Mary stared at the form sent by Brenda, an administrative assistant with Bringing Christ to Latin America. Name, address, telephone number, email address. All that seemed normal. But Social Security number? She shook her head. It amazed her how often she was asked for her Social Security number when it was completely unnecessary. She automatically declined every request.
Brenda had forwarded what she called a standard fundraising form. Her email message asked Mary to fill it out and return it to get started. She read over part of the email again.
We have a short online course that helps laypeople like yourself to know the correct way to raise money for such an endeavor as this. As a 501.c(3), we don’t want any trouble with the IRS, and we want our donors to have full confidence that their funds are being used for the purposes stated.
Made sense to Mary, but she wasn’t giving out her Social Security number to anyone. She filled out the online form without the number and emailed it back to Brenda. Now she could tell David during their afternoon chat that things were moving along. She put her computer to sleep mode and walked into her bedroom, her mind pleasantly occupied with David. As she passed her dresser mirror, she caught sight of her reflection, which showed a wide smile. Thoughts of David made her feel so ridiculously happy.
She changed into her gym shorts and sports bra, pulling on a threadbare t-shirt over it. She tightened the laces on her running shoes. Even working out on her treadmill reminded her of David, as he mentioned liking a good run on his own exercise machine.
Mary stopped by the kitchen to grab a water bottle from the refrigerator on her way to the downstairs room she had converted to a personal gym. The treadmill faced the window, which overlooked a straggly snowball bush. She tucked in her earbuds and hopped on the exercise machine.
She selected the Alpine Climb workout and began to swing her arms as she power walked to her favorite marches on her iPod Nano. That ought to work the kinks out. As the incline elevated, she tackled a big hill to John Philip Sousa’s “Bonnie Annie Laurie.” Sweat dotted her t-shirt, dampening the thin fabric to her back and belly. She pushed herself harder, her lungs screaming for air as she finished the workout to Sousa’s “Mikado March.” She set the treadmill on a slow walk to slow her heart rate and to cool down. She was feeling quite proud of herself when a hand on her arm caused her to nearly lose her footing. She turned her head and saw Jared standing there, looking as hot and sweaty as she felt.
She turned off her iPod. “Why are you always sneaking up on me?” She pulled out the earbuds and mopped her face with a towel.
“I called first, but you didn’t pick up. I became worried because I hadn’t seen you leave and I remembered you said you don’t go out much.”
Her cheeks grew even warmer. Thank goodness her face was already beet red from the workout, so he wouldn’t notice her blush. “I do go out. I just prefer to stay here.” She punched the stop button on the treadmill and hopped off. She picked up her water bottle and took a long drink before turning back to Jared. “What did you want to ask me?”
He shifted his weight. “Does the car in the garage work? I need to go into town for an appointment and don’t have enough cash for a taxi both ways.”
Mary snorted. “That old thing? I seriously doubt it. I don’t think it’s been turned on for decades. It was Aunt Geraldine’s, but she rarely drove anywhere. I don’t even know where the key is.”
Jared’s mouth dropped open. “You’ve never driven the car? Ever?”
She looked down at the floor and swallowed. Nothing to it but to tell him her secret. He might as well know the extent of her self-imposed exile. “Even if it started, I couldn’t drive it. I don’t have a drivers’ license.”
Mary kept her eyes downcast. Only a handful of people knew she had never driven a car in her life. Somehow, though, she felt safe telling him such an intimate detail.
“Then what do you do for ID?”
“I have a passport. That works just as well as a drivers’ license.” Mary eyed him closely to see his reaction.
Jared raised his eyebrows.
“What’s so funny about having a passport?”
He put a hand over his mouth to hold back more laughter, she was sure. Mary narrowed her eyes and he held up a conciliatory hand.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s just that most people have drivers’ licenses, not passports.” He looked at her for a minute and Mary shifted her feet under his steady gaze.
“Can I ask why you have a passport? Most people get state IDs when they don’t have a drivers’ license.”
Mary looped the towel around her neck and uncapped her water bottle. She stalled for time by tilting her head back to take another long drink of the cool water. Telling him meant revealing why she moved away all those years ago. She lowered her head and her eyes met his. The empathy and interest she saw there warred with the privacy she so zealously guarded. These last few weeks had rekindled their friendship and part of her longed to share her story with him, to see if he would understand the whys of her life now. The other part questioned why she should talk to Jared about something she had yet to tell David.
The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Because my parents are missionaries among the Amazon River tribes in South America.”
Jared nodded. “So you need the passport to visit them. How many times have you gone to see them?”
Mary looked away as she whispered the answer. “Never.” She fiddled with the cap on her water bottle to avoid looking at Jared.
“How long have they been there?”
She sighed. It wasn’t going to get any easier. Maybe telling Jared part of her story would make it easier to talk about it with David. “Thirty years.”
The silence lengthened. Mary kept her gaze fixated on her sneakers. The next question would be even harder to answer, as it was one she rarely allowed herself to dwell on these days. She almost begged him not to ask her, but it was too late.
“How many times have they come back to the States to see you?”
She sucked in a breath and exhaled the answer. “None.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.