Maddie set down her overnight bag and looked around the luxurious guest room of her sister’s elegant townhouse, relieved to have a few minutes to herself after the long train trip from New York City and her sister’s constant chatter on the ride back from the train station. Abby and her husband and young son lived in the Beacon Hill section of Boston, not far from where Maddie’s parents had had a house for many years. Maddie had stayed here so many times that it almost felt like coming home.
One of the servants had already brought up her other suitcases, but she ignored them, kicking off her shoes and giving in to the temptation to slide under the soft, quilted comforter that covered the mahogany four-poster bed. She knew her sister would be waiting for her to come downstairs presently to help decorate the Christmas tree, but she was just so sleepy right now. Just for a few minutes, she murmured to herself as her eyes closed.
A sharp knock on the door awakened her with a start. Jumping to her feet, she felt a queasy sensation in her stomach that was beginning to be familiar. It made her sit back down again quickly.
“Maddie!” she heard her sister Abby’s voice calling her from the hall. “Are you coming down? Jan has the tree all set up, and we’re ready to decorate it.”
“Come in, Abby,” Maddie answered. “I just fell asleep for a few minutes.”
“A few minutes?” Abby questioned as she entered the room. “It’s been several hours since you came up here.”
“Has it?” Maddie asked. She glanced at the windows and was surprised to find that it was getting dark. “ I guess I must have been more tired than I thought I was.”
“But didn’t you say you slept most of the way here on the train?” her sister asked, a concerned look passing over her pretty face. Abby was a few inches shorter than Maddie and also a little rounder, but the two sisters shared the same delicate features, honey-brown hair and hazel eyes. “I hope you’re not coming down with something.” She looked around at Maddie’s unopened suitcases. “Why don’t you freshen up a bit and then come down and help us with the tree? I’ll send the maid in to unpack for you.”
“No,” Maddie protested, trying to find the strength to try to stand up again. “You know I like to take care of my own things. It won’t take me long.”
“Well, at least let me help,” Abby insisted. Picking up one of the bags and placing it on a low chest, she began to undo the snaps.
“Mommy?” A small voice sounded from the hall, and Maddie saw a small, cherubic face framed by blond hair peeking around the doorway. Abby turned around with a smile.
“Ben, honey, come in and give Aunt Maddie a big hug and kiss.”
Ben promptly lost his shyness and ran to his favorite aunt, jumping into her lap and firmly clasping his arms around her neck. Maddie forced herself to ignore the motion this brought about in her belly and returned her godson’s warm hug enthusiastically. She held him close for a long moment, inhaling his scent and planting kisses in his soft hair. Ben turned to grin up at her.
“Aunt Maddie, Aunt Mad, Aunt Maddie,” Ben chuckled to himself as he squirmed out of Maddie’s arms and onto the bed. “Look at me. I can jump.” He continued to chant as he began jumping vigorously up and down on the bed. “Aunt Maddie, Aunt Mad, Aunt Maddie Maddie Mad MaddieMad.”
Maddie quickly got up, closing her eyes as she felt the room begin to spin.
“Ben, precious, get off of Aunt Maddie’s bed,” Abby said without turning around. When Ben continued the jumping and chanting, she came over and lifted him down. He promptly crawled under the bed, giggling to himself. Abby turned to Maddie, shaking her head. “For some reason, he loves hiding under the beds. I really can’t see any harm in…” She broke off as she took in Maddie’s pale face. “Maddie, are you all right?” her sister asked in alarm.
“I’m fine,” Maddie managed to say. “I guess I sort of forgot to eat today, and it’s catching up with me now.”
“Well, come on downstairs now, and I’ll have Cook fix you something to tide you over till dinner. We can put these things away later.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll just finish these first,” Maddie said, forcing herself to walk over to the suitcase and begin taking things out. She and her sister worked in silence for a few minutes. She could feel her Abby’s speculative gaze on her, but she tried to ignore it as she automatically hung up her dresses. She knows me too well, she thought ruefully.
“Maddie,” Abby finally ventured hesitantly, “do you think there’s any chance…?”
Maddie cut her off before she could complete the rest of the sentence. She knew very well what her sister was going to say and wasn’t ready to hear the words out loud yet. “I’m told you, I’m fine,” she snapped. Then, looking at her sister’s troubled face, and realizing how short-tempered she must have sounded, she relented. “I’m sorry, Abby,” she said in a softer voice. “I’m just a little tired from all the pre-holiday craziness. I’ve been rushing around doing everything so I’d be ready to come here, plus attending the usual endless stream of holiday get-togethers. I guess I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I should have.”
