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No Room at the Inn

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It was not turning out to be the best Christmas ever.

"This is unacceptable," growled Miranda.

Cassidy, watching her mother, shivered at the sound.

"I'm sorry, ma'am" said the woman behind the counter. Miranda's eye twitched but the woman didn't seem to notice.  Cassidy shivered again. "The weather has closed all airports in the area. No one is flying out tonight."

"This is unacceptable,” Miranda repeated.

"We can offer you a hotel and a meal coupon," she continued, completely ignoring Miranda. No one ignored Cassidy's mother, and she wondered what kind of hell Miranda would call down on this senseless idiot.

But Miranda didn't do anything at all except swirl away, leaving the agent talking into thin air. Of course, the dozen or so other first-class customers who were also waiting would probably be willing to at least listen to the dumb bitch. Miranda could take care of things herself, Cassidy thought; she always did.

Once she reached the windows, Miranda yanked out her phone and started barking into it, her brows tight and her eyes sharp. "Get me hotel reservations," she was hissing.

Whatever Emily said didn't please her mother, because Miranda practically shouted “Cincinnati" and then hung up.

Cassidy sidled closer to her mom, keeping one eye on Caroline was slumped in a chair and pounding on her PSP so hard Cassidy wondered if she might break it. She had maneuvered to within a few feet of their mother when Miranda's phone rang. Cassidy jumped, but Miranda had clearly been expecting the call.

"How long does it take to make a hotel reservation," she growled.

Cassidy thought she heard Emily stutter something, but couldn't make it out. She crept closer.

Miranda didn't seem to care what Emily was saying anyway. "What have you found?"

Now Cassidy could hear her. "Um, well, there isn't anything—"

"Find me a hotel," Miranda snarled and hung up again.

Her mom looked really angry, and she was starting to pace. Back and forth, back and forth. Cassidy crouched down on the floor a few feet from one of the pivot points—three strides in each direction—and when Miranda noticed her, Cassidy offered a tiny smile.

Miranda's face went blank.

Cassidy dropped the smile.

After a while, Caroline noticed that they had moved and dragged her stuff over to sit with Cassidy. She went back to her game instead of talking, and the beeps and blips were comforting while Cassidy watched it snow. It was pretty, as long as she didn't think about the fact that they were stuck in an airport and probably weren't going to make it to Aspen by Christmas morning, but Cassidy wished with all her heart that it would clear up so they could get back on the plane. Even if it made things look ugly. Miranda was really angry. Again.

Time passed. Miranda paced. Outside, it kept snowing.

Emily called back, twice, but each time Miranda moved to the far end of what Cassidy had come to think of as “their spot” in the airport waiting room so Cassidy couldn't hear anything. People had started drifting out of the airport in small groups, and things were getting lonelier and quieter. Finally, there weren't anymore passengers left waiting at the agent's desk, and even the agent packed up to go.

"Mom?" Cassidy said.

Miranda either didn’t hear her, or was ignoring her.

Curled into a tiny ball, Cassidy went back to staring out the window. The snow was piling up, and the sight of the flakes drifting down was hypnotizing.

The next thing Cassidy knew, her mother was shaking her shoulder. "Wake up."

"Wha?" Cassidy mumbled, but Miranda had moved on to Caroline. Cassidy blinked; the lights seemed a lot lower now.

Next to her, Caroline said, "Where are we going?"

Miranda blinked and her chin went up. She was silent for a long moment, and then she said, "I don't know."

Caroline immediately freaked out, shouting and crying and pushing at Miranda. Miranda tried to calm her down, but Caroline was way too much of a drama queen to let her.

"Mom?" Cassidy said tentatively.

They both ignored her.

"What do you mean we're not going to Aspen? You promised, Mom, you said—" Caroline shrieked.

"Caroline, lower your voice," Miranda hissed.

"Mom," Cassidy said again.

"You said we could spend the whole week together," Caroline continued, not lowering her voice at all.

