One Plus One Equals Everything
by Sammie

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. And multiple apologies to the writers of the classics whose lines wormed their way in. "Cate" is my creation.

SUMMARY: Margaret and Andrew reflect on everything's that happened to them.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I've never written movie FF; I generally need a lot more than 2 hours to get character inspiration. In addition - and this is no doubt the worst place to say this - I wasn't even that fond of the film, especially certain lines and certain scenes. I believe it's the cast, here - Bullock and Reynolds especially. They are magnetic and manage to cram into two hours enough looks and emotion and humor to inspire even a dullard like me. I certainly hope the rumors are true that they may star in another film together.

In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing.
- Mignon McLaughlin

She wonders if, out of the whole family, she is most like Joe Paxton.

Joe Paxton is making a private apology to her as they stand here, in the doorway to Andrew's apartment. It has clearly been rehearsed but, despite that, lacks the suave polish that would make it insincere. He clearly feels terribly guilty about his role in separating her from his son.

She understands it. She is that way herself. She spent the eve of her (failed) wedding teetering between going through with and not going through with the sham. She must have rewritten - rethought - that wedding day apology a thousand times.

Even though the older man masks it, Margaret sees the change sweep over him when he finishes his carefully planned apology. It's the same she felt as she walked out of the barn. Relief. It's one less burden to carry.

She thanks him and assures him it wasn't necessary, considering the ginormous (oh, fantastic - now even the lousy vocabulary of the lousy manuscript she'd been reading this past week is seeping into her mind) proportions of the lie she was handing to the Paxtons.

What makes his heartfelt apology easier to accept is that she knows Joe Paxton's opposition to her and to his son's marriage isn't just dislike of her. Sure, any parent would worry if their child suddenly came home and announced an engagement to a woman he had hated with a passion. But it's more than that, Margaret knows; she represents that fast-paced New York life that Andrew has abandoned Sitka for. As much as Gertrude represents the sweet, hometown life that Joe Paxton wants for his son, she represents everything he doesn't want for Andrew. Marrying her will be one more reason Andrew decides to stay in New York and not return home. Joe wouldn't have liked any other New York girl Andrew brought home, though Margaret figures the barista Jillian at least wouldn't face the "Satan's Mistress" introduction.

Margaret silently promises both herself and the Paxtons that, while Andrew's and her careers are in New York, they will often come home to Sitka. And more often than once in three years - much more often.

There's an awkward silence, and Joe Paxton sticks his hands into his pockets. She knows now where Andrew gets that tic.

There's a moment of awkward smiles and looks, the uncomfortable aftermath of an apology. She is just as tongue-tied; both she and Joe Paxton are in unfamiliar territory.

After a moment of silence, all he says is - very quietly - "I really do just want him to be happy."

She wishes Andrew could hear this. She knows he chafes under his father's interference, and for all his usual perception, Andrew is blind here. He is too involved with his fight for independence from his father to realize that, for all Joe Paxton's overbearing attitude, everything he has done has been for what he perceives will make his son happy: the businesses, the home, the immigration deal made with Gilbertson.

She understands. It was the same deal she struck with Gilbertson on the ferry back to the airport: he would forget about Andrew's lie in the barn - Andrew's name and career and reputation would be clean as a whistle - if she left voluntarily.

She looks back at Joe Paxton. "So do I."

Twenty millionth time is the charm, he thinks impatiently as his mother and his grandmother finally let him leave the kitchen to find Margaret.

OK, not twenty million.

Despite his father's apology to him at the Sitka airport, Andrew was suspicious when his father sought out his fiancée once they reached his apartment.

He loves his father; he does. But day-to-day reality really gets in the way of that sometimes.

When Joe Paxton dragged off his boss - fiancée - to talk to her, the son was determined to follow; after all, the last father-son-fiancée meeting had turned into a mini disaster. Mom and Gammy had refused to let him go, instead herding him into the kitchen. Never mind that he was a head taller than his mother and a whole head and shoulders taller than his grandmother; they had always been able to manipulate him - especially Gammy.

He kept trying to sneak out until his grandmother smacked him on the back of the head. He didn't even know she could reach that high.

When he's finally released (from his jail / pen / custody), he crosses his apartment in record time. His hand instictively reaches for Margaret, settling firmly on her back. He'd grab her hand, but her hands are clasped in front of her - a stance that is rather unusual for her.

