Anywhere you wanna go, baby show me the way.
I’m open to suggestions, whatever you say.
Tonight’s about whatever you want, whatever it takes.
Girl, I hope I’m on the right road, but judging by the smile on your face I must be doing something right.
I just heard you sigh.
You leaned into my kiss
and closed those deep blue need you eyes.
Don’t know what I did to deserve a love like this
but baby I must be doing something right.- Billy Currington, “Must be Doing Something Right”
“Billy!” The crack of Bridget’s reprimand, edged with weariness, made Mark wince as he entered the house and headed directly for the kitchen, which sounded like the ground of a fierce battle between his wife and his 2 year-old son. The current state of war likely explained why Bridget had failed to respond to his text, informing her that he had managed to extricate himself from chambers early. With Mabel just over a month old, Mark had accomplished the Herculean achievement of clearing his work schedule for two solid weeks and working largely from home for a third week. Having returned to chambers the previous Monday, he was still endeavoring to get away as early as possible. Both his mother and Bridget’s had each taken a week to be on-hand as the family adjusted their routine to accommodate its newest member, but Bridget, in a fit of self-sufficiency that Mark alternately admired and questioned, had insisted that the sooner they learned to cope, the sooner the household could resume a sense of normalcy—or whatever passed for normalcy with two small children whose sole mission seemed to be depriving their parents of sleep.
Bridget stood in the center of the kitchen, hands on hips as she glared at her son.
“Billy, how many times do I have to ask you to stop? We eat our rice-cakes; we do not throw our rice-cakes.” Not surprisingly, Billy proceeded, for reasons best known to himself, to throw
another rice-cake in what he evidently thought was a clever game of his own invention.
“Billy, I’m going to count to 3, and when I do--”
“Oh, are we finally going to find out what happens after ‘3’, then,” Mark quipped. “The suspense is killing me.”
“Mark!” Bridget whirled round to face him. “You’re home early!”
“And just when you appear in desperate need of reinforcements,” he observed, crossing the room to give her a quick kiss before turning to his son.
“Well, what’s going on here?”
Billy shiftily avoided meeting his father’s eyes—a sure sign of a guilty conscience. “Nothing.”
“That’s not what I saw. Mummy was asking you nicely to stop, so why don’t you be a little gentleman and do as she says?”
“Because,” Mark replied patiently, “it’s impolite to throw food, and because Mummy doesn’t want you to, which should be reason enough.”
“Because there are little boys in other countries who don’t have as much food as you do.” Clearly unable to contemplate the extent of his first-world privilege against the backdrop of the plight of world hunger, Billy seemed on the point of continuing the argument. “Billy, we do not throw food. Have I made that clear?”
“Apparently not,” said Bridget.
Mark ignored her. “Billy, I’m not going to repeat myself. Just—oh, for Heaven’s sake, I’m arguing with a 2 year-old.”
“And losing,” observed Bridget. Mark was on the point of responding, but Bridget’s mobile chose that inopportune moment to ring.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she huffed, glaring at the device. “Can’t I have just five minutes without someone demanding my attention?”
“Bridget,” Mark admonished, sliding his gaze pointedly toward their son.
Bridget winced and closed her eyes, but not before Billy began to singsong, “Fuck’s sake!”
“Language, both of you,” said Mark, but his lips twitched a reluctant smile. Just as Bridget reached to scoop her mobile off the breakfast bar, the baby-monitor began shrieking.
Mark placed a hand over hers as she heaved another sigh. “I’m on it.”
“She’s just up from her nap,” Bridget advised. “She probably needs a changing.”
“Right, then. Hazmat suit time.” Bridget smiled reluctantly before swiping to answer the Facetime call.
“Hey there, pretty lady!” Jack’s smiling image filled the screen. “How’s it going, Mom?”
Bridget rolled her eyes. “honestly? At the moment I’m wondering why children don’t come with a return policy.”
“Aww, that bad?”
“I’ve been restricting my alcohol intake while I’m nursing. What do you think?” .