Abby nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “Well, you can rest up while you’re here,” she said. “I don’t have any parties planned, and we have three whole days until Christmas Eve when Matt arrives.”
Maddie sighed. She missed her husband already, but things had been so hectic with his business lately, she’d scarcely seen him in the last few weeks, anyway, except at the requisite round of Christmas parties. “I wish he could have come with me, but he was too tied up at work.” She turned from the closet and smiled at her sister. “But it’ll be fun spending time with you and Ben.”
At Ben’s name, Abby glanced guiltily over toward the bed. “Ben,” she called out, “come out from under there. We’re going to go down and decorate the tree now.”
The only response was faint giggling. Abby moved closer to the bed.
“Come on, Ben, sweetie, and see the Christmas tree Daddy set up.”
“Twee?” Ben came crawling slowly out from under the bed, and Maddie let out a gasp as his round face appeared, covered in makeup. He held her best lipstick in a chubby fist. The little imp!
“I’m pwetty,” Ben said with a big grin at the two women.
“He loves to play with makeup,” Abby explained with a laugh. She sobered, though, when she saw her sister’s face.
“Ben!” Maddie exclaimed. “That was very bad of you to get into Aunt Maddie’s makeup.” She snatched the lipstick out of his hand. “It’s not to play with,” she said sternly. Ben just grinned happily back at her.
“Really, Maddie, he’s only two,” Abby said. “You have to let kids explore and express their creativity.”
Maddie rolled her eyes. “With my best lipstick?” she asked incredulously. “Doesn’t he have any crayons?”
“I’m sure you can buy another lipstick,” Abby told her firmly. “It’s a small price to pay for your godson.” She walked over to Ben and picked him up. “Come on, Ben, precious, let’s go get washed up so we can decorate the tree. Aunt Maddie’s a little crabby right now.”
“Cwabby,” Ben echoed, grinning impishly at Maddie as his mother carried him out. Maddie pursed her lips together, but didn’t comment.
Abby turned around as she reached the doorway. “Come right down and have something to eat.”
Maddie nodded and turned toward the mirror as Abby closed the door. A pale, sickly-looking version of her normal reflection stared back at her. This is just a bug, she told herself firmly. I should be over it in time for Christmas. The reflection didn’t look convinced. She ignored it, and resolutely went over to survey the damage to her makeup, repeating to herself, It’s just a bug.
Maddie entered the cathedral-ceilinged formal living room, which was now dominated by an 8-foot blue spruce tree standing regally near the window.
She took a step back to take a closer look at the tree. “We’re going to decorate that?” she asked in disbelief.
“Of course. Jan’s already put up the lights and he has a step ladder, so he’s going to take care of the upper branches.”
The dark head of Maddie’s brother-in-law poked out from around the tree as if on cue, and the rest of his lanky frame followed as he came over to greet Maddie. She gave him a warm hug and kiss. Johann Riker, called Jan for short, had come over from the Netherlands to earn his electrical engineering degree at MIT. He had met Abby at a frat party, and the two had hit it off right away. Upon graduation, he had taken a job at General Electric on Boston’s North Shore, and he and Abby had been married for seven years now. The tall, dark-haired man had always been a little on the shy side, but he was so good-natured that both Maddie and Matt were very fond of him.
“I see Abby’s been making you earn your keep,” she told him now with a smile.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” Jan answered. “Much,” he added with a grin, as he walked over to take a box of ornaments off a side table.
“Don’t listen to him,” Abby said, shaking her head. “He loves it as much as I do.”
Jan rolled his eyes and winked at Maddie as he walked by with the box. Maddie repressed a giggle. Abby could definitely be a bit of a slave driver at times.
“Don’t think I didn’t see that!” she told her husband now. “Put that box right here. We can start with those. I think they’re the ones your mother sent from Holland. Look, Ben!” she called. “See the pretty ornaments Grandma sent.”
Maddie watched her show Ben one delicate ornament after another, and wondered if it was wise to put the box on the floor where Ben might decide to play with the ornaments, or even jump on the box. She held her tongue, though, and selected a pretty glass ball from another box to hang on the tree.
Abby glanced up at her. “Maddie, there’s a tray of cheese and crackers and fruit there. Please have some. It’s still a while until dinner.” Maddie nodded and busied herself for a while with taking little snacks and hanging ornaments on the tree. Before long, though, she began to find the decorating monotonous.
“Haven’t you ever heard of professional decorators?” she asked her sister. “They’d have this tree done in no time.” She took a step back to eye it critically. “And it would look a lot nicer, too.”