His father and his fiancée are smiling. Creepy.

"I, uh, better see what your mother is ... up to," Joe Paxton excuses himself awkwardly.

Andrew moves to let him pass, then turns so he is facing Margaret. He raises an eyebrow.

It is slightly disturbing that, as fresh as his feelings for her are, he can read her moods like a book and she can his. They're already (frighteningly) attuned to each other's expressions. Every one of Andrew's relationships (not that he's been able to afford that many in the three years he's been at this office) - except perhaps Gert - has been a rush of romantic feelings and the fun of learning that person's mannerisms during that rush.

With Margaret, it was the rush of fear and the terror of dire consequences that fueled his learning to read her moods. It feels strange now to use that knowledge in this new, unchartered territory - to want to know what she's feeling so he can protect her, comfort her, please her.

Margaret's eyes flicker down to the ground for just a second, as if she's thinking, and then back up to his face, looking it over carefully. "He loves you very much, you know."

"Yeeaahh," Andrew draws out, waiting for more.

She doesn't give it to him. "He just hasn't adjusted."

"Despite the fact that I've been in New York for years already," Andrew mutters sarcastically.

"He just can't deal with the fact that his little tiny baby bird has flown the nest," Margaret coos dryly.

"What is it with you and birds?"

"Cuter than dogs."

"Considering a bird stole your cell phone - "

"Oh, by the way, that dog is staying here. In your apartment. I don't even know why he came."

"He missed you," Andrew coos in the same teasing, sarcastic tone Margaret just used.

"Like fleas."

"He's a puppy. He needs somebody to care for him."

"What happened to those fifty friends and neighbors who were all at that party?"

He is telling a story at dinner, and everyone else is listening in rapt attention. (Well, everyone except Ramone, whose attention is divided between laughing at the story and shooting her cringingly adoring looks.) She knows this story - she was there at the book fair - and so she settles in to watch her assistant.

She's amazed and grateful that, even after three years, she hasn't crushed his spirit.

Andrew Paxton had not had the most brilliant resume or application. Still, Margaret's previous assistant had included his name on the short list of those to interview, based on some "gut instinct". It had been a wise decision in retrospect, Margaret grudgingly admits.

Their top contender was brilliant on paper. He was a Bob Spaulding in person, assuming he was God's gift to book publishing. Margaret tore this resume in half in front of him, and her then-assistant Cate called security to have him removed. There are days where Margaret is sure Cate included this guy just so she could watch the show.

Their second contender was just as brilliant on paper. He turned out to be a William Collins in person, who too earnestly endeavoured to demean himself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship. Margaret wondered if he ever even made up his own mind on his favorite color. And while she wanted an obedient assistant, she didn't want a servile assistant; contrary to popular belief, there is a night and day difference between the two.

The third would have sold out her own mother to get a position. Her cloying praise was clearly faked. When Margaret stated that Philip Roth was clearly a hack and she agreed, she was tossed.

The fourth was a hard worker who had evidently taken a monk's vow of silence.

The fifth was on the younger side and didn't have the "I have wanted to book-edit since I was two" plans that one and three had. The resume wasn't brilliant, but it was good. He had done enough to be a decent contender. He exuded quiet confidence in the interview: nothing was too low a task for him to do, but he clearly wasn't a doormat.

It wasn't love at first sight. It wasn't even attraction. It was Cate who pushed for the fifth interviewee, Cate who called to offer him the job, and Cate who trained him. Then one day Cate stopped wearing skirts, grew taller, and deepened her voice.

Margaret isn't even sure what happened to Cate after she left, except that (1) she had moved to Washington to marry her older boyfriend, and (2) Andrew apparently keeps in contact with her.

Three months in, they had had an unruly writer who couldn't accept rejection. After summarily dismissing the jerk, Margaret had left it to her assistant to deal with the actual ejection from the office. Andrew had quietly called security, calmly locked the irate man in the conference room until they arrived, and later billed him for the damage he'd done to the cabinet in the conference room. This new assistant had even collected on that bill, too.

Andrew had even managed to look nonplussed the first time she had sent him on a Tampax run, acting as though she had simply asked him to mail a letter for her.

