She walked into the living room, sat staring into space, and a few minutes later, he called her. She felt guilty doing it, but she didn’t want to tell him yet. She already knew what his reaction would be. The one she wasn’t sure of yet was her own. It was ten o’clock at night in Ireland, and she knew he was working on his book. He said he had been waiting to call her all day, and wanted to know if she’d done the test. Feeling like a traitor to him, she lied and said she hadn’t, as tears came to her eyes. Part of her wanted his baby, and another part of her didn’t. She was scared. This was much too real. Somewhere inside her, a new life had begun.
“Why haven’t you done it yet?” He sounded hurt, and she couldn’t think of a good excuse.
“I can’t remember where I put the test. I put it away when I got here, and now I can’t find it. I think my cleaner moved it.”
“Then buy another one, for chrissake,” he said, sounding insistent and anxious. It made her feel cornered again. She was feeling trapped and betrayed by her own body as much as him, and her own whirling emotions. “Come on,” Finn said in a pleading tone. “Go out and get another test. I want to know. Darling, don’t you?” But she did know, and wished she didn’t. She promised him she’d pick up another test that afternoon, and call him when she did. He suggested they wait on the phone together for the results, and she was glad she hadn’t done that. He called again two hours later, and she didn’t answer the phone. She knew she couldn’t hide from him forever, but she needed at least a few hours to compose herself, and figure out what she felt. For now, it was mostly fear with an undercurrent of something else that she couldn’t put her finger on yet, and wondered if it was hope.
He called her at midnight again, which was five in the morning for him. He said he’d been up all night, working on the book, and worrying about her.
“Where were you? I was worried sick.”
“I had to go out and get some film,” she said, stalling him for a minute. Their lives were about to change dramatically. They would be bound to each other forever by this child. She loved him, but this was an enormous commitment, both to the baby, and to him.
“Did you get the test?” He was starting to sound annoyed, and her voice was small when she answered.
She held her breath for a long moment and let it out. She couldn’t avoid it anymore. “It was positive. I just did it,” she lied again. He would have been furious if he knew she had known for hours and didn’t call him. “I did it five minutes ago, but I didn’t want to wake you up.” Her face was sad and her stomach was in a knot, but she tried to sound normal, even happy.
“Oh my God!” He shouted at the other end. “Oh my God! We’re having a baby!!” In spite of herself, she smiled at his obviously unbounded joy. “I love you so much ,” he quickly added, and sounded like he was crying. He was so sweet about it that he slowly pulled her out of her terror, and into the deep waters of his excitement with him. She wondered if maybe it would be okay after all. She hoped it would. She saw Mimi’s photographs as she spoke to him, and prayed she would approve. And Hope suddenly panicked again. What if this one died too? She couldn’t live through it.
“When will it be?” Finn asked excitedly.
“I think around Thanksgiving. I want to have it over here,” she said firmly, trying to make her peace with it as she said it. Suddenly it was becoming real to her. They were having a baby, and she had decisions to make about it. A new life was growing inside her. A tiny person whose father was Finn, a man she loved but scarcely knew.
“Wherever you want. I love you, Hope. For God’s sake, take care of yourself. How soon can you come home?” She didn’t want to tell him she was home. Now home was with him. And that meant Blaxton House to him.
“I’ll be back in two weeks,” she said softly, feeling her love for him, and his for her, begin to calm her. She had been in a panic since she did the test that afternoon.
“Should you see a doctor?”
“Eventually. Let me get used to the idea first. I just found out five minutes ago. This is a big step, Finn. A very, very big step.”
“You’re not sorry, are you?” he asked, sounding worried, and a little hurt.
“I don’t know what I feel yet. Scared, impressed, kind of stunned. Happy.” She closed her eyes as she said it and was surprised to realize she meant it. She was happy. She wanted his baby. She just hadn’t wanted it this soon. She had wanted to be sure first. And now it was a done deal. He got his wish.
“Hurry up and come home,” he said in a choked voice. “I love you both.”
