When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.Kahlil Gibrán
Brindleton Bay Cameron-Cunningham Law Firm Few days after the altercation
A quick knock on the door, it was opened and Carol entered, shutting it quickly behind herself with an expression as if the devil himself was after her. The behavior was unusual.
“Mrs. Cunningham, your husband is here, in the front office, asking to see you! What do you want me to do? Call the police?” Carol sounded genuinely concerned.
“What?! Chase? Here? What in the world could he want now? Uh – did he say anything about that to you?”
“No, just that he needed to speak to you. Shall I call it in? Oh, I am not liking this at all.” Carol freaked out more.
“No, let’s hold off on that, I think it will be okay. I don’t believe he would lose his temper in public like this. Send him in, but stick around, please. If you hear anything weird, grab the phone and come check.”
“All right. You got it! And you are one brave woman. Want me to leave the door open?” Carol replied.
“No, I’d rather you close it. In case he gets nasty and a client shows up. No need for any more dirty laundry. My face is enough bad advertising for my marriage already.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, he looks a lot worse. Your dad did a thorough job! Gotta say, I really like your father! My first husband beat me too, but all my father ever did was worry about what other people might think, so they covered it up until I finally just left that sunnovabitch. Pardon my French.”
“Yeah, starting to realize this type of thing really seems to be a lot more common than one would think. I spent most of my career in corporate law, so I had little exposure to this kinda stuff beyond what they taught at university. Ironic that the first case I am going to be representing will be my own. Anyway, send him in.”
Carol gave Ana a look nothing short of genuine admiration, then left, shortly afterwards she lead Chase into Ana’s office, before closing the door behind him, Carol shot one last worried glance at Ana, who couldn’t help but feel gleeful about Chase’s battered appearance. He was still obviously handsome, but definitely had taken a solid beating. And that was with Ana’s brother Brendan using his full law enforcement training to stop their father, or else, Chase might not have been standing here at all – or anywhere else ever again.
“Ana …” he stepped towards her about to circumvent her desk when she exclaimed with a sense of panic in her voice, while taking a step back.
“Stop! That’s close enough!” Ana’s voice was slightly shaky, belying the firmness of her words.
“You’re afraid of me! Please don’t be, darling. I just … okay. I get it. I deserve it. How are you doing?” Chase seemed like the nice guy again, genuinely regretful, as he now looked at the visitor chairs, slipped past the one closest to where he was standing, then sat down on the one in the middle, Ana followed suit from across the table by sliding onto her desk chair, staring at her husband.
“Chase, I am not in the mood for small talk, what do you want? Assume you are not here for legal advice, since the Cunninghams have an entire horde of top lawyers on retainer.” Ana asked, her tone accusatory.
“I would like to apologize. What happened was … it’s … I don’t know what to say. It’s not me. I never thought I would do such a thing, but I completely lost control after you threatened to leave me again.”
“And you thought you could beat a change of mind into me by bouncing my face around with your fists?!”
“Ana, you hit me too! As a matter of fact, you initiated that violence. That is just as much spousal abuse as what I did, you should know that.” he told her.
“Ah, look who’s been talking to the Cunningham law force. Is this their idea? Damage control, by seeing if you can charm wifey into submission to avoid this from going public and if not, layer in different levels of counter-accusations to scare me into compliance?!” Anastasia’s tone was defensive.
“No, Ana! You know me better than that, I …”
“Know you? I thought I did! I literally thought you would be the very last person to ever do this to anyone, let alone me. Right now I am wondering how safe our kids are with you.”
“Ana stop it! You know I would never!!! I get you are upset, you have every right to be, but this is going too far. You know I would never do anything that would harm our children! As for us, what can I do to fix this, make it better? I’ll do anything, please Ana, I need a chance. Just one chance. I gave you so many chances, how about extending me the same courtesy, if only this once?”
