tagLoving WivesGreater Love

Greater Love

byJudogeezer©

This is actually the first short story I completed. It was my baby so I was reluctant to throw it out into the cold, cruel world. It's been fussed over repeatedly. Like every good parent, I know I have to let it go out on its own. So, here it is. Please treat it kindly.

*

The feeling of dread was nearly overwhelming. Sticking his toes over the brink of a bottomless pit couldn't have been any worse. His guts were so knotted up he could hardly breathe. Hand on handle; he stood before a door whose gold lettering read Hughes, Bivens, Gupta and Matthews, Attorneys-at-Law. This was the last meeting, the final confrontation with the woman who was trying to become his ex-wife. He'd also have to face the rat-bastard she was screwing.

Molly was no stranger to law offices. She was a paralegal. They'd both been excited when she landed a job working for Marcus Conroy, a big shot local attorney. She'd been there less than a year when Dan came home to find her gone; no explanation, just gone. Dan had no doubt that Marcus Conroy was orchestrating this whole mess. She'd been getting his special brand of legal counsel for at least the past year. His best guess was she wanted to trade up.

Focusing on his breathing, he made himself inhale and exhale slowly, deeply. Gradually, the dread drained from him unmasking a deep sadness. A single tear tracked down his cheek. He shuddered as he took a big, cleansing breath. Squaring his shoulders, he pushed through the door into the firm's reception area.

Dan's good friend and attorney, Chris Matthews was in a serious conversation with the receptionist. They both looked up as he entered. Something was very wrong.

Instantly, Dan's professional instincts kicked in. He did a quick mental inventory of the scene. Chris was perched on the edge of the desk looking concerned. The woman sitting behind the desk had quickly looked away but not before Dan noticed an ugly bruise on the far side of her face. Attempts to hide it with makeup had not entirely succeeded. She looked embarrassed, at the end of her rope and hanging on by the fingernails. Here was someone who appeared to be in greater agony than he was. It was a cold splash of water to remember that as bad as his situation was, there were many who had it worse.

"Hey, Dan."

"Hey, Chris."

"I need a couple of more minutes with Karen. Would you mind waiting in the conference room?"

"Are they...?"

Chris smiled.

"You didn't think I'd throw you to the wolves, did ya? They're not due for another ten minutes."

Dan tried to smile back but imagined it was a rather sickly imitation.

"Thanks Chris. You always did have my back"

"No more than you've had mine. Be right there."

Dan trudged to a door just past the reception desk. It opened into a typical attorney's conference room. The far wall was made up of bookshelves filled with weighty looking leather bound tomes. It was mostly for show since legal research was largely done on computers these days. The center of the room was occupied by a large, solid looking conference table surrounded by plushly upholstered chairs. There were no windows. The walls were broken only by another door at the other end of the room leading into the senior partner's office.




At his end, there was a credenza. Sitting on top were two carafes - coffee and hot water. A wooden box was open displaying an assortment of colorfully wrapped tea bags. Dan had taken a seat at the table and was still dunking his tea bag when Chris came in followed by the receptionist. Her arms were loaded with file folders. Smiling shyly, she set them down next to Dan. Karen hesitated as if to say something. Instead she gently squeezed his shoulder, giving him a nod that said "I see you're hurting too." Dan gazed after her until she left the room. As the door closed, he turned his attention to Chris.

"She's new. Where's Paula?"

Chris pulled out a chair and joined Dan at the table.

"Karen started six weeks ago. Paula's on maternity leave."

"Wow. Shows how long it's been since I've visited your office."

Dan's stared into his tea. He had asked Chris to do everything possible to delay the divorce in the hopes he could win back his wife. Most attempts were blocked by her lover. Exhausting their options, Dan insisted on meeting with Molly before signing off on the divorce agreement. It was a long shot, but it was the only chance to talk to her face to face since the day he'd come home to find a terse note and her wedding rings on the kitchen table. All it said was: Daniel, I know now you never really loved me. I've met someone who does. I'm filing for divorce. The note wasn't even signed.

Win or lose, he would go down fighting for his marriage, for the woman he still loved. With a sigh, he pulled himself back to the present. Dan looked up from his cup and Chris nodded understanding. They'd always had an uncanny knack for reading each other. It didn't need to be said that Dan wished he wasn't here now.

