Beautifully Complicated

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Chapter 7: Say It

Awkwardness clouded the inside of the shop so heavily that it was hard for me to breathe. It was so weird to send Andreas and Talia to the floral studio to work on the next days arrangements so that Chloe and Frank could plug in their ear buds to listen in on each session. All the sudden, it was my job to handle the check-in phone calls so my cousins could concentrate on snooping for whatever evidence they expected to find on my unsuspecting clients. And I was fine with taking calls, until I heard a voice that made my skin crawl.

“My dear daughter-in-law.”

“Cordelia. I wish you would stop calling me that.”

“Well, you’ll be sure to have your wish soon. Anyway, I am calling to let you know that we are having a wine tasting class tomorrow. I thought you might like to come.”

“Wine tasting? Why on earth …?”

“We’re trying out the new Diamond brand.”

A heavy sigh left my chest as the helpless feeling of surrender filled my soul. Shit, a Diamond Secret Society meeting. Oh goody. “Where?”

“Daisy Payton’s house.”

“The same Daisy Payton that was snip-snapping at me during the first meeting I had with y’all?” The same Daisy Payton whose husband is suspected of being part of a human trafficking ring?

“The very same. I will text you the address. We will be meeting at 3PM.”

“3PM? But my shop doesn’t close until 5PM!”

“I’m sure your employees can handle your absence for a couple of hours. I’ve heard that this is a wine to die for.”

“Yeah, okay, I get it. I’ll be there.”

“Fantastic! See you then.”

The harsh sound of the dial tone that followed only increased the solemn feeling in my heart. I felt stuck. Hell, I was stuck … between a rock and hard place … the government and the Diamond Secret Society. And to make matters even worse, I couldn’t complain to either one about the other. If I opened my mouth to my cousins about the Diamond Secret Society, there was a high possibility Cordelia and the rest of the psychos would find out because they had connections on the inside. And, if I told the Diamonds about my cousins, there was a high possibility I would no longer have cousins.

My head crashed to my hands as my eyes welled up with tears and blood boiled to the tips of my ears. How in the world did my life go from blissful and amazing to wretched and horrifying in a matter of a few days?

“Hey, boss,” Talia called from the doorway, distracting me from my inner dialogue. “Just wanted to let you know that Andreas and I finished putting together all of the bouquets for tomorrow.”

“Okay, great.”

“Chloe and Frank said everyone has checked in and out for their appointments, and the schedules for tomorrow are all done too.”

At first, my head jerked in confusion as I wondered how they could confirm that the check-ins were done, but then I remembered that Talia had no idea that I was doing their usual work while they spied on the day’s sessions. “Oh. Right. Okay, good. Then I guess you guys are good to go for today.”

“Uh, Mrs. Donato, one more thing. Your … uh … Mr. Donato is … here.”

I sighed, frustrated, before walking out to the front room with her. Part of me wanted to laugh while I heard Chloe tear him apart with each word that exited her mouth and watched Frank look him up and down like he wanted to rip his throat out. Andreas stood at his back, anxiously staring, waiting for Frank to give him his cue. Lorenzo was surrounded, and I could see the panic rising in his eyes. I could tell that he wasn’t expecting our people to turn on him and quickly defend his mistreatment of me.

In a word, it was splendid.

“You cowardly shell of a man. You had the nerve to have your mother come here and ask for her diamond back?”

“What? I didn’t …”

“For the ring you gave her with the promise of being together until death did you part?”

“Tell him, sis!”

“Last I checked, you weren’t dead yet, but I’d be happy to arrange that for you.”

“Hey! All right, y’all. Settle down,” I jumped in with a grin. “Y’all head on home. I’ll take care of this.”

“Are you sure, cousin, because I mean … we’re right here.”

“Thank you, Frankie. I got it. See y’all tomorrow,” I said moving them toward the door. Each of them held a lingering glance on Lorenzo before finally walking to their cars. While I waved to them as they pulled off, Lorenzo’s odd question threw me off-guard.

“You still do that? Send everybody off with a smile and a wave?”

“Tradition doesn’t stop just because you’re no longer here.”

“I never said it did. Look, Hazel, I don’t want to argue with you. That’s not why I came here.”

“And just why did you come here?”

“This,” he introduced, handing me a small pile of papers. I didn’t bother to go through them because there was one word in bold letters at the top of the first page that told me all I needed to know: DIVORCE. “Someone delivered these to me today. She said she was your lawyer. I can’t believe you, Hazel.”

“I’m sorry, what? You can’t believe me? You said you were filing anyway so …”

“I never said that! Silvana said that!”

