Eliza’s feet stuck to the concrete on the other side of Courtyard Lane. She was certain Lexi had called for her, but that was impossible. The junior perfectionist was across the street holed up in her room obsessing over her science project. Surely she needed assistance. Yes. Turning back was an excellent plan. Family came first after all. But, if she went home, the whole process would repeat itself some other time. Psyching herself up was not something she cared to do again. This confrontation had to happen right then because the window of opportunity closed quickly. She swallowed an aching sensation behind her throat and wiped damp palms on her jeans.
The blizzards which plagued them all winter had dissipated into mere cool breezes, bidding adieu for another six weeks at least. The ground thawed, but the frigid air reminded everyone winter was not over yet. Maybe if Eliza stood on the sidewalk long enough, she’d catch the flu and be bedridden for a few days. To visit someone else’s home with a nasty virus lurking inside was rude and distasteful. But, being sick in bed meant missing the first day on the job as Chief of Police. That could not happen. So, she took a hesitant breath and willed her legs to move toward the Jones house.
Mary’s feet were tucked comfortably under the coffee table. So much for hoping she still worked on the weekends. The universe seemed set on making sure the difficult conversation happened that day. The television faded to black when Eliza knocked, and Mary appeared in the vestibule. Her wide, panicked eyes narrowed quickly. A neutral grin replaced her gaped mouth.
She opened the door and stepped aside. Eliza slid past her.
“Good afternoon,” she said unenthusiastically, gazing into the street.
Wow. She couldn’t even make eye contact. Eliza’s stomach tightened. The conversation would be harder than she imagined, and Mary’s dismissive greeting highlighted why it needed to happen.
Eliza cleared her throat and drew courage from the linoleum. “I recognize I am the last person you care to see today. But, I do hope you will grant me a few minutes of your time.”
With a sigh and pinched eyes, Mary gestured toward the living room. “Have a seat.” She sat expressionless waiting for Eliza to begin, offering neither a beverage nor a question about the children.
The pain Eliza caused weeks ago was as fresh as wet as dog poop. She studied Mary’s face, stalling for a few more seconds. New lines indicated a recent birthday. She aged well. Despite the stoic expression, she glowed. Something positive existed behind the cold stare. Whatever it was, or whoever, Eliza was glad for her.
She cleared her throat again. “It has taken me a while to realize I owe you an apology.”
Mary’s eyes squinted.
“I want to extend my deepest apologies for my behavior at our last association meeting.”
Mary’s face softened before her head sunk into her chest. Eliza didn’t expect such a quick response. Just as her stomach knots unraveled, Mary recoiled, stiffening her posture with an agitated countenance. Thrusting her arms at Eliza, she begged for an explanation. “What have I done to cause you to ridicule me so?”
Eliza hoped to avoid bearing the scars of her soul. Wasn’t an apology enough? Could Mary be trusted not to lose her head and keep the discussion within the four walls? What a hypocritical thought. Eliza wanted Mary to use discretion but wasn’t discrete in kind. She didn’t deserve Mary’s mercy yet desired to receive it, anyway.
In recent weeks, she interrogated herself about the case Robert so gently brought against her. How would she handle being the Chief of Police recognizing her propensity for an unhealthy relationship with power? What was her deal with Mary? The answer to that particular question was simple. And humbling. And quite embarrassing. She was jealous and tried denying it, but the facts haunted her like ghosts from the past.
Eliza had no friends or siblings growing up. Vadim and Fatima Simovitch lacked ambition and did nothing to offer a better life for the family. Eliza lived unsatisfied, always reaching for more. Vadim was a lazy man who watched TV all day, and she resented him for it. But, to her surprise, she ended up finding solace in the Retro Channel, of all places. The movies she watched were an endless supply of materials for her daydreams. The characters in the old films lived extravagant lives. Ladies wore gorgeous, expensive frocks. Everyone dwelled in beautiful, large home which resembled palaces. In those palaces, they threw jubilant parties with tons of fabulous guests. She developed an appetite for posh living and craved that lifestyle knowing she’d never attain it. There was one thing she could do easily, however. She mimicked their speech until it felt natural. Everything from her cadence to word choice were all forced. Her new speech gave her a boost in confidence and a false sense of affluence. As the young people said, she faked it until she made it. But did she ever really make it? No. She stepped on the necks of others to appear victorious.
Her belly churned. Skipping breakfast probably would have been a better choice. She squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on saying the right words which crawled out like molasses. “I…” What if she didn‘t understand? “You…”
“What about me, Eliza?” she barked, losing patience.
Eliza clamored for the necklace which usually hung from her collar. Realizing its absence, she inhaled and exhaled until her stomach settled enough to proceed. “You are…” She cleared her throat. “The life you lived… And, how you are… I wanted that.” The pressure of tears built up behind her eyes, but there was no way she’d allow them to fall. “It’s so natural for you. And, I…” She had to pause to keep the tears at bay.
“You’re…jealous? Of me? Eliza… I‘m flattered, but you haven’t a clue what my life was like. I would have given anything to be… To be regular!”
All that glittered was not gold, apparently. Attempting to unmask Mary was like chasing rabbits, but at least she pursued something. Unlike her parents. “You are correct. I lack the details of your story. That makes my apology all the more sincere. I have been in turmoil since that night and thus learned of a few unflattering qualities. I do not wish to create excuses for myself, but perhaps a little context helps.”
Mary nodded. “Indeed. Though, in light of your explanation and recent discoveries of my own, I feel I too must apologize.” She cleared her throat.
Gosh! They were so much alike!
“The tension between you and I could have been avoided if only I would have dropped the act.” She glanced uneasily around the room. “We had to live a certain way back home. It was one big show for everybody to watch, but it was my life. The only life I had ever known. I didn’t know how else to be when we moved here. And, I don’t trust easily.”
What a pair they were. Did Mary recognized their likeness?
“Perhaps, in a different world, we could have been friends,” Eliza said.
Eliza nodded and prepared to leave. “Well… That is all I planned to say. I‘ve taken up enough of your time. By the end the week, I will be out of everyone’s hair. My presence in this neighborhood is a hindrance.”
Mary gasped. “You’re moving away?”
“Yes. I desire a fresh start so I may continue to work things out.”
“That’s fairly serious. Where will you go?”
“Oh! My, that’s quite a nice area.”
Eliza resisted the urge to snort. She knew what Mary implied because they were the same person though Eliza was a poser. Still, she played the game. “Yes, it is. The neighborhood is absolutely lovely. It’s in the town square right on the river across the street from a beautiful park. We made sure to put my bonus to good use.”
Admittedly, she poured it on too thick. But, even after admitting her faults and reasons, something inside her still longed for Mary’s admiration.
“Well, it sounds delightful. I wish you the best of luck, Eliza.”
“Thank you… I hope everything continues to work out well for you too.”