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Authors: Elin Hilderbrand

Tags: #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Family Life

Winter Street (15 page)

BOOK: Winter Street
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KEVIN

M
argaret and Patrick are out in the front yard, and Ava is in her bedroom, so it’s the perfect time to ask.

“Dad?” Kevin says. “Since Isabelle is pregnant and everything, we were wondering…”

Kelley leans forward, his hands tented. He says, “Yes?”

“We were wondering if…” Kevin can’t quite figure out how to say what he wants to say, despite having rehearsed it.

“If we can take over running the inn,” Isabelle says.

Kelley laughs. “Where were you twelve years ago?”

Kevin isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. Twelve years ago, he was still married to Norah, living in their cottage, working at the Bar.

“Isabelle already knows how to run the inn,” Kevin says. “And I can learn.”

“I’m selling the inn,” Kelley says.

KELLEY

H
e actually forgets about his conversation with Eddie Pancik the night before until Kevin and Isabelle ask if they can take over the running of the inn.

“I’m selling the inn,” Kelley says, and for the first time ever, it isn’t just an idle threat. As soon as Eddie Pancik and his wife, Grace, walked into the party, Eddie was upon Kelley. First he gave Kelley a dozen organic eggs, which was not an insubstantial gift. Mitzi insisted on buying eggs from Grace Pancik, and they sold for eleven dollars a dozen, another reason Kelley is going broke. Kelley then thought to broach
the topic of selling the inn with Eddie, but, as it turned out, Eddie had seen Kelley’s Facebook post.
FSBO. $4M.

He really
is
Fast Eddie.

Eddie said, “Are you serious about selling this place? Because I know someone who would be interested.”

“As an inn?” Kelley said.

“No,” Eddie said, “as a private home.”

This felt a little funny to Kelley. The house was built in 1873 by a grocer, but it had been operated as an inn since the turn of the century. Kelley and Mitzi had always honored this history. Even as they did their renovation, they were determined to preserve all the interior historical elements. If Eddie Pancik sold it as a private home, walls would be knocked down and cathedral ceilings installed; it would become one more showstopper of white bead board and custom-painted floors.

But—Kelley is too broke to be a preservationist.

“Call me on Friday,” Kelley said to Eddie Pancik. “I’m serious. I’d like to sell it as soon as humanly possible.”

Kevin and Isabelle appear thunderstruck at Kelley’s pronouncement.

“Where are you… we all… going to live, then?” Kevin says. “If you sell it?”


When
I sell it,” Kelley says. “It’s happening. Someone is already interested.” The kids are looking at him like he just gobbled down the last potato before the famine, and it dawns on him that he’s basically just evicted Kevin and fired
Isabelle—and on Christmas Day, no less! When they are so happy about their own news!

“We’ll buy something else,” Kelley says. “Something smaller for me, and maybe I can help get you kids set up with something of your own.” He throws the “maybe” and the “help” in there to emphasize the conditional nature of his offer. Because, although he feels guilty about dismantling their lives in one fell swoop, Kevin is thirty-six years old and still living at home. Isabelle is a smart cookie; once she marries Kevin and gets her green card, the sky is the limit. It’s a tough stance for a parent, but what the two of them may need is a kick in the ass, right out the door of this inn, so that they are given sufficient impetus to go out and improve their lives.

Still, the expressions on their faces are difficult to ignore.

“It will be fine,” Kelley says, hoping this is true. “Everything will be just fine.” And with that, he heads back to his bedroom and his computer so he can e-mail Bart.

MARGARET

A
fter she and Ava stick the standing rib roast in the oven and trim the asparagus and wash the spinach, Margaret checks her phone.

She has one text, from Drake.

It says:
I can’t believe how much I miss you. Will you marry me?

She laughs! Proposed to, at the age of fifty-nine, by text message! My, how the times have changed.

Probably because she is with Kelley now, floating in some kind of nostalgic bubble with him, she instantly remembers when Kelley proposed.

New York City, May 18, a year in the last millennium. Kelley was about to graduate from Columbia Business School, but Margaret had one more semester at NYU before she got her master’s in communications. They were
so poor
—when they had been dating for six months, Margaret gave up her room in the NYU dorms to save money and she moved in with Kelley uptown. They cooked pasta during the week and treated themselves to pizza and a movie on Friday nights and Chinese delivery on Sundays. Margaret got the occasional job doing voice-overs for WQXR, and when those checks came in, she and Kelley blew them on shows at CBGB or something fancier, like dinner at Tavern on the Green or drinks at the bar at Beekman Tower.

On May 18, however, Kelley had just gotten a job offer from Prudential Securities, a job that paid nearly six figures a year—but Margaret didn’t know this yet. On May 18, Margaret was at jury duty, a fate worse than death, because that week in May was absurdly, unseasonably hot, and the air-conditioning in the courthouse was on the blink, and Margaret
didn’t have
time
for jury duty! She had papers and exams, and she was trying to get an internship at the local CBS affiliate.