Margaret had to admit grudgingly that Andrew's predecessor had made an excellent choice. She left things for him to do because he could do them and do them well. It didn't matter that she was sending an editor's assistant to throw out editor-in-chief-waiting Bob - because he could do it. It didn't matter that she was telling him to pull her out of a meeting with the big bosses on the top floor - he could do it. He fell into her rhythms with the ease of somebody who had known her for years.

Yet, after three years - despite knowing how she would respond - he still told her "Nicely done" when he thought it was. He still told her his family hated his job. He still insisted on ideas - and manuscripts - he thought worthy. Apparently he still had his own very strong opinions and she hadn't managed to crush it out of him.

Thank God.

No sane woman wants a doormat for a boyfriend, just like no sane man wants one for a girlfriend.

He catches her eye from across the table, and she gives him a tiny smile.

He's envious of Ramone.

He's not jealous of Ramone; that's very different. Ramone, poor guy (who right now is making cow eyes at Margaret and trying to impress her with magic tricks), has a snowball's chance in hell (no pun intended) with Margaret, and both men know it. It's fascinating, watching Margaret's awkward attempts to put off the man without hurting him, and Ramone's sweet but completely misplaced attempts to impress her as much as she apparently impressed him. To be honest, Andrew admits to throwing them together just so he can watch the show; the resulting dirty looks from his fiancée - if they could kill, Margaret would face both deportation and fianc-icide charges - are well worth the entertainment. It's hilarious - better than television.

Still - he's envious of Ramone. Ramone caught on, far earlier than he did, to Margaret's hidden side. Three years he worked for Margaret, and he didn't see what Ramone managed to see in the first twenty-four hours.

Given, Margaret was nicer to Ramone (even when trying to put him off) than she was to him, but after three years, one would think that he would notice.

Like Bob. He has to admit that, in the whirlwind of getting fake-engaged and then real-engaged and being threatened with a quarter-million dollar fine and jail time, he never thought of the fact that Margaret had allowed Bob a resignation and two months to find another job. In the day and age - and economy - where firing signals a major problem with the person himself, Margaret had given Bob an out. Bob could state that he wasn't fond of the direction the company was going in; that he wanted to start fresh; he wanted a place where he could move up; he wanted a place of flexibility. Bob, of course, hadn't taken it, but Margaret had offered. And Andrew knows well enough that, had Bob become editor-in-chief in Margaret's place as she had predicted, he would never have granted Andrew that reprieve.

It disturbs Andrew that he didn't notice this; he just noticed Bob getting fired.

It disturbs Andrew even more that he hadn't been surprised at Margaret's offer - that he'd treated it as something she would normally do.

Yes, she was, in many ways, just plain insane to the office. She did scare everyone; she'd managed to make one summer intern cry and the other wet his pants on their first day. One man was told bluntly that if he'd actually done work during the day he wouldn't have to miss his daughter's birthday party. She'd plucked a set of company symphony tickets out of the hand of some woman and informed her that she wasn't going that night, since the book signing for DeLillo had been moved. Some days the witch wasn't just riding her broom but using it to hit people along the way. (His favorite comment on the office IM had been "Madame - Mademoiselle - Defarge is knitting!" - sent by one of the workers after a staff meeting about layoffs.)

Yet, over the course of the three years, she'd done enough things like she'd done for Bob for it to no longer surprise him. She had dressed down Ruby publicly for not photocopying fast enough for work and then fired the entire department; a few days later Andrew saw the elderly woman still at work on another floor. Although Lupe never takes advantage of it, his vacation day count is like the Zarephthah widow's oil; the widowed father of three, whom Margaret chews out about once a week for the way he dresses, never seems to run out of paid vacations. And Andrew himself handled the London book fair when the editor Arterburn backed out because of his wife's sudden illness - Arterburn, whom Margaret put on six months' probation when she caught him using office computers to check his fantasy football stats during lunch - during lunch!

He still hasn't figured out how Margaret knows these personal details (like counsel Edwin Malloy and his secretary or Bob's cheating), and he still hasn't figured out why he was so blind to this secretively kind side. All the signs had been there, and Andrew is disturbed that he's never thought deeply about this facet of Margaret.

All it took was his mother and his grandmother to open her up.

