John and Gil regularly got together for lunch in Baltimore around once a month for what they still referred to as their Trust Fund Babies Club. Most of their charitable work was now administered through the Philip and Catherine Schuyler Foundation, which Eliza directed, but they still found ways to make anonymous donations from time to time. Through his hospital colleagues, Gil was able to pick up information about families who needed help with expenses. John, whose outgoing personality won him friends everywhere, heard from people in the neighborhood or fellow parents at his kids’ schools when someone was struggling financially. The donations were always delivered by direct deposit or cashier’s check, and none of the recipients ever learned where they had come from. That rule had been in place since their first discussion in college.
Most recently, they had paid off a mortgage for a twenty-year-old and his three younger siblings. Their parents had been killed in a car accident, and the young man had insisted on petitioning for guardianship of the younger children so they wouldn’t be split up, but he was still in college and even if he dropped out, he couldn’t earn enough to support them all. Now they had a house and a monthly allowance that mysteriously arrived on the first of each month.
“Have you talked to young Matt lately?” Gil asked.
John nodded. “I saw him at basketball practice on Tuesday.” Matt’s younger brother Jack was on the same team as Pip. “He didn’t have much time to talk, but they’re doing well. I’ve never seen anybody who’s more grateful for what he has.”
Gil smiled. “I have.”
“Another young guy who got custody of his brothers and sisters.”
John waved his hand to brush that off. “I was lucky. There was plenty of money and I didn’t have to prove anything to Social Services.”
“See what I mean?”
“Fine, whatever,” John said, but for a moment his thoughts went back to the terrifying time in South Carolina when he, Alex, and Eliza went to get the kids. After that, if anybody had tried to take them away from him, he would have fought to the death to keep them. He looked up and gave Gil a reluctant smile. “They turned out okay, didn’t they?”
Marcy was a set designer happily married to the up-and-coming young playwright Malik Babacar, Harry was Vice President of Laurens Enterprises, James was practicing law in New York, and Polly, the baby, was still in college.
“They did,” Gil agreed. “We’re all proud of them – and you.”
“How about some more coffee?” John suggested so they wouldn’t have to get into some emotional conversation about how well they were all doing in spite of what they had suffered in the Insurrections.
Gil agreed and signaled their waitress. When she brought the coffee, she said, “If you guys would like dessert, the pastry chef did a really nice fresh peach pie today.”
“I’m up for pie,” John responded.
Gil shook his head. “Not now, thanks, but if you have whole ones, could you box two for me to take home?”
“One for me too,” John added quickly. He looked at Gil as the waitress went off to take care of it. “Alex would kill me if I didn’t bring him pie.” John and Eliza did their best to keep Alex from subsisting entirely on caffeine and sugar, but they’d long ago realized it was pointless to try to get him to cut out desserts.
“I have a question for you,” Gil said a few minutes later, as John was starting on his pie. “When is my surprise party?”
John looked up, all wide-eyed innocence, his mouth full of pie. He chewed, swallowed, and took a sip of coffee. “What surprise party?”
Gil raised an eyebrow. “John, please. My fortieth birthday is in less than a month, and Peggy tells me we’re just having a quiet celebration at home.”
“So what’s wrong with that?”
“When has my wife ever passed up a chance to have a gigantic family festival for any event?”
John thought back over nearly twenty years of birthdays, graduations, weddings, christenings, and holidays. “Okay, never.”
Gil waited silently while John took another bite of pie and thought it over. “You promise to act surprised?” he asked finally.
John bit his lip, a little worried. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you.”
Gil smiled. “You didn’t tell me. You just confirmed my suspicions.”
“Yeah, I guess. Anyway, it’s a relief not to have to watch what I say.”
“We still have to be careful, though. I don’t want to spoil it for her. Will it be at our house?”
Peggy and Gil had the biggest house, so most of the celebrations ended up there. It was also conveniently located in Philadelphia, halfway between the nation’s capital, where John, Alex, and Eliza lived, and New York, where Herc’s successful decorating business and Angelica’s political career were centered.