“Me too,” she said, and they hung up. She was in shock. It was hard to believe she was pregnant, but maybe it was meant to be. Destiny had intervened. She loved him, and this was a huge commitment. She knew they would marry at some point, and would have anyway, although probably sooner now. She would have to tell Paul, and she was sure he would be shocked too. But her life was with Finn now. They had a lot to talk about. A lot to plan. A lot to do. Their life together had begun in earnest, in a very serious way. She tried to sleep that night and couldn’t. So much was running through her mind, about him and the baby. All her fears and hopes running together. She felt totally overwhelmed.
When she woke up in the morning, there was a delivery from her florist at her door. Finn had sent her two dozen long-stemmed red roses, and the card read “I adore you. Congratulations to us. Come home soon.” She cried when she read the card. Her emotions were up and down. She wanted the baby, she didn’t, she loved Finn, and she was scared. Who wouldn’t be? And on Thanksgiving she’d have their baby in her arms. It was a lot to think about. And all she wanted now was to go back to Ireland and bury herself in Finn’s arms. His wish for them had come true. She suddenly thought of the fusion he had talked about. With this baby, their bond to each other was forever.
Hope flew back to Ireland, as promised, three weeks after she left. Finn was waiting at the airport, and he picked her up and swept her off the ground. They talked about the baby all the way back to his house. And as soon as she saw it, it felt like home. She was planning to stay for at least a month this time, maybe more. She had no commitments in New York till May. And she’d be ten weeks pregnant by then, a delicate time to travel. Finn wanted her to put her jobs off, and she said she might. She had seen her gynecologist before she left New York, who said everything was fine. Her HCG levels were good, and all was progressing as it should. It was too early to tell much more, and she told Hope to come in when she got back. She told her to take it easy for the first three months. At her age, miscarriage was an issue, so the doctor cautioned Hope not to do anything too wild. But intercourse was fine. She knew Finn would be relieved to hear that, although he wanted this baby so badly, he would even have given up their sex life and had asked her if they should. He’d been happy to know that sex was allowed. It was an important part of their life. He wanted to make love constantly, at least once a day, often more. She had never had a sex life like theirs in her entire life.
As soon as she walked into Blaxton House, she saw that he had put flowers everywhere, the place was immaculate, and Winfred and Katherine were thrilled to see her. It was beginning to feel like home to her. And upstairs in his study, she could see that Finn had worked hard on the book. There were stacks of papers and research all over the desk. And as she walked into the room, he spun her around again and kissed her. She sank into a warm tub, and he took a bath with her, as he always did. It was rare for him to let her take a bath on her own. He said he enjoyed her company too much, and she looked so sexy in the tub. And as always, they wound up going to bed and making love, and he was gentle with her. He was in awe of the baby they had conceived, and the miracle they were going to share. He said it was his greatest dream.
Katherine brought them lunch on trays, and afterward they went for a long walk in the Wicklow Mountains. They had a quiet dinner that night, and the next day she went back to work on the house. The furniture had come back from the restorer and looked terrific, and all the upholstered pieces done in the fabric she’d bought in Dublin had returned and were in place in several rooms. The house already looked brighter, cleaner, and more cheerful, and wherever she had polished the woodwork before she left, it gleamed. She had more ideas about the house, and mentioned them to Finn, but all he wanted to talk about was the baby. He said it would join them forever, and his eyes shone whenever he mentioned it. This clearly was his dream, and it was slowly becoming hers. She still had to get used to the idea. It had been a long time since she’d been pregnant, and it brought back a lot of tender memories for her. Secretly, she hoped it would be a girl, and so did Finn. He said he wanted a daughter who looked just like Hope. The changes that were happening to them, and would be happening to her soon, were a lot to absorb and digest. Again and again, as she looked at him, she had to remind herself that it was happening, and it was for real.
She was going through a beautiful old desk in the library two days after she’d come back to Ireland, trying to decide whether to have it restored or not, or just polish it herself, when she opened a drawer, and at the back of it, found a photograph of a strikingly beautiful young woman standing next to Finn. In the photograph, both were very young. He had an arm around her shoulders, and was so obviously enamored with her that Hope wondered if it was Michael’s mother. She had never seen any photographs of her. And there were several more in another drawer of the desk. She wasn’t sure if she should mention it to Finn or not, and she was curious. She was staring at one of the photographs when he walked in.
