FIRST, I LOVE YOU
By Genevieve Dewey
Copyright 2012 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
The only thing that could have surprised Mary Elizabeth Gates more than a phone call from Michael’s daughter was a call from Michael himself. She hadn’t heard from either one of them for seven years. Well, she’d heard from Michael. He had a way of making his presence… known. But he hardly ever talked to her. Not directly, anyway. He preferred to communicate by proxy, for lack of a better way to phrase it. It both infuriated her and thrilled her that he did even that little, to her shame. And that was probably his point. As for Kiki, Mary had never imagined the girl had given her a second thought after their initial meeting so many years ago. Just thinking about that meeting at the hotel brought back the mixture of pleasure and pain she always felt remembering Michael. Her mind seemed to rush with memories of him like a twisted series of rapids on the river.
On the day of her only child’s high school graduation, Mary walked through the door of the house she had made her own to see his father once again sitting uninvited at her kitchen table.
He never changes, she thought in stunned exasperation.
Michael stood up and held out his hand towards Tommy.
“Congratulations, son,” he said, smiling.
Turning to Jack, she saw her old friend’s expression mirrored her own.
Jack shook his head. “You know, Downey, breaking and entering is still a crime in all fifty states,” he said.
Michael kept his gaze on their son but she could have sworn the corner of his mouth twitched a bit in humor, whether at Jack’s comment or his own sense of self-satisfaction she couldn’t tell. Tommy made no move to walk forward, instead he shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down at his shoes. Michael lowered his hand and subconsciously mirrored his movement.
Claire – bless her – put her hand on Tommy’s shoulder and said, “How about I run down to the grocery store and get us some refreshments before you open presents. Jack, you coming with?”
Without waiting for an answer, Claire grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him back out the door. Mary was torn between the desire to leave with them and the urge as a mother to hover over her baby.
Not a baby anymore, all grown up, she thought.
“Don’t you think it’s time you opened these letters, son?” Michael asked softly.
Tommy shrugged, sneaking a glance through the fringes of his messy, dark hair. Who was going to remind him to comb his hair, now that he was going to be leaving? Her heart ached while she fought the urge to brush it out of his eyes. Tommy had her classic Gates heart-shaped face versus the more angular planes of his father’s features, but he shared Michael’s same dark hair and emerald green eyes. It was those once expressive, now cold, beautiful eyes that had been her downfall.
She had just turned nineteen when she set out to make her dreams come true in the Big Apple. She had driven away from her sleepy little Massachusetts town with nothing but a suitcase stretched almost to the breaking point, $100, and enough grit and resolve for a small army. She was working in a Manhattan restaurant as a hostess when she met Michael Downey for the first time. He came through the doors as if he owned the place, brushing the snow off his fur-lined overcoat and striding past her podium with a distracted, yet purposeful air.
“Sir!” Mary squeaked. “Sir, do you have a reservation—”
He stopped and turned smartly on his heel, cocking his head. His arresting green eyes twinkled with mischief and humor, and he grinned a grin she was sure the Devil himself had handed him. He looked like he was only maybe ten years older than her, but carried himself with an air of a much older man used to giving commands.
“You must be new here. I’m Mickey Downey. I’m here to meet some business associates of mine. In the back,” he crooked an eyebrow, indicating the VIP table set back by the large fireplace.
“Oh. Sorry,” Mary said.
She felt her face flush as red as her hair. She had only had this job a few weeks and was mindful of how lucky she was to have it. It beat working as a waitress in that dingy Brooklyn diner she had started out at by a long shot, and she certainly didn’t want to make the mistake of insulting an important patron. The long hours standing in her heels and the not-so-subtle leering of the owner was worth the increase in pay and the opportunity to rub elbows, however briefly, with people who might help launch her music career.
“Don’t worry your pretty head about it… Mary,” he said, reading her name tag.
His eyes lingered on her front a bit longer than necessary, but instead of making her feel uncomfortable it sent a warming tingle through her.
Her voice was slightly breathless as she asked, “Do you have a card? I mean, for the jar.”
He drew one out of his breast coat pocket, wrote something on the back, and leaned across her to place it in the jar with the other business cards. She could smell a sweet, musky scent on him and smiled shyly as he drew back. She waited about 2.8 seconds after he’d left to fish it out and turn it over.
Drinks? 9pm @ The Drunken Monkey.
She flipped it back over to read a Staten Island business address and Michael L. Downey, Shipping & Finance Consultant. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she was already planning what she’d wear…
She’d made a rash choice that day, one that had changed the course of her life forever. It seemed like her life was a study in punctuated equilibrium. Things would go along swimmingly and then – bam! – one moment in time shifted course, and off she’d go in a whole new direction.
