The Return of Marybeth Sullivan
Sean Reilly sat at the kitchen table wearing a fancy dress shirt, tie and suit coat sipping on a cup of coffee. Twelve year old Margie entered the room wearing a black skirt with a white blouse and a light green sweater, white knee socks and a pair of dress shoes.
"You're awfully dressed up for a visit to Lily's," Sean observed.
"I'm not going to Lily's," Margie announced.
"You're not?" Sean asked with surprise. "Where are you going then?"
"With you and Grandma to Mr. Sullivan's service," Margie reported.
"What?" Sean was caught off guard. "Why would you want to do that? You never even met the guy."
"Uncle Sean, I remember all the nice people who came to Mom and Dad's funeral," Margie said as she took a seat in the chair across from him. "I didn't know most of them but I remember how comforted I felt seeing them all there."
"You're a good kid," Sean said with a smile. "But are you sure this won't be too upsetting for you?"
"It's been four years, Uncle Sean," she sighed. "I think I'm getting old enough to handle some of this grown up stuff."
Sean nodded with approval. "I think you're right."
Sean's mother entered the room wearing a dark pant suit with a yellow blouse and black high heels. "That's quite the girl we have here, wouldn't you say?" She asked Sean.
"Sure is, Ma," he agreed.
Sean glanced at his niece and realized how fast she was growing up. She was twelve already with long dark hair half way down her back, clearly inheriting most of the Reilly genes and features.
"So, Mr. Sullivan is the father of a kid you grew up with?" Margie asked for clarification.
"Yes, he was a nice guy and he was very nice to me," Sean confirmed.
"But you haven't seen this friend in a real long time?" Margie asked.
"That's right," Sean said. "But it's important to pay my respects to the family."
"There's a common past that you always share with the people you grow up with," Grandma Reilly explained. She was a tall woman with dark hair with just a few streaks of gray. "Although I must confess I'm getting tired of all these deaths and funerals."
Sean, Margie and his mother headed for the funeral home. There had been too many visits to this place over the years and Sean never got accustomed to the powerful emotions that churned up inside of him each time he had to attend another service. He knew that Marybeth was in there this time and he felt nervous waiting for the line to weave its way into the parlor and the receiving line.
Mr. Sullivan's life was on display in the several poster board photo displays that greeted the mourners once they moved into the parlor. Baby photos, school portraits, photos with his parents on various family vacations, photos of him in his little league baseball uniform, his high school prom photo and graduation photo, a few shots of him in the Army during the Vietnam War, his wedding photo with his late wife, him standing in front of his brand new business 'Sullivan's Television and Appliances', family photos through the years including Jim, Bill and Marybeth, his stint as little league coach, a recent shot of him and his co-partners Jim and Bill in front of 'Sullivan's which over the years had expanded to include satellite dishes, car stereos (and instillation), and garage door openers (and instillation). Sean even saw a photo of himself standing with Mr. Sullivan and his two boys in the store's warehouse where he worked with Jim and Bill as a teenager.
It was emotional to see so many memories all at once and sad to know that Mr. Sullivan was no longer present to enjoy them. Mr. Sullivan lay in state in the open coffin looking peaceful and serine, surrounded by flowers. Sean said a quick prayer in front of the casket and then began the long walk down the receiving line – there was Sean's old friend Jim and his wife Augusta, a couple of Jim's aunt and uncles, followed by his brother Bill and his wife Mollie, and finally their sister Marybeth standing with a young girl. Jim and Bill's kids were mingling among themselves in the back of the room.
Sean offered his condolences to each member of the family as he made his way down the receiving line. "Such a tragic loss" "So unexpected", "He was a great guy" "We're all in shock" "Thanks so much for coming" were bantered back and forth between various people as they moved along the line.
Then Sean found himself standing rather awkwardly in front of Marybeth. She was as pretty as ever now in her mid-thirties, two years younger than Sean. Her brown hair was down to her shoulders and she had maintained her figure.
"Oh My God!" It was Sean's mother making the remark as she stood next to Sean staring at the young girl alongside Marybeth.
"I didn't know you had a daughter," Marybeth remarked, glancing at Margie who slipped herself in between her uncle and grandmother.
"I don't," Sean explained. "This is my niece, Margie. She's Larry's daughter."
"I was so sorry to hear about the accident," Marybeth replied with sensitivity. "Your father was a wonderful person," she told Margie.
"Thanks," Margie said politely
"And who's this lovely young lady?" Sean's mother asked as she stared at the young girl by Marybeth's side.
"This is my daughter, Mrs. Reilly," Marybeth answered. "Jenny."
"Wow, I didn't know you had a daughter," Sean replied, trying not to look surprised.
"Yeah," Marybeth smiled. "She's everything to me."
Sean offered Marybeth a quick hug while his mother and Margie chatted with Jenny.
"I'm so sorry about your Dad," he sighed heavily.
"I remember saying the same thing to you about twenty years ago in this very room," Marybeth reminded him.
"Seems like yesterday," Sean acknowledged having broken the embrace.
"And you came to my mom's service a couple of years later," Marybeth recalled.
"Way too many of these things," Sean's mother remarked sadly.
"Let us know if we can do anything to help out," Sean told Marybeth.
"Thanks," Marybeth smiled.
The line needed to keep moving so Sean, Margie, and his mother said their farewells and exited the parlor, exchanging greeting with people they recognized as they left the funeral home. Sean and Grandma told Margie a few stories about Mr. Sullivan and Marybeth, how Sean was friends with Jim and Bill and Marybeth too growing up and even worked in the store with them.
When they got home, Margie went upstairs to change and Sean's mother followed him into the kitchen where he poured himself a cup of coffee.
"Did you and Marybeth have relations?" His mother asked bluntly as she stood in the center of the room.
"Jesus, Mom," Sean replied with surprise.
"Did you see how much that girl of hers looks like Margie?" His mother demanded. "They both have the classic Reilly traits."
"I haven't seen Marybeth in years," Sean replied.
Having poured his mug of coffee, Sean took a seat on the kitchen table but he avoided looking at his mother.
"Fred and Karen's wedding was on the cape if I recall right," His mother said.
"That was like thirteen years ago, Ma."
"The girl looks to be about twelve to me," his mother replied knowingly.
"Marybeth was with that artsy fartsy guy back then, remember?" Sean remarked.
"Are you telling me you two didn't have sex?" His mother asked.
"I don't think it's proper to talk about such things," Sean muttered.
"I'll take that as a yes then," his mother retorted. "And now it seems to me you have a child."
"Marybeth would have told me," Sean theorized.
"Even if she was with the artsy fartsy guy?" His mother wanted to know.
"I don't think she's with him now," Sean deduced. "I didn't see him there."
"Don't let her leave without finding out the truth, Sean," his mother advised. "You have a right and responsibility to know if you're that child's biological father."
Sean was trying to piece together the puzzle parts in his head. Could it be possible that Jenny was is daughter?
"Don't say anything, Mother," Sean finally said. "Let me deal with this in my own way."
"As long as you promise to talk to Marybeth about it," she countered.
"I will," he vowed.
"You never should have let her go in the first place," his mother groaned.
"I didn't let her go, Ma," Sean said with annoyance. "She ran off with another guy."