He's not stupid enough to think that Margaret is getting mushy. Margaret does not do mushy. Margaret cries in private; she delivers intimate details in a controlled, firm voice. She is not emotional: he wouldn't even know when the time of the month was if not for Tampax runs. She doesn't get PMS (or, to put it another way, she's often permanently in a state of PMS). She leaves notes in writing because she can't say it in person. And decoupage boxes aside - how does she even know about decoupage? - she is a living example of the divide between the feminine and the emotional.

He will not get grand declarations from her; he knows that. It's all right. He just wishes he were in tune to that soft side of her as Ramone seems to have been.

She sits on her bed, alone, fingering the amethyst raindrop charm on a sterling silver necklace.

She can't believe that she's been forgiven, just like that. She has to admit that it has been many, many years since she's seen such forgiveness. She knows it's not unconditional - it's a rare, rare thing to see that. It's conditional based on the fact that the Paxtons know she cares deeply for their son and he for her. It's so simple, so easy a condition. She's used to huge demands of doing this to get that, and having things to acquire that. She's used to putting in more work just to get a small reward. She's a businesswoman, after all.

She had been almost frightened to accompany Andrew to JFK to pick up his family. Yet Grace threw open her arms to give her a hug with the same excitement she'd displayed days before at the Sitka airport. She can't imagine why a mother - any mother! - would be so welcoming this second time, after she'd been so deceptive and essentially abused the mother's child, but Grace is.

In private, when they are alone, it all comes out: Margaret's shock, her uncertainty, her fears, and most of all, her complete befuddlement about their forgiveness. Grace listens quietly, patiently, and at the end, with tears in her eyes, all she says is, "You didn't see his face when you left." She doesn't say any more than that - just gives her hand a tight squeeze and a warm, teary smile.

In retrospect, Margaret supposes, it's perfectly in tune with what she's seen of Andrew's mother. It takes a rare woman to win the heart of Joe Paxton, Margaret has no doubt. Annie gets along with her daughter-in-law like a house on fire; some days it's more like mother and daughter rather than in-laws. Gertrude still hangs out with her ex-boyfriend's mother. There's something about Grace Paxton, even if she can't pinpoint what it is.

Grandma Annie Margaret feels like she's got a better handle on. The elderly lady is open, affectionate, and always at the forefront. Her emotions are clearly displayed, and Margaret knows where she stands with the woman. And Joe Paxton, although he had been less welcoming than his mother, has the same inability to hide what he's feeling. He may be stoic, but he wears his pleasure (and displeasure) openly on his face. Margaret had him figured out with less than five minutes in his presence.

Grace Paxton, while always the gracious, welcoming host, tends to fade happily into the background behind her scene-stealing mother-in-law, and she's harder to read than her husband. It's not that she's dishonest; she's just...less...less something. Margaret doesn't even know if her future mother-in-law is from Sitka, from Alaska, or anything - her life is less open than the other Paxtons'. Grace Paxton is not one for grand gestures and stage-stealing scenes.

So when Grace presented her with a silver chain with the amethyst, Margaret was surprised. While Grace wants Margaret to wear Grandma Annie's gift at the wedding - Margaret has no doubt that Grace loves Annie dearly and wants to honor her mother-in-law as much as she does her daughter-in-law at the ceremony - she wants Margaret to have the necklace now. Normally the Paxton necklace goes from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law; this amtheyst goes from mother to daughter, and has done so for the last five generations. She doesn't have a daughter, Grace states, and Margaret hears a brief waver of her voice - enough to know that Andrew was never intended to be an only child. But he is, and so Grace wants her to have it.

She wonders, very idly, if Grace had been - at least for awhile - saving it for Gertrude. The thought causes her no real pain or jealousy; she's old enough to know that life happens, and she likes Gertrude a great deal. In fact, the whole business makes her feel even more guilty; she can't believe Andrew's family and friends are so accepting. After all, Grace Paxton has just presented a family heirloom to her, despite knowing the entire truth: that she's the "Satan's mistress", Prada-wearing devil boss who tortured and then blackmailed the beloved Paxton son and then dumped him at the altar in front of the whole of his hometown.

Margaret blocks back her emotions, knowing that she'll tear up. Her fingers touch the necklace ever so gently.

We'll be fine, he assures himself. It's going to be fine.

