A/N: Hi! First, I know I said there would an epilogue but I found in writing this chapter that this is really is the last word to the Grace saga. Perhaps I will return to the Grace universe and write some short drabbles but this completes this story in the best way that I know how to.
More importantly, I have to thank Faeyero, for ALL of her help–editing, talking, bouncing ideas off of you–you've really done it all. Everyone owes you a thank you because without your encouragement, I don't know if I would have finished this story. You knew I had a story to tell and you've been there every step of the way since I first asked for a beta.
I must also thank YOU, the reader. There are SO many of you who have commented since the very first chapter was posted; I would love to name you all now but am too afraid to forget someone (I will be messaging you all privately, however, over the next week(s). Thank YOU to everyone who has joined in along the way, as well! And to ALL OF YOU, for your patience during my move, and as the chapters became longer and were therefore slower in coming. I COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU, TRULY! Please, please, please...if you've been reading this story...or you happen upon it later...will you drop me a review and let me know what you think? It has certainly been a labor of love, for Faeyero and I, quite literally in some chapters :) Finally, feel free to drop me a line here, or ask me questions on my tumblr: Ladonnaingenua . It can be a question about the plot or anything really. Without further ado...
Chapter Fifty Eight
"John is a nice name," Granny admitted from her perch on the chair, her walking stick in both hands, as she peered at her great grandchild. "Some may think it common but I think it very strong."
"But his name isn't 'John,'" Mary reminded her with a smile, though her eyes were trained on the baby who looked up at her with icy blue eyes and squirmed a bit in his swaddling blanket. "It's Jack."
"Isn't 'Jack' a nickname for 'John'?" Cora asked sweetly. She could not stop staring at her grandson, her daughter and her grandson, the way Mary held him and kissed his head with its downy black hair. She'd never expected Mary to be such a good mother. She'd never thought of it. But if there was anything that Cora had learned these past eight months, it was that Mary was an exceptional mother. "He's so beautiful," Cora repeated her earlier sentiments again, with tears in her eyes.
"His sister has named him Jack." Matthew insisted, smiling and pressed a kiss to Gracie's head. Father and daughter sat in his old chair from university. She was sleepy. Having a baby brother was so exciting, she was nearly worn out.
"Gracie do it," she claimed proudly as she blinked several times.
"Gracie did it," Mary corrected and affirmed gently.
"Speaking of Jack's sister," Matthew said, grinning, and stood with Gracie in his arms, "I think it's time for a story in the rocking chair." In other words, it was time for a nap.
"Jack too?" Gracie asked as she wound her arms around her father's neck and pressed her cheek to his heart. "Please. My Jack."
"Not this time, darling." Matthew kissed her again, this time on the nose. He'd all but forgotten the audience. "This time is just for Papa and Gracie."
His answer settled her and her lips curved into the smile of a child who knows she is loved completely and wholly, without exception. "Yes. Papa. Gracie."
"Yes," he whispered into her curls as he exited the room. "Just us two."
Cora watched them the whole time, her eyes never leaving the duo.
Not much later, she eavesdropped on the tail end of Matthew's story. It seemed a frightful tale of a dragon and other fearsome creatures (though Grace's bloodthirsty attitude was obvious when she corrected him that the dragon was "very big," and "green," and "scary") which in the end were all slain by the beautiful Princess Gracie and her companion, Baby the dog. Some silence passed, in which Cora could hear the chair continue to rock, but Grace's voice had murmured off to sleep. Still, Matthew kept rocking her, and even as Cora peeked around the doorway to see, she knew there was nowhere else in the world her son-in-law would rather be–not with his son, or his wife, but with this child who was not his flesh and blood but was his all the same. He loved her. It was as simple as that and yet so miraculous that Cora could feel a lump growing in her throat.
How awful she had been to him.
Still, she could not help watching as he lifted the girl in his arms and walked towards the crib. "Sweet dreams, my darling girl," he whispered before pressing a kiss to her forehead and laying her in the crib. "Sweet dreams, my darling Gracie."
Silent tears poured from Cora's eyes. She had gotten everything so terribly, terribly wrong. She'd been jealous and hurt. She'd failed and lashed out. And all the while Matthew was here–stalwart, strong Matthew–taking care of her grandchild, his child.
If Matthew was surprised to see his mother-in-law crying in the doorway, he did not show it. He did, however, close the door to Gracie's room (no longer the nursery, he supposed) all the way.
"I'm so sorry," Cora blurted out. "For everything."
He smiled. She could not tell if he was just being polite or if he meant it. "It's all right, Cora."
"No, it isn't." She shook her head. "You love that girl, you love them all, so much...I was jealous and mean-spirited. I was unfair. I was wrong."
"Yes," Matthew agreed and grew more somber. "You were wrong. I would do anything at all for Gracie. I would do anything at all for Jack. There is no difference to me, be it blood or gender." Cora nodded her head, pressed her lips together to keep from crying out. "However, I can understand–I can try to understand–how you might have seen things..."
Cora let out a wet laugh. "Oh, please don't try to understand. Only know how very sorry I am. How very much I wish I could take back what I've said and how I acted, not just to you but to Sybil and Tom. Mary, as well. And Gracie, of course."
