Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom,rabindranath tagore
Brindleton Bay, The Cunningham Estates
Some weeks after Anastasia and Chase had returned from their wedding and the following honeymoon cruise, two men found themselves in the dining room of the Cunningham’s estate, it was obvious at first glance they weren’t friends. The mood was tense, albeit overall friendly.
“So, you are the man I have been hearing so much about, but whom I barely know, even though we have crossed paths a dozen or so times now. I asked Ana to invite you over to change this. Clearly you are important to her, and she is important to me, which makes me hope we can reach a level of comfort with each other.” Chase told Riordan with a well-trained comforting smile.
“Uh – yeah, sounds great. Nice to officially meet you too.” Riordan replied with a brief flash of a smile, which vanished quickly.
“No need for platitudes, you and I both know that sticking a cactus up our butts could not be any less uncomfortable. How about a drink, Riordan, to loosen us both up? I have you pegged as the whiskey type.” Chase offered.
“You pegged correctly, although I pretty much drink anything when the mood strikes. Not like I would kill me, right? I mean, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger was what I meant to say. Hoping you are not trying to get me drunk to take advantage of me.” Riordan corrected himself, while eyeing Chase prepare their simple drinks.
“How amusing. I can see why Ana likes you so, you remind me of her father. Even look a tiny bit like him.” Chase fixed up their drinks and joined Riordan at the table again.
“Yeah, we’re the same type, I guess, I know Ana and I look alike too, when we were little Ana’s mom took us out to playgrounds and stuff together, people always thought we were twins. To be clear, we are not. Even though my mother would probably have liked that a lot, instead she fell for some no-good loser who to this day has never exchanged more than maybe a sentence with me, but has a new family now whom he lives out his newly discovered family man ambitions with.”
“Sorry to hear that. Speaking of twins, I am rather eager to find out how much Ana and my twins will look alike, and whom they will favor, once they get older. Not even an experienced doctor can say for sure when they are this young. While I am on topic, you of course know I am a physician and couldn’t help but notice that you are somewhat anemic. Were you aware of that?”
Riordan nearly spat out his drink, but managed to suppress the laughter and labored up a straight face before he responded.
“I am aware. It’s a condition my entire family suffers from.”
“If you’d like, you could swing by my office and I’d take a peek. Anemia often is a symptom for other conditions, some very serious and …”
“Uh, Chase, that is very kind of you, but really, I got this. I assure you I am not gravely ill and all is under control. Maybe I should get a spray tan or something like that if it looks bad enough to worry a doctor. My mother sometimes does.”
“Oh, it’s not bad, it suits you. I didn’t mean to offend, it’s side-effect from being a doctor, always looking everywhere for symptoms to diagnose and fix. I apologize if I overstepped.”
“It’s cool. Chase, not to sound rude and all, but what exactly is the idea here? Wouldn’t it be easier to get to know each other if Ana were here too? Let’s just wait till …”
“I do not think so. Look, maybe you are right and it would be best to get straight to the point. I like you, generally, even though we haven’t really spent any time with each other, but the Camerons all speak very highly – and a lot – about you, you are in many of their memories, you are very special to them. My in-laws seem to really consider you another son of sorts. It is for that very reason that I am telling you this now: I told Ana that I would never stand in the way of her spending time with an old friend, especially one her entire family is this close to, but for my sake and the sake of our children, I need to be able to trust that friendship is all there is.”
“Yeah, sure, makes sense. We’re friends. Best friends, really, but that is all there was, is, has been.”
“Please don’t lie to me now, Riordan, it’s uncalled for. I know you were her boyfriend before me, and I know you slept with her at least once during Ana and my relationship. I know there was a chance the babies might be yours. Let me be perfectly clear: I gave her many chances, and do not regret it, but even I will run out of patience at some point and do not want that to happen because of some stupid choice made, which she seems prone to whenever you are involved. So, man to man, I ask you now to be the bigger man and walk away if things ever go that way again. In return you can come by any time you like, even meet our babies, if you are interested. Sounds like you are practically like an uncle anyway, if not by blood.”
Riordan’s lips got thinner, when he pressed them together as he glared at Chase for a moment, before he slowly nodded.
