Marise met Darryl for lunch a week after hanging up on him. She called him that morning wondering if he was available to talk. Her hopes were high, hoping that he would not contest a quick and simple divorce. She just couldn’t imagine being married to him anymore. Life had taken an unexpected turn and she did not know how it was going to end with Darryl, but she prayed for a peaceful separation.
They met at the sandwich shop right below Marise’s office space. Marise had plenty of time to take lunches with Kasen being in California. As she waited for Darryl to show up, she fretted with the divorce papers sitting in the plain manila folder. She looked them over three times to make sure she had signed where she should and marked up all the pages that Darryl should sign.
Darryl stood across the street and watched Marise in the window. He knew he didn’t love her, but she had been the only stable thing in his life for years. He was used to her comfortable presence and compassionate silence. He was not ready to give that up. He also saw her playing with the papers. Darryl’s mouth kinked into an upward smile. He was pretty confident that he could make her not want a divorce. He knew that he could. But did he want to? He was torn with being footloose and free on one hand and having some form of stability in his life. He touched the black eye on his left side. He had gotten into another scrape with a different loan shark this time. Maybe she would spare a little sympathy for her husband. Darryl decided to play the sympathy card. He quickly schooled his expression into the look of the lonely and brokenhearted and walked across the street to the bistro.
Marise, who had been watching the door like a hawk, gasped and put her hand to her mouth when she saw Darryl. He was disheveled, his jeans were wrinkled, his shirt was buttoned haphazardly and he was sporting one huge black eye. When will he learn? Marise asked herself as she watched him walk over. Was that a slight limp, she wondered. Then she gave herself a mental shake. This is Darryl, Marise scolded herself. He would probably never get tired of running the streets. He didn’t want to have the comfort of a home, and maybe a child.
“Hey Nay. How have you been?” Darryl said, cocking his head to the side. Marise steeled herself against his sweet as pie act. That was close to the same line he used to get her attention in first place. Except, then he had said How are you? I haven’t seen you around here before. She refused to be sucked into it this time. She folded her arms underneath her breasts and looked at him squarely.
“Better. But you look like shit.” Marise said, looking at him from head to toe.
“Thanks Nay, like I needed to know that.” Darryl pulled out a chair and thumped down into it. “Seriously, how have you been. It is weird not having you at home. And I think I have lost some weight. I miss your delicious meals.”
Marise rolled her eyes at him. Of course that is the only thing that he missed. He was never there any other times.
“So what happened?” She said, motioning her hand at his eye. Did he even put an ice pack on it?
“Just a misunderstanding in a club. It was kind of messed up too. I was not trying to hit on the bookie’s girl, but she was flirting with me. If I had his damn thousand bucks, she would have hustled him out of it…” Darryl stopped short and realized that he had just told on himself. He dared a look into Marise’s brown eyes, and they did not hold resentment, just disappointment. He might have been able to handle resentment; resentment can be handled with flowers, chocolate and good sex. Disappointment, well, he could never handle that from Marise. Maybe that was the reason that he stayed away from home so much. If she could just control her disappointment in him, he would have been a better husband.
“Mmmm, I see. Well, you know why I called you. Can you sign these please?” She said, pushing the folder toward him with a pen on the top.
“Why? Don’t you think we should try counseling or something? I mean you are not even giving me a chance to make things right.” Darryl said, leaning back in his chair. He started to tap his foot, the same foot that he had been limping on earlier. So much for him being hurt, Marise thought.
Marise sighed and looked Darryl in his hazel eyes. She wished things could have worked out between them. But they were much better suited at being apart. She couldn’t take the wondering if he was coming home anymore.
“Darryl, this isn’t because of a onetime thing. There is more to it than that.” Darryl just stared at her. “And no, it wasn’t about our finances. I would have been happy living in a cardboard box if you were there with me. Well, at the time.”
“Why not anymore?” Darryl said. Marise hadn’t said this much to him in almost a year. He was curious what made his naïve doormat grow up.
“Darryl, what was our son’s name?”
“It had a name? It was a boy? Why didn’t you tell me?” Darryl was furious. The baby she was carrying had been a boy?
“I did tell you Darryl. It wasn’t an ‘it.’ His name was Carter. When did he die?”
“I don’t know MarMar, it was a long time ago. I don’t remember. What does it have to do with us?”
“Everything! You don’t know and you never cared. Why would I believe that you would want to stay married? It was December 24th. I lost my baby on Christmas Eve.”