“You’re absolutely right. You didn’t say it; you didn’t say anything. You just stood there while that bitch laid me and our entire relationship to rest, and you didn’t say a damn word to defend it.”

“Hazel, you have to understand …”

“Nope, nope, see, that’s where you’re wrong. I don’t have to understand a damn thing. You left, you got your dream job, and now you’re getting your divorce. All is right with the world, idin’t it?”

“No! I want things to be right with us, with our world.”

My face dropped to the floor. “You must be joking. You left our world, because, and I quote: I don’t want to fight for my dream anymore; I want to live it.”

“You’re right, I do, but I want to live it with you. You kicking off this divorce jeopardizes that.”

“Uh, how in the world …”

“You’re divorcing me on the grounds of adultery, and you’re asking for alimony?” he excitedly screeched.

My eyes blinked wildly. A tiny smirk fought its way to the corner of my lips. Jewel never told me what grounds she had filed the divorce under. I tried not to laugh. I really did, but a little giggle managed to escape. “Damn, Jewel.”

“You think this is funny? Do you know what this will do to Silvana’s reputation if it gets out that she not only broke up a marriage, but has to pay the ex-wife for doing it?”

“Boost the show’s ratings?” I shrugged. “Let me be perfectly clear. In case you missed the memo, I do not care one iota about what our divorce does for her reputation. She should’ve thought about that before taking somebody’s husband.”

“Did you think about how it’s going to affect me? What about me?”

“What about you? This is what you wanted, to live your dream. Her condition was that if you wanted her to help you do it, you had to divorce me. Ta-da! You should be thanking me right now.”

“You’re about to turn me into a joke on national television and you want me to thank you? Instead of the sexy new boyfriend-slash-husband that comforted her through a difficult time of losing her elderly husband …”

“Sugar daddy,” I murmured.

“… The producers are looking at me like … like I’m the cabana boy or something. A cabana boy that abandoned his wife to live off of Silvana’s superstardom!”

“And how is that a deviation from the truth? Because, well, technically …”

“Hazel, this is not a joke. You need to fix this!”

“I’m sorry, what? I don’t need to do a damn thing. You need to get the hell out of my shop.”

“This shop is still half mine last I checked.”

“Well check again, because if I remember correctly, my lawyer put in a request for me to get this shop,” I revealed as he gawked through the paperwork. The terrifying look in his eyes when he glimpsed back up at me stole the breath from my chest.

“You want the shop, the house, and the car?”

I do? “Uh …”

“You want the shop, the house, the car, and you want me to pay you alimony. Is there anything you don’t want?”

Your guess is as good as mine. “Uh …”

“Nevermind. Don’t even answer that. Hazel, baby, you’re being real spiteful right now. This isn’t even like you. I know you.”

“I thought I knew you.”

“If you’re keeping the shop, then what do you need with me and Silvana’s money?”

“You and Silvana’s money,” I scoffed. “Do you even realize the mess you’ve left me with? I went from starting this business with you, to converting it to an illegal store of whores to hide your affairs just so you can walk away from it and me with the same bitch you had the affair with. Now, I’m left with the bills on the house, because you packed up your stuff while I was here working so obviously you no longer live there. I’m stuck with the upkeep of this shop and its daily operations and looking out for every person I employ because you left me in this situation by myself, and you have the audacity to whine about the grounds of divorce? Tell me something, Lorenzo: are you upset about what I requested, or are you just mad that I beat you to filing the papers because it makes her look like the home-wrecking whore that she is, and it makes you look like the … oh, I don’t know. Foolish, or selfish, or downright dog-like cabana boy as you so eloquently put it?”

“Hazel, this is not a game, baby. I see what you’re trying to do, but you’re playing with fire, and you’re not going to win. There’s no way Silvana is going to pay you to divorce me.”

“Oh she’s not paying me; she’s paying you and you are paying me. You know, it’s kind of funny. She thought she was done buying your services, meanwhile a judge might actually have her continue to pay me for you … at a larger price, and a longer period of time. I guess that means that all the money you gave back to her for using our services will be rightfully returned … to me,” I happily connected as his face soured with disappointment. “Isn’t it interesting how things comes full circle? Karma and all that, hmm?”

“I never meant to hurt you, Hazel.”

“And you thought … that walking out on me … was going to do what, make me smile?”

“I thought you would be happy that I took your advice in asking a client for help!”

“You know what? If you want to play stupid, that’s fine, but don’t you dare stand here and try to insult my intelligence. You knew what you were doing, Lorenzo; you just didn’t think you’d get caught. You knew what you wanted and you went for it on your own, without me. You weren’t thinking about anybody but yourself this whole time, and there I was, still trying to make us work. After all you’ve done. After all the pain you caused. I loved you enough to forgive and forget it all.”

