She did her best to collect herself and answered. “Hello Byron.”
“Hi, Julie. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? If you like, I could call back, or maybe there is something I can do?”
Sure, now he gets this way. “No, I’m fine. I’m just watching a romance.”
“Which one? Is it any good?”
“It’s a hallmark, you know, typical girl surrounded by good looking men and can’t decide between the rich doctor or the rich lawyer.”
“She should find a good marriage counselor and choose him.” As Byron laughed at his own joke, Julie hit the mute button so she could cry. “Well, I was calling because I wanted to see if you would be willing to go with me to dinner tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” The timing surprised her. Instantly she began to wonder if her Dad was behind this.
“I know it’s not Saturday or my week but I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“What?” She said, trying to mask her suspicion.
“I’d rather wait. If tomorrow doesn’t work I could do another night.”
“No, tomorrow works.”
“Great. I have reservations at the Eiffel tower downtown at the Paris for 6:00. So, I’ll pick you up around 5:30?”
Julie wasn’t sure what was happening but given some of what was going on she decided some options might be good, and as she learned tonight having her own vehicle gave her those. “Byron, can I just meet you there at 6:00.”
“Oh...yeah...sure,” Byron said.
“Thanks, see you then.”
She hung up but definitely wasn’t done talking. For the last six months Byron had become her closest confidant and tonight Charles had stepped into that role, but neither of those seemed like the right choice. So she dialed up her old friend Becky.
“Hey JuJu, what do I owe the pleasure?” Becky asked.
“We need to talk. Can you come over?”
“Becky, thanks so much for coming, do you want something to drink?” Julie asked as her friend came into the house.
“No, I’m fine. Let’s sit down and get to business, this is serious. You haven’t had me over to your place in ages and then you call me up on a weeknight, saying you need to talk. Girl, I knew big news was coming, so lay it on me. Is Byron home?”
“No, he kind of doesn’t live here,” Julie admitted.
“Doesn’t live here? What is going on girl?”
“I haven’t been exactly honest about Byron?”
“You two fightin’?”
“No.” Julie said more defensive than she meant to be.
“Oh, okay, so he’s seeing another woman?”
“He actually lives in a different town with his real wife?”
“You two are divorced?”
Becky rattled this off as fast as Julie could cough out the negative monosyllable, and she finally decided this guessing had to stop. “We were never really married.”
Becky now regretted not getting a drink, because she felt handicapped in her ability to properly express herself in this moment without something to drop on the floor. “What do you mean, I was at your wedding? I saw a Priestly man say, “I pronounce you husband and wife.” Well, he almost said it, before Byron yakked…It was all a show? Byron did some fake yacking to stop it from being official?”
“That is not…”
“Because that is some clever trickery, you two are sly ones,” Becky interrupted.
“The throw-up was real.”
“It was very convincing, the smell and all. So he took a pill to make him vomit, just at the right time and…”
“No, it was not planned. I mean it was, the wedding, not the vomiting but it was a real wedding.” Julie tried to think how to explain, “But we’ve never really been married.”
“You girl, do not make sense...wait, you mean you never, um...how do you say, duh,nun a nah.”
“What?” Julie asked.
“You know, consolidated the marriage.”
“You mean consummated?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Not just that,” Julie said.
“What do you mean, not just that. That is a lot of just. Is Byron Gay?”
“No. I don’t think so. I mean I have never really asked him. But we are getting off point.”
“Jewells, whether or not your husband is gay, is likely very on point, and you might want to ask if you are wondering why you two never...you know.”
“Okay, we are definitely off point.” Julie took a deep breath trying to figure how she could get a little more clarity to the conversation. “You remember a little while before the wedding you set me up with Ricky.”
“Yes?” Becky’s mind began to spin to find the connection. “I was always surprised you two didn’t go out again. I thought you had a great time, and whenever I tried to call and ask you what happened you got all weird. Next thing I know you were marrying some gay marriage counselor.”
“He’s not gay!” Julie yelled in exasperation.
“Married 3 years, never slept with his wife. You might be wrong on this one, honey.” Becky half whispered.
“Becky the truth is, I had a great time with Ricky. He said he wasn’t ready to move on from his wife.”
“Hey, that reminds me,” Becky jumped in. “Ricky got remarried last month.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“I was devastated. And really frustrated with dating and set ups. That’s when I remembered the ad you showed me earlier that day.”
