The Blue Rolls Royce turned down onto the cobblestone street, lined with houses twice as tall as Margaret’s former abode. Eddie Kessler opened the door.
Even though Mr. Rothstein promised to assist with her new apartment, she was still surprised to see the man himself. He was standing there, beaming at her, as she carried Emily up the walk. Teddy galloped by her side, chattering happily about the neighborhood—there was a small park just down the road and he was eager to play in it.
“Welcome to our apartments,” he called out jovially as she neared. She couldn’t help but grin as she thanked him, taking the key he dangled before her. “If you’ll just follow me.”
“What do you think, Emily?” Margaret whispered conspiratorially into her daughter’s ear as they neared the entrance. “Won’t this be nice?”
“It’s like a castle,” Emily remarked, craning her neck to survey the entirety of the building.
Mr. Rothstein bounded along behind them, with an energy she seldom saw from the man. He reached out to tickle Emily’s forearm. “Does that make you the Princess?” he asked with a smile that sent Emily into a fit of giggles.
He smiled broadly as he lifted the children out of the car, one after the other, and then assisted Margaret herself. “Let me help you, Mr. Kessler,” she insisted, but the man most assuredly refused. He gathered their luggage into his arms and led the way into the house.
Margaret walked into the lobby and spun in a circle, surveying the ornate ceiling. There were intricate white carvings—flowers, and spirals, and all sorts of elegant patterns—capped with touches of gold.
“All that for a ceiling,” Margaret remarked with amusement. All that for her.
Mr. Rothstein doffed his hat to a woman at the door and waved inside a man carrying furniture. He hurriedly returned to Margaret’s side, directing her towards the elevator. “And, for your convenience, should you ever find yourself tired, or laden with groceries, and for Emily’s ease and comfort…”
The three of them stepped inside. He kept glancing over at her as they rose from floor to floor, an ill-contained smile tugging at his lips.
“You needn’t act like such a salesmen. I already live here,” Margaret chided. She thought she saw a blush.
“I only want to make sure you’re happy,” he replied in his quiet voice, removing his hat.
Margaret opened her mouth to answer, but Emily was quicker. She reached out of her mother’s arms and tugged on Mr. Rothstein’s collar. “I am happy,” she informed him in a matter-of-fact voice.
He turned towards her with a large grin, eyes flitting to Margaret’s face for just a moment. “And that is what matters,” he said as he lightly tapped her nose with one finger.
The elevator stopped on the fourth floor and Mr. Rothstein ushered them out with an open arm. Margaret approached their new apartment door, turned the key in the lock, and stepped inside.
The house was more beautiful than she could have ever imagined. It was filled with fine furniture, artwork, toys for the children; it was truly a gorgeous display. It already looked like a home, only Margaret had a difficult time believing she was to live there.
“Emily, Teddy, be careful. Don’t break anything,” she called out as they ran from room to room.
“They break, it will be fixed.”
The rooms were sparse and empty, save for the few bits of furniture brought up already by the movers. The floors were a well-polished wood, and the walls freshly painted and blank. It was bright, with large windows letting in a flood of sunshine. Her shoes echoed on the floor.
She turned back around and smiled; Mr. Rothstein visibly relaxed. “I like it very much,” she assured him.
Mr. Kessler moved about, opening the curtains, explaining the arrangements to Margaret. She stood in stunned silence. It reminded her of the home where she had been in service, only now it all belonged to her. No, it was not hers. It was Mr. Thompson’s; it was his generosity.
“Upstairs there is a room for the boy, a room for the girl, and a master bedroom.”
Margaret turned in a slow circle, her eyes on the ceiling. “It’s very beautiful,” she complimented with uncertainty. It was almost too much.
“I look forward to seeing how it looks once you’ve settled in.” He paused suddenly, and glanced down, studying the brim of his hat. “My apologies. That was rather impertinent of me. Your home is your own, and I’ll not intrude.”
