Winter Stroll (Winter #2)(17)

by Elin Hilderbrand

“What exactly is going on here?” she asks. She sounds like a schoolmarm.

Drake is at a loss for words and Mitzi starts bawling.

Kelley says, “Mitzi, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed…”

“I know!” she says. “I couldn’t help myself. I just miss him so much.”

Margaret softens. Poor Mitzi. If Patrick or Kevin had been taken prisoner in Afghanistan, how would Margaret function? Would she be able to face the nation every night and deliver the news? Certainly not. She’d take a leave of absence. She would, like Mitzi, be a basket case.

Drake holds his perfect surgeon’s hands in the air in a gesture of innocence. He looks at Margaret beseechingly. Drake is here. He put whatever was on his plate aside to show up to surprise me. She softens further.

Kelley says, “Mitzi, can I see you in the dining room, please?”

Mitzi stands. “Thank you again,” she says to Drake.

“My pleasure,” Drake says.

Mitzi follows Kelley into the dining room—where, apparently, the lashings are to be administered.

Drake collects Margaret in his arms. He whispers in her ear, “I didn’t know who that was. I was working, and she walked right in, plopped down next to me on the sofa, and started crying.”

“It’s okay,” Margaret says. “I understand. She’s like that.”

Drake then lays a kiss on Margaret that makes her wobble in her heels. Wow, the man can kiss! He slices through to the center of her with… well, with surgical precision.

She’s in the middle of some kind of ecstasy when she hears Kevin’s voice. “Hey, Mom!”

She and Drake separate—reluctantly.

“Darling,” she says. She kisses her son on the cheek; it’s been a few days since he’s shaved. “How is everything going?” Isabelle appears behind him. She looks exhausted.

“Margaret,” she says, and they kiss on both cheeks. “Can I bring you some gougères?”

Drake says, “I’m taking Margaret to dinner at 56 Union.”

Yes, Margaret thinks. She’ll ask Wendy to stick them in a dark corner where no one will recognize her, and she’ll devour a big bowl of the curried mussels and a big glass of chardonnay. She’s starving.

The front door opens and Jennifer strolls in, holding a paper bag. She looks dazed.

“Jennifer!” Margaret says. “My lovely girl.” Margaret and Jennifer have always had a good relationship, and Margaret has been extra solicitous since Patrick has gone to jail. Margaret sends Jennifer flowers every month, she arranged for the boys to attend a Red Sox game and sit in the owner’s box, and for Christmas, Margaret is flying Jennifer to Canyon Ranch in Arizona for three days while Jennifer’s mother keeps the boys in San Francisco.

Jennifer gives Margaret a squeeze. She says, “I have wine. Would you like a glass?”

“Sure,” Margaret says.

Drake says, “I’m taking Margaret out to dinner.”

“That’s right,” Margaret says. She checks her Cartier tank watch. This is the very same watch that sent Mitzi into an apoplectic fit the Christmas before—because it was a gift to Margaret from Kelley when Ava was born, and Margaret still chooses to wear it on the air. “We should go.”

“Don’t you want to see the baby first, Mom?” Kevin asks.

“Is she awake?” Margaret asks.

“She’s in her crib, kicking around,” Kevin says.

Well, Margaret isn’t going to miss an opportunity to hold her granddaughter. She turns to Jennifer, “Are the boys here?”

“Upstairs, playing PS4 with Grandpa, I’m pretty sure,” Jennifer says. “You can see them in the morning.”

“Grandpa is in the dining room with Mitzi,” Margaret says.

“Mitzi?” Isabelle says.

Margaret smiles diplomatically. “I’m going to give Genevieve one kiss,” she says. “And then we’ll go.”

“I’ll come with you,” Drake says. “I’d like to see Genevieve.”

“Really?” Margaret says. Drake has never shown anything beyond polite interest in Genevieve before. But he dutifully follows Margaret into the back of the inn toward the baby’s nursery.

The nursery is lit by only one scallop shell night-light, which casts a buttery glow over the giraffe-and-umbrella-themed nursery. Isabelle grew up with a special fondness for les girafes et les parapluies. Although Margaret initially found the combination a little random, the nursery has turned out to be quite charming.

She can hear Genevieve cooing, and when Margaret peers into the crib, the baby is smiling up at her.

“Hello, beautiful doll,” Margaret whispers. She reaches in and scoops her up.

Baby baby baby. There is nothing Margaret has experienced in this life that compares to holding her grandchildren, and especially this little girl, who is just a little lighter and a little sweeter than the boys were. She smells like lavender, and as Margaret nuzzles her cheek and her tiny perfect ear, she marvels at how soft her skin is. She kisses and kisses her. She can’t ever remember feeling this enamored with her own kids. With Patrick, she was overwhelmed, the twenty-four-hour-a-day nursing sucked away all her energy, and then she got mastitis in her left breast. Kelley’s mother, Frances, had still been alive and she had come to stay with Kelley and Margaret in their railroad apartment on 121st Street, and offered unsolicited advice on the hour.

Suffice it to say, Margaret’s memories of Patrick were not as delicious as this.

Kevin had been easier because at least with him, Margaret had known what she was doing. But Kevin had suffered from reflux—everything she fed him came back up and the whole apartment smelled like sour milk—plus, she’d had a two-year-old to take care of.

And when Ava was born, Margaret had been working full-time at WCBS in New York and every day at home with Ava was a day that Margaret feared she was going to be replaced.

It is so much better to be a grandparent. Margaret can’t believe how much better it is.

“I want to eat her,” Margaret says to Drake. “I want to gobble her up.”

“May I?” Drake says, and he holds his hands out.

Margaret is surprised; he’s never asked to hold the baby before. But of course he operates on babies this age and younger all the time. He takes the baby and cradles her expertly in his arms, just like he does it every day of his life.