“A chance? For what exactly? This is comparing apples to oranges, don’t you think? The things I have done to you over the years were wrong, immoral and bad, making me a lot of bad things, a whore, a cheater, a bitch, all that. But what you did to me – even if only once – was heinous and it makes you a monster! I don’t know how to forgive this. Had you just cheated on me and called me bad names, sure, I would agree, I would owe you as much and probably eventually could forgive you. But you not only beat me, very badly, you raped me. RAPED me! No, Chase, I don’t know how to save this. This is no longer a hole in our boat, we are pretty much half way to the bottom of the ocean already. It’s just too late.”
“OK. Then let me be perfectly honest with you, as I really think the high horse you are sitting on, looking down on my behavior, judging, isn’t deserved. Maybe I should mention that coincidence has never been kind to either of us. Last week I did something I never do normally, for many reasons, one being that I am simply too busy. But I ran out of gauze, my assistants were unavailable, so I went to the back storage to replenish it myself. I just happened to look out of the window, straight into this office incidentally and what I saw changed my world. Wanna take a guess?”
“You knew about that this entire time?”
“Sadly, I did. At first I couldn’t even function, I was going to confront you right then, but had a patient, finished with him and then I cried. Yeah, this grown man cried. Heather walked in, found me, and consoled me. She’s married too, is going through some stuff too, so we found comfort with each other and at some point it became physical. I felt so rejected by you. I wanted to bring up the kiss so bad, but then again now I was a cheater too, so I didn’t, knowing it would lead to a fight and most likely send you running straight back into his arms again. Then you caught me with Heather, which was never anything more than stupid hurt pride for her and me, she doesn’t love me any more than I her, but well, things went out of hand. I was scared out of my mind to lose you. All I could think of was something your father told me several times, which is that if I didn’t want to lose you again, I need to man up and be a bit rougher with you sometimes. I think with everything else going on, before I knew it, I tried that as a sort of ‘Hail Mary’, overshot the target, it went completely too far and out of hand. Not an excuse, but an explanation. I was under a lot of pressure, worried about us, our family and your insult to my virility found the evil side of me and brought it all out at once.”
“Ok, that does make a lot more sense to me now. Honestly, Chase, I am glad you told me what you just did. I can see how it all went off the cliff now. For what it’s worth, Ri came here for a legal matter and it was just a harmless kiss, a brief one, meaningless. We had missed each other, it wasn’t sexual, Chase. I was not messing around on you. Ri was here looking for legal advice regarding possibly marrying his girlfriend.”
“Well, forgive me, but you are either lying or in denial. A kiss like that is never meaningless. Maybe it was to you, but I guarantee you, it wasn’t to him. I never kiss old friends like that, or at all. And if what you are saying was true, you should have fought him off and put him in his place, but I watched you wrap your arms around his neck. What you did was wrong, no matter how you label it, Ana. And before you lash out at me, no, I am not justifying my trespassing, but showing you we both are responsible for this avalanche that was kicked loose. We have to try to not get our entire lives buried beneath. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Agreed. But honestly Chase, I cannot see us being able to fix this. It’s too broken now.”
“Can we at least try?”
“No Chase. There is no use. It’s not fair to you or me. After what happened, I don’t know if I can stand to be close to you again, my head may understand and forgive you, but my heart can’t. Us Camerons are used to getting clubbed by fate, and we can bounce back from a lot, but this one is gonna leave a mark forever. Besides, I am tired of it all, no matter what I do, what you do and what we do, Ri is always between us, even if only in my mind, and through no fault of his own. He has kept his word to you and so have I. That kiss was the first time in a long time we even were alone. Come to think of it, that kiss just proves that nothing has changed, the first time we are alone, we already abuse that trust and no, I did nothing to stop him, you are right calling me out on that, and by saying I messed up too. I did. Maybe you are right, I’ve been in denial about it. Kiss or no kiss, Riordan is my best friend, he has proven that many times and is proving it again. I haven’t been whole this entire time without him, a piece of me was missing and I feel like I have been playing a role, while being miserable. I loved you Chase, that was no lie, and I really wanted to be a good wife, lover and mother to our children in our little family idyll, but all that comes at a price too high for me and I am no longer willing to pay it. I do not want to live my life without Ri in it anymore. Not after what happened.”
“Loved me? Past tense?”