“Don’t be so negative,” Abby chided her sister. “It’s not the finished product that matters; it’s the family tradition of actually decorating the tree together. Don’t you and Matt have any Christmas traditions?”
“Of course. Little boxes from Tiffany’s or Shreve’s,” Maddie returned with a small smile.
Jan laughed. “Abby kind of likes that tradition, too,” he asserted.
Abby gave him a reproachful look. “Well, when you have children, you’ll see how important traditions are,” she said to Maddie.
“Doubtful,” Maddie murmured. On both accounts, she added to herself silently.
“Look at Ben, he’s really enjoying himself, and when he’s older, he’ll remember us doing this every year together.”
“Hmm,” Maddie said noncommittally, glancing over at Ben, who was carefully making a line across the floor of Christmas ornaments he had plucked from the lower branches of the tree. With difficulty, she repressed a cynical comment. Wouldn’t want to stifle his creativity, she thought to herself wryly.
Abby gave up on trying to convince Maddie of the importance of traditions. “Why don’t you play some Christmas carols for us?” she asked, gesturing toward the grand piano standing in a corner of the spacious room. Maddie nodded, thinking that it would be more interesting than hanging ornaments, which Ben would only take down anyway. She sat down at the piano, and after thinking for a moment, she began to play Good King Wenceslas.
“Is that the only Christmas song you can find to play?” Abby asked, breaking off from her unsuccessful attempt to convince Ben to hang the ornaments back on the tree. “I think there’s a song book in the bench.”
“What’s wrong with it? It’s the first one I learned to play,” Maddie stated. “And I don’t need a song book.” She had played Christmas songs at so many gatherings over the years that she knew most of them by heart.
“Suit yourself then, show-off,” Abby said as she turned to stick out her tongue at Maddie. Ben, watching his mother, quickly imitated her action.
“No, Ben,” his father said firmly. “That’s not nice.”
“Mommy did it,” Ben pointed out reasonably.
“Mommy was very bad, too,” Maddie put in. Ben giggled at the thought of his mother being bad. “Do you know this song?” Maddie asked him as she launched into Jingle Bells. She was surprised to find that Ben already knew most of the chorus. Soon they were all singing along as she played Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Next, Maddie played Jan’s favorite, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and her sister’s selection, Silent Night. Even though he wasn’t there, she played Matt’s favorite carol, It Came upon a Midnight Clear. It was funny; she had never liked the song very much before she met Matt, but now she loved the way the lyrics felt with the melody. She sang along softly as she played.
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.
Peace on the earth, goodwill to men from heaven’s all gracious king.
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
She really didn’t consider herself religious, but she especially loved the last line, and thinking about the world waiting in solemn stillness for the sounds of angels singing. She paused a few minutes and then played a couple of traditional favorites: O Come All Ye Faithful and Joy to the World. By the time she got to her own best-loved carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, she was beginning to feel the queasiness in her tummy again. She somehow managed to finish the song before she got up and quietly left the room, not wanting to arouse her sister’s suspicions. Once she reached the hallway, though, she raced upstairs to the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. Afterward, she washed her face at the marble sink, and dried it on the fluffy crimson towel provided, trying to ignore her green reflection in the mirror. Emerging from the bedroom, she noticed Abby sitting in one of the brocaded armchairs by the window, her arms crossed in front of her as she gazed in Maddie’s direction knowingly. I might have known, Maddie thought as she resignedly made her way over to the chair opposite her sister.
“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” Abby asked abruptly.
Maddie winced at how harsh the words sounded when spoken out loud. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I might just have a bug. I thought the whole point of the term ‘morning sickness’ was that you were only sick in the early part of the day.”
“It doesn’t always work that way,” Abby told her with a grin. “How long has this been going on?”
Maddie shrugged her slim shoulders. “Maybe a week…or two.”
“Two weeks?” Abby asked. “Surely you must have realized that stomach bugs don’t last that long. Are you late?”
“How little?” Abby demanded.
Maddie sighed. “Almost a month,” she finally admitted. “But I’m not that regular, anyway.”
Abby shook her head in disbelief. “Does Matt know?”
“No,” Maddie answered. “He’s been so busy…and I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure.” Seeing the look on her sister’s face, she took a deep breath. “And I’ve been trying not to think about it,” she confessed.
“Why not? I would think you’d be overjoyed. You and Matt have been married for a few years now.”
