Authors: Josie Brown
“Mary! Where are you?” Our dogs, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, are on my heels, circling like hungry wolves as I rush to the foyer staircase with my eldest daughter’s plate, piled high with golden-brown waffles. “You’re going to be late for the first day of … high school.”
. The words stick in my throat.
I still remember my eldest daughter’s first day of kindergarten. I held back my tears until she ran across the threshold into her very first classroom—at least, until I got back to my car, at which point I sobbed over the fact she’d begun a journey of learning, making friends, and growing up.
Part of my sadness was that only one of her parents was there to see her take this very important step. My husband, Carl, was on one of his interminable business trips.
In truth, he was working as an assassin for Acme, before switching sides to the terrorist organization known as the Quorum.
When Mary was starting third grade, he disappeared from our lives permanently. It happened the night we moved into this house. It was also the night I went into labor with Trisha. While in the recovery room, I was told by his boss—now mine, Ryan Clancy—that his car blew up, miles off in the California desert.
Ryan also explained Acme’s importance to the CIA and the NSA, Carl was an assassin, not a vice president in the international banking conglomerate, as I’d presumed all these years.
In the meantime, if we were to catch Carl’s killers, I was to pretend he hadn’t died. In other words I had to lie to the new neighbors about my husband’s whereabouts, and fib to our children about why their father was never home for parent-teacher conferences, or soccer games, or ballet recitals.
Talk about an extended business trip.
I also joined Acme. My marksmanship was already topnotch. My killer instincts were driven by the need to avenge my husband’s death.
They say you have to watch out for a woman scorned. Let me tell you, a woman in mourning can be just as deadly.
Five years later, Carl Stone reappeared in my life. At least that’s what I told everyone. At Ryan’s behest, I let another operative pretend to be Carl.
Sure, Jack Craig and Carl had a lot in common. Both were tall, dark and handsome. Each had deep green eyes and a naughty grin—not to mention a wicked sense of humor.
And yes, both were top assassins.
I tried to hate Jack for even presuming he could take Carl’s place—at Acme, let alone in my home, and in the lives of me and my children. There was a lot of trial and error before I learned to trust him.
Before I fell in love with him. At the same time, I hated myself for being disloyal to Carl’s memory.
Later, I was to learn that my real husband wasn’t dead after all; that he had faked his death.
Jack came into our relationship with a skeleton in his closet. In fact, she was size two.
His marriage to a former Romanian gymnast, Valentina Petrescu, ended in her betrayal to him, and his country. Carl stole her heart, while she stole a microdot containing the code which accesses Acme’s private directory of agents, double agents and assets throughout the world.
We caught Carl. He had a trial in Guantánamo which ended with a death sentence.
But he got away—inadvertently, with my help.
I made it my mission to bring him back in.
Instead, I took him out.
At least, that’s the assumption. His body was never found, but it is presumed that Carl now sleeps with the fishes, in Cabo San Lucas Bay.
After all these relationship tests, Jack and I are still a couple. We survived the worst test of all: ex-spouses who have betrayed us and our country.
Is life now normal for the Family Stone? Every day, I pray this is the case. If my children have to deal with life’s calamities, I hope it is of their own making, not mine, or any terrorist group.
For Mary, adulthood is just a few years off. As she moves through life, the lessons only get tougher—including the one that the people she meets along the way aren’t always who they seem, at first.
Not only is today a red letter day for her, but for her younger sister as well. Six-year-old Trisha starts first grade. Add my rambunctious ten-going-on-eleven year-old son Jeff to the mix, and what do you have?
A rapidly aging suburban mother, that’s what.
I catch my image in the foyer mirror, and I freeze. Oh. My. God. Is that a
I take a step closer. As I reach up to touch my hair, the slight jiggle of the flesh on my upper arm makes me shudder, and I glance away—
But then I notice my forehead.
Hell, I look like a Shar-Pei
. Make that an old raccoon, what with all the black under my eyes. And let’s face it, there’s no hiding the fact that my breasts are less perky than I remember.
As I straighten my shoulders, my hand tilts ever so slightly--
Just enough so that the waffles fall off the plate. Rin Tin Tin catches one in mid-air, while Lassie, ever the lady, waits until the second one lands on the floor before snatching it between her teeth and running off with it.
I shake my head and sigh. Then I yell up the staircase again, "Mary! Now! Pronto!”
“Silly Mommy,” Trisha’s admonishment comes out with a giggle. “Mary’s long gone!”
I turn to see her and Jeff staring at me from the kitchen. Trisha was up early today, almost at the break of dawn. She couldn’t wait to put on her new first-day-of-school dress, which she picked out herself. She’s also wearing new Mary Janes and lacy new socklets. She slept with her new little Wonder Woman lunchbox beside her pillow. Even now, she has the matching back pack strapped behind her.
Jeff, through a mouthful of waffles mumbles, “Mary asked Dad to drive her in early. They took his car.”
But of course she’d rather show up in Jack’s red hot Lamborghini. The last thing Mary wants is to be seen pulling up to Hilldale High in a mommy mobile with her kid brother and baby sister in tow.