“And I loved you for it, Hazel,” he cried reaching for my hands. I snatched them from his grasp. “I still love you.”

“No. Stop! You don’t love anything but yourself, and even saying that is a stretch. You are selfish, and you broke my heart. The love you swore you had for me, the simple and beautiful life you promised me … I get it now. You lied to me.”

“No. What? What are you talking about?”

“I thought you asked me to marry you because you loved me.”

“I did!”

“You said you knew I was the one from the moment you saw me and you didn’t want to risk losing me if life got in the way after we graduated high school.”

“That’s the truth.”

“No it isn’t. Love doesn’t cheat. Love doesn’t cause the pain you’re causing. Love protects. Love provides. Love … this … this isn’t love. This was never love.”

“That’s not true.”

“You wanted out of your parents’ house. I remember you saying that. You didn’t want to have to abide by their rules anymore so …,” I sighed, tearfully piecing it all together, “so you asked me to marry you as soon as I turned eighteen, and you thought it would encourage your parents to give you money, money to get you started on your new life with me.”

“Where are you getting this from?”

“Because you told me that you expected them to give us wedding money, but you came back empty-handed and upset. Now I know why. All this time, you told me that your parents cut you off when you turned eighteen because you were legally an adult …”

“They did.”

“… But your mother said that they cut you off when you married me and told you that if you were grown enough to start a family, then you had to be grown enough to provide for one.”

“Why would she tell you that?”

“So then you went looking for a sugar mama, some old broad that would give you money and gifts and shit so you wouldn’t have to work like I did …”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous.”

“… But when I found the little love notes she was leaving you in your pocket while I was washing your damn clothes, you had to tell me the truth about your sleeping with her, otherwise you would have kept using her without my knowing.”

“That’s not true.”

“And now, now that she’s sick of watching you go home to me after having sex with her – because you said it yourself, that you didn’t know how your clients would feel if they knew I possessed the secret weapon they wished they had between their thighs to keep you running back to them every night – she gave you an ultimatum: leave your wife, or stop screwing her. And when that didn’t work, she sweetened up the deal by saying that if you left me, she would help your acting career. So, there you went, and here we are now.”

“I think you’re exaggerating a little bit.”

“I’m sorry, what? You say this like I don’t know you, like I haven’t known you in and out! You’re lazy, Lorenzo. You’ve always been lazy, and I’ve never held it against you, but at least I know now that I don’t have to hold myself at fault for you leaving me, because it wasn’t about me.”

“I told you that!”

“It was about you.”

“Yes!”

“It’s always been about you.”

“Wait, what?”

“You and your damn selfishness!You used me to get money from your parents, and when that plan backfired, you used Silvana to get money and connections. And you want me to feel sorry for you because it’s not working out in your favor? After you’ve left me with the bill of this shop and our house and car insurance and utilities and the salaries for all of our employees, you’re upset when the divorce papers say that you need to pay your half?”

“It’s not even like that, gorgeous.”

“Don’t gorgeous me, you selfish bastard! It is like that, and you’ve made it like this, so in the words of your parents: Be a man and figure out a way to provide for you and your new wife, because I’m not asking my lawyer to retract anything from those divorce papers.”

“Baby, listen …”

“I’m not your baby. I’m not your anything, except your soon-to-be ex-wife. Now get the hell out of my shop,” I told as he continued to stand, his eyes glaring into mine with a fire that matched the one burning in the pit of my stomach.

“You think you’re going to win this?” he growled, stunning me to step back. He didn’t hesitate to pursue me. “You think that I’m going to let you ruin this for me? I’m done standing in the background watching everybody live the life I want, and I’ll be damned if I let you get in the way. Now you better fix these damn papers! Fix them now, or I promise you, gorgeous, I will make your life a living hell.”

“Haven’t you noticed? You already have.”

“I’m not kidding, Hazel!”

“Hey!” a voice yelled over Lorenzo’s, forcing us both to whip our heads in their direction. It was Andreas. “Don’t ever raise your voice to her like that again.”

“What?” Lorenzo laughed. “Kid, get the hell out of here.”

“No,” I stood firm. “You get out. I’ve already told you once.”

“Yeah, get out before I put you out.”

“Oh! Before you put me out? So, what, you turned into a bodyguard since I’ve been gone, Andreas?”

“Leave him alone, Lorenzo.”

