Sleep evaded Mary that night. Reed’s gentle touch lingered on her skin like the warmth from a hot beverage. Conflicting thoughts waged war on her mind. On one hand, she had not been that happy and relaxed in a very long time. No one had ever cherished her so. Well, Reed used to, but she took it for granted. Was it possible to fall in love after one short night? Or, was it that she never stopped loving him? On the other hand, she thought herself a fool for getting so excited. How could she think about love after one night? She didn’t know him anymore. Quick feelings and brash behavior was what started all this trouble in the first place. To add insult to injury, every so often that odd couple would come to mind. Why would she keep seeing them? Maybe their presence was not coincidental. That week had been very strange, making discoveries and setting things right with people. Should she attempt to speak with John? Neither of them had any illusions of getting back together. They were friendly with each other. Wasn’t that enough? What would it profit John to admit to her mistakes? Nothing in Mary’s life was ever coincidental. Perhaps knowing would make him a better man. Maybe he would be wiser and mature in his next relationship.
Early Saturday afternoon, she made her way to John’s apartment for the first time. Phoenix answered the door with wide eyes and an awkward smile. “Mom? What are you–is everything ok?”
Mary still suffered from conflicting thoughts and gave her the best smile she could muster. “Of course, darling. Of course.”
“Sooooo, what are you doing here?”
She cleared her throat. “If you don’t mind, I need to speak with your father. I won’t take up too much of your precious time together.”
“Oh.” Phoenix shrugged and turned around. “Dad, mom needs to talk to you. I’ll be in my room.”
What a funny child, so casual and nonchalant about everything. If only Mary could be more like her. John returned the book he read to the shelf before greeting her. He looked just as nervous as she was. “Mary! What a surprise.”
“Hello, John.” The last time she saw him was at Phoenix’s birthday party. His clothes were casual, he sported a more relaxed hair cut, trimmed that horrid mustache, and grew a beard that suited him very well. He looked different but good. Possibly what he may have looked like if he never became a Jones. “You’re looking well!”
The apartment, however, was not looking well. It didn’t smell well either. She tried very hard not to look around but couldn’t help but notice the missing stove. Leaning within whispering distance, she said, “Were you robbed, John?”
John traced her gaze to the hole in the kitchen and laughed. “No. Let’s just say one of my inventions went horribly wrong.”
She released her breath and reached for her heart. “Oh! Thank the Watcher.” Though she couldn’t do anything about where John lived, she didn’t like the idea of him living in an unsafe place and having her daughter visit unescorted.
“What can I do for you, Mary?”
“Can we talk some place private?”
He nodded. “Follow me.”
She followed him into his sparse bedroom out to a large balcony with a great view. “Oh, John! This is beautiful.”
“It’s certainly the best part of the apartment.”
Between taking in the view and being nervous to admit her wrongs to him, she had trouble getting started and they fell into an awkward silence.
“Oh, forgive my rudeness,” he said. “Would you like to sit down?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Would you care for something to drink?”
“No, thank you, kindly.”
He nodded and seemed anxious for her to get on with it after taking their seats. She took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “I’ve had a very interesting week. I’m not quite sure why, but I feel I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery.” Contrary to Reed, talking to John was rarely easy. She never could tell what he thought or if he was even listening. At least this time she knew she had his attention. “I’ve learned things about myself that I am not proud of, and I’ve felt the need to make things right.”
He seemed surprised and nodded.
She cleared her throat again. “When I told my father I was pregnant, he told me to get rid of the baby.”
John’s eyes enlarged as wide as she had ever seen them. “He what?!”
She never considered sharing that fact before. It felt like a moot point among everything that happened. Now that he knew, she was glad she kept it to herself. He didn’t need another reason to hate her father.
“I told him I wouldn’t do it, and if he didn’t accept you, I would run away with you and he would never see me again.”
“You said that?”
She nodded. “I thought it was true.”
“Please, John. Allow me to finish.” She took another breath to steady herself. “I was prepared to leave everything I knew behind to be with you. But, my father did what he did, and you were stuck with me in his prison.”
“This week, I realized I should have fought harder. I should have stood up for you. I shouldn’t have allowed him to erase your life and claim you like…like some slave!”
John’s head fell into his chest.
She wanted so badly to know what he thought, but she had to press through and finish. “But, he’s Arnold Jones, and no one says no to him. He always made me feel like I couldn’t do anything right. I felt like I was a mistake, and my whole life I wanted to prove to him that even though he wanted a son, I could still be useful. I did everything to please that man, but it was never good enough. I had to keep trying. So, we got married. I didn’t fight for you, but I should have let you have some peace at home. I know we both agreed to perform while we were out, but I didn’t allow you to be yourself while you were at home. Things could have gone so much better if I did that for you. I am sorry for that.”
Mary was surprised she got through that whole thing without shedding tears and felt a thousand times better.
“I accept your apology. Mary…I didn’t know it was hard for you too.”
She didn’t come to there to get an apology from John, but somehow hearing him realize that she too was a prisoner and not the warden filled her heart with so much joy. “We were young, John. There were many things we didn’t know.”
He nodded. “It was unfortunate.”
They shared awkward smiles with a new sense of understanding. It wouldn’t change anything, but maybe going forward they would be closer to being on the same page.
“Well…that’s what I came to say. I don’t want to interrupt you and Phoenix any longer.”
John flashed a cheeky grin. “She said you went on a date last night.”
Her mouth dropped in disbelief, but she couldn’t help but laugh at her outspoken little girl. “I cannot believe she shared that with you!”
“She was just excited…and happy for you.” He smiled genuinely for the first time all afternoon.
“She told me she thinks you’re lonely.”