"You never went after her," his mother pointed out as she started for the door.
"It's not like we were together or anything anyway," Sean sighed sadly, now left sitting at the table alone sipping on his coffee while thinking about the good old days when he and Marybeth were best buds.
Mr. Sullivan's funeral was the next morning at St. Andrew's Episcopalian Church. Sean stepped into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and once again he found Margie dressed up in a modest black dress.
"You sure you don't want to go to Lily's house?" Sean asked.
"I'm sure," she smiled. "Going to funerals is the right thing to do, Uncle Sean."
"You're a good kid," Sean smiled.
"You're a good man," Margie replied with a smile.
Sean wasn't so sure about that but he wasn't going to ruin his niece's perception of that observation.
Sean knew his mother wasn't happy with him which was why she was quieter than usual as they drove to the church. Margie chatted away about different churches and different religions until they arrived at the church and then she became respectfully quiet as she walked in for the service with her uncle and grandmother.
Mr. Sullivan's funeral was funny, sad, spiritual, musical, and moving all at the same time. The minister had known Mr. Sullivan well and was able to convey the man's personality and emotions into his service preparations. Jim and Bill read scripture passages and Marybeth sang a song. Sean sensed that her brothers hadn't welcomed their absent sister back into the fold with welcoming arms, feeling an emotional detachment between them as well as a physical distance as Marybeth and Jenny sat in one pew, Jim and Bill and their families in another.
Those who participated in the burial at the cemetery were invited back to Mr. Sullivan's house for a reception.
"Do you want to go?" Sean asked his mother as they left the graveside.
"Of course," his mother replied.
"You okay with that, Margie?" Sean wanted to know. "We can still bring you to Lily's if you want."
"No, it's fine, I'll go with you guys," Margie said pleasantly.
They talked about the service as they drove to the Sullivan house and how 'sad' and 'final' it felt when they left poor Mr. Sullivan's casket at the grave.
Sullivan's Television and Appliances was a successful Hillsboro business for many years but Mr. Sullivan remained humble and modest in his lifestyle. He raised his family in a two story ranch in the flats section of town even though he could have moved to the more affluent Hilltop section if he wanted. His children were required to work in the family business as teenagers instead of just being given what they wanted. It was clear that Mr. Sullivan loved his children very much but he also instilled strong work values and personal morals in their raising.
Sean parked the car in their own driveway and he, his mom and Margie cut through the back yard like he had done a million times as a kid. Sean hadn't been inside the Sullivan house in years. Once Marybeth took off all those years ago, there wasn't much point. He had stopped working at the store by then and his friendship with Jim and Bill dried up as the three became adults. The Sullivan sons were involved in the business and starting families and Sean's career took him out of town until Larry's accident changed everything.
The Sullivan house was attractive in its simplicity. A two story yellow sided home with a wide front porch and a two car garage. The yard was great for pick up football games and other activities, Mr. Sullivan was a premiere barbeque artist, and Mrs. Sullivan was known for her friendly demeanor and welcoming presence with all the neighborhood kids. The back of the Reilly house was kitty corner to the Sullivan house so it was easy to become friends. Larry and Jim tended to hang out together and Sean and Bill were good friends but it was Marybeth who Sean felt the most comfortable with.
It was a pleasant June day and the backyard was full of people. Sean was feeling surprisingly nervous as he walked through the kitchen door of the house with his mother and Margie. He was experiencing a hodge-podge of emotions – nostalgia and warmth for the memories of childhood, sadness and regret over the unexpected death of Mr. Sullivan (he should have visited more), guilt about not staying connected to Jim and Bill, and most of all confusion regarding the complexity of his relationship with Marybeth.
The house was crowded with people supporting the family and remembering Mr. Sullivan. Jim hired a caterer to handle the food and the kitchen was occupied by a couple of workers. Sean talked with several former neighborhood kids (now adults) and other neighbors, as well as with Jim and Bill. He saw Margie hanging out with Jenny and some of Jenny's cousins and his mother was making the rounds Sean saw Marybeth several times but she was always occupied talking with other people or tending to Jenny and the other cousins. Sean wasn't sure if she was intentionally avoiding him.
The crowded house began feeling claustrophobic to Sean so he stepped out into the familiar Sullivan back yard where he took a seat on the circle bench that was built into one of the older trees. Sean was surprised that Mr. Sullivan had stayed in the house after his wife died and the kids moved out. The four bedroom home seemed so large for one man but perhaps he liked the memories linked to the past and that's why he stayed.
Sean watched the kids running around the back yard. Margie and Jenny were among them and Sean couldn't take his eyes off of Marybeth's daughter, wondering if she was indeed his child too. His mother was right – she looked strikingly similar to Margie in her appearance – the same hair and eyes for sure, but that didn't necessarily mean they shared some Reilly DNA. Sean was so absorbed in watching Jenny and comparing her to Margie that he didn't noticed Marybeth approaching until she took a seat next to him on the bench just like she had done so many times when they were young.
"You gave up your career in Boston to come back here and help raise Larry's daughter?" Marybeth asked as they sat together watching the kids running around.
"It seemed like the right thing to do," Sean replied. "I didn't want my mother doing it all on her own. I got a job in the school department's business office."
"That must have been some pay cut," Marybeth remarked.
"Margie needed a male presence in her life after her father died," Sean explained. "My mother could fill in for Margie's mom but I wasn't sure if that would be enough."
"A motorcycle accident, right?"
"Vehicular homicide," Sean clarified. "Two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon," he sighed, shaking his head. "Who gets so drunk on a Sunday afternoon that they take out a motorcycle with a husband and wife on it?"
"I don't know," Marybeth said sadly. "It must have been awful."
"Beyond," Sean said with a shudder. "All I could think about was poor Margie. Losing both her parents in an instant. And my mother. It was bad enough her husband died young. Then she had to bury a son and daughter in law."
"I can't imagine," Marybeth remarked. "And I know it had to be hard on you too. You and Larry were very close."
"Yeah, it's been weird," Sean admitted. "Sorry about your Dad," he added with sincerity.
"It was the last thing I expected to hear when I answered the phone," Marybeth admitted, her voice cracking.
"You still up in Montpelier? Sean asked.
She shook her head no. "I've been living with Karen's sister Judy on the cape," she revealed.
"So Brandon's no longer in the picture?"
"Brendon," she corrected. "No, that's been over for quite a while." She glanced at him. "What about you?"
"It's kind of tough to be long term dating material when you're in your late thirties living with your mother and caretaking your niece," Sean answered truthfully.
"I hear you," she replied with understanding. "Being a single mom hasn't been easy either."
"Why are you a single mom?" Sean dared to ask.
Marybeth glanced away but she didn't say anything.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked, hurt in his voice.
"It was complicated, Sean," she said lamely.
"Did Brendon think he was the father?" Sean wanted to know.
"Of course not," Marybeth sighed. "He had a vasectomy long before we met."
"But he let you stay when you became pregnant?"
"It was a pretty bizarre relationship, Sean," Marybeth said with uncomfortableness.
"Why did you come to my hotel room that night on the cape?" Sean asked.
