“I was married once, you know,” Mary said. The green wide eyed surprise of her best friend betrayed that she did not in fact know. “I don’t like to talk about it because it reminds me of just how foolish I was, probably still am, I don’t know,” she continued.

“You were foolish for getting married?” Sarah asked, taking a sip of her water to hide any facial expressions she might be inadvertently sending out.

Mary laughed, “no, not for getting married. I was young and in love and full of passion, and that may be foolish, but it’s also beautiful. No, I wasn’t foolish for getting married, but for staying married for as long as I did to a man who was,” here she stopped, looking at the pot of hanging flowers purple and pink and blue, appreciating their splendor and perfection and wondering if they held the word for her husband in their petals for her to read, “well, let’s just say he was passionate, too, but dangerously so.”

“I’d love to hear about it if you’d like to tell me,” Sarah prompted, desperately hoping Mary would continue the story but sitting back casually in her chair and combing her fingers through her long dark hair to indicate there was no rush.

“Well,” Mary began, taking a moment to take a drink of her tea and pick a crumb off the tabletop, “when we first married he had all the usual, or well I guess I should just say nothing unusual in his beliefs. He wasn’t sure about God or aliens but he also didn’t believe the moon landing was faked. What I mean is, there was nothing about him that indicated I should be wary, and so I wasn’t. I fell in love, hard, head over heels, pick your overused expression and it would be applicable. We met and were married within six months. We were deliriously happy.”

Sarah was smiling because Mary was smiling, it was infectious, like Mary had been transported back to the beginning of her romance and taken Sarah with her; like Sarah was The Ghost of Christmas Past and they were both looking through the window of Mary’s life.

“We had children, we had friends, we had family, we had everything. You know, people always say they have everything when they have their family with them, and it’s true. We had everything. We didn’t have much money, but we didn’t notice, really. We pinched our way through groceries and the kids never realized we were struggling because we were so creative with things to do and ‘gifts’ at the holidays. It was definitely one of the happiest times of my life, well, those first three years anyway,” Mary swallowed, the lines around her eyes decreasing and turning down as her smile disappeared.

Sarah patted Mary’s hand on the tabletop, the one that had been picking at the tablecloth earlier but was no still and almost lifeless. She wanted to urge her to continue but was afraid that anything she said might bring the story to an abrupt end instead so she bit her tongue, literally, tasting a bit of blood and backing off.

Mary took a deep breath, “but things change. He began to change. Little things at first, things I ignored because they didn’t amount to much on their own: he spent more and more time online, he didn’t want us to buy anything that wasn’t totally and completely made in the USA, he stopped reading books and newspapers and distrusted people who did.”

Sarah’s eyes had gone wide, Mary had noticed and stopped talking, taking a sip of her now cold tea, debating whether or not to continue.

“I realize that when you hear those things all at once, back to back, they sound like huge red flags, massive warnings,” she interlaced her fingers and spread her palms apart, “but it’s not like everything happened at once. These were major changes, sure, but they happened one at a time and very slowly over five years. So slowly that by the time he announced we should move somewhere that wasn’t so populated, so hectic, so expensive, I readily agreed. I too wanted to go live somewhere that our nearest neighbor was twenty acres or more away and where I’d only drive into a big town for the necessities once a month or less. I was eager to live somewhere the kids could have massive tracts of woods to get lost in during the day and maybe a pond or a river to swim in come summer. So that’s what we looked for, and that’s what we found.”

“Hello ladies, everything okay here?” asked their server, as she grabbed an empty plate from the middle of the table and set her hand against the teapot in front of Mary, “some more hot water, maybe?”

“Yes, please,” Mary said, “and perhaps a different tea now? Do you have something citrus, a lemon tea of some kind?”

“Absolutely, yes. Some fresh lemon too? Maybe some honey to temper it?” the waitress asked.

“That would be lovely, yes.”

“And for you?” the server asked looking at Sarah.

“Same, please,” Sarah said dismissively, eager to have the waitress walk away, terrified Mary wouldn’t continue her story if the woman didn’t leave right then.

“Sure, be right back with that,” the waitress said as she disappeared with the now cold and empty teapot and the empty plate.

Mary waited a moment for the server to be out of earshot and then took a deep breath, “I don’t want to bore you with all the little things, let’s just…”

“No! I mean, yes! Ugh, please, continue. I m very curious about all this, this past life I never knew about, please,” Sarah begged.

Mary laughed, “I suppose it is interesting to hear about a persons past life, especially when it deviates from the person you think you know. Like being a child and realizing your parents are more than just ‘mom and dad’ that they actually have a life and names of their own that existed before you came to be.”

Sarah chuckled with Mary and then sat back as she saw the server approach with their teas, making sure there was space on the table for everything so the server could set it all down and move on as quickly as possible. After the obligatory tea pour they shooed the waitress away and Mary continued.

“We ended up in Wyoming, which I don’t recommend,” she laughed lightly, “but it’s where we could afford several acres and where the law didn’t much care what you did with yourself or your land or your kids. We homeschooled, we started a garden, we lived in an old cabin that we slowly retrofitted to meet our needs through all four seasons. It was the first time I’d ever experienced all four seasons so distinctly and intensely, and part of that was because I was spending so much time outside which I hadn’t before then. But the ways in which my husband was changing, his passions, were becoming more and more time consuming.”

She stopped to take a sip of her tea, pour in a bit of honey and stir it, Sarah mimicking her not because she thought the tea needed honey but because she was so enthralled by Mary and her story.

“The first year we were there we had a pretty good garden, we were able to grow much more than we could eat and I learned how to preserve things. Starting with canning and moving on to pickling and things it had never occurred to me to do myself. It was exciting and I felt so self-sufficient. We did so well that we decided we should try to live completely on our own. This was a bit of the ‘made in the USA’ passion turned into a ‘completely off grid’ obsession, but still I didn’t see it. Or at least I didn’t see it as a warning sign. I was too proud of what I’d learned to do, too enamored by the idea of self-sufficiency.”

~~~That’s one hour~~~

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