"Andy lives in Cincinnati," Cassidy said. "Her parents do. And since it's Christmas, she's probably—"

Caroline shut up, immediately. Miranda was staring at her with the scariest look Cassidy had ever seen. It was like her mother didn't even know who she was.

Eventually, Miranda said, "Andy?" so softly Cassidy had to strain to hear her even though she was only standing a few feet away.

Caroline squeaked.

"Andrea Sachs," Miranda said.

Cassidy very nearly nodded. She tried, anyway.

"Andrea Sachs," Miranda repeated. And then she stalked away. Across the room, a custodian began turning off the lights and making sure the agent's desk was locked. He looked like he wanted to shut down the first class lounge, since they were the only ones left. Cassidy watched him, her stomach lodged in her throat.

After a small eternity, Miranda came back and examined Cassidy.

Cassidy took a deep breath, and met her mother's eyes.

Miranda broke the gaze first. "Fine," she said.

"What?" blurted Caroline. "Mom, she's--"

"Fine," said Miranda, running her hand through her hair. "Fine. Call her," continued Miranda, "Ask her. Them. If she's there."

"Um," said Cassidy.

Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Miranda pulled out her phone and handed it to Cassidy. The scary look was back. Miranda looked like she wanted to kill Cassidy or something. Cassidy wished she had never opened her mouth.

She took the phone and clicked through her phone book, and there it was, under S: Andrea Sachs, cell. She dialed, not taking her eyes off her mother.

Suddenly, she didn't look angry anymore. The only problem was, Cassidy had no idea how to interpret the look on her face.

~~~

And that was how Cassidy, Caroline, and their mother found themselves on an ordinary street looking at an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood, about to crash the holiday festivities of a woman who probably didn't like any of them very much. Cassidy hoped that maybe Andy had forgotten how horrible she and Caroline had been to her.

Or at least that she had forgotten how much of a bitch her mother was.

Miranda seemed to be thinking the exact same thing, because she was staring at the door and not making any move to get out of the taxi.

Caroline was still whining next to Cassidy, mostly about how awful Andy was and how horrible a mother Miranda was, but Cassidy had long since tuned out her sister. Their mother probably had, too, to judge from the extremely intense look on her face. Actually, Miranda didn't look like she realized there was anything in the whole world other than that door.

"Mom?" said Cassidy.

Miranda didn't answer.

~~~


Kate Sachs stood at the stove, stirring hot chocolate and listening to her husband and daughter play Scrabble, loudly.

"Andy, that's not how you spell syringe," Richard said.

"No," Andy said, "but it is how you spell the genus for lilacs."

Kate looked up. "How in the world do you know that, honey?"

Andy squirmed and made a show of concentrating on choosing her tiles.

"Andy," prompted Richard.

Andy sighed and then started speaking very fast. "Miranda really, really, really likes flowers, all sorts of flowers and I had to order them all the time and I just—" she shrugged. "I picked up some stuff."

Just as Richard said, "Stuff?" the doorbell rang.

Kate frowned at him, but didn't comment. "Who in the world could that be? It's nearly eleven."

Andy hopped up. "I'll get it."

"Don't think this lets you off the hook, young lady," Richard called after her.

"Richard," said Kate, following Andy. "Let it go. It's been three months. She doesn't work for Miranda anymore."

"I was talking about the word!" said Richard. "I couldn't care less about Miranda Priestly. Good riddance to bad trash."

Andy was standing in front of the door, hiding the person on the stoop. Kate could hear them talking.

The person on the porch was saying, "—everything is grounded from here to the West Coast, and all the hotels are full. As Cassidy explained."

"I told her—" said Andy.

The woman didn't seem to hear Andy. "Emily spent the entire evening looking for—It would just be for one night."

"Yeah, that's what Cassidy said," said Andy. "But—"

"Tonight," said the woman, and Kate finally drew close enough to see who it was.

