done." She sighed, adding in an even softer, sadder voice, "And I hope to God you succeed where so many others have failed. Because if they end up where Mindy TerHorst appears to be heading …"

"Over my dead body!"

Miranda laughed and looked at her at last. "That horrible expression again. Those were the first words you ever said to me, you know. That day in the hospital." She sobered. "The one-strike rule applies to the girls as well."

Andy must have looked confused. Miranda fixed her with a steady gaze. "No more injuries. You have to promise to tell me if the girls hurt you again, Andréa. In any way. Or the Deal is off. You have suffered enough for this family already." Her eyes were shiny. A little damp perhaps?

Andy pulled a tissue from a nearby box. "Here," she said, handing it over. "For your fingers or … whatever. That ointment's pretty gooey." She pushed away from the table, giving Miranda some space to dab at whatever needed dabbing. "I don't anticipate further bouts, but sure, I promise. I promise they will not end up like Mindy either … even if it means me singing 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!' and wearing a Mary Poppins' outfit."

Miranda took the opening she offered, to her delight, looking caustically at the "I ♥ Geek Cuisine" T-shirt Andy was wearing. "You might want to consider that in any case," she sniffed. "It would be but a small step for fashion-kind, to be sure, but a gigantic leap for your wardrobe."

"Speaking of steps …" She looked toward the front window where a man-shaped shadow was pacing back and forth.

She rose, strode to the front door, and pulled it open to reveal Doug, looking apprehensive.

"Stop lurking, young man. And come inside before the neighbors call 911 or Page Six and tell them I'm being stalked by an ax murderer."

Seeing him hesitate, Andy offered another, less polite invitation. "Get your ass back in here, Butcher Boy, so I can hand it back to you in Battle Beets! The clock resumes in five minutes."

He was almost past Miranda when she coughed and looked meaningfully at Andy.


"Really, Andréa. Manners!"

"But of course. How gauche of me. Miranda, this is my friend Douglas Kohl. We met at Verdi where he is rotisseur to my poissonier, i.e., in charge of all things fleshy that are not fishy. He's here today to get his butt kicked in a competition we're calling Iron Chef – Upper East Side."

"Dream on, girlfriend."

"And this, Doug, is Miranda Priestly, my landlady and…"

"And the undisputed Queen of Fashion," said Doug, offering Miranda a sincere smile and his hand. "It is an honor to meet you, Ms. Priestly."

"Please, call me Miranda. Now you must excuse me..."

"Sure you don't want to stay and judge 'Battle Beets'? You'll have to choke down Andy's pitiful offerings, but I'm making "B&Ts" — which is to say, beet and Tanqueray cocktails — and beet chips. To be followed by grilled flank steaks with sauteed beet greens and creamy horseradish beets that are going to be to die for."

"Another time perhaps." She scooped up her clutch and headed for the back stairs, but took only one or two steps before a "Beep!" sounded out front. She peered through the front window and gave a weary sigh. She opened the door to the street and waved, catching the attention of her escort for the evening, and then turned and beckoned Andy over with a peremptory hand.

Uh oh! What now?

"A bit of unfinished business before I leave, Andréa." Her tone was serious. "I entered your quarters without permission this afternoon. I want you to know it will not happen again."

"Uh. Okay…" Again, it wasn't exactly an apology, Andy noted. But she appreciated Miranda's admission. Give the old girl credit. She held herself to the standards she demanded of others.

Andy saw movement out of the corner of her eye. A dapper man in a light-weight suit was approaching. Trevor TerHorst the Third, I presume … (Hah! Horse Turd! Ten to one that's what the kids called him on the playground!) He had double parked his Porsche Boxster, she saw, and put on its flashers.

"Time to stop hobnobbing with the masses, Miranda," he said, totally ignoring Andy. "We need to leave now or we're going to be late. Our reservation at Per Se is for 5:30, and traffic is impossible." Giving Miranda an air kiss, he hurried back to the car to make sure it didn't get ticketed, towed, or keyed by a passing peasant.

Another high visibility venue… Andy snorted. Per Se, a Michelin three-star restaurant, was located in Columbus Circle. Unless they were headed for the theater afterwards, the reservation was crassly early. Is this guy oblivious to what constitutes fashionable times to dine? Or making sure they get there in time for the city's paparazzi to snap pictures of him entering and leaving with the fashion icon. Probably the latter. What a douche. What the hell does she see in him?

Miranda paused in the open doorway, pulling a brocade-patterned scarf from her purse and knotting it around her signature coif to protect it against the buffeting it would receive in the convertible. She looked …

Amazing! Like a classic Greek statue. The Venus de Milo? No, something more audacious. Not some posing beauty queen. Something more … intrepid. The Winged Victory of Samothrace — but make her intact, as the Greeks had sculpted her, with a face that could not only launch a thousand ships, but command them all.

