Unspoken Vows, Book 1 of the Heartbeat Series

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Chapter 14. Bribery

On Friday, I took Megan back to Ruby’s for her next appointment. On our way home, we detoured to the Berry Patch for lunch. Without looking at the menu, she ordered a big grilled chicken salad and waited for me to order a cheeseburger. So not to be lectured for at least one day, I ordered the big grilled chicken salad too. Even after the waiter brought us our drinks, Meg sat there staring at the table.

“Are you all right?”

“No, I’m not.”

Damn, I thought, wishing she had said, Yes, I’m fine, so we could have left it at that.

“She told me when I saw her last that I had to go to an Al-anon meeting every day for three months. I was supposed to start going, but I didn’t. She’s really pissed at me now, so I have no choice but to dust my books off and go back.”

“How do you feel about that?” I asked as she readjusted herself so she wasn’t sitting on her braid, checking the tip of it before letting it snake in front of her on her left side again.

Meg glared at me, and this time, I didn’t deserve it. She’s the one that wanted to discuss this, not me.

“What did I say?”

“You sound like Ruby,” she said, rubbing her bare shoulders and forearms left exposed by the spaghetti strap top with her dainty hands. Megan was probably one of the only women I knew who didn’t wear jewelry, not even a ring and rarely a watch.

“It’s her favorite line,” I replied with a laugh, as the waiter set our iced teas in front of us.

“No duh, it’s a shrinky thingy,” she replied. With the straw, she stabbed the lemon wedge she had squeezed and dropped into the glass so the pulp fell loose from it. Meg took a sip and put the glass back on the table. Again, she huddled her shoulders inward and stroked the arms with her hands.

“Why don’t you want to return to Al-anon?” I asked, standing up and taking off the suit coat that I wore over my polo shirt today, trying to be casual with the assistant I could barely get out of jeans.

“I don’t care, really, but I’d rather I went because I wanted to go,” she said, as I put it about her shoulders. Meg smiled and said thanks as I sat down again. Then she reached into her jeans pocket, extracted a folded white piece of paper and set it on the table.

“What’s this?” I asked reaching for it.

“A schedule and a form.”

“So these are where the meetings are held? What’s this?” I asked, spying the paper numbered one through ten with a column for meeting name and date, and third for a signature.

“I have to attend at least five meetings in seven days, or we don’t continue. I need you to tell me how to get to these meetings since I don’t know where any of them are located.”

“Why? That doesn’t sound like Ruby.”

“She says I’m an extreme case.”

“What?” I asked, looking up from the schedule, realizing that most of them are on the other side of town and I’d either have to Mapquest them or draw her a map to explain it to her.

“I’m no sociopath. So calm yourself, Boss Man. I’m just a flaming co-dependant.”

“What’s that?”

“Someone who must always be in control, who is overly responsible and must keep everything including disagreements at an equilibrium.”

“You know, all but that last part sounds like you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re always bickering with Bianca.”

“Just because I have a need for equilibrium doesn’t mean I don’t rock the boat every now and then.”

“It’s constant with her though.”

“Yeah, we both enjoy our tête-à-tête,” she replied in Bianca’s French jargon as the waiter brought our salads. I wanted the cheeseburger at the table across from us. Meg saw where my eyes went. Before the waiter could disappear into the bowels of the kitchen to hide until dessert, Meg stopped him.

“Could we have one of those cheeseburgers with everything on it but hold the bacon and the mayo?”

I smiled at her.

“And cut it in half.”

“Would you like fries with that?” The waiter asked me.

“No thank you,” Meg replied in a stern tone that chastised both of us, “Just the cheeseburger.”

I smiled at her as she poured the Sweet and Sour house dressing on the salad.

“What?” she asked.

“I don’t care if you’re co-dependent, you’re the best, Meg.”

“You too, Alex. How long ago did you see Ruby?”

My secret was out. Did Ruby expose me? My face grew red with embarrassment as I cleared my throat and picked at my salad with my fork while Meg waited for an answer.

“Did she—”

“No, I figured it out.”