"It was such a wonderful weekend full of love," she sighed, smiling nostalgically at the memory. "It was a beautiful wedding. You didn't seem to hate me for running off with Brendon. It was great being with you again. We had fun. I drank too much. I was feeling lonely and alone." She peered at him. "Why did you let me in?"
"You know why I let you in," he said pointedly.
"Do I?" She tested.
"I was crazy about you," he freely admitted. "Always had been. I was so happy to see you again after those four long years that I didn't care what happened that weekend. When you showed up that night it was like seeing a vision."
"Come on, Sean, it was just wedding sex."
"Maybe for you," he replied honestly. "For me, it was a dream come true. That night was the best night of my life. And when I woke up in the morning and you were gone and I never saw you again until yesterday, well, it messed me up."
"I'm sorry," she said heavily. "It seems like I messed up a lot of lives over the years."
"You know how a heroin addict is always chasing after that first high?" Sean asked.
"I guess," Marybeth answered.
"That's how I felt after our night together," Sean revealed. "I was always chasing after that great night of sex but I never found it with anybody else."
"Holy shit, Sean," Marybeth said, staring at him with disbelief. "Are you serious?"
He was watching Jenny who was sitting on the back deck steps talking with Margie. "What did you tell Jenny about her father?" He asked nervously.
"Not much," Marybeth admitted with embarrassment. "That he's a nice man. That he didn't know about her. And that I didn't know where he was."
"I don't think you looked very hard," Sean mumbled.
"I was afraid to," she admitted.
"Was it really just wedding sex to you?" Sean asked, trying not to sound pained.
"Of course not," Marybeth shyly replied. "Look what came from it," she smiled, gesturing toward their daughter.
"My mother knew the moment she saw her," Sean revealed.
"Let's hope she's the only one until we figure this out," Marybeth replied.
"How long are you here?" Sean asked.
"I'm not sure how long Jimmy will let me stay in the house," Marybeth sighed. "My brothers aren't very happy with me. We don't even talk."
"What were you doing on the Cape?"
"Waitressing, most recently," she said.
"You could waitress here," Sean told her.
"It's too late," she sighed, her eyes tearing up. "Daddy's dead. I should have come home years ago."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I burned too many bridges, upset and hurt too many people," she admitted. "I couldn't face my family. Staying away except for the holidays and an occasional brief visit was better for everybody."
"No it wasn't," Sean replied sadly.
There was quietness between them for a few moments.
"Your father would want you to be happy," Sean pointed out gently.
"It's too late for that too," Marybeth said tearfully.
"Are you happy on the Cape?" Sean wanted to know.
"I'm doing the best I can," she replied with a shrug. "Jenny and I share a room. Judy has a son a few years younger than Jenny. She's divorced and works at the Hyannis Mall. Summer's a bummer with all the traffic and tourists but I like the off-season well enough."
"Is that really the best home situation for Jenny?" Sean wondered.
"Of course not," Marybeth groaned. "But I didn't have a lot of choices. Brendon asked me to leave. I couldn't come back here. Karen and Judy helped me out."
"I think you should stay here," Sean told her. "We can tell Jenny I'm her father. If Jim doesn't let you stay in the house, you can move in with us."
"Don't you think that's a conversation you should have with your mother first, Sean?" Marybeth frowned.
"She'd love to have another granddaughter around," Sean assured her. "And Margie would love to have a full time cousin in the house."
"Your house isn't big enough for two more people," Marybeth pointed out.
"Margie and Jenny can share a room and you and I could too."
Marybeth blushed. "We barely know each other, Sean."
"I know you better than anybody else," he said.
"That was a long time ago," she insisted. "It's been sixteen years since I ran off. I'm not the same person I was then."
"You shouldn't be raising Jenny on your own, Marybeth," Sean told her. "She deserves to have a father and a grandmother and a cousin in her life. She'd have all that if you stayed."
"I feel too guilty about my father to come back now that he's dead."
She was openly weeping now and Sean wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pressed her close.
"It's not about your Dad now," Sean sighed. "It's about you and Jenny, and me and my mother and Margie. You can't change the past but if your Dad's death can be a catalyst for positive change that should be a good thing," he reasoned
Sean's mother had joined Margie and Jenny on the steps and the three seemed to be engaged in a happy conversation.
"My God, my life has just gotten a whole more complicated, hasn't it?" Marybeth realized as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Yes," Sean confirmed.
"Don't say anything to Jenny yet," Marybeth pleaded. "Give me some time to figure this out."
"Promise you won't leave in the dark of night again," Sean urgently requested.
"Seriously, Marybeth," he said strongly. "You don't have a very good track record on sticking around. Promise me you won't take off again."
"I promise," she said softly. Then she stood. "You should go get to know Jenny," she suggested. "I need to go freshen up and do some more mingling."
"Okay," Sean agreed as he nervously stood and eyed his….daughter!
Sean walked across the yard to where Margie, his mother and Jenny were talking. In all the emotions of Mr. Sullivan's death and seeing Marybeth again, he really hadn't had the forethought to consider that the pretty young girl was actually his daughter. He had been getting plenty of practice the past four years substituting parenting Margie so the idea of being a father wasn't all that overwhelming although he had concerns about whether or not Jenny would accept him as her Dad. And, if Marybeth returned to the Cape, he would definitely feel like his newly discovered world would be ripped away from him.
Margie noticed that Sean was standing with them now.
"Jenny, this is my Uncle Sean," Margie said proudly. "He's been wonderful to me."
"Hello, Jenny," Sean smiled
"Grandma says Jenny and me are almost Irish Twins," Margie grinned. "I was born on December 22nd and Jenny was born just four months later on March 24th."
"Wow, isn't that interesting?" Sean said, tossing his mother a look.
"Margie was a Christmas baby," Sean's mother smiled.
"My mother says I was a wedding baby," Jenny told them.
"Oh?" Sean's mother asked with interest. "What do you mean, dear?"
"I was conceived at a wedding," Jenny explained.
"Where's your Dad now?" Margie asked.
"I'm not exactly sure," Jenny admitted. "But I hope he'll find me soon."
"You would think he'd have enough class to show up for your grandfather's funeral," Margie grumbled.
"He probably doesn't know," Jenny sighed.
Sean wanted to hug the kid and yell "I'm your father!" but he knew that wouldn't be fair to Marybeth.
"So, you knew my mother when she was my age?" Jenny asked Sean.
"Sure, I knew the whole family starting in fifth grade when we moved into that house," Sean answered, pointing to the back of his house kitty-corner from where they were standing. "My brother Larry was good friends with your Uncle Jimmy."
"Larry was my Dad," Margie boasted.
"And I was pretty good friends with your Uncle Bill," Sean said.
"And what about my mom?" Jenny wondered.
"Everybody was friends with your mom, dear," Sean's mom said. "She was very popular, friendly and well liked in the neighborhood."
"Did any of you know Brendon?" Jenny asked.
"I met him a couple of times," Simon volunteered.
"He was kind of weird," Jenny shared.
"I think your grandfather used the word 'eccentric'," Sean's mother said.
"Whatever," Jenny said, rolling her eyes before turning her attention back to Margie. "You want to see the room I'm staying in?" She asked. "It used to be Uncle Jimmy's."
"Okay," Margie said with excitement and the two girls ran off.