She had never met the woman before, but the descriptions from Andy, coupled with the few photographs she had located when Andy first started working at Runway, made identification easy: Miranda Priestly was standing on her doorstep. Kate gaped, but Andy kept talking.

"I don't think you can stay here tonight," Andy said.

"The girls and I need—" Miranda said.

"It's not even my house," said Andy.

Miranda looked towards the cab.

Peering over Andy's shoulder, Kate said, "What seems to be the problem?"

Miranda eyed Andy for a moment, and while it was a charged glance, Kate couldn't tell quite what it meant. "My daughters and I were on the way to Colorado, but as you can see, the weather is stopping us. Unfortunately, it's stopping everyone else as well, and there are no vacancies in town."

Kate nodded encouragingly.

Miranda briefly cleared her throat. "We were wondering if we could stay here."

"Of course," said Kate immediately. "Where are your girls?"

"Mom!" said Andy. Miranda tilted her head towards the cab idling on the street behind her.

"What, honey?" said Kate. "We only have one guest room, so you'll have to share," she said to Miranda, who merely nodded. "And only one bathroom for the whole house," she added.

Miranda nodded again and said nothing more than, "I'll get the girls."

Before Miranda had taken three steps, Andy grabbed her mother's shoulder and hissed, "What are you doing?"

"It's Christmas, honey," said Kate.

"She's a menace! Ask Dad!"

"Ask Dad what?" said Richard.

They both turned. He smiled at them expectantly.

Kate reached out to take his arm. "We're having guests, dear."

~~~

"She's not so bad," Kate said twenty minutes later, after the Priestly women had been safely ensconced in the guest room and Richard had decided, with equal degrees of anger and irritation, to go to bed.

"What?" blurted Andy.

Kate started cleaning up the Scrabble game. "You would tell us these horror stories all the time, but look at her, Andy. She's not an ogre, she's a perfectly normal person with perfectly normal problems, trying her hardest to be a good mother."

"Normal?" Andy said. "Mom! I—she's not normal!"

"Well, she's certainly not abnormal," Kate said. "She seems like a fairly nice person."

"Nice? Miranda Priestly is the exact opposite of nice."

"Of course, honey," replied Kate.

"I just—I told you what she did in Paris," Andy said. "What she's like. I told you."

"Yes, you did," said Kate, "but now that I've met her, I think I'd like to hear her side of things." And given Miranda's tentativeness in even asking for a place for her daughters to stay at midnight on Christmas Eve, Kate thought that her side of events in Paris might be fairly interesting. It seemed entirely unlike the woman.

"Besides," Andy continued, not listening in the least. "Who in the world flies halfway across the country on Christmas Eve? I bet she worked right up until the last minute, and that's why they're stuck here. I just bet that's what happened."

Kate nodded. "Probably."

Andy harrumphed. "I'm going to bed. I hope you're happy."

Kate smiled at her daughter. "You do that, honey. And try not to sleep too late tomorrow morning; I'm sure the girls will want to get up early."

Andy glared at her mother and flounced off, right into Miranda. They collided, and another look passed between them. Kate wondered what was going on; they were acting extremely awkward with each other, but heaven knew she'd never get anything out of Andy about it. Before she could puzzle anything out, Andy squeaked and dashed out of the room.

Miranda stared after her, a very peculiar look on her face.

Eventually, when it had become clear Miranda's train of thought had been completely derailed by her accidental encounter with Andy, Kate decided to break the silence. "Tea?"

Miranda jumped. "I'm so sorry to impose, Mrs. Sachs," she said, finally finding her way into the kitchen.

"Don't worry about it," said Kate, waving Miranda over to the kitchen table. "Call me Kate."

Miranda examined her. Andy had called Miranda's attention "face-melting" and "invasive" and had said "she can see right through you, Mom, it's horrible"; now faced with the woman herself, Kate was inclined to disagree. If anything, Miranda looked unsure of herself. Her next words threw Kate out of her reverie.

"Scrabble?"

Kate smiled. "Richard and Andy were playing earlier. I guess in the excitement they forgot to clean up."

Miranda smiled somewhat awkwardly; Kate got the impression it wasn't something she did often. "I have," she said slowly, "a bit of a problem."

"What's that?"

Miranda pursed her lips. Kate waited. Eventually, Miranda said softly, "Presents. For my girls."

"Oh, dear," said Kate.

Miranda nodded, but didn't continue.

After a few minutes, Kate prompted, "That's a problem."

Miranda sighed. "I had all the girls' presents shipped to Colorado. I've got a few small things in my bags, of course, but the majority of their gifts are waiting for them thousands of miles away."

"Well," said Kate.

Miranda met Kate's eyes. "I am not accustomed to failing my daughters, Mrs. Sachs."

"Kate," Kate reminded her. "Did you have a solution in mind?"

"I hoped that you would be able to help with that," said Miranda.

"Well," said Kate slowly, "what do they like?"

