It was Heather who hated Kailee first.
Well, she didn’t actually hate
Kailee. But she wasn’t sure she liked her.
The first time she met her future daughter-in-law was when Heather and Wall went to a UMass Amherst football game. It was early October. The air was cool, bright, and clear, what Heather’s mother had called “snapping weather.” The trees were changing color, putting on a brilliant display of red, orange, and yellow, and Heather had brought a container of her famous autumn chili in a tub in the Styrofoam cooler to give to Ross, because that was his favorite food. Ross didn’t play football, although he had in high school, maybe because sports seemed to be the only topic he and his father could discuss without arguing.
Heather and Wall had made plans for Ross and Kailee to meet them at the Inn on Boltwood in Amherst for drinks and dinner. It was pricey, but Heather guessed from her phone conversations with Ross that Kailee might be special. Ross was handsome, tall, wide-shouldered, with curly dark hair and a great smile. He’d had plenty of girlfriends over the years, but the way Ross spoke about Kailee . . . there was a warmth in his voice. A happiness. Heather hoped that Kailee was an easy hugger, because Heather was, and if Kailee made Ross happy, Heather wanted to hug her tight.
Heather and Wall got to the restaurant first and sat at their table reading the menu. Heather wore her light brown hair in a messy bun and her favorite blue cashmere sweater with jeans. Wall wore jeans, a button-down shirt, and his good L.L.Bean vest.
Heather looked up and saw Ross and Kailee walk in. She nudged her husband, so they were both smiling at the couple as they threaded their way between the tables. Heather noticed that everyone else in the restaurant watched the couple as they passed through, as if they were royalty, and really, Kailee looked like Kate Middleton, tall and slender, with long chestnut hair, green eyes, and the lanky, easy stride of a Thoroughbred. Ross wore chinos and a navy-blue crew-neck sweater. Kailee wore a blue-and-white striped dress, very classic, very nautical, with espadrilles. Her hair was held back with a blue headband, and small diamonds studded her ears.
She was seriously beautiful. Heather realized, as they all greeted one another, that Kailee was not in the least bit worried about whether or not her boyfriend’s parents liked her. She had an air about her—an aura?—of noblesse oblige, as if she were a princess allowing her subjects to speak with her.
Heather had never known a young woman with this kind of confidence, this cool, almost icy, poise.
Heather didn’t try to hug Kailee.
They all took their seats, boy, girl, boy, girl, and chatted lightly about the game—the UMass Amherst Minutemen had lost to the Eastern Michigan Eagles by one touchdown.
“I wish they would change their name,” Kailee said.
“Why?” Heather asked. “The Minutemen were a trained class of militia during the American Revolution.”
Kailee ducked her head to hide a smile. “Mom.”
Ross widened his eyes in a give me a break
Heather said, “Oh,” and blushed. Suddenly she felt naïve in front of Ross’s very sophisticated girlfriend. It was not a pleasant sensation.
She hoped that Wall would say something in her defense, or at least say something to change the subject, but Wall’s attention was fixed on the menu.
Grasping for an easy subject to discuss, she smiled at Kailee. “Do you play sports?”
Kailee shrugged. “Not really. I sail and play tennis, of course.” She laid a possessive hand on Ross’s arm. “I’m going to teach Ross to sail next summer, if we have time.”
Heather was confused. Kailee played tennis and sailed, but said she didn’t play sports. Trying to find something in common with the young woman, Heather asked, “Do you play pickleball?”
“God, no,” Kailee replied.
Heather coughed and picked up her menu. “I wonder what’s good here.” She didn’t care what was good in that restaurant, she had to hide her face before she burst out laughing. What a little snot Kailee was! How in the world could her son like Kailee? True, she was beautiful, but she had all the social skills of a cobra. Heather couldn’t wait to talk to Wall about her, although Wall wasn’t very communicative these days. She’d call her friend Christine. She wished she could dash to the privacy of the restroom and call Christine right now. How would they get through this meal? Ross couldn’t possibly be serious about this girl.
Fortunately, a waiter arrived to take drink orders.
When the conversation resumed, Ross asked his father what he thought of the Red Sox this year and they entered into a detailed discussion of each of the players and the manager.
Heather cleared her throat and smiled at Kailee. “What are you majoring in?”
“Business management,” Kailee replied. “My father owns a rather large construction company on the island, and because I’m the only child, I’m going to take over the business end of things when I graduate.”
“That seems like an important job,” Heather said. “I can see how you and Ross have something in common. You know, Wall owns his own hardware store just outside Concord. When Ross graduates, he’s going to join Wall and gradually take over the store.”
Kailee aimed a kind smile at Heather, but turned to look at Wall.
“Did you see Alex Verdugo hit two
home runs last night?” Kailee asked.
Heather sat back, wondering if Kailee had been listening to the sports talk all along. It was amazing, she thought, and a gift to humankind, that sports talk could carry people right through dinner. The other three thoroughly discussed the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Boston Bruins, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Serena Williams.
Kailee said, “A. J. Mleczko, a Nantucket girl, won the Ice Hockey Gold Medal in the 1998 Olympics.”
Of course she did, Heather thought, and only after they had moved on to the topic of golf did she remember that A .J. Mleczko now lived in Concord, where she and Wall lived, where they had raised Ross. But there was no way to toss that into the conversation, and Heather wondered what on earth had gotten into her that she wanted to be competitive with Ross’s girlfriend. She hadn’t always loved Ross’s girlfriends at first, but she’d never felt this discomfort before.
“How’s the store doing, Dad?” Ross asked.
“Great!” Wall answered. “Since all the big box stores have opened, I’ve had to get creative about inventory. I’ve added a lot of electronics. Home security systems, electronic cameras, and motion detectors. Electrical wire and cable.”
As Heather listened to Wall talk, she realized she didn’t know about these changes. Wall hadn’t been discussing them with her, and she couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or bad.
Conversation slowed as they finished their meals. No one wanted dessert, but they all asked for coffee. Wall and Heather had to drive back to Concord, which would take only an hour and a half, and Ross and Kailee were going back to their dorms.
By now, Heather realized that her son was in love with Kailee. She’d never seen him look at a woman the way he did today. She’d never seen him so happy. Heather stirred her coffee and told herself to be the grown-up.
She said, “It was wonderful meeting you, Kailee.”
“Oh, Mom. Dad.” Ross spoke before Heather had even finished. “I’m going to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with Kailee on Nantucket.”
Heather choked on her coffee.
For once, Wall spoke up. “Sounds nice.”
“Oh, it is, it’s beautiful on the island then,” Kailee assured him. “The Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend, everyone gathers on Main Street and the huge Christmas tree lights are turned on, and so are all the lights on the little trees along the sidewalks. It’s magical. The week after is the Stroll, which is amazing.
And there are parties like crazy, and I want Ross to meet everyone. And,” she added, giving Ross a smug look, “I want all my friends to meet my gorgeous Ross.” Her
Ross was spending the holidays with Kailee on Nantucket?
Weakly, Heather began to speak. “Do your parents mind—”
Heather interrupted. “My parents can’t wait
to have Ross stay with us. They met him last weekend, and they like him so much.
And our house has more than enough room for a guest or two, although my father wants Ross to stay in the apartment over our garage.” Kailee’s parents met Ross last week?
Copyright © 2023 by Nancy Thayer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.