Mary had been on Asia’s mind ever since Kolby’s birthday party. Wednesday afternoon, she decided to pay her a visit. It felt strange because she rarely went out, and whoever wanted to see her called on her. However, she fought through the awkwardness and pressed on toward next door. Naturally, Mary was quite surprised to see her on her porch and invited her in with vigor.
“Asia! What a pleasant surprise! To what do I owe this honor?”
“Good heavens, Mary. You act like I’m the mayor or something. It’s only me.”
“Quite the contrary! You come from the most revered family in this neighborhood. I am honored you would think of me.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, but…at least my visit is a welcomed surprise.”
“Of course it is, dear. May I get you anything? A cup of tea?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
There was something about Mary Asia liked despite her misgivings about her. She had the desire to please people, and it seemed genuine despite what Eliza thought. If Asia could make just a tiny scratch on Mary’s surface, perhaps they could be friends after all.
“Please have a seat wherever you like.”
Mary seemed excited yet nervous about Asia being in her house. She never seemed to recognize the Pruett name, so she couldn’t have been star struck. Maybe she didn’t get many visitors and wanted to make sure she did everything right. Whatever the case was, Asia had an agenda, and she knew Mary would sweep everything under the rug if she let her. So, she laid her cards on the table before Mary got any fancy ideas.
“Mary… I know we don’t know each other well. And, I definitely understand if you don’t want to talk to me because I certainly wouldn’t want to bear my soul to a stranger. But, I get the feeling you don’t have anyone to talk to, and you’re holding a lot of things inside. It’s not good for you! I don’t want you to tell me anything you’re not comfortable sharing, but I do want you to trust me.”
Mary held eye contact with Asia for quite some time before she lowered her eyes and sighed. “I do trust you, Asia. You’re the only one in this neighborhood I trust.”
Asia didn’t need to know why she felt that way. She had trouble confiding in their neighbors too.
Mary took a moment to find the words she wanted to use and began her tale. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore! I get no respect in this house!”
“How do you mean?”
“My daughter, Susie, she gets more and more rebellious the older she gets. I don’t know what to do with her! She doesn’t listen and does things just to get a rise out of me. And her wardrobe! I don’t know why she wants to wear such hideous clothes! I pay good money for her to have suitable clothes, but she wants to wear rags!
“And her sister makes it worse. She gets cross about every little thing! I honestly don’t know how to handle a child with such a temper, so I end up doing whatever she wants, and Susie takes exception to that because I never allowed her to get away with those things. So now she is doing whatever she wants and not listening at all! And my sweet Tim… I love that boy, but Asia I don’t understand him at all. I know girls are more mature than boys, but I feel like he’s going to be a child forever! He seems oblivious to everything that goes on. I don’t know what he’s thinking half the time, and now he’s always missing!”
“He has some new friends he hasn’t told me about. He’s going to be a man soon! He needs to behave more responsibly especially if…” She seemed hesitant to finish her sentence.
She sighed and continued. “My father named him as his heir. He’s going to inherit a large sum of money, and if he wants to, he can run his company. Oh, I want Tim to be able to handle that responsibility, but he simply can’t. Not right now.”
Asia was afraid to ask because it was borderline nosey, but she did it anyway. “What about John?”
Mary looked at her blankly and then looked away. “John lives in his own world. I’m not invited there. Not anymore.” Her tone was sad.
“W-why?” Asia wanted to know everything but didn’t want to push her.
Mary rolled her eyes at the ceiling. “Phoenix.”
She seemed to recall something and smirked. “I got a massage from this really scary lady, and she gave me some good advice on how to get back on track with John. She told me I wasn’t trying hard enough to connect with him. She said I needed to be,” she cleared her throat, “she said I needed to be more insistent…”
Asia stifled laughter as she tried to picture what “insistent” meant for them.
“…so, one night when he got home, I…I offered myself to him.”
“I see. That’s how you ended up with Phoenix.”
“And he thinks I planned it.”
“Oh dear. I see how that could complicate things,” Asia said. “But, why would he still be upset? I understand being upset over an unexpected pregnancy, but why is he still shutting you out? Is he that afraid it’ll happen again?”
It was an honest question. They both knew that. But, Mary looked like she took exception to it. She didn’t say anything, but she was clearly bothered. Then, seconds later, it looked like she would burst into tears. Asia was unsure of what was happening on the other side of the couch, but she was sorry she said anything. But, then, something changed. Mary looked bold and brave.
“Ok,” she said. “I think it’s time I tell you—
“Mary, I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me anything. I shouldn’t be so inquisitive!”
“No, Asia, I do!” She was fighting back tears again. “I’ve been trying to hide our life from all of you, and insisting that we live a life we don’t even have anymore, but it’s not doing me any good. I’m so miserable, Asia.”
Asia didn’t even know what she was about to learn, but somehow she felt sorry for her. “Ok. But only if you want to.”
Mary shrugged. “Maybe it’ll help me figure things out.”
Asia gave her an encouraging nod.
“We were sweethearts in high school, but we couldn’t date. At least not publicly. He was nobody, and I was the daughter of the great leader of the science world, Arnold Jones.” She said his name with facetious bravado. “There was no way my father would accept him. So we kept it secret. We didn’t even hangout at school because of what my friends would say. Heh, we spent a lot of time making out under the bleachers and stairwells.” She briefly smiled at those memories. “When we graduated, I planned a getaway for us so we could finally be together without people seeing us. I told my father me and my friends were going to go on a camping trip to celebrate our graduation—
Asia gasped. “But you went with John instead!” She was a sucker for romance stories.
