THE MIRROR IMAGE
Standard Disclaimer applies. I do not own In Plain Sight or its characters. I just borrow them for entertainment, not for profit. I do not own or endorse any brands, events or establishments used in this story. The story is fictional and does not include any actual person or event.
Chapter 1: Diners
"Bad things happened in diners. Correction. Bad things happened in diners to Mary Shannon. Correction. Bad things happened in diners to Mary Shannon when Marshall Mann was involved. Yeah, that sounds about right." Mary thought, staring at the endless highway stretching to the horizon. The day started to break. There were hardly any cars on the road, so there was little to distract her from reminiscing. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel of her new truck so tight her knuckles had turned white. Gritting her teeth, she pushed the accelerator pedal down to force herself charge ahead, fighting the urge to turn around almost too strong to endure. The mental images her brain presented were far from pleasant, but she reasoned, with hours of driving ahead, it was as good time as any to reflect on the poor choices she had made and the rotten circumstances life had handed her.
Strictly speaking, the first thing did not involve Marshall directly, but she had to concede that in a way still did. Not that she had been willing to admit back then.
One. She met a guy in a diner. He asked her out and she said no. Then she ran into him again and asked him out and he said no. And somehow, it turned into a thing, a sex thing, which turned into a marriage proposal and an ill-fated engagement. She almost ruined a decent guy's life. She would have too, had he not recovered his wits and called it off. Point. Mary Shannon.
Two. Her partner and best friend nearly died in a dilapidated diner. Had she not caused a fight, he might not have gotten shot. The guilt over the scar on Marshall's right clavicle was her cross to bear. She still had nightmares about that transfer. Sometimes they did not make it out alive. Point. Mary Shannon.
Three. A tan line. That was all it took for Marshall to realize she had been hiding her engagement from him. They were sitting in a diner. She had slammed the gaudy bauble on the table, "Raph and I are engaged. There, I said it. You happy?" she had the audacity to ask him. Point. Mary Shannon.
Four. "You already told him." The look on her partner's face had been carved into her memory to remain there forever. Technically, they were not in a diner then, but she added that event to the string of bad outcomes anyway, for good measure. There were few choices in life she really regretted making: that particular one was high on her list. Hell, it topped the list. Point. Mary Shannon.
There were more poor choices to remember, but she skipped a few to contemplate the circumstances flung at her instead, before she could bury the memories of the life she was leaving behind in an attempt start with a clean slate.
Eight. He took her to the diner on the way to the hospital. They were going to visit her son who was born prematurely at the NICU at the Mesa Regional. She had been home for a week by then, but the doctors kept her baby boy on the ventilator, telling them his condition was improving and he had a good chance of recovering completely. She had not been sleeping well, so Marshall picked up the call meant for her. In hindsight it was better that way. He told her gently they no longer had a reason to rush. A coffee cup fell out of her hand and shattered on the floor. Thankfully, she had finished most of her coffee by then. She buried the child she never wanted with the dreams she never admitted she had. Strike. Mary Shannon.
Nine. After things had gotten back to normal, or as normal as things could in their line of work, one morning, when they were at the diner, he asked for her advice. "You are no girl, but you are my best friend. So... I need your opinion." The tentative tone of his voice should have alarmed her, but did not. Marshall sat a black velvet box on the table top and flipped it open. The ring was not gaudy, but with enough flare to dazzle. In other words, it was perfectly Marshall. She regarded him silently, requesting permission to pick up the ring. On the inside, she read the inscription "Abigail, Amour de ma vie". Strike. Mary Shannon.
Ten. The choice to tell him at the diner came naturally. She could not have picked any other place to break her big news. Allison Pearson had moved up to D.C. She requested Mary Shannon by name for an open position at the local USMS office, offering a bump in the pay grade and the opportunity for advancement. Mary was expected to report practically before the ink on the transfer order had dried. "You told me I could not quit." He whispered, brokenly. "And you did not." She told him. "But, now, if you ever loved me, Marshall, it is time to let me go." Strike. Mary Shannon.
Jinx was still on the wagon, Brandi at large. Marshall was building a life together with Abigail. And Mary felt she was watching life from the sidelines. If her job was her entire life, she decided, there should be more of it. It was time to move on.
Her coworkers insisted on a send off party, and Mary indulged them because she was certain she would never see any of them again. She kept it together through the well wishes because that was what Mary Shannon had always done. She promised to stay in touch, knowing she would not. Marshall said a heartfelt toast, but did not stay long. Mary left the cleanup to Delia, disappearing shortly after Marshall took off. She allowed herself to break down in her car, tears streaming down her cheeks and shoulders shaking violently. When she felt well enough to drive, instead of going to the house that was no longer really hers, she went to the range and unloaded three clips from her Glock.