~~~


Upstairs, in bed, Caroline was not pleased. “What were you thinking?”

“We needed a place to stay,” pleaded Cassidy. Surely Caroline understood. She had to understand. This was their only hope.

“You know how Mom feels."

Which was the entire point. “Yes—”

“You know!" spat Caroline. "And you made her stay here anyway.”

Cassidy buried her head under her pillow. She had forgotten that Caroline wasn't nearly as enamored of The Parent Trap as she was. “It might be good for her," she mumbled.

“It will not. It’ll be horrible. She’ll get even sadder, and moodier, and mopey. Even Patricia hates it when Mom gets mopey.”

Mopey Miranda was even worse than angry Miranda. Oh, no. What if Caroline was right? That would be terrible, and horrible, no good and very bad. “It might work.” Even Cassidy didn't think she sounded very hopeful.

“You’re an idiot," said Caroline.

Cassidy sighed. “I know.”

~~~


"You know," Kate said half an hour later in bed, "I like Miranda."

"Come on, Kate," said Richard. "The woman is a menace. She made Andy miserable for months—"

"Andy made us miserable for years."

"It's not the same thing and you know it."

Kate rested her chin on his chest. "I like her. And I think Andy does, too."

Richard blinked owlishly down at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Didn't you see them?"

"No. I was trying to ignore her existence. But since she's staying in my house it's a little hard."

"Oh, give her a chance."

"Why? So she can destroy Andy's life for a second time? Besides, she didn't give Andy a chance."

"What are you talking about?"

"Andy a great worker, and she's smart, and loyal, and kind."

"There must be more to it—"

"There isn't!" said Richard. "There isn't. Miranda Priestly is a bitch, and I want her to stay away from my daughter."

"Your daughter quit working in the middle of the day, while on a business trip with her boss."

Richard huffed. Even he couldn't argue with that one.

Kate said, "You never liked Nate, so why are you pretending to be upset about them breaking up?"

"I liked him," Richard said, rolling with the abrupt change in subject only the way half of a couple married for decades can do.

Kate snorted. "You threatened to tear his arms out when they told us they were moving in together."

"I may have been a bit hasty. She was a little girl."

"It was three years ago."

"Besides," Richard said, "Miranda has been nothing but horrible to her since Andy quit."

"Not without reason, Richard. Andy didn't—well, Andy didn't really behave very well during all that."

"So that gives Miranda leeway to treat her like a leper?"

Kate frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Richard sighed. "Evidently, they've run in to each other a few times, and, Miranda...she's not very nice, Kate. She's really not nice."

"Not nice?"

"Andy's tried to apologize to her—"

"And?"

"—and Miranda refuses to hear it."

"Richard, that doesn't make any sense. Andy doesn't want to have anything to do with Miranda."

"You heard her defend the woman downstairs before they actually arrived; I'm fairly certain it's not Andy who doesn't want to have anything to do with Miranda. I'm just trying to protect my little girl from getting hurt again."

Oh. Well. At least Kate wasn't imagining things, then, if Richard saw it, too. "Hurt? By Miranda? The woman who is sleeping in our guest bedroom looks like a sharp look from Andy would knock her over. She wouldn't be here if she had any other options."

"Exactly. She wants nothing to do with Andy, and I don't want to watch my daughter get her heart broken again."

The house settled around them for long moments, until Kate spoke again. "Richard, if what you're saying is true, then—"

"Then what?"

Kate sighed. "I don't know. This is certainly going to be an interesting holiday, though."

"I was afraid you were going to say that," said Richard.