“What are you up to?” he asked, smiling at her. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. What mischief are you devising?” he inquired, as he approached and then saw the photograph in her hand. He took it from her, looked hard at it, and instantly his eyes turned sad. She had never seen him look like that when he talked about his late wife before, and she was surprised.
“Michael’s mom?” she asked softly, and Finn shook his head as he set the photograph down and looked at Hope.
“No, it’s not. A girl I was in love with a long time ago. I was twenty-two at the time, she was twenty-one.” It was hard to believe, but judging by the faded photograph, he had been even more handsome then. They were two beautiful young people smiling up from the photo on the desk.
“She’s a pretty girl,” Hope said evenly. Unlike him, she wasn’t jealous, and surely not of a girl he’d been in love with twenty-four years before.
“She was,” he said, glancing at the image again. She had long straight blond hair. “Audra. She died two weeks after that was taken.” Hope looked shocked when he said the words. She looked so young and healthy, obviously some kind of accident had occurred.
“How awful. What happened?” It reminded her of Mimi again. It was so unfair when young people died before they even had a chance to live. They would never marry, have babies, get old, be grandmothers, or experience all the good and bad things that happened to everyone else.
“She killed herself,” Finn said with an agonized expression. “It was my fault. We had a terrible argument. It was stupid really. I was jealous. I accused her of sleeping with my best friend, and I told her I’d never see her again. She swore that nothing had happened, and I didn’t believe her. Afterward he admitted that they’d gotten together so he could help her pick out a birthday gift for me. He said later that she was crazy in love with me, and I was equally insane about her. But I was so angry when I thought she’d betrayed me, that I told her it was over, and walked out. She begged me not to, and I didn’t find out until after, from her sister, that she was pregnant. She was kind of high strung, and very sensitive. She was going to tell me after my birthday, but she was afraid of how I’d react. And to be honest, I’m not sure how I would have taken that piece of news then. She wanted to get married anyway, and I don’t know what I’d have done. In any case, we had an awful fight, I left her and told her I’d never see her again because I thought she’d cheated on me. I went back to her house four hours later to apologize. Her parents were out of town, and I rang the bell forever. She never answered, so I went home. Her sister called me the next day. She had slit her wrists, and they found her. She had left a letter for me. Her sister told me about the baby then. It was an awful time. I think it’s why I married Michael’s mother when she told me she was pregnant, even though I wasn’t in love with her. I didn’t want anything like that happening again. I’ve lived with it on my conscience ever since.” As he said it, Hope reached out and touched him, and picked up the photograph again. It was hard to believe that that beautiful young girl had died only days later. It was an awful story, and admittedly, he hadn’t behaved responsibly, but he was young. And people did stupid things at any age, not understanding the desperation of others, or how deep their fears or emotions ran.
“Her sister said that their father would have killed her for being pregnant, particularly if I didn’t marry her,” Finn went on. “He was a nasty piece of work, an alcoholic and very abusive to both girls. Her mother was dead. So she had no one to turn to, or to count on, except me. And I let her down. She thought I’d ended it for good, since I had convinced her of it. So she died.” He looked deeply remorseful as he said it, and clearly had been for all of his adult life since.
“I’m so sorry,” Hope said softly.
“Her sister died in a freak boating accident not long after. I went out with her for a while, because she reminded me so much of Audra. But it made us both feel worse. It was a very unhappy time in my life,” he said with a sigh, and put the photographs away. He had been painfully honest about it. “It’s a hell of a thing to have on your conscience. I don’t know why I was such an asshole to her. Young, I guess, and stupid and full of myself, but that’s no excuse. I didn’t really intend to end it with her, I was just pissed and wanted to teach her a lesson for flirting with my friend. Instead she taught me a lesson I never forgot and never will.” As he said it, Hope couldn’t help remembering the instances when he’d be jealous with her, asking her questions about the subjects of her photo shoots, her ex-husband, her agent, the waiter at the restaurant on Cape Cod, and the two men in the pub in Blessington. He was still jealous, but these days he had it in better control. And he had no reason to be jealous with Hope. And apparently he hadn’t with Audra either. The story was awful, and Hope felt deeply sorry for him. She could see in his eyes how guilty he still felt about it all these years later.