“Got it. Point taken.” Catching sight of Billy, Jack sent him a wave. “Hey, kiddo. How’s it going?”
“good,” murmured Billy, choosing that moment to put on his best little gentleman manners.
“How’s life as a big brother?”
Billy considered. “Noisy. Baby Mabel cwies a lot.”
To his credit, Jack maintained a sober expression. “That’s tough.”
“Mummy cwies a lot too.”
“Billy!” Bridget shrieked, covering her face with her hands in mingled amusement and mortification.
“Hormones?” Jack surmised.
“And alcohol withdrawal,” replied Bridget.
“Mummy, what’th hormones?” piped up Billy.
“You’ll find out some day,” Jack laughed.
“Don’t pay any attention to Uncle Jack,” said Bridget, smiling in spite of herself.
“How’s Mark? Where is he, anyway?” Jack’s eyes narrowed. “He’d better not be leaving you to hold down the fort alone.”
“He’s not,” Bridget assured him, keeping one eye on the conversation and one on her son, who appeared to be contemplating the projectile potential of his cup of juice. “He’s upstairs with Mabel. Nappy duty.”
Jack grimaced. “Better him than me.”
“Any man who can travel without trepidation to war-torn countries should be able to change a nappy,” Bridget scoffed.
“And this, darling, is why I love you,” said mark, reentering the kitchen with Mabel balanced on his hip. “You never fail to overestimate my bravery when the need arises.” Shifting the baby to one shoulder, he lifted her tiny hand in a greeting. “Wave hello to Uncle Jack.”
“You both look exhausted,” Jack commented. “I thought this was supposed to get easier with practice.”
Mark cast his eyes heavenward. “Says the man without children.”
“How’s the book tour?” asked Bridget. “You’re still going to be in London next week, right?”
“You bet. I hope it’s still okay if I pop over for dinner, or just a drink; I don’t want to put you out. I know things are a little unsettled right now, with the baby.”
“No!” Bridget protested. “We can’t wait to see you.”
“Are you sure?”
Adjusting Mabel’s position, Mark came to stand beside his wife and wound his free arm around her waist. “Absolutely. We’d offer you houseroom, but I’m afraid we’ve not been getting many stellar reviews for our accommodations lately, on account of the noise level.”
Jack laughed. “Well, it’ll be great to see you guys.” They chatted for several more minutes before making promises to connect again before Jack’s visit.
After ending the call, Bridget leaned into Mark’s arm. “I really do want to see Jack,” she said, “but even the thought of entertaining right now makes me feel like I’ve just swum the English channel.”
“We’ll manage. Remember he’s coming to see you, darling, not to eat orange parfit in sugar cages. Trust me on this one.”
“I know. You said that once before.”
“And yet, here we are. Your friends love you for you, Bridget, not for the Marco Pierre White.”
Bridget tilted her head up to peck him on the lips. “You always say the nicest things, Mark Darcy.”
“I know. It’s why you married me.”
“Among other reasons, yes. Which reminds me, we’d better make sure we have eggs on hand, just in case.”
Mark kissed the top of her head. “Right. I’m on it.” Billy chose that moment to remind his parents of his presence in the room, with more vigor than was perhaps necessary, by wiggling in his highchair and demanding to be let down.
“Should we release the prisoner?” asked Mark.
“We’d better,” said Bridget, crossing the room and scooping up her son. “Reduced sentence, for good behavior.”
Mark shrugged. “We’ll see how long it lasts.”
Bridget surveyed the kitchen one last time and gave a contented sigh; the wine was breathing, Mabel was asleep, Billy was engrossed in a complicated game that seemed to involve a wrestling match between several stuffed animals, and Fatima’s roast chicken was warming in the oven and wafting enticing fragrances through the house.
“touch nothing,” said Mark as he entered the kitchen, freshly showered and having exchanged his work suit for jeans and a sweater.
“I’m just making sure--” Bridget began, until he placed his hands on her shoulders, turned her round, and punctuated her protest with a kiss on the mouth.
“it’s going to be perfect, love. I promise.”
