Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: 3 Mothers Mothering

Summary: The Hood-Colby household gets an unexpected visitor just before the holidays.

Isabel was a distraction. Jill found she couldn’t even concentrate on a daydream before her attention was drawn back to the baby peacefully sleeping in the nest of blankets and pillows she’d constructed on the other half the couch. The baby girl was one month and eight days old and Jill already wondered how she had filled her time before she arrived. She put her laptop on the coffee table and leaned forward. She was barefoot with her legs folded in front of her, wearing a lightweight red sweater that draped over her like a poncho. She liked bulky clothes while she worked to lose the last of her baby weight. Patricia had warned her not to lose it too quickly as she enjoyed it, but Jill was eager to get her pre-baby body back. There were clothes buried in their closet which she ached to be reunited with.

            She was planning her syllabus for the second half of the school year since she planned to go back just after winter break was over. She didn’t know how exactly she would accomplish such a herculean feat, but she was determined. She knew she had to go back soon or risk becoming a stay-at-home mother. She would have been absolutely fine with that, of course, but she was a teacher. She needed to teach, no matter how much she wanted to devote her every waking moment to the tiny thing currently dozing next to her. Isabel had her hands up near her face like she was surrendering to a dream, her bottom lip tucked up over her top lip, and Jill pushed her bangs out of her face so her view wouldn’t be impeded.

Jill was so engrossed in the baby that she suddenly realized there was a soft knocking sound coming from the front of the house. It was barely audible over the sound of Christmas music from the den, and for a moment she half-convinced herself it was nothing worth getting up for. But the sound persisted, and curiosity got the better of her.

The mayor’s residence was still a mysterious beast to her and she often found herself investigating the common cracks and creaks of a large house settling. She unfolded her legs and winced as she unfolded her legs and carefully rose. Isabel didn’t stir, and Jill stretched her toes until she got the feeling back in her lower legs. She walked stiffly to the front hall, one hand smoothing over the front of her sweater out of habit as she looked into the foyer. Someone was at the front door, knocking very lightly on the glass.

She moved closer to the door. “Hello?”

“Jill? It’s Alana Hood.”

Jill stood a step back, eyes wide. “Alana Hood… Patricia’s mother?” She unlocked the door and opened it to confirm the truth. Sure enough a petite, white-haired woman took a step back and offered a shy smile. Jill responded with a smile of her own, although it was more nervous than shy. Patricia’s parents weren’t her biggest fans, a schism that had been created when she divorced Nicholas and came out to them. Throughout their relationship, Patricia kept Jill cut off from her parents and their judgments so much that it felt like they were non-entities despite the fact they lived on the same island.

Alana said, “Hello, Jill. I’m sorry for not ringing the doorbell, but I was afraid of waking the baby.”

“Oh. Thank you. Were you out here long?”

“No, not long. The gate was open…”

Jill nodded. “We’re leaving it open because the buzzer for guests disturbs Isabel.”

Alana’s smile warmed. “Isabel. I love that name. Isabel Hood Colby, am I right?”

“Yes. Um. I’m sorry, Trish… is at work.”

“I know. That’s why I’m here now.” She rubbed her hands together. “I know Patricia and I… well, her father and I. And you. I know there’s been a lot of tension and harsh words spoken. I…”

Jill suddenly realized her wife’s mother was standing out in a gently-falling snow. No matter their relationship, that was simply not done. “God, you’re freezing out here. Please. Come in.”

Alana sighed. “Thank you.”

They entered the house and Jill gestured toward the living room. Alana walked to the couch and slowed down when she saw Isabel. “Oh. Oh, she’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Jill felt her heart swell and smiled down at the baby. “She is, isn’t she?”

Alana stared for a moment and then gave a heavy sigh. “Perhaps now you can maybe… understand, if not forgive. When you have a child, you imagine a path. You picture where they’ll end up. Patricia was there, and then from my perspective she crashed and burned. She destroyed everything with an affair and then announced to us that she was a lesbian. It was not in my picture of her, and I felt as if she was throwing away so much.”

Jill said nothing, wondering if it was a betrayal to let Alana into the house without running it by Patricia first.

“Alexander and I have been very petty. We refused to acknowledge the great strides Patricia was taking because they weren’t the strides we had guided her toward. She’s married to someone she absolutely adores. She’s mayor of the town. She has this beautiful little girl…” She took a deep breath and looked at Jill. “I’ve heard you’re planning to go back to school soon.”

“January sixth,” Jill confirmed. “Where in the world did you hear that?”

“I teach piano. One of my students mentioned he was excited you would be back.” She smiled. “You’ve touched a lot of lives besides my daughter’s, it seems.”

Jill blushed. “Oh.”

“With Patricia working, and you going back to teaching, I knew you would need help. I’m here to offer my services.” She held up a hand to hold off Jill’s refusal. “I know that Patricia suspects her father and I are only making these overtures because she’s been elected mayor and we want access to that office again. That’s why I came today, while she’s out. I wanted to make this offer to you, and you alone. I want you to know that I’m available. If there’s an emergency where you need someone to take Isabel, if you need five minutes to take a shower, I’ll drive across town and hold the baby for those five minutes. If you need someone to watch her while you’re in class, I can be there, too. You need but to call. I only ask that you not tell Patricia about this.”

Jill frowned. “You want me to keep it a secret?”

“For as long as you can. Yes. I can’t be doing this to gain favor if she doesn’t know I’m doing it. I remember how difficult it is to take care of a baby, and it was my full-time job. I’m sure you’re looking at babysitters and nannies and that sort of thing, but if you need someone to fill a gap in your schedule… well. She has a grandmother on the island. That’s half the point of grandparents… free child care. And by keeping this from Patricia you can be assured it is free. There’s no hidden cost or tit-for-tat.”

