When Luke brought the twins and Jessica home, he didn’t even go into the house, but went straight to the clinic. His mother was still there, chatting to Vicki in the clinic’s sitting room. Luke kissed Vicki, and gave his mother a tentative hug and kissed her cheek dutifully.
“Are you well, Mom? Did you see our babies?”
“They’re absolutely gorgeous! Thank you both so much for giving me such beautiful grandchildren. I’m so proud of you.”
Vicki saw the sudden tension around Luke’s mouth, felt his hand tighten in hers, and she squeezed his fingers, saying to Adele lightly, “I hope you’ll be able to hold at least one of them before you go back to Surrey. They have to stay in the incubators at the moment. I don’t think they’ll be able to come home for a while yet.”
“Oh, my dear. It’s such a pity I live so far away. But your brother has said that I can visit at any time.” She looked at her son. “I - I hope I’ll be welcome!”
Luke forced a smile. “Of course,” he said quietly. “You’re the children’s grandmother.”
Adele smiled and nodded, but said, “I think I’m going to leave you two together and go back up to the house now. You haven’t been able to see Vicki as you’ve been at work, and I’m sure you have lots to talk about. I’ll - I’ll visit later if I may?”
“Did you want me to walk back with you?” Luke asked politely, but she was quick to answer.
“No, no! Stay with your wife. I’ll be fine.”
When she had gone, Luke took Vicki into his arms and kissed her, and she could feel the tension in him.
“What is it, darling? You are happy to have your mom here, aren’t you? She’s so excited about the babies!”
He swallowed. “I suppose so.” He took her hands in his. “Do you realise that that is the first time I’ve ever heard her say that she’s proud of me? And even now, I wonder if she really means it.”
“Oh, Luke. Does it still hurt you so much? I thought you’d forgiven her!”
“I have - or at least, I thought I had! I just wish she’d been proud of me when I was a kid! She didn’t even make the effort to come to the final prize-giving when I left school, showed no interest in the awards I won.” He gave a bitter laugh. “And there were many! Where was her pride in me then? And it wasn’t even as if Frank was there to stop her, as he was in jail!” He took a breath, and smiled at her. “I’m sorry, darling. I just promise you that I will always be proud of our children, always be interested in them.”
“I know.” She kissed him again, and rapidly changed the subject. “How was school? You told everyone, of course. What did they say?”
“All thrilled for us! And I’ve got cards for you from your register class. I left them in the car, but I’ll bring them when I come back later. I need to go and shower, but I needed to see you and our babies first. Are you okay, sweetheart? You look tired. Do you have any pain?”
She smiled. “I’m fine. I can probably come home tomorrow. I’m allowed in the nursery. So are you. There’s only our three in there. The nurses took Casey out of the incubator and put her to my breast to see if she’d latch on. But she’s still too small. The boys are even smaller, but Mark says I need to keep trying with Casey. She might be able to come home sooner if she can feed.”
“It’s going to be very hard, my love, trying to breast-feed all three of them.”
“But I can express my milk and you can help with a bottle.”
“I’m sure everyone will want to pitch in,” Luke said. “We have so many willing helpers. It’s so lovely to be part of a family like yours.”
He laughed. “Like ours!” he corrected. “Where there’s so much love.” He paused, then added, “I think I’m still getting used to it! It’s something I only experienced when I met you. These last few years have been the happiest of my life.”
They went into the nursery hand in hand. The nurse turned from her task of putting a fresh nappy on one of the boys, and she smiled.
“You need to handle your babies through the portholes. Just touching, stroking them, talking to them. Contact with their mommy and daddy is important. I’ll show you how to change their nappies while they’re in the incubators too.”
“Are we allowed to do that?” Luke asked.
The nurse grinned. “They’re your babies! Of course! Your little girl is almost three kilos, a fantastic weight for a triplet. Dr. Conway says she’ll be the first to go home!” She put the soiled nappy in a plastic bag and tied it closed, looking at Vicki. “We just need to keep trying with the breast instead of the tubes. And you need to drink plenty of liquid so your milk comes through. There are some bottles of juice and water in the ward for you. And we’ll bring tea and biscuits just before visiting hour.”
She showed them where the surgical gloves were kept, and how to put their arms through the portholes of the incubators to touch the babies. At first, Luke was nervous. The babies’ skin seemed so flimsy and delicate and he was sure he would hurt them, however gentle his fingers, especially the smallest boy, Joshua. The nurse, however, assured them both that their children were stronger than they appeared.
“Be gentle,” she said, “but confident. It makes them feel safer!”
When Luke made his way back to the mansion, his heart was bursting with a pride that he wished his mother had shown him when he was a boy. It was too late now, he decided. His connection with his mom would never be more than a kind of tolerance. He had opted to love her, because she had given birth to him, but their relationship would always be tainted. He’d chosen to forgive, but he could never forget!
As he reached the steps to the entrance of the house, he heard the unmistakable giggling laughter from little Sarah, and turned to see the twins approaching from the direction of the stables, swinging her between them as they walked. She broke free of their hands when she saw him, and ran along the pathway squealing, “Uncle Luke! I see babies. They sleep.”
Luke hugged her. “I know, Sarah. They’ll sleep a lot because they’re so small.”