"What's up? Looks like a domestic situation." Dan sipped at the hot tea and let it settle his nerves.

"Nailed it." Chris sank into the high-backed leather chair. "Karen's jerkwad husband has been abusing her since they married five years ago. It started out as verbal and emotional, but lately he's been smacking her around. Two days ago, for no reason Karen can figure out, he went into a rage and punched her in the face. Worse yet, he did it in front of their four year old daughter. The little girl started crying and daddy dearest threatened to hit the kid if she didn't shut up. Karen jumped between them and hubby started choking her. Fortunately, the neighbors called the cops. They hauled his sorry ass off to jail, but he bonded out this morning. Karen took her daughter and whatever she could carry and went to a domestic violence shelter. She's terrified he'll come looking for her."

"You know I've been working with guys like that for years. She has a right to be scared. The biggest fear the worst of them have is that they'll lose control over their partners. Trying to leave a guy like that is very risky. That's when they're most likely to do something violent. Anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe. I was going to talk to her about an order of protection after our meeting. Hang around and talk to her. Might do you both some good."

Dan sighed. "Might as well. I have nowhere else I need to be until next week."

Dan mentally left the office again, but this time Chris knew he was trying to work out the best way to help Karen. The young attorney let out a deep breath and leaned back in the chair. When they first met, they were an unlikely pair to become lifelong best friends.

Dan and Chris started their college careers the same year, Chris in pre-law and Dan majoring in psych. Dan's goal was to become a family and marriage therapist. Their career goals reflected their personalities. Chris was an extrovert, a type-A - outgoing, always on the go, a bit of a party animal, very focused and very competitive. Dan was almost a mirror image. He was more of a homebody and a bit shy. Rather than party, he'd curl up with a book or put on headphones and lose himself in a Mahler symphony. On the other hand, he was a great judge of character and very good at defusing conflicts. Chris had seen Dan break up a heated argument and have the adversaries laughing and shaking hands. He always seemed to find a compromise that everyone could live with.

They both moved in different circles and probably would never have met except for their shared interest in Judo. Their freshman year found them eagerly lined up to join the university's Judo club. They got to talking. Chris' dad was a cop, a fourth dan in Judo and held black belt rank in two other martial arts. He was determined that all five of his kids - sons and daughters - would be able to defend themselves. Consequently, Chris had been doing Judo from the age of six.

Dan started Judo when he was thirteen and tired of being bullied. His diplomatic skills had evolved from being raised to avoid fights. His parents were both school teachers and were always going on about the importance of finding peaceful solutions to problems. They weren't bleeding hearts though. They also taught him that turning the other cheek didn't mean being a door mat. "Never start a fight," his dad said, "but if someone else starts a fight, make sure you finish it."

Evolved from the combat arts of feudal Japan, classical Judo could be lethal in extreme situations. If you were skilled enough though, Judo offered a way to defeat opponents without doing them serious harm. His parents considered it a win-win solution.

Dan was taller and outweighed Chris. Never the less, Chris consistently wiped the mats with him proving the claim that a well trained judoka could defeat a bigger opponent. It was their shared passion for Judo and Dan's good natured acceptance of getting tossed around by a smaller partner that led to their friendship.

After workouts, they'd often go out for a drink; Chris would nurse a Dos Equis and Dan sipped Pepsi while they talked about everything under the sun. Even when they had a difference of opinion, they found they could agree to disagree. Inevitably, the conversation would come around to the opposite sex and their views could not have been more different. Chris believed in playing the field, sowing wild oats while you were young and without responsibilities. Cutting a wide swath through the opposite sex was no big deal. Dan was a one man, one woman kind of guy. Hooking up was not his thing. He wanted a soul mate, someone he could spend the rest of his life with.

So, it became Chris's mission in life to get Dan laid -- or to at least go out with a girl. They went double several times, with Chris setting up the dates. Dan always made sure his date had a good time. He was always a gentleman and a great listener. Once word got around, girls were lining up to go out with him. Unfortunately for them, he rarely went out with the same girl more than twice. He even had a knack for turning down the eager ones without hurting their feelings. After gently rebuffing one particularly persistent hopeful, Chris chided him.

