I handed her the car keys.
"You'll have to drive home, Tiffany. I drove my car over here."
"How -- why? I told you that we'd ride home together."
"I'll -- uh -- you just drive home and get settled in."
I pushed the keys into her hands and walked her around to the driver's side.
"I'll get my car."
That's all I said and I know she thought I meant I was going to drive to what had been our home. I should have said something, I know. But I couldn't do it in front of the girls. And I couldn't stand the thought of going back to what had been and no longer was our home. I know it was a shitty thing to do, but I drove back to my apartment and turned off my cell. There was no home phone.
So I would never know of my own direct knowledge, but I could envision it in my mind and I later learned I was pretty close.
I could see her driving to the house, unlocking it and unpacking the SUV with Marge's help. It would take awhile to unpack the debris of a month's worth of clothing, souvenirs, brochures....etc. Then she and Marge would be getting the girls into the bathroom for baths and dressing them in pajamas, telling them that daddy would be home soon.
By that time it would be around 7 p.m. and they would be feeding the girls. I expected that she and Marge would settle them down with a little television before making them go to bed early after a long, long day.
And then, I expected around 8 p.m. or so Tiffany would have called me for the fourth or fifth time and gotten no answer.
I figured she would wander into my office at some point and look around, hoping to get a glimpse of what I'd been up to for the month she'd been gone.
It was then that she'd notice that all the papers and documents and my old desktop and my new laptop and other regular working materials were gone. Everything was neat as a pin.
Everything except the pile of documents with my wedding ring lying on top.
I figured that it would take a few moments for what she was seeing to sink in. Then she would pick up the ring, try to figure out what was going on and pick up the documents. She would stare at them and, I hoped, break down into tears. And after awhile Marge would wander in and then all hell would break loose.
I know I was being a damned coward. I should have driven over there and when the girls were down, simply told Tiffany we were through. And I was being brutal.
I thought I was just being a coward, but looking back, I know I wanted to hurt her as badly as I could. She had torn my heart out, destroyed our marriage and my world. And even if it was mean and low of me, I wanted some payback.
I knew Marge would tell her daughter to let me go fuck myself and that she was better off without me. And I knew Tiffany, with that hair trigger temper of hers, would go crazy trying to find me to curse me as a cowardly sack of shit.
But how? While Tiffany was gone I'd opened a new cell phone account using a friend's address so it couldn't be traced back to me. I had a new cell number. I didn't have a new home phone. I wouldn't answer the old cell and there's no way it could be used to track me down.
She didn't know that many of my friends, but if she did manage to reach anybody, they'd been sworn to vows of secrecy and would tell Tiffany they had no idea I'd moved, or if I was staying with somebody.
I hadn't changed my address with corporate, changed my address for anything, simply so somebody in her law office couldn't contact a friend to pull my address out of their billing records. I'd talked a friend into putting up a deposit on the electricity so that the electric was in his name.
I knew that worse than the anger at my leaving her with divorce papers with -- according to her -- no warning, would be the unleashed rage that would have her stomping all over the house, trying to vent without terrifying our daughters.
I watched television on the cheap little 32 inch black and white screen TV and DVD player for an hour and plugged in the laptop to work on the novel, but I deliberately didn't log onto my internet account.
Around 1 a.m. I had started flagging. The nervous energy and anger finally ebbed and I couldn't keep my eyes open. I hit the bed and set the alarm for 7 a.m.
Saturday morning I got up and threw some clothes into a carrying case and hopped into the junker and drove down to Daytona Beach. Two buddies of mine celebrating their new bachelorhood had invited me down for the weekend and I was going to take them up on it.
Her law firm could hire the best PIs in the world and they'd never find me before the start of the next week.
I knew it was going to hit the fan that Monday because I'd be back to work. But I had prepared myself.
I was restocking the shelves with returned DVDs when Mike came to the back and pointed to a well dressed, silver haired guy standing at the customer service counter. He looked back at me as Mike was talking to me and I nodded. He walked back.
"Yes. Would you be with the firm of Martin, Devon, Bailey and Bartley?"