Mary put the house on the market to be sold with all its contents. There was nothing there that she wanted except her clothes, father's letters and mementos from her nine years of partnership with Marshall: a few photos, trinkets and origami he had made for her over these years.
Mary bought a fuel efficient SUV and loaded it up her meager possessions after the party at the office. She left Albuquerque to face her new life in the wee hours of the following morning.
Abigail, Amour de ma vie (French) - Abigail, Love of my life.
Chapter 2: The Broken Mirror
Mary planned her drive to D.C. meticulously, as Marshall had done in the past for their countless witness transfers. Thirty one hours on the road and a night in a cheap motel on the way: drive sixteen hours, then rest for eight, and then drive another fifteen. This way she had allotted plenty of time on Sunday evening to get settled in D.C. before meeting Chief Inspector Ryan O'Neill at the office at 8 A.M. sharp. There was going to be a learning curve, she thought with a smirk, wondering if her new chief knew for what Allison had him signed up.
It was still dark outside, when Mary passed the city limits of Albuquerque heading North East. Her coffee mug and thermos were filled to the rim. The rest stops on the way to Amarillo held too many reminders of witness transports with Marshall, so she could not chance stopping lest she gave in and turned back. She sped up her truck, blasting the music to drown out her thoughts.
By the time Mary passed Amarillo, she finished brooding over her errors in judgment and misfortunes. In the nine years she spent in the desert, her life had not been all failed relationships and heartbreak: she had made a few good decisions, not surprisingly, most of those involved Marshall.
The first one naturally was the choice to transfer into WITSEC. She remembered the sarcastic words she had said to Claudia, after her first witness transfer, that was technically not hers, but Marshall's, "This has been such a wonderful, life-changing experience, I'm going to derail my whole career and join WITSEC in Albuquerque." Who knew that phrase would turn out prophetic?
Right then and there, Marshall had called her on her BS. "Freud said there are no jokes. You were using sarcasm to express your true feelings." she could hear his tone as if he had said these words yesterday. It took Marshall three days to get under her skin and at some point between that temporary assignment and his getting shot three years later they had become friends. Indeed, she had made her first smart decision then, dropping everything and relocating across the country. It had gotten her nine years of life filled with the good, the bad and she was thinking ugly, but somehow happy was substituted in place.
Mary exhaled: she was not going to go down the road of self-pity. Her decision to leave Albuquerque was right, albeit painful one. Marshall would be better off this way: free of Mary's drama to build the family with Abigail. The baggage the partners shared did not give his marriage a fighting chance: Mary saw the relationship between Marshall and his fiancée strain whenever Mary was in the picture. For everything that he had put up with over the years, she owed it to him to walk away while she still could, so he could move forward with his life.
Mary forbade herself to cry, taking a swig of hot coffee. Her thoughts of the future had gotten derailed despite her best efforts to focus on anything, but the last year. She sometimes wished she had known her words about doing some cowboy would set off the chain of events that would alter the course of her entire life… She wondered had she known would she act any differently then… It was an exercise in futility. She could not change what had happened even if she tried. The irreparable damage had been done.
Mary made one bad decision after another in her last year in Albuquerque. Faber. Mark. Life had spun out of control with unwanted pregnancy. Just as Mary thought she was starting to put her life back on track, Marshall had gotten engaged. The moment she saw the black velvet box at the diner she finally knew what Marshall must have felt, when she had agreed to marry Raph. She had to make her peace with it. Mary wanted her partner to be happy, and Abigail would give him the family that Mary could not.
It was then the idea of leaving had started to form in her head. She considered dealing with the emotional upheaval with her regular brand of stress relief, but disposable cowboys did not do it for her anymore. She longed for something more, or rather someone, who was now completely out of reach. Mary clearly remembered the pain knotting in the pit of her stomach and a lump forming in her throat as Marshall came beaming into the office that morning.
"She said yes!" He planned his proposal to Abigail for weeks: between ordering a custom setting for the diamond and getting a reservation at the best restaurant in town, it was a big to do.
"Well, of course she did, nitwit. Did you think she would turn you down?" Mary smirked at her partner and took a large gulp of her coffee to hide the ache that gripped her heart.
"Congratulations, partner. Soon you will have a ball and chain of your own," she said, smiling.
Delia walked by their desks, eavesdropping as always.
"Why, Inspector Marshall Mann, did I hear that right?" she sing-songed. "Am I to understand you are now an engaged man?"
