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Politics

Daughter, First: What Tom Loves More Than Katie

Katie Mahoney Brown’s marriage isn’t what it looks like on the red carpet.

Daughter First What Tom Loves More Than Katie
Illustration by Najeebah Al-Ghadban

Don't miss all of Daughter, First: In part 1, we meet the Governor's daughter, Katie Mahoney Brown; in part 2, the attorney who's going to take down the administration digs into the family secrets; and in part 3, the matriarch, Rosemary Mahoney, uncovers her husband's dirty business deals.

Katie watched as her mother led Orla into the kitchen for snacks. She kept the smile on her face; Carol, the house manager, was watching.

She said, “Please tell my mother I’m just in the library if she needs me.”

Then she collapsed into one of the brown leather wing chairs and tried to relax, rubbing her temples, until she couldn’t take it anymore. She dumped her purse upside down, not caring about the mess, and pulled out her phone. There were 80 missed calls plus 75 text messages and counting. She ignored them all and dialed Tom’s number, saved under “THE HUBBY.” This wasn’t her style, but one of the image consultants had persuaded her to do it. “It’s cute and real,” the bubbly woman had said.

Katie’s call went to voicemail. So did the next one, and the next.

She couldn’t bring herself to click open the Google alerts that were flashing across her screen: SON-IN-LAW INDICTED; WHAT TOM KNEW; SHOCKING TWIST IN MAHONEY CASE. There were other ways to torture herself.

Katie pulled up wickedlocal.com and wrote her name in the search bar. There they were: Dozens of photos of Tom and Katie, looking pressed and golden, on the red carpets leading to various black-tie events. It calmed her to remember what they had looked like together before everything got so complicated.

Her thumb slipped and one of the photos opened to a separate page. Oh lord: the comments.

He’s gay, ChelseaGirl wrote.

Nah, he’s into feet, LynnecityofSin replied.

My cousin says she saw him at the Blue Banana back in the day, said BrocktonBabe69.

Occasionally, someone would write, They are very much in love! And then the commenters would go into a frenzy. Trust me, I know chemistry, and these two don’t have it. I mean, she’s a gorgeous girl, but he always looks like he’s stuck with his grandma when he’s with her.

Katie laughed. How she wished she could tell them. She really wanted to tell them. It wasn’t anything risqué or depraved: Tom simply liked money more than sex.

***

She’d tried to explain it once to Felicity, a woman she’d gotten close with at 5 a.m. spin class. Katie always took the bike at the front of the room, right in front of the instructor. The class was small — just six bikes — and everyone knew Katie's spot.

But one morning, Katie walked in to see another girl on her bike. She was small, maybe five-foot-two, tops, and wiry. Her ringlets curled perfectly around her face, and her skin was a deep tan — not the kind that came from a bed or a bottle but one that had clearly come from the actual sun.

When Katie walked in, the instructor and the other women in the class watched with nervous amusement. Katie gamely walked around the bike, looked Felicity in the eye and smiled, then settled onto a neighboring bike. You could smell the pH of the sweat in the room change. But Felicity just smiled broadly and held out her hand. “Katie Mahoney,” she’d said. “I’m Felicity Bonas.” Her handshake was strong and firm and almost made Katie yelp in pain.

She hadn’t been able to pin Felicity down — was she brazenly stupid or really that secure in herself that she wasn’t intimidated by Katie? It had been a kind of game, making friends with her, trying to figure it out. Felicity was not from Boston, that was clear. She had grown up in California, “just a beachy hippie kid. Like, I lived at the beach. Like, my mom loved crystals and green juice and now all of a sudden they’re a thing? But that’s just how I was raised, you know, with deliberate consciousness and compassion and stuff, so it’s in my blood. It comes naturally to me.”

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Her husband was a biotech investor; he’d moved them to the city to open a lab somewhere out on Route 128. But the way Felicity said it was “He just wanted to come home. He went to college here, you know?” Ah. That was it. The euphemism for Harvard. Apparently, Felicity wasn’t so spiritually enlightened that she was above a name drop.