"That's the grandest part of it, Cora," he told her, this time smiling, grinning really, patting her shoulder. "You have time to change, to be different."
"Time," she repeated, reverently, as if she'd never heard the word before. "Yes. Time."
Granny wasn't the only one perplexed by Jack's name. Everyone, including Isobel, including Sybil, asked if he was to be christened 'John.' "No," Mary replied, each time growing more testy. "His name is Jack. Just look at his face. Does he look like a 'John' to you?"
Anyone with half a brain knew there was only one answer to that question.
There was only one person who did not question his name and that was Mary's father, who had faithfully bought Gracie every copy of Jack and the Beanstalk he had been able to find before Jack even entered the world, just special gifts for his granddaughter. Mary tried to forgive him for coming later than the others for that simple fact alone.
"Why, of course he is Jack," Robert boasted proudly and, without knowing his daughter's earlier words to the question of his grandson's name, repeated: "Look at his face. He could hardly be anyone else other than 'Jack.'" His eyes twinkled. "I suppose Gracie had something to do with that."
"Of course she did," Mary replied, adding a bit petulantly, "But you've missed her. Because you're so late in coming. Matthew's already put her down to bed."
"I'm sorry, Mary." But he didn't look sorry.
"What was so important that you stayed away from your daughter and new grandchild?" she asked testily. Matthew, sensing where the conversation was headed, leaned forward and took the baby from her, standing and walking the room with him, watching his son's sleeping face, so blissfully relaxed and comforted in his arms, instead of his wife's angry one. "Didn't you care to see us then?" And because Matthew knew that it was for Robert and Mary to work out, he did not go to her, though he wanted to, when he heard her voice tremble with tears at her question.
"Of course!" Robert huffed. "But there are renovations being done to Downton Abbey and I had certain responsibilities–"
"Oh, that stupid house!" Mary wailed and Jack let out a little wail himself, hearing his mother's cry, so she lowered her voice. "It will always come back to that, won't it, Papa? I'm still not as important as that house."
"Sit back," Robert blustered. "Calm yourself."
"Do not tell me to calm myself!"
"For God's sake!" Matthew whispered over the baby he held in his arms. "You two are the most stubborn pair of people I've ever known." He ignored Mary's raised eyebrow. "Will you just tell her what you were having done to the house, Robert?" He looked at his father-in-law. Then he looked at his wife. "And then perhaps we can quit the melodramatics."
"I'll show you melodramatics later!" she warned in a low voice.
"I'm having a billiards room put in," Robert announced brightly, as if the rest of the conversation hadn't taken place. "They are all the rage now and I wanted one so I am set on having one."
Mary's seething gaze left her husband to find her father's eyes. "A billiards room? That's what is so important! You're putting an addition on to the house so you can shoot little balls into holes with sticks?"
"It's actually quite a refined sport–" Matthew stopped Robert by coughing rather loudly. "No, there is no addition."
"Then you're just adding one of those tables to one of the rooms. What is there to oversee? Isn't Carson capable?" Mary snapped, and before Matthew could comment she turned to glare at him. "You stay out of this."
"It wasn't just about putting a table in a room," Robert said with more patience than he had shown in the rest of the conversation combined. "I wanted this particular room completely changed, completely different. And I wanted it done before the baby was born."
Mary sniffed. "What room? What does Jack have to do with any of this?"
Robert looked down at his hands, his useless hands. "We have one library." He cleared his throat. "I no longer saw the need for a second, smaller one. The paint needed changing, the wood carvings redone. I think you will find it wholly different when you're well enough to see it."
Mary was quiet for a long moment. Some part of her was aware that her father was sitting beside her offering her something more precious than any gift he'd ever given her. Another part of her could dimly hear the baby begin to stir because he was hungry. "A billiards room then?"
He reached for her hand on the bed and held tight. "A billiards room."
"Hmm." She did not feel the tears on her cheeks. "A billiards room. Where men go to have brandy and port and smoke cigars. And no one reads books."
"Who would read a book in a billiards room?" Robert asked, and he was crying too.
If Gracie had been there, she would have asked, "Happy? Sad?" because if anything, her mother's pregnancy had taught her that there were different kinds of tears. And if Gracie had been there and asked her grandfather and mother if their tears were happy or sad, they would have stared at her as if she spoke some unknown language, because there was no word for the type of tears they cried. There was not a word that Gracie could understand–there was not a word in the human language to describe the tears that fell freely down their cheeks to their chins. These were tears filled with I am sorry.
Don't be sorry.
But if...You couldn't have. And now, it's useless.
It isn't; it never was.
But if only I had...
If only I had.
It wasn't your fault.
And it wasn't your fault either.
Do you think we can go back?
Can we learn to protect each other and trust each other?
Have a care with one another, you mean?
Yes, can we learn to have a care.
I always cared.
I didn't know what to say or how to show it.
Neither did I.
I am so lost and lonely and filled to the brim with love all at once.
It's spilling out of my eyes, this love.
Can you love me?
Will you hold on to me if I try to hold you?
In the end, all Mary managed to say was, "I cannot wait to best you at billiards...and with a cigar in my mouth, too."