"Jeez Dan, you're turning into a real heart breaker. Don't you think you could give a girl more than two chances?"

Dan shrugged. "I just don't feel a spark with any of them."

"You're supposed to be having fun, not interviewing for a wife!"

"Well they can come along when we go out with a bunch of people. That's when I have the most fun."

Chris' eyes rolled in exasperation. Of the girls they hung out with, several had a crush on Dan but he seemed oblivious to the signs.

It was junior year that Dan literally bumped into his future wife.

He and Chris were deep in conversation as they entered the main campus library. They were in the same Criminology class (a rare event given their different majors) and were going to study for their mid-term. She was coming out of the stacks with an armful of books and trying to fish something out of her purse. They were all headed for the same study carrels when they validated the proposition that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The collision sent her and Dan sprawling with books and papers flying everywhere.

They landed on their butts facing each other with legs spread-eagled. She was about to give him what for when she realized the hem of her miniskirt had ended up around her waist. Dan had a real good view of her rather sheer, blue bikini panties and what they barely covered. Tugging her skirt between her legs, she was ready to lay into him when she noticed the bright red flush spreading across Dan's face.

He tried to stammer out an apology but was interrupted by guffaws coming from his friend. Almost doubled over with laughter, Chris managed to get out,

"Dan, you sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet."

From the floor, the two stared up at Dan's friend, stunned by the uproarious behavior. When they looked back at each other, it wasn't long before they were laughing just as hard. As they stood up, their highly amused by-stander continued with exaggerated seriousness,

"I'll give you a waza-ari for the sweep, but I think you should go for the ippon with some ne-waza."

"Jerk." Dan replied.

With a wink and a grin, Chris turned and walked away calling back.

"Maybe I'll see you at practice tonight."

"What about the mid-term?' Dan replied, taking a step towards his friend.

Chris turned, walking backward for a moment and replied, "Finish your match, Daniel-san." then gave a bow before turning again and heading off toward the stacks.

That brought another round of chuckles. When Dan looked back at his companion in embarrassment, she extended her hand.

"Hi, I'm Molly O'Brien."

He took her hand, looked into her emerald eyes and time stopped. Dan had always been good with words. He expected that they would, one day, be the tools of his trade. For the first time in his life, words failed him. After a moment, Molly spoke up.

"What's the matter; get a concussion from that fall?"

He rushed to give assurances that he was alright when it dawned on him what she'd just said. Molly's impish grin gave it away.

He hadn't landed on his head.

"I'm sure!" he said in mock indignation.

It had broken the ice and Dan had to admire her quick wit. After helping her collect the books and papers, he offered to buy her a soda. Neither one made it to their next class. After the usual get acquainted chit chat, Molly had to ask.

"What was all that gobbledygook about wazas?"

"Chris and I are members of the university's Judo club. That's how we met. In a Judo match, you win by scoring a full point, or ippon, but your technique has to be nearly flawless. A good throw that's not quite up to snuf can earn a waza-ari or half point. If you have a waza-ari, you can win by scoring a second waza-ari. You earn this with another throw, or on the ground with a pin, choke or joint lock." Dan began to blush again. "Chris implied I only got a half point for my sweep and I should finish our match with ne-waza -- techniques done on the ground."

Molly looked puzzled for a moment, and then a big grin spread across her face.

"Ground techniques, huh. You any good at it?"

"I've won my share of matches that way."

"Hmmm. I might be interested in a demonstration some time."

"How about Saturday night? We could catch a movie first."

"We'll see." Molly fished a slip of paper out of her purse, scribbled on it and handed it to Dan.

"That's my number. Call me and we'll work out the rules for our next match."

Molly smiled as she walked away putting a little wiggle in her step.

"Nice koshiwaza." Dan muttered unable to take his eyes off her undulating hips, not realizing quite yet that she'd scored an ippon in the biggest match of his life.

Dan and Molly's relationship followed the natural progression. In the course of nine years they dated and fell in love, went steady, got engaged, finished school, started careers and got married. Daniel thought he was in paradise until the horrible day he discovered there was a snake in his Garden of Eden.