~~~


Cassidy hadn't been expecting much for Christmas, all things considered. When they discussed before they left New York Caroline claimed their mother had been trying really hard lately, coming home for dinner more often and actually spending more time with them. Cassidy wasn't ready to forgive her, though; even though Stephen was out of the picture—and she and Caroline agreed that they hated him for being mean to their mother—Cassidy was of the opinion that even a former assistant cared more about her and Caroline than their own mother. Hence, Christmas with the Sachs'.

Besides, anything her mother would have bought her would really have come from Emily or the other assistant, who hadn't been trusted to come to the house yet.

So on Christmas morning, when Caroline opened a mint-condition Game Boy plus a ton of games, Cassidy was shocked. Caroline already had every single game system in the universe, but the very first one she wanted, even before they had gone to kindergarden, the one that their father refused to buy and Miranda had backed him on, was a Game Boy. He always claimed it was unladylike to play video games, but games were the only thing Caroline liked, even then.

There was also a brand new Trivial Pursuit game for everyone, their mother included (the card said, “The family who wins together….”)

But her gift was even more surprising. For months Cassidy had been thinking about asking for a camera, a real one, a grown-up one. Film. There was a darkroom at Dalton, and even though she had a digital SLR, it wasn't the same. She just hadn't gotten around to asking for it yet. But there, sitting in her lap, was a camera. An F3, a real photographer's camera, with three lenses. They looked ancient, but they were in perfect condition, no scratches or dust or anything.

"Really?" she said.

Their mother nodded hesitantly.

Cassidy threw herself into her mother's arms. "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou," she screamed into her neck.  

Her mother's hand was soft and possibly trembling as it stroked Cassidy's hair. Cassidy was too thrilled to care.

They were almost done—Andy had gotten a bunch of money and giftcards to weird places, and she had given her parents a neat vase and an old book—when Caroline pulled one last gift out and stared at the label. To Miranda, it read. She exchanged a glance with Caroline. They had forgotten to get anything for their mother, but here one was.

Their mother pulled apart the paper as if she were undressing—slow and careful and with gentle fingers. When she was done, she said in wonder, "This is quite rare."

"What is it, Mommy?" asked Caroline.

"It's a book, Bobbsey."

"The Bobbsey Twins in the Country," Cassidy read. "Wait, this is a Bobbsey Twins book."

"Yes. A very old one."

"I thought you had all the Bobbsey twins books," Caroline said.

"I collect the Gosset and Dunlap editions," Miranda said to Andy's mom and dad. "I have ever since the girls were born."

"So does Andy," Richard said, sounding kind of constipated. When Cassidy looked over at him, he was concentrating really hard on his crossword puzzle and not looking up at all.

"This doesn't look like those ones," Cassidy said.

"That's because it's not," said Andy. "It's much older."

"That's better, right?" asked Caroline.

"It's rarer. And more expensive," said Miranda. "Kate, I couldn't possibly accept this." She was talking to Andy's mom, but she was looking at Andy.

"Miranda," Andy's mom said.

"It's a gift, Miranda," Andy said, and she was staring at Miranda like she had never seen her before. Which was weird, because Andy had worked for her mom and had seen her all the time then. "You can't refuse a gift."

Miranda was looking at Andy like she was the world's most perfect person, and it made Cassidy a little uncomfortable.

They stared at each for what felt like a really long time while everyone else talked about their gifts and laughed and smiled.

