It's been a long day. A long day with Caleb's choice of soundtrack leaving me just about blind with a headache. Add it to the other aches, I'm curled up now in a heated blanket nursing my cold, tired self and happy that the day was a success for so many others.
The music in question was church bells. Central European church bells. It was pretty but after an entire day of it fading in and out I found myself hypnotized and distracted by them to the point that my head continues to ring and I've been home for quite a while now.
Today Caleb and Mike picked me up just after nine. Mike driving, Caleb smiling and handing me a coffee, made just the way I like it, Second Cup to prove he is always paying attention to the details. Infuriatingly smooth. I thanked him and took a sip, burning my top lip just enough to scowl a little and retire the cup to the holder beside my seat.
You look beautiful.
Thank you. You don't look so bad yourself.
I could be in rags and no one would notice with you there.
Sure they would. Hugo Boss doesn't put out a rag line.
He laughed and then settled back to look out the window and listen to the music. I could only hear a little and I squinted at nothing in particular and Caleb pressed a button on the console that sent the bell ringing swelling to the forefront.
I looked at him and without saying a word, was treated to a rather strange peace of nostalgia I didn't know he even held. Some of the years that Cole kept Caleb absent from our lives are still a mystery. He is the most well-traveled man I know.
I did give it my best shot. I was hostage to it anyway, between the car and the day's schedule and the take-no-prisoners shoes, the six inch ones with the satin ankle bows and the lovely dress that was so festive and yet seemed garish and fabulously inappropriate for a Monday morning wasn't going to allow for me to become part of the landscape.
We spent the first three hours riding elevators and walking labyrinths of corridors to surprise most of the recipients on Caleb's list with cheques and small gifties and wishes that they enjoy a wonderful holiday. Polish businessmen with their brittle hugs and humble tears and mobsters with their questionable glances and bruising cheek-kisses and semi-false dismissal of Caleb's gestures in order to cover their joy. It became exhausting. If there is one thing Caleb is known for, it's his generosity in rewarding people who work hard. If he benefits from it so will you.
(Nevermind the other things Caleb is known for, this is not the day for that.)
We took a long lunch, fueling up on Pad sew, coffee and sugar cookies and then ventured out in the cold once again, surrounded by bells and cash, and I had a positively hilarious conversation with one man who asked me if I knew where he was from and I guessed Georgia and he said Belarus and laughed and laughed like I was the most delightful girl, because I at least chose the Russian Empire. He said most people say France. I told him I had been to France, for a day, and his accent was definitely not French.
He howled and told me his mother was French.
Then I noticed he passed a padded envelope to Caleb and told him that he should treat me well, that I was positively engaging. Caleb said he would do his best. I was more interested at that point in why they were trading bonuses but on the way to the car Caleb took my elbow and squeezed it harder than I liked to keep my attention and changed the subject to dinner out, later on, with the children and some of the boys, to cap off a wonderful day.
As in, you saw nothing.
Right. Bridget sees nothing. Just words. Words to arrange. Words to pay for later.
I'm not sophisticated enough to want to take that further. It just looked weird and that's when I pretty much stopped enjoying myself and hung back a little more, prompted politely but forcefully more than once to inject the situation with a little more of the morning's brevity. But I was getting tired and we had crossed off the entire list by four, and I called Daniel to make sure the children were home from school and warmed up and then Caleb said he wanted to stop by the loft and then we could continue to the house.
I rolled my eyes.
You really don't want to miss this, princess.
I can wait in the car.
I promise. Just come with me. Mike will leave the car running.
Sad that I expect that promise and you make it without being led.
It is, but I deserve it.
I was happy to escape the bells, so up we went.
I waited by the door. He disappeared into his office for a moment and then returned with an envelope. A large manila one, like the ones I keep in his desk to keep his travel itineraries organized. He passed it to me.
What is this?
Don't you want to look inside?
I frowned at him and then looked inside. It took a moment to pull out a heavy sheaf of papers and I started going through them. Arrangements for trips to Vancouver and New York. For everyone. Everyone except for me.
What is this?
This is your independence, princess. You've spent your entire life hiding behind Cole, and then Jacob, and now Benjamin and the others. Only in a few years you're going to officially be a grownup and yet you don't qualify. Not yet. So this is your chance. Ben and only Ben will be home on Jan. 16 for a weekend, and then not until mid-February. Then mid-March. There will be one trip for you and the children to go and see him and then you all fly out to Vancouver once the house sells. For everyone who fights your battles for you and keeps you handicapped by your own fears and doubts I'm going to play the bad guy one last time and give you a little tough love. Just a little and just for a couple of months. You can do this, princess. You're going to do this and you'll thank me when it's over.
My whole head tightened up and began to throb and I started to cry before I even finished working through what he had said. And he smiled like I was the most pathetic thing he had ever seen and said this:
My God, it's so easy to want to save your life. I'm sure now my brother died of a broken heart and I can't say I blame him. And Bridget, I am not trying to be cruel. I need the boys to help get this show on the road out west, Ben needs to go to New York and then join us later and you need to show the children that you are strong, and capable, and confident. Do it for them and do it for yourself.
I nodded. (Words. I need words and there's nothing there. I can't find any. I can't say don't. Please don't.)
You will thank me.
He took my hand and I followed him back onto the elevator, down to the car and then we were back at the house.
In the car on the way here he said not to worry, that my Christmas bonus would be in my account on Friday as well as gifts that he would bring over closer to Christmas day and that he would be flying into the city regularly as well to check on us and that no one would ever be more than a couple of hours away at any time, and that our extended families and all of the boys were already aware of the situation and supportive of it.
(Traitors.) My mind found a word!
Everything will be fine, Bridget.
I know. I'm not thanking you though.
You will when it's over. And your bonus? The largest one I have even paid out.
I don't want your money.
Why not? You could use it to play airplane tag.
The kids have school, idiot.
That's the smartest thing you have ever said to me. Wait, no, second smartest. The first was when you said to make the pain go away.
Was it tough keeping the evil all bottled up inside all day, Cale?
No, actually. I've learned to harness both the good and the evil inside. Just like you, princess. Just like you.