How High a Price: Another View - MbyJoesephus©
Authors Angst... This is not a stand-alone story. In order to understand it, you must read E. Z. Riter's "How High a Price - Another View," Mr. Riter's version of The Troubadour's excellent "How High a Price," With Mr. Riter's permission and The Troubadour's I'm using the characters from both their stories. I have attempted to pick up exactly where Mr. Riter's story stopped.
This is my second shot at this excellent tale.. It's what I wanted to do the first time but I hadn't received permission from Mr. Ritter. Since I'd started on the assumption that I'd get it, I slapped together a different start and posted "HHAP-The Next Step." I hoped that Mr. Ritter or some one else would send a reply so I could write my ending and waited. Mr. Ritter took pity wrote the reply letter found in this story. I've used it with his permission.
Finally, if you've read and remember my earlier take on HHAP, "The Next Step," there are only a few minor changes until Early's reply to Susan's letter. If you skip to that point, you won't really miss anything.
** ** ** ** **
Chapter 1 - Aftermath
Susan began calling Early's office before it opened on Monday morning. Joan, Early's secretary, fielded a dozen calls from Susan before she confronted Early. "I can't do this, Early. I'm mad enough at Susan to spit nails, but I can't continue to just hang up on her. You have always been more like family than my boss, and I'm on your side, but I also owe Susan. She never charged me for all the legal work on my divorce or all the child support collection problems with my deadbeat ex.
"I understand you not wanting to talk to her... I know how hurt you are. I remember the pain I went through when I found out he had cheated on me. If it weren't for the kids, I don't know what I would have done. I understand you not wanting to talk to her or ever see her again, but you're going to have to get her to stop trying to talk to me..." she paused, her face pleading, "Please, I can't listen to her pain without... I can't be rude to her, I just can't."
Early's jaw muscles pulsed as he gnashed his teeth. He took a deep breath to keep from exploding, paused then said, "Next time she calls tell her that I've told you I will fire you if you speak to her on company time. If you want to listen to her on your own time... well that's your business, but I will fire you, for real, if you ever mention her to me or speak to her here. I'll do my best not to put you in the middle of all this, but I will not speak to her except through my lawyer; her name is Cynthia. Maybe she can get the courts to issue a restraining order or something."
That effectively ended Susan's attempts to call Early at the office, but she was leaning on his Mercedes as he walked out of the building that evening. Turning on his heel, he contacted security and had her removed from the parking lot. Unable to locate Cynthia, he left a message asking her to prepare a restraining order and file it as soon as she could. He then called his PI, John Wells, and arranged for transportation to the Holiday Inn. Susan wasn't able to follow them.
Because he was a modest person, Early was surprised that concern for him reached to the very top of his company. Steve Majors, the head of security, contacted Paul Landon, general counsel, to confirm the legality of Early's action barring Susan from the property. Paul contacted the CEO about the same time Early was leaving with his private investigator.
Tuesday morning a process server showed up at Early's office. John Stickner was filing civil suit for the damage to his face. At the time Early was in the CEO's office explaining what had happened. The CEO picked up the phone and called the Paul up to his office. After a short discussion, he told Paul, "I want you to change our outside law firm immediately." Early's company, a large multinational, had been the biggest client of Susan's law firm, amounting to almost seventy percent of their billable hours. "Early, you will take the week off. Get out of town, go someplace nice and put it on your expense account."
A week later Early was back in the CEO's office. "I've felt guilty about all the travel I've put you through Early and I think I'm partly responsible for what happened. This company will do everything it legally can to help you. If you want to relocate, just say where."
Within hours of losing their major client, the senior partners of Jenson, Sharone and Anderson had called Susan into their conference room and told her to seek employment elsewhere. It only took only a bit longer for a full meeting of the partners to see Stickner fired. To avoid further legal action, Stickner agreed to relinquish his license to practice in Washington State and move to New York, but Susan was going to remain in Seattle.
