Mrs. Philip stared at her son's new girlfriend. The girl's face was turned away from her, as she amiably asked another spider to wait until their visitors were gone before spinning her web. Mrs. Philip tried to meet her husband's eyes, galvanize him into action, but the man seemed as taken by the girl as Robert, a wide smile on his face ever since Giselle had taken one look at him and exclaimed over how not even King Marcus, Edward's late father - whoever that was - had been as handsome.
"Mother?" Robert prompted, an amused glint in his eyes, as if the woman cuddled (cuddled!) against him hadn't interrupted her to berate a bug. "About Cousin Sarah…?"
"Sarah…." Whatever she'd had to say about her sister's ingrate daughter was forgotten now. Giselle's conversation with the spider had ended, complete with little waves and air-kissing; Mrs. Philip was aghast when neither Robert nor Morgan, not even her husband, made a move to squash it. Taking a deep breath, an eye kept on the long-legged pest, she asked the question burning her since the beaming blonde had welcomed them in. "But, Robert. What about Nancy?" She'd liked Nancy. Steadfast, reliable Nancy. "She was so good for you!"
Robert shifted, giving Giselle a quick glance and smiling when her expression didn't change. "She was," he concurred. "But now she is… away."
Off the corner of her eye, Morgan bit her lip; but the child remained quiet.
Giselle didn't. "Oh, the wedding was so beautiful!" she chirped, placing her joined hands on Robert's shoulder, using them as a prop to raise in her seat and give him an impulsive kiss on the cheek.
Shock was a poor description of Mrs. Philip's reaction. "Nancy got married?"
Morgan was grinning as she nodded.
"Chip said that everybody in Andalasia loves her - and Edward is so happy! Marriage suits him." Giselle was oblivious to the slight narrowing of Robert's eyes. Or maybe not, because she added, "But not to me, oh no. I'm so glad he found Nancy!"
"Nancy got married to this woman's fiancé?"
This time, Morgan sighed happily. "Yup!"
"You were engaged to marry, darling?" Mr. Philip asked, at last roused to question her.
"For three days." Giselle turned adoring eyes at Robert. "That's when I met your wonderful, wonderful son."
Her wonderful son blushed.
"I see." Mr. Philip arched an eyebrow, but he took hold of Robert's warning expression above his girlfriend's blissful one, and didn't say anything further.
Mrs. Philip wouldn't be so easily intimidated. "Is that right? And how did the two of you meet? Promised brides don't often cross paths with divorce lawyers."
"Dear, I don't think…."
"Well, they don't, do they? It's such a curious encounter, surely you understand why I'd be curious to hear the details." She smiled at the girl, and was somewhat surprised to find her smiling back. "Well?"
Giselle lifted her shoulders, moving even closer to Robert. His arms closed around her in response. "It was my first night in the city. I'd never seen anything like this in my life! The buildings, and all these… cars. It was so noisy and I was so alone and nervous…."
"New York can be daunting," Mr. Philip agreed, looking at the girl with renewed gentleness.
Giselle was quick to nod. "Yes, sir. It is. Especially so because it was dark, and it was raining. My dress got ruined so fast, and nobody would help. Then that awful man took my tiara and ran away -"
"- and that's when I saw the castle."
"An advertising board, mother," Robert explained, taking over the conversation. "We met Giselle there, Morgan and I. She rode with us back to the apartment, and since she didn't have anywhere else to stay, Morgan invited her to stay."
"Homeless!" Mrs. Philip hissed through her teeth.
"Misplaced," her son corrected.
"You poor girl." Mr. Philip went so far as to reach for her arm and give it some soft pats. "I'm so glad nothing happened to you."
"Of course nothing happened to her," Mrs. Philip sniffed. "She was the lucky one who'd found Robert, wasn't she?"
She figured she'd crossed the line when both men, and even Morgan, gave her a sharp glare. Pursing her lips together, Mrs. Philip realized she'd have to apologize if she didn't want another year to pass them by before they were invited to visit again. "Giselle, I…."
Giselle's sincere smile froze the words in her lips. Either the girl was simple-minded, something not even Mrs. Philip would believe of someone her son had chosen, or she was truly unaware of the jibe behind her comment.
"Yes, I was lucky," the girl admitted, "so was Robert. And Morgan." She flicked the child's hair, making her giggle. "It was meant to be."
"Like a fairytale," Morgan agreed, grinning from ear to ear.
Mrs. Philip looked between the girls - almost two decades apart and gushing over the same pointless fantasy - and narrowed her eyes into a severe expression. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't fill my granddaughter's head with stories." And to Morgan, "Fairytales are not real, dear."
