Forgiven

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Friend to Friend

Chapter 35:

For the first time in weeks, Michaela managed to find herself free on a Saturday so she and Lesly could resume their habit of getting together for drinks. This time, though, Lesly invited Michaela to the apartment rather than agreeing to meet her outside like they normally did. The dark-haired woman had everything prepared. The drinks were on the table in the living room along with some assorted snacks. They were supposed to stream something to watch and chat while it played in the background. Alec was currently not home, but he agreed to stay out of their way and to busy himself with some work in his study once he came back.

Lesly was checking the smart TV for something to stream when she heard the rattling of keys outside the apartment. Alec had obviously just come back from the hospital. He was supposed to meet the doctor days ago to check on the wound on his shoulder. However, some work-related issue came up and he had to reschedule his appointment for Saturday instead.

Lesly kept her eyes focused on the hallway as she held the remote in her hand. She saw Alec walk in a few seconds later with a pensive look on his face that made her worry a little. This pushed her to ask him how his appointment went.

“Welcome back. How did everything go?”

“It’s almost healed completely,” he said to her as he hung his coat and placed his keys in a bowl on the table close to the door.

“That’s good to hear.”

“I guess,” he said almost absentmindedly.

“Something wrong?”

“Nah, just dread over the amount of work I have to make up for,” he explained with a sigh.

“Anything I can help with?” She asked, concerned.

“I’ll manage,” he responded with a smile as he walked towards her. His eyes noticed the drinks and snacks on the table, and he remembered that someone was going to pay her a visit tonight.

“Is Michaela not here yet?” He asked.

“She’ll be here any minuet.”

He sighed heavily and stared in the direction of the study, “I better get to work then.”

“You can stay for a drink if you want,” Lesly offered.

“I have a lot to catch up on. I’ll leave you two alone.”

He gave her a quick peck on the lips and left to his study. Lesly’s eyes followed him until he disappeared into the hallway. Her mind could not stop thinking about this subtle change that had overcome him. She could tell that he was not his usual self and that he was awfully stressed about a lot of things. It was understandable to a certain extent given the series of events which began with the unexpected shooting at the DA’s office. One of the two people involved in the incident was still on the run. The office was understaffed because some of the employees were still recovering from serious injuries following the shooting, and the cases kept piling up. The fact that he was dealing with an injured shoulder that restricted the use of his right arm made matters worse. It forced him to rely on his left hand instead and this added to his frustration.

On top of that, the incident seemed to have affected him mentally. He did not want to show it, but she could tell that he was a bit shaken about it. For most of the days that followed the incident, he locked himself up in his study. His excuse was that he needed to dedicate a few extra hours to working on the cases so they would not pile up now that the office was understaffed. However, she knew that that was not the sole reason why. Something else was weighing heavily on his mind, and he tried his hardest not to show that to her. She wished he could talk to her about whatever that was bothering him, but she did not know how to get him to open up.

Lesly firmly believed that he needed a break. Perhaps spending some time with a few friends might do the trick. Perhaps he would feel more comfortable talking to somebody else other than her. It might help remind him that he had people he could turn to if he ever needed to vent. The only problem was that she did not know any of his friends except Greg whom she hoped would help point her in the right direction. With that thought in mind, she went into her room, shut the door and dialed Greg’s phone number. He picked up immediately.

“Lesly, good to hear from you. I assume you’re calling because a certain someone missed another appointment?”

Lesly giggled, “Actually he did go this time.”

“How’s he doing?”

“His shoulder is healing nicely. He’s home now. You can call him if you want, but there’s a matter I want to discuss with you first.”

“What is it?”

“Alec has been under a lot of stress lately with the injury and the piled cases and everything. I thought it would cheer him up to have a small get-together, nothing too elaborate. I was hoping you could help me. You know him better than I do after all.”

“I see,” Greg responded before he went silent for a moment. Lesly assumed that he was mulling the matter over. It did not take him long to tell her what he thought, though. “Here’s what you need to know about him. He doesn’t like people. Although he doesn’t look like it, he’s a closet introvert.”

“I thought so,” Lesly said with a hint of disappointment in her voice. “I need him to take it easy. I just don’t know how to get him to do that,” she said apologetically.

“He doesn’t like people, Lesly, but he likes you. Just order takeout and have dinner together. He’d appreciate that. I’m sure of it.”

“It wouldn’t be much different from what we normally do.”

“That’s fine.” Greg seemed to have understood what she was implying because what he said next helped address the one concern she did not directly voice. “He’ll talk to you eventually. It’s not because he doesn’t feel comfortable around you. He just needs time to process everything.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“Thank you, Greg. You’ve been helpful.”

“Anytime.”

Just when Lesly was about to end the call, she heard the doorbell ring and knew that Michaela had arrived. She bid Greg farewell, and went out of her room to usher her friend in. Michaela looked as pensive as she did a couple of days ago which confirmed Lesly’s conclusion that something had happened. The strange thing was that Michaela did not share or vent like she normally did. In fact, she forced an act of cheerfulness which made Lesly worry even more. The dark-haired woman hoped that her friend would begin venting as soon as she got a couple of drinks in her. Nothing of the sort happened within the next two hours. Michaela continued to chat casually even though it was painfully obvious to Lesly that something was bothering her.

