Mary buzzed around the kitchen, fetching ingredients, utensils and pots as if she cooked in that kitchen every night. Susie didn’t invite her over, but the suggestion was not unpleasant. A home-cooked meal made by her mother was just the thing to perk her up in the bitter cold of winter.
Susie sat at the island watching and listening to rapid chopping across the kitchen. When they first moved away from Newcrest, meal time was torture and not just on account of the awkward passive aggression between her parents. Mary wasn’t a good cook, but no one expected her to be. She grew up with a household staff at her beck and call. It surprised Susie how well she gravitated toward cooking and cleaning. Being a stay-at-home mother allowed her to practice and get better. Now her meals were phenomenal. In that way, leaving their life of luxury had been good for Mary.
Their relationship healed at a snail’s pace. Mary would always be Mary. Certain things about her would always get under Susie‘s skin. Still, she tried to keep an open mind and remember Mary’s experiences and how they shaped her. Poking fun at her, however, was more entertaining and so easy to do. “So, uhhh, Phoenix’s new style is quite eye-catching, eh?”
“Hmph. That’s one way to say it.”
Susie chuckled. “Aww, come on, mother. You know she looks quite fetching!”
“She looks ridiculous! What is this Pink Pixie thing about anyway?”
“She’s adorable! You may not like her style, but she can choose to dress herself however she wants. And, you will respect her choice, right?”
Mary sighed. “Of course. I’ve learned my lesson in that regard. I just… Doesn’t she realize people judge you based on your appearance?”
Susie giggled. “That’s kind of the point, mother.”
“Clearly, I don’t understand.”
“She’s an entertainer now! She has to grab people’s attention so they’ll want to know more about her and hear what she has to say.”
“She’s a lovely girl,” Mary barked. “People will be interested in what she has to say without those sparkly, pink get-ups!”
Susie chuckled and shook her head at her protective yet clueless mother. “She looks like a child still, mother. And, no one knows who Phoenix is. She needs a gimmick. Regular people are a bit of a hard sell.”
Mary’s jaw dropped. “I’m regular people!”
Susie snorted. “You are SO not regular, mother.”
Susie couldn’t help but laugh at Mary’s disappointed face. “Come now, mother. You can’t really think you’re a regular Joe with your history. I mean, did you forget how we used to live?”
She looked like a sad puppy looking for its mother. “But… I work… And rake leaves! I’m different now!”
Susie was touched. Mary really did try. “I know, I know. You may be more regular than you’ve ever been, but you’ll never be completely regular.”
Mary shrugged and kept eating. Though she tried to act lackadaisically toward her, Susie knew she was still in deep thought.
“So… How are things with your man friend?“
Mary choked a little.
“Phoenix told me you’ve been dating.”
Mary’s shoulder deflated in relief. People in Newcrest must have really ripped her a new one. How was she still paranoid about people knowing her personal business?
“Yes, I have been seeing someone.”
Even if Phoenix hadn’t said anything, Susie could tell someone wonderful had entered into her life. As much as Mary wanted a better relationship with her, Susie knew she was unable to make her smile as bright as she did and walk with extra pep. Mary was falling in love. It was cute. “Well? Tell me about him! Why so stiff?”
Mary shifted in her seat and cleared her throat a few times. “May I be frank?”
“My darling, I love you. And, I love that you’ve been receptive of…of narrowing the chasm between us…”
Susie tensed in anticipation of the but that was coming.
“We have certain issues with each other, and I’m afraid I’ve been a bit slow to recover.”
“Y-you have a problem with me?” What on earth could it be? Susie didn’t consider she could have hurt Mary in some way.
“I don’t want to upset you, darling. It’s just that I find it easier to open up to Phoenix because…” Whatever this was about, Mary struggled with it a great deal. Susie got anxious. “You are very loyal to your father. And, you know I now understand why you wouldn’t be a fan of mine, but…” She cleared her throat. “You two are unusually close, and things are shared between you that shouldn’t be. And, knowing how you felt about me and what was discussed between you… I’m trying, Susie, I am, but I–“
“You don’t trust me,” she said more like a realization than a question.
“Please don’t be upset with me, darling. I know I need to get over it, I just haven’t–“
“No, it’s ok, mother. I get it.”