“Your baby? It was our baby.” Darryl said, getting defensive. Why was she ragging on him? It wasn’t his fault she became attached to the fetus and gave it a name.
“No, not it, he, Carter was mine. I carried him, I cared for him, I grieved for him and I mourn for him every single Christmas Eve.” Marise’s eyes misted over as she stared Darryl down. She had never told him any of this. It felt good to finally get these things off of her chest.
“Babe, I am sorry you went through that, but that was years ago. Why can’t we start over?”
“Because Darryl, that is where our marriage really ended. We’re really doing ourselves a favor by getting out now.” Marise truly believed that.
“What if I don’t want to? I am used to you, and…” Marise held up her hand in his face and shook her head.
“Darryl, being used to someone is not love. It takes love to sustain a marriage. Can you honestly say that you love me?” Marise wasn’t in suspense. She already knew the answer. Darryl didn’t believe in love.
“No, but what does that got to do with us? We made it work.”
“It was work. It was not the blissful times I had imagined. Sooner or later Darryl you will wake up and see that you want more out of life. I just happened to discover that before you.”
Darryl sat back and looked at his soon-to-be-ex. Where had this woman come from? She was not the meek little mouse he was used to. His Marise never looked him in the eyes. This woman sitting across from him had nerves of steel. No, she was right; he couldn’t be married to her. She was too strong now. Sighing he picked up the pen and began to sign the papers.
Marise’s heart almost burst when he finished signing them and slid them back to her. He actually had a contented smile on his face. It was contagious. She smiled back. For the first time, she felt like she had a life of her own.
“So I guess this means I can’t get a quickie?” Darryl said, trying to break some of the tension.
“No, but I know some girls at the Harem that would probably love to give you one. For a fifty.” Marise laughed. At least now she could laugh at her being a stripper. She felt like a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders.
Darryl titled his head back and let out a good bark. As his head leaned back, that is when Marise saw two cold blue eyes shooting daggers at her. Kasen was back and Marise’s heart sank. Oh shit.
What can I do but be happy for her? Kasen thought as he rode the elevator up to his office. He had not contacted her for two weeks, didn’t answer her emails and always had his partner relay his messages to her. But, Kasen thought with a sigh, that is that, and Marise James was no longer his concern.
He felt as though he could finally be free of the nagging thoughts he has had of her in the past two weeks. He wished that he could have handled it better, but now it is out of his hands. And he felt partially relieved. Or, perhaps it was more anger than relief that had him storm away from the deli. He had known that the man occupying the table was the infamous Darryl from the pictures on Marise’s desk.
Marise was a burden that Kasen believed he was more than ready to be relieved from. He would be much more content living with his previous shallow existence. The women that he normally associated himself with were too self-absorbed to care if he honestly cared about them or not. Who did Marise think she was? She had laid her burdens on me and made me care about her. Kasen gave pause and chuckled to himself. That was the biggest lie he had ever told himself. He knew he was trying to make himself feel better about the mess as a whole, but lying to himself was going a bit too far. If there was one thing that Kasen had learned in his life, it was to always be honest, no matter the pain that it caused. The truth of the matter was, now, he knew he would want Marise more than he ever had. He had tasted a bit of her vulnerability, he had seen her at her worse, and it didn’t make him run.
The knowledge of what could have been if he would have lost control that night would nag at him on top of his feelings for her. Kasen raked his fingers through his hair and sat down at his desk.
“DAMN!” he growled. He didn’t know what else to say. He sat with his elbows on his desk and sighed. What more could he do but move on?
Just as Kasen had made up his resolve to get on with his life, he heard a soft knock at his door. Marise’s head peeked in around the corner. And she looked at him wide eyed and with that questioning gaze. Marise did not know she had just stuck her head into back into the lion’s den.
* * * * * *
“I didn’t say come in.” Kasen growled at her. Taken aback, Marise snapped her head back out of the door and closed it with a soft click.
In any other circumstances, Marise would have put on a cold façade and pretended like she didn’t care what that other person was going through. Life had taught her that caring about what other people are going through would drain her strength. Right now, she wasn’t willing to be drained of the new strength she had.
But, this wasn’t any other circumstance. This was a man that had saved her from sure insanity in what was proving to be the most difficult year of her life. He was also a man that she had come to care for in the most primal way. He needed her, and she would not back down out of his life. She knocked again, this time firmer than before.