Unfortunately, however, he's reminded that the last time he said this it was directly preceded by "Get a quickie divorce" - and the sick feeling returns.

He's not been nauseated since he was a little kid and has not thrown up in twenty years (and has no plans to do so). Yet he spent all yesterday feeling ill, and it's creeping up again. Sadly, the generally unfamiliar, unpleasant sensation of both sinking and rising (panic) has become familiar to him. It hit when Margaret did her "something to say" in that barn, when he watched her plane take off, and when he flew back to New York.

He had always loved his hometown, and despite the convenience of the New York subway, he'd never preferred it to the boats and cars of Sitka - until that morning. There are only two daily flights out of Sitka: Margaret took one and the other wasn't until evening. Ferries between Sitka and Juneau took about four hours and driving nearly anywhere between six and ten. He'd never felt so trapped, not even with his father and his expectations.

It didn't help that Margaret refused to take his calls. Sure, he understood if her phone was off during the flight, but she had to turn it on at some point - that ridiculously needy whiner Frank would be calling her. Still, despite his messages, she never called back. He'd even tried to reach her through Gilbertson, but Immigration refused to give a contact number for the agent.

He has not had to rely on his parents to fix his problems in years, but they did. They went home. He changed into more comfortable clothes. And while he was feeling sick to his stomach, his parents had pulled in every personal and business favor they had and put him on a personally chartered plane into Juneau. From there he frantically booked different flights on different airlines, landing him in Seattle, where he paced the airport for the hours waiting for his redeye connecting flight to New York, cursing the several-hour time difference that put him behind Margaret.

He has never been airsick, and yet he'd never felt more physically ill than on that plane bound for New York. Compounded with it was a headache. He took a painkiller for the headache and the painkiller hurt his stomach. By the time he reached the office he was a wreck, and running was the least of it. Thank God she'd said yes - implied yes.

Even now, though, in the dark of his apartment, the old fears pop up again. He's lain in this bed before with nightmares plaguing him - for three years, he's had dreams of waking up late and getting fired, setting up a wrong business appointment and getting fired, suggesting a bad manuscript and getting fired, walking into the office in his pyjamas and getting fired, doing nothing wrong and getting fired... Thank God they were dreams and dreams didn't come true on a daily basis. He sympathizes with poor Lord Rhoop.

This time, however, these dreams do not involve losing his job. This time, he's lying in this bed with nightmares plaguing him - Margaret, saying goodbye and leaving him at the altar; Margaret, calling him up and telling him she won't go through with the second wedding.

He's never felt so out of control before. Even if Margaret "Wackford Squeers" Tate was an insane boss before, he could handle it all. He had back-up plans his entire life. Now he has none, and part of his panic stems from what he will do if she backs out this marriage. After all, kidnapping Margaret and putting her under house arrest are not in his ability to do.

She's married.

Technically, the INS rules would mean she and Andrew had 90 days to get married, and she wanted to take those 90 days. If she admits it, she was worried and she wanted to give him an out. Margaret Tate is not one to delude herself: she is difficult to be with, and she knows it.

The first time they'd discussed it, the whole thing went badly. They'd had an intense hour-long discussion, and she had stubbornly insisted she wanted to wait the 90 days. After an hour of discussion - which, in retrospect, was an hour of Andrew trying to persuade her otherwise - he had looked at her blankly and left. She'd received a puzzled phone call from Grace later, asking if he was with her. She'd taken Annie and rushed over to find the Paxtons meandering concernedly around Andrew's apartment while Ramone sat in a chair to the side, Kevin on his lap.

He turned up two hours later, sweaty and gross, and just said he'd gone for a run before heading to the shower. He hadn't looked at her. It wasn't until a curt conversation that night alerted the three women that something was clearly wrong.

She really, truly hadn't realized her power to wound him. He had always been the emotionally stable one, even after three years of working for her, and quite frankly knew more about successful relationships than she did. She figured everything would just bounce off of him.

It turned out that what had come out of her concern for him - leaving him at the altar, asking for the 90 days - had begun to wear on him as the potential that she didn't want him. After all, he'd flat out told her in front of thirty-plus people that he loved her, and she hadn't said it back.

