What’s in a Name?

Below is the complete excerpt from my book, Stepmothers Anonymous, a follow-up to yesterday’s six sentence post. Enjoy.

* * *

So in between work and home, she and I began planning. We needed to find a neutral meeting location, write down our purpose and choose a name. I had seen everything from ‘StepMoms and StepDads’ to ‘Step/Blended Families’, but I wanted something different, something that would catch everyone’s attention and let them know what we were about. One evening, I invited Mercedes to the house to work out the details (her reprobates were under house arrest for breaking and entering). The house was full that night as Jenna and Holly were over visiting their respective friends. Zoë hung out with us, feeling left out since her friends, Mark and Jeffrey, were grounded, indefinitely.

“What about S.A.S.?” Mercedes asked, with pencil in hand.

“What does that stand for?” Zoë asked.

“Stepmothers Against Stepkids,” she offered.

“I don’t think that’s what we’re going for,” I said, shaking my head.

“Step Mothers United #01?”

I didn’t even look up that time.

“We’re not a union.”

“S.M.U.G.?”

When I asked Mercedes to see what she could come up with, I expected something a little more positive and a little less controversial.

“And that stands for…?”

“Step Mothers United against Grimms.”

I groaned, but Zoë asked, “What are Grimms?”

Mercedes leaned towards Zoë, who was on the floor on her stomach. She had a book with her but had abandoned it a long time ago.

“Only the two wickedest men to ever walked the earth. They ruined the reputations of women like your mom and me by changing stories that had been passed down for generations,” she explained, rather dramatically.

“Wow,” Zoë said, impressed with Mercedes’ show of knowledge.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, glaring at her in disbelief.

“Look it up. The original villains in fairy tales weren’t stepmothers, but mothers. They changed the stories to protect the ‘sainted image of motherhood’, like we’re any less capable of taking care of our charges just because we didn’t give birth to them.” Mercedes wasn’t talking to Zoë anymore, though Zoë continued to listen; and while her delivery was outside her usual cheery disposition, her passion wasn’t.

“I never knew that,” I admitted, “but we’re still not calling it S.M.U.G.”

“Fine,” she said and looked at her paper again.

I cleared my throat and broached the one subject we hadn’t discussed yet.

“I think you should be in charge of the group,” I said, pretending to return to my paper. I knew I would probably get backlash on it – Mercedes had issues with public speaking. I couldn’t call her mousy, because when it came to it, she stood up for what was right, but she always hesitated to take charge of a situation if it meant she had to stand up in front of a group.

“And I think you should get a haircut,” she responded without looking up.

“What?” I said, thrown off by the sudden change of conversation.

“You should get a haircut,” she repeated.

“What’s that got to do with the group?”

“Nothing,” she said, sitting up. “I saw this picture the other day of a woman with the same face as you and I thought you’d look pretty if you did that with your hair.”

“But we’re talking about you heading up the group.”

“No, we’re not. You’re doing that.”

“I can’t do it. I’m not qualified to lead.”

“Sure you are. Just get a haircut first.”

“Stop that. You’ve been a stepmother longer.”

“Yes, and we see how well that’s going. The only reason I’m here tonight is because they can’t leave the house.”

“Why not?” asked Zoë.

I looked to Mercedes. I hadn’t mentioned Freddie Jr. and Eva’s incarceration to my family and Zoë was still too young to understand the circumstances.

“They’re grounded, honey,” Mercedes said, without missing a beat.

“Oh,” Zoë muttered and switched the topic. “You should cut your hair Mommy.” 

“I can cut it for you,” Mercedes volunteered. “I used to be a beautician.”

“It’ll be pretty,” Zoë added.

I was losing patience with them and could feel my level of agitation rising up in me. I hadn’t had an outburst in weeks and I didn’t want to break the record now.

“Can we focus on the topic at hand?” I was grinding my teeth just to avoid yelling. The two of them sat back, looking guilty. I took a deep breath and started again. “The group just needs a facilitator. We’d be there to support each other. You could do that, right?”

Mercedes put her paper down and looked me in the eye, so there was no misunderstanding about what she was going to say. “Abbey, I’m not good at that kind of thing. I’m a mess when it comes to speaking in public. You’re a natural leader; you should do it.”

“But you were a dancer; how is that any different?”

She ignored me and asked if I thought W.I.C.K.E.D. might work as a name. 

“I don’t even want to know what that stands for,” I said and ended the conversation. We would decide later who would lead the group. As unqualified as Mercedes felt, I felt even less. After all, how could I help anyone else, if I couldn’t fix what was wrong in my relationship with Sara?

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