Mrs. Hardison Ch. 06byFinalStand©
*To make everyone your friend you must first bury a bunch of bodies*
(This is for everyone who kept at me to work on this story; those who begged, pleaded, cajoled, requested, and that rare one who threatened to reach through the internet and beat me so badly my ancestor, who came across on the Mayflower [yes, I do have a Mayflower ancestor], would jump into the Atlantic to spare me the agony. I love you all and you are better than I deserve.)
(Wednesday, one week later)
"Mr. Duarte, you have a lunch appointment today at Cabaros -- noon," Leslie tells me. She'd lean into my office space to say hello and deliver the message.
"Sure thing," I respond. Sadri gives me a look so I shrug. When Leslie departs, Sadri cracks a grin.
"What? No e-mail in her part of the world?"
"I think this meeting is off the books," I sigh.
"You can always tell her to stuff it," Sadri offers. "She's made you pretty miserable and it isn't like she's been doing you any favors recently." She means Gloria of course.
"Saying it is complicated is like calling our work load as a tad intensive," I grin back.
"Don't worry; I won't rent the sofa out just in case," she teases me.
"Thanks. I doubt I'll be leaving soon. I don't even know what she wants to discuss," I admit.
"Let me know when to send out the search parties," she taunts me one more time before work summons us.
I walk into the restaurant with my insides burning as if I'd swallowed a bag full of razor blades. I've almost convinced myself that this is a doomed course of action when I see her. Gloria Hardison is staring at me with an intensity that convinces me she's been waiting for me to walk through that door all day. I approach cautiously and sit down in the chair opposite her because now her look makes me think I can win; not the war, but this battle.
"Hello Mrs. Hardison," I say carefully.
"Good afternoon Eddie," she responds in an equally guarded manner.
"It is good to see you," I add. It really, really is true.
"I have been thinking about you," she replies.
"Ditto ... a lot."
"It hasn't impacted your work," she notes.
"I still want you to be proud of me and worthy of the trust you put in me," I confess. She doesn't respond to that immediately. Instead we order food and drink and wait numbly for the meal to arrive.
"I will never forgive you," she mutters when we are almost finished.
"I understand that. I can't forgive myself," I tell her. What I can't forgive myself for is using her secret against her. I still feel hurting her like she hurt me was my only option besides walking away.
"Stop being so damn reasonable Eddie," she snaps. A fight will give her an excuse to run away from our relationship and lay the total blame on me. I'm not falling for that trap.
"I tried irrational and that really fucked things up," I relate.
"Still joking?" she accuses me bitterly.
"If I couldn't laugh I'd probably walk into traffic," I explain. She seems to think that over.
"Why don't you?" she hammers me with her eyes.
"That would be selfish; I have two more lives to think about now," I answer. "I can't be that goofy college kid anymore; I don't have the luxury." Telling her I think she's being selfish will only hurt the three of us.
"We don't need you," she states.
"You don't get to make that call," I bite back. It is time to fight; I won't surrender my principles on this matter -- I am not going to budge on this. Gloria glares at me.
"This was a mistake," she growls.
"If you say so," I shrug. "I wasn't expecting much from you. You have much to be pissed about and I'm not sure the morning sickness has made things easier for you."
"I'll put you on the birth certificate but you have to promise me that if we split up I get majority custody," Gloria surprisingly offers. I have to mull that over until the underlying implication hits me. She's not only made the first step (our child) but the second one as well (our home).
"You said 'if we split up'?" I question. "That suggests that we will get back together."
"Yes it does," she nods.
"I promise you that if something happens I'll settle for visitation rights," I tell her. "I'll never try to take our child away from you and I'll sign whatever you need to make you sure of that fact."
"Very well," she allows. "The morning sickness is still horrible and...I miss someone helping me hold my hair out of the way."
"I can take care of that for you," I offer. She nods, takes a few bites but remains silent.
"Where have you been staying?" she redirects into the lack of conversation.
"With Sidra," I respond. She shows no chink in her outer calm.
"I thought a different co-worker would have been more convenient," she muses but what she was really saying is 'why a female co-worker?'
"Quite frankly we work together so much we are practically living in each other's boots. I know more about her life than her Mother does. Also, the last thing I need right now is some guy dragging a date home at two in the morning while I'm trying to sleep," I explain. "She isn't seeing anyone and knows enough about my situation to not pry, which is a big plus."