First, there was the day he came into her life. She’d fallen in love with his deep, baritone laugh that night at the bar: “Michael, why on earth do they call you Mickey? Your Christian name is so beautiful. I’m sorry, I refuse to call you Mickey. It reminds me too much of Mickey Mouse!” she’d said, then laughed ‘haha!’ like Mickey Mouse did in the cartoons. And Michael had laughed so long and hard that it brought stares.
Then, the night he discovered she had betrayed him. Her heart had broken when he walked out on her and Tommy without even letting her explain why she’d done it: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It’s too late! They already know everything, where you hide the extra cash, what you told me about Big Joe’s Ponzi scheme, everything! But they said, they said, if you just tell them the rest, that they’ll make a deal with you! Michael, wait, Michael, PLEASE!”
She’d never meant to deprive Tommy of a father, she’d just been… scared… alone… so terribly confused, that she hadn’t stopped to think how it would affect father and son. Jack and the other agents had convinced her that Michael would take a deal. They wanted Big Joe Anastasio, not Downey, they had told her. She could help give the FBI leverage over Michael and he in turn would give them Anastasio. If he flipped, maybe they could go on the run together. Be a family. Be free of his wife in their lives. But it didn’t play out that way. Not even close.
Jack had seemed so friendly, so concerned in those days. He and Claire were the only friends she felt she truly had in a neighborhood where she was an outsider. She had met Claire first, a fellow choir singer at Our Lady of Angels. They had bonded instantly as they were both outsiders, Claire being from Nebraska, and Mary from Massachusetts. Jack and Claire would always ask after her and Tommy; did she have enough, could they help with babysitting, how was she feeling? It had made such a contrast to the growing distance between her and Michael in that last year, and the fights they would have over his continued marriage to Theresa Anastasio. Her frustration with the secrets and lies and the company he kept grew until she couldn’t stand it.
Michael had made her so many promises, so many broken promises, that Jack’s gentle and insistent lobbying that she deserved better seemed to only accentuate those fissures in their relationship. It seemed to make a mockery of the little family she’d dreamed of having with him. She had finally made the decision to help the FBI record conversations and divulge Michael’s hiding spots in their home after Michael had refused to allow her to tell Tommy that he was his father, saying that it wasn’t safe yet. It just sort of… broke her, in a way.
Still to this day, she could remember the feel of panic and queasiness when she took the stand, the look of complete pain and betrayal in his eyes the moment he realized she would go through with it. In the back of her mind she had known that what she would testify wouldn’t be enough to convict either men on its own, but she had hoped – oh, how she had hoped – that playing that card would be enough to get him to choose her and their child over his business. They were always playing games with each other, since the moment they’d met, and this had been the ultimate game of who blinked first. He hadn’t blinked and neither had she, but who had lost and who had won?
She couldn’t regret going out with Michael that first night, getting pregnant shortly after, or the love they shared in their little home. It had been good at first. She didn’t even regret finally taking a stand against his lifestyle. Her son not only had never gotten sucked into that life, he worked daily to shut it down. But she did regret, and would always regret, not being strong enough to fight for more between them on her own terms and not Jack’s or the other FBI agents. Because that one decision she’d made had turned out to be a bigger crossroads than either of them had imagined.
So, there again, on the day of her son’s graduation, she was faced with another crossroads. But it had seemed different somehow that day, like it was not just changing course, but going backwards and forwards all at the same time. A do-over in some respects for all of them, as crazy as that thought was.
There was Michael standing in her kitchen with a bundle of letters she’d had no idea that Tommy had been secretly mailing back to him, probably out of blind loyalty to her. And there was Tommy standing opposite, too unsure of what she wanted to even look at the man who had never actually done him any harm. And if Mary were honest with herself, as lowering as that would be, Michael had never done her any harm even though in his world it must have made him seem weak after her betrayal. All those years she had lived in fear wondering how could he not hate her for what she had done? How could he not want revenge? But he had found them and done… nothing.
Mary had kept Tommy from Michael’s lifestyle, for reasons she didn’t regret, wouldn’t ever regret, but she could see in that moment on graduation day that she had done irreparable damage to both of them. She hadn’t realized until that very moment the power she had wielded. Had she ever asked Tommy what he wanted? Had she ever asked what Michael had planned before she had taken matters into her own hands and chosen for them both? Guilt choked her up.
Time to strap your big girl panties on, she thought and walked over to her son’s father.
“Hello, Michael,” she said, as friendly as she could muster.
He stared at her for a beat, wrinkles at the edges of his eyes now visible. Oh, those eyes… the way he looked at her like she was the only woman in the world.
God help me, why does it still matter? Mary wondered.