“Yeah, and it’s two weeks from Saturday.”
“How is she going to surprise me in my own house?” Gil asked.
“Nope, I’ve already revealed too much, and if she ever finds out I told, I’m going to be in serious trouble.”
“That’s true,” Gil agreed. “It’s always good to have blackmail material available.”
“Great,” John responded sardonically, but they both knew it was a joke. Peggy would never be mad at John.
“Will everybody be there?” Gil asked.
“I haven’t seen the guest list,” John told him, “but you know who Peggy would invite.”
“I knew we’d get a lot of use out of that ballroom,” Gil commented. “The family alone is nearly thirty people now, and some of the kids might bring dates.”
“By kids, I assume you mean Katie and Polly, who are legally adults.”
“Teddie’s sixteen. She could conceivably have a boyfriend.”
John shook his head. “Sixteen years. God, the day she was born … everything was so different then.”
“Indeed,” Gil agreed drily. “Now at least I have a license to practice medicine.”
“You did okay,” John reminded him, smiling. “Anyway, it will be a great party. Peggy is the best party planner ever.”
“Yes, she is, and I’m looking forward to it, even if I have to pretend I don’t know it’s going to happen. We haven’t all been together since Angelica’s wedding, and your gang from Charleston still haven’t seen the new baby. I think he’ll be the star of the show, even if it’s my birthday.”
Peggy and Gil’s youngest, Daniel Julien, was two months old. He had two brothers and three sisters, plus Katie, who was technically his aunt, but who had been raised by Peggy and Gil since she was a year old.
John shook his head. “Seven kids. You guys done yet?” He, Alex, and Eliza were raising only three, and he felt like they had their hands full all the time.
Gil shrugged. “We’ll see. Maybe it’s time to give it some thought. I’m turning forty, after all.”
“You’re not that far behind me.”
“Don’t remind me. My hair’s not turning gray yet, though.”
Gil raised an eyebrow. “My wife says it makes me look distinguished.”
“Of course she does.” John couldn’t help smiling. He’d been there the day Peggy and Gil met, when they fell madly in love within hours of setting eyes on one another. He’d still never heard either of them say a negative word about the other. It worked for them, but it was quite different from his own more complicated relationship. It had taken him, Alex, and Eliza a long time to figure out how they felt about each other, and there had been plenty of angry words exchanged over the years. It had turned out okay, though, better than he’d ever dared to hope back at the beginning, and they had three amazing kids. Alex was Daddy, and he was Papi, and nobody even raised an eyebrow anymore.
“So no new projects for us?” Gil asked.
“Not that I know of. Universal health care has made a big difference, and things are a lot better than they were twenty years ago. I’ll call you if I hear about anything.”
“If not, the funds can grow a little more,” Gil said. He picked up his pie boxes, and they walked out to the parking lot in the bright summer sunshine.
“Don’t forget, you know nothing about the party,” John reminded him.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gil responded with a smile, “but I’ll see you on the seventh.”
* * * * *
Peggy had drafted Katie and Polly into helping with the party. They were both students at Penn, and after her first year, Polly had decided she’d rather live with the Motier family than in a dorm, so she shared Katie’s room. The three of them were finalizing the details in the room they called the library. While it had two walls of crowded bookshelves and a couple of desks with computer terminals, it also contained a large table used for crafts and a big cushioned window seat with extra pillows. There were upholstered chairs and a rocking chair near the window. Katie was perched on the window seat with her knees tucked under her, while Polly sat on the floor despite the available chairs. Peggy was in the rocking chair nursing Daniel, who had already learned that his smile charmed everybody.
“Yes, you are the cutest baby boy ever,” Peggy was telling him.
“I’m going to tell Joey and AJ that you said that,” Katie threatened.
“I told them the same thing,” Peggy replied, undismayed. “Situational ethics.”
“He is cute,” Polly said.
