“Come along, darling,” the woman ordered.
The happy little girl skipped merrily down the stairs with thoughts of strawberry ice cream dancing in her head. “Coming, mother!”
The woman wore a beautiful cream frock spattered with periwinkles and a big sash around her waist. The little girl thought her mother was so beautiful and loved to see her in those poofy dresses, but she didn’t enjoy them. The woman spun around to greet the child, and the dress flowed around her like a silk handkerchief floating to the floor. She gasped and grabbed at her necklace. “What is that you’re wearing? And where on earth did you get it?”
The little girl peered down at her outfit confused and hesitant.
*knock knock knock*
Susie groaned at the idea of leaving her prose unfinished. It seemed like every time she got into a stride someone interrupted and threw off her flow. She never had visitors, so whoever it was didn’t come to see her anyway. The scary people who came to see Tim late at night should have known he was at work. Forget them. She had been dying to write that part for a while. Whoever was at the door would eventually get the picture.
What was wrong with her outfit? It was just a pair of
“Hello?” A woman’s voice called out from downstairs. “Is anyone at home?”
Mother? Tim must have left the door open again. One of these days he’d come home and find her cut up in a million pieces with the company he kept, leaving doors unlocked and all the bonehead things he did. Good thing she coerced her way into living with him. He’d be lost without her.
Susie saved her work and trudged downstairs to have a, hopefully, quick visit with her mother. Mary stood in the foyer looking like the quintessential mother of the year with her knee-length cashmere coat, leather gloves and pearl studs. Too bad she didn’t deserve that award.
“Susie! Oh, how are you, darling? You look wonderful.”
Who was this woman and what did she do with her mother? Wait…this scenario was too familiar. She was buttering her up for something.
“Can I take your coat?”
“Oh, thank you,” she said as if she were surprised at her hosting skills. Susie hadn’t decided if she should be offended or not. “Where is Tim?”
Her eyes widened a bit. “So late at night?”
Mary’s judgmental eyes scanned every inch of the place as she followed Susie to the sitting room; some things never change. “Hmph. You’d think with all the money he has, the old man would have decorated a bit better.”
“Would you care to sit down, mother?” Susie asked through gritted teeth.
“How are you, dear? Are you still writing your book?”
Ah ha! That’s what this was about! If she thought she could just waltz in there with her fine clothes, bat her eyes, and play the poor divorced, lonely mother card to stop her from publishing her dirty laundry, she had another think coming!
“Yes, mother. I’m still writing. I was doing just that when you…when you arrived.”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry, darling. I would have called first, but,” she cleared her throat, “no one ever answers,” she said quickly. “I’m sure you’re quite a lovely writer. You excel at everything you do.”
“Was there something you wanted, mother?”
Her eyes widened again as if she were unprepared. She flashed her iconic smile and batted her eyes a few times. Susie would not be taken by her manipulation. Not tonight! The smile, however, vanished along with the eye contact. To Susie’s surprise, her mother’s shoulders dipped, and her head fell into her chest as if she lost the will to keep her nose in the air.
“Susie, darling, I…I have something I need to say to you. I’ve wanted to say it for quite some time now, but I’m afraid I didn’t have the courage.”
The drama and suspense was enough to send her over the edge. “Save it, you slithering snake,” is what she wanted to say.
“My life is different now. Being away from Newcrest, associating with different people, getting divorced and raising a child on my own…well…I’ve learned so much from these experiences. I suppose one could say I’ve seen the error of my ways, heh.”
“You and Phoenix are so different. But, I’ve learned so much about my relationship with you through my relationship with her. Everything I pride myself on doing well with her, I failed at it with you. I’ve pushed you away, and I understand why now. I’m not sure if you’ll ever be able to forgive me, but I do want you know how deeply sorry I am.”
Oh, this was rich! Susie wanted to rise and give her a standing ovation for it was the best performance she had ever seen. She had to admit Mary almost had her when she said some things Susie had been wanting to hear for a long time, but she was determined not to get sucked in. There was only one way, however, to prove if she were bluffing and only trying to manipulate her.
“Daddy told us about his mother…”
Mary squirmed in her seat just the way Susie thought she would. There’s more than one way to skin a Jones.
