She had started calling herself Mimi, pulling on the nickname like a new fur coat. Mimi the flirtatious, the fun lover, the butterfly, transforming Irish Catholic Molly into her idealized version of what it would be like to be French and free living.
She was barely eighteen but had become a new person. And then he—the first one, her first man—had asked if he could photograph her. He was a student, too, majoring in photography. He photographed her more and more, and the pictures grew more intimate. And so did they.
He began using his camera during their most private moments. It amused him to take pictures of their “shenanigans,” as he called them. She thought it was strange at first, a little distasteful, but also daring and wild; and that was what she wanted. It became a private joke between them. When he wanted to meet he would walk up to her on campus and whisper “shenanigans?” She smiled widely and nodded. Soon they truncated the word into “nanigs,” more mysterious, their own word. And then they began calling each other “Nanny” and giggling like children. A childish nickname for distinctly unchildlike acts.
But she soon became tired of him and of the games. She was drenched in freedom and refused to miss any opportunity. So he became one of a half dozen, then a dozen, maybe more. And when the inevitable happened she didn’t know who to hold responsible except herself, and neither did her parents. Her father forced her to leave school (“that immoral place”) and told her she’d have to get a job (“to support yourself because we won’t do it anymore”). All of her co-sinners had deserted her, wanting nothing to do with her or with the slightest tinge of accountability. Only Nanny (whose real name was Thomas) had stood beside her, willing to take responsibility. But by that time even the thought of him repelled her. And so after the procedure she had found the bank job, gotten her own apartment, and met Freeman.
And she had forgotten the photos. Until today, when his long-ago voice had broken her peace: This is Thomas. Nanny. Remember? She remembered that he had promised her never to show them to anyone else, to destroy them. But he hadn’t.
And now what was she to do?
She had gone to meet him, ready to hear his demands that she give him money to destroy the photos and not show them to Freeman. Except that he hadn’t demanded exactly that. Money, yes, but more, too. An unspoken more. She had been prepared to be further repelled when she saw him. But she hadn’t been; in fact, she had felt the opposite, and by the time she left him, she was no longer sure who she was.
He had yanked her out of Mrs. Freeman Hazard and set her down as Molly Adair again, and she had liked the feeling. He still wanted her, she knew. He had been scarred by life and was all the sexier for it. He knew things and experiences that Freeman never would. He lived on the fly, the life of an artist, an itinerant photographer. An admittedly moneyless life, free of—she surprised herself with the thought—the way having money could tie you down. She knew that if she offered him money he would take it, and if she offered him herself, he would take that, too. There was an unscrupulousness in him now that made him attractive to her again.
The word “blackmail” never entered her mind, nor did any consciousness of herself as being victimized. What she did sense was opportunity.
She was Mrs. Freeman Hazard; that was how she was known on her committees, in her charity work, at church, at the dinner parties she gave for Freeman’s colleagues. There was no room there for Molly Adair. Yet now she just might have an opportunity to determine the course of her life again.
It astonished her that she was able to think about shedding Mrs. Freeman Hazard as easily as her bathrobe. The shock of self-realization made the barrier give way, and her thoughts tumbled out and over each other. She saw all the possibilities at once.
To do nothing, to let Thomas reveal the photos to Freeman, would mire her husband in scandal and undoubtedly lead to divorce and the loss of so much. And she had no desire to hurt him that way. She could give Thomas a lump sum of money (but how to explain that to Freeman?) and never be sure whether he would come back again.
But there were more dangerous possibilities still.
She could take the money and go away with him.
Or—and her heart began to beat faster at this thought—she could bring him a small amount now and tell him to come back next week for more. Freeman likely wouldn’t notice a small withdrawal at once; he’d think she’d gone shopping or for a beauty treatment. She could keep him coming back this way—once a week, twice a month—almost indefinitely. And it wasn’t really necessary for either of them to know whether he was coming for the money or for other reasons.
He wanted her answer by tonight.
She stared at the clock, stared at the kitchen walls, stared as the minutes went by. She shook her head. The bank closed at three, and she knew what she would do.
She stood, took her purse, put on her coat, and left the house.