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In my haste, I nearly banged my head on the revolving door as I hurried into the hospital. Just my luck to get stuck in traffic for over an hour on my way here! A precious hour during which my grandson emerged into the world.
When I'd finally made it to the hospital parking lot, I was forced to wedge my fifty-five Ford T-Bird between a pickup truck and a van. I wasn't pleased, the potential for damage to the paint job being very high. Ignoring the likelihood of scratches and bruises to my beloved car, I scurried toward the entrance.
Of course it didn't help matters that I dropped my purse at the elevator doors, scattering the contents, including a stool sample from my cat, Fergus. I had been driving to the vet clinic when I got the call from my overwrought son-in-law, Gregory Cardwell.
Gregory definitely doesn't have a way with words even on a good day, but today was his worst by far. I waited impatiently as he told me that Zara had just made it to the hospital in time. My dearest and only daughter, who'd always lived life in the safe lane, must have been frantic as they rushed through the doors.
"Excuse me. Please excuse me. I need to get on this elevator," I said, eyeing my lipstick and nail file wedged against the chrome leg of a seat positioned next to the elevator doors. Scooping up these articles within reach, including the stool sample, I scrambled onto the elevator, leaving the lipstick and nail file to fend for themselves.
"You dropped this, ma'am," called the security guard as he held up the errant tube of lipstick.
I snatched it from his hand, thanked him and smiled at the other occupants as the elevator doors closed and we rode up to the maternity floor withouta stop.
Clutching my grocery list with the room number scribbled on the back, I approached the nursing station. "I'm Emily Martin. I'm here to see Zara Cardwell, room 301."
"Fourth room on the right," the nurse said, and I walked down the corridor. I passed mothers-to-be walking with their tummies proudly displayed, and mothers carrying their newborns, some of them accompanied by men, looking ecstatic or harried or both.
Ah, I'd found the room . I peered inside. My daughter's dark auburn hair veiled a tiny form cradled to her breast. I stopped and clutched the door for support. All the words of relief and congratulationswords about how lovely she looked and how happy I wasdisappeared at the sight of this child of mine who'd taken on the mantle of motherhood right before my eyes.
The light from the window seemed to make the sheets shimmer. The pale blue cap on my grandson's head enhanced the pink glow of his tiny cheeks. Zara's gentle touch and soft smile as she stroked his tiny fingers offered a picture of everything beautiful in this world.
Seeing them together, I remembered another timewhen I'd held my newborn son, tears of joy blurring my vision. Somewhere deep inside, I could still hear Andrew's words the first time he held Jonathan. "It doesn't get any better than this, this moment of knowing that someone else shares in who you are," he'd said.
As I stood watching Zara, my heart flooded with love. And I was suddenly aware that my life was about to turn in an entirely different direction. From now on, the baby lying so peacefully in her arms would be the focus of her life.
Would she ever see me the same way again? This daughter who'd been my lifeline, my reason for getting up in the morning these long, lonely months?
"Zara, honey. Sorry I'm late, but I got stuck in traffic. Are you okay?" I moved into the room. Gregory was nowhere in sight, which secretly pleased me. He and I don't really see eye to eye on anything except maybe date and timeif he'd look up from his video game designing long enough to glance at the calendar and the clock.
"Mommy, isn't he perfect?" My daughter's teary gaze met mine as she held my grandson out to me. "He just finished nursing, and we were talking to each other about our day. Would you like to hold him?"
Babies talking? I highly doubted it, but I understood the sentiment. "I'd like nothing better," I replied enthusiastically, peeling off my coat and tossing it on the chair.
"Mom, you have to wash your hands first!" Zara said, edging the baby closer to her body to protect her dear one from the unseen menace of germs.
"Good idea," I agreed, remembering my morning and the contents of my purse.
I scrubbed my hands to the elbows, giving my watch a good going over in the process and probably gumming up the works. But what did it matter?