"She has become a far more effective employee since she's been working with you," Gloria observes.
"You handpicked her for the project Gloria and for good or ill it is your leadership that gets things done," I counter.
"You still drive me crazy Eddie," she grumbles.
"That's fair," I confess. "It makes me crazy being separated from you."
"No, those are two opposite forces tearing us apart," Gloria glares angrily.
"Oxygen and Hydrogen, by themselves, are explosive forces but together they create water, the wellspring of life," I try to make my point.
"That response seems far more thought out than normal," she notes.
"I'm trying to be more careful since we are actually taking face-to-face," I nod.
"You keep promising me things and then disappointing me," which seems to be the heart of the matter. I'm not perfect and I'm not likely to become perfect and that's something she needs to understand. I can't be the perfect man who always provides, protects and sustains her; no one can.
"I know I suck at holding up my side of the relationship, but you have to know I'm trying," I offer. "Give me the tiniest bit of respect for my resilience at least. I never stop trying to be there for you despite all my failures. I've never given up on us."
"Should I treat you with the respect you haven't earned Eddie?
"Gloria, I can't both knuckle under and stand as your mate at your discretion; that isn't how it works," I respond with some anger.
"This isn't about my decision-making, Eddie, it is about duties and making our lives easier," Gloria counters.
"Who told you that?" I wonder. "You didn't let me into your world because I balanced your life, made it easier or I was something that would make your career path smoother."
"I let you into my life because I wasn't complete without you," she beats me to the punch.
"I haven't thought about being with another woman since you let me in," I tell her.
"Except Joyce, who you have seen pretty much naked, that cute medical intern in the hospital and I'm sure Sadri walks around her dwelling dressed like a nun," she says dryly.
"I was hoping you missed that incident with the female med student," I gulp.
"Sadri dresses app...okay, she goes around in a men's sports jersey, but it is her home after all," I confess.
"I'm sure you've suffered appropriately," she states but I catch her smile before she looks down at her plate. She isn't put off by the idea that I've been getting sexually frustrated, not one bit.
We don't talk again until we pay the check (separately) and make our way to the sidewalk.
"What are we having for dinner?" she says unexpectedly.
"Is that an order or a request?" I hazard.
"It is...I would like to see you if that is okay, Mr. Duarte?" she asks while looking at everything but me.
"In that case there has been this nice stuffed crab dish I've been waiting to take a crack at," I respond. "Don't expect to eat until eight-thirty or so. It takes some time to serve right."
"Do you crack open crab shells with a hammer?" she muses.
"Something is getting hammered tonight," I warn her.
"Keep dreaming," Gloria smirks.
"Absolutely," I give back. She takes her limo while I take the bus, but such is the nature of our relationship.
Last night I woke up to see Gloria standing over my own bed. She put a finger to my lips before I could ask if she wanted anything. I think she misses me as much as I miss her but our issues of how much she can trust me, and how much I can trust myself around her, are still vast. She leaves after five minutes. I make her a thin porridge for breakfast that she keeps down but we make our way to work in our own way.
Before lunch I get a call from Security -- never a good thing. It seems there is a man at the front desk who wants to see me but he doesn't have an appointment and only identifies himself as an old neighborhood friend. Hardly anyone from my old neighborhood would be considered a friend but the list of the ones who know where I work is even smaller. I tell Sadri I'm going to down to see what the story is.
I imagine the guards are a bit shocked to see me race up and hug the guy they've been keeping an eye on. Mainly that is because he looks like some bad-ass drug dealing low life, which he is.
"Jericho, buddy, how have you been?" I greet the man who saved my life from some knife-wielding assailant.
"Stop hugging me Eddie before they think we are gay," he grunts but I'm sure he's not angry.
"I'm sure whether or not you are going to ass-rape somebody isn't at the top of their concern," I joke and nod toward the security guards. "What brings you to the part of town where all the criminals have teams of lawyers?"
Jericho looks down at the ground for an instant.
"I've got a problem," he starts. "Remember Roberto, that guy I kind of worked for? Well he ended up dead."
"Oh crap. I'm sorry dude. What do you need?" is my response.
"I need a place to hide out for a few days," he requests.
"How much trouble are you in?" I worry.
"Well...Roberto died because I put three bullets in his chest," Jericho confesses. "His two brothers are obviously pissed and want me dead, but I swear I can clean this up in a few days."