“Maybe she had emotional problems you didn’t know about,” Hope said, trying to comfort him. “Normal people don’t do things like that. They don’t kill themselves, no matter how desperate they feel.” She couldn’t imagine Mimi doing something like that, or herself at that age. But whatever the reason, the girl in the photograph was dead.
“Sometimes young girls do,” Finn said, “or even older ones. I was never totally convinced that Michael’s mother didn’t do the same thing. She was drunk, and our life was a mess. She knew I didn’t love her, and I don’t think she loved me either. She was a very unhappy woman. We were trapped in a loveless marriage, and we hated each other. I didn’t want to divorce her, for Michael’s sake, but I should have. It’s all such a waste sometimes,” he said bleakly, and then smiled at her. And for a totally insane instant, Hope had the odd feeling that despite his sense of guilt, he was flattered by the notion that these women had died for him. The thought gave her a chill. And then as though to confirm it, he looked at her strangely and asked her an odd question. “Would you ever kill yourself, Hope?” Slowly, she shook her head, but was honest with him.
“I thought about it when Mimi died. More than once. And when Paul left me. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how terrible I felt and how hopeless, I couldn’t conceive of doing something like that. I went to India and tried to heal instead. That made more sense.” But she was an essentially healthy person, with a firm footing in life, and she had been considerably older, in her early forties at the time. These were very young women, and girls that age tended to be more dramatic and more extreme and intense, although she couldn’t imagine Mimi doing it either, for a broken romance, or any other reason. These were obviously troubled girls in desperate situations, one pregnant out of wedlock with an alcoholic father to face and a boyfriend she thought had left her, and the other trapped in a loveless marriage with a child she didn’t want and a husband Finn said she hated. It was upsetting to think about. And Finn was quiet as he walked out of the room, and went back upstairs to his office to work on the book.
Hope put the photographs back in the drawer, and decided not to restore the desk. She went for a walk alone after that, and thought about Finn. He had had turmoil and upset with the women in his life, and the death of a young girl on his conscience for more than twenty years. It was a lot to live with. And she thought his question to her had been odd. Maybe he just wanted to reassure himself that no matter what happened, he would never have to face something like that again. And with Hope there was no risk. Suicide was not an option for her. If her daughter’s death hadn’t destroyed her, she knew that nothing would. She dreaded losing Paul, when that happened, and she knew she would one day. She hoped for him, and for her, that that wouldn’t happen for a long, long time.
As she walked along, it was sad thinking about death, instead of birth, and then she thought of the baby, taking hold inside her. The child she and Finn had conceived was an affirmation of life and hope, and an antidote to all the tragedies that had happened to them both. She saw now, more than ever, what a wonderful thing it was, and realized that that was what Finn had been doing, clinging to life to overcome the shadows of death that had trailed him for years. It was a touching thought and made her love him more than ever. She thought about Audra then, and even not knowing her, silently mourned her loss. Hope was touched by Finn’s honesty in admitting his part in the tragedy. He had made no effort to hide or deny it, which was honorable of him. And Hope felt guilty for her momentary thought that he was somehow flattered that she had loved him enough to commit suicide over him. Hope was sure that wasn’t true, and was sorry she had even thought it. It had been a sick thought, but for an instant something in his eyes, and his question to her after that, had made her think it. She was glad she hadn’t said it to him. He would have been justifiably wounded that she would suspect him of such a thing.
She felt better when she got back to the house, and decided to empty two closets that were full of ancient dusty linens. She was sneezing incessantly at the top of a ladder when Finn found her there late that afternoon. She had been easy to find when he heard the sneezing, and scolded her when he found her.
“What are you doing on that ladder?” he said with a disapproving scowl, as she blew her nose for the hundredth time and looked at him.
