Home > The Fiancee(2)

The Fiancee(2)
Author: Kate White

“Marcus and Keira drove out early, so did Blake and Wendy,” he says, referring to two of his brothers and their wives. “Not sure when Nick arrives. But—major news flash: he’s bringing a new girl with him.”

“Oh my god!” I punch him lightly on the arm. “Why are you only telling me this now?”

“Because I heard it myself only a couple of hours ago.”

I’m happy for Nick. His last girlfriend moved back to Belgium over a year ago, and though I’m sure my charming, dashing brother-in-law hasn’t been lacking for female company, I’ve sensed lately he’s eager for something serious. I just hope a stranger won’t disturb the ecosystem of our family vacation this week.

“He really sprung it on them last minute, huh?”

“Yeah, but my mom seemed cool about it. As you know, Nick can do no wrong with her.”

“Where’s Uncle Nick going to stay?” Henry calls out from the back.

“Probably in the carriage house. Gee’s had it totally renovated with a couple of new guest rooms.”

“What about his date?” my stepson asks.

“Um, probably with him there,” Gabe says.

“Does that mean they’re shacking up?”

I stifle a laugh as I see Gabe’s right brow shoot up.

“Yeah, but let’s not refer to it that way in front of everyone else. Okay, buddy? And speaking of sleeping arrangements, are you sure you want to stay in the main house? You could always bunk down with me and Summer in the cottage.”

“Thanks, but I wanna be in the big house with Gee and Grandpa. Gee said the dogs can sleep with me.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind, it’s not a problem.”

Twenty minutes later we exit the main highway, and in another fifteen, we cross the Delaware River from New Jersey into Bucks County and end up on Durham Road. The sight of the Keatons’ home—a rambling gray stone house with several wings, and dormer windows across the roof—always lifts my spirits, and I feel my work worries ease as soon as we head down the gravel road that leads to the circular driveway.

As we’re parking, my father-in-law, Ash, strides from the house, his six-two frame bookended by two scampering dogs: Ginger, a golden retriever, and Bella, a pug-Chihuahua rescue mutt.

“It’s only been three weeks since I saw you, but I swear you’ve grown two inches,” Ash tells Henry, his voice booming, as he envelops him in a hug.

“Did you know you grow more when you’re sleeping than when you’re awake, Grandpa?” Henry asks.

“I didn’t know that, but you’re going to sit next to me at dinner and tell me all about it,” Ash says, hugging me and Gabe in turn. Though I know my father-in-law has a reputation for being tough and exacting in his commercial real estate business, he always has plenty of warmth to spare for us. “Now let’s go say hi to Gee.”

We follow him in, and I’m newly struck by the fact that Gabe, with his slate-blue eyes and hawklike nose, looks a lot like his handsome dad, minus the silver hair.

Claire is in the large kitchen, wearing a cook’s apron over stylish beige trousers and a cream-colored blouse, and julienning basil, which she pauses doing to hug us. As I set two bags of bagels on the countertop, I spot a few people hanging by the pool through the rear window of the kitchen.

“Can I get my trunks on?” Henry asks, noticing, too.

“You bet,” Ash tells him. “Why don’t you carry your bag upstairs first? You’re in the room next to Gee’s and mine.”

“I think I’ll swim, too,” Gabe says. “What about you, Summer?”

“I’m going to stay here and catch up with your mom for a bit.”

“Okay, I’ll take our stuff to the cottage. Unless you need any help here, Mom?”

She shakes her head. “No, darling, enjoy yourself. There are snacks and drinks by the pool.”

After they depart, I take a minute to let my eyes roam the room. If Gabe’s business keeps growing like it has been, we’re hoping to buy a small weekend home of our own, and this is the kind of kitchen I’d kill for. All the white keeps it fresh, but there’s also a charming rustic feel thanks to the exposed ceiling beams, apron sink, and painted wood floor.

“How about an iced tea?” Claire asks, nodding toward the brown ceramic jug that she keeps filled on the counter.

“Not right now, thanks.” My mother-in-law brews it herself with herbs like fennel and sage, and though I’m sure it has all sorts of antioxidant properties, I’ve always preferred the stuff that tastes like Snapple.

“You look lovely, by the way,” she says. “The green in your dress perfectly matches your eyes, and the style suits you to a tee.”

I cherish compliments like that from Claire as she always looks so pulled together. Her blond hair, a shade or so lighter than mine, is pulled back today in a flattering French twist.

“Do you think so? I wore it to work today. A lot of voice actors dress down for recording jobs, but I always feel I perform better when I make an effort.”

“I think we all do. Like it or not, people notice our clothes and judge us on them, sometimes without even realizing it, and you pick up on those vibes in the studio, I’m sure.”

I’m momentarily tempted to tell Claire what happened today at the recording. She’s a fount of wisdom on everything from how much a wedding gift should cost to turning any kind of negotiation into a win-win. But I don’t want to bother her when she’s in the midst of making dinner for all of us.

“Where’s Bonnie?” I ask.

“She went out to pick up a few more supplies. Turns out Nick’s date for the week is a vegetarian and we’ll have to add extra side dishes while she’s here.”

“Do you know anything else about her?”

“Not a thing. He only told us two days ago that he was bringing her.”

She returns her attention to the basil on the butcher-block-topped island and scrapes it into a huge white bowl, one already filled with diced tomatoes, chunks of Brie, and olive oil. My mouth waters as I realize that it’s for one of the delicious pasta dishes Claire loves to serve in summer.

“Do you think that after Marcus’s wedding, Nick started to feel pressure to settle down?” Marcus is Nick’s fraternal twin, and he married a lovely woman named Keira last summer.

Claire shakes her head. “Nick? I think the only pressure he allows himself to feel these days is work-related.”

For the past several years, Nick has been involved in Ash’s real estate business.

“Or,” she adds smiling, “on the squash court. I just hope when he is inclined to marry, it’s to someone as terrific as you.”

“Oh, Claire, that’s so kind of you to say.” She’s warm and generous to all three of her daughters-in-law, but I know we have a special rapport. “And, of course, it’s entirely mutual. But I should have asked you before—can I help with anything?”

“No, Bonnie and I have it under control. Go start your vacation, dear.”

I head out to the patio, near where Henry’s already splashing around at one end of the kidney-shaped, black-bottom pool with Gabe and his grandfather. Blake, Gabe’s oldest brother, is swimming laps, while Marcus, Keira, and Blake’s wife, Wendy, are clustered by the beverage trolley. They wave me over.

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