Chris stood quietly at the grill scraping burger residue with a steel-bristled brush, his back radiating to Kate that after a few hours of small talk, this was hers to wrap up. Dave sat with his feet up on a deck chair, beer in hand, calling directions to the children playing hide-and-seek. When a child came close—a Martin or a Spenser, it didn’t matter which—he’d reel the runner in by an arm or a leg. If his tickling was a bit more exuberant than necessary, the children were either unaware or did not mind. Kate sat quietly on the deck amid the noise. The sense of the missing member of the party was a fog low over the patio, changing the look and feel of everything.

She surveyed the familiar yard. The patch of weeds where tomatoes used to grow. The rose trellis against the house, indifferent to its missing gardener. The wrought-iron bench—chipping, from its first season left out through the winter—where they’d been sitting when Elizabeth told her she was expecting again. Kate had felt a surge of happiness as if she herself were gaining a life. Now thirteen months old, Emily was no longer quite a baby but not yet a toddler. Kate held her on her lap, the small sturdy body warm and close, hair soft against Kate’s cheek.

It was fascinating the way children grew, features morphing in and out of their parents’ likenesses in genetic peekaboo. The girl had her father’s full mouth like her four-year-old sister, Anna, but her eyes were all Elizabeth, an arresting blue halfway between corn- flower and sapphire. All three children had inherited Dave’s thick dark hair, and their mother had been loath to cut it on any of them, even Jonah. So far Dave had left it alone, and the boy with collar- length curls looked more like a soulful Giovanni than a Connecticut WASP. Elizabeth had loved comparing their features, exhibiting the fascination of an only child when it came to the similarities and differences among her own children. Giving them siblings, she’d said, had been the best thing she could ever do for them. Kate lowered her nose to Emily’s head and breathed in Johnson’s baby shampoo, a hormonal cocktail that among women who have children not long out of diapers drew the Pavlovian, Another.

______________________

Nichole Bernier is author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (Crown/Random House, June 5, 2012). She has written for magazines including Conde Nast Traveler, ELLE, Health, Men’s Journal, and Child, and is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins. She lives outside of Boston with husband and five children, and is at work on her second novel. She can be found at http://www.nicholebernier.com, on Facebook and on Twitter @nicholebernier. Signed copies of the novel can be purchased online through her local indie, http://wellesley.indiebound.com/nichole-bernier.

Reprinted from the book The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier. Copyright © 2012 by Nichole Bernier. Published by Crown Trade (Crown Publishing Group), a division of Random House, Inc.

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