“We stopped seeing each other professionally about two years ago. How’d you guess?”

“She knows you well.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Like you drink too much, eat too much, exercise too little. Work too much, worry too much, travel too much and don’t rest at all.”

“That sounds about right. So what does that make me?” I asked, taking the pepperoncini by the stem then biting down on it.

“A perfect match for a co-dependent,” she replied as I choked on the pepper. When I finally got it up, I was able to sip some water but that didn’t squelch indigestion that was creeping up my throat. Was she hitting on me?

“Are you all right?”

“Fine,” I finally got out after clearing my throat for the second time. I was unable to believe that Ruby already knew how much I cared for Meg.

“It must be why we work so well together,” she replied, taking another bite of salad. Whew, she meant it in a professional sense. When my cheeseburger arrived, I reached for a half while she crunched her salad and giggled at me.

“Why didn’t you just get one?”

“I’ve been bad this week.”

“It’s been a bad week,” she qualified.

“Yeah, it has.”

“Thanks for being there, Alex.”

I nodded. “I owed you.”

Cutting her half into two quarters, Megan picked up one then pushing the plate towards me. “No, you didn’t,” she said.

“A perfect match, is that what Ruby said?”

“No, I did. I’ve been at this for a while.”

“At what?”

“My so-called recovery.”

“From what?”

Meg rolled her eyes at me when she realized that I was ignorant to the twelve-step lingo. “Co-dependency, of course.”

“Oh, so how did you become one?”

“Co-dependency was survival growing up,” said Meg, stabbing another piece of dressing covered lettuce. Megan always ate every bite of salad. Anna could cook a gourmet meal, Meg would pick at it and eat a few bites, but put a plate full of salad in front of her and my little brown haired bunny would eat every bite.

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s easier to learn than unlearn.”

“Sounds like a habit.”

“That about sums it up.”

Meg ignored my grin as her eyes wandered across the room and landed on a couple in one of those half-circle booths. The woman fed him a bite of her sundae, and he smiled at her and then kissed her. They seemed very happy and new to each other. As I watched Meg’s eyes longingly linger in that stare, I reached across the table and covered her clenched hand with my own. My touch alerted her of my presence but not before our eyes met.

“Why can’t love be like a romance novel?”

“Real love is.”

Megan broke the stare and stabbed a piece of chicken like it was Davenport that she had put that fork through. “No, I doubt it. Romance is all fiction,” she argued.

“Someday, you will know differently.” Although I knew that my hand was making her uncomfortable, I left it there, waiting for a reaction out of her.

“Where’d you find Ruby, anyway? I figured you’d have some high-priced shrink with leather chairs, not Naugahyde.”

“She was a referral from Doc Jamison.”

“Really?” Meg asked, picking through her salad and stabbing a black olive with her fork.

“Why does that surprise you?”

“You hate everyone Dr. Jamison sends you to.”

“Now, hate is too harsh a word. I don’t hate them, I hate what they do to me,” I replied picking up my glass of iced tea and stirring the sugar in the bottom of it again.

“If you behaved—” Meg said, as my thumb stroked the back of her hand, forcing her to make eye contact with me again.

“If you’d quit avoiding the great men you’ve passed up for the lousy ones, you’d realize why idiots like Davenport are losers.”

Megan smirked, knowing I was right. “Touché.”

“How long have you been fighting this uphill battle?”

“I think its eight years this year.”

“Just meetings?”

“When I go,” she said, trying to avoid the conversation altogether. It was so nice making her squirm for a change. She got such a charge out of making me squirm through these conversations, that I liked the feeling of control and got a kick out of putting her on the defensive.

“When you go, are you better?”

“Sometimes,” she replied as if she really didn’t want to discuss this with me, wishing I’d change the subject already. After all of the uncomfortable discussions she had lassoed me into in the last two weeks, I plugged onward, finding more satisfaction in it than the information I was receiving.

“What gets in the way?”

“Dating and work.”

“So what are we going to do about that?” I asked, as she put down the fork, wiped her mouth with the napkin and snorted as a smart-ass smirk came across her face, warning me that something sarcastic was on its way out of her mouth.