"So," Sean's mother said with interest, giving her son a long look. "We have confirmation? I'm two times a grandmother?"
"Don't say anything yet, Ma," Sean ordered. "We're still trying to figure all this out."
His mother gave him a spontaneous hug. "Oh, Sean!" She exclaimed. "Isn't this wonderful news!? You're a father!"
"I don't know what I'm going to do if Marybeth doesn't stay, Mom," Simon sighed.
"The Cape isn't that far away, dear," his mother reasoned.
"Far enough away that I won't see my kid every day," Simon groaned. "I don't think I can deal with that."
"Why wouldn't she stay?" his mother asked as they began to walk across the yard.
"She's not sure what Jim's going to do with the house," Sean explained. "If he'll let her stay in it. They don't seem to be talking to each other."
"Well, maybe you should have a chat with Jim then," his mother suggested.
"Why would he listen to me?" Sean frowned.
"It wouldn't hurt to try, Sean," his mother said.
"She's also feeling guilty that she came back too late," Sean offered. "Now that her father's dead."
"That's understandable," his mother agreed. "But she should think of the girl too."
"That's what I told her."
"Good for you," his mom smiled.
"I also told her that she and Jenny could move in with us if Jim kicked her out," Sean blurted out.
Mrs. Reilly stopped in her tracks and gave her son a long stare. "I could live with that," she finally said with a smirk.
Sean laughed with relief and then one of the neighbors called for Sean's mother. She patted Sean on the arm and said "It's going to be okay," before heading off to join the neighbor.
Sean noticed Jim sitting on the back deck enjoying a moment alone while nursing a beer. He looked worn out. Sean took a seat next to him on the deck.
"This sucks," Jim said.
"Yeah," Sean agreed.
"I'm not sure which is worse, me with two dead parents or you with a dead father, brother and sister in law," Jim noted.
"It just sucks all the way around," Sean remarked.
"It never occurred to me that the guy would just drop dead," Jim sighed.
Sean was struck by how much Jim looked like his father, especially when his father was the same age as Jim was now. Bill was completely different in shape and looks - burly with a round face, but Jim was thin like Mr. Sullivan had been with the same facial features and now thinning gray hair. Marybeth looked more like her mom but there was definitely Sullivan in her traits too.
"You'll get through this," Sean advised. "You got through your mother's loss and I somehow got through our stuff too."
"Yeah, but it's never going to be the same again," Jim remarked.
"That's definitely true," Sean agreed.
"I saw you talking to Marybeth earlier," Jim remarked. "I'm surprised you want anything to do with her."
"Life's too short to carry a grudge," Sean theorized.
"I doubt I'll ever forgive her," Jim admitted readily. "She broke the old man's heart when she took off like that."
"Are you going to let her stay?" Sean asked.
"I haven't seen the final will yet, but I believe me and Bill get the business and she gets the house unless she decides to sell it and then we split it three ways," Jim said.
That was good news – now Marybeth could stay in Hillsboro.
"Jimmy, your Aunt Rose is getting ready to leave." It was Jim's wife Augusta sticking her head out the glass sliding door.
"It was nice seeing you again, Sean," Jim said as she stood and headed for the door.
Sean thought it was ironic that he had been back living in Hillsboro for four years but rarely saw the Sullivan Brothers. They had been so close growing up but now as adults they didn't seem to have much in common anymore and while they would always have the bond of their shared past in common that didn't necessarily translate into their present lives of family and careers. Sean hadn't talked to Bill at all except in the receiving line at Mr. Sullivan's wake.
People were starting to leave the reception. Sean bumped into Marybeth in the hallway.
"Jim thinks your Dad left the house to you," Sean informed her.
"Oh My God," Marybeth said, wilting against the wall. "Are you serious?"
"Unless you sell it, then you have to split the profit with your brothers," Sean said.
"Oh, Wow," Marybeth said, blowing a huge breath out of her mouth. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"Move back here,' Sean urged.
Jenny and Margie came barreling down the front staircase.
"Hey Mom, can my new friend Margie sleepover tonight?" Jenny asked with excitement in her voice.
"Ah….um….." Marybeth seemed flustered by all that was happening. "Er, sure, honey, as long as it's okay with Margie's…..uncle and grandma."
"Sounds fun," Sean smiled. "Why don't you two go over to our house and get Margie's stuff to spend the night?"
"Great!" Margie exclaimed.
"Thanks, Mom!" Jenny beamed as both girls ran off.
"They seem to have hit it off pretty well," Sean smirked.
"I guess they have a lot in common without even realizing it," Marybeth observed. "Everything's moving so fast, Sean."
"Don't be overwhelmed," Sean advised. "Take it one day at a time, one moment at a time."
Marybeth glanced around at her surroundings. "It feels carpetbaggish to come back," she said sadly. "I don't deserve this."
"I think your father wanted you to have a chance to start over again," Sean said.
She wiped a tear from her eye. "I should go say goodbye to some of the relatives," she said as she disappeared down the hall.
Once some of Mr. Sullivan's generation began to leave the rest of the mourners seemed to be heading for their cars too and soon the house was empty. The caterers packed up their wares and left, Jim writing them a check on the front walk. Sean noticed that the house was now empty of people except for Marybeth and Jenny and Margie who had returned from the Reilly house. Jim and Bill were out by the curb talking to each other, having not even said goodbye to their sister.
"I guess you guys are kind of estranged, huh?" Sean said as he stood with Marybeth in the doorway.
"They hate me," Marybeth said simply. "And they'll hate you if you hang out with me."
"Strange how sometimes death can bring people closer together and sometimes it can push them further apart," Sean observed. "My mother and I became closer than ever after Larry and Donna died. And I never would have had the relationship I have with Margie if the accident hadn't happened."
"My brothers don't want anything to do with me," Marybeth sighed. "I broke the family code and dishonored everybody. Now that Daddy's gone I'll probably never see them again."
"Never say never," Sean said with encouragement.
Jim and Bill drove off and suddenly Marybeth and Sean were alone. The girls were upstairs and Sean's mother had gone home. The house was a mess from the reception.
"I'll help you clean up," Sean said.
"Thanks," Marybeth said with appreciation.
It was almost like Déjà vu all over again as Sean had flashbacks to younger days hanging out with Marybeth at the house as they cleaned up from the reception. They filled two trash bags with paper plates and plastic cups and they filled the refrigerator with food the caterer left. When the house was returned to its usual condition, Sean and Marybeth took seats on the couch to catch their breaths.
"I guess I can spend a few days going through Dad's stuff," Marybeth said as she thought about the situation. "Let Jim and Bill take what they want from the house. I'll bring his clothes to the Goodwill."
"Are you going to move back?" Sean asked.
"I don't know," she sighed. "It doesn't feel right."
"It feels right to me," Sean replied.
"I know you want to have Jenny close by," Marybeth said. "But I doubt you want to have me close by."
Sean put his finger to her lips. "I feel the same way about you now as I did the night of Karen's wedding," he let her know.
"God," she replied with wide eyes.
"It's alright," he assured her. "I can wait for as long as it takes for you to get used to all this."
"Coming back here, telling Jenny about me, and the two of us starting over together," Sean explained.
