Title: Postcards to the Edge
Fandom: Murphy Brown
Characters: Jake Lowenstein, Murphy Brown, Avery Brown
Spoilers: loosely based on reboot rumors about Avery
Summary: In a different world, they’d be together after all.
I care about you, Murphy. And I’m going to care about this baby. But if you do this, it’s your choice. - Jake Lowenstein
In a different world, she’d have been next to him, creating the mayhem instead of just reporting on it. But Murphy’s secret was that she was just too practical to be a true activist. Years of telling the story instead of writing about the story had told her that it wasn’t a black and white, two sides to the story world, but one of multi-layers and people who hurt along the way. Her personal politics led her to care less about those who could stand to lose money - or an empire - but she still knew that when that empire fell, people would die.
So, she’d stood there in the living room, and watched the man she loved more than anything walk out the door. He’d kissed her and told her he cared about her and the baby, and then went off to create mayhem, to do what he did best. What she didn’t tell anyone was how hurt she was, how angry. What she didn’t tell anyone was how at night, she sobbed into her pillow, clutching the shirt he’d left behind. What she didn’t tell anyone was how much she missed Jake, and how she wanted him to be here with her. So, when she found out they were having a boy, the last of her reserves broke down. He’d sent a note from Nicaragua, but it was impossible to pick up the phone and call. So she scribbled down the address, wrote it’s a boy on a blank postcard, and sent the note off. It wouldn’t make it, she knew. She didn’t care.
In a different world, they’d be together after all.
In a different world, they’d never screwed it all up by getting married. But she wanted to be married to him. She loved him. Desperately. And she couldn’t say anything because strong women didn’t talk about that. She didn’t talk about that. She didn’t tell anyone that as the months went by and she felt the baby roll and kick, she ached for Jake to know his son. When Avery woke her at two AM and she sat by the window, staring at the stars, she hoped and prayed that Jake was looking up, wondering if they were okay.
He stayed away, she knew, because if he came back, he’d feel trapped. She knew her ex-husband like she knew her own heart, the heart she didn’t show anyone, the heart that only came out in moments of solitude, when all of the insecurities she was supposed to feel settled on her shoulders. She was supposed to be above all of that. That’s what she told herself.
So when Avery started to creep and crawl and walk, she found whatever note Jake had sent about his location, and sent a note back.
First word: No.
High school graduation.
She was sixty years old, watching her son walk across the stage. Off to Columbia, of course. To study journalism. Of course.
It occurred to her, sitting as close as she’d been able to, that in all these years, Jake hadn’t come back. Eighteen years away from her. Away from them. Away from the little boy with his eyes and jawline. With his same fire for protecting those who had been put in capitalism’s firing line.
She cheered with the other parents, many of them single as well, many of them young enough to have been children of hers. In moments like this she felt older, and a bit useless. But she’d raised Jake’s son well. A tickle caught her nerves and she looked up, across the auditorium, and at the back, pressed against the wall, she was sure she saw him. But she blinked and he was gone and she let the hope disappear.
“Do you think he’d be proud of me?”
It was the morning after. He’d spent the night out with friends and Murphy had pretended she hadn’t sat up all night, waiting for the phone call that something had gone terribly wrong. Instead, he’d crept through the door at dawn and gone for a cup of coffee she’d had waiting for him.
She didn’t need to ask who.
“Yes,” Murphy said, her eyes meeting her son’s. “Avery, wherever your father is, he is very proud of you.”
“How do you know?”
It was cliche, but she used it, because it was also true. “Because parents are proud of their children.” And she knew, even though they hadn’t seen Jake in all this time, that he knew full well how they were doing. She knew Jake had been proud. She was sure she’d seen him there. She hoped she had. She knew she hadn't.
She set eggs down in front of him and then sat herself, nursing her own cup of coffee.
“Why didn’t he ever come home?”
She sighed. “Avery … your dad … he tried to settle down. Right around the time I got pregnant. He really tried.”
“He isn’t meant to be here, in a house, doing the things society expects him to do.”
“Neither are you …”
“It’s more than that,” she said.
“I’m sorry.” Murphy said. It wasn’t the first time, but this time felt weightier. “Avery, I never expected you’d grow up without him. I always hoped he’d finally come back. I want you to know him.”
“And now what?” Avery said, scooping egg into his mouth, “Now I’m an adult …”
They’d always been able to finish each other’s thoughts.
“Is that why you didn’t marry Peter? Because you were still hoping Jake would come back?”
“Maybe,” Murphy admitted.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each sipping their coffee. Finally Avery got up and walked to the door. He turned to her and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking in this moment exactly like his father. “I want to meet him someday.”
“I want you to meet him, Avery.”
“I’m going to bed.”
She nodded. Avery slipped out of the room on silent feet. Murphy watched him go, realizing now, more than ever, how much he’d always needed his father.