Maddie hesitated and then said quietly, “Neither Matthew nor I was sure that we wanted to have children. He’s so busy with work, and I…well, I’m not sure I’d make a very good mother. You saw how short-tempered I was with Ben earlier.”
“It’s different when they’re your own,” Abby told her quietly. “And I think you’d make a great mother, if that’s what you want. What made you change your minds…or was it an accident?”
“We didn’t change our minds. We agreed to wait a few years before we made a definite decision one way or the other.” She sighed. “I had some problems and the doctor told me there was only a very slim chance I could get pregnant. I went on the pill, but it made me gain weight and feel sick all the time. Then I got a diaphragm, but it was so messy.” She shuddered. “I guess I just stopped using it. I worried about it at first, but after a while, I just started to believe I couldn’t conceive. It was very stupid of me, and when Matthew finds out, he’ll probably be pretty upset.”
“Matt will be fine,” Abby said firmly. “He’ll be thrilled.”
Maddie shook her head. “He really didn’t want to start a family yet. He puts in so many hours with his company, and we have a lot of social obligations, too.”
“There’s never a perfect time,” Abby said. “He’ll just have to make some adjustments. You both will.” She glanced at Maddie’s tired, unhappy face and got up quickly to give her sister a hug. “Cheer up, Maddie, it’s not as bad as it seems. You get some rest, and tomorrow, I’ll get you an appointment with my ob-gyn. He’s with Peter Bent Brigham, and he’s one of the best around. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
Maddie walked slowly up Boylston Street toward Arlington, glancing at the holiday window displays along the way, every now and then catching sight of her reflection in a window. Did she look any different?
She had just come from her doctor’s appointment, and he had confirmed what she and her sister had suspected. I’m pregnant, she had kept saying to herself as she had stopped at Lord & Taylor to do some last minute shopping. Now, walking at a leisurely pace as she had a little time before she was to meet Abby at the Ritz for tea, she tried to take in the news she had just received. Of course, she had suspected it for weeks now, especially as it got harder and harder to ignore the symptoms, but she hadn’t allowed herself to entertain the idea seriously. Now that there was no escaping the idea, her emotions warred within her. She had to admit to feeling an unexpected excitement at the thought of a new life, a life that she and Matt had created, growing inside her. She patted her still-flat belly wonderingly. It really seemed impossible that in a few months it would swell out in front of her so that her condition would be obvious to anyone who passed by. She hoped she wouldn’t balloon up too much – she really hated the idea of gaining weight, even if it was just for the duration of the pregnancy. What if she couldn’t lose the extra weight afterward? And worse, what if she got so big she waddled? I absolutely refuse to waddle, she told herself firmly. I’ll just have to watch my weight carefully, she mused. What will Matthew think if I get fat?
Matthew! Maddie felt a pang of remorse at the thought of her husband. She was sure that he didn’t have an inkling that she might be pregnant, and now she’d have to tell him and confess that she hadn’t been using birth control all this time. She had very mixed feelings about the pregnancy herself, and she had no idea how Matthew would react. He had every right to be angry. He was so caught up in his business lately; he scarcely had any spare time to spend with her, and he certainly didn’t have time in his life for a child. To make matters worse, he had told her that he wasn’t sure he even wanted children, but he had definitely wanted to at least wait a few years until the business was on more solid ground. They had both felt that way. She sighed. Well, she supposed it would be best to wait until after the holidays and then tell him straight out. She couldn’t undo what had happened, and she wasn’t even sure if she’d want to if she had the choice.
Trying to put the thought from her mind, she stopped in front of one of the windows of Shreve, Crump, and Low, admiring a silver vase on display there. Should she run in and get one for her sister for Christmas? No, it seemed frivolous. Her sister probably had cupboards full of vases, and she had already bought Abby several Christmas gifts. She made her way to the next window, which displayed several pieces of jewelry, also silver. I wonder what Matt will get me for Christmas this year? she thought idly. Probably something better than what I’m giving him, she told herself guilty. All I’ve got for him is a sweater and news he doesn’t want to hear. I’ll really have to find something else for him in the next few days, she told herself firmly as she advanced to the next window. She stared at the display in front of her, which showcased a collection of silver baby spoons with various designs. Maddie paused to examine the carving on one of them. It showed a minute trail of ducklings marching along after their mother. The scene was obviously taken from Robert McCloskey’s book, Make Way for Ducklings, which was set in Boston Garden, just around the corner from here. Maddie had taken Ben on the swan boats in Boston Garden this summer and bought him a copy of the book as a souvenir. She looked at the display again speculatively, an idea running through her head. Maybe Matthew will receive a little box of his own from Shreve’s this year, she thought to herself as she made up her mind and headed into the store to place her order.