“Well, I have to admit it was a relief letting Fatima take over the dinner preparations.”
“You don’t have to tell me I was right.”
“I’m not going to. your ego will probably have an orgasm if it gets any more stroking.”
“On the contrary, I think I keep my pride under good regulation. Besides, Fatima was glad to be of help. You know how much she loves you,” Mark murmured, cupping Bridget’s cheek in his hand.
“Probably because I managed to remove the poker you had surgically inserted up your backside—no easy feat, I can tell you. I can’t believe you’re entertaining a dinner guest in jeans. It’s a good look for you,” she added, kissing his cheek. “top barrister by day; cool, relaxed dad by night.”
“Right, check back with me on the ‘cool and relaxed’ bit after I’ve had a whisky.”
When Jack arrived, the entire family assembled to meet him. Bridget cradled Mabel, dressed in the onesie Jack had sent after her birth, embroidered with a pink bunny and complete with matching ears, which Mabel had endured just long enough for him to witness its effect.
“It’s so great to see you guys,” he announced as hugs and kisses were exchanged. Billy stood close to Mark, clinging to his leg and peering shyly up at Jack.
“Well, now, who’s this superhero? If you keep growing like that, you’re going to be taller than your dad soon.” Billy remained silent, and Mark gently detached him and nudged him forward.
“Let him warm up a bit,” said Bridget. “Then you’ll be lucky if he stops talking.”
“Billy,” Mark prompted, “how do you say hello to uncle jack? Remember what I taught you?” Billy glanced back at Mark before timidly extending one tiny hand for jack to shake.
“Gwad to see you,” he managed.
“I’m glad to see you too,” replied jack, giving the little boy’s hand a shake before turning to Mark with a grin. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Never underestimate the power of a firm handshake,” said Mark.
Jack laughed. “You can take the boy out of Eton. . .”
Dinner proceeded in what passed for normal; Bridget had mastered the art of eating one-handed with Mabel in her lap, and Billy, in a dramatic burst of attachment, decided that the only suitable place to eat his dinner was on Jack’s knee. Since Jack made no objections, and the arrangement meant Billy would remain both seated and entertained, Mark and Bridget determined with the briefest meeting of eyes that there seemed little point in resisting. Adult conversation was punctuated by Billy’s chatter about topics ranging from the volume of his sister’s crying to musings on what the clouds were made of. When he insisted vehemently that ice-cream was the key ingredient, the adults thought it prudent to concur.
Finally, in a brief conversational lull, Jack turned to Bridget. “How did the pair of you spend Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh, are people still doing that? I think I’ve lost touch with the real world.”
Jack frowned, addressing Mark. “She’s kidding, right?”
“If only she were, but unfortunately, no.” Before Jack could pass comment, Bridget spotted Billy beginning to squirm and rub his eyes; getting to her feet, she secured Mabel in the crook of her arm and beckoned to him.
“come on, Billster; bath time, and then bed.” What protest Billy managed was swallowed by an enormous yawn.
“Stay,” she said when Mark stood. “I’ve got this.”
“Are you sure you don’t need backup?”
“I’ll be fine; take Mabel, and don’t you boys finish off all the wine; save a bit for me when I come back down.”
Mark lifted a brow. “But I thought you weren’t--”
“That’s not a request. It’s a directive.”
“Understood.” Mark reached to slip Mabel into his own arms, dropping a kiss on the crown of her head as she settled against his chest; then, eyeing Jack’s nearly empty wine glass, he observed, “You could do with a top-off.”
“It’s fine; you look too comfortable.”
“Well, I could do with one.” Obligingly, Jack reached across the table for the wine bottle and topped off each glass.
“You know, Mark,” he said, settling back into his seat, “I have to be honest with you about something.”
Mark responded to Mabel’s fretful squirming by tracing slow circles on her back. “What’s that?”
“I wasn’t sure you’d be able to pull this off, honestly.”
“It’s a balancing act,” Mark admitted, shifting Mabel to one shoulder to reach for his wine glass. “A precarious one sometimes, but when you want something enough, you find ways.”
