AN: Thanks for all the reviews!

Chapter 4

June 16th 2024

"Mommy, did we bring the donut?" was the questions that Emma had asked Rory from the pool, which had made it abundantly clear that she and Celeste needed to head out for a round of shopping - both for food, drinks and among other recreation also all things inflatable, that would help keep the kids happy and occupied.

To spruce up their lives as a little as well, Celeste hit the pedal on the BMW convertible, making the gravel crunch under its wheels. The mommies were off, leaving the rest to fend for themselves for a couple of hours.

Just out of the gate, Rory felt the need to throw her arms up in the air and yelled, "Woooh," as if letting go of all the stress that had gathered during the travelling, as Celeste drove the car downhill towards the highway. They'd arrived in Nice, all in one piece, and literally had no obligations other than celebrating a few birthdays over the next two months and keeping everyone fed and happy.

Celeste let out an exhilarating laughter, feeling a much similar sense of relief and excitement.

"Put on some music, will you?" Celeste requested from Rory. Half the fun of driving a car like this was making other people listen to your playlist.

It took Rory a few swift moves on her wrist watch, selecting a list composed of Harry Styles, Horizon Blue, Best Coast, Weezer and Daft Punk - after all they were two women in their (near) 40s, who really didn't keep up with the latest music trends that much. But nevertheless, it truly was perfect summer holiday playlist.

They drove a little further West from the house, Celeste typing in E. Leclerc, which essentially was a slightly fancier supermarket chain much like Whole Foods in the States, which also carried a lot of Italian produce, into her GPS. The large commercial center, Nice Valley, held all sorts of shops besides the grocery store, and they both knew even without saying it out loud that the kids needed their toys.

"How did Jess like the car?" Rory asked as they got out of the car, having not spoken much while driving, the music, the scenery and simply the one disadvantage to a convertible - traffic noise, filling all of their senses.

"He didn't admit it, but I think he liked it. I could just read that little curve of his lip," Celeste replied in a satisfactory tone.

"Sometimes men really don't know what they want unless we point it out for them," Rory chuckled.

They walked into the Joulé Club, and got a large shopping cart. Little by little the cart filled up with foldable soccer goals, balls, giant jenga, floatable food items and marine wildlife in all shapes and sizes, velcro rackets, and a couple of different board games that were pretty self explanatory despite their french exterior among other things. Naturally the kids had brought all their favourite toys, but packing the pool floats really hadn't been Rory's priority.

"We're outright spoiling them, aren't we?" Rory noted, feeling a little bad for splurging, looking at the full shopping cart.

"If not now, then when?" Celeste encouraged her and threw a few pool noodles into the cart. The kids really needed a holiday too - sure they'd had their pools and recreation, a lot more than most kids, but this was a break from routine - no strickt bedtimes or lessons.

"So what else have you got planned for Jess?" Rory asked, knowing Celeste was hoping to shake Jess out of his writer's block with everything she had.

"Besides one-on-one time, hopefully," Celeste said, making a praying motion, "I guess just a bunch of date nights out in the town, maybe a concert. Maybe Logan will let me take the boat out one night, maybe rent a jetski, snorkelin? I'm not sure he'll go for it but I was hoping to take him to explore one of the canyons - it's a bit of a climbing and diving mixture, a little more extreme. But I'm just a little worried it's all too sporty or fancy for him," Celeste explained, having a lot of plans but also feeling uncertain about a lot of them.

"I bet he might well just be the type of guy who just needs to feel bored - eat good food and drink wine, soak up the 'tomorrow' attitude," Rory suggested. "You know - live the life of all the famous artists and authors who've lived around here - Monet, Renoir, Gauguin..," she listed just a few.

"Yeah, and you see what happened with Gauguin - just a couple of years later he took off to Tahiti again," Celeste replied, recalling the artist's life story by heart.

"I keep forgetting you're pretty good at art history sometimes," Rory replied.

Celeste shrugged laughingly. Sometimes she forgot herself, but that sort of came naturally when one's family owned an art auction company.

They paid for their purchases and took the purchases to the car, shoving most of it into the trunk.

"Have you guys talked at all about what happened?" Celeste asked, cautiously, having not really talked to Rory in depth for a couple of weeks.

"Barely," Rory sighed. "And he's been really weird about it. He seems to be paying more attention to me, taking my hand or saying appreciative things - it just feels so weird. He should be mad at me, angry - but it's like he's ignoring the whole thing," Rory explained, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Maybe it's a good thing," Celeste shrugged, taking another large shopping cart at the E. Leclerc.

"Oh, my god, this place looks amazing," Rory exclaimed, seeing the selection of truly fresh local fruit and vegetables, getting for a moment carried away with fresh apricots and tomatoes that actually smelled like apricots and tomatoes. It was the true smell of summer.

"I guess. But it just weirds me out, I feel like I should be punished, scolded... for it, at least to some extent… and he's just ignoring it. It feels unnatural. Like I expect all that anger to come out of him when I least expect it," Rory continued to explain her hesitance.

"Just don't push him away - clearly he's trying something," Celeste suggested. "Talk to him," she added.

That recommendation really was no surprise to Rory - talking always seemed to be the answer and she knew it. But she was afraid to do it, truth be told. It had been so easy to simply not talk, to go on with practicalities of life - work and the kids, in recent years also the constant driving to Connecticut and back.

"That, of course, if you want this to work out in the long run...," Celeste added, tilting her head a little, and continued to get a couple of fennels and peppers for the barbeque she'd already thought of doing that evening. She didn't want to watch them splitting up, but she knew that splitting was better done amicably when there were kids involved.