“Michaela, can we talk in my room?” Lesly finally decided to ask, hoping that the reason Michaela did not talk was because she was worried that Alec might overhear.

“Why?”

“We’d have more privacy there.”

The redhead did not argue with her. She stood up, grabbed another bottle of beer and instructed Lesly to lead the way as she removed the cap. Lesly opened the door for Michaela and motioned for her to go inside. The redhead walked in with her eyes scanning the room as if she was seeing it for the first time.

“Okay, hon, let’s talk about you,” Lesly said after she gently shut the door behind her.

“What about me?” Michaela asked as she examined the view from the giant window.

“Something is bothering you.”

“What makes you think that?”

“You have that look on your face.”

Michaela blinked a couple of times with feigned ignorance. “What look?”

“Things are not going well with John, are they?” Lesly finally decided to ask.

Michaela stared at her for a moment. She was obviously contemplating whether she should tell her friend or not. Then she muttered with a sigh, “No.”

“I thought so,” Lesly said before she walked towards her friend to hold her hand and lead her to a chair. “I’ve been dreading to ask you to tell you the truth.”

Michaela allowed Lesly to guide her and seat her down. Then she waited for her friend to sit on the bed across from her before she began telling her what happened.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Michaela began. “I had a hunch and I’m usually right about these things. Then this morning I received a strange message from him. I guess you can say it’s the confirmation I needed.”

“I don’t understand. A hunch about what?” Lesly asked.

Michaela fished her phone out of her pocket, browsed it for something, and then handed it to Lesly. “Here, read this text message.”

Lesly took the phone from her friend and read the message out loud. “Sorry babe, but did I leave my glasses at you place last night?” Lesly looked at Michaela in confusion. “What’s so weird about that?”

“I haven’t seen him in days. He wasn’t with me last night. He was with somebody else, and before you say I’m reading too much into it, he said ‘babe.’”

“I’m so sorry, hon,” Lesly said sympathetically before she handed the phone back to Michaela, “but is it possible that there’s more to the message than that?”

“There’s nothing more to it. I assure you,” Michaela stated calmly. “It’s not the first sign I received that he’s been messing around with more than one woman.”

“What are you gonna do?”

Michaela heaved a sigh before she leaned back in her seat to stare at the ceiling. “I’ve had enough of this, Lesly. It always ends the same way with every guy I’ve been with. We fight. He lies. He starts telling me that he wasn’t thinking straight or blaming me for why he cheated. I promised myself I wouldn’t get sucked into another whirlpool,” Michaela straightened up then and looked Lesly in the eye. “I’m gonna do something different this time.”

Lesly recognized that look too well. She had seen it many times and knew what it entailed. Michaela was up to something. This made Lesly worry even more.

“Michaela, you’re not thinking of punching his pretty face now, are you?” She asked. “As much as I want you to do that, as a lawyer, I have to advise you against it. Trust me. He’s not worth the trouble.”

A small mischievous smile began tugging at the corners of the redhead’s mouth, “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

“Michaela…”

“Your room is much bigger than I remember,” the redhead interrupted in an effort to change the subject. Her eyes scanned her surroundings before she commented. “Actually, it’s much bigger than your old bedroom.”

“I know,” Lesly responded. She knew full well that it was her friend’s way of putting an end to their discussion and she allowed her to have her way.

“I’ve noticed that there’s another room right across from Alec’s.”

“That’s his sister’s. He said she drops by from time to time,” Lesly explained.

“Have you met her?”

“No, not yet.” Lesly sighed.

“Something bothering you here? Is he refusing to introduce you to the family?” Michaela asked jokingly.

“That’s no it,” Lesly said with a hint of worry on her face. “In fact, if things keep on going the way they’re going, I get the feeling I might meet them soon.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“What’s bothering you then?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I don’t even know what we are right now,” Lesly began ranting instantly. She was speaking so fast that Michaela barely kept up. “We’ve never talked about it after our last argument. He just asked me if we’re good and I said yes. I wasn’t thinking when I answered him. I don’t know why I said yes. I don’t even know if I can handle…”

“Whoa hon, calm down!” Michaela interrupted.

Lesly took a deep breath and waited for her friend to talk.

“Has anything changed?” Michaela asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“It’s…subtle,” Lesly struggled to explain. “All of a sudden, I feel like we’re a couple. I keep telling myself not to get sucked into it, but before I realize it, I find myself nagging him about things like taking his meds and keeping his appointments. He’s in there, too. He frets over what he likes to call suicidal behavior and can’t stop lecturing me about my poor meal choices. On top of that, he’s developed a habit. Every time he comes back home or picks me up from work, he kisses me. It’s…it’s…I don’t know what it is.”