Pallas Athena! That's it! Goddess of wisdom and war. Grey-eyed. Regal. Completely unruffled. Looking as if the last few trying minutes had never happened. Dayum and double dayum!

The clang of cast iron drew their eyes back to the kitchen where Doug was trying to steal a march on her. Miranda leaned closer, the light spice of her perfume teasing Andy's nostrils. "What are you waiting for, Andréa? You have a contest to win. I have every confidence in you, but you can't beet him if you don't join him."

She straightened up, visibly pleased at the groan her pun had wrung from Andy's lips, and strode to the waiting car.



Beet beer was an acquired taste, Doug and Andy agreed later as they acquired from the fridge two bottles of the farmers' market microbrew that had inspired their Iron Chef contest and took them out to the garden for last chance judging. In the end, they decided that:

a) they were both a bit buzzed,

b) they'd like to see what a reduction of beet beer might go well with, and

c) neither one of them had "beet" the other in the Iron Chef competition, though both of them continued to giggle about the unexpected pun Miranda had served up in that regard.

Andy had decreed Doug's flank steak combo supreme, while Doug was salivating at the prospect of serving up Andy's "Beetzas" topped with garlic chicken and micro-greens and "Chocolate Beet Bundt Cake," aka "Beet Delight," when he invited fellow University of Wisconsin alumni over to watch the Badgers football in the fall.

"Gonna go great with the school colors."

"So, beetza appetizers and beet bundt cake for dessert. What'll you serve in between? Baby beet and badger kebabs? Braised badger with beet greens?"


Gods. She had talked and laughed more today than she had in ages. Felt good. Felt grrrrrreat, in fact, she thought, giving it a Tony the Tiger trill. She raised her bottle and clinked it against Doug's. "Thanks," she said. "One of the best days ever. Can we do it again soon?"

"How about every Saturday till we get sick of it? I tried some things today I never would have, like those beet chips — pretty tasty, if I say so myself, though the salsa needs work. We'll have to do something about the kitchen set-up, though." They had learned a lot about accessibility in the course of the contest. Or rather in-accessibility. "Would the kitchen upstairs work better? And would Miranda let us use it if we made dinner for everyone?"

"Haven't a clue about the kitchen. The elevator only got certified yesterday, so I haven't been anywhere but this floor of the house. As for Miranda … After today's 'discussion' of boundaries, I think I better wait before broaching something like that."

"Hey, I've got an idea. The catering truck has a portable two-burner stove, doesn't it? I'll ask if we can borrow it. It will only be for a few weeks, right? Until you get the walking cast? When's that?"

"Somewhere after the Fourth of July, with any luck. Can't wait. What a pain." Andy picked at the label on her bottle, dejected once more.

"You've been handed lemons for sure, girl, but you're making lemonade. And lemon risotto. And lemon chicken piccata. And lemon meringue pie. You could be curled up in a ball, bemoaning your fate. Instead, you're…"

"Instead I'm living in a castle with the Dragon Lady and preparing to take care of the two most precious things she has in this world. What in the hell possessed me?"

"You'll be fine. Trust me. In the meantime, any more of that absolutely appalling cake left?"

"Just the small bundt I set aside for Miranda and the girls to try tomorrow."

"Rats. Well, then, it's time to pay the piper. I'll wash, you dry."

By 8 everything was clean and tucked away. And Andy was plain tuckered. No way she was going to last until Rosalind showed up at 9.

"Can I beg a further boon of you, Sir Douglas the Gallant and Good-Hearted?"

"Do I hear the sound of coconuts being clapped together and a voice advising, 'Run away! Run away!'?"

 "Tis nothing as serious as facing the Black Knight, I swear. I was just wondering if I could persuade you to take me to bed."

"Oooh! Best offer I've had in months, sad to say." He waggled his eyebrows, but his expression was anxious.

"Never fear. I'll handle the messy bits. I need someone to make sure I don't do a face plant while shifting out of my chair. Then it's simply a matter of letting yourself out. The door will lock behind you."

"Sounds like it's within my limited capabilities. Let's do it."

As Andy brushed her teeth, he thumbed through her cookbook collection. "The Roadkill Cookbook," he said. "Really?"

"Really," she replied after getting rid of a mouthful of toothpaste. "You never know when you might be one squirrel away from starvation or need to know how to sauté a rattlesnake. Dad gave it to me as a joke, but it's got good stuff in it."

"'Bout ready," she announced a few minutes later. "Just one teensy thing more…"

"Which is…?" Doug asked apprehensively.

"Which is … getting into my shorts."

"Say what?!"

"Or more precisely, helping me get into my own shorts."

"Oooh, things that sound dirty but … are?"

"Shut it, Badger Boy. No, I can get my pants off — they snap down the sides — but I need help getting the sleeping shorts on over the cast. Not to worry, there'll be no naked girl parts on display, just a trés chic pair of Attends. Pretend they're bikini bottoms or something."

"Be still my heart!" Doug said, fanning himself theatrically.

