Read Beautiful Bastard Chapter 90, Please!
I nearly laughed at the absurdity of it, of “doing lunch” almost like one would with a client. I’d essentially forfeited my job so I could stay with him, and he was going to have dinner with his ex-wife to discuss reconciliation.
Was this really happening?
I nodded, jaw tight, unable to even look at him. “Sure.”
Tilting his head, he asked, “Could you tell me what happened with Tony? We exchanged words earlier. He urged Richard to put a rather strongly worded letter in my file. Hopefully I’ve borne the brunt of what happened between us in New York.”
Between us. In New York.
Not last night. Not the night I pushed you so far you’re considering going back to a woman who made you miserable, but left you alone in your sh.e.l.l.
“Oh, yeah,” I said absently, sinking into an odd numbness. I stood, walking toward the door. “He basically just gave me a letter, too.”
Despite my suggestion that we meet somewhere neutral, Portia insisted I come to her flat—our old flat—for dinner. I’d had an odd weight in my gut since talking to Ruby, some residue of regret about the conversation. I’d texted her as I left the office, saying I would call later, or come ’round if she liked, but she hadn’t answered. I knew she was a bit offended that I wanted to talk to Portia at all, and I couldn’t exactly blame her. But I hoped, too, that she understood the intent behind it. After all, I wasn’t here hoping to reconcile with Portia; I was with Ruby now. We were an us.
But Ruby made a good point: then why was I meeting my ex-wife for dinner? Could I honestly say the only reason I agreed was to let Portia speak her piece so we could both truly move on? Was there a part of me—no matter how small—that wondered if we could find a better place together, with more communication? We knew each other’s rhythms, after all. It would be easy to slip back to it.
But the thought turned sour in my mind and guilt clawed its way up my throat. I had truly moved on. I didn’t look back on my marriage with longing or any type of ache. It had been lonely and pa.s.sionless. It hadn’t even felt like being married to a best friend; it had nearly felt like cohabitation with a colleague.
What could I expect her to say that would change how I viewed any of that? Was I going just because, in my new happiness, I simply felt bad for my ex-wife?
I wanted to call Ruby before I went to dinner, to tell her that, no, Portia honestly had no chance, and maybe that was wrong of me to let her think she did by my coming, but a dark and furtive part of me was simply curious: Portia had never in our relationship sounded as open and pleading as she had on the phone that morning.
It had thrown me enough to forget, for a few minutes, that Ruby had been waiting in my flat for me to drive her home before work. By the time I’d emerged from the bathroom, hand clutched over the receiver to beg her to wait just a minute more, she’d already left.
Even on the steps I could smell the pasta Portia had cooked—my favorite, with sausages and peppers and thyme. I could hear the music playing—my favorite Vienna Philharmonic recording of Brahms. The front door was unlocked and still required the familiar shoulder shove—low kick combination to open.
I bent to pet Davey as he ran across the floor to me, hopping on his hind legs and resting his paws on my knees. “That’s a good boy,” I said, scratching behind his ears.
Hearing the clang of plates on the counter, I looked up. Portia stood barefoot in our kitchen in casual cotton pants, a T-shirt, and an ap.r.o.n. I blinked, mouth agape. I’d rarely seen the woman without her pearls.
When she turned to me, she wore her wide, dazzling smile. I was immediately on edge.
“h.e.l.lo,” she said, picking up a second gla.s.s of red wine from the counter and walking to hand it to me. She placed it in my grasp and then stretched to kiss my cheek. “Welcome home.”
I nearly wanted to turn and leave right then. It was disloyal, being here. I felt like my skin had been replaced with damp wool and I itched all over. It was wrong, and I knew it. Ruby had known it.
“Your home,” I reminded her, putting the gla.s.s down carefully on the sideboard. “I live several Tube stops away.”
She waved me off, returning to the counter where she was dishing up pasta into two bowls. “I’ve still not seen your flat.”
“There isn’t much to see,” I said with a shrug.
Portia nodded to the dining room and I startled slightly. I’d barely been here two minutes and she was leading me to the table as if I’d simply come home from work. No reacquaintance, no small talk. Certainly no playful banter.
I followed her in. It was surreal seeing the table set with candles and flowers, the placemats we’d received from the Wynn family for our wedding. The candelabra her parents had given us for our fifth anniversary. When we lived here together, Portia would cook on occasion, but it was always clearly communicated to be a production and used as a form of currency in the look-how-much-I-do-each-day ledger of our marriage.
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