“Uncle Ian say they sleep cos they good!” Sarah chirped, making Luke laugh.
He waited for the twins to catch up, and he took the little girl’s hand and helped her manage the three steps instead of letting her use the ramp. He caught sight of Brad standing in the doorway of the entrance hall, and he grinned.
“Hi. You waiting for your daughter?”
“I was just wondering if the twins were going to bring her back from the stables before tea-time,” Brad said, lifting Sarah as she reached the last step. “She was too excited about your babies to eat much lunch! Your mom is in the lounge, talking to Carrie, and they’re gushing over the knitted stuff she brought! Probably enough to last until your triplets are four years old!” He grinned, tickling Sarah and making her giggle and squirm in his arms.
“I’m going to shower before tea-time,” Luke told him. “Then I have a couple of reports to finish before I can go back to the clinic. Should have done them yesterday, but - well, Vicki was having pains and I was a bit worried ” He grimaced. “I suppose it’s only polite for me to let my mother know I’m here. I - I only saw her in the clinic for a brief moment. How - how does she seem?”
Brad shrugged, putting Sarah down, and watching her run through into the lounge area. The twins followed her, leaving Brad to answer Luke.
“She seems extremely happy about the triplets, of course. How else would she seem?”
Luke took a deep breath and wet his lips. “I’m sorry. I know she’s happy to be a grandma at last. I just meant ….” He sighed. “Actually, I’m not sure what I meant! I - I just find it hard to forget that she was never a - a mother to me. Perhaps I’m still holding a grudge about that.”
Brad smiled. “Grudges make you bitter. You don’t want your children to grow up in a world of bitterness and strife! You don’t have to forget, Luke. You just have to forgive! Let it go!”
“I’ve tried!” Luke burst out, then glanced at the lounge doors and lowered his voice. “We’ve visited her in Surrey, and even gone with her to see Tim in re-hab. I thought I had forgiven! But I can’t honestly say that I love her, - well, not like a son should love his mother! Not the way I love this family, I don’t even trust her. I - I don’t think I could ever leave my children alone with her.” He frowned, adding, “Yet I could easily leave them with Nanny and Dr Max!”
“Max and Nanny live here. You’ve had time to develop a bond of trust with them. The few times you’ve been out to visit your mother, or even times when she has been here visiting you, are not sufficient to build up enough confidence yet.” He frowned slightly. “Your mother didn’t give you any reason to trust her when you were a boy. I can’t really understand how you feel, as everyone around me was dependable as I grew up. But I do know that you’ve learned to trust everyone in this family. Maybe one day that trust will extend to your mom too! But don’t beat yourself up about it now. You’re a new father. Go and shower if you must, and come down and have tea.”
Luke went upstairs without going to see his mom first. When he joined the family downstairs, the women were still discussing how wonderful the baby clothes were. Jessica held up a very small knitted jacket to show Luke as he took his tea from the trolley.
“Look, isn’t this just adorable?”
Luke forced a smile, looking at the open suitcase packed full with his mother’s creations. “Wow, you’ve been busy. Looks like we’ll have the best dressed infants around. I’m sure Vicki will love those things. Thank you so much, mom.”
Adele gave a faint smile back, knowing that relations with her eldest son were still strained. She didn’t blame him, of course. How could she? She’d been the worst mother ever! But she desperately wanted to be a good grandmother. Her eyes rested for a moment on Carrie. She was smiling now as she cuddled her little daughter, the daughter to whom she had never given birth. Because of what Frank did! Adele had seen Carrie’s scars, and was horrified that she had stubbornly defended her husband when she knew that he was guilty of such a heinous crime. That poor girl had almost died! Yet Frank had denied his guilt, even when the police had found his knife and blood-stained clothes hidden in the bushes behind the construction site. Even when they’d tested the DNA on the semen specimens! And the skin samples under Carrie’s fingernails. Even when the judge pronounced him guilty and sentenced him to twenty years without parole!
“More tea, Adele?” Nanny asked, bringing her out of her reverie.
Adele wet her lips, forcing her mind back to the present. “Nothing else for me, thank you.” She smiled. “It was all lovely. Did you make everything yourself?”
“No, my dear.” Nanny grinned. “Just the apple tart and the brownies. Chef creates most of the things freshly, on a daily basis, but we also have very large freezers and cold storage facilities. In this house, we need them. Brad has a penchant for sweet things.”
Brad was chatting to Neil Langley, but on hearing his name, he looked over and grinned. “We’re spoilt of course! Well - I am! Everyone here thinks it’s important to keep me happy!” He heard Ian’s quiet chuckle, and added, “They know I’m the lord of the manor and have to be treated as such!”
Ian laughed, taking another brownie from the tea trolley. He winked at Adele. “My brother can do no wrong in everybody’s eyes! You’ll get used to his arrogance!”
Adele glanced at her son. She wished she could have at least a small amount of the rapport with Luke, that Brad had with his family. There was no doubt that they all loved him. Of course they did! And why not? He had raised them all! And Luke had nothing but love and admiration for him too, something he would never have with his own mother. Her heart gave a painful lurch, and she held back the tears, knowing she could never bring back the lost years. It was too late! No one could turn back time!