“Getting rid of this mess.” Shelf by shelf, she was pulling the yellowed linens down, tossing them to the ground, and as she did, a cloud of dust rose each time, and made her sneeze again. “This stuff must have been sitting here for a hundred years. It’s filthy.”
“And you’re a fool,” he said angrily. “Now get off that ladder. I’ll do that if you want. If you fall, you’ll kill the baby.” She stared at him in surprise, and then smiled, touched by his concern.
“I’m not going to fall off, Finn. The ladder is perfectly solid. We found it in the stables.” It was the only one tall enough to reach the top shelves in the closets, because the ceilings were so high. But he was serious, and held the ladder for her, as she reluctantly got down. “I’m not a cripple, for heaven’s sake, and I’m only a few weeks pregnant.” She lowered her voice so no one would hear them, although Winfred and Katherine were both so deaf that it was unlikely they would, and there was no one else around.
“I don’t care. You have a responsibility to all three of us now. Don’t be stupid,” he said, and climbed the ladder for her. And in less than a minute, as he did the same job, he was sneezing too. And a moment later, they were both laughing. It was a relief after the somber discoveries she had made that day. The sad story of Audra was still on her mind, but she didn’t mention it to him again, she knew now how painful it was for him, and she felt sorry for him. “Can’t we just throw this stuff away?” Finn asked, looking at the heap of yellowed linens on the ground. Most of them were tablecloths no one had used for years, and the rest were sheets for beds in sizes that no longer existed.
“I will, but we had to at least pull them out first. We can’t let them sit up there forever.” She was becoming the unofficial mistress of the manor, and Finn was pleased to see it.
“You’re such a little housewife,” he teased her, and then he smiled down at her from the top of the ladder. “I can’t wait till we have a baby running around here. It’ll really feel like a home then. Until you came along, Hope, it just felt like a house.”
She had infused her own life and spirit into it, just by cleaning it up and moving things around, and the furniture she’d had restored looked beautiful, although there was still too little of it. The house was mostly empty, and it would have cost a fortune to fill it. She didn’t want to overstep her bounds, so she was trying to do her best with what was there, and only added a few things, as small gifts to him. He was deeply appreciative of everything she did. And the results were looking good, although it was obvious that it would take years to restore the house to its original condition, and probably more money than Finn would ever see. But at least he had claimed his mother’s family’s ancestral home, and she knew what it meant to him.
His love for the house was almost as deep as his love for her. He had come home to his roots, and reclaimed them. It was a major step for him. And he felt as though he had been waiting to do that all his life, and often said that to her. He knew that his mother would have been proud of him, if she were still alive to see it. And Hope loved sharing the experience with him. Her efforts to improve it for him, and return it to its previous glory, were a gesture of love for him.
For the next several weeks, Finn continued to work on his book, and Hope took a few pictures. She took them discreetly in the pub sometimes, mostly of old people, and no one seemed to mind. Most of them were flattered. After Finn finished work in the afternoons, they went for long quiet walks in the hills. He talked with her about his work, and how the book was going. She paid close attention to everything he said, and was fascinated by the process of his work, as he was with hers. As he had even before he met her, he loved the photographs she took. And he particularly liked the series she was doing of old men and women in the pubs. They had wonderful faces and expressive eyes, and seen through Hope’s lens, they were transfused with all the tenderness and pathos of the human spirit. They had tremendous respect for each other’s work. No one had taken as great an interest in her work before, nor had anyone in his.
They talked about the baby, although she didn’t like to dwell on the subject. She didn’t want to get her hopes up too much now that she had gotten comfortable with the idea. The first three months were always unsure, and at her age even more so. Once she got past that, she would really allow herself to celebrate the idea. Until then, she was hopeful and excited, but trying to remain calm and realistic, and somewhat reserved. Finn had already given his whole heart to it, and she had long since forgiven him for the hideous afternoon at the fertility doctor in London, and even for getting her drunk and pregnant later that afternoon. The results of it were too sweet to resist, and she loved him more than ever, particularly now with this additional bond. She was feeling mellow, happy, and very much in love.