“Speaking of finding ways, did you really forget about Valentine’s Day?”
Mark could feel his jaw tighten in answer to the question and took a swallow of wine to choose his words and wash away the guilty recollection of the wrapped gift—a charm bracelet with both of the children’s birth stones along with Bridget’s and his own—that he’d hastily slipped under her pillow before leaving for work. . “Not exactly. It just dropped a bit low on the priority list. I’d have planned something, if it had been up to me, but Bridget was exhausted; her mother was still here giving us a hand, which frankly felt more like an army of hands most of the time, and it just all got swept under the rug.”
“You’re going to have to make it up to her; you know that.”
“Got anything in mind?”
Mark shrugged. “I’ll think of something.”
“Well,” Jack grinned, “you’re in luck, because I’m full of ideas.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Mark said dryly.
“Come on; I’m sure we can put our heads together and come up with something. What does Bridget really, really want right now, more than anything in the world?”
“To be left alone for five minutes,” said Mark.
Jack lifted a brow. “I hope you’re joking.”
“Case-in-point. I walked through the door last night, and Bridget, naturally, asked me about work, as one does, but Billy interrupted us. She got her answer three hours later.”
“Okay, I get that,” said Jack. “But come on, buddy. You can’t just let the romance die. You’ve got to pull out all the stops, now more than ever.” When Mabel began whimpering, Mark stood, shifted her from one shoulder to the other, and began to pace. “I’m serious, Mark. Now’s not the time to let things slide. Think outside the box a little. Surprise her.”
“Of course,” Mark retorted, failing to suppress the sharp edge in his words. “The way you did, with your ‘second date’?”
Jack drained his wine glass before responding. “You know what? Give me some credit. We had sex once, and then suddenly the universe pressed fast-forward on everything, and there was a potential kid involved. I was trying to build something.”
“Yes, by constructing a relationship. . By following a perfect, paint-by-the-numbers formula of the dream date.”
“okay, slow down.” Jack held up his hands. “Don’t do this again, okay? Don’t make this an argument about how logic and love don’t mix. This isn’t about any of that now.”
“You’re right,” said Mark. “It’s not, because sometimes life isn’t that formulaic, particularly in Bridget’s case. If you have such a theoretical approach to life, you should know Bridget practically proves the theory that the universe favors chaos.”
Jack’s mouth twitched a grin. “She does kind of embody the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”
“Precisely. You can plan, and project, and structure as much as you want, but in the end, life is going to pull you in whichever direction it wants to. If finding Bridget again, if the past several years has taught me nothing else, it’s taught me that much. I spent years listing every logical reason in the world why things couldn’t work out for us, and in the end, none of that mattered, because despite everything, despite all my doubts, here we are.”
“Sure, that’s all true,” said Jack, “but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to work to maintain it.”
Before Mark could respond, Billy came tearing into the room, Bridget on his heels.
“Sh, Billy, don’t wake your sister.” To Mark, she added, “Have you boys been behaving?” The two men exchanged a look before averting their eyes, both grinning reluctantly. “Honestly,” Bridget sighed. “I leave the room for ten minutes and the pair of you are getting into trouble. Do you want the naughty chair?”
“Ooh, that could be fun,” Jack quipped, at which Mark pointedly cleared his throat.
Billy was now hopping up and down in a plea for his father’s attention. “Stowy, Daddy?”
Mark smiled. “Absolutely, superman.”
“Here,” said Bridget, gesturing to the baby. “Trade.” Mark touched his lips to a now sleeping Mabel’s forehead before handing her over to Bridget, and both breathed a sigh of relief when the switch was accomplished without waking her, in a maneuver likely due more to luck than skill.
“I’ll just settle her down and be right back,” Bridget said to Jack. As he scooped up a still-squirming Billy, Mark inhaled that warm, sleepy boy fragrance of bubble bath and freshly-laundered pajamas.
