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Chapter 17

Ginny neglected making plans for Molly’s birthday until a phone call from Abigail solved the issue of what to do. “If you don’t have anything planned on December 5th, I would like to invite Molly, Emily and maybe Carol’s daughters to come to my apartment for a morning of baking. That’s how Molly, Emily and I celebrated Molly’s birthday last year. We made the day a birthday celebration and a pre-Christmas party. I served cake and ice cream, and the girls took home a tin of Christmas cookies. I would have talked to you about the possibility at Thanksgiving, but I needed to find out how I felt at the end of the day. To my surprise, all of the excitement was energizing.”

“If you are sure, Molly would love it. She’s been asking for me to arrange a playdate with Emily, so a party will be just the ticket. What can I do to make your job easier?”

“Call Carol for me and make the arrangements, and if you’d like to provide the Christmas tins, I can concentrate on the decorations and cake? And, don’t worry, Ginny. I won’t overtire myself.

“If you promise, then it’s a go. I think it sounds like a very special kind of celebration. Carol and I will help you supervise.”

“If I need help, I’ll call Nick. He’ll want to be part of the celebration.”

When Ginny, Molly, Carol and Carol’s daughters arrived on the day of the party, there was a large birthday banner above the front door. The banner read: Happy Birthday Molly and Ginny. The letters on the banner and the balloons tied to both sides were red and green. When Abigail opened the door to her apartment, a Christmas carol was playing softly in the background.

Tears welled in Ginny’s eyes, how did you know that it was my birthday, Abigail?”

“I little birdie told me. Welcome and happy birthday.”

There were no tears for Molly. Her eyes brimmed with pure joy. She enthusiastically hugged her friend Emily. then turned to Carol’s daughters. “Sue and Beverly, this is my friend, Emily, the one I’ve been telling you about. She lives down the hall from Abigail.”

Emily stepped forward. “Hi. If you are a friend of Molly’s, you’re a friend of mine. I hope you like to make Christmas cookies. Ms. Abigail has everything set up in the kitchen.”

Frowning, Molly asked, “Where is Mr. Nick. I thought he was coming.”

Abigail said, “He came early this morning to help decorate, and he’ll be here for ice cream and cake. He asked that I tell you that he’d see you as soon as he took care of a business matter.”

With Abigail supervising the rolling, cutting and baking and Ginny and Carol supervising the decorating, seasonally themed tins were soon filled with decorated sugar cookies. Later, when the doorbell rang, Molly dropped what she was doing, hurried to the door and threw it open. “Mr. Nick, you’re finally here.”

“Look at you. I think you’ve grown an inch since I saw you at Thanksgiving.”

She gave him an indignant look. “Don’t be silly. That was just two weeks ago.”

“It seems much longer. How am I supposed to greet you now that you’re a big girl of eight? I suppose you are too big for me to pick up.”

She hugged his knees. “But, I’m not too big to get a hug.”

“No, you’re not.” He crouched down and gave her a hug, then reached in his pocket and took out a small package. “Happy Birthday, peanut.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nick.” She took his hand. “Come see the cookies we made, I’m going to give part of mine to you.”

Later, when Ginny took Nick’s empty dessert plate, she whispered, “Thanks for coming, but if you need to go back to work, Molly will understand.”

“Thanks, I don’t like to eat and run, but there’s something that I need to take care of. After I say goodbye to Abigail and Molly, will you walk me out? I have some news I need to share, and I don’t want to upset Molly.”

Ginny grabbed her coat, whispered her intentions to Abigail, and then followed Nick. He held the front door of the building open for her. The wind blew her hair in her face and whipped her coat open. “Br-r-r. The temperature must have dropped ten degrees since we arrived.”

“The weatherman is calling for snow tomorrow.”

“I hope that it will only be flurries, I don’t like driving in snow.”

“Why don’t we talk in my car, it’s too windy to stand out here and talk. My car heater warms up quickly.”

He didn’t speak again until the warm air began to circulate. “That’s better! I should have worn a heavier jacket. What about you? Are you comfortable?”

“I’m fine.”

