Frankie paces in her room, on the phone with Jo. “I’m gonna do it. Okay. I’m gonna ask her.”
“Okay, good. We can stop talking about how you haven’t asked her yet.”
“God I’m so nervous.”
“Relax, you’ve asked her this before!”
“It was so long ago and I was like, 10!”
“She’s your mom, not like… Gloria Steinem or… Elizabeth Warren. It’s a reasonable question to ask. Besides, you just want to reconfirm it for your piece.”
“Jo, it’s just... since the whole overdose thing, I don’t want to set her off or make her upset. I don’t... want it to happen again. For any reason. I know she tells me again and again that it wasn’t my fault but I can’t help but think I contributed to...” Frankie’s voice trails off.
“That’s fair. And you’re afraid this will?” Frankie nods. “If you’re nodding I can’t see you.”
“Oh right. Yeah, I’m... scared.”
“You just gotta do it.” Jo repeats.
“You said it yourself - MJ is really trying to reestablish a connection with you and be honest-“
“Just do it.”
“Feel free to report back, if you want. Kelsey isn’t coming over for another few hours so I have time.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Frankie hangs up and takes a deep breath.
She walks down the stairs to the kitchen, pausing for a minute on the stairwell, just out of view. She can see her mom at the kitchen island, making dinner. MJ moves a little more slowly than usual, taking her time with things, resting during the day instead of being on her feet 24/7. It was a little strange to see her mom like this; she was used to seeing MJ always on, always ready, always moving. She always loved her mom, but this MJ was one she liked more. More honest, more vulnerable, more... human. She felt like someone she could genuinely look up to, flaws and all.
Frankie takes a deep breath, before entering the kitchen. She’s about to ask her question when MJ holds up her hand to stop her. “I have to figure out what half of 8 and 3/4ths is...” She closes her eyes, trying to do mental math.
“4 and 3/8ths.” Frankie replies.
“Thank you, god knows I can’t do math anymore.” MJ finishes measuring the milk and dumps it into the mixing bowl. She looks up at Frankie. “Now, what were you going to ask?”
“It’s... something for school. Well, sort of for school. Tangentially related to something I have to do for school. I’m writing a personal essay for English class about me- well, my life. Or some part of it. Anyway so my teacher thought it’d be interesting if I wrote about- well, I’m writing about my experience being adopted and everything, so it’s kind of a general question really. Something I’m more just curious about. Something-“
“And that something is...?” MJ interjects gently.
Frankie takes a deep breath. “When... when you adopted me, you said it was because you couldn’t get pregnant anymore, right?”
MJ stops. There’s a prolonged pause, before she answers carefully- a little too carefully. “That’s right.” She is suddenly very focused on stirring the ingredients in the bowl.
Silence hangs in the air. “Okay so what I’m thinking is that’s... not right.” Frankie presses, moving a little closer. MJ takes a deep breath. She’d gone over this with her therapist a million times by now, but why was it so damn hard?! She looks down at her hands, realizing that they’re gripping the bowl too tightly.
“No, it isn’t.” MJ says quietly. She unclenches her hands from the bowl, rolling her wrists in an attempt to relieve some tension. She doesn’t look up, but she takes Frankie’s hand in hers. She closes her eyes. “Well, it is, and it isn’t.”
Frankie waits for MJ to elaborate. She doesn’t- she merely just stares into the mixing bowl, holding Frankie’s hand.
“We really don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, I was just curious about- I don’t even really think I need this for my essay, I just thought- You know, maybe it would- Yeah no it’s fine, I don’t want to make you upset. It’s all good-” Frankie backtracks hurriedly, removing her hand from MJ’s and ready to bolt from the room.
“No, I have to tell you this.” MJ says. She takes another breath and looks at Frankie squarely in the eyes. Frankie is surprised by how terrified yet sad MJ looks.
“Mom, it’s really okay if-“
“I miscarried three times.” MJ says in a rush. She looks back at the mixing bowl, refusing to meet Frankie’s eyes. Frankie opens her mouth, and then closes it.