“Aww! That’s sweet.”

“No, no, no.” Lesly shook her head vehemently.

Michaela laughed, “What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me I’m imagining this whole thing.”

“You’re not,” Michaela answered and immediately noticed the grimace on Lesly’s face. “Lesly, what are you afraid of?”

Lesly struggled to speak but did not know exactly how to phrase her problem because it was complex in more than one way. Michaela caught on immediately and tried to assure her friend.

“Hon, he’s not Henry. Things are not gonna be the same as last time. So many variables have changed.”

“Alec said the same thing, too,” Lesly responded in a small voice.

“See? He’s not completely in the dark. He knows what’s going on. You just need to trust him a little.”

“I do trust him. That’s not the problem.”

Michaela arched an eyebrow questioningly and waited for her friend to explain. Lesly sighed heavily and tried to communicate what she was anxious about.

“He seems to have built an image of me in his head that is not entirely accurate. I still can’t figure out why he refuses to walk away after every chance I have given him. It scares me what’s going to happen once he finds out that I’m different from whatever idealized image he created. He won’t immediately walk away afterwards. Knowing him, he’ll try to do the decent thing and stick around. I don’t want that.”

Michaela eyed Lesly sympathetically. She understood perfectly well what Lesly was talking about. It was not a simple issue of self-esteem, but rather the fear of finding out that even after five years, she was still incapable of overcoming her trauma. Michaela knew that Lesly shared a couple of passionate moments with Alec before, but apparently, going beyond the boundaries of those moments was still something that Lesly felt anxious about. It was not the fear of physical intimacy that held her back, but rather the realizations that could follow. She may discover that she was still the same damaged woman she was five years ago, and he may discover that there was no life or spirit left in her just like Henry did before him.

Michaela rose from her seat, sat next to her friend on her bed, and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “You’re scared. I get it, but sooner or later you have to get over your fear. Talk to him. Don’t keep everything to yourself like you did before.”

“I guess you’re right,” Lesly said with a sigh.

A moment of silence passed as the two women sat on the bed and stared at the gigantic window. Michaela’s arm was still wrapped around her friend’s shoulders in support. They both watched the dancing lights of the city over the surface of the river as their minds wandered in different directions. Michaela gave Lesly’s shoulder a mild squeeze to get her attention. Then she asked after she fixed her gaze on her friend.

“Have you guys been on a date yet?”

“Other than the first time he asked me out? No. Our situation is not exactly typical.”

“Ask him,” Michaela suggested.

“I don’t know how. I’ve never done this before.”

“It’s not that hard. Just prepare a meal and ask him to join you. You’ve done this a couple of times before.”

“I guess,” Lesly shrugged. Her eyes were still fixed on the scene in the window.

Michaela held Lesly’s shoulders and forced her friend to look at her. “Don’t overthink things. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t crawl so far into your mind that you can’t get out. Just follow the natural flow of things and see what happens.”

“I’ll try,” Lesly said unenthusiastically. She was trying to play along so Michaela would drop the subject. This maneuver did not work, however. Lesly realized that when Michaela stood up and began searching the room for something.

“Where’s your closet?” Michaela asked as she came dangerously close to it.

“Why?” Lesly was alarmed.

“I wanna help you pick something to wear,” Michaela said before she located the closet without any assistance. She opened the door and allowed her eyes to scan what’s inside. “What did you have on for your first date?”

Lesly followed the redhead and tried to get her to abandon her task, “Michaela, stay away from my closet.”

“Answer my question.”

“A black sweater.”

Michaela reached for one of the folded sweaters and took it out to examine it. “This one?”

“No.”

“Why are most of your clothes black?”

“I’m not playing along.”

“You don’t have any dresses?”

Lesly sighed in defeat and pointed at the three dresses that were hung in one side of the closet. “Over there.”

“Just those?” Michaela asked in disbelief as she dug through the hung clothes.

“I don’t need them.”

The redhead found a piece that piqued her curiosity and fished it out. “Hello! What do we have here?”

The redhead examined the dress. It was black, which was typical, but what was not so typical about it, was the fact that it was not something Lesly would normally purchase. It was a fitted v-neck piece with cami straps and small cutouts on the sides. The length was not scandalous, but it was definitely shorter than anything that Lesly would have normally worn.

Michaela examined the piece with interest as she asked, curious, “When did you buy this?”

“A while back,” Lesly explained unenthusiastically. “It was an impulse purchase that I’m not proud of. I wanted to return it, but I never found the time.”

“The tag is still attached. You’ve never worn this before, have you?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Never had a reason to do so.”

“You do now,” Michaela said as she handed the dress to Lesly. “You’ll wear this tomorrow.”

“I won’t.”

“You will. Otherwise, it will just be another normal meal.”

“Fine,” Lesly said dismissively to put an end to their discussion. “Are you done now?”

“Yes.”

Lesly held her curious friend’s hands and dragged her out of the room. She realized it was a mistake to bring her in in the first place, but she could not help but think that maybe Michaela had a point.

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