Phoenix was groaning and fidgeting in her seat during breakfast. Mary thought she was in a mood and did her best to ignore her. Phoenix, however, began to cry and show signs of being in physical pain. This was no ordinary trick to get a free day from school. The child needed help. But, just in case she had gotten better at trying to fleece her, she played it cool.
“What is it, darling?”
“I don’t feel good! I’m all itchy!” She whimpered while she scratched ferociously.
Drat! The girl wasn’t trying to fleece her.
“Don’t scratch like that! You’ll make it worse!” She looked at the clock on the stove. “You still have plenty of time before school. Go take an oatmeal bath. It’ll make you feel better.”
Phoenix dragged herself back upstairs, whimpering and trying not to scratch.
Mary hoped it wasn’t something serious. There probably would have been spots if it were. She finished her breakfast and got herself washed and dressed. As she came out of the bathroom, Phoenix was heading her way.
“You feel better, right?”
“I’m not itchy, but I still don’t feel good!”
In the past, when she had sick kids, she took care of them. But now she had to work. Things were so busy in the mayor’s office with it being election time. She hoped her boss would understand and let her take the day off. There was no way the school would accept her.
She bent to hug her child. “Oh! You poor thing!” Her neck was hot to touch. Phoenix was definitely sick. “Back to bed you go.”
“Are you going to stay with me, mommy?”
“Of course I am! I can’t leave you here alone.”
“Yay! And you’ll play with me?”
Mary laughed. “If you feel better, we can play. But, first, bedtime!”
Letting John go needed to be done, but sometimes she hated the consequences that accompanied the divorce. The principle one was not spending as much time with Phoenix as she wanted. Thankfully, she worked the same hours that Phoenix was in school, so she had the evenings. But, the weekends belonged to John which worked out great because she had to work anyway. She always wondered how Phoenix felt about being tossed back and forth but was afraid to ask. Hearing how excited she was about the potential playdate with her mother made Mary even more concerned about not having enough of her time. On the bright side, it was nice to have a daughter who wanted to spend time with her.
Phoenix changed into her pajamas, climbed into bed, and slipped under the blanket. Mary was right behind her to tuck her in. She didn’t want what she had, but every sick child needed a mother’s kiss.
“Get some sleep. I’ll be right downstairs if you need anything.”
Phoenix was out before Mary could kill the lights.
She didn’t waste any time and went into the bathroom to call work.
“Hi, Ernesto…. Yes, I realize I am late…I have a sick child at home…. I don’t know. She was itching earlier, but now she’s just hot…. No, I feel fine…. But, my child! I can’t leave her here alone! … I’m her mother! She needs me, not some stranger…. Why does that have to get done today? And why doesn’t he have campaign workers doing that? … I’m sure the taxpayers appreciate him trying to cut costs, but cutting corners isn’t helping! … Fine! I’ll call a babysitter!”
She growled as she ended the call. “Maybe he shouldn’t be re-elected!” She inhaled and exhaled slowly before she returned to Phoenix’s room. She cleared her throat. “Phoenix…wake up, darling.” She gently shook the girl’s body.
“What is it, mommy?” she asked in a groggy voice.
“I’m sorry…. I…” She knew it was going to break her heart. “I can’t stand home with you today.”
Phoenix’s eyes welled up with tears. That stung.
Mary tried to hold it together. “I’m sorry, Phoenix. My boss says I have important work to do.” She couldn’t stand the weeping puppy dog look. “Oh…come here!” She gathered her child in her arms and held her. “Maybe we can stay home together another time. I promise we can play together when I get home if you’re feeling better, ok?”
“Ok. Let’s get you back in bed. I’m going to call a babysitter. You stay here and rest and get better. They’ll be downstairs if you need something.” She tucked her back in bed and kissed her once more before she left for good.
She called the nanny service and arranged for someone to come as soon as possible. The young man they sent alarmed her and hoped he knew how to deal with children for he was far younger than she was. After showing him around and giving him the rules of the house, she left and took her load of mommy guilt with her.
All day, she ran to and fro asking random people in various places how they were going to vote and if they approved of the mayor. Ernesto told her the mayor had not assembled a campaign team to save money and decided to use his staff for those purposes instead. Mary didn’t appreciate having to drop everything every time the major needed something done, but he didn’t have many needs for fundraising at the time anyway.
She began her day close to home in the park behind her house. From there she made her way to Magnolia Blossom Park, the gym, the museum, and finally the library. She was grateful she worked for the mayor and not the governor. Staying within the confines of Willow Creek’s borders suited her well. Being made to go to Newcrest would have been troublesome. Experiencing all that she had in recent months, it wasn’t the gossip and ridicule she was afraid of. It was a certain someone she definitely did not want to run into.
When she arrived at the library., it was almost closing time, and she was glad there weren’t many people around.
She walked over to the woman using the computers and sat in front of her. “How are you this evening?”
The woman seemed surprised at her random, cheerful greeting. “Doing all right,” she said cautiously.
“I’m Mary Jones. Can I have a few minutes of your time? I’ve been asking people all day about how they feel about the mayor. Would you mind sharing your thoughts with me?”
“Oh,” she said in a rather surprised and relieved tone. “Sure.”
The librarian conveniently slipped into the seat behind the woman and did a terrible job at not pretending like she was eavesdropping.
“I like the mayor,” the woman said. “I think he’s doing a good job.”
The librarian snorted.
Mary smiled. “I suppose you don’t think so,” she said to the librarian.
“He’s a puppet just like all the rest. He’s not helping anyone but himself,” she said.
Mary nodded. “Thank you both for your time. I really appreciate it.”
All day she had similar conversations and got the same results; the people were split 50/50. It wasn’t a good or bad thing, but the mayor certainly had more work to do.