She has to admit to astonishment when they finally confront the issue, and she can see relief flicker over Andrew's face when he realizes that she does in fact love him as much as he does her. At that point the confident Andrew returns, and he nails down a date (helped, of course, by Gammy pulling another manipulative stunt to get them to marry before the rest of the family returns to Alaska.)

She's married.

It has been many, many years since she even considered marriage any more. After her parents' death, she had dreamt of some fantastic man who'd love her and support her career and blah blah blah. By the end of her time in college, she'd decided she was putting her career first. By the time she turned thirty she was happily comfortable alone and intended to stay so.

There are many advantages to being single, she knows. She can do what she wants when she wants and how she wants. Meals don't have to be on time; she can spend whatever time she needs to at her job; she can work something long into the night or over the weekend. She has no obligations.

Her career has been going well, and she's one of the few female editors-in-chief in the area and one of the younger ones. To be honest - she had been editor for a few years by the time she was the age Andrew is now. She had the time to focus on her career. In addition, she loves her job: she loves reading, touched and moved by the good writing and amused by the horrible. She is good at it, too, even the administrative part of it.

It would be wrong to say that Margaret Tate was unhappy. She was not. She had long ago accepted that her life was going to be what it was, and delighted in everything that it gave her. She was not so naive to think that a woman could "have it all", because, quite frankly, men couldn't "have it all" either. She'd seen Bergen and Malloy give up things: Malloy's personal life (Laquisha turned out to be a fantastic woman but refused to compete with his job), and Bergen passed up an opportunity heading up HarperCollins because his daughter was ill at that time. Margaret understands priorities.

She has never been one for self-delusion. Even with this whole fiancé fiasco, once she'd realized the truth, she'd acted to fix it. Looking back on her life now, Margaret cannot even summon up a deceptive feeling to say that she was unhappy. She loved her life; she was comfortable with herself, never pined for the married life - after all, marriage isn't just about marrying but about whom to marry. And it wasn't as though she'd never experienced love before: her parents had been wonderfully loving, and she'd had a happy childhood. Her life had its problems (one began "G" and ended in "ilbertson"), but in general Margaret Tate was happy.

She supposes that it wasn't even about her being unhappy and Andrew making her happy, because it isn't that. It's that she had never anticipated this at all, and suddenly it's being presented to her - a different kind of joy and delight that she never thought she'd want.

She's frightened to death of it.

He's married.

He has to admit that the whole thing still hasn't struck him. He's still more prone to fall asleep with his watch on than the ring, which he hasn't quite gotten used to just yet. His is a simple band of white gold; hers, a band of white gold with a pale, pale pink diamond. He knows her well enough not to be surprised by her choice; she has never been one for ostentation. She wears tiny stud earrings if she wears them at all, and at most she's accessorized with a watch. Gammy's necklace is the first time he's seen her wear one.

He had always figured that it would be a big old wedding with - very hopefully - his bride not turning into a bridezilla. Not that he's thought much about it, but for a long time the one and only mental image of the wedding he had was always with Gert. His wedding turned out to be completely different in every respect - not that he's complaining. It's better this way, and Margaret agrees. When she was twelve she wanted a wedding of six people on a beach, and while there's no beach and Andrew is sure that the six people she imagined would have included a different pair from his grandmother and Ramone, she looks happy.

Gammy and Mom had been excited, to say the least. The family (and Ramone) followed him out, taking the next flight out of Sitka and bringing along some the things he'd forgotten. Gammy had apparently decided her sole purpose in life was to embarrass him and Margaret into getting married, bringing along the dress, the necklace, and the infamous blanket. On their "wedding night" both women - despite his and Margaret's agreement to take it very slowly - had ushered his father and Ramone away and basically left them alone in Margaret's apartment, after Gammy made several barely-disguised innuendoes. And pointed out that blasted blanket no less than six times in half an hour.

The bed was just a little awkward for this stage in their relationship; he and Margaret had ended up sitting on the couch, channel surfing and chatting aimlessly. They fell asleep on the couch that night in front of the musical guest on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" - that guy's going to be on forever, he muses - and woke up the next morning to find themselves covered in that blasted blanket, much to their mutual chagrin. (It was unconsciously done, they swear.)