She had expected some sign of rebellion. Children were so attached to the flights of their imagination. But instead the girl smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "And happily-ever-after is a myth. Daddy used to say that, too."
The girls shared a look, a secret smile on both their lips. Beside Giselle, Robert gave a quiet chuckle. "Giselle has been kind enough to further my education on that particular subject."
To Mrs. Philip's horror, Mr. Philip laughed. "Good for you, son!" Crossing his arms over his chest, her husband gave the couple a searching gaze. "Look, kids. Dinner was fantastic, and the company -" A tip of his head towards Giselle. "- is delightful. I haven't spent such a nice evening since your Aunt Christine decided to move to California."
Mrs. Philip seethed. Chrissie would never have been forced to move so far away if that daughter of hers hadn't fallen for that good-for-nothing second-rate actor. Chrissie had decided to follow her youngest; what else was a mother to do?
"But even good days are tiring, and I'm ready to return to our hotel room," her husband was saying, then he gave their son an encouraging smile. "So, Robert Philip the Third. What's so important that I had to miss this weekend's golfing tournament."
Mrs. Philip's eyebrows shot up. Was he getting soft in the head? It was obvious Robert had wanted to introduce Giselle to them. She failed to see a reason, though, since it was just as obvious that Giselle, sweet as she was, was better suited as Morgan's babysitter than as a partner in her son's life.
"Out with it, kids," Mr. Philip prodded. "We don't have all night."
Giselle was now blushing, one hand threaded with Morgan's smaller one while the other sought Robert's.
"Well, dad. Since you insist on hearing it tonight." Robert took Giselle's hand, brushing his finger over a ring so simple Mrs. Philip had deemed insignificant at the beginning of their visit. "Mother. Dad. We have a surprise for you."
"Oh dear," Mrs. Philip muttered. "You are getting married."
Giselle startled at that, and gave her a dismayed look. "You think I'd…? I never - I wouldn't - I've lived here since…."
"They got married months ago, when Daddy still worked at the big office." Morgan said, although the joyful tone dimmed at their reactions. "Giselle made my flower girl dress," she added, looking confident that this would cheer them up. "Want to see it?"
Mrs. Philip stared, trying to wrap her mind around the new information. Flower girl…. Months ago… Worked? "Robert!" This time it was her arm that her husband was patting. She would have said more, demanded more, but the words were a rush in her head. For the first time in years, Mrs. Philip realized she felt… hurt.
It was all her fault.
Morgan's angry little shriek made her realize she'd spoken that last thought out loud.
"Dear, I don't think…."
One of Mr. Philip's favorite phrases. After forty years of marriage, Mrs. Philip had to work hard to remember the things he did think about. "You'll agree we should have been told. Won't you, Bob?"
The sigh was so like her husband's, it took her a second to realize it'd come from another source. "Mother. I tried to tell you. Close to the Christmas season, remember? You said you had plans already."
To visit Chrissie, yes. But she would have left her sister to spend the holidays on her own if she'd known that Robert would get married - even if it was to Giselle. Or better, she'd have brought Chrissie along.
"And I'd rather spare Giselle Aunt Christine's tongue," Robert continued, his voice as implacable as when he'd announced he'd act as the best man in Sarah's wedding. "She's quite sensitive to unkindness."
I bet she is. But this time Mrs. Philip didn't voice her thought. "But, Robert. Couldn't you have postponed….?" At his look, she retreated in her seat and sighed. "I guess you could not."
"Well, well." Mr. Philip raised his cup from the coffee table and swallowed the last of the wine. "That's in the past. We can talk about it at a later date."
When there was no wide-eyed seven-year-old in the room. Or a tense young wife (wife!), if Robert got his way. But they'd talk, Mrs. Philip would make sure of that. For now, though, she bit her tongue and nodded in acquiescence to her husband's call for truce.
"You still haven't told us the news, son."
Mrs. Philip started.
Morgan beamed, then moved to hug her stepmother (stepmother!) across her midsection, just above the circle of Robert's hold.
Robert gave them a hard look, but slowly smiled at his father's expectant grin. With a small nod, he nudged Giselle to the front of the conversation.
"Mr. and Mrs. Philip. I'm so glad I finally got to know you in person." She blushed slightly as her hands searched for Robert and Morgan's again. "I know you'll be as happy as I am."
There were many words to describe the girl in Robert's arms; 'happy' being indeed the most common of them. But there was something that even Mrs. Philip had to call 'special', something familiar that had been niggling at Robert's mother's mind since their arrival. Something, she now decided, that she'd seen many other times… in other mothers.
For once, Mrs. Philip accepted her husband's tight grip without complaint. The supportive gesture never more appreciated than in the next minute.
There was no way she could take any more surprises on her own.