“Well, I can’t sit around and not work,” she replied. She picked up the tea and sipped it through the straw, waiting for my reaction.

“No, that would kill you.”

“It would be torturous, to say the least.”

“So don’t date.”

“Are you nuts?” she asked, setting down the glass.

Pushing my half-eaten salad away from me, which I gladly would have traded for a plate of chili cheese fries if she hadn’t been there, I asked, “How about if we make a deal?”

Meg didn’t answer me right away but continued to pick at the salad then gave me one of her skeptical looks as if she was trying to figure me out before I had a chance to explain myself.

“What are you offering?”

“No dating for a year.”

“In exchange for what? For my own mental health?” she asked with a laugh.

“Well, after the last one, your life in general.”

Meg sighed. “All right, no dating for what?”

“What do you really want? You tell me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. What if Mr. Right finally comes along?”

“Then he’ll wait.”

“No, he won’t.”

“Yes, he would.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do. A decent guy would wait,” I argued with her. Meg set down her fork, leaned back in the booth and was ready to do battle with me.

“You’re bribing me.”

“Let’s call it creative recovery.”

Meg glared at me again. As I finished off what was left in my glass of iced tea, Meg got a smile on her face, and I heard a giggle emerge.

Before taking that last bite of chicken that I had left on my plate, I thought about her bathing suit bribes to keep me on my diet. “What?” I asked.

“No, you won’t go for it.”

“Why do you think that? Don’t tell me it’s too expensive.”

“It was just a passing thought that amused me.”

“Please share, I could use some amusement this week.”

“It’s better that I keep my mouth shut.”

“C’mon, I promise not to take offense.”

“Just remember, you asked for it.”

“How much is it going to cost me?”

“Well, let’s just say it will save you more money than you will spend.”

“Interesting, go on.”

“Okay, if I don’t date for an entire year, then you have to get rid of Bianca when I’m done.”

My eyebrows rose. She’s testing me. The little vixen was cleverer than I had imagined. I picked up my napkin from my lap and wiped my mouth before asking the next question, partially covering up my smirk. I really didn’t want her to know that the idea did amuse me.

“Now why would I do that?”

“Because you deserve better.”

“So do you, but let me ask you something. Why don’t you want me to break it off with Bianca during your year on the bench?”

Meg’s face turned red. Just as I thought, she wanted me, but Bianca stood in the way.

“I like you, Meg, but no deal.”

“I wasn’t asking. I told you, the thought amused me.”

“What about that amused you?” I asked, testing to see if she’d tell me the truth.

“That I would never have to make the bitch another Martini.”

I chuckled at her response. “Be serious, what do you want more than anything in the world?”

“Besides a husband and family?”

I set down my glass and leaned back in the booth. Unlike Bianca, Megan wanted a family and a husband. Bianca only wanted someone to fuck while she was in New York. Marriage and motherhood were beneath her. Her hips were for ballet, not birthing, she told me with every refusal to my proposal of marriage.

“Could you think of the tangible for a change? How about a new car?”

“I’m still paying off mine.”

“Do you want me to pay it off?”

“No, I’d rather you paid off my student loans.”

“How much do you have in loans?”

“24K.”

“Done.”

“You’re joking.”

“Spend a year without dating and at the end, I’ll pay off your student loans.”

“If I don’t date for two years, will you pay for an MBA?”

“I’d pay for an MBA for a five-year contract with the foundation.”

“I was joking.”

“I’m not. You should get that MBA.”

“Well, it would give me something to do since I won’t have a social life.”

“Sure you will. You’ll have your meetings to attend.”

“What? Once a week?”

“Now, how am I going to keep you honest while I’m away?”

“You’ll have to trust me.”

To that reply, I rolled my eyes because I knew better.

When we returned to the estate, Bianca was there to greet us, and I heard Meg moan before she wandered back to her office.

“What? No hellos? No kind words?” asked Bianca loudly so it resonated off the hallway walls, following Meg to her office. Meg flipped her the bird and kept walking. Bianca chuckled and found me in the front room.

