Asia’s proposal wasn’t as simple as she made it out to be. The last thing Mary wanted was for the entire neighborhood to know her personal business, and accepting the offer would expose everything she had been trying to hide. All day, she was on an endless loop, circling around the idea of confessing and receiving the help she so desperately needed. At first she would dismiss the idea all in the name of not continuing to disgrace the Jones name. But, then she would think about the reality of their situation. No one in Willow Creek knew who they were or what they did, and no one cared. That thought gave way to a small feeling of hope that everything would turn out all right. The thought of having a fresh start and a new life began to become more appealing to her. However, as soon as she would get the courage to call Asia and give her the news, she would get spooked and began the entire cycle all over again. By the time she went to bed on Saturday night, she still had not made a decision.
Her sleep was not sound. All night she wrestled with her thoughts. However, the little sleep she got was enough rest her mind enough to wake up with a clearer head than the day before. She opened her eyes and exhaled all of the anxiety she had felt the previous day. She swung her legs across the bed and planted her feet on the floor. She sat there and reviewed the facts objectively and came to a decision. Then, she made breakfast and got Phoenix out of bed. Finally, when they were both prepared for the day ahead, they walked next door to the Pruett’s house.
“Good morning, neighbors,” Asia sang as she answered the door.
Mary felt like she was going to be sick. There were a million things she would have rather done in that moment including get married to John again. Sacrificing her pride was not something she was accustomed to doing. “I’ve made a decision,” she said tersely.
Her mere presence so early in the morning clued Asia in as to what that decision was. She knew it took a lot for Mary to gather the courage to arrive at her doorstep. More importantly, she knew that her daughter’s presence was not helping. It was not a conversation young Phoenix needed to be a part of anyway. Asia took care of that problem first.
“Hey there, little lady! Why don’t you go inside and watch cartoons with Kaiden? We’ve got ice creeeeeam!”
Phoenix was beaming. “Thank you Miss Pruett!” She ran inside and joined Kaiden on the couch.
Mary breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
Asia shrugged nonchalantly. “You were saying…”
She was nervous and cleared her throat. “I would like to request assistance.”
Asia was proud. “Mmm hmm. And you realize said assistance will come from all of us?”
Mary’s shoulders slumped as quickly as the breath she exhaled. “Yes, but… Do I have to tell them everything?”
“You’re going to have to display some level of trust, Mary.”
“But, I don’t trust them! Is there just a little room for compromise here?”
Asia thought for sure Mary would have been too prideful to accept her offer at all, yet she was standing before her. That has to count for something, right?
“Ok. How about this? We simply state that you have decided to enter into the workforce, and if anyone asks why, you can just say that things in your household have changed. Asked and answered! They’ll probably assume John got laid off or something. Cool?”
She hung her head low and agreed.
Asia patted her on the shoulder. “It’s gonna be ok, you know.” She ushered her inside and sat her at the dining table and sent India a simple text that said “can you come over?” Unfortunately, the same method would not work with Eliza. “Wish me luck,” she said as she dialed Eliza’s number. “Good morning… Fine, thank you… I’m calling an emergency HOA meeting… I know you’re the president… I know y— … Eliza listen! One of our neighbors needs our help! Are you coming, or what? … Thank you. Bye.” She smiled at Mary. “Sometimes she needs to be knocked off that high horse.”
The two women shared a laugh.
“Jared,” Asia yelled upstairs.
Within seconds he was trotting down the stairs. “Oh. Hi, Mary. What’s up, honey?”
“I’ll give you the details later, but the other neighbors are on their way here. Mary needs us.”
He knew his wife had a big heart, but something about the situation seemed very compelling. “Uhh, sure. Ok. Whatever you need.”
“Can you instruct Kolby to keep the kids away from us?” There was a foreign seriousness in her voice.
He hadn’t realized Phoenix was there and became concerned but kept it to himself. “Sure.” He ran back upstairs. “Kolby!” His strong voice echoed through the house.
That whole time, Mary had been sitting at the table trying to collect herself, taking deep breaths and swallowing lumps in her throat. Watching her new friends’ exchanges made her a bit more emotional than she already was. On one hand, she loved watching Jared and Asia. They had what she so desperately wanted with John. At times they made here a bit jealous. Other other hand, no one had ever put up such a fuss about her before; she felt so loved. It was hard to hold it together.
Eliza arrived first and then India. She had a new hairdo and color.
“You’re a blonde again,” Eliza said flatly.
India shrugged. “I figured a lighter color will help me be less shocked when my hair goes gray in a week or so.”
“Mmm hmmmmm. Ok, Asia… Why are we all here?”
“Well, Mary came to me for help on a matter, and I have some thoughts of my own, but I figured if we all put our heads together, we may come up with a better solution.”
“Very well. What’s the problem?”
Asia put on a big smile hoping it would distract Eliza from her next statement. “Mary has decided to join the workforce!”
