December was a calm time for Grey House, but guests still came to Middleton to take in the season and Cassie's hospitality was as well-known as ever. She wandered through the house putting the finishing touches on decorations. Any visitor to the bed and breakfast would never be able to tell that the owner preferred Halloween to Christmas as a holiday. The old house gleamed and sparkled with twinkle lights, pine branches and Christmas trees strategically placed for both guests and her family to enjoy.
She smiled happily; it had been a while, she realised, that she had felt this content. She had found love again and married the man who brought new joy into her life. Jake, her late husband, would always be a part of her journey and she had her Grace, but the past year with Sam had been wonderful—they were as happy as any newlywed couple could be. They had spent a memorable first anniversary weekend in Chicago, and Cassie was beginning to get a feeling that change was, once again, on the horizon for the Nightingale-Radford clan.
"Welcome to Grey House. I'm Cassie," she smiled as the small family came through the door.
"This looks lovely," said the young woman taking in her surroundings. "I'm Caroline and this my husband, Ian, and daughter Ellie."
"Oh, thank you, Caroline. My husband, Sam, and I decorated it this year," Cassie replied giving her the room key. "What a sweetie," she continued motioning to the small child in her father's arms.
"Oh, thanks. Ellie's quite a handful, but at 18 months old they usually are, right?"
They all laughed making the little girl giggle as well.
"Well, it's been a long time since my daughter was 18 months. She's actually 18 years old and finishing her first semester of university," Cassie added.
"I can't even imagine Ellie at that age," the father declared, kissing his daughter's cheek.
"Well, it will probably come faster than you realise, so enjoy her," Cassie said nostalgically. "And, your room is on the second floor and there is a crib for Ellie that is ready."
"And, there is tea and cakes in the kitchen if you're hungry. Finally, feel free to ask myself, my husband, or George, who keeps Grey House ship-shape, if you need anything."
"Great. Thanks. "
"Yeah, thank you." Both parents said before making their way to their room.
Cassie eyes followed the family up the stairs and around the corner as Nick walked through the front door noting that his step-mother had not yet acknowledged his presence as she usually did.
"Hey Cassie," he announced.
"Oh, Nick," she turned around, somewhat startled by his sudden presence. "I didn't realise you were here."
That was odd, Nick thought. Cassie and all the Merriwicks had an uncanny ability to know when people had arrived in the room without even seeing them, particularly their loved ones.
"Yeah, final exam done. First semester of university done," he said triumphantly.
Nick had come back home for Halloween. It hadn't taken her and Sam long to realise that, despite his positivity, California wasn't working for him. In the end, it turned out, attending university a little closer to his father and step-mother was what he needed and they were both happy to oblige the young man.
"Well, your Dad has a late shift at Hillcrest today and I've checked the last guests into Grey House—Ian, Caroline and Ellie, their 18 month-old. So, I'm headed back to the Bell, Book and Candle, but George is in the garden."
"Great! I'll go out and see if he needs any help," he said dropping his bag on the floor.
"Ok. See you later."
Cassie shook her head and smiled. Even though her step-son had not been Middleton's biggest fan when he first arrived, it seemed that now he wasn't quite ready to leave, which was fine with her. With Nick still home, Cassie felt a part of Grace was still around too.
The co-chief of staff at Hillcrest Hospital made his afternoon rounds. He loved being back in a hospital, and finding a balance between his practice in town, running a hospital and maintaining a happy home life with his magical wife was worth all its efforts, he reflected. He was happier than he had been in a long time.
Suddenly, he realised he reached the maternity ward. He rarely set foot in ward and how or why he had come there now, he really didn't know. His usual route took him through the ER where he would find himself helping work through the arrivals.
Adam Hawkins brought him out of his thoughts with a pat on his shoulder. "Hey, Doc," he said with a cheery smile. "I don't think I've ever seen you in maternity."
"Yeah, I don't usually make it to this wing of the hospital."
"Nostalgia for the old days with a baby," Adam replied with a small chuckle. Sam raised his eyebrows with such a look of surprise that the hospital chaplain thought he sensed apprehension at the thought. "Only joking, Doc."
"Yeah, yeah of course. Besides my kid returned to the nest," Sam said. "Not that we mind. It's nice, but I was actually getting used to it being just me and Cass, and now…it's not."
"Well, then you just have to keep finding those little ways to steal moments together."
Sam smiled and nodded at his friend.
"But," Adam continued, "You can't deny that all these little new guys and gals are amazing."
"They are," he agreed. "I'm just glad mine are 18 years and not 18 hours old.
Adam laughed at Sam's reflection, leaving him with a wave and a farewell. Once again, Sam looked through the glass viewing window, still puzzled as to why he had wandered this way today.