“Wait… Byron is the ad guy?” Becky asked.
Julie quietly nodded.
“I can’t believe it. You actually responded to that ad, and married him!”
Julie’s head continued it’s steady up and down motion.
“That is nuts, I can’t believe it. And you didn’t tell me!”
“I know, I should have,” Julie acknowledged.
“So, that’s why Byron is never around.”
“Yeah, so anyways…”
“No, No, No, so anyways. I need to process this. You married a total stranger, just to avoid dating.”
“Can we move on?” Julie asked.
“I still can’t believe you married ad man. And…” Clearly a sudden realization struck Becky. “You owe me money!”
“And how is that?”
“I remember when I brought you that ad. I told you I got 25% finders fee.”
“You were joking. And it was not 25%.”
“Okay 20%, either way, you owe me.”
“Well, I could pay you.” Julie hadn’t thought about the money for a long time. “I haven’t touched a penny of it.”
“I felt too weird. So it just sits there.”
“Okay, my fee is 100%. I won’t feel weird.” It was Becky’s turn to take a breath. “Now you can move on.”
“Thank you.” Julie said sarcastically as she finally got to the whole reason she had called Becky over. “See the problem is, I think I need a divorce.”
“Julie, you are married to a man who’s only involvement with you is putting money in the bank, money, I might add, that can flow to me. You have the perfect husband, why get a divorce?”
“Well, for one thing that is not his only involvement.”
“Oh, you have been seeing your husband. Is that why we finally got to meet him at the book club?” Becky asked.
“Do you hate spending time with him? You two seemed to get along fine.”
“Yeah, our dates are fine, and he is all right to talk to.” Julie looked over at Becky as she again searched for the right words. “But that is all we ever do, is talk.”
“Oh yeah, back to the gay thing.”
“Can you forget about the gay thing? I think I know why there is only talk. He’s not interested, and don’t you dare say because he’s gay.”
“Then why would he keep seeing you?” Becky asked.
“I found out tonight that my Dad has been making him.”
“Like a gun to his head. Take my daughter out...or else.”
“No, I don’t know how he made him. My dad is very persuasive,” Julie said.
“I don’t know girl, if a guy keeps seeing you, my guess he at least likes being with you, or else he would just send the checks. I still can’t believe you found a guy who sends you checks every month. So, my advice. If you like talking to him, and are willing to give me the money, just enjoy this thing and don’t worry about your Dad, you two are old enough to decide to play marriage if you want to.”
“Well there is one more thing” Julie gave an awkward smile, “There is this guy.”
“Whoa. Hold up. Are you cheating on your pretend husband?”
“No.” Julie shot out before backtracking with, “I’m not cheating...per se.”
Becky again wished she had something to drop, “You better get me something to drink or at least let me lie down for this next part.”
“Don’t get dramatic, I just need some advice,” Julie said.
“Don’t get dramatic!” Becky took a breath as she prepared to lay out the facts. “I find out my best friend has had a sham marriage for years, has been shafting me out of my agent fee, and now find out she’s cheating on her sham husband. All without my knowledge. And I’m not supposed to be dramatic. I think we all know who is the one putting on a drama here.”
“Okay, so it’s a bit complicated,” Julie admitted.
“So, as I hyperventilate, tell me again, who is this guy?”
“He’s a client, who…”
“A client? In your engineering job, right?”
“And what other job would it be?” Julie was not fond of the question.
“I don’t know. You are coming clean on a lot tonight.”
“Charles Nordstrom is a...”
“Does he own the store?”
“I don’t know what he does, but he is a client who I’m working with designing his cabin, and we went to dinner tonight to discuss work, but we end up discussing...other things too.”
“I see, dinner with smooth Charlie to discuss ‘work’,” Becky said.
“Don’t use air quotes with me.” Julie may be the one who needed to apologize for holding back information for a few years, but even in her apologetic state she had limits. “Anyway, tonight he kissed me.”
“Wow. This is serious. Does this smooth Charlie know you’re married?” Becky asked.
“He knows the situation. And can we call him, just Charles.”
“And I guess you liked this kiss?”
“Yeah. I did. It felt really good, except for the guilt that I felt when I realized I’m a married woman kissing another man.”
“So you really like this smooth...I mean this just Charles,” Becky said.
“I don’t know if I like him, but I liked finally touching, kissing, being loved and wanted, and wanting and loving in return. I’m not sure I will ever have that in my current marriage.”
