Although being the community organizer for the mayor’s office came with many headaches, Mary enjoyed the pace of the job. It wasn’t slow but not so fast-paced she couldn’t catch her breath. She also enjoyed the flexibility Ernesto allowed her to have once she had been around for a while and proved herself to be trustworthy. Working from home was an option extended to her, and she gladly took advantage of it especially on the days before her off days. It made her feel like she actually had a weekend.
Monday morning, Mary dressed for success–as always–and checked her email to see what Ernesto had for her before she began her own work. Much to her chagrin, he wanted her to do more on-the-ground campaigning in San Myshuno. Many citizens of Willow Creek worked in San Myshuno, and he wanted someone to be where the people were. With a groan, Mary deleted the email. She hated campaigning. Being the face of the mayor’s reelection was not what she wanted to become. She was in no way a shy person, but being out front in that capacity made her uncomfortable. To top it off, he made them wear hideous clothes. He got t-shirts made for them. Phoenix thought the shirts were cool and often wore them. She made them look fashionable, but Mary couldn’t pull it off. The jeans weren’t flattering, and let’s not discuss the tennis shoes.
She got up, redressed reluctantly, and made her way to the city. It was lunchtime, and many citizens would be out and about, rushing to and fro to eat lunch or run errands during their break. It’s what the major intended and what Mary feared. What if she saw someone she knew? What if Eliza saw her? Sure, Eliza knew of her employment, but for her to see Mary in such a disheveled state…it could not happen.
Ernesto instructed her to go to uptown, so that’s where she went. She approached the open space in front of Sky Fitness with short breaths and sweaty palms. She scanned the area for any familiar faces; the coast was clear. Timidly, she raised the sign she made long ago and began shouting out the highlights of the mayor’s plan.
“VOTE DAVIS! LOWER TAXES! BETTER SCHOOLS! SAFER NEIGHBORHOODS…”
She went on and on. Some people listened, but most did not. Frankly, she didn’t care. The people would only be out for one hour, and that was all she was willing to give. The one hour, naturally, seemed to drag on. She had to get a second wind or else it would never end. Inhaling a deep breath, Mary turned up the fire and put on a good show…just in time for a very special audience.
Outside of John’s scandals, she couldn’t remember a time when she was more embarrassed.
Reed chuckled. “Well don’t stop on my account. I’m enjoying your performance.”
She tried to ignore him and get back to work, but she couldn’t do it. It was too humiliating.
“I didn’t peg you as the political type, Mary. You’re so caring…and motherly.”
Heat rose up in her cheeks, and the fist of her free hand balled up, but she spoke calmly. “Reed, I am working.”
“That’s different for you. I’m impressed.”
She couldn’t tell if he were mocking her or not, but the one thing she did know was that he was not going to leave her alone. “Reed…please…. I can’t do this with you around.”
He grinned devilishly and took a few steps toward her. “Afraid I’ll cast a spell on you? Make you fall in love with me?”
She lowered her head and wrapped her arm around herself. “Please go!”
He snorted. “I guess I’ll be seeing you, Mary Jones.”
When she got the courage to peek, he had left her, and she got back to work.
After that humiliating day of work, Mary spent quite some time in the shower, washing away the sweat and thinking about Reed. All of a sudden, he seemed to be everywhere. Why? Didn’t he and his parents have their own business empire in Newcrest? What did he want from her? He couldn’t have been still hung up on her after all this time? Surely someone as gorgeous and sure of himself with a promising future could have had several wives by now. Thinking about him made her even more anxious.
The front door opened and closed; Phoenix had arrived. She ended the shower to catch her before she got involved in too much. Between her active social life and staying with her father on the weekends, they hadn’t been able to spend much time together since her birthday. Mary missed her and didn’t want her to feel neglected, so she suggested they go out to eat. Honestly, dining out wasn’t something Mary was accustomed to unless it was a fancy place with no prices on the menu and a strict dress code. Her life was different now, however, and over the months she had gotten comfortable with opening herself up to new experiences.
“Is it ok if I just get pizza, mom?”
“Of course, darling. Order whatever you like.”
Mary was hoping for a pleasant evening, but it looked like Phoenix was a bit preoccupied. “What is it?”
“Kaiden doesn’t talk to me! I’m nice, and I invite him to hang out with me and those losers, but that’s it! He doesn’t call or text or anything! I don’t know how to make it more obvious without saying it!”