Clearing her throat, Mary quickly recovered, sitting up straight and holding her head high. “Y-yes. You have a grandmother. Is she well?”
She didn’t deny it? And, she inquired about her? This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go! What just happened? “I assume so. I haven’t decided to meet her yet.”
“Yes, of course. I understand.”
Ok. One last test. If she were willing to confess everything about the grandma situation, Susie would believe she were contrite. The moment she felt fleeced or Mary sweep things under the rug, Susie’s heart would shut down forever.
“Will you tell me why we’re just now finding out about this woman?”
“Yes, darling. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. I’m ready to talk about things now.”
Susie couldn’t believe it. Mary Jones? A changed woman? It couldn’t be true. Was she obligated to open her heart to her now? Was this all just one grand plan to finagle her way back into her life? It was a good one.
“Start from the beginning.”
Mary nodded. She seemed nervous. Naturally, she cleared her throat as she often did. “Your father and I met in school. We were from different worlds. My father would have never allowed me to see him. We were the Joneses. John…well, he grew up in a tiny house with his mother. He didn’t even know who his father was.”
John never mentioned specifics about his childhood. She always felt like he was the victim in the marriage, and now she would learn why.
“My mother died when I was very young. I don’t even remember her. My father was a powerful man even in the home, so I was determined to stay in his good graces. I didn’t always like the way he did things or even what he made me do, but he was all I had and I wanted to help him accomplish his goals. So, I befriended the people I was supposed to be friends with and stayed away from everyone else. John shouldn’t have been on my radar, but he was so charming…and persistent.”
Susie grinned at the thought of her father always being a sly fox.
“I started seeing him at school in secret. No one could know because it would get back to my father. Eventually, we,” she cleared her throat, “we wanted to see each other more often, so I would tell my father I was going out with friends when I was with John.”
Susie wanted to laugh at the way Mary cleaned up that sentence and was quite surprised because she always thought her mother was a prude. Did her dad wear her down? Or was Mary not as innocent as she purported to be? Susie never imagined her woohooing with anyone before marriage.
“When we graduated, I planned a weekend trip for us. I told my father my friends and I wanted to celebrate, but John and I went to Granite Falls for three days.”
“Granite Falls? I’m sorry, mother, but you don’t seem like an outdoorsy kind of girl.”
Mary grinned. “That’s why it was perfect. No one would ever suspect my whereabouts, and I probably wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.”
“Wow. You really liked daddy that much?”
She frowned. “Of course I did! I loved him.”
Susie could tell she loved him by the way she smiled warmly at the memories she replayed in her mind. Never once did she consider how Mary felt about him seeing as how Susie always took his side.
“Shortly after returning home, I discovered I was expecting.”
Susie understood her parents were much younger than the parents of her old friends, but she always assumed they simply got married and started their family early. She never imaged they were that young when Tim was born. Her mother had this whole separate life she never knew about. A life that made her seem so human. If Susie could have known these things, perhaps she wouldn’t be so hard on her.
“At first, I was embarrassed and ashamed. My father intended for me to marry someone else, and I completely ruined his plans. And, as much as I wanted to be a mother, I didn’t want to be one so early in life. I didn’t have a chance to live. But, the little life inside me caused me to be excited about it for it was a little piece of John that would stay with me no matter what happened to us.”
She really did love John! Susie never heard her speak so fondly of him before. The walls she built to keep Mary out had hairline cracks in them. Perhaps learning the whole truth could send them tumbling down. Hating her mother–or wanting to hate her–was terribly exhausting.
“I told my father about the baby, and he was devastated. Probably more than I was. He was so angry with me. He…he…” Tears began to well up in her eyes, and Susie was not prepared for that. “He wanted me to get rid of my baby!”
Susie’s own tears threatened to fall. She knew her grandfather was a hard man with a terrible temper, but how could he suggest such a thing? Dispose of his own flesh and blood? How awful!
“I could never! John gave him to me, and I loved him already.” As if she were reliving that day, Mary straightened her spine as fire ran through her eyes. “I told my father I wouldn’t do it! I told him that if he wouldn’t let me keep the baby, John and I would run away together and never return.”
“Daddy told you that?”
All of that fire that previously coursed through her veins disappeared as she let the air out of her lungs. “No.”