Becky began to speak but Julie cut her off. “Please, don’t say anything about Byron’s sexuality. We like each other and I think that is all. And I think I want the freedom to pursue something more, to pursue love, with someone, maybe Charles.”
The two women who had immense love and respect for each other looked into each other’s eyes. Julie knew exactly why she’d called her best friend to finally get out what had been in her heart. Becky wiped a tear from her eye. “I guess now is when I give you my amazing advice. I’d charge you for it, but you already owe me so much, why bother. My advice is simple, you need to talk to Byron.”
The greeter knew he recognized the man as he approached. Of course, being a greeter at a popular restaurant like the eiffel tower on the strip of las vegas did lend itself to seeing a lot of people, but there was something special about this face that now approached him. He couldn’t quite place it and continued to rack his brain as he came close enough for contact.
“May I help you?”
“I have a table, under Lewis.”
“Yes, we have your table. Would you prefer to wait here or at the table?”
“I better wait here for my wife. Oh, here she comes now,” Byron expressed as Julie now approached. As soon as Julie’s face came into view, the greeter realized who was in front of him. He had told hundreds if not thousands of the night, three years ago, when a man had come in the restaurant with a woman, meeting yet a different woman, all three bearing a red rose. The clear rejection of girl number two was in and of itself something to remember. Looking again at Byron he recalled the last thing he had ever spoken to this man about, it was leaving him with his credit card information and a commitment to pay whatever bill the women left behind. The woman was clearly miserable but with the gentleman's commitment came the opportunity for her to share her pain. That wine bill was legendary and the only thing that eclipsed it was the tip she left at the bottom of his credit card receipt.
For weeks they expected to hear that the man, long gone before the full extent of the damage was realized, would contest the near thousand dollar bill. But such tidings would never come, and the greeter assumed that the man, Byron Lewis, according to this reservation had been true to his word to cover the cost. He was excited to see Byron again, but was quite dismayed when he asked, “are you expecting anyone else?” and Byron replied, “No.”
“Clearly it appeared that tonight would be much less legendary.” thought the greeter as he sat the couple in the same table they had been three years before.
“Do you remember this place?” Byron asked.
“How could I forget? You didn’t bring me here to meet another Julie, did you?”
“I sure hope not. From time to time I still worry that I will run into her in a grocery store and she will try to force me to marry her. Thank goodness, if it ever happens, I’m not single.”
The talk of Byron being single made Julie squirm uncomfortably as she thought of what she had planned to say.
They sat quietly and Byron reached into his pocket to feel the necklace case. He debated if now was the right time, or should he wait until after the food had shown up, or maybe until after they ate. A bit more small talk was probably appropriate but being focused on his mission made it very hard to come up with anything to say.
Julie for her part was just as nervous. She had much to say as well and was having the same debate about before, after or during the meal being the most appropriate time. If she did it before the meal, it meant for a long awkward meal to follow, or that she would rudely leave before food even came.
Usually the two spoke open and freely, but today was different and it was a long pause before Byron finally said, “Last time we were here, things were very different, I know I felt very differently.”
“How’s that?” Julie asked, in a much less encouraging fashion than Byron had hoped.
“Well for one, we had just met, but I feel that I know you much better now. Do you realize what today is?” Byron asked.
Byron had many women in his office complain about men not remembering their anniversary and always thought they were a bit melodramatic for such a small thing. He realized he would never feel that way again. “It’s our third wedding anniversary.”
Julie, couldn’t believe it. He was right. She had completely forgotten. Unfortunately, this brought to mind the first anniversary she had. She had definitely not forgotten that day. At the time, she was very happy with her marriage on the whole. She had effectively avoided being set up or asked out by weirdos, but while most days were happy, the night of her first anniversary was anything but. Alone, is not how anyone wants to celebrate an anniversary. She spent most nights alone, but rarely was she lonely, but she was that night. After spending most of the night crying on and off about how lonely she was, she had vowed to herself to never let it get to her again and part of that was to avoid ever thinking about that cursed word: anniversary, and it worked. The second came and went without any thought and the third would have done the same, if Bryon had not jolted her memory as they sat in this very fancy restaurant. But Byron had remembered and he had chosen to take her out. Maybe he really did want something more, maybe he did care, or else why would they be here?
“It was good of you to remember. This is the first anniversary I have ever been with someone. I guess I didn’t allow myself to look forward to them.” Julie admitted.