His father has been oddly supportive through the whole thing. Besides his father helping him get out of Sitka to follow Margaret, Andrew had found his parents standing outside Gilbertson's office, with his mother reprimanding his father, though without much force: even though he clearly wants to help Andrew, lying to Gilbertson and saying that he loved Margaret from the start really isn't the best way... Andrew does appreciate the effort, though, given how suspicious his father was of Margaret to start.

He also is stunned by his own feelings. In a short moment he finds that he can be hurt by Margaret as much as he can be by his father, and he concludes that the extent of this is due to his affection for both. The former is new and a little shocking to him, though he is really getting to love it - his affection for Margaret, that is.

He also realizes the extent to which Margaret is vulnerable. It seems the harder the exterior, the softer the creature underneath. For the first time it seems that she desperately wants his and his family's affection, but she's so out of practice she's afraid she's going to boggle it and be dumped. It took him a week to figure out that her constant distancing of herself from him was more of a self-protective measure for when - and she assumed 'when', not 'if' - he left.

He's always wanted the long and happy marriage his parents had. He's not delusional to think it won't be without fights, but he knows his parents still have a lovely marriage despite all the things they are upset about. His father will do anything to protect his mother, including going so far as to hide the truth of their son's deception; his mother is, in many ways, been his father's equal as a marriage partner and a business advisor.

On that seaplane, when he thought his grandmother had had a heart attack, his father had reached across him to grab his mother's hand - and Andrew knows it's as much for his father to draw strength as it is to comfort his mother. The mutual society, help, and comfort the one ought to have of the other - isn't that how it goes?

He is sure Margaret wants the same longevity in marriage as he does, though she thinks it's an unattainable goal for her.

Of course, making this marriage work long-term comes with the added bonus of surprising Margaret. And if that weekend has taught him nothing, it's that watching the power tables turn on Margaret Tate is a glorious thing indeed.

She carefully brushes her blond hair back off her shoulder. A big smile unconsciously crosses her face as she watches them.

Andrew is laughing at Margaret; Margaret has just hit him with a huge wet sponge. He protests and, taking the sponge, squeezes some of the water on her. She snaps him with a towel. The fight continues until he manages to get a hold of her from behind, and he's whispering into her ear as she's wiggling to get free (thought not very hard).

Gertrude feels like she's intruding on a private moment and concentrates on her corner, running the mop over the dirty floor.

x x x x x

It's near Christmastime, a full six months since it all happened. The last time she was in this barn Andrew was getting jilted at the altar. OK, that's not correct; she's been in this barn multiple times since. She has helped Grace and Gammy drop off things all the time, and she's helped with decorating for Thanksgiving.

Small towns are small towns, and some in this small town are befuddled by her reaction. Not all - most are adults and understand that life is life and lovers move on. Yet there are a few who seem to think that she has one of three choices: she was never really in love with Andrew, is right now nobly sacrificing herself for his happiness, or is insanely jealous of Margaret.

It's none of the above. Andrew is the best; Gert is sure of it. Her feelings weren't sisterly then and they aren't sisterly now; she did love him, a great deal. And Gert's pretty sure that if she and Andrew had decided to get married they would have made a fine go of it. They're compatible and they genuinely like each other. They would've been happy. Occasionally Gert wonders what would have happened if she'd said yes to Andrew's proposal, but those thoughts are becoming distant curiosities to her, akin to her random wonderings of, for example, what her life would have been like if she'd become an Alaskan pilot like she wanted to do when she was five - bemused entertainment rather than serious regrets.

She can't even say she's nobly sacrificing anything. She doesn't feel like she's giving anything up. She and Andrew grew apart some time ago; she knows that. For many years he has been a closed chapter in her life, just as she has become in his. He hasn't been hers to give up for a long time.

She's not jealous - not any more than Margaret is of her. They are not in competition, and she hates that some drama queens keep thinking they are. There are brief moments of awkwardness, but Gert is beginning to think that those are more because of what people expect than how the two women actually feel about each other. Gert genuinely likes Margaret, and she knows Margaret likes her.

