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.
Mary enjoyed the cool feel of cucumbers on her eyelids, and was struggling not to giggle like a schoolgirl at the decadence of it all. It wasn’t her first spa treatment ever, but it had been so long since she’d had one that she felt like a young girl again instead of a middle-aged woman with a grown man for a son.
No, not middle-aged, that sounds so old, she thought. You’re only forty-five, for crying out loud.
But she was certainly the mother of a grown man. A grown man who clearly was having trouble accepting she had a life outside of being his mother, and more damning still, clearly thought she was as gullible as a goose. On the contrary, Mary knew that Kiki was up to something when she got that phone call, but she figured it was something more along the lines of Michael would just ‘happen’ to show up at their intimate dinner… or some such. She didn’t expect the big party, she had miscalculated that, but she did realize that Kiki had something she was planning.
It was both gratifying and strangely disappointing that Michael had clearly been as out of the loop as she was. But, Kiki’s idea of coming to Chicago and having a relaxing, open-ended vacation had sounded so pleasant, so extravagantly self-indulgent. And in exchange for the idea of an all-expense paid trip to see her only child, plus her old friends Jack and Claire, Mary was willing to play along with whatever shenanigans the girl was up to. If that meant running into Michael, so be it. Better to run into than run away.
She felt like she had spent most of her life running from something; from her family’s expectations, from her stifling small town, from Michael’s life, from herself. She made the choice to accept Kiki’s offer because she felt in her gut that something had to give. No real concrete explanation, just one of those weird tingles up the spine. There was so much unresolved garbage between her and Michael, between Tommy and his father, between all three of them really, that maybe Kiki’s idea had been a catalyst or something. Or maybe she just had delayed empty nest syndrome. But this morning when she was sitting in Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, she just knew in her soul she had made the right decision to come and to stay even after the disastrous birthday party.
Tommy had told her at breakfast that Kiki hadn’t even stayed the whole night. At her own birthday party! Mary hoped that Michael and Tommy hadn’t been harsh with her. She wished she could understand why she felt so protective of Kiki, since of course, she wasn’t her daughter, and she still to this day despised the girl’s mother. Maybe it was just there was something about her that reminded Mary of herself when she had moved to New York and met Michael. She had all that youth and energy, ready to take on the world with bright-eyed optimism and determination. Mary didn’t want to see the girl’s dreams, however naïve, get crushed under other’s cynicism like her own had.
“Explain to me exactly what the cucumbers are supposed to do?”
She sat up with a gasp, the cucumbers falling with a splat on her lap. She stared in shock at Michael lounging against the wall, still dressed in his Sunday best. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish.
“Now, talk about a racket, getting already beautiful women to shell out hundreds of dollars to lie on a slab with vegetables on their face,” he continued with that devil’s grin.
“Michael! What – what – how did you get in here?” Mary finally managed to get out.
She didn’t know what disconcerted her most; that she was sitting there with only a towel and a seaweed mud mask on, or that he had deliberately sought her out, no doubt with the aid of his daughter. Had she really been feeling protective of Kiki a moment ago? Nope, she was going to kill that girl!
He just continued to smirk at her.
“I asked you a question,” she struggled to say with as much dignity as one could with goo all over their face.
Michael jingled the change in his dress slacks, then removed his hands and walked over. She gripped the towel closer and scooted back. He frowned at her action.
“I just wanted to apologize again for my daughter,” he said.
“No need. Like I told you last night, I’m sure she meant well, and to be honest, I am enjoying having a vacation. It’s been years really. Tommy and I used to go to Worlds of Fun sometimes when he was younger or camping. But I haven’t really gone anywhere except back home to Massachusetts since he’s grown. No point in taking a vacation when it’s just you going,” she trailed off.
She cringed at her own babbling and attempted to still her hands kneading the towel. They’d made a child together for goodness sakes! Why was she so nervous? His eyes were focused on his shoes. He was still frowning.
“I’m sorry. I have you at a disadvantage. Why don’t you get dressed – the receptionist said you were almost finished in here – and we can meet for early supper in the restaurant?” he looked at his watch as he said it.
She released a short laugh. It was like going back in time with him. He was older and more distinguished looking, but still the same restless, presumptuous Michael.
