Technically no spoilers for American Hellhound since everyone already knows that Maggie and Ghost got married in the past.
6/2/17 – Mags Meets the Ex
“Uh oh,” Aidan said, and Maggie immediately went from pleasantly drowsy to fully-alert in an instant. Uh oh could mean any number of things in this crazy life of theirs. It could be a spilled milkshake, or a drive-by shooting.
“What?” she asked, scanning the café around them. They were at Stella’s enjoying a late lunch of meatball subs and the aforementioned milkshakes. It was a Saturday – which meant Stella’s was packed – and Ghost was working; two weeks out from her due date, exhausted and feeling like a beached whale, Maggie had suggested she and Aidan grab lunch out. The AC was on the fritz at their apartment and Stella’s was blessedly cool, the food was good; the booth was cushy and it felt nice to let someone else do the cooking for a change. An easy decision, and one Aidan had agreed to readily.
“What’s wrong?” she asked again, gaze flicking across the restaurant patrons, all absorbed in their own conversations and meals. She didn’t notice anyone or anything out of place. Aidan’s face had gone white, though.
He gulped and whispered, “That’s my mom,” pointing to a woman standing just a few feet away at the pastry case.
Maggie’s lunch turned to lead in her stomach. “You’re sure?” She kept her voice level, but just barely.
“Yeah.” Then, even softer, “I don’t want to see her.”
“You don’t have to, sweetie,” she assured, even as her heartrate accelerated. “Just sit there really quiet and she won’t notice us.”
But Maggie couldn’t help but notice her. She was taller and sleeker than Maggie, sharp edges instead of curves, dark hair instead of light. She wore a white dress with a muted floral pattern and a blue summer-weight cardigan. Big diamonds in her ears, kitten heels, hair pulled back in a knot at her nape. She carried a Louis Vuitton purse in one hand, massive diamond winking at her ring finger. She surveyed Stella’s pastry offerings with a frown, her posture stiff and unapproachable.
Maggie thought two things. One: how frumpy and huge must she look in comparison to this woman? Eight-and-a-half months pregnant, dressed in cutoffs and one of Ghost’s Harley t-shirts. She must look terrible right now.
And two: she couldn’t begin to imagine Ghost alongside this woman. Everything about her screamed coldness and elegance, from her expensive outfit to the harsh downward curve of her mouth.
Olivia, Ghost had said her name was. Maggie hadn’t ever wasted much thought on her, but now she had a face to go with that name, and she felt overwhelmed and uncertain. Seventeen and pregnant.
A small voice in the back of her head told her to run.
But a louder one told her not to dare such a thing. Like hell would she shrink and hide from someone who’d abandoned her own child.
So she straightened her spine – as best she could give how sore her lower back was – and had her shoulders firmly set when Olivia turned away from the counter and their gazes collided. It was nothing at first, just a chance glimpse of a stranger across a crowded café. The sort of accidental eye contact that everyone engaged in every day. But then Olivia spotted Aidan, and her perfectly done-up face went bedsheet white.
Aidan drew his shoulders up to his ears and hunkered down over the table, hands wrapped around his milkshake glass. He refused to look at his mother. Maggie’s first thought was that it was the most unnatural thing in the world for a child to turn away from his mother, refuse to seek even the tiniest bit of approval and affection from her. But her second thought was this: she wouldn’t have sought those things from her own mother. She and her step-son had that in common.
Olivia faltered, hand fiddling with the hem of her sweater, eyes lingering on Aidan with an indescribable uncertainty. She didn’t look on her son with longing or regret. It was almost with a sense of obligation – like she was weighing the possibility of slinking out before he noticed her.
When Olivia’s gaze flicked to Maggie again, Maggie gave her a wicked smile and a little finger wave.
They didn’t officially meet until two years later. Since Ghost had sole, uncontested custody of Aidan, and Ghost had never tried to seek any sort of child support, there was no reason for any sort of official introduction between the two women, for which Maggie was grateful. Had Ghost insisted the two of them get along, she didn’t think she would have been able to handle it. As it was, Ghost said, “Avoid that bitch like the plague,” and their lives were blissfully Olivia-free.
Even so, Maggie had mentally prepared herself for the inevitable run-in. It came on warm Saturday in May, at an arts & crafts festival along Market Square. White tents had sprouted up down both sides of the alley overnight, glittering with dew and bursting with handmade crafts of all varieties. Ghost allowed himself to be dragged there, but after an hour or so of browsing took Aidan to get a popsicle. Maggie could see them under a shop awning, trying to steal some shade, blue raspberry popsicle melting all down Aidan’s arm. Ghost, in his cut and aviator sunglasses, looked super badass with a cherry popsicle in his hand.
Maggie smiled to herself. One more booth, she thought, and shuffled forward toward it, Ava balanced on her hip.
The next booth proved not to contain any art, but was rather a folding table with two women sitting behind it with a basket of cards and a banner advertising a children’s charity. They were collecting donations. Maggie understood the sentiment – and was already digging for her wallet with her free hand – but she was always a little miffed on behalf of some local craftsman who got bumped from events like these when the charities could have borrowed a mere corner of a booth.
“Good afternoon,” one of the women at the table greeted, voice cool and smooth. A practiced sales pitch. “We’re with the Women for Children League here in Knoxville, and we–”
Maggie lifted her head and the woman’s voice died in her throat. It was Olivia.
They stared at one another for a beat. Two. Olivia’s hair was done up in a complicated up ‘do and sweat had glued her stiff cotton dress to her body, the underwire cups of her bra visible through the material. Her pearls were dull, likewise afflicted by her perspiration. She looked like a wilting flower.
And Maggie realized she’d been waiting for this chance.
She put on her best, most vicious cotillion smile and said, “Why, Olivia, is that you? I’ve been hoping we’d run into each other.” She abandoned the search for her wallet and stuck her right hand across the table. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Maggie Teague.”
The woman sitting beside Olivia gasped. Olivia might be a rich bitch now, but her friends knew she’d been a Teague once.
Olivia took her hand with a smile that was more of a grimace, her face stiff enough to crack in two. “Hello.” She pulled back too fast to be polite.
“This is my daughter, Ava,” Maggie continued, just to be a little shit. “Looks just like her brother, doesn’t she?”
Ava smiled shyly and pressed her face into Maggie’s side, hiding.
“Precious,” Olivia said through her teeth.
Maggie pulled a twenty from her purse and dropped it in their donation box. As she did, she leaned in close over the table, still smiling, voice a low hiss. “You can wear all the pearls and expensive makeup you want, you can raise a million damn dollars for the needy children of this world, but what you did to your own child is unforgivable. Aidan doesn’t ever want to see you again, and I swear to God, woman, if you ever try to insert yourself back into his life after you abandoned him, you try to manipulate him for one second, I will wreck you. Do you understand me? You will never get the chance to hurt that sweet baby again.”
She turned away and left Olivia gaping, open-mouthed.
Maggie heard the friend whisper, “Christ, she’s insane.”
She smiled to herself. Pretty much.