Margaret was sitting at the kitchen table when I came in. The phone was out, resting in front of her as though she had just finished a call. Who from? Marco? The man, Simon? Whomever it was, I had a pretty good idea what they had to say. Someone called to warn my mother that I was on my way. Someone called to warn her that I knew. How did that conversation go? What did they expect her to do? Her job, like Marco?
Margaret slid her hands into her lap without a word and though I tried, I couldn’t read her face. She seemed beyond nervous, she seemed afraid. It couldn’t be. What did my mother have to fear from me? My anger? Sass? She’d heard it before.
She didn’t greet me, not even a smile and, as a result, I found myself wondering if she was armed. How could I tell? What did I know about it, what I saw in the movies? Margaret stared at me, her lips pressed together, waiting. It was up to me to get things rolling.
“You’re one of them.” I said flatly. Margaret didn’t even blink and a crushing weight of loss landed on my shoulders. I knew it was true before I opened the door but saying it out loud and getting no reaction out of her made the hurt a thousand times worse.
“Would you sit with me for a while?” She said, side stepping the bomb I’d dropped. Did she need to respond to it at all? Just as with Marco what she kept inside was the only real truth.
I stayed on my feet and tossed the photo out. It slid across the table to my mother. Margaret glanced at it for no more than a half a second. She knew what I had. It must have been Marco who phoned. Her old pal Marco.
“Violet I don’t know how to explain how important this is,” She said, speaking slowly, methodically and to the table. “But I really need to know who gave you that photo.” There was no denial, no attempt to explain but there was also no more lying. Silently, I thanked her for that.
“I have it, that’s all that matters now.” I told her.
“Please. I need to know.”
Still she would not look at me. Unlike with Marco though, I was OK with it. I didn’t want to see what was in her eyes, the eyes of the person I’d spent my lifetime loving as completely as she’d spent her’s deceiving.
“Where did you get the photo?” She asked again. Margaret was dedicated. Once a task was embarked on, Margaret saw it through.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I need to know.” She said.
“Tell me why you need to know and I’ll think about it.” I growled.
“Violet,” She paused to steady herself. “I don’t know if you will believe this now…”
“The truth is very convincing.” I cut in. “Try it.” Margaret took in a deep breath and let it out just has she had a thousand times in the past. Violet, (inhale, exhale) why must you be so difficult?
“This may be hard to accept,” she began again, “but I am here for you. I have always protected you. Every moment of our time together, my singular goal was to care for you, keep you secure.” She stopped and waited but I had nothing to say. “Nothing has changed that. To my dying day, I will do whatever it takes to guard you and see you safe.”
“Whatever it takes? You mean like lying about who you are and spying on me? How touching.”
“I deserve that.” She said. “And I’ll take it but please, I’m begging you, tell me where you got the photo. I don’t want any harm to come to you Violet. Believe it or not, I love you. Would you trust me this one last time? If for no other reason than because I love you?”
Her words tore through me. She had to say that. Was it true? Did she love me? Could she love me? In that moment I searched my heart. I loved a Margaret. I loved the Margaret who raised me. Through everything, in spite of everything, I would always love that woman. Even knowing she was the second mother to hold me. Even not knowing my first mothers fate, I still loved that Margaret.
But who was she really? Who was the woman behind the one who had played my mother for so many years? What kind of woman was she deep down? Did I love her? Could I?
“It came in the mail.” I said, telling both women before me.
“Here?” She was surprised. “It came in the mail here?”
“No.” I studied her again and wondered what I would tell her. What did she deserve to know? “A key, a post office box key in an envelope addressed to me, came in our mail.”
Our mail. Our house. Where was my home now? I felt sick and pushed the thought out of my head.
“Would you tell me the number?” She sounded sweet, asking me a favor. If I refused to answer what would happen? Did it matter?
“529.” I said. Margaret’s smile was small, relieved but unsure.
“Well, they aren’t stupid are they.” She said, picking up on how the number translated into my birthday as quickly as I had.
“They?” She had said it so easily. It made sense. If she and Marco and Simon were ‘us’ there must be a ‘them’.“Margaret, who are they?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“OK.” She handled me like a delicate flower in a vase of stale water, moving slowing as she tended to my situation, hoping to keep my petals on as long as possible.
“Margaret, do you know who they are? The people who sent this?” I said, pressing on. Margaret was part of the same group as Marco. No doubt, like Marco, they trained her too. I could not lose control. I could not pass control to her.
“Violet,” She responded carefully. “You know I would never do anything I thought wasn’t in your best interest right?”
There it was again, the government worried about me. A hot flash of anger blazed through me.
“Answer my question Margaret or I’m leaving.”
“Oh no. Please,” Margaret reached a shaky hand across the table. “You can’t leave.”
You can’t. She used the same words as Marco. The overconfidence, the ego, it was enough to make me explode.
“I can’t?” I cried.
“I…I didn’t mean it like that.” Margaret back peddled. “It’s just that…”
“Who are you to say what I can’t do? You aren’t my mother.”
The hurt those words inflicted was obvious. Margaret began to cry. Her anguish was so powerful I felt it too, a giant cloud of misery expanding over both of us. Over a decade of togetherness was blown to smithereens in one afternoon.
“Don’t say anymore, please.” I said. “I can’t trust anything you say anyway, we both know that.”
“Violet I swear to you,” Tears were streaming down Margaret’s face, “everything I tell you here and now is the truth.”
“It’s too late.”
“It doesn’t have to be. I couldn’t be honest with you before, but now…”
“Before.” I said the words and images of all that I’d lost flashed in my head. All my emotions rolled into a knot and squeezed.