“Yes, I think so. I honestly do not know how and what I feel about you, about us, but I think that very fact is my answer. If I still loved you as you deserve to be loved by your wife, I would know it. What you did may seem forgivable to you, but I don’t think I can. Just think if you didn’t have your vasectomy and would have fathered a child that night, can you even imagine?! I understand how it happened now, and I thank you for telling me, but it doesn’t change that it happened. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable. The way you acted afterwards, leaving me there in my own blood and shame, like a cheap hooker …”
“I was embarrassed and once the bout of anger was over I didn’t think you would want me to talk to you or touch you, let alone see me, so I left.”
“You are a doctor, Chase! I was injured and bleeding! You swore an oath to help!”
“I know, I told you, I wasn’t myself. Your dad got me back and I already withdrew the complaint. Police have to investigate, I cannot stop that, but I ended up in the hospital and they are required to report this. That is out of my hand, but I am dropping all charges on my end.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.”
“No need to thank me, I deserved it, I know that. Believe me, I hate myself for it, and if I say my parents are appalled and very disappointed in me, it’s putting it mildly. I have lived my entire life trying to make them proud and all is undone by that one action. But please quit saying Riordan is a friend. He doesn’t want friendship, he wants you and sounds like it’s mutual. So that’s the real reason you won’t even try to forgive me.”
“Wrong! It’s not that I don’t want to forgive you, but that I can’t, big difference. Maybe as a man you can never fully understand what you really did to me that night, but I cannot just forgive it as if you called me a really bad name, Chase. At least not now, and I sure as hell do not want to go back home, put on a show, while attending society events with you and the family, acting like nothing ever happened while all lies in shambles around us. That may well be the Cunningham way, but it sure as fuck ain’t the Cameron way to handle stuff like this. I abhor always being reduced to Mrs. Chase Cunningham over and over. I endured that far too long and I am not the right type of woman for that. I worked too hard on my own career to just be ‘Doctor Cunningham’s wife’. I always knew marriage wasn’t for me, even as a teen. I should have listened to my instincts. Wife and mother may be the highest of all honors for some women, but I never wanted any of that, Chase, and I have told you that from the very beginning. You love the Ana you want me to be, not the real me, the Ana with the temper issue, the strong need for independence that totally clashes with every single one of the Cunningham traditions, as do all my rough edges, all my flaws, and believe you me, I know there are plenty. I am so much like my dad in that aspect, forever the troublemaker, act first, think later, that’s the real Ana. Riordan always called me out on everything with brutal honesty, we argued so much, but usually that was exactly what it took for me to get my head on straight, and above all he allows me to be who I really am and accepts it. Not once has he tried to change me. That is the difference and why I need him in my life. He is real. And he let’s me be real.”
“Well, I guess then there is nothing left to be said between us. Have you filed already or do you want me to?”
“Is everything in your life a matter of agreements and plans, Chase?”
“What do you want me to do, Ana? Fall to my knees and beg you to stay, when you just told me something I already always knew but lied to myself about, because I really love you. I thought you would see the light, see who and what I am and what we can be together, I thought I could make you love me as much as I love you, even though you failed us so many times, but I loved you enough to give it another shot, and another, no matter how much your actions may have hurt me, yet all it took from me was once, and you are out the door. I admit, mine was major, but if you really loved me, you would give me at least one more try. Sadly, here is the bleak reality check I may have needed to see that no matter what you say, my love was unrequited all along. You may not be a gold digger, but you still used me, that is clear to me now. Fine I’ll give up, we’re done. We’ll get divorced then.” Chase looked sad now and it did make Ana feel sad and sorry.
“You got it all wrong Chase! I did love you, honest, I did. That was never the problem, the problem was that I was in denial that I also loved Riordan at the same time. Some may say that is impossible, but I beg to differ, as I know what I feel. Felt. I get that breakups are never easy, believe me, this isn’t easy for me either, you have been my life for 8 years, not something I can just shake off. I get that you are bitter, you have every right to be, but hope you aren’t going to make this hard now.” Ana wondered.