The sentence hangs there for what seems like an eternity, occupying dead space and sounding louder and louder, ringing in MJ’s head over and over. The deep insecurities she had were amplified each time she miscarried, and this time, after saying those words out loud, it was no different: you’re a failure, it’s your fault, you didn’t take care of yourself, you don’t deserve to take care of a child. That last one hit again and again, especially because of the overdose. Her mind spins with the thoughts running through her head, and she can feel her anxiety start to bubble up through her stomach.
Frankie bites her lower lip, uncertain of what best to do next. She takes her mom’s hand and squeezes it, attempting to give her the okay to move on, if she so wanted to.
MJ nods, taking another shuddering breath. “I had three before I had Nick, and then after that they said it wouldn’t be safe for me or the baby if I got pregnant again... I felt like such a failure as a parent, as a woman, as a person…“ MJ’s voice trails off. She closes her eyes again, and Frankie can see her start to shake. She takes MJ to a nearby stool, helping her sit down.
MJ keeps trying to breathe deeply, but it doesn’t work; her breathing gets shallower and shallower until she’s practically gasping for breath, unable to slow herself down. Frankie stands and wordlessly wraps MJ in a tight hug. MJ buries her face in Frankie’s shirt, clutching her daughter for dear life. Frankie can feel her mom shaking so violently it almost scares her, but MJ had long hidden every emotion she’d had for so long that she can see why every new truth would unleash a sudden torrent of feeling. Frankie rubs her mom’s back, hoping somehow that this was comforting to her, while slowly digesting what her mom has just said.
They stay like that for a few minutes, until Frankie can feel MJ’s shaking start to calm down. MJ pulls away from Frankie’s shirt, red-faced. They are still holding each others arms. MJ takes another breath. “I’m sorry that I’m acting like this.” She whispers, looking up at Frankie.
“No, don’t ever be. I am sorry that… that happened to you.” Frankie says. MJ says nothing, simply continuing to hold Frankie’s arms. “I’m sorry… you felt like you had to keep that from me.”
“I didn’t tell- still haven’t told- many people.” MJ corrects herself mid-sentence. “That’s… something I’m working on.”
“You can be honest with me, you know.” Frankie says. “Even for the hard stuff. I like it when you are. It makes you real. Like a real person.”
“I think I do too.” MJ says, the corners of her lips twitching into a smile, rubbing Frankie’s arms affectionately. They stay in silence, Frankie lost in thought, until-
“I’m… sorry you got stuck with me.” Frankie says quietly, avoiding MJ’s gaze.
“Stuck? No, not at all.” MJ says, horrified. “Why would you ever think that, sweetie?” Frankie opens her mouth, before closing it again, not saying anything. MJ looks at her, concerned. “I never want you to feel like we got “stuck” with you. I'm so blessed we have you.” She smiles.
“I just know that I’m not exactly what you wanted, and like, I was kind of a last resort I guess, and I mean I’m nothing like you and dad and Nick- like, I know I’m- I’m not really a part of what you wanted your family to look like and- okay, I don’t want to be, that’s fine, I want to do my own thing, I just- I don’t- I’m sorry-“ Frankie stammers, still looking determinedly at the ground, tears stinging at her eyes.
“Frankie Healy, look at me.” Frankie does. “I love you for who you are.” MJ declares, her voice clear. She looks squarely at Frankie. “You are my daughter, whether you like it or not.” She grins. “Since we adopted you, I have loved you, I do love you, and will always love you. Do you understand?” Frankie nods. “I am so sorry if I have ever made you feel like I didn’t want you. You are so incredibly special and wonderful, and you're going to do amazing things. Like, things I could never even DREAM of doing. The passion and dedication you have for what you believe in- you're unreal, you know that? You inspire me every day. We really lucked out with you."
“You’re just saying that.”
“You’re my kid.” MJ wraps her arms around Frankie again, bringing her in for another hug. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”