This is the 2nd part of the story. Check the beginning here:
Looking from the outside. Part 1
Mary folded her umbrella inside the café. Drops of water were running down onto a fancy floor. The hostess looked at Mary with judgment in her eyes and asked if she reserved a table. Mary didn’t look like a person who hangs out in such posh places.
Last couple of years spent on maternity leave left their impact on her. Mary’s hair was a bit messy, her make-up was limited by a lipstick of a too-bright for her skin shade. The dress was too tight for her curvy figure, and her nails were polished last time two years ago. All these details told the hostess that Mary was not a member of their clientele.
‘No, well yes,’ – she was shaking off the water of her coat. The hostess looked at her with a haughty smirk and asked:
‘So yes or no?’
‘Yes, my friends are waiting for me,’ – Mary wasn’t noticing the attitude of the hostess. She was too happy to finally go out.
‘May I know your friend’s name, please?’
Mary narrowed her eyes looking in the middle of the restaurant and saw her friend Zoe sitting at the table.
‘No need, I see her!’ – said Mary and went straight to Zoe. The hostess called a waiter and told him to pick up the coat from this woman. Then she shook her head and switched her attention to a local writer leaving the restaurant.
Mary reached out Zoe and nearly jumped on her. She hugged her surprised friend as strong as she could.
‘Hello me dear! Oh my, I’m so freakin’ glad to see you!’ – exclaimed Mary.
‘Gosh, I am glad to see you too, Mary! But let me breathe a bit!’ – Zoe was laughing.
Zoe noticed that Mary was quite agitated. She was not used to seeing her friend in such a state. Mary has always been pretty calm and quiet.
‘I am so glad to be out of this little hell, Zoe! It is amazing! I can breathe again!’ – she was speaking fast and loud.
‘I can clearly see that!’ – Zoe was smiling doubtfully. She clearly was not understanding what was going on with her friend.
‘Let us get some nice and tasty drink What about tequila sunrise? Or better “Sex on the beach”!’ – Mary was checking the menu.
Zoe didn’t expect such a burst of energy from her friend and was quietly observing her. She had ordered a drink already: a glass of water with ice, lemon and mint. Costed like a “Pina colada” made of freshly picked pineapples somewhere in the Caribbean’s. Incredible!
Mary finally put the menu away and sat straight, smiling and looking at Zoe. She was all beaming happiness and energy.
‘Where is Betty? She is late?’ – Mary asked.
‘Oh, well, she had already left.’ – Zoe shrugged her shoulders.
‘But that’s our first meeting after I left the company!’
‘You know, she is a super busy person. She does not have time for anything. Especially now that she came back to work.’
‘Really? So fast? How old is her daughter?’
‘Two months, but she agreed to work from home most of the time. She has some meetings during the week, but usually she sets them up at a place next to her home.’
‘Ha! How smart! And what is she doing with her daughter when she needs to go out?’
‘She asks a neighbor’s daughter to sit and watch her, and those meetings are never longer than thirty minutes. Betty keeps it fast and efficient for she knows she has to come back to feed her baby.’
Mary was impressed. She was thinking of the first year when she became a mother and that she never could leave the house without her Emily. John always was at work, and her parents had their own life, busy and eventful, so they never came to help.
A waitress came to get their order. Mary said with her eyes shining:
‘One “Sex on the beach”, please’
The waitress turned to Zoe and asked if she’d like anything.
‘No, thank you, I still have some ice melting in my glass, it is enough to quench my thirst for a while.’
The waitress smirked and asked again:
‘Would you like some more ice then?’
Zoe smiled coldly and refused.
When the waitress left, she said:
‘Uff, what a place. Never liked all these haughty restaurants where they look at you like at dirt if you are not wearing some Versace or something like that!’
Mary raised her eyebrows:
‘What do you mean? This is a nice place! They have a great menu! And as far as I heard their cocktails are one of the best in the city!’
‘And the prices are among the highest in the whole region.’
‘If you don’t like it here, why did we agree to meet here?’
