Marriage by Law

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23

“Can I just go back to bed? I don’t think I’m feeling too well,” I was telling Darius as I walked out of the walk-in closet. Darius was on the bed trying to do his tie, his eyebrows knotted in confusion like it was the hardest task in the world.

“But you got ready,” he pointed out, undoing the tie again. I muttered to myself as I fixed my dress. It was in blue colour and ended just above my knees. Neat and casual. There was no point getting dressed up for him.

“Nonsense. You can meet my business partner,” he said. He chucked away his tie on the bed and left the room. I grumbled to myself, tying my hair up in a pony tail. You mean my ex? Oh yea, no need to meet him again.

I caught up quickly and went downstairs.

“Ah, James, pleasure to see you again,” Darius was saying as I got down. They greeted each other with a handshake like businessmen do. I avoided James’s stare. “Have a seat.”

James took the seat on the opposite lounge. Thank god for that. I sat next to Darius, folding my hands in my lap like a lady. Ma came in serving the drinks and I grabbed a glass of champagne as well, using it to cover half my face. I pretended to be much more interested in the bubbles.

“Before I forget,” Darius was saying, “this is Al - Ivory, my wife.”

James, who was drinking his champagne, spluttered suddenly. I almost burst out laughing. In my mind I was thanking Darius for his great timing. James held out his hand. Would it be too obvious if I didn’t shake it?

“Pleasure to meet you,” he said.

I nodded, reaching over and shaking his hand. He held my hand longer than necessary. I pulled my hand back and wiped it on the seat, subtly.

I was so bored out of my wits as they both started talking. There had to be a way to stop this business deal. Wasn’t there someone better out there?

Darius’s business was joining ours. I mean, that was the whole point of this stupid marriage, so why does he need more partners? I had to ask Ma if she knew. She must have overheard something.

“I’ll check on the preparations,” Darius was saying.

My head snapped up when I saw that he walked toward the kitchen. I stood up hastily.

No, don’t leave me here!

I took a step forward, and James blocked my way. Damn it, why was I on this side of the display table?

“Ivory, I just want to talk,” he pleaded. Too close. I took a step back.

“No,” I muttered. “This isn’t the place or time, James.” I looked over his shoulder. Darius can come back any minute and may not understand if he saw us this way. I wanted to tell him myself. But not now, not here.

“Will you agree to meet me somewhere then?”

“No.”

’But, Ivy-”

“Don’t call me that, and shut the heck up. Look, I don’t even want to be in the same country as you, so being in the same house under the same roof in the same room isn’t doing me a favor. You made your choice, okay? You -”

I heard footsteps and James looked back to see Darius walk in, with a smile on his face, which was a first.

“Everything okay?” he asked, oblivious to the tension between me and James.

“Of course. Ivory was just about to show me to the washrooms,” he said.

“Well, food should be served soon. Ivory, can you show James the washrooms?”

I gritted my teeth with a nod and walked past James. As much as I wanted to shove my shoulder against his, I’m pretty sure Darius would see that as a rude gesture.

I knew James was following me. Didn’t even need to look back. His cologne was practically suffocating me.

What did Darius see in him anyway?

“Here,” I said, nodding to a door.

I turned to leave but he grabbed my wrist, not gently either. I turned around and stomped on his foot, letting my heel dig in.

“Don’t ever touch me,” I said between gritted teeth. I pulled my hand back and walked away. I quickly rushed back to Darius who was talking to Ma and stood there with my hands clasped, trying to calm down my racing heart.

He told Ma, “All right, that should be fine,” turned around to look at me. “Where is James?”

Like I was going to wait for him to ‘wash’ up and then lead him back here. He can find his own way. I saw Ma and walked after her.

“I’ll help,” I called to her, making her slow down. Any chance to get away from James.

Ma didn’t need any help, it seemed. The dining room was set to perfection, with dim lights, a tray of excellent food and glasses filled with wine.

“What’s for dinner, Ma?” I asked as I walked closer to the table. Whatever it was, it smelled amazing.

“Indian tonight” She was smiling. “I made the bread myself.”

I smiled at her effort for these weird-shaped bread and we laughed. We turned serious when the men walked in.

The smaller table was used instead of the large dining table. It was circular, which meant wherever I sat, I was between the men. Dammit.

I avoided all eye contact and Ma walked around opening the lids, sending more flavoursome aroma into the air.

“This smells wonderful, ma’am. Indian is my favourite,” James said as he surveyed the foods.

Ma smiled back at him. “In that case, I hope you enjoy your meal, sir. I will send your compliments to the chef.”

“I remember my girlfriend tried cooking it once,” Jamescontinued and I froze. I could feel his eyes on me.

“Really? How did that go?” asked Darius, helping himself to the food. I braved my hand to move to the rice.

“Not very good. She nearly burned the kitchen down.” James was laughing as he grabbed the bread. I gritted my teeth as I served myself and picked up my fork.

“You never mentioned you were seeing someone,” started Darius. “You should have brought her, too. Al - Ivory would have had company.”

I held back myself from rolling my eyes. Since when did you care about me? But I told myself, Stop being mean, Ivory.

The conversation turned to business as I played with the food on my plate, wanting to get out of here as soon as possible. I moved the rice to one side and then back, then the other, then down, then up, then left, then-

I jumped, feeling someone’s leg brush against mine. My eyes shot up. James was too busy explaining something to Darius. I pulled my legs back. I didn’t need to draw more attention to myself.

To say this was horrible was an understatement. Not only did they talk on and on, but James just wouldn’t leave, damn it.

After dinner, a Chinese dessert was served. And then they went to the drawing room to continue their plans and I took this chance to stay behind to ‘finish’ my dessert. But when they were gone, I grabbed my jacket and went to the backyard.

The cool air brushed against my legs as I walked over to my orchid plantation. A smile automatically came onto my lips upon seeing there was a tiny bud on one of them. I walked closer and leaned forward. Yep, it was a bud.

I could feel the excitement in my bones. Finally it was working. The smell of sweet Jasmine from next to me filled my nose.

I haven’t been taking care of them properly.

I wasn’t sure how long I had been standing out here, but when I walked back inside, Darius was already in our bedroom, on his phone.

Our bedroom. It sounded so weird.

He looked up and ended the call as I walked in.

“Did you go outside?” he asked.

I nodded and took off my jacket while he narrowed his eyes. “You know, if you got sick again, Ma will kill me instead,” he said.

“That’s why I brought a jacket.” Duh.

“So,” he started, leaning back against the headboard. “Do you like James?”

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