Kate was already there when he and his lawyer arrived. Seated calm and regal at the table, she’d barely spared him a glance when he walked in. They’d been given the executive boardroom for the meeting. Delgado and Associates, after all, was a law firm used to dealing with high stakes divorces. Kate’s lawyer, Laura Delgado, the firm’s top partner, known for her prowess as one of the most ruthless divorce lawyers in New York smirked at him. She was certain of her victory. He had, after all, asked for a divorce with no justifiable reason. Kate could make whatever demands she wanted. He kept his face bland. He intended to give her whatever she asked for.
His lawyer was right about Kate’s anger. He’d been more than a little cruel in the way he’d broken the news of his intent end their marriage, to her. Truth be told, he’d been outright heartless. He had blindsided her completely. They’d just returned from a fundraising gala for the art gallery she managed. She’d been excited. The gala had raised more money than she’d anticipated. She was sitting at her vanity, having just finished brushing her hair. She had been talking to him about the plans the gallery had to tap into local talent from New York area art schools and give starting artists a chance to show their work – plans that could now be expanded to include more artists than they had initially budgeted for. Her face radiant, green eyes sparkling with joy, creamy smooth skin made even more luminous by the soft white glow of her vanity table lights, her back length mass of brown hair gleaming from being brushed into wavy perfection. Her normally quietly modulated voice was a few octaves higher and her hands moved animatedly as she talked.
He’d been sitting on on their bed, watching her as she celebrated. This was a familiar scene; him on the bed, her at her vanity, talking in the bedroom of their luxuriously furnished Upper East side town house. It was something they had fallen into the habit of doing at the end of the day, after dinner and just before they went to bed. In the early days of their marriage, they had talked about the minutiae of their day, shared funny stories, sought each others advice and made plans for the future: where they would go, what they would do, things to see. And then they would make love. It had been a comfortable routine established over ten years of marriage. They had gone, done and seen most of those things by that night. It was one of the perks and curses of being wealthy, this ability to do the things you wanted to do sooner than the average person. It left you with an ennui made even worse by the fact that you know you can afford to do anything you wanted, if you just knew what you wanted to do. Or turned you into a thrill seeker, if you were that averse to the ennui. Ideally as a couple, they would seek new ways to explore the world together, but ten years into the marriage, he’d realized that he didn’t want to seek thrills with Kate. He was weary of their marriage, weary of its perfection and predictability. Kate was everything any man could wish for in a wife. She was smart, lovely, independent and cared deeply for him but he just did not want to be with her. He should never have married her to begin with and deep inside him, he regretted that decision almost daily. This was what he had on his mind that night and that is why in the middle of her excited chatter he’d simply said
“I want a divorce.”
She had stopped mid-sentence and just looked at him for a few seconds.
“Excuse me?” She’d said finally, her voice back down to it’s deep husky timbre, a little tremor in it from shock and confusion.
“I said, I want a divorce.” He repeated calmly, his eyes holding hers. “I can’t do this anymore. I should never have done this.”
Her face had blanched then. Gone completely white and then he’d watched the red climb back up as her anger rose.
“Get out!” She’d snarled, teeth clenched. He had left without another word.
That had been over a year ago. A few weeks after that encounter, he and a team of Morrison & Roth analysts had flown to London for a meeting with officials from the John Lewis Partnership, one of the Britain’s largest retailers and a client they were trying to bring on board. Iya had been on that team and she had been put in the same hotel as him since she was now an executive, having been recently promoted to director at the Chicago office. Seeing her and knowing that he was soon going to be a free man had brought to the surface all the feelings he’d suppressed for the last ten years. Their friendly banter had thickened with sexual tension as the day progressed. He hadn’t been sure at first if she was just flirting back or if the hunger he saw in her eyes was real. As far as he knew, she was happily married to her high school sweetheart, a formidable man in his own right. Any surgical resident Bloomfeld-Hyman recruited as eagerly as they’d recruited Maxwell Litumbe, would make medical history eventually. He’d played it cool, flirting but keeping a respectful distance. Right up until when they’d been in the elevator, riding up to the Royal Suite of The Savoy where their rooms were located, he still wasn’t sure where her mind was. They had stepped into the marble foyer, and she had made for the en suite office. He’d caught her hand before she walked away.