"Enough with the drama already. Just stand … there … and prepare to sweep me up in your manly arms if I screw up the transfer. Oof! Made it! Off with the pants now … And on with the shorts. Grab them and thread the cast through their left leg. The other left leg, idjit! And then onto the right leg. Perfect. I'll squiggle it into place." She did so, then flopped back on her pillows, exhausted.

"Thanks, buddy. You're a prince." She felt him pull the covers over her. "Regular ol' Camelot around here, isn't it? No Grail, though, nor African or European swallows. Not that you'd get more than an appetizer out of one of those. No Spam, either. That's right out. Gotta draw the line somewhere. Hah! Battle Spam! That would be a good one, eh?"

Doug gave her a quick kiss on the forehead, turned out the light, and made his way to the front door. She waited to hear it click safely shut, then shifted her shoulders, trying to get comfortable. In her buzzing brain, thoughts floated, coalesced. "Fashion Queen" met "Dragon Lady." Became "Queen Dragon," straight out of Dragonriders of Pern. Which reminded her of all the years she had spent as a teen dreaming of "impressing" a dragon, melding her thoughts with its.

What would it be like to bond with something that way? Or someone? She had never had that. Had never dared. Knowing someone so deeply. Being known so deeply. It would be … awesome ... to not have to always guess what someone was thinking, feeling …

And awful. All your weaknesses would be evident as well as your strengths. As would theirs. What if they weren't big enough to accept you as you were? What if you weren't big enough to accept them, warts and all?

And yet people did. People like her parents, who were two very different people, but whose ties to one another were so strong you could almost see them. The kind of people for whom e.e. cummings had written poems like "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)."

The first time she'd heard these lines, at a cousin's wedding, she'd thought them so romantic that she'd memorized them. Later she'd decided that this sort of love sounded more like a parasitic infestation. Like having something feeding on you, controlling you even. She understood it now as a kind of symbiosis, a situation in which two organisms provided life-giving sustenance and shelter to each other.

That was true in her parents' case, at least. Their bond was sustaining each of them during her father's long slog with Parkinson's. She wasn't sure she was brave enough for something like that. Not just seeing someone through an ordeal of that sort. Investing that much of herself in another person to begin with.

She wondered if Miranda had ever done that. She seemed so very … self-contained.

Except when it came to her daughters, of course.

She'd heard someone say once that deciding to have a child was to decide forever to "have your heart go walking around outside your body," prey to the world's misfortunes. Miranda clearly felt that way about her daughters. If you cut them, she would bleed. And then she would make you do the same.

That made the whole idea of taking care of them beyond frightening. Or it should. Except …

Her body was begging for rest. Pleading for it. Her brain was having none of that, though. It continued to pick away relentlessly at … well, whatever was tying her up in knots. And had been for some time. Since when? she wondered. Since Wednesday at least, but even before that. Since Tuesday?

Since she'd been rousted from her nap that day and seen those two dear faces. Caroline looking so anxious, so conflicted. Cassidy looking so angry … and at the same time somehow lost. There'd been a split second when ... And then again on Wednesday in the garden. A moment when she'd just wanted to wrap her arms around them and tell them that everything would be okay. That, yes, they had done something truly boneheaded and she was mad enough to swear a blue streak and there would be consequences. But that it would also be okay, because …

Her mind sliced through the confusion, hurt, fear, and denial that had filled it for the last few days and cut to the heart of the matter finally.

To her heart. Pieces of which, she now realized, were "walking around" with Caroline and Cassidy.

Hell, not just walking. Stampeding up and down the stairs. Alternately ignoring her and getting in her face, inviting her in and locking her out. Ann Reed's song was right: "You don't choose love. Love chooses you."

There was no rhyme to it. No reason. But there was also no denying it. She didn't know how they felt about her … but she loved the little pishers! Yes, warts and demons and all!

Her body sagged into the comfort of her bed, released from a great tension she hadn't known it was carrying. Her mind still wasn't totally at ease. There was so much more to think about now, new elements to consider. What was it her mother had said about all this? The words, though harsh, had been lovingly offered. And so incontrovertibly true that it was easy to call them to mind now. She should view this, her mother said, as an opportunity to "develop relationships that really mattered." Relationships that were important enough to her that she'd be willing to do the hard work it took to keep them going even when they got messy or intimate.

Hah! This qualifies, I guess! And in spades! Andy snorted. Mom was suggesting something on the order of a summer project, though. And this is going to be more than that. WAY more. Might take ... years. Because the Bobbseys deserve -- no, require! -- nothing but the best.

She didn't meet that criterion, at least not yet. But she was damn sure going to try to. Even if it scared the shi.. sugar out of her. Or hurt. She was going to make sure they got what they needed to grow into the wonderful young women she'd told Miranda they would become. Good, healthy, happy young women. She squirmed deeper into her pillows. First, though, she needed to get some sleeee ...

The End

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