Her father rolled his eyes. "Really, Mary. A cigar?"
Later that night, Mary and Matthew discovered the cradle fit best on Matthew's side of the bed, out of the pathway to the bathroom. "We'll have to switch sides then," Mary said, curling into his arms as they both watched the sleeping baby. She couldn't describe the way she felt. She wanted to turn her face to Matthew's and weep. She had so many feelings inside of her. It had not been like this after Gracie; she'd written in a letter to Granny–Gracie made me strong. There had been no tears then. But Mary thought, perhaps, that if Gracie had made her strong, Jack had opened her up, to feel, to breathe, to live...freely. And it hurt, like a wound's first exposure to the very fresh air that would heal it completely. It was time her wounds were bathed in fresh air, she realized. It was time to heal, all of the way, the whole way.
"Why would we do that?" Matthew asked, kissing her hair, the same hair Gracie had, the same hair Jack had. He couldn't know what was going on inside of his wife's head but he knew something had changed. She cried more easily, perhaps. But she smiled more easily as well.
"Because he's going to wake up more than a couple of times in the middle of the night, Matthew. I don't expect you to play nursemaid," she replied.
He slid his hand into her hair, touching her cheek, tilting her face up. "Has it occurred to you that I'm a light sleeper and will wake no matter what side of the bed he's on?" He brushed his lips to hers.
She shook her head. "You're right. This will not do at all. You must sleep in your dressing room."
He shook with quiet laughter. "Mary, first you push me to the other side of the bed and now you've put me in the dressing room." He kissed her again, this time more thoroughly. "Let me decide where I want to be."
Before these last few months, before Jack, the next words she uttered would have been such hard, hard words to say. She would have been afraid to ask these hard words; she would have backed away from them.
Her hand rose and her fingers circled his wrist. "Where do you want to be, Matthew?"
Where do you want to be?
"Here," he replied easily, laying them both back. "Just so. With you."
Here. Just so. With you. She fell asleep with his whisper in her ear.
Later, she heard them in the dark–her men. "Shh, now, Jack," Matthew murmured. "Papa's got you. And Mama's right here to fill up your belly." Automatically, without opening her eyes, she began to unbutton her nightgown. "There she is," Matthew whispered. "Your beautiful Mama." For a moment, the babe quieted as if he could see it too–how beautiful Mary was unbuttoning her nightgown in the winter moonlight. Matthew passed him to Mary and within seconds he was suckling. She sighed.
"You're tired," Matthew noted.
"A bit," she replied as she rubbed her nose with the back of her free hand. "But it comes with the job."
"I suppose it does," he replied softly, watching her, watching Jack lay his hand–a few shades darker than Mary's skin, more like Matthew's own–against her breast, flexing now and again. When he looked up, Mary was watching him and he colored. "It's just...I just...it's beautiful, really. The way you wrote about it in your letters, I knew what it meant to you and I could imagine it, but to see it, to see the way he knows you and to see you with your nightgown like that...I have so many feelings in my chest I might burst."
She leaned over and gave him a sleepy kiss, the baby continuing to nurse between them. "I love you. So much." I want to be here. Just so. With you.
The fourth time Jack woke, near dawn, Matthew had to shake Mary's shoulder and help her with the buttons. He laid the baby in her arms and the baby did the rest while Mary's eyes were only slits. "How are you not exhausted?" she asked, dreamily. Do you still want to be here, just so, with me?
"Well, I watched you do the hard part, Mary," he began–but she was already asleep. He waited for Jack to finish and then put him back in the cradle before returning to Mary and buttoning the tiny buttons for her.
"I did this with Gracie," she slurred. "I woke up. I wasn't remiss in my duties, I swear it."
He smiled, kissed the top of one of her breasts, near her heart. "I know that. God, Mary. You were alone. You had to wake up. But you aren't alone anymore."
You aren't alone anymore.
I am with you. Where I want to be. Just so.
As she floated off into an exhausted sleep, she knew it was true. And she did not dream.
The night with its multiple feedings was a blur and Matthew had declared that today she must rest. Still, just before she was about to feed Jack his lunch, Matthew and Gracie came through the door. Guess who is here to see you?" Matthew asked cheerfully, while he tried to communicate something strange with the movement of his eyebrows.
"Dithy!" Gracie cheered.
Indeed, it was Edith, with cheeks a bit rounder from the pregnancy, red from the cold winter air. "Come in," Mary asked her with a smile.
"Let's let Aunt Edith and Mama talk alone, darling," Matthew told Gracie, his hand in hers.
"Why?" she asked (another of her new favorite words), and Mary could hear Matthew begin to explain that Dithy and Mama were siblings just as Jack and Gracie...before the door shut, leaving them in complete privacy.
"I'm sorry for not coming sooner," Edith proclaimed from the foot of the bed. "I should have."
Mary shook her head. "It doesn't matter. You've come now. Come sit."
"Mary, I'm afraid," Edith replied in a whisper, one of her hands grasping Mary's foot through the blankets. "I'm afraid to look at him, to think...I would hate myself for thinking anything ugly about...what have you named him, then?"