"My girl and I are in a rough spot," I sort of tell the truth, "but I might have someone who can help." Jericho seems skeptical but he's also desperate. Roberto's brothers are probably beating down doors in our old neighborhood trying to kill him.
"Sadri, can you come down to the front lobby," I say her over the phone. "I have a favor to ask you."
Sadri comes down, sees who I am talking to and looks to make sure Security is close by. She hesitantly takes the last few steps.
"Eddie..." she questions.
"Sadri, this is my friend Jericho and he's got a problem," I start out.
"He needs a place to hide out for a couple of days. Since almost nobody back in the old neighborhood knows me and they have no clue as to who you are I was hoping you would do this awesomely huge favor and let him crash on your sofa for a few days," I beg. In retrospect I'm not the best friend in the world; I might even be considered high maintenance.
"Jericho, you seem like a...nice guy, but are the guys who come knocking on my door going to have badges and guns, or are they going to have guns and more guns?" Sadri says skeptically.
"Most likely guns with guns," Jericho admits, "but how would they find me? Hell, I saved Eddie's life and we'd talked for months but I didn't know his last name until this chick rolled up in a sweet ride and asked for Mr. Duarte; then I figured it out."
"Older lady, dark, dark eyes with great tits and the look of an ex-porn star," Sadri smirks.
Jericho looks somewhat put off his game for a second.
"Well, she was way out of Eddie's league, if that is what you mean?" Jericho guesses.
"Yes, she's the one. Well Jericho, your resume sucks, you only have Eddie as your highly questionable character reference and you most likely have never filed your income tax," Sadri rambles, "but what the hell. You can use Eddie's key and I'll give you the address."
"Eddie, you've hooked me up your drug-dealer friend who is clearly on the run from some damn dangerous people. You owe me a lot more than one -- in fact, I'll let you when your grandkids have paid this one off, do we understand one another?" Sidra glares at me.
"Gotchya Sid," I sigh. She gives her address to Jericho then she glides off.
"Brother, if that is how your co-worker treats you, I hate to think how your old lady does," Jericho chuckles.
"My lady's a ball of fire alright. We have literally come right off of a big fight and I'm trying to make things work and any stressor could be devastating," I confess.
"Thanks Bro," we bump fists, "I swear I'll be done in three or four days and that will be that. You'll never see me again."
"Jericho, I'd have a jig-saw face or no face at all if you hadn't come running," I point out. "You need something anytime, anywhere, you let me know." Jericho nods, departs, and leaves me to deal with the security types.
"You are making a big deal out of what is essentially hot dogs and stir-fry," Gloria taunts me over my choice for dinner.
"It is kielbasa with Greek kabobs," I sigh with patience. "Besides, you love garlic and since we aren't 'doing' anything tonight, I figured you wouldn't mind."
"Who says you aren't getting anything tonight," she looks my way.
"Am I getting something tonight?" I perk up.
"No, but I want you to keep thinking you might," she states haughtily. "Your suspense is pleasurable to me."
"Gee-whiz, another happy night of internet porn," I groan.
"Eddie, you had better not being doing that on your home computer and since you can't have porn on your work computer I have to assume you are trying and failing to get under my skin," Gloria lectures me.
"A ghost directory and a flash drive," I tease back. She arches an eyebrow but her retort is interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Are you expecting someone?" Gloria asks with un-barbed curiosity. I shake my head so she gets up and goes to see who it is.
"Ms. Gupta?" Gloria greets the visitor.
"I..." Sadri stammers, "Could I talk to Mr. Duarte for a minute?"
"Of course," Gloria sounds a bit forced and brittle, "come in. Eddie is in the kitchen. I'll go spot him so that dinner doesn't burn and let the two of you talk."
"Umm...Mrs. Hardison, you might want to be here for this," Sadri gets out.
"This sounds interesting Ms. Gupta," Gloria stays stiffly as if 'interesting' implies getting a nail driven into her foot.
"You can call me Sadri," Sadri gets out in a hurry.
"Interesting; you may call me Mrs. Hardison," Gloria responds coolly. She moved directly to the kitchen as I am turning down all the relevant heating surfaces and join her on our return trip.
"Hey Sadri," I greet my co-worker and kiss her on the cheek. "What's wrong?"