“Iya…” That was all he could say, ten years of regret and longing poured into her name. It was all he needed to have said.
After that trip, he’d pretty much moved from New York to Chicago. The move raised no suspicions. Morrison & Roth’s main offices were in Chicago and so were his parents. Things between him and Iya had become more involved. He’d left the sorting out of the divorce proceedings to his lawyers.
Sebastian’s thoughts shifted to the boardroom where his lawyer and Laura Delgado were engaged in a heated argument. He had no idea what it was about. His gaze shifted to Kate. She was looking directly at him, eyes narrowed. He looked away, his eyes focusing on the painting hanging on the wall over her shoulder. It was an impressionist painting of a red flower. The artist had layered different shades of red to give the petals the unfocused vividness that impressionist paintings are famous for. Kate probably knew he wasn’t even present at this meeting. He knew she was wondering if he’d even even been present during their ten years together. He wondered if she knew about Iya. Probably not. He and Iya were very discreet and David Morrison would not rat him out. Not to Kate. News of his affair with Iya was worth much more. He knew that since she didn’t know why he was divorcing her, she would simultaneously be railing against him and berating herself, trapped between wanting to hate him for his selfishness and treachery, and wondering if something she had done was the reason why he’d left her. Suddenly he felt guilty. The intensity of the feeling as red hot as the shade of red paint the artist had used to outline the bigger petals of the flower. It almost suffocated him. Kate was a friend and he had betrayed her deeply. She had known theirs was not necessarily a love match but she had bet on their friendship and had tried to be good to him. She deserved better than he had treated her, better than he was treating her. It was not her fault that he was in love with someone else. He knew that she would treat any concession he made now as pitying condescension but to tell her the truth would mean telling her about Iya, which could open the door for the story about Cornell and Greystone and Kyle and everything else.
He wasn’t ready to open that door just yet.
As usual when he thought about Kyle Hammond, even peripherally, cold rage settled like a thousand pound stone in his stomach. Twenty years, he’d watched the son of a bitch – and he meant that literally – go about his life, date other women, become president of his fraternity, graduate, go to law school and then go to work for their family law firm. Last Sebastian had heard, he was engaged to marry, his second go at it. Apparently, the first woman he’d been engaged to had called off the engagement. I wonder why… Sebastian mused bitterly. The fact that Kyle Hammond had not been brought to justice after he raped Iya had been the single most disillusioning experience of Sebastian’s life. He wasn’t a naive person. Growing up wealthy meant that he had quite often seen the ugly side of people’s characters, the side that wealth or the prospect of it tended to bring out. He’d still been shocked, however, at how easily everyone had brushed of the matter. How willing they had been to look away. How the Hammond’s had rallied around their son and how the police had taken their side despite the evidence from the rape kit. What had gutted him had been his parents refusal to help. He had been sure they would. He clearly remembered the conversation he’d had with them that day. He’d been aghast when they told him they would not be intervening.
“But mum! Dad! He raped her!” He’d raged pacing his apartment. His parents had flown in from Chicago when he’d called them to tell them what had happened. “He pumped her full of booze and drugs and kept her in that room for over an hour. I know because I saw them walk upstairs together. He didn’t even use protection!”
“I know it’s wrong, honey.” his mother had said gently “But Bob and Carol Hammond are pulling every string they can to kill this. Your father and I talked about this, it’s just not worth it to take them on.”
“Not worth it? NOT WORTH IT? Are you guys fucking kidding me right now?” He’d yelled.
“Watch your language around your mother, Sebastian.” His father had snapped.
” No! I will not. There’s a kid out there who will have to live the rest of her life with this. She’s terrified out of her mind. She has no one in the States, no one who can fight for her. She’s here on scholarship, the first in her family to make it out of their country. She’s smart and brave, she got a full ride to Cornell from an African country for crying out loud. Kyle Hammond raped her. He destroyed her life and you’re going to sit there and tell me she is not worth fighting for? Who are you people?” His voice had cracked with frustration as he battled tears.