“Just where in the hell have you two been? She’s acting pretty guilty. What have you two been up to?” asked Bianca, flipping her blond ultra-fine angel hair from her shoulder onto her back as she approached me.

Bianca wrapped her arms around me and kissed me gently on the lips. I wasn’t interested in a long kiss from her at the moment after her display with Megan so I just half-heartedly hugged her instead.

“Let it be. It’s been a bad week.”

“You’ll have to fill me in later. What are we going to do tonight?” she asked. My hands gravitated to cupping her shoulders and teasing her soft hair and silk blouse. I knew what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t out for dinner at some presumptuous restaurant or a show in Manhattan. The burn inside of me wanted one thing and that was to shed the said silk blouse from her body and slip her between the sheets of my bed.

“Whatever you want. Meg’s going out.”

“She’s playing the field again?”

“No, on the contrary. She has somewhere to go.”

“Hmm, I could think of a few things we could do before the sun goes down,” she crooned, teasing the buttons on my polo shirt, then the lapel of my suit coat before cocking that sweet head up in my direction.

“I hate it when you’re away, but I sure love the reunions.”

“Maybe we should get on with the festivities?”

“I love how you read me,” I replied, pulling her against me with my hand firmly planted on her upturned ballerina’s ass.

I drank in the passionate nectar of her mouth, as her petite form pressed against mine in a melded embrace. Bianca fit me so well and responded to my every move almost immediately, so all other annoyances lessened when she was in my arms.

“Come, Bee,” I whispered into her ear, then led her by the hand out of the great room to the cascading staircase in the foyer, where my own found its way around her waist as we climbed the stairs to my suite.

While Bianca fiddled with the stereo, I adjusted the ceiling fan to a gentle breeze and hung my suit coat on my gentleman’s rack.

“Ah, Ravell.” She sighed, as some symphony droned on and then walked my way, unbuttoning a few of the buttons on her creamy silk blouse. I pulled her blouse from her deep blue Capri pants as her lips grazed my temple. Prior to disrobing, neither of us realized that we hadn’t shut the door to the suite until I heard footsteps resonate down the hallway.

By that time, I was on top of a bare Bianca when the feet stepped down the back staircase that led to the kitchen. Too interested in what I was doing, I left the door alone, deciding to finish the task before worrying about the staff at my house.

I had woken from our afternoon interlude to the sound of thunder, so I covered Bianca and left her sleeping. After tossing on a pair of shorts and a tank T-shirt, I went down the back staircase to see what was for dinner. Any conversations that were happening in the kitchen rose up the staircase, and at times, I would stand on the landing and eavesdrop on Meg and Anna for my own benefit.

“I need to get out of here tonight,” Meg said, making me stop on the stairs.

“Where will you go with a storm like this?”

“A meeting, probably.”

“You do that.”

“I wonder if it’s safe to go upstairs?”

“They’re sleeping. I shut the door about an hour ago when I was putting away towels in the master bathroom.”

Noting my cue, I turned the corner and went down the final flight of stairs into the kitchen. Meg turned to acknowledge my presence then went back to toying with her dinner.

Meg would remain cold and jealous until Bianca left again. She ate her dinner in the kitchen at the center island, perched on the stool and playing with her food more than eating it. Anna had finished washing the pans and was drying them with a towel as Meg pulled the schedule from her jeans and tossed it on the island.

“You know, doors are for shutting,” she answered snidely.

As I reached into the fridge for a bottle of beer, I replied, “I’ll remember that. What’s for dinner, Anna?”

“Chicken Marseilles, smashed red potatoes with roasted garlic, and fresh steamed broccoli.”

I noticed that the broccoli was the only thing gone from her plate. “I take it the green was your idea?” I asked Megan who smirked.

As I sat down next to Meg, Anna unwrapped a plate she had prepared for me.

“You don’t eat enough.” I picked up the folded schedule on the counter. “Are you going out tonight?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll have to give me directions. I don’t know where any of these places are in White Plains.”

“How do you read one of these things?”