“No, no. He wants to talk like a man, right? Right? Well, come on, kid. Let’s see if you can fight like one,” he challenged inching closer to him. Andreas mirrored Lorenzo’s movements, but before the two of them could face off toe-to-toe, I placed myself in the middle. “So you’re going to take the kid’s side over mine? I’m your husband.”

“A title that is subject to change very, very soon. Now get out, before I call the police, and put an end to your TV career before your face ever gets a chance to hit the screen.”

“This isn’t over, Hazel. Not by a long shot,” he pledged on his way out of the front door.

I couldn’t believe it. The balls on that man. If only he would have applied that same level of boldness into work and taking care of his family and keeping his damn promises, maybe we would have never had to go illegal.

I shakily took a breath while watching Lorenzo drive off of the lot. Andreas’s hand delicately rested on my left shoulder. It was a tender touch that was slowly but surely becoming the antidote for my rattled nerves. I turned his way to redirect my attention to him. His eyes were softened like I’d never seen them. I imagined it was in response to the sadness in mine, or the overall craziness of the day.

“Andreas, I just want to say thank you for …”

“Shh,” he said placing a finger to my lips. “You don’t have to thank me.”

“What are you even doing here? I thought you left with everyone else.”

“I did, but I accidentally left my cell in the studio, so I came through the back entrance to get it and that’s when I heard you and Mr. Donato going at it. Figured I’d stick around in case he tried to push his luck. I’m glad I did.”

“You didn’t have to …”

“Yes. Yes, I did.”

“Why, because you’re my personal assistant so you were going to personal assist me in dealing with my soon-to-be ex-husband?” I joked using the line he had used on me a few times before.

“No, because I’ve been secretly in love with you ever since I started working here, and I could never stand by and watch somebody hurt you.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Mrs. Donato, how many times have you heard me talk to you about my girlfriend?”

“Uh … never. Never not once. You have a girlfriend?”

“No, and I haven’t bothered to since the first day I saw your face.”

“What?”

“You never wondered why I would always volunteer to stay late to help you in the shop? Why I would always jump to help carry the bouquets to everyone’s car?”

“I thought … you said you were my personal assistant and it was your job to assist me?”

“It is, but I also wanted to spend whatever bit of extra time with you I could. Look, I know this is probably bad timing …”

“Ya think?”

“But I’ve … admired you, and I wasn’t going to say anything as long as you were happy with your husband, because, I mean let’s face it. This is my senior year and I’m going off to college soon and I honestly thought you and Mr. Donato were in it for the long haul but …”

“Okay, stop. Just …,” I paused, taking it all in. I was so … confused, and flattered, and … confused! “Andreas, where is this coming from?”

“From a place of adoration that has been sitting and patiently waiting for three years. Three years of watching you run this shop. Not him; you. Three years of watching sadness invade your beautiful blue eyes as you tried to act okay with your husband’s profession of sleeping with other women. Three years of helping you do things that he should have been helping you do, not just because he was your man, but because he wouldn’t want you carrying that burden on your own.”

“Andreas …”

“You were right to call him selfish,” he supported, taking my hand into his. “You were right to pull his card on everything he did wrong to you. Never think for a second that doing that was a mistake. You’re even right to … to want out of this life, because it wasn’t your plan. And it’s time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time to live for you. Time to live the life you want. Time to receive the love that you deserve, and I want to give it to you. I won’t make you any promises, because after the promises he made, they won’t mean anything to you. I just want to show you … show you that I can love you. Not better than him, because it’s not about him; I want to love you better than the love you dreamed up for yourself. I want to love you better than any love you thought was possible.”

My mouth was on the floor. I was … floored. I wondered what it would be like to have sex with him on the floor. Oh my God! Hazel, stop thinking about the floor. No more floors!

But my mind wasn’t in control of my eyes, which kept drinking in every inch of his glorious body from the way his form-fitting shirt showed off his shaped arms to the way his big brown eyes glistened in the moonlight. His suggestive touch on my cheek didn’t calm my nerves this time. Instead, it sent a seductive chill down my spine and stimulated a sigh of desire to depart from my lips. He heard it, and a tempting simper emerged from his lips.

“Wait.” I had to. I had to stop this. “This … this is not right. You’re just a kid, Andreas.”

“I am eighteen. You are twenty-one. We are three years apart. I’m no more of a kid than you are,” he reminded me before slowly leaning in to teasingly let his lips brush mine. Another longing sigh flew from my mouth. “May I kiss you?”

“You wait until after our lips have touched to ask?”

“We’ve touched but we haven’t tasted each other. I want to taste you. I want to show you that I can make you happy. Let me.”

“Andreas, I …”

“Please,” he urged as his feverish lips left little shocks of electricity on my neck. “Let … me.”

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