Jill looked down at Isabel.

“I’m free for the next two hours. If you’d like to take a shower or do some laundry…”

Jill laughed. “Oh, God. It’s a week from Christmas, and I’m giddy about the chance to do laundry.” She rubbed her forehead. “Why? Why all of a sudden?”

Alana took out her wallet and unfolded a slip of paper that she’d tucked inside next to the bills. It was clipped from the newspaper, and Jill recognized it as Alana handed it over. It was from the birth announcement that ran the morning after Isabel’s birth. Jill was in bed, no makeup and looking worn and weary. She had Isabel bundled in her arms, and Patricia was leaning over the side of the bed to get into the picture. Right before the photo was taken she had turned her head to look at Jill, smiling brightly at her wife. They had a framed version of the original picture hanging in Isabel’s nursery.

“I saw that. For years Alexander and I have been taking a stand on the belief that we’re in the right. But when I saw that look on my daughter’s face…” She pressed her lips together and shook her head. “Does that look like someone who is wrong?”

“No. Not at all.”

Alana repeated, “Not at all.”

“I just want to do the right thing. Alexander refused to even look at the picture. He doesn’t know I’m here and I have no intention to tell him. I know eventually you’ll have to tell Patricia about this, and I understand why. I just hope it will be far enough into the future that she accepts the reason behind my offer. In the meantime, you don’t have to worry about finding someone to be here for your little girl.”

Jill smiled and crossed her arms, cupping each elbow with the opposite hand. “I really appreciate this offer, Mrs. Hood, really. But I don’t think I’d feel comfortable accepting it behind Patricia’s back. As much as you’ve hurt her over the years…”

Alana nodded slowly. “I suppose that makes sense. Just please, tell her what I said here. Her father doesn’t have to know what’s happening. And as far as I’m concerned, Patricia lost the election last year. I’m only trying to be a good mother. I have a lot of years to make up for.”

Jill tilted her head to the side, then said, “Would you like to hold her?”

Alana’s eyes brightened. “Oh. I wouldn’t presume… she’s sleeping.”

“She’s been awake since we started talking.”

Alana looked down and saw a pair of bright green eyes staring up at her. She gasped and put a hand to her chest as Jill stepped up to the couch and gathered the little girl in her arms. She pirouetted on the ball of her foot and transferred the baby to Alana’s arms.

“The eyes… lord, those are Hood eyes.”

Jill smiled. “Yeah. They could still change as she gets older but for now, they’re definitely Patricia’s.”

“How…” A line appeared between her eyebrows and she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I know you carried her, but this is definitely Patricia’s child.”

“No doubt about it.” Jill reached out and teased the baby’s cheek. Isabel grinned and squirmed, squeezing her eyes shut.

Alana smiled sadly. “I really… I really hope you can convince Patricia to accept my offer.”

“Me too. It was nice finally getting to meet you, Mrs. Hood.”

“Call…” She tore her gaze away from the baby. “You can call me Alana.”

Jill smiled. “Thank you.”

When Alana had her fill of baby-time, or perhaps more accurately when she decided it would be prudent to surrender the baby to her proper guardian, Jill escorted her to the front door. They said their goodbyes, Alana kissed Isabel’s fingers, and Jill watched her walk back down to her car. When she was gone Jill shut the door and padded past the living room to the den. She used her elbow to push the door open since she was still holding Isabel, and she confirmed that Patricia had gotten up to stand next to the door so she could hear better.

Wrapping paper debris littered the floor around the tree Patricia had put up that morning, brightly-colored tendrils and wadded balls of it filling the space between the ottoman and the as-yet-undecorated tree. Her cheeks were wet and Jill leaned in to kiss the moisture away and briefly squeezing the baby between them.

“You heard all of it?”

Patricia nodded. She’d taken the day off to decorate and wrap presents. “Thanks for telling her I wasn’t here.”

“I was just trying to get rid of her. I had no idea she was going to go into all…”

“No. No, it was perfect. I got her, unfiltered.” She used the cuff of her sweater sleeve to wipe her cheeks. “She sounded sincere.”

“She seemed very sincere,” Jill confirmed.

Patricia said, “We can give her a trial run. We’re going to need a lot of help when January gets here. It’ll be a relief knowing we have her in the wings.”

“I just want to be sure you’re okay with it.”

Patricia kissed Jill’s cheeks, then kissed the top of Isabel’s head. “Mother took the first step. I can be a big enough person to take the next step.”

“Good.” She looked down at Isabel. “It’ll be good for her to have a grandma.”

Patricia nodded. “Do you want me to take her for a while so you can focus on work?”

“No. But you probably should.”

“Give me my girl,” Patricia insisted. Jill handed her over. “I’ll bring her back when you have half your syllabus done.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Go! Don’t make me increase it to two thirds.”

Jill stuck out her tongue, which made Isabel smile. Jill rubbed the curled knuckle of her forefinger against Isabel’s cheek and bent down to kiss her. “Be good for Momma Trish. She was just napping, so she should be wide awake.”

“I consider myself warned,” Patricia said.

Patricia went back into the den, and Jill lingered by the door. She hugged herself, trying to get up the courage to leave Isabel behind.

“What do you say we go surprise Mom Jay in about fifteen minutes, hm? Think she’d like that surprise? Yes, I do, too.”

Jill grinned and went down the hall to get back to work.

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