Shippers/readers, this story picks up a year after Frank and Rachel's engagement in China. She is off to New York to star in a musical, bound to be a hit, while Frank and Fletcher have to adjust to their new life. Let's dive right in:


Frank and Rachel were asleep, spooning, when the crash of construction mallets in the west wing of their new house woke them up. It took about three salvos of heavy ripping and banging to wake Rachel up first. She twitched, and then sat up in bed with a start.

"We forgot!" She shook Frank to wake him, which took a while because he was still jet lagged. Then Rachel stretched her body over Frank to look at their alarm clock on his nightstand. "Frank, get up! The crew is here, and our flight leaves in five hours!"

Frank starts to respond to Rachel's vigorous shaking, but keeps his head buried under the pillow to escape the sunlight peeking through an opening in the blinds. He catches her around the waist, pulling her closer.

"Not now, Frank," Rachel said, peeling his arm off. "We have so much to do before we go. Thank God I packed last night for all of us."

A year after their engagement, Frank and Rachel still had not gotten married, they hadn't even set a date or picked a venue. But they had bought a house in Hollywood Hills and were renovating it extensively, getting it ready to move into after their wedding. Rachel had landed the lead role in a musical in New York, to the chagrin of her agent, who thought musicals were a backwater and a step down compared with the offers of movie roles that were still flooding in. He had set up meetings with producers to humor her, but when talks turned to auditions and auditions to negotiations, be began to worry. To leave L.A. for a year and decamp to New York for faded out old Broadway? What was she thinking?

"Respect and credibility, Steve," she told her agent months before. "Once people see that I can act and sing without computer filtering, then maybe they'll stop trampling me in the press."

"Rachel, you'll always be a target for naysayers and that whole ilk," he had told her. "But that doesn't mean you have to throw a year of your life away, maybe more if they extend the run, on a half-dead medium."

"My mind is made up, Steven," Rachel told him, gathering her shawl and sunglasses. "So alert the team, and as soon as I can get word that Fletcher is in at Riverdale Country School or Columbia Grammar, you can have a realtor find me a nice apartment on the Upper East Side. South of the park is still way too skanky for me right now."

While Rachel showers, Frank lumbers to the bathroom, lowers his head over his sink and opens the tap on his head. Then he stands up straight again and looks at himself in the mirror, smoothing back his bed head and getting ready to shave.

"Rachel, are you sure you want to spend all of the next day with your family out in New Jersey right after we get there?" He pumps a blue shave gel out of a can and lathers his face with it. "I mean, we could at least take the first few days to ourselves, unpack and get settled couldn't we?"

Rachel pulls the shower curtain back and reaches for a bottle of conditioner on the shelf nearby.

"It's better to get the pain over with upfront," she says, disappearing back into the hot steam. "After that, we won't have to see them more than once a month while we're out there, if that. Trust me, it's by mutual agreement."

"Do they really feel that way, or are you being dramatic?"

Rachel answers by launching a loofa sponge at Frank's head. He looks over in the direction of the shower and shakes his head, finishing his shave.

"You just wait, Rachel. I'm going to fix that ss later!" He grins and yells over the torrent of water and singing so she can hear him. Then his face turns a little serious again. "My father is already out there. This is his first trip back East since a college reunion a decade ago. At least he can show us around a little when we get out there, and make this whole ... family get together a major feast."

Despite getting up last, Frank is the first to get dressed and enters the kitchen, smiling at Hyacinth.

"Good morning," he says, stopping to look at the near feast she's created. Rachel had asked for a simple continental breakfast, but Hyacinth couldn't help but create a whole spread with two types of croissants, bagels, fresh fruit, sausages and ackee and salt fish, a specialty that she liked to cook for Rachel, and that Rachel never turned down. She even made chocolate tea from bars imported from her hometown in Jamaica.

"I've heard of this chocolate tea, Hyacinth," Frank says, shaking his head and pulling the lever on the tall silver carafe. "But isn't this something you normally serve at Christmas?"

"Yes, it is," she arranges a stack of plates at the buffet. "But I won't see Miss Rachel while she is in New York, and she will be with family during Christmas, so this is really a send off."

"But it's not goodbye," Frank says, taking a sip. "She'll fly back to meet with Bill, record songs from the musical's score for the album, and make sure the contractors are on the up and up. And Rachel got you to promise to make her wedding cake."

"Yes, but it won't be like before," Hyacinth says. "And I'm almost ready to launch my business."

"Well, I'll miss your escovitched fish, that's for sure," Frank says, walking away. "And the Mauby, the oxtail, the jerked port. Tell me again why Rachel is allowing you to go?"