“Yes, he is.” Peggy put him on her shoulder to burp him, loving the way his little head snuggled into her neck.
“Okay,” Katie broke in, checking something on her phone, “the band got the deposit, so they’re good, the caterer has been here a million times, so that’s all set, and I think all the RSVPs are in.”
Peggy smiled. “Martine called Angelica yesterday. They’re going to stay in New York for the week before the party so the kids can see the sights. Oh, and Jonathan got them tickets for Sherwood.” Herc’s boyfriend had originated the role of Will Scarlet in the Tony-winning musical about Robin Hood. He had one more month in the show and then he and Herc were headed to Tahiti for a much-needed break.
“They’ll love it,” Polly said.
“Everybody does,” Peggy agreed. “And as soon as Runners opens, we’ll have another Broadway hit to go see.”
Polly’s brother-in-law Malik had written the play about the young teens who had served as messengers during the Second Insurrection, and her sister Marcy had designed the set. The show was in rehearsal and planned to open in about six weeks.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Polly said, “I have kind of a weird request. You know the contemporary politics class I took this summer? There was a graduate student monitoring the class because she needed some stuff for her thesis, and she was, like, obsessed with everything to do with the Movement’s activity in Philadelphia during the Second Insurrection. When I told her my sister and brother had been runners, she had a million questions.”
“Mm-hmm,” Peggy murmured skeptically. “Did she know your name?”
Polly rolled her eyes. “She looked it up.”
Katie leaned down and poked her, “Ooh, a fangirl!”
Polly poked her back. “She’s like thirty-five or forty.”
“My age?” Peggy asked. “Incredibly ancient?”
“Well, not incredibly …” Polly told her, laughing, “but probably too old to be a fangirl.”
It was a fact of life for all of them that their experiences during the Second Insurrection had made certain names known to everybody: the Schuyler Sisters, whose parents had been martyred in the cause of freedom; Lafayette, the Hero Doctor of the Insurrection; General Alexander Hamilton and Colonel John Laurens, who had taken back the city of Philadelphia and pulled the boards off the doors and windows of Independence Hall; General Anthony Wayne, who restored order and re-established city services.
Katie Motier and Polly Laurens-Schuyler had grown up with the public attention. Their families had been profiled in magazines and they’d been interviewed on TV. The guy they called Uncle Tony was now President, and their Uncle Alex wrote speeches for him. Aunt Angelica was Lieutenant Governor of New York and would be running for Governor next year. Their parents – their guardians, actually, since both of them had been raised by siblings after their parents’ deaths – had done an excellent job of controlling how much of the public spotlight had fallen on them. Of course, unlike Alex Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler-Church, Gil and John weren’t in the news regularly. Gil was a trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and John was an artist who worked independently. They had done all they could to provide normal childhoods, and Katie and Polly, the youngest of those born before the Second Insurrection, managed their families’ fame without much difficulty. Still, they’d both met plenty of people who wanted to hang around with them in the hopes of meeting a celebrity.
“Anyway,” Polly continued, “would it be okay if I invited her to the party? She’s really nice, and I don’t think she would turn up with an autograph book or anything like that. I think it would mean a lot to her to be able to meet John and Uncle Alex.”
Peggy wrinkled her nose thoughtfully. “You said she’s a graduate student? Do you know who her thesis advisor is?”
“Dr. Ewing. He’s good, I’ve had him for a couple of classes.”
“Did you say anything to her about the party?”
“No, absolutely not – and she didn’t hint around for an invitation or anything, she just talked about how much she admired all of you.”
“Fangirl!” Katie reiterated.
Peggy shifted the now-sleeping baby to her lap. “If she’s my age, I wonder why she wasn’t involved in the Insurrection herself.”
“Oh, didn’t I say? She was out of the country. She was living in England then.”
“Okay, that makes a little more sense. If she wasn’t here, it would be much easier for her to romanticize it all.” She shook her head. “Some of the movies I’ve seen make it look like it was all an exciting adventure. They leave out the parts about being cold and hungry and scared all the time.”