Christmas Day was a busy one at the Riker house. Matt had arrived late on Christmas Eve, exhausted, and been hauled out of bed early, along with the rest of the family, to watch little Ben open his stockings and presents. The gifts he received were more than one little boy could ever use -- enough to just about fill a small toy store and clothing shop. His parents oohed and aahed over each gift, while Ben proceeded to amuse himself by playing with the wrappings, hiding himself behind the heavy draperies that graced the sitting room windows, or what Ben termed “pwaying” with his pet kitten. Maddie called it making life miserable for the poor little cat.
Watching Matt, Maddie could see the tiredness in his eyes, and she noticed his patience was wearing thin as the day went on, especially with Ben’s antics. The day had been exhausting for her as well, as after Ben had opened his presents, they had all gotten dressed and enjoyed a huge breakfast before setting off to meet Maddie’s parents for the long service at Trinity Church. Afterwards, they had all returned to Abby’s for Christmas dinner and then had entertained some of Abby and Jan’s friends who had come caroling. It was late afternoon before the group had a chance to relax in the sitting room so the adults could exchange gifts. Ben flitted from one adult to another “holping” with the opening of presents.
First, Maddie’s parents opened a stack of gifts including sweaters, pajamas, perfume, and his and her matching scarves. Jan seemed to enjoy his new jacket and watch, and Matt appeared to like the sweater Maddie had picked out for him – a soft, heathery green that played up the deeper green of his eyes.
“That’s very nice,” Maddie’s mother said. “Did you make it yourself, Maddie?”
This set everyone in the room laughing as Maddie rolled her eyes. “No, but I walked all the way down to a little shop on Newbury Street and picked it out myself,” she answered with a smile.
“One of these days I’ll teach you to knit,” Abby said. She and her mother had been saying that to Maddie for years, but one unsuccessful attempt at knitting when she was about twelve had been enough for Maddie. The domestic arts held no interest for her.
“Well, I like it, anyway,” Matt said soothingly, bending down to kiss Maddie’s cheek.
Maddie smiled and turned to watch her sister, who had just received a little blue box from Shreve’s. “Tradition,” she murmured, and was rewarded by a wink from Jan. Abby was too happy to notice as she opened the box to find a stunning emerald and diamond necklace. She threw her arms around her husband as everyone admired the striking piece of jewelry.
Maddie smiled as Matt handed her a small package bearing the Tiffany name. She walked over to the tree, bent down, and extracted another small blue box from Shreve’s.
“For me?” Matt asked in surprise as she handed him the package. Maddie nodded and smiled, despite the butterflies that were bouncing around in her stomach – this time from nervousness. Abby gave her a questioning look, but Maddie simply shrugged.
She and Matt looked at each other and laughed, each waiting for the other to open their gift first. “You go first,” Matt insisted.
Fine with me, Maddie thought, as she opened her box to reveal a beautiful multi-chain necklace, each chain as delicate as spun golden silk. At the end of the chains was the most exquisite Seven Seas pearl Maddie had ever seen. Nestled beside the necklace was a multi-chained bracelet of the same delicate gold. “Oh, Matthew,” she breathed. “It’s lovely.” She carefully extracted the bracelet and placed it on her wrist.
“It reminded me of you,” Matt said, obviously pleased. The other adults all admired the set, and little Ben pushed forward to view the necklace just as Maddie was taking it out of the case. Before she could hand it to Matt to fasten around her neck, Ben reached up a hand to pull on Maddie’s dress.
“Pwetty,” he chirruped. “Let me hold it, Aunt Maddie.”
Matt frowned. “I don’t think…” he began, but Abby interrupted him before he could finish his sentence.
“Oh, just let him hold it for a minute, Maddie, he just wants to know what it feels like.”
Against her better judgment, Maddie knelt down and handed the necklace cautiously to Ben. He took it carefully, but in the next second, grasped it firmly in his chubby fist and took off like a shot across the room, yelling like a banshee. All the adults quickly took off after him, but Ben had a good head start and raced for the big fireplace, which now stood empty after the fire lit earlier in the day had burned itself out.
“My stocking, my stocking,” he said, as he climbed up on the hearth and reached over his head for his bright red Christmas stocking, which his mother had re-hung this morning after he had emptied it of all his little gifts. “Put it in my stocking.”
“No, Ben,” six voices chorused, but just as the adults reached him, Ben lost his balance and started to tumble off the hearth. His father caught him squarely, but there was a collective gasp as the necklace fell into the ashes at the bottom of the fireplace.