On May 18, Margaret emerged from the courthouse sweating and irate and dreading the interminable subway ride from the bottom of Manhattan to the top.

There was a man dressed in a black suit and white shirt on the steps of the courthouse, holding a placard with her name on it:
Margaret Pryor
.

Margaret was confused. He looked like one of the chauffeurs who pick up fancy people at the airport.

Margaret said, “Are you looking for me?”

“Yes, miss,” he said. “Follow me.”

Margaret didn’t
want
to follow a strange man. For all she knew, this was an abduction. Margaret had a friend at NYU, Leo, who was somehow related to John Gotti.

Mob,
Margaret thought. Or possibly something worse? Possibly one or both of her parents had died, and her wealthy aunt Susan had sent this driver?

She tentatively followed the man in the black suit to a white stretch limousine waiting on the street.

Mob
.

The back door opened from the inside, and Margaret felt a luscious blast of real air-conditioning.

She poked her head in and gasped. Kelley sat in the back, wearing his ripped khaki shorts and a Meat Loaf T-shirt. He had a bottle of champagne on ice and a dozen roses wrapped in cellophane.

“What…?” Margaret said.

“I got the job!” he said.

Margaret climbed into the limousine, kissed Kelley, and congratulated him profusely. Then she began sucking on an ice cube.

“I can’t believe you got a limo!” she said.

Kelley popped the champagne. “I only got it to drive us home,” he said. “So we’d better drink this fast.”

But as it turned out, they had one stop to make before they reached their squalid apartment uptown. The driver pulled up in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was where Margaret and Kelley had first met.

“Oh,” Margaret said. She didn’t want to be a spoilsport, but she wasn’t in the mood for the Miró exhibit or the Temple of Dendur.

Kelley pulled a box out of the pocket of his disintegrating shorts and presented her with a small but sparkling diamond.

“Marry me,” Kelley said. “Please, please, Margaret, marry me.”

Margaret smiles at the memory. Their kids call it the Quarter-Pounder Proposal, because it’s heavy on the
cheese
. Proposed to in a white stretch limo by a guy wearing a Meat Loaf T-shirt, offering roses he bought at the Korean deli? But what Margaret has never been able to explain to their kids is
how sweet and earnest Kelley was on that day. She and Kelley were young, they were poor—but with their prospects improving—and they were in love. The air-conditioning had felt so delicious, the ice on her tongue, divine.

Kelley could teach Drake a thing or two, Margaret thinks.

AVA

A
s she and Margaret prepare the standing rib roast and the rest of the meal, Ava tells her mother about the gift of Hunter boots with matching socks.

“Matching socks?” Margaret says. “Maybe I’ll get a pair. Do you remember how when it snows in the city, the slush puddles up, and you step off the street corner and almost drown?”

“You can have mine,” Ava says. She sighs. “Nathaniel doesn’t love me.”

“It’s not the most romantic gift,” Margaret says.

Then Ava tells her mother about kissing Scott in the kitchen. Ava has been thinking about the kissing more than she thought she would. She finds herself checking the clock, wishing for time to move more quickly so that Scott will get here. She wonders if Scott will be brave enough to kiss her
again; she worries he won’t be. If she wants to kiss him, she might have to instigate it.

But she doesn’t tell her mother this. What she says is:
I was pretty drunk last night, and I let Scott Skyler kiss me.

Margaret says, “Scott Skyler, your assistant principal?”

Ava nods.

Margaret chops the woody ends off the asparagus. “I never did have an affair with any of my bosses,” she says. “I’ve always felt proud of that.”

Ava says, “I’m pretty confused.”

Margaret says, “I’m not a relationship expert. Clearly. But I’ve dated a lot of men since your father and I split, and, in my experience, the more you push a man away, the more fervently he comes after you. If I were in your shoes, I would call Nathaniel and tell him it’s over.”

Ava would no sooner break up with Nathaniel than she would set her piano on fire.

But then, as she and Margaret cut the stems off the fresh spinach and crisp the bacon for the hot bacon dressing, and as Margaret makes cranberry-thyme butter for the snowflake rolls (she did a segment on
The Chew
with Rachael Ray, and look what she learned!), Ava thinks to herself,
What if I did?

He passed out in Kirsten’s den? He didn’t call because
he decided to hang out?
He gave her
rubber rain boots
for Christmas? If Ava stays with Nathaniel, things will never improve. It will always be her chasing him. Does she want that?

No, she does not.

When she and her mother are finished in the kitchen, Ava goes into the bedroom to call Nathaniel.

He answers on the first ring. “Looking good, Billy Ray,” he says sleepily. She must have woken him up from a nap. He’s tired because he barely slept the night before. Still, Ava is temporarily derailed by the vision of Nathaniel entangled in the covers of his childhood bed, and so she plays along.