"Gracie named him," Mary smiled. "Jack. And I...understand your fear. I'm so sorry, Edith. So sorry." Mary began to cry. "I wish–"
"Why did you never tell me? About Gracie and about...about what happened to you?" Edith looked down. "I said such hateful things to you about your perfect life. And I only said half of what I actually thought. I was so...jealous. And mean."
"You didn't know," Mary whispered.
"And I didn't make it easy for you to tell me, either," Edith snapped, all of her anger reserved for herself. "What kind of person...what kind of sister...?"
"I could have told you, Edith," Mary whispered. "But I hated–hate–to speak of it. Truth be told, I've always preferred your anger to your pity. I didn't want you thinking of me in some room, ruined..."
"I've always preferred your anger, too," Edith replied. "But you were there in my room, when I was...It is completely different, but you saw me, ruined. You saw me and you loved me. Perhaps you loved me more because you were in that room with me."
"Oh, Edith," Mary cried, just as Jack let out a wail. "He's hungry," she murmured, tears blinding her eyes as she tried to unbutton with one hand while holding the baby.
"Let me," Edith said, and without thinking she took Jack into her arms. She looked into his face, saw Mary's lips and chin, Matthew's eyes. She wondered if he would be able to raise an eyebrow like his mother. "Hello, there. You are just lovely, aren't you, Jack?" Mary's hands stilled on the buttons, listening, her heart aching. "You'll get your luncheon soon enough. I'm your Aunt Edith...or Dithy, like your sister calls me. Oh, I bet your sister just adores you!" Jack stopped crying and looked up at her. He wrapped his fingers around one of Edith's fingers, near his face. "Look how strong you are! Strong and handsome! Oh, you are just the sweetest...Here is your Mama." She handed Mary the baby and sat beside her sister. "It's all right if I stay, isn't it?"
"Of course," Mary replied, trying not to cry.
Edith watched for seconds before whispering. "It's lovely. I didn't think...They say it hurts."
"It does," Mary replied. "But you get used to it."
"I'd like that," Edith said, her hand over her barely there belly. "I'd like to get used to it."
Mary reached for Edith's hand. She did not grab it. Instead, she locked pinkies with her sister. Edith looked shocked. "You will. I know you will."
"Oh, Mary," she whispered. "I am so sorry. So sorry for everything. I wish that I could..."
"And I wish that I could," Mary added softly. "Let's do better, let's be better, for each other, all right?"
"Yes." Edith's smile was lovely. "Yes." She let out a squeal. "He is such a beautiful baby, Mary. And is it true? Did Gracie really name him?"
"Gracie do it," Mary mimicked and Edith laughed, brushing away her tears.
"I adore that girl, I do. She reminds me of someone I used to know," Edith winked.
"Perhaps a bit kinder," Mary noted.
Edith shook her head. That didn't matter now. "I wonder what Jack will be like, when he's old enough to talk back to her."
"Oh, she's already claimed him. 'My Jack,' she says, at every opportunity." Mary laughed.
"You used to do the same with Sybil," Edith recalled. "You'd carry her around the house telling everyone this was your baby, Lady Sybil."
"Oh!" Mary giggled. "You're right. I was too little to do that with you. We were so close in age. But do you know, a few months ago, I remembered this day, near the seashore. You were tiny. Old enough to hold your head up though, maybe to toddle about, too. You had this giant bonnet on your head, no doubt one of Mama's choices..."
"Of course," Edith smiled and squeezed Mary's pinky.
"And your hair was very blond, nearly yellow. The wind had it blowing around your face. I wanted to tell you that you were a beautiful baby, just beautiful."
Edith began slowly. Some words were so hard to say aloud, to even admit to oneself. "I was afraid to come here. Especially when I heard it was a boy. I was afraid I would look at your baby and see Patrick. But I don't. I look at this baby and I see only Jack." She paused and wet her lips. "I never thanked you. For taking care of him, for taking care of Patrick. For trying to take care of me. I couldn't thank you then."
"You don't have to," Mary assured her as they both wept.
"But I want to!" Edith cried. "So thank you, Mary. Thank you so much for taking care of me and my son and for loving him, while he was here, and not forgetting him now that he is gone."
"I won't forget," Mary promised. Edith laid her head on Mary's knees next to the baby and cried silently. "I couldn't."
Mary remembered Matthew talking about when he began to feel things in his legs again, how dreadful it was to hope that the tingle was real and not something phantom, how sharp the edge of hope and despair could be when something once dead came back to life. While Mary held the baby to her breast and he expertly suckled, she petted Edith's hair. She felt as if the room were filled with equal parts hope and despair, that they would drown here, in this place, halfway between death and rebirth–and it was just as Matthew had said, sharp, difficult, sweet, and aching.
She did the only thing she could do. She did what Matthew had done. She rode it out, holding her son and her sister, and when Edith lifted her head and Jack switched to her other breast, it all hurt, ached a little less. She knew things were coming back to life and death had nothing to do with it.
After dinner and while Matthew was putting Gracie to sleep, Sybil knocked lightly on her sister's door. "Mary, I don't mean to bother you but have you seen..." She stopped speaking when she saw the person she'd been looking for–her husband–holding new baby Jack, very comfortably in a chair at Mary's bedside. "Traitor," she sneered at him. "Do you realize that I just had to wrestle our eldest child into bed? While carrying a very hungry Maggie about? It's blind luck they're both asleep now."