Matt turned red and then purple as the temper he had held in all day exploded, and a very colorful mixture of words burst forth, most of them directly related to his nephew.
“Really, Matt,” his mother-in-law remonstrated. “Such language, especially around the little one!” She looked pointedly at Ben, who seemed no worse for the wear from the afternoon’s adventures.
Matt turned to answer her, but Maddie put her hand on his arm before he could open his mouth and say something to her mother that he might regret later. “Don’t worry, darling. It can be cleaned up as good as new. I’ll take it to the jeweler’s tomorrow.”
“Of course it can,” Abby said. “A lot of fuss about nothing.” Matt gritted his teeth as she leaned down and picked up the necklace out of the fireplace. “I’ll just find a bag to put this in.” Abby left the room and her husband turned to Matt and Maddie. “I’m really sorry,” Jan said, obviously embarrassed by the incident and his wife’s reaction. “Ben can be so difficult to handle sometimes,” he admitted. “We really should have a nanny for him.” He held Ben firmly as the toddler tried to squirm out of his arms. “You’ve had a long day, buddy,” he said to his son, “I think you could use a little nap before dinner.”
“Ben’s fine,” his grandmother disagreed. “Just a little high-strung, as all intelligent children are. Give him to me -- I’ll take him up. ” She reached out her arms. “Come with Grandma, Ben precious.” She glanced at Maddie and Matt, and then at her husband. “Why don’t you come with us, Charles?”
As the three left the room, Jan apologized again, and then looked around helplessly. “Um, I thought I’d get another piece of that chocolate walnut pie. Would either of you like one?” Matt and Maddie both wordlessly shook their heads and Jan headed off toward the kitchen.
As soon as he was gone, Matt turned to Maddie, anger still seething in his green eyes. “That child is a demon. He needs a prison guard more than a nanny.”
Privately, Maddie had to agree, but out loud she said softly, “He’s only a small boy, Matthew. He just needs a little more discipline.”
Matt shook his head. “Well, do me a favor, Maddie, and hit me over the head or something if I ever say I want to have kids. After today, I realize I’d never have the patience for them.”
Maddie bit her lip as she could feel the tears starting to well up in her eyes. Before she could answer, Abby and Jan reappeared, each carrying a dessert plate with a piece of pie.
Abby motioned toward the blue box Matt was still holding. “Haven’t you opened your present yet, Matt?”
Matt looked down at the gift and grinned sheepishly at Maddie. “No, I’d forgotten all about it.”
“Maybe you’d like to wait until later,” Maddie suggested, panic welling up inside her at the thought of her husband’s possible reaction to the present she had bought him.
Matt looked at her in surprise. “No, I’d really like to open it now, if you don’t mind.” As soon as he began pulling the ribbon from the box, Maddie knew she had to get out of there fast. She whirled around and ran from the room. The front door slammed a few moments later.
Matt started to pocket the small box so he could go after Maddie. “What was that all about?” he asked Abby and Jan.
“I’m not sure,” Abby answered, “but I have a feeling you should open your gift before you go anywhere.”
“Why? What’s in it?” Matt asked, impatience in his tone. “ I really need to go after Maddie.”
“I don’t know what’s in it, but I have a strong suspicion that you should open that box,” Abby directed him firmly.
Resignedly, Matt tore open the box, extracting the little spoon from its wrappings. He looked at Abby in confusion.
“There must be some mistake. This must be for…”
“There’s no mistake,” Abby interrupted with a smile.
Matt glanced at Jan, a bewildered look on his face. Jan just shrugged his shoulders, an equally confused expression gracing his countenance. Abby sighed. Men could just be so dense sometimes.
She tried again. “It wasn’t meant for Ben,” she told Matt. “It was meant for…. another baby. Your baby,” she finished softly.
“But I don’t have a…” Matt began, and then stopped and stared at Abby in shock as the impact of her words hit him. “Do I?”
“I think you’d better talk to your wife about that,” Abby said with a smile.
“Yes,” Matt agreed, still wide-eyed from the news, as Jan stepped forward to shake his hand, a huge grin spread across his thin face. “I’d better go after Maddie right away.”
“Yes, you should,” Abby said as she gave her brother-in-law a warm hug and kiss.
Matt pocketed the little spoon and quickly headed for the front door, pausing just long enough to grab his overcoat and gloves on the way.