Marybeth blushed and looked away. "You're not going to find that wedding night high again, Sean," she warned.
"I already have," he told her, leaning and giving her a gentle kiss.
Marybeth broke the kiss and rested her forehead against his. "Are you sure?" She whispered.
"You think things have gotten way to complicated," he said. "I think they've gotten a whole lot easier."
"When did you get so pie in the sky?" Marybeth wondered.
"I just learned to take life much more seriously after Larry and Donna died," Sean told her. "Why don't we have the girls come down and watch a movie with us?" He suggested. "It will give me a chance to get to know Jenny more and you can get to know Margie better too."
Marybeth thought that was a good idea and they called the girls downstairs. Marybeth made popcorn and the girls made a little nest for themselves on the floor. Ironically, the DVD they chose to watch was young Lindsey Lohan in The Parent Trap with Dennis Quaid and by the time the film was over Jenny and Margie were looking at each other as if they too had felt some sort of strange bond, calling and closeness.
"It sort of feels like we already know each other," Margie remarked as the credits rolled.
"A familiarity," Jenny agreed.
"Maybe you're soul sisters," Sean grinned but when Marybeth didn't join in the perfect opportunity to tell the girls the truth Sean backed off and suggested the girls head upstairs as it was getting late. Margie gave her uncle a kiss on the cheek and Jenny hugged her mother goodnight.
"I hope you won't be too sad about grandpa," Jenny told her mother before heading up the stairs with Margie, dragging their bedding with them.
Marybeth brought the empty popcorn bowl into the kitchen and Sean followed.
"Don't say anything, Sean," Marybeth sighed. "I'm just not ready yet."
"The Parent Trap is going to catch up to us sooner or later," he cautioned.
"I don't think I'm ready for this," Marybeth confessed.
She was standing at the kitchen sink with her back to him and Sean gently turned her to face him, leaning in and giving her a soft and affectionate kiss. "You going to be okay?"
"I don't know," she sighed.
"You're going to be okay," Sean assured her before giving her another kiss. "It's been a tough few days and I know you have a lot going on with the family stuff and grieving your Dad but you have a wonderful daughter upstairs and this house has a lot of history to it and some pretty fine memories too and that's why it's going to be okay. Have a good night. Cry if you have too but laugh if you can. It's all good."
He headed for the back door and Marybeth watched him go.
"Bye," she said as he closed the door.
School was out for the summer so Margie had plenty of free time to spend with Jenny. Grandma Reilly was around too since her job was as a school library aide. Marybeth spent several days cleaning out the house. Her father hadn't done much with the place since her mother died twenty years earlier and there was plenty to go through. Jim and Bill came and took what they wanted for their own houses. There were plenty of trips to the Goodwill and church donation box. Sean's mom helped and the two girls were of great assistance too. Sean came over in the evenings and did some of the muscle work.
Sean looked forward to the evenings, not just to see Marybeth but also to spend time getting to know Jenny too. She and Margie had hit it off wonderfully and the two were hardly apart. Margie slept over Jenny's several times but Jenny didn't want to sleep over at Margie's because she didn't want to leave her "sad" mother home all alone.
Sean drove Marybeth, Jenny and Margie to the Cape the following Saturday to collect their belongs from Karen's sister's house, Marybeth finally deciding that she would make Hillsboro permanent
"I hope you won't miss the Cape too much," Margie told Jenny as they sat together in the backseat.
"I probably will," Jenny admitted. "But I miss Vermont sometimes too."
"Have you ever been to the Cape before, Uncle Sean?" Margie asked.
"A couple of times," Sean said. "We used to vacation at Summer Beach as a family but I went to Karen's wedding down here and thought it was great."
"Wait, you were at Karen's wedding?" Jenny asked with surprise.
"Well, yeah," Sean said, realizing he had made a tactical mistake. "I mean, she was a Hillsboro girl. I went to school with her and her brother. I knew her. I was invited."
"Did you see my mom there?" Jenny wondered.
"Of course, sweets," Marybeth finally spoke up. "It wasn't that big of a wedding."
Sean glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Jenny and Margie exchanging looks.
There wasn't that much to pack up and Marybeth realized how pathetic her life had become when everything fit in the back of Grandma Reilly's SUV. There was still plenty of time so after Marybeth and Jenny hugged their hosts and said goodbye and thank you, they drove to the beach for a swim. Margie and Jenny had a blast running in the waves and Marybeth and Sean sat on a towel in the warm sand.
"Sorry I mentioned the wedding," Sean said.
"I know you didn't mean to cause any trouble," Marybeth replied.
"Do you think Jenny suspects anything?"
"Those two would have to be pretty oblivious not to have their thinking hats on," Marybeth said as she watched the two girls splashing about.
They stayed on the beach until the sun started to set, stopped for dinner at a fish shack and then drove home to Hillsboro late into the night, the two girls falling asleep in the back seat while Marybeth and Sean listened to oldies on the radio but didn't talk much. They really didn't have to because it felt like it did in younger days when they hung out together doing stuff like this.
Sean couldn't help but feel amused each time he walked through his backyard into Marybeth's back yard just like he had done so many times for so many years growing up. While it felt the same, it also felt different - walking to the Sullivan house that really wasn't quite the Sullivan house anymore and getting to spend time with his daughter - only she didn't know (or did she?) that she was his daughter. And then there was Marybeth, still conflicted about living in her dead father's house, feeling guilty for messing up her life, regretting the mistakes she made, grieving her father, and struggling with her estranged relationship with her brothers while trying to figure out what in the hell she was supposed to do with Sean.
They didn't talk about it much. It felt good hanging out together - a foursome with Margie and Jenny practically inseparable, sometimes a five-some when Sean's mother tagged along. Jenny had started calling Mrs. Reilly Grandma too but Sean assumed she was just using the name as a token of affection and not as a admittance of truth. It was easy to feel comfortable and at home when Sean was in the Sullivan house since he had spent so much time there growing up anyway.
Marybeth made great progress getting the house organized, cleared out, and cleaned up. Most of the clutter was gone and some of the aged furniture was tossed out. Sean cleared out the cellar and garage and the girls painted Jenny's room (light purple) and the guest room (Bill's old room) light green. Marybeth moved into her parents old room and Sean helped her hang new wallpaper. There were also new curtains and a new stove.
"I'm going to have to get a job soon," Marybeth told Sean one night as they sat on the couch together. "I'm running out of projects and money."
"Wait 'till Jenny starts school," Sean advised. "Enjoy this summer of healing and new beginnings together."
"I guess," she said. "But I put most of the money Daddy left me aside to pay for the taxes and stuff so the cash flow is starting to thin out."
"I should be paying you child support anyway."
"No you shouldn't," she said with embarrassment.
"I probably owe you about ten grand by now going back to when she was born."
"I never expected anything from you, Sean," Marybeth told him. "You don't owe me anything."
"I'd feel better if you'd let me write you a check for all the arrears," Sean insisted.
"As if you could afford to write a check for that amount," She laughed, rolling her eyes.
"Actually, I can," Sean admitted sheepishly. "As you said before, I was making good money in Boston. And I live practically rent free with my mother. I'm doing okay. I'd like to be able to help you and Jenny out so you don't feel like you have to take the first job that comes along just to have money coming in."