They were talking about getting married, and they both loved the idea. All Hope wanted was to spend the rest of her life with him, and he felt exactly the same way. And their plans to marry in the near future made her feel very much mistress of his home.
She was emptying drawers in the dining room one day, in her continuing efforts to purge the house of old, meaningless things, when she came upon a lease that had just been tossed into a bottom drawer. And it looked relatively new. She was going to leave it on Finn’s desk, and then realized what it was. It was a six-year lease for Blaxton House that Finn had signed two years before. And as she read it, she realized that the house had been rented, not bought. She was floored. He had said the house was his.
She thought about putting the lease back in the drawer, and not mentioning it to him. It wasn’t really any of her business, but it troubled her all that afternoon. It wasn’t just that he had lied to her, but it seemed so odd to her that he would tell her he owned it, when in fact it was only rented. And finally, she couldn’t stand it, and decided to clear the air with him. It seemed like an important point to her. Honesty was a crucial part of the relationship they were building, which they both hoped would last for years, hopefully forever. And she wanted no secrets between them. She had none from him.
She waited until teatime to ask him about it, and they were eating the sandwiches and soup that Katherine provided for them every evening. She made them a hot meal at noon, with hearty meat and vegetables and Irish potatoes, which Finn ate and she didn’t. Hope preferred lighter meals, and she was grateful that as her pregnancy progressed, she felt fine. If anything, she ate more than usual, and she hadn’t been nauseous for a minute. She hadn’t been with Mimi either. In the twenty-three years since her last pregnancy, nothing had changed, and she felt healthier than ever, and looked it. She had the bloom of youth and motherhood in her eyes and on her cheeks, despite her age. In fact, she looked suddenly younger than ever.
She broached the subject carefully as they finished the meal. She wasn’t quite sure how to do it, and didn’t want to embarrass him or make him feel exposed by what she had discovered. In the end, she decided to just say it.
“I found something in a drawer in the dining room today,” she said as she folded her napkin and Finn took a long swallow of wine. He always drank more in the evening when he was writing a book. It helped him relax, after concentrating on the story all day. Hope could see that it was grueling work.
“So what did you find?” he asked, looking distracted. He had done a particularly hard chapter that day.
“The lease for this house,” she said simply, looking him in the eye, to see his reaction. There was none for a minute, and then he looked away.
“Oh,” he said, and then looked at her again. “I was embarrassed to admit to you that I don’t own it. I do, in my heart and soul, but I couldn’t afford it. So they rented it to me. I was hoping that in the six years of the lease, I could scrape up the money, but this works for now. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth about it, Hope. It’s humiliating to admit you can’t buy your own family’s house, but right now I just can’t, and maybe I never will.” He looked embarrassed as he said it, but not about the lie. It wasn’t really a lie, or not a big one anyway, and she told herself that he owed her no explanations, neither about the house, nor about his financial situation, although he was her baby’s father and the man she loved. But for the moment anyway, he was not responsible for her, and probably never would be financially. She didn’t need that kind of help from him. And she had thought about it all afternoon since she’d found the lease. The only thing that really bothered her was that they were pouring money, or she was, into someone else’s house, which didn’t seem smart to her. She was a little startled that he let her do that, but Finn was in love with Blaxton House, whether it was his or not. It had belonged to his ancestors, and to him by birthright, even if it was only leased.
“You don’t owe me any explanations, Finn,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, but I was curious about it. It’s really none of my business.” He was looking at her, and obviously feeling awkward. “I have a proposition to make you. I’m very fortunate, because of Paul. I have no kids”-and then she smiled, and gently touched his hand-“or at least I didn’t for a while, and that’s about to change. But Paul was incredibly generous with me, and he has helped me make some very good investments that are continuing to pay off.” She didn’t hide her circumstances from him, she had no reason to. It was obvious he wasn’t after her money, and she loved him. They loved each other, and shared a sacred trust and bond, particularly now with the baby. She trusted Finn completely, and knew she wasn’t wrong. He was a good man, and a solid person, even if he didn’t have a lot of money. That meant nothing to her. Paul hadn’t had much when she married him either. Hope was not interested in money. What she valued was the love they shared.