Looking back on their conversations, she saw how inappropriate it was to carry on with her father that way. She felt special knowing such grown-up information that no one else knew. Her bland, boring world revolved around the salacious gossip. She and John bonded over it, and she loved the attention it brought. Susie had Mary’s full attention too, but she took it for granted. Mary would have given anything for Susie to pay attention to her then, but now she was closed and it didn’t feel good. The selfish part of Susie’s spirit which still acted like that spoiled teenager needed all of Mary.
“If it’s any comfort to you, we don’t talk like that anymore. Honestly, ever since I moved out, I haven’t spoken to him much at all.”
“And… I’m sorry. For hurting you.”
“Thank you, Susie.”
They continued dinner in silence for a few moments, each probably deep in thought about the new elephant in the room. Susie needed to prove she could be trusted somehow, and silence didn’t help her cause at all. “The house is still empty…”
Mary shrugged, never looking up from her plate. “That’s not my business anymore.”
Now that Mary’s feelings were out in the open, Susie thought she saw signs of them everywhere, and it made her self-conscious. Every hesitant word or passive aggressive statement made her question if the negativity were directed at her. Susie always had the luxury of Mary being her number one fan and didn’t know how to handle her no longer holding that position. “I know, but… Maybe…maybe you could take it. I can talk to Tim for you if you want.” She hated how she felt like a puppy eager for a pat on the head.
“I’m not so sure that is a good idea, Susie. I mean, unless Tim gives me access to the trust fund, I could never maintain such a place on my regular person’s salary.” She winked.
Susie was embarrassed. “Right.”
“I think I would like to see it one last time, though. Whatever Tim decides to do with it, I suppose I shouldn’t see it again.”
Mary began to collect the plates to wash out of habit, but Susie stopped her. “Mother, please. You can’t cook and wash dishes in other people’s houses.”
She grinned. “But, I’m your mother.”
“And I’m too told to have my mother washing my dishes. Now, sit.”
After saying goodnight to Susie, Mary walked across the street to her empty childhood home. Her father died weeks ago; she had been so numb. Shouldn’t she be broken up about losing her only living parent? It seemed strange to not feel sadness–or anything for that matter. She did, however, feel a hint of something. A smidgen of regret, maybe? Time after time, she got the urge to march over to Newcrest, rap on her father’s door, and pour out her feelings on him. Sometimes, she wanted him to know how he ruined her life. Other times, she wanted him to know how well she had done for herself and that things turned out quite lovely without his help or her trust fund. She wanted to tell him those things, but frankly she still feared him. Now he was dead.
Portrait after portrait of important people in her lineage she neither heard of nor knew their contribution to the world lined the grand entryway. She used to wonder about them. If she had asked Arnold about them, would he have explained gladly or shooed her away? Perhaps they could have had something new to discuss.
The beautiful, stuffy parlor wasn’t a place she and Arnold relaxed or swapped stories. It was almost always filled with important people who wanted the Jones money to work for them.
Mary sat through so many multi-course dinners in the stiff chairs in the dining hall. The opulence of the home almost disgusted her now. They could have done so much more in the community with all the money they had. Everything was trimmed in gold, and every room was bigger than the downstairs of her entire home! Why did two people need so much?
They threw many grand parties and dinners, and for what? To gain more influence and make even more money?
Mary couldn’t help but snort at the fact that Arnold’s legacy was now in Tim’s charge. He neither cared nor wanted anything to do with his grandfather’s business. Unless he stepped up, or appointed someone quickly, everything Arnold worked so feverishly to build would come crashing down. Karma. It was a nasty beast.
Upstairs, the bedrooms were as large as every room downstairs. Mary, a young girl, lived in a large, cold, bedroom alone. She had a playroom where all her toys were, so why did her bedroom need to be so large? Her closets spilled over with pretty, expensive frocks. Honestly, she missed having opportunities to dress up like that. The balls and cotillions she used to attend were the highlights of her life. At least she was with Reed now and occasionally got to wear a nice dress and go someplace fancy.
The memories made in that house weren’t all bad, of course. Reed, her best friend, made things bearable. They commiserated together about their overbearing parents and had many great conversations about the future on the balcony outside her bedroom. Every now and then, Arnold said something positive. Walking through the house again, Mary felt like she relived every single memory made there. After having that experience, she was perfectly fine closing that chapter of her life and never reading it again.