"Franklin Joseph Epps, what is wrong with you?" His mother was shrill and terrifying. "You don't wanna own the bookstore; you don't wanna go to the college in town; what d'you wanna do with your life?"
He knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. The problem was, he wanted to give it up for Mary. He would shoot himself right now if it meant being with Mary forever after.
It had been three years since her death. Three years since the trial, three years since the entire town went up in smoke.
Lots of families left after Mary, some just going the other town over. Mary's mother moved to Alabama to live with her sister after the trial was over. The Mitchells moved to Connecticut, and Frankie was forced to say goodbye to Lisa and Andy Mitchell, who had been his best friends since childhood, aside from Mary.
Everything he did nowadays had Mary involved. And Frankie always wanted it to be that way, but Frankie didn't want this town to always be part of the equation. He had to get away. He was moving to Chicago, and was going to go to the Academy there to become a detective. He wasn't going to let what happened to him and Mary ever happen again.
"I'm goin' to Chicago, Ma," Frankie said confidently. "I'm gonna become a detective, Ma, an' save lotsa other folks from what happened in this town."
Frankie walked up the narrow staircase before she could answer, clutching the banister tightly. He grabbed his trunk and bag, and returned down the stairs, trunk thumping with every step.
He turned the corner and walked into Epps' Bookstore, his home for sixteen years, and saw his mother standing behind the cash register.
Mrs. Delilah Epps was standing framed by the rounded archway from fiction to the back room. Her curly chestnut hair was large and somewhat bushy due to the Georgia humidity, even though it was August and Frankie's world should have been cooling down. Her cheeks and eyes were red, and she was holding her handkerchief to her face.
"My baby," she said, reaching out to touch Frankie. "Why're you leavin' me?"
"Ma, I gotta go to Chicago. I gotta kick the dirt o' this town off m'feet. I can't stay in this town an' look at all these nice folks every day if all I'm gonna think about is how they killed Mary. I gotta go."
His mother broke down in sobs. He hugged her tightly, and slipped a folded piece of paper into her hand.
"Here's where I'll be when I get t'Chicago. I'm stayin' with some other trainees."
Frankie kissed his mother's cheek once, hugged her tight, and left Epps' Bookstore without looking back.
"Man, you've got the straightest shot in the entire Academy," Danny Rodgers said to Frankie. They were testing today, and Frankie's hands had been shaking non-stop. As soon as it was his turn though, Mary appeared next to the target.
"Come on, Frankie, you can do it. I know you can," she had said.
"Thanks Mary. I'm doing this for you," he replied, and then realized that he had spoken out loud, and his best friend at the Academy, Danny, was looking at him strangely.
After he had topped his class in weapons accuracy, Danny and Frankie were walking through the park nearby.
"Frankie, who's Mary?" Danny asked, and Frankie knew he had to tell him.
"Back home in Georgia, there was this girl Mary," Frankie started. He'd never had to tell anyone the story. Anyone he talked about Mary with had experienced the event firsthand. "And she was the brightest star in the sky. In my sky, in anyone's sky really. But then-"
"-Some bastard killed her," Danny finished.
"Yeah. How'd you figure?"
"Well, you said you were doing this for her, and if my girl was killed I'd have chased down and shot the guy myself. So keeping that from happening to anyone else's girl seemed like a logical leap."
"Yeah. And, the same thing happened to my kid brother. Bad bar fight."
"You okay about it now?"
"Yeah, he was a good kid. Now he's like my little wingman; always watching out for me."
"Same with Mary. I feel like she's gonna always be there."
"Who is it?" Frankie asked.
"Papa, it's me. Jeremy," the young boy said. He was only fourteen, but his enormous blue eyes shone with wisdom and his brown hair stuck up in all directions, curly to a fault. Just like Frankie's.
"Jeremy, is that you?" Frankie could barely tell. He had lived far older his expectations, and now sat in a nursing home in the suburbs. His curly dark brown hair was now white, but his green eyes never faded from their bright hue.
"Yeah, Papa. It is. It's Tuesday, remember?" Of course he remembered. His grandson Jeremy visited him every Tuesday. Michael only visited when he could.
"Of course, Jeremy. How are you?" Frankie's voice had become rougher in past years, due to a bad bout of laryngitis, which, though usually without its lasting marks, had hurt his voice.
"Oh, I'm fine. Mom and Dad are too. Dad said he might visit you next week if his schedule stays free. Mom sends her love. Mary too." That name still sent a pang into his chest like an arrow. So much time had passed, but he still felt the pain of losing his Mary. "But I wanted to ask you something, Papa."
"Anything," Frankie replied. Jeremy was so dear to him, he would grant the boy anything.
"I was talking to Dad the other day about our heritage for this school project, and he said he didn't know. That you were half English and quarters German and Irish, but when I asked about Grandma, he said you weren't the same as me. He said he was adopted, and that you were never married. Why did you do that?"
Frankie knew one day Jeremy would ask that. He just hoped it would have been longer.
"Once, when I was younger in Marietta, Georgia—"
"Your hometown, right, Papa?"
"Yes, my hometown. When I was younger, I met an extraordinary girl named Mary Phagan. And she was the love of my life."
"Is she who Mary is named after?"
"Well, what happened to this Mary Phagan? And why didn't you marry her?"
"She died when I was fifteen. Murdered." He could barely talk about this without tearing up.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to…"
"Don't you worry. Mary was the light of my life. So when she died, I couldn't' stay in Marietta. I moved to Chicago and trained to become a police officer with your Great Uncle Danny. I met your father when I was training new officers much later. Here was this young, eighteen year old boy with no family at all. He said his name was Michael, and I took care of him. When he quit the force to become a businessman I was the one who bought him his new desk nameplate. And when he told me he was going to marry a girl named Annette, I was the first one to congratulate him. And when he said he and Annette were going to have a baby boy named Jeremy, I was the first one to hold you."
"So you really are my Papa, even though you weren't Dad's father."
"Exactly." Frankie was so glad this bit of information did not alienate him from his grandson.
"So does that make Mary my grandmother?"
Frankie laughed. It was such a light-hearted question, but it hit him deeply.
"Yes. I know she is."
After Jeremy left that day, Frankie was in his room thinking about Mary. This would happen often—him spending hours thinking over every single "what if?" he could fathom. But he always was focused on what he could have done before she died. Today, though, he thought about if Mary were here.
He would have married her. He knew in the core of his heart that he would have. And if she were still alive, he knew that she would be sitting beside him in this silly nursing home, eyes twinkling as they told each other jokes and held hands.
I miss you, Mary, he thought hard, thinking of Mary up in the clouds. Every day I miss you more. But I will see you soon. I know that. And we will go to a heavenly picture show. I'm sure of it.
(A/N): So this is the final chapter. Thank you to everyone who read it. This has to be my favorite musical of all time, and I love the two of them. So thanks!
Hugs and kisses! LB