“Before?” I laughed, a damaged crazy laugh. “You know what? Before I was just a girl. Maybe not totally normal, but I was doing a pretty good job of faking it. I went to school, hung out with my boyfriend, watched movies with my mom…” The emphasis in my voice hit Margaret hard. She hung her head. “You know what the most difficult thing was in my life before?” She did not move. “It was getting ready for graduation and college and thinking about how awful it would be to leave the people I loved.” I took in a jagged breath. I needed to stay strong. I knew I had to separate myself from that life, my other life, to keep weakness at bay, but it wasn’t easy.
“I am so sorry for everything...”
“Honestly,” I ignored her. “Except for the fact that everyone was lying to me about everything, before was pretty great. Yeah, I miss before.”
“It can be great once more Violet.” Margaret saw a window and leapt at the chance to make me happy again. “We can make it great.” She promised. “This may sound crazy, but I’m glad you know about us. That’s right. I’m happy because now we don’t have to lie. We can be honest about everything and we can start over. Things will be more than just the way they were before, they will be better.”
“Better?” My eyes went wide with disbelief. “Do I look stupid?”
“No, of course not.” Margaret’s smile faded.
“Do you have a magical way to make all this disappear?”
“No, Violet but…”
“This is ridiculous.”
“No it isn’t. We only need to be sensible about…”
“Tell me something, can you take me back to when guns and spies and people following me weren’t part of my life?” I demanded. Margaret pressed her lips together and stared at me in silence. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.” I turned.
“No. I’m done.” It was a fact. “I’m out of here.”
“Hang on there kiddo.”
His voice came out of nowhere, stopping me where I stood.
“Gun and spies and people watching your every move have always been part of your life.” He said. “You just didn’t know it.”
I spun around. Behind me, dressed in a dark suit just like the one he wore in the photo, it was him.
“Simon.” I stated. The person who had hovered in the fringes of my existence, who manipulated my life, stood before me as himself for the first time. My chest grew tight.
“Nice to finally meet you Violet.” He smiled. “But your mother is right. You can’t leave. In fact, you can’t do anything without my personal approval anymore.”
“You promised to give me time.” Margaret protested.
“You promised she would be reasonable.” Simon retorted. “Running away it not reasonable.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.” I stood tall. Simon scared me but I faced him anyway. I didn’t feel strong. In fact with each passing moment I felt more power slip away but I knew if I didn’t try, all would be lost.
Simon laughed. “Oh I think I can.” He said. He pulled a folded paper from inside his jacket and set it on the table.
“What’s that?” I asked. “You going to stop me from running with paperwork?”
Simon laughed again. He looked at Margaret with a big grin on his face.
“She’s funny!” He told her. “You didn’t tell me how funny she was!” Then he turned back to me, the amusement all but gone. “They’re custody papers smart ass. Court documents that make you my responsibility.”
“What?” I looked at my mother to explain. If anyone had custody over me it was her. It had to be. Children aren’t sent off to be raised by a committee.
“Oh Violet I’m so sorry.” she said.
“No…” I searched her face, willing her to tell me it wasn’t true. Margaret saw the desperation in my eyes and sobbed.
“It was so long ago!” She cried.
“This can’t be true.” I ripped the papers off the table and clawed through them for an answer that made sense.
“It can be and it is.” Simon informed me. “The agency adopted you.” He stepped closer to me pointing. “You belong to us.”
“I’m almost eighteen…” I argued. “You can’t hold an adult against their will.”
“Oh yes, that.” Simon relaxed, confident in the legality of the situation. “Don’t worry we have a plan ready. Legal age doesn’t always mean emancipation my dear, especially for the mentally unstable. Of course it would have been easier for everyone if you’d just played along and joined us but I take it that ship has sailed?”
As far as Simon was concerned, he had thought of everything. He stood in my kitchen smug with his power and it made me furious. He was so sure he had me.
Simon didn’t know me very well.
“I need water.” I panted, holding my hands to my throat and giving Simon the show of desperation he expected. It worked. He took the bait.
“Glasses?” He looked at Margaret. She pointed and Simon moved. He opened a cupboard selected a cup and filled it to the top with water from the fridge.
“Thank you.” I said taking the glass from him.
“We’re not ogres Violet.” He said to me. “You’ll see. You might even like your new home. You should. In this family, you’re the favorite daughter.”
I smiled and tipped my head down, just a little but some. I figured that’s what an ego maniac like Simon would want to see, me submitting. Nothing would please him more than to see his new pet Violet, rolling over for her master.
At that moment I didn’t think it was possible for me to hate a man more than I hated Simon. I was bursting, and that was good. In a moment I would need all the muscle I could milk out of my body.
I took a sip. Simon turned to Margaret with a condescending smile and that’s when I struck. I drove my drink, glass and all, into his face and then I defaulted to training. My brain erupted in snippets of advice Marco had given me.
Once a fight starts, hit until they aren’t moving. I heard him say. Don’t think that one punch will do the job. Hit again and again. Don’t stop until they do.
I did as instructed, driving two shots to Simon’s nose. My fist came back coated in blood.
“Violet no!” Margaret screamed, snapping me out of my trance. I panicked. I couldn’t fight both of them. Simon was dazed but it wouldn’t last.
He’s still moving. Marco egged me on.
Next was an upper cut to the chin, catching Simon unprepared. He was big though. He would be a lot less threatening on the ground.
I kicked, nailing him in the shin then the groin. Simon toppled, pain curling his body over. I prayed that would do it. My knuckles screamed but it was a small price to pay. Simon, his face bloody and his hands cupping his balls, was on his way down.
I turned to Margaret who, for the moment, sat in stunned silence. No way that would last. Then, as though she read my mind, she blinked and it was over. I knew I couldn’t hit her like I had Simon. I couldn’t hurt her, not physically. I couldn’t make her bleed.
I wouldn’t fight her and that meant I had about four seconds to disappear.