Richard always was an enthusiastic boy, excited about everything and anything.
Martha wasn't surprised by the giddy expression on his face as he ushered her along to the nursery. He pressed his nose so close to the glass, he looked like a kid at a toy store window at Christmas. He pointed at a crib. "That one!"
"Looks like you have another redhead to make a fuss of, kiddo," she said, smiling. "When do I get to meet my granddaughter?"
Richard beamed. "They're cleaning Meredith up right now. As soon as that's done, she's getting her private room and Junior will be brought right along."
Martha looked through the glass at the crib. She was all blankets and reddish fuzz, but Martha knew, just knew, the little spark was going to be a beauty. Good genes had a way of getting out.
Fifteen minutes later, when the little bundle was set in her arms, she could see she was right. Ricky and Meredith might not act like a real Tracey and Hepburn, but they had the looks, and those looks had made a little angel.
"Hey, kiddo," Martha said, rocking the baby. Big blue eyes that looked far too smart for such a little head were wide open. "I'm your grandma, but you're not allowed to call me that in front of company, okay?"
"Mother," Richard groaned.
"Sorry, darling," Martha said, still smiling down at the small, pink face. "I have to hold onto what vestiges of youth I have left. Being called 'grandma' doesn't help the cause."
Small, wrinkled hands moved in the tangle of blankets and reached up.
"That's right, beautiful," Martha said softly, touching a dimpled knuckle. "Grandma's here."
On Richard's insistence, Alexis wasn't brought to any of Martha's performances until she was in first grade. Richard said that by then, she would be able to understand what was going on.
Martha wondered if he was so starry-eyed about his perfect daughter, who looked and acted like a little angel, that he was oblivious to how smart a little cookie he had produced.
Of course, Richard was never really one to notice a woman's brains.
The show wasn't one Martha would have chosen for little Alexis to sit through, but sit through it she had. Ricky said she was wide-eyed and solemn, taking everything in. She had been very quiet in the cab home.
That was why Martha was lurking at the bedroom door, as Richard got his daughter ready for bed.
"How did you like the theater, sweetie?"
Alexis was quiet for several minutes. "It's kind of boring," she admitted in a child's version of a whisper, which could easily be heard by someone who might happen to be passing by the door.
Richard laughed. "I think it was a boring play," he admitted. "Sometimes, it can be fun."
"It didn't make any sense," Alexis insisted.
"They don't have to," Richard said. He sounded like he was smiling. "It's all pretend."
"Hmm." No six year old, still in her favourite frilly pink pyjamas, should have been able to sound so cynical. She was quiet again for a moment, then added, "Gram looked pretty."
Martha smiled indulgently. It was always Gram. When she was small, Alexis hadn't managed to get her mouth around grandma, so Gram it had become and Gram it remained.
"Gram always looks pretty," Richard said in a conspiratorial whisper, which was loud enough for her to know that her boy was quite aware that they had a glamorous eavesdropper lurking in the wings. "Don't tell her I told you."
Alexis giggled. "Like Gram says I'm not allowed to tell you that she thinks you're good at writing?"
"Oh, she does, does she?" Alexis squealed as she always did when she was tickled. "And what else did Gram tell you not to tell me?"
"Daddy! Stop it!"
Martha tapped on the door then glided in, skirts swirling in a perfect, dramatic fashion. "Now, Ricky, you know the rules about murdering your daughter on opening night."
"Save me, Gram!" Alexis squealed. She was red in the face and squirming.
"No one can save you!" Richard growled ominously, pulling up her pyjama top and blowing on her belly, making her shriek even more.
Martha concealed a smile. "What will my reward be, if I save the Princess from the terrible, foul-smelling beast?"
"Hey!" Richard protested, laughing.
"Cuddles!" Alexis squeaked. "And you can pick the movie next movie night!"
Martha swooped in and caught Richard's ear. "A fair price," she agreed, hauling her son up.
"Ow! Ow ow ow ow!"
Alexis scrambled up to hug her around the middle. "You saved me from the monster, Gram!"
Martha sat down on the edge of the bed, uncaring of the rumples in her dress. "Of course I did, kiddo," she said, smoothing Alexis's shining hair back into order. "I always save the people I like best."
Alexis positively glowed. "And you like me best?"
"In all the world," Martha agreed, kissing her on the forehead. "But this little Princess has had a long day, and she should get some sleep, shouldn't she?"
Alexis nodded, curling back down into the middle of her bed. "Keep the monster away."
"That's what Fairy Grandmothers are for," Martha agreed solemnly.
Alexis giggled, proffering her cheek for a kiss. She accepted a hug from her father too, and when they dimmed the light and switched on her nightlight, she closed her eyes happily.
"Foul-smelling, mother?" Richard murmured, as they stood in the doorway and watched the girl drift to sleep.
Martha laughed quietly. "I remember your teens, darling," she said, "and no amount of booze or flattery will make me forget."
Richard's complaints followed her all the way back to the kitchen, and then the wine bottle served to soothe the monster's ruffled feathers.
Martha never failed to be impressed with Alexis’ poise in the face of trouble.