Katie made her eyes soft. “Oh, a lot of us went to college here,” she replied. It was clear what Felicity wanted out of her: It wouldn’t hurt for her husband to make friends with Tom. This way the governor’s office could help him secure a sweetheart deal for his lab.

First, Katie and Felicity went out for drinks, “just us girls.” After two French 75s, Felicity was rhapsodizing about her husband. She said, blurrily, “He's my best friend. Like, the love of my life. Like, you know? I know that’s lame. It’s lame! I’m lame,” she screeched, her sugary breath in Katie’s face. “But I love him. And his dick. My god, his dick.”

She was one of those drunk girls.

By then, Katie was tipsy, too. She took a swallow from her glass and said, “Tom loves money.” She felt an overwhelming desire to wipe that self-satisfied grin off Felicity’s face.

“Well, who doesn’t?”

“No, I mean, money is his true love. Give him a woman or a feed to the stock exchange; he’d rather watch the stock exchange. Even if that woman is me.”

“Bullshit.”

“Seriously, that’s how he’s built. Powered by money.” Katie’s voice was cool and cavalier. She’d kept her eyes to the right, as if she were tossing off an aside while looking for someone more important to talk to. It was a tactic she’d learned from her mother, intimidation as a way to control a conversation. The problem was, it worked only on people who knew their place, who understood the concept of places.

But Felicity wasn’t like that. She patted Katie’s hand. “Oh, honey. Oh, my love. Is that true?”

Katie pulled her hand back. “It’s not the end of the world,” she said. She’d intended this to come out in the same crisp tone she’d used for her revelation about Tom and money, but by this point the gin had worked its magic. Her voice sounded hoarse and broken. Even to her.

Felicity put her hand to her mouth, and her eyes watered. Katie wanted to bolt, and it took everything in her power not to grab her bag, toss her French 75 in Felicity’s face, and disappear. Instead she sat and tried her best to keep her face neutral as Felicity, increasingly agitated, talked about what a fool her husband was to not love her. “I mean, look at you! You’re a goddess! You’re, like, some kind of old-school movie star! Ava Gardner or some shit. You go home and you say, ‘Tom, you have a goddess with you, and all you care about is your wallet?’”

Katie kept it together, cool and civil. By the end of the night, her comparative sobriety had unnerved Felicity, who had downed a few more French 75s while Katie sipped sparkling water. In her heated, drunken way, Felicity asked, “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad?”

“No, sweetheart.” Katie called the car to take her home.

A goddess. That’s what Felicity had called her.

“Fun night?” Sully asked companionably, in the quiet of the car.

“Always.”

***

In the library, Katie pulled her legs up to her chest and tucked her chin in. This is how she cut herself off from the world. When she was in school, she’d sneaked out of this very library to go to Middle East, and Manray. She was in love with the wildest boy in her class, the son of an MIT professor. He’d called her a goddess, too.

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His name was Rolo and he spent most of his time in the Pit, a sunken concrete park around the Harvard T entrance. She’d meet him there after school, where he sold prep-school sweatshirts, stolen graphing calculators, and crushed-up aspirin he pretended was coke. His customers were tourists and gutter punks.

Inspired by her love for Rolo, Katie dyed strands of her hair a deep blue, so that they framed her face, and got a third piercing in her ear. Once Rolo convinced her she should canvass for the Green Party in the presidential primary, and she reluctantly agreed.

Someone snapped a picture. There was Katie, illuminated by the flash in the graying basement of a Roxbury community center, her hair as messy as she’d ever allowed it, blank-faced with shock, looking into the camera, and Rolo, sloppy-stoner smile wide, holding up a campaign poster right by her face. Big Jim, who was just starting to think about running for governor, had to spend a lot of money to make sure it was never published. “The way I see it, missy,” he said to her as she sat across from him in his office, hands folded, head bent, “you’ve got two choices. You can keep playing hippie and accept the bank account that comes with it. Or you can be the girl we raised you to be and quit looking for love in a sewer. Second choice comes with the allowance you’ve been accustomed to, in case it wasn’t clear.”