“No. Thought about it, I admit I am insulted by your lack of effort and compassion about our marriage, 8 years just floating out the window without you even as much as trying to stop it, but I really worry about our kids, so I won’t fight it. Speaking of, my parents and I told the twins that you and I had an accident, to explain our appearances. Magically, they slept through your father’s rampage, and we thought a white lie would be a small price to pay for our children’s wellbeing. Not really sure how to explain the separation yet, but I think you and I should do that together, as a union, to show them we are still ‘friends’ and they are safe. The traditionalist in me doesn’t think kids can reach their full potential when the parents divorce, but looks like I have a choice. I would ask you to let them stay with me and my parents, for obvious reasons, but you are welcome to see them whenever. I would ask that if you want shared custody, we agree now that the twins should not be split up under any circumstances. You know as well as I do that they are peas in a pod.”
“Agreed. On all counts. I can’t take them right now anyway, no room at my parents’ home and courts look at what’s in the children’s best interest and I can admit that it is in their best interest to stay with you and their grandparents, as long as my family and I can see them just like before. Cunningham Estates is their home, they love it and it would be wrong to rip them from it. And I do know you are a great daddy, as hurt as I may be, deep inside I know you would sacrifice your life for them without thinking twice. What about the law firm?” Anastasia asked now, as she watched him get up off the chair, following suit meeting him past the desk, trying to read in his eyes. Sad eyes.
“I’ll have my attorney change the deed into your name. It’s yours. I don’t want it. I get no pleasure out of hurting you Ana, whether you believe it or not. That has never given me any pleasure, not in our marriage and not beyond it. That one time truly was an isolated incident, brought on by a sleuth of terrible precursors on both sides.”
“I do believe you Chase. I owe you an apology too. I should have never married you and I don’t mean that in a bad way. You are a great guy, still, just not the right man for me. You never were and I didn’t want to see it, and ended up hurting both of us – and even more people. You coming here today, the things you said, the way you said them, the way you reacted made me change my mind about you again, I truly believe now that something went terribly wrong that one fateful day, it boiled over to what ended up happening. I now am convinced it was a one time thing, but it happened to me and I cannot just walk that off. My temper and my rough edges are toxic to your character and maybe it was what caused the final straw events. I knew I never wanted to be a wife, but did it anyway for reasons other than just love and that was where I failed you and me and our kids. I will also be changing my name back to Cameron, this is not to offend you, but to right a wrong. I am a Cameron, always will be and I can never be a real Cunningham. I never want to be anybody’s wife again. Just my own person.”
“What about Riordan? We both know he is in your life again. I am no fool, Ana.”
“What about him? I told you, he and I are friends, first and foremost. That has never been anything but the truth, we are. Maybe there is still more between him and me, but I am not ready for any of that, no relationships or anything physical. Not now, and not for a while. Not even with him, and he knows that. He really is just a very good friend to me right now, because he wants to be. I will take time to just be myself for a while, to rediscover the real me, after trying to fit the Cunningham mold for so long. No offense, but that just wasn’t me, Chase. I tried, but it’s like wearing clothes several sizes too small, sooner or later you suffocate or bust out.”
“Yeah, I get that. I am not sure I am interested in dating anytime soon either, for one, because believe it or not, but my love for you is true and real, and like you cannot just shake what I did, I cannot just flip a switch and stop loving whom I loved for so long. For what it’s worth, I broke things off with Heather. She’s pregnant, not by me, by her husband, so she wants to try and patch things with him so she quit and is doing the stay-at-home mom thing for the kid they already have. Ana, I truly hope one day we can at least be friends of sorts, since we cannot avoid being in each other’s lives, because of the twins. And maybe a little for old times sakes. We did have a lot of good times together.”
“I agree. I’d like that too and I am sure we can get there – eventually. Chase, I want you to know that I don’t hate you. I get that we both are victims of circumstances, just as we both are perpetrators, but still, it’s just not enough to be anything more than civil right now. Maybe one day.”
“Understood. Would it be possible to hug you though?”
“Yeah. That would be okay.”
There was a strong sense of surrender in the hug, it was gentle but at the same time she could feel Chase clinging to her, a final gesture, the unofficial farewell to a marriage that didn’t make it …