Early had already been thinking about that particular problem. While he was determined not to lay eyes on cheating slut of a wife, he didn't like the idea of being run out of town either. Besides, he liked the idea of showing Susan that she no longer had any power over him. If he didn't want to see or talk to her, he could make that happen. "No, I'm going to stay here. That is if security can legally keep her out of the offices."
Paul looked at his boss, who nodded and Paul said, "That won't be a problem. I'll have some papers drawn up and serve her."
Then the game began. Susan, desperate to talk to Early, tried to contact him through friends, Early countered with emails and letters. Saying each person would have to choose sides, he concluded by saying, "I welcome all friends but any friend of mine will never mention that bitch's name."
Anticipating she would hire private detectives to find where he was staying, he drove a different rental every day until he found an apartment. Because his attorney told him he was unlikely to be able to get a restraining order, his new apartment was located in a very secure gated community.
The duel continued for weeks. Susan would thrust and Early would parry, outmaneuvering her at every juncture. Just when he thought he'd won, his attorney summoned him to her office
* * * * * *
Chapter 2 - The Letter
"I don't care how much it costs, I don't want to have to see or deal with that bitch again!"
Cynthia Rodgers, Early's divorce attorney gave him the look, the one that said "stop acting like a child and join the real world."
"Early, all the money in the world can't keep you from seeing her in court if she fights this. She's one of the best lawyers in the state, for God's sake. Even with all the evidence you have she can drag this out long enough to wipe you out and make me a very rich woman. If she decides to make this fight her life's work, she can tie you up until you die. If you really don't want to see her repeatedly, then you're going to have to read her letter and respond to it."
Early felt a black hole in his soul open. His gut felt like his ulcers had developed ulcers. His fight to isolate himself from Susan for the last five weeks had created a scab of sorts over his pain. Now he felt that scab being slowly and very painful ripped off, leaving the open, putrefying sore.
He knew Susan had a brilliant legal mind and courtroom skills to make her a legend...before he had derailed her career. Living with her had taught him that the legal system delivered many things, but rarely justice. He understood she could not only wipe him out financially, she could tie him up with motions and court appearances for years. The little voice in his head kept saying, "If you are so over her, why are you so afraid to deal with her like an adult. She was your wife, your life, and no matter how much you want a clean break..."
Aloud Early said, "If I do this, give my sworn word to read her letter and think about it for one hour a day for six days, can I hold her to her word? Will this all go away?"
Cynthia shrugged. "She's your wife! Will she keep her word? She said there is one request in the letter, a private request, that if you'll agree to consider that one request she will sign the divorce pleading she's drawn up. She said there won't be anything in that pleading that I would object to."
Two months ago there would have been no doubt in Early's mind that Susan would keep her word, but now? This was childish. She wasn't even asking for a face-to-face, which Cynthia said she could force with depositions. "Okay, I'll do it if it's the only way to end this mess."
Cynthia smiled gently, "It's the smart move, Early. Now raise your right hand and swear..."
When Early got back to his apartment he resisted the urge to take a drink. Instead he opened the large manila envelope and took out Susan's letter. It was typed. He felt his stomach knot and he couldn't decide exactly why. Had he wanted to see Susan's strong beautiful handwriting or was he disappointed that she hadn't tried?
I've resisted the urge to address you as 'dearest husband' but that is what you are and what you will always remain. I don't say that lightly. I've always heard that your life can change in the blink of an eye. Mine did. Early, when you said you were in our bedroom right after I lied on the phone about being home, I died. I've spent almost every waking second for the last five weeks thinking about what I've done, what kind of person I was and the kind I want to be. After more thought and sober self-analysis than I've done in my whole life, I had my own epiphany. Or perhaps more accurately, an affirmation of who I must be. I must be your wife.