Cassidy's mother looked away first. Andy didn't meet anyone's eyes for a long time. The whole thing was really confusing, and Cassidy kept watching them, trying to figure out what was going on.

Andy's mom kept watching them, too.

~~~

After breakfast, Miranda tried calling the airport. The longer she talked, the more pinched her face got, and when she finally hung up, she looked like she wanted to kill someone. Or maybe throw up; Cassidy wasn't sure. She squirmed, waiting for the explosion.

Instead, her mom spoke to Andy's mom in a perfectly normal voice. Not her scary quiet voice, or even her I'll-be-nice-until-I-get-what-I-want voice that she always used with the principle at Dalton. "I'm sorry," Miranda said. "The storm doesn't seem to be abating. They don't think they'll get anything out until tomorrow at the earliest."

"Well, then you'll just have to stay with us," Kate said brightly.

Caroline let out a dramatic groan. Cassidy elbowed her sister, listening hard to the conversation.

"I'm sure we could find a hotel today," said Miranda. She was already dialing again. Emily, probably. "Let me make a few calls, and—"

"Don't be ridiculous, Miranda," said Kate, and covered her mom's phone with her hand. Both Cassidy and her mother stared at Kate's hand as if it were alien. Nobody touched Cassidy's mom, ever. Kate didn't even seem to notice her faux pas, and said, "It's Christmas; you shouldn't be staying in a hotel on Christmas."

"We really couldn't—" said Miranda.

Kate laughed. "Of course you can."

~~~


After her nap, Cassidy crept downstairs. People were laughing in the kitchen, lots of people. She peered around the door, and all she could see were people. The too-small kitchen was filled with people, and she couldn't see Andy or Andy's mom. She was about to sneak back into upstairs when her name was called.

"Cassidy!" said Kate. "Come here, I need someone to stir this."

Cassidy started to cross the room but halfway there spotted her mother, who was standing at the kitchen table frowning at a lump of dough. She had a rolling pin in one hand and was wearing an apron that proclaimed, "Kiss the cook!" Cassidy stopped breathing for a moment, and then started to giggle. Her mother didn't hear her.

While Cassidy stirred, Andy kept wandering by and pouring more things into the pot. Soup, Cassidy thought. It smelled really good.

The people standing around talking and cooking and bumping into each other turned out to be Andy's family, her aunts and uncles and cousins. Cassidy had never been around so much family before, but mostly they didn't want to talk to her, so she could just stand there and listen.

All these people knew Andy, some of them since she was even younger than Cassidy, and they all wanted to tell stories. Andy seemed to feature in a lot of them, and the Andy going to the hospital in quite a few as well.

Cassidy watched, and listened, and the spirit of Christmas soaked into her. This was what family was supposed to be like: a kitchen full of laughing people wearing incredibly ugly green and red sweaters and constantly snatching bits and pieces of dinner as it passed by on its way to be made. Someone even took Cassidy’s spoon to taste the soup, only it was more of a gulp and less of a taste. No one complained about anything, not even the snow—Andy’s aunt even said, “I was hoping for a white Christmas, and look! More white than even I could have imagined!”—and no one worried about their waistline. Caroline had snuck by at one point, one cookie in her hand and another in her mouth, and whispered, “I don’t even care that all these fat people are here, because these are delicious!”

Caroline had been put to work moving furniture in the living room, and every so often she could hear things fall with great big crashes. But no one got upset; instead, there was laughter and the kitchen emptied for a few minutes while everyone who didn’t have full hands went to help and left Cassidy and her mom and Andy and whoever else was washing dishes or peeling potatoes to keep working. And they did keep working, but it didn’t really feel like work. It was fun, like a slumber party, or a movie. It was a movie about Christmas, and Cassidy’s role was to laugh at all the jokes and stir the soup.