That was when Mary’s part in the equation became clearer. She was still guilty, but maybe their problems were not completely her fault.
“I thought we were in love. I thought if I suggested running away he would do it. Contrary to what you think of me, I don’t need tons of money and luxury. That life was convenient and a means to an end. I was quite prepared to live however we needed to live so we could be a family, but I am the only child. My father couldn’t let me run away because there wasn’t anyone else to inherit everything when he died. That’s why he accepted John and covered it up.”
Susie was on the proverbial edge of her seat waiting to hear about her grandmother and how everything went downhill fast.
“My father ordered me to invite John and his mother over immediately. I was so afraid of what would happen. He sat us all down and told them about the baby and the ultimatum he gave John. He had to either marry me immediately and have no contact with his mother, or, never see me or the baby again.”
Susie gasped. “What horrible choices! How in the world did he choose?”
“He didn’t want his child to grow up like him and not know his father.”
Wow. He stayed for Tim. Not Mary. The picture was so clear now. Mary was still guilty, but their situation was so unfortunate.
“His mother urged him to marry me. She said one day he would lose her anyway, but he would always have his son. So, he agreed to marry me and pretend she didn’t exist. My father wrote her a check for a large sum of money to keep her quiet.”
“He had to craft a story about John’s history so people would believe he was one of us. That story could not involve her, and my father didn’t need her ruining the narrative so he made sure she would talk and that they were never seen together. He even made him change his name.”
An even bigger gasp emitted from Susie’s mouth. She thought it was a coincidence that both parents had the same last name. “Are you serious? This is wild! Why would you let him go through with this?”
“You’ve met my father! He doesn’t blow smoke. And, no one says no him.” She chuckled. “No one except my little Timmy.”
Susie rolled her eyes, but now she knew why Mary was always so enamored with him.
“So what was his name?”
“John Meyers. My father wanted a son to carry the family name, but he got me. If I would have married who I was supposed to marry, he would have compromised, but John didn’t come from the right family and he couldn’t have the Meyers name associated with him. So he made John change his name so Tim would be a Jones.”
Meyers. That should have been their family’s name. She should have been Susie Meyers though she had to admit Susie Jones rolled off the tongue better. Asking Mary to spill her truth turned out to be a bit more than Susie could swallow. Bits of the story flew at her like pieces of shrapnel from an explosion. They pierced her skin one after the other. Would she survive?
“The only thing about John that ended up working in my father’s favor was his interests. Your father loved science and always intended to go into that field, so my father used that as part of his backstory. To sell it, he gave him a prestigious job in his company. My father made John look good from the outside, and I had to make him look good from the inside.”
Mary was still partly guilty, but now Susie saw she had been coerced.
“I had to teach John how to be like us. I taught him how to speak, dress, dance, dinner etiquette…I even taught him how to do his hair.”
“You’re responsible for that hideous mustache?”
“That was his idea.”
For the first time all night, they shared a laugh.
“He had to be this John Jones my father made up or bring scandal to my father’s house.”
“But, it would be you who was scandalized not grandpa.”
“It would still reflect badly on him.”
“I had no idea.”
Susie felt a chill and added some wood to the fireplace. “Would you mind if I turned out the lights? I like watching the fire.”
Mary smiled. “I remember.”
“So…you controlled all of us because you had to maintain grandpa’s lie? Even after moving to Willow Creek?”
“Susie…I think I’m the sorriest for that. I didn’t know it wasn’t necessary to continue that farce when we moved. Even though it was fake, it was the only life I’ve ever known. It’s not like I had time to build a set of skills I could use once we got here. I didn’t know what else to do. That isn’t an excuse, but it’s my truth.”
In light of all she learned that night, publishing her story as is would be a jerk move. But with a few tweaks to the characters, maybe she could write a heart-wrenching story about overcoming tyranny with a happily-ever-after instead of the open ended story of an ice queen she wrote currently.
Susie’s head spun, and she had no idea what to respond to first. “I understand why you’ve kept all this to yourself now.”
“I’m glad. I would understand if all of this was too much to handle and you still prefer to hate me, but I would love it if we could be friends.”
Susie wished she weren’t so easy, but a big grin stretched across her face and a warmth spread through her heart. “I think that could be arranged.”