“Mary, it’s good to see you again. You look…” Michael stopped and cleared his throat, “You look well. I hope you don’t mind, I was wondering if Tommy – if the two of you – would like to join me and his sister and brother for brunch tomorrow at our hotel?”
So smooth and cool his voice was, as if all those years and miles apart and tangled up feelings had meant nothing. But his eyes told a different tale. They were full of vulnerability, like she had only rarely seen in those early years together. She thought again of his promise to their son eight years before that he wouldn’t interfere, wouldn’t take him from her, but he would always be there for him. He had made good on that promise and it would have been so easy to take Tommy from her with his connections and money. And hadn’t it broken her heart a little that he hadn’t tried, while pleasing her all at the same time? Maybe that had been his punishment for her. Or was it a test? Why did one never know the answers to these things ’til after the milk had been spilled?
Yes, life was made up of these instances in time; big moments hidden inside little decisions.
Mary turned to look at her son, at their son, “Tommy, what do you think? We can celebrate with Uncle Jack and Aunt Claire tonight, and you can spend the day tomorrow with your brother and sister, if that’s what you want,” she suggested.
Tommy’s face was a picture of surprise and confusion. Her little man was all grown up. Oh, how she had leaned on him. Too much… clearly, too much. His eyes darted between her and Michael, and then settled on the letters.
Michael cleared his throat again. “Tell you what… You read those letters, son, and think on it. We’re staying at the downtown Hilton, near the Old Market. We’ll be in the lobby, say, around 10am? You and your mother are both welcome,” he said.
Then he walked forward and put his hand on Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy shrugged away.
“Well… Congratulations,” Michael said quietly. And without another word, he was gone again.
Later that night, she and Tommy had sat on the couch and read the letters together. It was clear to her that Michael had been keeping track of them even though Tommy had never responded to any of the letters, because there were references to events in his life; ‘I hear you play hockey. Your brother likes the Islanders even at his young age… Congratulations on winning third place at the Science Fair, so far your sister hasn’t made me help her with such things, a blessing to both of us…’ Always, always, he would tie each achievement of Tommy’s to his siblings as if with his words and sheer force of will he could weave Tommy in absentia into the family tapestry.
Mary fell in love a little with those two children through those letters, a true miracle given the feelings of loathing she had held for their mother. But she’d always believed a child shouldn’t be held accountable for their parent’s sins. If Tommy hadn’t made the decision on his own to meet Joe and Kiki, she’d have gone herself out of sheer curiosity. But mostly, because Michael’s constant opening, ‘First, I love you’ seemed to burn guilt into her very heart. And he had meant it so, she knew it. He had been fond of saying the very same thing to her when he would come through her door in Brooklyn.
Maybe he hadn’t been quite as forgiving as she had thought. Still, he had kept his word and she had kept her child safe. But now their son was a legal adult, free to choose for himself if he wanted his father in his life. The least she could do was make sure Tommy knew he had her full blessing to figure out what that meant to him without her in the equation.
She and Tommy had made the decision to go the following morning, and though she’d only stayed a few moments, they were etched in her mind. Little Joe had seemed to have all of his father’s energy, none of his restraint. Kiki had been a shy, already beautiful girl who resembled her mother greatly. Thankfully, she had none of her mother’s superiority complex, at least as far as Mary could tell, since the poor girl barely spoke a word. Her intelligent eyes didn’t miss a trick though. The girl seemed to watch the awkward interplay between Tommy and Michael and Mary like they were a fascinating exhibit at the museum.
As Mary took her leave of them, Kiki said in a voice far more mature than her years, “It was nice meeting you, Mary. I hope we’ll meet again.”
And that was that, and here we are again, Mary thought, as she heard that very same voice nearly seven years later. Why on earth would Kiki be reaching out to her now? She couldn’t shake the feeling the Hand of Michael was at play here. Or maybe it was just the mad sprint down memory lane she’d just had.
She shook herself from her reverie. “Yes, Kiki, of course I remember you! What can I do for you?” she asked, trying not to betray her nervousness.
“You know Tommy’s moving here to Chicago for a while to work on some big case, and I’ve asked him to come to my birthday party this weekend. But I was wondering, it would mean a great deal to me and Tommy if you would consider coming as well? I could send you a ticket or pay for the gas, it’s only about six or seven hours to drive. I only figured, it would be a fun surprise for Tommy don’t you think, since he’s going to be away from Omaha for so long,” Kiki said in one long rush.
Well… talk about big moments hidden in little decisions…
–Copyright 2012, Genevieve Dewey.
Read on… Chapter Five, “Mickey”.
[Author’s Note: Read a bit more about how Mary & Mickey got together in this flashback: Her Prince.]
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