Swiftly and, to mark’s relief, relatively silently, fewer than three pages of reading lulled Billy to sleep, and Mark reveled in a few minutes of stillness broken only by his son’s deep, even breathing, before he slipped from the room and returned to Jack and Bridget. Recalling Bridget’s earlier request, he detoured to the kitchen before joining them.
“Your drink order, Mrs Darcy,” he said, handing her a glass of chardonnay.
“Don’t think I always get this level of service,” she commented to Jack. “He’s on his best behavior tonight.” When Mark pretended to look affronted, she laughed and shifted on the sofa to make room for him. “That’s not true, actually; he’s been great.”
“Let the record reflect that statement was made before the wine took effect,” said Mark.
Sans interruption, the adults chatted comfortably for an hour or so, until Bridget failed to suppress several yawns.
“Hey, don’t be polite on my account,” said Jack as she glanced at her watch.
“I’m going to have to take you up on that; I have maybe an hour, if I’m lucky, before the baby needs to nurse again, but are you sure?”
“I should probably call it a night soon, in any case,” Jack assured her.
“Wake me if I don’t hear Mabel,” she said to Mark.
“Of course,” he murmured, letting his fingers brush the back of her hand.
Jack rose and came to her as she stood, enveloping her in a tight hug.
“It was great to see you,” she said, returning the embrace.
“You too.” Jack held her for a moment longer, his eyes briefly meeting Mark’s over her shoulder before he bent and kissed the top of her head. “I’m really glad everything’s working out for you, Bridge,” he whispered into her hair before gently releasing her.
Tears sparkled in her eyes as she smiled up at him. “Thanks, sweetie.”
“Well.” Jack turned back to Mark as Bridget slipped from the room. “I should let you both get some rest. Don’t want to wear out my welcome.”
“We really were glad to have you,” Mark said gently.
“Thanks.” The two men shook hands. “Listen, Mark. . .” Jack hesitated. “About before--”
“It’s okay.” Mark held up a hand to silence him. “I understand where you were coming from, and you’re not entirely wrong.”
“No, really; I wasn’t being fair to you. I mean, okay, I’m not going to lie, I was worried about Bridget. Maybe I had no right to be; my history with her is, well. . . different than yours.”
“You have every right to be, all things considered. That story could have ended much differently, and don’t think I take it for granted.”
“I know, and maybe there’s a lot I don’t understand; maybe I don’t know first-hand how the moving parts of a relationship have to be shifted when there’s a family involved, but sometimes you make it look easier than it probably is.”
“What?” Mark laughed. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“Well, maybe not, but all I mean is. . . you’ve got this.”
Mark smiled. “Thanks.”
One Week Later
Mark ran his eye over the two slips of paper he held before slipping and sealing each into an envelope and laying them beside Bridget’s mug of tea, where she’d be sure to find them. The house was, for the moment, snuggled in a blanket of silence, both children having gone down for their afternoon nap. typically, time permitting, the lull was devoted to sundry housekeeping chores that were best accomplished with two hands not already full. Both Fatima and mark carried some of that weight, and whenever possible, Bridget had taken to spending this holiest of hours in what solitude she could snatch, curling up on the sofa to read, but most often falling asleep herself. Mark occasionally joined her for a rare, uninterrupted cuddle, but as a rule, me made a point of withdrawing to avoid infringing on what little peace she could afford to enjoy.
Now, he felt Bridget’s arms encircling him as she sidled up behind him.
“Mission accomplished. They’ve both fallen asleep. Let’s make the most of it.”
“I’ll join you in a bit,” said Mark, gently extricating himself and dropping a kiss on her lips.
“You might regret that; there’s no telling how long the calm will last.” As she spoke, Bridget’s gaze landed on the mug of tea and the notes Mark had left beside it. “What’s going on?” she asked, lips pursed.
“You’ll find out,” said Mark, nudging her toward the sofa. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Hang on.” Bridget grabbed his wrist and pulled him toward her. “You’re up to something.”
“I’m not going to dignify that question with an answer.”
Bridget narrowed her eyes. “Mark, the last time you said that, it didn’t really end well, or have you forgotten?”