After Rachel and Fletcher get downstairs, Bill shows up, handing Frank the newspaper and chatting. Breakfast passes relatively quietly. As Rachel spreads butter on Fletcher's toasted bagel, the phone rings. Rachel is called to it, and she reluctantly takes the call. She doesn't seem to enjoy the conversation, as she lowers her head, runs a hand through her wavy hair and turns her back to everyone else in the kitchen. At last, the conversation is over, and she returns to her chair around the eating island, right next to him. Frank notices her agitated demeanor and sets down his juice.

"What's going on?"

Rachel shakes her head and mumbles that it is nothing, which Frank doesn't believe. He reaches to over and wraps his left hand around her neck gently. The warm strength of Frank's touch startles Rachel at first, and when she flinches a stern look ripples across Frank's face.

"You don't have to tell me about that phone call right now, Rachel," Frank says. "But we'll talk about this later, OK?"

Rachel nods and holds his hand.

After breakfast, Frank and Bill huddle with Rachel's assistants to review schedules, checklists, and ensure that Rachel's life will be run smoothly while she is on the East Coast. Right after that, Rachel assembles her staff to hand out small parting gifts and bonuses. Only a skeletal crew will remain while she's gone, people to maintain the landscaping and keep a small suite tidy for when she comes back to record tracks from the musical score. Even then, they will be in rotation, working part time. A couple of months after they settle in New York, Frank will set off for the Middle East, to consult on security for a U.S. ambassador's house.

As Rachel, Frank and Fletcher hug through their goodbyes with the staff, Hyacinth lingers a little, rubbing Rachel's back before letting her go. There are no tears, but joking and laughing as Hyacinth tells Rachel to "mash up and blaze up the place" at the Binskoff Theater in New York.

After one last embrace, Rachel follows Frank to the car. Old habits being what they are, he slides into the front passenger seat, where he will watch Rachel and Fletcher through the visor mirror. The ride to LAX airport is quite. It's as if this blended, not-quite-official family is going on a picnic, instead of across the country to a colder, more sharp-edged city, where they will confront a smarmier, more overt type of arrogance in people, and their bond will be tested.

Fletcher talks Rachel into a round of Super Mario on his Gameboy, but Frank notices that Rachel is not fully attentive. She stares out of the window, drums her finger on the door's armrest and sighs. She is like that for the rest of the journey, too, after they land in LaGuardia and make their way south through Manhattan to 73rd Street. She smiles politely at Fletcher's jokes, enough to avoid him calling her out for being distracted. Yet while she gets by with Fletcher, she cannot appease Frank's worrisome glances in her direction.

The Upper East Side neighborhood is surprisingly quiet, at least when they get there. There is the ambient noise of traffic and students rehearsing at a music school across the street. Their street is leafy, the streets are dotted with fine cars, joggers and the occasional Caribbean nanny pushing along fancy prams.

Herb is already at the house, and hugs Frank and Rachel before they walk up the front steps.

After the assistant turns the key in the lock of the front door, Frank, Rachel and Fletcher tumble through the vestibule, with an art deco mosaic, and open another door into the main entry hall. The adults are struck by the "architectural triumph that takes you back to Edith Wharton's New York," according to the realtor's description. It has contemporary updates on pocket doors, molding around the doorways and arches, stain glass windows and ribbon floors. But Fletcher and the assistant head straight for the backyard to test drive it with the dog. Herb follows a few moments later.

The realtor leaves a key on the island of the kitchen, updated with high-end appliances and "all the comforts fit for a gourmand." Frank and Rachel look at each other, and almost roll her eyes. The woman, a hip New York dowager, with a dramatic cashmere shawl, sleek haircut and a sparkling yellow diamond on her right hand, spins around and follows Rachel to the front door.

After Rachel closes the door behind the realtor, she walks back to Frank, who is at the back door talking to Fletcher, Herb and the assistant.

"Why don't you guys check out the park? We need to talk about a couple of things."

They all agree, and promise to be back before supper. After they leave, Frank catches Rachel around the waist and pulls her close.

"We need to talk, Rachel," Frank says.

"Yeah," Rachel rests her arms on his shoulders. "I agree. But first I'm a little jet lagged. I need to get my head right, you know?"

While Rachel is talking, she plants small kisses on Frank's lips, chin, cheeks and finally behind his ear.

"I asked the maid to set up the bedrooms first. Maybe we could just unpack and chill out up there a bit?" Frank answers, kissing Rachel deeply, then increasingly passionately, until he mentally promises to bring up the phone call with Rachel after dinner. Or after a walk in the park. But certainly before they head out to New Jersey tomorrow for dinner with her family.

—END—


Coming up next: "Something Old, Something New" In that installment, Frank meets Rachel's family; Herb runs into an old acquaintance; and Rachel's past relationship collides with her new life.