She never removed it

It was when the leaves on the bushes outside began to change color that she knew.

“Mother, where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise, my darling.”

The smile felt more real than fake and it took everything Mary had not to let the tears in the back of her throat reach her eyes. She’d always been very good at lying and anyone who was as good at it as she was knew that the art in lying is in having just enough of the truth in it to make it real.

“Are we going to have to finish our homework?” her youngest asks, eager for a reason to not finish the packet sent home for the fall break.

“We’ll see, Matt.” She shares a grin with her eldest at the boy’s groan. What she doesn’t say and what her eldest likely already knows is that they will likely never return to this house that had almost become their home.

Matt didn’t remember living anywhere but here, he’d been so young when her husband had left and only a little older when his father had died. She still wore her wedding ring even though it was on the wrong hand. It was a plain enough band that many wouldn’t know that it had ever been a wedding ring in the first place. Her husband’s name was only clear on the ring once the band had been removed.

Mary never removed it.

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Miss You

You know the bed feels warmer, sleepin’ here alone. –Kelly Clarkson

Warren looked down the short hallway towards his son’s room.

Terry wasn’t home yet, despite the late hour, but Warren wasn’t too worried. Terry was a good kid, despite the recent problems in turning in his classwork. He knew that his son knew what was required and he also knew that his son was still upset about the split between his parents.

Warren missed his wife. Despite the legal papers stating otherwise, Mary was still his wife and he loved her and missed her. He missed holding her in his arms as they fell asleep after a long day at work. He missed breathing in the slight scent that always emanated from her no matter what she tried to cover it up with. She smelled like fire and ice but without the smokey undertones that most people would associate with those two scents mixing.

“Warren, I don’t want to smell like that! It makes me think of Al’s science lab.”

“Mary,” he’d respond, “Al’s lab doesn’t smell like that. It smells like chemical fire and acid ice. They are not the same thing.”

“That is not the point. I’m trying to smell-”

“‘Normal’? Mary, there’s nothing wrong with smelling different than the norm.”

She’d frown at him and he’d smooth a finger between her eyes and tease her about getting wrinkles there too early.

He missed being able to treat her like his wife.

The door downstairs opened.

“I’m home, Dad!”

Warren smiled.

Ginger Snap

Mary spent the morning working in the house for once. Both of her boys were out and about, but would return home for dinner. (Well, she hoped that her eldest would return home for dinner, but at least he always called.) She was usually at work during the day, but had taken a rare day off in order to sort through the household laundry.

She had been putting it off and while it was running through the wash and then the dryer she decided to take a moment and do something she hadn’t really done since she and her husband had split. She made ginger snap cookies, from scratch. She’d never been very good at cooking from a box and the freezer food always made her eldest sigh.

He remembered what life had been like before Warren and she had split. She had made something homemade at least once a week and always enough for more than one meal. Some weeks she’d even taken the time to bake some bread or cookies instead of buying them at the store. This had started happening less and less near the end of their marriage and had disappeared after she’d been forced to go out and land a nine to five job that often led her to be too tired at the end of the day to do more than shove something from the freezer into the oven or microwave.

She missed Warren, now more than ever that another Christmas was coming without him. This would be the first Christmas since he had died, though and that made it all the harder. She may not have been with him or seen him more than every few weeks for their sons in the last year of his life, but he had still been there, a call away if necessary. They had remained somewhat friends after the papers had gone through and she knew that it was out of fear for their children that nothing more had happened.

Warren had found something at work, something that suggested criminal behavior. He didn’t have enough to go to the police or anyone really and had been too worried about the potential backlash against his family. This had led to many fights as he couldn’t bring himself to ignore the slim evidence he had found, but he didn’t want to endanger them by keeping them close. If you want to shut a man up what do you do? you go for what he cares about the most.

He had at least had the sense of mind to talk (or fight) this over with her due to her particular situation with her own family. She had no one but him and she relied upon him and their children and the links that she had with them in order to keep her sanity.

(Her family had always been different and they required a lot more than just the energy feeding that others like them usually needed. Mary and her sister had required a mental presence or link in order to keep them grounded and safe.)

She breathed in the scent of the ginger snaps as she pulled them out of the oven and one of her hands reached out to fiddle with the ring that she still wore.

Warren and she had planned everything out, their fights and their faked anger. (Well, alright, some of the anger hadn’t been faked, but what person likes their marriage to end for any reason, even one that they understood.) Their sons hadn’t been brought in on it, because it wasn’t supposed to last this long. He would have been able to gather the rest of the evidence he needed now that he had an excuse for staying later and later at work. He was supposed to take the evidence to the police the weekend that he had died.

She knew that it hadn’t been an accident or because of the gangs of teens that the police had said had attacked his house, but she had no evidence in order to back any other claims.

Mary set the cookies down on the table once she was done and sat in front of them, just staring.

If not for her sons, then it was very likely that the sacrifices her sister had made for her to have any kind of life outside of their duties would have been for nothing and she would have gone completely mad and taken as many with her into her destruction as possible.

Guardians that had lost their anchor could be as destructive as an atomic bomb.