All of the little symbols denoting the different types of meetings looked like hieroglyphics to me. I looked at the legend to see what they meant and still had no idea what they were before I checked out the Friday night meeting schedule.

“What’s an open meeting?”

“Anyone can go.”

“And closed?”

“Al-anoners only.”

“Which do you want?”

“A first step meeting.”

“A what?”

“It’s like welcome back, you still have a problem and we hope that this time you’ll stick around long enough to realize that you’re not cured, even if you think you are.”

Anna laughed and took my plate out of the microwave. Meg was rather amusing when sarcastic. Unfortunately, when she’s sarcastic, trying to get her to do or agree to anything was like pulling teeth from an elephant.

“What’s a woman’s meeting?” I asked as Anna set the steaming plate in front of me.

“It’s a place to pick up chicks.”

“No, it’s not,” I smirked at her joke.

“Okay, it’s a place for chicks to pick up chicks.”

“You’re in a lovely mood.”

“Whatever.”

“Why do you get this way whenever Bianca comes back?”

Meg didn’t answer me, but left the kitchen and walked up the back staircase. I let her be and ate my dinner while it was hot, decided to respond to her theatrics later.

With her back to me, while she washed the dishes in the sink, Anna said, “As if you didn’t know. Not that it matters, but I think you enjoy how they fight over you,” she said as I took a bite of the potatoes that Meg had instructed her not to salt in preparation.

“Where’s the salt?”

“No salt, you know better. There’s plenty of garlic in there for flavor. You can have some pepper if you like. You know Megan will be mad at both of us if I gave you a salt shaker.”

“I wish she wouldn’t—”

“Stop, you know she loves you, and from what I’ve seen as of late, the feeling is mutual, whether you want to admit it or not.”

“She has a lot of baggage.”

“And you don’t?”

“Anna, stop—”

“Don’t Anna me, Mr. Corwynn. Are you going to keep playing this game until you hurt her so badly that she runs out of here? You mark my words. Meggy is the best thing that’s happened to you in a long time and the same goes for you in her life.”

“Then why Davenport?”

“To get your attention.”

I left my empty plate on the center island and went upstairs to see if Bianca had woken yet. When I got up there, she stirred and opened one eye at me before putting her arm over her face.

“Are you all right?” I asked. I turned on the bed table light and she groaned.

“No, shut that off, I have such a migraine.”

“You do?” I put out the light and let the lights from the hallway permeate the room instead.

“Yes, and that storm isn’t helping at all.”

“I can’t do anything about the storm, but we could move you downstairs, where it’s quieter.

“Won’t Megan be playing the piano?”

“No, I think she’s going out.”

“My head’s pounding.”

“Can I get you something?”

“My medication is in my purse.”

I left the room to get her purse from her suite when I found Meg in the hallway, her feet in sneakers instead of the sandals she had on this afternoon. She had two books in one hand and her windbreaker in the other.

“It’s really pouring out there,” Megan said. She pulled her windbreaker over her head and stuffed one arm inside. I took the books from her so she could get her other arm in the jacket, checking out their titles, One Day At a Time and Courage to Change.

“Interesting reading.”

“Don’t even start. God, do I hate to drive in the rain.”

“You’ll be fine. Take it easy and don’t rush.”

“Friday night, all the idiots are on the road.”

“Do you want me to take you?”

“Bianca would kill me.”

“Bianca is in bed with a migraine and would appreciate silence.”

“Are you going in or are you just dropping off and picking up?”

“Whichever you prefer.”

“The latter.”

“That’s fine. Let me get Bianca her migraine medicine, and I’ll be right down to take you.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

“Sure, I’ll only be a minute.”

The storm raged on and lightning struck not far from the house as I heard Bianca moan. I got her some cold water, from the bathroom tap, and she took the pill before I tucked her into the bed.

“Can you rest here for a bit? I’m going to run Megan to her meeting.”

“Can’t she drive herself?”

“She hates to drive in the rain.”

“Fine, whatever.”

“You rest, I’ll be home soon,” I said, kissing her on the forehead.