He smiled. “Hardly, but this time I’m more confident about the outcome.”
“Which is what, precisely?”
“The sooner you open that envelope, the sooner you’ll have your answer.” He made to leave the room again, only to have Bridget seize his hand once more.
“I don’t think so. You’re not going anywhere.” With a resigned sigh, Mark acquiesced, knowing that time was both precious and unpredictable. Once he’d settled himself beside her, she slid open the first envelope and removed its contents.
Bridget, if you’re reading this, the house is quiet, and with any luck, you’ll reach the end without interruption. In the interest of time, however, I’ll endeavor to keep this brief. I’ve been reminded recently how fortunate I am—how fortunate you’ve made me. After you first realized you were pregnant with Billy, you might have chosen to build your family with or without anyone, but I hope you know, in case I’ve been remiss in telling you, how thankful I am that you’ve chosen to build it with me. It can, as my own mistakes have taught me, be far too easy to slip into a false sense of security—to take for granted those things we hold most precious. I hope, my love, that you never forget, and more importantly that I never allow myself to forget how much I treasure you. Yet having said all of this, I also hope that you never lose sight of who you are; being a wife, and being a mother have enriched your identity and deepened your capacity to love and be loved, but at your core, you are still a woman in your own right; you might, more often than not, be answering to ‘Mum’ these days, but you are and always will still be Bridget. I’ve devised a means for you to reconnect with that part of yourself, and I have only one directive: don’t argue.
I love you,
Eyes brimming with tears, Bridget turned her attention to the second envelope, containing information for the arranged full spa-day and a note from Jude.
Don’t argue. We’re doing this. You deserve it; hell, we all deserve it. I can’t remember the last time we were together like this, just the girls. Shaz still isn’t convinced it was entirely Mark’s idea, but I think we’ll let him have this one, because he obviously loves you.
“Oh, Mark.” Bridget wound her arms around him and leaned in to peck his cheek. “I love you; this is so sweet, but what brought this on?”
“Does there need to be a reason?” he challenged.
“No.” She pursed her lips; then added, “But is there one?”
Mark pulled her closer. “I felt guilty that we sort of let Valentine’s Day slide.”
“It wasn’t precisely high on the priority list, sweetie.”
“Well, that wasn’t all.”
“Oh?” Bridget lifted her head. “Am I about to find out what you and Jack were arguing about?”
“That wasn’t an argument. It was. . . a lively debate.”
“Pardon me, Mr Barrister. So what was this ‘lively debate’ about?”
“Jack just reminded me that if you want to hold onto what you have, you’d best not relax your grip.”
Bridget smiled and snuggled into the crook of his arm. “I think you’ve got a pretty firm hold on things, and speaking of having a hold on things--”
“Don’t.” Mark laid a finger over her lips. “I know what you’re going to say, and I won’t hear any objections. That was non-negotiable.”
“But what about childcare?” she protested.
“I’m going to make a concerted effort not to take offense at that.”
Bridget giggled. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—at least, it doesn’t seem fair, just to leave you holding down the fort.”
“You’re right,” agreed Mark. “It’s hardly a fair trade if you consider that nothing can ever quite match you having carried them around for nine months.”
“Hmm, when you put it like that, perhaps I should abandon you every weekend.”
Mark dipped his head to brush his lips against her ear. “I’d be willing to negotiate terms.”
“I love you,” whispered Bridget, linking her fingers through his. “And there was a point, before Billy was born, when everything got so muddled and I thought I’d lost you, that I did think about doing this on my own.” She paused and lifted her head, her gaze meeting his. “I’m glad I didn’t, though.”
Mark pressed her hand between both of his. “Me, too.” They remained like that, arms wrapped around each other, enveloped in the warm, quiet cocoon of an intimate moment, until Mabel’s cries pierced the silence.
“Stay,” Mark murmured, disentangling himself from the embrace and stretching. “I’ve got this.”
“Are you sure?”
For answer, he leaned down and touched his lips to hers. “Always.”