"You do so much for others," Marybeth said with amazement. "Coming back here to help out your mom with Margie. And now doing so much for me."
"I'll bring the check over tomorrow," Sean smiled.
"I wish I never left," Marybeth sighed. "I'd be working with my brothers now. I would have had all those years working alongside Dad. Maybe you and I..." her voice trailed off.
"It's not too late for you and I, Marybeth," Sean told her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
Sean gave her a kiss goodnight and left for the evening. Marybeth remained on the couch trying to figure out where her life was going and she burst into tears the next day when Sean handed her a cashier's check for $12,012.12.
The twelves were meant to be a play on Jenny's age. Sean told his mother about the check and she agreed that it was the right thing to do. Marybeth was humbled and moved by the gesture and slowly she was coming to terms with where she found herself – back in Hillsboro, living in her childhood home with her daughter, reconnecting with the only guy besides Brendon she had slept with.
Marybeth had given Sean up all those years ago just as she had her family and her future when she ran off with Brendon, dropping out of Green College after one semester. She was supposed to get her business degree and use that expertise to help manage Sullivan's Television and Appliances. Her Dad envisioned his three children working with him to make Sullivan's truly a family business which is why Marybeth's departure was such a betrayal.
Brendon was nearly fifteen years Marybeth's senior, teaching Art and Art History at Green. Marybeth met him through a mutual acquaintance at a Freshman Welcoming and she was transfixed from the start. She had never met someone so unique, different, gifted and fascinating before and when he showed an interest in her she lost all sense of reality and normalcy and she went completely off the tracks.
"It was almost as if I was drugged, like I had drunk a magic love potion," Marybeth once told her good friend Karen years later. "I was totally under the influence."
Marybeth was so enraptured with Brendon that she was posing nude for him within a week after meeting him, something she never would have considered doing under normal circumstances. And when he announced that he was leaving Green to take a position in Montpelier Marybeth begged him to take her too. Two days after Christmas, she found herself in her crazy lover's 1968 VW Van heading north, a college drop out turned art guru flunky. She had given up everything to be with Brendon which is why she couldn't leave him even if she wanted to. Not that she did. She remained under his spell, living with him as his lover and housekeeper.
Marybeth liked Montpelier and the college campus and her new life. She rarely went home – her brothers wanted nothing to do with her and Marybeth's father was unable to understand why she gave up everything for a flakey art professor who didn't even have the decency to marry her.
By the time Karen's wedding took place nearly six years later, Marybeth knew that Brendon was seeing other women and sleeping with various coeds but she was unable to break the obsessive hold he had on her and she was willing to ignore his indiscretions as long as she could stay in his bed and live the life as his ruse. She knew she was demeaning herself and living a lie but she couldn't leave him.
Karen never gave up on her friend and Marybeth was touched to receive a wedding invitation. Brendon had no interest in attending and he didn't care if Marybeth went alone so that's how she ended up on the Cape that weekend, seeing so many old Hillsboro friends including Sean who she didn't realize how much she missed until she saw him for the first time in six years. She gave him an earnest hug and a kiss on the cheek, not sure if he hated her like her brothers did.
Sean was shocked when he learned that Marybeth had run off. He had no claim on her, of course, but they had been close and he was hurt that she hadn't confided in him before leaving. He finished college and moved to Boston for a prestigious entry level accounting job in a large firm but he was feeling lonely in the big city so when he saw Marybeth at Karen's wedding all his warm happy memories and secret feelings came rushing back. And when she hung out with him during the wedding and reception he felt like it was as it always had been between them and that left him thrilled beyond imagination.
Sean was surprised to open his hotel room door late that night to find Marybeth standing there with pleading hopeful eyes. It was a fantasy come true when they spent the night making love with the sea breeze coming through the open window and the sounds of the ocean as their lullaby. It was the best sex of Sean's life and to finally hold the naked Marybeth in his naked arms was as good as it gets.
But the wound was re-opened even deeper when Sean awoke in the morning to find Marybeth gone. He returned to Boston feeling lonelier than ever and he didn't see Marybeth again until the receiving line of her father's wake at Donnelly-Nolan Funeral home nearly thirteen years later.
Marybeth knew she was pregnant by September. She told Brendon of her condition – there wasn't much he could say given his long track record of affairs, trysts and infidelities but Marybeth didn't have insurance so she went on the state system to obtain coverage. To qualify, she had to move out of Brendon's home and she lived in small rent-controlled apartment. She and Brendon continued their unorthodox relationship that lasted several years off and on but Marybeth was resigned to the fact that she had doomed her future with her past choices.
Marybeth loved Jenny beyond understanding and she adored being a mom but life as a single mother with no college degree or tangible experience limited her opportunities for growth. She worked part time odd jobs when Jenny was old enough for school but she resisted her father's urging to come home knowing how badly she had burned that bridge although she finally came to the realization that she had no future with Brendon who was living with a woman in a committed long term relationship and that's when she finally left Vermont, heading to Cape Cod instead of Hillsboro, her life at a dead end.
Sean did well in Boston. He was quickly promoted and he met a wonderful woman named Pam whom he was crazy about. But then the horrible phone call came that changed his life forever. Sean left his job and Pam ended their relationship knowing a long distance situation was not for her. Sean came home in stunned grief to help his mother with Margie but it took a few years to rebound from the shocking death of his best friend brother and Larry's lovely wife. It was the resiliency and spirit of young Margie that got Sean through his sorrow. He figured if an eight year old could bounce back after losing her mom and dad he could certainly soldier on without his brother and sister in law and be there for Margie.
Now Marybeth was back in Hillsboro, living in the Sullivan house with the daughter Sean never knew he had. There was plenty of lost time for all of them to catch up on and while Sean was still coming to grips with the reality of being a father he was enjoying getting to know Jenny. Margie's presence made it a whole lot easier.
It was Grandma Reilly who suggested that Marybeth and Sean go out on a Saturday night. She was happy to stay with the girls to give the two adults a chance to do something different on their own out of the house for a change and with the two girls giving their full endorsement and blessings it was hard for Sean and Marybeth to say no.
Sean grinned when he saw Marybeth coming down the stairs dressed in a modest white dress that stopped at her knees, her hair pulled up in a bun, her toenails freshly painted beneath her white sandals.
"Do I look okay?" She asked the girls who gave her a cat call in reply.
"You're beautiful," Sean assured her.
"Quite lovely," Grandma Reilly agreed.
They listened to the girls' giggles as they left the house and Sean took Marybeth to popular and well known Serguci's Family Italian Restaurant in downtown Hillsboro. Marybeth couldn't recall the last time she had gone out to a nice restaurant (she hadn't been to Serguci's since high school!) and Sean hadn't been on a date with a woman since Pam which is why they both sat at their table with goofy grins on their faces.
"What?" Marybeth asked with a blush when she noticed Sean looking at her funny.
"Nothing," he smiled. "This is just nice, that's all."
"Yeah," she agreed. "Very nice. I haven't been out in a long time."
"Me either," Sean said.
That set the tone for a pleasant dinner conversation, talking mostly about Jenny and Margie as usual, both as individuals and as a duo.
