Lounging around in his underwear reminded John of his former life with Mom. The tiny farmhouse they lived in didn’t have central air conditioning, and hot Newcrest summers lingered like steam after a shower. Phoenix didn’t make much money, and she only turned on the window units if they could no longer bear the heat. Apart from her late night visitors, Phoenix and John rarely had guests, so he traipsed around in his undies and she in her slip. Those were the good old days back when life was normal. Those times were hard and often frustrating, but he would give anything to go back there. Back to the time when his mother was alive, and he got a whiff of patchouli and peonies when hugging her neck. Back to the time when he was confident, daring, and felt invincible. Back to the time when he had his own name.
Hateful thoughts of the Joneses and how they hijacked his life were like a train he could board and run away, but the old John still existed. At least certain parts did. Why else would he lounge around in his tighty-whities after not doing it in ages? Old John had not died. He was in a coma and had been slowly coming around since the divorce. Maybe even before. If old John wasn’t dead, the rest of him still existed somewhere. Maybe he would eventually regain his confidence and take more risks. Maybe he would feel on top of the world again. He hoped that was true for he took Phoenix’s advice and tried Simder. A woman on there caught his eye, and he caught hers. Tomorrow, they would meet for the first time, and John was nervous.
The morning got away from him. Thoughts of his mother coupled with the mixed feelings which came with her often trapped him inside his head. The children would arrive soon, and he needed to get ready. He hoped they would appreciate what he got for them. It wasn’t much, and he couldn’t afford a tree to put the gifts under. Hopefully that saying about it being the thought that counted had some truth to it. They were all adults now, anyway. The days of spending a ton of money on toys passed. They had sensible tastes now…hopefully.
All three children were on their way to his apartment, so what would Mary get up to? Would she actually be alone on Winterfest? He snorted as he remembered their fight. She wasn’t alone. She had a handsome, rich man at her beck and call now. He probably whisked her away on an expensive yacht to his private island for a very merry Winterfest. They drank champagne and ate chocolate covered strawberries in bed before the private chef served them a proper breakfast on the beach. All of their rich friends would join them in their yachts later for a smashing party. Mary likely shopped for weeks finding the perfect dress with the money Reed showered on her. Heck, the only reason she hadn’t moved in with him was probably because Phoenix still lived at home. If Mary thought John despised her now, just wait until she sees what happens if she attempted to move his baby under another man’s roof!
John shook himself out of those thoughts as he felt the blood boiling past his cheeks. Why did he care what Mary did and who she did it with? Was he jealous of her and how she eased back into the lap of luxury so fast? Deep down, did he miss the money and grandeur? Or, was it Reed? Did the thought of Mary being with another man upset him? It couldn’t have been that. He was happy for her when he found out she was seeing someone, and it wasn’t fake happy.
All those thoughts were silly. He wasn’t jealous of her or Reed. She disappointed him. Mary had changed so much. At least she made him believe she had. Slowly, she turned into someone he could respect. Maybe, deep down, he thought they would be friends one day. But, she threw it all away and ran right back into the system she claimed oppressed them both. She fooled herself and believed they weathered the same storm. She played him, making him feel sorry for her. Right when he thought she had changed… Right when she sucked him into her atmosphere, she spewed him back out into the blackness never to be duped by her again.
The opened door and presence of others pulled him out of his thoughts again. He took a page from Mary’s book and plastered on a smile to greet his offspring.
“Merry Winterfest, dad,” Tim said.
“You too, son.”
“How are you feeling, Daddy? Are you ok?” Phoenix asked.
She was such a sweetheart underneath all of the sarcasm and jokes. “I am wonderful now, darling. It’s so good to see all of you.”
John had all kinds of posh words in his vocabulary like “darling.” He once considered removing those words, but changing his vocabulary was like attempting to change his eye color. They defined him. If John Jones and John Meyers could merge somehow, he would have a version of himself he could live with. But, John Meyers was a child, and if the truth be told, trying to be him was foolish. Maybe he had trouble defining who the new John was because the old John was a myth. John Jones had experiences that shaped his life permanently and would never wish away. The new John had to be a conglomeration of all the best parts of his life.
“Hey, dad, we got you a new stove for Winterfest,” Tim said.
“Yeah. It should be here in a few days.”
John would never ask his children for money, but they did have a ton of it. They probably didn’t put much thought into it, but it meant so much that they would do that for him. “Oh, son. That is so kind.”
“Of course, dad,” Susie said. “We couldn’t stand that hole anymore.”
“And I’m tired of eating hot dogs and old salad when I come here,” Phoenix shouted.
John chuckled. “I feel like I’ve been conspired against. I do appreciate it. So, does it come with a woman to cook the meals?” It felt so good to share hearty laughter with the children again.
“Come on, guys,” Phoenix shouted again. “We have to sing so we can open presents!”
Carrying on a tradition started by Mary without Mary felt weird, and at first, John wanted no part of it. Defining a life outside the Jones prison had proved to be difficult. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t turn his nose up or scoff at anything related to Mary or Jones life because it was his life too. John spent an entire life stage with her. Mary’s traditions were his traditions. Abandoning all of that would be like denying half his life ever happened. John had that same thought over and over again, and that realization was the most painful part of divorce. He and Mary may have been estranged, but she would always be part of his life. John needed to learn that lesson once and for all and live with it.
After the festive, off-key singing, John began with the presents. The holidays made him so sentimental, and he couldn’t stand it. Out of habit, he gave Phoenix the first present, and they all stood around her smiling and watching her open it gleefully just like they did when she was a toddler. It seemed a shame for Mary to miss seeing how, even though Phoenix was a grown woman now, everything about her was still the same.
When all the boxes had been opened, Susie handed John one last present. “This is from me.”
John shook the box and listened to it’s contents. It made a clattering sound like a box of something within the box. “I wonder what this could be.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her. She grinned excitedly while Tim couldn’t keep a straight face. What in the world was he in for? He untied the ribbon and opened the box. His body stiffened and eyes flew open as wide as they could get. Blood rushed to his cheeks which felt really hot. “What the… Susie?”
“I hear you’re going to be dating now. You’ll probably need those.”
Tim lost the ability to stand and collapsed on the couch in a fit of laughter. “Yeah! Safety first, dad!”
Phoenix’s jaw dropped to the floor next to John’s. “Oh my Watcher! I can’t believe you got him that!”