Eliza blinked a few times. She peered over at Mary who was clearly uncomfortable. She also noticed that she hadn’t spoken all morning and Asia was doing all the talking. “We’re here because Mary needs a job?”
If looks could kill, Jared would have murdered Eliza.
Asia continued smiling and spoke directly to Eliza. “You may not know, but this will be Mary’s first voyage into the working world. I’m sure you remember how hard it was when you were deciding what to do with your life. So, if we could help her brainstorm opportunities she may be a good fit for, I’m sure she would greatly appreciate it.”
Naturally, Eliza had a snide remark about her always knowing she wanted to be in law enforcement, but even she knew it was inappropriate and kept it to herself.
“Oh how exciting,” India said. “It’s so great you’ve been able to be at home with your children all this time.”
Mary managed to leak out a small smile.
Asia decided to get the ball rolling before Eliza got any fancy ideas about interrogating Mary. “Ooh! What if you became a writer? You could write books about your experiences. Oh! You could start a blog! You’re totally an expert at homemaking. You could share recipes, tips and tricks…I bet some salacious gossip would get the ad revenue going.”
India, Jared, and Asia laughed. Even Mary let out a small squeak. Eliza was not amused.
“That’s a great idea, babe,” Jared said. “It really is, but maybe it’s not the best idea immediately. She would need to get her writing skills up if she’ll want a large audience. And it will take time for the royalties to match a salary. No offense, of course, Mary. I’m assuming that you’re looking for a career and not something to fill time?”
She appreciated his discretion although he didn’t exactly know he was. “Yes.” Her voice was weak and hoarse. She cleared her throat. “Yes. That is correct.”
“You look like someone who would be a teacher,” India said.
Various expressions of approval sounded around the table.
“Thank you. I don’t think I would have the patience though,” Mary said.
“What about a nurse?” Asia asked. “I think you would make an excellent nurse!”
Mary was not completely opposed to that one.
“I think you would too,” Jared said. “But you’d have to go through the intern program first. I hear it’s really rigorous, and it doesn’t pay well. You should definitely consider that since you have a family.”
“That’s true,” Asia said.
“Well,” India began, “if she does decide to go that route, she could get a part time job too…like a barista or something. You only have one child at home now. I’m sure some of us wouldn’t mind helping out and watching Phoenix for you.”
Asia was proud. Seeing her plan working out exactly how she imagined was touching. Mary was touched too, and Asia could tell she was trying to fight back some tears.
“Thank you all so much,” Mary said. “I wasn’t expecting such enthusiasm.”
“We’re here for you, Mary. That’s what neighbors do,” Asia said.
“I appreciate it. You’ve all definitely given me some things to consider.”
There was a very brief moment of silence before Eliza—who had been strategically silent—seized the opportunity to gain control of the meeting. She cleared her throat. “Well… All of your suggestions were nice. But, none of them took into consideration the skills and passions Mary already possesses.”
If volume could go below zero, that would be the noise level in the dining room. All eyes were on Eliza.
She continued. “Mary is a helper. And she loves to organize things. You said yourself that you used to organize charitable events and fundraisers. You should take what you’ve already done and put it to good use and work in the mayor’s office. The department that is responsible for community outreach is a mess. I’m sure you could do some good there.”
Everyone was shocked. No one thought Eliza knew that much about Mary.
“The director owes me a favor. I could get you hired today if you’d like. Just say the word.”
All eyes were on Mary now.
While she appreciated her insight and attention to detail, she felt that if she accepted Eliza’s offer, somehow she would be indebted to her. She felt like she was selling her soul to the Grim Reaper or something. But, at the same time, it was a great opportunity. She wouldn’t need much training; she had been groomed for years to do this. Politics was never her thing, but she really did have the spirit for it. Inside of Mary was a champion who supported what was right. Sure, government agendas was a lot different from Girl Scouts and canned food drives, but she could find something to sink her teeth into and give it her all.
“Thank you, Eliza. I would appreciate that.”
It was nearing lunch time, and she could hear that Phoenix was getting a bit cranky. Previously there was only laughter coming from the living room. Kolby had turned out to be a good babysitter.
“Again, I appreciate you all and your time. I think I should get my little one home before she gets to be too much.”
“You two can stay for lunch if you’d like,” Asia said.
“You’re very kind. You’ve already done so much. I couldn’t. And… She’s so picky. I should just take her home.”
Asia got up to see them out. “Ok. Well, you’re always welcome here…for whatever.” She embraced her and whispered something in her ear. “I told you everything would work out.”
Author’s Note: Hey folks! Keeping Up With the Joneses is back from break! I should technically start the next rotation now, but it doesn’t feel right to leave Mary and the Joneses’ stories hanging in the balance like this, so we’re going to give them another week but count it as the same rotation, ok? I don’t know about you, but India and Lester can wait lol. Oh! And, as you probably could tell, I took all of your suggestions from the comments and included them in the chapter! Thanks so much for your help. 🙂