He nodded without smiling. He didn't seem to be carrying any legal papers. I was honestly surprised to see him instead of Tiffany. I figured she'd be storming into the store hurling hot lead with fire in her eyes and steam coming out of her ears.
"Yes. Matt Henry. I was asked by the firm to come by and try to get a little bit of information from you. We're representing your wife."
"What do you need to know?"
"Well, why would you file for divorce out of the blue with absolutely no warning to your wife and then vanish off the face of the earth for nearly 72 hours leaving her no way to contact you to find out what precipitated this?"
"There's no mystery. She knows what 'precipitated it.' She precipitated it. And she shouldn't be surprised. When she walked out on me, deserted me for a month, I told her I wouldn't be at home when she came back.
"I gave her fair warning. She just didn't want to believe me. She's been so used to wearing the pants in our family for most of our marriage that I guess she just forgot that I'm still a man and I still deserve to be treated like one."
He looked at me with a little surprise showing on his face. Obviously Tiffany hadn't gone into a great deal of detail with her mom's law firm about our life or what had happened when she went on the one month vacation without her dear husband.
"She doesn't want a divorce."
"Mr. Davis, please. I don't know a lot about your marriage, obviously, but there's no record and your wife gave us no indication there had been previous marital difficulties. You've been married for more than eight years, have two young children.
"To file for a divorce under those circumstances is...unusual. Is there -- someone else?"
He threw his hands up as if to forestall any protest I might have and said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that. Your attorney would tell you not to answer any such question, but honestly, in this day and time seeking a divorce to be with somebody else is not something that would prejudice your case unduly. It's just that -- "
He looked at me with a speculative glance.
"I've handled divorces for nearly 20 years. Men and women don't out of the blue seek a divorce after a long and apparently happy marriage. I've been with the firm for 15 years and I've known Tiffany -- your wife -- since she was a teenager. I think I know her fairly well.
"And your actions -- they've shaken her. Nobody is that good an actress. She said she had absolutely no idea you were even...unhappy...much less distressed to the point of walking out on her and your two daughters."
"Then she's the biggest idiot that ever walked the earth, and I know she isn't that big an idiot. Look, Mr. Henry, the divorce papers are fairly clear cut. I don't want anything from Tiffany. All I want is to be away from her, and retain contact with my daughters, as much contact as possible.
"And, it's none of your business, but I don't have a relationship with another woman, with anybody outside my marriage. Although, you might ask Tiffany if she could say the same."
He looked a little surprised at that, then asked, "You've obviously arranged it so your wife couldn't reach you. She still can't, unless it's at this store. She doesn't have your address or a phone number and apparently you haven't seen or responded to any of her e-mails. Is there a reason for that?"
"Yeah. I don't want to talk to her. I don't want to receive emails from her. I don't want her showing up on my doorstep to fight with me or try to fuck me into changing my mind. I'm not going to."
"You're that determined to go ahead with this? She didn't ask me, but I feel honor bound to ask, is there any possibility you would consider going to see any kind of counselor, any counseling, to see if there's any way to keep your marriage intact?"
"No. I won't go to a counselor. I wouldn't go if ordered by the court, and I don't think a judge would order it, but I'd go to jail first. Make sure she knows that."
He looked genuinely puzzled.
"Why in the world would you be so adamant about this? Counseling has been known to help in the most bitter of divorces."
"Not in this one."
I stopped and realized he had no idea what he had stepped into. It wasn't his fault.
"I'm not being hard nosed to hurt her, Mr. Henry. I know you believe in what you're saying. But I've been married to her for eight years and I know my wife. She will never change and I can't change to what she wants me to be.
"I'm doing what is best for both of us, even if she won't admit it. She needs to be free to find -- somebody -- more appropriate for her. Somebody she can be happy with. And I need -- my freedom."
He just shook his head.
"I'll relay the information, but you know she'll come after you, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know it. That's going to be the hard part of this, but it won't do her any good. Try and tell her that, even if she won't listen to you."