Zoe gave a hum and said:
‘Because it is close to Betty’s clinic, where she came with her baby.’
‘No way! She came here with her daughter?!’
‘No, the baby was getting some procedures done. Some therapy or so, where she needs to lie in a kind of a container or so for an hour. The doctors told her she could wait in the corridor, and Betty decided to combine two things, but it was for like twenty minutes.’
‘And she was not afraid to leave her baby alone?!’ – Mary was shocked. She never left Emily alone, especially at such a young age.
‘Well, Betty thinks that if something would happen, doctors around would be of a much better help than her. Besides, she doesn’t want her Victoria to be too dependent on her mother. Even at this age.’
The waitress brought the cocktail for Mary and asked if they would like to eat something. Zoe asked for a salad. Mary ordered some snacks as a starter, then a salad and fish.
‘Are you on a diet or just not hungry?’ – she asked Zoe.
‘I am on a diet called “Lack of work”. My last project got closed, and I haven’t found anything else to replace it yet.’
‘Oh, dear, you should have told me. I can pay for your dinner!’ – Mary was full of compassion.
‘No, thank you. I chose this way of life, and I bear responsibility for it. Also, I think this place is way overpriced. I don’t want to pay so much for food that you can get twice cheaper just some blocks away.’
Mary smiled showing that she understands her friend’s position.
‘So you still have no regrets on giving up your work and switching to freelance?’ – asked Mary.
‘No, not really. I think it is still too early to make a conclusion. It’s been only a year, and I had projects. Especially in the beginning, it was quite a busy time. It is just a low season now, I tend to look at it this way.’ – Zoe was steering a straw in her glass with melting ice.
‘I see,’ – Mary smiled cheerfully.
‘And how about you? Are you enjoying your golden years of motherhood?’ – Zoe asked.
‘Oh, well… Let me finish this cocktail before I answer, it’s really good.’ – Mary sucked the orange drink through her glass straw and made a sign to the waitress to repeat it. She continued:
‘Being a mother is no walk in the park. It is hard work that is not really paid. I am stuck in four walls with a tiny human being that cannot even speak properly and asks for my attention twenty four hours a day. My husband got bored of this life and successfully escapes it being at work until we both – me and my daughter – go to sleep in the evening. I see him for like two hours during the week, and at this time he is either going to work or just came home is really tired and wants to sleep. I have no time to go anywhere, to read, watch something and even just to lie down and think about something that does not include diapers or baby food.’ – She stopped and breathed out heavily.
‘Oh, sounds scary,’ – said Zoe. – ‘And what about your parents? Do they come to help?’
Mary laughed bitterly.
‘Hah, no, they come to see us once a month, because they, I quote, “want to see changes in the baby every time, and also, they are busy people and need their energy for projects of human importance”. Which basically means that they go to different charity parties and participate in humanitarian missions to help poor people and so on, because they have much worse conditions than ours, and I and John can take care of ourselves.’
‘Oh…’ – Zoe was a bit surprised. She had very good relationships with her mother, who always was glad to participate in Zoe’s life.
‘You know, it’s not fair. John has the best job in the world: he works in sales and hangs out at parties with his potential clients. He travels to other countries, he has a corporate car with a driver. His life is pure fun. I understand why he does not want to spend time with me and Emily, but I want to have fun too! He says that I should “enjoy my time at home, because the real life outside has no mercy: you have to work hard to maintain a certain level of life and comfort”. Can you imagine that?!’
‘So he says that you are just having kind of a vacation at home?’
‘Exactly! And the comfort level he calls Missis Roberts who comes to help with cleaning and baby twice a week. But Zoe, I can’t leave her with Emily, she won’t stop crying, and the old woman says she’ll have a heart attack.’
Zoe was impressed by the bitterness she heard in Mary’s voice when she was telling her about her life.
‘But hey, you went to the sea some months ago. I saw pictures on the Internet. Looked like paradise!’
Mary smirked sadly.