"Jenny hasn't had a whole lot of friends over the years so I'm glad she is bonding so nicely with Margie," Marybeth remarked.
"Margie has been a bit of a loner," Sean acknowledged. "She seemed to gravitate more to me and my mother than anybody else except perhaps Lily, but that was because my mother is good friends with Lily's grandmother and that sort of forced that friendship."
"Margie and Jenny seem glued at the hip now," Marybeth smiled happily.
"When are you going to tell Jenny who I really am?" Sean asked bluntly, surprised that what he was thinking actually came out of his mouth.
"I just want her to be completely adjusted to and comfortable with her new surroundings," a flustered Marybeth explained. "There's been a lot of changes in her life and thank God for Margie and your mother and you but it's still going to be major news to her when she finally finds out who her real Dad is."
"Do you think she likes me?" Sean worried.
"Oh, God, she adores you," Marybeth laughed. "You've given her more attention, time and interest since we've been here than Brendon did in all the years Jenny knew him."
Sean let out a long sigh of relief but he looked sad for a moment.
"What's wrong?" Marybeth asked.
"I just wish I had been there with you from the beginning," he said.
"It's not your fault, Sean," Marybeth told him. "I never told you. You didn't know. Please don't hate me for keeping her a secret from you. It was wrong of me."
"I'm not blaming you, Marybeth," Sean assured her. "I'm just letting you know how I feel about all this. I'm glad I know now and I'm grateful we're all together now."
They recounted earlier visits to Serguci's Family Italian Restaurant, mostly high school sports banquets. Sean told Marybeth about Larry and Donna's wedding reception here and she lamented about how much she wished she could have been part of that – "and about a million other things," she sighed with regret.
They were in a mellow mood when Sean brought Marybeth home. Sean stopped her from opening the door by taking hold of her arm and turning her to face him. He leaned in and softly kissed her, rubbing the side of her face with his hand. . He was glad when Marybeth put her arms around his neck and deepened the kiss. Sean broke from her lips and moved down to the nape of her neck while Marybeth tangled her hands in his hair. Sean eventually moved his mouth back to her lips and gave her a passionate smooch before Marybeth broke away.
"Your mother might hear us," she warned.
"So what?" Sean grinned.
Marybeth smirked playfully before finally opening the door. They found the two girls camped out on the living room floor watching a movie with Grandma Reilly perched on the couch.
"How'd it go!? Did you have fun? What'd you have?" Jenny and Margie asked in unison.
"It went well," Sean said.
"We had fun," Marybeth replied.
"I had spaghetti with sausage," Sean reported.
"I had Shrimp Linguini," Marybeth said.
"Come on, Margie, let's head home," Grandma Reilly said.
"Oh, rats," Margie grumbled. "We were having fun too!"
Everybody said their goodnights and the three Reilly's left although it felt kind of stupid for Sean to drive his niece and mother home when they could have walked home faster.
Lily's family was having a backyard afternoon barbeque the next day and Jenny and her mom were invited too now that they were part of the neighborhood. Lily's grandmother remembered Marybeth from younger days.
The five walked down the street to the Ambrose house which was already a happening place. Margie had told Sean and his mother that Lily had welcomed Jenny to the neighborhood with open arms and that she didn't mind sharing Margie with her.
"Lily has plenty of other friends anyway," Margie was quick to point out
The girls ran off to join Lily and some of the other neighborhood kids. Grandma Reilly drifted off to visit with familiar faces. Marybeth and Sean exchanged greetings with various older folks they knew from when they were kids - parents of friends, paper route customers. There was a festive mood to the gathering, unlike the cloud that hung over the reception following Mr. Sullivan's funeral.
"I guess the neighborhood doesn't really hate me that much," Marybeth realized an hour or so into the barbecue after enjoying several conversations with various people. "Of course, they aren't going to be mean to me with a dead father."
"Well, for a while anyways," Sean grinned, looking at her with genuine affection.
Marybeth laughed but then she blushed when Sean took her chin in his hand and lifted her face up to plant a soft kiss on her lips.
"Somebody might see," Marybeth worried, glancing around.
"Who cares?" Sean smirked.
"I don't want to be the neighborhood gossip," Marybeth said seriously.
Sean's response was to give her another kiss just as Margie and Jenny came out of the house. They both stopped when they saw Margie's Uncle Sean kissing Jenny's mom and they broke into giggles that were loud enough for Sean and Marybeth to hear.
"Hey guys," Sean said from his seat on the picnic table.
Marybeth blushed and pulled away from Sean even though the girls didn't seem to be upset at what they had seen.
"How's it going, Sweetie?" Marybeth asked Jenny. "Having fun?"
"Sure, Mom," Jenny grinned. "How 'bout you?"
"Be nice," Sean said humorously.
"You too," Jenny smirked.
"You're a great kid," Sean let her know.
"Thanks," she gushed. "I have a good mom."
"And I have a good uncle and grandmother," Margie added.
"Everybody's good," Marybeth smiled. "So that's good!"
"Is Sean my father, Mom?" Jenny asked point blank.
Marybeth almost fell off the picnic table.
"Why do you ask, Jenny?" Sean asked calmly.
"Look at us, Uncle Sean," Margie said, rolling her eyes. "Don't we sort of look alike?"
"And Grandma Reilly is always looking at me funny," Jenny offered.
"And you were at the wedding," Margie pointed out.
"I'm really hoping you're my father," Jenny said seriously as she stared at Sean and he wanted to burst out sobbing.
Marybeth took both of Jenny's hands in hers and she looked at her daughter with intense eyes. . "Yes," she said simply. "Sean is your father."
Jenny absorbed what her mother had verified and then she slowly looked at Sean. "Um..I..." she stuttered. "Okay..."
"I never told him, sweetie," Marybeth explained. "He didn't know you existed until he saw you at Grampie's wake."
"Your grandmother figured it out first, actually," Sean admitted.
"Oh my Gawd, I have a grandmother!" Jenny realized.
"We have the same grandmother!" Margie exclaimed, wiping a tear from her eye and the two girls hugged happily.
"We're cousins!" Jenny laughed through her tears.
"Are you okay with this?" Sean asked nervously as he hopped off the picnic table.
"I've always wanted a family," Jenny said.
"Well, you have one," Sean said.
Jenny stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Thanks, Dad," she said quietly.
Dad. Sean had never been called Dad before. He hugged his daughter while looking at Margie standing behind Jenny. "You okay?" "
Margie beamed. "I've never been happier, Uncle Sean."
"Me either," Sean grinned.
Grandma Reilly saw what was happening and she hurried across the yard to where her family secrets had just been revealed. She looked Marybeth in the eyes. "I can see by the way he looks at you and Jenny that Sean really loves both of you," she announced.
"Do you forgive me?" Marybeth asked through teary eyes.
Grandma Reilly took Marybeth's hand and then gave her a small kiss on the cheek. "For what, dear?" she asked.
Marybeth burst into tears and sobbed into Grandma Reilly's shoulder. Margie was amused watching her grandmother hugging Marybeth while her uncle was hugging his daughter - her cousin.
"One big happy family," Margie laughed. "You can't make this stuff up."
Jenny finally broke the hug from her father. Sean smiled at her. "Welcome home, Jenny," he said.