Mary nodded. “We spent three glorious days in this cute little cabin in Granite Falls. I don’t think we left it once. I was so in love with him. I didn’t want anything else. Not my father’s money. Not the big house he was going to buy when I got married. All I wanted was John.”
Asia was melting.
“I found that I was pregnant.”
Asia gasped again.
“John wasn’t too happy, but he said we could figure it out. His father wasn’t around, and he didn’t want the same for his child, so he didn’t leave. When I told my father, I thought he might keel over. He couldn’t accept John and suggested I get rid of the baby.”
“Your father said that to you?! Good heavens!”
“I told him that I was keeping the baby, and if he couldn’t accept John, I would run away with him.”
“Awww, John said that?”
“No, but I just knew he would do it. Anyway, my father couldn’t lose me. I was the only child; his heir. He had to protect the family name and his company and everything. So, he met John and told him that we were getting married that weekend and that he was going to have to change his name to Jones because our children needed to be Joneses.”
“Good heavens! What did John say?”
“He wasn’t happy about it, clearly. But he told me that he wanted to do right by his child. He was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to be in his life if he didn’t go through with it, so he agreed.”
Asia wasn’t quite sure who she should feel sorry for more. For the moment, her heart went out to John.
“We got married, and my father gave him a pretty prestigious job at his company so he would look good and also so John would match the backstory he made up for him.”
“According to my father, John came from a prestigious family in Windenburg. John had never been to Windenburg, and he definitely didn’t know anything about high society living. I had to teach him how to be proper. I taught him how to dress, comb his hair, and even how to speak like he came from money. At first he embraced it because it was an adventure. He had never been around wealthy people before. When we would go to parties, it felt like we were in a movie. He was acting, and I played along with him. It was so much fun. Shortly after Tim was born, we were expecting Susie. Our little family was perfect. We were always on magazine covers, and everyone knew us. But then my father began pressuring me to get close to certain people who were in higher echelons, so I had to coach John some more. Not only him, but our children. We all had to be accepted into their culture. They accepted us, and I liked it. It was like a game that required strategy. I felt like I belonged there, and I wanted to climb the ladder all the way to the top. That meant more parties, more schmoozing, and a bigger and better everything. That’s when John and Susie began to fight me. I didn’t understand why. I was just doing what I needed to do to get ahead, and they should have wanted to help me and they didn’t! John began to pull away. He was…cheating.”
“One of my father’s people discovered him. He was furious. He called John ungrateful. But, out of respect for me and to avoid a public scandal, he quietly demoted John and ordered us to get counseling. I don’t know why he thought that would be a good idea seeing as how we couldn’t even tell the therapist the truth so he could even get to the bottom of our problems. It was a waste of time and money. A while later, I learned that he never stopped having affairs. I was so heartbroken, Asia. I didn’t know what to do except run to my father. He had enough of us. He was livid with John and with me.”
“Why would he be mad with you?”
“He said it was my fault John cheated because I should have been able to hold John’s interests. I tried! I really did, but he was also so cold toward me. I guess Maunika was right.”
“The scary masseuse.”
“So, he fired John under the guise that he was going to start another branch of the company in a new town. Things always had to look good in the paper. He also stripped me of my title, denied me access to my trust fund, and named my son as his new heir. But, he had stipulations to further punish us. My son can’t claim his inheritance until his young adult birthday to keep me and John from having access to it. So, we had to sell our home and downsize, and…well, here we are.” She tried to smile.
“Oh, Mary! I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s not your burden to bear.”
“There is one thing though…if I may.”
Asia took a moment to make sure she worded it properly. “You run a very tight ship, and I understand why now. But, I think much of the issue exists in how tight you hold the reigns. Perhaps if you provided a little slack, your family will begin to behave differently.”
“Believe it or not, Asia, I’ve had that thought before. I just don’t know how to do it! I don’t know any other life than this. I grew up in finishing schools and debutante clubs and all that high society stuff. I’ve always been concerned about how everyone sees me, and my reputation is everything to me! I don’t know how to live any other way!”
“That’s where your family can help, Mary. Ask them what they want. Give them the choice they never had.”
“They want to be rid of me. That’s what they want! The only reason John hasn’t left yet is because of Tim. We have to stay married for him to get the inheritance. John and Susie actually discuss divorce. Can you believe it? He talks to our daughter about leaving me! I think it’s too late, Asia.”
Asia wanted to tell her that it’s never too late because that’s what she always chose to believe, but it actually sounded like it was too late for John and Mary. She felt sorry for both of them. What she said instead was, “Whether it’s too late or not, I think you owe it to them to at least try.”
Mary checked the time. It was almost 3:00. “The children will be home soon.”
“I guess I better get back home then.”
“Asia…I really appreciate you. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do feel better now that I’ve finally unloaded everything. I’m sorry for going on and on.”
“Oh no, it’s fine. You’re quite entertaining.” She winked.
“You’re welcome here anytime,” Mary said.
“Awww, thanks. I’ll make it my business to come by more often.”