Polly turned to look up at her seriously. “I remember some of it. I remember when Desi died.”
A shadow crossed Peggy’s face. “I wish you didn’t remember that, sweetie.”
“It’s okay,” Polly told her. “I don’t think I really understood. It was the first time I saw John cry, so I knew it was something sad, but I didn’t know what it all meant.”
“We cried a lot,” Peggy said. “That’s what the movies get wrong, but I guess nobody wants to go see a movie with all the characters crying.” She brushed her hair back and smiled. “I’ll call Dr. Ewing, and as long as he gives her a referral, you can invite her. I’ll tell Gil to be extra-nice to her. What’s her name, by the way?”
“Mary,” Polly replied. “Mary Clement.”
* * * * *
Gil was not at all surprised when he was notified of a change in his schedule for his birthday weekend.
“I’m sorry, Gil,” Dr. Morgan said. “I know you requested that weekend off, but I’m going to have to ask you to work Saturday.”
So that was how Peggy was getting him out of the house while they set up for the party. He had to at least put up a show of reluctance. “There’s nobody else who can cover?” he asked. “We were planning a family day for my birthday.”
Dr. Morgan shook his head and spread his hands. “I’ve tried. You’re the only senior resident who’s even going to be in town.”
Gil shrugged. “Okay, then. If my wife has a problem with it, I’ll tell her to talk to you.”
He complained heatedly to Peggy when he got home. “How often do I request a weekend off?” he asked rhetorically. “Practically never. It’s a good thing we didn’t tell the kids we were going to the beach.” They didn’t always tell the kids in advance about a treat since Sky, who was three, would then ask every five minutes how much longer it was until the event.
“Really,” Peggy agreed. “You still have Sunday off, though, right? Maybe we can go then.”
“Maybe,” Gil conceded, “but I don’t want to go in to work exhausted on Monday.” He gave her a smile.
“Good point,” she agreed. Taking their gaggle of children on an outing required their full attention and plenty of energy. AJ at fourteen was a bit of a daredevil, and his seven-year-old brother Joey idolized him and tried to do everything he did. Fortunately Angie and Libby, twelve and ten respectively, were usually well-behaved and looked out for each other. Sky still needed constant supervision, though, and of course, now there was a new very small baby to look after. They’d had a nanny, Delphine, since Katie was a preschooler, and she was wonderful with them, but she had weekends off with rare exceptions. Peggy didn’t tell Gil that Delphine would be working on Saturday to look after the kids while she got everything set for the party. “Maybe we can take them to the beach the next Saturday,” she said now.
“I suppose, but it won’t be my birthday weekend,” Gil conceded sulkily, looking at her from under his lashes.
Peggy raised an eyebrow at him. “Now you sound like one of the kids.”
He laughed and pulled her close. She looked up at him; the day she’d met him she thought he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen. She’d never changed her opinion. Sure, there were laugh lines around his eyes and silver threaded through his curls, but he had the same spectacular smile that had struck her like lightning when she was seventeen. She stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “I love you, and I promise we’ll still celebrate your birthday.”
“Of course we will. Sometimes private celebrations are the best.” He leaned down, and this kiss was much longer.
“Dinner will be ready,” Peggy murmured, not moving away.
He kissed her again. “I suppose the children expect us to be there?”
“Such demanding children we have produced.” His hand was in her hair, cradling the back of her head. He looked down at her. “Ma belle …”
Her arms were around his waist, and she was pressed close to him. “Gil …”
He sighed, and gave her one more quick kiss. “You know that I am very happy that we have all our children?”
He took her hand and they walked down the stairs together. “Sometimes when I see them all, see how beautiful they are, I feel like we should make more of them.”
She laughed. “You may have mentioned that before, but let’s put that idea on hold until Daniel is a little older.”
“D’accord.” He smiled. “You didn’t say no.”
“I didn’t say no.”