You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’Maya Angelou
Windenburg "Rhapsody" Café & Dining
Tensely, Anastasia looked across the table at Chase, trying to read his expression, in vain. This could be about anything, he could be wanting to talk about the children, money, something random. The fact that he was wearing a fine suit, carrying a briefcase however made her suspect the worst.
Chase being a doctor and from an upper class background, he always dressed nicely, just not in suits and he rarely had much need for a briefcase. Only when he had important meetings. Like a meeting with an attorney, for example. She buried her face in her hands as if that could hide her away from what was forthcoming.
“Has Riordan spoken to you?” Chase asked now.
“Yes. It’s over between us, for good this time. We both agreed on it. We were both foolish, chasing a mirage. When we caught up to it, we both realized it’s neither what we wanted, nor what we needed. He mentioned he went to see you too. Is that what this is about?” Ana asked, her voice shaky. Her talk with Riordan had been surprisingly calm, both instantly agreed on what had to happen, but it still left her numb inside, albeit with an odd sense of relief.
“In a way, yes. I have been doing a lot of thinking and soul searching. You hurt me badly, Ana, but I still have a hard time just calling it quits and walking away without at least one last candid chat, face to face, just between us. I do not know what this all means, I don’t know if you are even still interested in our family. I don’t know if we even still are a family, all things considered.”
“I am interested. Of course I am, very much so. Honestly, I cannot even believe we are having this discussion right now. I was sure I lost you already and that you wanted to meet me to talk about a divorce and custody.”
“To be honest, I actually came here right from a meeting with my attorney, I have some relevant papers in my bag, I am sure I don’t have to go into more detail. Despite of that, maybe I am the world’s greatest fool, or maybe just a dreamer, a man who loves very deeply, once he falls. Or maybe I am a hopeless idealist, still with hopes of a happy family, watching children grow up with the love of my life by my side as we go through the years together, family vacations on Sulani, Christmas in the snow.” he sighed.
“Well, then we both are fools, dreamers and idealists, because that sounds dreamy. Chase, I know there is absolutely nothing I could say to you to excuse what I have put you through, but the things Riordan said to me, what my brother has been trying to tell me and watching my parents together, all that was a serious reality check and wake up call. If you have something for me to sign, I will, without even fussing over it, I owe you that much, but I want to at least apologize to you, from the bottom of my heart. You never deserved any of this, and I never deserved you.”
“Yeah, I would have to agree. Truth be told, I was going to sign the papers today, so my attorney could file them, sat there in his office, pen in hand, but I just couldn’t get myself to make it final yet. Part of me wants to believe in what Riordan offered, but the realist in me is very suspicious. Fool me once, … Still, you agreed to meet with me on such short notice which gives me some hope, I just had to speak to you before it all becomes … real. You sound different, you even look different in a way. More mature, maybe it’s just my imagination and me aimlessly rambling nonsense.”
“Well, I am about to hit the big 3-0 and feel like I aged about two decades over the past few weeks. Yikes.”
“Hey, careful now, I am 33 and if my job doesn’t prematurely age a person, then I don’t know what would.” a faint sign of amusement flashed briefly across his otherwise somber face and Ana wondered if he had always been so stunningly handsome.
“But you are a man and allowed to age, plus you look no day older than when we first met.”
“That was quite a way to meet, wasn’t it?” Chase smiled, reminiscing.
“Oh my Gawd, don’t remind me. I was such a total dork when I turned away from the counter of that café and literally ran right into you, then I just stood there plastered up against your chest like a fly on a glue trap, mouth agape, unable to do anything but stare into your gorgeous bright blue eyes like hypnotized. When you gave me your number I thought you were messing with me. No way you’d want to see me ever again after that performance.”
“I did though, and you did call – eventually, after making me wait three whole days. And we did become a couple, even though you ended up serving me off cold twice, before finally accepting my third and last, admittedly very unromantic, marriage proposal, especially compared to the two prior times where I had gone all out. Yet, here we are now, with two beautiful children to show for. Sadly, it seems that some love stories may make for interesting stories, but still aren’t always meant to prevail.”
“I hate myself for what I have done to you. It was never about loving you or not, I do, so very much, always have, from that first moment on. I was just so immature, confused and with my head in the clouds. I would truly love to explain it to you, but even I don’t understand my own actions anymore now. I feel like that wasn’t even me, or like I was in a trance, a puppet with someone else pulling the strings, then now suddenly I woke up to everything in shambles. I don’t like it, I don’t like myself anymore. I truly hate myself now. Total disdain. How could I not? You probably do as well, at least you would have every right to.”