‘Indeed, it looked nice. But you know, John booked a two-room suite with a baby bed, and I thought that we would have some romance there. Finally. It’s been a long time since we had time for ourselves. But it turned out that the room with the baby’s bed was meant for me! He had a room for himself alone! How do you like it?’
Zoe was nearly shocked.
‘Wow, that’s selfish. How did he explain that?’
‘He said that he worked hard to be able to pay for this luxurious vacation, for this he deserved some rest in peace and calmness. And anyway, I was more used to sleeping next to the baby and getting up at night.’
‘That is awful! It is simply unfair!’
‘Exactly. And you know what’s the worst? Once I came to his room after he went to sleep, and he was not there. I was so angry! I went down to the lobby and found him there, drinking with some company of people, and not in his pajamas. We had a terrible fight, and I said that I don’t need this kind of a vacation. He said he wouldn’t want to waste the money he paid for the hotel, so he left and my parents came for the rest of the time instead.’
Zoe was speechless. She never imagined that things were so bad in Mary’s family. They always looked like a perfect couple: young and beautiful, a baby-angel next to them in the tropical paradise. She actually thought that they came with the whole family, because she saw pictures with John and Mary’s parents from that vacation.
‘That’s sad,’ – finally said Zoe.
‘Yes, it is. I tried to talk about it, but you know John, he never takes me seriously. He thinks only of himself. He is a superstar of his life, and he does not want complications in the form of his always grumpy and complaining wife and a crying baby. But today I’d had enough. He has to start giving me some freedom, some time for myself. Otherwise I will go crazy!’
‘Of course! What you’ve just told me is insane!’
‘Yeah.. So, Zoe, appreciate the freedom that you have now. You can do whatever you want, you can go wherever you’d like. It is priceless. I envy you so much! I think if I could turn back time, I would go with the volunteers after college instead of this work and dating John and everything that followed. I would be so free now!’
Zoe was thinking that Mary indeed could do that, since her parents would financially support her anyway. She didn’t have that opportunity herself, as Zoe’s mother was an artist and didn’t have a big income. However, Zoe had all her support in choosing a corporate-free life, even if it was not that easy.
‘So, Zoe, let’s toast to freedom! Even if it’s just for a day, I am going to enjoy every second of it! Cheers!’
They raised their glasses, drank from them and continued talking about something else: common friends, latest news, plans for future. The evening has passed quickly. By the end of the dinner Mary noticed that her phone’s battery died, that’s why she didn’t receive any calls. All her bravery and decisiveness to enjoy every bit of her freedom disappeared in a moment, and she rushed home.
Zoe went to her mother’s place. She lived outside the city, in the countryside. Doris had a studio right next to her house, and she worked there seven days a week. She made ceramic things, sculptures, handmade furniture and other little things.
She had Zoe’s old room at the attic always ready to accommodate her younger daughter. The older one, Renee, was married and moved to another city years ago. Renee’s father died many years ago, when she was little. Doris married another man later, and gave birth to Zoe when she was thirty three years old.
Now Doris was sixty, but still in good shape. Her second husband, Zoe’s father, died nine years ago. Since then she lived alone in her big house.
Zoe liked to visit her. She was always a big inspiration and support to her. Zoe always felt safe and calm at her mother’s home. She played with the dogs and cats, read at the chimney and helped her mom at the studio.
This time when she arrived, her mom was already sleeping. Zoe kissed her on the cheek and went to her room. There she found a bar of handmade chocolate – another hobby of her mother. She always left it on her bed to cheer her up in hard times. Zoe smiled, took the chocolate bar and left it waiting for breakfast. She was too tired to make tea, so she took shower, out on her comfortable pajama with bears (she had it since she was a teenager) and laid down in bed.
There was a window in the roof, right above the bed. Zoe liked to look at the starry sky until her eyes closed of tiredness. It always made her think how small she was in this world. And all her troubles seemed much less significant, too. With these calming thoughts she fell asleep.
The next and final part of the story is here:
Looking from the outside. Part 4