I can’t say I blame her. It’s a big day for her. High school is a time when teens exert their independence, experiment—
Get into all sorts of trouble
Notes to self:
1: Monitor all of Mary’s cell phone calls, texts, e-mails and social networking communications.
2: Track her via cell GPS.
3: Do background checks on all new friends, both female and male.
4: Introduce myself–with a choke-hold, if need be–to any new crushes with wandering hands.
Then I remember Jack has taught Mary a few self defense moves, just in case she finds herself in a situation she can’t handle.
But that’s my point exactly. Will she
to use them?
I can’t think about that now. Instead, I load my two youngest into my Honda minivan, pronto.
My first stop is Cheever Bing’s house. So that I can walk Trisha into her first day of real school, Penelope agreed to let Jeff ride in with her and Cheever.
When we pull up to the curb, she’s waiting for us with her arms crossed at her chest. “My God, I thought you’d never get here! Tiffy and Hayley are already at Hilldale Middle. They’ve been waiting for me for a whole fifteen minutes!” She practically lifts Jeff up by his collar and tosses him into the car beside Cheever and Morton, who are smacking each other as if they’re the main attraction in a Punch-and-Judy booth.
As she peels out of her driveway, she shouts, “We’ve got a big surprise for the whole PTA, so for once in your life, Donna, try to be on time for this afternoon’s meet-and-greet.”
The First Day Meet-and-Greet is one of the school functions under Penelope’s tutelage as president of the Parent-Teachers Association this year.
year. She has turned the position into her own banana republic, and by that I don’t mean attendees wear retro-posh attire. Her dictatorship skills are second to none. Just ask any of the mothers who have tried to wheedle out of the volunteer chore she’s assigned to them for the coming year—me included.
I can’t even imagine what she’ll have me doing. Hopefully something that can be contained to, at most, a few hours a month, and preferably at home. She seems to forget I have “a part-time job.” She thinks I sell Rave-On Cosmetics door-to-door.
If she knew the truth, she’d probably never let her “darling little Cheever” play with Jeff …
Wow. I never thought about that! Talk about the one thing that would keep her out of my way, once and for all—
Nah. It wouldn’t scare her off. In fact, it would make me the first person she’d reach out to when she wants to order a hit—something I know she’d consider in a second, for anyone who’s crossed her.
Come to think about it, whatever happened to the neighbor who complained that her magnolia tree was dropping leaves all over his yard? No one has seen him in ages …
. I guess the local cops should be alerted that there may be a body buried in his yard—
Or in hers—under the perennially-shedding magnolia. Lately, it’s looked very healthy.
Being the good citizen that I am, I’ll make an anonymous phone call to the police, from one of my untraceable cell phones.
Let the leaves fall where they may.
happy to have Trisha join us this year!” Miss Darling, Hilldale Elementary School’s principal, is practically beside herself with yet another new student for the first grade class.
Trisha runs into her arms. After receiving a chuck under the chin and a pat on the head by the principal who could give Glinda the Good Witch a run for her money, Trisha practically floats into her classroom.
I can’t say I blame her. Who wouldn’t be drawn to her mentor’s gossamer smile?
I wish I could be a first grader. I wish I didn’t have a care in the world.
I wish I’d had a principal like Miss Darling to take care of my world.
“I don’t remember your RSVP to this morning’s parent tea-and-talk, but surely you’re staying?” Miss Darling asks.
Suddenly I notice that the other parents aren’t just dropping off, but parking and walking in.
“Yes! But of course!” In truth, I’d forgotten about it. And I’m due at Acme in less than half an hour, for a new assignment.
“Go ahead and park, then do come and join us in the library. In the meantime, I’ll save you a petit four.” She winks as she glides back inside the school.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I promise her.
I mean it, too. The parents streaming around me are experiencing the same sort of hope and anticipation. Soon I’ll be taking tea with my child’s teacher. And watching her make new friends. And meeting their moms.
Perhaps making a few new friends of my own.
Life in the normal lane. Love it.
Not to mention Miss Darling is holding a petit four with my name on it.
I zoom away, knowing that Trisha is in wonderful hands.
Until middle school. Then all hell breaks loose.
Time marches on. The trench-like wrinkles on my forehead are proof of that.
By the time I park and run inside, the library is already teeming with both mothers and fathers.
Every chair is taken, but there is still room against the back wall—
Next to Lee Chiffray, in fact—the new husband to Babette, the mother of Trisha’s closest friend, Janie Breck.
Babette’s widowed state lasted just a little under a year. Her deceased husband, Jonah, owned a conglomerate that manufactured munitions. Its biggest customer was the United States—at least, that was the assumption. Turns out its foes were being armed by Jonah, too.
While Jonah hosted the Russian president at a stateside peace summit held at Lion’s Lair—the palatial mansion he’d built on Hilldale’s highest peak—my Acme team was charged with the safety of his guest.
It was suspected that there would be an assassination attempt, and that the shooting was to be an inside job. But we guessed wrong as to who was to be the target.
Jonah was killed—not by the shooter, who held a lifelong vendetta against this cruel, sick man. The assassin was my soon-to-be ex-husband, Carl, because Jonah was about to turn state’s evidence and double-cross his partners in the Quorum, an international terrorist organization funded and run by an anonymous group of wealthy men across the globe.