Madewood-2

I hadn’t thought it was possible to love anyone more than I’d loved my husband, Arthur.

But I was wrong.

I was severely wrong.

I’ll never love another man romantically. Not like I loved him. My heart belonged to Arthur and still remains his and his alone. But the four boys I invited into my home brought a kind of love into my life that I hadn’t thought possible. A love that makes you want to be better, because you’re now responsible for someone else. A love that makes you want to sacrifice everything just to see a smile on their faces, and to know that even when they break your heart—and they did many times over in the beginning—that you will still love them unconditionally, because that’s what mothers do. I wish Arthur had been there to share it with me because it had turned my loneliness into an opportunity to bring safety and happiness into the lives of four teens.

As I look down on them now, I realize these are my favorite times: the events that bring my boys all together. Today, Neil, Jack and Cole, along with their significant others, have infiltrated Finn and Veronica’s house to celebrate a new life and a very special day. Neil and Cole took this as an opportunity to stock the freezer with casseroles and other ready-made food knowing that Veronica is less than stellar in the kitchen.

Looking back, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without moments like these to cherish. Despite not being able to have children of my own, I knew that Arthur and I could be happy together, just the two of us. Then heart disease took him from me, much too early. And I was angry. Furious that he’d left me alone, left me with the knowledge that his illness was preventable, or at least manageable. That stubborn man.

It felt like life had no more good to dish out, but then one day I met a young man. Hard. Cold. Guarded. Something about him reminded me of myself, and I fell immediately for the traumatic past screaming in his eyes and the possibilities of his future. That boy’s name was Neil Harrison. And the day we met changed my life forever.

Cancer. She’s a sick, twisted bitch. And she played me. I wasn’t ready to leave my boys quite yet. I hadn’t had enough time with them. But the universe had a different plan. So I’ve watched over them from afar. Watched their good decisions, and their bad ones. And there have been some doozies.

Like Neil. You have no idea how much it hurt to watch him race that bike, putting himself in danger time and time again. Not being able to shake him, plead with him, wake him out of the darkness. That boy had to fight for everything he’d ever had. I think now he’s finally realized that there are only but a few things worth fighting for: his family, the name he so proudly calls his own, and love.

Gone is the furrow between his brows. Gone are the clenched fists and tense gait. He is happy. And it’s all because of the beautiful girl standing beside him at the changing table.

“What the hell is a diaper genie?” Neil stares at the white plastic contraption.

Carson Kelly.

I knew the moment she showed up on that racetrack that she was his game-changer. And I worried a little bit less, because the ticking time bomb that seemed to follow him everywhere quieted.

“Does a genie come out and change the diaper for you?”

Carson giggles. It was that sweet sound that brought my hardest boy to his knees. “No such luck. It holds the diapers and stops them from stinking up the room.”

He looks down at her, his eyes softening, nervousness creeping across his face as he places one hand on her cheek and the other on her belly. “Damn, I was hoping there was a genie.”

There is an extra glow to her skin. A brighter sparkle to her eyes. She has life growing inside her, although they haven’t told anyone. Not yet. It’s much too early. And by the look on Neil’s face, I guess he still needs some time for it to register.

“They’re going to be here any minute,” Sterling yells to the rest of the group.

That wonderful girl spent a week turning the fourth bedroom of Finn’s and Veronica’s home into a nursery. But then, organizing things is what she does best. It’s something my Jack needed in his life. Someone to ground him and set everything in its place.

He watches as Sterling cleans up, putting away clothes from a laundry basket and organizing the closet. “Sterling.” He rests his hand on her shoulder, his rolled-up shirtsleeve falling away and exposing his new tattoo. “This isn’t your house. You don’t have to clean.”

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of his ink or his piercings. But it was a way for him to express himself, and marking his body was a much lesser evil than drugs or criminal behavior. So I went with the flow. This new one though…it probably makes me a huge hypocrite, but I love it. He’s inked the letters MOM inside a heart on his forearm.

Sterling looks over her shoulder at him, her eyebrows lifted in a classic are-you-kidding-me expression. “Believe me, they are probably so tired they’ll thank me.”

The walls of the nursery are painted a light gray, heavy on the pink accents. A changing table and rocking chair sit to the far right. Under the bay window that looks out over the backyard is a play area, with a tiny bookshelf under the sill and a mat on the ground. On the left-hand side is a crib with the cutest pink elephant bedding. And above the bed is a surprise: framed in white and scrawled in black paint is the baby’s name, inked amidst swirls of fuchsia and purple stars and glittery flowers.

VIVIAN.

Jack smiles at the sign, looking satisfied with his placement of it over the bed just as Sterling slips her fingers through his and places a quick kiss on his shoulder.

So far, Jack is the only one who’s made an honest woman out of these ladies. I never thought he’d be the first to find love. To settle down. To get married. But getting over his need to prove his own worth was the best decision he ever made. It was rocky for them at first, because Sterling had a tough family situation. She practically raised her two younger twin sisters and, until she met Jack, was financially responsible for her parents who are gambling addicts. She keeps her interaction with them limited and shields as much as she can from her sisters, who at the moment live with Jack and Sterling. They will go off to college next year, and the lovebirds will finally have the house all to themselves.