"Your buddy came by with his girlfriend and their kid and by kid I mean one of those rug rats that wear diapers," Sadri blames me. I can feel Gloria's eyes bore into me, not out of jealousy but out of some dark amusement at my predicament.
"I...uh...I'll go over there and tell Jericho that he's got to go," I rapidly think up a plan. "I'll get him a motel room somewhere for a few days."
"Eddie, there are a few problems with your little plan," Sadri smirks. "You don't have that much money, your buddy isn't at a motel right now for the same reason you can't put him in one later tonight and there is the problem that he's nineteen and his girlfriend is somewhat younger; how much younger we shouldn't get into."
"Eddie, why am I only now hearing about this crisis in your life?" Gloria sounds a bit peeved.
"It was a private matter I tried to deal without worrying you," I turn and tell Gloria.
"When you chose to involve Ms. Gupta it became a work-related matter," Gloria snaps back.
"Shove it, Hardison," Sadri growls. "Assume that we have lives outside of your hellish gulag."
Oh yeah, that made the conversation so much better. The two women glare at one another.
"This conversation is for another time," I interject. "Sadri lets go back to your place and we'll figure some other people who can help."
"Eddie you aren't going anywhere right now," Gloria commands. "It has it taken you less than one week to forget your obligations; truly pathetic."
I take a deep breath before facing her because that was uncalled for and disrespectful as well as degrading in front of company.
"This is the guy who came running up the block and into the alley to drive off the psycho who was trying to carve me up with a knife," I try to keep my anger down. "Why in the hell was he trying to kill me again? Oh, I remember; do you?"
Jericho had left his comfortable drug dealing location because he saw me running for my life from some bastard who was much bigger than me. He'd arrived just in time to fire off a warning shot and drive my attacker away. The attacker was the same guy who nearly raped Gloria the first night Gloria and I met outside the office and he'd worked for Joyce Cook, a corporate enemy.
"Wait," Gloria holds firm. "You still should think this through."
"We need to get the drug dealer, his squeeze and her brat out of my apartment," Sadri points out.
"You have already pointed out why that is not feasible, Ms. Gupta," Gloria lectures which doesn't do Sadri's mood any good.
"Hey, I'm doing Eddie a favor here. It isn't like he rewards me with sex in order to get things done," Sadri taunts Gloria.
"I don't offer him sex and he still does what I want him to," Gloria counters.
"This bitchiness is counter-productive; let's find a way fix this instead," I remind the women even as I separate them. I love Gloria and really like Sadri as a friend and letting them work out their mutual anger issues won't help anything right now.
"Sadri stays with us until this blows over," Gloria insists with her normal aggressive clarity. "I will take her to her apartment; we will pack up a few of her belongings and return to our home. Eddie, you will have dinner ready when we get back."
"Hey...wait, do I have a say in this?" Sadri asks. She doesn't know Gloria like I do.
"If you have a better resolution to the problem I am willing to listen," is Gloria's response. Putting Sadri in a hotel is an option but that doesn't do anything to balance my debt to Sadri, or so I think Gloria reasons.
"Fine," Sadri concedes, "where would I sleep?"
"You can use Eddie's bedroom," my girl informs Sadri. Seeing my poorly hidden hope, she adds, "Eddie will sleep on the sofa in the study." Sadri shoots me a curious look.
"Don't sweat it," I sigh to Sadri. "We aren't sharing the same bed right now anyway." Sadri looks from me to Gloria.
"Well, that's a pity," she snorts. "Living with someone like Hardison and not hitting that on a nightly basis is a tragedy. It has to screw with his work performance too," Sadri grins at Gloria.
Gloria chokes and I try to not laugh. The 'screw with his job performance' was a nice touch; Gloria obsesses on productivity.
"Do not assume that while I am resolving this matter we have any sort of relationship outside of work whatsoever," Gloria simmers. "It certainly does not allow this level of familiarity."
"We won't have to worry about that because, Gloria, you are staying here," I demand. "It is dangerous...which is why Sadri is staying as well. I'll go alone and pick up whatever Sadri needs."
"You are not rummaging through my drawers," Sadri shakes her head.
"I have no desire to eat burnt food," Gloria countermands, "and since I have no idea how well, or poorly, Ms. Gupta cooks that task remains firmly in your hands. If there was any doubt, this discussion is now over. Ms. Gupta, we'll take my car."