“Actually, I was planning on meeting Jack and Claire for supper in Elmhurst,” she said, noticing the quick flash of anger in his eyes at the sound of Jack’s name. She couldn’t help herself and recklessly suggested, “You’re welcome to join us. Tommy will be there.”
She could see the gob-smacked look on his face at her inviting him to supper with the man that had come this close to putting him in prison, at war with the temptation to spend another evening with his estranged son.
The Devil must’ve made me do it, she thought with a smile.
“Where will you be dining?” he asked distractedly.
“Galway’s,” she replied.
He blinked. “That’s not a real restaurant, it’s a pub with food,” he said condescendingly.
“It has food and entertainment, and Claire said I will love it,” she said with her chin in the air, confident he would no longer want to come, if he ever had in the first place.
He narrowed his eyes, his lip slightly curling. She’d forgotten how much Michael liked a challenge and she squirmed nervously.
“Well, maybe I’ll drop by. Who knows? How long are you staying in town?” he asked, clearly no longer concerned with her lack of privacy.
“It’s… It’s open ended.”
She thought about lying, but figured Kiki would tell him anyway. He raised his famous eyebrow, or was it infamous?
“Can you afford to be away from your job so long?” he asked politely.
“I’m not sure what business it is of yours. Aren’t you retired from your job?” she deflected.
She didn’t know why she felt so defensive. Well, yes she did, but she didn’t know why she was still having this conversation with him and not kicking him out. He looked momentarily melancholy before he shrugged.
“I’m carving fulltime now. Keeps my mind and hands occupied,” he said as he headed towards the door.
He paused with his hand on the door handle then looked back at her over his shoulder.
“Maybe you and Tommy could drop by and see my shop sometime. I live in Oak Park these days,” he said, with a tone that suggested he, too, was feeling defensive. Then he left, shutting the door softly behind him.
Mary sat silently for a while and pondered if her courage would fail her now. She wished she knew what the right thing to do was. Stay? Go? Let him in? Push him away? She was still fussing on the conundrum that was Michael Downey when she met with Jack and Claire at the pub later.
He didn’t come.
And she couldn’t figure out why that bothered her so. It seemed as if he was always making subtle overtures, but never actually made a move. Like a lion pacing back and forth behind the bars at the Zoo, waiting… just waiting. Was he waiting for her to make the first move? Yes, that had to be it. But she had invited him and he didn’t show. Yet, he had invited her and Tommy to his home…
It hit her then with a sudden, forceful clarity. He wanted her to come to him. Wanted her to be the one to admit defeat, to surrender on his turf, on his terms. Was his pride that important to him? Or was it about revenge and humiliation after the way she left him? Maybe he saw her as just a means to an end, getting Tommy in his life. It was a lowering thought and made her angry to think it. But if that were the case, she couldn’t understand why he would have stayed away, yet kept such a close eye on her. And if he thought she would just come crawling, he had another thing coming. She was done wondering. Done speculating. Done, done, done. Two could play that game. She started formulating a plan inside her mind and tried not to dwell on the fact it made her feel alive in a way she hadn’t felt in so very long.
At the end of the week, after having visited the major museums and gone on just about every tour the city had to offer, including the gangster tour, she dropped by the Federal Building to visit Tommy and Jack. It brought her such pride as a mother to see her son working so diligently on this case and with such a distinguished Federal agent like Jack. Tommy bustled her into the workroom and introduced her to his colleagues as if she were some honored guest instead of a former stay at home mom who tutored music for a living.
She was pretty sure Agent Sommers had a bit of a crush on her boy by the end of the chat. Not that she’d say anything, mind you. If there was one thing she’d learned a long time ago it was that men needed to discover things on their own. She wasn’t sure what to make of James Hoffman though. He didn’t seem to want to meet Tommy’s eyes but was otherwise very friendly and open.
After her visit, Jack and Tommy walked her to the front of the building.
“I’m glad you and Claire are enjoying living in Chicago, Jack,” she said.
“It’s different. Living in the suburbs makes it not so bad except around rush hour. Still on its worse day it’s got nothing on back home,” he chuckled.