Meg sat on the bottom steps waiting for me. One of the books was open, and she seemed to be reading it but as I walked down the stairs, she shut it. Meg raised her eyebrow at me and smirked so her dimples dented her cheeks. I knew that cheeky look of hers; she was about to say something smart.

“What?”

“You hardly go less than casual around here. It’s nice to see you more comfortable for a change.” I felt Meg’s eyes on me as I walked ahead of her and into the kitchen. Damn, I’m ten years plus her senior, and she’s still looking!

I grabbed my keys from the rack in the kitchen and we left out the side door.

On the drive there, we had to take a detour because of a fallen tree across a road and were a bit late to the meeting.

“I’ll go in with you to make sure it hasn’t been canceled because of the weather,” I said, parking the Jag in the church parking lot. I followed her inside and up the stairs where the “AL-ANON SPOKEN HERE” Arrow sign pointed.

“We’re late,” whispered Megan.

As we neared the room, I could hear a woman reading aloud and as Meg turned to leave me in the hall to go to her meeting, I grabbed her elbow.

“How long does it last?”

“An hour,” she whispered.

“I’ll meet you inside here since I don’t want you walking outside in this neighborhood.”

Megan rolled her eyes at me then smiled before going inside. I leaned against the wall for a moment to listen.

“We who live or have lived with the problem of alcoholism understand as perhaps few others can. We, too, were lonely and frustrated, but in Al-Anon, we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. We urge you to try our program. It has helped many of us find solutions that lead to serenity. So much depends upon our own attitudes as we learn to place our problem in its true perspective; we find that it loses its power to dominate our thoughts and our lives.[1]”

I had hoped that Megan would let me accompany her. Many years ago, I had taken one of my friends to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and I wondered if it was anything like it. Something about steps sounded familiar. Content that she was in good hands, I left the church and stopped at a nearby Starbucks for a cup of coffee.

While I sipped the coffee, I thought about what I needed to do about Davenport and dialed Daniel Stockton’s office phone at ACR in California. He’d still be in the office, even on a Friday night and I wasn’t wrong. Daniel picked up his phone on the second ring. I filled him in on what was happening, and he said that he had already consulted with Hank, who worked out of New York and did per diem legal work for me.

“When are you getting out of there?” I asked, sipping my coffee.

“Soon, I have a dinner date tonight.”

“Gene?”

“No, we broke it off.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, but Brandon won’t be.”

“And what are you inferring by that?”

“I think you’re calling to find out about Gene for Brandon.”

“I’m hurt, Daniel.”

“With your tongue in your cheek you’re hurting, Alex. I know Bixley’s games.”

“What do you have against Brandon?”

“Nothing, we’d have a future together if he ever wised up and moved to Cali.”

“You know that will never happen.”

“We’re too old and wise even to consider maintaining the long distance relationship we once had. Life’s too short, Alex.”

“I know, Daniel,” I replied and really did. Too many of our friends both young and old died from AIDS and cancer this last year. Both of us had commented how short life was for all of us, and Daniel reminded me of that conversation. At a quarter of nine, I went to fetch Megan.

When I climbed the stairs of the church to the meeting room, I could hear the same woman speaking. It sounded as if she was reading something very familiar to her. I stood against the wall and heard her say:

“In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here were strictly that of the person who gave them. Take what you like and leave the rest. The things you heard were spoken in confidence and should be treated as confidential. Keep them within this room and in the confines of your mind.

A few special words to those of you who haven’t been with us long: Whatever our problems, there are those among us who have had them too. If you try to keep an open mind, you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness too great to be lessened.

We aren’t perfect. The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you. After a while, you will discover that although you may not like all of us, you will love us in a very special way, in the same way, we already love you. Talk to each other, reason things out with someone else, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love, and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time. Will all who care to, join me in the closing prayer?[2]”

I heard the scraping of folding chairs across the linoleum and the rustling of bodies before those gathered within said the Lord’s Prayer. Since I hadn’t been to church in a long time, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard it, let alone said it myself. What I noticed as I listened, was that it wasn’t the tired prayer I heard in the Catholic Church as a kid. This prayer sounded hopeful. Maybe a little hope would be a good change.

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