His mouth dropped that time. “What a funny girl! She won’t stop asking questions about what I do in my spare time.”
Mary chuckled. “She says the darndest things, but she’s such a sweetheart.”
“And she wants us to be happy.”
Their three children were so different. Tim didn’t seem to care about either of them while Susie seemed keen on hating Mary. Phoenix sat happily in the middle, despite being the youngest, and spread happiness and joy wherever she went.
“Mary, I was not the right man for you, and I know you think I think ill of you, but I want you to be happy too. You deserve so much more than what I gave you.”
Tears threatened to fall. “Oh, John.”
“So…tell me about him. Your date. Do you like him? Did you meet him at work?”
As funny as his and Phoenix’s similarities were, fear struck through her heart. John would eventually find out about Reed, but she didn’t feel like that moment was the appropriate time.
“John, I don’t think you need to–“
“Come on, Mary. Don’t be shy. I just said I want you to be happy. I want you to date and marry someone worthy of your love.”
“I appreciate that, John. I do, but I don’t think it would suit you well to know.”
He gasped and completely ignored what she said. He always interrupted and ignored her. “It’s someone I know.” He looked like a giddy teenage girl trying to figure it out. “Is it someone from the past or right now?”
She couldn’t tell him. He would figure it out anyway, but she couldn’t say Reed’s name in John’s presence. Not yet. Theoretically, John shouldn’t feel strange about it seeing as how it was Mary who left Reed to be with him. But, life never worked that way, and she knew he wouldn’t feel positively about it especially after everything she just said.
“Tell me it isn’t true.”
She couldn’t face him and kept her chin tucked into her chest.
He snorted. “You couldn’t resist the high life, huh?”
“It’s not like that, John! It’s not that way at all!”
She so desperately wanted him to believe her, but now they probably would never be on the same page. Previously, she thought he was a lost cause, but now he truly was.
He chuckled. “You never change, Mary. You think you have, but you haven’t!”
“Please, John! You don’t understand!”
“I understand that you divorced me, and then run right back into the system you claim to have been oppressed by! And, for what? To gain my sympathy and catch me off guard when you flaunt that trust fund brat in my face?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You didn’t want to be married to me anyway! Why do you care?”
“I care enough!”
Everything was going so well, and now they were back to square one. She let him get under her skin, and she lost control. The argument wasn’t worth it. He wasn’t worth it! She didn’t owe him anything, and he could think whatever he wanted; she was done.
Rising to her feet, she wanted to say something witty, profound, and somewhat snarky, but she would only cause more trouble. Instead, she stormed out and went home.
Phoenix ran out of her room when she heard the front door slam. Whatever they talked about, things hadn’t gone well and she knew her mother was the cause. She loved her, of course, but Mary had a way of getting under people’s skin. John was standing in the living room with his back to her. She saw his shoulders rising and falling quickly with every breath he took to calm himself.
“Are you ok, daddy?”
“Stay out of our business, Phoenix!”
He sighed and gestured for them to sit. Was it really her fault? How?
“I’m sorry I yelled. Look, Phoenix…I know your mother and I appear to be friends, but we are divorced. There are reasons for that. You should be careful about what you tell us about each other, ok?”
“You argument was about what I said?”
“Not exactly, but it didn’t help.”
She had never seen him so angry with her in all her life. Actually, she never saw him angry with anyone! “Gosh, dad. I’m sorry! I didn’t think she would care, and mom said she–“
“I don’t want to hear anything about what your mom says!”
Phoenix stormed into her room and also slammed the door. This day was not going how she planned! How could he tell her it’s not her fault but still make her feel guilty? Adults were just as silly as teenagers except they always got away with it because no one could call them on it. No. Her childish parents were NOT going to ruin her plans! After killing a few hours in her room, she emerged hoping her father had calmed down. She didn’t need him to accomplish her goal, but she preferred to have him.
“I want to meet my grandmother,” she said matter-of-factly.
He looked surprised and probably expected her to apologize or something, but he should apologize to her! Mary too.
“Ok.” He grinned and put his book away, and they went to Newcrest.
On the outskirts of town, they stood in front of a tiny farmhouse. It was unlike any of the other houses in the neighborhood and must have been there for a long time.
Phoenix had dreamed about this woman and tried to imagine what she would be like ever since first learning of her. Would she be nice and smell like cookies? Or, would she be mean and smell like cowplant breath? She never had a grandmother before and only knew what she saw on TV and from friends.
“Are you ok?” John asked.
She nodded, and he led her inside.
“Mom? It’s me.”
“John,” she yelled from upstairs. “What a surprise!”
Phoenix looked around the house while her grandmother came downstairs. It was much nicer than Mary implied. Grandmother Phoenix must have had some work done, but it certainly was small like Mary said.
“How’s my boy?” She flung her arms around John.
“I’m good. I brought someone to meet you.”
Grandma looked over John’s shoulder and saw her standing sheepishly behind them. The woman’s face shined as bright as the summer afternoon sun. She didn’t know why or how, but one look at the quirky woman made Phoenix love her. She dressed far too young for her age as if she still wore the same clothes she did long ago. Her hair was longer than Phoenix had ever seen. But, her face… She looked like Susie in 200 days.
“Phoenix. It’s so good to finally meet you!”
Phoenix and Phoenix talked and got to know each other while John busied himself upstairs. He was probably still mad, but she didn’t care. All she wanted was to know her grandmother. As they spoke, and laughed, Phoenix learned her humor came from her grandmother. She couldn’t describe how she felt in that moment, but it was so refreshing to know that her wit and desire to make people laugh wasn’t some random occurrence; she wasn’t the oddball. Her humor was a gift from this wonderful woman who always existed despite just now having the pleasure of meeting her.