Six P.M. didn’t come fast enough each day. Only then was Grace able to find a gap in her schedule to call her mother. The fact that cell phones were verboten at Finedale had proven to be no more than a minor inconvenience for Grace. Each suite was outfitted with a telephone couch-side in the living room. This was the tenth evening since she had arrived that Grace had dialed her parents’ home phone.

“Hey, Mom, remember when I auditioned for the holiday show at school?” shouted Nick, grabbing for the phone from his grandmother. Marie relinquished the receiver to him, exclaiming he was home awfully early from an after-school activity. “Camille’s mom dropped me off, Grandma Marie.”

“Did you get into the holiday show, honey?” asked Grace.

“Yup.” Her son’s voice beamed with pride, bringing a lump to Grace’s throat at the realization that she might miss a ‘Nick event’ for the first time ever.

“So proud of you for auditioning! What’ll you perform?”

“I’m totally stoked. I wrote a new song with Camille.”

“Camille Magnin?” Grace paused. Since Brett was helping out while Grace was gone, Nick and Camille had become pals. “So, can you sing me a few bars?”

“No way—you’ll have to wait like all my other fans. Peace be with you, Mom.” Nick handed the phone back to his grandmother.

“Heh heh, he’s been going to church with us,” said Marie. “Really seems to be absorbing it all.”

“Sounds like you’ve really taught him a lot.” Grace burst into tears.

“Grace, Honey, stop that,” said Marie.

“I’m fine.”

“One of the surreal aspects of being a mother is reading your children’s minds. You mustn’t feel guilty for not being here. Nick’s resilient, like you. He knows how much you love him. It’s the quality, not quantity, Dear. This is your time. Take advantage of it for yourself.”

Grace had never questioned her own mothering skills until now. She was a product of a close family with loving parents who had handcrafted a family others envied. Her family life with her parents and sister had been uninterrupted. Well, except for that one autumn when Grace was eleven and her mother went to Paris alone to study surrealism at the d’Orsay, leaving her father to manage her and Nicole, who’d been four years older than Grace, along with the farmworkers during harvest. Grace was sorry she and Peter had not been able to conceive more children. The trauma of delivering Nick four weeks before his due date and a mere ten days after Nicole’s death had caused as many physical scars as emotional ones.

“Thanks for all your help,” said Grace. “I was told in the child custody class today that I need to be the ‘ideal mother’ during the early phase if I move ahead. I told them that it’s hard to be perfect when I’m here at Finedale and not home baking cookies.”

“Nick is doing just fine. He joined the youth choir Brett’s daughter, Camille, is in at church. Their voices are like angels, and I hope you and Peter will allow him to continue. I think it’s important to him.” Marie moves on to remind Grace of Nick’s basketball team practice the following day, Saturday, and that Peter was planning to pick him up afterward.

“Peter’s going to pick Nick up after practice? That’s a first. Is he still hounding you as to where I am?”

“Not really, Dear. He tried a few times, but he’s stopped…”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Your father and I have made it clear to Peter that we will not get involved. Speaking of your father, he’s going to be in charge early next week. Remember, my doctor has me taking a few more tests.”

“Have you lost more weight?”

“No more than Ozzie and Harriet have. Your father and I moved them and Daisy over to our condo until you get back. All of us are on a high-calorie diet.”