Wearing this gown makes her feel as though she's heading to a funeral, instead of some high-end party. With her ex-husbands family in attendance. Hosted by her former mother in law.

What can go wrong?

"You look nervous." Her mother comments as she tosses her phone in her purse, the click of her heels sounding too loud on the hardwood floor of their hotel room.

"I was trying to be subtle," Mary mutters as she takes in her mother's choice of attire. A barely modest dark green gown. It hugs every part of her, sleeveless, and a slightly plunging neckline. Her hair is down for once, dark brown hair curling down her back.

"Are you ready?"

"No."

"Well, hurry up darling. We'll be late." Her mother says as she adjusts Mary's hair, sweeping a strand that escaped the pinned updo.

"It's too late to feign an illness isn't it?"

"Far too late." She smiles a small smile, "Mary. It'll be alright. You're overthinking it, turn off your phone and try to have fun."

"You understand where we're going, right?"

"Catherine wouldn't have invited us if she didn't want us there." That may be true but it doesn't untwist her stomach.

She turns off her phone and allows her mother to lead her out of the room without giving herself time to change her mind.

The venue is modern outside but on the inside, it looks like something out of a renaissance painting. High arching ceilings, marbled columns, every inch of the walls has some features painting by Catherine herself.

She doesn't see anyone she recognizes, but then again how can she? The place is filled with people in tuxes and evening gowns, drinking and laughing and she feels so far out of her element she may as well be invisible.

"Mary?" The questioning voice sounds familiar but it's deeper, more...manly and she spins in time to see someone she thinks is Charles but she can't be sure.

"Charles?" She questions with a gasp, "oh my god." She smiles when he does and he steps closer to her.

"I wasn't expecting to see you."

"The last time I saw you, you were barely tall enough to reach my chest and now look at you." She breathes. It really has been a long time, hasn't it? He's nearly a foot taller than her. His dark hair is longer, his face has lost its boyish roundness, his shoulders are broader. He looks more like a grown man than a scrawny boy.

"Puberty." He says with a sly smirk and a shrug. "I can't believe you're here. I thought we'd never see you again..." he sounds a little sad and she feels the tinge of guilt hit her chest. She didn't think about what her decision to leave so abruptly would do to the children she had grown accustomed to calling her siblings.

"I..."

"You don't have to explain, Mary." He reassures her softly, "I get it."

"I- Still, I should have said goodbye. I left impulsively, it wasn't fair."

"No hard feelings." Charles smiles at her after saying that like he knows that it'll make her feel better and she walks with him as they talk. He tells her about his new school, he's seventeen now, almost eighteen, he tells her about his other siblings. How Claude got her degree in psychology a year ago, Leeza recently got married, Margot just started middle school, and little Herc is in fifth grade. The little kids aren't here, they're at home with the nanny.

"And Henri?"

"He just started his sophomore year." Mary nods along. Henri was always a troublesome kid, being in high school now likely added fuel to that fire. Apparently, he gets in a lot of fights.

Charles leaves out Francis, maybe because he hasn't exactly been productive, or to spare her feelings.

"Where is your mother?" She asks after a while and he shrugs.

"Probably chatting somewhere."

"I'd like to see her before I leave."

"You're not staying?" He seems disappointed at that, a slight frown tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"It wouldn't...be a good idea..."

"Oh..."

"I...the last thing I want is to cause trouble here." She adds softly, "but..." digs a pen and steals a napkin from a table to use as a pad and jots down her number, "Here."

She won't leave as impulsively this time.

-/-

She doesn't see Catherine until much later, she stays in the back, nursing a glass of champagne from earlier in the evening and she wants nothing more than to leave. She hasn't spotted Francis, she isn't even sure if he's here.

"Mary!" Catherine beams as she breaks away from Mary's mother in time to wrap her arms tightly around her body.

"Hey..." it's not the welcome she was expecting but she'll take this.

"Oh, it's been so long." She smiles as she pulls back, "I thought for sure you wouldn't come."

She doesn't tell her she wasn't planning on it.

"I wouldn't miss it." She smiles and swallows hard, "I wanted to see you before I left..."

"You can't leave." Catherine says softly, "No, no, my dear you have to stay."

"I-"

"Mary." She says sternly, "It's been literal years." She has her on that and Mary nods with a sigh.

"How are you?" Catherine asks as they walk through the halls, empty and away from the crowds of people. Mary shrugs.

"I'm okay. You?"

"I'm great," Catherine says softly. "We miss you around here. The kids, especially the littles, were so attached to you and you vanished."

They go outside away from the crowd and they walk together by the pond, the fountain in the middle is loud and Catherine links her arm with Mary. It's strange, the way she's acting. She thought for sure Catherine would harbor some hostility, but she's warm and kind and maybe the years changed her.

"The exhibit is beautiful," Mary says softly to fill the silence.

"Thank you." She smiles with a sigh. It's quiet again and she wonders if Catherine thinks this is awkward too, or if she's just blissfully unaware that Mary is verging on a meltdown.

"You can calm down, darling, Francis isn't here." She says finally.

"He isn't?"

"He isn't." She says again, "He won't be here until later."

"Oh..."

"You sound relieved."

"Is it bad if I am?"

"It's understandable." She says softly, "Have you spoken to him at all since you left?"