She smiled before taking Margie's hand and the two girls skipped off together.
"Well, now that everybody knows the truth, what now?" Sean's mother asked when she released Marybeth from her hug.
"We'll just take it one day at a time," Sean replied, wrapping his arm around Marybeth's waist. "Jenny's fine with all of this. She has a family."
"And what about you two?" His mother asked with a cocked eyebrow.
"We have a little bit more baggage to work through," Marybeth sighed.
'We do?" Sean asked with surprise.
"Come on Sean, I need to earn back your trust before we can move forward together in any capacity," Marybeth said. "And I need to work through all my crap to get to a place where I can have a normal relationship again."
"Well, in the meantime, you both have a daughter to parent and Sean you still have a niece to mentor," Grandma Reilly reminded them.
"So, we'll just keep the status quo except I get to hear Jenny call me Dad," Sean smirked. "I'm good." He gave Marybeth a hug. "You okay?"
"It's quite the emotional day," Marybeth said, returning his hug.
"I thought it went well," Sean said. "With Jenny, I mean."
"She seems to be okay with it," Marybeth agreed.
Sean gave her a kiss and pulled her close to his chest while rubbing her face with the back of his hand before leaning in and kissing her.
The rest of the barbecue went terrifically well. The three and a half Reilly's and one and a half Sullivans ate together and spent most of the rest of the afternoon together. Margie told Jenny her favorite stories about Jenny's Dad and Marybeth and Jenny shared some of their favorite memories with their new family. They were among the last of the neighbors to leave, walking back to Marybeth's house in the summer dusk.
"This will definitely be one of those days we'll never forget," Margie said.
"True," Sean smiled. "It was a very good day."
The Reillys said goodnight and headed home though it felt a little strange to Sean to be sleeping in a different house than his own daughter.
Marybeth woke up the following morning feeling an inner peace she hadn't felt in a very long time. She stared out the window at the sun that seemed to be smiling upon her. She stretched with a new sense of energy and when she got out of bed she felt almost weightless, as if a huge burden had been taken off her shoulders. Years of misery, regret, guilt, sadness and despair was suddenly gone. She practically floated across the room and soon she found herself making a three course breakfast for Jenny in the kitchen. The smell of the bacon and eggs summoned Jenny downstairs.
"Hey there, sweetie, how you doing?" Marybeth grinned when she saw her daughter entering the kitchen.
"I'm doing okay, Mom," Jenny answered. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing okay," Marybeth smiled.
"You haven't made a breakfast like this in a long time," Jenny observed.
"I know," Marybeth laughed. "And it's not even Sunday!"
"It's nice to see you happy, Mom," Jenny remarked.
"Are you happy?" Marybeth asked hopefully.
Jenny smiled. "Yeah, Mom. I'm very happy."
"That makes me happy too," Marybeth replied.
Grandma Reilly invited Marybeth and Jenny to dinner the next night. Jenny spent extra time exploring the house and looking at the memories of her father's life – the grandfather and uncle she never knew, the family photo albums that included photographs of her mother and uncles as kids and she was left with a feeling of familiarity and comfort, acceptance and excitement. She liked being a part of this family and she liked having a new best friend who also happened to be her cousin even though she felt more like a sister.
It felt natural to be sitting around the Reilly's dining room table as one big happy family. Grandma Reilly sat at one end with Sean on the other, Marybeth seated next to him and the girls together on the other side of the table.
Later that night, after Marybeth and Jenny had gone home, Sean knocked on Margie's door.
"Come in," She said cheerfully.
Sean opened the door and found his niece sitting on her bed reading a magazine.
"Oh, Hi Uncle Sean," Margie said happily. "How are you?"
"I'm okay," Sean smiled. "I just wanted to check in with you to make sure you were okay."
"Why wouldn't I be okay?" Margie laughed.
"Well, a lot has been going on around here the last few months," Sean said with concern. "Things seem to be changing."
"For the better, wouldn't you say?" Margie grinned.
"I just want to make sure you're not feeling left out," Sean said. "Or pushed aside."
"Why would I feel that way?" Margie asked with confusion.
"I don't know," Sean sighed, taking a seat at the end of her bed. "Me becoming a father over night and all that."
Margie moved closer on the bed. "Uncle Sean, I will never be able to thank you enough for all that you and Grandma have done for me," she said, resting her head against his arm. "And no matter what happens I will always be your niece and you will always be my Uncle. Don't worry about me. I have a new cousin and she's the best thing that's ever happened to me. Marybeth is nice too, by the way."
"I'm glad you like her," Sean smiled.
"I'm glad you like her too!" Margie giggled.
"So, we're okay?" Sean asked.
"We're more than okay, Uncle Sean," Margie said. "You deserve to be happy too, you know."
"I guess," Sean realized.
"Are you and Marybeth going to get together or what?" Margie asked impatiently.
"You'd be okay with that?" Sean asked.
"Do you think Jenny would be okay with that?" He worried.
"Are you kidding?" Margie laughed. "She wants that more than anything."
"Oh?" Sean let out a breath of relief. "Really?"
"Of course!" Margie said. "She's hoping you'll move in with them someday."
"She is?" Sean asked, his voice breaking.
"You're her Dad, Uncle Sean," Margie said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
"Would you be upset if I moved in over there?" Sean asked with concern.
"You've been taking care of me for a long time, Uncle Sean," Margie said quietly. "I could take care of Grandma if you moved in with your daughter. Don't worry about me. Me and Grandma will be fine." She jumped off the bed and went to the window. "I can see Jenny's window from here."
Sean smiled remembering how he used to look out the window at Marybeth's window when he was a kid.
"It's not as if you'd be moving anywhere far away," Margie said.
Sean stood from the bed and went to the window, standing beside his niece as he looked across the yard at the Sullivan House. "You're a good kid, you know that?"
"You're a good man, do you know that?" Margie replied as she gave him a hug.
Sean lay in his bed. It was late but he couldn't sleep. It was a hot summer night. A breeze blew through the open window. He picked up his cell and clicked on Marybeth's name.
"Hello?" She mumbled, obviously awaken from her sleep.
"It feels like it did at the Cape the night of the wedding," Sean said.
"Huh? Sean? What are you…."
"Can I come over?" Sean asked almost desperately.
"You'll wake Jenny," she warned.
"Meet me in the backyard then," Sean requested.
There was a pause. "Okay," Marybeth finally agreed.
Sean felt like a teenager sneaking out of the house as he tiptoed down the stairs and out the back door, walking through the yard in the middle of the night. He saw Marybeth waiting for him in her backyard, her light and short nightie blowing in the summer breeze, her hair waving in the wind.
"Is something wrong?" Marybeth asked with concern.
"I love you, Marybeth," Sean told her.
"I…love you too, Sean," she said.
"Then what are we waiting for? Sean asked. "You and our daughter are in one house and I'm in another house. That just doesn't feel right."
"I kept a secret from you for a very long time," Marybeth sighed.
"You gave me a gift," Sean corrected. "That's all I care about."
They stared at each other for a very long time.
"Have you ever made love on the grass in the middle of the night?" Sean asked with a grin.
"Not until tonight," Marybeth replied as she pulled her nightie off over her head.