“Feeling good, Louis,” she says.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asks. “Did you have a nice Christmas? Did you like your present?”

“The boots?” she says. “Very practical, thank you.”

“You always wear little ballet shoes, even in the rain and snow,” he says. “And I worry about you. I don’t want you to get sick. I need you around.”

She says, “Yeah, well, about that.”

“About what?” he says.

“About needing me around.” Ava takes a deep breath. “Listen, this isn’t working out for me.”

“What isn’t?” he says. “Are you mad because I came
home?

“This relationship,” Ava says. “You and me, me and you, us together—it isn’t making me happy.”

“Because I came home. Because you think I came back to see Kirsten, which I did
not
. I mean, she’s an old friend, and she’s at a low point, but I can’t help her, and I’m certainly
not going to rekindle any kind of romance with her. That was over
long
ago, and over is over, especially in this case.”

Ava’s heart relaxes at those words, and she nearly abandons ship. Nathaniel hasn’t talked this frankly to her about his emotional state, ever. But Ava is on a mission here, and once she’s on a mission, she won’t be derailed.

“This isn’t about you and Kirsten,” Ava says. “This is about you and me. I need more—more love, more affection, more intimacy, more of a sense that we have a future.”

“What do you mean by ‘future’?” Nathaniel asks. “Do you mean you want to get
married?

He makes it sound preposterous, as though marriage were the equivalent of running the Boston Marathon backward or enrolling in clown school.

“That’s how the human race has made it this far,” Ava says. “They marry and they procreate.”

Silence on Nathaniel’s end. She has scared him to death. She is right to proceed. Instead of feeling like all her blood is pooling at her feet, she feels empowered. She’s wasted nearly two years of her precious twenties swimming in a pool of unrequited love.

She says, “Scott Skyler has been around a lot the past couple days. Last night he wore the Santa suit, since George stole Mitzi away from my dad.”

“So… what?” Nathaniel says. “This isn’t about Kirsten, after all? This is about
Scott?
I’m well aware, Ava, that Scott is crazy about you. But I thought you were immune to that.”

Ava considers telling Nathaniel about kissing Scott, but that seems cruel. She says, “I want to be treated like
someone precious
. I want to be someone’s
beloved.
I never feel that way with you, and it dawned on me at some point today that I’m never
going
to feel that way with you, ever.”

“Ava,” Nathaniel says, and it sounds like he’s pleading. She figures this is a good way to leave it.

“Good-bye, Nathaniel,” she says, and she hangs up.

MARGARET

S
he bumps into Kelley in the hallway of the back house. It’s still very strange, wandering around the inn—and especially the owners’ quarters—like this, since it has always been verboten by Mitzi.

“I should probably shower before we eat dinner,” she says. “Which bathroom should I use?”

“Use mine,” he says.

Margaret thinks he might proposition her again—and she would be a willing accomplice—but Kelley looks morose.

“What’s wrong?” she says. “Are the Golden Dreams wearing off?”

“I just e-mailed Bart,” Kelley says. “Wished him a Merry
Christmas. He hasn’t answered my last two e-mails or the past three texts. Do you have any idea how unnerving that is?”

“No,” she says. “I have no idea. None of our children went to war. I’m sure it’s perfectly awful.”

“Awful,” Kelley says. “There have been double-digit deaths over there this week. I purposely haven’t checked the news today because it’s Christmas, and I just… can’t.”

Margaret gnaws on her lower lip. If ever there were a time to tell Kelley about the missing convoy, it’s now. But the number-one ironclad rule of broadcast journalism is to make sure your news is true. She’s fairly certain a convoy holding forty-five soldiers has been overtaken by insurgent nationals, but whether or not Bartholomew Quinn was on that convoy, she can’t possibly say. Giving partial information to Kelley at this point will cause him anxiety of unknown proportions and will ruin his Christmas.

And yet, Margaret feels like she’s lying.

“We have a saying at CBS,” she says. “No news is bad news—but that’s strictly a network perspective. In your case, no news is good news.”

“I worry,” Kelley says. “These god-awful scenarios go through my head.”

“You’re his father,” Margaret says.

“He’s so young,” Kelley says.

“I’m praying for him,” Margaret says. “And I will continue to pray for him until he’s safely home.”

“Thank you,” Kelley says. “I’m happy to hear that Margaret Quinn still prays.”

“All the time,” Margaret says. She reaches out and squeezes his arm. “Well, I’m off for the shower.”

“Is it wildly inappropriate to admit that I’d really like to join you?” Kelley says.

“Borderline inappropriate,” she confirms. But she’s not surprised. The opposite of death, she supposes, is sex.

“So is that a no?” Kelley asks.

“Bring your own towel,” Margaret says. “I still don’t like to share.”

BOOK: Winter Street
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