Tiffany sat at a long table. Her mother sat beside her and next to her sat Stephen Middleton. Across the table from her sat Matt Henry, senior partner Wilson Wilkes and the senior and founding partner Mort Bailey. A pretty, long haired blonde, Amber Dawson, was standing by in case anyone wanted coffee or anything to drink.
"....and that's pretty much the gist of what your husband had to say. It's pretty simple. He wants out of the marriage, he wants visitation and contact with his daughters, and he wants to have absolutely no contact with you. And he doesn't want any of your money or assets."
"The asshole," Marge Benner said, glaring at Henry as if he were in cahoots with Bruce Davis. "Did you get him to admit that he's been screwing around on Tiffany. You know that's what this is all about."
"Damn it, Tiffany, have you ever listened to anything I've said? He's a lazy, no good bastard just exactly like your father. He has no energy, no ambition, and no man walks away from a woman like you and his children unless he's got a girlfriend, or two or three, on the side. Mark my words, we'll find out that's what this is all about."
Bailey rubbed his chin. He was 74, but still strong and active and one of the best minds in the firm.
"It's puzzling, Marge. As Matt says, the papers are very straightforward. Of course, he had that little pissant Morgan filing, and he can barely tie his shoes much less file a decent legal brief, but even so...
"Tiffany, he never signed a pre-nup, and he's got to know you're worth millions. There's your house alone that's worth a good million in this market. That's maybe $4 million in assets and even with a friendly judge, and any halfway decent attorney, I don't see how he'd walk away with less than $1 million. He's not asking for a penny. That makes no sense."
"He probably doesn't have any idea what she's worth," Marge snapped, softening her tone a little as she looked at Bailey. A few years ago, despite his age, he had wielded a very large cock very expertly and they had had a lot of fun times together. He had been good to her.
"The man's an idiot. He didn't sign the pre-nup out of sheer stubbornness. I don't think he could plan far enough ahead to think about walking away with any of Tiffany's money."
Tiffany leaned forward and put her head in her hands.
"I don't think he'd come after my money mom. That's not what this is all about. He's hurt. I hurt his pride. And he's trying to hurt me."
Stephen spoke up for the first time, reaching out to cover one of her small hands with his large one.
"I could tell he was upset at the airport, Tiff, but do you really think he would plan all this out, go ahead with a divorce, and chance losing his kids, just because you hurt his feelings, hurt his pride?"
She pushed his hand away but didn't make a production of it.
"I never would have thought so, but I guess....he was hurt more...."
She lowered her head to her hands.
"He told me he wouldn't be here when I got back," she whispered. "It was the last thing he said to me as I walked out the door. And I walked out anyway."
Her mother put her arms around her.
"He doesn't deserve you, baby. He never has. The only good thing he ever did was give you two beautiful daughters. But he's served his purpose now. You need to move upward. You're a beautiful woman. You're successful and wealthy and you're going to go higher. You need someone of your own caliber, not a loser."
"He's not a loser."
Marge hugged her daughter, ignoring the men around them.
"You think I don't know how you feel, baby. You think I didn't love that selfish bastard that walked out on us? I worshipped the ground he walked on. I degraded myself to keep him. I loved him for years afterward. But I got over him.
"Just like you'll get over Bruce. Trust me, baby. You will get over him."
"I'm going to talk to him."
"Don't. Don't be a fool. Let him go."
She shook her mother's hands off her.
"I'm going to talk to him. He's never been able to resist me up close and personal. I can change his mind. And we can forget all this and put it behind us."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Marge said.
"Let it go Marge," Bailey said in a tone that told her to stop talking. "You were in love with that bastard husband of yours when you came here and it took you years to get over him. She's only had a few days. Let her try. If it doesn't work, at least she'll know she tried."
She was waiting for me when I closed shop at 10 p.m. Tuesday night. She was in a SUV I didn't recognize so I wasn't able to sneak out away from her. As I walked out to my junker the door of the SUV swung open and she stepped out. She was dressed in jeans that showed her belly button, a younger style than she usually wore, but it looked good on her. She wore a v-necked blouse that let the small swells of her breasts show.