“That makes sense and I apologize for that,” Byron said.
“For what? That is what I signed up for, right?”
“Ever wonder if there is more? More than what we currently have?”
Had she ever! Why was he saying this? Had he found another woman and discovered, like she had with Charles, that there was more. Her mind told her that if that was the case, she should be happy for him. After all, she was just about to dump him, but her heart told her something very different.
“Julie what I want to say is.” He reached into his pocket and was beginning to withdraw the case when,
“Can I get you two anything to drink?” Byron hadn't even noticed the waiter approaching.
“Oh, Julie do you want anything?”
“Water is fine.”
“Me too. Water is good.”
The waiter walked off, along with Byron’s thought process.
“You were saying?” Julie asked.
Byron thought he better work his way back into it.
“I was wondering if you wanted a chance to have something more. I mean, I see how happy your parents are and...”
“Why would you bring them up?” Julie was beginning to see what was going on. She now realized that the only reason he was taking her out on their anniversary was because her Dad told him to.
“I thought they seemed like a good couple.”
“Byron, did you start taking me on dates because my dad asked you to?”
Byron had not expected that question and stared at her, not knowing what to say. But he could tell that his silence was already saying too much, and decided to come clean. “He encouraged me to.”
“And so you have only been seeing me because my Dad asked you to?”
“No, I have really enjoyed seeing you,” He said, trying to recover the situation.
“We go out every two weeks, like clockwork. How often did my Dad ask you to take me out?”
“Um…” Byron took a sip of water. “He did think that twice a month would be a good idea.”
“Julie, I want you to know that...” his mind was saying the words of ‘I love you’ and want us to be together’ but he couldn’t quite get it out. “That, I really liked the time we had together.”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant…”
“Byron. I need to tell you something.”
Julie took a deep breath. “Byron, I met someone.”
Byron was shocked. People meet people everyday but he could tell that this someone was more. “Who did you meet?”
“His name is Charles.”
“Oh, I guess, I didn’t…” He didn’t know what to say. He wanted to say that meeting people was not part of the rules, but knew that trying to stop love was something that was difficult to do.
“Byron, I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was just a guy I was doing work for, and we were meeting for work and it has turned into something more. I wasn’t trying to break up our marriage, but I feel something, I feel like he wants to be with me.” Julie could see that before her stood a dejected man. He may have only been seeing her because her dad wanted him to, but he clearly didn’t want this outcome. She had gone too far to back down now, and felt she had to let him go, but was feeling worse and worse as he clearly became more and more despondent. “Byron, you said it yourself, I want more, more than we have had. I want to be really and truly loved. I think I have a chance. I feel like I have to take that chance. Don’t you feel that we need more, that we could have more? If you had a chance at that, wouldn’t you give anything to take it?”
Byron could see exactly what she meant and agreed 100%. He wanted to say, “Yes, that is exactly right, we need more and we can have more together. I want us to discover the more together,” but all he could get out was, “Yes, I understand.”
“So, I’m sorry, Byron, but I would like a divorce.”
His world stopped. He knew he had no one to blame but himself, and could see no way to stop this reasonable path forward. He was too late. He was trying not to but tears began to come down his face.
She had no desire to make him cry. And for some crazy reason she also felt herself beginning to cry. “I am so sorry Byron, you understand right?”
“I will give you all the money back,” Julie said.
“No, you keep the money.” Byron couldn’t focus, the room was spinning. He tried to continue the conversation but couldn’t think of anything. He wanted to be alone, for the world to close in around him. After a painful pause he finally got put, “I hope things work out with Charles.”
“Thanks.” She didn’t know what to do. They hadn’t ordered and the rest of the night was bound to be nothing but awkward. “Byron, I think I will go home.” As she spoke her phone rang and she looked down.
Byron was trying to gather himself. “Who is that?”
Somewhat embarrassed she said, “It’s Charles. I better go.”
She stood and so did Byron. She looked through her moist eyes at his that were even more so. They leaned in and hugged, “Byron, it really was a good marriage. Thanks for everything.”
“No, Thank you. I will always remember you.”
She walked out as he whispered below the hum of happier conversations, “I love you, and always will.”
The greeter looked over as he saw the woman walk out, and as she left he slightly mourned for Byron. This place and him were meant for heartbreak, but he also mourned for himself. Somehow he knew, deep down, his tip wouldn’t be anything like last times.
Up Next Chapter 22