“Maybe it’s time you say it, hmmm?”
“I don’t wanna say it! I want him to say it! He’s a smart guy! Why can’t he figure this out?”
Mary found herself feeling anxious again. She was a fount of wisdom for her daughter, but was she brave enough to let her drink? Phoenix was much older and mature than she was when the divorce happened. They chose not to burden her with the details, so she had grown up not knowing much about her parents’ relationship. She never expressed the desire to know what transpired, so Mary thought she didn’t care. It didn’t bother her because she didn’t want to taint the child’s view of her father. But, here was Phoenix going down the same path she had once before. She had to warn her.
She looked around to see if anyone was listening. “Phoenix…I have some advice, but you’re not going to like it.”
The frustrated girl rolled her eyes. “What is it?”
“I think you should find out how Kaiden feels before you begin investing time and energy into him. It isn’t wise to pursue someone who isn’t interested.”
“Did Asia say something? Is that what you guys talk about while we’re at school??”
She put up her hands in a surrendered manner. “Asia hasn’t said anything! I don’t know how he feels…but you don’t either. You’re exhausting yourself by trying to make him like you. In the end, you’ll be much happier if things progressed naturally. Trust me, darling, you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you.”
“Here we go, folks!” The server placed plates and glasses on the table. “Pepperoni pizza and lemonade, and shepherd’s pie and iced tea. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, thank you. We’re fine.”
They ate in silence. Mary was sure Phoenix was thinking about what she said. At least she hoped she did. If she could help it, none of her children would make the same mistakes she did.
Mary could feel her shifting in her seat as she enjoyed a bit of her meal.
“Did you…I mean, is it–are you–”
“You can ask me, Phoenix. It’s fine.” She knew what she struggled with. Somehow through her struggle, Mary girded up the strength to be vulnerable.
“Did you go through that? With dad?”
Mary swallowed a tiny lump in her throat. “In a way, yes.”
Mary took a few more bites of food and swigs of drink before telling her sordid tale. “We met in school. We…we traveled in different circles, and I wasn’t interested in him at first. At least I shouldn’t have been interested. After a while, I came to like him a great deal, and he was all I wanted. We were…hasty and got involved in ways we shouldn’t have. Right after we graduated, I…” she lowered her head, “I found out I was pregnant with Tim.”
Phoenix gasped. “You weren’t married?”
“No. We weren’t.” She hoped that small part was a standalone lesson Phoenix would remember. “My family was very important and very public. And…my father intended for me to marry someone else, so it wasn’t a good thing. He made us get married very quickly to cover it up.”
“Dad didn’t want to?”
“No, but he wanted to do the right thing.”
“There was a rough adjustment period at first, but I think the baby helped bring us closer. We had your sister soon after, and things were great. But, then they got hard, and we drifted apart.”
Talking about this to Phoenix was surprisingly easy, but she didn’t feel the need to share John’s transgressions.
“I did everything I could to fix us, but he wasn’t interested. Shortly after having you, I began thinking about our lives and all that transpired. I was tired of fighting. I realized I never asked John how he felt.”
“Never once. I assumed many things. So…I asked him.”
“W-what did you ask him?”
“If he ever loved me.”
She gasped and looked like she would cry. “He said no?”
Mary nodded. “We were used to co-existing for your sakes, but I couldn’t bear to do it anymore knowing he would never and had never loved me. So, I asked him to leave.”
Phoenix seemed to be lost in thought.
“And, I’m sorry, darling. I do not regret my decision, but I do not feel proud of what it’s done to you.”
She shrugged. “Meh, it’s ok. Parents get divorced all the time. At least you guys get along. Some of my classmates’ parents want to kill each other.”
Mary felt an odd mix of pride, sorrow, and joy. She was proud that she did not sweep her history under the rug. She was sorrowful for those kids who went through messy divorces. The entire night caused great joy as Phoenix responded quite well to everything. She and Susie would never have had dinner alone, but if they did, she knew the conversation wouldn’t go well.
Mary hated comparing her relationships with her daughters, but she couldn’t help it. They were so different, and where one failed, the other blossomed. In a way, it wasn’t something to be proud of because she could never relish being hated by her child. But at the same time, her successes with Phoenix helped her to see where she went wrong with Susie…and John. He was a lost cause, but Mary refused to believe Susie was. She still had some fight left in her and would not stop until she and Susie were friends.