“Celebrating Molly’s birthday at Abigail’s was a brilliant idea. She looked happier than I’ve ever seen her.”

“I agree, but I can’t take credit for the success of the party. It was Abigail’s idea. Molly has missed her and she’s missed Emily. I wish they lived closer to us. I had good intentions about getting the three together, but since school started, Molly doesn’t have a lot of free time.”

“What about you? Are your days less stressful now that school has started?”

“I still have days when I don’t think I can put one step in front of another, but Molly’s flexibility inspires me. If she can adjust, then so can I.

“Has your birthday been a happy one?”

“So much better than I expected. Brian prepared breakfast for Molly and me, and he’s a good cook. Then minutes before we left for New Holland, a local florist delivered a beautiful arrangement of flowers from my in-laws. Sam always sent me birthday flowers. Their note said that they wanted to continue the tradition.”

“You’re fortunate to have thoughtful and caring in-laws.”

“Yes, I am. What about yours?”

“Good people, but they didn’t approve of my marriage to Susan. And, they disapproved of our divorce. They do, however, approve of David.”

“Has it been difficult for you to work with your father-in-law?”

“I’ve worked with him a few times, and he’s always been a professional. I hope that his animosity will fade.” He reached in his pocket and took out a small package. “We haven’t known each other long, Ginny, so I’m sure you don’t expect a gift. I had this item before I knew it was your birthday. It’s more of a thank you for being so generous with your time and efforts on Molly’s behalf.”

It was an awkward moment for Ginny. She appreciated his thoughtfulness, but she didn’t like accepting gifts from acquaintances. “Thank you.”

“You can open it later. I should get down to business, so you can get back to the party. I receive a call from Charles last evening. He called to let me know that there was a fire at the Northrop house yesterday.”

“Oh, no! How much damage was done?”

“Fortunately, a minimal amount. The fire was intentionally set, but the person who set it was an amateur. For some reason is was set under the back porch. Who knows, perhaps the fire bug believed that the fire would engulf the entire back of the house before someone in the neighborhood noticed the smoke.

"The fire chief believes that the fire smoldered more than burned for an extended length of time. Ruth’s neighbor to the right, noticed the billowing black smoke and called the fire department. He then ran over to her house, grabbed a hose and had the fire under control by the time the fire engine arrived. The porch will have to be replaced and there was smoke damage, but it could have been far worse.”

“Do the police have a suspect?”

“No, but they are canvasing the neighborhood searching for someone who might have seen a stranger or strangers around the house.”

“Hm-m. At least they can’t blame Christine. She’s in the hospital.”

“She was released two days ago, but she wasn’t responsible. Roger hired a security guard to watch her?”

“She’s not under house arrest, is she?”

“She would have been if Roger hadn’t agreed to be personally responsible for her. He doesn’t want to believe Christine caused Ruth’s fall, but he knows that she’s hiding something. She still refuses to account for her actions on the day of the fall.”

“Gwen must be beside herself.”

“She’s angry. She thinks her mom is somehow responsible. She also believes that Christine faked the psychotic break.”

“Is that even possible?”

He shrugged. “I’m not a psychologist or therapist, so I can’t answer your question.”

“This gets nastier and nastier every day. Molly doesn’t deserve this.”

“No, she doesn’t. That’s why she’s lucky to have you as a protector.”

“I try. I should probably get back to the party. Molly is going to wonder where I’ve disappeared to.”

“One more thing, Ginny. I left Abigail’s before you arrived because I received a call from Sean’s dad. I didn’t want to talk to Tom while I was with Abigail.”

“Called? From London?”

“He and his wife, Beth, are back in the States for Sean and Katie’s wedding. They want to meet Molly.”

“Darn. My only surprise is that they have waited this long to contact you. When and where do they want this meeting to take place?”

“After the wedding, and before their flight back to London on December 29th. They are willing to drive to Archdale. As for time and place, they will leave the details to you.”

“I’ll get back to you after I’ve looked at my calendar, Nick. What’s your impression of the Kendricks? Do they intend to adopt her or is this a one-time visit?”

“I can only repeat what Tom said. At this point, they are weighing their options.”

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