She knew by ‘back home’ he meant New York. She also knew how hard it’d been for him to move from Brooklyn to Omaha with Claire when his wife had gotten so sick with cancer. The doctors were not giving her a very good prognosis on her Stage Four breast cancer and she wanted to be back with her family in Nebraska for treatment. He had loved living there in New York, working in Organized Crime, and the decision to transfer to Omaha came with a demotion for him. But with the case against Michael in shambles and his wife so sick, it was an easy decision. Amazingly, surprising even the doctors, Claire had beat the odds, and Jack had settled into a good life in Nebraska.
But after Michael ‘retired’ to Chicago, Jack had jumped at the chance for another transfer. It was like neither one of them could let go of that long ago case. Mary truly hoped Jack would be able to put it behind him. After all, she had a child with Michael; it was only natural that she couldn’t let the past go, but this need Jack seemed to feel to protect her from Michael seemed like a waste of his energy. If Michael was going to do anything to them he could have long ago. And she felt like he was telling the truth about being retired. So what was the point of keeping tabs on him anymore? But like she said, you couldn’t tell a man anything, they had to come around to it in their own way.
“So what’s the deal with your friend James, Tommy? He seemed a little nervous or jumpy,” Mary said as Jack walked back in the building.
Tommy laughed as he gave her an extra hug good-bye, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s good people. I’m sure he just has something on his mind, maybe that girlfriend he’s been ditching us to go see at lunch. He about breaks the sound barrier getting out of here and comes back practically purring. But now you mention it, he has been a little weird with me since Kiki’s party. Maybe he finally realized how rude he was being to her before you showed up and just doesn’t know how to apologize.”
Mary was surprised to learn he had been there because she hadn’t figured that Tommy’s colleague would be allowed at a Downey family event.
“What do you mean, rude to her?” she wondered. “I didn’t realize you all knew each other previously?”
She must’ve worn her confusion on her face because he laughed again.
“Long story. Not important. He wasn’t there long anyway. What are you going to do with the rest of today?” he asked, obviously keen to change the subject.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” she answered. There was absolutely no way she was going to tell him her real plans. “Did you get a chance to see your brother again before he went back?”
“Yeah, man, that boy is growing like a weed, and he talks like he’s a Colonel already instead of a fifteen year old kid,” he said with a grin. It warmed her heart to know he was forming such a strong bond with his siblings.
“And your father?” Lord, but she hated that closed look he got on his face at the mention of Michael. It made her feel so guilty.
“He was there, of course. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry and then we all went to supper together on Joe’s last day. Don’t worry, I was on my best behavior,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I’m sure you were, and don’t be sassy. I’m just asking because I want you to know I don’t mind if you want to, you know, continue to spend time with him while you’re here,” she said, brushing a lock of his dark hair from his forehead.
He looked at her for a beat. “Can I ask you something?” Tommy asked, looking preoccupied.
“Shoot,” she said with a smile.
“When did you realize he was involved with the Mob?”
She stared into his eyes. Was it possible they’d never talked about this? She took a deep breath. She owed him this, at the very least.
“Well… fairly early on, actually. We’d been together a handful of months when I ran into Theresa Anastasio at the church while picking up my choir music for Sunday mass. She was finalizing the last details on her wedding. Took great glee in showing me the Downey-Anastasio engagement photo they would place in the vestibule on their happy day. Michael never went to Mass back then, and I had no idea she even attended the same church. She knew about me apparently, but I had no idea about her existence in his life. That was the first time I broke it off with him. He begged me not to, said he hadn’t planned on falling in love with me, hadn’t wanted to hurt either of us, and he claimed that he was having trouble finding a way to end the engagement. I was young and naïve but not entirely stupid. I told him we were through. Then I asked my friend Claire if she knew anything about the Anastasio wedding and she told me that her husband – Jack obviously – was investigating Theresa’s father and the groom-to-be. She joked about having never sung at a Mob wedding, and it was a shame they hired some famous entertainer friend of the family instead of using our choir. It suddenly made sense to me what he’d said about not being able to find a way to end the engagement if he was afraid of her father and we’d only been dating for a few months. I was torn between sympathy for Michael – yes, sympathy, Tommy – and a sense of relief that I had ended it in spite of how much I’d come to care for him. But when I realized I was pregnant a few weeks later, I worked up the courage to tell him, hoping it might be just the thing he needed to make a clean break. Oh, don’t give me that look Tommy! I was nineteen! I was alone and pregnant. He said he loved me. But it was too late. They’d just gotten back from their honeymoon. But he promised he would take care of me. Foolish, foolish girl that I was, by the time you were born I had let him back in my heart and back in my bed. To be fair, he spent a lot of time with me and you. Way more than he must have spent with her when you factor in the work he did for her father. He did try and leave her a few times, but then she’d have some sort of breakdown and check herself into a hospital and he’d go right back to her for a little bit. I think you were two years old before I realized Theresa wasn’t really what stood in the way of our happiness. He didn’t go back to her out of love or fear. He was never afraid of her father. He wanted what her father had. He would never get a divorce as long as he needed her to get it. And yet, knowing this, I still chose to stay…” she trailed off as the waves of her memories seemed to choke her throat.