Naturally this creates certain problems, since I understand, profoundly, your desire not to be my husband. I even agree, though wistfully, with your decision and I will honor it. I will always crave your forgiveness but that isn't the purpose of this letter. I pray that you will never show this to anyone, but if you show it to Cynthia, she'll tell you that it ends any possible legal threats that I might make. I acknowledge that I committed adultery and that I am solely responsible. I'll testify in any court, provide detailed receipts of my involvement with Mr. John Stickner. I will be a witness that Early acted in self-defense when he smashed Mr. Stickener's face. If allowed, I will provide legal advice pro bono in my husband's suit against him and my former firm. I will also reimburse you for all expenses you incur in that suit or in our divorce. My only regret concerning my former firm was that I didn't get to resign. I had my letter ready when I was sacked.
Early, I am your wife, and I always will be. What's more, I will be faithful to you for the rest of my life. I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but after all my soul searching, I understand it and I don't want to change it. That doesn't mean I'm going to try to hold you. I've lost that right; you are free from me, and you never have to see me again. I hope you will, I pray that you will, but if you don't I will never attempt to see you. I am gladly giving you the legal tools to keep me at bay if I should falter in my resolve and lose what little dignity I still possess.
I not only regret what I did, I repent. That means I have to do everything in my power to make you whole from my damage to you. I can't undo what I've done but I will try to provide restitution.
So you will know that my decision to honor my marriage vows after our divorce is sincere, I am establishing a trust fund. It will pay for surveillance of me to prove that I continue to honor my marriage vows. The trust fund will be controlled by a third party who will make all reports available to you. You don't have to read the reports but they will always be open to you.
I beg you not to pity me. I don't. I don't want ever to be involved with anyone else. I fully understand and accept the consequences of my actions. If I can't have the life with you I crave, this is the next best alternative for me. I beg only one thing: don't force me to be a biological dead end. I want to have two of your children. You don't have to see me again; I will gladly have twins by in vitro. You will have full control of those children. I will give them up for adoption, or you can have sole custody and deny me visitation rights. I will sign any contract you wish or write the best one I'm capable of writing.
I understand that my unconscionable cheating destroyed your trust. That is why I want the surveillance. I'm not trying to be a martyr. It is my dearest hope and highest ambition that by my behavior I can convince you I'm worthy to have those children and perhaps be allowed to be an important part of their lives. If however, you don't want me to be an integral part of their lives, I think it would be better for them never to know me. To facilitate that and to ease your pain, I will move to a different part of the state. As much as I love this place, we have too many common friends and interests, and I don't think I could restrain myself if I were to encounter you or them at some function.
As much as I would like to bear our children, if in seven years you have decided that you don't wish me to have them, I will have my tubes tied. Either way, I am establishing a second trust fund to cover all your expenses for all your children, whether mine or not. If you can't allow me to have children, I pray you will marry another and have children. You are too special to deprive the world of your genes.
I want you to understand that I am as content in my lot as I can be without you. I have no choice; I must live as if I'm still your wife. I will do so if you marry. I will always be available to you in any role you allow, from loving advisor to enthusiastic cheerleader to as one dead to you. The only thing I will not do is harm any future wife as I have harmed you. My bed will always be open, but please, if you marry, come to it only if your wife agrees. I am giving you full power over me. I will do anything you ask that isn't illegal. I beg only for the children and that you never force me to be part of breaking your vows to another woman.
Finally, I beg you to honor your oath. I wrote it carefully so that I could explain that I don't want you to think about this daily for a week, but for an hour on the anniversary of the day that our divorce becomes final. It's a bit underhanded, but I pray that over time you will forgive me sufficiently to allow me to bear your children. My hope is that, given years to think about it, you might allow my life on Earth to have meaning.
With complete devotion and obedience forever,
Early read the letter a second time. He could hear Susan's voice. This wasn't how she wrote briefs, this was how she spoke when she wasn't prepared to argue. His guts roiled and he felt a constriction in his chest. The pain she was feeling was impossible to miss and was deeper than he'd ever seen her display.
That line about "biological dead end" carried incredible emotional baggage. It wasn't just about her being the only child of old money. It was a term they'd used for one of their couple friends who proudly proclaimed their intent not to have children.