An uncomfortable silence fell between them, Chase staring at her, she felt like her blood was ice water in her veins realizing that he was carrying the divorce papers with him, ready to be signed. Then he suddenly said, quietly.
“I don’t hate you, I could never hate you. Come back home, Ana. To us, to me and our children.”
“Really?” Anastasia thought she had to have misheard, but also knew she hadn’t.
“Chase, may I hug you, please?”
They got up and Ana stood there, uncertain how to proceed. As much as she wanted to, it felt wrong to just hug him like nothing had happened between them, when so much had transpired. Neither of them were the same person they had been only a few weeks ago. Before everything had happened.
Chase stepped closer to her, she felt one hand on her lower back which sent flashes of hot electricity through her from the tip of her head to her toes, now he raised her face up, she let him, unable to move on her own like a doll, they both got lost in each other’s eyes. Chase smiled.
“Chase …” Ana’s voice just a breath.
He didn’t respond, just kissed her, and it turned into the world’s longest kiss as Ana threw her arms around his neck.
She held on to him after the kiss for a long time, crying into his shoulder, he just stood there, her body pressed tightly against his, his eyes shut, while Ana wondered how she could have ever let a man like him slip away.
Neither of them spoke. There was nothing left that needed to be said.
Anastasia moved back to the Cunningham Estates that very same night.
The initial awkwardness between her and his parents, who also still lived there, soon subsided and by the time Harvestfest was only a few weeks away, things were happy again as if nothing ever happened, even though the fact that it had was still deeply engrained in Chase and Ana. Unspoken.
Brindleton Bay Cunningham Estates
Blaine leaned over to take a sip of the spiked iced tea Chase had provided, then he glanced at his son-in-law. Both men were sitting in the gazebo of the Cunningham Estates for some casual guy talk, while the women had taken the toddlers to the nearby park.
“This is nice, never been one for flashy homes, but this place is great. And you’re a good kid, Chase. Most fathers look at their sons-in-law and think they’re not good enough for their little girls. Me, I swear, I kept telling my babygirl we’ll get rid of Ana and keep you. In all seriousness though, I am glad all is back the way it should be with you, her and the babies.”
“Let’s hope. Apologies if my enthusiasm is halted, I can’t help going back and forth between thinking we lucked out, a disaster averted, and wondering if I really am such a decent guy or just the biggest fool to ever walk the earth. Only time will tell, I suppose. Pardon my candor, Blaine.”
“Yah, I get that, don’t blame ya one bit. But I know my daughter and I also know she ain’t a prize half the time, she got that from me, my old asshole genes but spoiler alert: you’re riding off into your personal sunset now. Ana and I both got a good core and once we love, it’s for life. She just needed a good hard nudge to realize her priorities. Now she has.”
“Here’s to hoping that I am the lucky winner this time around.” Chase took a sip of the laced drink.
“Don’t know about lucky, cos kid, your wife can be a bitch. Her mother and I are both glad you took her back, as we were about to drive her out into the wilderness and tie her to a tree with a sign ‘free to good home’. If you are worried about Riordan, don’t be. Keeping tabs on him, but they both realized they don’t work out together worth a damn. That was probably Caleb and my fault. Caleb’s Riordan’s uncle and he and I kept those kids from dating since they were young. The forbidden apple thing. Had we let them be, they would have learned a long time ago they are way too much alike, like twins. The temper alone. She’s always loved you. The moment you two separated she was the posterchild for one of those antidepressant commercials. I always thought those were so exaggerated – until she went into full depri mode.”
“Thanks for this, the straight talk. Hanging out with you is actually pretty great. To think I used to be so scared of you, Blaine.”
Blaine smirked, then told his son-in-law with a slight chuckle
“Me? I am but a purry, declawed pussycat. Well, now at least, the wife tamed me. There used to be a time in my life were I was a giant douchebag. Marriage has changed me, for the better.”
“I hope my marriage will do the same to Ana, I really want it to last now. I am pretty sure I cannot do this again. I don’t think I would even try. It’s too exhausting, emotionally and physically.”
“Son, listen to me, I am not fucking clairvoyant, but I don’t need to be, this is it now. Ana is like me, we are the type that gets in their own way until we get close to losing the most important person in our life. That’s when that big head gets the proper adjustment. My daughter loves you, wants you, all that good shit. Trust me Chase, a father can tell. She’s got it sorted out now. If you want some real man to man advice, enjoy it while her guilt lasts. Have some fun with it and make her do stuff you want. Inside and outside the bedroom. I mean, get creative, dude. And get in some payback for the shit she put you through. I would.” Blaine chuckled, Chase chimed in
“I’ll keep that in mind, may even have a few ideas. Thanks for the tip. By the way, I downloaded some of your music the other day. You were really good. Not my usual genre, but I really do like it.”