She didn’t even realize she was crying until Tommy wiped a tear from her cheek.
“And you actually want me to get to know this man better?” Tommy asked softly.
“Yes,” she declared firmly, straightening her shoulders. She watched his face battle consternation and frustration.
“Of all the crimes that can be laid at the feet of your father, the one thing he has always done right is love you unconditionally. I took you from him, without even giving him a chance to fight for you. Don’t interrupt,” she gritted out in her mom voice when he opened his mouth. “I kept you from him and he respected that, Tommy. For once in his life he put someone else’s needs ahead of his own. This isn’t about how he treated me back then or the mistakes we both made. This is about you getting to know the man I fell in love with. I believe he’s still in there somewhere. If you get to know him and, independent from your feelings about how you think he may have treated me way back then, you still decide that you want nothing to do with him, then so be it,” she finished.
The door opened behind them and James poked his head out.
“Are you just going to stand out here chatting with pretty ladies all afternoon?” he shouted at them.
Mary snorted and rolled her eyes. It was enough to break the tension though, and Tommy smiled at her as he walked slowly backwards towards the building. She waggled a maternal finger at James, blew a kiss to Tommy, then turned and went to retrieve her rental car. She had to see a girl about a man.
Kiki seemed almost giddy when they met up on Lakeshore just off Grant Park. She had a flush in her face and a smile a mile wide. They walked along the jogging trail together.
“My, what a twinkle you have in your eye,” Mary laughed.
“Oh, it’s just a nice day, don’t you think?” Kiki replied.
“Hmmmn, what’s his name?” Mary asked.
Mary was thinking whatever unpleasantness Tommy thought Agent Hoffman had to feel guilty over at the girl’s party a week ago was long forgotten by the birthday girl thanks to this mystery man. Kiki made a dismissive sound but dropped her eyes and worried her lip beneath flushed cheeks.
“I don’t know what you mean, there’s no guy. It’s just nice seeing you again. I’m glad we’re on the same page with Tommy and my dad,” Kiki said earnestly.
Mary let it drop, but she could tell when a girl was smitten. Hadn’t she been the starry-eyed girl once over Michael?
“So what’s the plan?” she asked, hooking her arm in Kiki’s.
Kiki looked surprised, but pleased at the gesture. “We just need to get Tommy over there. That’s all. Dad’ll do the rest I’m sure. You know how he is,” Kiki said as she sat on a bench by the yacht club.
Mary sat next to her and they watched the ducks toddle by in silence. She did know Michael, only too well. He had a way of saying all the right things, but it was the doing that she worried about. She wanted them to get to know each other better, but as much as she wanted her son to know his father, she wanted his father to truly know Tommy. Mary feared it would take a lot more than being in the same room for these two stubborn men to stop talking at each other, and start talking to each other. Of course, she was one to talk, no pun intended, as her current method of communicating with Michael was to not communicate with Michael. She figured she had sent the men he had watching her on quite the merry chase this week, and planned on having even more fun at his expense next week.
Maybe she’d feel bad about that later.
–Copyright 2012, Genevieve Dewey.
[Find out why “Kiki seemed almost giddy when they met up on Lakeshore…” in this missing James & Kiki love scene here: Special Delivery]
Read on… Chapter Eleven, “Mickey”.
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