"Sybil," he said cheerfully, his eyes on Jack. "I've decided we ought to have another baby."
"You've decided?" she asked, and Mary could practically see smoke coming out of her ears. "You've decided? After I dealt with the ones we have alone tonight? After we both decided it would be good to wait a time between Maggie and the next?"
"I know but..." Tom kept his eyes on the baby. "Come here," he commanded.
Sybil did not like to be commanded anywhere so she huffed with her hands on her hips as she walked over. "Yes, Tom. I've seen him. I've held him. He's a beautiful baby. He's our nephew and I love him but you aren't even listening to me...Tom!" she twisted his ear.
"Ouch!" he squealed just as Matthew entered and wisely closed the door. "Jesus forgive my wife. She knows not what violence she does to me," Tom prayed mournfully before winking at the baby. "But seriously, love, look at him. All new and fresh. Just waiting to be cuddled."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, are you already tired of the ones we have?'
"Sybil," he chided. "Stop it."
"Actually," Matthew cleared his throat. "We've been wanting to get you two alone for the last few days but there have been so many visitors...We wanted to thank you for all the help you've given."
"It's nothing," Tom replied before Sybil smacked him on the head while whispering, "As if you havedone anything!"
"Again, Lord, my wife...she doesn't–"
"Anyway," Mary spoke over Tom and her sister. They were like new kittens, swiping at one another with useless claws only to sleep curled up around one another in the next moment. "We wanted you to know we've named him Jack Thomas Crawley."
Tom, for once in his life, went silent. "You mean, you've...?"
"I think we would have chosen it regardless but then there was that morning when you stayed with me in the hospital, and I just don't think I can express how grateful I was for that and, of course, before that, Sybil showed me the dedication of your book–" Mary explained.
For Robbie, Gracie, Maggie, _ ...and the ones who come after. English or Irish, or a bit of both, I have no doubt you'll all set the world afire with your courage and brains. You are so loved.
Tom peered up at his weeping wife. "You showed her? But your promised..." he whined.
"Oh, do shut up!" she sniffled.
"You are family, Tom. You're my brother and Matthew's, as well. I don't know how we would have gotten through these last months without you. And...you waited five years for my sister. Five years." Mary laughed. "Matthew and I never could wait five minutes for one another, let alone years. But not you. You are steadfast and patient and certain in your love. You would risk anything, everything for someone you love because you know sometimes there are worthy risks to be taken. I...we want Jack to be very much like the man who waited five years for my sister, who stole her in the night and then let her go, who built a life with her, and has loved her unceasingly."
Sybil was quietly sobbing into her hands, her shoulders shaking, before she wiped her tears away and laid a kiss on Tom's hair. "You forgot that he is very funny, Mary. Very funny and funny looking. I hope our next child has my looks and his sense of humor."
Tom could have said a million things in that moment. But he was smart and he was wise and he knew Crawley women, Crawley mothers in particular, and didn't feel like sopping up tears for days. Finally, around the lump in his throat, he only murmured, "You honor me, Mary." But he had to add something, of course. Because he was Tom and he was funny. And he made Mary and Sybil laugh through their tears consistently. "I'll teach him the best Irish curse words. Don't you worry about that," Tom promised.
Mary hiccuped out a laugh.
Life did not slow down. Though those first few weeks were hazy and Mary was exhausted she could not remember ever feeling so happy nor crying as much. If she thought pregnancy hormones were bad, they were nothing compared to watching Matthew carry Baby up the stairs that first time and lay her on the bed where Mary held Gracie and Gracie held Jack. "Jack. Mama. Papa. Baby. Gracie," Gracie had recited. "Family." And Gracie's hair absorbed the worst of Mary's tears.
She was completely, thrillingly open and free.
The firm had given Matthew time off, not just because of the baby but because of the attack on Mary. As far as the town knew, Richard Carlisle was a lunatic who deserved to die after what he'd done to Lady Mary and to his poor wife. And if any gossip mongers ever dared wonder why Richard Carlisle had been allowed inside Crawley House in the first place, the baker–Gretchen–or the Innkeepers–Mr. and Mrs. Bates–corrected them civilly before ordering them off their premises and telling them never to return. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bates ran the only inn in town and Gretchen made the best sweets, any rumors died away, suffocated by Crawley loyalists.
Travers christened the baby Jack Thomas Crawley and Jack Thomas Crawley squawked like a little bird when he was placed into the the man's unfamiliar arms and water poured onto his dark hair. He howled as Travers tried to recite the words from the Book of Common Prayer...We receive this child–and Jack batted the book hard enough that old Travers' fingers slipped and it fell into the Holy Water–and Mary laughed into her handkerchief and Tom whispered good shot, boy-o, before Travers rolled his eyes and continued the service from memory.
Mary and Matthew had asked Travers to baptize Gracie, as well. He'd been astounded: You've yet to baptize this child? Mary had colored and wanted to screech at the man before Matthew had lied through his teeth. Yes, but the family wasn't there. And we would like the family to see Gracie be baptized.