“Ah – and what you really meant to say was that I still am really good, right, son? Ha ha ha, I am still going, kid, this legend ain’t dead just yet. Just a lot less in everyone’s face and more behind the scenes. Trying to be famous almost cost me everything, including my life. Another rough lesson learned the hard way. Your wife had grand dreams of fame once, but luckily she quit that without having to test drive it first. It ain’t as glamorous as you think. This whole entertainment business is a bunch of hooey, that’s what that is. Smoke and mirrors, and the actual art dies a painful death right at the beginning, all that remains are lies in some dog eat dog environment aimed to earn the wrong people a ton of dough and the artist becomes nothing but a marionette. No thanks!”
“Tell me about it. I am obviously from old money. The Cunningham name is legendary in most circles. Means our family has always been under a magnifying glass and another reason I kept the marital issues hush-hush. Being born into a distinguished family is another example how not all that glitters is gold, even though I am trying to keep my children’s lives as untouched by all that as possible. But it also means when you are a young and dumb teen boy, even at an elite academy, there will be girls trying to date you for the wrong reasons. Doesn’t exactly feel good once you realize it and makes you less eager to date at all. Maybe that’s why I was so stuck on Ana, she may be a lot of things, but gold digger isn’t one of them. I am sure you would know all about that type of women seeing how successful you were. I meant ‘are’.”
“Nice recovery, son. So that’s the story why a catch like you was roaming free and utterly unattached when my daughter and you met, huh?”
“Yeah. Obviously I was immediately attracted to her, Ana is very beautiful and has a lot of presence, but it wasn’t until she told me who she was and I researched her that I realized she’s not one of those gold diggers, not with a father like you, who had the spotlight on him and bowed out of it. Little did I know that there were other skeletons in her closet. Not sure I would have pursued her had I know the half of it.”
“Son, it don’t matter none whom you date or marry, you are gonna hit rough seas one way or another. It’s inevitable. That’s how you know what’s meant to be, how you separate the wheat from the chaff. And if it’s meant to be, it will be. That is how I can be so sure you and Ana are gonna last now. You are meant to be, 100% certain.”
“Blaine, do you think it would be wrong to ask her to stop working and stay home with the kids until they are older?”
“Man, I can’t tell ya that. That is a question for my wife. She speaks Anastasia and Brendan fluently. I got my head bitten off so much by that daughter of mine of late, I have no clue what she wants or what you can ask that won’t set her off. Then again, she feels so guilty, I think you could ask her to shave her head, wax her body and use her for a surfboard and she’d do it, just to get back on your good side.”
“Look, this isn’t official yet, but my parents own this old neighborhood clinic here in Brindleton Bay, far cry from a goldmine but it’s Cunningham tradition many generations deep. As they are getting older, they have asked me many times to give up my research spot at the university hospital to work at the clinic with them, and to eventually take it over from them in a few years. That would allow me to come home for lunch, and Ana could visit me with the kids sometimes. After everything, and without wanting to sound needy and clingy, that does sound pretty nice to me right about now, especially since in a few years the children will be in school. I am just worried if I bring that up to Ana it will push her away, if she were to misunderstand my intentions and think I mistrust her.”
“Nah, you’re overthinking it. Ana is so frigging happy you gave her another chance, I am pretty sure she’d agree to anything and everything right about now. She missed being around you and the kids every day, and you are not asking her to quit forever, just to take a break. My wife did that, I see nothing wrong with it, can’t hurt to ask. Ana has changed a lot since you two separated and got back together. A significant change. Definitely for the better, she’s a lot calmer, more mature. I could see her being more maternal and a lot more of a wife than she was before, if only because she now really wants to be. So yeah, ask. And quit worrying so damn much.”
“I didn’t want to appear like I didn’t value her education and skills. She is very smart and determined and great at her job. That’s just not what this is about. I can’t quit my job, as someone has to take over my parents’ practice and it should be a Cunningham. I am the only child they have. Also wanted to run it by you as I didn’t want you and Viktoria’s to think I want her to be a 50s housewife. I really do not. Just want to enjoy family life as much as I can before the kids reach school age. Less than three years left, sounds like a lot, but really isn’t.”
“I don’t give a shit what my daughter does with her life, as long as it doesn’t harm her or the kids and I guarantee you my wife agrees. We want her happy, and you too. You are like a son to me and I never liked the way Ana treated you. Just ask Ana about your idea, she may surprise you and be glad not to have to drive to San Myshuno all the time. My daughter wants to be near you as much as possible now.”