September 22nd, 2023

Rory pulled up on the driveway in her black Lexus NX arriving an hour or so before sunset to Beeney. Beeney was what they'd started calling the estate in New Hartford, Northern Connecticut, after finding out the place had once belonged to a family of Scotts by the same name, and of course it had helped getting used to the name that Finny had started calling it that after hearing the name just once.

While they still had their place in Manhattan this was where they spent most of their time these days. Rory hadn't loved the idea, but for her kids she was willing to make a lot of sacrifices, this being one of them. The ability for the kids to go out whenever they wanted for however long they wanted, and not having to worry about them getting sick, was certainly worth the peace of mind. They still had Maya there, and a tutor to help Finny and the girls with homeschooling, a housekeeper and a maid to cook and clean, two farm hands and a farm manager, all who lived there full time in the guest houses and were paid handsomely to limit outside socializing, which meant that some had moved for work with their kids or spouses. Surprisingly, finding people to come and work for them had been surprisingly easy - the isolation of the place and the Huntzberger name being draws rather than obstacles.

Rory stepped out of her car, wearing a black shift dress with an asymmetrical neckline, having had a day full of interviews with fellowship applicants. For the day she had been the face of HPG and while most of the applicants had been truly inspiring, it had been a mentally challenging day and she was certainly feeling the pressure of decision-making.

Certain activities had returned to the New York headquaters, now that the vaccines were approved for adults and an infection risk reducing nasal spray had been brought to the market. While unavailable for the masses due to its cost, it did enable companies such as the HPG to make certain functions and meetings happen in person. Rory lived for those days when she could slip away to go to the office, sometimes even staying overnight to hang out with G or even bringing some of the kids along if any one of them was missing their real home, the townhouse, if it was just a short visit.

As she made her way towards the house she stepped her black suede pump into some mud along the way to the door. At least she hoped it was just mud. Her own fault really, for checking her e-mail while she should've been watching her step.

"Crap," she muttered, hating to ruin another pair of Stuart Weitzmann's.

"There you are, I was wondering when you'd get home," Logan appeared from the garage, just 20 ft away, wearing a quilted brown vest on top of his semi-casual checkered red-blue shirt. Logan had started growing a small beard, along with a moustache, and while she actually didn't mind its appearance on him, she understood better than ever why her grandmother had hated her grandfather's moustache, making kissing of any sorts rather uncomfortably ticklish.

The bigger issue was however, that when she looked at him like this, in this wealthy farmer or Laird look, if one were to compare it to Scottish term, half expecting a couple of beagles to appear after him or him carrying a hiker's cane, she just wasn't recognizing Logan anymore. Sure, she was happy to see him enjoying himself, learning new things and making another type of venture work. He was spending a lot of time with the kids, definitely putting family first and work second, and there was certainly nothing Rory could object to. But it was like all he ever wanted to talk about was this project of his - he barely kept up with the journalistic and literary world, which left Rory extremely disappointed as now she was finally, for the first time, beginning to feel like she was catching up with it.

"Hey," she replied, after wiping some of the mud off her heel with a baby wipe, and kissed her husband with a hasty kiss, trying to ignore the tickle on her upper lip.

"How was the drive?" he asked, wiping his own shoes clear at boot brush by the front door, and opened the door for her.

"Oh, the same," Rory replied, with a smile, trying to put on a brave face. The only positive was that the way here compared to Hartford was a lot less busy, which made the drive much less stressful.

"Thijs and I set up the new worm composting facility in one of the empty barns," Logan shared, speaking about his Dutch farm manager, that came highly recommended and certified in both permaculture and regenerative agriculture, clearly being proud of that advancement. While they had horses, free range sheep, goats and chickens, they hadn't bothered with much more livestock. So they weren't fully self-sufficient - but still enough to keep Logan interested and actively involved.

"Great," Rory responded to humour him. This was what it had been like on most days.

Rory hung up her white blazer, she'd had with her, but hadn't really needed, placed her handbag down on the table in the foyer, and checked her phone one last time before putting it to charge.

"I saw some pretty good applicants today," Rory said, hoping to at least pick Logan's brain on the matter. By the sound of it, the kids were upstairs watching TV, but they both knew they'd be down in 10 minutes for dinner anyways.

"Oh yeah?" Logan asked, and headed for the living room.

Rory felt relief that he at least showed interest.

She continued to describe the three applicants and each of their strengths and weaknesses to him within the next five minutes or so.

"It's getting harder and harder each year to make these decisions - they all are good candidates, I just don't feel qualified to make them. Even the three person committee doesn't feel confident to make them. We feel like we're just putting names in a hat and drawing one at random," Rory continued to explain, and continued to pour herself a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon by the bar cabinet.

"So make a bigger committee, involve people. The name has some pull and makes it pretty hard for a lot of people to refuse, you realize that, right?" Logan replied.

"I don't know... Maybe you're right. But I just don't feel like pulling the name card with one of my old professors or something," Rory complained.

"Then try to ask your old professors for a referral, see where those lead you. If they want to do it themselves, they'll let you know. Maybe someone from Chilton? If you want you can look through Life and Death Brigade records," Logan offered some suggestions. "You could even ask Mitchum," he added.

It was there the conversation left off, the kids hurrying downstairs for dinner and the housekeeper, Susan, came to take the lasagne out of the oven. Rory greeted her kids with warm hugs and kisses. They're settings may be fancier, but thankful their day-to-day life really wasn't, serving kid friendly meals and making sure none of the kids ever needed to grow up sooner than they needed to.

The entire time during dinner, while attempting to listen to her kids talk about their day's activities - learning, painting and playing outside, Rory's mind kept searching for names of people to ask, the only problem was that the one name that she kept coming back to was Owen, feeling like in part the idea of doing something with the academic sector was his to begin with.