Dan glanced at his watch as time for the confrontation neared. Chris tried to soothe his nerves by bringing up their favorite subject.

"We haven't had a chance to talk, other than business, since the Olympics. What do ya think about Harrison winning her second gold medal in Judo?"

"I bet you're thrilled that it took a woman to do it." Dan replied.

"Hey, the best any of the men have ever done is a silver. Kayla was dynamite. Besides, Kano said the best Judo is joshi Judo." They were both grinning despite the ribbing.

They bantered about various matches they'd watched until the conversation had run its course leaving Dan to stare morosely into his tea. All Chris could do was sit quietly and wait for an opening. Dan finally looked up with tears in his eyes.

"Why would she think I didn't love her? I loved her with all my heart." Dan dropped his head in defeat. "I still do."

He looked up again, pain etched deeply into his features.

"You understand how women think."

Chris raised an eyebrow and smirked.

"Ya think?"

Dan rolled his eyes in exasperation but did seem to lighten up.

"You know what I mean. What did I do wrong? Why would Molly think I didn't love her?"

"Dan, we've been over this. For a therapist, you're damn stubborn about blaming yourself. I told you when you met her that she was shallow, self-centered and materialistic, but would you listen? Nooo, went in one ear and out the other. My opinion hasn't changed."

Dan gave Chris a wry smile.

"Ouch!"

Chris returned the smile.

"Hey, what are best friends for if they don't tell each other the truth."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a door opening and closing followed by muted voices in the outer office. Their adversaries had arrived. Dan's heart began to race. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing just as he did before a match. His heart rate slowed. His mind became still and clear. He was ready for the contest, maybe a bigger match than the one in which he lost his heart. Glancing at his friend, his questioning eyes received a smile and a thumbs-up.

His father's words came back to him. He didn't start this fight, but he would damn well finish it.

Karen ushered three people into the conference room. First through the door was a dapper young man in a three piece suit straight out of GQ. Every hair on his stylishly groomed head looked like it was lacquered in place. In his manicured hand, he carried a rather expensive looking brief case. Right behind him came a very attractive woman dressed to the nines. Right on her six inch heels, with his hand placed possessively on the small of her back, was an older version of the first man. Stylishly coifed, expensively dressed, he strutted in like he was emperor of all he surveyed. Karen ushered them around the table and seated them across from Chris and Dan.

Marcus Conroy was a shark, and a brilliant one at that. He was the kind of lawyer who made people detest the profession. Like any good sociopath he was able to skate masterfully on the edge of morality and the cannon of ethics. If he ever crossed the line, as Chris and others suspected, Conroy had been quite clever in hiding it.

Glancing at Molly, a sour expression crossed the young attorney's face. Chris never had a high opinion of Molly from the beginning and Dan knew that. It hadn't done any good. Once Molly started showing interest in him, Dan's higher brain functions ceased entirely.

It didn't come as a shock then that Molly fell for Conroy's load of bullshit. Highly skilled at manipulating people and exploiting their weaknesses, it was no surprise he'd gotten in her pants. She'd been a gazelle to his cheetah. Once Conroy began hunting her, she was dead meat. What really surprised Chris was that she wasn't just the flavor of the month. Conroy traded in wives and mistresses more frequently than his cars. He made Hugh Heffner look like a poster boy for monogamy. Apparently, he wanted to make Molly his next wife. Something about her had captivated him much as it had Dan.

Conroy was a senior partner in the law firm handling Molly's divorce action. Representing her directly would have been a major breach of ethics which was why a junior member of the firm was acting as her lawyer. It was obvious to everyone that Conroy was pulling the strings.

Dan hadn't taken his eyes off of Molly since she walked through the door. She was shifting uncomfortably under his gaze trying unsuccessfully to look indifferent. Her ears burned red when she caught Chris' look of contempt. Conroy lite introduced himself as Michael Patterson representing Molly in the matter of Fellmuth versus Fellmuth and tried to take charge of the meeting. The officious twerp was working hard to adopt his boss' arrogant confidence, but apparently hadn't crushed enough innocents to pull it off.

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byJudogeezer© 100 comments/ 31883 views/ 56 favorites

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