The only one of my boys who doesn’t seem to be busy right now is Cole. He’s hovering by the doorway, taking in the scene. Just watching, as he usually does.

“It never fails to amaze me how much shit babies need.” Penn settles beside him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest.

“You’re going to have to control that language once the little one gets here.” He places a kiss on top of her head.

She laughs. “A diverse vocabulary is an asset.”

My Cole. His soul was broken when I brought him home, more than the other boys. I saw it in his eyes. Felt it when I tried to wrap my arms around him. But I’d also read it in his case file.

It sickened me that a mother could be so neglectful, stealing his childhood and sense of safety. I did the best I could trying to put him back together, but my work wasn’t finished. I slipped away from this earth before he flourished. As I watch over him now, I realize my help wasn’t what he needed.

To say I knew the minute Pennelope Foster walked into Bistro that she was going to be his match would be an understatement. It was like a surge of electricity jolted the earth, tilting its axis and setting everything off-kilter the moment they made eye contact. I thought for sure he would be the first to give in to his attraction. But my Cole was always so cautious.

It saddens me that I will never be able to meet Carson, Sterling and Penn—shake their hands or hold them in my arms. These strong, capable women who’ve tamed my boys and proven that love can heal all wounds. Even the ones that leave scars.

“What have you guys done?” Veronica enters the room, glowing with that new-mother light. I may not have given birth to these boys, but I have no doubt that every time I looked at them I shone as bright as the sun.

Veronica rushes toward the crib, a wide smile spread across her face.

“That is spectacular.” Finn moves to lay the baby seat on the ground, but Sterling rushes him, gobbling the little one up in her arms and walks away with a coo. Jack immediately joins her, making faces at the baby.

Watching his brother and wife dote on his baby puts a wide smile on Finn’s face.

My Finn. So kind and honest. So moderate. He got everything he’d ever wanted. The way he looks at Veronica and the baby is the way every woman and child long to be looked at. With love. With pride. With total and complete adoration.

“You’ve…already done so much.” Tears stream down Veronica’s cheeks as she stares at the picture.

“Mom always taught us to be proud of our names,” Neil said. “And this little one should be the proudest in the room.”

Veronica choked back a sob. “I’m always frickin’ crying.” She covers her face with her hands, wiping them away. Finn draws her into a hug, smiling down at her.

I always knew Veronica had a crush on Finn. I might have even encouraged it.

She came with a built-in family, but that didn’t faze my Finn. Cal, Veronica’s brother, still works at Carmel and will be attending university this fall. He’s decided to stay close by and live at home, but he’s not fooling anyone. He just loves working with Finn. Besides, he has access to his sister Ali’s dorm room anytime if he really wants to experience the college life.

Mark, Veronica’s older brother, asked for a transfer and lives in Toronto again. Money is no longer an issue now that Finn has set up a tuition trust for Veronica’s siblings and the baby. There’s enough that they could each get a PhD.

The nursery has gone silent and Finn eyes his brothers curiously. “You’re here for more than just the baby-name sign aren’t you?”

Jack smiles. “Today’s the day mom brought me home to live with you. Today is the anniversary of us officially becoming brothers.”

Carson sneaks a bottle of champagne and a stack of plastic glasses from a bag in the corner. “And we’re here to celebrate.”

“Is that true?” Veronica looks up at Finn, more tears streaming down her cheeks.

He nods. “But this is the first time we’re celebrating it.”

“It’s time to start some new traditions.” Neil does the honors, popping the cork.

The noise bothers the baby, and she gets a little fussy. Sterling bounces her toward the crib, laying her down softly. “Go to sleep now, baby.”

Thick brown hair covers her tiny head. Her eyes are sky blue and her skin milky white, translucent. She wears a white onesie with pink bunnies. Her tiny feet jiggle and bounce in the crib, and she waves her hands around. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

While everyone gathers, Cole breaks from the group, slipping away to the crib. At the sight of her uncle Cole, Vivian coos, and it brings a smile to his face. Smiling is a rarity for Cole, but when it happens, it is mesmerizing.

This new life is a clean start for them all. A way to erase their past and begin a bright, happy future as a family.

Carson and Neil fill the glasses, making sure to fill Penn’s to the rim. They each raise their hands in a toast.

“To…Vivian Madewood,” Jack says, clearing his throat. “She gave us a new chance at life, and we’ll spend the rest of ours doing the same thing for others.”

Besides my boys, there are three things I love most in the world—paying forward and affecting the lives of young people through the Cooking for the Future program, instilling a love of food in others, and making sure the next generation was as well dressed as I had been. I snuck a peek into that closet full of baby clothes, so I know my granddaughter will be the best dressed baby Toronto Gossip has ever seen.

I was terrified to leave this world knowing that my boys weren’t settled, but I can see now they are more settled and happy than I could have ever dreamed.

And I know my sons are going to do me proud and carry on my legacy.