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The Quiet Ashes Fall

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“I was expecting Andy,” Caroline mutters turning her head back to her book.

“Yes, well,” Miranda’s voice is cool, the hurt at her daughter’s words barely concealed, “you got me.”

The redhead’s eyes snap up at her mother’s tone. “Mom,” she tries to backpedal, “I didn’t mean…”

An upraised hand stops Caroline mid explanation. Miranda sits directly across from her daughter, her blue eyes meeting Caroline’s equally blue ones. Mother studies daughter in the searching way only mothers can. Her gaze is penetrating. Knowing.

Caroline hasn’t fidgeted under Miranda’s scrutiny in many years, but she has to tamp down the urge to do so under that cobalt stare. With all the aplomb garnered from being raised a Priestly, Caroline forces an impassive stare to meet her mother’s eyes and to equally measure the impeccably dressed woman in front of her. She sees the thin line of her mother’s lips harden and prepares for the verbal blow she knows is about to be delivered.

“You’ve been acting like a real bitch,” Miranda drops casually in a soft voice as if discussing the weather.

Caroline is momentarily shocked silent.

Miranda carefully watches the shock on her daughter’s face shift to disbelief. A smile tugs at the edge of her lips at the familiar arch of a perfect eyebrow, at the unspoken challenge in ice-blue eyes. Looking at Caroline is like looking in a mirror for Miranda. The young woman doesn’t cower or back down. But, underneath the brave exterior, the mother in her knows her child is hurting. She aches to ease that pain.

“And, yes,” Miranda allows a brief smile to touch her lips, “it does take one to know one.”

“How in the world did you pull the short straw?” Caroline feels a chuckle escape as she sets her book aside and fully gives her mother her undivided attention.

“Is it so hard to believe I am here voluntarily?” Miranda’s voice doesn’t crack or waiver, but Caroline can hear what her mother isn’t voicing.

“You aren’t one for having emotional conversations,” Caroline’s words are honest but soft. She’s only acknowledging a truth they both know. “And, neither am I.”

Miranda nods her agreement. They both know they aren’t good at this. Andrea would have been the better choice to have a lengthy, cathartic heart to heart with. “But, I love you,” Miranda disregards the fleeting but genuine shock her statement causes, “and I want to help you. And, in this instance, Andrea’s advice won’t be as good as mine.”

“Why?” Caroline leans forward, her walls crumbling at her mother’s simple but heartfelt words.

“Because, while her heart has been broken, she’s never been the cause of her own heart break.” Miranda watches her daughter carefully, knowing she’s assumed correctly when Caroline’s eyes slip away from her own. “We share the unfortunate commonality of being the destructors of our own happiness.”

Miranda’s heart physically aches under her sternum as blue eyes, washed with unshed tears, turn back to her. Every instinct in her is screaming at her to take her child in her arms and comfort her. But Miranda checks the urge. Caroline needs to hear what she has to say.

“We assign our priorities upside down and we take our happiness apart piecemeal,” Miranda knows she has her daughter’s complete attention. “Missed dates. Unapologetic excuses. Rational justification.” Caroline bows her head. “Emotional unavailability. Walls of ice to ensure inaccessibility. General cruelty and bitchiness.” Miranda shifts forward grasping Caroline’s hand. “We rip apart relationships until whoever is on the other end leaves or is utterly destroyed by us. And when it ends in flames, all we are left with are the ashes of bitter disappointment.”

Caroline swallows roughly, the tears escaping her tight control. “Was that supposed to make me feel better?” The redhead wipes angrily at her eyes. “Because I gotta tell you, that’s the worst pep talk I’ve ever heard.”

“No, it wasn’t supposed to make you feel better.” Miranda grasps her daughter’s hands and holds them gently. “That was a wake-up call.”

There's a lengthy silence between them, but mother doesn’t release daughter. Caroline finally releases something that sounds like a stuttered sigh. “I loved him, Mom,” Caroline looks at their entwined hands, “But I wrecked it. I wrecked it because I loved him…” The redhead doesn’t bother wiping away the fresh track of tears, “But, I didn’t love him more than I loved my job, my independence. I didn't love him like he deserved.”

“My darling girl,” Miranda doesn’t quell the urge to comfort this time. She moves to sit next to Caroline and wraps her arms around her daughter’s shoulders. Caroline moves with her, resting her head on her mother’s shoulder. Miranda lets her cry against her.

“I’m going to tell you this once and probably never repeat it again,” the voice sounds loud in the quiet of the room, “Don’t model your life after mine, Caroline.”

“It turned out okay,” Caroline’s voice is muffled against her mother’s neck.

“It did,” Miranda agrees, “and I have few regrets. But are you going to wait until your late forties to get your personal life together?”

“How do I change?” Caroline clings to her mother like she did when she was five and afraid of the dark.

“You start with the small things,” Miranda kisses the top of the red mane.

“What if I can’t change?” It is a small child’s fear, but it looms large in Caroline’s mind.

“You can,” Miranda assures, “You will.”

“What if I never find my Andy? And, I stay stuck being this person I don’t like?”

Your Andy,” Miranda says slowly, “will find you.”

“Does it ever…” Caroline trails off losing her words.

“It gets better,” Miranda tightens her hold on one of the three most valuable things in her life. “It gets better.”