"There, I'm ready." I stuck my arms out. Our eyes met, and something magical passed between usas if, at some level, we needed to mark this moment, this feeling that she and I were sharing a miracle that only a mother and daughter can experience.
Zara smiled with pride as she handed her son to me. His bundled form rested in my anxious arms. Holding him ever so carefully, I was filled with adoration. His eyes were closed and there was only the occasional movement of his tiny lips. As I studied him, my foolish attempt to slow the tears catching on the rim of my glasses failed utterly.
"He's beautiful. So beautiful," was all I could say as I lowered myself into the armchair by the bed. What I felt as I stared at the baby in my arms made words superfluous. I touched his cheek, the velvety warmth of his skin connecting me to him. Love, like a physical thing, surrounded the two of us as I eased him closer. Time slipped away, and I was back in the moment when I'd first held the most beautiful little girl in the worldhis mother. Overwhelmed by a sense of longing so powerful I was unable to move, I closed my eyes, waiting for the feeling to ebb.
"He's so gorgeous," Zara whispered, stroking the back of his head as I held him. "We want to name him after Dad."
My throat tightened with the memories that stubbornly refused to fade. "You do?" I whispered.
"Yes, we're going to call him Andrew Martin Cardwell. What do you think?"
I looked down into his sweet little face. Andrew Martin Cardwell would never know his namesake, never hear his grandfather's voice or be taken for long walks in the woods in springtime. But having Andrew's name would be the best possible way to remind him of who he was and where he came from. "Your father would be so happy to know you named your baby after him."
"And we've done it for you, as well, Mom. Gregory and I want you to be happy. I've said this all before but " Zara's smile barely disguised the hope in her eyes.
Like a torrent of water from some unseen place, feelings of loss swept over me, clearing a chilled path in their wake. Andrew had been gone over a year, and yet there was never a day when I didn't miss him. And never more than in this moment of celebration.
How did the word happy always manage to do this to me? I was happy, for heaven's sake! I had what everyone was so fond of calling "a life."
I just didn't have the life I wanted.
"Zara, darling, don't worry about me. You've got so much to look forward to, especially the happiness this baby boy will bring you. It's you, Gregory and baby Andrew who matter now."
"I feel so differently about everything," Zara said wistfully. "I'm a mother, and I'm going to be the best mother I can. And you showed me how."
Oh, darling daughter, don't do this. Don't reduce your mother to a blithering, mascara-smudged idiot.
I wanted to turn away while I dabbed at the tears once again blurring my vision, but stubbornness and pride made me stay right where I was.
"Mom, please don't cry. You know what I'm saying is true. I wouldn't be nearly so relaxed about all of this if you hadn't talked to me about everything, told me how you managed with us. God, I couldn't imagine delivering two of him." Zara made a face.
"You would've done it if you had to and done it well, the way you do everything in your life."
"Probably. I am my mother's daughter, after all. Are you prepared to take on your grandmotherly duties?"
"Absolutely." Zara didn't know just how much I meant that. My son Jonathan's little girl, Megan, lived in Bellingham, Washington, a long flight from Portland, Maine. Since she'd started talking to me on the phone, we had had lots of chats, but it wasn't the same. I needed to feel her little arms around my neck, bake cookies and dig in the garden with her. I'd bought her a watering can, but she'd been here only once to use it.
"Maybe you'll clean out Dad's office and turn it into a playroom for Andrew when he comes to visit. He'll need lots of space for all the toys you'll buy him," Zara teased.
What a nice way for my daughter to bring up her favorite topic where I'm concerned. My three children had been after me for the past few months to clear out Andrew's office, convert the room to a den or playroom, in order to launch this new life they're convinced I should be leading.
They didn't understand that taking my husband out of the house I'd shared with him for thirty-five years would remove whole chunks of me in the process. Parts I couldn't bear to be without. Memories like the way Andrew made me feel when he opened a bottle of wine for just the two of us. The smell of the aftershave he'd worn for thirty years, the first bottle being a Christmas present from me. The way he piled pillows behind his head before he did his habitual reading at bedtime.