“What!” Came the response from the other side of the door. Marise’s lip hitched up a little in the corner. If he wanted to be the big mean and bad boss, she would give him what he wanted. Marise waited patiently, and knocked again. By the time Marise took a breath, the door whipped open and Marise stood staring at Kasen’s loosened tie. She looked up at him and saw that his blue eyes were stormier that she had ever seen them. She was scared, but at the same time, she knew she had a mission in this man’s life.
“I said, what?” Kasen snarled between pursed lips and clenched teeth. Marise winced a little at his demeanor, but she would not back down. She looked up at him defiantly and met his gaze.
“I was waiting for you to say ‘Come in’, not what. So, I knocked twice. May I come in?” Kasen’s jaw ticked and Marise knew he was holding back a lot of anger. He stepped to the side, and motioned with his arm for her to take a seat. Marise knew this was not going to be an easy conversation. Kasen looked pissed when he left the café so abruptly. She was trying to look at it from his perspective, but she could not bite back the news of her divorce for too much longer.
“What can I help you with Ms. James?”
Ms. James? What was wrong with him? He had always called her Marise before.
“Well, Mr. Montgomery, as you will be leaving again in a few days I thought we could catch up on things.” Marise said with her head cocked to one side. If that was the way that he wanted to play it, she could be cool and detached too. Perhaps she misunderstood his compassion when he left two weeks ago. Or perhaps he didn’t want to have anything to do with damaged goods such as herself. She watched him wearily as he rounded his desk and flopped into his chair. He ran his fingers through his hair and then fixed his gaze at her.
“Yes, we should. Set up a briefing for tomorrow morning. Anything else?” Kasen stated as he began flipping through papers. He wasn’t looking at anything he had not looked at before. He just couldn’t let her know that he was a mess.
Marise was taken aback by his abrupt and short tone. But, Marise had also spent years running from these types of situations. For years, when Darryl got agitated, she would remain silent and not say anything. She would watch from her lowered lashes and pray that she could find something to say. She never did with Darryl. With Kasen, however, Marise found herself wanting to say a whole lot.
“Yes, one more thing.”
“Yes, Ms. James?”
“What happened to you?” Marise said and folded her arms in front of her chest. That posture did nothing but agitate Kasen because it gave him an ample view of her coffee toned cleavage. He groaned and rolled his eyes.
“What makes you think something happened?” Kasen said as he looked at the ceiling. This was a conversation he did not need.
“Well, you are short and you seem frustrated. Was the trip bad?”
“No, the trip was actually good. I just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.” Kasen hoped that she would take the hint and not pry.
“Oh. So is the family reunion going to be a good thing?” Marise was curious about him, and talking about his life made her briefly forget about hers.
“Nothing I can’t handle. Thanks for asking. How did you handle things while I was gone?” Kasen knew he should at least be nice to her. It was entirely his fault his heart was broken. She never knew what he felt for her.
“Pretty slow here when you are not here cranking out the work,” Marise said, making the effort to smile. At least he wasn’t being borderline rude, she thought. Now would be the perfect time to tell him about her divorce.
“I see. So did you play hooky at all? Long lunches?” Kasen tried to remain playful, but he knew if he got the real answers to those questions, he would be livid and probably worse yet, trying to find a reason to fire her. Kasen was not proud of his line of thinking, so he had to take a few breaths to get himself under control.
“No, I only took lunch twice. I met my mother to get some things straightened out. That is where I am living now. And the other lunch was with Darryl, whom you saw.” Marise waited for his reaction. When none was forthcoming, she rushed out, “He was signing the divorce papers.”
Marise waited. Kasen stared. What could he be thinking? Marise waited for a reaction of some kind, but again, Kasen’s face was schooled stone.
“We decided, well I decided for the both of us it was what was best.”
“Hmmm.” Kasen just nodded. Now he was stuck. He didn’t know what to do with that announcement. He could have jumped for joy, asked her out, told her congratulations if that was in order, but he did nothing but stare at her.
“Just thought you would like to know.” The light had gone out of Marise’s eyes and her voice sounded hollow. She couldn’t believe that was all he had to say. She felt rejected, again. She brushed off some imaginary lint on her skirt, stood up and turned to the door. “Gotta get ready for the briefing tomorrow.” She said over her shoulder. Still, she was met with silence. Well, she thought, I guess that was that. He was only comforting me that night apparently. She walked towards the door, and with one more backward glance at Kasen, she walked out of it, shutting it softly behind her.