It wasn’t exactly the way he planned it. Jake Lowenstein was in New York, speaking at the university. His mother was in Syria, so it wasn’t like she would be there to force an issue. So Avery secured his ticket, slipped in with the other students, and watched his father take the stage.
He talked for two hours about the problems with the concept of being a white savior in struggling countries, that they needed to recognize the issues came not from their governments being corrupt as much as the United States screwing things up. Non-interference was a joke, Jake said, but the US wasn’t a shining light on the hill.
After, students and activists crowded around. Avery just waited. The auditorium was almost empty when he walked up to his father, who was talking to the handler from the school.
“Excuse me, Mr. Lowenstein?”
Jake turned around, and stopped cold. Avery held out a hand, saving both of their embarrassment. “I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Avery Brown.”
“You look just like your mother,” Jake said, his voice soft and stunned.
“She always says I look like you.” In a breath, Avery felt every single feeling he’d ever felt - hopelessness and abandonment and anger - so much anger. But he also wanted to meet his father. “I was wondering if we could go get a cup of coffee?”
He watched Jake pause, and knew he was about to be blown off. He knew he was about to be faced with the harsh reality that his mother had lived all these years.
“I’ll take the next plane,” Jake said. “Come on.”
It was an all night coffee house and they found a table on the second floor, away from the noise of an open mic.
Of course he was studying to be a journalist. Of course he was at Columbia. Of course he felt his heart crash into 500 pieces every time he looked into his son’s eyes. Silence over coffee and they stared at each other.
Finally, Jake pulled out a notebook and put it between them. “Your mom kept me up to date. I know I didn’t get everything she sent, but she …” he sighed. “I was a coward and I’m sorry, Avery.” The newest card, Avery is graduating was tucked into the pages of the book. He’d tried to make it back, wanted to be there, but he’d been holed up in the hull of a Greenpeace ship, hiding from authorities.
“Why did you leave?”
Jake had waited 18 years for this question. Finally, he took a breath and answered as honestly as he could. “When I left, Avery, you weren’t real to me yet. Your mom had just confirmed she was pregnant and I had something solid in front of me. Something tangible. And I’d just broken her heart. Again. I’d just broken off our relationship. Again. I had to get out. And one campaign led to two led to six. I always meant to come back. But I couldn’t.”
His son looked down at his cooling coffee. “Mom never got over you leaving, you know. She won’t say it, but she never got over it. I heard her one night talking to uncle Frank when she was sick and she said how much she missed you.”
“I miss your mom every day, Avery,” Jake said, his stomach knotting over the admission of her illness. “And I missed you too.”
Silence. Jake was used to silence. The silence of waiting and the silence of planning and the silence of studying. But this silence, it ached. It was the silence of disappointment. His failure. Not at some campaign where they could try again, but his failure as a father.
“If I could do it again, Avery, I would. I’d find a way to make it work.”
“Can’t go back.” Avery shrugged. “But thank you for the sentiment.”
“How is your mom?”
Avery considered the easy answer, to pass her off as fine. Because she was. “She’s good. She’s lonely. But she’s good. She’s in Syria this week. Otherwise, she probably would have been here too.”
“Does she know you’re here?”
“No. I figured I’d tell her later.”
Silence again. The silence of awkward moments that needed to end. He had a plane to catch. Again. Leaving his son.
Slowly, Jake stood up. He slid a piece of paper across the table. “That’s my phone number. You can call me anytime, Avery. Tell your mom.” He saw Murphy in their son - strong, resilient, broken in his confidence. Not many people knew just how vulnerable Murphy really was. She covered it up with loud, brash moments. Avery with stoic silence. And he only nodded.
Jake looked back no less than ten times as he left the shop. But he’d made a promise to a cause years ago. At least, that was how he justified getting into the cab, getting onto the plane. It was how he justified himself to the look in his son’s eyes. Eighteen years ago, he’d told Murphy he’d care for her and the baby, but he couldn’t be there. And she’d accepted that and never once pressured him to be anything other than who he was at his core. Not for the first time, he wished she’d stood her ground and argued with him.
As the plane hit altitude he took out the notebook and the stack of cards he’d rifled through so many times over the years. It’s a boy, the oldest one said.
He knew then what she’d meant, and staring at the midnight sky he wished he’d listened.
It’s a boy.
Jake stared at the card, hating that he knew what she'd really meant. Hating that he'd stayed away not because of his calling but because the idea of being a parent scared him more than guerrilla soldiers or ex-KGB hit men. He stared at the three words when the messenger had dropped off the stack of letters, stared at her chicken scratch handwriting. It's a boy she told him. He'd slid the card into his back pocket and kept it on him every single day since. A boy. He had a son. A son with a woman who held the sun in her heart and the moon in her eyes.
It's a boy she'd written, all the while saying, Come back to us. I love you. And here he was. On a plane.