Travers had peered at them and Mary had wanted to take his nose in her hand and squeeze. It was the first time she had left the house and Sybil and Tom were watching the children while she and Matthew dealt with this pathetic excuse for a man. And then suddenly the words had come to her, as she remembered Granny commanding Travers to baptize the already dead baby Patrick: Shall I get my Granny involved, Mr. Travers?
So Mr. Travers said the words for Gracie as well, christening her Grace Violet Crawley, while Violet complained that something was in her eye and wasn't it peculiar to have allergies in the wintertime? Gracie had stood very still, very solemn, as Travers poured the water over her head, and for a moment Mary had thought she'd caught a glimpse of what an adult Gracie would be like. But then the image had gone and her daughter stood, nearly two years and six months, laughing gaily.
Mary and Matthew had three weeks to watch Gracie make up nonsense lullabies for her brother, to watch Baby learn to limp on three legs, to admire Jack's growth, his smiles and little cooing. It reminded Mary so very much of New York when they had the time to learn how to be a family of three. Now, they learned to be a family of four, five if one included Baby, which Mary very much did.
Long after Matthew had forgiven Cora, Mary forgave her as well, when with the help of Matthew and Mosley, Cora presented Mary with a rocking chair that looked exactly like Gracie's. "They should each have their own," Cora said. "Don't you think? So Gracie can continue to be rocked as well? Shouldn't both of them be rocked by their Mama and Papa?" She asked her questions eagerly, as if she wanted to be liked and chosen by the teacher. She twisted her hands together and for a moment it was painfully awkward before she added again, "The both of them. Both."
"Oh, Mama!" Mary cried out, because if there was anything that melted her heart it was a rocking chair. And then Cora told Mary how she, as a young mother, would wake in the middle of the night and go to Mary's nursery and rock her, though she wasn't restless, just so she could hold her baby girl, so that it was just the two of them in that big quiet house, when she'd been so lonely. She'd been so young and lost in a country that wasn't her own, in a house full of people still unsure of her. And then there was you, my Mary, who did need me, who loved me. You didn't mind my accent or the way I dressed. And I wasn't lonely anymore.
For the first time in so long, she did not think Cora silly in the slightest. Mary knew how it felt to find solace only in a babe, as you rocked and rocked. Instead, in a rusty voice, she replied, "It is hard to be lonely in a rocking chair with a baby in your arms."
Most everything they did together, in tandem, a team in every sense of the word. When they opened Mrs. Larsen's box together they found it filled to the brim with lacy nightgowns and silk robes. Her note was perfectly sufficient to make Mary and Matthew laugh together until their sides ached, especially since Mary read it in a cigarette-tinged New York accent. My man and I are happy there is another Crawley in the world. I am not a vain woman but the way I see it, all the advice and the nightgowns I gave Mary contributed to this little boy's existence and you should thank me, very, very much. You should thank me by visiting, when he is old enough, and by giving Gracie a squeeze for me, and for thinking of me every time you wear one of these lovely garments. Scratch that last part. I only wrote it to make Matthew blush. Silly, silly, man. Remember your wife needs time to heal. Don't pounce on her like a heathen. Are you a gentleman or what?
All my love,
And in the night, though for now they could not turn to one another as they might have done months ago, a rhythm grew between them and Mary sometimes wondered what she'd done before him and what they had done before Jack. And of course, Gracie. What had her life been before all of them?
But this night they lay awake while the baby slept in his cradle and Baby the dog slept on the corner of the bed. Matthew's arms tightened around her. Her toes found his calf. "I don't want to go to work tomorrow," he confessed. He'd said such a thing once before, after they'd returned from New York, and it did feel like they were returning from special place.
She lifted her head to look at him, her hair falling around their faces. "I don't want you to go."
"I'll miss things," he whispered, "I'll miss his first steps, his first words..."
"We are a long way from that, Matthew," she smiled. "And you won't miss things. You pay attention. All the time. To all of us. And I don't want you to go. But I also think, if another month went by without you writing a brief on some industrial nonsense, you might go a little mad."
He kissed her, lingering over her lips, daring to take her lower lip into his mouth, allowing himself to feel the press of her breasts against his chest, her teeth nibbling back. This was not a chaste kiss. They had been so careful since they were not free to complete the act but for a moment, their hands in each other's hair, their need for one another was palpable and something they'd tried to keep dormant was very much alive. When he tried to end the kiss, she moaned and reached for him again, holding his face in her hands, their noses brushing as she traced his lower lip with her tongue and kissed him as a lover. Her hands slid back into his thick hair and she wanted. Oh, she wanted. And wasn't that thrilling? Even as she shifted to lie over him, feeling him heavy and burning through his pajamas and her nightgown, she kissed him, the longest kisses, the best kisses, kisses that seemed to string out for minutes, hours, days. "I love you," he whispered into her mouth. "So much. Too much."
"Not too much," she replied and opened her mouth against the hollow of his throat as he moaned, before the baby began to whimper and they went back to being two parents instead of two lovers, which was for the best since Mrs. Larsen was right and Mary did need some time to heal.