If I got rid of his things and removed him from my house, I was afraid I might start to forget him. Forget how he looked when he frowned in concentration, or how he smiled for no real reason. I couldn't let that happen. He needed me to keep his memory alive.
My love for Andrew had been a driving force in my life. There was never a day when the sight of him didn't thrill me. When he walked into the kitchen in the morning and hugged me, my day brightened. We loved mornings, the urgent confusion of children leaving for school, followed by a few minutes alone together before Andrew left for work. Our lives were hectic, special and in the past. As I thought about it, I didn't really need his office to keep memories alive for me, but I did need my daughter to be happy. "If it'll help you concentrate on your son, I'll clean out the office. But it'll have to wait until you children take what you want from his framed prints and his coin collection."
"Mom, your little ruse isn't going to work. Jonathan and Connor and I talked this over. We want you to put all of Dad's memorabilia in boxes and we'll go through them when Jonathan and Connor come home at Christmas. No more excuses," she whispered, reaching to take my grandson from my arms. "You have plans for your grandmother, don't you, Andrew?"
It was the gentle tone of her voice, the near reverence in her words as she cradled Andrew that threatened my emotional calm. I felt the old familiar tears and told them to back off. Baby Andrew's life was just beginning, and my daughter needed to be free of her worry over me.
"Zara, I promise to get started on your father's office the first spare minute I have, but for now, I'm going home to phone everyone about my grandson."
"That's great, Mom. I haven't had time to call anyone yet. I can't wait to tell Jonathan and Connor."
The fact that my grown children were close friends gave me such pleasure. Although Connor and Zara were fraternal twins and very close to each other, they always included their older brother, Jonathan, in their lives. Zara and Jonathan were the two who tended to look at a situation from all angles before they leaped, while Connor, my wild child, jumped first and asked questions later. "Your brothers will be so pleased to hear from you, and to know that Andrew's arrived safe and sound."
"And Mom, we'll never forget Dad. How could we? But I want my mother to find herself."
Zara chuckled. "Of course not. You've simply spent your life making our lives specialDad's and ours. It's time you discovered what makes your life special."
"Don't the things I do for my children qualify?" I gave her a raised-eyebrows smile and patted her playfully on the head. Deep inside, I wondered exactly when my daughter's voice had taken on that mother-knows-best quality.
I delivered Fergus's stool sample before going home. Of course, the traffic behaved itself and I found myself pulling into my driveway before I realized it. My house, with its massive brick facade, its matching brick chimneys at either end, its tall, elegant windows, was my dream house. Since I'd been raised in a tiny bungalow in a subdivision where every house looked like every other one, 1345 Postmaster Lane was home, the perfect house.
There was only one tiny flaw. The very kind, but very peculiar person who lived next door. Sam Bannister, with his bushy eyebrows, towering frame and penchant for reading Shakespeare out loud in his back garden during the summer, often seemed to be lurking somewhere on his property.
Oddly enough, Andrew and Sam had been good friends, and my husband had not made friends easily.
But what really unglued me was that ever since Andrew's death, this scion of the university community had taken it upon himself to keep tabs on my comings and goings. Of course, he had the perfect opportunity when he mowed the lawn, a task he'd taken on when Andrew was sick. Maybe that was what retired classics professors did with their free time. I had no idea. There were days I got up and left the house way earlier than I needed to, simply to escape his prying eyes.
Now, like a thief in the night, I eased my bulky car along the driveway toward the garage as quietly as I could, trusting fate to let me park and escape into the house before Sam poked his head over the hedge.
I should've known better than to trust fate because there he was, doing his usual giraffe pose as I walked out of the garage. Okay, be nice "Good morning, Sam. Lovely day, isn't it?"