“Son, I understand your frustration” His father, Nathan Roth had said. ” I would be too… I am too. I have money and influence but Bob Hammond…” he trailed off. ” If this girl had been a family member, or family friend, or someone we knew… She just isn’t. This has the potential to turn very, very ugly. I’m sure they will offer her a nice settlement, compensate her properly for her pain…”
“Compensate her for her pain? Dad…seriously? I thought we were the good guys. I thought Roth men did the right thing. That’s what you always said, that’s what Grandpa Moses always said.” Sebastian’s voice was quiet, defeated. He knew the real reason his parents would not intervene. It was rumored that Bob Hammond would be running for president. He was powerful enough within his party that even if he didn’t run or didn’t win, the next election would leave him in a position more powerful than the senatorial position he held currently. The Roths had always had a good relationship with the Hammonds, their son’s were best friends. Having connections that high up in government would prove very beneficial to Morrison & Roth. Moses Roth, Sebastian’s grandfather, Nathan’s father had always, however, been a believer in steering clear of any allegiances that weren’t grounded in honesty and trust. A Holocaust survivor, he’d seen first hand what fear could motivate people to do. He and his family had been turned in to the Gestapo by the Austrian family they had been hiding with after the Gestapo had threatened them. Sebastian knew without a doubt that Moses Roth would not have hesitated to take on the Hammond’s.
Nathan Roth closed his eyes and sighed. “We are the good guys, Sebastian. This is just not a fight we can fight right now. I’m sorry.”
“You know what?” Sebastian had said, leveling his gaze on his parents. “I’ve always been proud to be a Roth. Proud of the name, proud of our history. Today, I am ashamed and I will always be after today. Grandpa Moses would be too. I’d like for you both to be gone when I return.”
He’d left his apartment for the hospital. On the way, he had planned. His grand father had left him a sizable trust fund and he would use all of it to pay for a lawyer for Iya if he had to. He would make sure the story went public. Once it his the press, there would be no stopping it. He had arrived at the hospital full of hope only to find Iya trying to check herself out of the hospital, her hospital gown hanging from her frail body, hair a complete mess, eyes swollen and red from crying. Carol Hammond had just left. They hadn’t even offered to pay her off for her silence. She was too small, too insignificant. He’d begged her not to leave, to press charges all the same. He promised her his help, swore vengeance on her behalf. She’d been adamant. Terrified and adamant.
“I have no one. No one.” She’d said in her precise accented English. He voice soft and defeated.
“You have me.” He’d insisted, guiding her back to the private room he’d gotten her into.
“You’re one person. I know who the Hammonds are. I am not stupid. I know what will happen to me. Your media will crucify me. I cannot let that happen. I came to America to get a better future for myself and my family. If I go forward with this, I lose that chance.”
“You will not lose it. I promise you.”
“You’re in no position to make me promises, Sebastian Roth. You’re one of them. Andy Hammond is your best friend. Why should I trust that you will stick your neck out for me, a complete stranger?”
Sebastian had no answer for her. That accusation: you’re one of them had stung because it was true. He was one of the elite, one of those wealthy and privileged enough, the world was their dainty little oyster for them to do as they wanted with. The cards would forever be stacked in his favor. He would never ever be in the position she was in right now.
“Iya, I’m so, so sorry.” He pronounced the name “Eye-ya.”
“My name is Iya.” She had snapped at him. “Eee-yah. Get it right. Iya Mojoko Malafa. I come from a big, loving family. My parents, siblings, grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins live in a town called Buea, in a West African Country called Cameroon. I am not a nobody. No one in my family has AIDS. We do not live in a jungle. I had a good upbringing in a good home. We are a smart and resourceful family and everyone contributed to send me to America when I got my scholarship through the American embassy. I intend to make them proud. Kyle Hammond will not stop me. I made a bad decision to go to that party but I have learned my lesson. I will survive this.” She’d stood there, clutching the purse she had taken to the party the night before.