The latest saga featured Richard in the starring role, as always, and Gina as his nemesis.
His first separation from Meredith was no big surprise, given that more often than not, the woman was hardly there. Gina, on the other hand, had a sensible head on her shoulders. That, it struck Martha, could be the very problem at the heart of their marital breakdown. She was a successful agent, and he, her successful client. Their work ethic - or lack of one in Ricky’s case - clashed terribly. Work and home seldom could go hand in hand.
Richard, thinking ahead for once, asked Martha to distract Alexis from the inevitable arguments that were springing up every morning over breakfast. He even thought a little bit further and handed over his credit card along with his daughter.
They shopped for hours in all of Alexis’ favourite stores, because retail therapy never hurt anyone, and it finally dawned on Martha that Alexis was hardly behaving as one normally would when one’s family was breaking down.
Talking over shopping was quite impossible, but talking over lunch was another matter so Martha ushered the girl towards the grandest restaurant she could think of. After all, when one’s son is generous enough to hand over his credit card, what is a mother to do but ensure she provides the best care for her grandchild?
“You seem thoughtful, darling?” she prompted as she handed over an obscenely large milkshake that no child, even a growing one, should be able to manage.
Alexis knelt up on her chair and sucked on the straw. “I’m always thoughtful,” she said with a smile. “Dad keeps on insisting he can hear a buzzing when I’m around, because of all the thinking I’m doing.”
“Your father,” Martha declared, stirring the froth of her coffee, “could stand to do a little more of it himself.”
Alexis laughed. “Then he wouldn’t be dad,” she said. She looked over at her grandmother, her eyes piercing. “Is this about the divorce?”
Martha stopped stirring. “Darling?”
“Dad usually only gives you cash,” her granddaughter said. “He only gives you the credit card if he thinks I need a lot of distracting.”
“Ah,” Martha murmured. “I expect he didn’t think you would notice that.” She studied the girl. “You knew things were going badly?”
Alexis shrugged. “Dad and Gina have been weird for a while,” she said. “He pretends they’re not, but he slept on the couch again last week, even if he said it was because he was up all night playing video games, and then she went and stayed in a hotel.” She sipped some more of her milkshake. “They try to argue without shouting. As if I can’t hear what they’re saying, no matter how they say it.”
“They simply don’t want to distress you,” Martha said, setting down her spoon. “Your father feels you shouldn’t bear the brunt of his problems.”
“I don’t,” Alexis said quietly. She poked her straw deeper into her milkshake. “It makes me sad that they don’t get along anymore, but dad and Gina aren’t right together. I think she thought that she could get him to be different, and work more like her.” Her smile was small, quick. “Dad’s stubborn.”
Martha shook her head wonderingly. “Kiddo, I look at your parents and I swear you must have stolen all the brains they had between them.”
Alexis’ smile returned, but it was just as small and quiet. “Is dad okay?”
“He bounces back quickly,” Martha assured her. She reached across the table and offered Alexis her hand. The girl caught it and squeezed it at once. “You know you need never worry about us, darling. We’re tough sorts.”
Alexis nodded. “Do you think dad needs distraction too?” she asked.
Martha tapped her fingertips along the side of Alexis’ hand. “Right now, I think your father needs his wits about him,” she admitted. “But afterwards, I’m sure you can persuade him to take a little trip.”
“There’s a retreat in the mountains,” Alexis said eagerly. “It has camping, and open fires, and there are real bears!”
Martha winced. “Yes, that would do it,” she said. “Danger, flames and the great outdoors. I see no reason why he wouldn’t jump at the chance.”
“There she is,” Martha whispered, leaning sideways and nudging Richard.
“I can see her, mother,” Richard whispered back.
They were at Alexis’ graduation ceremony, and despite all the weight of Richard’s well-placed friends and finances, they still had only managed to get fifth row seats. Alas, it was one of the travails of having a child in attendance at one of the most prestigious schools in the city.
In the sea of dark robes, the familiar red hair was like a beacon.
Martha patted his arm. “Oh, she looked radiant, doesn’t she?”
“Doesn’t she always?” Richard said. His expression was soft as cotton, his eyes moist.
“Good God, Richard,” Martha said, looking at him with smile. “If you’re this misty-eyed over her graduation, goodness knows how damp you’ll be at her wedding.”
“Don’t,” he said in a strangled voice.
Sympathetically, Martha took his hand and squeezed it. “She’s growing up, Ricky,” she said softly. “Much better than we ever were. She seems to have collected three generations worth of common sense and better looks.”
He laughed, strained with emotion. “Maybe she was a changeling,” he said. “How did we end up with such a perfect, smart, sensible girl?”
“I blame her father,” Martha murmured.
Richard turned a watery smile on her. “Mother, I believe that was a backhanded compliment you slipped in there.”
She smiled. “It won’t happen again, kiddo,” she said.
They both watched as Alexis took to the stage to receive her diploma. Richard’s hand tightened around hers. Martha glanced sidelong at him, and smiled quietly at his expression. He looked just as he had years before, gazing through the glass at the bundle of blankets and red fuzzy hair.
Despite the years going by, some things never changed.