So it was with sad, pitiful eyes that Matthew said goodbye to Mary and Jack who had risen to see him off. Gracie still slept and that was a small mercy because she, unlike Jack, was capable of putting up a fight, of making Matthew feel worse for leaving. "We'll see you so very soon," Mary promised bravely, without tears. "Before you know it, really."
At the office, he was congratulated and questioned. He was given old liquors and cigars and a stuffed bunny for Jack and a teddy for Gracie with a card that read For your new Jackrabbit and his big sister! Matthew considered ringing Mary to tell her about the bunny just so he could hear her say adamantly: Our son will not have the nickname of Jackrabbit. It's adorable now but it won't be when he goes off to university! People should really consider the power of a nickname. But he didn't know how he would be able to bear hanging up the telephone after hearing her voice. Instead,he stowed everything on the extra chair in his private office and took off his hat, scarf, gloves, and coat to hang them in the corner. Bristling from the bit of cold in his unused office, trying to think of the work ahead of him, he sat at his desk. In the center, on his blotter, was an envelope bearing his name in Mary's handwriting. He knew her handwriting so well now, after reading so many of her letters. He could tell anyone that her dashes across her Ts were short and quick, the tail on her Ys long and looping. Her Os were thin and her Is meticulously dotted. God, he was a sap to think so lyrically about how a woman, the woman, his woman wrote her letters, but he felt a freedom, just as Mary had.
There was nothing to worry over. Oh, there were things to worry over, but they were normal things. Is the baby hungry? Did Gracie eat her vegetables?When will the baby sleep through the night? How long until we can make love again? They teased each other; they laughed with one another. He felt like the man standing between Mary's parted thighs, that damned white robe barely on her shoulders, feeding her cake as sloppily as possible and licking it off–only it had nothing to with lovemaking. They were free, not just from a man, but from memories. Matthew had felt the difference after Jack was born. Everything Mary did, how she touched the children, or him, how she smiled and cried, was slightly different and he had realized that you cannot kill a memory but you can let go of one. You can live.
How Mary, with her well known handwriting, had gotten the letter into his office was a secret. Later, when she asked him about it, she would claim she did not know what he was talking about. Later still, when there were more children, and even later still when they outgrew the house, he would find a letter, each and every time, for each and every child, all cleverly hidden out in the open for him to open and find.
But as he opened this first envelope he had no idea what to expect, other than the way her handwriting would look against the paper.
My Dearest Matthew,
I was watching Jack as he slept. Oh, how I love to watch him, to watch his inky black eyelashes brush his skin as he sleeps or better yet, when his eyes (your beautiful eyes) are open and he looks at me. I don't know what he is thinking but I imagine it is something like this: I don't exactly know you yet, not all the way, but so far you haven't done me any wrong so I suppose we can continue getting to know one another. (If it were only that easy...how soon he will realize that I will do him wrong, how imperfect we all are, how a world that does not revolve around feedings, nappies, and sleep is an imperfect yet lovely one...how soon he will realize that! If only we could protect him–them–forever.)
I used to do the same thing with Gracie, just devour her with my eyes as I fed her and we rocked. I could not get enough. I think it might always be so. She is rarely still now, always booshing her blocks, or running around Baby (whom she still can't catch, even with the limp) so sometimes I find myself sneaking into her room at night and watching her then (I never told you because it used to embarrass me but it doesn't anymore). It's hard to see her even then; you know the way she sleeps. Her head has to be turned just the right way. On those nights I kneel in front of the crib and my breath catches in my throat. Wasn't it just yesterday that she was a baby and we were in New York, we three, making animal sounds? Now she is this little...person who is growing, growing, growing. I cannot stop it or slow it down. I can only watch.
So, kneeling in front of her, I make myself promise to always watch. I'll watch her when she sits on a pony for the first time and when she wears her hair up for the first time. I'll watch her when she is finally old enough to wear the necklace you bought her in New York. And I'll watch her when she reads her first love letter; I'll watch her fall in love; I'll watch her heart be broken by some asinine man or by fate or by her own fault and mine will break too. I know and will know her face better than my own. I could find her in a darkened room filled with people.
Still, there will be nothing quite so wonderful as watching her at my breast, her dark eyes withholding judgement on a novice mother like myself. (What a kind, gracious baby she was!) For it was there, in that rocking chair, feeding her, that I learned I could be content to watch her for the whole of my life. It was quite a revelation to Lady Mary who was always too much her granny's granddaughter to watch anything when she could be doing, doing, doing.
(I do hope your door is closed because I am about to get rather sentimental with you.)
Yesterday, I was rocking Jack, just watching him. His palm lay against my breast. He looked at me and I saw your eyes and it came upon me again that I could watch him forever, that I would watch him forever...and perhaps most importantly, you would be beside me, watching too, holding my hand. That is when I remembered. That is when I remembered something so dreadfully important, I cannot believe it has taken me so long to realize: you have read all the letters that I have written Granny but you have not read the most important letter of all, the letter I am writing to you, the letter that is long overdue. This letter has always been written, just not on paper, per se. Once upon a time, I talked to a friend about engravings on someone's heart; at the time, I did not think I had a heart to engrave anything upon. But I do. Everything written there has to do with you and our family. I shall do my best to transfer these engravings to paper.