“I appreciate your honesty, Chase, and the fact that you knew and didn’t make her pay for my mistakes. You seem like a genuinely nice guy. Which is why I will tell you the following things, man to man, as you did with me. First of all, it’s not Ana who screwed up, it’s me. As you know first hand, Anastasia is the kind of woman who is impossible to control, hard to be with sometimes, but even harder to walk away from. There are many reasons why she and I had to break up in the first place. Since you were very honest with me, you deserve no less in return from me, so here goes. You got her, you are the lucky one, and I will not lie, I am jealous and there is a big part of me that just wants to take her from you despite of all. But I won’t. As you already noticed, she and I share a very special, unbreakable bond, and as nice as I think it is for you to offer that she and I could meet, I will tell you right now, we would meet regardless of what you say. All of our lives we always have bent and broken rules to be together, that won’t ever change. I mean no disrespect, but I do not like the feeling of being tossed table scraps here of something that was mine all along. The only reason I am not fighting harder for her, is because you can give her the life she wants and deserves, while I cannot. In other words, the fact that you are the one sharing the bed with her each night is purely circumstantial. Had I not set her free, she would have never even met you.”
This time is was Chase measuring up the other, before slowly nodding in acknowledgement of the weight of Riordan’s words.
“Okay, so this is where we stand with each other then, we are staking claim. Pity. I had hoped that you and I could maybe become friends as well, but it seems to not be the case.”
“Does the lion ever befriend the handler, or just go along to have its peace?”
“This isn’t a circus, Riordan. I am trying to come to a consensus between us and a clear understanding of boundaries. I had a talk like that with my wife as well.”
“Hard to believe you did and are still able to stand and walk. The Ana I know doesn’t take kindly to such oppressive bullshit!”
“Maybe the Ana you think you know is no longer who Ana is now, and whom she wants to be. Situations change, people evolve. She is a wife and mother now, that changes things. And I very much like to keep the peace between all involved, but do not mistake my kindness for weakness, Riordan. I did not want to force my wife to anything, and never will, but I will not just stand by and watch you or her or anyone else destroy our happy home. As long as you understand and respect that, my offer stands, and you are welcome to join us for meals or afternoons by the pool. I treasure Ana, and I treasure my family.”
“That makes two of us. I have no intentions on ruining anything for anyone, but I don’t like to be asked to be thankful to be given a gift that isn’t one, something I had long before you even were around. The correct way to look at this is that I am the one letting you have Ana, not the other way around. And not for any other reason but it is what’s best for her.”
“If that is the way to see things, maybe it would be best if you left now.” Chase’s tone was firm and determined.
“Fine. I’ll go. But you will have to explain to Ana why I am not here when she comes back from taking care of your children. She won’t be happy, I promise you. Have a nice evening living your sickeningly idyllic live, but you will never turn Ana into a Stepford wife. There is darkness within her, a deep, uncouth passion and eventually black clouds of reality will darken the skies over this yawn-worthy golden splendor here. You’ll see.”
“Yeah, we shall see who is the dreamer here. Good evening now, Riordan. The door is down the hall behind you and to your right. Have a safe trip home and think about what I told you.”
“Oh, I know where the door is! Unlike you, I always know exactly where I am and where I should be.”
Riordan got up and hurried down the hall, fuming, as he had to keep himself from just vanishing if only to screw with Chase’s mind.
Not three minutes later Anastasia came back down the stairs, her smile faded when she found her husband by the front door with a grim expression on his face, the dining room behind Chase was empty now.
“Oh, come on! I haven’t even had a chance to say more than hi to him. Why didn’t you keep him from leaving at least until I got back from feeding the twins?”
“Because I was the one suggesting it. Or rather I insisted he would.”
“He was being very disrespectful to me. In my own home, when I was offering him the little finger, he basically bit my hand. That’s all you need to know.”
“You argued with him?”
“Anastasia, like I said, I am through with the topic of Riordan Vatore. He left, that’s that. Let’s move on.”
Anastasia’s face changed to angry as she shook her head.
“Oh no! You don’t get to do this. Either you tell me exactly what happened, or I will go and ask Riordan. He will tell me, just know that.”
“I am sure he would. But I am asking you to let it go.”
“You kicked my friend out of this house, my home too, remember? I deserve to know why.”
“You are not going to hear it from me. Let it go. Please.”
“Fine, suit yourself! See you later then, I guess. Be back after I get some answers!” Ana hissed angrily, before she turned, and disappeared through the front door, Chase went after her, but she had a healthy head start and he didn’t dare leave the range of the baby monitors.
“Ana. ANA! Anastasia, don’t … you cannot run after a man and leave you own husband standing there like a fool! ANA!”
All he could do what watch the taillights of her car fade into the night down the long, gated driveway, since his parents were away for the weekend and he was the only one to take care of their babies right now.
Chase wondered what Riordan would tell her. And there was a tiny bit inside of him that worried they would end up in bed together, consoling each other after the fight.