Good morning! This is the second to last post in the Game On Christmas Story! As always, it comes with a spoiler warning!
“Mind if I sit here?”
My voice was actually shaking, as were my hands. Anyone would think I was approaching royalty, not my former boss.
Richard Bailey pulled out the chair beside him. “Not at all.”
My biggest regret when I left Los Angeles was not saying a proper goodbye to Richard. Okay, he couldn’t stand the sight of me at the time, not after I let him down so badly, but he used to be the only person I could truly rely on. My first contact in Westberg, my first friend. I hadn’t spoken to him since I moved back to England. Even when the team visited London, I somehow managed to sidestep a conversation with him, mostly because I was still too ashamed.
As I sat down, I let out a deep breath. I was supposed to start talking, but had absolutely no clue where to start. An apology? Sweep everything aside and chat like nothing ever happened?
The familiar fond twinkle in his eyes caused a lump to form in my throat, and I swallowed hard to shift it. Without a word, Richard shuffled his chair closer to mine and put his arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder, my nerves quickly turning to relief, and enjoyed that special feeling of security I always used to get from him.
You know, before I slept with Radleigh and brought chaos to the team.
“I’m sorry,” I said, blinking away the tears that had formed in my eyes. “I’m really sorry.”
Richard gently squeezed my shoulder. “You don’t need to be sorry, Leah. It’s okay.”
“I messed everything up, and I didn’t know … I … I handled everything so badly.”
“I don’t think I was blameless. I should have tried harder to make you stay. I never wanted you to leave but I was so-”
“Disappointed,” I finished. “You hired me because you thought I was Radleigh-proof, but I wasn’t. I crossed the line.”
“I was disappointed. But there is no excuse for me letting you go without saying goodbye.”
Everything tumbled out of our mouths as if we’d been storing it up, waiting for the time when we could let it all out. Through all the scenarios I’d imagined in my head, I never really knew which way the conversation would go. Richard was not someone to mess with, but he was also compassionate, understanding and loyal. Thankfully, I’d managed to reach his softer side.
“If it helps, I understand why you reacted the way you did,” I told him, lifting my head. “I don’t think it was just because I broke the rules of the job.”
He shook his head. “It wasn’t. I’ve seen McCoy messing around with women over and over again. I didn’t want to see that happen to you. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I didn’t want to get hurt either. I just … I couldn’t help how I felt.”
I glanced across the room, where Radleigh sat with Cody and Jude. They were laughing, probably about something completely chauvinistic, but the sight of his smile made my heart flip, not to mention causing a much more intense stirring in other parts of me.
Really? You had sex less than two hours ago, can’t you control yourself for a bit longer?
I bit my lip to hold in a laugh. We were still very much in the phase of going at it like porn stars at every opportunity.
“You look really happy together,” Richard said. “I’ve watched how he is with you, and I’ve never seen him act that way with anyone.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, turning to him. “Was he really such an inconsiderate prick that he didn’t hold hands with women before me?”
Richard laughed out loud. “He held hands with women, but he was never close with them. And he’s brought you home for Christmas. This is a big deal.”
“Yeah,” I said, letting out a deep sigh. “I’m kind of terrified about that.”
“So, you haven’t met Radleigh’s parents yet?”
“Not yet. Tomorrow. What if they hate me, Richard?”
“That won’t happen.”
“What are they like?”
“Well,” Richard began, “Mitch is pretty much an older version of Radleigh. They don’t look alike, but you’ll see the similarities in their personalities when you meet him. You’ll like him. And Deanna is just about the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. But she doesn’t take any crap, either,” he paused, laughing again. “I think you’ll get on just fine.”
I ducked out of the party, and stepped onto the busy street. I had to get a break from the thumping music for a while. Jude sure knew how to throw a party, but my heart wasn’t really in it. It had been a hell of a long time since I’d really enjoyed going to clubs. Mostly, I went along just to have a few beers with the guys.
With only three days until Christmas, my wife, Sarah, had a convenient excuse not to come to the party with me. Too much to do, too hard to find a babysitter at this time of year, gifts to wrap … blah, blah, blah. The truth was, she really wasn’t into anything that involved being out with other people, and more specifically, people I worked with. She’d always been the same. In the beginning she made an effort, but she hated the ‘celebrity’ side of being married to a soccer player. I understood, and was happy to let her stay at home while I went out. Everything else was good with our relationship, so why make a big deal out of a few nights on the town?
But that was then.
The volume of the music got louder as Jude opened the door to the club.
“Hey,” I said. “Just getting some fresh air.”
He stepped outside, silencing the music as the door shut behind him. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I just needed to clear my head for a minute.”
“What’s going on, man? Are you not digging all the pink in there?”
Laughing, I said, “It’s not really my colour, but Bree looks happy.”
“Yeah, she does. I mean, I’ve barely seen her all night because she’s been working the room, but she seems to be having a good time, and that’s all I wanted.”
“You did a great job.”
“So why are you hiding out here?”
I considered lying. I’d faked being okay for so long, it was second nature to tell people I was fine. But Jude knew me too well.
Time to take a deep breath and talk to someone.
“I was in there,” I began, nodding my head towards the club, “watching everyone having fun. You and Bree, Radleigh and Leah, Will and Freya. Even Cody who came without a date is getting it on with one of the barmaids. And while I watched you all, I realised something. I think my marriage might be over.”
Getting the words out was a step I hadn’t been willing to take before. Once I said it, I knew I’d have to do something about it. Bree’s party wasn’t the best time or place to put it out there, but all the happy couples forced me to see what was wrong with my own relationship. After twelve years and three kids, it wasn’t supposed to be as exciting as it used to be, I knew that. But it should have been more than muttered exchanges over dinner and spending more time doing things apart than together.
“I don’t understand,” Jude said. “How … I mean, you and Sarah always seem so … settled.”
“I know. But for the last year, maybe even more than that, it’s like we’re just two people who live together. The whole husband and wife thing has gone to hell.”
“Have you talked to her about it?”
I shrugged. “I’ve tried, but she never wants to talk about it. I haven’t pushed her because I thought we’d just get through it, you know? That’s what married people are supposed to do. But tonight,” I paused to let out a sigh. “Tonight I realised it’s more than a rough patch.”
Jude stared at me as if waiting for me to explode into laughter and tell him I was only kidding. I really wished I could.
“Do you still love her?” he asked. “Because if you do, you need to find a way to fix whatever’s wrong.”
Jude was a believer. For a guy, his faith in happy ever afters was astonishing, and often the subject of ridicule in the locker room, but he was right. Love is supposed to be enough to get you through anything.
“I’ll always love her,” I told him. “She was my first love, and she’s the mother of my children. But I don’t think we can fix this.”