Do you ever think of those two young people at the Garden Party? Mary in pearls, Matthew in his light–colored suit, on the brink of war and not knowing it, too busy fighting one another. Do you ever think of them standing, angry with one another and so far apart too, a thick mixture of yearning and anger thickening the air like humidity? I think of young Mary and Matthew and I pity that she did not have the courage to tell and he did not have the humility to ask. I wish I could stop them from what they are about to do. But then I would never, I could never stop them. Not just because they are a stubborn lot but because they grew up. How astonishing! How rare! They grew up and made a family and do you know, if things for Mary and Matthew would have happened in the opposite order, if we would have made a family and then grown up, I just don't think I would be as blissfully happy as I am now. I don't know if I would have grown up.
If things would have gone in the opposite order, you would not be who you are to me. I would not have allowed you to be my best friend, husband, lover, and father to my children (of course, I would have no control over you being their father but I would not have allowed you to be my partner in parenting them). And you are all those things to me and so much more. Oh, how frustrating it is not to have the words to explain all that you are to me.
I know only this. When I am frightened, I turn to you in the night and you glide your hand through my hair and scratch my scalp and I purr like a kitten, already half soothed. When I am too stubborn to admit my fears, you make me say them aloud, you make me tell you until, lying in your arms, I am not afraid anymore. You know me. Better than anyone. I suppose you watch me; I suppose I watch you too. And for so long being known, especially by you, scared the life out of me. But it doesn't anymore because...oh, Matthew, I depend on you. I depend on you knowing me and it wasn't so long ago that I was a giant pregnant person in a bathtub crying and whining about depending on you and hating you for it. But something has changed and I know you feel it too, because you know me.
A part of me is coming back to life, a part of Lady Mary that I considered long dead. Perhaps this part of me died when my mama had to inform me that the house I loved would only be mine if I married Patrick; perhaps its funeral was then, when I was so disillusioned at eight. Or maybe it died by degrees, overtime, its final resting place in the small library. But really, the truth is, it doesn't matter when it died, only that now, it is living; it is like a small fire kindling, that greedily eats that which you give it, and grows and grows. It could simmer to ashes and die again but I know it won't. It's painful sometimes, this regrowing of a thing once dead, the ability to trust in goodness, the ability to trust in a good and strong man, but the pain only means I am alive. I feel.
Here, I shall admit it on paper: I don't know everything. Don't you dare laugh. You have taught me how to trust and depend and wish and hope. You have made me a better mother, sister, and daughter. You have taught me that needing someone, even someone imperfect like you, is not so very bad. Because you are there to turn to in the middle of the night and you always apologize. You have taught me how to say I am sorry as often as I say I love you to someone other than a child. You have taught me that there can be redemption in any relationship, any scenario, as long as we seek after it.
It's because of you I believe in miracles. The way you love our children is nothing short of that. You could not adore that little girl more if you tried (and she knows it, you pushover). I am so often amazed watching you with her, your face alight. Though, I think the happiest I have ever seen you was just the other day. You were burping Jack at your shoulder while Gracie sat on your knee and pretended to read you a story.
Who would you save, I asked once, a long time ago. If there was a fire who would you save? Jack was still such a little thing inside me that we didn't even know about him. If there was a fire and you could only save one of your children, who would you save?
You thought for a long time. And then you said: I don't know.
I've never been so relieved for someone not to have an answer. But it was the truth and I know it remains the truth, though I have not asked it since. One need not ask such an obvious question once she has seen your face with both of your children in your lap.
I never dreamt or thought to dream that my husband would love me. You are the dream that I did not know how to ask for. When I left for New York, you were the dream I never thought I could have. Now, I lie in bed with you and your arms encircle me or I try to get up to get Jack and you say, no, let me, and bring him to my arms. When my body allowed for it (and as soon as it allows for it again), I would lay my sweating cheek to your naked chest and hear your heart beat so fast, unable to feel my toes. It could all be a dream. But then I am reminded that it is very, very, real. Jack throws up on my nightgown and Gracie is cranky. I snap at you over something small. It is all so blessedly beyond my wildest dreams...to have a man like you to argue with...to make love with...
One day we will grow old together. We will watch our children marry and have children. If we are lucky, like Granny, we will watch their children have children. We will love one another more, I know, every day and every year, each time another child is placed in our arms and every time we make love, each time we fight and each time we make up. There will be thousands, millions of chances to love one another more and you, Matthew, have taught me to be greedy with each chance.
Even if all we ever do is grow old with one another, our life shall be a grand adventure.
This is the only love letter I have written and perhaps not the words so much as the emotions are very much engraved on the beating heart in my chest. I would take it from my chest and give it to you if I could. Words seem paltry when I consider all the feelings I have for you. Sometimes, I am still afraid to say hard things. But not as afraid now. Yet, I am surprised and glad to find that nothing in this letter was hard to say at all. Most of all, I love you, my darling.
Yours without any regrets,
A/N: I've written over 300k of words for this story. Would you mind hitting the review button and letting Faeyero and I know what you think, whether you have before or whether it will be your first time?