Mary did not give Marshall a chance to respond to their sunny coworker.
"Hey, Water cooler, mind your own business and keep walking." She grimaced.
"Well, Mary, not that I would expect you to be cordial, this is no reason to be cross. It is a joyous occasion that we should celebrate." Delia said, not paying any mind to the glare she received in response.
The news had spread like wildfire. If there was anything Delia knew how to handle, it was sharing information. An hour later, Abigail called to complain that some of her girlfriends at the APD found out about the engagement before she had a chance to tell them. And that is how a small party at the WITSEC office almost grew into a huge interdepartmental soiree that would have taken weeks of planning, until Marshall squashed it. Mary really did not think he had it in him, because Abigail was clearly enjoying the attention. She should have known better, her partner never ceased to surprise her. Mary hid her glee behind a scowl. The party was scaled back to include only the closest friends and a few coworkers.
The turnout at the party was phenomenal: everyone who had made the cut came to shower the happy couple with well wishes. The mood became more and more boisterous as the night rolled on, so when one of the more daring colleagues suggested a toast from Mary, the room went curiously still. Mary knew she had it coming, and stayed sober drinking ginger ale until the time of the toast. She knew exactly what she would say and how she would say it. As a rule, Mary Shannon hated being the center of attention, but knew how to make a statement.
She raised a flute of champagne, clearing her throat, and said,
"Here's to the best friend I've ever had. Could ever hope to have. The man for whom no woman will ever be good enough. I hope you know that I love you. And I wish for you nothing but a lifetime of happiness."
The sound of glass shattering was drowned out with an explosion of applause. Stan excused himself to bandage his hand, while the rest of the group cheered and drank missing the implication. Over the heads of the crowd intense blue gaze met green, grasping the true meaning of the toast. Shortly thereafter, Mary slipped from the party unnoticed by all except her partner. Marshall saw her take off, but did not follow, deciding to call her on it another day.
A string of days came and went: between current witness visits, new witness inductions, and emergent witness relocations Marshall never found the time to talk to Mary about her toast. Over the years Mary had perfected the craft of avoiding emotionally charged conversations. She made a decision a long time ago that they could be nothing more than best friends; she would not renege on it once Marshall had gotten engaged. But, the tables had turned: Mary was alone and Marshall had Abigail.
Mary Shannon never played fair, especially when she was hurting. She acted on an impulse and regretted it as soon as the toast left her lips. Throwing his words back at him after all these years at his engagement party no less was unfair and possibly cruel. She wanted him to know how she felt, but she did not want to accept any responsibility for it. It was a new low even for her, but she knew no other way of dealing with giving up her best friend. The decision was practically formed in her mind by then. She did not look at the open positions. Instead, on a witness transfer to Atlanta, she let it slip to the Marshals taking over the case that she might be open for a change of scenery. The news reached Marshal Pearson through the grapevine in no time, just as Mary had expected.
Life at the Albuquerque WITSEC office had returned to its normal order of chaos. Which is why, when a few months after Marshall's engagement party, U.S. Marshal Allison Pearson called from D.C. on a Wednesday afternoon with the transfer request for Deputy Marshall Mary Shannon, Chief Inspector Stan McQueen was surprised. When Mary accepted on the spot instead of fighting it; his surprise would have turned into shock, had his hand not sport a freshly healed scar from the cut where the champagne flute shattered. Mary would report to her new office the following Monday.
Mary told Marshall the news the next morning. It was the first time in weeks that they had gotten together for breakfast. She expected him to get angry, planning to logically lay out her reasons for leaving. She was not prepared for heartbreak. She saw her words cutting into him, saw she was causing him pain, but did not stop. He deserved a clean break: if he resented her, she assumed, he would put all his efforts into building a relationship with Abigail. She kept filling the air with explanation after explanation only to realize he stopped listening after she said that she was transferred. When she ceased talking, he rose from the booth and walked out the diner without uttering another word.
Mary slowly blinked, as she remembered Marshall's face contorted with a grimace of pain. She had finally done it: in her best intentions she had destroyed the only relationship that she cherished. There was no going back, even if she desperately wanted to return, there was no one waiting. On the day of her send off, Marshall was painfully polite and wished her well, as though she was a casual acquaintance. His eyes never met hers. They were done.
Mary stared at the city lights shining brighter as she was approaching the capital. She felt the same tightness in her chest as the morning of the day when left Albuquerque. It would seem she had gotten exactly what she had wanted: she relocated to D.C. and he did not follow her. Marshall had let her go, just as she begged him to. Mary had the rest of her life to get used to living without him.