Her mom’s role was to make pie after pie, and none of them were perfect. The cherry pie had a lumpy top, and the apple pie’s lattice was crooked, and the pumpkin pie burnt. But her mom was smiling, and every time Andy whirled by carrying something or talking to someone, or reaching over her arm to snag a fingerfull of filling, her mom blushed. No matter how it tasted, Cassidy already knew it was going to be the best Christmas dinner she’d ever had.

~~~

For years afterward, Cassidy wracked her brain trying to figure out what had woken her from a sound sleep. But at the time, all she had been thinking was that she was sleeping in a strange place and her mother and her sister were missing.

There were still lights on downstairs, and she could hear voices. But as she drew closer, she realized that there were only two people downstairs: Mom, and Andy. She couldn't figure out what they were saying at first, but as she reached the landing their voices became clearer. Caroline was already there, peering through the railing. Cassidy snuggled up beside her, coveting her sister’s warmth.

"Regardless, I'm sorry," said Andy.

Mom sighed. "I suppose there may have been some things that, had I the chance to do them over—"

"You did what you had to do," Andy said.

It took a long time for Mom to answer. Eventually, she said, "I apologize as well." Her voice was rich and deep with meanings that Cassidy couldn't quite decipher.

The three of them sat quietly, while the fire crackled and flickered. Cassidy had almost fallen asleep against the bannister when Andy spoke again. "Thank you."

"For what?" Mom sounded confused.

"For my recommendation. For hiring me in the first place. For a lot of things."

"Andrea."

"I mean it. I learned a lot from you. Stuff that I'm probably not ever going to realize I learned for years and years."

"You're clever. You would have figured it out eventually."

"Maybe. But you still gave me a chance."

"Yes," said Mom faintly.

They went silent again, and Cassidy wondered if maybe they should just go back to bed. She had no idea how long Mom and Andy would sit there, not talking or even looking at each other, and it was cold sitting there on the stairs in just her pajamas.

She had just about decided to tell Caroline they should go back to bed when a blanket fell over her shoulders.

"Hey," whispered Kate. "What's going on?"

"I don't know," said Cassidy.

Caroline added, “They're not even talking."

Kate hummed, in that way that adults do when they know something but don’t want to say. It didn’t irritate Cassidy as much as usual tonight.

The there of them huddled under the blanket, listening to the fire crack and dozing against each other, for a long time. Cassidy wondered if this was what a normal family was like, kids eavesdropping on their parents and not understanding what was going on. Or parents spying on their kids.

"Miranda," said Andy. Her voice was so soft Cassidy almost didn't hear her. She nudged Caroline awake. Kate wrapped her arms snugly around them both.

"Andrea," replied Mom, just as quiet.

They waited, all of them. Andy and Mom were looking at each other, their eyes locked. Cassidy couldn't tear her gaze away, but it seemed that neither could Mom or Andy. The entire world was suspended, like that moment in The Nutcracker after the clock chimed but before the tree started growing: like there was magic about to be done.

Beside her, Caroline mumbled, "Are they going to kiss?"

Cassidy nodded. She thought they would. She hoped they would.

“If not, I’m going to give that daughter a piece of my mind,” whispered Kate.

"Wow," said Caroline.

Slowly, so slowly Cassidy wasn't even sure either of them was really moving, Mom and Andy leaned closer and closer to each other. They hesitated with barely a breath between them, just looking at each other, almost but not quite smiling. It was just like in the movies.

And then they kissed.

Something grew in Cassidy's chest, like her heart was exploding. Caroline's fingers dug into her arm; it probably hurt, except that Cassidy couldn't feel it at all. Not with her heart suddenly three sizes too big. Just like Mom's.

When their lips broke apart, Andy, smiling so wide her cheeks had to hurt, whispered, "You're amazing."

Mom laughed, light and clear and happy. Cassidy split open with joy, which was probably only half what Mom was feeling.

"You're pretty wonderful yourself," Mom said.

Cassidy buried her face in her sister's neck as they watched Mom and Andy grin at each other.

Best. Christmas. Ever.