At first, Maddie walked blindly, not even noticing where she was going, as she made her way up Mount Vernon Street to the State House, and down again to Boston Common. She slowed her pace a little as she entered the common. Her feet in her high-heeled shoes were starting to hurt, and her fingers and nose were freezing, as a light snow had begun to fall. She felt a little better, though, after her vigorous walk in the cold air. She took a path leading by the little frog pond, and was surprised to see that even on Christmas Day, skaters were enjoying turns around the glossy surface. The late afternoon light was just dim enough to show off the brightly colored lights strung in the trees around the pond, and Christmas melodies played from speakers. Maddie stopped to take in the pretty sight of the skaters in the snow, but winced when she recognized the carol playing.
It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold
She had managed to put her worries about Matt successfully out of her head for the first part of her walk, but now they came flooding back full force. What was he thinking now? Had he opened the present? Maddie knew only too well what his temper was like, and she wouldn’t blame him for being angry. Maybe, though, if she walked a little longer, he’d have a chance to cool off by the time she got home. His temper usually calmed down as quickly as it erupted.
Maddie continued walking, crossing Charles Street and passing through the entrance to Boston Garden, where she found herself, ironically enough, near the duck pond where the swan boats ran in the summertime. She looked around and noticed how deserted it seemed on this mid-winter afternoon, and all of a sudden, she realized how dark it had become. She paused by a bench, longing to sit down and rest her feet for just a few minutes, but after looking around nervously, decided she’d better go back.
She jumped at the sound of her name, but was relieved to recognize Matt’s voice out of the darkness. “Matthew?” she answered, turning around slowly.
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he headed down the path toward her. His voice sounded breathless, as if he had been running. “It’s not safe after dark.”
“Well, it wasn’t dark when I first started walking,” Maddie pointed out. “I was just about to turn back.”
Matt nodded. “You must be freezing, too. I think you forgot these.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out her gloves and slipped them onto her hands. Maddie looked up at him gratefully as their fur-lined warmth enclosed her freezing fingers.
“I guess I did leave in kind of a hurry,” she admitted.
“Let’s start walking back,” Matt urged. “We can talk on the way.”
“Do you mind if we sit for just a few minutes?” she asked. “My feet are killing me.”
Matt glanced down at her feet. “In those shoes, I can see why.”
Maddie grimaced and limped over to the bench. “Oh, that feels good,” she said in relief.
Matt stood awkwardly in front of her for a few minutes, looking at the darkened pond. Maddie waited for him to speak. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally turned to her and cleared his throat. “I, um, opened your present.”
Maddie looked away. “I’m sorry, Matthew,” she said miserably. “I really didn’t mean for this to happen, and I know it’s not fair to you. I don’t blame you for being angry, but I don’t see what we can do about it at this stage.”
“I’m not angry, Maddie,” Matt said gently. “Surprised, yes. Maybe even a little shocked, but definitely not angry.”
“But you had just said…” Maddie began, thinking of his statement about never wanting to have children.
“I know what I just said and it didn’t mean anything. I’ve also said I wanted to kill my vice-president at the company a few times, haven’t I? But you don’t really believe that I’ll go after him with a shotgun, do you? We just had him and his wife to dinner last week.” He sighed heavily. “You should know me by now, Maddie; I was just letting my temper get the better of me once again.”
Maddie sat in silence for a long moment. “Are you happy about it then?” she asked in a small voice.
“I don’t know,” Matt answered slowly, taking a seat next to her on the bench. “I’ve hardly had a chance to take it all in. I do know that part of me is excited and proud that our baby is growing inside you.”
Maddie smiled up at him. “That’s exactly how I feel,” she told him, “and I never thought I’d feel this way.” She watched Matt’s face carefully. “But there’s a downside to it, too, isn’t there?” she asked.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t,” he said quietly. “It’s a tough time as far as my business is concerned, and, of course, this is unexpected.” Maddie started to explain, but he held up his hand. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened.” He laughed at his own words. “Well, of course, I know how it happened, but you know what I mean. We just have to go on from here and do the best we can.”
“Is that good enough, though?” Maddie asked. “I mean, I thought babies were supposed to be welcomed into the world with open arms. It doesn’t seem like we’re making a very good start of it. We both feel a little happy, but neither of us is overjoyed.”
“We have nine months to get used to the idea,” Matt pointed out. “I’m sure we’ll be more than ready to welcome the baby into our family by then.” When Maddie looked unconvinced, he went on. “Maddie, do you think we have a good marriage?”
Maddie looked startled by his question. “Ye-es,” she said tentatively. “I think we have a pretty good marriage.”