“Let me help you. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me help you. Let me be your friend through this. You can’t leave the hospital in your hospital gown. Your clothes were taken as evidence. Let me get you clothes and take you back your dorm room.”
Her eyes had widened when she realized she would have to to back to the dorm with Adelaide. Adelaide who would be full of concerns and questions. He picked up on that immediately.
“We can go to my place and figure out what to do.” He said quickly. “Let me help you Iya.” He was careful to pronounce her name correctly this time. “I feel so guilty. I saw Kyle taking you upstairs and I assumed…. ” his voice trailed off.
“Your guilt will not change anything.”
“I know…” He’d said miserably. “I fucking know.”
His guilt would not change anything then, and it wouldn’t now. This needed to end. Laura and Steve his attorney were still arguing over the particulars of the settlement. He didn’t look at Kate. The baleful look she was sure to have in her eyes was more than he could deal with now.
“Enough.” The room quietened. It was Kate who had spoken. Her voice frigid. All eyes including Sebastian’s turned to her. She laughed bitterly. “He’s not even here.” She gestured at Sebastian.
“He’s sitting right here but he’s not even here.”
He was right. She had noticed.
“I am sitting right here, Kate.” He said.
“Don’t you dare patronize me, Sebastian.” She replied, her voice dripping venom.
“Tell me what you want.” He said. “I’ll give you anything you want to end this as amicably as we can.”
“You’re giving anything we want either way, Mr. Roth ” Laura Delgado said, her voice sweet with poison. Sebastian cut her a withering glance then shifted his gaze back to Kate and met her furious eyes.
“I’d like to talk to Kate. Alone.”
Both lawyers began to say that would not be wise but Kate had spoken up.
“I’ll talk to him.”
“Kate, I do not think…” Laura had begun but Kate had raised her hand to silence the woman. Steve looked askance at Sebastian but Sebastian nodded. Both lawyers left, closing the door behind them.
Kate immediately stood up and began to pace. It was a habit of hers. She paced when he had something on her mind. When she figured out how to say it she would. It didn’t take long.
“For how long have you wanted a divorce?”
“We should never have married to begin with, Kate.”
“That long, huh.” She nodded, a jerking motion, and continued pacing. He watched her in silence. She’d lost a lot of weight, her wrap around dress in the bright floral prints she prefered hanging from her frame. Normally they draped over her fit body. Sebastian felt the red hot curl of guilt again.
“Is there someone else? Was there some one else?” She asked quietly.
“Yes.” He answered simply. He couldn’t say no because he intended to go back for Iya and that news was sure to reach Kate’s circles.
She stopped pacing, her eyes closed. She wrapped her arms around herself, hugging her thin frail body tightly. She started to sob then. Huge heaving sobs, a keening sound coming from deep within her chest. He stood up and went over to her. Tried to draw her close, she kept him at arms length.
“Do you know why I agreed to marry you Sebastian?” She asked through her tears. “I believed you wouldn’t hurt me. I know we didn’t love each other, but I trusted you not to hurt me. I don’t believe in love. Never have. I watched my parents tear each other apart because they thought they loved each other but couldn’t stop cheating on each other. You were my friend. I bet on our friendship to see our marriage through. And then somewhere along the line, I started to think maybe there was something to love after all.”
“Kate…I am so terribly sorry I did this to you. I shouldn’t have.” He reached out and pushed her hair behind her ears, a gentle gesture.
“Is she someone I know?”
” Where did you meet her? How long did it go on for?”
“It’s a long and complicated story Kate. One I cannot tell without breaking her trust.”
“But you have no problem breaking mine.”
“I’m sorry, Kate.”
“Do you love her?”
“Yes. Yes I do. I do very much.”
She looked up at him then, her face somehow managing to still be composed even in her distress.
“Did you ever love me?”
He sighed deeply. Then holding her gaze, spoke the simple truth.
“No. Not as I should have.”
Read Part 5 here