"You were really going to walk out on the girls and me and never even talk to me again?"
"That was the idea, but I wasn't walking out on the girls. I'll keep my relationship with them, if you don't try to screw things up."
"How can you do this, Bruce? I thought you loved me. Were you lying all these years, or did you just stop loving me somewhere along the way?"
"Why don't you just let things go, Tiffany. The wheels are in motion. It's too late to go back. We're through."
"Why? Why can't we go back? Nothing is set in stone. It's just some papers now. Your feelings are hurt. And your pride is hurt. And I'm sorry. But you don't throw away your family and your wife because of one fight."
"It's not just one fight Tiffany. It's not because you deserted me for a month. It's not just because I'll never know and be able to trust that you didn't fuck Stephen while you were there."
"I didn't fuck him, Bruce. Why would you say that?"
"Did you wear that skimpy bikini when you were out surfing with him, Tiff? Did he give you mouth to mouth when you came in? Did he rub that big dick all over you while you were out in the water away from the girls?
"And when you came in with your lipstick all smudged and told the girls that Uncle Stephen was silly, was he just kissing you or did he put that big monster inside your pussy or your mouth? Don't bother answering because I'll never know the truth about what happened.
"And it doesn't matter. If you had sex with him, or didn't, we're still through. The sex isn't the problem."
"What is the problem, Stephen? Is it still just about money?"
She pressed herself against me and I felt the hard nubs of her nipples rubbing my chest in the humid summer air. She reached up to put her arms around my neck, figuring that once again the lure of those breasts and that steamy pussy would reduce me to jello.
I pulled her arms free from around me and set them at her side.
"It is about the money, Tiffany, and it's not. We don't have a marriage. We have a partnership. What is yours is yours and what's mine is mine. There is no 'our.' The only thing we truly share are our two girls, and if you could establish legal ownership of them and cut me off, I think you'd do that too."
She backed away and stared at me with hurt in her eyes.
"You want me to be your property, that's it, isn't it. That's always been our problem. You want to own me. Why can't you see that I have to be my own woman. We can love each other and be together, but I have to have my own life as well."
"I want to own you and everything you have. And I want you to own me and everything I have and ever will have. Marriage is a joining of two people. In the old saying it said making two one flesh. As far as I'm concerned, everything I've had had, everything I ever will have is yours. We don't need a legal document.
"You see, I trust you. I trust you with my life, with my heart, with my children. Even if you screwed me over, broke my heart, I wouldn't regret loving you and trusting you and opening myself up to you. But you can't trust me. You can't leave me in a position to hurt you, because deep down you know I will.
"You remember when we first got serious. You wanted to live together. To see if we'd be compatible. Your mother was all for it. And I said no.
"If you love somebody, you love somebody. You make a commitment. You don't keep running shoes under your bed ready for that moment when you're ready to make a break for it. I was the one that insisted we marry.
"If it was up to you, we'd still be living together. No real bonds except our children. And you'd always have those shoes ready to go off and make a new life for yourself if I turned on you, disappointed you, hurt you."
I reached out and held her face in my hands and I knew this was when the pain really began. This was for real and I was going to lose her, give her away actually. I was going to give her her freedom, because that was what she really needed.
"We've never really been married, Tiffany. We have a legal document, but no marriage. We have never been joined together. We've just been two people living in the same house, having sex and raising two children. That's not a marriage.
"It's what you want, but I've never wanted it. And I just decided when you walked out on me, that I couldn't go on living that way.
"So go back to that house we used to live in. Sign the papers. Don't fight it. Let me see the girls and you go and fuck Stephen or anybody else you want to. Make lots of money and have a good life, and let me try to find a life for myself."
I turned around and walked away from her. She didn't call me or try to stop me. I think I heard crying. But she let me go.
She let me pick up the girls every other weekend with no static. She didn't try to talk to me, just sent the kids out to meet me.
I talked to the girls and tried to explain to them that sometimes mommies and daddies just couldn't live together even though they still loved each other. And that nothing would ever change my loving them.