So she’d given up Rolo. For money, too, a choice that Tom would have approved of. It was funny. It had only hurt a little, at the time. But as the years went by, she felt the shame more. Rolo was one of the only people ever to tell Katie she was interesting. “I could talk to you for hours,” he’d said, and he’d meant it.

Katie knew it was ridiculous to hang on to the sentiments of a high-school boyfriend when you were in your late 30s with small children, but she did.

“Rolo was your folly,” her mother said. Her siblings were less kind. They’d teased her relentlessly — until she learned to tease herself, too. During the campaign, she’d even dug up a picture of herself from the Rolo days and posted it on Instagram: “#TBT. Who misses the Cranberries as much as I do? LOL.”

After Rolo, there was a string of boys whom her father liked a little too much and who liked her father to a degree that made her ill. Boys who angled for invitations to the Mahoney homestead and boys who casually dropped that they, too, were “interested in changing the world one day.” Boys who said, “Your dad is such a badass.”

Tom wasn’t any different. They’d met in at a bar, Daisy Buchanan’s (for the wedding announcement, they’d said the introduction had happened “through friends”). That night, there had been a big crush of recent graduates home from school. It was one of those unbearably muggy spring nights in Boston: all the bricks blushing in the sunset on Newbury Street; the kind of night where you felt like you might fall in love. Katie had stepped out of the bar for a smoke — she’d still smoked back then — when Tom had moved in beside her.

He was only maybe an inch or two taller than she was, but he made up for his lack of height with his perfectly symmetrical face — long, lean nose; brown eyes; and a hard, sharp jawline. He’d let his hair grow a little then, so that boyish curls brushed over the top of his forehead. It was also clear he worked out, not like the other boys in the bar, already getting pudgy after epic college drinking careers. The thing that charmed her were the freckles, faint but insistent, that played across his nose — the only part of his appearance that seemed outside of his rigid control.

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“You shouldn’t do that,” he’d said.

“Why not?”

“Wrinkles.” He’d kept his face completely straight. She knew what he was doing.

“Is this a pull-the-girl’s-ponytails-to-get-her-to-like-you kind of thing? I should warn you, I don’t respond to that. My dad actually loves me.”

Tom laughed. “I’m well aware.”

Almost immediately afterward, she’d realized who Tom was: the son of Donal Brown, who owned one of the biggest contracting firms in Boston. It seemed fated — the son of a builder and the daughter of a real-estate magnate. Right from the start, their families were invested in the union. Rosemary beamed: “He’s such an appropriate choice.”

Their first date had been at the Cambridge Boat Club. He’d taken her sailing. They’d worked well together on the boat — surprisingly natural, although they’d both had the good sense not to say it out loud. Their first time had been decidedly respectful. If not passionate, at least decent. She didn’t know Tom well enough to expect otherwise.

The first time he talked business with her father was the first time Katie really saw him come alive — eyes sparkling, hands gesturing, sharp wit on full display.

“I do believe you love my father more than me,” she said often in their marriage. It was one of those things that she’d started as a sort of joke but had become a real lament. Too many dinners eaten alone while Tom stayed late with her father at the office. Too many parties spent making small talk with her mother’s dull friends while Tom backslapped with Big Jim. Hell, she’d joined the campaign as much for her own ambitions as to prove to Tom and her father that she was as interesting as whatever bond happened between the two of them. On her wedding day, Big Jim had said, “You did good, Katie. You picked someone like yourself.” But had she? She’d thought she and Tom were the same. Money over love, easy. It was to her great surprise, ten years into their marriage, that the answer to that question was no longer clear.

“I love you and your father both the same,” Tom always said back, never letting her know if he was joking or not.

Well, Katie thought, looking down at her phone. Now she knew.

The story continues: read part 5.

Kaitlyn Greenidge is the author of the novelWe Love You, Charlie Freeman.

Special thanks to @kaileeeemarie @oliviamomme @rosibeau and @punkyneu for suggesting the French 75 detail.