“Well, I think we have a great marriage,” Matt said. “But when we first met each other, things didn’t go very well for us, did they?”
Maddie shook her head. It was true. For a while, it had seemed that they were destined to be apart and they had been through a lot of ups and downs, not only when they were dating, but also in the early days of their marriage. They had managed to survive it all, though, and the bond between them was now stronger than ever.
“So maybe it’s a good thing that we’re off to a rocky start with this baby,” Matt concluded. “The baby will never know that things started off this way, and we can get ready for the baby and get used to the idea slowly.” He chuckled. “We’re not Abby and Jan, you know. We have to do this our own way.”
“I guess that’s true. It won’t matter in the long run if we take a little time to adjust to the idea.” Maddie stood up and stretched, flinching as her sore feet hit the ground again. “I guess we’d better head back,” she said. Then an awful thought hit her as they started to walk along the path. “What if – what if the baby’s like – Ben?” she blurted out.
Matt winced. “I don’t think our baby will be like Ben, do you?”
“Well,” Maddie answered slowly, “I know I’m a little spoiled, and I kind of like getting my own way.”
“Kind of?” Matt asked with a grin.
“And you,” she continued, “are just a wee bit stubborn and hot-tempered.” She suddenly had a vision of a red-haired, green-eyed version of Ben running around their New York City apartment. She closed her eyes against the image.
Matt laughed, putting his arm around her as they strolled along. “Well, we’ll just have to have a girl then.”
Maddie looked at him in surprise. “You wouldn’t mind having a girl?”
“Not if she looked just like her mother.”
“You’d spoil her to death,” Maddie protested.
“Yup, I’d have two women to spoil then,” Matt said. He stopped and turned to Maddie. “Maddie, are you okay with everything now?”
Maddie nodded. “I think so. We’ll get through it somehow.”
“We’ll get through it together,” Matt corrected. He took Maddie’s hand and squeezed it as they continued to walk along. Maddie looked around at the falling snow, suddenly feeling unexplainably content – or maybe not so unexplainably. With Matthew beside her, she really felt like she could get through this, and perhaps even enjoy it. This wasn’t turning out to be such a bad Christmas after all. She glanced over at Matt, who for some reason seemed to be looking up at the trees.
“What are looking at?” she asked curiously.
“I was just looking for some mistletoe,” he answered calmly.
“Mistletoe? Here?” Maddie asked in disbelief.
“Sure! This is a very romantic spot with the snow falling and all the lights,” he said with a grin. “I figured they’d have some hanging in the trees or something.”
Maddie giggled. “Do you really need it?” she asked with a teasing smile as she turned toward her husband.
Matt’s green eyes twinkled at her as he stepped closer to her. “Baby, I don’t need anything but you.” And he took her into his arms and proceeded to demonstrate the truth of his words beyond the shadow of a doubt.
WISHING EVERYONE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY AND THE BEST OF EVERYTHING FOR 2004!!!
This story is a GWP #11 for Happy Holidays V at The Trixie Belden Homepage. The requirements are: a gift (material or not), a holiday song, a food associated with the holiday, a holiday decoration, and a family tradition.
I was lucky enough to have three editors on this story, and thanks to them, the story you read is much better than the one I originally wrote. Big thanks go to Susansuth, Kris, and Vikki, not only for their fantastic editing skills, but for all their help and encouragement throughout the year. I also owe Carol a big thank you. Not only did she find these perfectly perfect graphics, and do an awesome job on them, but she came up with the idea that started this story. Thanks, Carol! I hope you know how much you rock!
For those of you who don’t know Boston, Beacon Hill is an upscale area of the city near the State House, with many elegant townhouses. Peter Bent Brigham was a hospital in Boston which has now, I believe, emerged with two other hospitals to form Brigham and Women’s. I think most people are familiar with Lord&Taylor’s department store, and as mentioned in a previous story, Newbury Street is known for its upscale shops and boutiques. Shreve, Crump, and Low is, as you’d expect, an old Boston institution that sells jewelry and fine gifts. They now sell jewelry and mementos with scenes from Make Way for Ducklings on them. They probably didn’t back in the early seventies, when this story was set, but I don’t know that for sure, do I? *g* By the way, if you’ve never read that book with a child, you’re missing out. It was one of my favorites as a child, and it was one of my kids’ as well. I found the necklace that Matt gave Maddie on Tiffany’s website, and described it as best I could, and I figured I may as well also invent a bracelet to go along with it! All brand names and company names used without permission, and I am not making any money from them.
Photo courtesy of Webshots by American Greetings.