Early knew that having children was of paramount importance to Susan. They had begun discussing starting a family a few months ago. They had decided on the end of summer as the time she would go off birth control and Thanksgiving as the time to start trying in earnest. Early said a silent prayer of thanks that this happened before they'd gotten her pregnant.
Early would keep his word. He would spend the time thinking about this letter but a coldness in his chest let him know that he wouldn't change. He wanted nothing to do with this woman and he wouldn't let her manipulate him. He was sorry that she wouldn't have children...but that would be her choice. He wouldn't abandon his children and he couldn't abandon his children's mother. If he acceded to her, he would be bound to her forever and he couldn't stand that. He walked to the small file cabinet and did something he'd sworn he'd never do again. He looked at a picture of Susan standing with John in their office. It was enough; he was resolved.
* * * * * *
"Early, this is the oddest pleading I've ever seen," Cynthia smiled tightly.
Early clenched his jaw and felt his eyes flash, "What about the alimony? Is there any way we can fight that?"
"Early, I would love to see you fight it but ethically I have to advise you against it. The only reason I'd like to see you fight is because we'd lose and I could use it as a precedent for my future cases. Even if you won, you can't stop her from doing what she wishes with her money. Calling it alimony just means she can shelter more of it from Uncle Sam. What I like is the way she established the amount to provide for her own needs, and the way she's indexed that for inflation. The consumer price index or her apartment rent whichever is lower. She will be able to live modestly and provide for her retirement, but nothing more. Everything else comes to you. Of course that assumes you allow her to keep her retirement."
Early shrugged to show he didn't understand and Cynthia continued, "She's giving you alimony, all of her 401Ks and investments. She is even giving you all of her inheritance. She says she wants to make you harmless. She states that you would have enjoyed the benefits of those funds if she hadn't destroyed the marriage and thus you are entitled to them. I don't think we can fight that, at least based on the grounds she's using, and frankly I don't think I can fight against your interest and stay inside the canons. All that aside, it's the irrevocable power of attorney that she insists be part of the settlement that gives you the ultimate power."
"Do I have to accept it?" Early growled, feeling small-hearted but still looking for the hook in her offers. He just didn't trust her. Trust she destroyed.
"You've called Susan the bitch more times than you've use her name, but have you spent much time around dogs? I didn't think so. I breed Labs. When one dog totally submits to another, she turns on her back and bares her throat. The alpha dog will take the submissive dog's neck in its mouth and hold it, enjoying the power of life and death. That's what Susan has done, at least the human equivalent. My advice to you is to sign, put those documents in my care, and put the money in a trust. That way you won't abuse her when you feel the anger. Oh, you will feel it as you work through your grief at the death of this marriage. It will happen no matter how justified and correct your actions. I also know that you'll be tempted just to donate all her money to charity but that would be a hostile mistake. There might come a time when she needs it or changes her mind. If that happens, you'll sleep better knowing you've done the right thing."
Cynthia paused again, and Early could practically see the wheels turning before she continued, "I don't think you can do a thing to stop her wasting that money. You can have the detective reports held though so you don't have to involve yourself in them."
Early sat back. The idea of Susan paying him alimony rankled but Cynthia made sense of it. This way it didn't force him to see her or to be connected to her. He might even, over time, solve the problem of still being desperately in love with her.
Chapter 3 - Early's Response written by E. Z Riter:
Early Conroy had aged ten years in the past three months. Finding the love of his life fucking another man had done that to him. But Early was tough. He had survived and things were getting better.
He had, on advice of his attorney, taken the time requested by Susan—who was still his wife legally but not emotionally and certainly not morally—to consider the letter she had written him. That letter was laden with apparent remorse and pleaded with him to give her another chance. Unbeknownst to anyone, even his attorney, he had spent over twenty hours with a psychologist who specialized in marital relations to assist him in understanding his situation and his response to it.