Gert is happy - she knows New York wasn't the right choice. She went to Seattle once and hated it. (And Starbucks is overrated.) She is happy that Andrew is happy, and she is even more pleased and happy that Margaret is happy - Margaret, who used to look so lonely in unguarded moments when she thought no one was watching and who now sometimes looks scared. If isolation is what New York brings, Gert is so pleased she stayed in Sitka. She wouldn't trade her life for anything.

x x x x x

There's not much cleaning going on now. The taller Andrew is putting soaking wet sponge-prints all over Margaret, easily dodging the wet towel snaps she keeps making, trying to keep him at bay. The water in the buckets is not really ending up on the walls. Gert watches in unabashed amusement and snickers.

x x x x x

The more she hears, the more Gert thinks how well Margaret and Andrew are suited. Neither has most likely thought much about it; it seems that they have spent more time trying to figure out their differences than their similarities. But they share similar interests and talents and abilities. Their senses of humor are similar enough to complement each other. And while these feelings seem to be new to them, their rhythms are familiar: they finish each other's sentences and have a banter that speaks of an old familiarity, born of days, weeks, months, and years spent together. (Together at work, it seems.)

Most importantly, though, is that underneath it all, the Margaret who visited Sitka in June - fiancé business aside - is the genuine Margaret: freaked out (Margaret is still reluctant to go the bar), not quite comfortable, but genuinely touched by and quietly, subtly concerned for those around her. She would not have suited Andrew if she had been any less.

x x x x x

They're scolding-blaming each other now for the mess on the floor. It's not an actual fight; it's one of those teasing fights like when Margaret swears she'd rather have her eye poked out than go back to the bar where Ramone dances or when Andrew moans that he can't believe he's being forced to choose between his wife and Kevin. Gert chuckles to herself and puts her mop away to begin her next task.

x x x x x

It was September - some months after the whole fiasco - when she received a phone call from Andrew, out of the blue. They chatted about a variety of things.

Like everyone else, three months ago in June, she had taken him at his word and been duped by the fake part of the engagement. Like everyone else, she had witnessed what was, in essence, a rather public declaration of Margaret's affection when she jilted Andrew at the altar. (The one time that "affection" and "jilt" would be used in the same sentence.)

She also realizes now that moment in the bedroom: she alone had been privy to watching Andrew's final acknowledgment of his own feelings and was, according to him, instrumental in helping him to it.

Gert had seen him angry and frustrated before; that was nothing new. They'd grown up together, after all. What happened at the Paxton home that morning was a normal Andrew anger episode. But she knew the minute he said it.

"But none of that matters because we had a deal!"

Business deals were business deals; Margaret Tate understood what they were. Even Gert apparently, at that moment, understood better than Andrew - "Alaskan Kennedy" turned New York editor - what a 'deal' was. Andrew had held up his end before it went bust, and he would get his reward for what he had done. That was a business deal. That was what they had.

Clearly, despite what he said, he had stopped thinking about the deal the way it had been meant when it was made. And clearly, despite his wording, he hadn't meant "she makes me crazy" in the way he used to mean it.

After Gertrude had asked him her question, he'd stared at her for a full moment. She could see the gears grinding in his head. Suddenly he moved, striding towards the door; he kissed her on the cheek in thanks and dashed out.

She heard later from Annie and Grace that he'd set out on the long trek back to New York almost immediately; they had been left to catch a flight the next day. (Why Ramone went along she still has no idea, although Gert rather suspects that the poor, lovelorn jack-of-all-trades is just going to get more disappointment out in New York than not.) When they returned, Gert needed no more evidence than the grins on the women's faces. Satisfied, she set the whole business aside and got on with her life. The new elementary school was ready, which meant that she and the teachers would spend the summer packing, moving, cleaning, decorating.

She was surprised but pleased when Andrew called that early fall. They talked about everything: her first week of school, the changes at his job (including his promotion), his marriage, what Sitka is saying, and Margaret. It's clear she is still driving him batty and he adores every minute of it.

At the end, Andrew asked her if she was all right with it, and she really was. At that point he thanked her for what she'd said to him that morning in June; it had changed everything for him, apparently. She let him talk, and then they sat in comfortable silence for a little bit. It was getting late in New York, and so they said their good-byes and hung up.

x x x x x

Gert smiles now as she watches Andrew and Margaret leave, dirty water dripping off their hair and clothes. Andrew - on purpose - shakes his head like a dog shaking out his fur, and Margaret protests at the water being flung everywhere. They make each other crazy, and they seem to love it.

"I will never, ever understand," Joe Paxton can be heard muttering behind her.

Gert just laughs.