Margaret looked him over, a small frown on her face. She found him altogether curious. One minute, he was inquiring about her salary, her living arrangements, her plans for the apartment… The next, he was tripping over himself to appear courteously disinterested in her affairs.
She shifted Emily in her arms and walked towards him slowly. He glanced up with uncertainty; his look reminded her of Teddy, when he was impolite or otherwise misbehaving and feared his mother’s reprimand.
“Perhaps I will give you a call once we’ve unpacked. There’s no impertinence in accepting an invitation.”
“Yes, good. Missus, I go now.” Mr. Kessler seemed to be in quite the hurry to take his leave of her. He bustled past, without so much as a farewell.
She turned towards him, hesitance and worry across her face. “Do I wait for Mr. Thompson?”
Margaret understood that he was a busy man, but the situation itself was rather confusing. Where was she to go, when would Mr. Thompson come to see her, would she be expected to meet him somewhere else? Thankful though she was, Margaret wanted to understand what was expected of her.
“He will call,” Mr. Kessler answered.
So she would wait.
One of the moving men appeared at the door, carrying two large boxes. “Ma’am,” he said, inclining his head. Teddy ran in beside him, toting a suitcase. “You’ve got quite a little helper here,” the moving man said and placed the boxes down by the door. He ruffled Teddy’s hair and disappeared to collect more of their things.
“Wait, if you’d please—” Margaret called, but the man was already gone. Teddy was running about her legs, swinging the suitcase around, shouting about how the moving men all thought he was so strong. “Stop it, you’re going to hurt yourself—Teddy, please—”
But he too ran off without hearing her words, poking his head from door to door. “Is this my bedroom?” he exclaimed.
Emily writhed in her mother’s grasp. “I want to see, I want to see!”
“Here.” Mr. Rothstein stepped towards her and held open his arms. He gave a gentle, placating smile. “I’ll take Emily on a tour. You worry about your belongings—and Teddy’s enthusiasm.”
“That’s very kind,” Margaret remarked, kissing her daughter’s temple. “What do you think? Would you like to go with Mr. Rothstein?”
Emily chirped her excited agreement. The two of them tried to shift the girl from Margaret’s arms to his, forming an awkward sort of embrace with Emily wedged in the middle. Margaret did not let go until she was absolutely certain that Mr. Rothstein had a hold on her.
He looked quite sweet with the little girl clinging to his neck, her eyes roving around eagerly as she took in the sights from her new vantage point, even though Mr. Rothstein himself was not especially tall. He held her carefully, mirroring Margaret. “Let’s see what we can find, shall we?”
Margaret called out as the man turned to leave. The question had been nagging at her since they parked outside; the need for its answer had been troubling her mind for a great number of nights. “Is he nice to you, Mr. Kessler?”
Mr. Kessler froze, as though surprised by the question. He did not seem to believe it was of any great importance; Margaret, however, understood otherwise. The kindness of an employer spoke much more to a person’s character than the kindness of a lover.
“Nucky? Yes, he is nice. Mr. Thompson is a very nice man.”
She believed him.
Margaret carried the boxes from the door into the kitchen, setting them atop her new counter. She could hear Teddy’s merry, incessant chatter over the clinking of plates as she put them away. He had been a ball of energy all morning, his feet pounding against the floor as he ran back and forth. Underneath his fuss, there was a quiet murmur—Emily’s gentle voice, punctuated by the occasional quiet laugh from Mr. Rothstein.
Teddy bounded into the room and flung himself around his mother’s leg. He stared up at her, eyes bright underneath his mop of blond hair. “Can we stay? Can we?”
“For as long as you like,” Mr. Rothstein answered, appearing in the doorway with Emily. The little girl had nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck. Her eyes were obscured behind his bow tie, but her smile was large and unmistakable.
Margaret stroked Teddy’s hair, her eyes fixed on her daughter and Mr. Rothstein.
“Of course we will," she said. "We'll stay for as long as we choose."