"No." She tells her. The thought occurred to her to reach out, but she thought that would open too many doors that she would rather remain shut. And locked.

Perhaps even chained.

"He misses you."

"Is this the part where you tell me to give him another chance?"

"Do you want to give him another chance?" Mary suppresses a laugh and she shakes her head.

"You and my mother...are relentless." She says softly, "I have a boyfriend."

"Oh."

"He's...great. He has a daughter."

"How old is she?"

"She's ten." She says softly, "And so sweet."

"Well," Catherine sighs, "You got the family you always wanted then." There's some slight hostility in the tone, but there's also warmth like she's happy for her underneath it all.

"Agatha has cancer." She says softly, "It's pretty progressed and advanced. We're not sure how much time she has."

"And you're here instead of there?" Catherine looks at her in disbelief. "You didn't have to-"

"My mother wouldn't take no for an answer. Besides, if anything happens, it wouldn't be difficult to get a flight home." They walk in silence a little bit longer, then Catherine fills her in on more things. What she's doing besides running her new gallery. After her failed attempt at running for office a few years ago, she's decided to turn her knowledge of politics into something more fruitful. She teaches classes at a university.

Mary opens her mouth to say that she thinks it's a good idea for her, a good opportunity for Catherine. But.

"Mom, there you are." Says the voice, "I've been looking all o-" The O is ended abruptly on a breath when they turn around, Catherine's grip on Mary's arm tightening slightly when she tenses.

"Mary?" The way he says her name is small, barely even audible and she tears her eyes away from him to look at the grass.

"Francis, I was expecting you until much later," Catherine says simply.

"I got done early..." He's still looking at Mary and she doesn't look up.

"Well," Catherine says with a click of her tongue against her teeth. "Mary," she says softly and she looks up only to look at her ex-mother in law. "I'm going to head inside now. It was good to see you, let's have lunch sometime, yeah?"

"Sure." She thought that in her leaving, the woman would take Francis with her, she didn't. She just brushes past him with a small smile and heads back inside. The silence the ensues is...suffocating.

"I should go too," Mary says softly around a hard swallow.

"I didn't know that you would be here," Francis says softly and he's staring at her so intently like he's forgotten what she looked like over the years and he's reminding himself.

"I was hoping you wouldn't be." She says after a while, tightening her coat around her body with a heavy sigh. She looks at him now, tentatively at least. She isn't entirely sure if her words hurt him or he's just hiding it. Either way, it takes him a second to respond.

"How are you?" He asks and she scoffs.

"It's been four years and the only thing you have to say is, how are you?"

"Isn't that how normal people start a conversation?"

"We're not normal, Francis."

"We can't talk?"

"How's Olivia?" She asks suddenly, angry she hadn't felt in so long starts to bubble up to the surface and no matter how much she tries to swallow it down, it still feels as though she's choking.

His face does something then that she wasn't expecting, its surprise, confusion, it's slightly sad and she opens her mouth but-

"You don't know?" He asks softly.

"Know what?"

"She's dead, Mary." The words are soft, breathy like it hurts to even say it. "Two years ago now, a car accident. I...I figured someone told you."

"Olivia is dead?"

"Yeah..."

"Oh." She breathes and then swallows and then...she shakes her head, "Sorry for your loss." The words are genuine.

"It wasn't my loss." He says with a shrug. "I hadn't talked to her...not since you left."

"Still...she was your...friend."

"For a little while..." he says softly, "But you didn't answer my question."

"I'm fine, Francis." She says softly, the smallest hint of a smile tugging on the corner of her lips. "And you?"

"Fine."

"Good."

"I suppose." He says with a small smile and good god he looks like Anne, or Anne looks like him she should say. She has to look away. "Mary, I-"

"I can't." She says quickly when he steps forward, "I'm sorry." Her phone is ringing now, vibrating in her purse and she sees that she has four missed calls from Gideon and a text that urges her to please call him. Her stomach twists.

"I...have to..." she says softly, slowly realizing she doesn't need to explain herself to him at all.

"Mary, wait."

"No, I have to take this now." She says sternly but before she does, she has one question so she turns back around.

"Francis, do you still...do you still see him?" She asks softly and it takes him a minute but he nods.

"Every Thursday at three." He says softly and for some reason, that loosens the knots in her stomach a tiny bit, "Go. Before your phone explodes."

Getting to the taxi isn't difficult, the icy rain seems to be her problem. She calls Gideon back when she's in the car, leaving her mom behind. She'll be fine.

"What happened?" She asks when he answers in a voice that doesn't belong to him. "Gideon?"

"It's Agatha...you need to come back." He says with a raw throat like he's been crying, and her heart sinks. She tells the cab driver to redirect to the airport.


A/N: I know, it's been a hot minute. I've been dealing with some things, a recent passing; an unexpected shocking thing.

I don't want to go into too much detail about what happened, but I will say that if you ever need anything, or you feel like you can't go on. You can message me and vent if you need to, my DM's on Tumblr is always open, It's .com so. Yeah. Please, talk to someone, do not suffer in silence.
Just needed a break for a little while. Updates may be spacey, I may not be back again for another month, if not longer. It depends. I hope everyone is doing well, taking care of yourself, and being as happy as you can be.
Til next time. :)

P.S. Still taking suggestions so if you have any, leave them in the comments/reviews!